This is the final installment on my series of posts devoted to the Agenda and the Principles. I know it’s a long time since the last entry, but we just moved and it took a week and a half to get our Internet up and running.
The Principles I will go over today are be a fan of the characters, think dangerous, begin and end with the fiction and think offscreen too.
Be a fan of the characters
I’ve played role-playing games for about 10 years now, and the worst GM’s that I’ve had were the ones that weren’t fans of the characters. I think this is the single most important Principle in the game, and it is an important notion in most other RPG’s as well.
Being a fan of the characters is pretty simple, because it is all about putting spotlight on them. Every kind of positive spotlight is great; giving the character a challenge that play to his strengths so that they can “show off”, or making that character important by in some way letting them have a significant impact on the setting. Everything is great!
The one thing you absolutely must not do is to hold their hands. In action heavy games, you really have to push the heroes to their limits. We want to win despite the odds, not because of the odds, because that’s what heroes do.
All this doesn’t mean that the heroes should never fail, on the contrary. As the book says on the subject: “Cheer for their victories and lament their defeats.” Even heroes fail sometimes. The possibility of failure makes the game all the more exciting!
This also a call-out to all the GM’s who uses GMPC’s. Having recurring NPC’s are fine, but we are here to see what the character’s are doing, not what the NPC’s does.
As I said, we want to see the characters win despite the odds, not because of the odds. Dungeon World is a game of high adventure, about exploring the most dangerous parts of the world.
Put the characters in some dangerous situations. If it doesn’t threaten their lives in some way, it is probably not meant to be the focus of a game like Dungeon World.
This is one of the things I really suck at. I’ve pulled it off a few times, but I’m pretty much a soft GM. I really want to see them win, and because of it, I some times don’t push things as far as I really should. My experience is that the game is way more interesting when the party is struggling for their lives.
It shouldn’t always be life-threatening, but if you have a four hour session without a life-or-death situation, my experience is that the game will neither be entertaining nor memorable. YMMV.
Begin and end with the fiction
Every move in the book follow this procedure; trigger happens in fiction, move takes over, effects narrated in fiction. When we say “begin and end with the fiction”, but what is meant is best explained by an example. Which of the following sounds most interesting?
- The orc deals 6 damage.
- The orc slashes your arm. You take 6 damage. The wound is pretty deep, and it starts bleeding quite bad.
I really hope you think the second one. The reason this Principle is important is because of the paradigm of Dungeon World: All mechanical effects are triggered by and impacts the fiction.
The example about the orc conforms to this. The orc slashes your arm, which triggers the mechanical effect of dealing damage, which then impacts the fiction by mangling your arm. You can’t slash someones arm and deal damage without any fictional consequences. That just wouldn’t make “sense”.
Think offscreen too
Sometimes you will know things before the players do, and things can happen when the characters are elsewhere. When you make your move, it might be better to make it somewhere else than where the characters are now. Remember to foreshadow this though; this is a good time to use the reveal an unwelcome truth or show signs of an approaching threat.
This Principle is important because helps you portray a dynamic world; things happen even though the players aren’t there. The most simple way to use this is to point out small (or even big) changes in an environment the players return to, like a village or just a room in a dungeon.
It doesn’t take much effort really. The hardest part is to remember actually doing it. Once that is solidly drilled into your skull, this Principle can really make that game world come alive!
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