War-torn Lands Arc – Session 1

I approached this campaign of Dungeon World with the intention of allowing the setting and plot to develop out of character creation, as intended by the DW core book. I imposed one story element when we were getting started, which was that a cataclysmic war had ended recently. Also, we began with the understanding that this would be a short 3-session campaign.

The Characters

The players perused the character sheets briefly and then chose Paladin, Bard, and Druid. The Paladin is a human named Rebus, played by Phil. The Bard is a human named Kal Meza, played by Charlie. The Druid is an Elf named Hikorax, played by Mark.

I began by asking the druid about his land, and Mark read that as a Elf, Hikorax is from the Great Forest. I asked him to elaborate on the nature of the forest and to describe the elf civilization and Mark described a thick rain forest where the tribe was mostly isolated from the rest of civilization. I asked him how the great war had affected the tribe, and through a conversation we ended up establishing that the tribe had originally been neutral in the conflict but had been persuaded to take sides. As a result, a great weapon had been unleashed which had burned the forests and destroyed much of his tribe.

After we had a good idea about Hikorax’s background, we transitioned to the Paladin. Phil began by saying that Rebus was an adventurer spreading the work of Lord Randy. That he was a missionary in a far-away land. Further, that the infidels are the enemy because they worship a heathen religion.

So at this point we had the makings of a somewhat colonial situation, and we took a few minutes to discuss if we were all okay with the implications of unpacking colonialism and engaging with that topic. Everyone was on board, so we transitioned to the Bard.

I asked the bard about his instrument, he wanted to be a vocalist but I wanted there to be a physical instrument involved as well so I asked that he also have something to carry. He decided that he would carry a fine lute. I asked him how he had come by such a fine instrument, and he established that the lute had been handed over by the beautiful Rhonda, daughter of the noble Lord Johnson. From this, Charlie began to discuss that the bardic lore was “known history” and we talked about the setting a bit to flesh it out.

The Setting

We talked casually about the setting that we had established and it became clear that we were all holding a post-colonial South American archetype in our heads as we were establishing the setting, namely a Brazil inspired city. We decided that there is a major city named Suttolk that had been a trading post a millennia ago but had grown over the last few centuries as the world moved towards and into war. The great forests around Suttolk had been burned in the war by a great weapon devised by the Dwarves, who were the antagonist in the war.

As we discussed the city, we established that it was a somewhat segregated city but was very diverse as a result of all races and cultures coming to the city as soldiers and as migrants. We established that it was a city with a high degree of intermingling between peoples, but that there were also many culturally distinct neighborhoods and distinct factions. Finally, we established that the existing aristocracy was analogous to the English, and that they controlled some of the oldest and most fortified parts of the town.

The Bonds

The druid Hikorax had bonded with Rebus by showing him a secret about the land. Hikorax thinks that the bard Kal Meza smells like prey.

Rebus thinks that Kal Meza holds misguided beliefs. Rebus thinks that Hikorax is a brave soul.

Kal Meza makes jokes at Rebus’ expense. Kal Meza is not trusted by Hikorax, for good reason.

The First Scene

I asked everyone to take a five minute break, and when we came back I asked Rebus where he would find himself in the city. He said that he would be near the aristocracy, and in dialogue we established that he had ingratiated himself with the aristocracy, even though he did not hold any love for them.

I framed a scene where Rebus was in a café erected against a defensive wall, on the inside of a protected area in town. We had a few scenes where he and Kal Meza were in dialogue as characters, but Mark said that Hikorax would likely not be welcome to patronize a bar in that part of town. This led to a further discussion around racial hierarchy in town.

I scene-faded away from the bar and described Hikorax outside of the guarded entrance, roughly 100 yards from the patio on which the other characters sat. I described a bizarre scene, five halfling monks marching up to the guard post and demanding entry. Hikorax was interested in observing but not getting involved. The guards were unwilling to allow the monks entrance to the aristocratic sector without a writ of passage, as it became clear that the monks were willing to resort to violence I asked the Paladin and Bard what they had observed from their position in the bar. I told the paladin that he would recognize these monks as belonging to his religion, adherents of Lord Randy, although seemingly from a different sect.

