Tag Archives: DW

Mappers 2

So, Mappers session 2 went well, if in a somewhat unexpected fashion.

As planned, we had a cast change. Urv generally can’t make Fridays, and Dogan had a commitment, so the only character coming forward was Jack, the Thief. The new character added to the mix was Shrike, the chaotic human ranger, with his savage mule, Iggy[1]. I had a handout with the key information, and I had Shrike’s player add a new location to each city, so I’ve updated that.[2] It was determined that Shrike came from Umulon, and he had a big streak of fighting the man and striking back at the oppressive (yet still vaguely defined) rulership of that city. Shrike had never played Dungeon World before, so this was also a learning game, but he picked it up quickly.


Once that was done, I copied down Jack & Shrike’s alignment moves and their bonds to each other[3] and basically asked myself how I could hit the maximum number of these. Alignments were the most useful, since they were action-oriented – they clearly needed to sneak in somewhere and rescue someone – and the bonds informed on that. Technique-wise, this is very similar to what I do with aspects when pulling something together for Fate. For this purpose, the bonds were a little bit less toothy than I’d hoped, but they were still useful.

With that, I had a frame: a swank party of Umulon’s upper crust, and a prisoner somewhere in the building. I decided it was in The Finger, because we hadn’t really gotten into it yet, but that was the extent of the details before the two questions.

To Jack: How did you manage to arrange for you two to be at this party?

To Shrike: Who is in the basement that you need to rescue?

Predictably, the details flowed in from there. The party was a fundraiser for “orphans” that was really a political fundraiser that was part of the ramp up to Umulon’s forthcoming elections. Jack had helped an Um moneylender named Kostis Samaras cover up is affair with Mrs. Lusk, another moneylender’s wife, and in return for the favor had scored tickets. Shrike had talked Jack into this[4] on the idea that it would be rich pickings but his real purpose was to rescue Gregor Bomamici, younger brother of the Minister of Roads, Anne Bonamici. Anne was a tolerably honest politician, and Danzen Mulkey, the gent running the party, was using her brother to black mail her into announcing that she would not be seeking re-election, and the announcement was to be part of the evening’s festivities.[5]

So, that’s where things started, and from there they went…very, very badly. It is my expectation that Dungeon World will largely be propelled forward by the complications on 7–9 results, but this session proved to be an exception as there were startlingly few 7–9 results and LOTS of failures, and when they did not fail, they tended to roll spectacularly.

It all started well enough. Jack got made by Mrs. Lusk, but beat a hasty retreat out one of the main hall. He managed to put some Goldenroot (“trust me” poison) in a punch bowl and attempted to knock out a servant to get a uniform. This went badly, resulting in Jack fleeing from the oncoming rush of guards. The good news was that this gave Shrike the opportunity to slip off through a different exit, one that lead downstairs and was now unguarded.

Jack eluded the guards by going higher in the tower, out of the common areas and into the places where the traps start showing up. I thought this would be a nice opportunity for Jack to show off, but the dice had other ideas. So we cut back to Shrike, who had found where Gregor was being held, but could not get through the locked door, and so he set off to find Jack.[6] And he did, with the small complication that Jack was standing on a stairwell completely encased in ice.

So, Shrike pushed him down the stairs. I was totally ready for the hard choice to be between “Jack gets hurt” and “it makes a lot of noise” and the dice decided it would be both. So, a couple of guards show up and a fight followed where Shrike’s dramatic dive down the stairs ended with a head injury. They managed to overcome the guards and get away ahead of reinforcements, and followed Shrike’s route back to the cellar.

They got there just ahead of the guards, but Jack absolutely nailed the Tricks of the Trade roll, so they got the door open fast, dumped a bunch of casks of wine (and stole 3 nice bottles) to block the guards and fled into the tower again. After a series of further screw ups (Jack should never try to knock anyone out, ever) Jack got a servants uniform and managed to smuggle Gregor onto the floor while Shrike got up into one of the overlooking balcony.

They did manage a great exit – because of the poisoned punch bowl, one of the high stakes poker tables had a huge pile of cash on it (since no one was calling), which Jack grabbed (tablecloth and all) while Shrike swung down on a rope, grabbed Jack and continued up and out through a window which should have come out on the stable roof, but in fact resulted in a somewhat longer drop. Iggy was not amused.

