Dungeon World

Posts about Dungeon World, a D&D variant that is Powered by the Apocalypse. Also, The Perilous Wilds and related rule variants.

Oh, and I participated in the translation of World of Dungeons 1979 to German, see Die deutsche Übersetzung des Urvaters von Dungeon World.

2016-09-13 Freebooters on the Frontier Character Generator

I updated my character generator for Freebooters on the Frontier. Rob Brennan had noted that no gear was generated for magic-users and hopefully I fixed this, now. I also noticed that none of the weapon tags seem to get used on the character sheet and that pains me. But where to put them? There’s no space!


Comments on 2016-09-13 Freebooters on the Frontier Character Generator

Actually, I think I managed to fix the issue with the tags.

– AlexSchroeder 2016-09-15 19:59 UTC

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2016-04-19 Immersion

Recently, William Nichols argued on Google+ that some games avoid the dichotomy of Sandbox vs. Railroad one often sees discussed. This was in reply to me sharing a hilarious video, about 15min, about two campaigns: the sandbox that turned into The Hobbit and the railroad that turned into The Lord of the Rings. It comes with many asides that I remember myself thinking when I was younger, e.g. the idea that players had a social obligation to go along with what I had prepared.

William basically argued that some rules designed the problem away by using improvisation and he listed Dungeon World (which I have run) as well as Fiasco and Apocalypse Now (both of which I have played).

I think these examples are definitely role-playing game designers trying to design their way out of the problem space of “wasted prep” – either because it’s a lot like work for the GM or because it affords railroading, which is not fun for players.

But then again, if you manage to set expectations such that people know that some parts of your game are not improvised, then these locations on the map will be “more real” than things you all just thought up. That’s how I work, at least.

So that’s the counterweight I see: we can design away the option of a railroad, but we must be careful not to design away an important source of immersion, the suspension of disbelief that there is an actual, imagined, shared, pre-existing world out there. For me, that idea is powerful. In games that afford a lot of improvisation, this is often lost, I feel.

Dungeon World navigates this by suggesting the creation of a map beforehand and Perilous Wilds even offers a procedure to create a shared map at the table.

To make a long story short: I think it’s important to remember that adding more improvisation also means that you loose something. Being aware of that trade-off is important.


Comments on 2016-04-19 Immersion

I partially agree on the “more real” part, but for a different reason. I think things created through collaboration are fun and useful, but feel soft to the players. Things fully in control of the GM, whether prepped or improv’d, feel harder and “more real”.

– Aaron Griffin 2016-04-19 16:54 UTC

Yeah, I don’t really know how this belief in the imagined world is created. In 2014 I wrote that rolling treasure on a table made it “more real” than simply making it up, so even I as a DM benefit in some weird way. To use your nomenclature, rolling random encounters and random treasure on a pre-existing table makes it “feel harder” and thus “more real”.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-04-19 17:20 UTC

The discussion in that G+ thread continued. I was asked, “is there disagreement to the proposition that prep is a product of design?”

I don’t think we ever had a disagreement. To argue that there is only sandbox and only railroad would be foolish. When I posted that link talking about sandboxes and railroads, it was mostly for entertainment reasons. Also, my preference is sandbox classic D&D, but I have played plenty of indie games to feel that I’ve made an informed choice. Up above, I argued why a lot of improvisation is no solution for me. But clearly, improvisation is an important skill and there are various techniques that are useful to any GM out there. Prep is a product of design, I agree, but improvisation is not a panacea. I guess that was my point somewhere in all of that.

Further down, the conversation turned to prep. William argued that good game design would make sure that very little time would be spent in prep otherwise “my time as GM is not valued.” And furthermore, the requirement for prep “is one more way we keep people not like us out of the hobby.”

I personally find more than half an hour prep per three hour game of classic D&D is my upper limit. Sadly, the older D&D versions did not come with a good discussion of efficient prep. Luckily, we have blogs and oral tradition and where as new games incorporated all this accumulated wisdom into the actual text of their rules, nothing stops a DM from eclectically building their own procedures for prep. So yes, I concede that the actual rules are lacking, but it will still work for people. And one aspect we haven’t touched upon is that prep can also be an enjoyable solo activity. It’s not for everybody, but if it is, then D&D is for you.

So, what about those other players at my table. Are the rules of D&D and the requirement to prep holding them back? I’d say that I don’t want the others at the table to GM because they don’t want to GM, as far as I can tell. Those that do get to run their games, using their preferred rules, no problem. And I scratch my itch for other games by having an indie game night. There’s no need for my game to be the one game to serve all people.

