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)
  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.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

42 magic swords

the truth

We did some brainstorming on the DW Discord a little while back. 30 magic swords, no more than two sentences each. We came up with 30 in just under an hour. Then folks kept going. Enjoy.

  1. A singing sword, floating in the darkness for ages, guarding this now-empty ruin from intruders yet so, so lonely. Jeremy Strandberg
  2. A sword carved from the thigh bone of a Nephilim. Bane to both demons and angels, bleeds in the presence of either. Jeremy Strandberg
  3. Shifter's Demon, this scimitar is engraved with the phases of the moon along the blade.  Any shapechanger who views the weapon finds themselves stuck constantly shifting between all their forms in agony. Torin Blood
  4. A blade of ice that never melts. Extinguishes nearby fires when drawn. You’re never too warm or too hot in while you wield it, but neither do you feel any urgency or sense of passion (Your Drive for any session in which you wield it becomes “let a problem escalate while you do nothing.") Jeremy Strandberg
  5. Marcu's miracle shortsword. A plain merchant guard's sword, passed from hand to hand for generations.  The wielder of the blade will never lose at a dicing game so long as it has been used in defence of a merchant in the last month. Torin Blood
  6. Sidhe’s Lament, a scimitar of black starmetal  that hums with the music of the spheres when rapped on metal. The longer you fight with it, the greater its volume and vibration, until glass shatters and stones crack around you. Jeremy Strandberg
  7. A sword carved of white wood, handle worn smooth and tiny notches chipped up and down the blade. Not much use against steel, but perfectly capable of beating the crap out of ghosts, wraiths, specters, and the like... won’t destroy them, but sure gives ‘em a lickin’. Jeremy Strandberg
  8. The Slithering Steel of Abraxcus. This twisted and serrated sword breaker seems to always be in motion when held.  The blade shifts to always wrap around and trap weapons that attack the wielder. Torin Blood
  9. Gefyn, a gladius of exceptional quality. It has endured millennia of constant wars and fighting. When sharpened, it never seems to lose material. Halsver
  10. A sword made of leaves woven together with spider silk and magically hardened with the blood of an ancient elf. The memories of the elf come to the wielder as horrific dreams. Torin Blood
  11. A leaf-shaped blade of orichalcum, dull red and no cross guard. When you cut or stab a creature infected by the Things Below, it burns like the heat of three forges and sears flesh and bone. Jeremy Strandberg
  12. A longsword, stained crimson after being quenched in dragon's blood.  Light reflected from the blade reveals wounds that will be suffered within the next week. Torin Blood
  13. The Historian's Lament. A rapier that, when thrust into any book, makes it so the book was never written. The wielder of the blade instantly learns everything that was in the book. Torin Blood
  14. A serrated greatsword made of a single crystal. It is said when the sword sings a new age has dawned. Torin Blood
  15. No blade, just a hilt with a grip wound in copper wire.  When you brandish it with confidence, a white blade of lightning forms—cuts clean through any metal but also discharges dangerous bolts at random. Jeremy Strandberg
  16. Macco, the pacifist's katana. This blade appears to be ethereal and will pass through inanimate objects with no resistance. Deemed useless by hasty warriors, the thoughtful practitioner will recognize a slow pull against a moving object will realize a perfect clean slice. Halsve
  17. A grim, notched iron sword, spotted with reddish flakes (rust? blood? both or neither?). When you wound someone with the sword but do not kill them, the wound will never fully heal, nor will it fester or get worse. Jeremy Strandberg
  18. Goran's Eternity Severance,  an extremely ornate and gem-encrusted claymore. It passes harmlessly through all living material  but utterly consigns to oblivion the soul of any corpse it touches. Torin Blood
  19. Bronze sword that once belonged to a petty warlord who trucked with the Things Below. When you wield the sword, those who follow you know no fear and their morale and commitment never falters (but if you wield the sword during a session, your Drive becomes “prove your superiority over another”) Jeremy Strandberg
  20. A pair of earrings like tiny, graceful scimitars. Until you take them off your ears, at which point they become a pair of full-sized, graceful scimitars. Jeremy Strandberg
  21. Juliana, blade of vengeance. Forged by a simple farmer with a singular purpose, this crude blade is dull in the hands of the dispassionate. When wielded by those mourning a lost love, it burns with a brilliant blue flame and a haunting child's voice whispers to its foes. Halsver
