Archive | August 2013

A fistful of Principles

It’s time to go over the next four Principles. Today I’ll talk about never speak the name of your move, give every monster life, name every person and ask questions and use the answers.

Never speak the name of your move

This Principle is all about making the game seem real, and it can be readily applied to any other game. If you have a Thief scaling a wall and he rolls poorly, then say what happens, not which move you invoke. Don’t say “I’ll reveal an unwelcome truth here. You can hear the rope creaking, and you only have a moment to catch yourself before falling to your death.”

Reminding players that you are invoking a rule doesn’t help you portray a fantastic world, only an artificial one. Say what happens, not which rule you invoke. It sounds so logical when you say it, but I really never thought of it before this Principle explicitly instructed me not to do it.

Give every monster life…

… unless it’s undead. Pun aside, this Principle is pretty important if you wish to avoid the “hacking at a block of HP” trope. No one likes boring monsters, and the only boring monsters out there are those that feels like just like another “bunch of rules with graphics”.

“The monster moves four squares, avoids your attack of opportunity, and uses its Gore attack on the wizard”. I’ve made these descriptions so many times that I’m almost embarrassed for saying it. That is not a real “monster”, that is just gaming jargon and die rolls.

A great monster does things in the fiction, and then the rules kick in. In my experience, this will make the monster feel more alive and a lot more intimidating for that matter.

“The monster runs by you, keeping its distance by running in a great arch. As it is clear of your reach, it takes up speed in an attempt to smash into the wizard.” I don’t know about you, but actually saying what the monster does is way better in my opinion. If the players ask, you can always explain the rules then.

I really wish I thought about this when running my D&D campaign a few years ago. That campaign was really just a series of tactical encounters, and the reason for this was the heavy focus on the rules from my end. Well, you grow and learn, right?

Name every person

This is actually pretty hard to do, at least it requires conscious effort from me. Furthermore, it shouldn’t be taken literally. Walking down a market square, don’t give the players the name of everyone they see, but do name everyone they interact with. At least if learning their names through this interaction is plausible.

I’ve found that this has a tendency to spawn some really interesting NPC’s, and they will populate your world making it feel more alive. Players shouldn’t go down to “the blacksmith”, they should go down to “Galdruf Goldfist”, or whatever naming convention you follow for dwarfs.

Players stop saying “we find a blacksmith” and start saying “we go down to Galdruf” instead. This just feels so good, and it requires absolutely no effort. Unless you are bad at coming up with names of course, but this is easily solved with a random names generator.

Try it out and feel the difference! It can’t really see how it can make the game worse, but it has a huge potential to give life to the game world.

Ask questions and use the answers

Not only is this a great way to make players more involved, but it is also the closest thing to “GM cheat codes” that I’ve ever known. This Principle instructs us to ask the players for input, when whatever they answer can be important.

A good example can be when a player goes out to buy ingredients for a potion or something like that, then you can ask him questions like “who do you usually buy this from?”, giving that player a chance to tell you something new and important about the setting.

An even better example that really emphasizes why I call it a “cheat code” would be to use this whenever the players ask you a question that you don’t know the answer to. So, when the players ask you “is there a mage guild or something like that in this city?” then you can turn that around with “I don’t know, is there?”.

Of course, they’ll answer in the affirmative, or give you something similar. They needed it after all, hence why they asked. This great because it allows you to ask all sorts of questions about it, letting the players fill in a lot of blanks in the setting! “How old is it?”, “when did you visit it last?”, “what has changed since then?”, “who leads it?”, “who do you know there?”. All these questions expand on the setting, and tie the character to it!

GM’ing the World – First Sessions

We just rounded off the first panel on GM’ing Dungeon World. This time we focused on First Sessions, and we plan on going over Prep & Fronts the next time.


The Guiding Principles

So, Dungeon World has a lot of Principles, as mentioned in my previous post. You’ll see the full list below.

