• NOW LIVE! -- One-Page Adventures for D&D 5th Edition on Kickstarter! A booklet of colourful one-page adventures for D&D 5th Edition ranging from levels 1-9 and designed for a single session of play.
log in or register to remove this ad

 

First session Dungeon World actual play with single PC

darkbard

Adventurer
Recently, I began GMing a single-player Dungeon World game, wherein my wife plays a Svirfneblin Ranger. I think it may prove useful to present an actual play write up of our game, focusing on GM moves and framing and the snowballing effect of PC moves, since Dungeon World gets some attention on these boards in discussions of indie vs mainstream games, but there are precious few consolidated examples of play. Plus, the unconventional nature of a single-player game adds something further to the discussion (hopefully).

In preparation for our first session, we discussed possibilities for custom racial and advanced moves (you can read what we came up with here) and agreed to start her PC at level 2 in order to have access to a multiclass advanced move that could provide some healing. She wrote two bonds with her Animal Companion (using the alternate rules presented in The Perilous Wilds: a kavvekan, or mastiff-sized tunnel dog of ferocious visage), one with an NPC in a local steading (a kindly baker whom she believes she can count on for aid), and one open slot tbd through play.

Her character concept: The Ranger is enslaved to a clan of slave-trading Duergar who utilize her tracking (both mundane and detect magic varieties) as a “hound” in discovering abductees with magical potential to seize and sell to a Tiefling religious organization known as the Procurers Exquisite. (Think something like Rachel Summers from classic alternate future X-Men.)

I decided to start our first session with a flashback scene, both to see if this established another bond (spoiler alert: it didn’t) and to test the tension between her unwillingness to be used as a hound versus her instinct for self-preservation. So I described an unsavory marketplace (in the same steading where the NPC baker has a stall) in the Underdark, with a multiracial crowd of onlookers gaping and jeering at a group of wretched human abductees from the surface realm on the auction block. A looming and dour Tiefling clad in burnished bronze armor glowers at one of the Duergar, complaining that their new hound (ie, the PC) has been holding out on him. Another Tiefling, a slim female, holds aloft in one fist a male human child, no more than seven years old and gripping his mother’s filthy shift with one hand and a stuffed toy bear with the other, his toes dangling several inches off the ground. “This one holds potential,” says the armored Tiefling, indicating the child.

The Duergar begins scanning the throng in a fluster and calls out for the Svirfneblin Ranger, cracking his knuckles ominously.

“No, mama! Don’t let them take me!” the boy cries out as the female tiefling jerks him away from his sobbing mother’s arms.

What do you do?

She casts Mind Fog and tries to hide herself in plain sight amidst the crowd. A 7-9 result, success with complication. She decides to take -1 ongoing to cast a spell, and I decide to telegraph a danger (soft move), describing the jostling of the crowd, elbows knocking into her head and such as she is crushed among the much larger forms of those who press closer to witness the escalating scene. She’s hidden for now, and the Duergar moves off in search of his missing hound, but the crowd follows in his wake, eager to watch a pending thrashing and threatening to crush the Ranger underfoot.

What do you do?

She decides to Discern Realities to determine “What here is useful or valuable to me?” (hopefully, an escape route) on a success. Not so fast, say I, you’ll need to Defy Danger first (CON) to stay upright and have a good enough view through the surrounding crowd. Another 7-9. I tell her that as the crowd jostles and shoves around her, she spies a side tunnel that could allow her to make a break for freedom, but in the fracas her weapon has come dislodged from her pack and is several paces away. Do you go back for your weapon, or do you make a dash for the tunnel?

What do you do? (Somewhere in there she suffered a debility, confused, as she took an elbow to the head, but I don’t recall specifically how; that means a -1 to any WIS moves, including spellcasting.)

She casts Telekinesis to bring her weapon to hand without going back for it but loses her invisibility (as casting a spell is one of the triggers to end Mind Fog). Also, another 7-9, and she chooses to draw unwanted attention to herself. That’s easy: clearly visible again, she is spotted by the Duergar, who bears down on her in a rage.

