PbtA and Apocalypse World, Part 1b — Addendum to “Momentum and the Rollercoaster”

Previously, I talked about Baker’s idea of the “rollercoaster” that is Apocalypse World, whereby “real things, the dice and stats and so on, … give momentum to the fictional things”. I found his description pretty opaque [1], but managed to summarise it as “real-world actions are triggered from events in the fiction that are potentially interesting, and those actions make those fictional events more interesting”.

Mark Diaz Truman has since refined that a bit for me. He says Baker is talking about explicitly narrative momentum, a kind of energy in running game whereby a story is moving forwards. That doesn’t have to mean “following a pre-written story” [2]; it just means creating something that the players recognise as a story. As Mark puts it, it manifests as the “sense of making decisions that close doors and open other doors, of moving toward conflicts and decisions instead of just sitting and talking.”

In most games, the work of maintaining this energy lands on the GM, especially outside combat. PbtA rules, by contrast, often create momentum directly. Mark — “the moves themselves generate momentum. Even when you [trigger] a move and “things go smooth” a good move will generate new information and options that will pull you down the path of the story instead of just succeeding or failing on a test.”

In other words, the rules provide opportunities, building blocks, playing pieces, from which the the MC and players can build a story. And they put on pressure, rule out some things, make other seem natural or inevitable. This is often true even on 10+ (or 12+) results — PC successes can still have messy side effects.

As an example, Mark points to the basic move “Escape” from his Urban Shadows:

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PbtA and Apocalypse World, Part 2 — (Possibly) Graceful Collapse

In a previous post, I talked about a claim Vincent Baker made about Apocalypse World in a recent article. Here, I’m going to discuss another one.

In Section 4, Baker claims that PbtA games “collapse gracefully inward”. I.e. forgetting a few rules, unless they are from a small core set (e.g. the conversation structure) will have only minor effect on the game experience.

Questions that come to mind:

  1. Is that true?
  2. Is it more true than for other kinds of games (e.g. those that fall under Baker’s “D&D”, “point-buy”, or “Forge” design approaches? I.e. is this distinctive about AW (and, by extension, PbtA games in general)

I discussed those questions online, and concluded that Baker is right, with some caveats.

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Some links about fixing Dungeon World

Dungeon World is eight years old now. Its flaws are naked, visible, throbbing. My views on it are very mixed — it’s a good system for largely-improvised high-energy adventure, but there are many things (from the plethora of move triggers to the bland nature of its presentation) that drive me to hot madness. It needs work.

Mechanically, I have worked on understanding it:

Meanwhile, several others have worked to actually improve it. In particular Jeremy Strandberg cannot cease from this labour:

Strandberg has covered various other moves in what look like good ways. Read his whole blog. Put those things down. Read it now. He is your god now.

Finally, see John Harper’s classic article on “Crossing the line”. It’s written for Apocalypse World, but it is True and Correct about Dungeon World, too. And it’s not in Dungeon World’s text.

Caveat on that — you can cross the line and survive. You can make a habit of crossing the line, and your game might still be viable. You might have a good time, and your group might eventually move to Scotland and found a successful anarchist commune. However, crossing the line upsets many people, especially when it’s a sudden jarring insertion into a line-respecting game. Look at the player in Harper’s second example. Imagine their face.

What I like about Dungeon World, and what I do not

Status: quite confident. I’ve continued to update this since posting it, partly from some notes I found from 2014 (when I was playing it regularly).

I’ve played a fair amount of Dungeon World — perhaps 45 sessions in all, about 8 as a player and the rest as a GM. You may reasonably doubt my memory of these, as only three of them were in the past two years. Nevertheless, I have views, and I shall state them.

Overall, I like some properties of DW, but I strongly dislike other ones. And I do not know how to make a game that has only the ones I like, or to what extent that is even possible. My primary goal here is to help myself understand DW, and my experiences with it, so that I can design games that I like better.

Some top-level clarifications based on feedback:

  • This is not intended as a review. It’s a very idiosyncratic exploration of my subjective response to the game and the reasons for that. That said, if you’re evaluating DW before buying or running, it may be of some value (insofar as you are like me). If you’re designing a DW-like game for a broad audience, it may be of some value (insofar as many people in your audience are like me). But primarily this article is for me. If you want to understand me (as I do), it’s likely to be useful.
  • When I say “design”, I don’t just mean game design. There are aspects of the writing and art that don’t work for me, and I think they strongly colour my experience of “Dungeon World”.
  • It may help to know that my main current game is Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP), house-ruled and run as described elsewhere on this blog. If not stated in any specific case, that is probably the reference model I have in mind (especially when I’m describing where DW works well for me). This is not to say LotFP works for me, either — overall, I like it less than DW.

This post is long. Bring a torch.

Continue reading “What I like about Dungeon World, and what I do not”