A lot of the moves in Dungeon World have some slight drawbacks on partial success, the most common one being that you can “draw unwanted attention”.
This might not seem like a big deal, but there is actually a lot of ways to use this as a GM. A good way of doing this can be to save a players hide.
Imagine Grobrek, the Dwarf Fighter, swinging savagely with his axe at some demon overlord. The take swings at each other, and after some time Grobrek is reduced to 2 HP. Now, death is an eminent threat, so Haldir, the Elven Bard, decides to weave a healing spell into a small perfomance with his flute, healing d8 damage on Grobrek.
Haldir rolls and gets an end result of 8 on his roll+cha. Now, the GM can either choose to reverberate the effects to other targets – the demon for example – or he can choose to have Haldir “draw unwanted attention”.
Seing that Haldir has 18 HP left, the GM decides that a good way to make the game interesting wouldn’t be to heal the demon, but to let it loose on Haldir, cutting Grobrek some slack. The demon makes a flap with its wings, evades a blow from Grobrek and lands besides Haldir, grabs him by the neck and lifts him from the ground.
“What do you do?”
We have just used a “consequence” of a partial success to save a players character. Now the bard is in trouble, but hopefully his friends will come to his aid.
My first post was kind of a rant, which annoys me a little, but I just had to get it off my chest. Now it’s time to get serious. For a minute, at least.
If you read my introduction, you would most likely have noticed that this blog will mainly focus on Game Mastering and Dungeon World. A lot might not be familiar with the latter, so why not start off with a review?
What is Dungeon World?
Obviously, DW is a role-playing game, but it’s a game that is so different from what I’m used to play that it’s easier to explain what it is by what it’s not.
So, what isn’t Dungeon World? It is not a “physics emulator”. A lot of games try to achieve some sort of immersion by making the rules “realistic”. Dungeon Worlds doesn’t even try to do that. It tries to establish a platform for telling fantastic stories in a D&D inspired fantasy world, without the restrictions implied by a “realistic” rules set.
This utter disregard for realism even extends to your character. Your character is not at all defined by how good he is at specific tasks or what he can do. He has no “skills”. Rather, he is defined by how he can handle task differently than other people.
How does it work?
The base system is incredibly simple, yet it has enormous depth. Instead of having a lot of predefined things your character can do, the system gives you a short list of “Basic Moves” that encompasses everything your character could attempt.
A move has a simple syntax. It consists of a trigger, maybe a mechanic, and then an effect. The trigger is something that happens in the fiction, meaning something that your character does in the story. The mechanic, if there is one, is what roll you make. There is always an effect, but if a mechanic is present, the effect depends on a roll. If there is no mechanic, there is no roll.
When you roll dice, unless it’s for damage, you always roll 2d6 plus some stat bonus, your result being the sum. Your stats are the basic D&D Abilities; Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma. There are three basic outcomes:
- 6- : You get 1 XP, but the GM decides what happens (Also called “trouble”).
- 7-9: You succeed, but with a compromise or cost. (A “partial success”)
- 10+: You succeed with little trouble. (A “success”)
For an example of a move, Defy Danger:
When you act despite an imminent threat or suffer a calamity, say how you deal with it and roll. If you do it…
• …by powering through, +Str
• …by getting out of the way or acting fast, +Dex
• …by enduring, +Con
• …with quick thinking, +Int
• …through mental fortitude, +Wis
• …using charm and social grace, +Cha
✴On a 10+, you do what you set out to, the threat doesn’t come to bear. ✴On a 7–9, you stumble, hesitate, or flinch: the GM will offer you a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice.
Note that a 6- result is not a failure, it is merely “trouble”. The point is that outcomes are not binary, they are more than success vs. failure. Formally, when you roll 6- or 7-9, the GM makes a “GM move”. GM moves works like player moves, except there never is a mechanic, and they happen because the players rolled less than 10. The list of GM moves is actually only a formality.
After playing a while as a GM, you will notice that you don’t do anything different than what you are used to. When a the dwarf fighter charges an ogre and rolls 6-, the GM does what he always does; complicates the situation by picking the dwarf up, head first, and throws him into the cleric. This would be the “Deal Damage” GM move. The Fighter and the Cleric would take some damage.
The important thing to notice about Dungeon World is that all moves has a fictional effect. They always impact the fiction. If you try to confuse the orc guarding the cave entrance by fast talking to him, letting the others slip in unnoticed, then a success confuses him. A partial success might mean that he gets angry at you instead, maybe complicating your situation a bit, but you succeed at your goal; your friends will get in unnoticed.
How are the characters different?
As I said, the system emphasized how the characters can handle tasks differently. That’s where your class comes into play. Except for which die you roll for damage (d4, d6, d8 or d10), representing how dangerous your character is, and your bonus to HP (+4, +6, +8 and +10), represents how battle-hardened he is, a class mainly provides a list of Starting Moves related to your class. These moves often merely replace basic moves, when applicable. And example could be the Thief’s Tricks of the Trade move:
When you pick locks or pockets or disable traps, roll+DEX. ✴On a 10+, you do it, no problem. ✴On a 7–9, you still do it, but the GM will offer you two options between suspicion, danger, or cost.
This move replaces the need for rolling Defy Danger when picking locks and pockets. The benefit? The player gets a choice between two slightly worse outcomes on a partial success, instead of having to live with the GM’s decision. The GM should of course, as always, never abuse his power to make “non-options”; forcing the player to choose one option, by making the other option much worse, would be a pretty lousy way to handle.
Every time you “level up”, you get an additional move from your class’ “advanced moves” list. The Ranger could for example get the Camouflage move, allowing him to automatically remain undetected when standing still in natural surroundings. Yep, he can do this standing in front of the bush. He’s just that awesome at using camouflage.
