Last month I ran two games, both Powered by the Apocalypse, in the first, a game of Viking World, I feel like the game ran aground a bit on some player assumptions so for the second, a game of Adventures on Dungeon Planet, I was upfront about the assumptions of the game and as a consequence it went much more smoothly. But the whole thing has had me thinking more about the assumptions that players and game masters bring to games.
Assumptions about the setting or style of game are nothing new to tabletop RPGs, the last two D&D Dungeon Master's Guides have addressed them, for instance, here are the assumptions the 5e DMG lays out.
- Gods oversee the world
- Much of the world is Untamed
- The World Is Ancient
- Conflict Shapes the World’s History
- The World is magical
- Helpful NPCs are friendly experts who are eager to help and share everything they know and have boundless in-game knowledge.
- We’re the heroes, what we do is heroic even when its slaughtering foes who surrender or threatening captives with torture.
- The extraordinary, and even the impossible, is easy as long as you roll high. AKA a natural 20=Wish Spell, right?
- There is nothing like a little knowledge, there is only a lot of knowledge. If I know something about a topic, I should be able to know everything about it.
Playing Dungeon World means having a conversation; somebody says something, then you reply, maybe someone else chimes in. We talk about the fiction—the world of the characters and the things that happen around them. As we play, the rules will chime in, too. They have something to say about the world. There are no turns or rounds in Dungeon World, no rules to say whose turn it is to talk. Instead players take turns in the natural flow of the conversation, which always has some back-and-forth. The GM says something, the players respond. The players ask questions or make statements, the GM tells them what happens next. Dungeon World is never a monologue; it’s always a conversation.
The rules help shape the conversation of play. While the GM and the players are talking, the rules and the fiction are talking, too. Every rule has an explicit fictional trigger that tells you when it is meant to come into the conversation.
Moves are rules that tell you when they trigger and what effect they have. A move depends on a fictional action and always has some fictional effect. “Fictional” means that the action and effect come from the world of the characters we’re describing. In the move above the trigger is “when you attack an enemy in melee.” The effect is what follows: a roll to be made and differing fictional effects based on the outcome of the roll.
When a player describes their character doing something that triggers a move, that move happens and its rules apply. If the move requires a roll, its description will tell you what dice to roll and how to read their results.
A character can’t take the fictional action that triggers a move without that move occurring. For example, if Isaac tells the GM that his character dashes past a crazed axe-wielding orc to the open door, he makes the defy danger move because its trigger is “when you act despite an imminent threat.” Isaac can’t just describe his character running past the orc without making the defy danger move and he can’t make the defy danger move without acting despite an imminent threat or suffering a calamity. The moves and the fiction go hand-in-hand.
• fill the characters’ lives with dangerous opportunities and unsettling threats
• play to see their destinies unfold
• let them shape their world – or their world shape them
• play your character like they are a real person
• interact with the fictional world
• pursue your destiny
- SPACE! Is dangerous
- The EARTH is far away
- The PCs have been on the ZDARKSY for 3-6 months
- Who’s the captain of the ZDARSKY?
- Is it in the hands of its original owner or captain, or was it stolen and rechristened?
- TRAVEL between PLANETS is DANGEROUS but not UNCOMMON
- TECHNOLOGY is what the 1950’s expected of the year 2016 so something that is MICRO might be the size of a backpack. RADIO is the hot technology, not cellular wireless.
- The REPTILOIDS are craven but crafty foes who are trying to CONQUER the GALAXY but are hindered by their TRIBAL organization
CRASH LANDING ON THE PLANET OF THE REPTILOIDS!
The intrepid ship, Zdarsky, has crashed on the dangerous and deadly S’sss’sss, Planet of the REPTILOIDS! Now the crew must scavenge for parts to repair their ship while avoiding the aforementioned savage and mammal hating Reptiloids, as well as Fur Crabs, Carnivorous Trees and even the dread and terrifying Scorpion Pigs!