[Dungeon World] Two-Player Purple Worm Graveyard

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[Dungeon World] Two-Player Purple Worm Graveyard
« on: September 17, 2011, 11:29:02 PM »
Cross-posted to Story Games: http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=15089

So, I've been wanting to try Dungeon World since the Hack first came out, but just today got a chance to do so as the inaugural edition of a new “RPG of the Month Club” I just started in which I use members of my bi-weekly Pathfinder RPG group and other interested friends as guinea pigs to try out one-shots of the many and varied systems and settings I obsess over. (Funnily, I planned this before reading about Try a New RPG Month, but it works.)

I used the Redbook rules and playbooks. I haven't played Apocalypse World but I have read it, and I've also read several versions of the DW Hack. I ran the Apocalypse D&D version of Purple Worm Graveyard tweaked for DW, with a front/grim portents I came up with involving Worm God cultists that followed the adventurers to the graveyard (hoping to let them do the dirty work of clearing the way to the altar). I gave the players a incomplete hand-drawn map of the dungeon as part of the hook. I took Jason Morningstar's suggestion for DW one-shots and had them level up every 5XP, which was a great idea and enabled a fuller exploration of the system (although you need to do some scaling on the fly, which I failed to do).

We ended up having only two players – a miscommunication about the date left us a player short – but we went ahead anyway. Gabriel is one of the players in my Pathfinder group, who had previously never played tabletop games other than Warhammer Quest and lots of familiarity with CRPGs. Beth has no previous experience with RPGs of any kind, but is hilarious, creative and always up for anything, so I had a feeling she'd get a kick out of playing (I was right).

Our small party of two was Annika the dwarven fighter, wielding a gigantic claymore (sword + reach + piercing + percise) played by Beth, and Bav Morta the elven wizard, played by Gabriel. We had some pretty complementary bonds – Annika thought that Bav Morta wasn't tough enough, and Bav Morta thought that Annika knew nothing of the world. Based on class-specific questions I came up with (inspired by Goblin Hole and the other adventure starters), Annika wanted to reclaim her family honour after her brother disappeared seeking the legendary Purple Worm Graveyard; Bav Morta was seeking a magical lantern rumoured to be in the graveyard, one of many artifacts she was after as part of a secret project.

I started them right at the entrance to the dungeon, and they entered immediately. While Bav Morta inspected the warning-spouting magical mouth, Annika impetuously went into the first room, setting off a trap in which statues moved and blocked the exits, releasing some fire beetles. She was attacked and one of them latched onto her head. Beth, in spite of having no experience, was very eager to put in creative input, and so asked if there could be a pool of water in the room. I wasn't sure how to react at first but I just decided to say yes and encourage her creativity, in the spirit of “leave blanks,” and it worked out pretty well. She dunks her head into the pool of water, drowning two of the fire beetles (water always beats fire, after all).

Bav Morta blasted her way through the trapped door and squeezed past the statue into the room, but attracted the attenton of two of the maggot nagas from the crypt down the hall, who approached speaking in mimicked voices (including the voice of Annika's missing brother). Meanwhile, Annika dispatched the remaining fire beetles. Using the invisibility spell on Annika, they staged an ambush for the nagas in hopes of barring them from entering the room. Unfortuantely, she missed and they burst through, pinning her under the statue in the process. Annika successfully discerned reality and determined that the creatures were certainly not her missing brother.

Bav Morta spouts lore about the nagas and fails; I used a hilariously brilliant rules hack I read here or on the DW forums (can't remember who to give credit to, sorry). I gave her completely false knowledge – that the weak spot on maggot nagas was their tails – but told her that if she acted on it or convinced somebody else to act on it, then Bav Morta could mark XP. Sure enough, Annika acts on it and chops the tail off one of them, doing minimal damage but giving Bav Morta XP.

The other one almost kills Bav Morta, and so Annika (again based on Beth's off-the-cuff contributions to the fiction) picks up her wounded companion and dives into the pool of water, following it into a network of tunnels cut by underground streams. Conveniently, they both level up at this point and regain lost health, but they get lost in the tunnels. Annika consults the spirit of her ancestors for guidance, and they lead her towards the skeleton of her brother, lying in the mushroom garden room, picked clean by maggot nagas.

I had made a somewhat awkward/boring move in the tunnels in which Bav Morta caught her leg in a tangle of underwater roots, but it turned out interestingly when Annika swam down to free her but lost her heirloom sword in the current. I had it wash up amidst a cluster of shrieker mushrooms in the mushroom garden room, so that when she retrieved it they screamed and attracted a gray ooze. They tried to flee, but it catches up to Bav Morta, scalding her feet with acid. Annika runs back and defends Bav Morta while the wizard retreats and blasts it dead with magic missiles (teamwork!).

