I’ve been introduced to a new game recently, Dungeon World, and to be entirely honest I think it’s the first game I’ve played in the last few years for which I have nothing but praise. All credit for introducing this game to me goes to my friend Mike, my usual supplier of arcane and obscure indie games (or at least games that seem arcane and obscure to me, until he points me in their direction of the internet).
For me Dungeon World is my new primary fantasy adventure game. If anyone mentions to me that they want to play a fantasy game or a dungeon crawl, Dungeon World is my new go to game. Hell, I’m tempted to use it for almost any game that lends itself to a group of adventurers who fit into classes or archetypes, with some modification of course.
It’s beautifully simple; first each class has a character sheet with everything you need to know to create or play the character printed on it, including your hit dice, the numbers you can allocate to which attributes, everything. It’s all on there. No trawling through books for spells or special abilities; people pick their class and make their character, and it’s all done in about 15 minutes flat.
But the things that really make Dungeon World my new system of choice and future life partner are still to come. Firstly, the sheet that the players fill in prompts them to make characters beyond the numbers and abilities they are choosing. It asks them to pick a build, and a style and a look, which means that those players who would normally just put the numbers on their sheet and give no thought to how their characters would act or appear are prompted to go that extra step and inject some real life and personality into their characters.
The second gem hidden at the heart of this system, something which I feel is really unique, is that it gives just as much support and page-space to the GM as it does to the players. Obviously most games have pages of rules which allow the GM to run the game, but often it’s the equivalent of handing someone a toolbox and asking them to build a shelving unit, but without any instructions as to how to go about doing this. Obviously, some people know how to do this from scratch anyway, and that’s fine for them, but Dungeon World provides the GM with his own rules and systems to go about building their world and running their game.
With regards to world building it provides sheets to fill in for GMs to use in planning their adventures, but put together in a similar way as the player sheets to encourage you to create a world, challenges and antagonists, but without just assuming you would know how to pull a story out of nowhere and put it together in a manner that plays well, which is an assumption I think too many games make.
Actually running the game is a very strange experience for an old school GM, but one that I now wish all games would embrace. Initially any encounter generally sparks off in one of your already created set-pieces, which you are prompted to create using the world building system mentioned above. These set-pieces have built in consequences for player actions, and built in antagonists and challenges, but all built in by the GM when they put the campaign together. Furthermore GM/NPC actions are generally only taken as a result of player actions. The bad guys don’t get their own initiative, they react only in response to player’s actions. Sure, if they lie in ambush or initiate a combat, the antagonists might make the initial attack, but there’s no roll to see if they hit the players. It’s the players who defy danger, and their roll decides whether they succeeded, failed or somewhere in the middle, and prompt the GM to make a further action.
To people who’ve been playing roleplaying games for a long time, it seems a strange system, but even to an experienced GM the dance of action and consequence between players and the games master really take a lot of weight off of your shoulders. You’re not single handedly running the whole universe like some kind of massively powerful next generation console; you’re simply sitting at the helm of the adventure, tugging levers occasionally and pressing the odd button, to prompt the machine that is Dungeon World to further adventure.
In short I cannot recommend this system enough; at its core it has something for everyone. It’s ideal for brand new players, as it’s one of the simplest games to pick up and play I’ve ever seen, while still having enough depth and complexity to fund sessions and sessions of play. It’s also well placed for introducing players who have only played more “crunchy” systems, such as any of the Dungeons and Dragons games, to games where narrative is more important that the powers written on your sheet. It carries over just enough elements from classic roleplaying games to avoid looking like a totally free-form adventure system, but isn’t constrained by any of the same issues that I find drag games like that into the dirt, bickering about weapon ranges and base attack bonuses. Finally, I think it’s a breath of fresh air for any GM; it puts some of the onus of running a game back on the players, leaving you free to really enjoy the adventure, which I feel is a feature lacking from most other games out there. Classically as a GM you tend to think of yourself as “running” a game for your players; I think Dungeon World is one of the few games in which the GM can really say he’s playing as well.
Dungeon World can be found at http://www.dungeon-world.com and I heartily recommend checking it out.