Game Review: Dungeon World

I am late to the Dungeon World party. I mean, we all know I hate Fantasy games, at least, I pretend to real hard. Once in awhile a great story lands in my lap and it happens to use a system I can't stand, but overall Fantasy (TM) games are not for me. There's a big discussion on why this is, namely power fantasies surrounding the usual and standard Quest storyline are not stories often told about women, at least, not in pop culture. You can talk to any lit nerd feminist who can throw a bunch of books at your face, but when I look at fantasy movies and tv shows, most of them aren't about people I identify with. Except Xena.

And I hate crunchy bits. And encumbrance. And all the stupid simulation rules that GURPS and D&D tries to make me like. I don't like it. It can go away. You can't make me play! But... I heard good things about the game Dungeon World. It's a game, like many games whose names end in World, that is Powered by the Apocalypse. It uses the elegant system brought to you by Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World, and cleans it up and makes it beautiful.

Like every other World game, you still have playbooks, except these are stereotypical D&D classes, starting at Barbarian and wandering down the line to Wizard. In the game I was playing with some friends at a gaming meetup, Jonathan of Firestorm Ink was my GM. If you haven't heard of Jonathan or the epic stuff Firestorm Ink is putting out, you should check it out.

But Jonathan is definitely a story focused GM. However, my friend who was joining me as part of our friend-date was coming to the table with a mad hate on for Dungeon World. She described her experience at one of the US gaming conventions (I wanna say Gen Con) and playing DW as "climb check the rpg" and was extremely hesitant to sit down with me and try it out. I begged, and we went.

I played a thief. I'm sure you're noticing a pattern in my gaming trends by now. Yes. I like rogues and sneaky people and stabbing people from behind. It's been awhile so I can't remember my thief's name, but I remember that we created and generated a lot of the story of what was going on right at the table. Jonathan asked us a bunch of questions about what we found on the bodies of the idiots who ambushed us and we ran away with those answers.

There is, of course, a tiny portion dedicated to backstory called Bonds. These give you ties to one another. In playing and running a mini-campaign of Dungeon World, I didn't find these successful at doing much besides taking up time during character generation. Oh yeah. I should mention I ran five episodes of a drop in campaign for Dungeon World when I was trying to force myself into fantasy and provide something I thought my group wanted. It was a horrible sexist experience and I gave up.

Dungeon World, for a fantasy game, runs like a dream. It's fast and elegant and puts cinematic action against great scenes of exploration and dungeon crawling. It lets you be creative and tell stories in a way I've never seen D&D do. As my friend Rob says, "It's all the great parts of D&D without all the shitty parts." And this holds water after running it a bunch and playing it. It's the game I recommend whenever fantasy RPGs comes up in conversation.

It has all the things you remember and like from D&D. It has the classes, some races in it, your alignment (which is awesome because it's just how you gain experience, not how actually evil you are), some awesome kick ass moves only you can do as your class, and then some basic moves everyone does, like Hack'n'slash, and Volley, and Defy Danger! It's a good sized book and does a great job of explaining fronts and threats, the ways the game master is supposed to build up a story to throw at the players. It offers some good outlines on custom moves to make for your threats. And some fun little monsters in the book as well.

I haven't played in or done an ongoing campaign past five episodes. I've heard great things from those who have, and a few people who felt like their players didn't "get it." This doesn't surprise me. The more you play AW games, the more you 'get it' and the more you end up in a spiralling vortex filled with games powered by the Apocalypse and end up forgetting other games exist. See my last two years of gaming. But what DW does do, it does very well. If you're looking for a game that will give you the nostalgic feel of old school D&D without the bullshit of old school D&D, this is it. This is for you. Go buy it.

There are, of course, a bunch of additional classes you can purchase online. And at least one supplement for it that I know of, called Grim World. I'll get into Grim World later. One thing it doesn't do, and this makes me sad, is social moves. In many AW games, there are moves you can use socially. The only thing DW offers you is parley, where you can use the leverage you have on someone to get them to do something you want. This doesn't mean you can play a Game of Thrones style game, like many people want now-a-days from fantasy. There are PbtA games that do that. Dungeon World isn't one of them.

Do I love Dungeon World? Well, if I have to play fantasy, I want it to be this game. It doesn't give you the wild customization of GURPS or the neat relationship dice of 13th Age, but what it does give you is the essential pieces to make a great fantasy story and streamlines it into something fluid and elegant, as the games Powered by the Apocalypse (mostly) tend to do.

Dungeon World
Price: $10 for the PDF, $25 for book
Players: 4 - 5 is the best, but 6 works
GM Work: A decent bit but nothing like other games. Maybe a 3 - 4/10. You have fronts and threats you have to work on, and those can be a little daunting, but the book lays it out easily and it's easier to prep for than a standard D&D game.
Dice: All but d20, mostly 2d6's
Materials: Character sheets, fronts/threats sheets, GM sheets
Feel: Standard classic fantasy, but you can do other things if you want
Rating: 4/5 stars. While I love it as a fantasy game, it lacks social moves, so doesn't do things like Game of Thrones style play well.