The Dungeon World core loop

What is the core loop of Dungeon World? How are the high-level events in a game supposed to occur? The RAW is not precise to the specificity demanded by my exacting analytical genius. So I will describe it here.

Firstly, all of the below happens in context of my previous description The highest-level structure of Dungeon World. This loop is inside that. Key quote:

Dungeon World is a game of rules that modify a conversation. That conversation refers to a simulated world, which is modified by the conversation and in turn shapes the space of what is reasonable for the conversation to say at any point. The world does not have any more reality than that — it doesn’t “do” anything itself, unless the (rule-governed) conversation causes an update.

The loop

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The highest-level structure of Dungeon World

This post describes how I view the highest-level structure of Dungeon World. Most of what I’ll say also applies to Apocalypse World, so I’ll mix discussion of the two with little warning.

The first level — everything is the conversation

Dungeon World is a game of rules that modify a conversation. That conversation refers to a simulated world, which is modified by the conversation and in turn shapes the space of what is reasonable for the conversation to say at any point. The world does not have any more reality than that — it doesn’t “do” anything itself, unless the (rule-governed) conversation causes an update.

For example, if the Red Knights haven’t been mentioned for six weeks of game time, they exist in a space of possibilities – they could be here, they could be there, they could be anywhere within six weeks travel of wherever they were last. The conversation can bring them into the current scene (or show their very obvious effects e.g. having burnt down a town and left their flags all over it) as long as that is consistent with the time, the distance, and whether of all of the chaos shrines in all the mountains of the world there is some plausible reason for them to show up in this one.

What the Red Knights don’t do is move around in the background, in some factual sense, even in the GM’s head. The GM may have ideas about this, but they’re merely ideas until the live conversation makes them fact. The GM’s prep is raw material, prompts, aids, but not reality.

I.e. the possibility and plausibility space is “real” beyond the conversation (and each player plus GM will be independently monitoring it to some degree) but the precise facts there are not.

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Three more notes on Apocalypse World

From Jason D’Angelo’s “Daily Apocalypse”:

Who should adjudicate whether the immediate fiction meets a player move trigger? Baker —

If there’s a genuine disagreement, like if the player suckering someone can’t see how she could miss, in fact, then she shouldn’t automatically defer to the MC. She should hold the dice. The game can’t proceed until they come to an agreement, and the rules don’t care whose view prevails. It might be hers, it might be the MC’s, but somebody has to win the other one over.

Does the MC have final say? Sure! Does the MC have sole final say? No! Everybody has final say.


Note the assumption that the players are mature adults with reasonable levels of social functioning. AW is not built for teenagers, nor for people with major social disabilities.

In any interesting game, maybe we always “play to find out”. Games just differ in what we’re finding out about. Baker —

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Enthusiastic assent is better than formal authority

Time for some fun in the post-Forge moonscape.

Jason D’Angelo wrote a very insightful analysis of part of Apocalypse World, and (in a comment) linked to Vincent Baker at as being something that sets up a key idea for understanding that analysis. In that post, Baker makes three claims:

    1. “Moment-to-moment assent trumps pre-agreed authority, in every case.”
    2. “Any well-designed roleplaying game will assign (at least some) authority upfront.”
    3. Some very good designers consider the assignment of authority to be the point of rpg design. I do not.”

As I find common for the Forge and its hinterlands, that sounded interesting, but I wasn’t sure what it meant. And it was clear from the first few comments that no-one else was sure either. My heart sank as a mess of confusion followed. Baker took a long time to express himself clearly; his many interlocutors took a long time to ask clear, explicit questions that squeezed said clear expression out of him. Sadly, when I go back to the Forge or its diaspora, this is my usual experience — it’s like there’s treasure there, but it’s sunk deep in a swamp.

There was a happy ending this time, though — having read the whole discussion, I think Baker’s point is fairly simple and quite useful.

What Baker is saying, put simply

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On “Texts versus Culture”

Brendan S has written a blog post on how  some people treat rpg rules as primarily in texts, while others treat them as residing primarily in culture of a play group and its hinterland —

“I contend that one of the major causes of misunderstanding in discussions of tabletop roleplaying games is differential prioritization of where rules should live. At base, games are bundles of practices that can be stored and communicated in various ways. For example, baseball in the United States started as a game played by amateurs using informal rules that lacked textual basis. A social club wrote the first baseball text in 1845: the Knickerbocker Rules. Tabletop roleplaying game rules can also reside ultimately in culture or in texts.”

The post felt very important when I read it, and I felt I should blog about it. Now, several days later, I cannot remember what I planned to say in such a blog post. I know it indirectly lead to Why do rpg players ignore rules? and What Do Rules Ever Do For Us?, but I thought I had something more specific to say.

I remember thinking that this clearly relates to the comments by Zak Smith and Eero Tuovinen I summarise in Valuable insights into OSR play, and to my position in A Ruleset is an Intervention Tool (in Brendan’s terms, the latter talks about written rules as a way to modify culture).

If I remember more, I will put it here.

Why do RPG groups so often ignore the rules?

Status: I’m fairly confident of validity and completeness

Over on G+, Dan Maruschak laments that many rpg groups will not or cannot follow rpg rules as written. I said

“In most life contexts, believing written rules and procedures is of dubious value. When you enter a new community, you’re usually better to follow what others do rather than what the rules say you should do. The real rules — those that most people follow in practice — are unlikely to be exactly those that are written down.”

to which he replied

“Which is why I find it so aggravating that that “follow the written rules of a game” is such a hard sell. People can get no-rules everywhere else, why demand no-rules here, too?”

In other words, Dan is asking why people don’t take rpg play as a chance to enter a well-defined magic circle — to play, for a change, in an environment defined by rules.

I think the following reasons are all factors here:

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What Do Rules Ever Do For Us?

Status:  fairly confident in this now

Why bother with rules for roleplaying games? Whether RAW from a third party text, hand-crafted by the GM, or assembled by the play group through a democratic process, rules require effort to understand, require effort to remember in play, and may give weird, unwanted results at times.

So why not just freeform, using group consensus of equals or by appointing a GM and respecting their judgement? After all, freeform games are easier to set up and more flexible in play. And if you have a stable group, or a stable play circle, you can hone your freeform play with informal procedures and conventions that meet precisely your needs. Why try to impose formal rules on top of that?

In other words, what do rules ever do for us?

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