Making of… Dungeon World Adventures

What grabbed me about Dungeon World is the core move. It really doesn’t matter what setting or genre you are playing the core move is just about the only thing you need.

The core move looks like this:

Premise: established narrative

Trigger: a player’s stated goal and method is sufficiently expressed in the narrative context to allow triggering a move.

Roll: 2d6 + a suitable modifier, (attribute?)

Result of 10+: Success

Result of 7-9: Success and complications or hard choice

Result of 6-: Not successful and things get more difficult.

Keep that core move in mind as we go on.

Someone once took a look at what I create and pointed out that I was researching and writing the equivalent of an undergraduate dissertation every two weeks. I have slowed down a bit since then, I now output about that every month. The difference between now and then is that 12 months ago I needed to replace my regular salary and pay my bills. Now I have built Parts Per Million up to the point where I will neither be homeless nor starve. It means that I no longer have to work 80hr weeks reading, writing, and playtesting. What this has to do with Dungeon World adventures is that everyone needs to have some downtime, and the method I use here I created during that period of high pressure.

Step One

I nearly always start with a map or location. I am currently becoming familiar with Dungeondraft, and will be creating my own maps, but I also have a library of stock art maps, some by Dyson Logos but for my DW adventures I bought up all of the Elven Tower Cartography maps in a dollar sale. I have a stack of these I can draw upon.

For today’s adventure, I want to use one called Forgotten Cavern.

Step Two

Looking at the map it makes we want to run a Tomb Raider-style adventure session. I am thinking more traps and physical challenges than monsters. That implies some long-lost treasure or artifact.

Once I have an idea of what that is going to be I want to build some Establishing Questions. These help to place my character in the game world. They also add a dose of world-building. I am not a GM that spends weeks and months building intricate worlds full of lore and timelines going back millennia. The establishing questions really come down to 

What is the artifact or treasure?

Who hid it in the first place?

Why do I need to find it?

What do I get out of this (if the treasure is not the reward)

Although I am writing this for me to play through, I am also aware that I can sell these. If any more establishing questions come to mind, especially if they are inspired by the map, I jot them down now as well.

Because of that…

Working with the What and Who questions I create a little back story. Johnn Four has a technique for causation, “because of that…” This is the fastest way I have ever discovered to set up an adventure. For me, it is really scene-setting. In the published adventure it is both scene-setting but also supporting the GM. If a character wants to do research about the historical figures, or the location, the chain of causation gives just enough detail for the GM to improvise answers, and appear to know all the lore that sits behind the adventure.

Focusing on the What and Who, my gut instinct says it is a religious artifact, and the who is a long-dead high priest. 

My chain of causation looks like this. Most of the details are pulled out of thin air on the spur of the moment.

Long ago there was a battle between the gods of light and darkness, at the end of the battle both gods were exhausted, neither could win a decisive victory and a truce was struck. The god of light did not trust the god of darkness, and fearing the truce to be a ruse, and knowing how weakened they were, the god gave their most devout worshippers a crystal containing a spark of divine light. The light of the world could never be truly extinguished as long as that spark survived.

Because of that… the worshipers constructed a save haven deep underground.

Because of that… within a generation, the knowledge of the spark because little more than myth.

Because of that… the following generations of clergy discounted the story as being little more than an allegory, not literal truth.

Because of that… over time the worshipers of the light god moved away from this place, pushed by wars and famines and all of life’s privations.

Because of that… the location for the hiding place was lost.

Because of that… the worshipers of darkness have grown bold, conspiring behind the scenes, aspiring to wipe out their eternal rivals.

Because of that… the worshipers of light have cast about for a saviour, anyone to save them from this rising threat.

Because of that… the god of light has sent dreams and visions, all hint at the location of the spark.

Because of that… adventurers have been sought to find the spark.

This chain of causation took just minutes to create but gives a number of ways in to the adventure. Divine visions are always an easy plot device.

The Challenge

We now have our plot hook and background, what we need now are some challenges and encounters.

I take seven large post-it notes. Each will be an encounter, challenge or NPC.

On each, I want to record the purpose, three sensory prompts, and some stage directions for running that bit of the adventure.

Looking at the map, this suggests six distinct areas. 

1) The entrance.

2) There is a chamber with a passageway blocked by rubble.

3) The platform with the flaming firepits.

4) The platform with the grey pool.

5) All those rock towers and staircases.

6) The chamber with the pillars.

For my seventh challenge I want to have an idea what happens if you fall off the map, into the darkness. 

I next skim through the Dungeon World rules and look for some good monsters. I really want to use an Otyugh and there is the grey pool as a perfect location. I also think a Spiderlord would be cool This would be a normal spider that has been touched by the divine light and changed by it.

As this adventure is not supposed to be about monsters, I think that will be enough. I decide to put the spider lord in the entrance. That now tells me that it will be full of webs, the point of being choked.

A big part of this will be the risk of falling. I want to make this dangerous, and the rules suggest 1d10 damage (ignores armor).

I want some classics such as a big rolling boulder. I can see that starting in the chamber with the pillars, and then doing a kind of marble run until it ends up crashing into the rubble that is currently blocking the passage. Its momentum carrying it over the gaps between pillars and channels and grooves helping it make the corners on the steps.

The chamber with the fire pits needs something, I think a pattern of channels in the floor, would be a clue. When anything comes up the stairs, one of the fire pits tilts, filling the channels with flaming oil. This is a good ‘defying danger’ type trap.

The last thing I need is something terrible in the darkness should a character fall from a rock pillar, and survive the fall. Bakunawa fits the bill nicely, and that implies that there is a hidden way out, which would explain what the Spiderlord and Otyugh have been eating all these years! So any character falling from the stone pillars will eventually land in total darkness and knee-deep in water. If they can defeat a hungry Kakunawa, they could eventually find their way out into a swamp, and daylight.

What the spark of light looks like, what form the artifact takes and the powers that it is fabled to have, can become more establishing questions, up at the top of the adventure.

I can now write up the post-it notes.

As I play this I will have green post-it notes for the locations, pink for the monsters, and yellow for any NPCs that I feel the need to create.

The point of the post-it notes is that I can re-order things if I go off the plot, I can drop monsters on to different locations etc. I can even screw it up and throw it out if it just doesn’t work in play.

Explaining this process has taken me about 2 hours to write up. To create it for me would actually take about 30 minutes. To write it up to publish would take about 1,200-1,500 words and take another hour. 

If you look at one of these adventure booklets, I think you can actually see the post-it notes in the layout, once you know that they were there.

So that is the making of…

The adventure I describe here will be written up and played tonight, written in long-form tomorrow, and will be released on Monday. 

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