Monthly Archives: June 2014


Ok, so the moves. The opener needs to be “Swoosh”, simple as that. It is, I think, a scene entry move, which is a bit more meta than most DW moves, but I’m ok with this, because it meshes well with my table’s playstyle, but I understand it won’t be everyone’s bag.

Fiction wise, this is the character stepping into a scene at an opportune and awesome looking moment. It’s not a combat move per se, and stylistically it’s a bit different than the Dashing Hero’s In the Nick of Time even though it’s in the same general space. It’s easy to envision, but that doesn’t make it easy to articulate.

The trigger for the move is basically “There’s a scene going on which you’re not involved in, but you could be.” That’s a little open ended – I think the intent is pretty clear, and as long as no one thinks the fiction is teleportation or something similar.

So, when it goes well, the character should basically step into the scene at an opportune moment, so the question is whether this is a dice move. Easiest way to test that is to ask whether or not failure should be an option, and if so, what it should look like. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like a dice move, partly because failure (you don’t show up) is boring rather than play driving. But at the same time, this seems kind of dull if it always just works.

Which suggests the right answer might be to hybridize it so the action always works (that is, you always show up), but the context is shaped by the dice. On a 10+ you get to look totally awesome, on a 7–9 there are complications and on a 6- it’s bad. How bad? My first instinct is that the 6- result is when you step out of the shadows with your hands wrapped around the knife sticking out of you. I don’t want to explicitly say that’s what happens, but I want to keep that idea in mind as I pull this together.

Structurally, this seems like the kind of move where you’d pick a good number of outcomes on a 10+ and a smaller number on 7–9. The most obvious ones seem to be “Appear where you want”, “Appear when you want”, “You are not being hunted”

I don’t think that’s the final list yet, but I feel like this is the right direction. Functionally, this brings the character into the scene, but it also has a good chance of complicating these scene in some way. I love that, because that is absolutely a play-pushing result. So the trick is really that I want to make sure that 7–9 pushes one bad outcome and imply that the 6- pushes them all.

Easiest way to do that is 2 bullets: “Where and when you wan”t and “not being chased”. 10+ pick 2, 7–9 pick 1. That leaves the whole “wounded” part of 6- out of it, but that is really within the bounds of a normal hard move, so there’s probably no need to explicitly articulate it. That said, I’m not 100% sure what stat to go with. I’d originally been thinking Dex, but that was when I was thinking something more stealthy and less narrative. However, I think I have a fix for this. So I’ll put a pin in it there, and call it:

Swoosh When there’s a scene you’re not in, you can enter it so long as there’s some reasonable way for you you to have gotten there. When you do, roll +Bond (use your rating with any character in the scene):

  • On a 10+ You show up where and when you want, and you’re not being hunted.
  • On a 7–9 you show up where and when you want or you’re not being hunted

Ok, that move took rather more thought than I expected, but I’m ok where it ended up, though I’m not sure it’s sufficiently swooshy. Next step is to look at the patron stuff, but that’s probably going to be its own post.

Starting the Agent

I have a bit of a cheat for the playbook I’m planning, because I am basically designing it with a specific player in mind. This means I have an audience of one, which is handy, but more importantly, I’m know the player in question desires a certain style and tone, so I can build to that.

The goal can be best summarized as “Guys who go ‘swoosh’”. The stealthy, sneaky guy who steps out of the shadows with secret knowledge and something unpleasantly pointy. Closest archetype is probably the spy, albeit through a kind of Walsingham-meets-Rochefort sort of lens. And from my perspective, that gives me a lot to work with.

So, I’m going to start from a name: I’m going to call this the Agent. And per my own model, the Agent should be able to:

  • Swoosh in and out Stealthily
  • Serve a mysterious patron
  • Draw on that patron’s resources
  • Know interesting things
  • Show up in unexpected places

The first and the last could probably be better summarized as “Come and go mysteriously”, but I’m keeping “swoosh” separate for purely stylistic reasons.

Now, before I continue, I want to give a nod to a wonderful paper on designing playbooks by Alex Norris that Tim Franzke was kind enough to point me at. It’s very practical, nuts and bolts stuff, and absolutely serves as a valuable checklist in this process. In fact, I’m going to take my first cue from this and think about stats. Practically, you want two primary stats, and it’s a fair question which to use for this.

