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First session Dungeon World actual play with single PC

@darkbard

How would you say (a) your broad conception of Dungeon World play and (b) your conception of the minutiae of Dungeon World play has changed since you began playing/running it?

Any particular anecdotes that come to mind that confirmed or defied your initial conceptions?
 

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darkbard

Hero
@darkbard

How would you say (a) your broad conception of Dungeon World play and (b) your conception of the minutiae of Dungeon World play has changed since you began playing/running it?

Any particular anecdotes that come to mind that confirmed or defied your initial conceptions?
Great questions! I will use my experiences as a player in your game as well as my own as GM of this solo game for my wife in response .

Broadly speaking, I was a little surprised at how numerous and diverse were the fictional elements in play that emerged in response to espoused PC dramatic needs via scene framing, the snowballing of mechanical outputs, asking questions and using the answers, and so on. It felt like desperately juggling to keep several balls aloft at once! Once both games moved beyond the initial couple of sessions, the fiction seems to have coalesced around more tightly focused elements, in response, I think, both to discovering more clearly what those PC dramatic needs are and in our human tendency to want to connect potentially separate and atomized elements into linked narrative.

In our shared game, for example, I think of how when we were sketching out the setting in our first session that included a frontier town, a permafrost tundra inhabited by hags, a journey by an archaeological scholar to repair the tearing of the magical Tapestry that subtends the mortal world, and a library at the base of a magical glacial mountain, what emerged was (1) confrontation with bandits, (2) discovery of a murderous hag in her den, (3) an elven scholar, (4) a haughty noblewoman with an overzealous bodyguard, (5) a magical prodigy crafting minor creations in a market, (6) a guide whose reputation was besmirched by an exploitative employer, (7) the town crier infected by leviathan poison and some supernatural element to cry his miseries from the bell tower during a midnight routine. These disparate threads have now focused on themes of (1) saving young people from supernatural threats (it's probably no coincidence my wife's character is 17 or 18 herself and mine a paternalistic figure) and (2) fending off a Magical Incursion from Beyond. Virtually all of this has come about through the GM-PC interaction at the table during play.

In my solo game, the emergent fiction is similarly diverse but coming into sharper relief. "Session Zero" discussion and actual gameplay (again, via sceneframing, acting on the answers to questions, and mechanical fallout) ranged from the unknown status of the Svirfneblin Ranger-Psion's mother, to her own continued status as slave, to the unknown role of Tieflings in this narrative, to seeking out the phylactery of an ancient lich as part of a bargain with death (all in first session or before!) to now focus on her new status as slave to a Tiefling officer and pursuing his agenda for the moment. I think this is a function of my wife's choice to cast her character as a slave, subverting her own actions as secondary to those of her "owner" in service to a dramatic need that on surface undermines her character's agency a little. I'll be very interested to see how that changes if and when she gains her freedom; and be assured, I regularly dangle opportunities for freedom (with attendant risk) before her to see how she acts.

On the smaller scale and just as an observation about a specific mechanical subsystem within the game, I am surprised by how DW's spell system seems to disincentivize PCs regularly taking on higher level spells in preference for a range of lower level ones. Generally speaking, I just don't thing the power increase is worth the tradeoff. My wife's Wizard is level 6 (eligible for 5th level spells) but regularly prepares 2 third level and 1 first level spell; my Paladin (MC Cleric) is 7th level and also eligible for 5th level spells but regularly prepares 1 third level and 4 first level spells. My wife's Ranger-Psion (4th level, eligible for 3rd level spells) prepares 4 first level spells. Maybe this is entirely reflective of our own gaming preferences, but I think many of the higher level spells are too narrowly focused to give up a range of effects. This had been mitigated, as you know, by homebrewing a few higher level spells that provide a similar power level to their canon counterparts but more diversity in application or effects.

Otherwise, I don't think my expectations of play in this system as I have formed them over years of discussions here and its actual play differ. I think I am one of those rare birds who is quite capable of understanding the theory and abstract notions without playing them first (you speculated about this type of player in another thread recently). As a tradeoff, I think I have a much diminished ability to "visualize" concrete images than the average person; I rarely imagine in specific images, for example.
 

