[Review] Dungeon World

I have recently stumbled into the wonderful world of Dungeon World, a PtbA (Powered by the Apocalypse) dungeon crawling game. I really enjoy the way the system allows for and encourages the players and the DM to build the world (or fiction as they call it) together.

See additional resource links (podcasts, online rules, etc) at the bottom of the page.

PtbA System

To understand Dungeon World let’s take a quick look at how the underlying system works. PtbA games rely on players and the dm to trigger moves. Moves are triggered by a fictional circumstance.

For example, the fighter says “I draw my sword and stab at the Orc.” This triggers the Hack and Slash move which is the basic melee attack. The player rolls dice to determine the outcome. All the moves have some narrative trigger that must be met, which is what I like about the system. It mechanically enforces roleplaying. Many times in DnD play goes like this. “John’s turn, alright I attack twice.” Players tend to lean more on doing an ability but not describing it. In PtbA, you have thi describe the action to trigger the move.

Resolving a roll uses 2d6 and adding a relevant stat modifier, much like DnD’s D20 system. However each move has a success 10+, partial success 7-9, and a miss or failure 6-. Many of the moves indicate what happens at each step. I really like the partial success mechanic and it is a similar but more simple version of the FFG Star Wars dice system.

As a general rule a success means you do the thing without problem, partial success means you probably accomplish the task but at some cost, you use additional ammo, your gear breaks, you have to make a hard choice, e.t.c. A miss allows the DM to make a move, activating a monster, putting players in hard spots, advancing impending threats, e.t.c. Players also gain XP on misses which makes them a little easier to deal with because it’s the main way you’re going to be leveling up.

I mentioned that the DM only makes moves when players miss. This seems a bit weird coming from a traditional DnD style game where each enemy has an initiative and turn each round. The whole world basically revolves around the players actions which is cool.

The Fiction

I mentioned the fiction. This is the ongoing narrative story that is being told at the table. Much of the game encourages both DM and players to explore and create the fiction. Let’s take the Spout Lore move for example.

Spout Lore

When you consult your accumulated knowledge about something, roll+Int. 

  • On a 10+, the GM will tell you something interesting and useful about the subject relevant to your situation. 
  • On a 7–9, the GM will only tell you something interesting—it’s on you to make it useful. The GM might ask you “How do you know this?” Tell them the truth.

Spout Lore usually has the DM tell the table how you know the information. Let’s say you’re telling the party that trolls have a particular weakness to fire. You may opt to tell them that as a child your mother told you a nursery rhyme that talks about trolls disliking fire. You learn more about your character and possibly more about the world. You had a mother, what did she do? Where is she now? Perhaps a former colleague did research on trolls, now you have an NPC that could later be leveraged for information, favors, or held hostage.

Many of the moves of dungeon world hand over a bit of narrative control to the players to help build the world and its cast of characters. It also is a system that is easier to improvise (I think) than something like DnD.

Final Thoughts

I really like how easily Dungeon World games flow. I also like the big focus on narrative play and enforcing it through the mechanics. I think that this helps players get into good roleplaying habits naturally. A lot of this game is based on simplicity. There aren’t a lot of heavily worded rules or super specifically worded abilities. I think this is a benefit to the system. Less is more, you just need a little interpretation to understand the basic rules and when they trigger. This also makes the game easily homebrewable (is that a real word?). All in all I like the simplicity and player involvement in the story.

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