Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Learning From Other Games: Dungeon World

I love to collect RPGs. I can remember buying my first non Dungeons & Dragons RPG, it was 1986 and the game was RuneQuest. I really loved the idea that a character could "build" a class by learning skills and improving on pre-existing skills. Alas, I never was able to convince my gaming group to play it and to this day I have not played any version of the game.

I still collect games that I have yet to play including the latest version of RuneQuest. Some of the games that have caught my attention lately are Fate, both Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Edition, Savage Worlds, and Dungeon World. There are many things about each of these games that appeal to me, for instance Dungeon World has a great approach to adventure building and game play: 

  • Portray a fantastic world
  • Fill the characters’ lives with adventure
  • Play to find out what happens
Everything you say and do at the table (and away from the table, too) exists to accomplish these three goals and no others. Things that aren’t on this list aren’t your goals. You’re not trying to beat the players or test their ability to solve complex traps. You’re not here to give the players a chance to explore your finely crafted setting. You’re not trying to kill the players (though monsters might be). You’re most certainly not here to tell everyone a planned-out story.
This is a great way to approach game and adventure design especially from the perspective of serial adventure design. 

Now I've been blogging about my research for a while now and its time I actually start to get my hands dirty. Can games like Dungeon World and others help to create a better adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, Retro Clones, or DCC? I intend to find out step by step. 

Step 1. Portray a fantastic world.

For centuries there have been legends of a mysterious phantom island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Europe. Early Mediterranean cultures called it Atlantis, while in Irish myths it was called Saint Brendan's Island, the Isle of Mam, and Hy-Brasil. It is said to be cloaked in mist, except for one day each seven years, when it becomes visible.
Sometime between AD 512–530 Brandaen, a monk from Galway, began a voyage around the world for nine years as a punishment by an angel who had seen that Brendan did not believe in the truth of a book on the miracles of creation and saw Brandaen throw it into the fire. The angel tells him that truth has been destroyed. On his journeys Brandaen encounters the wonders and horrors of the world, such as Judas frozen on one side and burning on the other, people with swine heads, dog legs and wolf teeth carrying bows and arrows, and an enormous fish that encircles the ship by holding its tail in its mouth.
The time time now is 1938 and a prominent Hollywood producer David Zelsnick is making a film about the voyages of  St. Brendan. After reading “Legendary Islands of the Atlantic,” he becomes intrigued by the possibility of filming his blockbuster film on the actual island of Hy-Brasil and hires William Babcock as a location consultant for the film. William Babcock is a geographer with the American Geographical Society of New York who has been trying to fund an expedition to prove a theory that the mythical island of Hy-Brasil does indeed exist.
After a couple of weeks at sea, searching for the phantom island, with supplies and morale running low, and time running out, a mysterious island has materialized out of the mists of the North Atlantic.

Step 2. Fill the characters’ lives with adventure.
This comes in several parts. The first part is the creation of the characters themselves. Since I'm a fan of the 0 level character funnel from DCC, I propose that the characters all be 0 level accidental adventurers—this list in in no way complete, but is a good start.*

Actor: Member of Ship's Crew
belaying pin (as club)
bottle of whiskey

Actor: Savage
flint knife (as dagger)

Ship Captain
knife (as dagger)

Actor: Savage Warrior
bamboo armor

Actor: “little person” Supporting Role (as Halfling)
cane (as club)
emerald tie pin

Actor: Lead Role
machete (as short sword)
satchel and fedora

Actor: Supporting Role
prop pistol (as club)
rope 100’

Director of Photography
camera tripod leg (as club)
film canister (as shield)

scissors (as dagger)
fabric,  3 yards

Best Boy
light stand (as club)
electrical cord, 50’

Key Grip
wrench (as club)
camera dolly

Hair Stylist
razor (as dagger)
hair pins and scissors (as fine tools)

Makeup Artist
makeup brush (as dart)
makeup pigments


Walking stick ( as staff)

Sound Boom Operator
Boom Mic (staff)
20 silver dollars

Stunt Double
knife (as Dagger)
padded clothing (as padded armor)

“Little Person” Stunt Double (as halfling)
cane (as club)
prop pistol

Ship’s Cook
cleaver (as dagger)
metal pot (used as iron helmet)

hammer (as club)
rope 100'

Part two of this step uses one of the guiding principles of Dungeon World, "Make maps, leave blanks."
Maps come in many shapes, sizes and styles. Sometimes there is a need to create a very detailed map of an encounter and sometimes a post-it note with the location name on it will suffice.  I'll go over how I draw some inspiration for maps, or "zones" from Fate in the next post.

*If you are interested in adding to the 0 level professions list let me know and I'll set up a public spreadsheet.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Fountain of Youth, or Zen and the Art of Dungeon Creation From a Seven Year Old

What can I learn from a seven year old dungeon master?

My PCs take a heavy toll against
the 11ft tall Six-Armed Goblin 
As I sat working on a few ideas for the serial adventure project, my seven year old son asked me to help him create an adventure. What a great request. He and I have been playing a simplified version of D&D together for about a year and his style of game is very junior high old school. He prefers to set up a dungeon using some homemade dungeon tiles and populate them with dozens of monsters based only what they look like having no regard for why skeletons and orcs would be standing around in the same room or why an Aboleth would be found no where near water. After everything is set up the game can become nothing more than a contest of heroes against monsters.

On this occasion we didn't have minis and tiles, just good old fashioned pencils and paper. Since I was working on my idea of rolling up dungeons and adventures randomly,  I introduced him to the random tables in my Advanced Dungeons & Dragons  Dungeon Masters Guide. After we rolled up a basic dungeon layout he began populating the it. This is when things got interesting. Instead of relying on he box of minis or my monster manual my son started creating his own monsters. First there was the six-armed goblin then a four-armed goblin. Not only did he put those gems out there, he proceeded to create amazing traps and puzzles. I was envious and proud at the same time!

Then it hit me—all my creativity was lost in logic! I needed the zen-like attitude of a seven year old dungeon master.

We decided to write up the adventure and he wants to sell it. As I began to take his notes and write out the adventure, I became more aware of how these seemingly abstract ideas could easily become connected and logically exist within the confines of a small story plot. I have taken much caution to keep from filling in the blanks with my ideas, but I will take this lesson from a 4 foot tall Jedi Master and the experience of creating something very cool with my son and cherish it forever.

Next step random adventure creation for real; no hooks, no backstory, no railroads—3d6 in order for DM's!