I, like most of you reading this, I will sometimes get an itch that can only be scratched by playing a new system, it mostly starts with “X system fixes that one thing that bugs me about system Y”. My core players are normally very understanding and will give me a session or two of their time; before we return back to our core game. This has been hit and miss over the years, with Dungeon World being both a hit and a miss. It missed with the players, we come from a deep D&D background so no maps and no initiative was a little too much. But the game was a real hit with me, I took its lessons and principles to heart.
I’ve been a fairly generic game master for years, I would put my story in front of the players and they would mainly run the rails with only a few skips off the track here and there. And for years everyone has seemed very happy about this arrangement, I bring content, they bring dice to throw at it. This style of play used to take far too much of my time having to create endless battles, npcs, etc with everything figured out in advance. The principles of Dungeon World changes this and puts more power in the player’s hands.
Draw maps, leave blanks
Since playing Dungeon World I’ve run one full campaign and started a second. The completed one was a Savage Worlds Sci Fi game of space exploration, I generated a sector map only showing the players the opening area of 5 planets with their names and a little on their environments. The rest of the sector was blanked off, so as the players explored new worlds would appear. Some did have predefined stories (there was a plot out there somewhere), but others were a response to something the players had said during the game. This was me learning this mechanic, I’m old new things take awhile.
For the new game that’s getting started I’ve created a rough outline of the world, again with the starting area defined (gives me a basis as the players will often take a few sessions to hash out their characters back stories) some random spots that define the rough lore of the world. After that every village, castle, big pointy rock the players mention will appear in the world. This started as ‘my’ campaign world, but I want the players to make their mark on it.
Be a fan of the characters
This one seems simple, but we’re often not a fan of the characters, we like the players that’s why they’re around our table and why we spend all this time to give them an entertaining evening. Often I’m not a fan of the characters, I find myself creating situations where the world will kick the character in the ass just because today I don’t like them. But punishing this character punishes the players, who’s your friend and is here to have a good time. Start being a fan of the characters, you want them to win, you want them to go far, give them times to shine. The rogue who is invisible most of the time, give them long corridors to sneak through with a lever at the far end that makes the floor disappear killing all the guards. They’ll talk about for months to come.
Ask questions and use the answers
We hit this a little along with way but we’ll hit it again as it’s really important. I’m sure we’ve all been given those 3 paragraphs of character backstory and thought about making a big story out of what’s there. Stop, ask questions, who, why, where, when; get more info, then use it.
Player: My brother was killed and I want revenge.
GM: Who killed your brother?
Player: Hum.. some guys in robes I guess.
GM: Like a cult?
Player: Yes, a cult… of assholes.
GM: Ok some evil cult killed your brother, was he an offering or had he crossed them?
Player: He was hired to steal an item they wanted, a strange statue; but times were tough and he sold it.
Great we now have some strange statue out in the world and an evil cult willing to kill to get it.
If you have any questions to ask I suggest either keeping a group chat going between sessions or asking everyone a question at the start of the session. The advantage of the latter is it puts the players in their character’s head right at the start of the session. You might have a few deer in headlights moments the first few times you do this, you’ve been warned.
Hope you find this helpful, I might write about some more of the principles in the future.