That’s great, but how does it play?
I believe it plays well, but the traditional “failure vs. success” mindset derived from other games can make the transition very hard. The first time I played the system, I felt it overwhelmingly hard to find interesting outcomes for partial successes, and I almost consistently treated “trouble” results as failures.
The second game went better though, and we had a lot of fun “abusing” the freedom the system gave us. We didn’t need to look up monster stats, because the guidelines for monsters are so incredibly easy that I just winged them on the spot. The players had fun using their equipment, like Adventuring Gear that has five uses, each use letting you have some sort of useful equipment handy. “Good thing I remembered to bring my crowbar” was a nice and fun comment made by one of the players.
It is a great “free-styling” system. It motivates GM’s to come prepared, but without a plan, improvising on what the players do, but on the same time encourages him to give them the possibility of having awesome adventures, where everyone – including the GM – is amazed by the outcome. It is one of those systems that just makes you want to play the game over, and over, and over.
I recently dropped out of a Demon: the Fallen campaign, because I disliked the way the GM handled the game. I had only played in the campaign twice, but as the story ended, I opted to drop out. Why? Because the way the GM handled the game goes against everything I find enjoyable in role playing games.
I respect that their fun differs from mine. I spoke to him about it, and I didn’t want to “change their fun”, so I politely withdrew from the game.
“What went wrong?” you might ask. There was a number of things that “went wrong”, as in “I did not find it enjoyable”. The biggest baddie was his focus on consequence.
I believe all experienced gamers has met this kind of GM, the GM that consistently punish players because of their choices. They often think that their punishment is reasonable, and it would “break the immersion” if it wasn’t doled out.
I’m particularly referring to an episode that ended with a, to me, pointless character death. One player saved an NPC werewolf, tied up in silver chains, from some ghouls with assault rifles. He untied the werewolf, and asked why they had captured him, and why they had tortured him so. During the conversation, the player told the werewolf he was demon. The result? The werewolf immediately attacked the player’s character, killing him in two or three blows.
My first thought was that I would never play under this GM again. I spend too much time working on my characters for them to be killed for such a petty reason. What did this death achieve? Nothing at all. It wasn’t meaningful, it wasn’t fun and it certainly wasn’t logical. The player seemed a bit sad too, but no one said anything.
Even though I sat there, three hours straight, without being involved in the game, because the GM failed to involve my character meaningfully in his carefully crafted plot with a predetermined outcome, this made me cringe the most. Without any obvious reason, without any explanation, without any need, with no consent from the player, with no regard for what would make the game more fun for everyone; the GM just killed the character. A character that had been in the game for, I think, five sessions.
A lot of people would consider this extremely bad GM’ing. I do too, so this is why I left. Not because I sat there for three hours straight, merely watching other players have fun. Not because that I felt that the GM railroaded the shit out of the story. But because that he obviously put his need for “realistic” consequences over what would make the game more enjoyable.
Is punishing players bad? Hell yes! The GM is not there to punish players, he is there to make sure that everyone has fun. If his way of having fun is to ruin everything a player has worked on, then good riddance.
Hi there, and welcome to Partial Success!
This blog will serve as a place for me to write down my experiences and thoughts on Dungeon World, but it will probably contain an occasional rant or comment on other related subjects, such as RPG’s in general, and especially my thoughts on being a GM. Mostly it will be about my efforts as a GM though.
Why did I start this blog? Well, because I find gaming to be incredibly hard. Hard because I’m a RPG-enthusiast that have a very clear idea about what I’m looking for in a game, and can’t seem to coax it forth when I’m being a GM. Also, it happens to be very hard for me to find groups that want to play the same “game” as me.
Why is it called Partial Success? The name is derived from the popular name that is given to the “Success with Complications” outcome in Dungeon World. For those who doesn’t know about DW, it’s one of the key features; success is not measured on a binary scale. You don’t either win or lose. You often win, and more often at a cost.
To me it’s the same being a GM. It’s rarely a success, but it’s never really a failure. It’s exactly that; a partial success. You don’t do everything right, but you surely don’t do everything wrong. If the players had fun, it’s great, but I rarely leave a gaming table without regrets about how I handled some things.
This blog will therefore most often be about my regrets. This might sound a little dramatic, but it’s really just a way for me to show the mistakes I’ve made, and how I would have done it different after thinking hard about it, with a hope that someone else can learn from it.
My background in gaming might not be as deep as a lot of other bloggers’. I started playing RPG’s back in 2004, where I played a home brew system created mainly by my GM at the time. Since then, I have played a lot of different systems, including World of Darkness, old and new, D&D 3.5 and 4th edition, as well as Shadowrun 3rd edition, a lot of indie systems and my latest love, Dungeon World.
It isn’t what I have played that makes this blog relevant though, it’s what I like. By large, the gaming system doesn’t really matter, unless it coaxes play that I dislike. So what do I like? It’s more a matter of what I hate. I deeply resent…
- … when GM’s doesn’t allow meaningful interaction. I’ve wasted too much of my life playing games where all the action was focused around the “awesome NPC’s”, while the PC’s just stood there and watched.
- … railroading. It really follows the same idea as above. I am not sitting down at a table to play the GM’s carefully planned out story, I’m sitting down to play our story. Roleplaying is a collaborative effort, treat it as such, damnit!
- … the thought that it’s “the GM’s game”. If you invite someone to play at your table, it’s their game as well. Everyone should have equal say.
- … focus on arbitrarily defined “realism”, when it hurts the story or fun of the game. I believe realism to deeply be overrated, since we are not playing a physics simulator. Ironically, for that matter, it also seems to be very subjective.
If you do not agree with the above, I can respect that. Gaming is a lot of different things, to a lot of different people. This blog will most likely not be for you though.
This said, I hope you will enjoy reading my blog!
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