What do you do?

She casts Precognition. A 10+! I describe her seeing a flash of the future, the Tiefling slinging the child across his shoulder like a sack of grain and stalking off from the market. She will take +1 forward acting on this knowledge. She decides the child is doomed either way and that she might save herself a thrashing with some quick thinking. She offers to Discern Energies on the boy to confirm the Tiefling’s claim. That should raise the value the Duergar receives for the boy, right? Counting as leverage for Parley? Another 10+ (quite the coup as CHA is the character’s lowest stat; the +1 forward wasn’t even needed). The Duergar holds his raised fist and agrees to the logic of her argument.

She casts Discern Realities but comes up 6- (here that confused debility turned a 7 to 6). First failure! Sure, she confirms what the Tieflings say about the child’s potential for magic (maybe she’s wrong about this, indicative of her failure), but as she does so the female Tiefling, clearly a practitioner herself, notes the Ranger’s aptitude, and I mark this for use as a complication at a later date. “The magic is strong in this one. She knew of the boy’s potential all along, for sure.” As a hard move, I decide to exploit the Tiefling’s instinct: to dominate. He demands to punish the Ranger with a public whipping. I decide to end the scene here, with her punishment and its painful scars that she will carry forward occurring off screen. Did this fail to honor her success on the Parley, to avoid physical punishment from the Duergar in return for using a foe’s instinct as a hard move? Maybe, but we both thought it appropriate to the fiction.

I frame the next scene considerably forward to the present day. The Ranger leads a train of shackled prisoners and Duergar guards through the twisting passages of the Underdark, back to the Duergar fortress of Grimmglimtë Keep. She and her animal companion are at the vanguard when the earth begins to shake, sand and pebbles begin to filter down from the ceiling, and then, without further warning, the great annelid form of a purple worm breaks through the surface of the passage amidst the train, all writhing violet cilia and gaping maw. Is a purple worm too much an adversary for a single 2nd level character in Dungeon World if the Ranger chooses to fight it? I judge not necessarily, for the animal companion would surely attack or defend its master, and the Duergar would just as surely jump into the fray as well, so I could utilize the same rules for additive damage when resolving multiple enemy attacks when PCs fight foes, but in reverse.

But I don’t have to implement such measures, as the Ranger decides to use the fracas as a distraction and make a bolt for freedom. When I ask what do you do? she responds, I cast Mind Fog. 10+. I narrate how the forty foot serpentine form thrashes amidst the shackled prisoners, crushing bodies as its maw opens wide enough to swallow a cart and engulfs one of the Duergar guards. Someone shouts, “Beware the purple worm, the god who crawls!” as Duergar loose their axes and jump into the fray; the Ranger disappears completely from their senses. A small side tunnel leads deeper into the Underdark, away from the Duergar fortress.

What do you do?

The Ranger Discerns Realities, 7-9, and asks, “What should I be on the lookout for?” I return that the Duergar avoid those tunnels because of all the horrid creatures that inhabit them, and maybe it’s still the migration season of the rainbow-frilled velociraptors; best to avoid those if you can. Still want to dash off? Yes.

Hidden until she’s in the passage, she dashes down the tunnel in the dark, twisting and turning with one hand against the near wall. When she feels she has put enough distance to cast Bioluminescence and have it not be seen, she will do so. How far is that? I leave it to a fortune roll: 10+ the passage is tortuous and after a few dozen paces she will be out of sight; 7-9 it will take a hundred yards or so; 6- the tunnel descends slowly in practically a straight line and she’ll need to travel a good quarter-mile before being out of sight. The fortune roll comes up 7-9.

So after a hundred yards, where am I, she asks. I respond, you’re at a Y intersection, that much is clear, with the left branch leading downward steeply, there’s a cool breeze faintly billowing up. But without light she can’t determine anything else. She casts Bioluminescence, 7-9, drawing unwelcome attention. It would be too easy to have Duergar follow her, so I describe a kind of vaulted ceiling at the confluence of these passages and mineral stalactites accumulated about the intersection. Clinging to one, eyes squinting and blinking at the sudden light, is an albino choker ape, reaching out with one preternaturally elongated appendage to douse the source of its misery.

