Dungeon World is not a perfect game. My group and I have run played many sessions of the 2012 RPG, from campaigns to one-shots, and we have enjoyed them all. That being said, the game is not without its shortcomings, which only became more apparent after playing other games Powered by The Apocalypse. I will get into my reasons Dungeon World could be better in a future post, but one of the biggest things is a lack of focus. PbtA games work best when they’re telling a very specific story. For examples, I’ve linked to a few at the bottom of this post. Games that are anti-GURPS. Or Anti-FATE, whichever comparison makes more sense to you. So I approached my group with a question I always ask, but see in a different light now: What do you want to play?
I’ve started to try having a session zero before campaigns, so for this next one we got together and hashed out who the PCs are going to be, what the overview of the setting looked like, and themes they were interested in seeing. To make a long story short, we came up with a points of light-esque setup populated by isolated, hostile communities racing to snatch up much-needed resources from the dangerous wilderness, where they have to deal with Mother Nature and talking animals à la some Disney movie. The following material might not do much for your own group, unless you want to borrow ideas, but I hope it’s a sufficient example of hacking Apocalypse World to your tastes. I used Simple World to write this, from Avery Alder of Monsterhearts and The Quiet Year fame.
As a group, decide where your characters’ clan is from, and choose its name. Your clan is your family, your lovers, your home, and your belief system.
The Eastern Forest
The Western Mountains
The Southern Desert
The Northern Tundra is uninhabited by humanity.
Your character serves their clan by foraging the untamed wilds. Assign +2, +1, 0, and -1 to your Attributes.
Spider, SPD – to hunt, to prowl
Hummingbird, HUM – to persuade, to charm, to deceive
Bobcat, BOB – to pounce, to resist, to command
Owl, OWL – to scrutinize, to observe, to calculate
You start with and have a maximum of 6 harm. If and when you reach 0 harm, you return to the land or continue serving the clan with a permanent -1 to an Attribute.
You also have two Attributes called Clanship, Cx, and Worldship, Wx.
When you help or hinder members of your clan, use Cx. On a 10+, they either succeed or fail — your choice. On a 7-9, the MC will name a cost; if you accept the cost, they either succeed or fail — your choice.
When you help or hinder everyone else, use Wx. On a 10+, they either succeed or fail — your choice. On a 7-9, the MC will name a cost; if you accept the cost, they either succeed or fail — your choice.
Clanship mirrors Worldship. If your Cx is +2, then your Wx is -2. At the start of the game, your Cx starts at +1, and your Wx starts at -1. At the end of each session, the other players will decide to increase either your Cx or your Wx by 1, depending on how your character served the clan. Decrease the mirroring Attribute as necessary.
Choose your character’s Class.
A Shout gets the following abilities:
When you do something related to navigating the wilds, add +1.
When you place yourself in harm’s way, mark XP.
You have an animal companion. When applicable, it adds +1 to two Attributes.
A Speaker gets the following abilities:
When you walk with the gods, mark XP.
You have the ability to brew potions and poisons, using OWL.
When you do something related to restoring the balance, add+1. or When you do something related to inciting change, add +1.
A Whisper gets the following abilities:
When you do something related to operating in the shadows, add +1.
You have the power of connection. Wx starts at +1 no longer mirrors Cx.
When you call upon a friend or rival, mark XP.
• To make the players’ characters’ lives not boring.
• To find out what happens.
• To heal rifts or to crack them wide open.
• Sprinkle evocative details everywhere.
• Make the world seem real.
• Build a world in flux through play.
• Create interesting dilemnas, not interesting plots.
• Address yourself to the characters, not the players.
• Make your move, but misdirect.
• Make your move, but never speak its name.
• Look at your NPCs and ideas through crosshairs.
• Name every human, rock, tree, and beast. Make them all human.
• Ask provocative questions and build on the answers.
• Respond with challenging circumstances and occasional rewards.
• Be a fan of the players’ characters.
• Think offscreen, too.
• Sometimes, reflect a question back upon the players.
• Separate them.
• Put someone in a high-stakes situation.
• Trade harm for harm (as established).
• Deal harm (as established).
• Announce off-screen badness.
• Announce future badness.
• Reveal the wrongs of the past.
• Take away one of their Things.
• Demonstrate one of their Things’ bad sides.
• Make them choose between the good of the clan and the good of the world.
• Tell them the possible consequences and ask.
• Turn their move back on them.
• Make a move from one of your Dangers or Bigger Pictures.
Warbands is still a work in progress, but if you’ve made it this far, I’d love to hear your opinions and questions. I’ve tried to make it so that the rules imply things about the setting without explicitly stating truths that might be different in your game.
Examples of Focused PbtA Games
Blades in the Dark, a game about scheming scoundrels in the fantasy-industrial city of Duskvol.
World Wide Wrestling, which lets you reenact the wild, demanding soap opera that is professional wrestling.
Soth, where you are the cultists of an Elder God trying to avoid being caught.
Monster of the Week, a game about being Mulder and Scully, with the option to make Scully sling fireballs.
Full disclosure: the DriveThruRPG links above are affiliate links.