World of Dungeons by John Harper is a tiny pdf, 3 double-spread pages, a third of which is the stained character sheet printed twice. In that space you get enough rules to get started with the idea that as you go, you and your friends will be creating new moves as needed.
Northlands, Imperium, Regency, Xanathar & Islands, Uru & the Great Desert, Akhyra & Cythonis, with a list of evocative names under each. That right there is a setting. That is all anyone needs to get started. Daydream on that, write some names on a map, scrawl out a few rivers, some mountains, jot some symbol that means, “demon-haunted hole filled with treasure,” a few times and you are good to go.
Dangitall, there is even cosmology about True Names in there that I didn’t even remember until I pasted the page into my blog.
I think what I’ve learned in the process of writing this is I like my settings with more questions than answers.
What is the Regency? Is there a child-king ruled by a council of oligarchs? Will the oligarchs hand over power when the child comes of age?
The border where the Northlands meets the Imperium – is it open war? Feuding? Have the Northlands Jarls sworn oaths to the Empire?
Xanathar and Islands – why is the Imperium navy having trouble keeping its hold on the forts here?
Uru and the Great Desert – what remnants of a once worlds spanning government has its ancient ruins buried in these sands? What are the people like who call the Uru home and why has the Imperium kept its armies clear of them?
Ankhyra and Cythonis – what is the cultural link between these lands and the Imperium? What relationship did they have with the ancient people of Uru? What political conflict is causing civil war there now?
And I want those questions answered through play – if they are answered at all.
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Thinking about the steps I want to take when I make a delve inspired by a Dyson Logos map for our World of Dungeons game.
When you make a dungeon, daydream, meditate, and/or ponder the following:
What did the Sorcerer-Kings build/use this for?
Does it have to make sense? I’m not sure it does but even if the sense is just inhuman Sorcerer-King monster-logic, that is fine. Because I needed a place to store this awesome sword and so I had my subjects build this death-cathedral is reason enough.
What became of it once the S-K’s stopped maintaining it?
Thinking about words to use here…evolution, mutation, degradation, flourishing, pining, imitating, waiting, sleeping, dreaming – what do the Sorcerer-King’s fell creations, abused subjects and abandoned pets do while they wait for an alien overlord who will never return?
Who is in it now? What do they want? What conflicts are brewing because of the neglect?
Is there a situation in there now? There doesn’t have to be. The Red Vampire Queens were just sleeping – one had woken up but there was no warring factions, just crab-beasts wandering around looking for food. Something to keep in mind, the balance has been messed up.
How does the site’s decrepitude effect the community in Jaquays around the portals into these delve sites?
This is something I’ve forgotten. The community could be having anything from bad dreams to experiencing terrible smells. It doesn’t have to be a causing the community to be in crisis, though maybe it is. What happens if the site has become a part of the community’s status quo? Hm. I need to remember to always be linking the delve back to the fair city of Jaquays.
After that I grab a map from Dyson Logos’ site or one of their map-books and start jotting down thoughts and notes – this is more concrete info that I’ll want on-hand when we play (like moments in Trophy Gold), things I’ll describe, monsters, sensory stuff, etc.
Other bits to write about: The Shift Clock, Exiting the Dungeon and after our last session, I’d like to write down some thoughts on the city of Jaquays. I took a step I regret in our last session and made our fair city too dark. We’ve got one Doskvol already and don’t need another. I want Jaquays to be about cleaning up messes in the community, improvement for everyone and hope. We’ll get back to those touchstones at the start of our next sessions. More about that and more in a future blog post.
P.S. I messaged Jennell Jaquays and let her know that we named our fantasy city after her out of respect for her legacy in our hobby. She was lovely, said that she was honored and only asked that we pronounce it correctly, JAKE-WAYS.
