Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Online Version of Homebrew World

I just finished creating an online character keeper for Homebrew World. Check it out!

Current online version

You'll need to save your own copy in order to use it. Instructions on the first tab (GM Stuff). 

The main action happens on the PCs tab: there are columns for each class playbook, with the intention that you'd collapse the unused classes and have everyone's character sheet visible on one widescreen monitor.  Or, close to everyone's sheets... if you're doing 3 PCs it'll probably work. 4+ and you'll have to do some horizontal scrolling. 

Lots of vertical scrolling will be involved no matter what. I have my doubts about how usable this would be for folks on a mobile device, but for a laptop or desktop with a widescreen monitor available, I think it'll be a pretty solid solution. 

I've tried to preserve most of the "functionality" of the printed playbooks, including pick-lists and the layout of the Gear sections. Aside from collapsing/expanding groups, I'd advise against making any changes that trigger the "You’re trying to edit part of this sheet that shouldn’t be changed accidentally" warning.  Don't insert rows or columns, don't copy/paste anything.  It's fairly brittle, unfortunately. 

If you use these, please drop a line in the comments and let me know how they work for you and your group!



Monday, June 17, 2019

How to handle "boss" monsters in DW


I originally posted this on the Dungeon World Tavern, in response to Lauri Maijala asking: 
"How do you handle wizards etc. 'boss monsters' that do not have a cohort of minions to keep the characters busy. I have failed constantly with them and feel like even three characters can take out any single threat without too much of a trouble."
The Dungeon World community at large is pretty quick to say "read the 16 HP dragon" article (content warning: passing reference to violence against children) when someone asks about making monsters more than just their numbers.  It's a good article, but it doesn't really tell you how to do those things; it shows you a high-level example of those things in action. 
It's on my "someday maybe" list to write up a fictionalized "actual" play example of the 16 HP dragon incident, showing how that scene might have actually played out, with moves and rolls and GM deliberation. 
But until then, here's an attempt at some specific, actionable advice for running "boss" monsters. 

Step 1: Stat the boss monster up, hardcore

Use their moves, special qualities, and potentially their lair and gear to make them hard to get at, able to interrupt player actions, and capable of dealing with multiple foes at once. Bonus points for moves that take PCs out of the fight without actually killing them.

E.g. qualities like “Aura of will-sapping menace” or “Hidden by swirling shadows.”  Moves like “Reveal a preparation” or “Unleash a spell of death and destruction” or “Turn their minds and fears against them.”

For a spellcaster/magic-user, maybe think a little about the specific spells they can cast, or at least the nature of those spells.  Try to word that into your moves (“Unleash a deadly spell of fire and flame” is better than “Unleash a spell of death and destruction”). Or, make a list.  But if this really is a big bad, don’t feel constrained by the list. Think of that list as giving yourself permission to do those things, but maybe they can do other stuff, too.

if it helps, find a badass picture that helps you visualize the BBEG

Give the baddie armor and HP by-the-book. The danger doesn’t come from the numbers, but the numbers keep you honest and make you play to see what happens.

Yes, this means that a solid blow from the Fighter or Paladin will quite possibly one-shot them.  (Consider the number of times Conan murdered a sorcerer by just effing throwing furniture at them.)

Here's an example, by the way, of the kind of hardcore stat-up that I'm talking about:  the ancient vampire lord.

Step 2: Show Signs of an Impending Threat

On the way to the big bad, drop hints of what its capable of. Build it up.  Have the party encounter the remains of a village, burnt to cinders with charred skeletons all about, a strange untouched spot in the middle where the sorcerer stood.  Share rumors. Show the big bad’s minions cowering in fear.  That sort of thing. 

If they you've built up some respect for the big bad by the time they encounter it, the next few parts will be much more effective.

Step 3: Reveal Unwelcome Truths, Tell Consequences & Ask

When the fight actually starts, use the big bad’s qualities and traits to block or counter the PCs moves. 

When the Fighter rushes in to attack, the sorcerer glares at him and his “Aura of will-sapping menace” kicks in. Describe the Fighter’s fear welling up like nothing he’s felt before, his hands shaking, his arms and feet frozen, unable to move, what do you do?  Probably, he’ll Defy Danger against his own fear and doubt.

When the Ranger takes aim and shoots, on a 10+ you reveal the flame ward surrounding the sorcerer. The arrow bursts into ash.  On a 7-9, if the Ranger chose to draw danger or attention, you also have the sorcerer gesture towards him and unleash an expanding wave of fire, coming at the Ranger (and the Cleric next to him) like a wall, what do you do?

When the Wizard starts casting a spell, tell him that he can sense the big bad’s powerful wards in place, like there’s a contingency spell ready to bounce back at him. Do you keep casting?

