Dungeon World Hits My Microlite7x Sunday Game Group

Dungeon World coverOne of my four Sunday game players was going to be out of town for business for the last three Sundays in April. Originally, I was going to run my Sunday game for the remaining three players running some of their henchmen as PCs. However, the week before this was to start, the subject of Dungeon World came up on the group mailing list with one of the players asking me what I thought of the game. After saying that he had thought it would be fun but after playing it decided he did not like it as it was too restrictive. However, his real issue with the game was that it was too narrative. While lists of names and weird rules about no more than one of each character class in the game were mildly annoying, the real problem was he had no interest in doing the GM’s job of creating the world and deciding what happens beyond what his character could control.

I said that I had heard a number of similar complaints from old school players who are there to explore the world as their character and want to play by saying what their character is doing in the world and have no interest in making decisions that their character couldn’t make. Players who aren’t playing to tell a good story but to “live” as their character day to day in the world. I pointed out that while Dungeon World is obviously written to be played as a narrative game, it would be easy enough to play the game like a standard early TSR version of D&D.

You could:

  • Ignore the lists of character names, the limit of only one character of each class in the game, and the like. These hardly even count as rules changes.
  • Ignore the bits about creating a world as a group and simply play in the GM’s world.
  • When choices have to be made in the game that aren’t a choice the player could make in character, the GM simply decides what happens the way he would in a normal D&D game. For example, while a character could choose to use extra ammo to get a hit, he could not choose something like his opponent stumbles so he can hit him (any more than I could choose that you agree with everything I write in this post).

As for the poorly named (IMHO) “moves” which annoy many OSR players, there are really two types of Dungeon World “moves”:

The first type (the basic moves than anyone can do) are simply general situation resolution methods that the GM can use when needed — just like an attribute roll, a hit roll, or a saving throw in old school D&D. They are just methods of resolving actions that the GM calls for when a player has his or her character do something that needs that method of resolution. The procedure is just dressed up in a different language. Making a move is just doing something that the GM says needs to be resolved by that particular resolution system. Therefore players don’t need to even think about making these types of moves. They just roll when the GM asks them to roll, just like in old school D&D (but rolling 2d6).

The second type of move is a just a class ability description and the suggested method of the GM to use in resolving the use of that class ability. Moves of this second type are really no different than the class abilities of TSR-era thieves. For example the TSR thief ability “Hide in Shadows” is just like a Dungeon World class ability move: both describe a class ability and give rules the GM can use for resolving the use of the class ability when it comes up in play. Making these types of moves is just using a class ability.

In other words, if the GM and players ignore the narrative stuff and the GM runs Dungeon World just like he would run a old school D&D game, Dungeon World in play would be little different in play than old school D&D. The main difference would be the combat system which lacks the round by round structure of D&D, instead opting for a less structured handling of combat. I don’t see a lot of problem here, both Dungeon World and early D&D combat is highly abstract. With some work one could even use a more D&D like combat system.

After discussing this a bit on the mailing list, I was asked if I could demonstrate it. So we’ve played a non-narrative version of Dungeon World for the last three Sunday games. When you drop the narrative stuff, it does indeed play much like early D&D. Of the three players in the three sessions, everyone thought it was okay but not something they’d want to use instead of my Microlite7x rules in our regular game.

I however, was impressed by how well class abilities (aka the special moves each class gets) worked in Dungeon World. I may experiment with adding a DW-like resolution system to at least some class abilities in a future Microlite7x variant.

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4 Responses

  1. I've found that if you approach the game more like a movie, and get to add "special effects" to the game, the player narrative parts can go over well even with players who are mainly there to discover the GMs world.

    It would be interesting to hear how your players would approach such a thing. It would kind of side step the part about making decisions their characters would not be able to make.

  2. Randall says:

    Andreas: I posted this to my group's mailing list. So far, the only response is "Huh?" I don't think anyone (including me) really understands what you mean by 'approach the game more like a movie, and get to add "special effects" to the game". Oh, just now another response appeared in my inbox. "Special Effects? Deciding when to use them and what they are is the director's job."

  3. Maybe I should have added an example. If everyone agrees you as the GM controls the world, and don't want to add t to it, maybe they would care for more narrative control of their characters? What I mean with "special effects" would be like if someone was bashing down a door and you as a GM asked them "So, how does that look like?"

    While maybe not the most exciting example, but the idea would be to have more input as a player on "the world" of your characters actions, as opposed to detailing those dwarves you just met.

    Was that more understandable?

    I've found my players relish that kind of power, and it felt like some way to give the players more of "narrative power" so to speak.

  4. Molilane says:

    The way that I always understood it, particularly in the case of Dungeon World (rather than any of the other Apocalypse World modifications) was that it was a convenient bridge between modern "gamey" RPGs (4th Edition being the clearest example) with lots of "buttons to push" so to speak, and OSR games where the "story" doesn't need to exist outside the actions of the players.

    I've heard very many GMs of more modern games complain that their characters, whenever they want to do anything, first look down at their character sheet to figure out what dice they can roll to do it, because when "Speech" is a dice-related skill, like. At some point you're deciding from lists of skills, rather than thinking in terms of "what my character wants to do and how they'd do it." There was a post I read once, discussing what was wrong with 4th edition in the blogger's mind, and they use an example of a rogue who wanted to use a Monk Power. Something to do with a burning dragon kick. Anyways, in 4th edition, they hand you a button to push as a Monk, and when you push it, you do 3 cool kicks, and the 3rd one does extra damage because of the power of your chi. But why, they argued, couldn't a rogue do three kicks, and the third one does extra damage cause it targets the guy's throat? It's the same mechanical effect, and there's nothing stopping a rogue from doing it in B/X, except maybe that it's not exceptionally fair to allow rogues three attacks.

    Now, for people used to playing in a freeform way, and used to thinking outside of the rules, and then getting the GM making a ruling on how that plays out at the table, there's really no reason to add shiny buttons in order to facilitate an experience they're already having without the shiny buttons.

    It's like a point-and-shoot camera, or the camera in your smart phone. Is it as good as a SLR? No, not really. If you are just trying to take snapshots, they're about the same, but if you're trying to do something cool, then you find that the point-and-shoot limits you.

    But if you don't know how to use a camera, then you could really use something that facilitates taking nice photos, and a good point-and-shoot is a good transition into taking nice photos, even though it's a limited tool in the hands of a professional.