I ran my first game of Dungeon World a few weeks back and maybe some of you would like to read about my experiences. Disclaimer: I am not a native speaker, so be kind 🙂
I had originally planned a setting about a border fortress besieged a dark army led by an elven warlock. Permanent attacks, starvation, sickness, betrayal, all that stuff.
But during character creation, my players went straight into humour-territory (also, two of the characters were of Evil Alignment), so I decided something less dark would be more appropriate and asked if they would like a simple dungeon crawl. As I had read a few adventures during preparation, I pulled out the “Temple of Ungu” by Jason Morningstar. It’s about a former wizardress (witch? Female wizard?) called Florimel, who changed herself into a gigantic spider and moved into the cursed temple of Ungu.
Okay, so we created characters and ended with the classic combination of fighter/wizard/thief. In more detail: a human fighter called Rüdiger of Good Alignment (of course it had to be Rüdiger – we are German and “Rüdiger” is a German name that does not strike fear in the hearts of your enemies. It’s more like a plumber’s name). He wanted to protect the Wizard and make a man out of the thief. He answered the intro-question about what he promised his friend Florimel as “I promised to always protect her”.
The Wizard was called Xoran the Mighty (or Almighty? Powerful? I forgot), another human, but an evil one. He knew Rüdiger had an important role to play in the events to come and he knew one of the Thief’s secrets (the secret never came up, the prophecy made sense in hindsight). He wanted to kill his former lover Florimel to get his paws on a spellbook containing a super powerful spell.
I asked: “So you don’t care she was your lover?”
The last character was the Halfling Thief called Mouse, or “Mouse the Great” after the Wizard decided to call himself “Mighty”. Another evil character. He was sure Rüdiger had his back in a fight and Xoran knew some incriminating details about him. He needed a hundred gold coins out of the dungeon to free his family from the debtor’s prison.
I asked a few questions about their characters like “How did you become a criminal? How do you become a Wizard in our unnamed fantasy world?” to get things going.
Then I shared the map and of to crawling we went.
“You are standing in front of the oaken doors to Ungus Temple. Snakes, snakes and more snakes are carved in the wood. They make your head hurt when you watch them for too long. What do you do?”
Mouse searched for traps. The adventure didn’t say anything about traps, but to me some kind of security by the Goblins made sense. So I told him the door had a simple but well-made alarm trap that was considerable newer than the door itself.
He also found a hidden hatch, you know, one of these thing through which the person inside could talk to the person outside. He would have found some treasure inside, but did not open it and instead just disarmed the trap and opened the door.
And then he and the Wizard got into a little passive-aggressive discussion about who of them was the cooler dude (Evil alignment! Such divas!).
I asked the fighter if he wanted to go inside while they were busy mocking each other.
Inside, he saw the Goblin camp, which I described kind of idyllic and relaxed: children running around, women cooking, and well armed and well fed warriors hanging around the fire.
So the fighter just strolled up to them and asked calmly if somebody would be so kind as to point him the way to Florimel.
The Goblins didn’t really expect guests – I mean, you move into a cursed dark temple of an evil god because nobody comes around to bother you! So children started crying, women fled and the warriors jumped to their feet.
But as Rüdiger did not make an aggressive move, the Goblins decided to first talk to him.
After a little discussion in broken common (during which the Wizard and Thief finally went inside), the goblins figured out he wanted to go and “talk” to Florimel. I hadn’t really thought about the relationship between goblins and evil spider-witch, so I decided on the spot that they were scared of her, but tolerated her presence (not much they could do anyway) and kept her well-fed to avoid her or her spawn eating Goblins.
They went to bring their leader the “Great Ungrush”. The characters joked a bit about the “great” part, as Goblins are rather small. So when Ungrush arrived, he was really large. Kind of elongated and with really long legs but… wait, he is wearing stilts, isn’t he?