What do you do?

A series of Volley, Defy Danger, Hack & Slash, and Do Your Thing commands to her animal companion ensue, but the dice are not with her. The choker, wrapping the kavvekan in its muscular legs, constricts them with a sickening crunch of bone, and while the Ranger manages to slay the creature, crushing its head with a hefted boulder after losing her pick in the scuffle (on a previous 7-9 roll during Hack & Slash), its return damage on a 7-9 Hack & Slash also reduce her to 0 HP.

Time to make Last Breath rolls for both the Ranger and her animal companion: 12 for the kavvekan, but a less sanguine 7 for the Ranger!

I take a while to mull things over. Death will offer her a bargain: stabilizing in return for a geas, to destroy the phylactery of the ancient lich, Ny-Hor, who has escaped Death’s clutches for aeons.

When next we play, the Ranger will come back to consciousness, having been retrieved by the surviving members of the Duergar party, shackled, in a cell, deep in the Duergar fortress, with an unyielding compulsion to seek out and destroy the ancient phylactery.

Here’s my write up of the geas, loosely modeled on the Paladin Vow move:

Geas: Destroy the phylactery of the lich Ny-Hor.

Boon: An unwavering sense of direction to the phylactery of Ny-Hor.

Boon: When making a move in direct fulfillment of this geas (ask the GM), take +1 forward.

Bane: When choosing not to act to extinguish an undead creature of which you are aware, take -1 ongoing until you atone (the GM will tell you how).
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
I don't know anything about that system, but reading the playthrough of the session it would probably make me want to not play it anymore. If the gnome succeeded at anything they wanted to do cleanly the entire time I failed my spot check to notice it. It reminds me of a multi-session Harn game where my major accomplishment was finding a nice tree branch to carve into a spear so that I had something other than a dagger and rags to my name, meanwhile losing two party members to a few wolves.

Kudos to you guys if you like it, though.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
I don't know anything about that system, but reading the playthrough of the session it would probably make me want to not play it anymore. If the gnome succeeded at anything they wanted to do cleanly the entire time I failed my spot check to notice it. It reminds me of a multi-session Harn game where my major accomplishment was finding a nice tree branch to carve into a spear so that I had something other than a dagger and rags to my name, meanwhile losing two party members to a few wolves.

Kudos to you guys if you like it, though.
That’s kind of the thing about Dungeon World, though; most checks lead to success with complications. It’s worth noting, though, that the outright failures are where most XP comes from – which then lead to more successful checks.

Edit: Also, every one of those 10+ results (on 2d6, modified) was a complete success. Most moves specify what that means.

Edit 2: Also worth mentioning that DW is narrative-driven. The fiction triggers the mechanics and the results adjust the direction of the fiction. Thus, frequent complicated successes are the engine that predominately drives the game.
 
Last edited:

darkbard

Adventurer
That’s kind of the thing about Dungeon World, though; most checks lead to success with complications. It’s worth noting, though, that the outright failures are where most XP comes from – which then lead to more successful checks.

Edit: Also, every one of those 10+ results (on 2d6, modified) was a complete success. Most moves specify what that means.

Edit 2: Also worth mentioning that DW is narrative-driven. The fiction triggers the mechanics and the results adjust the direction of the fiction. Thus, frequent complicated successes are the engine that predominately drives the game.

Thanks for saving me the trouble of an explanatory response, as I'm currently preoccupied with stirring a risotto. It's worth noting, too, the GM principles (1) be a fan of the PCs but (2) fill their lives with adventure. As you mention, the mechanics lead to this kind of snowballing action.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
I get what you are saying and am certainly not saying you are playing games wrong...its just not for me.