In the Wake of the Sorcerer-Kings has been in my head without much detail for a while. I can find notes about the setting from years ago, notebooks from my NYC commuter days. The Sorcerer-Kings strip mined something from the earth and left, leaving their labs, weapons and experiments all over the city. Municipal delvers, who have their own labor union, go into these otherworldly portals and vaults, making them safe for the people who live in the area.
The delves have maps, either from the archives of the Sorcerer-Kings or mapping constructs sent into the delve site. I wanted an in-game excuse to hand Sean the pretty Dyson Logos maps.
We’re taking dungeons and sticking them directly into people’s homes, making a community of supportive workers around the delving trade, and looking into the ruins of an inhuman colonial menace that has picked up and left its mess behind. I can’t wait, haven’t been, this excited to game in a long time.
World of Dungeons leaves lots of room for the people playing it to make their own moves. I’m trying not to get ahead of myself, want to see how the game plays before writing up too many moves. The main things I’ve written down are details about delve sites, thoughts on various Sorcerer-Kings and those who served them, so as he discovers more about them, there is a feeling of alien depth.
Made a few things to show to Sean, something to get the first delve started with some flavor and another so we can make the setting together.
Making the city details, I couldn’t use the Apocalypse World playbooks as a guidepost (like I did in Moons of Leviathan’s Ithaca Station). This isn’t a game about a lack of resources or trying to rule over chaos. I wanted a city that felt lived in, so I made some details, hoping that they were enough for Sean to grab onto and run with. I think we’re going to be okay.
Sean’s character is a lycanthrope who lost an arm during a past delve. Had to make a lycanthropy move. I knew I wanted a situation where the character might lose control to The Beast and black out but I wanted the player to have control over when that occurred.
Rather than thinking about, How can these 2d6+something emulate what I want out of a game about delving into dangerous places that are causing problems for the community I want to think more about How can we frame this conversation to get what we want out of this game?
The move I love most in Apocalypse World is the Workspace on the old Savvyhead sheet (in the latest iteration of AW, Burned Over 2021, it is called Tinkering and is listed among the Standard Moves that go with a Workspace).
It gives the conversation structure. I ripped it off here, using it as a way to make magic items in D&D and blend it in to Traveller’s Little Black Box to reframe training here.
There isn’t much there but it is given with a wink and a nod and lots of old school D&D inspiration. The text above is the most flavorless text in the whole document. There rest is classes, equipment, names and places. Powered by the Apocalypse games (all role-playing games, really) demand rich context.
That is why I started with the Union Checklist at the start of the blog post and then moved into a list of fantasy city stuff. I wanted that feeling of a fantasy firefighter about to walk into a hot mess, participating in a labor union full of plucky adventurers trying to do right by the community in a city that was left strip-mined by inhuman monsters but life goes on. There’s work to be done.
I can’t imagine where I’m getting inspiration from that.
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For some groups this process is easy but once you get a table full of opiniated game designers it can get difficult. And here’s the thing, if you paly these games long enough, you’ll likely become an opiniated game designer – like staring into the abyss too long and the abyss staring back.
If the game has a situation baked in, no need to make one. For Band of Blades, I don’t get creative, I just say, “Want to play Band of Blades? It is a fantasy military RPG inspired by Black Company.”
If the game doesn’t have a pitch, I’ll bake something in. I’m not going to just say, “Want to play a D&D game in the Forgotten Realms.” I’d rather say, “How about a game about searching for the Ring of Winter up and down the Sword Coast?” or “How about a game about hunting down Zhentarim spies in the Dalelands?”
Honestly, one my favorite kinds of game pitches is, “Hey, I’m running X game on Y time. If you can make it, please do. If not – that is totally cool; we’ll let you know when we’re playing a different game or at a different time. My other favorite kind of game is a group of friends in a house together on a rainy day, just making up characters based on a loose idea and going. In these pandemic days, friends all together on a rainy dayfeels like even more like a fantasy.
One last pitch thought – be loose with it. The initial pitch might change from what you thought it would be through the process of creating characters. As long as everyone remains excited and their characters are still relevant that is great.
What did we decide on?
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