When the Thief sneaks around to backstab, the shadows themselves reach out and grab him, choke him, ensnare his arms, what do you do?

Block and interrupt their moves with the big bad’s defenses. Ensnare and bog down the PCs with the environment and its preparations.  React to any opening in their moves with disproportionate force, affecting as many PCs as seems plausible (and remember that "plausible" for this big bad is well beyond what's plausible for most foes). 

Step 4: Keep Up the Pressure

When it’s your turn to make a move (because they rolled a miss, or a 7-9 on DD or H&S, or because they chose to Defend or Spout Lore or Discern realities and thus ceded the initiative, etc.), go big.  Unleash a power word stun that hits everyone in the scene. Conjure a meteor swarm that blasts half the battlefield and sets buildings aflame and causes walls to start crumbling.  Summon a 12-foot tall fire elemental that's rushing straight at the Thief and the Fighter.

Whatever move you make, make it something that multiple PCs have to react to.  Ideally, make it something with consequences beyond damage, something that will continue to plague them and escalate the situation.

Step 5: Encourage Lateral Solutions

Once you make it clear that a straight-forward approach is doomed to failure or at least prohibitively costly, the players will start getting creative. Reward that! 

If they Spout Lore or Discern Realities, give them good stuff on a hit (but remember: keep up the pressure and fling something nasty at them when they pause to assess the situation or wrack their brains). 

If they come up with clever solutions, make them Defy Danger as appropriate but otherwise let the solution work! 

Step 6: Follow the Numbers

If the PC's get past the big bad’s defenses, identify a workable plan, and maneuver to a place they can take advantage of it, and they get a solid hit in… cool! 

Be a fan of the heroes.  Let their blow have an effect.  If it does enough damage to drop the baddy, drop him.  They worked for it, and they won.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Defy Danger, Restated

For Homebrew World v1.5, I've rewritten Defy Danger as follows:



I've been thinking about this move a lot the past few weeks, inspired largely by this post on the Gauntlet Forums, but also this old post from the PbtA G+ Community

I think the salient points of those conversations boil down to:

  • Defy Danger's trigger is incredibly broad and thus can arguably be triggered by just about any action with a modicum or risk
  • The move itself doesn't necessarily prompt players to say or do interesting things. It just serves as a fallback task resolution mechanic.
  • It sort of gives license to players to try ridiculous things, with the presumption that on a 10+ it'll work with no consequence. 
  • The 10+ result doesn't really do much to change the situation. It more deflates tensions ("phew") than pushes the game in a new direction. 
  • It'd arguably be more interesting if the move wasn't there at all, and when a character did something risky or dangerous that otherwise wasn't covered by another basic move, the GM presented a hard bargain or ugly choice, or just say what happened and follow up with another soft move, escalating until move is triggered.
I can see where a lot of where this is coming from. I do think it's easy (especially for newer GMs) to over-invoke Defy Danger, calling for a roll when the stakes aren't very interesting (I know I've done it).  I think it might be nice if the move somehow encouraged more dynamic or surprising outcomes (the way that Keep Your Cool does in Monsterhearts 2e) or at least more interesting actions (e.g. if "I dodge out of the way" wouldn't trigger it, but "I duck under his blade and dart inside his guard!" would).  

This revision doesn't get all the way, but I'm not entirely certain that any revision could get there without significantly restructuring the game. The move is simply doing to much. Instead, I'm going for: 
  • A clearer trigger
  • Better descriptions of when to use each stat
  • A more reasonable 10+ description
  • A 7-9 result that provides better guidance

The trigger

So, here's the original trigger for Defy Danger:
When you act despite an imminent threat or suffer a calamity, say how you deal with it and roll.
And here's mine:
When the stakes are high, danger looms, and you act anyway, roll...
This is basically just rephrasing "when you act despite an imminent threat," but I think it's better because it clarifies that the stakes need to be high before the danger matters. If I'm walking a tightrope, there's an imminent threat that I fall off it. But if it's only 5 feet off the ground and no one's chasing me and I'm not trying to impress anyone and I can just try again... well, whatever? Don't roll. Right?

For experienced players and GMs, I don't think this would change how or when Defy Danger gets triggered. But for newer players and GMs, I hope it will at least push play in the right direction, towards high stakes and danger looming and awesome characters acting anyway, rather than toward... skill checks, I guess. 

You will notice that this version of the move doesn't have anything like the "suffer a calamity" clause that the original version does. Mostly, it's because I don't think it's necessary.  If you suffer a calamity (your arm is cut off, you fall down a slope, your caught in a gout of dragonfire, you're poisoned, whatever), then whatever you do next, the stakes are almost certainly high and danger is almost certainly looming.  I.e. you're going to Defy Danger anyhow, unless you just lay down and die.  So why do we need this move?

