Saturday, January 12, 2013

Dungeon World Is That Girl I Never Got the Nerve to Ask Out in High School

I read about a lot of people, including people that I have personally gamed with (and as such, trust their gaming instincts), that were really excited about Dungeon World.  When it came out at RPGNow, I picked it up right away.  I still haven't finished the book.  It's not a slam on the book, but it is something I can't quite put my finger on.

When I initially mentioned some of my concerns with the book, I was met with a lot of responses that indicated that it doesn't play like a typical RPG, so it might not be easy to fully grasp.  I don't think that is the whole thing here.

If you are reading this, and a Dungeon World type person, feel free to correct me, but the crux of the game is that there is no initiative system, and you present the players with situations, the players tell you what they are doing, if that thing they are doing seems like it would be a good thing to dramatically determine based on stats and a die roll, you do so, and most of your actions as a GM are determined in response to PC actions after you see how they react to what you have presented them, rather than proactively doing things yourself, to the point that you don't even really roll dice that often as a GM, you just present the situation and introduce what mechanics are used to resolve what the players do in response to the situation that you have presented.

So if I'm wrong on all of that, or any of that, I'll be happy to be corrected.  I think I'm picking up on the main body of how this is suppose to work.  What I think is throwing me is the amount of effort used in the rulebook to reassure me that this isn't like other RPGs, and to avoid actually using rules terminology most of the time, while still obliquely referencing those same rules that are eventually presented.

I think I just keep getting lost in the part of the book where it discusses theory and storytelling after the design goals have already been established.  I guess what I'm saying is, you can write an introduction that explains how this is suppose to work the plays down the rules.  You can write a section in the GM's section that reinforces this.  You can have a section in the players section that touches on this.  But having this same theme, in a kind of unstructured way, weave its way through the whole book, just makes me feel like either I'm missing something, because sometimes words that get repeated a lot in an RPG book have been appropriated as having a rules defined context.

As an example, while there are some rules that squeak by as being less explained or highlighted than they should be, Marvel Heroic is a game system that doesn't work like a lot of game systems out there, especially other supers games.  However, the way the book presents the rules, I get the feeling that I understand the basics, and I'm not missing out on the core experience if I happened to have missed one little rule or didn't quite do things as intended.  The rules sections clearly explain that since this is a game, it has rules, and here is how they work, and there isn't a constant reference to how different the game experience is or digressions into how to tell stories above and beyond any rules that are being presented.

But I don't think all of my issues are just with the rulebook.  I think part of my issues come from reading what other people post about the game.  I think that has colored my perception of things a bit, and that's part of why I don't want to be too critical of the book itself.  There are things that I didn't get as part of the "core experience" from my reading that appear to be such from discussions that I've seen.

For example, I know that the PCs are the focus of the story, but I keep seeing it hammered home that the PC is "the" Fighter or "the" Wizard, and there may not be anyone else that can do what they do ever anywhere.

I also see lots of people mentioning that the GM isn't suppose to really create or use a setting, just present what he needs to present to the PCs, and incorporate what they come up with into the setting.  That's hard for me as a GM, as I run "the world" and the PCs run "the heroes."  Its not that I can't improvise or incorporate player ideas, but I need to have a fairly good idea of what I'm doing with the setting that is inviolate, that doesn't yank the rug out from under me, just like I won't tell a PC that they would take a certain action or that they have to engage in a romance with a given NPC.

As an example of where I didn't understand the rules a certain way, but saw them presented that way by participants of a game, I present the lore rolls.  I thought if a PC didn't roll high enough to get something, they learned something true, but not immediately helpful, and if they rolled high enough, they learned something true and immediately helpful.  The way I've seen this interpreted by people online is that the player gets to make up that thing that is true for that type of monster.  Wow.  If that is the case, how do I have any investiture in the creatures I present?  And even in the best of groups, you are going to have players that get caught up in the novelty of this concept and just see how hard it is for the GM to incorporate a completely off the wall idea into the monster concept.

To explain how some of this contrasts with my original ideas on using the game, I'll present what jumped into my head.  It's been years since I ran a Forgotten Realms game, and I love the version of the setting that exists in my own head, inspired originally by the Old Grey Boxed Set.  A lot of fantasy systems make me wonder if I could run a Realms game that would use elements of the setting well, divorced of any particular rule from D&D.  When I first started reading these rules, I thought I could do that with these rules.  If a lot of what I have read is accurate, no, I couldn't.  There are other adventurers in the world, and half of what I want to be true might go out the window, so I might as well use generic fantasy land and let the details fill in as we go.

I know a lot of games tell you, "use what you want, don't use what you don't want, and don't worry if you forget something or skip it to advance the story," but it seems like a good portion of the rules and a lot of the people posting about the rules indicate that there really is a "right" way to use these rules, and not getting that right way will cause you to miss out on a really amazing experience.

This makes me a bit nervous about doing anything with theses rules.  If I run a game using them, I could ruin a great gaming experience by not using them right.  If I play, and I don't get how I'm suppose to contribute, I could bring everybody down, because even though I think I get it, I don't really "get" it.

From what I've read of the rules, it seems like this would be a fun, more story driven, rules lighter version of presenting the traditional kind of fantasy adventure roleplaying that's been around since the dawn of the hobby.

But from what I've read online, and get the notion of in a few places in the rules, that's just kind of a veneer that glosses over this kind of transcendent storytelling experience, and it's kind of intimidating.  It's the same kind of intimidation that kept me from every cracking the spine on a World of Darkness book.  I just worry that I could never be that amazingly "on" all of the time to do justice to this experience that I keep reading other people expressing.

1 comment:

  1. Dungeon World is based on Apocalypse World's rules. AW is one of the most abstract, unstreamlined, needlessly-attempting-to-be-cool RPGs (and I use that term lightly) that I've ever read.

    As soon as I began to read this post, I thought, "Gee, sounds just like my initial experience with AW....not good!"

    (My lawyer suggests that I add the caveat that, of course, the above comments are all my opinion and can't hurt you, so AW/DW fanboys can stand down.)