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Dungeon World

a book review

product linkDungeon World
authorSage LaTorra and Adam Koebel
date reviewed2018.01.12
genreGame
isbn9788494494703

This book is a self-contained set of rules for a fantasy role-playing game similar to Dungeons and Dragons. Rather than providing hundreds of pages of baroque rules and descriptions of the workings of things, it offers a rules-light, fun-heavy approach that is just what the gaming world needs. Here's why:

  • All those baroque descriptions tend to kill game-play, confuse newcomers, and set up conflicts that have to be unwound.
  • By focusing on structure instead of story, you get into rules-lawyering, meta-gaming, boring debates, and so on.
  • Creating anything, especially satisfying adventure stories, becomes harder than it needs to be.

Here are some amazing examples. The monster known as the Xorn has existed in D&D for decades, but it never really fit into any of the game's many conceptual classes of monsters (e.g. was it an earth elemental or an organic monster, and what did that mean for the many ornately-crafted types of weapon and magic meant to deal with such things). The Dungeon World version is entirely playable and interesting and becomes downright vital. Here's the entire, brilliant description of the monster from Dungeon World:

Dwarf-made elemental garbage muncher. Shaped like a trash bin with a radius of arms to feed excess rock and stone into its gaping maw. They eat stone and excrete light and heat. Perfect for operating a mine or digging out a quarry. Once one gets lots in the sewers below a city, though, or in the foundation of a castle? You're in deep trouble. They'll eat and eat until you've got nothing left but to collapse the place down on it and move somewhere else. Instinct: To eat.

This description tells you everything you need to know, and suggests myriad ways of inserting the monster in a meaningful (and therefore memorable) way. The whole book is set up this way.

Here's another example, on dealing with character death that highlights one of the craziest examples of how Advanced Dungeons and Dragons inserted a needless stochastic variable into many places that it didn't need it and kept it out of places where it belonged, such as what happens when you die.

When you’re dying you catch a glimpse of what lies beyond the Black Gates of Death’s Kingdom (the GM will describe it). Then roll (just roll, +nothing—yeah, Death doesn’t care how tough or cool you are). On a 10+ you’ve cheated death—you’re in a bad spot but you’re still alive. On a 7–9 Death will offer you a bargain. Take it and stabilize or refuse and pass beyond the Black Gates into whatever fate awaits you. On a miss, your fate is sealed. You’re marked as Death’s own and you’ll cross the threshold soon. The GM will tell you when.

And finally, here's how to figure out what treasure a given monster had.

Monsters, much like adventurers, collect shiny useful things. When the players search the belongings of a monster (be they on their person or tucked away somewhere) describe them honestly.

If the monster has accumulated some wealth you can roll that randomly. Start with the monster’s damage die, modified if the monster is:

Hoarder: roll damage die twice, take higher result

Far from home: add at least one ration (usable by anyone with similar taste)

Magical: some strange item, possibly magical

Divine: a sign of a deity (or deities)

Planar: something not of this earth

Lord over others: +1d4 to the roll

Ancient and noteworthy: +1d4 to the roll

Roll the monster’s damage die plus any added dice to find the monster’s treasure:

1: A few coins, 2d8 or so

2: An item useful to the current situation

3: Several coins, about 4d10

4: A small item (gem, art) of considerable value, worth as much as 2d10×10 coins, 0 weight

5: Some minor magical trinket

6: Useful information (in the form of clues, notes, etc.)

7: A bag of coins, 1d4×100 or thereabouts. 1 weight per 100.

8: A very valuable small item (gem, art) worth 2d6×100, 0 weight

9: A chest of coins and other small valuables. 1 weight but worth 3d6×100 coins.

10: A magical item or magical effect

11: Many bags of coins for a total of 2d4×100 or so

12: A sign of office (crown, banner) worth at least 3d4×100 coins

13: A large art item worth 4d4×100 coins, 1 weight

14: A unique item worth at least 5d4×100 coins

15: All the information needed to learn a new spell and roll again

16: A portal or secret path (or directions to one) and roll again

17: Something relating to one of the characters and roll again

18: A hoard: 1d10×1000 coins and 1d10×10 gems worth 2d6×100 each

This again focuses on the story and removes the deadly-dull process of figuring out a monster's treasure from the process. In traditional D&D (especially AD&D) this was a killer; the party's fresh from a fight and now this?

I liked this book so much I retrofit a lot of these ideas into my own edit of B/X D&D.

👍🏼 recommended

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