A couple folks I talked to suggested that the "suffer a calamity" cause is there to determine just how bad an injury or other calamity is.  Like, if you get stabbed by a poison dagger, Defy Danger with CON to see how badly the poison affects you. 

To which I respond: meh. I guess if your GM move was Deal Damage and you knew the enemy had a poison dagger, that maybe would make sense and work?  But Deal Damage is a Crap Move, and in HBW it's replaced with "Hurt Them."  If my move was "Hurt Them" with a poisoned dagger, I'm going to hurt them:  "That cut on you arm is burning, way worse than it should, and you start to feel your muscles seize up, your vision is going blurry... you've been poisoned, you're sure! What do you do?"  And then whatever they do next, the stakes are high and danger looms, so Defy Danger, yeah?

That stat descriptions

In the original Defy Danger: 
...say how you deal with it. 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


In this version, it's:
...and you act anyway, roll...
  • +STR to power through or test your might 
  • +DEX to employ speed, agility, or finesse
  • +CON to endure or hold steady
  • +INT to apply expertise or enact a clever plan
  • +WIS to exert willpower or rely on your senses
  • +CHA to charm, bluff, impress, or fit in 

It's mostly just a rephrasing, but I think these do a better job of reflecting how the stats actually get used. For example, every GM I've ever played with has called for DEX to Defy Danger by moving silently or hiding in shadows... even though it isn't covered by "getting out of the way or acting fast."  It would be covered by agility or finesse.

On a 10+...

In the original Defy Danger, the 10+ clause is:
On a 10+, you do what you set out to, the threat doesn’t come to bear.
I think the wording is pretty weird, but the real problem, I think, is that implies that a 10+ is consequence-free: "the threat doesn't come to bear."  I haven't seen it much myself, but I can easily imagine that leading to declarations like "He swings the club at me?  I just grit my teeth and take it!" with the assumption that a 10+ means he'll be fine and shrug off the blow.

Now, obviously, this is the sort of place for player-level conversation and GM moves like tell them the consequences and ask.  "You're just gonna take the hit?  I mean, okay, but you'll be Defying Danger with CON and it's gonna be like d8+3 damage even if you get a 10+. You sure?" 

But it'd be better if the move itself tempered expectations. Hence:
On a 10+, you pull it off as well as one could hope.
I guess you could get into some annoying conversations like "well, I can hope for quite a lot!" But at the very least, it's setting an expectation of "within reasonable limits."

On a 7-9...

In the original Defy Danger, the 7-9 clause is:
On a 7–9, you stumble, hesitate, or flinch: the GM will offer you a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice.
Oof.

Okay, first of all:  "stumble, hesitate, or flinch" has always been my least favorite line in any of the basic moves. It describes a fictional outcome, and then implies that said fictional outcome leads directly into the worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice. Well, first of all: stumbling, hesitating, or flinching doesn't make sense as a fictional outcome in many of the cases that involve Defying Danger.  I mean, yeah, you can make it fit, if you really try to. But it's work. And in my experience, when I've tried to keep stumble/hesitate/flinch in mind, it's actively made it harder to come up with good, interesting results that are still fundamentally a success.

The "stumble, hesitate, or flinch" clause makes a lot more sense in Apocalypse World's Act Under Fire move. But that move is all about keeping your cool, as opposed powering through/acting quickly/all the other ways to Defy Danger. And even in AW, the example 7-9 results ignore the "stumble, hesitate, or flinch" part and just go straight to worse outcome/hard bargain/ugly choice.

So: gone. It's actually been gone from both Homebrew World and Stonetop from almost the beginning. 

More importantly:  the "worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice" part of the move has never felt like it offered particularly good guidance to GMs.  The number of G+ conversations, Reddit posts, conversations on the old Barf Forth forums, etc. that have stemmed from that phrasing are numerous. 

My take on it has always been:

  • Worse outcome: you do the thing, but the outcome isn't as good as you'd hoped. 
  • Hard bargain:  "You can do it, but..."  Basically, tell them the cost or the consequences and give them a chance to back off.
  • Ugly choice:  They do it, but it doing it, they have to pick between two or more consequences or costs.  
The distinction between "hard bargain" and "ugly choice" is fuzzy, and not necessarily helpful to the GM.   Also: it's easy for a new GM or player to read "worse outcome" as "worse than you when you started" and not "worse than what you were hoping for" and that's not right at all. It's important to remember that a 7-9 is still fundamentally successful. 


