Actual Play – In service of the Scorpion God (7/12/2012)

GM: Noam Rosen
Players: Mark E, Ben Hartzell, Shaun Hayworth, and Sean Nittner
System: World of Dungeons

We tried out John Harmper’s 1979 Dungeon World hack World of Dungeons last night. I was fond of the retro hack, simply because of the granularity it gave to equipment compared to the relative simplicity used for characters themselves.  There was no glaive-guisarme polearm fetishism, but in a 6 page game (2 of those being character sheets), how much can you really expect?

On that note, if you do feel the need to scratch your weapon porn itch, check out Wikipedia: Premodern weapons. Oh yeah, Katars for the win man!

Character Creation

After the typical Google Hangouts technical difficulties were overcome we all rolled up characters. Yes, rolled up. That was another 1979 flavor that I enjoyed about this game. We just went down the list rolling stats.  I rolled up Jurek, Barbarian of the Scorpion tribe, with a +1 Str, Dex and Wis and a 0 in everything else. He is, I must say, utterly unremarkable.

Shaun rolled up Pollux, the thief who got wind of the buried temple, and the loot that may be found within. He had better stats, a +2 Str, Dex, +1 Wis, and 0 in the other stats. It’s worth noting that we didn’t pick where our stats went, we just rolled down the line. So that we both got good (or goodish) physical stats was pretty remarkable.

Ben made Vin, priest of the Scorpion God. He had +1 in every stat but strength (a 0). Pretty well rounded, but more interesting because his faith in the scorpion god (which is what inspired me to be a scorpion tribe barbarian).

Mark rolled up a Wizard, with a +1 Str, Dex and Int, a +3 Wis (our only +3) and 0 in everything else. Gaspar, the wizard had been robbed by Pollux in the past, but the thief was callus enough he didn’t remember (or at least didn’t seem to). Gaspar’s spirits were Lot (spirit of Ice & Time) and another we haven’t see yet (spirit of wind and confusion). The spirit summoning rules were one thing I specifically didn’t recognize for 1st edition. I was expecting a magic missile, or sleep spell, not spirit binding rules. It actually reminded me a lot of Stormbringer (published by Chaosium in 1981) which was close enough for me.

An adventuring we will go

Noam started us off with some backstory questions to figure out how we got here. We fleshed out the desert culture a bit, safe times to travel, and who was of the sand, and who was a foreigner. We figured out that Jurek and Vin didn’t actually get along very well, but their reverence for the scorpion god was enough to see them past their differences.  Vin and Gaspar had adventured together before, putting a “great spirit” to rest. Finally (as noted above) Pollux had swindled Gaspar some time back, but didn’t remember it (or pretended not to).

I think for this backstory we should have done a few additional questions. We should have asked one about Pollux and Jurek, to close the loop and to give each of them two relationships. We also should have created some urgency for the characters. Personally, fur Jurek I’m down with anything as mundane as the scorpion tribe is at war but the tribe is divided and an heirloom from the temple needs to be claimed to prove rightful leadership of the tribe all the way to the world serpent is consuming the desert, and the sands are slowly sinking into a giant hellmouth that must be closed less our entire nation be consumed and demons-lords from other planes come to ours to enslave mankind.  Anywho, I want some fire burning on our asses.

Doing stuff

As we started I almost immediately remembered why I think Dungeon World (and World of Dungeons) is such an intensive game to run. Unlike AW which generally resolves all contests in one roll, WoDu (as World of Darkness already has claim to WoD) calls for lots of rolls, which means lots of figuring out results, creating a lot of minutia.

It’s one thing when someone states their intent, rolls dice and either gets their result (on a hit) or some bad turn or complication (on a miss) or a mix of the two (on a weak hit). That is generally pretty easy to parse,  and the time it takes at the table (or in this case on the Hangout) to adjudicate the results of the roll is negligible compared to the narrative weight of the story leading up to the roll and following from it. That is to say, the dice do a lot in the game, but don’t require constant interpretation. But when every attack becomes a roll, and everyone is acting and wants to do their thing, then lots of dice are flying the the GM (or MC or whatever) has t come up with a lot of results.

One thought I had, though a bit too late, was that rather than figure out how a miss, or partial hit indicates a failure on the part of the characters, I think it’s worth borrowing from AW and DW and seeing it as an opportunity for the bad guys. One of my favorite things about DW was the monsters various moves. Goblins I think for instance have (call more goblins, do damage, and spring a trap).  I think that helps a) keep the PCs appearing heroic and b) gives opportunities for their threats to be really aggressive and powerful.

House rules

As WoDu has only one mechanic, we realized that as we went, we’ll need to build some house rules onto it. What came up in game was rules for helping, as well as rules for bonds/Hx. We’ll probably just steal from DW or AW, but who knows, we might think of some cool things on our own.

In particular, I’d be interested in teamwork rules. I know I made a couple moves to intimidate the goblins, not really to scare them into running a way, but in order to give Pollux the opportunity to get in a backstab. If they were looking at me, the weren’t looking at him!

Some funny, totally 1979 moments

After being “cured” by the scorpion venom, Jurek wanted to prove his strength by squeezing the scorpion’s venom out into his mouth.  (surely if it cured him it would be a powerful intoxicant as well). This failed, badly, the acid burning Jurek’s tongue and causing his lip to swell horribly. I spent the rest of the night (when I remembered at least) having Jurek speak just like I had just gotten out of the  dentist’s chair.

