Editor’s Note: As part of our “New Deal” focus on gaming on a budget, we are excited to bring you the first installment of Dungeon World, a free source for RPG maps and dungeons, part of our rotating High Adventure column series. Who says there’s no such thing as free rations?
When I was asked to contribute to this column, I basically knew right away that I would use the opportunity to provide items of use to tabletop fantasy role-players – especially game masters (which I’ll simply refer to hereafter as “DM’s”) – things like: dungeons (here meaning adventure locations), spells, monsters, artifacts and the like. After all, from the dawn of fantasy role-playing games, this has been an implicit aspect of the genre: The players are expected to dote on their characters, and the DM is expected to dote on everything else.
It was this creative aspect of fantasy RPG’s that first drew me in. Even more than the thought of creating and playing a character, the thought of creating and populating dungeons and their environs thrilled me. As fellow “old school” blogger Jeff Rients puts it:
“To me, one of the best parts of DMing is that you get a chance to build all sorts of fun static pieces like monsters, dungeons, wilderness environs and then you let players loose on them to see what happens. Usually it involves watching your toys getting broken, but hopefully the players do an interesting job of wrecking your precious creations.”
For some reason, though, the idea of just randomly sharing these creations didn’t seem like it was enough. Throwing disparate individual resources at the wall and seeing what stuck felt a little… lacking.
Then I realized what was missing: A setting to connect all of these elements. Something cohesive but flexible enough to accommodate Tolkien-esque high fantasy alongside pulp fantasy, and even allowing room for the occasional “gonzo” element that so often cropped up in the early days of fantasy role playing.
Thus was born Dungeon World.
Alfric was 7 years old when his father, Ulfgar, woke him early one morning and took him to his clan’s sacred gathering ground in a rocky clearing deep in the woods – the Blood Basin. There, he sat the boy down, wearing the stern look he usually reserved for scolding him for bad behavior.
Alfric wondered what he had done wrong this time.
But, to his surprise, his father didn’t yell. Instead, he sat down also, put his arm around him, and waved his massive hand toward the pre-dawn sky.
“Before time began,” Ulfgar said softly, “the universe was vast and empty. Then the Master used the four-part Everstone to create the World, the Stars, the Sun and the Moons, and all of the creatures that traverse upon and between them. He and his children, the Dead Gods, settled at the four corners of the World.
“Lissa, the Caregiver, settled in the East. Califrax, He Who Knows, settled in the West. Rolgar, Lord of War and Keeper of Justice – patron of our clan – settled here in the cold North. And their father, the Master, settled in the South. The Master divided the Everstone into its four parts, giving one each to his children and keeping the last for himself.
“Many creatures, great and small, roamed the World at the dawn of time and the four races joined them: Halflings, small and jolly folk, tended the fields of the plains; Elves, as otherworldly in nature as in beauty, lived in quiet seclusion in the wooded lands; hardy, war-loving Dwarves carved deep tunnels and erected massive stone halls within the mountains of the World; and Man, said to have been made in the very image of the Master and the Dead Gods, thrived most of all, settling far and wide across the land.
“In those early days, the Dead Gods walked the lands of the World, interacting with its denizens, exploring its deepest caverns, battling its fiercest beasts and amassing knowledge, wealth and power beyond the ken of any mortal. For many an age, the Dead Gods adventured across and below the World, and during that time raised up great kingdoms.
But in time, the Dead Gods grew tired of their adventures and fell to fighting amongst themselves. Their petty squabbles became blood feuds, which grew into all-out wars between their kingdoms. Even the Master could not put an end to their disputes.
“Finally, on the Day of Tears, the Dead Gods turned their pieces of the Everstone on one another; each was destroyed, and their kingdoms sundered.
“Since that day, many ages ago, no one has seen the Master. There are rumors that he wanders the World, searching for the missing pieces of the Everstone so that he can return to the lands from whence he and the Dead Gods came.
“As for the Dead Gods themselves, they cannot be seen, but they still watch over us. Their breath is in the wind, their voices in the thunder and their strength in the heart of men. To this day, the people of the World serve them, each in his own way – many without knowing it.