It kind of went downhill from there, fleeing with the Godless Cavaliers (who had been summoned) in hot pursuit. Losing their horses fleeing into a park, getting entangled in thorns, encountering the mistress of those thorns who then killed one of the pursuing cavaliers to ritually gather his heartsblood before departing along with any evidence that it had been anyone but Jack and Shrike responsible for the death. That lead to more fleeing, finally succeeding in finding a way that dumped them in the graveyard that surrounds the Forgotten Cathedral and the things in the fog. More fleeing, a reasonably tactful exchange with some grave robbers, fleeing again, getting to a wall, finding a weak spot for Iggy to kick down, fleeing into the street and because the dice demanded it, faced an attempted mugging which they survived solely because Iggy was far and away the most capable of the three.

At the end, they had pretty much lost all the money they stole (it had fallen away in dribs, drabs and choices as they went) save for the three bottles of wine, and that’s where we wrapped.

In case it’s not clear how many failures got rolled, both characters had double digit XP by the end of the session. Jack actually leveled twice (since she had a bit left from the first session).

All in all, it went well. The first half was stronger than the second half, which suffered from being a bit too much of a string of odd events rather than anything coherent. In retrospect, I should have done a full regroup to another pair of questions, so I’ll bear that in mind for the future.

Takeaways and lessons:

  • I need to have a name file on hand to speed up the naming of new faces
  • Difference in fights with Dogan absent is very pronounced, though the terrible dice luck (and the fact that Shrike was largely forced into melee) also played a part in that.
  • This really drove home for me what makes a bond interesting to me – I needs an implicit “therefor…”, even if it’s not clear what that is. It is easy for action to flow from “Jack owes me a favor”, it is harder for it to flow from “Shrike sees how awesome I am”. Yes, technically, the bonds provide play cues, not action drivers, but I like action drivers better.
  • I am not sure there is any way to prepare for the dice turning quite that badly, but good to see it didn’t completely break things. That said, I admit that it did leave me wishing for a player-controlled dial (like Fate Points) to smooth it out a little.
  • Having a Ranger in the group gives me somewhat stronger incentive to look at things like camping and traveling and come up with some similar moves for a city game, if only so I know how much I’ve hosed the ranger. For now, the liberal read on Track & Find will probably balance it out, but it’s definitely something to work on.
  • Similarly, I need to choose a way to handle wealth, whether it’s concrete or abstract.
  • Jack’s interest in poisons also means I need to put some thought into how they fit in the city, and if I want to offer any crossworld alchemy moves.
  • Still no Cleric or Paladin. Intriguing.

  1. Short for Ignatius, named for Ignatius Fiddlebottom, of the Crowntop Fiddlebottoms, Captain of the Godless Cavaliers.  ↩
  2. I updated it a lot. The nature of this adventure added a lot of names to the list.  ↩
  3. Based on the rotating cast thing, I’m going to be allowing a lot more bonds than usual, with the limiter being a max on the number of bonds you can have at the table on any given night. That’s going to require a large list of generic bond mad libs, so I’ll have to see if that exists. As a stopgap, I handed Jack the Charismatic Hero and the Bard and told her to use two bonds from those sheets for Shrike.  ↩
  4. This one came from the bonds – Jack owed Shrike a favor.  ↩
  5. I also asked Shrike for the name of a real bomb-throwing extremist, figuring I’d just keep it in my pocket for a late-game escalation of tensions. I got one – Taz Mofeld – but I never got to use him thanks to the players’ magnificent dice.  ↩
  6. This was the point where I remembered that capers without a means of communication are kind of problematic. I ended up covering for a multitude of sins with a very liberal interpretation of Shrike Track & Find move, which made it easy for the team to get back together.  ↩

Randomizing Questions

I read Tremulous last night. It’s very good – it’s basically Cthulhu using a version of the Apocalypse World engine – but it also did a really good job of illustrating to me the significance of some of the decisions that Dungeon World made. That’s not a criticism of Tremulous, mind you, just a general observation.

