Or: D&D 5e is kind of a terrible way to be introduced to the genre.
tl;dr Dungeon World was a great discovery.
Up until a year ago, I wasn’t a tabletop gamer. My only experience was owning the 1996 edition of the Star Wars Rolplaying Game, creating characters once, and then failing miserably while trying to DM the included campaign for two bored friends. Another factor was that my childhood friends were all into games like Warhammer 40K and thus we never ended up falling down the D&D hole. It was only now, while I was in my 30s, that I found a rag-tag group of tabletop adventurers to join in a long running D&D 5e adventure that we play weekly.
After being playfully harassed by some of my non-nerd friends for months about my regular gaming, I decided to show them how fun it is by running a sample encounter with them on rainy afternoon. I grabbed the Lost Mine of Phandelver character sheets and had them play the introductory section of the game.
They enjoyed the non-combat portion of the session but the minute that combat started and initiative was rolled, they started to really struggle with the rules and just how different the combat portion of the game is.
This is what I took away from that session.
- First level characters in D&D aren’t that fun to play for new people.
- Having to teach two different systems to play one game is hard.
- 5e characters sheets are difficult to parse at a glance.
- There’s nothing stopping the DM from over-preparing.
- I could never have done it without pre-rolled character sheets.
It was after this that I discovered Dungeon World (and by extension everything powered by Apocalypse World) and after listening to a few episodes of Friends at the Table I really wanted to have another opportunity to introduce people to tabletop gaming using this system.
A couple of weekends ago, I got that chance.
We had family visiting from out of town, two of the visitors were a pair of younger family members (11 and 13) who have wild imaginations and are seriously into boardgames.
I’d read a few resources online about running a DW campaign with no prep (the system practically begs for you to do none) and pitched the idea to the older of the two and we planned on playing a day later once we were all at the beach.
Once the 3yo was down for the night, we started generating our world. Our motley crew of adventurers consisted of:
- A human ranger with a pet raptor (the 13 year old)
- A elven druid with a secret mission (the 11 year old)
- A goth wizard that shoots rainbow magic missiles (my wife)
- A two headed bard named Duo (the grandparents)
Right away, I saw the real benefits of the system:
- Character creation was simple, the playbooks are self contained.
- There’s enough flexibility that I could give the 13 year old a raptor pet.
- One general outline of the rules (mostly surrounding Moves) was enough to start.
We sat down and I guided everyone through the creation of the world. I only contributed the end goal: a tower on an island. The 11 year old druid created a magical forest where elves live in mushrooms and where the elders of the city are born in the tower. The 13 year old imagined a set of dangerous mountains between the city and the they had needed to cross the last time they went to the tower. The bard knew about a field of grabbing pits from old songs and the wizard knew that forbidden knowledge was at the tower.
The adventure played out over two nights. After getting a warning from an earth elemental to beware patrols, the group headed to the mountain range only to be stopped by patrolling constructs. They snuck and fought (and did bear belly flops onto robots), only to find a hidden sky chain to a suspicious cloud. The sky chain lead to an old hermit who had initially sent the earth elemental and, in return for 300 future coins dropped them within eyesight of the tower. From there they kidnapped a small construct guarding a hidden bridge across, bluffed their way inside with its help, and stopped the evil wizard elder who set the whole thing in motion.
After the first session, the adventure became the center point of almost all of the conversations over the weekend. They plotted strategy, talked about their characters and exclaimed “This could be a book!”. I think the game was a success.
Running the game completely by the seat of my pants was a great experience too. Cracking open the imaginations of two people released a firehose of interesting ideas and situations.
- Characters were created quickly.
- The core rules were understood almost immediately and lead to fun outcomes.
- I could scale situations to meet their interest level and difficulty on the fly.
- I didn’t worry about one shot killing anyone until they leveled up.
I did however make a few mistakes:
- There was no end game set up for most of the characters. The main motivation for going to the tower ended up being “because we’re going there”.
- I forgot to set bonds before we started out and so we lost some of that party glue that held them together.
- Due to rushing a bit, I ended up running the climax as a pretty standard hit point grind D&D encounter. People were having less fun.
I couldn’t have been more surprised at the differences between the two experiences. I want to run more games.