The paladin said that he would be upset to be surprised by their arrival, that he was the representative of the church in this land and that he should have been told that others were being sent. He said that he would’ve moved to get involved as the monks had approached, so we framed his as within short distance as the violence broke out. The guard put a hand on the halfling monk’s shoulder to dissuade him, calling him “boy” which anyone who knows Halflings would know is a commonly used insult. The monk erupted in violence, cracking heavily into the shin of the guard with a heavy staff and continuing the assault.

Rebus attempted to halt the scene by commanding attention, this was the first move that had been made in the game so we briefly discussed the rules and set the stakes of the roll. I told Rebus that once he got involved the guards might associate him with the monks of Randy. Sure enough, the roll was a failure so the guards moved to arrest Rebus and the monks.

In the chaos, Hikorax snuck into the guard tower and looked about for symbols of civilization. A flag of the nobility was present and we established that he could take it without needing to roll. He then asked if there was a lantern he could knock over to start a fire. We established that there was a lantern, but that he would need to throw it across the room for the best chance at starting a fire, as there were more flammable materials available there. This was a defy danger with dexterity roll that he failed, we established that the stakes were that he might take too long to accomplish this task and sure enough a guard arrived. I made this as a soft move, with the chaos outside the guard simply wanted the elf to leave and was not aware of the attempted violence.

We faded back to the guards, and the arrest of the paladin finally convinced the bard to get involved. He was able to parley with the guards to secure the freedom of the men by offering an easier resolution to the situation. He said that the monks were new arrivals and that they would take on the responsibility to teach them the ways of the town, that the guards should tend to their injured companion and that the party would take on the monks. A successful parley roll led to the release of the paladin and the monks, but with the guards threatening that any subsequent disobedience would implicate the party as well as the monks.

At this, Rebus asked the guards to hold off on leaving until he was able to secure a promise of behavior from the monks. We had a conversation then which established that the monks had been sent from a militant faction, which had surged into leadership in the old world taking advantage of the power vacuum left after the war. The halfling monks were furious and militant and when Rebus demanded they swear to respect the laws of the town, we set up another roll for the paladin’s special rule “I am the Law,” the roll failed so  they accosted him for his weakness and assured him that now they saw him truly as a pawn of the old powers and a failed representative of the deity which sought to serve the poor and to improve the plight of the marginalized. Rebus responded by asking the guards to lock up the monks.

The Hunt

We did a hard scene fade and I asked the druid a few questions about what sort of ways he was involved in the town, he wasn’t sure so I asked about whether or not he would take a job as a guide for expeditions into the great forest. At his assent, I asked him for a 2d6 roll plus his wisdom. I wasn’t sure what rule I was using, but was essentially trying to set up something similar to an “encounter roll” like BitD. We had a 7-9 as a result, so we briefly described the expedition of the Noble Orisa who wanted to take his retainers and many wives to explore a grotto which had survived the great fires. The scene opened to reveal deer at the edge of a grotto, unmoving. The druid said that he was scouting, and he waited to see if the deer would move. Within moments, a giant crocodile-like beast emerged from the water and bit cleanly through one of the prey animals. The other animals remained unmoving, the first clue that the beast had a power beyond its sheer might.

The characters ran into combat without taking precautions about being frozen, I set up the situation as anytime they tried to engage with the foe they would need to also defy danger to avoid being caught by the gaze. I used a d12 for the damage of the foe, and we had a few rounds of tense combat. The crocodile beast threw the party around in addition to doing damage and then charged the retinue. The druid was brought to zero hit points when he ran to intervene, and only after the beast was weakened by some of the rear-guards was the paladin able to slay the beast. Mark decided to allow the druid to remain dead, wanting a new character. In the lair, the group found an enchanted horn that could produce enough water each day, straight from the plane of water, to quench the thirst of a score of people.

Session on March 1st, 2018