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”?

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About Undreren

I'm a university student from Denmark, currently taking my candidate degree in Mathematical-Economics. I have played pen & paper RPG's since 2004, but my interest for the phenomenon sparked about 3 years prior to that. I'm an amateur programmer and knows Java and Haskell as well as some rudimentary HTML, CSS, PHP and Javascript.

2 responses to “One Agenda to Rule them All”

  1. acritarche says :

    “Putting them down as rules is a message to the players as well; you can tell the GM when he breaks the rules!”
    Here is a definitely important part. Since we are playing the game together, everyone is responsible when someone doesn’t play the game. Even the ‘almighty’ GM.
    In DW, the GM is not almighty, he is juste another player with a different role and set of rules.

    • Undreren says :

      Yeah, exactly. I’ve been into some pretty heated debate about a related topic; whether or not “rule 0” is necessary.

      There’s really to major camps. The first believes that the GM should have ultimate authority, for various reasons. The other camp says that the GM shouldn’t have more authority than any other player.

      It’s pretty clear which crowd DW caters to.

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