Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dungeon World

We had our first session of Dungeon World using the Red Book, and had a blast!  I'm not sure I was doing everything exactly right, but it worked.

My original plan was to convert over Keep on the Borderlands, boiling it down to its essential elements for the Dungeon World tri-fold adventure format, but I ran out of time.  Instead, I went with the The Bloodstone Idol from the book.  Probably for the best given that we're all new to the game, but I still hope to get back to my original idea at some point.

We had three players who played the following characters:  Marlow the good human Thief, Thelian the neutral elf Fighter, and Father Wesley the evil human Cleric.  Father Wesley had heard of Grundloch's plan to learn the secrets of the idol, and had convinced the other two to come along and help him put a stop to it.  Not because Wesley thought that Grundloch would do harm if he wasn't thwarted, but because he had grown up with Grundloch, and held a grudge over some long ago slight.  Father Wesley isn't a very nice person.

We made characters last week, so this week we got right into the adventure, which went as follows:

While standing at the entrance to the Bloodstone Caverns, the group is surprised by a lizardman hunting party exiting the caverns.  The party kills three of them while the remaining two flee back inside.  They follow to find goblins and lizardmen facing off against each other.  Grabbing the three lizardman corpses, they approach the goblins and ask for information, showing that they have helped their cause.  This parley attempt by Father Wesley achieves a partial success and the goblins say that the party must first kill more lizardmen.

Wesley and Thelian charge across the hall and attack the lizardmen, killing three of them with help from Marlow's shooting.  More lizardmen arrive as reinforcements, and the group retreats back to the goblins.  The three lizardman heads they recovered are enough to cause the goblins to answer their questions and let them pass.

In the next room they face off against yet more lizardmen, but the magic of the room prevents the use of weapons, and the group ends up moving across to the exit that the lizardmen aren't blocking.  This leads them to a hallway that eventually opens out at the top of the large cavern that contains the Bloodstone Idol.  The floor of the cavern being about a hundred feet below, the group looks for a way down.

They see the web of ropes created by the goblins and cut the ones they can reach to keep the goblins from getting close, and to drop a bunch of them to the ground.  They then use their own ropes to climb down.  Only making a partial success, Father Wesley faces the tough choice of letting himself fall part of the way, or grabbing Marlow to steady himself, likely causing her to lose her balance.  He chooses to grab Marlow, even though she had been helping him up to this point.  Marlow falls to the ground.  Thelian, having taken a separate rope, finds himself drawing near to some surviving goblins in the ropes.  He can try to climb past them while they attack him, but he instead chooses to jump and take one with him to the ground, which is not that far below.  

Marlow and Thelian find themselves once again in the middle of a battle between goblins and lizardmen.  As Wesley joins them a cloud of noxious gas rolls towards the party.  They manage to flee from it, but are split up with Marlow and Thelian on one side and Wesley on the other.  Marlow spots a hidden door and leads Thelian to it.

Wesley attempts to cross the battlefield in the middle of a major attack by the goblins on the lizardmen positions.  He finds himself in a trench with some goblins whom he helps fight some counter-attacking lizardmen until only he and a wounded lizardman remain.  He parlays with the lizardman, converting him to his faith, at least temporarily.  Wesley worships a god of healing and restoration, but one that also values suffering and sacrifice.  Guess which elements Wesley emphasizes?  The lizardman and Wesley part ways, and Wesley meets back up with the rest of the party.

The party ends the session by entering the hidden room and making camp.

For those unfamiliar with Dungeon World, it takes the system from Apocalypse World and changes it so that it can be used to recreate the classic dungeon crawl feel.  It's a very narrative system that builds off a set of principles and moves.  The gamemaster never rolls dice in Dungeon World.  The players roll dice when they make a move, and how well or poorly they roll helps define what kind of move the GM can make in response.

For example, in the above adventure, the lizardmen being reinforced was a monster move I made in response to a poor roll by the Thief when she attempted a Volley move to shoot the lizardmen.  I could have just done damage to the Thief as a move, but that wasn't as interesting, or really appropriate since she wasn't in melee.

The system of alternating moves between players and GMs seems very structured when reading it, but in play it cam across a lot more smoothly and naturally than I feared it would.  Most moves came without my really thinking about them, and the moves list became a crutch to fall back on rather than the straightjacket I feared it might be.

For those already familiar with the system, here's some more detail on how the mechanics worked out.  The most common move used by the players was Hack and Slash (and Volley), followed by Defy Danger.  Defend, Parley, and Discern Realities were used a few times each.  Spout Lore and Aid were used a couple times each.  I never had them Make A Saving Throw, although I probably should have a couple of times.

The Fighter used Bend Bars Lift Gates to cut the ropes the goblins were using.  The Cleric cast many spells, often drawing attention to himself with partial successes.  The Thief never used any special moves, but did use a stolen item to help another to gain XP (the rope she used to help them climb down with was stolen).  I should probably work on giving that player some opportunities to use more of her special moves next time, and/or make sure she knows to look for those opportunities.

I think I did a good job on two of the three agendas, I filled the characters' lives with adventure, and I played to find out what happened, but I probably could have made the world a little more fantastic.  I think I did OK on making things fantastic, but only by drawing on what was in the adventure already.

I was a bit more hit and miss on the principles, but the thing that needs the most work is addressing the characters and not the players.  This is something I've been trying to do in other games as well, but I keep slipping up.

Everyone seemed very interested in continuing this adventure next week, especially since they all got enough experience this week to go up to second level!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Trail of Cthulhu: First Adventure

We wrapped up our first Armitage Files adventure last night, and I think the game is going well so far, with a few hiccups.  The investigative style of game is a bit different from the largely action based games that we've been playing lately, and I think there may be a little adjustment going on with the players, but most of the feedback I've been getting has been positive.

I'm still getting used to running the point based mechanics of the system.  It feels as if I'm not giving them enough opportunities to spend points, but that may just be me.  It's not something they've brought up, so it may not be a problem.

The more I play with how the investigative skills work, the more I realize how effective a tool they can be to keep players on track.  Core clues, the ones the players have to have to solve the mystery, don't require point spends to get.  Clues that aren't key to solving the mystery do require point spends.  This means that if a player is chasing down a lead and they don't get any information without spending points, then they know that they're off on a tangent.

I'm fine with this, because I sometimes get frustrated when players are off chasing down inconsequential stuff at the expense of the main plot, but I don't want them to feel as if the point spend system is railroading them towards the inevitable outcome of the investigation.  In the long run, I think their attitude towards this mechanic is what is going to determine the viability of a campaign using this system.  As long as they don't feel railroaded by it, then it should hold up.  So far, the players haven't expressed any concerns over this, but it's something I'm keeping an eye on.

If anything, they seem to want me to provide more immediate direction when they try to decide what to do next, rather than letting them spend too much time going over what they know and trying to pick a next course of action.  I'm going to continue to work on the balance between letting them control the direction of the investigation and keeping the story moving.

If you are curious about how the adventure itself played out, you can check out the Adventure Log for the campaign on Obsidian Portal.

Now that the first adventure is over, we're going to take a short break to try out Dungeon World before continuing with the Armitage Files.