Talking About An Apocalypse: Looking At Dungeon World
  • Talking About An Apocalypse: Looking At Dungeon World


    Dungeon World is the first foray into Powered by the Apocalypse games for many gamers, since it is just a hop, skip, and a jump from something like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder into Dungeon World. It borrows quite a bit from those games, in terms of surface-level mechanics, to capture the tone of those worlds while keeping the core of the PbtA system intact.


    One of the first things I loved about Dungeon World is how it tonally captures what I always wanted D&D to be but could never quite get there. It blends the adventuring, swashbuckling heroism of your "typical" high fantasy game, and blends it very smoothly with the kick-ass, full throttle, swaggering attitude of Apocalypse World. The Bard playbook gives you abilities like "It Goes to Eleven", while the Thief might get "Wealth and Taste". The Barbarian, my favorite class to play in any game, gets such gems as "What is Best in Life" and "My Love for You is Like a Truck".

    Dungeon World was the first game I ever played where bonds and relationships between characters are baked into character creation; it's a non-optional step to build a cohesive party where everyone has history with each other. The bonds you create have a mechanical impact at the end of each session, where resolving relationships and histories helps you gain XP. While it's not the only game to do this, I think it's especially important in this type of setting, where I usually find that the group is held together only by the promise of gold and glory. Putting a mechanical benefit to role-playing your relationships with the other characters is, for some players, the only incentive to do so.

    Where Dungeon World might be unfavorably compared to D&D or Pathfinder is a lack of versatility - when they say Dungeon World, they mean it. The game is centered strongly on the aspect of raiding the dungeon, killing the monsters, and taking their stuff. For players who want more in the way of intrigue, politicking, and secrets, they will likely find this game lacking. It can be done, but it's not what the game was made for, and I think trying to shoehorn an intrigue plotline in will do a disservice to both the story and the game. Some publishers have put out rules expansions to bring in more of that element, which might be worth checking out, depending on your group.

    As with anything, where you simplify and streamline a game like this, you lose out on some of the crunchier aspects. Dungeon World's character stats, customization, and rules in general are less crunchy than D&D 5e, and certainly less so than Pathfinder. If you like poring over minute situational rules, rolling great big handfuls of dice, number crunching, you won't find it here. PbtA games use a basic 2d6 system, and the list of normal player moves is only one page, front and back.

    A good thing to explore with Dungeon World in particular is the huge quantity of third-party content available. There's hundreds of fan-made playbooks, like the Spider, the Living Star, the Slimeling, the Shroomkin. There's several "creature decks", providing quick stats for a wide variety of foes on playing cards. There are numerous published campaigns, building whole worlds for exploration, which you don't see for many of the other PbtA games. I particularly recommend Space Wurm vs Moonicorn, a complete package: a science fantasy world, a multifaceted story, new character playbooks, and more (also you get to say "Space Wurm vs Moonicorn" as much as you want and that's just delightful).

    contributed by Jennifer Adcock

    You can see more of Jennifer's thoughts on the stream of design in Powered By The Apocalypse games here on EN World.
    Comments 10 Comments
    1. Dire Bare's Avatar
      Dire Bare -
      Coincidentally . . . (?)

      The Bundle of Holding just launched a Dungeon World bundle today!

      https://bundleofholding.com/presents/DungeonWorld3

      Check it out!
    1. silentdante's Avatar
      silentdante -
      hmm i might have to pick up this bundle, i dont have a group but i find it entertaining to read and learn about different systems

      thanks!
    1. TrippyHippy's Avatar
      TrippyHippy -
      I thought this was going to be one of those off-putting, gushing reviews that we seem to get a lot with Powered by the Apocalypse games, but it was actually pretty well balanced over view.

      I have played Dungeon World and, as pointed out, felt that there were a few more restrictions in character choices available than in the current D&D. It's basically more driven than D&D insofar that it wants you to play your characters in a certain way - based on archetypes and their relationships to others. This may be what a particular gaming group is looking for, of course.
    1. Elfcrusher's Avatar
      Elfcrusher -
      Quote Originally Posted by silentdante View Post
      hmm i might have to pick up this bundle, i dont have a group but i find it entertaining to read and learn about different systems
      DW is a good choice for that. The near-absence of crunch makes for more entertaining reading.
    1. ajchafe's Avatar
      ajchafe -
      One of my group started running us through a homebrew Spelljammer type setting with Dungeon World. We have only had one session and it WAS a lot of fun, but I really don't like the character restrictions. It almost feels like they are even trying to limit your imagination a bit with your character.

      Also I find combat to be extremely weird and don't fully understand it, probably because I mostly play D&D 5e though.

      I am excited to play more though. I should point the DM towards the bundle.
    1. JenKatWrites's Avatar
      JenKatWrites -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dire Bare View Post
      Coincidentally . . . (?)

      The Bundle of Holding just launched a Dungeon World bundle today!

      https://bundleofholding.com/presents/DungeonWorld3

      Check it out!
      A coincidence for sure, but definitely a happy one!
    1. jaycrockett -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dire Bare View Post
      Coincidentally . . . (?)

      The Bundle of Holding just launched a Dungeon World bundle today!

      https://bundleofholding.com/presents/DungeonWorld3

      Check it out!
      Bought the bundle yesterday, been all over it, now I'm running a game for newbies on Friday!
    1. Arilyn's Avatar
      Arilyn -
      Quote Originally Posted by ajchafe View Post
      One of my group started running us through a homebrew Spelljammer type setting with Dungeon World. We have only had one session and it WAS a lot of fun, but I really don't like the character restrictions. It almost feels like they are even trying to limit your imagination a bit with your character.

      Also I find combat to be extremely weird and don't fully understand it, probably because I mostly play D&D 5e though.

      I am excited to play more though. I should point the DM towards the bundle.
      I enjoy DW, but absolutely get your point about characters. I don't go into the game with a pre-set character idea, which helps, but also means that as much as I have fun with the system, it'll never be my favourite.

      Combat is a blast. I love that there is no initiative order. It feels less weird the more you play.
    1. CubicsRube's Avatar
      CubicsRube -
      Be aware that dungeonworld, like all pbta games, are very focused on a particular theme.

      I'm running a classic d&d style campaign out of a dungeon with DW and it stretches the system as is.

      I would look into the advice at the back into making moves and even new playsheets for spelljammer, as the system works very well in its focus, but provides almost no guidance out of that. Therefore I'd suggest at the least codifying some more common moves.

      I'll second combat without initiative. Felt weird at first, but then it seems so obvious that you wonder why it seemed so vital in the first place.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Has anyone played Murderous Ghosts?
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