My gaming group recently decided that our next game was going to be Dungeon World, GMed by my flatmate who I will refer to as Bob.

Bob has played a one-shot of DW with myself as GM in the past and has also occasionally run games for the group. As a GM he tends towards the 'challenge the players' school of GMing so I was a little worried that might disrupt the rules of Dungeon World and I made it clear that I'd like him to carefully read the GMing rules for Dungeon World before we played.

After he was done reading them he remarked that it 'seemed simple enough' and that was how he 'usually GMed anyway', again I'm hearing alarm bells but I don't want to kick up a fuss so I just decide to trust him. I pick up the Fighter sheet and the two other players grab Ranger and Druid, we're set to go.

For the first couple of hours things went great, we were all having fun and exploring our new characters. Long story short we're now headed to a mine to rescue my character's old comrade who has been wrongfully exiled for treason by a malicious gang that's taken over our home town in our absence (we had agreed before the game started that our characters had all been off on their own individual adventures). The party has to camp for the night in the woods and during our encampment we get attacked by a pack of 7 black wolves, during this scrap quite a few things happened which left a bitter taste in my mouth.

  • Before either the Druid or Ranger could potentially Spout Lore Bob had already told them that they'd never seen or heard of anything that resembles these wolves and that they were an utter mystery.
  • I was asked to "roll+STR" to remove a dead wolf's jaws from my arm. I asked if I was making move, perhaps Defy Danger where the danger was that I "exposed myself to attack from the other wolves"? I was told that was not the case. After a short debate in which I objected to arbitrarily rolling dice I was talked down and grudgingly made the roll in order to get the game back on track.
  • One of the wolves kept dragging the corpses of the dead ones off into the darkness and eating their hearts, growing in size with each heart it consumed. This wolf was never called out as being visually distinct before it started growing in size and it kept grabbing corpses and running away to the safety of the darkness "too fast for you guys to respond". The third time this happened the Ranger called out that she'd been waiting for it to return and was going to put an arrow in its leg to slow it down. Bob claimed that because the wolf was aware of her, it was not defenseless enough for a Called Shot even though it was distracted with dragging a corpse.
  • In a response to being told that a wolf was leaping at her, the Ranger was allowed to Defy Danger using DEX to "Duck it, letting it fly over her head and into the campfire", she rolled a 9 and Bob's stated 'worse outcome' was that the wolf bowled her over and pushed her onto the fire, putting it out but mercifully dealing no damage to her, despite leaving her pinned beneath an angry wolf. This seems to me more like a "No", rather than the "Yes, but..." I'd expect of a 7-9 result.
  • We used up some adventuring gear (and the help of the Ranger's pet eagle) to surround the camp with a ring of burning oil, killing wolves only inside the ring with the help of my Signature Weapon's forceful property to launch wolves from outside of the ring into it. Big Wolf pays no heed to the ring of fire and keeps grabbing corpses, despite expended resources, successful rolls and narrative creativity on our part to set a barrier explicitly to stop this from happening.
  • Big Wolf is eventually an elephant-sized, two-headed monstrosity which bites for d10 damage and completely ignores armor. Once we finally bring him down we find out this monstrosity had a whopping 18HP, yep, more than a dragon. I asked Bob about this and he went over the monster creation guidelines and claimed that this thing "Was solitary and self-sufficient" despite it being originally indistinct from the other 6 wolves which were quite obviously hunting as a pack.

None of the above were consequences of a 6- roll. Talking to the Ranger after the game we both felt robbed of narrative control as our multitude attempts to take control of the fight had invariably been shrugged off, I definitely didn't feel like Bob was being a fan of my character. This also made the battle with the monstrous super-wolf seem like an inevitable conclusion which undermines my understanding of playing to find out what happens.

I'm worried that my enjoyment of the game is going to be spoiled if things continue in this manner so I'd like to talk to Bob about it, however I struggle with Asperger's Syndrome and am painfully aware I often come off as confrontational and argumentative if I just try to 'have a talk'. So my question is thus:

How can I help Bob understand what Dungeon World expects of him as a GM, without seeming like I'm confronting him personally? I'm particularly looking for advice from those who've encountered similar situations with a first-time *World GM.

up vote 65 down vote accepted

In Writing?

First, I can assure you that this question gives a thorough and rather objective explanation of the problem. So, if you can communicate this way in writing, perhaps that is best way to deal with your GM?

Also, surely as your friend, Bob understands your social struggle and would make some allowances in tone for you?

I can also assert that from this description you are correct - your agency as a player has been violated. It seems to me that Bob thinks that DW is "Just another RPG" and has missed the fact that the GM rules are exactly that - rules - that he is bound by the GM moves even though they don't have rolls.

