Last Friday night, we were scheduled to play Apocalypse World, but two of the players couldn’t make it, so I was set to cancel. But the other two players said, “Well, can’t we get together and play some boardgames or something?” To which I replied, “Sure! C’mon over!”1
When Chris and Elliott arrived, I gave them some options about what game we would play, and Elliott said he wanted to try Dungeon World2. Chris was okay with that, so I grabbed my DW kit3, handed them the character sheets, and spread a Noteboard on the table to start mapping.
Because both players were familiar with AW, it was pretty quick bringing them up to speed on the DW rules – I just had to explain the differences. We got through character creation – including asking the provocative questions4 that I used to build the adventure – in about half an hour. The wound up playing a fighter and a cleric, both of which were dwarves. They were in this strange land, where dwarves were pretty much unknown, to find a lost dwarf temple and the secret artifact it held.
The cleric had decided that his god was the Delver of What Lies Below, and his order had a tradition of seeking out lost and hidden lore. He had come to this far land where dwarves used to live seeking an ancient temple of his god which was supposed to contain the Golden Proof: a footprint, in solid gold, of where his god last walked on5 the earth. The fighter had met him on the journey while he was fighting snow demons in the mountains, and decided to accompany him, as his clan had been wiped out by a mysterious creature years ago and he had nothing better to do6. After crossing the see, they came to a port city, found out that any dwarves who had once lived here were long gone, and set out across the hills, where they were chased by werejaguars. They finally arrived at the Jungle of Xotoq, and found the first marker statue that points the way to the temple.
And that’s where we started play.
Because they had decided to start in the jungle, just like my first time running DW, I used the same challenge as that adventure, and had assassin vines grab them while they were clearing off the marker statue. The cleric managed to petition his god to gain three words that would stun the thing before it dragged the fighter off into the jungle, and they were able to clean off the statue, looking for the directions to find the temple. Unfortunately, the directions that should have been at the base of the statue were cut away, and replaced with the phrase, “The Grey Ones Rise!”
Lacking solid directions, they headed off into the jungle, arriving at a deep chasm with a river running through it. They cut down a tree to bridge the chasm, but the cleric had some trouble crossing. Fortunately, they had roped themselves together, and the fighter managed to keep them both from falling into the river thirty feet below. Unfortunately, falling off the log while roped to someone standing on the edge of the chasm meant the cleric swung like a pendulum into the rock wall.
The fighter hauled him up, a little worse for wear, and he tried again, crossing fairly easily this time. Which is when the elves popped up and started shooting at them. The cleric was crouched down on the side of the chasm with the elves, while the fighter was still back on the far side. The two characters had each taken a bond about how the other character wasn’t able to take care of himself and needed protection, so the fighter gave the rope a mighty yank and pulled the cleric back into the chasm for another pendulum swing into the cliff face and another desperate haul back up top, all under fire from the elves.
At this point, I decided to up the stakes, and brought out the elven arcanist, who started laying about with blasts of eldritch lightning. Our heroes scampered into cover, but lacked any ranged weapons to shoot back at the elves. With no other recourse, the cleric stood up and basically said, “Stop doing that!”
Turns out the elves had been trying to keep everyone away from the lost temple for generations, but had a prophecy7 that dwarves would one day come and lift the curse on the temple. Curse? Why yes, the curse of the Grey Ones, of course, that drove the dwarves away in the ancient times.
The elves healed the dwarves, gave them some food, and let them speak to the Mothers, four ancient elves that had entwined themselves in the roots of a massive tree, becoming the god8 of the village. The Mothers started out kind of spooky, but soon became a little bit comical as they debated what they should tell the dwarves and began bickering amongst themselves.
In the end, the dwarves learned that the temple was overrun by twisted dwarves with psychic powers that could control lesser beings9. And they got guided to the base of the trail leading up to the temple. But the Mothers didn’t know how to lift the curse.