On the smaller scale and just as an observation about a specific mechanical subsystem within the game, I am surprised by how DW's spell system seems to disincentivize PCs regularly taking on higher level spells in preference for a range of lower level ones. Generally speaking, I just don't thing the power increase is worth the tradeoff. My wife's Wizard is level 6 (eligible for 5th level spells) but regularly prepares 2 third level and 1 first level spell; my Paladin (MC Cleric) is 7th level and also eligible for 5th level spells but regularly prepares 1 third level and 4 first level spells. My wife's Ranger-Psion (4th level, eligible for 3rd level spells) prepares 4 first level spells. Maybe this is entirely reflective of our own gaming preferences, but I think many of the higher level spells are too narrowly focused to give up a range of effects. This had been mitigated, as you know, by homebrewing a few higher level spells that provide a similar power level to their canon counterparts but more diversity in application or effects.

I'll have more commentary later on the rest of what you've written above. For now, just going to post on this.

As you and I have discussed personally, I agree that there are some specific "holes in Dungeon World's spellcasting game" when it comes to scaling. I think there are two problems (and they're related to another conversation we had Friday night) that Adam/Sage accidentally introduced or didn't conceptually resolve with the spellcasting scaling:

1) The x axis is more powerful than the y axis in Dungeon World. Because players and player characters (most overlap on the Venn Diagram but the most potent are via discrete and indirect means that hook directly into the Protagonist nature of play; your evinced dramatic needs are the scaffolding for the trajectory of play and this is continuously addressed via "ask questions and use the answers") have so much y axis power already, there is steep diminishing returns on character build toward the y axis. This is further amplified due to the fact that the game's engine creates so_many_pivotal_and_snowballing moments of action resolution.

This can be looked at in the same way that the classic D&D 5MWD can be looked at. Take the 5e D&D Diviner at Epic Tier. The pressure you can put on this character's resources is absolutely minimal because of (a) so many spell slots, (b) so much at-will x and y axis power (Cantrips and low level at-will and Rituals), (c) 3 * Portents, (d) multiple avenues of individual spell refresh, (e) x and y axis power to dictate workday refresh. This isn't even touching magic items. As a result, unless this character is facing something on the order of 30+ PIVOTAL decision-points a day, it is trivial for a skilled Diviner to manage their loadout in a way such that resource pressure never emerges. They're just pressing big, beefy buttons all day long.

In a sort of inverted paradigm (due to all of the pivotal and snowballing decision-points as an outgrowth of action resolution), x-axis prowess (having a wide breadth of answers to questions) is considerably more powerful in DW.

Now I love this model...but it does have design implications and fallout for high level spellcasting (the kind we're talking about here).

2) Reframing ability in Protagonist Play is less potent for a number of reasons. Consider (again) our conversation from the other night. The Elven Ranger move:

Elf​

When you undertake a perilous journey through wilderness whatever job you take you succeed as if you rolled a 10+.

Looks great on paper. In play? Here are the implications of this move:

a) You can never get xp on your selected Role on Perilous Journeys.

b) This scene reframing ability ensures that you'll never face a Danger in your role. In Perilous Wilds, you'll always get 2 Boons for example. That is awesome. But that means that you'll never deal with any extended conflict and interesting decision-points as a downstream effect of that perma scene-reframing ability. Go back to (1) above (there is always going to be more pressure points on the stuff you care about/your thematic shtick in this game to review some of the issues with this (as it relates to the scaling such that high level spells increase y axis power situationally but significantly reduces x axis prowess).

What is more interesting and better design in my opinion? The kind of design that (a) lets the Elven Ranger player get xp on from their move made, (b) ensures their competency, (c) lets them roll dice, (d) keeps their thematic stuff onscreen at a dramtically higher rate (across the population of all moves/obstacles faced in the game), and (e) gives the player the opportunity for an interesting decision-point (tactical, strategic, thematic)?

