Initial Impressions of Dungeon World

Playing, RPG

I played Dungeon World last night and had a lot of fun. It was the first time for everyone in the group so we ran into a few rough patches since we’re not familiar with the system yet, but none were so bad that we stopped enjoying the game. I wanted to note some of my initial impressions of the system while they’re still fresh in my mind.

The basic miss/hit/strong hit mechanic is a lot of fun and works well to support the dungeon-delving situation. When were were using the mechanics well things seemed to have a good, fun flow. I felt like there was a lot of room for creative descriptions and vivid imagery, but also a strong mechanical foundation that was well aligned with what we were trying to do.

I like the “describe what you’re doing, and if it matches a move we’ll roll those dice” mechanic that AW and DW use, but some of the moves are more natural than others. Spout Lore seemed the clunkiest to me. There didn’t seem to be a way to naturally work in the fiction that would translate into Spouting Lore, it felt a lot more like I was pressing the Spout Lore button and having a power go off (I was strongly focused on this because my INT was highlighted as a non-wizard character and this move was my only way to get experience for that stat). The most natural way I was able to do it was to say a lot of “I heard about this when I was in …”, but that still felt pretty awkward. I find it hard to telegraph that I’m angling for this move because the “fiction” that the move corresponds to is so abstract. It’s easy come up with things to do that will obviously translate into Hack and Slash, but “probing my memory” is hard to make into something that would be naturally foregrounded with my normal storytelling instincts.

The fighter’s Bend Bars, Lift Gates move on the other hand was a lot of fun. In the first room we entered in the dungeon there was ancient magic that was trying to keep us from using our weapons, but my fighter wasn’t going to tolerate that kind of nonsense. After some initial frustrations with more mundane approaches, I was able to turn to Bend Bars, Lift Gates as my “all right, it’s time to stop screwing around!” move and start smashing stuff and eventually convinced the magic to back off. The scene turned fun and the situation helped my character concept to gel — when I first started out he was mostly just a seen-it-all mercenary guy without a personality. Now I know he’s really ornery and won’t give in to anyone or anything.

The jump in hitpoints going from first to second level was pretty dramatic. When we first started playing my fighter only had 8 hitpoints and it felt gritty and dangerous, especially since I had been taken down to only 4 after a few hits. But leveling up gave me 7 more, and it felt a little incongruous. The fictional situation hadn’t really changed, but suddenly the world was half as dangerous as it used to be. I know this is kind of a D&D thing, but I’ve never played D&D so I don’t have any nostalgia working against the feeling that the psychological signals this was sending didn’t make any sense.

The idea that I could use the Multiclass Dabbler advancement to pick up the Wizard’s Spellbook, Prepare Spells, and Cast a Spell moves seemed a little strange to me. It feels like I’d be taking the Wizard’s entire shtick if I did that. Maybe there’s some subtlety I’m missing, but that feels like a bigger deal than dabbling to me, and like a bigger deal than some of the other available advancements. I suppose they’re not all meant to be equal, but the difference in degree felt a bit odd to me.

In some ways the Improved Weapon advancement is a little odd, too, since many of the enhancements seem like they would be hard to see developing “in play” on an inanimate object. I also made some of my chargen-time enhancement decisions based on aesthetic decisions, so I’m not inclined to change them during play — I decided that I didn’t like the image of a sword with hooks and spikes so I didn’t pick that one (even though the mechanical effect was appealing), but for as long as I have the Improved Weapon advancement available to me it’s going to feel like I need to constantly revisit that decision. In theory I like the idea of being able to pick an extra enhancement when I level up, but the particular choices I’m looking at are making this feel less cool in practice than I think it ought to.

I’m not really feeling the “mark XP when you use highlighted skills” mechanic. I know there’s been some commentary on the net about other people not liking this subsystem either, and I’ll probably need to check out some of those discussions. I think part of it is that focusing on different stats in Apocalypse World can lead the drama in different and interesting directions, but the dungeon exploring premise of Dungeon World already focuses play quite a bit, so the highlighted stats seem more arbitrarily mechanical without a lot of story payoff — I’m still a badass fighter exploring a dungeon and chopping heads off goblins: highlighting my INT will cause me to Spout Lore more often but it probably won’t have a meaningful impact on the actual events of play. At least that’s how I felt in the first session.

I’m really excited to be playing the game and am really looking forward to the next session next week.

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