I just listened to the Walking Eye podcast, and this bit jumped out at me (paraphrased): "I'd been working on Dungeon World for years, probably since the first time I played D&D". This speaks to me a lot, especially with the vague noises folks have made about how DW somehow feels 3rd-edition-y - - I agree, in that 3rd edition seemed the ripest for an easy Agenda-transplant: I gave my players questions about their characters, I inferred the starting setting/location based on character creation choices, and more or less tried to use the Sorcerer & Sword play principles with 3e books.
So that being said, I did the same thing to DW. Read on!
Last Monday was our first session of Dungeon World. I didn't know what to expect, but quite inadvertently we did some amazing stuff. We're using the Dec2011 preview version of the game, so our experience is probably a mashup of older stuff and things yet to come, but at least we have the v2.0 monster-making rules on hand, which tamps down the insane damage output a bit.
Anyway, so these rules don't have strong guidelines on prep; the first-session advice is basically "start with a tense situation. You'll build on it." Honestly, this really is about all you need - think about that alongside the Bonds questions (which illustrate connections between PCs) and you should have some vague ideas about the setting and about what could be going down in it.
In this case, I thought about their Bonds for a bit, and then resorted to targeted questions - - I asked the Wizard, Osmolord, to tell me, "What were you looking for in these woods, anyway?" He told me, "A place of power." That felt like a sufficiently Wizardly question; glad I asked it.
Then I asked the Ranger, Aranwe, "What's a creature that threatens these woods?" She told me, "That giant demon from Princess Mononoke, the one covered in worm-things." So I looked it up, tweaked it a bit in my head to make it more nature-y, and decided that when it attacks stuff it leaves sprouts and spores behind.
Boom! Gametime. The players have been sent to explore the ruins of a village destroyed by the monster. There is no sign of the villagers whatsoever; only furniture, tools, and the foundations of the houses remain - even the thatch in their roofs was gobbled up by the creature what did this.
So they take a sample of the spores and go back to the ranger's house, which she decided - very much on the fly - to be a cozy, dry cave underneath a big tree in the forest. There's a bio-luminescence theme in the forest, so I decided that elves use jars of water so they can bring glow-foam (glowing freshwater algae) home with them.
The spore sample caused the glow-foams to all freak out for a hot minute and glow bright red. Further study merited a visit with a local sage, Celion the Elf.
Celion had few answers, but he suggested that the reaction from the glow-foam could suggest that a) the spore-source is unnatural and evil and b) maybe it comes from the River of Lights?
So now that's a thing. The players spend the night at his place, and they fail their Make Camp check, so I decided to be a bit of a softie and have Celion's tree-home come to life and walk around while they're sleeping. They wake up just as it's starting to settle into a new spot, some miles west of where they started.
They bid a frightened, confused Celion goodbye and head to the River, where they capture one of the weird glowing jelly-creatures that lives in the water (very Miyazaki, imo) and see what happens when they place it (in a bowl of water) next to the jar with the monster-spores.
It freaks out and tries to claw out of the bowl, its little tendrils twitching in fear.
They relent and separate the two receptacles, but now they really think something ugly is going down. They send Aranwe's hawk-friend Apollo down south to try and spot the monster while they, up north, check out the River of Lights some more, and try to find its source up in the mountains.
That's about where we ended, and I left out some detail so as to present a more streamlined narrative.
-Making monsters is a blast with the v2.0 rules! They still do too much damage, but maybe I just need to reframe my expectations of level-1 characters.
-I totally forgot to make the Wizard roll to cast his spells. I'm still giving him the XP, though, as he did use Intelligence (which was highlighted).
-I haven't quite figured out what kind of communication ability the Ranger is supposed to share with an animal companion (can they talk, or does that require Wild Empathy?), but the Command move (much like the Apocaworld Driver's relationship to his car) lets the Ranger get big stat bonuses by incorporating her companion into the action - for instance, you add its Ferocity to your melee rolls when you fight together - - this led to a sweet +4 bonus on a Discern Realities check!
-It looks like it'll be slowish going with XP and leveling. I think combat is probably going to be a good source of XP, though, and honestly I didn't mind the current (non-BBC) stat-highlighting procedure, but it may end up being useful to explore other options.
-The fact that casting a spell counts as a move means that you can highlight your magic-stat and reap lots of XP that way. It is a bit of a risk, of course...
-If anything, I think the Fronts are more comprehensible to me now than they were with Apocaworld, partly because I'm putting less pressure on myself and partly because I'm more familiar now, but also there's an element of "duh, of course!" when designing Dangers. I do miss the more abstract/conceptual options AW presents, but I'm okay with having the human Mayor count as a planar force - construct of Law on the basis that his impulse is, indeed, to "eliminate perceived disorder".
-I'm trying rilly hard not to get ahead of myself with Campaign Fronts and Dungeon Fronts (I don't quite understand these yet - - I think the latter carry the presumption that play will be dungeon-centered, but that's a big if). Basically, I think DFs are for contained or limited-area threats that are directly challenging the players because of their current situation, while CFs are for broader "motive forces", like the movers and shakers of the setting or the world.
I think the best, biggest asset to making Fronts in DW is the very simple, focused ethos behind them: what would happen if the players weren't around to be heroes? Since DW characters are supposed to be problem-solvers, this makes it very easy to have thoughts like "the elves and humans would go to war" or "the Mayor will declare martial law" or "the monster will destroy most of the farming villages before it can be killed".
In AW, I found it more challenging because I didn't inherently see the players as being good guys - they were just around, and even though RPG expectations and even genre expectations were a factor, I didn't point the NPCs quite directly enough at the players in conflict. I eventually got the hang of it, but there was definitely some disconnect early on, with NPCs just doing their thing and almost ignoring the players. But that's going too far (for my purposes) in the direction of creating a world that exists for its own sake, and not enough of creating a world while exploring what the players are up to.
I think that once my AW players started to feel like it was their world to conquer, things got much more interesting, but at first I was acting like the players would break the setting if it tried to come up and talk to them. I feel a lot more competent with it now, and our DW game will get to reap the payoff on that. Session 2 is tonight, and we have a third player joining us!
[note: he's designing a custom class. It's called the Wilder for now; imagine a barbarian warrior-monk who guards a sacred natural shrine and the nymphs who run it.]