If I Could Play: Dungeon World (Again)

Hello adventurers and welcome to Adventure Rules, where every day is Tuesday when we’re talking about tabletops! Over the course of the last few months I’ve done a segment where I talked about what I would do if I finally got the chance to play an RPG that I’ve never played before. I’ve discussed such titles as Ryuutama, The Burning Wheel, and Apocalypse World, and recently I started a campaign of one of the games I’d been pining for, City of Mist. My group enjoyed a pretty solid first session (although we struggled a bit with the rules) and as of the posting of this article, tomorrow I’m going to be diving into my second session as a City of Mist MC. However, in the midst of my preparations for my next session I find myself pining for the RPG which has remained my favorite lo these couple of years: Dungeon World.

Dungeon World is a strong combination of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons with the Apocalypse World engine, a game which allows a group of treasure-hungry adventures to fight monsters and avoid traps in deadly dungeons all in a fiction-first, narrative-focused style. It’s the perfect game for me because I love both the setting and the gameplay, preferring to focus on crafting a fun story rather than juggling a lot of dense rules. I’ve run three campaigns of the game and played as a character in another, but even after all of that I still find myself hungering for more. As such, today I thought it would be fun to talk about some of the ideas I have for future Dungeon World campaigns.

Dungeon World Archer

Most of the concepts I have are inspired by supplements to the main game that I either own and haven’t tried out yet, or ones that I recently heard about and want to try at the table. The first of these is Inglorious, a war supplement that isn’t finished yet but which I was able to experiment with a little bit using a teaser version. Inglorious is all about how war is this difficult, terrible thing with casualties on all sides. The player characters can’t just walk onto the battlefield and sweep hundreds of dudes with a single stroke like a Dynasty Warrior game – they have to work hard just to make a dent in the enemy forces, and emphasis is placed less on straight-up killing and more on strategic decisions that can turn the tide of the battle.

Included in the rules for Inglorious are rules for how squads operate, how towns contribute to the war effort, and how monsters compare directly to groups of soldiers. The last of these is the aspect of Inglorious that I find the most compelling. A monster with the huge tag counts as a whole squad of soldiers by itself. While a normal squad might have four or five points of morale (effectively hit points for a group of soldiers), a monster’s full health bar counts for their morale, allowing a giant or dragon to easily take on entire armies before taking serious damage. I think it would be really cool to run a monster hunting game where the adventuring party leads squads of soldiers against these massive behemoths, perhaps taking cues from games like Monster Hunter or Shadow of the Colossus. The squad could slowly whittle the giants down while the player characters focus on hitting weak points for big damage, putting the focus of the narrative on their actions while also giving them the challenge of a leadership role in a small paramilitary group.

The second supplement is one I purchased to use in a campaign that never got off the ground: Perilous Wilds. This addition to the game focuses on making survival and travel a more integral part of the Dungeon World experience. Normally, traveling is handled very quickly using the Undertake a Perilous Journey move. You assign a job to three party members, they roll, you resolve the roll, and BAM, you’re at the place you wanted to be. Perilous Wilds expands on this by adding elements such as weather, hunting, and terrain to consider when traveling.

Dungeon World Fighters

In addition to additional mechanisms for a grittier, more dangerous travel system, the game updates the mechanisms for hirelings and animal companions. Now this isn’t something that I really think was a necessary change from the original game, so I don’t know that I would use those mechanics when playing with Perilous Wilds, but it’s still an option that’s present, and who knows – maybe I would enjoy managing hirelings in a different way. It’s certainly one aspect of the game that I’ve never been amazing at. A new technique might just be the thing I need.

Finally (and this is probably my favorite part of Perilous Wilds), the expansion includes a lot of really cool tips for designing the game world. It emphasizes cooperation among the player and GM as they go around and expand on each region of the setting, adding interesting locations, defining aspects of the language and culture, all while still leaving the important blanks that are part of Dungeon World’s GM principles. One technique in particular I want to try out is the game’s method of improvising a dungeon on the fly – I personally am not great at describing or imagining floor plans, so having a method of making it up as I go whenever the players enter a location I didn’t anticipate would be really helpful.

Dungeon World Wizard

The final supplement I’m interested in trying out is Funnel World, one which I do not own but have heard of somewhat recently. Funnel World gives players the tools to run an adventure at Level Zero, before the characters have achieved their classes and become legitimate adventurers. These squishy zeroes are not intentionally designed but rather are rolled up using 3D6 like old school RPGs. This applies to their stats, race, personality traits, and belongings, and each player makes a number of these randomly-generated characters as many of them will end up dying.

Characters in a funnel adventure are quite likely to die, but those who survive can go on to become full-fledged Dungeon World characters. A funnel is a cool way to do a sort of prequel or origin story, showing the humble background of the folks who eventually rise up to become the heroic adventurers of the game. And because they are randomly generated, you can end up with some unique character types that may not otherwise pop up when playing the game more traditionally. I think it would be a lot of fun to run a funnel adventure with my players that then transitioned into a full campaign.

If I’m ever feeling really experimental, I could try utilizing all these supplements together to create a gritty campaign about the toils of the adventuring life. The group may start out as a squad of nameless soldiers, level zero villagers who undergo a funnel to determine which ones become player characters. Once they rise through the ranks, these heroes must overcome the trials of the road to lead their squads of monster hunters to the lairs of mighty beasts. Of course, this would require me to combine rules from three different supplements, which could potentially cancel out the narrative-focused, rules-light nature of the game. If it became too complicated for myself or my players to have so many new mechanics to juggle, it might not be worth the effort. Particularly if any of the supplements have rules that do not gel well together.

Dungeon World Tavern

All that being said, I’d also gladly run a classic Dungeon World campaign with none of the additional rules. While I’d love to be able to try out some of these supplements (particularly the one I have already paid for), this is my favorite RPG and I’d be glad for any chance to revisit it at the table. One thing I have never done is run the game to the point of hitting level ten, and I think it might be interesting to engage with those mechanisms. Having the players train up apprentices or doing a time skip and having their offspring adventure together could lead to some interesting story possibilities. Alternatively, I could allow the players to continue leveling past ten with their existing characters and use compendium classes to extend their play time – I’ve used compendium classes before but they didn’t get a ton of attention. In a game where the characters gain many levels in these classes, they could add a lot more to the game.

I’m less driven to participate in a Dungeon World campaign as a player, mostly because that’s the experience I’ve most recently had with the game. I enjoyed finally getting to have my own character in the story, and I felt like the character I played had a pretty satisfying arc that I didn’t see coming at the beginning of the campaign. I played a ranger, which ended up being a lot of fun for me. I’d never really specialized in archery in a tabletop before, and it’s something I will likely want to do again in the future.

The next time I have a character in the game, though, I will probably want to do something pretty different from my most recent character. I really like the concept of the barbarian class, as it allows the player to insert a lot of fictional details into the world and earn experience points at the same time. I get to level up faster AND tell you cool stuff about my character’s unique culture? Yes please! On top of that, the barbarian’s reckless pursuit of his or her hunger combined with the ability to lop off limbs and send enemies flying thanks to the forceful and messy tags makes the character a physical force to be reckoned with. Very different from my ranger Pascal, who spent her sweet time hiding in the shadows and picking dudes off with carefully-placed arrows.

Dungeon World Bard

That’s gonna be it for me today, adventurers, but I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! Have you played Dungeon World before? Experienced any of the supplements I described above? What’s your favorite class to play as, or your favorite memory from the game? I’m a huge fan of this RPG and can wax eloquently (or not-so-eloquently) about it for a long time, so feel free to strike up a conversation!

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