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This question is a child of Potential problems running a large and varying group in DW, I give full background there, but the important part is that I expect to be GMing a Dungeon World campaign which will have a core group of 3-5 regular players, but other people will be interested in joining for a session, perhaps returning, but not making it to every session.

This question is specifically about my in-fiction handling of this state of things.

My idea for smoothing out such group fluctuations in fiction is to have all PCs be employees/members/patrons of a dungeoneering guild/club/contracting firm/tavern. I'm trying to keep the idea as more of a framework so that I can let the players fill out the actual arrangement.

A player doesn't show up for the session? Their character is still recovering from the beating they took out on the troll cull last week.

Busy with work? On a different mission assigned by the higher ups.

New player? New hire to the organization, one of their bonds could be owing another PC for helping them get hired.

To this end, I plan on the first session dungeon being some sort of recruiting/initiation opportunity for this organization, especially since I expect the first session to have a larger group, so they could be mostly recruited together.

Question

What are the foreseeable (to those with more experience in DW/other PbtA) drawbacks to this in-fiction solution for a chaotically rotating player cast?

Will it be better to agree to this framework before starting so that bonds/backstories can be built with this in mind?

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Dungeon World, Going Lightly

So, a variable cast from week to week, and a conceit that means they have to return to civilization, or at least safety, at the end of every session. So you're probably not going to, for instance, break your session in between phases of a boss fight, or halfway through a tense infiltration, with the confidence you can pick things up cleanly next time. But that's probably fine, if you're after something in the mold of, say, Wizardry where you've got a town and you've got a giant crazy dungeon and I don't know what else you need.

If you like the idea of the party as an adventuring company, I would recommend having the party as its own adventuring company exploring the dungeon out of their own volition or taking work for hire, rather than necessarily being part of some larger enterprise. That way there isn't this presumed pressure from outside that people might chafe against and people can take obligations or not as it suits them. Bonds will already work to bring people together - you don't need an "and also your paycheck" rider.

If you're engaged in regular old dubiously-safe dungeon-crawling, rather than halfway through an action scene, you can have an end-of-session move about pulling out of the dungeon early. I've had some success with this one:

When you beat a hasty retreat from the dungeon, everyone picks a favorite item they found and a favorite stat. Then:

If you have someone with +2 Int to map your way out, take +1.

If you have someone with +2 Wis to keep an eye out for hazards, take +1.

If you have someone with +2 Str to lead the way through the heavy obstacles, take +1.

If you have someone with +2 Dex to quickly manipulate the light obstacles, take +1.

If this isn't your first time in this part of the dungeon, take +1.

If you've got a guide, or someone else's well-drawn map, take +1.

If there's someone you have to guide, or something complicated to carry because of size or fragility, take -1.

For each of you carrying more than half your load (round in your favor), take -1. You may voluntarily abandon loot to take yourself under this limit.

Now roll (just once for the whole party) to see what happens on your way back to safety.

On a 7-9, each of you chooses: abandon your favorite treasure or mark a debility in your favorite stat. On a 6-, both.

On a 10+, each of your chooses: lose all your other treasure or mark a debility in a different stat of the GM's choice. On a 12+, also choose: the GM will tell you something interesting about your favorite treasure, or take +1 ongoing in your favorite stat until the next time you Make Camp.

And when you're swapping people in, you can engage in the fine old Apocalypse World tradition of love letters, which are custom moves designed to show the passage of time for a character. Such as:

Dear Fletcher,

So you spent some time out hunting! Great! Tell me what you were stalking and where it lives, then roll +WIS. This counts as tracking, if Rockjaw can help with that. On a 10+, all three. On a 7-9, pick two. On a 6-, pick one, but it can't be the last one:

  • You take out your quarry and bring back a trophy. I'll roll treasure depending on how dangerous it got and run the conversion by you.

  • You take note of (or perhaps notes of) interesting features of the trail and your quarry. Bank 3-preparation about this creature and climate. You can spend it when it makes sense.

  • You don't take it on the chin, starting off hit for the monster's damage and a debility of your choice.

Love and kisses, your GM

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a cool custom move, and useful. I think you've included it to help when we are needing to wrap up a session, but, being in the middle of a dungeon, can't simply handwave back to town. Could you make the use of the custom move more clear? \$\endgroup\$ – Will Barnwell Aug 2 '18 at 18:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Returning to the same town isn't 100% necessary in my mind, the organization could have branches/chapters in multiple towns/cities in the region and as long as the PCs ended a session at a relatively safe camp, they could plausibly? switch out with another person via the guild's teleportation system/fast horses \$\endgroup\$ – Will Barnwell Aug 2 '18 at 18:14
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This is basically the plot of Fairy Tail. Back in my 3.5 days, I used to be an adventurer in on those guild. (20-30 players, 3 DM in an 180 players association). In rpg world, you may want to look into west marches: .

Pros:

  • Awesome for one-shot.
  • Awesome against PVP.
  • Awesome if a player wants to DM a bit (No need for DMPC or else).
  • Awesome if a player wants to try another character without loosing his "main".
  • Fix the "So you are in a tavern and you meet some guys and you team up for life and death."
  • If there is team kill, another group quest could be to go find bodies (to protect corpse and why not to bring them back to the guild for reanimation).
  • Easier to buy or sell magic stuffs.
  • Short on money? How about borrow some to the guild.

Cons:

  • Not so great for long story arcs, well your long story arc is the guild itself. What if the Guild owner is unknown? What if he is the BBEG all days long? What if you are in fact searching for infinity stone-kind item for his gauntlet to kill half the universe? What if he is a dragon? etc.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this idea may have come from reading about west marches. I was already considering guild intrigue as a potential front, but no fronts until after first session. \$\endgroup\$ – Will Barnwell Aug 2 '18 at 18:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the pros/cons list. I think that these pros might be good for me as a first time GM, and the players as first time TRPG players; outweighing the con \$\endgroup\$ – Will Barnwell Aug 2 '18 at 18:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WillBarnwell Keep it simple. Stuff will growth fast. Have fun. \$\endgroup\$ – aloisdg says Reinstate Monica Aug 2 '18 at 18:30
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Your idea seems excellent to deal with your swapping cast problem.

The only problem I see is that it pushes towards a "questing" (or mission-driven) style of fiction, making the building of story arcs more difficult (and the linking of arcs as well).

And yes, the best thing to do would be to create the specifics with your group, 8 creative minds can sure come up with great ideas :)

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