Grell Review: Dungeon World

Dungeon World is a fantasy roleplaying game published by Sage Kobold Productions. The game is Powered by the Apocalypse, meaning it runs off of a modified Apocalypse World engine. I’ve played a few PbtA games, but full disclosure: I’ve never actually played Apocalypse World. I digress. Anyway, Dungeon World is PbtA, but its design goal was to emulate old school fantasy games, such as AD&D, but with modern rules. And I think it does this well. More on that in a moment. A friend introduced me to Dungeon World, though oddly enough I played it before he got the chance to. Anyway, let’s get into that great Grell stuff that keeps you coming back… to this third blog post… a year after the last…

What Pleases the Grell
There are a lot of things I really like about this game. I will start by saying that it has a specific game model in mind, and it does it well. That is, it seeks to recreate the fun and wonder of old school games. Not the mechanics, but that sense of fun and wonder we felt when we were younger. Not too long ago I dusted off my AD&D books. I got that feeling I got when I was a girl, that giddiness. The smell of the book. The art. I started reading, plotting out all of the fun things I was going to do. And then I hit the mechanics. And the wonkiness. And the… well… AD&Dness of it all. And I remembered why I stopped playing the game that introduced me to table top, the game that used to inspire me like no other. But Dungeon World takes that nostalgia factor and adds simple, elegant rules. The muddy bookkeeping is gone, the fifteen minute workday is gone. But the sense of wonder and excitement is there. It feels like AD&D used to, even if it runs nothing like it.

It’s important to keep in mind that DW was made for a specific game style. There aren’t a plethora of races, and the ones there are have class restrictions. The classes are somewhat linear, though they are customizable enough. The game’s level based, and has the normal D&D stat range (strength, dexterity, constitution etc.). The game, however, doesn’t have the illusion of customization that similarly inspired games like Pathfinder have (I may write a blog about that later). This doesn’t sound like a plus, this sounds like negative things, is what you’re thinking. Probably. But the thing is, because DW is supposed to feel like old D&D games, these are actually big pluses. They go a long way toward facilitating that feeling. Like, when I open the book, look at it, it feels not only like AD&D, but it immediately recalls other fantasy things I loved when younger (and still do), like Slayers and Record of the Lodoss War. Like, if I want to run a game that feels like that, I am going to run Dungeon World. Elves do elf things, dwarves do dwarf things, and all kinds of tropes that I otherwise hate in games. But I love them in this game.

So, systemwise, it’s pretty simple. Roll 2d6+relevant stat. 7+ is a success, 10+ is usually like a critical, 6 or less is a fail. If you fail you get 1 exp and the GM gets to use your failure against you somehow. There are a bunch of moves, and generally you roll on whatever move is closest to what you want to do. There’s an SRD you can check out, so I am not going to spend too much time going over mechanics. The core book is inexpensive, and a little over 400 pages, most of which is game stuff. There are a plethora of monsters, as well as all kinds of tips on making your own. In fact, there are tips for making your own everything. One of the other stand outs to me is that the book either addresses the reader directly, or when not referring to a specific character, used gender neutral pronouns. Honestly it’s such a small thing that has a huge impact. I think anyway. Also, I enjoy the fronts mechanic, which are kind of just simple note taking mechanics, but they’re pretty helpful. And the little easter eggs. Like James Ninefingers. I mean, that’s just amazing. I couldn’t even when I read that.

What Displeases the Grell
This game is up front with what it is, what it wants to accomplish. And honestly, because of that, I can’t think of anything that really displeases me. Like, it’s not my go to for roleplaying, or even fantasy roleplaying. It is my go to for wanting to do like a classic D&D game, where the world is fresh and ready to explore, and there’s action and drama and comedy and weird stuff going on. Because the game tells you what it is, and doesn’t masquerade as anything other than a game that wanted to be D&D PbtA, there isn’t a lot I can fault it on. It’s laid out well, things are explained. There’s a lot of transparency, and it’s really a riot to run. I haven’t really gotten to be a PC yet, but that looks fun too. I mean, there are even muscly orc women in there! So yeah, I guess the closest thing to displeasure is that it’s not universal and it’s not meant to really feel like anything other than what it is? I wouldn’t run a gritty sword and sorcery game with it, but you’re not really supposed to anyway, so that’s not even a fault.

The Grell’s Verdict
If you want to play AD&D or any other oD&D but you don’t want to dust those books off, remember how THAC0 works, or wade through a bunch of unnecessary encumbrance rules, this is likely the game for you. Like, it feels like I am playing D&D and Slayers and just… for the job it sets out to do, it does it with no complaints from this Grell!

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