With a quick tally on your write up I count

Success: 3
Success with setback: 6
Failure: 1

This doesn't include the "series of Volley, Defy Danger, Hack & Slash, and Do Your Thing commands to her animal companion ensue, but the dice are not with her", which I assume add up to additional failures and success with setbacks.

That's too high a ratio of frustration for my tastes.
 

Arilyn

Hero
Thanks for the write up. Dungeon World has an intensity about it that really caught me off guard the first time I played. I'm glad you are doing the play through, as that feeling comes through. It's a great game, and I hope this encourages more players to give it a try.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
I get what you are saying and am certainly not saying you are playing games wrong...its just not for me.

With a quick tally on your write up I count

Success: 3
Success with setback: 6
Failure: 1

This doesn't include the "series of Volley, Defy Danger, Hack & Slash, and Do Your Thing commands to her animal companion ensue, but the dice are not with her", which I assume add up to additional failures and success with setbacks.

That's too high a ratio of frustration for my tastes.
It’s not for everybody.

But, by my count, that’s 9 out of 10 successes and 7 places where the story turns. That last part is important in DW, because the GM doesn’t get turns in the traditional sense. (And, thus, neither do NPCs.)

Technically, the players don’t either, but almost all of the action in DW is either driven by the PCs or a consequence of PC-driven action (sometimes indirect).

Things still happen off-screen, but they (usually) manifest as events triggered by the dice. The dice aren’t exactly success-checks; they're really more story-triggers. (Often that story wants to know whether success happens, though.)

Edit: It is, in practice, no more frustrating than any turn of events in any RPG would be. Less so than most perhaps, because of the “Be a fan of the players” principal mentioned by @darkbard.
 
Last edited:

darkbard

Adventurer
I get what you are saying and am certainly not saying you are playing games wrong...its just not for me.

With a quick tally on your write up I count

Success: 3
Success with setback: 6
Failure: 1

This doesn't include the "series of Volley, Defy Danger, Hack & Slash, and Do Your Thing commands to her animal companion ensue, but the dice are not with her", which I assume add up to additional failures and success with setbacks.

That's too high a ratio of frustration for my tastes.
I hear where you're coming from, and I too believe not all games appeal to all players. Tastes matter. And yours is the second comment in several months where I've seen someone opine that a success with complication feels like a fail (@prabe, sound familiar?), this after literally never encountering it in years of discussions like this about these PbtA games. So I guess that does tie into taste somehow?

Anyway, thanks for the civil commentary.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I hear where you're coming from, and I too believe not all games appeal to all players. Tastes matter. And yours is the second comment in several months where I've seen someone opine that a success with complication feels like a fail (@prabe, sound familiar?), this after literally never encountering it in years of discussions like this about these PbtA games. So I guess that does tie into taste somehow?

Anyway, thanks for the civil commentary.
It sounds familiar, yes. :)

I'm genuinely pleased the game is working well for you and your wife.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
I hear where you're coming from, and I too believe not all games appeal to all players. Tastes matter. And yours is the second comment in several months where I've seen someone opine that a success with complication feels like a fail (@prabe, sound familiar?), this after literally never encountering it in years of discussions like this about these PbtA games. So I guess that does tie into taste somehow?

Anyway, thanks for the civil commentary.
I’ve always found that DW is easier to grok by people who aren’t burdened with prior RPG experience. Took me a little while, as well.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
After doing a bit of digging....I see that this is a PBtA game. I have played a short campaign of this system before (the Xfiles one) and have watched an in person session of the Teen Angst Superheroes game as well.

I think maybe my issue might be that in the write-up the middle ground seems to always be a success with a big drawback versus a neutral or lesser success without drawback.

Specifically the part that jumped out is early on when a better than average die roll resulted in losing the characters primary weapon unless they undid the partial progress they had already made. That to me seems like a partial failure in a different style of game.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
After doing a bit of digging....I see that this is a PBtA game. I have played a short campaign of this system before (the Xfiles one) and have watched an in person session of the Teen Angst Superheroes game as well.

