Dungeon World’s Secrets Revealed
The orc sneers at you from the doorway and struts into the room a bristling mass of muscle and sinew and a giant barbed metal blade. Those barbs, you realize with a shudder, will turn inside out anything the beast manages to hit. You had defeated his goblin servant easily enough but this orc is obviously a skilled and experienced fighter. What do you do?”
“Uhh, I Hack and Slash1?” says the player.
“Ok,” says the GM. “Roll for it.”
“I rolled a 9, with my bonus it’s an 11. I deal… 6 points of damage, piercing.”
“Ok, you slip past his guard and connect, kill him where he stands.”
“Allright! Man, that was easier than the goblin, he didn’t even touch me.”
Dungeon World’s Mechanics Are Broken
That was a fictional account of a Dungeon World session but it does resemble those I’ve run. Dungeon World, played by numbers alone, relying on dice and stats, is a fundamentally broken game. The game is one of shared fiction and most importantly, fiction as mechanic.The most basic combat move, Hack and Slash1, doesn’t consider how dangerous your opponent is. You have the same chance to hit, and be hit by, a lowly goblin or a ferocious dragon.
The game is not, however, a game of dice and stats. This is the beauty of the game that makes me love it so much even as I play it poorly in practice. The game is one of shared fiction and most importantly, fiction as mechanic.
Fiction as Mechanic: The Missing Piece
Fiction as mechanic is something that I grapple with on a theoretical level and fail at during actual play4. It is something that I wish to improve and by doing so I’d like to share my theories with my readers so we can improve together.
The mechanics of the game are not actually broken. Fiction is the mechanic which “fixes” the rest. The game is designed so that the players and GM can make fiction impact the game in a deeper way than would be possible by having a completely balanced rules system where descriptions are only “fluff”.
Dungeon World is in this way a very meaty game for Game Masters. It challenges us to compensate for those “broken” mechanics and it isn’t always obvious how this should be done.
So, to help me and to hopefully help you, my reader(s), I’m going to be writing a number of articles on applying the principle of Fiction as Mechanic in Dungeon World. I will focus primarily on specific applications to reduce things into bite-sized chunks.
The first of these articles, using multiple Moves1 to add difficulty to tasks, is already in the works. I’m also planning a number of articles on combat with specific monsters as illustrations on how to incorporate fiction into the game.
1) Moves and the Hack and Slash and Defy Danger move are rules from Dungeon World, a roleplaying game by Adam Koebel and Sage Latorra. Dungeon World ©MMXII Sage Latorra and Adam Koebel. It was released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. You can find more about the game on Dungeon World’s Official Website.
2) Baby Orc art by MicreroFurioso used without permission under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. You should find the original here and his main Deviant Art site here.