Resources

You might also want to provide him with some resources to help him understand - it can take some doing to grok a game Powered by the Apocalypse. I know for certain I ran my first Dungeon World game entirely wrong, and my first game of Monsterhearts, too. I was trying to wedge these new mechanics into a framework I already knew...and while there was some fun, the synergy of the mechanics was gone.

One of the pieces that I would recommend as very eye-opening is the Dungeon World Guide. I would also invite your GM to spend some time here, browsing Dungeon World questions and also to possibly join the Dungeon World Tavern on Google+.

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    Just spent some time reading through the Dungeon World Guide, definitely an excellent resource to back up the rulebook itself. Written communication is definitely something I hadn't thought of and re-reading my question I don't think I come across as annoyed with Bob's behaviour so perhaps simply linking him here could help. Great answer overall. – Aiken Sep 22 '14 at 13:38

What's happening?

Based on your account, the core problem happening here is a term called "Deprotagonization". It's the fancy word for "What you're doing doesn't matter" which is one of the things the rules in the various Apocalypse World descended games is aimed to stop.

So, it sounds like he's violating several of the actual, rules of the game:

The GM’s agenda, principles, and moves are rules just like damage or stats or HP. You should take the same care in altering them or ignoring them that you would with any other rule. .... From the get-go make sure to follow the rules. This means your GM rules, sure, but also keep an eye on the players’ moves. It’s everyone’s responsibility to watch for when a move has been triggered, including you. Stop the players and ask if they mean to trigger the rules when it sounds like that’s what they’re doing.

Emphasis mine. It sounds like several of the moves you made as players did not get respected. When you do things that invalidate the possibility of a Player Move, you typically need to telegraph it or give some form of Soft Move. So things like having the growing wolf ignore the fire wall you've made doesn't work - it's not like it was a fire elemental or iron golem or something where you could reasonably say "Oh, fire doesn't work here."

Think dangerous

Everything in the world is a target. You’re thinking like an evil overlord: no single life is worth anything and there is nothing sacrosanct. Everything can be put in danger, everything can be destroyed. Nothing you create is ever protected. Whenever your eye falls on something you’ve created, think how it can be put in danger, fall apart or crumble. The world changes. Without the characters’ intervention, it changes for the worse.

A key point to this rule is that it's part of what allows player protagonization. A regular issue in railroading, and here, by your account, is when the GM protects their characters, their setting, over player actions. When, as the GM, you think of things as targets, as disposable, you stop protecting them and the players are free to have their characters do what want to do - and thereby be the center of the story.

So, that's the core of what's happening.

Talking to your friend, the GM

Now... here's the hard part. I don't know your GM, I don't know his personality or the best approach.

To be quite honest, most people I know who read the rules that spell out very clearly that there's a different approach and show no sign of having tried anything different? Those people are usually not open to change or criticism. This has been my experience over 2 decades of gaming.

It would be different if you were telling us he did differently than normal and had some fallback moments. But by your account, it sounds like he skimmed the rules, didn't read them, read them without understanding, or read them and consciously chose to throw them out - none of which indicate a person who's absorbing new ideas at all.

If you're going to do this, you should have the rules at hand. You should point out where things in the game worked different than what the rules say and point out that it explicitly says that these are "hard rules", not simply a "style of play". That choices to change the rules FROM that, are in fact, things you need to talk to the group about before play, and not simply surprise them with it.

If your group is otherwise solid, you may want to make this a group discussion, since the rules explicitly point out that it's everyone's job to make sure the rules are being followed... though if no one else spoke up in play, I'm guessing there's social dynamics at hand that may mean they're not willing to speak up or tend to avoid social conflict among the group rather than resolve things.

Leave the game/Don't have bob GM anymore

The warning signs you noted at the beginning of the story we clear and present and you even had your own instincts raise in response, but in the desire to be friendly you tamped them down. That was not wrong, however Bob's subsequent behavior as a GM did bear out all of your initial fears. I'm telling you to leave because it is readily apparent that Bob can't see the distinction at all between Dungeon World and the rest of the D&D-style/clone games that exist out there. He also quite clearly did not actually read the GM portion of the DW handbook to any real degree, or doing so, he discarded its precepts in favor of just doing what he would normally do for a d20 game. He didn't even really understand the basic moves which are the core of the system (outside the GM moves). Having Bob GM DW is probably not going to be successful since he already failed to put the effort in.

