Monday, August 26, 2013

Can a Game Be Too Awesome?

Yesterday, I ran a first adventure for Dungeon World. The idea was, as is the case with typical DW first adventures, to get a whole pile of ideas from the players and turn them into a campaign, with fronts and adventure seeds and all of that, while explaining the system and trying out a bunch of moves.

I started the adventure with the PCs on a magical, floating barge headed to a lost city floating in the clouds. I then besieged the barge with attacking gargoyles.

An interesting thing happened. The players had a blast describing the melee and "finding out what happens" as the GM's agenda dictates. But during the down-tempo moments, when I would ask them questions about the world like "What are you hoping to find in this forgotten city?" the players were all blank slates. Eventually, with some poking and prodding from me, we came up with a backstory involving the Thief finding a lost map to the city in his parent's library, causing him to con the Ranger into helping him follow it, and stealing something from the Paladin, who stayed her wrath when she found out his destination happens to be where her order originated from, and so on.

The players had fun, but it required a lot of effort, and it didn't really flow. I don't blame the game, or myself. I think the players just weren't the "collaborative storytelling" type. In fact, one of the players even admitted that openly!

At the lunch break, I declared the adventure over so that I could stew on the material we had gathered and make up some fronts. In the interim, another player brought an introductory adventure for Mutants & Masterminds 2nd edition, and was really pumped to play it, so we set that up for the rest of the afternoon.

The adventure had us, elite soldiers in a U.N.-backed "Stop Bad Guys" organization, heading into a forest compound looking for kidnapped scientists. The entire scenario from there was tactical combat...out came the miniatures, the map grid; the GM handed us four-page character sheets full of feats, numbers, and stats; up went the GM's laptop with spreadsheets on NPC stats, and out came the rulebook to remember various situational modifiers. You couldn't possibly find a game further from Dungeon World than this.

An interesting thing happened. The players loved it. In just under three hours, we managed to fight off about eight terrorists before giant killer robots fell from the sky and literally killed all of us (the GM hastily explained that we were supposed to lose to advance the story, to which I replied "Well why didn't we just start after we lost, then?") But the players had a blast. One was quick to add that they had fun with both games.

I found it crazy that these players (two of whom were brand new to RPGs) found equal amounts of fun in two extreme examples of the hobby. It's typically been my experience that people tend to like one exclusively, often disliking (or even actively hating) the other one. But these players liked both, and that gave me pause for thought. All this time, I kept thinking that DW was clearly the current Flagship RPG; the latest evolution of the hobby. But here we were, playing a venerable old d20 system game, complete with a bar graph that needed to be consulted whenever we took damage...and we were having a blast.

So, coming back to the's no secret that I have been madly in love with Dungeon World for the past year or so. But this marks the first time when it dawned on me that perhaps even this game isn't quite for everybody. As a GM who focuses himself on bringing new players into the hobby, I'm always looking for the perfect "everyone RPG." I know logically that no such game exists, and, like many things in life, RPGs are what you make them...but yesterday was an interesting reminder of that.

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