  • Draw maps, leave blanks
  • Address the characters, not the players
  • Embrace the fantastic
  • Make a move that follows
  • Never speak the name of your move
  • Give every monster life
  • Name every person
  • Ask questions and use the answers
  • Be a fan of the characters
  • Think dangerous
  • Begin and end with the fiction
  • Think offscreen, too

For the sake of brevity, I’ll only go over the top four today.

Draw maps, leave blanks

So you have prepared a nice Dungeon and carefully planned what every room should contain? Well, maybe keep the first few rooms, but leave a lot of the rooms “empty”.

Having the layout of the Dungeon is fine, preferable even, but with the exception of where you might find traps and secret doors, having every encounter pre-planned is boring.

Monsters should be where it makes sense for them to be at all times! So leave a few rooms “empty” and improvise when the players walk into them.

This move is mostly a call out to play to find out what happens. If everything is pre-planned, then you really don’t do that. Leaving rooms “empty” forces you to think it terms of what the characters has already seen, done and said. Use this as inspiration to give them interesting, improvised situations that “makes sense” in the context! The Dungeon will feel much more dynamic this way.

Also, just to be a little frank about it; if the party has massacred 20 goblins in one room, some other goblins will surely notice given some time. This should most definitely change the environment in some way, as monsters are now more alert, and maybe even scared and edgy. Scared and edgy monsters are interesting, because it makes them come alive!

Address the characters, not the players

We all know that this is a game, but there’s really no point in reminding people all the time. When you say “Hey Peter, what does Glarion do about that?” then you remind them, and we are pulled out of the fiction and take on a third person view instead of a first person one.

It just works much better to ask “Glarion, what do you do?”, even though we aren’t fooling anyone. I don’t generally like to talk about “immersion”, because it is too nebulous, but this is really what it is all about; we want to invest the players into the game, making the game feel as real as any other kind of media. We can’t do that if we consistently remind everyone that it’s a game. The world simply just feel more fantastic and real, when we forget that it isn’t, even if only for a moment.

Embrace the fantastic

This is a high fantasy game, so you should really fill the world with high fantasy stuff. If every creature in the world is a mundane human, then the world becomes mundane.

This might be one of the things I’m having the most difficulty with, because it requires active thought on my part. Last session, I wanted a team of thugs to harass the players, but five humans with swords and crossbows felt pretty boring, so I made their leader an Ogre called Obgrob. He was large, had a big club, was well armored and he wasn’t terribly bright, but it really set the scene much better than having all the thugs being human. My greatest regret is no to include a dwarf or an elf also, but hey, I tried.

It should go without saying that this helps you observe the Agenda, by portraying a fantastic world.

Make a move that follows

This Principle is of a slightly different sort, but it is an appeal to the GM that his moves should “make sense” and be prompted by the established fiction. It doesn’t necessarily need to follow from what is happening right now, but simply from something that makes sense in the moment.

For example, if you are in an underground lair filled with goblins and the fighter rolls a miss when attacking some of them, you may just let him succeed with some bruises, only to tell him that reinforcements are coming. You could have told him that he was simply run over as well, but the point is that the effects of your moves are not required to be directly related to what the players are doing, but your moves should always be experienced directly.

So, when the players search a room, then you can take advantage on the fact that they spend time doing it, and tell them that they hear the sounds of footsteps from around the corner. It is not related to what they are doing, but the effects are immediately observable.

One Agenda to Rule them All

I’m facing a bit of a “blogwriters block”, so I’ve decided that I’ll be focusing a bit on the Agenda and the Principles over the next couple of days. The Agenda is the “purpose” of the GM, what he must do at all times, at least to some degree. It is sort of like the GM’s “job”. The Principles act as a guide for the GM, telling him what to do during the game to observe the Agenda.

If you have not yet played or read Dungeon World, it should be noted that the Agenda and the Principles are actually a kind of rules. They tell the GM what the point of the game is and what his duties are. Breaking the Agenda and not following the Principles is the same as ignoring the purpose of the game. It sounds a bit bleak when I put it like that, but trust me when I say that these are the kind of rules you shouldn’t ever want to break.