RAISE THE FLOOR of the possible outcomes (rather than ensure the ceiling):

Elf​

When you undertake a perilous journey through wilderness, if you get a 6- on your role move, mark xp and treat the result as a 7-9.

Its now like the Paladin move Staunch Defender where you get 1 Hold on Defend even if you get a 6-. Much, much better design (for all of the reasons above) in my opinion.
 
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@darkbard

Do you have any moments of play in the one I'm GMing where your instinctive reaction to a complication I generated (whether its a softer complication from a 7-9 result or a harder one from a 6- result) was "I would have done that differently if I was GMing this instance of play?"

If you do, can you unpack your thoughts on that? That would be interesting.

Along the same lines, when you've reflected on your GMing in your own game, do you have any particular moments of "I wish I would have rendered this complication rather than the one I did?" Maybe unpack that if so.
 

darkbard

Hero
@darkbard

Do you have any moments of play in the one I'm GMing where your instinctive reaction to a complication I generated (whether its a softer complication from a 7-9 result or a harder one from a 6- result) was "I would have done that differently if I was GMing this instance of play?"

If you do, can you unpack your thoughts on that? That would be interesting.

I'll think a little more about an example from my game as GM, but I have this example from the game you GM for us:

The scene: my Paladin and my wife's Wizard race to a glacial alpine archaeological dig site to head off the incursion of extra planar forces animating the bones in the well unearthing a dragon ossuary (as foretold through the spell Visions through Time and leading, unless stopped, to the mass slaughter of the scholars and workers on site). Through a previous Discern Realities move, we know that immediate threats include avian predators and avalanche.

My wife's Wizard fails (6-) a roll to augment her Mage Hand spell during combat with a rampaging wyvern that attacks the site, and your move was to narrate the newly forged wand that powered the spell surging uncontrollably from her hand with electrical feedback and ricocheting down the well. (For the record, I have no issue with this move.)

My thought at the time, partially informed by your own walking back of the description from character-centered mishap to new item surging out of control: rather than separating the PC from this new and interesting piece of equipment, why not introduce the wyvern's mate or an avalanche (from the electrical feedback), already telegraphed threats, into the situation?

Again, I think your move was interesting and appropriate (and built from the established fiction); but my.mind went a different direction in the moment.

Another example, this from last Friday's session: Alastor, my Paladin, was leading a technical climb up a glacial cliff face in pursuing the wyverns back to their lair, but the dice were not with me. Amid my series of successive failed rolls was one when I attempted to launch myself from a crumbling section by digging my ice axe into the face and swinging myself to a safe ledge I spotted. But I rolled that failure. Your move: I land successfully but the landing is not as safe as I thought; it's solid ice that complicates my footing at every step and I espy a creature of shadow (an agent of our arch nemesis, a necromancer who lives in a fortress atop the mountain) that must have been tracking us throughout our journey.

Again, an interesting move and one I like, but my mind suggested manifesting the mate of the recently slain wyvern as the hard move here.
 

Great response/thoughts/questions.

Let me give my thoughts/remembrance chronologically:

I'll think a little more about an example from my game as GM, but I have this example from the game you GM for us:

The scene: my Paladin and my wife's Wizard race to a glacial alpine archaeological dig site to head off the incursion of extra planar forces animating the bones in the well unearthing a dragon ossuary (as foretold through the spell Visions through Time and leading, unless stopped, to the mass slaughter of the scholars and workers on site). Through a previous Discern Realities move, we know that immediate threats include avian predators and avalanche.

My wife's Wizard fails (6-) a roll to augment her Mage Hand spell during combat with a rampaging wyvern that attacks the site, and your move was to narrate the newly forged wand that powered the spell surging uncontrollably from her hand with electrical feedback and ricocheting down the well. (For the record, I have no issue with this move.)

My thought at the time, partially informed by your own walking back of the description from character-centered mishap to new item surging out of control: rather than separating the PC from this new and interesting piece of equipment, why not introduce the wyvern's mate or an avalanche (from the electrical feedback), already telegraphed threats, into the situation?

Again, I think your move was interesting and appropriate (and built from the established fiction); but my.mind went a different direction in the moment.