When Gaspar’s spirit Lot froze a goblin in time, the wizard tried to wrest the serrated short sword from the goblin’s grip, but ended up tipping the frozen goblin onto himself and getting impaled by the sword… the same one he had summoned a spirit to protect him from!

Vin named his attacks after scorpion moves. His holy water was scorpion milk. He hated beetles because the scarab god was the enemy of the scorpion god. He had scorpions coming out of his ass! (okay, the last is figurative… though if he prayed for divine intervention…).

Nobody trusted Pollux. Like right off the bat, he had led us here, to the opportunity for adventure and fortune and we totally all assumed he was going to steal, cheat, and backstab his way out of any kind of fair deal. And it totally was just because he took the “thief” class. Fucking classists!

Murder hobos

The first goblin we encountered, we didn’t even identify it property (just heard and armored figured walking on the other side of a door) before Jurek charged forward and impaled it with his spear. Noam was clearly trying to bring some humanity to it (“you just killed a man”) and I was happy to play along. Jurek tried to identify the creature, decided it was a leprous and deformed man, and promptly went to the corner to puke up his breakfast. He had to give himself a pep talk just to go on.

But go on he did, and along with everyone else, murdered another half dozen goblins and looted their stuff. I’d like a character with some basic humanity some day, but I don’t think my first WoDu character is the place to find it.

Survival -> Desert-wise -> Yay!

I was able to leverage the survival skill several times to make some cool declarations and/or gain knowledge.  Once by rubbing the sand between my hands and smelling it for moisture to know how long it had been since it was disturbed, and later by declaring that the scarab beetled wanted dead flesh rather than living and diverting the swarm by throwing camel jerky on the ground. I like it when rules let our characters look smart, or at least capable.


While Jurek was beserking, he saw that one goblin had bitten a chunk of the scorpion priest’s forearm off. That was not acceptable. He dove on the goblin, bashed his brains in and tried to get that big of man-flesh back out. This was also when I was trying to end my berserk rage and failed the con roll to stop fighting. Suffice the say the body was mutilated (throat slit, stomach disemboweled, etc) to find the bits bitten off, but after a while it all just looked like blood and bits. When he was done, Jurek weakly offered a handful of flesh, sinew and a few broken teeth out to Vin “I think that’s most of it” (said with a swollen lip). Not surprisingly, Vin wasn’t about to wade through that carnage to find a bit of “him” to suture back up.

Thoughts on this game

I think I spelled most of them out above. I’m not a fan of using the AW mechanics for task resolution, but eh, it’s what we’ve got.

I do like the way skills work, ensuring that some people will never outright fail at certain things, though they may have some pretty hefty complications. I like shit getting torn up (bottled of ink breaking, pieces of arm being bitten off, burning a whole in your tongue, etc) and I think those all work nicely for gnarly complications.

We all had pretty good 1979 gaming sensibilities: PCs -> there to be bickered with. Monsters -> there to be killed.  Dungeons -> there to be explored. Look -> Not there at all, cause we shoved all of it in our grubby pockets already! Where’s my damn bag of holding already?

Roll-playing? Our characters weren’t rich. They haven’t looked enough yet for that.

4 thoughts on “Actual Play – In service of the Scorpion God (7/12/2012)”

  1. “I’m not a fan of using the AW mechanics for task resolution, but eh, it’s what we’ve got.”

    It’s fascinating to me that you decided to use that mechanic as task resolution. What prompted that? The old-school trappings of the game, maybe? The mechanic is just act under fire (or defy danger, technically).

    1. It was all intent -> roll -> results before combat. Can I get this rock pried off the whole to let us in? Nope, instead it crushes your foot and now you’re trapped under it. All good there.

      But once we got to combat everything was measured by attacks -> rolling damage -> reducing hit points.

      I know AW has harm, so if I seize by force, I might not do enough harm to kill the person in my way… but the conflict (or that part of it at least) is over. I’ve either got it, or I don’t and the story moves on. When we engage in an ablative system it isn’t just that we’re rolling damage (vs doing a fixed harm) it’s that we can’t extend the narrative far enough to mean that every roll indicates an irrefutable (and often irrevocable) change in the situation. So, I’m not sure how we can avoid that blow-by-blow interpretation of the rules so long as we’re trapped in the keep rolling dice until someone has 0 HP.

  2. I see what you mean. I think this is a choice to make, though, not a necessity one way or the other. HP damage is functionally no different from AW-style Harm, if you make the damage real on-screen and it impacts the situation in a consequential way.

    Also, there’s no need for all engagements to be grinding fights to the death. Most foes will try to flee, offer a concession, or surrender rather than bitterly grind it out to zero.

    Make damage consequential and play the NPCs’ interests (or roll the Die of Fate if you’re not sure about their morale).

    Oh! Another thing that helps: keep enemy HP in the 3 – 10 range. If they need to be super tough, give them armor or a supernatural invulnerability that has to be discovered/thwarted. This way, the d6-ish damage range will produce a clear result in the fiction (dead, badly wounded, bloodied) rather than just ticking down a big abstract number. (In our game, 99% of humans have 6 HP or less, so a single sword blow is really really bad.)

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