Last time I wrote about Dungeon World, it was all about Fail. I want to write about my current Dungeon World campaign and how I’m using the Dungeon World toolbox these days.
Last Fall, I got the idea to run an open table game at the game store, but the players latched on and we took the game to the dining area at our local Wegmans, where we have met up just about every fortnight. We just had Session 16 on Saturday, which seems like the most dramatic and emotionally riveting episode yet. First, I’d like to introduce some of the characters, then I’ll explain what happened in the fiction. Next time, I’ll talk about how that arose out of my prep, the players, and the mechanics of the Dungeon World system.
This week we had Axl, Bella, Vivia, and Phoebe playing Arg the Troll, Lur the Barbarian, Wei the Druid, and Ghanna the Ranger, respectively.
Arg is Axl’s second character, which he took up in Session 13 because his primary character was indisposed. Arg is a Fighter, using the “Towering Brutes” playbook from Number Appearing [PDF]. Since he was from the region of Wei’s homeland, we established a little bit of history and rapport between them. That’s probably all you need to know to follow the action.
Lur is not just any Barbarian. In her second session, Bella noticed she hadn’t picked a race, and we established that she was a “dark elf”—definitely a strange sight in the Spine Hills, beyond the frontier of the Chthonic Imperium. This fact had significant consequences for the Campaign Front, and for the events in this session.
Lur also adopted a 7-year-old girl she found in a razed neanderthal village high in the mountains in Session 8. She didn’t share a language with the girl, so she took to calling the child “Raven”. This gave her access to the Modorwulf compendium class when she dedicated the child to her tribe’s savage god. As a result, she always knows the direction and distance to Raven, and can attack with frenzy anyone who stands between her and her “cub”.
And when Lur encountered her own people for the first time, she gained heritage moves of the Shroud Elves: seeing in darkness, and invoking Shroud Elf magic. She needs only to rest in the Shroud to invoke the rights of her blood.
Vivia only started playing with us in Session 13, so Wei’s career isn’t as storied as Lur’s or Ghanna’s. She was a member of the Druids of Dain, and a guardian of the Iron Tower of Phesh-A’tri. That tower collapsed in Session 12, in events closely related to the party, and Session 13 brought her into contact with them. Those events are too involved to go into here.
Ghanna is the longest-running character in the campaign, a Ranger from the desert on another planet. She has a hawk named “Steve”, an orkish bow, and she bears the Holy Cross of Saint Crucian. Because she struck down a bounty hunter sent from Death’s domain, she gained our Hunter of Hunters compendium class, which gives her special abilities to sense, track, and fight the undead and Death’s agents. And when she swore fealty to Saint Crucian’s cross, she gained the Crusader compendium class, which lets her unlock the relic’s powers against Hornéd Fiends and their spawn.
Sugar the elfin Bard looms large over the events in this session, despite being elsewhere. Sugar was Axl’s primary character, who joined the game in Session 2. He was involved in a ritual to seal the rift between 2 planets, but he wound up on the wrong side. He cheated death so many times that Death started to take notice.
Sugar also had some dealings with a witch, which gave him access to two compendium classes. In their first encounter during Session 5, they made a pact which gave him horns and access to the Goatkin moves. Death was hot on his heals when they met again in Session 9, and the witch offered to hide his heart into the roots of the world, so that Death could not take him. This transformed him into the Heartless Troubadour, and Death was none too pleased.
After a quick recap, we started with a flashback. Lur was a little girl, about the same age as Raven, and she went on a hunting trip in the frozen northern sea with Jurek, a mohawk-wearing warrior from the Spine Hills. They were tracking the Mirror Seal, so named because its hide can be treated to reflect like a mirror, and Lur was armed only with a harpoon and her furs.
Unknown to them, a mother seal was tracking them to keep her pups safe. Lur saw Jurek disappear thrashing beneath the water, and Lur saved him by killing the seal with her harpoon.
Years later, Lur saw Jurek’s lifeless body on the beach of Narushe just before she was swarmed by the orks who killed him. Now, she was on the Mawbreaker, an Imperial Destroyer crewed by orks of the same navy. The Mawbreaker’s orkish security officer Bulag reminded her of Jurek: He wore a “mohawk” of metal spikes, and like Jurek, he had a tick of clenching his left fist when trying to conceal his stress.
Lur isn’t the only one haunted by her past. Being on the Mawbreaker, Arg remembered deserting the Imperial Shock Infantry when he was stationed not far from here in Slaveport. That’s where they were headed now to resupply before leaving port for Kobolstadt, the imperial capital. Will anyone recognize him?
He left Slaveport because they wouldn’t let him eat the slaves. But to keep out of the way of the Empire, he settled under a bridge beyond the frontier, and out there travelers were few, and his appetite was left unsated. By then he found the bone of an ancient beast which he fashioned into a signature weapon. And with that he could hunt larger prey, like the Scaly Dire Hippo.