Anyway, one of the very cool bits of Tremulous is its scenario creation material. It does a great job of zooming in and out on the structure of an adventure,creating and tying together threads and so on. This cross pollenated with some thoughts I was having about my love of random tables[1] and some considerations on my mind regarding bonds. See, I love the mad libs structure of bonds in DW, and I like generating stuff that way, but normally I design these things in a GM-facing fashion, which is a poor match for Dungeon World.

So that got me thinking about using Mad Libs style generation to create questions, and I realized I had most of the tools right on hand. See, it starts with a table:

1 Slim Jimmy The Plague Doctors The Raft
2 Professor Delvish The Godless Cavaliers The Infinite Academy
3 Chancellor Antika The Academy Scholars The Burial Pit

And so on. I currently have more “wheres” than anything else, but it will fill in over time. It’s ok if the columns are mismatched because the real goal is to just be able to roll up an element at a moment’s notice (and I’ll just use whatever die size works at the moment). The Where elements are points on the map, the Who are named NPCs, and the What are everything else. Obviously, there’s a lot of interplay between the elements on this table and fronts, but I won’t delve into that right this second for purposes of simplicity.

With that table, I just need to come up with a few templates, like:


This needs a separate want table, but that pretty easy:

  1. wants to question
  2. wants to recover an item from
  3. wants to collect a debt from
  4. wants to pay a debt to
  5. wants to deliver a message to
  6. wants to get revenge on

Expand as you see fit – if I was feeling ambitious, I’d steal a bunch from the DW appendix, but this highlights the idea.

(Note, I could expand it to end with “about [WHAT]”, but that feels a it too constrained. I might do that if I drop the WHERE[2]. 2 elements and one want seems enough.)

That’s how I would structure it as a GM, but for dungeon world, I’d tweak it a little, so that it becomes:

“Why does [WHO] in the [WHERE][WANT] you?”

And now that I’ve got the idea, I can start rolling out other templates:

“Why does [WHO][WANT] [WHO]?”
“Why is [WHO] poking around [WHERE]?”
“What is [WHO]’s interest in [WHAT]?”
“Why has [WHAT] been active in [WHERE]?”
“How did you piss off [WHAT]?”[3]

I’m going to fiddle around with this some, but I think this (and the “why are you broke” roll) may start being the icebreaker for a session.

  1. Including the MOST AWESOME table, created by one of my players, which we will be using for every Dungeon World session – the “WHY ARE YOU BROKE NOW?” table  ↩

  2. I may also need to fiddle with the numbering so the WHO and WHERE are from the same city, but that’s trivial.  ↩

  3. As a bonus, if I feel the WHO or WHAT lists are short, then you can turn any of those questions into a fill in the blank to create a new one.  ↩

Dungeon World: Mappers part 2

Ok, so as we left off, our heroes had found a safe place to plan. Urk laid out the details and between some riffing and Spouting Lore, we identified some details. The Godless Cavaliers were swashbucklers, and high class defenders of the Chapel of No Gods[1], which was in the Crowntop neighborhood of Umalon – atop one of the biggest towers. They oversaw duels and nominally acted as the watch in Crowntop, but very few peopel are dumb enough to start trouble in Crowntop, as it’s one of the richest neighborhoods in the city. They usually patrol in pairs, and if the crew could get into Crowntop, then they could jump one.

Part of the planning here lead to a brief sidebar as the players noticed that the role of the gods in the setting was a strange one, since our two touch points were the Chapel of No Gods in Umalon and the Forgotten Cathedral in Rzae. The story turned out that the Um (it sounds better than Umalonian) were religiously anti-religious – it’s really the chapel of “No Gods”. In Zae, there had been priests, but they failed to save the city from the plague, and they were purged when the Plague Doctors took over with their wacky ideas of “Hygiene” and “Germ Theory”. We all concluded that it was a shame we had no Cleric of Paladin in the group, and that we look forward to that changing.

This lead to the question of how to get to Crowntop, and for that we looked to the map. Since the Burial Pits were next to the Chapel card, we decided it was through there, and that the Burial Pits could be gotten to through the Infinite Academy. All well and good, but no plan survives contact with the dice, and it turned out the connection from the Academy to the Pits did not come out where expected, and the group had to cross the pit.

The Burial Pit is where the plague Doctors drop bodies. It’s on an island that holds an old arena, and all but one bridge to it has been destroyed, with the remaining access controlled by the Plague Doctors. This is nominally to keep people out, but evidence suggest things may be reversed.

