Thinking more about Dungeon World

As I mentioned earlier this week, Dungeon World was a big hit with the after-school club kids and I’m now preparing to put together a campaign for a group of them. However, while the Basic Game comes with a couple of very good scenarios, the little kid in me really is itching to adapt one of the classic AD&D modules in my collection. In particular I’d really like to see if DW manages to capture the feel of the game I grew up playing without all the rules wonkiness and minutiae that I no longer enjoy. The conversion itself shouldn’t be too time consuming or difficult given the simplicity of what is needed for DW – monsters consist of 3 “stats” and a few descriptive custom moves, and mostly you just need a map, a situation or two, and some NPCs, all of which those old adventures have in spades.

The real question is which adventure though and that’s not something trivial to decide. My first impulse is to go with The Village of Hommlet. It seems ideal for DW because it’s so open-ended, has a few of evocative locations and situations (e.g., the moathouse, the temple’s spy ring, the missing priest, etc.) , and a whole host of interesting NPCs. On the down side, I’ve run the adventure a bunch of times and would like to try something new. So here are the others I’m considering:

  • U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh – great locations, great situation, lots of potential to build off the events, or even just follow up with the other adventures in the series.
  • L2: The Assassin’s Knot – this one is a bit of a mystery, which is risque in terms of player buy-in & effort, but it has a lot of potential, especially to bring in more social situations and conflict.
  • UK2: The Sentinel – I’ve always been fond of this adventure along with its sequel (UK 3: The Gauntlet) and I think it would be a good choice for a “semi-epic” kind of short campaign. Tempting…
  • B4: The Lost Cityvery open-ended (more of a big location/sandbox) with lots of interesting stuff to interact with including the yaun-ti which I love.

Any others that I should consider?

Trying out Dungeon World with the students

This afternoon I ran a session of Dungeon World for the after-school club kids and it went over really well – so well, that I have at least nine students eager to play next week which means I will need to see if I can get one of the 12th graders to GM a second group.

For today’s session, which was run simply as a demo for the group to watch, I had a human fighter, human paladin, elf wizard, and halfling thief. I ran a section of the Blood Stone Idol adventure that’s included in the Basic set PDF, starting the group at the entrance of the dungeon and letting them explore the first few areas. I was surprised at how quickly the students picked up the rules and how well they engaged with the narrative elements of the game. What was most interesting to me was how much they enjoyed exploring the typical D&D tropes and story elements in an entirely new way. The session ended with the paladin being smashed flat by a marauding ogre, followed by the halfling thief running up the ogre’s leg, burying his dagger in to its throat, and then riding the dagger down the length of its neck like a pirate sliding down a sail. The group broke in to a cheer and we wrapped up the demo.

I also found the game a lot of fun to run. My favorite part was the list of GM moves which essentially dictate how I could react to failures. I loved the fact that the story’s twists and developments grew organically out of the characters’ “failures” rather than my rolls and how my main job was simply to react and spring board based on the players’ decisions.

All in all it was a great session and the result is we’ll be playing a lot more Dungeon World over the next few months.

Back to school, back to gaming

School’s back in session and the first meeting of the after-school gaming club has come and gone. Like past years, I spent the first meeting explaining my plans for the year, seeing which of the seniors might be interested in GMing, and pitching game ideas to the veteran players. This year I was quite stunned to discover all of the RPG players – we have a small group of Warmachine players this year as well – want to play the indie RPGs I introduced last year. This includes the group that last year who were dedicated to playing 4E D&D – apparently they’re looking for a change too.

Of the various games I pitched the ones that got the most enthusiastic responses were:

  • Fiasco
  • Mouse Guard
  • Trail of Cthulhu
  • InSpectres
  • Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
  • Big Eyes, Small Mouths
Two of this year’s seniors have offered to GM – one has Mouse Guard in hand, while I’m going to pass along InSpectres to the other. Next week, time permitting, I’ll start teaching the groups as a whole how to “play” Fiasco so that they can start running the game without my facilitation as well.
Next week we will also see how many new players show up – the official first meeting for everyone is always the second meeting of the year since it’s the one I openly advertise. This lets me get my “ducks in a row” so to speak and have some games ready to play for the next players. I’ve changed the style of posters I use to advertise the club, with the hope of attracting a few more younger players (grades 6-8) since for the past few years we’ve largely attracted only high school students which means the membership turnover every couple of years is fairly high. We’ll have to see if the new posters are effective.

My oldest son has begun making his own RPG

He and his friend were busy today designing their own RPG – it involves defeating the denizens of 15 evil temples. They’ve been borrowing ideas from the original Red Box D&D set, and taking inspiration from the 4th edition D&D Monster Manual, but the game appears to be a pretty original design. It’s fun to watch them working out both the story and the rules. Perhaps the most interesting observation I’ve made is that they’re more concerned with how the map looks (they’re using one of my Paizo flip maps to draw it) and the appearance of the character sheet than anything else. My son is hard at work creating a character sheet on the PC while his friend is drawing the map.