  22. A simple, perfectly crafted blade of dull gray steel. Anyone who sees you draw it sees a perfectly clear, perfectly convincing vision of you cutting them down with it. Jeremy Strandberg
  23. Ghostblade, sword of the old god. This blade doesn't cut through metal, flesh and bone, but instead bypasses the mortal shell, and strikes at soul and spirit. Slothman
  24. Thornblight, a greatsword of what looks like an impossibly big and perfectly napped shard of obsidian. Cuts through wood, vines, briars, and any other vegetation like it was soft clay. Jeremy Strandberg
  25. Purity. This longsword was forged in the blood of a dying angel. When wielded by one of pure heart and purpose, it enhances their power. When welded selfishly or in vengeance, it becomes a mundane blade. Slothman
  26. A bronze blade with a hilt of shell and coral, always wet and glistening. Fog and mist billow around it, thicker and deeper the long it’s unsheathed, until eventually... things slither out of the fog. Jeremy Strandberg
  27. Kuzzleyuff, a strange parrying dagger which is incredibly heavy and features an intricate mechanism that spins and rotates rapidly on the hilt. The dagger is clumsy to use intentionally, but will perfectly parry any strike that you fail to notice. Halsver
  28. A blade of black iron quenched in the blood of a dozen innocent men. Cuts through any magical charms, wards, abjurations, or protections. Jeremy Strandberg
  29. Plowshare. A historic gift from one king to another to sue for peace. This completely dull blade is useless in combat, but gives advantage on Parley. If ever used to kill, the magic leaves it and the killer is forever branded a tyrant and murderer to all who see him ChibiYossy
  30. The first sword ever crafted, a crude and ugly thing. Every blow struck with it kills, but anyone who kills with it will be struck a killing blow by the next sword they face. Jeremy Strandberg
  31. Chissors, a pair of blades that seem immutably attracted to one another. Once separated, they will remain apart until they both strike in tandem, shearing through their target and fixing to one another again. Halsver
  32. Rotsman’s sidearm. This obsidian and ceramic blade is immune to all forms of corrosion and acid produced by slimes, jellies, pudding, and fungi. Also has many clever notches and serrations and can function as a pry bar, hatchet, saw, or entrenching tool in a pinch. Breaks easily on any kind of hard target like armor. ChibiYossy
  33. Siddew's Way, a short sword with a core of rough hewn stone and ore encased in polished red bronze blade. This blade is invaluable to the adventurer in a hurry, when struck against an obstacle the sword points in a novel direction that is indeed a short-cut. Halsver
  34. A bronze shortsword that once stabbed a black dragon through its skull and deep into it brain. Now has a greenish tinge, and constantly seeps a vicious acid when exposed to air (kept in a fitted glass sheath... don’t break it). Jeremy Strandberg
  35. Blackbriar. A black blade made of polished living black ironwood. Has green shoots and vines growing out of it. Poisoned, but you have to water it regularly and expose it to sunlight every day, or it withers and dies, useful only as firewood. Not for dungeon delving! ChibiYossy
  36. Some things are better in pairs. This set of two daggers glow a dull red when anyone who identifies as law enforcement is near.  The pair only works when together. Torin Blood
  37. Captain Cutthroat's Cutlass, this rather large and ornate sword once belonged to a famous pirate. It bears a peculiar enchantment, when held against a person's neck, if that person lies about the whereabouts of their most valuable possession it sizzles like a hot pan. Halsver
  38. The North Star is a long, thin, flat blade that has an ornate star map engraved in to its blade. This sword only ever points north, and is constantly parallel to the ground, even when sheathed or fighting. Burch
  39. The Deceiver is a slender silver rapier that is actually considerably longer than it looks, having reach despite appearing to onlookers as a regular (if expensive looking) weapon. It fits in a normal sized scabbard without issue. Helicity
  40. Heward’s Handy Dirk. This appears to be an ordinary leather belt buckle, but it's enchanted with a magic similar to a bag of holding. Grab the buckle in a certain way and pull, and you'll draw a steel short sword as if from a scabbard. Great for smuggling a weapon somewhere it’s not supposed to be... ChibiYossy
  41. Jackal’s Tooth. This scrappy, curved blade does +2 damage to any opponent bigger than the wielder, and -2 damage to any opponent smaller. Pick on someone your own size! ChibiYossy
  42. Blade of the Wailing Dead. When unsheathed, this blade causes all corpses in the area to animate. They follow the commands of the the wielder until the weapon is sheathed again.  Should the blade ever come into contact with a living creature, the wielder will immediately die and turn into a skeleton that cannot be destroyed until the creature the blade wounded dies. Torin Blood