I think maybe my issue might be that in the write-up the middle ground seems to always be a success with a big drawback versus a neutral or lesser success without drawback.

Specifically the part that jumped out is early on when a better than average die roll resulted in losing the characters primary weapon unless they undid the partial progress they had already made. That to me seems like a partial failure in a different style of game.
I am aware that a number of PbtA games are light on specific moves, but DW isn’t one such. (In fact, it’s surprisingly crunchy for a narrative-driven game.)

Most of the moves in Dungeon World specify what happens in the 7-9 range and a lot of those give the player a few broad options to choose from.

As for a bad roll cancelling the effects of a good roll, I agree that it could feel like it might as well be a 7-9 (except with XP gained), but that’s kind of downplaying the important narrative that takes place in between the rolls. And that narrative is important; it’s kind of the point of DW.
 

darkbard

Adventurer
Specifically the part that jumped out is early on when a better than average die roll resulted in losing the characters primary weapon unless they undid the partial progress they had already made.

Just a brief note that the Ranger's primary weapon is actually the bow, which keys off DEX and powers the Volley and Called Shot (a special Ranger) moves. STR, on which most moves using the melee weapon will key, is the character's 4th highest stat (of the traditional six).
 

She casts Discern Energies but comes up 6- (here that confused debility turned a 7 to 6). First failure! Sure, she confirms what the Tieflings say about the child’s potential for magic (maybe she’s wrong about this, indicative of her failure), but as she does so the female Tiefling, clearly a practitioner herself, notes the Ranger’s aptitude, and I mark this for use as a complication at a later date. “The magic is strong in this one. She knew of the boy’s potential all along, for sure.” As a hard move, I decide to exploit the Tiefling’s instinct: to dominate. He demands to punish the Ranger with a public whipping. I decide to end the scene here, with her punishment and its painful scars that she will carry forward occurring off screen. Did this fail to honor her success on the Parley, to avoid physical punishment from the Duergar in return for using a foe’s instinct as a hard move? Maybe, but we both thought it appropriate to the fiction.

@darkbard

All in all looks good. Looks like you guys had fun and did a very solid job!

Couple thoughts on the Discern Energies/Parley part:

* Its not clear by the excerpt (a) if the Tiefling's statement of "this one holds potential" is establishing/affirming that the Tiefling is capable of making that determination and has already done so (being in the line of work they are in) or (b) if this is just a best guess? Regardless, if the Duergar: Tiefling transaction already established the magical nature of the child, I'm wondering what you guys' thought line was on "Discern Energies revealing the child's nature" being leverage? Was the conversation something like "I can confirm your guess (if it was indeed just a guess)" or was it a bluff of "the child has x potential" (because the Psionic doesn't provide that info as I understand it?)?

* Given what I'm thinking I'm understanding in the reading above, I believe my order of operations would have been the following:

1) Was it not established whether the Tiefling knew for sure or not whether the child was magic? If so, leverage is good so the 10+ stands so long as the PC upholds their end of the bargain. Proceed to Discern Energies.

2) If it was established that the Tiefling did know for sure, then we need to sort out leverage a little more? Is the PC bringing something to the table like the aforementioned bluff "I can tell how potent this child's potential is?" That looks like good leverage to increase the price. If so, Discern Energies doesn't do the trick here and that looks to me like a Defy Danger Int (thinking fast and procedurally pulling off the ruse) or Cha (convincing and pantomiming the move and results of the divination). I'd accept either there.

On (1), if we got a hard failure on DE, then a lot of things can go down here; GM's choice. One option is "the Psionic discipline is lost until you re-attune (with no effect occurring)." In that case, she can't produce the goods for the leverage (because she can't "re-cast"). Does she come clean? If so, that seems like the time where you need to make a soft move to reframe the conflict. Does she try to bluff a consternated recast? Proceed to the second half of (2); DD Int or Cha. On a hard failure there, the rouse is up and there are consequences. On a 7-9, they buy the ruse but you change the situation sufficiently adversely so she has to make a hard choice (possibly something related to an alignment or bond), pay a cost (maybe 1 Coin for causing the delay in purchase and time is money to a slaver), or deal with a downstream complication of the ruse (maybe the Tiefling requests she come back to her steading and the PC show these exact magics to her Elders so they can study how the PC is able to determine how potent a magic is)?

