Why Dungeon World fascinates me

My winter vacation is coming to an end, and next to spending some more time with my girlfriend and playing video games, I’m also using my loads of free time to read through new tabletop role-playing games. Next to Fiasco (which I praised a few days ago), another title has caught my attention due to the amount of discussion about it in the blogosphere: Dungeon World.

If you have been so unfortunate to have not heard of this game, Dungeon World takes the well-known dungeoncrawling genre, and adds a layer of storytelling and narrative gameplay. The GM plays a rather small role in the entire campaign, being there to pose challenges to the party and to interpret their rolls. The GM himself never rolls a die (except for damage) and is only there to guide and navigate the story. This basic premise intrigued me, and now that I’m done reading the rulebook, I am more than intrigued. I am fascinated.

"The World" by Tony Dowler

“The World” by Tony Dowler

You see, Dungeon World puts emphasis on the conversation between players and the GM. It’s an old concept, one that every one of us has used at the table: the GM describes a scene, sets the mood with the right words and when everyone has an idea of what’s going on, the classic question “What do you do?” is posed. It’s nothing special, but Dungeon World puts this whole conversation into the spotlights. It makes the whole back-and-forth between descriptions given by the players and the GM the essence of the game, instead of focusing on dozens of little rules that might disturb the flow of gameplay. Just keep on telling an epic story in a fascinating world full of adventures, and worry about the rules later!

Talking about a fascinating world, Dungeon World does not expect you to come up with a fleshed-out campaign setting before starting your first game. Instead, it expects you to start your first sessions with almost no preparation whatsoever, and to just use what the players throw at you. This premise is awesome: right after character creation (which also focuses on “bonds” and relationships between the party members, so that no mysterious guy has to recruit them in a pub) the players and their heroes dive into some cool scenario and fight their way out. Use what’s on their sheet, instead of what’s behind your screen. In a way, Dungeon World is the game for the lazy GM: just go with what your players want, as long as you keep the action flowing!

It makes me happy to see game that takes the old and somewhat boring dungeoncrawler concept, and makes it so enchanting by adding this layer of storytelling. Really, you should visit the author’s homepage or head right to your digital friendly gaming store to buy it, and see what little gem they created. I will probably prod my group into playing this soon, and you will hear about it here. Have fun plundering dragon hoards!

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9 comments

  1. I am a lazy GM, and I approve of this message. 😉

    You’re right, DW is the lazy GM’s dream. You can be a lazy GM in any system, but most systems are build such that they impose a rather big amount of work for the GM. *cough cough D&D cough*

    In DW it’s a feature, you don’t plan anything, you simply follow the lead of the players and throw some appropriate dangers at them to make the story more interesting. It works really really well 🙂

    DISCLAIMER: It’s not that I dislike D&D, but I have a hard time following the lead of the players because monsters are so advanced. I can’t just wing them without making rather boring monsters.

  2. I don’t think it has anything to do with being lazy per see, it is about not wasting effort and leaving to the game the moment to know what happens.

    It makes sandbox extremely easy and this post covers it well enough: Dungeon World is all about everyone getting together to tell a story.

  3. This is suprising. I’ve just recently led a game of D&D 5ed (beta rules) in a fashion you describe. I did however have a scenario and even a dungeon designed but directed the team so that they focus on relations between them and just some everyday tasks. The effect – they argued about renting a wagon, negotiated how they divide loot, complained that it rains all the time, felt happy when sitting by the fire etc. In the end the game was 5-6 hours long, players haven’t even reached the dungeon and for all of us it was one of the best games in years 🙂

    1. Wow, fantastic to hear that your players had fun doing all this not-so-typical D&D stuff! 😀 Great to see how you don’t even need rules to have this kind of stuff happening. It adds so much mood to a game!

  4. D&D can deliver this kind of game, it just doesn’t that the rules do not support it directly, the greatest difference would be in combat, where D&D is more often a refined number of systemic choices, attacks are bland, in Dungeon World it is all about description as well, the system supports a more descriptive combat.

    I GMed a D&D Next playtest as well and we all had a LOT of fun, but we also had little descriptions besides I attack the orc and system dictated a lot of how we interacted with the world. In DW we have a lot of choices beyond dealing damage and we are also enjoying it.

    Good GMs and players in the right mindset can apply everything DW is intended to do into D&D, and then there is no need for a new system, for my group, it is a completely different game.

    1. In most RPG’s I resolved fights in storyteeling fashion with a little addition of sheer mechanic. But mostly, even if it weren’t in the rules, players got bonuses just for proper and imaginative description of how do they fight and what they do. Simple “… So I cut him with my bow” was unacceptable.

      Btw. I’ll have to try this Dungeon World 🙂

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