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I recently joined a DungeonWorld campaign as the Wizard. The campaign involves the PCs being sent to another plane to retrieve an artifact and return it to one of several powerful entities. I'm tempted, once we find the artifact, to try to use the Ritual move to escape the plane in a way that's different from the way the story is pointing toward. That way, we PCs can keep the artifact and see what we can do with it! (And, more than likely, incur the wrath various planar powers who will try to track us down.)

My main concern is that this course of action may catch the GM off-guard and render useless a lot of the GM's planning.

In this kind of situation, is it a good practice to talk to the GM beforehand, running my plans by him to make sure he's comfortable with the adventure branching off this way? I mean, it's possible that I could flat-out fail to create that alternative escape route, but I am curious to try and see how the story (and the GM) react to my decisions.

Per request, a bit more background. The GM has some DW experience (albeit not a huge amount), but he found an interesting pre-written adventure for a different system and is attempting to run it within Dungeon World's mechanics. As folks have pointed out, this is somewhat against the spirit of Dungeon World's system, but I also want to be respectful of the experience the GM is trying to create for us, even if it's somewhat counter to DW mechanics and chafes a bit for the players expecting more DW-style play. This is less a question about the system (though it's good to be reminded that breaking the rules of the system is likely to cause problems) and more about the etiquette of handling this kind of tricky situation in hopes of creating a good experience for everybody. For me personally, it's also approaching the question as someone who is usually the GM, so also trying to understand the boundaries of my role as a player here.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For those who might be curious, I did wind up running my general sense of discontent and brewing mischief by the GM (without describing exactly what I might be planning) and he said "give me your best shot!" so I think we're good to go. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Bryant Sep 8 '16 at 15:40
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Yes - Not just with your GM, but your fellow players too.

First of all saying it's not Dungeon World if there's pre-prepared material is silly. Common modes of play with DW include Dungeon Starters (minimal), Adventure Starters (more form), and Adventures (even more form); see this site for an example list. There's a whole section in the back of the rules for adventure conversion from any trad D&D adventure to DW. So your GM isn't a priori doing it wrong because they are adapting an adventure.

But more importantly, in a collaborative game of this sort, it's easy to make the game result a bizarre mishmash that the other players don't like either if you make campaign-changing decisions without consulting them. There's "going off script," and then there's "going off campaign premise." While DW shouldn't be scripted, it's also a major shift to say "let's change the premise here from us being the champions of the... Gods?" to being "let's be rebels on the run from the gods." I can see another player being upset by that and really not wanting to go along with that change.

Your GM should be able to adapt, and his prep won't be ruined by this - he can always just use those allied NPCs you were talking to as the "hunt you down NPCs" now. But it's not his prep you should be worried about specifically, it's the entire group's fun (GM and players). So when thinking about a major "campaign changing" twist, I think it is indeed in good taste to put it out in front of the whole group - GM and players - and say "Hey, do we all think it's cool if I do this?" so you don't ruin the fun for others. And if your GM does turn out to be relying on prep more than DW "purists" would have him do - well, he's the GM you have and that's the game you're in, so this presents an opportunity to get that out on the table and discuss it if it's an impediment.

One of the things about a more narrative game like DW is that you don't need to be relying on "surprises" and such, discussing how the game will narratively flow from here is completely acceptable.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This. Stuff like this needs to be said more often. \$\endgroup\$ – João Mendes Sep 5 '16 at 15:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ My personal style is to play with inter-character secrets out in the open (the players should know even if their characters don't), but part of this campaign included some early hidden secrets (presumably to create some inter-character conflict, judging based on the content of my character's one-on-one conversation) and this course of action could short-circuit a lot of that. I do agree player buy-in is important too and I'm hoping that can be worked out at the table largely with in-character discussion. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Bryant Sep 5 '16 at 15:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the link! That would have made a good answer to a recommendation question I asked, not long before they were descoped. \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Sep 6 '16 at 2:24
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Dungeon World campaigns cannot have a script

Dungeon World has rules that the GM is required to follow. Many of those rules say explicitly, and require to function properly, that the GM never lock the game into a pre-determined plot. Meanwhile, it is all designed so that even without a pre-determined plot, it still looks like it has one—perceiving a plot doesn't mean it's pre-written.

(This is true even when on a pre-written adventure. DW's rules for the GM allow for using a published adventure; it's just mined for raw materials when making GM moves instead of used as a script they have to keep the players inside.)

So just do it. If that causes the GM problems, it's because the GM wasn't following essential rules that exist to make the game work smoothly even while letting players have freedom of choice. The whole point of DW's design is that you, the player, are supposed to be doing unexpected things like that and the game's GM rules are designed to not only accommodate players doing the unexpected, but even expect and encourage it.

Especially with the Ritual move, you really don't have to worry about taking the GM by surprise. The move is consequential, but to counterweight that it gives the GM a lot of control over the details, difficulty, and pacing of completing the ritual. There is plenty of room within the move for a surprised GM to buy time to decide how to weave it together with all the existing game threads.

