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In my old group we played Pathfinder and I always created "hack 'n' slash" adventures: enter the dungeon, loot, kill, go home.

We loved that.

But with my new group we're gonna play Dungeon World and I got a bit tired of this format. Since I heard DW is a "storytelling" game more than a hacky-and-slashy game, I wanted to make a good "narrative campaign".

But the first session was a bit disappointing. It was a bit boring. I feel like that the adventure didn't have a structure and wasn't as interesting as I wanted it to be, even if the plot was exactly how the players wanted.

The biggest problem is that DW encourages the improvisation: don't prepare anything. I love this idea, but when I started the adventure it was boring, messy and confusing. Again, it felt like it lacked structure!

How do I learn to make great narrative campaigns in DW if I am used to the HnS form of Pathfinder?

P.S.: by "Narrative" I mean: "not just dungeon and hack and slash, but exploration, adventure, and a great plot." If you have a better term, correct me, please.

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Normally when I hear that a game is "Narrative", I think it has ways for the players to control the story. That is, the game includes rules for resolving conflicting narratives, rather than just party vs. monster conflicts. If this is a part of DW perhaps answerers can address it? –  starwed Jun 12 at 21:30
    
Sorry, I don't understand your point. Care to explain? –  NetHacker Jun 12 at 21:47
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Dungeon World isn't a storygame; when reading its rules, best to read them at face value rather than bring in hearsay. And don't skim the GM section! Those are rules you need, not advice you can skip. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 13 at 4:30
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I don't know if anyone of you care but I've played tonight and it was one of the best sessions of my life. Great success. –  NetHacker Jun 13 at 21:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Dungeon World encourages GM improvisation, but does not discourage preparation

Dungeon World discourages an on-the-rails style of campaign where the players are simply there to work through the GM's plot.

In the GM section, the authors emphasize improvisation (to run Dungeon World you'll need to adapt to the decisions your players make as they move through the world) but Dungeon world is not purely about improvisation.

If you look in the Dungeon World materials you should see sections for Fronts and The World.

I feel like you either glossed over these sections or missed them entirely as they really serve as the foundation for creating adventures and plotlines in Dungeon World. Be sure to study them as there is a lot of information and GM tools/mechanics contained, much too much for me to go over in a single answer.

Fronts are how you as a GM organize challenges, goals and risks to the players.

Fronts are secret tomes of GM knowledge. Each is a collection of linked dangers—threats to the characters specifically and to the people, places, and things the characters care about. It also includes one or more impending dooms, the horrible things that will happen without the characters’ intervention. “Fronts” comes, of course, from “fighting on two fronts” which is just where you want the characters to be—surrounded by threats, danger and adventure.

Fronts are built outside of active play. They’re the solo fun that you get to have between games—rubbing your hands and cackling evilly to yourself as you craft the foes with which to challenge your PCs. You may tweak or adjust your fronts during play (who knows when inspiration will strike?) but the meat of them comes from preparation between sessions - p. 185

There is even a helpful little checklist

Creating Fronts

Here’s how a front comes together:

  • Choose campaign front or adventure front

  • Create 2-3 dangers

  • Choose an impending doom for each danger

  • Add grim portents (1-3 for an adventure front, 3-5 for the campaign front)

  • Write 1–3 stakes questions

  • List the general cast of the front

Page 187

Campaign Fronts represent overarching threats/plotlines between multiple sessions. Things cooking in the background while the adventures go on. "One Ring to Rule them All" serves as a good example of a campaign front from the Lord of the Rings.

Adventure Fronts occur in the hear and now, they could be a place or a direct threat to the party. The Mines of Moria would make a great Adventure Front.

Front and get to make moves just like monsters or players would (But only you the GM knows what moves they are making, the Party only sees the effects) .

Dungeon World's setting lends itself to all kinds of heroic stories

The generic fantasy setting of Dungeon World should be easy for your players to latch onto. It bears a lot of similarities to what they are used to with Pathfinder. Just because the world is similar to a Pathfinder/D&D style setting doesn't meant the adventures your players have are required to be just as similar in their approach. Exploring ruins can be less about killing monsters and avoiding deadly traps and more about puzzle solving and discovery. Saving a kingdom from military defeat doesn't mean the party single-handedly kills the opposing army, but maybe they manage to go boost morale, find new supplies, and help train new recruits.

The World section in the book goes heavily into how to create towns, cities, ruins, and wilderness for your players to experience. How the actions the players take and those they don't should affect the world and how if various fronts resolve how the world might be affected.

Anyone can attempt anything

Dungeon World resolution mechanic of rolling 2d6 + mod with the static ranges of 6 or lower = failure, 7-9 = Success w/ complications, and 10 or greater = Complete success means that characters can always partake in problem solving and trying new things. In fact Dungeon World rewards risk because you the best way for characters to gain XP is by failing rolls.

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I agree with @Joshua Aslan Smith. I wanted to share my approach, which I think is very complementary.

When I prep for Dungeon World, I approach it a bit like a stage manager for a play. I prepare some props and some sets. I dream up some people who exist in the setting, I think about drama that might exist between them, but I don't assign them plot roles. I think about what keeps villagers lying in bed awake at night, too -- these threats get custom moves.

I use the player's actions and the answers to my questions (and later the fronts I create) to figure out what part these actors play in the plot. For example, I might go in knowing that the shopkeeper has one leg and is crotchety, but I discover his back story by watching the players interact with him. That's the main part of the fun in running Dungeon World. Or, maybe they just buy a saddle and some tack and move on -- if so, no worries.

Just like a writer, there will be material that doesn't end up getting used, and I've come to peace with that. If I'm really enamored of a character idea, I'll save it for later. Or just write a short story.

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I would try to work more on the NPCs.

Just think about it: if you take a moment to wonder what their motivations are, you will probably find out that they have very few reasons, if any, to engage in lethal combat. In fact, if you put yourself in the shoes of your NPCs, hack'n'slash is the less natural approach. Well defined NPCs will probably try to avoid fighting those PCs who look dangerous with all their weapons visible… They will probably try to negociate, create alliances, or simply give the PC what they want to avoid being hurt or killed.

So before the game, during your preparation, just establish in a few words: what is the personality of the NPC, what does he/she want, and what is he/she ready to do to obtain it. And when your players face the NPC, keep that in mind and just make him/her react to PCs' actions and words.

This is definitely not the only axis for going in this "narrative" direction, but it certainly is an important one.

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This does not address the system in question at all. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Jun 12 at 19:48
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Dungeon World handles this by giving NPCs Instincts—all creatures come with an instinct, and the Instant NPCs appendix provides instincts for improvising unique NPCs. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 13 at 2:33

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