Both the hard bargain and the ugly choice involve costs or consequences, or maybe a lesser successes.  So... why not just say that? But there's still value in those "you can do it, if" and "well, you can do it, but either __ or __."  That led me to this:
On a 7-9, you can do it, but the GM will present a lesser success, a cost, or a consequence (and maybe a choice between them, or a chance to back down).
This wording:

  1. Establishes that they can do the thing (fundamentally a success, right?)
  2. Replaces "worse outcome" with "lesser success" (clearer, reinforces that that it's still fundamentally a success)
  3. Puts the cost or consequence right in there, in plain language
  4. Keeps the possibility of a hard bargain or ugly choice. 

In summary

I don't think this really changes Defy Danger significantly. I hope that it makes it clearer, and easier to use, and helps set appropriate expectations.  

Homebrew World v1.5 (gear & inventory updates, Defy Danger rewrite)

I just posted version 1.5 of Homebrew World.  You can find it here:

Current version

If you aren't familiar with this project:
  • It's a revised version of Dungeon World that's pared down for one-shots and short-run (2-4 session) games. 
  • It features a lot of changes that would I'd include in a 2nd edition of Dungeon World were I the one in charge of it:  advantage/disadvantage (instead of +1/-2 etc), tweaks or straight-up rewrites to many of the basic moves and classes, backgrounds & drives instead of racial moves & alignment, and some significant changes to gear. The document itself has a more comprehensive list.

New (Final?) Gear & Inventory System

The original gear & inventory system was okay, but a little unintuitive. It had a lot of hidden features, and didn't actually generate as much scarcity as I wanted it to. 

So I replaced it with this version. Some feedback on Reddit and conversations on the DW Discord server confirmed some fears I had with that system. Mainly: the v1.4 system was trying to combine both an encumbrance system with the "producing gear" system and when characters started dropping things or moving items between them, it got weird. You could mark up to (e.g.) 4 diamonds, but it wasn't clear what happened if you marked an item to produce a thing and then dropped it.

Here's what the new version looks like:

from the Thief

from the Cleric


At the start of play, you can assign a number of diamonds to specific items or to "Undefined."

During play, you can Have What You Need:


So as the Cleric, I might chose to start with a cudgel and Supplies (two diamonds), and mark 3 diamonds in Undefined. 
During play, when a fight breaks out, I might declare that I'm wearing a chain shirt (and move a diamond from Undefined to the "Leather cuirass or chain shirt" item). 
Later, I decide to produce a lantern, so I clear an Undefined diamond, mark one under Other items, and write in "Lantern."  I could then spend a use of Supplies to produce a tinderbox (a small item). 
After a few hours of exploring, the lantern's oil burns low and I replenish it with a use of Supplies (to produce lamp oil, which I don't bother writing down because whatever). 
I've got one Undefined diamond and one use of Supplies remaining.  

Every class also has a Max Load (the same as the max number of diamonds you can start with). This should be fairly obvious, but to be clear:

  • If you pick up a new item in play (by looting it, buying it, another character giving it to you, etc.) then it gets added to your inventory. Unless it's small, it counts against your Max Load.  
  • If you drop an item during play, or use it up, or it's destroyed, then you erase it--it no longer counts against your Max Load.  
  • If you give something to another player (even an Undefined diamond), erase it from your inventory and add it to theirs--it no longer counts against your Max Load, but does count against theirs. 
  • Undefined diamonds count against your Max Load.

Doesn't this encourage players to put everything in Undefined and then have exactly what they need in play?  Yup! That's largely the point.  In practice, it seems that players assign enough gear to get a clear picture of their character, and leave the rest undefined.

So what changed?

The biggest differences between this version of the gear system and version 1.4 are:  
  • There's no more choice between "Light" vs. "Normal" vs. "Heavy" Load. Each class has a set number of diamonds they can mark at character creation or during play. 
  • There's a specific place to track "Undefined" diamonds, distinct from the total number of diamonds you can carry (Max Load).
  • As a result, there's no need for the Loot or Manage Inventory moves, or any other detailed explanation of how specified gear interacts with quantum, undefined gear. 
In my initial playtesting, this system has worked very well. Players grocked the "Undefined" thing immediately. The only real confusion stemmed from players Having What They Need, and whether they needed to assign an Undefined diamond or expend supplies. I found they were more likely to burn up their diamonds, even on things I thought was pretty obviously small.  

I also added a couple class moves that played in this design space. A few classes have moves that increase their Max Load and starting diamonds. The Fighter (Veteran of the Wars) gets +1 diamond (7 total) and an extra use from Supplies.  The Barbarian has a Max Load of 3 by default, but Musclebound increases it to 5. And the Ranger has a Max Load of 3 by default but an advance that can give them +2 diamonds. 