All of this leads me to wonder if it’s time to try and organize a formal “RPG session” with them with me running some sort of scenario for them. While this might seem like a “no brainer” I’m cautious because they’re both very involved in their own creative process with their project and adding an adult to the whole operation, and especially someone else’s ruleset, may stifle that creativity. So for now I watch and contemplate the future.

A role player is born: Gaming with your children

For the past 6 years I’ve been biding my time, waiting for my youngest son Niklas to be old enough to start role playing with him: Tonight that came to an end.

Niklas and I have played games together since he was only a couple years old, but RPGs are something I’ve held off on until he was old enough to understand some basic rules. In the past few weeks we’ve been listening to the audio book verison of The Spiderwick Chronicles and that’s really sparked his interest in faeries. I’ve owned the Faery’s Tale RPG for about a year now and so tonight we gave it a try. We spent about 20 minutes making his character. In the end he decided to play a Pixie (because they can fly) which he then promptly named “Spriteflyer.”  Spriteflyer is really good at magic, clever,  and has a firefly insect companion.  I hate to admit this, but that’s a much more creative character concept than I came up with during my first foray into role playing (I played a halfling….with a ring of invisibility….and a magic sword…..called Sting).

After our character making session we played a short adventure in which Spriteflyer discovered his friend Jack had disappeared up a giant beanstalk. You know where this is going: Spriteflyer found Jack in a cage inside the giant’s castle and freed him using his magic to unlock the cage door and then stealing the giant’s shoelaces to make a rope for Jack to climb down from the cage. Niklas even talked in character a few times which was really, really cool.

Ok, so now I’m hooked. Tomorrow we’re playing a more elaborate scenario (though I will still keep them to 30 minutes or so in duration because I don’t want to overwhelm him). After we’ve played Faery’s Tale a while I think we’re going to give Mouse Guard a try which is much more up my alley – he & I read the first graphic novel together this summer and we both loved it so I have a feeling that the Mouse Guard RPG will be a big hit.

I will have a review of Faery’s Tale sometime soon.

A contribution to the “Transitions and Transformations” Blog Carnival.

4E Session 1 AP report

The first session of the 4E campaign I’m running at the school’s game club is over and it went reasonably well. To minimize my prep time I’m using parts of The Keep on the Shadowfell, modified to fit the campaign concept we created.  The adventure has the added benefit that it has tips & rules guidelines right in the module’s text which is nice since I’m still learning the system as well.

If you haven’t played KotS, there are some very minor spoilers below (mainly about the nature of the preplanned encounters).

In our 3 hour play session we started up with the characters talking to the high priestess of Pelor in Fallcrest and then setting off for Winterhaven to investigate the elven council head’s visions.  On the road to Winterhaven they were ambushed by a small band of kobolds. The battle that followed took up the rest of the session (2+ hours), but that wasn’t really the fault of the system but rather the group’s unfamiliarity with the rules as well as attention span of they typical 12-16 year-old boy (“Harry…it’s your turn.  Harry….. Harry!”).  One of the big issues was the fact that they had to do a lot of looking up of their powers to see what they did which involved passing around the PHB and a lot of page flipping.

During the fight both the paladin and rogue got pretty beaten up; in fact both were down to single digit HPs by the end. The rogue’s player main issue was that he was trying to play the character has a front line fighter-type which obviously doesn’t work well with a lightly armored character, high DEX or not. The paladin, OTOH, suffered mainly because he was the only defender type and took a lot of hits.  The party’s cleric, trying to be a frontline battle cleric managed to whiff nearly every round (you’ve got to love the flat frequency curve of a d20…or maybe not) which was pretty discouraging for his player.

My impressions

  • Overall 4E is fun but has a lot steeper learning curve than its predecessors. The biggest issue is that the exceptions-based rules on many powers are very tough for the students to parse, especially if they’re not a native English speaker. I think the kids will get the hang of their powers and start using some tactics once they have some more sessions under their belts.
  • A map and miniatures is a must for combats to run smoothly – there is no way you’re going to be able to play this game IMO without a map and some sort of way of tracking player position.
  • My first priority for the next session is to find a way to make accessing the power descriptions faster and more handy.
  • Prep for the game seems better than my experiences with 3.5, but it’s still ridiculously long compared to some of the indie RPGs I play.
  • Combat takes a long time.