So, does D&D need an excuse for it’s community of bloggers, of oral tradition, of advice given? Is all of that necessary because it’s simply badly designed?

Our lives are full of activities that are not fully prescribed and these lacunae allow us to bend these activities to our preferences, and to make blunders, yes. But that doesn’t mean that all our games need more rules. I don’t share the enthusiasm for the designed experience. I prefer my games to be less like a board game. I want there to be gaps.

Let’s go back to the beginning, however. What are we talking about? The conversation started with the contrast between a sandbox and railroad. Then we argued whether improvisation could help solve this problem, and we talked about the perceived burden of preparing our games. I basically argued that not improvising and instead preparing for games also increases there verisimilitude, and I argued that preparation is also an interesting activity in and of itself. And thus, for people like me, for people who enjoy this kind of game, classic D&D remains an option.

Perhaps we need to reevaluate where this discussion is supposed to go. Are we trying to come to agree on a single answer to what’s best in RPG design? I don’t think this will be possible. I’m trying to illustrate the width and depth of the space we’re talking about and I guess I was warning against thinking that improvisation would be a cure-all, and I’m warning against thinking that no-prep is a cure-all. I guess I’m arguing for an appreciation of the variety of human needs and the design space available to all of us as we write our RPG rules, or house rules, or rule variants.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-04-20 14:34 UTC

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2015-12-26 Benefits of Dungeon World

Doug Anderson asks on his blog: “What existing flaw or limitation in traditional RPGs does Dungeon World address that makes it worthwhile to play?”

  1. Traditional RPGs have a well defined turn structure in combat, which can be boring where as Dungeon World has no defined turn structure and that results in a more cinematic flow of action
  2. Traditional RPGs don’t teach referees when it is dramatically appropriate to escalate the action; some games provide procedures like random encounters and they all encourage you to draw maps and populate locations, others encourage you to railroad; where as Dungeon World has player facing dice mechanics that are tied in to referee facing procedures, providing clear indication for referees on when to do what kind of escalation
  3. Traditional RPGs encourage you to spend a lot of time to prep maps and locations and timelines where as Dungeon World prep provides a framework for improvisation of events and locations without needing well defined time-lines and maps

The cinematic flow happens because the referee starts by threatening a character, the character reacts and ends up making a move. If the move was a success (they rolled 10+ on 2d6), the player keeps talking, or another player starts talking, until one of them ends up making another move. If the move was a partial success (they rolled 7–9 on 2d6), the referee is to make a soft move, that is, upping the ante, threatening the players with more enemies, a deterioration of their situation, whatever. Something gets worse but there are no immediate consequences. If the move was a failure (they rolled 6- on 2d6), then the referee is to make a hard move, that is, dealing damage, separating party members from the rest. Something bad happens and there are immediate consequences.

When players are succeeding but stop talking, looking at the referee, same thing. The referee makes a move (announcing trouble up ahead, dealing damage, depending on the situation). When players walk into a situation where the fiction dictates consequences – walking into an ambush they know about – then that’s the same thing. The referee makes a move (again, announcing trouble up ahead, dealing damage, depending on the situation).

So basically, there’s a natural back and forth, a conversation, between players and referee. It’s like a movie. We are following the action with out mental eye. There is no turn structure that dictates who’s next. If the camera stays focused on a character, because we keep talking about the character, then that’s that. The onus is on us, on everybody at the table, to provide spotlight for every character by involving them in the action. No turn structure ensures that your turn will come up, eventually.

As for prep and fronts, I’ve written about using fronts a few days ago.

Thus, if a newbie friend comes up to you after a session with a traditional role-playing game and says “I ran it by the book but the session fell flat; I prepared so much but it just wasn’t enough,” what do you do? You can invite them to your game and show them how you do it. Oral transmission of how to pay is important in traditional games because the books aren’t very clear on that. Or you could say something about not needing to prep so much and winging it, of improvising more. That is, the oral transmission starts right away. Or you could tell them how Dungeon World solves these problems.


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2015-12-15 Using Fronts

Ramanan S. recently asked on Google+: “So what exactly do people do to track what the hell is going on in their game? What stuff do you have on hand when running a game?”

I replied the usual stuff. Stage fright never goes away. Keep notes on a Campaign Wiki.

And I mentioned how prep using fronts has been creeping into my game.


