Actual Play – Caves of the Underking (12/15/2012)

dungeon worldGM: Alan Hodges
Player: Carl Rigney, Joe McDaldno, Sean Nittner, and Eric Fattig
System: Dungeon World

This was a long time coming. My experiences with Dungeon World this far is that it’s a game I want to like, but haven’t been able to. The dope crew at my table helped me get through that and have a splendid time.

The setup

Alan had a nice situation at hand. Way up I’m the Nordic north there was a small village, and north of that village were some hills, and north of those hills were caves, and in those cave was the domain of the Underking. Most did not believe in him, but every year the village would become a bit more bold, stretch out to the north and then some people would be lost. Sometimes they left and were never seen since, other times they came back but were “touched” and more than a little strange. Usually those who returned from the caves could not stay amongst the people long before the siren’s call of the undermountain drew them back in. We were all such people. A year ago we had visited the dwelling of the Underking…and now we were all inexplicably drawn to go back again.

Character creation choices

One of the most brilliant things in AW and it’s hacks in the idea of having decision points with a few options. Sometimes you get one option from a list of two (like rolling +hot to manipulate), sometimes you get to pick four off a list of many (like a Hardholder) but the key is a) you’re always getting a simple choice, and b) you never get all the options. Long ago (perhaps before AW was even a thing) Fred Hicks talked about this with me on Narrative Control. Points of tension. The choices branch off and help spin narratives, but that’s not what really excites me about them. What’s great about the choices is that picking from them is fun. It’s exciting to see what kind of cool things you could do. And having the choices right in front of you, with just a couple options (instead of in a book with a multitude of options) is extremely satisfying to my lizard “click click click” brain.

Here’s what we came out with

Rat (Carl) the thief went into Galeb Duhr on a dare. He stole a moon emerald from the underking, but in doing so lost a portion of his fear. His friend and fellow thief Nell disappeared in those caves as well. Chances are he had something precious on him worth going back for. But mostly Rat wanted vengeance on the cobalts from Galeb Durr for stealing from him.

Emory (Joe) chased Nels, the good for nothing street peddler (who happened to be my brother and friend of Rat) into the mines. Nels was killed by Uska the Troll, who demanded a bounty for killing him and recovering the heirloom. Emory drank with the troll and gave up an ounce of fear.  Emory had to go back to the mountain because his father had ridden off into them and hadn’t been seen since. His son, and disappointment Willem was also coming to rescue grandfather. Emory had married his animal companion Lucy (the grizzly bear), which was seen as an abomination in Pioter’s eyes.

Piotr (Sean) was a cleric of Freya, the goddess of hearth and home, but also of the weary and downtrodden. He had first gone into the mines with his friend Willem to rid the town of his evil step-sisters. Witch women who wanted people to adopt ways of the south and give up their old traditions. To get rid of them he had to offer the Underking his left eye, now fogged over and perhaps his vision had been given to the Underking himself. Piotr was called back to the mountain again now because of the ghost of his brother Nels. Generally incomprehensible, the he just knew the ghost was trying to show him his killer.

Willem (Eric) was a tragic soul. Originally he went to the Undermountain with Piotr to banish his sisters, but secretly he was in love with one of them, and hoped to win her love for himself. Seeing them locked up, he gave up a modicum of his hope, for now he would never find true love. Willem was back however, to aid is father in finding grandpa. Like Emory, Willem had some of his father’s Famous White Rope.

Bonds, or lack their of

We had our characters pretty woven together by this point, so Alan told us all to take +2 with one another. Personally, I was much happier with this. We didn’t need to layer on a batch of other complications. And I really liked my issue with Emory being something that he had done (married a bear) rather than trying to convert him on principle. And it wasn’t really a matter of his soul or any of that crap, he had broken a societal taboo and Piotr saw it as his duty to the community to make sure that it didn’t stand.

Our time in Undermountain

We took a little while on the adventure proper. Enough to meet Rat’s dad (the sheriff) and find a town noble atop his glorious steed that we’ve meant to trade with the King of Undermountain. Cause we’re murder hobos after all. Actually, I think we had some rationalization for it, but I can’t remember now.

Once we got there, it was some usual adventuring hijinks full of lying to the rich noble, fighting cobalts, and exploring the mountain, but there were some particularly great moments.

Stony Goats

The entrance of Undermountain was guarded by two Cave Trolls. I think we made a Spout Lore roll or something, and figured out that Ice Trolls love to play Stony Goats, or Goatsies, or something like that. The game is played by rolling stones and knocking over goats, as many as you can. I think we only got a 7-9 or something though, because the detail we missed was that the stones are thrown at each other and the first one to fall down looses. We convinced them that as the challengers, or challenged, I can’t remember, we got the first shot. And damn did we made it count.

We got a stone, a troll stone, and Emory did the pushing, with some help from Lucy his wife, and an empowered Magic Weapon spell cast by Piotr. The stone knocked the first troll right off the cliff! And Rat jumped out of the snow to backstab the other one. Like I said, murder hobos. But oh man, Stony Goats!

In death there is truth

As we ventured down eventually we found Uska the troll guarding a bridge. There was a lot of planning around the idea of feeding him a horse (his favorite delicacy that he couldn’t help but feast on) but the noble’s horse turned out to be more canny that we thought and offered Emory up as sacrifice instead. The thing with trolls is, or maybe just the thing with DW is, stabbing also works. So while all this planning was going on Rat swam across the river (whose magic didn’t work on him) and got behind the troll. Just before Emory was going to fight him, Rat backstabbed the Uska and that was the end of the Uska the Undying…sort of.

During the confrontation, the truth came out. Emory had chased Nels into the mountain, that is why he died. At Uska’s hand. Piotr was enraged and attacked attacked him but Emory was the better fighter, he knocked Piotr off the bridge into the freezing water below. He would have drowned except Nel’s spirit pulled him out, and with him Uska’s club. Piotr took up the club, despite Rat’s many warnings, he took the club and came again for Emory. But even as he stepped onto the bridge, carrying Uska’s club the troll’s essence started to infuse him.

Piotr demanded retribution for his brothers death. Emory would have to pay his wereguild or pay with his life. As the ranger had no money, so he offered up his life. And Piotr took it. Piotr the Undying!

What I loved about this scene was that the two characters were changed irrevocably. Emory was dead (which didn’t take him out of the game) and Piotr became the bridge troll guarding Undermountain. Hell yeah.

The Kings Court

In the Underking’s court all was well, or at least well by his standard. Ghosts were alive (or at least corporeal) and there was much merriment. Grandpa was there too, and I liked not knowing for a while if he was alive or dead, but under the Underking’s spell.

Willem got his grandfather free, and received the love of his life, albeit stuck in a crystal. Emory roamed the hills a ghost, Piotr guarded the bridge as a troll, and Rat made it out, but not after leaving something right under the king’s nose, just to show that he was better than him.  Just enough to send a few people packing out of Undermountain, and just enough to bring them back again next year. And all was well.

Thoughts on this game

I had a great time playing Dungeon World. I want to continue that trend.

Alan is fantastic at coming up with 7-9 and miss results. Always things that made things interesting, kept the story moving forward, and gave us more grist for the mill.

I think we were using version 2.3 beta of DW. We didn’t really discuss experience but Alan started us at 2nd level and said if we played again (year 3 in Undermountain) we’d be 3rd level. That gave me enough taste of the advancement system (we got a move, yay) but didn’t really worry about it in play. I think we marked xp for missed rolls, maybe a few other things, but it didn’t matter much as nobody leveled till the end.

Some more tweets from Joe.


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