Sunday, August 25, 2013

Commentary on my first game of Dungeon World

The Commentary On my First Dungeon World Game

The commentary is on this game linked to here

Some of this is disconnected craziness that bounces around.  Bear with me as I get negative and cranky, positive, then negative.

Two of six expected guests came to the game.  The players of the Paladin Cassius and the Artificer Thrawn.  Together with my wife playing Tana the Ranger, they formed the party of player characters.  We snacked on vegetables and tea biscuits while building the characters. Character creation was difficult as my wife who was overwhelmed by the Dungeonworld character sheet.  So I filled out her stats, asked her what her pet's name was and what it was, picked her gear, and told her not to worry about the sheet or the rules until I thought they applied.  Just to know that she's a friend of animals, can track, and is good with a bow.

The other two were familiar with RPGs generally and had a fairly easy time with creation.  They both had backstories pre-written to give some flavor to their chracters.  The Paladin had a huge hammer instead of a halbard.  I gave him a specially crafted plate armor, rather than scale, as with such a small party they'd want a tank.  Plus his drawing of the Paladin was fantastic and depicted him in a full suit of armor.  Very bad-ass.  The Dwarven Artificer was a priest of his technology religion with magical  gadgets.

I narrated how the other player characters wandered off:  The wizard had academic work to attend to.  His friend the bard joined him.  The Barbarian had to work on his tent.  His friend, a warrior maiden, decided to stay with him.  The druid had to dance the hoe-down at a forest folk music festival.  The thief had pregnancy related fatigue and decided a rough adventure was not right for her at this time.  That made the beginning of the story humorous and light-hearted.  It was easy to do after a couple shots of whiskey.

Now to put myself down, feel miserable, and try to learn from it:

Lacking a hard copy of the rule book, I had to improvise some of the rules of the game. For example, The Artificer used some bandages to bind up the Paladin, so I called it 1d4+1 healing.  The Paladin later pulled a healing potion from his Adventuring Gear and I called it 1d6+1 healing.  The Ranger wanted to pick a door lock with metal bits found in a crate.  So improvising, I said she could do it but with no Dex bonus.  Turns out she got a partial success so I had steam shoot out of the lock hole.  Lucky for her, I rolled a 2 on a 1d6 and with her leather armor it was reduced to one point.

If I could redo those decisions, I would.  I definitely want to be consistent with making calls on that kind of stuff.  I was afraid to let the Ranger pick the lock, but with no thief present, why not?  DW is about saying yes, so I must conclude that anyone can try to pick a lock but the Thief can do it better.  The early editions of D&D had no thief class and folks just said whether they're picking a lock or a pocket and a call was made.  I'm a fan of that.  I also noted, that if not for the presence of the artificer, this adventure would not have happened.  If there was no artificer, there would have been no airship story and thus no lock for the ranger to pick.  I allowed the artificer (an optional class), so therefore I must also allow the ranger to pick a lock.

I've read that it takes practice to get the Discern Realities and Spout Lore moves done correctly.  I need to work on that if we play this again.  They're not bad moves, I just fumbled them a bit.

I also need to work on more dynamic NPC behavior.  The goblins swarmed the Paladin in front of the door but he splatted them.  That's not a bad thing.  Read on.  The Paladin did not fail a single roll the entire game.  I didn't inflict sufficient consequences aside from damage rolls when he had partial success.  The goblins are supposed to swarm, jump on your shoulders, grab your weapon, bite you on the ear, pour past you like a flood.  I'll do better next time.  I allowed the Paladin to kill multiple goblins by dividing their HP into his damage roll.  That made for a great scene.  But I didn't do that for the Ranger who wanted to fire multiple arrows.  Bad choice.  What's good for the goose is good for the gander.  If ever faced with a similar situation of huge mobs of disposable creatures, the ranger can fire multiple arrows at multiple clustered targets.  After all, a partial success on Volley can result in multiple shots, so why not just do it?

As far as dynamic action, I tried to "pan the camera" to different players, but I found it difficult to get a decent and satisfying flow going and including everyone in the story.  After failing at this, I went around to each player and asked them what they're doing in turn, and narrated the results.  This was actually worked well for us.  Maybe I need more practice, but I prefer a turn based structure to encounters.  