So here’s the evolution of how things had been going, on a campaign level. First, I had a passive world, waiting for the players to mess with it. My motto was and still is: “The harder you look, the more there is to see.”¹ Then I started using An Echo Resounding and thought that the domain game would provide for the kind of slow movements in the world around them. As it turned out, the domain game didn’t get my players excited. It felt a bit like accounting and it was too much effort to simply introduce some random setting changes. I then turned to using a random table to introduce setting changes. But we kept forgetting to roll on the table. There was simply no incentive. So finally I have arrived at Fronts.

Fronts are easy to write up. Here’s what I have been using:

  1. a catchy name (”Slaad Invasion”)
  2. a short phrase to describe it, a subtitle (”The Manifestation of of a Slaad Lord”)
  3. a number of events with escalating effect (”war in the land of the fire giants”, “war of the god men against Asgard”, ...) – a list of things that I can look down on when there’s a lull and improvise some calamity, an encounter, a news item, whatever; “announcing future badness
  4. a question or two regarding a player character; this will help me twist and turn the dagger so that it’ll end up pointing in their direction; it also reminds me to have daggers pointing at every single one of them (”Will Logard fight this anarchy?”, “Who will help the dwarves?”)


¹ The longer form of my motto is this introduction I recently elaborated:

“We’re playing in a sandbox. Dangers are not adapted to the strength of the party. Generally speaking it’s safer near civilized settlements. The further you move into the wilderness, the more dangerous it is. That’s how players control the risks they want to take.

You learn of rumors from travelers in taverns, merchants at markets, sailors at harbors, books in libraries or sages in their ivory towers. This information is not always accurate or complete. Use these rumors to add new locations, goals and quests to your map. The actions of your characters determines the direction the campaign will take. There is no planned ending for the campaign. As long as you keep investigating rumors, exploring locations and following quests, I will keep developing the game world in that direction. The harder you look, the more there is to see.”


Comments on 2015-12-15 Using Fronts

Wow! You’ve named the process I’ve been doing in my head for years. That’s a really cool feeling, knowing there’s a left-brain approach to my right-brain method.

Also, your motto is crystal clear and I’m totally printing it out and sticking it into my gaming binder. It’s a great thing for new players to hear when starting a sandbox game, especially if they’ve only played modules or in linear campaigns.

Dreadweasel 2016-02-03 23:01 UTC

Very cool.

Also, loved your post Two Stories With Regard to Killing People. :D

– Alex Schroeder 2016-02-04 09:55 UTC

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2015-11-28 Difficulty

In a discussion of Michael Prescott’s post on Google+ on a post by Brendan S on Google+ I wrote the following:

Sadly, I just have a suspicion: at first, DW seemed weird and different when it comes to those rolls, but then having the same odds no matter how good or experienced a character is does seem to be very similar to how D&D 3.5 worked for me over many campaigns. As our skills went up, so did the DCs. As our to-hit values went up, so did our ACs. In classic D&D, there are no skill checks but attribute checks remain the same no matter what. Not much different! And since characters not specializing in their skills had basically no chance to make their rolls, that feels a lot like a self assembled list of moves. (Leaving the back and forth of player moves and GM moves aside for now.)

In classic D&D, the situation is different in combat because the two sides don’t keep on climbing. ACs go down, but not forever (maybe if you use Gary Gygax’s Monster Manuals with their devils and demons). Effectively, there are situations we can simply ignore. Meeting 1–6 orcs is not an encounter after you reach a certain level. DW would simply say that the move says you announce future badness and a handful of orcs just ain’t that. All in all, I feel these DW aspects are not too different from D&D as it is played at my table.


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2015-11-18 Dungeon World

So, I wrote a few posts about Dungeon World in the recent past and then I ran a game, last Monday!

How did it go? It went well. I had six players, a bit of a language split – three native English speakers and three native German speakers and two of them sometimes had trouble understanding some of the stuff on the character sheets. That was unfortunate. On of the players had been a backer and had both soft-cover and hard-cover books with him where as I just has some print-outs and the sheets by Maezar. I also offered my players to use the Freebooters of the Frontier sheets instead, but since nobody had a strong opinion about that and the backer didn’t know about Freebooters, I dropped it. I guess I still used some moves from Perilous Wild behind the screen and it was good.