Maybe you can clarify some of that and give your thoughts?
 

Also, do you think you could piece together the move sequence and resolution for the combat?

I'd be curious how you responded to moves made + results and how you felt that went. Running combat and creating dynamic, interesting decision-points is one of the more difficult aspects of DW (that GMs typically don't get the hang of until a fair bit of experience).
 

darkbard

Adventurer
@darkbard

All in all looks good. Looks like you guys had fun and did a very solid job!

Couple thoughts on the Discern Energies/Parley part:

* Its not clear by the excerpt (a) if the Tiefling's statement of "this one holds potential" is establishing/affirming that the Tiefling is capable of making that determination and has already done so (being in the line of work they are in) or (b) if this is just a best guess? Regardless, if the Duergar: Tiefling transaction already established the magical nature of the child, I'm wondering what you guys' thought line was on "Discern Energies revealing the child's nature" being leverage? Was the conversation something like "I can confirm your guess (if it was indeed just a guess)" or was it a bluff of "the child has x potential" (because the Psionic doesn't provide that info as I understand it?)?

* Given what I'm thinking I'm understanding in the reading above, I believe my order of operations would have been the following:

1) Was it not established whether the Tiefling knew for sure or not whether the child was magic? If so, leverage is good so the 10+ stands so long as the PC upholds their end of the bargain. Proceed to Discern Energies.

2) If it was established that the Tiefling did know for sure, then we need to sort out leverage a little more? Is the PC bringing something to the table like the aforementioned bluff "I can tell how potent this child's potential is?" That looks like good leverage to increase the price. If so, Discern Energies doesn't do the trick here and that looks to me like a Defy Danger Int (thinking fast and procedurally pulling off the ruse) or Cha (convincing and pantomiming the move and results of the divination). I'd accept either there.

On (1), if we got a hard failure on DE, then a lot of things can go down here; GM's choice. One option is "the Psionic discipline is lost until you re-attune (with no effect occurring)." In that case, she can't produce the goods for the leverage (because she can't "re-cast"). Does she come clean? If so, that seems like the time where you need to make a soft move to reframe the conflict. Does she try to bluff a consternated recast? Proceed to the second half of (2); DD Int or Cha. On a hard failure there, the rouse is up and there are consequences. On a 7-9, they buy the ruse but you change the situation sufficiently adversely so she has to make a hard choice (possibly something related to an alignment or bond), pay a cost (maybe 1 Coin for causing the delay in purchase and time is money to a slaver), or deal with a downstream complication of the ruse (maybe the Tiefling requests she come back to her steading and the PC show these exact magics to her Elders so they can study how the PC is able to determine how potent a magic is)?

Maybe you can clarify some of that and give your thoughts?
First off, thanks for the excellent feedback, @Manbearcat. Much appreciated. (And I welcome specific feedback from others who have extensive experience with the system as mine is still limited.)

Re Discern Energies/Parley: In framing the flashback scene I didn't establish on what basis the Tiefling called out the Svirfneblin, ie certainty or a hunch. The player indicated to me that her PC would try to sneak magically-potent NPCs through the system under the noses of her masters when possible, and so I decided to see what that might look like in the flashback scene. I guess my thought process was that the male Tiefling didnt know for sure, the female Tiefling was there as a kind of "spot inspector" and did have the capability of determining this, and we would play to find out?

I think I agree, though, on your point about the limitations of Discern Energies and the possible implementation of a DD roll in there. I wasn't thrilled at my decision over the fallout of the failed Discern Energies roll, but at least we were both satisfied with the fictional outcome of the interaction in the moment.