Lets start with the Agenda and save the Principles for another article.

The Agenda

The Agenda contains three “rules”:

  • Portray a fantastic world.
  • Fill the characters’ lives with adventure.
  • Play to find out what happens.

As you see, they are not very restrictive and doesn’t actually do anything else than tell the GM what a GM is supposed to do. I actually think it’s a stroke of brilliance to include these as actual rules, because it makes sure that the GM and the other players are on the same page about what this game is all about.

Now, let’s go over them in order.

Portray a fantastic world

This is not actually any different than what the GM does in any other fantasy game; describe the world as the players see it at all times. Also, note the world “fantastic”; Dungeon World is meant to be played in a world of wonders, so the game tells the GM that it is meant to be fantastic, not mundane. We have a Wizard in the party, and he’s absolutely not the only magician out there, nor is the Cleric the only one to draw on divine power!

This rule is more important than it may sound however, because it forces you to think about how you can make the game world marvelous, more magical and more exciting. Think about how you can make the players want to see more of it. So in case you’re still in doubt; this is a high fantasy game. If you’re going to GM it, portray a fantastic, high fantasy world!

Fill the characters’ lives with adventure

Now we get to the meat of the actual game; we have some would-be heroes, and we want to see them do things, exciting things! They are not supposed to muck about doing nothing. That’s not why we are playing a high fantasy adventuring game!

Filling their lives with adventure is easy. You just have to give them a lot of opportunities to make some coin doing dangerous stuff.

Play to find out what happens

This is a big one. While the others are important as well, this is my favorite. It doesn’t say “Play to tell a story”, because you are not supposed to tell a story in this game. The game is about seeing what the character does, and how the game world changes through their actions.

It also mean that you shouldn’t pre-plan events or outcomes. Either it has happened or it isn’t planned. If it is planned then nothing the players do will have an impact; they will merely be observers.

Basically, if you pre-plan, you know what will happen, and therefore you can’t really play to find out.

The importance of the Agenda

As I said, the Agenda is a set of rules for the GM, rules that must be obeyed if you wish to play the game is it was meant to be played. It also serves a different purpose; to tell the GM what is expected of him. Other games usually puts this under a “GM advice” section, but personally I think it diminishes the value. Advice can be ignored, but rules cannot. Not unless everyone agrees to do it. Putting them down as rules is a message to the players as well; you can tell the GM when he breaks the rules!

I think pretty much everyone will agree with the sentiment that a game should be played as written, unless anything else has been agreed upon. This is the true power of the Agenda; it sets expectations. I always want to talk about expectations before games, but the rules of Dungeon World really makes it redundant, at least as long as everyone know the rules.

Finishing Remarks

The Agenda has been a great eyeopener for me, because it allowed me to formalize what I perceive as “good practice” of GM’ing. The Principles helps me do this as well, because they really only serve to help you observe the Agenda.

I might split up the next post, the one on the Principles. There’s a lot of Principles and I believe each of them are worth discussing in depth. Also, how can you not love a game that tells the GM to “be a fan of the characters”?

GM’ing the World!

Me and a couple of other GM’s from The Dungeon World Tavern will be holding a panel this coming Friday. The panel have been aptly named “GM’ing the World!” and will be about GM’ing Dungeon World, and especially how we feel it is different from GM’ing other games. The kicker though is that we will be discussing topics and answering questions provided by the community!

Joshua Bailey have been so kind as to make a form on Google Docs for us. There’s only three fields, and you only have to fill out one of them. So, if you have any questions about GM’ing Dungeon World or any just topic suggestions, then fill out the form!

The panel will be held on Hangouts On Air, and we’ll upload the video to Youtube afterwards. So far we have had a lot of great suggestions for topics and a lot of neat questions, so we are currently considering making this a recurring event, if it turns out to be a success.

