Six Flowers

So, I’ve been helping my girlfriend out with a programme for her theatre group’s upcoming
production. (As it turns out, all those other PDFs are great practice for actual work!)

On the hunt for appropriate imagery, I found this lovely set of hand-drawn flowers by Evgeniya Ivanova (https://creativemarket.com/snusmumr) and thought they might be a fun bit of inspiration for a collection of Dungeon World stuff.

So here we are: six flowers, six things for your Dungeon World game.

For Amy, because who ever heard of a games writer who can afford flowers? [EDIT: I have since actually bought my girlfriend some flowers.]

Download Six Flowers

On the Isla De Minas!

How long have you been trapped here? Days, weeks?

You remember flashes – your attackers appearing through the storm, your ship splintering around you, being carried to this gods-damned place. Since then, it’s been fishy gruel, iron cuffs and a pick in your hands. (So, who captured you? Tritons, pirates, or orcish natives?)

But today’s going to be different. You’re lashed together and put to work as usual, but today’s the day you break out of here. After all, you have a plan. Right?

On The Isla De Minas

This month’s playtesting went in a decidedly nautical direction, so our first adventure finds the players trapped and without their equipment working a deadly mine in the Tyranean sea!

About Custom Moves

Custom moves are really important. Often, the moves you choose to include say more about the situation than half a dozen paragraphs of fluff.

Consider the example below:

When you force your way through a crowd of piston-heads, roll+STR. On a 10+, you force a space through the mob for yourself (and anyone behind) for a moment or two. On a 7-9, you’re through if you can unhook whatever it is of yours that’s just gotten snagged on a wayward gear. On a miss, the piston-heads close ranks – and the pistons start firing…

I was pleased with how this move came out, for a few reasons.

Without knowing anything more about the adventure, you can already make a few assumptions.

  • “Piston-heads” suggests a steampunk setting.
  • There’s a mob, which implies they’re ganging up or protesting something.
  • They aren’t threatening the players directly, but are in their way. Will the players resort to force to clear a path, or diplomacy, or magic, or something else? (Play to find out what happens…!)
  • When the “pistons start firing”, it’s implied to be bad news for the players. It might signify the piston-heads are now a threat – a soft move – or the party might get bashed by the pistons – a hard move. (This decision is left to the GM because it depends on what condition the PCs are in when the move is made.)

What’s a “love letter”?

If you frequent the DW communities online but haven’t played or read Apocalypse World yet, you may have heard the term “love letter” before but not be sure what it means.

In brief, it’s a few paragraphs written specifically for a player or players to bring them up to speed on their situation, usually after a break or big change of scene.

Here’s an example

(Taken from a recent conversation with a friend and fellow GM – names and monsters witheld to avoid spoilers!)

The last session, the players killed an ogre and reclaimed a cache of magic items in the name of the paladin’s god. However, the GM was keen to keep the story moving along – it would be more interesting to fast-forward to six months later and deal with the repercussions of the players’ new-found power.

We decided the best way to get the players up to speed was with a love letter. We didn’t decide the specifics, but in general the letter would tell the players:

  • It’s six months since they killed the ogre
  • They’ve been on the trail of someone who fled the scene last game (it’s all about people, remember)
  • We’re going to do a custom move now to determine whether you found him and where you’re living now.

We decided the letter would read something like this:

Congratulations on the loot, guys! The ogre is dead and you’re starting to get known as people who Solve Problems. Good for you! Since you picked up those magic items, six months have passed. You’ve (probably) found yourself a place to live and you’ve been hot on the trail of that cultist who fled the scene. Everybody roll+whatever you’ve been using to bring this guy to justice (STR if you’ve defeated him in combat, INT if you’ve outsmarted him, WIS if you’ve tracked him for weeks, etc.) We’ll take your results as a group average – 10+ results cancel out 6- ones.

On a 10+, he’s dead and everyone knows it. You’ve gotten a good place in the city, but someone’s dropped a familiar corpse on your doorstep.

On a 7-9, he’s dead, but it cost one of you something – the GM will say what. You’re living in a local town well enough, but don’t have the scratch to turn down a job if it comes your way – even if it is something boring, like defending the caravans from goblin attacks.

On a 6-, you either got the guy at great cost or he got away, your choice. You’re holed up in some backwater village on the road to the city. You’ve still got the magic items of course, and the shirts on your backs – but precious little else. You need food in your belly, whetstones for your swords and a place to rest your feet – but first you’ll need money to get all that!

No matter the roll, what do you do?

Writing your own adventures

By now, I hope you’ve all read Johnstone Metzgers’ tips for making your own Dungeon World adventures. From what I’ve seen from him recently, he’s definitely someone worth listening to when it comes to adventure-writing advice. That said, I feel like after over a year of adventure-writing myself, I’ve picked up a few things worth saying myself. So, here’s my two cents.

How are your people skills?

I’ve been re-reading what Johnstone’s written, as well as some of my personal favourites and the stunning things that John Harper has been putting out in his Patreon, and it’s reminded me that at their heart adventures are about conflicts, and conflicts are about people.

It’s easy to forget this. “The fight between the ostrasized frogmen, lost civilisation and ambitious industrialists” is a terrible name for a product, but probably more accurately describes the content than “The Green Scar”.

But when making an adventure, start with the people. In Dungeon World, this is easy – it’s the heart of a monster’s instincts and your fronts and dangers, so start with those. Describe what they’re looking for, how it’ll get in the way of the players’ wants and what will happen if the players do nothing to stop them. If you’ve got the people down and feeling right, you’ve already got the minimum for a DW game.

