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A Dungeon World XP Experiment: A Commentary [Dec. 4th, 2011|08:43 pm]

There has long been a dissatisfaction with the DW XP system, and in the absence of any official word from the creators, several systems have been proposed and experimented with both on the DW forums and on Story-Games. Several months ago at Big Bad Con, a new alternate XP system was born and tested, and at that time I promised Ryan Macklin that I would test it further in my home game and post about it. Sadly work happened and I hadn't had a chance to write about it until now, well after Ryan did: A Dungeon World XP Experiment).

Highlighting stats works really well as a mechanic in Apocalypse World and it can work well in Dungeon World, but too often it doesn't, and when it doesn't, it sucks. In his post, Macklin identifies the reason as parallel intent: present in Apocalypse World and absent in Dungeon World. In Apocalypse World, all of the stats are legitimate and fairly equal ways to go achieve character goals and can all be applied in just about any type of scene. The same cannot be said for the standard D&D stat array of Dungeon World. In that game, it is almost necessary to have certain stats and stat combinations highlighted for the XP system to work properly. Strength and Con are pretty much only useful in combat. Int and Wis are excessively useful in non-combat scenes and for Wizards and Clerics respectively can be the only stat that gets rolled. If you're a wizard with Int highlighted? Cha-ching. If it's not? *Crickets*. It is possible to build a Fighter who uses Charisma extensively, but even so, it doesn't equal the XP generation capacity of the other stats. For spellcasting classes, all you need is Int or Wis, for the other classes, the optimal XP stats are one of Int and Wis and one of Str, Dex or Con depending on how one acts in combat.

Remember that the point of stat highlighting is to encourage the player to use the highlighted stat, so it is intended that you will play to your highlighted stats. In Apocalypse World there are no optimal pairs. In Dungeon World there are, and that's a problem.

So how to fix it?

Taking a cue from Apocalypse World itself, this system focuses on types of action rather than character skills. As usual, each character has two of the following highlighted (the standard method: one by the highest bond, one by the GM works fine).

This is all about stabbing & bashing! Whether it’s an orc, dragon, or your father, if someone has Attack highlighted, make sure your adventure has some fights!
If your adventure doesn’t have any fight action, disallow Attack highlighting.
Attack Moves: Hack and Slash, Volley, Magic Missile, etc.

This is all about using acrobatics and dangerous moves to survive, gain position or just show off! Whether it’s outrunning a raging inferno, traversing a living & hungry forest, or foes facing you down with arrows, if someone has Stunt highlighted, make sure your adventure has some treacherous action!
If your adventure doesn’t have any peril in it, disallow Stunt highlighting.
Stunt Moves: Defy Danger, Bend Bars/:Lift Gates, etc.

This is all about protecting others and coping with the torment you tend to take. If someone has Defend highlighted, make sure there are plenty of opportunities for them to protect others.
If there is no reason the party needs protecting, disallow Defend higlighting.
Defend Moves: Defend, Saving Throw, healing, etc.

This is all about discovering things about the immediate situation, other characters, and the world. If someone has Discover highlighted…well, frankly this is the one that doesn’t require the GM to prep extra.
If there’s no reason the party needs information, what the hell.
Discover moves: Spout Lore, Discern Realities, Speak with Dead, etc.

This is all about interacting with people to get information, get your way or understand what’s going on with people. If someone has Converse highlighted, involve plenty of intelligent NPCs (some of them people they might also fight)!
If there’s no one the party would actually interact with beyond themselves, disallow Converse highlighting.
Converse Moves: Parley, Carouse [if there was a move to read a person, that would totally be here and not in Discover]

Aid/Interfere [See Below]
This is all about helping your party (or hindering them), working with or against their actions. If someone has Aid/Interfere highlighted, don’t worry about it — they’ll cover that on their own!
This should always be allowed, except perhaps on the first session. Wait a session before putting Aid on.
Special: If you don’t want the “Interfere” part, you as a group can ditch that.
Aid/Interfere moves: Aid/Interfere

(The descriptions are adapted slightly from those on Macklin's post, mostly to combine the brief descriptions in the post itself with the more detailed explanations at the bottom of the comment thread.)

By now I've used this system several times in my fortnightly game and it works really well. Generally, the categories are self explanatory, but, there are a couple of points that should be made. The most important change is probably the decoupling of the worldbuilding moves* (Discern Teality and Spout Lore) and the spellcasting moves from the same XP source. Wizards and Clerics will still be good at both, but they will get XP for each differently. In fact, spells don't just always give XP (or not) under this system. Rather, how you use the spells determines whether you get XP or not.

