Help me make my dungeon awesome and/or coherent

edited February 2012 in Story Games
Dear SGers,

I'm playing Dungeon World this weekend with some old friends, and I want it to be an awesome game night. Except I had a horribly punishing week at work, and didn't get to put in as much game prep as I wanted. I have, like, a half-finished adventure, and no time to finish it.

So. I have a lot of cool monsters statted up and a town pretty well fleshed out and a bunch of ideas, but I feel like the overall setting/theme/backstory is vague and will confuse the players.

Here's what I have so far.
  • The adventure is a mix of lots of stuff: social interactions, foreshadowing, figuring stuff out, fighting monsters, going into a dungeon. Serious old-school, not wacky, gonzo old-school.
  • The PCs go to a little town way up north where terrible winter storms are causing trouble. Magical, scary storms, with ice and wraiths and winter wolves. They run into some of this on the way there, like, 5 minutes after we sit down to play.
  • The people in the town are all scared. They know that the storms are caused by Winter's King, a fierce-but-not-evil winter spirit / faerie lord kind of guy. He is pissed, for some reason. Not sure why.
  • An evil wizard came through town a couple years back, asking lots of questions about Winter's King, and the faeries that live in the Old Forest.
  • The PCs have to venture into the Old Forest, filled with wily, indifferent faeries and dangerous animals. Maybe they meet a nice-ish faerie, who tells them some useful shit?
  • The PCs have to cross through a big, ancient field where a great war was once fought, a "barrow downs" kind of place. This place is lousy with undead - ghosts, wights, wraiths.
  • There is a dungeon, underground, with traps and animated statues and such. Maybe the evil wizard summoned and bound Winter's King? Maybe the evil wizard did something else?
PLEASE ADVISE.

Comments

  • I'll start with this: work vs. prep suuuucks. It is a feeling that, as a relatively busy human being who likes gaming, I can fully get behind. I empathize with the pain you feel.

    I'm going to be a semi-unhelpful person here and respond primarily to this;

    "overall setting/theme/backstory is vague and will confuse the players. "

    Whenever I'm in this position, I kind of just leave giant gaps and make my players fill them in by asking "how do you know that / this / them" and then play off that. I prep stuff that I absolutely have to have answers for like "What's in this room, what's down that hall, etc" but there's a lot of space you can leave open. Let the players hypothesize and then jack your favourite ideas. Give them a mystery, let them work on the solution and pick the best one, you know?

    Find excuses to tie their PCs to the NPCs in the adventure and then ask questions about them. That's what I'd do, shy of prep.
  • The PCs get caught in a vicious snowstorm. They see the light of a lone cabin by the lake (or river, or whatever). As they approach, they hear slapping sounds and cries. Through the windows, they see a burly man with black hair and a droopy mustache crawling on the floor, wearing only his suspenders and britches and looking like he is all wet. Another man, with long blond hair and a full beard is whipping the first man with a belt while that man crawls around.

    If the PCs enter the cabin they will discover that the black-haired man, Boris, fell into the lake and was rescued by the blond man, Kolya, who is whipping him with a belt to get his circulation going again. They have a bottle of vodka to keep themselves warm, and they have a handful of dragon's teeth they found in a field that they have been trading with a local faerie, Stukla, for faerie-silk garments that they sell to travelling merchants. They have some gold saved up so they can give their dear friend Milan a decent burial, because Milan is presently buried in an unmarked grave under a tree next to the big, ancient field where the undead lurk. Boris and Kolya know which tree he lies under, but are too scared to go there, because of the undead.

    If the PCs agree to retrieve Milan's body, the pair will gladly give them half their gold, and spend the rest on a funeral.

    Or something like that.
  • Stukla is a short little gnome or redcap who wears greens and browns and a bright red cap. His face is wizened and his eyes glow blue.

    He is collecting magical reptile parts so he can assemble an undead Frankenstein dragon-lizard to fight the... oh shit you wrote "there's a dungeon underground," I thought that said dragon. So he wants his reptile golem to fight the evil wizard who is trespassing on his shit or maybe he works for the evil wizard and he wants the golem to fight the king of winter.

    He might want more than just reptile parts, though. He could always ask the PCs to bring him some undead parts if they are going to go fight the undead in the field.