Half-way up the switchbacking trail to the temple, our heroes came across a pack of giant rats10 blocking the path. The fighter, well-concealed and on point, let the cleric, with his terrible, terrible stealth roll, act as bait to lure the rats forward. The fighter then attacked the rats on the flank, but was beset by vicious whispering voices in his head. The fight was nasty, but they managed to kill the rats, and the fighter threw a huge rock up at a concealed cave entrance, dropping the two derros who had been controlling them to the path, where they didn’t last long.
Searching the bodies of the derros, the cleric found that each had a small bundle of wrapped dwarf skin, containing a symbol of the Delver of What Lies Below, pierced by a red iron nail. Spouting some lore, he remembered old stories of how the Delver of What Lies Below was once the Keeper of What Lies Below, until a heretical sect decided that revealing the secrets was better than hiding them. This temple, however, must be a remnant of the Keeper’s faithful.
They followed the twisting cavern the derro had been hiding in down into the heart of the temple: the labyrinth. There, they fought a derro riding on an ogre, killing the derro and freeing the ogre to rampage through the temple. This, while useful, did raise the alarm, so they raced through the labyrinth until they got to a chamber with an ancient dwarf ghost, who told them that one of the exits led up to light, one down to dark, and one to death. I was working out a riddle to force the dwarves to choose a passage when the cleric cast a spell to let his god guide him in the right direction.
So, down they went, into the centre of the labyrinth, pursued by heavy, stomping footsteps. The found a door at the bottom of a spiral ramp and the fighter smashed it open. Inside was a horrible, giant dwarf, pierced by hundreds of red iron spikes, weeping blood from empty eye sockets, with the symbol of the Keeper burning above its head11. It started tossing them around pretty handily, but the fighter kept its attention while the cleric climbed up its spines to shove his holy symbol into the burning holy symbol above its head.
There was the requisite explosion, and the deflating of the giant down to normal dwarf size, and then our heroes saw the Golden Proof and, beside it, another footprint in the rock – this one of red iron. So, the fighter took his axe to the Iron Proof and destroyed it, bringing the attention of the Delver to this lost outpost of the Keeper, slaying the twisted dwarves who had worshiped the Keeper, and freeing the temple from the curse.
Everyone had a lot of fun with the adventure12, but I liked it for a different reason. My intention for this evening was to run an entire adventure, start to finish, in one session, based on initial set-up by the players, and shaped by the DW system. I was very pleased that I was able to construct a sensible13 narrative, build the action, throw several different kinds of challenges at the players, and wrap it up in a satisfying manner. All improvised, all in one session.
That, my friends, is the strength of Dungeon World, in my opinion.
Chris and Elliott are hanging on to their characters in case we play again. I think odds are good.
- Yeah, I’m a game-whore. I’ll take any excuse to play games.
- Elliott is running his own AW campaign – in fact, he’s running two of them, I believe – and wanted to see how things were different in DW.
- I’ve put together kits for a number of RPGs that I bring to cons and gaming events so that I can run a short adventure in the system on the spur of the moment. It usually contains pregens or character sheets, rules, and an adventure, all zipped into a large Tom Bihn clear organizer pouch for easy transport. You can see an example in this post about my Fiasco kit, though that was before I discovered the Tom Bihn organizer pouches.
- Why are you two traveling together? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen here? What are you looking for? Stuff like that.
- Well, under, in this case.
- To be fair, he was also trying to find out what had killed his clan; his only clue was a jagged tooth the length of his forearm.
- Or something. I dunno. I hadn’t fleshed that out very much.
- At some point, we established that the elves built their own gods out of ancient elves and fervent belief. I’m not sure where the belief came from, but I like it.
- The derros from the DW rule book, but I didn’t want to give them a name to keep them creepy and mysterious.
- Re-skinned worgs.
- A reskinned barbed devil from the rulebook.
- Or so they claimed.
- Not perfect, but sensible.