The Bloody Shrike

Latest Dungeon World game presented an interesting challenge because the two characters were the two least connected in the entire game. Shrike, the elven revolutionary ranger and Sanguinus the Bloody had never overlapped before, and their specific concepts are at opposite sides of the campaign.

So of course it was going to begin with them locked in a cell together. Though it also helped that both players were total pros, and absolutely game for this.

It actually began at opposite ends of things. Shrike had discovered an Umulon faction of alchemists, lead by Lydia Moreau, had been testing on human subjects, but no one was missing. Investigations led him to a fort. At the same time, Sanguinus was pursuing a slaver ship that disappeared into the mists, and broke off pursuit as it came into sight of an unfamiliar fort. The Ice Witch stayed in the fog, and Sanguinus snuck to shore to investigate.

I framed this as the sequence during the credits, splicing between the two heroes making sneaky approaches, then the title placard comes up, and the scene is framed with them both captured and chained to the wall. [1] The break out went awkwardly, as Sanguinus tried to use the voice of authority on the person bringing them food, who fled, and called the guards. The fight that followed was a lot of fun, since Sanguinus had gotten one arm free but the keys had gotten knocked out of reach. Shrive demonstrated that a high dex/ low strength character can do awesome things with his feet, but should probably not be trying to just up and punch people.

They got out, escaped a chimera in the basement (mostly by running a lot) and eventually discovered that the alchemists (or assumed to be the alchemists – everyone encountered went masked, which helped the guys sneak around a bit) were using the captives to test out a large, bizarre device. When they “fired” it at a captive, there was a strange feeling of vibration (liek thunder without noise) but it did not seem to do anything else. The guys took out the sentries and the ballistae, signaled for the Ice Witch, and prepared to bombard the courtyard with the alchemical devices they’d found. And that’s where the dice turned.

The guys had actually been doing really well up til that point, but a string of sixes meant, among other things, that they were staggeringly unlucky in their attempts to detonate the alchemical devices, and the compass that the leader of the alchemist’s had been using to pick victims swiveled and pointed at the guys. So, things went bad, and got worse when Sanguinus got caught in some sort of field near the device. Thankfully, Shrike had done a little better, and had managed to open a gate behind the prisoners and usher them into the armory, so things could have gone either way when the true hero arrived.

As described to Sanguinus “You would never have imagined that the wrath of god could take the form of a mule, but that looks very much like what you are seeing.” Iggy, responding to Shrike’s whistle, came in through the gate, bowled over much of the opposition, buying the guys time to fight free and lead the captives to the gate and – finally – blow up the damn place as they left. Sangunus’s divine navigation skills got them back to Rzae, and things wrapped there.

As often seems to be the case, getting a full session in with two players was simply much shorter than a larger group. We technically had over an hour left in our time block when we wrapped, and I could have pushed on, but we all agreed it felt like a natural break point, so we shot the breeze about RPGs for a while after.

One thing that ended up working out very well, mechanically, was that I switched over to doing Min-Mid-Max for damage. This is an old dice technique I learned from Fudge, and it works like this:

  • Roll 3d6
  • MIN is the lowest die
  • MID is the middle die
  • MAX is the highest die

With that in mind, you can actually produce seven combinations for damage:

  • MIN (average 2)
  • MID (average 3.5)
  • MAX (Average 5)
  • MIN + MID (Average 5.5)
  • MIN + MAX (Average 7)
  • MID + MAX (Average 8.5)
  • MIN + MID + MAX (Average 10.5)

It (very) roughly maps to doing a d4/d6/d8/d10/d12 progression, and while the extra steps might seem like a feature, for me the real advantage is that it smooths out the damage distribution without totally losing the randomness. I’d gotten frustrated with the swinginess of the damage outcomes when I was rolling (lots of 1’s) and MMM worked much better for matching my thoughts of “I want to do about this much damage”.[2]

Now, I would absolutely not propose this for everyone. It works for me because years of dealign with bonus and penalty dice mean I don’t need to think about reading a MMM roll – it is as fast and easy as rolling a single die for me. But there is no reason that would be true for everyone. I’d absolutely encourage you to try it, but if it feels weird or slows you down (or you don’t feel the problem it solves is a problem in the first place) then don’t sweat it. (EDITED TO ADD: This was only being used by the GM, me, the players were rolling damage normally.  I would be very loathe to make players use something like these. It might be mechanically potent, but I dread the tradeoffs).

It was a fun session, but it also managed to shine some light on a few things that have been niggling at me. Weirdly, a concern with Volley cracked open my concerns with Discern Realities, and that’s probably going to be its own post at some point.

It also highlighted something about difficulties in DW that I sum up as follows:

  • Can a ranger or paladin sneak?
  • Does the answer change depending on whether or not there’s a thief at the table?
  • What if there is only sometimes a thief at the table?
  • Same question, but what about picking a pocket?

I’m still pondering the right answer to those.

  1. At this point I also put 4 chips down in front of each player and said “you are welcome to introduce facts into the part we skipped over as flashbacks. When you do, take one of those chips, and it turns into an XP”. This worked well, but it was also a reminder: I have played for so long with the idea of players spending currency for a moment of narrative authority that I sometimes forget just how well it works. The lack of Fate Points or similar in Dungeon World cleansed my palette a little bit, so I got to see it with fresher eyes, and it was a delight.  ↩
  2. This also helps me with the fiction a lot. If I say something a little rough is a d4 and something very dangerous is a d10, it feels really weird if a roll a 4 and a 1. The dice have not supported the fiction. And while I can easily address that in any specific situation, that eats up capacity over time. Since the MMM results also produce tighter bands (so, for example, a MAX roll will only very rarely be a 1 or 2), the results feel more inline with the threat of the fiction.  ↩

3 thoughts on “The Bloody Shrike

  1. Tulpa

    Yes, I was going to say the same thing as Sage did in that AMA: any character can attempt any feasible action using defy danger, but characters that took a specific move do it better (whether because they get options on partial success or otherwise)

  2. Pingback: Deep Dive into DW GMing | The Walking Mind

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