He was accompanied by the female Shaman of the clan. They both believed Rüdiger to be somewhat crazy (talk to the murderous spider… yeah… sure…), but for them, it was a win-win-situation: either they killed Florimel (very unlikely) or Florimel ate them (very likely) so they needn’t feed her in a while. Goblins win! No need to roll, as I see it.
Meanwhile, Xoran and Mouse excused themselves and went outside to turn Mouse invisible to maybe backstab the Goblins. Xoran actually failed his roll and decided to carry -1 forward on future rolls.
The Goblins led them through the worg kennel. I described the worgs as ugly slavering beasts barking like crazy and the Shaman kissing one of the insane and foaming beasts on the nose. Who is a good worg? Who is a good worg? You are! Yes, you are!
They went on to the barricade where the leader just tried to explain something about “Florimel’s Children” when Mouse saw that it was backstabbing time.
Um. Really? You know, there are a lot of Goblins here? And Worgs?
Yes really. As it turned out, neither player nor character knew that the spell ended the minute he attacked.
Again, no roll needed. He was invisible, the Goblins weren’t that cautious, so one of them fell to the ground, blood spurting out of his neck.
Of course, the Goblins went crazy. Betrayal! Attack! Everybody come!
They jumped Mouse. Rüdiger tried to defend him, but failed. I decided to deal damage to Mouse, which was a weak decision. I should at least have allowed him to defy danger.
In the next room, the worg handler opened the cages.
Mouse dove through the barricade (surely much safer on the other side), while Rüdiger dug into the remaining Goblins. Ungrush just moved to the back and let his warriors and the worgs do the fighting.
Xoran saw the Shaman prepare a spell and magic missiled her. He got an eight and suggested the insane worg the Shaman kissed arrived just in time to see him fry its master.
The worgs rushed over to eat the wizard, who tried to squeeze through the barricade. He didn’t quite made his defy danger check so I told him his back of books was stuck on one of the carved serpents. Leave it behind or the worgs bite.
“I do not leave books behind! Preposterous!”
So the worg’s jaws closed around Xoran’s outstretched arm for a whopping 9 damage. Ouch.
Rüdiger had meanwhile killed another Goblin (after noticing that, no, a healing potion wouldn’t bring the dead Goblin back) and waded over to kick away the worg. He then tried to draw them away to be able to get through the barricades with Xoran.
Once more, Xoran tried to flee but again didn’t really make his roll. I told him he could make them focus on Rüdiger with a gesture and some blood, but that Rüdiger would see his betrayal.
“So? I pay his bills.”
The worgs went after Rüdiger and buried him under their weight. Xoran escaped to the other side of the barricade.
Mouse had already discovered that there was something moving in the darkness, giggling and spiting spider webs in his hair. Yuck.
Xoran decided to, yes, maybe help Rüdiger and magic missiled the barricade. He failed his roll and I decided to reveal an unfortunate truth: In the short flash of his missile, they could see the walls were crawling with dog-sized spiders with baby heads.
But the bursting barricade made the worgs hesitate, so Rüdiger could finally defy them. Or the danger. You know.
But the spider-babies were free and a number of them went after the sweet smell of blood. Yum, dead Goblins!
Mouse decided to Parley with the spiders. As I had described them giggling like babies and apparently having fun spitting webs at Mouse, I thought, hey, why not, of he rolls good enough.
He did and so the spider babies turned out to be murderous spiders with the innocence of three year olds.
“Yum, yum, bring us baby! Baby! So soft! So tasty!”
As was to be expected, neither the Wizard nor the Thief did really mind grabbing some Goblin babe from its mother’s teat and throwing it to the spiders. And, as was to be expected, the Fighter said no.
After a short discussion, he tried to Parley.
“Why don’t you bring me to your mama? I’m soft as well.”
Nu-uh, you’re not! He rolled a 7-9, so I told him he would need to let them bite him. We joked a bit OT about him drinking a health potion (he had been bitten by two worgs and was low on HP) at the same time and I thought, hey, that would be actually cool. So as the spider bit his arm, the health potion closed the wound.
