Dungeon World Review!

OK, I know what you’re thinking. This blog is crazy for Dungeon World, surely this post is a foregone conclusion!

Well… yes. But I’m writing this review for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I want in to the Adventurers’ Guild. Secondly, on this, the 40th birthday of Dungeons and Dragons, it’s a good opportunity to write about my experiences with both systems and why Dungeon World comes out on top. And finally, it occurred to me that although I’m writing all these lovely adventures, it doesn’t hurt to write down why this particular system is so appealing.

First a history lesson – the dim and distant past of 2010. That summer, Penny Arcade did their first D&D game at Pax – and I loved it. A few months later I’d bought the 4th edition Red Box and the main rulebooks (they looked too pretty and it was my birthday.. I couldn’t resist!) But when I got a few mates together to try out our first adventure, things didnt’ run so smooth. Why was this 1st-level goblin ambush taking so long to complete? OK, sure it’s the basic adventure but what if the players want to talk their way past? What the hell is an ‘attack of opportunity’? My group and I were left pretty confused by the whole endeavour.

Luckily, we didn’t stop playing there and then – since then we’ve had shows like Tabletop bring board games back into the public eye, and we carried on experimenting with new RPGs. I’d caught the GMing bug. I spent some time working on a system of my own which worked OK, but didn’t quite do it for me – then I started reading more about Dungeon World.

Any time, any place

You can play Dungeon World, pretty much anywhere. Given how separate our group is, we might only meet once every 6 months in person – if that. There’s no opportunity to be teaching a diverse range of rules, or laying out minis and encounters. Our group started small, with the excellent spinoff game World of Dungeons serving as an introduction to the rules. Once we’d played with that, we graduated to full-blown Dungeon World and haven’t looked back.

Let’s play a conversation

Dungeon World places the fiction first, not rules and gameplay. If you go up against a dragon, it doesn’t matter that it only has 16 HP – it is a giant f***ing dragon and will tear you to pieces unless you find a way to breach it’s armour. Time and again, this makes for memorable games – something the system outright rewards you for (if the group looted a valuable treasure or defeated a notable enemy, XP for everyone!)

Simple rules

There’s one simple rule – to do anything, roll 2d6 and add a stat. Depending on your result, you’ll either get what you want, get what you want with caveats, or the GM will describe something (and you probably won’t like it.) Obviously that’s not the only rule, but it’s definitely the one that matters the most. (And the popularity of the games that use it, like DW’s grandfather Apocalypse World, show how popular this approach can be.)

Such modding, so development

Like I said, at first I wanted to make my own game. At some point I still do, but in many respects Dungeon World scratches that itch because it’s a great system to develop fresh content for. Even though you’re not supposed to – you should “play to find out what happens” – as a GM it’s easy, fast and fun to come up with half a dozen potential scenarios to throw in the players’ direction when things go wrong!

So it’s perfect then?

Well, nothing’s perfect of course. The fiction-first gameplay can cause confusion, especially with some of the more open-ended classes like the shapeshifting Druid. With few exceptions, you only get XP for failing a roll, so there’s also a divide that the GM and the player have to work together to avoid – if a player only uses their best abilities, it can become a very boring experience because they’re less likely to fail. Because the rules are pretty light, the GM is denied the security of absolute rules for any given situation – there has to be a degree of trust between the GM and the players that the GM isn’t just going to screw them over. But with time and practice – and the game is definitely worth investing time in – this mode of play becomes second nature, and allows much more fluid, story-based gameplay to develop.

Final analysis

If you’re on this website, and you’ve read this far, you should have bought Dungeon World already. If you need some final convincing, you can find the rules online for free (licensed under Creative Commons) and ask away in the lovely and friendly DW Tavern on Google+. My opinion? I’ve never played a more entertaining RPG, and I suspect I might not for many years to come.