    Or something like that.
  • How about a weather engineering project gone awry? Maybe your wizard is a refugee from the tropical south and when they fled up north they decided that constant snow and ice sucked and so they tried to destroy all the non-summer seasons.

    Maybe the party could complete the project and usher in the endless summer?
  • Posted By: Brian Minter
    So. I have a lot of cool monsters statted up and a town pretty well fleshed out and a bunch of ideas, but I feel like the overall setting/theme/backstory is vague and will confuse the players.
    It looks like you've done more prep than I usually do. They key to running DW on the fly is to ask questions of the players to fill in the gaps. If they Spout Lore about something you haven't thought of and nothing comes to mind, defer responsibility and ask them. Embrace the shared world-building of DW.
  • Maybe the evil wizard bound winter's king, and now winter rages uncontrolled, sure. That sounds good.

    So who is the king of the faeries now? Is it Marbright, the dandified pretender? He has the evil wizard's help, though he pretends to be opposed to him, because the other faeries don't like him. But the king of winter's daughter, Hallafina, sees herself as the rightful heir, now that her father has been defeated.

    If the PCs expose Marbright's deception, the other faeries turn against him. Hallafina (once crowned Queen of Winter) or some other faerie might offer them a boon, but Marbright, in exile, will probably become a recurring villain. If the PCs free winter's king, Marbright will flee in terror, but Hallafina will continue to press her claim to the throne of winter, because her father was defeated by the evil wizard, so he must abdicate. If the PCs are on the winning side, they will probably be granted a boon.

    Maybe the boon that comes from being blessed by the king or queen of winter is: When you travel through the Northern Winter (what, you didn't think it was the throne of winters everywhere, did you?), roll+cha. On a 10+, you travel through a picturesque landscape of glistening crystals and downy snow that thoroughly impresses anyone travelling with you that you are trying to seduce or whatever. On a 7-9, the winter seems less strong to you, and you... I can't remember the DW travel move. You eat half as many rations or whatever the fuck it was going to cost you to make the trip. On a miss, the throne of winter isn't watching over you at this particular time! But one of your enemies amongst the winter faeries is! Or the spirits of winter are especially hard on you because no one is looking (and will be duly punished later). The up-shot is that you can take a +1 to your next roll against the throne of winter because whomever it is feels bad about this oversight.

    Or something like that.
  • edited February 2012
    Thanks for the advices! I really like Stukla the redcap trying to build a corpse golem, and a pretender faerie king fighting over the crown.

    Also, Adam and Hamish, you are both probably right that I am over-thinking this.

    Which is weird, because I usually run games with very little prep. Maybe I'm worrying too much because I'm extra-invested in this game being awesome. I am sort of reverting to my 1998-era D&D planning here.
  • No problem. If you use any of those faeries in your game, lemme know how it goes.
  • edited February 2012
    Hey Brian, two things:

    1. I just posted a whole wintery mountainy campaign setting that might have stuff to steal. Some fun resources in this thread too.

    2. That seems like a ton of stuff, how much time do you have? Personally I would cut to the chase and start them at the door to the frickin' dungeon. In my limited experience with trying to run a more sprawling Dungeon World game (see link above) the very best stuff happens in the dungeon, where classes like the thief really come into their own. Also, from a prep standpoint dungeons are easy - you don't really need to do any unless you are into it.
  • Jason, that setting is super cool, and helpful. Thanks! (mmm ... winter-y ....)

    I definitely want to run a multifaceted game. The dungeon is actually on the small side, 8 rooms or so. This group is (partly) my old D&D 3e group, and we spent a lot of our time doing city adventuring, talking to people, figuring out stuff. I like those things.

    Town > creepy forest > undead-laden fields > old-school dungeon is my mental map of the game.
  • Brian, maybe I'm misreading you but I get the feeling you're prepping a pretty linear adventure progression, A to B to C etc.

    I think maybe it would help to just think about those places as simply locations, not consecutive "scenes", close your eyes, conjure them up in your mind's eye. Take notes about them, a paragraph each, maybe sketch a little doodle map. They're your cues for improvising/describing stuff in game.