What about prep? Prep was OK. I had a map, I had some ideas, I had some dangers and discoveries listed, two fronts, dooms, stuff was going to happen but for a 3h One Shot including character generation, I’d say I was slightly over-prepared in terms of map and settlements and slightly under-prepared when it came to dangers and discoveries. I should have had longer lists of cool stuff. I also started the game with the party in a swamp on the way to a barrow, the ranger posited that he had been following tracks, soon it was determined that there were smaller tracks following the larger tracks (announcing future badness) and soon we had a fight with six player characters vs. ten froglings. I think that fight could have been a shorter. Using ten enemies was a bit much.

What about feedback? The players said they liked it. At first, the lack of a turn structure might have been strange but I guess it worked. The two mostly German speaking players weren’t as active as they might have been, perhaps. But I know one of them from another campaign where he’s also not one to take center stage – and sadly, one prone to looking at his phone a lot, during the game. I didn’t feel too bad about him getting less spot light.

What about my own feelings regarding player agency? Tricky. Comparing it to my old school sandbox games, I’d say many things were similar or the procedures resulted in a similar experience for players.

  • there was a regional map with lairs and sources of evil and going to particular places had consequences
  • there was no dungeon map and as time was running out, I shortened it dramatically – moving to the final chamber in no time; but adjusting to time constraints is something I do all the time
  • my traditional dungeon prep sometimes starts with a sort of point-crawl between interesting locations that are barely described; the rest is improvised – and it didn’t feel very different from my perspective; perhaps also because the dungeon was super small in the end: entrance, water filled corridor, central chamber

Some pictures to illustrate my points.

Traditional point crawl dungeon:


My Dungeon World prep:

https://alexschroeder.ch/pics/23084770801_a4ec7e7681_z.jpg https://alexschroeder.ch/pics/23047562186_bf998f05da_c.jpg https://alexschroeder.ch/pics/23047572636_5365ab4e82_c.jpg

Also note the terrible mix of German and English in my notes. ;-)


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2015-11-08 Moves

I’ve been thinking about Dungeon World some more. Here are some of my comments from a recent post on Google+.

It all started with me reading the answer to How to ask nicely in Dungeon World on StackExchange. The answer says: There’s also no GM move called “have a freeform social interaction.” If the GM is following the rules, this kind of stall should not happen. […] Since the “everyone looks to you to find out what happens” trigger matches, it’s now the GM’s turn to make an appropriate move, instead of falling into “time for unstructured social exchange improvisation!” habits that they have brought with them from some other game. The rest of the answer picks all the GM moves in the book and provides an explanation of how it might have gone.

When talking about my classic D&D games with others, we sometimes talked about procedures (or the lack thereof). When I tried to explain how great classic D&D was to Lior oh so long ago, he said that he would love to see some practical instructions on how to make a game interesting. Classic D&D seemed to be steeped in oral culture transmitted outside the written rules. You learned how to do it from friends, or through years of experience, or by reading and talking about it online (which is how I finally got it). As we gave Apocalypse World a try, it seemed to us that there was something here about telling us how to run a game but we just couldn’t nail it. I don’t remember whether we were just too blind to see, or too distracted by all the new jargon, or too fascinated by the moves in play books. I think that now, I’m slowly starting to get it.

There are still reasons not to like the game. The game no longer promises ever changing game play via mechanics (spells changing the adventures you can run, hit-points being replaced by saving-throws, and so on). And I still don’t quite see how the game can surprise me – how will I avoid making decisions that I feel the rules should make for me? The advice for running a dungeon basically suggest improvising a dungeon based on moves, i.e. whenever the players are at a loss, or when they fail their rolls, the dungeon grows, the monsters move, dead ends appear, signs of trouble ahead show up, and so on. “Dungeon Moves are a special subset that are used to make or alter a dungeon on the fly. Use these if your players are exploring a hostile area that you don’t already have planned completely.”

Even if I use The Perilous Wilds as my rules, these thing are still true. Except now there are more tools to work with, more specific instructions: countdowns for themes, a predetermined size, and so on. It seems to me that DW and friends are very interested in “play to see what happens” and one of the consequences is that the world is being generated as you go, based on your moves and the improvisations of the DM. That, in turn, is perhaps why my suspension of disbelief might not work as well. Or perhaps that’s simply a problem for an old school D&D player. If we’re exploring an existing place with an existing map, and existing dangers and treasures, it feels more “real” than generating things as we go. If the consequences of failure are generated by random rolls on a table, if the danger of monsters depends on the severity of my moves, then the rules can say fiction first as long as they want, I read it as DM fiat. But: This could be my D&D bias. Perhaps DW does not shirk from DM fiat as long as it follows from the fiction. Perhaps it works at the table even if everybody knows that the DM is improvising. After all, D&D also requires improvising but generally DMs will try to hide the fact that they’re doing it. The impression of impartiality is generated by dice rolling. Staying true to the fiction is presumed.