1) The avalanche is an awesome idea. As I'm considering it now, that is something I would absolutely do (from an orthodox GMing perspective and the kinds of situational hazard complications I love to deploy). I didn't think of it. I'm surprised I didn't.

If I would have, that is what I would have gone with. Your instinct is right on here.

2) Because I didn't think of the avalanche, my brain went like this:

a) How can I escalate this situation in such a way that it (i) increases the danger, (ii) is thematically provocative, and (iii) engages with the dramatic needs of one or more of the characters? But it also needs to flow from the fiction and genre tropes.

b) How do relatively newly crafted volatile items that have like telekinetic and elemental properties involved? It just seemed like having it explode out of her hand and down into the Dragon Ossuary below was an awesome way to do all of the following things:

* Turn her move back on her and test her battles with her impulsivities. Give her a compelling thematic decision-point to battle her own issues and turn my "turn their move back on them" move into a "separate them" move. And she did not disappoint as she took the plunge down into the deep dark not long after!

* It also set the stage for allowing me to make the big escalation to the confrontation that she wanted with the Devourer and the tearing of the magical tapestry that binds the world.

* It also put Alastor in a hugely compromised position and endangered his understudy, Rose. If she took the bait and jumped down (as I expected she might), it would create a lot of opportunity to test if Memna would deliver himself through the horrible conflict with the Dracolich, and through him, deliver Rose. A bit of play to find out providence if she is meant to ascend or die terribly here and now (and it would be on him exclusively to determine that).

But this in turn creates the opportunity for a new bond with Maraqli about trust.

So anyway...I thought it was genre appropriate, thematically compelling in that it tested Maraqli in ways that matter to the game, and could turn into a nice setup for follow-on escalation and conflicts.


Another example, this from last Friday's session: Alastor, my Paladin, was leading a technical climb up a glacial cliff face in pursuing the wyverns back to their lair, but the dice were not with me. Amid my series of successive failed rolls was one when I attempted to launch myself from a crumbling section by digging my ice axe into the face and swinging myself to a safe ledge I spotted. But I rolled that failure. Your move: I land successfully but the landing is not as safe as I thought; it's solid ice that complicates my footing at every step and I espy a creature of shadow (an agent of our arch nemesis, a necromancer who lives in a fortress atop the mountain) that must have been tracking us throughout our journey.

Again, an interesting move and one I like, but my mind suggested manifesting the mate of the recently slain wyvern as the hard move here.

On this one, my brain went through the following subroutine:

1) A hard move to use up their resources could have gone at the following pressure points; Adventuring Gear, Rations, Weapon/Shield, Armor.

* Adventuring Gear and Rations are a brutal loss (a) given the nature of the expedition and (b) given the fact that you've already lost so many in the course of the effort to get here. You've expended them naturally and I've used them up as complications. Further, I had already used them as complications in this session (on this very climb). So just seems boring due to repetition and a bit too punishing.

* Your Armor is already compromised. That isn't nearly as much of a hit and not terribly interesting to me here.

* You just got your magic shield. It also doesn't make a ton of sense for you to lose it given its strapped on. Boring and not terribly intuitive.

* HP for a 7th level Paladin with the resources at his disposal? Always a good pressure point but (a) seriously diminished due to the class/capabilities and (b) just not terribly fun in this situation.

So "meh" on use up your resources.

So that brought me to "reveal an unwelcome truth" (the ice-covered landing) and "show signs of an approaching threat" (the Nightwalker sent by the Sorcerer).

This stemmed from a conversation we had about (a) it being daylight (when he can summon his minions to thwart you) and (b) the fact that he hadn't done it in awhile. Now both of those moves are basically soft moves (I wasn't using a monster like I did on Maraqli earlier with the Wyvern...I'm just making it present and announcing future badness), so I made them both simultaneously to dynamically change the situation and, together, make a hard enough move against you that I thought brought about an interesting and dangerous conflict.

I didn't use the Mother here because I had used the father earlier on Maraqli's move. Again, I'm not terribly inclined toward making the same move (flying wyvern attacks you in a precarious situation) twice in any kind of close proximity (in terms of play interval) if I can help it.

