“And that was only one of the many occasions on which I met my death, an experience which I don’t hesitate strongly…

“And that was only one of the many occasions on which I met my death, an experience which I don’t hesitate strongly…

“And that was only one of the many occasions on which I met my death, an experience which I don’t hesitate strongly to recommend.”

—Baron Munchausen

Adventures happen when plans fail and people find themselves out of their element.  In dungeon world, and role playing in general, you should never worry about failing a roll.  Out of character we can all calculate odds and say that the barbarian should always step aside and demand that the thief check every door, chest, square foot in a dungeon.  but would the barbarian do this?  Is this fun? 

I remember a D&D mechanic called “taking 20” that simply represented your character repeating an attempted action until it succeeded, thrilling.  We could assume our characters strategize take their time and leave nothing to chance.  they succeed at everything and avoid any chance of failure or danger.  we can summarize this by having the DM specify a length of time, probably in days, that a specific dungeon requires to complete without risk.  Sounds fun right, make sure you bring a lot of rations.

alternatively your barbarian can kick in that door.  sometimes he startles goblin guards and gets a free attack.  other times the door explodes into flames and he must decide if he should charge through the flames or try to shield his companions.  In DW he also gets an XP.  Maybe the thief writes down a new bond “Grognar the Mighty is dangerous if left alone” and that changes their relation ship.  stuff happens!  

do not be afraid to fail.  it won’t cause you any real pain and unless your character is really unlucky, they will probably survive.  not all failures cause damage, not all failures even affect your character.  In DW your character won’t grow without failing a lot of rolls. even if your character dies, you get a last breath roll.  some of the most epic situations I have witnessed revolved around a player dying, or almost dying.

It also doesn’t always make sense for your character to avoid certain actions.  sure your ranger never attended an arcane university and wont even attempt to identify the function of a magical animated machine with rune inscribed planets orbiting a glowing crystal.  But he might recognize a gently humming bow  from legends he heard from old hunters about the song-tree Elves.  the druid might have higher wisdom but if someone has to discern realities about a battlefield or fortress or spout lore about a siege engine, the fighter might be the guy to look to.

Your character should always do what make sense for your character to do in light of who they are and what they know.  Its actually rare for a real person to really understand their short comings.  we don’t know our exact stats or the potential outcomes of particular actions.  we do our best and generally hope for success.  I have no hope of lifting 400lbs but I might stand up to some jerk who can.  not everyone can program in C but they can tell me that they think my program is messed up because of what they observe it doing.  they might be totally wrong (I never make mistakes) but they are making a valid attempt.

Sorry for the rant…

When you read and understand Dungeon World, Roll + INT…

When you read and understand Dungeon World, Roll + INT…

When you read and understand Dungeon World, Roll + INT…

Much advice and interest has been given on how to be a better GM.  This little document has helped me by providing not just an explanation of the rules, but the thought process that a DM goes through when running a game, making fronts, running combat, etc.  Especially handy is the last section containing an example of play, where the side-bar is the GM explaining the choices and why such a move was the decision here.


Maintaining a Good Pace in Dungeon World

Maintaining a Good Pace in Dungeon World

Maintaining a Good Pace in Dungeon World

Everyone has strengths. Your strength may be math or music. Perhaps your strength is sports. My strength is running a well-paced roleplaying game.  

Dungeon World is a terrific game because, among other things, its rules encourage a good flow around the table. But it’s not automatic. The key to running Dungeon World successfully is understanding how the moves intersect with and flow into each other. Below are some tips for maintaining a dangerous and exciting game of Dungeon World. Please note: some of these tips can be applied to any roleplaying game, and if you are a trad GM, you definitely need to read this, because your game probably suffers from pacing issues. 

Tip #1: Defy Danger keeps your game well-paced. In games I run, I’d say fully half the die rolls are Defy Danger. It is, essentially, a universal move. It’s what you have the players roll when you’re not sure what other move got triggered by their narration. 