Whooooaaaaa! The spider babies were amazed. What a great gift for mommy! She could eat and eat and eat him and there would always be more!
Clearly, baby spider monsters aren’t that hard to fool.
Without having to fight, they were led by the spider babies deeper into the dungeon, through slimy corridors covered in webs, up to the sacrificial pit.
Time for Florimel’s appearance. The bus-sized spider lowered herself down to the pit on spider webs and screeched like… a bus-sized spider, I guess.
I told the players that they could not detect any hint of Florimel in the spider’s various eyes. Florimel was gone.
“If that’s the case…” said Rüdiger and draw his sword. Florimel opened her mandibles and spit strings of web at him. He failed to defy danger through strength and his cool sword went careening down into the pit.
Meanwhile, Xoran grabbed into the bag and pulled out a book to spout some lore. I told him that Florimel’s transformation spell had tapped into the primal chaos, which meant she was a living mutagen. And to emphasize this point, I had a nearby baby spider mutate into a bear-sized monster with large mandibles sticking out of the baby mouth.
The other baby spiders were busy. Mouse tried to hide in the shadows, but one baby spider watched him, spit some web at his leg and pulled him to the ground.
“Play! Hide and seek! Fun, fun! We find you, we eat you!”
“Yeah, you found me”, parlayed Mouse. “You know, now it’s your turn to hide and I will seek.”
“No, no, we eat you! Hungry, hungry!”
Mouse ended up sacrificing his rations to the spider babys, who really went and hid themselves. Aaah, so that’s what “a stupid plan, executed to perfection” looks like!
Meanwhile, Rüdiger jumped into the pit after his sword and ended up between skeletons, pieces of half digested meat, debris and, of course, loot… er, valuable sacrifices. He discerned realities and rolled pretty well. So he found out that Florimel was drawn into the temple by Ungu’s dark magic and maybe, maybe if you could get her out of the temple, there might be a slight chance to change her back. But to get her out of the temple, Ungu’s power had to be broken by destroying the focal points of the temple, starting with the menacing snake statue above the pit.
Xoran asked if he could do a ritual, since the Temple of Ungu clearly was a place of power.
Sure, okay. I told him that this would take a bit of time, so somebody would need to keep the spiders away. Also, since he would be using Ungu’s dark and somewhat divine power, he would need to make a deal with the Dread Serpent.
“Fine”, he said. “Rüdiger, come up here and protect me!”
Rüdiger was preoccupied with not getting squashed by Florimel, who decided to simply drop herself onto him. His defy danger was once again in the range of 7-9 so I told him somehow a bronze bottle decorated with coiling snakes found its way into his hands while he thrashed through the bones. “Usssse meeee”, whispered a voice in his head. “Open me…”
Inside the bottle was “Ungu’s Poison”. The description did not say what exactly the stuff was supposed to be; only that it was very sinister. I imagined it to be something way worse than just poison that kills you dead.
“Oh, a nice voice! I trink it”, said Rüdiger.
“Um, yeah… okay…” I said. “That liquid is cursed by Ungu and it is extremely evil. What happens?”
He decided the poison changed him into a gigantic spider as well. Maybe it made his worst nightmare come true or maybe Florimel’s presence had somehow changed the poison, who knows? We just know that Florimel looked at the other spider and hesitated.
Mouse: “Do the two gigantic spiders look exactly the same?”
Rüdiger: “No! I look more masculine!”
Xoran: “You mean smaller?”
Rüdiger: “Yes, smaller and my legs are more delicate.”
But neither Mouse nor Xoran saw the transformation. The mutated bear-sized spider had jumped Xoran and webbed him into a cocoon.
I said: “Mouse, you see this, what do you do?”
Mouse: “I don’t want to give away my position.”
“It’s going to suck the life out of him until only a dried husk is left.”
Mouse: “Fine, I throw a poisoned dagger.”
After some decent damage, the spider scuttled of. For now.
“Do you cut Xoran loose?”
“What? No, I want to stay hidden.”