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    As this is his first time GMing a *World game I'm willing to give Bob a second chance so I'm more looking for a way to help him understand the core concepts better without appearing to just criticize him on my own criteria. That said if things continue without improvement then I'm prepared to vote with my feet, so to speak. – Aiken Sep 22 '14 at 13:36
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    Interesting to see the community is evenly split on my answer. – Joshua Aslan Smith Sep 23 '14 at 5:23
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    My downvote was because when I first ran DW I made pretty much exactly the same errors as are described about this guy's GM. Over the next few sessions I corrected these, largely due to reading the DM Guide that's been linked in one of the other answers. As a result, I feel an answer that basically boils down to 'get out now!' is a knee jerk reaction and very premature – Wibbs Sep 23 '14 at 11:13
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    Yeah, for the situation "A friend ran a new game and he didn't run it the way I think it should be the first session" this is a bit of an Internet Tough Guy answer. – mxyzplk Sep 23 '14 at 11:53

The problem is not about the rules

From what I've read I think the problem comes from him not understanding how to use the rules. But even so, I wouldn't get into a discussion about rules. Don't focus on what Dungeon World expects of him as a GM but what you expect of him. Because the big problem is not that he didn't play by the rules but that you didn't enjoy the game.

The main problem with the game was the Big Wolf. Ben had this idea of a Big Bad Wolf and he wanted it to happen despite whatever you did. That's bad DMing whatever game you are playing, it's not a problem of DW vs other games. Ben made the Big Wolf so you couldn't interact with it until the big last fight. Again, that's bad DMing even in a d20 system.

So don't get into a rules discussion. You will come out looking like you take rules too seriously, a lot of people don't give much importance to rules and he seems to be one of them. Even if you convince him that he went against the rules he might not care ( rules are meant to be broken). You should try to make him understand you didn't enjoy not being able to interact with the Big Wolf.

Tell him that the idea of the Big Wolf was really cool but that once you understand he is growing bigger by eating the hearts you should be rewarded for acting on that knowledge. You should be rewarded for wasting resources and for acting against the Big Wolf and not the other wolves. You should be rewarded for trying to solve the problem.

Tell him that you invested resources, rolls and creativity to stop the Big Wolf and that when nothing worked you got frustrated and were unable to enjoy the game.

Get to the rules discussion after

Once he understands you didn't like that part of the game and why, then you can get into rules discussion. I think he had this idea he liked but he didn't know how to implement it in DW. In another game I guess he would have given the Big Bad Wolf great stats to avoid getting hit while he carried the corpses, but in DW he would have been "to easy to hit". There are ways to make something similar in DW. Discuss that, how to get his idea to work in DW.

From here, if you have good dynamics, you can get into a discussion of gaming in general. There are a lot of resources on the internet about gaming. You can discuss about what you like and what you don't like in gaming.

The other "problems"

The other problems you state aren't that important in my opinion.

  • Spout Lore. He didn't let you make the roll, guess that's influence from other games. Talk about what would have happened if you made the roll (the three options). How to resolve it without breaking the encounter. He does have to tell the truth, but not all the truth. It's possibly to have spout lore rolls and keep the mystery.

  • Making you roll to remove a dead wolf's jaws is not an arbitrarily roll. It's a move, a move that will be triggered by you trying to remove the wolf. It's fair.

  • The leaping wolf is a clear case of noob GM. It's hard to be a GM sometimes, and DW is pretty hard. Coming up with partial successes can be hard, so he made an error. You should call him on it, but don't be too hard.

  • The Big Wolf having 18HP isn't really a problem. You took it down without no team deaths, no? You can argue it was too hard, or had too much health, but it isn't that big of a problem.

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    This doesn't demonstrate an understanding of DW. In fact, it seems to make several of the same mistakes the GM in the question did, believing that DW's GM rules are mere guidelines that can be ignored. – SevenSidedDie Sep 22 '14 at 17:21
  • xD If you tell Ben something like this he won't change his gaming. It makes me angry and defensive, ready to get into a fight about rules and gaming. – Miki Madero Sep 22 '14 at 18:02
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    Fortunately I'm not talking to Ben about his GMing, I'm commenting on the problem with your answer. Fortunately too it doesn't matter to me if you fix it or not, so I don't have to convince you. I've pointed out the issue, and you can fix it if you want to, or not fix it if you don't. – SevenSidedDie Sep 22 '14 at 18:06
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    Have you read the GM section of DW? You didn't discuss any GM rules, no, but most of the advice and reasoning in the answer is either directly against the rules, or doesn't make sense laid beside the rules. – SevenSidedDie Sep 22 '14 at 18:44
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    @MikiMadero I may not agree with all of this, but I understood what you said and upvoted because opinions should always be considered. Maybe this wasn't the best answer for this specific question or what OP wanted, but would be good if more people reflect about it, what you really meant. – Patrick Bard Sep 23 '14 at 17:28

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