Regardless, the Duergar certainly didn't know and was relying upon his relative control over the PC and thus the situation to get the price he desires in the transaction. (Note on logical consistency in the fiction: Why would the Tiefling essentially negotiate himself into a more expensive purchase? The consistent procuring of magically potent abductees is more important to him than the coin of this single sale, and he hopes to curtail any future failed identifications caused by lax oversight.)

I guess my thought process on Discern Energies was that there were hard moves at my disposal that didn't (1) negate the competency of the PC to fulfill her fictional role and (2) failing to Discern Energies would somehow undo her success with Parley, but thinking about this second part further I realize that's nonsense, and we could still proceed with some kind of Bluff or something as you note.
 

darkbard

Adventurer
Also, do you think you could piece together the move sequence and resolution for the combat?

I'd be curious how you responded to moves made + results and how you felt that went. Running combat and creating dynamic, interesting decision-points is one of the more difficult aspects of DW (that GMs typically don't get the hang of until a fair bit of experience).
Hoo, boy. Yeah, my notes here are not stupendous, and I don’t have great facility with recalling specific details, but I’ll give it a go.

When the albino choker ape (reskinned choker) was revealed, reaching out to squeeze the life out of the source of its misery, rather than Hack & Slash, the Ranger chose to step back and attack via bow from range (Volley). But since the choker has reach, I asked her to Defy Danger first. I don’t have notes on PC HP ablation and her next action was Volley, so I assume she succeeded, dodging the creature’s grasping meathook. She did 8 HP damage (taking the choker down to 9 HP after its armor) but it was on a 7-9 roll and she opted to move to get the shot, placing her in danger (taking some damage on a 7-9 Defy Danger roll; this may have been an error on my part, more a hard move than simply “a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice”?) and commanded her animal companion to Do Their Thing, which was to charge the choker, grab its leg in its maw, and pull it down off the stalactite.

This too was a success, but I can’t recall if it was an unmitigated 10+ or a 7-9 at which the choker inflicted damage upon the animal companion. I do recall that the canine’s teeth were unable to penetrate the ape’s thick hide (2 damage, 2 armor is a wash). Regardless, I narrated that the choker and animal companion were now embroiled in a vicious scrum on the tunnel floor, the choker having wrapped the animal companion in its legs. (This makes me think there may have been some damage involved and thus a 7-9 roll.)

What do you do?

Rather than fire into the melee via Volley and put her animal companion at risk (I’m unsure of her thought process here beyond following the fiction), the Ranger decided to Hack & Slash with her pick. Here things get even fuzzier. I have notations of that H&S and Defy Danger (STR) and memory of the choker taking damage and inflicting it, which I narrated as grasping in its uninjured hand, the one not previously damaged and hanging limp from the arrow it took earlier, the Ranger by the throat until her vision begins to dim at the periphery as she struggles for breath, but beyond that …? I do remember narrating her losing her pick (I need to come up with a better “worse outcome, hard bargain (which I think was in play here), or ugly choice”).

The combat ended on an unfortunate series of dice rolls, the animal companion suffering lethal damage on a 6- roll for Do Their Thing, and the Ranger suffering a similar fate on the return damage from a 7-9 roll on Hack & Slash with a rock (which I adjudicated as w(2d8) as an improvised weapon), while delivering a mortal blow in return.

Anyhoo, additional feedback is encouraged!
 

On combat, these are some meta-principles (if the first two look like 4e principles, there is a reason for that!) I use in PBtA and FitD games which I feel invest those conflicts with danger and interesting decision-points:

* Create Space and Movement

Range, Reach, Forceful tags and Defy Danger (or another applicable move) are so important to Dungeon World. Try to make every combat like Indie's mad dash from the crumbling temple in RotLA or the ranging duels in PotC. Navigating the space between enemies is an obstacles course. Create decision-points that leverage the inherent danger in that space (or lackthereof) and keep pressure on with distance and incentives to navigate it.