The second important change is that because the categories are tied to types of action rather than specific stats, their application is fuzzy and may occasionally require the GM or the table to negotiate what a given action counts as, or if it counts in any of the categories at all, that's allowed. In particular, Stunt can be fuzzy. Because of that, I don't recommend using the alternate Bonds for XP system** which worked well enough, but was way too fuzzy. Bonds are integrated into this XP system already (Aid/Interfere category), so I now just use bonds as written.

As well as continuing to use this system in Dungeon World, I intend to using this system in my Cyber World hack, and I'm sure Colin will use it in the Geiger World hack in which it was first tested. It certainly worked for the latter; I'll have to consider whether those six types of action best reflect the Shadowrun-style of Cyberpunk caper. Comments and suggestions on that are welcome.

* I call them worldbuilding moves because, following the GM principle of Ask Questions, Leave Blanks, I like to turn these questions back to the players as much as possible and have them create the world through their answers and their actions.
** You can find that system on Story Games.

Edit: Since late 2011 we have been testing a variant on this in which we drop the Aid/Interfere XP tag. It seems to work well, but comments are welcome.

From: (Anonymous)
2011-12-05 05:29 am (UTC)
Do all spells count as Attack? The post implies it does in the write-up, but shifts in the follow-up.

Seems like there are some Wizards spells, looking at the Red Books spreads (as that's what I have handy) that are others: Contact Spirits (C), Detect Magic (D), Telepathy (C), Identify (C), Invisibility (S), Magic Missile (A), Alarm (DF). That's just for first level spells.

A = Attack, C = Converse, D = Discover, S = Stunt, DF = Defend

That said, it could be an intentional design choice to replace "Attack" with the Wizard with "Cast", if spells = Attack. Whether that's a good or bad design choice is debatable, but it's one that should be made with intent rather than accident.

I'd also say that stuff like Bend Bars, Lift Gates are Stunts. Which then suggests the iconography for these categories would be a pretty good way to link moves to their highlights.

In any case, I'm kinda fucking proud of this thing that you, me, Colin & the rest of the BBC crew made.

- Ryan
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[User Picture]From: anarchangel23
2011-12-05 05:55 am (UTC)
Good catch. I changed the reference to "spells" under Attack (by which I meant "spells that conform to the description above") to "Magic Missile" (for example). I'd forgotten that we had classified Bend Bars too; definitely a stunt. I'll add a note about showing off.

Spells and class moves are where the most GM/table interpretation will have to enter the equation. I would put Identify as D rather than C (that's a specialised and more powerful Spout Lore), and I would be open to Contact Spirits being either (it is a conversation with a spirit, but it's also discovery).

Of all the XP systems that DW has spawned, I think this is the most elegant in in keeping with the [*]World ethos. I'm interested to know what Sage and Adam are thinking and working on in this regard.
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[User Picture]From: RyanMacklin
2011-12-05 06:05 am (UTC)
That was a typo, Identify is totally Discover.

And I think I wouldn't want to see those as "up to the group." Codifying them in the rules means those are quick execution beats, requiring no thought, and that frees up the mind to be better applied to creating & absorbing the fiction.

- Ryan
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[User Picture]From: anarchangel23
2011-12-05 06:09 am (UTC)
That's true. Certainly if I was writing the rules, I would do that. I'm not sure how best to achieve that for someone else's ruleset. I suppose a master list of DW moves wouldn't take that long to make.
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[User Picture]From: RyanMacklin
2011-12-05 06:42 am (UTC)
It's our hack. We are writing the rules. :)

- Ryan
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[User Picture]From: anarchangel23
2011-12-05 06:46 am (UTC)
That's true, but I'm not going to re-typeset a personal copy of DW to indicate all the XP categories of the moves! (Which would be my ideal solution)
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[User Picture]From: anarchangel23
2011-12-05 06:47 am (UTC)
I suspect that's what I'll do for Cyber World.
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[User Picture]From: RyanMacklin
2011-12-05 06:47 am (UTC)
Ah, yeah. Right now, I'd just make a list. :)

- Ryan
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[User Picture]From: anarchangel23
2011-12-05 06:49 am (UTC)
Very sensible :)
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[User Picture]From: RyanMacklin
2011-12-05 06:52 am (UTC)
My iconography point was more of a "this would be a good way to produce it", not that you and I should.

- Ryan
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[User Picture]From: anarchangel23
2011-12-05 07:00 am (UTC)
Yes, good to think about for other hacks too.
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From: (Anonymous)
2011-12-05 07:20 pm (UTC)
Yes, a hundred times this!

During the last game we def hit a squishy edge case with a few mind control moves that were in the middle of converse and attack. My end thought was re-writing all of the moves to make them clearly one category or the other to remove that confusion.

Add in some clear iconography and we are golden.

- Colin
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