As far as mapping goes, I also somehow connected the aft of the middle deck to the bow of the top deck of the ship.  Nobody said anything about it.  In retrospect I feel kind of silly for doing that.

What did I do right?

I made a wet-erase board by laminating an old flat board with cold peel lamination sheets that I had lying around for years.  I drew a nice scene of the road going along the mountains, river crossing it, a bit of terrain.  I cut up some thick cardboard and made an airship prop as well as rectangles for the caravan.  I cut some rectangles for the players and put their character names on them.  I used Mancala stones for foes.  When they boarded the ship, I erased the board and drew each level of the ship as they explored it.

The Dungeon World rules say for the GM to leave blanks, so I left blanks in the map.  I had to pull the kitchen and the room across from it out of thin air. I also left blanks for the engine room.  I knew it was an engine room, but not everything that was there.  I honestly had forgotten to place the switch for the door on the other side of the ship, so I'm glad I didn't pre-plan the whole ship.  I had kicked around an idea for The Dentist when first creating the starting adventure, and discarded it.  I included the Dentist when a goblin was interrogated.  However, by that time I was really tired for lack of sleep and was getting a headache from the whiskey I drank at the start of the game, so the Dentist wasn't the kind of challenge I hoped he would be.

Back on negative:

I was quite fatigued near the end, so got a bit ridiculous with the surrender of the mad dwarf taking off all his things and standing in his boxers and shirt.  I should have skipped that.

The players had fun.  That's a positive.

There's nothing wrong with Dungeon World.  I'm not sure if it's right for me, however.

What bugs me: The character sheets are really busy and wordy. My wife was overwhelmed by hers.  I like to play games simple enough for my wife to enjoy them.  I like to play with my wife, so I prefer games she can easily grasp.  That means my RPGs and my Board Games and my Video Games.  Gaming is one of the few things I'm interested in so I want to make the time I spend with her count.  She enjoyed Fighting Fantasy, but we also finished that in two hours.  So I'm thinking we may need to simplify the sheets or play with different rules, and stick to the time limit.  The "prequal" World Of Dungeons has a simpler ruleset but with the basic 2d6 fail/partial/success mechanic.  Success and Partial success are not wordy paragraphs.  I think we could cut out the verbiage and just let the GM make the calls.

I also found a game called "Dungeon Teller" that uses a dice pool mechanic that seems simple as well.  Roll dice for your skill, 5's and 6's are successes.  So a warrior say rolls 5 dices for his sword but a weak wizard rolls only 1 or 2.  Each 5 or 6 is a hit.  Ta da.  Competing actions are simply a comparing of successes rolled.  Tug of war, we both roll muscle, greatest number of successes wins.  Anyone might pick a lock with their Stealth trait but the thief gets extra dice for it.  And so on, and so forth.  I think just about everything in Dungeon World might be directly convertible to this system and less complicated.  Hell I can even get blank dice and paint smileys on them, or some other positive looking symbol, or just a dot even, and those are successes.  Skip the number crap altogether.  I'm not against maths (as my distant English cousins call it), I just prefer simplicity while retaining enough depth to stay interesting.

I found the Artificer sheet confusing.   I think the player used only the basic functions of his tools and not any of his character abilities such as Field Test or Jury Rig.  I allowed him a cleric spell "Words of the Unspeaking" but allows him to only talk to Machinery.  But examining the sheet, I notice he has a similar ability already called "Let me see that."  The rules governing "Charge" are confusing.  It's the power supply/ammo of his gadgets.  He can Volly or Melee with his INT bonus rather than STR or DEX, but it depletes a charge regardless of a hit.  Then I ask, can he strike with his axe if it's out of charge?  I assume it is, just no electrocution power.

While a lot of my difficulty and mistakes are of course the bumps and bruises of trying something new, I can't help but think there's a way go about making this sort of game simpler.

I still prefer Fighting Fantasy to this.  If I could somehow convert the classes of D&D/Dungeon World to Fighting Fantasy, or perhaps Dungeon Teller, then I'd play with those rules.

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