Dexterity seems a gimme. This is definitely in the thief-y space, and swooshing certainly seems like its dex based. Trickier is the second stat: Intelligence or Wisdom? Knowledge and secrets both figure heavily in this, but those could equally easily be perception or lore. [1] It more or less comes down to a coin flip, and I think I’m going to go with INT, partly because DEX/WIS seems super common, but I’ll bear this decision in mind, especially when I get to designing advanced moves.

Damage and Hit Points are pretty straightforward, modeled after the thief. D8 damage and Con + 6 HP. No problem.

Which leaves the five big buckets: Alignment, Race, Starting moves, advanced moves and Bonds. We’ll hold of on advanced moves for a bit, so let’s start with Alignment, since that’s the easiest.

Right off the bat, I want a neutral option, for the no-ethos, it’s just business type. And, in fact, as I think about the idea of the Agent working for someone else, I find myself liking the idea of including Lawful and Chaotic options, but no good or evil. That suggests:

  • Lawful – See to it that a matter is brought to the proper authorities
  • Neutral – Sacrifice another value for expedience
  • Chaotic – Disrupt the workings of a team, group or organization

Now, it’s important that each of those would not be hard to come up in play. Lawful is straightforward – call the cops, deliver a report to the Viceroy, drop a bound and gagged criminal at the watch precinct (I’m batman!). Easy peasy. Chaotic might be a bit tricker, but so long as the players are working against a group (which is often) there should be opportunities for this – take out a sentry, disrupt communications, take out a leader. No biggee. Neutral basically demands that the character make the occasional hard choice, and the dice should provide for that. I do wonder if it could be stated a bit more clearly, since on some level it’s really “Be an asshole for the sake of the mission”, but I think the intent comes through.

Thinking about it, I realize I want to hold off on Race until after I’ve done basic moves, since I feel like there may be some resonance to play with there – I’m not 100% sure yet what differentiates a elf agent from a human one. Which means tomorrow, we start with those moves.

  1. Technically, I could make Int and Wis the top two, but even if that didn’t interfere with the swooshing, that is a hard thing to do with a character who doesn’t have spells or something similar to take up the slack. I admit, this is a reason that I keep looking long and hard at the way the d20 version of Game of Thrones handled attack bonuses (that is – they gave none, but you could pick a stat with a feat). That (and my concerns with Discern Realities) are, however, subjects for their own post.  ↩

Dusting off my Tools

Back in the heyday of the Fudge community, I delighted in other people’s hacks, but almost never used them as is. I would absolutely use the ideas in them to improve my own (and give credit) but using hacks as written just never worked for me. And I was not alone in this – the community was full of hackers who handled things the same way, so the community embraced this sort of behavior.

As I start dipping my feet in the larger Dungeon World community, I feel much the same way. Lots of great stuff out there, not a lot I’m inclined to use as written. And while that’s a comfortable space for me, I’m still trying to get a feel for the community norms and how acceptable it is.[1] I lay this all out here because as I present the Dungeon World hacks I’m fiddling with, I hope it is clear that it’s done with love. In my mind, there is no criticism implicit in a hack, only celebration.

I also am aware that the bits I get out of Dungeon World are absolutely not the bits that others get from it, so please also accept the implicit acknowledgment that I’m hacking for me and my table, and sharing it only in case someone finds it useful.

Anyway, I’m looking at playbooks. As I noted yesterday, we are running out of unique playbooks in the Mappers/Navigators campaign, so in addition to casting a wider net for third party playbooks that I like[2] I’m looking at writing some. I approach this gingerly because it is clearly very easy to make a kind of lame playbook and, more subtly, easy to make a playbook that works for no one else but you and yours. So I started thinking.

Now, a thing I find interesting about Dungeon World (and most other -World games) is that the playbooks and moves are, effectively, a pitch. They are making a case. Dungeon World’s basic moves are basically an assertion that an adventurer should be able to[3]:

  • Fight
  • Survive dangerous situations
  • Know useful things
  • Get a sense of the situation
  • Negotiate

The basic moves are that explanation converted into mechanics.[4]. And more, that “An X should be able to Y” model extends into the playbooks as a refinement of that list. So, for example, a fighter should:

  • Fight really well
  • Have a cool weapon
  • Bend Bars and Lift Gates
  • Wear heavy armor

Excepting Fight really well (which is reflected with the large damage die) those bullets translate directly to the fighter moves. You can pretty trivially do this exercise with every class, and that is a big part of why the classes work so well. And the model extends into advanced moves, which basically add “An X can Y” to the sentence – it adds bullets that a member of the class might have.

