GM Struggles

Struggles, wins and losses of a gamer

Dungeon World: I Didn’t Get it at First Too

Dungeon World is a little far from my usual games and from many systems I have heard. While reading it was kinda obvious to me that there was a different logic to the rules, but I didn’t get it at first. I mean, I understood it, I just didn’t get it.

The system’s logic is not something you transition into by just reading if you have the same kind of background that I have regarding RPGs. The best advice I can give you to help you get it is, whenever you feel the game doesn’t cover something as you read the book, put it aside and ask yourself: “How would that happen in a story?” this simple question will throw images in your head, and maybe you will find that thing that makes the system click, and all of a sudden you will just get it.

Because I think my own click might help you in some way, I am re-posting it here, the original post can be found on Dungeon World’s forums in the thread about the awesome Dungeon World Guide (which you should read too, it helps a lot).

Here is my click:

I always hated when after describing an action the Gm would ask me to roll a thousand tests to do something cool, also always hated when your perfectly cool and simple action was called impossible because that is not how the rules work, in one of the last games I played the entire final battle in the campaign happened after I noticed a smile on the corner of the mouth of an “ally” when we met with our seemingly nemesis.

It was a vampire the masquerade game, I instantly used celerity to attack said vampire with a stake that already was in my hand. Oddly enough we all had to roll initiative, since my action triggered combat mode. I was last to act in the *entire* round. It was extremely disappointing.

I was a player then but I have GMed a lot, and it has always been D&D, from AD&D 2nd edition to D&D 4th edition, and the things that turned me away from it were the same of that example.

The real problem is: when a system puts you into the rules first mindset and you have been using that for a while, it is hard to break up the old habits. Players have less tendency to try different and cool stuff, the GM has problems grasping how things can be done when there are are no rules guiding him. I will elaborate with a simple and small thing that popped up in my mind when I was reading the Dungeon World book from cover to cover.

In the Cockatrice description one of its abilities is “Start a slow transformation to stone”, the Medusa has a similar ability though “Turn a body part to stone with a look”. After reading through them both I realized:

There is no “Stone to Flesh” spell anywhere in the book.

That was a bit shocking for someone GMing and playing D&D for 20 years like myself, isn’t it? Yeah, quite a bit. Then I closed the book and let that rest a bit, it was a little while before I finally found the answer: Fiction Dictates.

The Medusa is a mythological creature, in quite a few retelling of the tale her victims were turned back into flesh after she was killed. That would be one way to go about it right there, simple, quick and solved alongside the conflict.

You could also say that a stone to flesh spell does exist but, given how rare it is used, it is not part of a spellcaster’s usual repertoire but it is not hard to find or cast, a trip to a city with a little research and it is covered.

And at last you could say it is hard to undo such an unnatural power, it is a ritual requiring hard to find and rare ingredients, making the gathering and casting of it an adventure by itself.

What would the right answer be? That is where I go back to the most common advice here: whatever the fiction states.

The group is in the middle of something more important and the enemy’s ability to turn into stone was an afterthought, then killing the beast should suffice

You want them to fear the enemy but not halt the game’s current direction or force the player to play a new character right now? Then make it a simple spell but one that they do not have yet, a simple trip back and you are done.

You want the game to get a new front that gives them something they want (to turn the character back into flesh) with a cost (to let whatever was happening behind and having to deal with the consequences) then it can be an entire ritual, maybe one that hasn’t even been done yet. This choice seems the most interesting for a well placed opponent and even uses one of the GM moves (present an opportunity at a cost).

In the end I was very happy to have been able to break the rules mentality, I finally understood what fiction first meant and am ready to try and enforce that mindset in a live game. 🙂

I hope this can help you find your click.


Medusa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


2 responses to “Dungeon World: I Didn’t Get it at First Too

  1. Undreren December 23, 2012 at 13:24

    The forum post was the one that originally made me “get” DW. I felt compared to share this on The Dungeon World Tavern.

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