Don't expect it to be easy though—the GM's rules are also designed so that when you do something risky, there are real complications waiting in the wings to make your PCs' lives interesting.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that last part's really important. I mean, for example, isn't the alternative the GM ruling the Ritual move just can't facilitate interplanar travel, so that if there's a serious problem with script deviation, the GM can keep things more or less on track? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 4 '16 at 15:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Hey The Ritual move can do pretty much anything, and the GM's possible responses to a PC preparing to do a ritual are tightly limited to saying what requirements are involved; "no" isn't a legal GM response. The only exception is if previous play has established an in-game fact that would prevent the ritual, but in that case the whole group will already be aware of it and already know (or quickly be reminded) it's not possible. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 4 '16 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Fair enough. So, instead, the GM just makes the Ritual move so arduous to make that doing so becomes the adventure? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 4 '16 at 15:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ In this particular case, I know the GM is attempting to adapt a pre-written adventure for a different system (Pathfinder, I think) and run it within the Dungeon World engine. It seems like a pretty cool story so far and I'm sure it has all sorts of interesting planned twists and turns, but the intro was pretty railroady (you're literally told by some gods that you either do this quest or you get tossed into the abyss) and that makes me itchy and wanting to try things. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Bryant Sep 4 '16 at 16:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanBryant When you are following a railroad track with planned twists and turns, you aren't playing Dungeon World. So asking for an answer within Dungeon World's rules might not be helpful for you. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Sep 4 '16 at 20:40
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There are two kinds of different situations that might be happening here.


First option, your DM is using the adventure as a base for inspiration and structure. He is leaving open ends, he has blanks on his maps and he has not planned a story. The pathfinder adventure is only there to give him a starting situation, and to know what would happen later if the player won't intervene.

If it is so, he will be playing to find out what happens, which is part of the GM's agenda. He will also be a fan of the characters (one of the GM principles) and if one of them happens to do something cool like you want to do, great, let's see how the rest of the world reacts.


Second option, you're mostly playing a hybrid of two games, using some of the good things DW has (for example, partial successes) along with completely different mechanics, and I don't mean the rules of what the characters can do, but something that changes the experience from the one intended for a DW game, which is enforced by its rules and by the fact that the GM agenda and principles are rules of the game.

This does not mean you will not have fun. Some have more fun when the way to get it is not pre-packaged, but surely it will take a little more work on the GM's behalf because he's basically working as a game designer.

This also means that what this GM expects from his houseruled game is not really predictable on the basis of "we're playing Dungeon World".

Ask him if he would like you or the other players to break the fictional walls or if he prefers participationism (i.e., everyone knows that you're supposed to stay on track and you do it no matter what, in order to have fun discovering the story he has for you.), maybe without revealing him the full extent of your plan, then act according to his reply.

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SevenSidedDie's great answer covered technical part of the question: there is no script, there is rules, that supports you and nothing should stop you from doing something extraordinary.

However, I want to point out that catching GM off-guard can be a fun idea, but with frustrating results. It heavily depends on GM.

Witty GMs can happily accept such unexpected twist from players and work with players to make it as much fun as possible. On the other hand, unexperienced ones can feel awkward and try to come up with some idea, while feeling frustration from losing prepared material and even try to railroad you back on tracks.

I am not trying to discourage you. That's a great idea. But I suggest to think over your GM reaction. If you think that he might not take being caught off-guard very well, you may drop a hint or just discuss with him whole idea and see what he thinks about it.

They may take it well and came up with interesting ideas that will wait for you. Or you may see that GM wants to railroad you. But since it's not something you enjoy very much, this will bring another topic: what do you and your group anticipate from game. And maybe you will persuade your GM that railroading is not very much fun for you and is not in the spirit of the Dungeon World.

tl;dr: Unexpected twists from players are great and supposed to be supported by GM, but consider your GM experience and personality and think how they will react. Maybe it's worth hinting or discussing beforehand in order to avoid awkwardness and frustration at the table.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In the original question it says "what we can do with the artifact". So it is not a case of my char wants to take it but the group might want to. So would this not require discussion with the other characters in the group on the option of taking the artifact? Would this not alert the GM on what is going on? \$\endgroup\$ – Tobias Kremer Sep 5 '16 at 10:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TobiasKremer yes, of course it would! But discussion will happen just a few minutes before action. And again it's a matter of GMs experience and personality. Will it be enough to came up with something interesting? Or they wouldn't be able to handle this under stress and just decide to force group back to rails? \$\endgroup\$ – RollingFeles Sep 5 '16 at 11:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TobiasKremer I'm newbie GM and I can imagine this situation. Although, I like unexpected ideas from my players, it's still a bit of stress for me. I know people, who can't handle such things well, especially when they expect that story will follow the script. Consider that some people are good at improvisation and some try to prepare different outcomes and maybe Dan's master is ready for them to escape planes via Ritual. But some are not and they're may doing their first steps as GMs. Sometimes, spoiled surprise and meta-discussion can safe everyone from frustration and lead to even more fun. \$\endgroup\$ – RollingFeles Sep 5 '16 at 11:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 this answer is generic and doesn't factor in that they are using Dungeon World, which has a very specific rules on how players, the GM, and the plot interact and evolve \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Sep 5 '16 at 12:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Would just like to add that, although I agree the GM is deviating from Dungeon World's rules by trying to run the system this way, this kind of answer is still helpful for me, as it deals with the GM/player negotiation aspect of this. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Bryant Sep 5 '16 at 14:22
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I agree that, in an ideal game, you should be able to just make your move with no notice, and it should work great. This is especially true for a game like Dungeon World which isn't supposed to have a script.

On the other hand: in general, surprising the GM is a bad idea. The GM is trying to tell a good story for you; if you make the GM's life harder, you will get a worse story. If you're starting to feel like your relationship with the GM is adversarial, and you need to keep secrets from him so he won't stop you from doing things, that's a bad sign for your game.

You might feel like talking to him out-of-character is weird. I recommend asking in-character instead. Ask as soon as you can: "I'd like to spend some time researching planar transport rituals. I don't feel like giving the artifact to any of those bozos, so I'm drawing up plans for a ritual to escape the plane. Can I roll Spout Lore to figure out how hard that would be?"

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