Ignoring the healing acid pool entirely, they proceeded to an ornate door leading into the graveyard itself. Bav Morta turns Annika invisible (this was a pretty powerful move they used numerous times). Annika discerned realities and realized that the Worm God cultists were now approaching the graveyard to perform some kind of dark ritual. She scouted further into the cavern to watch until they arrive, and then Bav Morta rushed into the room and incinerated the entire group of cultists with a fireball (I made them too weak). Annika began to collect purple ivory while Bav Morta approached the altar to claim the mysterious lantern (her macguffin), attracting a swarm of giant rats. Gabriel decided that Bav Morta was completely dazzled by the lantern, and had her ignore the oncoming threat – great roleplaying! Annika dropped her loot and waded into the rats, killing half of them with one stroke but getting bitten and diseased in the process. She snapped Bav Morta out of it, who then cast a sleep spell, rendering the other rats unconscious.

Through some failed roll (and due to the time they spent in the graveyard), a gigantic purple worm emerged from the middle of the chamber. The idea was that they would flee with the loot, but by this point they were level 3 and powerful enough to defeat it. In typical D&D fashion, they stuck around to fight. I decided the worm was blind and used tremorsense, so they tried to throw rocks to distract it away from them. Annika failed and was swallowed whole; Bav Morta was successful but got swiped by the worm's poison stinger (I chose a poison effect from the book arbitrarily on the spot, the -2 damage one, but it should have been something much more deadly). Annika sliced her way out of the worm's throat, hurting it badly and Bav Morta telepathically told her to dive for cover while hurling a fireball at the worm. The spell tore a hole in the fabric of reality.

I was going to open a window into the past to show Annika her brother's brutal death, but on the spur of the moment I showed them an alternate reality in which her brother had succeeded in his quest, greedily heaping piles of purple ivory in his arms and whooping with glee. This completely unintentionally became a character development moment, as Annika realized that her brother had died needlessly out of his lust for gold... then the tear in reality snapped shut and the fireball exploded, killing the worm. Annika took some splash damage but survived, and decided that she would take just one piece of purple worm ivory as a token memorial and as proof of her adventure, but left the rest behind. Bav Morta contented herself with the lantern artifact, which was damaged but still usable for whatever scheme she was hatching. They left the dungeon by a more direct route, past the wormsign inscriptions (which they ignored at the behest of spirit guidance), destroying the maggot nagas on the way out, who tried to ambush them as is their wont.

Overall, the session was a lot of fun and I think all three of us became comfortable with the rules very quickly as we played. A few thoughts:

They had a lot of spirit guidance (from the heirloom sword and the spell), which requires clever GM moves to avoid it becoming too much of a guided tour of the dungeon.

I would consider not give a moves list to the players for the first session, to avoid just looking over the moves list and deciding what to do, which happened fairly frequently... this would help emphasize that you can do anything in the fiction, and only sometimes will we roll on it.

I'm not sure how to handle attacking multiple creatures with one roll, when not using an area effect? For the rats, I used the overflow damage to kill more rats (treating them as a swarm), but for the fire beetles Annika wanted to slash several at once, which made sense in the fiction, so I just used one attack roll and one damage roll, which was fine but seemed a bit too easy.

It's a bit hard to remember to use impending doom, to come up with fresh ways of showing signs, etc when discern realities fails (I just used those opportunities to advance the grim portents generally, thinking of it as time wasted by the characters).

A big challenge (but also what makes the game so enjoyable and engaging) is coming up with good, interesting, generative hard moves and 7-9 compromises (only so many times you can make somebody fall over or whatever).

Contrary to what it says in the Redbook, I don't think DW is particularly beginner-unfriendly... if anything, I think the lack of preconstructed notions about how RPGs work helps produce interesting gameplay. I started by explaining tabletop fantasy role-playing in the most general of terms (using the classic Conan/Gandalf/Dracula and Orc & Pie examples), and then just worked through the rules of DW as we did character creation. I mean, really, once they realize just to tell you whatever they want their character do to, the game pretty much runs itself (figuratively speaking).

I was really thrown by the “what is about to happen” question in discern realities. It feels weird, and it's difficult to keep it within the bounds of the fictional world.

Truth be told, I would love to just play an ongoing campaign of DW instead of my regular Pathfinder campaign, but you know how it is (and I do love Pathfinder, don't get me wrong). Even just having read the DW rules, I've been incorporating tricks into my PF campaign, especially in terms of making combat interesting and monsters come alive.