Further, I like the idea of fighting her in her lair where she is going to be enormously fierce as she protects her younglings. And I can deploy lair/territory based complications better there.

So those are all of my thoughts on those two decisions! What do you think?
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I tend to shy away from separating PCs from newly acquired gear, or worse, new gear they've crafted for themselves. I'll do it if I have to, but with the same thought process as above I probably would have gone with electrical feedback and the wand shorts out, plus you drop it. Take some damage and it will need to be repaired. Assuming you have the time to pick it up. You know, wyverns and whatnot. This does really highlight the difficulties of constantly making decisions on the fly though, as one does in PbtA or FitD games. Hindsight, right?
 

I tend to shy away from separating PCs from newly acquired gear, or worse, new gear they've crafted for themselves. I'll do it if I have to, but with the same thought process as above I probably would have gone with electrical feedback and the wand shorts out, plus you drop it. Take some damage and it will need to be repaired. Assuming you have the time to pick it up. You know, wyverns and whatnot. This does really highlight the difficulties of constantly making decisions on the fly though, as one does in PbtA or FitD games. Hindsight, right?

Yup.

You're juggling a lot of cognitive balls in the air simultaneously, but you're not just juggling them, you're integrating them.

Personally though, I find the bandwidth required to run these games is dramatically less than running a high resolution BECMI Hexcrawl.

She was able to recover the wand by the by. It was just a temporary loss of the item that triggered a pretty big decision-point (she didn't have to go after it...she's got resources to fall back on...but I knew this would entice the hell out of her to do something rash...and she did!) and major snowballing fallout as this (a) split the party and (b) triggered the immediate escalation to a big calamity that was impending for this place (Camp 2 in their expedition to the top of the mountain and the Sorcerer's fortress).


That being said, if Manbearcat of the now spoke to Manbearcat of the past he would definitely say "LET LOOSE THE AVALANCHE!" Really surprising I didn't think of that and then do it. That is so me to make that particular move.
 



darkbard

Hero
So those are all of my thoughts on those two decisions! What do you think?

Very interesting to see your thought process outlined post mortem. Everything makes sense and follows well from the fiction. I agree wholeheartedly about trying not to utilize the same move vs PCs multiple times in a session (eg ablate or separate them from equipment), which I felt was a misstep I made in my first session GMing (noted in OP). However, I think I would have made the exception in having the wyvern mate threaten in situation two above, just because it seems so tightly a logical outcome of the fiction (appearing to avenge her recently slain mate). That said, your logic on not doing so in favor of the choices you made is sound and also logically follows from pre-established fiction. This speaks to a point you made recently in the "GM notes" thread about being graded by other GMs, I think, at least partially: there are many potential outcomes in any decision point, each with equal claim to logical consistency, fictional aptness, invitation to the making of hard choices, and so on.
 

Very interesting to see your thought process outlined post mortem. Everything makes sense and follows well from the fiction. I agree wholeheartedly about trying not to utilize the same move vs PCs multiple times in a session (eg ablate or separate them from equipment), which I felt was a misstep I made in my first session GMing (noted in OP). However, I think I would have made the exception in having the wyvern mate threaten in situation two above, just because it seems so tightly a logical outcome of the fiction (appearing to avenge her recently slain mate). That said, your logic on not doing so in favor of the choices you made is sound and also logically follows from pre-established fiction. This speaks to a point you made recently in the "GM notes" thread about being graded by other GMs, I think, at least partially: there are many potential outcomes in any decision point, each with equal claim to logical consistency, fictional aptness, invitation to the making of hard choices, and so on.

Yup.

Either decision there would have been a wash I think (if we're applying an "objective grade"), though my normative cognitive process is going to lead me to pretty much always make the move I made in that session.

On the first one though, my normative cognitive process is going to overwhelmingly lead me to make the "OMG AVALANCHE" move (as you noted you felt would be the "best" move). And I think if AVALNCHE is an "A" grade there (I think it is), what I actually went with was a "B."
 

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