Other changes

The other big change is in the wording of Defy Danger:


My hope is that this wording makes it clearer when to trigger the move (high stakes + danger + action) and that the 7-9 result provides GMs with more useful guidance.  It's still fundamentally the same move, though.

There are also some minor tweaks here and there:
  • The Bard >> Wandering Folk: previously, it basically gave three times the Bard could take advantage on a roll, with the relatively simple requirement of making it relevant to their People's traits.  Now, they can do that once, and then their heritage needs to cause trouble before they can use it again. 
  • The Cleric: fixed a mistake in their inventory. Replaced the wizard's spell book (ha!) with a Sacred Text ([][] uses, slow, cast a spell that's not prepared).
  • Some minor tweaking of the I Know a Guy optional move and the Thief >> Operative's background move, so that the Thief move is definitely better.
  • Also some tweaking to the Run Away optional move; I didn't quite like the results or modifiers, and I had to rethink it anyway to deal with the new gear system.   

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Homebrew World Updates (v1.4, new gear & load system)

I just posted version 1.4 of Homebrew WorldYou can find it here:

Current version

If you aren't familiar with this project: it's a revised version of Dungeon World that's pared down for one-shots and short-run (2-4 session) games. It features a lot of changes that would I'd include in a 2nd edition of Dungeon World were I the one in charge of it:  advantage/disadvantage (instead of +1/-2 etc), tweaks or straight-up rewrites to many of the basic moves and classes, backgrounds & drives instead of racial moves & alignment, and some significant changes to gear. The document itself has a more comprehensive list.

What's changed in 1.4?  Starting with little things:

  • I rearranged the Basic Moves, Violence & Recovery Moves, and Optional Moves. Instead of using 1/2 page inserts for the Basic & Violence moves, they now use a full-page, double-sided sheet. I found the inserts involved too much flipping around, and they tended to get lost/forgotten in play.  
  • I added some more optional moves, largely cribbing from work I'd done for Drowning & Falling. Also borrowed heavily from Addrymar Palinor's "Narrate a Fight" move. Also added some lists of example mundane, common items that one can produce with Have What You Need.  
  • Significantly updated The Wielder. Previously, it was just the Fighter but with a signature weapon instead of weapon specializations. Now, it's got it's own Backgrounds, names, looks, moves, advances... and I added another weapon, an homage to Stormbringer and Blackrazor, because duh.  
  • Added a "player's guide" to the back page of each playbook, and expanded the space for notes. I don't expect the player's guide to referenced all that much, but I like having it there as something to reference, or read during breaks or "downtime."
  • Redid the approach to gear (including the moves surrounding it).
That last one is the biggest update. Here's how the gear system used to work. It wasn't bad, but it was a little less intuitive than I wanted.  There were a lot of hidden features, and this tries to remove those and make everything more transparent. (If you find yourself thinking "this is lifted almost straight from Blades in the Dark," you aren't wrong.)

The New "Load" System

Each playbook has a "Load" section that looks like this:

The Figher's Load section (not filled out)

The Fighter's Load section

The only decision you need to make at the start of play is whether you're carrying a Light, Normal, or Heavy Load. The descriptions under each ("quick and quiet" or "weighed down, not quiet" or "noisy, slow hot, quick to tire") don't have any specific mechanical impact, but they describe the fiction. A character with a Light Load might not even need to Defy Danger to move quietly or to carefully pick their way up an unstable slope, but someone with a Normal or Heavy Load might. 

Your chosen Load determines how many "diamonds" worth of gear you can be carrying. A "diamond" is basically a gear slot. 
  • Most "significant" items (a sword, light armor, a coil of rope) takes up one diamond (slot)
  • Each "big" item (heavy armor, a shield, a polearm, a 10-ft pole) takes up two diamonds (slots)
  • Small items (a knife, a purse of coins, etc.) don't take up diamonds (slots), but the unwritten rule is "they have to fit in the box" and the official rule is "be reasonable."
At the start of play, you can choose to define as many or as few of your diamonds as you want. During play, you can use the Have What You Need Move:


In practice, I assume that most players will take a Normal Load and then assign 2 or 3 of their diamonds, leaving 1 or 2 undefined. That's what I'd do. 

Each class also starts with a knife/dagger, maybe another small item (like a holy symbol), and gets a choice of 1 special small item (a healing elixir, a pouch of coins, etc.).  You can produce more small items by using Have What You Need and expending 1 use of Supplies (see below).

