Why You Should Play Dungeon World

Updated on June 10, 2020
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Luke is an appraiser in Texas and has been playing video games and reading comic books since childhood. He's a bearded family man in plaid.

Dungeon World is written by Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel
Dungeon World is written by Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel

Play to Find Out

Don't like how Game of Thrones, Star Wars, or Harry Potter ended? Well, here's your chance to put your own personal spin on those stories. With role-playing games, you can create your own worlds, and the only limitation is your own imagination. Would you like to see what the world of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings would look like in a modern setting? Well, that's a great place to start your story. Dungeon World, written by Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel, is a collaborative game in which the players contribute to the story almost as much as the Game Master.

You can be as creative as you like or shamelessly use storylines and plot points from pop culture. I love Star Wars' Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi character, and I have put my version of him in my story.

Another source of inspiration can be found online. There are pre-made stories called "one-shots" or "one-page starters" that give a great foundation for the setting, mood, and events that can happen in your game.

Get Ready to Explore

Do you want to be a hero warrior like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings or Conan from Conan the Barbarian? An all-powerful wizard like Merlin or Harry Potter? Or how about a master assassin like Arya from Game of Thrones? Let yourself become whatever you want to be!

In Dungeon World, your players can choose their archetypes from a list of playbooks. These playbooks give the player a basic idea of what their character can do in any given situation. The player would then customize their character and choose specific moves and traits.

For example:

  • The Fighter has a move called Bend Bars, Lift Gates. This move gives them an advantage if they need to destroy an object, and based on their roll, it informs the player what happens after.
  • The holy warrior Paladin has a move that gives them the ability to sense whatever is evil in their vicinity.
  • The Ranger gets an animal companion that can assist them in the world.

With every playbook comes a lot of options, and essentially, the players will be spoiled for choice.

The Game Master

In role-playing games, commonly called RPGs, there is a set of rules, and there is one player that establishes and enforces the rules. The most common term for this person is the Dungeon Master or Game Master. In Dungeon World, they serve as a narrator and guide for the player characters, or PCs, and they set up the story and give it life.

With their players, the GM establish the fiction of the world by asking questions.
For example:

  • Does this world have any gods?
  • Is magic a commonplace occurrence?
  • What kind of government rules the land?
  • There was a great war between good and evil 1,000 years ago . . . who won?

The answers your players give have unlimited potential when it comes to creating a fun story. One of my player's character has a dark lord who is the source of her powers, but she doesn't know who they are or even why it's happening. This got me so excited. With that choice, my player gave me the ability to create a dark lord character with a sordid history. And if she doesn't comply with his demands, her powers get revoked!

As a GM, you react to the choices made by the players and the outcome of the dice rolls. Their successes and failures push the story along, and as long as the GM has a decent grasp of the rules and an established fiction, everyone playing is guaranteed a good time.

This role can seem daunting, but do not fret—the Dungeon World text is full of helpful tips and tools to help first-time Game Masters. There is also a very welcoming and helpful online community that want to help newcomers to this great world. After all, there's a first time for everything.

the world your players inhabit can be friendly or hostile!
the world your players inhabit can be friendly or hostile!

Dungeon World 101

After your players create their characters and establish the world, it's time to start playing and letting those dice roll. For almost every action your players take, they need to roll two six-sided dice, lovingly nicknamed a "d6," and add any appropriate modifiers. If they want to try and sneak across a dark room with two guards posted, they need to roll two six-sided dice, or 2d6, plus their dexterity modifier. If they want to attack an orc warlord with their mighty battleaxe, they need to roll 2d6 plus their strength modifier. After their roll, one of three things can happen.

  • On a 10-12, it's a complete success, and they do what they set out to do. Are you trying to sweet-talk your way into a vampire lord's midnight ball and roll an 11? Congratulations, you and your group get into the party, and no one bats an eye.
  • On a 7-9, it's a mixed success, and they can do what they want but at a cost, whether it's damage done to the character or they drop something of value. You're trying to throw a spear at a goblin archer and roll an 8? You hit the archer, killing them in one fell swoop, but now his buddies know where you are and are heading your way, putting you in imminent danger.
  • On a 6 or less, that's a complete failure, and bad things will happen. Is your wizard trying to cast a fireball and roll a 4? They cast the fireball, but it is unstable and blasts the whole party, catching the forest on fire. But like real life, we try and learn from our failures, and the players gain a point of experience, getting them closer to leveling up and acquiring new skills.

These rolls give the GM ammunition to use either for or against the player characters. Player failures can have so much potential to push the story in so many interesting, humorous, or dramatic ways that make for unforgettable moments. One of my players failed a roll when they were trying to decipher some goblin graffiti and unknowingly stepped into a bear trap. Another player tried to help, failed their roll, and stepped into a different bear trap. GMs can be as easy or down-right mean as they want to with these failures; I usually lean toward mean. It gives weight to their choices and real-time consequences for their actions.

What's the Next Step?

Dungeon World can be found at many bookstores, and you can buy digital copies online as well. They also give out a wealth of free information and PDFs on their website. I highly recommend this game to anyone remotely interested in role-playing games. The rules are easy to learn, and the interesting ways your characters can interact with the world make this a game that you'll want to play all the time.

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