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Inglorious Design Diary

Posted in Dungeon World

I’m not sure this is really a design diary. I’ve never been quite sure what a design diary actually is. I assume I don’t have to start it with “Dear Design Diary, today…”

What this actually is is a peek at my thought process going into the war supplement, now known by it’s working title Inglorious. I’m only one half of the DW brain trust, and we had help as usual, so I can only explain as far as my own skull.

#What Is War?

Probably our biggest challenge was finding the right level of detail for the rules to handle battles. There’s a pretty fundamental reason for this that I’ll come back around to—if I spilled it now it’d spoil our trip down memory lane.

The first thing I aimed for was a tabeltop wargame that could be played at a restaurant in the time between ordering food and getting your meal with only the materials on hand. This was really a stand in for other requirements: the time because a battle shouldn’t be an entire game session. Materials because DW has always been materials-light (or light-ish) and I didn’t want to move away from that. The restaurant because it rules out huge references or lots of tables.

We actually had a working design here, thanks in large part to Adam B. (not to be confused with DW co-author Adam K.). It met all the criteria and was light and fun.

The problem, though, was that it wasn’t needed. In fact, I’ve come to think that no battle rules are needed. As a DW GM you portray a fantastic world, you don’t need rules to manage detailed unit interactions. Really, you don’t need anything other than your imagination.

This formed a shifting point. Instead of making a war game that worked with DW and felt DW-ish, we wrote a guide to how to manage and portray combat. In my own experience, this is far more useful than a discrete set of rules.

One of our guiding principles became “the players shouldn’t have to know any special rules.” This is true of DW in a lot of ways. It helps if you get Vancian spellcasting, sure, but for the most part you can just say what your character does and the move triggers plus the GM will handle the rest. Knowing the rules may help you make better decisions, but a DW player’s primary responsibility is just saying what their character does.

Our battle system needed to be the same. If the players had to learn a mass combat system, or a new set of moves, we’ve failed. That leaves a lot to the GM. I think you could look at what we made as a GM guide to battles, really, though as with the core GMing chapter I’d call them rules.

#Hidden Information

The beating heart of the Inglorious battle system is lack of information. If the player characters can get perfect information a DW battle is essentially won (or the fact that it can’t be won is clear).

Luckily perfect information is rare, or even impossible. Not because of some rule we wrote, but because the GM is the players’ senses. Getting a war-game style accurate and complete view of the battle requires player creativity. There’s no spell that just gives it to you, but you can certainly work towards it.

#What’s Still To Come

This core system I feel pretty confident in. We’ve had a few battle reports from others that went well. I feel back on, essentially, DW’s battle rules when our Pendragon battle bogged down. There will be revisions (oh boy will there be revisions) but I don’t anticipate this changing in a major way.

Which leaves the rest of the book. While we’re thinking of this as the second chapter, it’s in some ways the core of the book. From here we expand out into a number of player and GM treats, plus some other goodies.

Sage LaTorra is a game designer and engineering manager at Google. You may know him from Dungeon World.

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