Loot

A big reason for adventure games like Dungeon World (and Homebrew World) to track inventory at all is because it forces decisions. As you use up your gear and supplies, you become more prone to disaster and have to start thinking about turning back. Inventory systems also force decisions when it comes to looting treasure: how much can you take with you, and what are you willing to give up in order to do so?

Here's how loot interacts with the Load system:


Basically: loot counts against your diamonds (gear slots). 
  • If you add loot to a slot and you're still under your Load, it's assumed that you've taken something out of your inventory in order to make room for the loot.  
  • If the looted item pushes you over your current Load, that's fine--but you don't have any undefined diamonds anymore. For example, if the Fighter has a Normal Load and 5 diamonds already defined, and then she picks up a stone idol (1 diamond), she suffers from the fictional positioning of having a Heavy Load but she doesn't get to later Have What She Needs and produce a 7th item. 
You can use Loot to carry around more diamonds than permitted by a Heavy Load, but assume that you're basically giving the GM carte blanche to show you the downside of your gear.  

Oh, and: yes, it's totally viable (and smart) to Have What You Need, give that item to another PC with empty slots, and then Loot.

Supplies

"Supplies" are a 1-diamond item that come with 3 uses. They combine most of the expendable resources that you find in Dungeon World: rations, bandages, adventuring gear, etc. (In the previous versions of Homebrew World, Supplies also included ammo. That's changed now! See below.)

You can expend a use of Supplies to:
  • Have What You Need and produce a small, common and mundane item (like some chalk, a ball of twine, etc.)  
  • Use the Recover move and regain 5 HP (and, potentially, deal with a troublesome injury or debility). 
  • Feed the party when you Make Camp, and/or get an extra benefit from making camp.
Many of the class Backgrounds also have special things that you can do with Supplies. For example, a Gladiator (Fighter) can expend 1 use of Supplies to have their gear take a blow and halve the effects. An Assassin (Thief) can expend 1 use of Supplies to produce a vial of poison. A Courtesan (Bard) can expend 1 use of Supplies to produce a suitable gift for a notable figure they just met, gaining advantage on their next roll against them. 

(The biggest differences for Supplies in this version and earlier versions of Homebrew World are that ammo is no longer subsumed by Supplies and that you don't have to expend Supplies to produce "slot" items. That's now handled by the Load system.)

Ammo

In Dungeon World, "Ammo 3" is an abstraction that means you can choose "reduce your Ammo" 3 times when you Volley (or otherwise have the GM use up your resources). However, I've found that you almost always have to explain that to a new player--"no, that's not how many individual shots you have, it's an abstraction... take a look at the Volley move...").

In earlier versions of HBW, I just lumped ammo in with Supplies, and you could expend Supplies or mark "Out of ammo" on a 7-9 to Volley. 

With this version, ranged weapons have a pair of "statuses" after each one, like this...
  • Bow and arrows ([] low ammo   [] out of ammo)
  • Extra arrows ([] plenty left  [] running low  [] all out)
...and the 7-9 option on Volley says "Deplete your ammunition; mark the next status next to your weapon/ammo)."  I think that's a lot clearer. And if a player wants to haggle and be like "can I expend a use of Supplies to clear one of these?" then I think that's fine.

Shields

Shields are big, yo. And kind of a pain to lug around. And, frankly, they have a pretty significant impact on your effectiveness in a fight. I always found it odd that DW had them weigh as much as a sword (2 weight) and give +1 Armor. 

Yes, yes, you also have a shield and that fiction is pretty damn important. But I wanted to ramp up both the "cost" of carrying a shield and their effectiveness.  

Cost was easy and obvious: they're 2-diamond items. But for effectiveness... I didn't want to increase the Armor bonus (because too much Armor can easily become an issue).  So instead: they now give +1 Readiness (my term for "hold") when you Defend and get a 7+. I think that's a fair trade for taking up an extra inventory slot.

"Out of..." is Gone

The old inventory system for Homebrew World used an "Out of..." mechanic, where you had a section for indicating what things you were out of (ammo, food, healing supplies, a few blanks) and therefore couldn't produce with Supplies.  You could also mark "Out of __" to produce a small item without having to expend Supplies.  And most things that required you to expend Supplies also let you mark "out of __" instead.

Basically, the "Out of..." mechanic gave everyone like 5 or 6 "free" uses of Supplies, but that wasn't obvious at all.  Which actually undermined the scarcity equation of the system pretty significantly.  It also required mechanisms for clearing those "Out of __" conditions.  

So... it's gone.  The GM is still well within their rights to say "you land hard and hear something break in your pack... take a d6 damage, mark off 1 use of Supplies, and you can't Have What You Need to produce anything breakable or fragile."

