Dungeon World is a modern repackaging of the way you remember D&D/AD&D being, back in the day. If you never played those games, it’s supposed to deliver a straight-up, no-nonsense dungeon crawl.
It does this with rare wit.
Initially reading the game, there is a lot you recall from A/D&D: hit points, armor class, those six statistics (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha), classes and races. A great many powers and spells are straight from AD&D 2nd edition.
But they all work in a super light, cohesive framework that anybody picks up in a minute. To do anything, you roll 2D6 plus applicable stat. There are very few exceptions or modifiers. There’s two tricks to this. One, the game master never rolls. It’s always the players reacting to things, their own actions potentially causing them pain. Two, most of the time you don’t quite succeed in what you wanted to do. Instead, you get a partial success or a failure. Critically, these carry the game forward in surprising directions.
Failure in a roll is always awarded with XP. This makes players actually look forward to failing, and it’s easy to excite them to think about the consequences. Every roll carries the fiction forward. You get into a very smooth, natural rhythm of talking about the action and the fiction, the mechanics barely registering once you’re into it, even though you’re rolling all the time.
You will be totaling up your weight allowance and coins, all abstracted to a level that’s fun and easy to manage, yet forces you to make decisions and manage the resources. You really do get all the fun with none of the drudgery!
I ran Dungeon World for three new players today. I only had very limited experience gaming with any of them and had done zero prep, barely printed the character sheets and move lists before the game.
We improvised the entire game, but it did run surprisingly coherently. The mechanics really made interesting things happen – the class specific moves are very well thought out, bringing life to the portrayals. Everybody liked the bonds they had with the other players that help you figure out the relationships on the fly.
My only issues were with coming up with good enough NPCs on the spot so likely I’m going to prepare a bunch in advance to be used wherever. Note that this is kind of against the spirit of Dungeon World: you’re not supposed to bring pre-prepared materials to the table, but rather let the play define itself. It really has been designed as low to no preparation.
As far as instant gaming goes, Dungeon World is easily my favorite.
The character sheet is the best example of the no prep ethos: the whole character is created by choosing options from the sheet, including gear, looks, name and levelling up. It’s a beautiful design, bringing together decades of shared experiences.
Also special mention goes to the exemplary shopping lists, especially where services and those random weird numbers are concerned – the prices for castles and assassinations and the like.
Dungeon World feels like a lighter alternative to my regular D&D 4E campaign. I can see them co-existing. Dungeon World has more laughs, turns and colorful characters, whereas we have more… I guess weight in D&D. I’m by no means ready to ditch D&D, as it’s just a different experience.
As a cool comparison, I played AD&D 2nd edition the previous night, for the first time in around 20 years. I didn’t remember how quick and easy it was to play! Compared to DW it’s missing all the cool mechanics and it’s constrained by the initiative system and other relics, but regardless, as an office game it was fine enough to continue. Merciless, though! Our wizard had two hit points. Oh, the times.