    Then make sure the players/characters have a reason to visit those places, especially the dungeon. Maybe even prenegotiate before the game, or open with a leading question "So, what did you hear was in there, that made you make this journey?"

    Don't worry about the backstory, as long as you know what's causing these events and so on it's fine. Just pick something and go with it, have a backbone, the rest is just floating ideas that you can bring in the game as needed. DW's moves like Spout Lore and Discern Realities (Are they still called that?) will help you deliver the info to your players in a reliable fashion.

    IMHO YMMV etc as usual
  • edited February 2012
    Good advice, Gregor, thanks. I'm open to them jumping from place to place, but the element I'm worried about is that old D&D bugaboo, why are they going to this dangerous place to fight monsters? I wrote some questions, but I think your open-ended suggestion is the way to go. "Why are you here, doing this stuff?" is a great approach.

    I love these pre-game player questions ... I've seen them in a few places, such as Marshall Miller's super-awesome mini-settings (one of them, Black Oak Ridge, was so inspiring that I scrapped my evil cult and shoehorned a bunch of faeries into my adventure, leading me directly to my current state of over-planning). They are great.
  • I have little to no time for prep anymore, but luckily DW is great for this.

    I kicked a two-session game off with nothing more than a Tony Dowler micro dungeon and a vague thought of "goblin bandits escaping the rain".

    Next thing you know, the wizard was misfiring a spell against a skeleton trying to pull him into a grave, and he ended up attracting a giant purple worm thing that chased them deep inside, where they found a goblin-monk in a trance state who was sealed into a room and who held the key to a blood idol hidden inside a sarcophagus. Somewhere along the way they got sucked into a drain in a brewing room and traveled into "Beervana".

    If you really pay attention to character generation and make interesting things happen when you make hard moves, you really don't need prep. In fact, at least for one-or-two shots, I would say DW is better with LESS prep.

    It's hard to let go, but the results can be very satisfying.
  • Chris,

    Can you tell us a little more about *how* all those things came about?
  • Posted By: Jason Morningstar1. I just posted a wholewintery mountainy campaign settingthat might have stuff to steal.
    Jason,

    What is this "thing" for? A specific game, or is it really intended as a completely system-agnostic kind of "setting" book? Have you used it already? Has anyone else? How did it go?
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: Paul T.Posted By: Jason Morningstar1. I just posted a wholewintery mountainy campaign settingthat might have stuff to steal.
    Jason,
    What is this "thing" for? A specific game, or is it really intended as a completely system-agnostic kind of "setting" book? Have you used it already? Has anyone else? How did it go?
    It's obviously system agnostic and I don't detail any of the locations, so it is all setting and situation. Use it however you want. I use it as the default setting for whatever fantasy I run and have for a while. It helps me breathe life into a generic one-shot dungeon crawl of I can make a +2 spear into the Spear of the Tuchkonen Martyrs and so forth.
  • Posted By: Paul T.Chris,

    Can you tell us a little more about *how* all those things came about?
    Sure, Paul.
    Posted By: Caesar_Xnothing more than a Tony Dowler micro dungeon and a vague thought of "goblin bandits escaping the rain".
    I was using the micro dungeon called The Casks which just has 1-2 word descriptions for each location, plus some evocative pieces of color:

    A crumbling ruin that provides harried travelers a respite from a vengeful storm
    An imprisoned spirit desiring immediate release
    A piece of forgotten lore, immensely valuable to some, but in the wrong hands, a terrible danger
    A convivial band of thieves under the sway of a charismatic leader


    The party approached the ruins in the driving rain, and could see some light and smoke escaping from the crumbled entrance. I described another narrow opening between the "Graves" and "Collapse". So one character tried climbing up on a headstone to look through the opening. Skeletons lying underneath the muddy graves reached up and attacked the party. The Wizard rolled a 7-9 on Cast a Spell, and chose "draw unwanted welcome" as the unfavorable outcome. So I described the magical missile flying from the wizard's hands and crushing the skull of the nearest skeleton. But the immense shrieking sound from the less-than-perfect spell was very close to the mating call of a giant purple worm, who started slithering out from treeline to meet his Match.com date.

    After some negotiation (Parley) with the giant worm which included throwing the worm a chunk of skeleton that still had meat attached, the party made tracks to get into the ruins but quick. They figured, whatever was inside couldn't be as bad as what was outside.