So the thin Wizard struggled to break free, while Mouse went to attack Florimel from the shadows. I think we totally forgot to use the Thief’s sneak attack. Well. Next time.
He again managed to do some nice damage and a screeching Florimel shot up to ceiling to lick her wounds.
Rüdiger: “I jump out of the pit and gesture to Mouse to stop attacking her. I’ll do our secret handshake.”
“With your spider legs? Mouse, the giant spider moves closer and menacingly waves its legs.”
Mouse: “I attack.”
After getting a dagger in his eye, Rüdiger decided to not bother with Mouse anymore and instead destroy the statue.
Meanwhile, the bear-sized spider seized the opportunity to drag Xoran up into her net to devour him. With a 7-9 result, Xoran finally managed to break free and dropped on the ground, taking some damage.
Rüdiger the Giant Spider, toppled the idol of Ungu. No need to roll, as I saw it. There must be some upside to being a giant spider.
I told Xoran the dark powers of Ungu were starting to dissipate.
“Well, great. Can I still do the ritual?”
“Yes, but only a quick and shoddy version. Also, as his power is diminished here, you will be in a worse position when talking to Ungu.”
“So I CAN still do the ritual?”
So he did and suddenly found himself standing on writhing snakes under a blood-red sun. Ungu towered above of him and asked: “Mortal, give me one reassssson to not ssssswallow you and diggggesssst you ssssoul over the next millennia, while you writhhhhe and sssscream in pain.”
“Oh mighty and powerful Ungu, it is a sad thing, but your followers on the mortal plane have waned and your once great temple has been beset by ugly spiders. They claim dominion there, so… maybe you should smite them?”
He rolled to Parlay and… rolled badly.
“Okay”, I said. “It’s a one shot and we are nearly done. How about Ungu makes you his avatar? Like, Xoran’s mind is completely gone and he is transformed into a tool of Ungu?”
The player agreed and Ungu touched his forehead with the tip of his tail. “Yessss! The mighty kingdom of Ungu will be resssssurected!”
Xoran-Ungu-Avatar was teleported back to the temple and Mouse and the Spider-Rüdiger watched as his skin became scaly, his eyes turned into a glowing yellow and a forked tongue flickered out between poisoned teeth. With a wave of his hand, he brought the broken statue of Ungu to life and sent it after Florimel. Another wave and the spider-babies screamed and started dropping to the floor, their little legs curling up to their body.
Rüdiger had not forgotten his vow to protect the spider-witch. “I’ll attack and stop Xoran.”
I told Mouse that nobody was really paying any attention to him and that he could flee or look after treasure or whatever. Of course, he went after the treasure and jumped into the sacrificial pit. A pretty good roll later, he had three treasures in his hands: The Necklace of Flies, a wooden box with some gold, gems and old letters and the Ring of Beckoning Shadows (which lets you teleport through shadows, but is not exactly reliable).
Now, we had a little talk on how to handle the situation: should we roll an epic fight, freeform or what? We ended with simply deciding that the epic fight between the giant spiders and Xoran-Ungu would destroy the old temple.
“Yeah, and Mouse is the only one who escapes!”
“Not so fast”, I said. “Let’s roll to defy danger.”
Mouse hastened to the entrance, snake-pillars collapsing behind him and… rolled really badly.
“Last chance: You can use the Ring of Beckoning Shadows or you die. Choose”.
“Death or teleportation? Why do you even ask?”
I told him to roll +Int for the teleport and, of course, he rolled less than six.
“Alright”, I told him. “You stumble out of the shadows in a cloud of dust, but instead of your friendly home-tavern you stand in a barren wasteland. Storm clouds hang deep in the sky and lightning constantly strikes the earth. The black diamond in your ring has shattered and you have absolutely no idea where the hell you could be…”
And that’s how we ended. Damn, now I want to play a follow up adventure with a new group, where a grizzled Halfling hands them the map to the lost Temple of Ungu. “Just kill those monsters”, he croaks and stretches out a blackened and dead finger with a ring embedded in it…