Wei, meanwhile, was recalling her ally Sinon, who left the Druids of Dain. The others scattered even before that. Sinon is dead now—what about the others? As she left her mountainous homeland for the first time, she pondered that she might be the very last issue of the Druids of Dain.
Ghanna was taking note of the Mawbreaker’s armaments. Besides the canons below deck, she noticed another weird ranged weapon on deck, and an ork showed her how it works. Powered by a two-seater stationary bicycle, it was designed to shoot a hull-piercing hook at smaller vessels to seize and tow them.
Lur was sipping steaming ciaccolatl by herself in the captain’s quarters. The captain was a Shroud Elf, nurtured by darkness, and she kept a shroud lamp bubbling in her quarters at all times, casting a pall of inky darkness over the scene. Suddenly, two yellow eyes appeared in the gloom, and Lur beckoned him to step forward.
It was a bodach, a boogeyman, a type of goblin common in the Imperial Capital. “I heard the rumors that the Empress was aboard, but I had to see you for myself,” he said. “Tell me: Are you really out of your mind.”
“I am when I want to be,” Lur replied.
Looking into her eyes, he said “I don’t think you’re out of your mind at all. And I don’t think you’re really the Empress.”
“That’s because you’re smart. Who are you?”
“Forgive me,” he said, bowing. “I’m Sly.”
She started asking another question, but Sly interrupted: “I’m not supposed to be here, and I’ll be in big trouble if I get caught. I better go.”
“I like you,” said Lur, smiling heartily.
“Thank you,” Sly bowed again. “Your Imperial Majesty!” With that, he turned and vanished into the inky pall. But Lur screwed up her eyes to peer into the Shroud, and saw him open a bodach-door in the wall and step in.
She knocked on the door immediately. He opened, and she could see the bolt-hole went right through the wall into another shadow, but such doors can only be used by bodachs.
“Will I see you again?” Lur asked.
“I’m sure we’ll meet again soon,” said Sly. His ears pricked up, and they heard footsteps approaching. “I better go,” he said, pulling the door shut again.
Suddenly, there was some alarm on the main deck. Orks were motioning toward a patch of sea that had turned black and began to bubble and boil. It reminded Arg of a time he saw a volcano erupting under the sea, but this was different somehow.
The boiling began to belch out great bubbles of gas and a foul wind picked up. The picture was like a sandcastle blowing away, only in reverse: black sand was blowing toward the bubbling waves, and massive twisted iron beams began to take shape. A shattered black hull formed before them, on the same scale as the Mawbreaker, and spectral flame pulsed along the seams, welding it together—not anew, but whole at least. The phantom destroyer surged upright out of the ocean and righted itself on the waves.
The captain Snezhana strode out on deck, leaning over the bulwark. “Is that… the Flameghoul?!”
The Flameghoul was the Mawbreaker’s sister ship. This party last saw it in Session 12. Sugar had surrendered to a Shroud Elf commander, boarded the destroyer, and the ship imploded shortly after that, sending a burst of hellfire across the harbor.
Now the Flameghoul was sidling up to the Mawbreaker’s port. And as it drew near, at least a hundred skeletons appeared on it’s deck. The entire party was on deck now, but at every go they looked on with awe at this spectacle.
On the deck of the Flameghoul, there was a red-cloaked figure. As they ship steadied beside the Mawbreaker, she held a large megaphone to her mouth and called out for Captain Snezhana by name.
“I am Fayrin, an agent of Imperial Crown Intelligence.” She paused, while that sunk in. “But I have found a higher call. I come to you seeking a goat-man and falconer. Surrender them to me, and I will leave you in peace.”
The captain looked to Ghanna who stood nearby on the bridge, as if asking for her testimony. Ghanna answered only by knocking an arrow and—over the captain’s protest—firing it at the red-cloaked figure. There would be no surrender, and no parley with Death’s agents!
Fayrin brought down her hand as a signal, and the Flameghoul’s cannons fired at close range. Immediately, skeletons launched grappling hooks over to the Mawbreaker. Ghanna’s keen eyes caught sight of a black key hanging on a chain from Fayrin’s neck. But while she knocked another arrow, Fayrin’s pistol fired, hitting Ghanna in the hip.
Wei called upon the spirits to turn her into an eagle. Soaring high above the Flameghoul, she spotted the key too, and knew it would be useful. She turned a spiral over the destroyer, studying it closely.
Skeletons began climbing across their lines to the Mawbreaker, armed with pickaxes hanging from their bodies by leather thongs. But Lur swung her body onto one line, defying danger to knock the oncoming enemies into the surging sea with her sword as she crossed.
Arg positioned himself between two grapples, knocking a dozen or so skeletons off their lines with the reach of his bonehammer. When he saw Lur reach the Flameghoul’s bulwark, the security officer Bulag shouted “Your Majesty!”, and climbed upside-down across the same line as quickly as he could.