Scarcity

This system intentionally puts some pretty significant limits on how much crap the PCs can be carrying around. If you have a Normal Load, you probably have a weapon, some armor, maybe 3 or 6 uses of Supplies, and like 1 undefined slot.  And those Supplies can get used up pretty darn quickly. Lantern?  That's a diamond (inventory slot).  Tinderbox?  That's a use of Supplies?  Need to Recover?  That's one more use of Supplies.  Rope?  That's your last diamond.  Now what?

This scarcity is intentional.

Remember: Homebrew World is intended to be used with one-shots or short-run games. There isn't time to slowly chip away at the party's resources. If this system is going to be meaningful, the scarcity has to become relevant quickly.  

I'm honestly not 100% sure that I've hit the right balance. I think that maybe 3-uses of Supplies per diamond is too much.  But I've also tried to include an array of tempting other items in each class's Load, so that not everyone is running around with 6 Supplies.  We'll see how it goes in play.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The G+ Archives

Today is April 2, 2019, and those of us who regularly used Google+ are sitting waiting for the end. Google announced that the platform would go down sometime today. As of this moment, it's still there. But the end is soon.

G+ was mostly ignored by the larger world, but it was a hotbed of activity for the RPG scene. The initial integration with Hangouts meant that bloggers and other RPG folks could easily coordinate and play games with each other online. That led to a critical mass of gamers--especially indie RPG and OSR gamers--hanging out and talking on G+, and it became a sort of constant, ongoing salon. Ideas where exchanged, friends and partnerships were established. There was drama, yes, and schisms and bad actors. But overall: it was really something.

In the past few months, I've used Friends+Me's Google+ Exporter to archive about 30 RPG communities and back them up onto WordPress sites. Those archives live here:

https://gplusarchive.online

The archived communities are:

Together, there are about 37,000 posts and 282,000 comments saved.  My hope is that people of the future can continue to reference these communities, not just as historical artifacts but as a source of wisdom and insight. There is gold buried in these archives. In the future, I intend to mine some of it for this blog. I hope others do likewise. 

If I didn't archive your community: I'm sorry. It wasn't an intentional thing. I started with the ones that I was active and involved in, then expanded to various communities related to PbtA games.  I feel bad that I didn't get any OSR communities, but I was never directly involved in those and didn't even know where to start.

Cheers.

-Jeremy

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

On Learning to Run Dungeon World

Over on Google+ (in it's last, dying days), Tom Pleasant said this (across a couple different comments):

I’ve done a reasonable amount of storygames but am struggling to grok GMing *World.... Played a dozen different *World games and read up on how to run it. All the agendas and things just make me panic.

I've heard that sentiment before and I totally get it. It seems like you're supposed to constantly keep about a dozen different principles in your mind and make sure that anything you say comes from a list of another 12-20 (or more) proscribed GM moves. How the hell are you supposed to do that and juggle all the social realities of the table and know the rules of the game and keep your setting coherent and and and and.

You know. Just do this. It's easy.

It doesn't help that text of most PbtA games present the "How to GM" chapter as rules that the GM must follow as opposed to advice. Here's the Dungeon World text:

This chapter isn’t about advice for the GM or optional tips and tricks on how best to play Dungeon World. It’s a chapter with procedures and rules for whoever takes on the role of GM.

Here's my (slightly heretical) advice, to him and any other potential GM who's intimidated by the agenda, principles, and GM moves, of Dungeon World.  


Forget the agenda. Ignore the principles. Run the game.  


If you've run pretty much any role playing game before, and certainly if you played Dungeon World or another PbtA game, then you already know the most basic, fundamental thing that you need to know: the game is a conversation.

Establish the situation. ("You're standing in front of these two huge teak-wood doors. The mountain wind howls all around you in the fading light. Your breath catches on the cold air, getting colder. It'll be night soon.").  Keep it brief. Maybe ask the characters some questions about why they're there, what they hope to find, what they're worried about it, why they shouldn't dally. As much or as little as you and they are comfortable with. Enough to set the scene and establish their motive for being there.

Restate the scene and the situation (doors, cold wind, getting darker and colder). Turn to a particular player and ask their character "What do you do?" 

If they ask questions about the situation, and you think you the answers would be self-evident, answer them honestly and generously.  ("Are there any handles or anything on the doors?" "Oh, yeah, there are these huge brass rings on each door, like the size of your arms making a circle. They hang down so the bottom is at about chest height.")  Then: What do you do?

If they ask questions about the situation, and you DON'T think the answer would readily apparent, tell them what's required to learn it. Maybe it involves doing something.  Maybe it involves them making a move.  ("Can we hear any noise from inside?" "No, but they're really thick and it's windy out here. Maybe if you pressed your ear to the doors?" or "Are there any footprints or signs that they've been opened recently?"  "Sounds like you're studying the situation. Discern Realities?")  Ask if they do that. If they do, say what happens or engage the move and resolve it per the rules.