So, as the players are crossing the field of bodies there are, of course, sounds of movement and indications of unpleasantness that culminate in the players spotting 4 Draugr before they closed with the party and, of course, a fight. Fiction-wise it went fine – Dogan was a monster, and the biggest question was who he was helping at any given moment, since his bonds pulled him in both directions. Jack had a rough time at first, losing her weapon at one point, but (as seems to be jack’s pattern) finished with style and panache.[2] Urv got to bust out some magic missile and otherwise try not to get his face eaten.

Mechanically it was a lot more involved, though not in a bad way, since it was our first time trying out a number of things. I took a little bit too long picking the opposition, in part because I don’t yet have much of an instinct for how to “balance” an encounter, and there were definitely options that feel like they would have just wiped the party out. I think it turned out right, but some of that was luck. I definitely need more practice.

This fight definitely revealed the potency of Dogan’s weapon being Huge and Flexible (We determined at this point that its extra range category was reach, reflecting his ability to slam the hammer for shockwave attacks). He was not doing any real extra damage, but he was more or less controlling where the fight took place. Because he could engage the Draugr with reach, and because he could knock them the hell back, he effectively kept at least one enemy out of the fight at any given time. Extra damage or armor piercing would have been cool and useful too, but they would not have been better.

It also revealed that I don’t yet have a handle on what exactly an “attack” means on the GM side, nor any kind of clear rubric for when I would call for a defy danger roll versus when I would just inflict some damage. This isn’t a huge problem. The lack of clarity allows me to use it as a throttle for pacing, and I welcome that. And, honestly, the fiction often makes the most reasonable path clear. But it’s still got rough edges under my fingertips, so I need to get a hang of that.

Anyway, the guys won the fight, but with two different “Draw attention to yourselves” complications, so things ended with a hell-bent-for-leather run for the what they hoped was the door and, well.

The good new is, it was an exit!

The better news is, it was an exit to Crowntop!

The less good news was that it exited through a stained glass window into a lovely meeting happening in the Chapel of No Gods, crashing down onto the Buffet table, panicking the guests, and alerting the cavaliers.

The fight that followed was delightful. Dogen rained death while trying to scoop up as many sandwiches as he could from the buffet. Jack got in a lovely backstab and got himself a mud-bronze rapier and maine gauche off the body. Urv…well, Urv was more concerned with not being recognized, and very nearly accidentally cast a charm spell on the Chancellor of the academy before pretending to be one of the crowd and getting ushered out while Dogan and Jack got their violence on.

(Mechanically, I definitely understatted the Cavalier, something I will rectify next time)

Net result was that Jack had a bundle of weapons from the fallen cavaliers, Dogan had a bag full of sandwiches, but everyone managed to get away and meet up back at the Muddy Yak. The only real complication that followed was needing to give Slim Jimmy an extra weapon set to buy off the aggrieved raft holder who was upset about the thief and the hole in his raft. At that point it was late enough that the sale of the steins to Professor Delvish went off without a hitch (for now) and we wrapped everything up with a big carouse roll, which ended in Slim Jimmy becoming a more permanent ally and with a hook for the next session. Oh, and with Dogan making a Defy Danger roll for his unwillingness to let the sandwiches go to waste, despite the lack of refrigeration for the tiny shrimp.


So, all in all it went very well. I think everyone had fun. No one got quite enough XP to level, but it was close, which was probably just right. I definitely feel more comfortable throwing Dungeon World onto the stack of comfortable pickup games, with my sole hesitation being that I am not quite comfortable scaling opposition yet. That said, I need to figure out a few things:

  • I am definitely going to need to come up with one or two mapper moves. Probably one for finding a nearby passage and another for navigation between the cities. The map was a nice gimmick, and it can inform a roll, but it really needs a move.
  • I am slightly worried what happens next session when the cast changes. I’m not worried about the players or the group – my players aren’t going to waste time ‘getting the group together’ but rather about things like Bonds. I’m going to have to get some more Bond Mad Libs and let people add more bonds for more people, but keep their “active” bonds (ones involving characters in play today) limited according to their class. More generally, I also worry that after several sessions, the rotating cast may introduce new problems.
  • Thinking about a misdirection move. I totally get that I can use defy danger for it, and I will in a pinch, but its something I’ll keep an eye on how often I use.
  • At some point I will need to give more than passing thought to cash, but it won’t really be an issue until we reach a point where it is not expected that “broke” is the default starting status for a session.
  • Probably going to start with a front in each city, with a focus on them investigating and trying to seize control of the passageways. That seems a good starting point, with room for unexpected dangers to come in form other vectors as we play.
  • Will probably let each new player add something to the geography. Because why wouldn’t I?