“Raven!” Lur and Ghanna made momentary eye contact and realized at the same time that the girl was still in the captain’s quarters. The Flameghoul’s cannons fired again and the Mawbreaker began taking on water. Orks rushed out of the lower decks to repel the skeletons swarming the main deck, but Ghanna rushed back to find Raven.
Arg was surrounded by skeletons now, and Wei landed nearby, returning to her human form. Arg kept them back in mighty sweeps of his bonehammer, but Wei fell under the tide of blows from their pickaxes.
The Mawbreaker began to noticeably tilt.
Ghanna crossed the bridge holding Raven on her back. She noticed two orks frantically pedaling the contraption she spotted before, and fire it’s hook into the Flameghoul. She let fly another arrow at Fayrin again, but her shot disappeared into the billowing cloak. Looking for a higher vantage point, she saw the smokestacks belching out a black cloud and decided to seek some other avenue. Suddenly she felt her leg give out, followed by the echoes of a pistolshot from across the waves.
On the Flameghoul, Lur and Bulag were now surrounded by skeletons, fighting back to back like comrades, and slowly winnowing their enemies. The orks began to gain ground against skeletons invading the Mawbreaker, but Arg saw a skeleton brain an ork, splitting the warrior’s skull with a pickaxe. The ork howled, but straightened himself and kept fighting despite the shower of blood spraying out of his wound. Arg knocked the skeletons away from Wei and leapt onto the deck of the Flameghoul with Wei under his arm.
Gritting her teeth and getting upright despite the pain, Ghanna looked down at the main deck, seeing orks literally hacking each other to pieces in pitched battle over the lifeboats. But somehow, despite mortal injuries, they kept fighting. She turned to the captain and asked, “What are you doing about this?”
The captain opened her mouth and put her pistol in it. Ghanna told her to stop, but she dismissed the urge to wrestle the gun away. There was a shot, and the captain fell.
Lur and Bulag kept shattering their foes. Lur knocked a skeleton back and it fell onto another, getting their ribs interlaced like a tangled slinky. Lur took advantage of the opening to dash toward the ship’s helm.
The Mawbreaker began to tip to the port side. Its deck was at least 10 feet below the Flameghoul’s now.
Bulag was surrounded, and now he took a bad hit. Looking back, Lur’s wolf-mother instincts woke within her, and she slashed through the skeletons in frenzy.
Fayrin drew another pistol and pointed it at Wei. Arg leapt to her defense. Ghanna took advantage of Fayrin’s distraction to fly another arrow, this time perfectly aimed. It was a killing shot.
As Fayrin fell, her pistol dropped from her hand and her fingers wrapped around the black key. Where she fell, she vanished in a pool of bubbling red vapor—key and all.
Then there was the sound of squealing metal. The Flameghoul’s seams began to erupt with spectral fire.
Arg jumped into the water. The skeletons began crumbling around Lur and Bulag. Then the deck started peeling off in twisted sheets of steel perforated by flame.
Lur and Bulag dove. When they got their heads above water, Lur laughed. But then something pulled Bulag under. Lur dove again, grabbing Bulag by the arm. He fought her off, shaking his head, while bubbles erupted from his mouth and nostrils.
Then Lur made out the rope wrapped around Bulag’s leg—it was one of the grapple lines, still attached to a hulking piece of steel. She got down to the rope and cut it, and saw that piece of the Flameghoul’s hull plunge into murky depths.
She got Bulag’s head above water, and water rushed out of his mouth as he choked and sputtered.
The Flameghoul started going down rapidly, and the Mawbreaker’s towline was taking it into the Flameghoul’s grave. The cannons fired a third time, but most of their shots went wild.
Ghanna looked up to the starboard side, and judged it too steep to run while carrying the girl, with her injuries. Toward the Flameghoul, the water was boiling again. She decided to risk it.
Plunging into the searing sea, she escaped with superficial burns covering most of her body. But Raven—
The deck buckled and collapsed under Wei, and she called upon her spirits again for aid. As the hull of the ship began closing in around her, they did not fail her. Shapeshifting again into an eagle, the updraft created by the inferno shot her high above the hellish scene.
Under the water, Arg saw the Flameghoul disintegrate into fire and black sand.
About an hour, or an hour and a half later, dusk was closing in while they survivors of the Mawbreaker dragged their battered bodies and lifeboats onto the beach.
A campfire was lit, and Lur held Raven, trying to comfort her.
Because Raven couldn’t stop screaming. Her body was cold, there was no breath or pulse, but she couldn’t stop screaming. Bulag stood guard as shattered ork bodies gathered around the crying girl.
Lur called upon her Shroud Elf magic to heal the girl, and she calmed down a little. Raven was still blubbering, with a terrified expression, but Ghanna made out the words “B-b-bl-bl-black G-g-g-g-g-gate! Bl-bl-black g-g-gate!”
Ghanna pulled her hood low over her eyes, in order to examine the touch of Death.