If they do something with an obvious outcome, say what happens as a result. ("I grab onto one of the big brass rings and pull." "There's a creaking noise, and the door slowly grinds open. It's like dragging a car in neutral, it's so heavy.  Dust falls from up top as you, gets caught in the wind and swirls. Darkness looms inside.")  Then: What do you do? 

If things are dragging and the PCs are just dickering around, or you want to get to some action, then telegraph some trouble. ("As you step into the door and get your torches lit, you see a huge, vaulted hallway leading into the darkness. Just at the edge of your torchlight, you see a boot, lying in the ground. Then you realize it's attached to a bony leg. A dead figure, sprawled in the middle of the hall.") Then: What do you do?  (Chances are that they'll do something triggers a move. Resolve it.)

If they do something that would trigger a bad thing, say how the bad thing starts to happen but not how it finishes. ("As you approach the dead body, the tile under your foot starts to give way just a little, then click.").  Establish a bad thing about to happen, but stop while it's still unfurling, and ask them (or another character): What do you do?

If they don't do something to reasonably address the bad thing, clarify with them. ("You just stand there? Even though you pretty clearly just stepped on a pressure plate?")  If they really do ignore it ("Pressure plate? pfft, whatever, I study this corpse.") then bring it home.The bad thing happens, full force. ("You feel this burning stab in your gut and then your ears register this THWOOSH and you realize that there's this six-inch dart sticking out of your stomach. Take d6 damage and your whole body starts to feel like it's on fire.")  Probably turn to someone else and say that they just saw that happen: What do you do?

If, when you introduce the threat, they say that they do something about it (good on them), then they're probably triggering a move. Resolve it!  ("Oh, crap, a pressure plate? I dive back and to the side." "Okay, sounds like Defying Danger with DEX to me, roll it.") Resolve the move as written. ("A 7-9? How about a hard bargain? You can dive and get out of the way of what's coming, but your torch will go clattering off into the distance. Yeah?").

On a miss (6 or less) have them mark XP and then decide what's the most obvious bad thing that can happen?  It happens. Tell them what happens  ("As you dive out of the way, there's this burning stab in your leg. As you hit the ground, you realize you've got this 6-inch dart sticking out of your leg. Take 1d6 damage and holy hells does it burn, way worse than it should.")

However the move ends up resolving: re-establish the situation, turn to a specific player, and ask their character What do you do?

In a chaotic, fluid situation (like a fight), keep moving around between players. Each time you re-establish the scene for them, throw in something that they have to react to (not always bad, maybe it's just an opportunity, a chance to act) before you ask: What do you do?

Notice that I'm not referencing agenda, or principles, or GM moves.  You're simply:

  1. Describing the situation
  2. Answering their questions
  3. Giving them some sort of hook or thing to react to
  4. Asking them what they do
  5. Saying what happens next (return to 1)
    OR
  6. Following the rules of the player-facing moves, then saying what happens next (return to 1).

That's the flow of the game, the conversation.

Not sure what to do for #2?  Or as a result of #5?  Skim over your GM moves list and see if something inspires you.

But mostly, just follow the natural fiction of the game and the rules. And don't beat yourself up if for not doing it "right".


Then, after the game, think back on the decisions you made, the things you decided to say. Run those things against the game's proscribed agenda. Did you say or do anything that violated the agenda? Try to avoid that next time.

Look at the principles.  Did you say or do anything that violated them?  Think about what you could have done instead. Think about what adhering to that principle might have looked like.

Look at the GM moves. Think about your major decisions, the things you said to prompt action from the PCs or to give them hooks. Can you match each of those things to one or more of the GM moves?  Where there any decisions you made, where you could have done one of these other GM moves instead? Keep that all in mind for next time.

My ultimate point here is that the GM's agenda, principles, and moves are just ways to codify and describe good GMing.  Some GMs adhere to them closely and intentionally make their moves from the lists. Some GMs keep the principles constantly in mind.

But if they're acting as a barrier to you, and intimidating you, then fuck 'em.  Describe the situation. Give them hook or prompt a response. What do you do?  Resolve a move or say what happens. Repeat.

And then look back on your work and see how you could have done better.

GMing is a practice, like yoga or martial arts or meditation or painting or whatever. You get better at it by doing it, by reflecting on it, by constantly trying to do better.  No one starts off as a maestro. Don't be afraid of being bad or mediocre or less than excellent.  Do the work. Show up. Get better. Get good. Get great.