In any case, fill out the form! You can find it right here!

The CMC-model

Long time since last post. This is becoming a bad habit… Sorry about that.

This will be a bit theoretical, but it is about a model for improvising sessions that I have been thinking about for the last two to three days. But first some background!

After a great one-shot of Dungeon World, the first ever to actually be a proper one-shot, concluding in a single session, I was thinking about how I actually managed to keep this game to a single session.

The game started as usual, we spent a little less than an hour making characters and asking questions about them, thus rounding them out and creating an interesting, yet totally improvised setting. As a GM, I made up an initial situation, one that gave them a clear goal and demanded action. After that, the game had three dramatic situation, or dramatic scenes, whatever, which could roughly be laid out as the following

  • Initial encounter with enemy.
  • Bargaining situation with pseudo-enemy to get means to complete quest.
  • Final situation that completes the quest.

This led me to think about if there was some sort of structure to it, something really basic that gave a good outline for running totally improvised one-shot sessions.

The result was the CMC-model.

This will need some explanation…

OK, the basic assumptions for the CMC-model are as follows:

  • Character creation will be done in the beginning of the session.
  • Making characters, introducing them and building a short but sufficient background for them and the setting will take roughly 1 hour.
  • A scene important to the story, henceforth Dramatic Scene or DS, takes 1 hour to complete, counting the game-time needed to “get to it”.

This might sound like some pretty wild assumptions for some games, but they fit pretty well with Dungeon World, at least in my experience.

Gotcha, so what is the CMC-model?

So far, it’s only theoretical, and it needs some serious feedback, but here’s the deal. Assuming that the average play session is roughly four hours long, we have a time for 3 Dramatic Scenes plus character and world creation, by assumption.

CMC is an abbreviation for Clue-Means-Conclusion. The GM starts the game by describing a situation that demands immediate action, while also giving the players a straight forward goal. For example, as I did, the GM tells the players they are standing at a ruined temple, seeking the Eye of Ogden, a fabled ruby the size of an ogre’s fist. From then the GM works to do the following:

  • Clue DS: Present a DS that gives the player a clue about how they can achieve their goals.
  • Means DS: The Clue DS should lead them directly to a new DS that, if they overcome the challenges, gives them a means to actually complete their goal.
  • Conclusion DS: Now we have a way of resolving our quest, which leads to this third, conclusive DS. This is where the adventure will end.

So basically, there are four steps to the CMC-model:
1. Set the players off on an adventure.
2. Lead them to a situation where they can find the means to complete the adventure.
3. Give them a way to obtain the means to complete the adventure.
4. Let them use these means to complete the adventure.

Obviously, more than one clue in step 2 is preferable, as it’ll give the players a choice about which kinds of situations they might wish to deal with. Or it might just give them alternatives when they fail to pursue one option.

This yields a pretty satisfying story-line structure:
“We have problem X,” which leads to “we find clues about how to handle X,” which leads to “we find a means to handle X”, which leads to “we use this to handle X.”

This is somewhat similar to The Three-Act Structure of plays (which can be found here), and maybe this is not a total coincidence.

In conclusion…

These a just some thoughts on how you can run an improvised one-shot. It gives the GM some clear goals, something to think about, which will eventually lead to a conclusion. Basically it tells the GM which kind of situations he should present to the players next, at every moment in the game.

It might seem very structured, but I don’t think it’s much different from what most people already do: Present situation, react to the players’ actions, present new situation, react, etc. The thing is, this is a method of thought, a way of consciously recognizing what makes the story interesting, and what gives the player both incentive to press on, as well as a direction.

I’m going to work a bit with this, figuring out how to make this method work properly. Currently, it’s a bit up in the air and very theoretical, but I think there’s some value to be found in this.

I’d greatly value some feedback on it, what other people think, as I’ve only tried it for about two sessions, one where it was used almost only subconsciously.

I’ll probably write some more about this, once I’ve tried it out a few times.