  1. In some part of my head, they are now Bioshock Swashbucklers. and I’m good with that. They will almost certainly be part of a front too, after the events of today’s session.  ↩
  2. The fight also lead to a brief but somewhat existential discussion of the rules. We mentioned the “when in doubt, defy danger” idea, and I noted that my instincts are such that the game could easily be nothing but defy dangers (which is, I think, how World of Dungeons handles it), but the reasons not to is that the extra mechanical bits in some of the moves (the 10+ Hack & Slash being the example of the moment) make them more interesting  ↩

Dungeon World: Mappers part 1

So, we’ve started a new experiment in gaming. A lot of us are parents of young kids or have time consuming jobs, so scheduling has been a bear. The solution we’re trying is to stake out specific, consistent time slots (like the 2nd and 4th Friday every month) with the simple rule that there will be gaming during that slot, and we’ll play with whoever shows up.

That creates certain demands in how the games get structured[1]. The rules need to be on the light and fast side, and the setting needs to support a rotating cast. There are a number of ways to approach both of these needs, but in this particular case, I opted for an urban game (with some twists) played with Dungeon World.

My ongoing struggle with Dungeon World is something I’ve written about before, but this time I shifted up my approach, and tried to treat it as a diceless game that happens to have dice, and that worked out pretty well, though I’m still getting the hang of it.

So, the game itself started with the idea of two different cities in two different places getting pushed together, producing a weird and impossible geography that had transformed both cities and still needed to be discovered. We discussed it a bit, with the big question being whether this merging was overt or secret, and we opted for secret. In conversation it refined a bit and the net result is that the two cities connect in strange places (roads, alleys, doors) which most people can’t see, but some people can, and these people have realized that there’s a lot of potential in mapping this out, and are also discovering that there are other places that have been pushed into the equation (providing for little pocket worlds and dungeons within the context of the two cities). With about that much background, we launched into chargen.

We had 3 players with varying degrees of experience. One had played and run DW, one had played it and one was only vaguely familiar with it (though all 3 were experienced gamers). Based on twitter feedback, we limited chargen to the base classes plus the Barbarian, and the players went for Fighter, Wizard and Thief.

Dogan, the Neutral Human Fighter was all hard eyes and shaved head – scary as hell but not the sharpest knife in the drawer. His signature weapon was a huge, versatile hammer which we later determined had a head made of elderglass, which made it ring like a bell when it hit, giving him the moniker “The Bell Ringer” and proving a source of numerous puns.

Huge ended up being very interesting – it adds the keywords “Messy” and “Forceful”, neither of which have mechanical benefits but which add a lot of color to outcomes, which was in turn pretty potent.

Jack, the Neutral Human Thief, was pretty much what you expect from a thief. The thief’s chargen decisions are a lot less visibly interesting than other classes, which is curious in its own right.

Urvudor the Neutral Elf Wizard hit the point of making some decisions about his character (armor or books) that needed some clarity, so we shifted gears to game background for a bit.

At this point, we knew there were two cities, so I put out two index cards, one for each city, and asked each player (including me) to name one city element. After that I hit people up for vowels and consonants, and we named the cities. In the end the two cities were:
Rzae (Pronounced “Zay”)

  • Canals
  • Huge Central Square
  • Plague Doctors
  • Built atop ancient graves of indigenous folk


  • Sky Towers
  • Shadows and Fogs
  • No Dwarves
  • Elderglass

After that, I handed out two cards apiece (including myself) and asked everyone to write down one thing from each city. For ease of tracking, we did Rzae in green and Umalon in blue, and produced this spread:


Rzae (one extra because the Plaza rolled forward from the last round):

  • The Grand Plaza
  • The Raft (floating Market)
  • The Burial Pit
  • The Laughing Market
  • The Forgotten Cathedral


  • Gardens of the Hanged
  • Chapel of No Gods
  • The Finger
  • The Infinite Academy

I also asked for an Adjective and Animal and got The Muddy Yak, the bar that is in a space to true overlap between the two cities (we decided that weird places where things are more mushed together are called “knots”). It used to be a bakery in Umalon and a bar in Rzae, and now it’s got beer and scones (as well as rooms for a very rarified clientele, since only mappers can even find their way into the place).