“You all meet in [the Dungeon World] tavern…”

So start an adventure with the people, right? Not necessarily. Don’t forget it’s the GM who’s reading your adventure – they’re likely looking for a quick hook to convince them this is a game worth running.

When it comes to actually laying out the adventure, it’s better to start with an exciting opening crawl, Star wars-style, or describe the environment in what the characters can see, hear and smell. Marshall Miller does this very well – one of my favourite adventures is the Shallow Sea. With a combination of an arresting title, descriptive impressions and leading questions for the PCs, Marshall sets everything up for a GM to quickly throw their players into the action.

As a writer, Michael Prescott reminded me recently you shouldn’t be afraid to be prescriptive – this isn’t the time to worry too much about ‘leaving blanks’. If you’ve set the scene and characters in an arresting way, you can be confident the GM reading will find their own ways to tweak and find their own blanks.

What the players don’t know

If this were a guide to writing adventures for Pathfinder, or any other traditional RPG, this would be the part where I say “this is the meat of the adventure.” But the truth is – and for traditional GMs, this can be tricky to grasp at first – in Dungeon World, there’s a lot of things the GMs don’t know, and that’s a good thing.

Take maps, for example. People always ask me to include more maps in my adventures, especially ones who’ve come from D&D et al. I’ll be honest with you here – I don’t really like including maps in my adventures. Compared to Dyson, Michael and others my map-making skills are rubbish; but more importantly, I never have a map prepared for a game of Dungeon World in advance. Don’t need it. It’ll be prep that goes to waste.

What tends to work a lot better are locations. Johnstone does this excellently, as does Michael. When describing a location within a dungeon, think of it as a mini-love letter to the players – set the scene, tell them why they’re in trouble, and get them rolling dice so you can start making moves against them.

A lot of people have commented on how useful it is to have pointers for when the players Spout Lore. In theory, this is something you might come up with on the fly based on what the players have already told you. But in practice, when the players put you on the spot it can be tricky to make up something just like that. Being the GM means always thinking two steps ahead of the players – this is why it’s important to have an idea of fronts and dangers as soon as possible, so you can know in broad strokes the consequences of the player’s failure.

And the rest

As far as monsters and treasure are concerned, it comes back to the Dungeon World end-of-session move. You always ask “did we loot a memorable treasure?” and “did we overcome a memorable enemy?” What isn’t obvious at first is this move refers to the players, not the party. Depending on the context, a battle against a couple of humble cave bears might become the most memorable battle of a parties’ career.*

Like with the spout lore examples above, it’s useful to have the stats for a few enemies and items prepped in advance. Most likely, you’ll think of some appropriate creatures when deciding on the people in step one, so this tends to follow naturally. If not, there’s plenty of examples to get you thinking in the DW rulebook, or on codex.dungeon-world.com.

Finally, if you can think of something appropriate, one last ‘epilogue’ custom move is a great way to sign off – almost a ‘reverse love letter’, something to set up next week’s game. If you do this, make sure there are no comfortable results. No matter what the players roll, it must lead to more trouble!

To be continued…!

Well, that’s my 2 cents on the topic. I hope you’ve found it useful – what sort of things would you like to see more of in adventures? Let me know in the comments, or on Google+.

* In one of my games, a barbarian, cleric and templar of around level 7 nearly died to two absolutely normal cave bears after they kept rolling misses! They eventually succeeded, but the next time they need to enter a darkened cave you bet they’ll be a lot more cautious…

Book Review: Spider from the Well

My good friend Tim Reed asked for my thoughts on his latest book, Spider from the Well, and I was happy to oblige! Tim is a young author of fantasy novels and short stories. You can get most of his content on Amazon.

Spider from the well is a short horror story by Tim Reed about the titular spider hiding in the well. Out for a pleasant walk in the English countryside, a young couple chances upon a rotting, faded journal. On a lark, they begin reading – only to discover the last words of a landowner, dead for decades, and his story of dimensional horrors lurking in his well and beyond!

Creeping terror

One thing I’ve always liked about Tim’s stories is his sense of worldbuilding. Spider is a little longer than most of his short stories, and much of the extra room is given over to describing the world the protagonists inhabit (and it’s slow, but relentless occupation by things not of this world.)

This book certainly wouldn’t feel out of place in an H.P. Lovecraft collection, and shares that authors’ preference for claustrophobic environments and laborious descriptions. At times, these veered into being a bit long-winded for a modern short story, but given the obvious inspiration behind the story this isn’t a great surprise.

Another mainstay of Tim’s writing I’ve noticed is his love of abstract imagery. Alien visions and maddening sights are almost a common sight in the TimReediverse! Compared to his other works, I was pleased to find the descriptions here a lot more grounded and less lost in metaphor, while still conveying that sense of the strange and unreal.

Don’t kick the bucket!

Overall, I thought Spider from the Well was an interesting departure from Tim’s shorter stories. The storyline was strong, but personally I would have trimmed some of the descriptions in favour of keeping the pacing faster and more snappy. (What this says about my attention span, I leave to your imagination!)

If you’re looking for a taste of cthulhoid victorian horror to spice up your sweltering summer evenings, Spider from the Well should be plenty to sate your appetite!

Interview with me at Play to find out!

This afternoon I had the pleasure of chatting with Matt Smith (not the eleventh doctor, sadly) about all things Dungeon World, gaming and my creative process. I had a lot of fun! Check out the link here:

Play to find out! Joe Banner Remix Interview

A few other people and links mentioned in the interview:

And just for revenge for slapping my ugly mug all over his page, here’s Matt’s profile picture at the largest size I could find it:

geronimo