* Use Multiple Enemies/Hazards and Variety

This one integrates with and helps animate the meta-principle directly above. The other thing it does is it creates new axes for decision-points. If we don't get to the ridgeline to attack that Artillery, they'll perpetually rain fire down upon us. But how do we navigate obstacle x and y (could be Shock Troops, could be a dangerous climb, could be assassin vines, etc) that is between here and that entrenched position? The Insane Gibbering of the Abomination creates an aura that must be confronted to defeat it. The Sorcerer (Controller) has just cast Earth to Mud and has made pockets of the battlefield treacherous to close distance.

And multiple enemies are fundamentally more dangerous in DW while simultaneously more interesting, being vectors for a larger number of soft moves (and the snowballing of those soft moves).

Develop Your "Cost Game"

Make the fight about more than HP ablation. Threaten precious things; people, places, ideas (Bonds/Alignment).

7-9s are intentionally in abundance. Do you want to lose this intangible fictional positioning (time/space/ability to martial move x, y, z) or will you part ways with tangible resource (Armor, Weapon, Adventuring Gear, Rations, Bag of Books, Coin, Pack/Purse to hold this stuff, etc, etc)?




Incorporate these meta-principles with the broader principles of play and practice your GMing game to improve the way they manifest in play.

How do you feel you did on those grounds in your first combat?
 
Last edited:

darkbard

Adventurer
These meta-principles are solid, and I think the rulebook does a pretty good job of guiding GMs into their use. Since we have extensive experience with 4E, I think I just naturally fell into thinking dynamically about tags like Reach and Forceful, but I didn't really incorporate much in the way of terrain. The choker did begin combat clinging to the stalactites, so there was from the very beginning a three-dimensionality at work in the scene. And I did separate the Ranger from her melee weapon, interposing the wrestling bodies of her animal companion and the ape between her and its reach. So ultimately, I'm pretty satisfied with my decision making with regard to battlefield dynamics.

What I was less satisfied with is my "cost game," twice separating the PC from their melee weapon rather than thinking expansively beyond physical equipment (or, at least, ablating equipment beyond weaponry). Losing her pick in combat in the second instance fit the fiction well, but it would have been more interesting if such a complication had not already been presented in the earlier scene.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
These meta-principles are solid, and I think the rulebook does a pretty good job of guiding GMs into their use. Since we have extensive experience with 4E, I think I just naturally fell into thinking dynamically about tags like Reach and Forceful, but I didn't really incorporate much in the way of terrain. The choker did begin combat clinging to the stalactites, so there was from the very beginning a three-dimensionality at work in the scene. And I did separate the Ranger from her melee weapon, interposing the wrestling bodies of her animal companion and the ape between her and its reach. So ultimately, I'm pretty satisfied with my decision making with regard to battlefield dynamics.

What I was less satisfied with is my "cost game," twice separating the PC from their melee weapon rather than thinking expansively beyond physical equipment (or, at least, ablating equipment beyond weaponry). Losing her pick in combat in the second instance fit the fiction well, but it would have been more interesting if such a complication had not already been presented in the earlier scene.
Combat is a great time to put someone in a spot, offer an opportunity at a cost, or show signs of approaching threat. (Or, with more players, separate them.)

Since the default in DW is that the players usually have the initiative (in the true sense of the word), you can really ratchet up the tension by throwing something out that they have to react to. This can be as simple as an enemy suddenly threatening an ally/ward or perhaps driving the PC backward toward hazardous terrain with a surge of aggressive strikes.

Regaining the initiative can be an opportunity requiring defiance of danger, or sacrifice of resources (a ripped backpack, a wound, loss of a clear head). Or perhaps the foe has feinted, but the opportunity to punish the maneuver is still present, if the PC is deft enough.

And, of course, an approaching threat can be in the form of reinforcements, but also the ominous rumblings of an imminent cavern collapse, or a third-unaffiliated party, like a bulette or the town guard. Or perhaps something insidious, like a long-term disease, previously ingested poison or tragic curse beginning to make their presence manifest.
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top