What sort of story telling techniques do you guys implement when running Dungeon World so that you don’t get bogged…

What sort of story telling techniques do you guys implement when running Dungeon World so that you don’t get bogged…

What sort of story telling techniques do you guys implement when running Dungeon World so that you don’t get bogged down in NPC interaction?

Despite having ran various games in various systems over the years, I still feel like a fairly inexperienced GM when it comes to mastery of pacing/nuance. I know from experience in our campaign that DW really sings when you’re dungeon crawling or fighting off monsters, but a lot of what we’ve done in this campaign so far has revolved around cities, and cities equal people, and people equal conversation. I feel fine when it comes to roleplaying NPCs, so I don’t think the quality of my NPCs is in question, but I need to find a way to minimize the need for NPCs and maximize the action while still telling an interesting story.

I’m fairly certain the answer to my question is to take the adventure away from the cities if I’m feeling that our sessions has too much NPC interaction, but maybe there’s a way to run DW in an urban setting where social interaction is a thing while still managing to give the players things to fight.

Any suggestions?

16 thoughts on “What sort of story telling techniques do you guys implement when running Dungeon World so that you don’t get bogged…”

  1. Depends on your players. Do they enjoy mingling in towns? If they do there are plenty of adventures to have in town ( gangs, politics, rival brew masters). If the players are bored there are hundreds of ways to get them back to dungeon crawling.

  2. Erik Buchanan While I’d say they enjoy the idea of being in a town, I think the group collectively feels we’ve sort of done it to death at this point and we need to get them out into the wilds. Last night’s game took them to an island off the coast with an evil subterranean temple build beneath a church devoted to a goddess of healing and light, and there’s nothing but monsters as far as the eye can see.

    I think I’m just feeling out of touch with where we’ve been lately in our campaign and my natural instinct is to populate the game with all of these interesting NPCs, but that’s not what DW is about (imo).

  3. You feel they have too much interaction, and you say that your campaign songs during battle. What isn’t allowing you do do both? Are all mobs dumb trolls? Preludes and consequences to battle aren’t threats and death, there should be something more at stake than life during battle in a world of adventurers, they know they might die at any moment.

  4. Ok so my notes on pacing and NPC interaction and all that… this is a bit of a brain dump about pacing and scene framing in general.

    A scene is a unit of play that has characters in a place doing a thing. Scenes can start when the characters arrive in a place, and end when the leave it. This is the traditional model – go to a tavern, haggle with the barkeep, drink, leave.

    But I find scenes more exciting if we cut either of those short. Instead of starting when players enter the tavern you start “sitting at a table in The Powder Cask, drinking your ale that you’re pretty sure the barkeep watered down just for you”. Instead of ending when they leave, end on a moment of tension like maybe “as you guys laugh the night away, the stranger in the corner keeps watch on you the entire night…. the next morning, you awaken in your beds a bit worse for wear” (this actually closes one scene and frames the next).

    And DW allows this inherently. Put them in a spot is a scene framing move. Maybe someone rolls a 4 while fleeing in some dark alley – put them in a spot and say “Everything goes black. You wake all up in a dark warehouse, a strange oily powder stuck to your clothes. It smells like the sea. How long were you out for…?”

    Strong scene framing will keep the pace up. It’s hard to do right and certainly requires trust. If you’re going to switch to this mode, I’d have a talk with your players first.

    “Ok guys, I’m going to try this thing called ‘hard scene framing’ where I basically play with where you are and who’s there at a time. We will fill in blanks as we go – that’s part of the fun – but if you’re resistant to it, it can falter. If I say Carl and Steve are in the tavern, instead of saying oh Steve wouldn’t go to the tavern or Carl wanted to go shopping, I invite you to roll with it and fill in the blanks as part of play. Steve wouldn’t go to the tavern? Then why is he here right now? Is he looking after Carl? Did Carl ask him to come along? Roll with it, and it will be fun”.

