So, I have been working on a post-dungeonworld Fantasy Heartbreaker for no good reason other than it sometimes demands to be written. We’ll see if it gets to a finished state or just peters out, but it’s proving an interesting exercise, and it produced an interesting tangent.
I was discussing this with some friends yesterday, and the topic came up of why Dungeon World does not sit quite right with me. Now, I recognize it’s a great game, but it always is a bit of a rough experience for me, for reasons I still struggle with. Part of it is that the struts of the system are so visible that I can’t really unsee them, and I don’t know if that will ever be solvable, but the other issue is one I’ve felt and said, but have had a hard time getting past instinctive.
Basically, I assert this: the *World system is a tool that improves your gaming, but it has a point of optimum return which is higher than any other such system I can think of, but is (like all such tools) lower than the maximum possible. It’s silly to assign numbers to fun, but for purposes of argument, let’s say that I feel that DW helps push you up to 85% maximum fun, but then creates a drag as you get past 85%.
(I realize that’s a contentious assertion, especially since no one ever thinks their game is only 85% (or less) fun, and that is the inherent flaw of using numbers to illustrate this, so please just accept that it’s a flawed example to express an idea, not some kind of absolute truth.)
In any case, while that’s easy to assert, I have struggled with crystallizing a concrete example of why it is so, and I think I’ve hit on it, or at least enough to put forward a hypothesis.
And this is it: Dungeon World makes you game better as long as the mixed results in the text are as good or better than what you would come up with on the fly.
Obviously those mixed results are not the ONLY thing in DW – there’s the structure of the language and all that comes with that, but those are not things I need to reference. I’m zeroing in to the mixed result thing because I feel like it’s really an essential driver, and because the way moves are written is genuinely brilliant in teaching you how to adjudicate such things.
I’m going to turn this over in my head for a bit – I’m not sure it will stand, but for the moment, it feels like it’s the piece I’ve been missing in my thinking.
Yes, you can invent extra mixed results, just as you can invent new moves on the fly. But if you’ve internalized it to that point, then it’s a technique, not a game. And that’s awesome. I could absolutely play an ad hoc game with Risus character sheets and Dungeon World resolution where every roll is a move created on the fly. But that would be something very different (in large part because the resolution really isn’t the only part of Dungeon World. ↩
Also, if you think that this is a condemnation of the *World system rather than an acknowledgement of something freaking brilliant, then you need to spend some time trying to build structures that make play better. It’s really, really hard. ↩