    I assumed there were a few goblins on watch in the Tower, but they were probably busy crapping themselves from the HUGE WORM trying to get through the collapsed entrance. Once the party hopped inside, they saw another goblin who had been roasting what looked like an Elvish hand on a stick over a fire. After all the hubbub, the goblin made a quick beeline for the interior of the ruins.

    In retrospect, I was actually railroading a bit as I wanted to push the action to the interior of the ruins. But I did it with hard moves from bad dice rolls and reactions from scared/horny monsters.

    I believe they split up at some point (the session was late last year so don't remember). In "Casks", they found and rescued the daughter of a local merchant (who was paying them to find her). One of the characters was immediately smitten with her. But the daughter was knocked unconscious by another character who opened the huge wooden door on her in a rush to warn the party about the impending goblin attack.

    In "Clang", someone found a dwarf chained to a wall and forced to fix armor and weapons for the goblin bandits using a hammer and anvil and a small fire. The Fighter made (I think) a Hack n Slash roll and freed the dwarf, who wanted nothing to do with anyone in this place and ran into "Vat". I'm sure there was a failed Parley roll here somewhere. You'd think the dwarf would have been able to free himself, but go figure.

    At this point, the Wizard had rolled 7-9 on another Magic Missile spell and picked the same outcome. Suddenly they could feel the whole area shaking (the ruins were built into the side of a hill) as the lovestruck giant worm was bashing itself against the entrance, Team Edward-style. The goblins in the towers ran by in the corridor between "Vat" and "Clang" to get away from the huge monster. One or two ran into "Clang" where most of the party was, and the characters dispatched them with some Hack n Slash.

    Once things "quieted" down, the party (including the freed daughter) walked into "Vat" to see what happened with the dwarven smith, but he was gone! The "Drain" looked much too small, but the character with the low WIS figured it must be magic so he stuck his head in...and got sucked through the drain. The others shrugged their shoulders and followed.

    End of session 1.

    I"m sure I missed some "Spout Lore" and "Discern Realities". I really use those two to listen to what the players think are interesting, and move the story in that direction. It's a great tool.

    Does that make any sense?
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarIt's obviously system agnostic and I don't detail any of the locations, so it is all setting and situation. Use it however you want. I use it as the default setting for whatever fantasy I run and have for a while. It helps me breathe life into a generic one-shot dungeon crawl of I can make a +2 spear into the Spear of the Tuchkonen Martyrs and so forth.
    Cool! Thanks for sharing, it's a fun read.
  • Chris,

    Very interesting! How much of that was your own imagination, how much was inspired directly by the dungeon write-up, and how much would you say was based on player input (questions, Spout rolls, etc)?
  • The dungeon writeup was the spark. Just something to hang your hat on. D&D Cliff Notes, if you will. Those one-word room descriptors are GREAT for me.

    The bulk of it is listening very closely to what the players are describing their characters doing and what they think is going on. Again, Spout Lore and Discern Realities are a great way to let our players help build the dungeon as you move along. Also, paying attention to the strengths and weaknesses of each character and the inter-party relationships. Once I knew the Wizard wanted to fail spectacularly, I let him.

    My input was less about imagination, and more about pushing hard in "some" direction. I feel like (esp in a one-shot), if the characters are sitting around discussing what to do, I'm not giving them enough to do. Breaks are breaks, but during the action I'm not shy about pushing my thumb down until it hurts a bit to keep things moving. I just find that players have more interesting reactions when they don't have too much time to think about the "perfect" solution.
  • Posted By: Brian Minterwhy are they going to this dangerous place to fight monsters
    Because there's treasure there?

    Or something else they want / need?

    Or there's a sizable bounty on the monsters or clearing the lair?
  • Finished up the game earlier tonight. It was super fun, probably in my top 5 all time games. I learned some cool things, which I will totally share when get the chance to think about it, plus I have a few questions.

    I didn't use the specific monster/backstory suggestions from this thread, but I appreciate them. I did use some of the big-picture suggestions, and they helped me create major awesomeness, so thanks, all.
  • Major awesomeness is all that matters:)

    That's great, Brian! Love to hear more.
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