  5. Aaron Griffin This is exactly what I was looking for, thank you Aaron. That’s one of the story telling techniques I’ve been missing in my tool chest. Normally, my brain just goes step by step. That’s fine and all, but the downside to getting stuck in that frame of mind is that you end up dragging your feet through minutiae, and that’s no fun for anyone. I’m definitely going to give this a shot!

  6. Brandon Fincher the hardest thing about scene framing is when players don’t trust you. “A few days later you’re in the road towards Migen…” / “But I wanted to go to the armory!!!”. That’s why it’s important to talk to players about it.

    Scene framing doesn’t get discussed a lot outside of some more esoteric indie games. Smallville has some great advice for when you know to end a scene. Primetime Adventures is built on scene framing.

    The skill and technique is knowing when to start a scene, what components to mix in, and how to end it. It’s also important to know how to jump between two scenes so players share the spotlight. Example:

    GM: “Ok so Steve you’re in the alley staking out the cobbler’s shop, right? You hear movement behind you. A couple of street urchins are there. Kids, really. One has a dagger and is sneering at you. What do you do?”

    P: “Well I’m gonna beat their asses and take that dagger from the punks. Think they can mess with me… Shit, I rolled a 5”

    GM: “That’s probably gonna hurt. We’ll come back to that. While Steve is getting his ass beat, how’s Carl doing in this arm wrestling tournament at the bar?”

  7. I like what Aaron Griffin said. I would also add that DW is particularly good at dealing with this kind of issue. If you see something getting bogged down in one session, you can write a move to make that same situation more abstract for the next session.

    If they’re spending a lot of time looking for someone, turn it into a move. If they’re getting stuck in city politics make a move for it. Make sure to throw in some hard choices and player-directed scene-building so they don’t feel the dice taking everything out of their control.

  8. “what are you trying to get out of this conversation” and I take the discussion meta. Because sometimes players are looking for clues or the feeling of something is important in a scene… and I’ve moved on in my mind. I’m quite willing to say, “hey, I don’t have anything super important for this scene, it can just be color… unless you want to do something specific, I”m perfectly happy to move on”. I put the onerous on myself. “I’m perfectly happy to move on” and that lets the players off the hook. They didn’t miss something.

  9. There’s a mantra in script writing(?) about how scenes should always start late and end early. If people are asking questions and wondering things, that’s good!

  10. I recently shared this link in Jeremy’s Parlay move post, but I think it’s relevant here too.

    rpg.stackexchange.com – How to ask nicely in Dungeon World

    The basic suggestion is that instead of freeform roleplaying when the PC is interacting with an NPC, the GM can choose one of their GM moves and base the response on that. The players are looking at them to see what happens when they speak to an NPC, after all.

    So, when the Cleric drops in on the town’s temple and says hello to the high priest, the priest doesn’t respond “Ah, greetings Piotr, good to see you!” and proceed to an unstructured conversation. You instead put them on the spot (the temple’s Inquisitor approaches while you’re speaking with the priest… “Piotr – I noticed you weren’t at the prayer vigil for our holiest day last week.”) or show signs of an approaching threat (the priest appears distracted and upset – you notice he’s holding a letter crumpled in his hand) or gives an opportunity that fits a class ability (“Piotr, thank Grum! There’s something I need you to do!”) or suchlike.

    It would probably get farcical if every person they said “hello” to triggered a GM move, not to mention frustrating if the players have something specific they’re trying to get out of the conversation. But you can certainly look at the moves if you find that a conversation is flagging and pick one to propel the story into action again.

  11. I ran a great city based campaign, so I don’t think the setting is the problem. Remember that part of your Agenda is to Fill the Characters’ Lives with Adventure.

    Look over the game’s Principles again. Ask Questions to find out why the characters are talking with NPCs, and Think Dangerous.

    Don’t forget to make Moves whenever everyone looks to you to see what happens next. The GM Moves ensure that’ll you’ll find action.

    Also Advance your Fronts. Use them to put pressure on the characters.

    Reread the section on When to Make a Move. Use Soft Moves at first, but remember that if ignored, that’s a golden opportunity for a Hard Move.

    Now that you know how scene framing works, the game’s basic tool kit should provide all you need to get the desired action-packed play.

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