With this information, Urv decided that he’d come from the Infinite Academy, so he was more of a book wizard. It was also at this point that we determined that bell ringer was elderglass, even though Dogan was from Rzae, where there is nominally no elderglass, which ended up being the first of a few curiosities about the history of both cities and the story of the dwarves.

Some discussion of the group’s backstory also revealed that the law enforcement in Rzae were the Crow Knights (or Crows), dressed in black iron plague masks and armor. Conversation made it pretty clear they were going to be a big part of a front.

We started the session from the traditional position of “you’re broke, now what?”. Urv’s stipend from the academy had run out, something he noted as he commented that the meal they were all eating was the last of his funds. This lead to some wonderful RP around food-possessiveness which became something of a theme as we went forward. The good news is that Urv knew the professor of Dwarven Studies at the Academy (Dwarves had once existed there) who would pay handsomely for real Dwarven artifacts. They figured they could buy some knicknacks in Rzae(after some discussion deciding to get some Dwarven Fighting Steins) and sell them in Umalon. The problem was, they needed to get together the scratch to get the items,

Enter Slim Jimmy’s Rare and Delightful Items of Great Harm. It came out that Slim Jimmy, a dwarf. sold weapons in the Raft. He was largely legit, and a lot of his business revolved around giving fancy looking weapons fictional long histories when buyers had deep purposes. He also had a standing (and steadily increasing) offer to buy Dogan’s hammer. Slim Jimmy, it turned out, had some excellent Dwarven fighting steins, but he also needed something. He showed the team a Maine Gauche in a material and style he did not recognize, and said he would happily trade the steins for the matching sword.

Urv, of course, recognizes the weapon as one carried by one do the Godless Cavaliers, the guardians of the Chapel of No Gods. So he suggested they take the gig, and the group set off to plan in private.

And this is where things took an interesting turn. Up to this point, there had been a few rolls (mostly spouting lore) but we’d been feeling out the characters and setting up the situation, but only light pressure. This changed when the system raised it’s head – they wanted to grab a boat to converse in private, which required some trivial amount of coins (this was on the Raft, after all, a jumble of floating markets) so the thief went to pick a pocket and the dice came up snake eyes.

So, it was on.

So the big, burly dude grab’s Jack’s arm and starts yelling “Thief, thief!” and his buddies start descending. Dogan manages to rush in and “Accidentally” knock the big dude into the drink, allowing Jack to make a break for it. Urv attempts to offer some misdirection (“He went Thataway!”[2]) and failed impressively, but resolved the matter with a judicious application of Charm Person.[3] Dogan’s next attempt to help smashed a hole through the raft they were on, which he fell through and began drowning. I adjudicated it as a defy danger with +con and -Armor, but in retrospect, It should have been just con, with “Lose your armor” as a 7–9 outcome. Learning! Eventually there was glowing rope, a small mix up, and a rescue. Oh, and Jack? Rolled a 12 on her getaway, came out literally smelling like a rose with money in her pocket and her Alignment XP award. Bastard.

Anyway, a great scene that really just flowed from the dice, which was good to see, because it made me a little bit more comfortable trusting the dice, and a little more willing to push for rolls.

And damn, 1500 words so far. Let me wrap up there for now and pick up the rest tomorrow.

  1. Curiously, these are the same concerns that lead to the original design of Spirit of the Century.  ↩
  2. This actually was the first moment of mechanical hesitancy. I made it a Parley roll, but as written, that didn’t really feel right. Need to give misdirection a little thought.  ↩
  3. This lead to a brief sidebar about the spellcasting rules wherein we realized that the three options for mixed result on spellcasting (Draw bad attention to yourself, forget the spell or have bad cosmic resonance) are, effectively, Dresden Files, D&D and Mage respectively.  ↩