“The young men and women of our clan, the Clan of the White Bear, serve the Lord of War by adopting his ways: We learn to fight and be just, and we take that training and seek adventure in the farthest places of the World. When we return, we bring with us the knowledge and experience we have found beyond our lands, and in doing so we make our clan stronger.
“Thus did I seek adventure, as did my father and my father’s father, and so forth – down to the very roots of our line,” Ulfgar said, as he reached under his bear-pelt cloak and drew his sword, setting it across the boy’s lap.
“And so, too, shall you walk in the footsteps of Rolgar, my eldest son.”
In the Footsteps of the Dead Gods
What we’ll be calling Dungeon World is known simply as “the World” to its denizens. It is a place of great wonder and terrible danger, in which most people simply try to survive. It is also a place where magic and wonder (and more than a little weirdness) are ever-present and the Dead Gods loom large.
The Dead Gods are generally believed to be ever watchful, even after their mutual destruction. Most humans align themselves with one of the gods: Followers of Lissa believe in law and order; followers of Rolgar believe that life is a balance of fairness and individual freedom; and followers of Califrax believe in personal gain over all else. Even those humans and demi-humans who do not profess to follow one of the Dead Gods are usually recognized by this system of alignment.
As far as the demi-races go, each has an association to one of the Dead Gods, regardless of individual alignment: Califrax is the “Patron of the Elves,” whose inherent magical affinity makes them naturally inclined to follow the path (see below) of He Who Knows; Rolgar is known as “God of the Dwarves,” presumably for their shared love of combat; and Lissa is the “Mother of the Small Folk,” as she took an active part in nurturing and protecting Halfling society.
There are those, however rare, who believe not only in aligning themselves with the Dead Gods, but in following their path. These people (be they human or demi-human) believe, for one reason or another, that their purpose for living is to seek adventure. Regardless of their alignment (or lack thereof) to any god, these people choose to embrace the philosophy and life of the adventurer.
Avoided – or even shunned – by most “normal folk,” adventurers lead lives of great danger and, sometimes, even greater reward.
The Lunatic Fringe
The Dead Gods are not the only recognized cosmic forces in the World. A small pantheon of deities, demi-gods and legendary heroes continues to grow. Most of these are real historical figures, often adventurers, that have achieved mythical status. Adding their name to this list of the worthy is the driving motivation of more than a few adventurers.
No discussion of the religious and philosophical aspects of Dungeon World would be complete without at least a mention of The One-Hundred-and-Thirty-Seven Adherents to the Way of the Cryptic Egg. Be it scholar, artist, layman or some other walk of life, members of the philosophical cult of The One-Hundred-and-Thirty-Seven come from diverse backgrounds and social strata. They are firm proponents of adventuring (whether or not they are themselves adventurers), but they believe that it must be accomplished according to “The Old Ways,” as outlined in the Adventurer’s Codex, one of the Tomes of Legend brought to the World by the Dead Gods.
Unfortunately, although they are, for the most part,a highly creative lot, The One-Hundred-and-Thirty-Seven are also notoriously cantankerous and quarrelsome; so what The Old Ways are, exactly, is far from defined. To make matters worse, the Adventurer’s Codex is penned in High Eggian, of which none of The One-Hundred-and-Thirty-Seven know more than a few words, so each has his own interpretation of The Old Ways as set forth by the Cryptic Egg in the Tomes.
The One-Hundred-and-Thirty-Seven meet irregularly, if at all, but are forever in contact through any and all means at their disposal. They spend much of their time making public decrees, or endorsing or railing against the public decrees of other members. The end result of all of this is a chaotic but usually entertaining deluge of opinion and information, amongst which the discerning may glean a few gems of knowledge.
What the Future Holds
Next time, we’ll take a look at the regions of Dungeon World.
Also in upcoming installments, we’ll be looking at specific locations (“dungeons”). Accompanying each will be an overview of the surrounding area of Dungeon World, as well as a look at key people, legends, items, etc. associated with each location.
Stay tuned …
Chris Brackett is a web monkey by trade, but in real life he’s a veteran gamer and author of several tabletop miniatures games. He spends far too much of his time working on his RPG-focused game blog, A Rust Monster Ate My Sword.