The important thing here is how you use it, which is to say you should always use the 7-9 and Miss results as an invitation to immediately follow-up with more action. So, for example, let’s say the Thief is trying to roll away from a monster’s blow. You have him roll Defy Danger +DEX (naturally). He gets a 7-9, and so you follow-up by putting his weapon in danger: “You roll out of the way, but your bow slipped off your shoulder and is now hanging precariously off the edge of a cliff!” You then follow-up with the Fighter: “Hey, his bow is about to fall off the cliff. What do you do?” If he ignores it, the bow is gone. If he doesn’t, use another Defy Danger (the bow is in danger, after all). If they get another 7-9 (or, depending on the circumstances, a Miss), perhaps they recover the bow, but they slip themselves and are now hanging precariously from the edge. That’s when you ask another character: “He’s about to fall off the cliff. What do you do?” And so forth. 

Essentially, Defy Danger allows you to create cinematic pacing so long as you are constantly following-up on those 7-9 and Miss results. You don’t ease up until someone gets a 10+ or if they Miss in such a way that it would dramatically alter what’s going on in the story. 

Tip #2: Resist the temptation to ask questions generally of the players, such as “What does everyone do?” or “Who wants to deal with Danger X?” It will slow your game down in a huge way. Instead, present the situation and then ask a specific player how his character responds to it. For example, let’s say an ogre bursts into the clearing where the party has made camp. DO NOT say “An ogre has just burst into camp! Who wants to do something about it?” Instead, say “An ogre has just burst into camp! Boros, you’re standing closest to him as he gets ready to swing his club. What do you do?” 

Sometimes I think GMs are worried about taking away player agency by presupposing what their character is doing when danger strikes, but trust me: the only players who will quibble with you on this sort of thing are pieces of shit you probably shouldn’t be gaming with anyway. Everyone else will appreciate the chance to have their character shine. 

Tip #3: Always, always, ALWAYS start a session in media res. For those of you who don’t know, in media res  means “in the middle of the action.” Nothing is more boring than starting a session in the tavern or (shudder) with the characters shopping for supplies. Instead, have the characters surrounded by enemies when the session opens. Have them stabbing and jumping and killing. Put them in immediate danger. If the characters were getting ready to shop for supplies when we left them last session, open the new session with bandits trying to jack the coin they’ve been flashing all over town. 

If you don’t want to start with a fight, start the session with the characters trying to hide from guards or break into a safe or negotiate with a crime lord. The key is to have them doing something that is not boring. If you start a session with the characters doing boring shit, your game is in danger of having no momentum. A good analogy here is a James Bond movie. Every James Bond movies starts with a big action scene that gets you pumped up and sets the tone for the entire experience. Do thou likewise with your DW game.

I’ll finish-up with my classic in media res set-up for a brand-new DW campaign, which works beautifully: the party is on their way to Dungeon X when they get jumped by Monsters X. Make it super-dangerous. Limbs, eyeballs, and gear are all fair game. Last Breath is a real possibility (better to lose a character at the outset than in the middle of the adventure). Once the fight with Monsters X is over, have them search the bodies for treasure, which is the cool-down moment. Reward them with a single piece of sweet loot, along with a few coins and gems. Let them have a moment to take stock. Then: do Undertake a Perilous Journey to finish-up the trip to Dungeon X. This will get everyone’s head back in the game and ramp up the danger once again (particularly if the Scout roll goes poorly). A nice side effect is that, if you have new players, you will have basically taught them the whole game with this set-up (Combat, Discern Realities, the abstraction concept, and so forth).  

Jason’s Gaming Crate

Jason’s Gaming Crate

Jason’s Gaming Crate

We run lots of in-person games; sometimes three or four a week, and sometimes with multiple groups at the same game night. We often have to get a game to the table with little advance notice. Given that, I have found it is helpful to have a collection of multi-purpose gaming aids within easy reach at all times. 

My gaming crate contains the following:

-Folders with character sheets and notes for any active campaigns we have going on. 

-A multi-pocket file for laminated play aids and character sheets.

-A Pathfinder flipmat.

-My dice bag

-An inner box with pencils, markers, tokens, and note cards (see pictures for details).

-Books and accessories for games we play often (such as Dungeon World and Fiasco). 

Combined with an iPad for PDF rulesets, I can run dozens of different roleplaying games out of this crate. Take a look at the photos for more details. 

Do you have any suggestions for play aids you like to keep handy? If so, post in the comments.