Gamemasters new to Dungeon World often ask about scripted adventures and how they should prep for running the game. Those of us that enjoy the powered by the apocalypse games have discovered that they play well without the need for pre-designed adventures and require very little prep work. In fact many of us have come to realize that more often than not, the less prep work and the more off-the-cuff, the better!
I’ve had several GM’s tell me that they feel more comfortable with detailed notes and a solid adventure outline. Sometimes they aren’t confident in their improve skills and other times they’re just used to their preferred methods and techniques. Since I began playing Dungeon World however, I’ve found that adventure outlines, scripted stores, and other prep tends to get in the way of the interesting way in which the game unfolds organically. I’ll share with you several of my discoveries that have convinced me to throw out the prep work and the designed adventures and simply embrace the “play to find out” concept in my games.
Reasons to forget the script:
It tends to limit your options. One of the things I’ve noticed is that the more information a GM includes in their adventure outline/script the more they need to keep players “on track” with their preconceived notion of how the adventure needs to proceed. Focusing on the destination oftentimes blinds a GM to the many interesting options and opportunities that present themselves on the journey.
On the fly stats are easy. There really isn’t a big need to “stat-out” monsters and NPC’s in Dungeon World. The only thing you really need is to have an idea of the damage they might inflict and maybe how tough they are. Damage isn’t too hard to figure out (pick a die type and maybe add a +1 or so). I only choose to inflict HP damage maybe 50% of the time. Usually my monster attacks do other things or I just tell the player to take “x” hit points damage. Heck, I don’t really worry about monster hit points either, when it seems like they’ve taken enough they go down. My rule of thumb is that a minion type creature goes down with a single decent hit, a lesser creature takes one really good hit or a couple mediocre hits, and so on. For me the only real “stat” I need is an understanding of how the creature works fictionally. Is it big and tough? Fast and agile? Just picture what it does and how it looks when fighting.
Players can do the work for you. Some of “my” best plot-lines and adventures emerged from listening to the players and building on their creativity. Although I frequently ask players questions about the world their characters are in some of my players don’t feel like they can creatively contribute. So more often than not I just simply listen to their table talk and answer their questions, building on the things they say, the things they assume, and their speculation. Not only does this cut down on my work but it also gains me a considerable amount of player buy-in for the adventure!
Prepping your game the Dungeon World way:
The above reasons aside, if you’re anything like me you still probably want to run a game armed with a little bit of prep work to hopefully make the game easier. Not only that sometimes you just want to scratch your own creative itch. So here are a few things that can absolutely help you run your game that you can create ahead of time:
Set elements. I always have several interesting “sets” in mind (as in “movie sets”). Various cool and exciting locations where things are sure to happen. These sets are big enough to accommodate a variety of different scene types but small enough to drop in just about anywhere. Things like a torture chamber, an overgrown cemetery, a nearly collapsed bridge over whitewater rapids. Any of these may come into play for an exciting scene. When I prep them I simply picture the location in my mind and jot down a few bullet points regarding the look of the set. I pay particular attention to elements that could eventually be used with GM moves such as the rotting planks of the bridge (which may collapse), or the rusty iron maiden in the corner (which a character could be thrown into).
Lists of names. You can never have too many lists of names. Things with names are always more “concrete” in the players’ minds and make it appear that you’ve done tons of prep. I like to have three sets of lists. My Person List which includes a bunch of NPC names usually by race or culture, a few epic sounding historical events, and a list of organizations such as guilds, temples, and secret societies etc. My Place List has settlements ranging from tiny villages to mighty cities and a bunch of geographical place names such as Dobson’s Creek, Sigil Rock, Waterstone Downs, or the Black Abbey. Finally my Thing List has a variety of items listed, from magic swords to sacred relics. I pull names from these lists almost every time a player asks a question or when they tell me something about the world, “From your descriptions it sounds like your druid was raised in the Red Rock Badlands and is part of the Order of the Storm.”
Dungeon World truly is a game that works incredibly well when you simply “play to find out what happens.” It took me awhile to change my habits and embrace this paradigm but the effort has been completely worth it and my game has improved noticeably. These days my focus is on the players and what they say, not buried in notes, a module, or a GM screen. And after all, aren’t the best conversations the ones where everyone’s attention is focused on each other?