Then again, when I look at some of my recent “dungeons”, I find that I mostly think of them as interesting areas, connect one way or another, it doesn’t really matter. Plus monsters and treasure, and traps, rarely. Perhaps that’s not very far away from what Dungeon World and friends are suggesting. After all, the improvisation and dice rolling at the table is only for “a hostile area that you don’t already have planned completely.” I’m suspecting that – at the table! – my current method and the Dungeon World method with a little planning are not very different, after all.

Curious and willing to learn, in any case.

This is what a recent dungeon map for classic D&D looked like, in my campaign:



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2015-11-02 Fronts

Reading the Dungeon World chapter on fronts makes me want to rewrite the list of open plots and the todo lists for a quest or two, and the list of random upcoming campaign changes as fronts. Perhaps that would make all these things clearer to me. Now that I think about it, my campaign threats are a confusing mess of half baked ideas. They work – I think – but perhaps they’d work better if written up as fronts.


See the picture on the right for what I have for my campaign fronts. I probably have one or two more which I don’t consider to be a urgent. One thing I noticed is that the old structure of my notes was this: if you want to resurrect Arden, you need to do the following… and what followed was a list of quests, each of which I felt would make a nice adventure, should the players decide to follow up on it. The write-up as front changes the setup: if players don’t resurrect Arden, his insanity will spread, somebody else will take the throne of light and so on. I’m not sure I like this shift from “this is a sandbox and whatever you want to achieve will be full of adventure” to “the world will go from bad to worse if you don’t take matters into your own hands”. I suddenly feel like might be preparing two or three campaign arcs or adventure paths… a kind of campaign setup I tried to avoid because players end up feeling like they have less choice. Everything is falling to pieces and there is pressure everywhere and time is running out and go, go, go!

This seems to be the biggest difference in terms of how fronts work compared to my traditional preparations. In my sandbox, players get interested in things, they learn more about it, they formulate goals and then they discover all the difficulties that need to be overcome. The world is essentially static.

Sure, we like to talk about “living” sandboxes and all that but my campaign events are random intrusions where I think to myself, “an invasion of mind-flayers sounds great” and then the setting starts to change.

This process is less structured than the fronts of Dungeon World. Fronts are also tied into moves, so a failed roll by a player can advance a front.

No such thing happened in my sandboxes. People felt free to calmly consider the missions they care about and do some horse trading: “You’ll help me bring down Susrael and I’ll help you bring back the fire giant’s wife, OK?” Fronts put pressure on players and I don’t think they’ll feel as free to pick and choose because there will be consequences, always.

Anyway, I recently bought Freebooters on the Frontier, A Book of Beasts, Perilous Almanacs, The Perilous Wilds and The Perilous Wilds Survival Kit by Jason Lutes as well as Dungeon World by Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel.

Comments here or on G+.


Comments on 2015-11-02 Fronts

As Dungeon World is on my mind these days, here are two links that made me buy all the PDFs: a review of Perilous Wilds by Ramanan S. and Test-driving Dungeon World by Brendan S., to bloggers I respect, not only because their last name starts with an S.

– Alex S. 2015-11-02 19:29 UTC

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2015-09-09 World of Dungeons

Ich habe an einer Übersetzung mitgeholfen! Wir haben John Harpers World of Dungeons auf Deutsch übersetzt.

World of Dungeons (schwarz-weiss) war ein stretch goal für Dungeon World. Beide gehören zur Familie der Powered by the Apocalypse Spiele: man würfelt 2W6. 2–6 ist ein Fehlschlag, 7–9 ist ein Teilerfolg, 10–12 ist ein voller Erfolg. Die Spielleitung würfelt nicht: greifen die Spielercharaktere an, nehmen sie bei 2–9 automatisch Schaden. Werden die Spielercharaktere angegriffen, nehmen sie automatisch Schaden, wenn sie nichts unternehmen, um dies zu verhindern.

Mit seinen drei Seiten gehört World of Dungeons zudem zu den Spielen, welche für einen One Shot oder eine Convention besonders geeignet sind. World of Dungeons ist hier vergleichbar mit Isotope (vier Seiten). Zu Isotope empfehle ich noch meine Bemerkungen vom letzten Jahr.

In die gleiche Familie gehören auch die Ausbauten Streets of Marienburg und Advanced World of Dungeons.


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