Breaking it down into a list like that also reveals assumptions. Not that assumptions are bad in this case, but you want to know what they are. Specifically, it highlights that the DW classes are expressing existing ideas. They leverage broad ideas of what the classes should be like. That bullet point list up there isn’t true for every fighter ever, but it’s true enough to form a baseline.

That matters because when you create anew playbook, you have two paths to follow: You can leverage an existing idea, or create new one. Those are two things you don’t want to handle the same way.

Leverage an existing idea depends upon there already being a concept (and implicit list) not yet represented by the classes. So if, for example, you grabbed a D&D nerd and asked them what a Monk should be able to do, you’d probably get a list like:

  • Badass unarmed Kung Fu
  • Fight Without Armor
  • Do cool meditative stuff
  • Resist Poisons, diseases, other weirdness
  • Block arrows

Individual lists may vary, but that list could pretty easily be turned into a move list for a Monk class, if one were so inclined. That leverages existing ideas about what a monk is.[5] If you can, leveraging is totally the way to go. It has more buy in from the get go, and you have a clear, non-mechanical reference to draw on to answer your questions as you design.

If you need to create an idea, you have a tougher row to how, because you need to build that underlying idea before you build the mechanics. If the idea is weak, then the mechanics will feel like a hodge-podge, and that means you need to make the idea compelling. How to make an idea compelling is a whole topic of its own[6], but the key is to make it make sense. The “X should Y” test seems useful to me in this regard because it forces you to articulate the fictional logic before you start playing with the mechanics.

And, of course, the real dirty trick is that if you can create something that makes enough sense, then you are effectively leveraging it. Behold, the wonders of communication!

Anyway, that is my baseline I’m going to use to start building my first playbook, starting tomorrow.

  1. To get very nerdy, I feel like there’s a strong streak of gift culture in the community, which is a WONDERFUL thing in terms of creativity and sharing, but it makes me hesitant to be seen as rejecting people’s gifts.  ↩

  2. Technically, this is GM authoritarianism at work, as I am acting as a gatekeeper of these things. But practically, if a player came to me with a playbook, I’d absolutely talk about it. And even more practically, I’m the GM because I’m the one dumb enough to buy and read all the other playbooks in the first place.  ↩

  3. Also to carouse, travel, level up and so on, but I’m leaving those out for simplicity’s sake, just as I am alignment and other stuff. The model I’m discussing extends to those too, it just takes a lot longer to explain if I have to touch every element on the sheet.  ↩

  4. And this is a reason that some -World ports are trickier than others. That list of basic actions is robust, but not applicable to every genre. This is actually where the secondary basic moves (like carouse) become so important.  ↩

  5. It may seem like the Barbarian is a ideal example of this, but it’s a bit more interesting than that. The barbarian list should include “Berserker rage!” and “Hate Magic!” more prominently but rather than using the D&D barbarian as a starting point, a different idea (Conan, et al) was leveraged.  ↩

  6. One freebie, though: Names matter. If you say to me a shadow mage can craft weapons out of shadow, step between shadows and blend into darkness, then I totally get that. If you tell me what an Irkithian Adept can do, I am probably just going to nod and slip away quietly.  ↩

Navigators, Session 1

We started the Saturday game this weekend. Mappers takes place every other Friday, and this game is slotted to take place on alternating Saturdays, but other than the fact that it would be a game, I had pretty much nothing planned going into it. I had considered Monster of the Week, but Fred has started something up on that so I tabled it. If I liked the new Star Wars a little more than I do, I probably would have pushed for it. But, ultimately, the answer ended up being Dungeon World for two big reasons. First, I knew we could get chargen done quickly and get into play. Second, because schedules are weird, it would be nice if people could easily transition between the two games, based on availability.[1]


So the new games is “Navigators”, and I’m describing it as occurring Adjacent to the Mappers game. Navigators takes place on the Sea of Mists, the body of water that Rzae is on, and treats Rzae as its home port. This allows characters to move between games without too much hassle, but still allows them to be different games.