4E Game Premise – Final Version

So, after some thought I’ve made a few changes to the background we decided upon to make the story a little more interesting, suspenseful, and internally consistent. Most of the story is the same but there are a few more unknowns so I have a few surprises for the players as the game develops. I’ve also took advantage of the info presented at the end of the 4E DMG – the map and description of the Nentir Vale looked like it could be adapted simply enough to what I had in mind and thus saves me having to create a map or any real background.

The Nentir Vale is a northern land, with harsh, bitterly cold winters. Summers are cool and mild. The majority of the region is made up of large stretches of open meadow land, copses of light forest, gently rolling hills, and the occasional thicket of dense woodland and heavy undergrowth. It is bordered by the Winterbole Forest and the Spine (a very high, very rugged mountain range) to the north which are largely the domain of the elves. To the east lie in the Dawnforge Mountains,another dense and far ranging mountain range known for its rich mineral veins and the dwarves that mine them. In the west the Cairngorn Peaks and Ogrefist Hills form a natural border to the vast prairie and grasslands known as The Stonemarch. Finally, to the south lay the dense and wild Harkenwood and Witchlight Fens. The Nentir River, which flows from Lake Nen in the north of the Vale to the fens in the south splits the Nentir Vale nearly in half.

The important points and info to get the players started include:

Iìslandruble – Ancient white wyrm who ruled the surrounding lands for centuries. Also known as “Frostbite” which is a simplified translation of the elves’ name for the dragon. The elves of the high peaks, with the help of the humans and dragonborn in the area, finally defeated the dragonhim’s horde and mortally wounded Iìslandruble, who fell to earth amongst the Glacier of the White Wyrm. For nearly 150 years the Vale’s inhabitants and the elves have known peace. Iìslandruble had many followers who worshipped her as a goddess – these include a large tribe of kobolds, a clan of frost giants, as well as numerous dragonspawn. They were slain or scattered when she was defeated.

The elves of the high peaks (Ter’lan sani) – live amongst the massive conifers of the Winterbole Forest and the peaks of The Spine (picture redwoods). They are accustomed to the cold temperatures of the region. Humans often refer to them as “ice elves” though this isn’t really an accurate description since they don’t differ much from other elves of the land. More than 4,000 elves live in the region although their individual settlements are usually quite small (less than 350 per village). Their largest settlement, Cylisdranii, is a town of over 1,000 elves built within the trees themselves. The elves are ruled by a council of 5, the head of which is Correlion Eldor.

Dragonborn (Kyriislan’kez) -elven named literally means “children of Iìslandruble” Name for the dragonborn that live amongst the elves. Legend has it that they are the descendants of men who were tainted by the dragon’s blood. Less than 400 dragonborn live in the region, along side the elves. Their scale colors range from pure white to an sapphire blue and all have a cold breath weapon, supporting the idea that they are somehow liked to the white wyrm.

Fallcrest – walled town that stands amid the Moon Hills at the falls of the Nentir River. Here the roads moving through the region as well as the river meet making Fallcrest a hub of the region’s trade. The surrounding ridges shelter small valleys where outlying farms and woodsfolk live. Home to nearly 1200 humans, along with a small community of dwarves, couple dozen half-elves (interbreeding is very rare and frowned upon), and a few odd elves. Pelor has a large temple within the town headed by high priestess Aeriana, who is an ally of the elves.

Winterhaven – village that lies about 100km to the northwest of Fallcrest. The road linking the two towns is known as the Kings’ Road. Winterhaven is a sleepy village with less than a thousand residents.

The Background story – Just over 150 years ago, the great wyrm Iìslandruble’s reign of terror over the region of Nentir Vale came to an end thanks to a coalition of elves, humans, and dragonborn whose armies scattered the dragon’s followers and sent her mortally wounded body plunging to the icy barren glaciers of the Spine. The win came at a terrible price, decimating the vale’s population and civilization. For the past century and a half the vale’s peoples have struggled to rebuild.

Recently, the leader of the elven council, Correlion Eldor, has had a series of prophetic visions, suggesting that a new threat has risen. While the cause of the danger is not clear, Correlion fears that Iìslandruble hordes may be gathering again, despite the fact that their goddess has died. This belief is supported by reports of increasing hostile activity amongst the kobolds within the vale, as well as recent mysterious attacks on caravans traveling the King’s Road. The Dwarves, once again wary of getting involved in the problems of men and elves have begun shutting the doors to their great halls and cities.

Correlion has sent his two sons, Eryanor and Corran, on quests to discover the viracity of the visions: Eryanor has been sent on a mission to investigate the Glacier of the Great Wyrm, where Iìslandruble’s body fell 150 years ago. Meanwhile, Corran has been sent south to investigate the reports of attacks by kobolds and other minions of the great white dragon. He has been sent to meet with Aeriana, high priestess of Pelor who is interested in finding out if there is more to the recent attacks than just merely banditry.