Monday, January 20, 2014

Dungeon World campaign ... flexibility, fate points and fun

So I have been running a weekly Dungeon World campaign since last summer (2nd week of August) and it has gone very well for the most part.  We have had our ups and downs like any RPG campaign but overall it is one of the most enjoyable games I've ever run and the players seem pretty happy with it. 

We have hit a point now though where I am beginning to wonder if A) the system was really meant to accommodate a game this long (20+ sessions) and B) just how long OUR game can last.  I mean I really have no idea if I'll still be running this next fall or if we will be done by March. 

The game is our own campaign setting, Dark Ages Europe with a heavy dose of D&D.  It is a fully sandbox style game where the players have a heavy amount of influence in the storyline, etc. and I have major plot points planned out and then just leave it to the party to decide where they are going and what they are doing.  I use the rules of the game to make my moves and plan my fronts with some of my own little modifications.  For us it has worked well.

My mods I don't even know if they are worth talking about, they are mostly based on my own group and how they play and how I like the pace of my game to flow.  In essence it is mostly about me loosely tracking their failures and then sort of keeping a running tally of that to govern my fronts.  Relying less on the DW rules for fronts and more just on my own hodge-podge system of tossing tiny plastic skulls into a cup and then sort of weighing my front advancement against their actions and how many failures they have had.

I have a mechanic which I call my "fate point" mechanic, stolen from FATE but with my own twists.  Essentially its a modified token-benefit system.  I give the players all three poker chips and those can be used primarily to escape an untimely death, but also for other things.  I do not allow them to be spent for extra dice or bonus dice, etc. though.  So for example the PC is dropped to zero hit points by the dark knight, I ask the player "do you have any fate points" and if they have three of their own (which is how much I give them at each major plot point they resolve, and they don't carry over) then they can spend them to save their character.  So in the case of the example, the dark knight slashes them, they fall.  The party thinks they are dead.  Then after the combat the party notices they are still breathing and they somehow survived.  Then it is just governed on the individual situation.  It might be a case where they have an ongoing condition for a few days, or whatever, just depends.

If the player does not have the required fate points then I have them leave the room.  I then conduct a blind totally anonymous poll of the party.  I ask them two questions:  could player character "x" possibly survive this and do you want them to live?  I pass out index cards with the two boxes and then they check them accordingly.  If the vote is unanimous in favor then I ask if anyone has a fate point donation.  If not then the death was final.  I ask the player to come back into the room and then give instructions accordingly.  So far I have only had to do this once.  Again if a player falls into a volcano, or has their head bitten off by a dragon or something crazy like that I would just adjudicate the death as normal.  I told all the players that from the get go.  To me I do this because DW is an old school game and very hack and slashy, so someone could easily lose a 8th or 9th level character to a bunch of goblins in theory.  So given that, I wanted to make sure that I didn't constantly have to fudge my rolls, etc.  This allows me to throw some tough encounters at the party and yet it allows them to keep their PCs alive if they practice smart gameplay.  This way I don't have to worry about random meaningless PC death.  Which could be a problem if one wanted to run a deep story driven game that didn't play out with every player losing 3 or 4 characters along the way.

The fate points can also be used as a narrative/story benefit.  I will let players use them to gain a social situation advantage, etc.  Mostly minor things.  But for example a player was once about to be discovered as a spy and they utilized three of their fate points (as well as some good ideas on their own part) to side step the discovery.  They were vulnerable to normal death after that though.

Overall we have had three PC deaths during the course of the campaign and out of 25 or so sessions I don't think that is bad.  I think it would be much higher if I was playing standard rules as written.  Perhaps more than a dozen PC deaths would have occurred, I can't say for sure though because maybe they'd have played even more conservatively. 

For me the fate point mechanic has worked very well, but I do not expect it would work that way with many games. 

Some other oddities of my game includes me letting the players have quite a bit of leeway on what they re doing.  I have run the game at times with six players which I wouldn't recommend, but it somehow worked.   One of my methods of dealing with that was to let players engage in more actions between themselves without me even being part of it.  Now they weren't off doing adventures with combat and NPC interactions, but they were talking in character, making plans, etc. while I would be adjudicating something with a specific player.  So it gave them things to do while I was busy helping specific players.

Thus out of that experience my players are now very ok with doing all sorts of RP on the side.  And still I will frequently be adjudicating something with a player and some of the other players will be at the other end of the table engaging in "in-character" conversation, etc.  For me that works ok and it helps them keep their character development and story flowing, etc. Some DMs would not like that though and I think for many groups it would probably be distracting.

I've done other things too like been liberal with custom moves, etc.  I have several players over level 10 and we've done our own custom "compendium" classes, and we also have players multi-classing after level 10, etc. 

So far this has really been running like an anti-3rd/4th ed. era D&D game.  Not as fiddly as 2nd ed. D&D and not as campy and player death generating as a 1st. ed. D&D game.

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