I’ve been GMing the same Masks game for over a year. Before that, there was a PBTA-based Star Wars game that ran for over thirty sessions.
This isn’t to establish bona fides – I just want to point out I really like running PBTA stuff – as a game system, the mechanics suit me better than anything else I’ve ever run – and I will happily laugh in the face of anyone who says it can’t handle long-term games.
WITH THAT SAID, I do appreciate a good, tight, one-shot or short-arc game, and I’ve been intrigued to see more of that kind of play using PBTA, because I know a lot of people run their games that way, and I rarely/barely have.
Also, I just don’t get to play as a PLAYER very often (I think the last time was a couple years ago), so that would be nice.
All of those desires came together last night, when I was able to jump into a Dungeon World one-shot at Gauntlet Con, which runs yearly, online, thanks to the Gauntlet community.
Here’s the game introduction:
A structure of softly-glowing stone appeared suddenly upon the sands outside of a small oasis city during a moonless night. From the freshwater springs, it appears to float hazily above the desert like a mirage. While at first people talked about its mysterious arrival and appearance, now they only whisper rumors and hushed secrets out of fear of those dwelling within. Others, bolder, have made pilgrimage to camp beneath the temple, believing it to contain a divine being they call Shil-Muar. What secrets and riches await you within its luminous walls?
The GM also noted he was aiming for “a heavy sword-and-sorcery style; expect bloody gore, weird and potentially unsettling magic, and quite possibly scantily-clad people and creatures of all genders.”
So, I mean… yah gotta do a barbarian, right?
That was where I started, but (after checking in with the group) I drifted things a bit, making my barbarian (Clovis Bonebreaker) a dwarf from kingdom several continents away. His barbaric drives were all about amassing fame, glory, and wealth, which looks SUPER shallow at the outset, but for which I felt had cool reasons.
Why did he seem weird and barbaric? Extensive facial and body tattoos, fastidiously clean (washed up every morning, commented on peoples unpleasant odor, et cetera). Well-spoken, polite, and generally “polished.” The fighter in the group was convinced I’d soon see the foolishness of my own behavior.
Dude… my WIS is a -1 – I’m never going to see the foolishness of my behavior. It’s what got me into this mess in the first… never mind.
One-shot Dungeon World players have developed a very solid method for running VERY LOW prep sessions and getting a super-focused game. Our GM followed that general ideal very well, and continued asking the players questions about their background and world as we went on.
The key bits I need to mention about the game setup, to get to the part I’m most happy about, are these:
- The divine being Shil-Muar was basically a mix of djinn and quetzalcoatl. A powerful trickster flying snake… thing. Mirages and illusions dominated the themes of the temple.
- The treasure we were all ostensibly after was the enormous ruby that bound Shil-Muar to this world.
- Shil-Muar’s immediate servants were mostly snake-like yuan-ti types and “harpy-dactyls” that made getting into the temple pretty perilous. Also mad human cultists, but that’s typical.
The relevant bits of character background I need to mention are:
- Dwarven society is a RIGID caste system.
- The tattooing is based on one’s caste and various subsets of role within that caste, and might begin as soon as the age of one. Clovis was covered over most visible areas.
- Ancestor worship is the one and ONLY deal when it comes to dwarven religion. It confers no supernatural powers.
- If you leave the homeland, you cannot come back unless you “bear with you fame and wealth commensurate to your position.” To come back empty-handed is to inflict that debt (in the broad sense, both spiritual and monetary) on the homeland, and is never allowed. “Blessed are they whose return is remunerative… etc etc.”
- The higher your place in society, the greater the debt you must bear if you return.
The evening was a series of misadventures (we all nearly leveled just from the XP we each earned from failed rolls; it was ugly, but glorious).
By the time we staggered into the holiest of holies within the floating temple, our fighter was missing an arm, and we were all well done-in.
NONE of us liked our chances trying to beat up a flying snake deity and taking his stuff.
We had ten minutes left in the game, so the GM gave us time for each of us to lay out our play.
The druid basically went belly up in front of the snake god and shifted into a miniature copy of the god – offering abject servitude, just don’t kill him. He was accepted, but locked in the snake form forever.
The fighter demanded reward for breaching and defeating the temple defenses, and demanded just rewards for what we’d done. He rolled snake-eyes (appropriate!) on this demand, and we jumped right to him rolling Last Breath and negotiating his new role as semi-reincarnated, cringing servant of the deity.
I went a different route.
“Shil-Muar, I have crossed continents to find you. I call on you to cast aside this unworthy, once-yearly worship from sand-scrabbling peasants, and join me. I will take you to a land of wealth – fabulous wealth – power, and prestige; a land where the only opponents you face in the spiritual realm are the powerless, empty bones of the long-dead. You can reign in the temples of my people, unopposed, and to do so you need only ally yourself to me, the crown prince of Tuor Kalvek, as I break my homeland apart and reforge it.”
And I rolled.
Clovis was the crown prince, you see, and had stormed out of the city after yet another argument with his father, only to realize that in order to return with fame and wealth commensurate to his position, he’d literally have to found a kingdom, and then bring the whole bloody thing back with him.
Or… you know… something similar.
I then got to narrate returning to the gates of my city, many months later, clad and cowled in rags, walking alongside an old mule and a creaking horse cart. Clovis is confronted by the guards, and yanks aside the tarpaulin covering Shil-Muar’s ruby. The serpent, wreathed in flames, spirals into the sky over our heads as Clovis strides up to and through the gates behind the fleeing guards.
So, so good.