Doing a second chargen on the heels of the first was interestingly educational. When we did Mappers, I had a very slim pitch – maybe 4 or 5 sentences. For Navigators, I had even less and – curiously – I think they setting suffered a little bit for it. The lack of a solid elevator pitch meant that we had to spend some bandwidth on getting it too that point, and then more to move beyond it. It feels like a tipping point, in the mechanical sense, and doing the work to get there in advance seems like the right call for next time. [2]

Anyway, the setting we settled on, the Sea of Mists, is the mysterious see that Rzae is on. There are other trading cities around the sea, and there are sea routes to them, but the bulk of the sea is unmapped and possibly unmappable, as the layout changes (and there is probably weirdness related to Rzae/Umulon). Into this sea we threw:

  • Isle of Spires (aka Isle of Spiders)
  • Starfort
  • The Golden Isles
  • The Mother of Monsters
  • The Mushroom
  • The Lighthouse
  • Cabrerea
  • Nouveau Rochefort
  • Clacker Isle
  • The Citadel
  • The Black Ship

Some of these have a line or two of detail about them (and they’re in the updated campaign sheet) because the names did not quite tell tales the way the city ones did. That is, I’m pretty sure, my fault for helping.

Anyway, the characters for this one are:
* Sanguinus, “The Bloody”, good human paladin and captain of The Ice Witch
* Lily, Neutral Human Bard[3] and purser of the Ice Witch
* Tetra, good human Dashing Hero and master of tops of the Ice Witch
* Fafnir “the Giant”, Neutral Halfling Barbarian and cook on the Ice Witch

Play also went a bit differently than normal. Things started in media res) “Why are you broadside to this ship and boarding? Why isn’t this going as smoothly as planned? How did it just get worse?”) with the Ice Witch’s crew boarding a slaver ship that had Fafnir in the hold just as zombies came up from belowdeck.

The actual chain of events is all easy to recount. A giant undead parrot up among the sails, a dark warlock pounding on drums to animate the corpses and throw around black flame at the heroes. The whole thing (maybe 100 minutes) ended up being the fight scene, from start to climax, far and away the longest fight I’ve run in Dungeon World yet. it was full of fun moments, people being blown into other areas of the ship, the paladin standing like a beacon against the Warlock’s flame, the Bard and Dashing Hero teaming up on the Warlock and, of course, the Giant laying about with the chains they’s used to bind him. But plot wise? Pretty short.

Just as Jack & Shrike’s Excellent Adventure showcased one type of die luck for me, this one did another, specifically, damage rolls. The Paladin spent most of the adventure getting dogpiled by zombies as he fought his way forward, but they never rolled more than 2 points of damage, with the net result being that he came out of the whole thing pretty much unharmed. Even the giant undead parrot failed to pierce his armor as they rolled across the deck in a death grip.

And while it wasn’t quite as bad, the characters rolled pretty poorly for damage whenever they managed to hit the enemy Warlock, which kept him on his feet a lot longer than I expected. In fact, they only ended up defeating him by knocking him into the water[4] which worked out fine, because he just got a big “Recurring” next to his (as yet undetermined) name.

So, fun session, good start, and the as-yet-undetermined loot grabbed from the slaver captain’s quarters is a good hook for the next session, but also definitely suffered from some first-session roughness.

At a higher level, it’s also raising an interesting question with the campaign as we’re now up to 8 characters, and there are certainly going to be more as it continues. At present, we allow all the core classes plus Barbarian, Warlock and Dashing Hero (Artificer would be a bit setting-busting, so it’s off the table). Only Warlock[5], Cleric and Druid remain unselected, and the simple reality is that with the next set of players, we’re going to get some duplicates. I am really curious how that works out. And I may take it as incentive for a bit of playbook building myself.

Anyway, the game has been successfully launched. I’ll probably pick up what Pirate related material is available for -World, then decide I hate most of it and write my own. But perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised (which is, I note, a plea for recommendations, if such things exist)

  1. And third, I’m enjoying getting my hands around DW, to the point where I am beginning the hacks in my head.  ↩
  2. Specifically and practically, it meant we had to describe some things before we named them, which is backwards.  ↩
  3. Lily and Sanguinus were made before the other two, and their respective alignment moves (Help someone in trouble and Avoid trouble) lead to us concluding that Lily was not neutral so much as passive-aggressive.  ↩
  4. The Dashing Hero pulled off a “Daring Devil” maneuver, which includes the option “You grab someone nearby and bring them along with you” which is perhaps a bit more potent than intended when on shipboard (if you are also willing to go overboard)  ↩
  5. The reason no one has picked the Warlock? The font on the playbook is terrible. No joke. I’m thinking of redoing it into something more legible.  ↩