Dungeon World Prep Part 2: Fronts

In this series of articles I’ll be describing how I prepare and run Dungeon World campaigns. That doesn’t mean this is the only or right way to do this, and you should do what works for you. However, I do hope you can find something useful to take away for your own games, and please feel free to share your own experience, as I love to steal- I mean, learn from other GMs. You can see Part 1 here.

Now that you’ve run your first session and have gotten to know your player’s characters a bit, it’s time to figure out what evil presence in the world wants to kill them. This will be your Front.

First, look back over your notes from the first session. Did anyone mention a hook you can grab onto, like a burning need for vengeance against a specific person or a healthy taste for the blood of a particular species? Make a note of that. Did they mention a dire fear of a certain way of dying, or being phobic towards a type of critter? Even better. Write that down for future use, and look over the Bonds they have with each other.

In the game I’m using as an example, the Barbarian wanted adventure and the spoils that came with it, and the Wizard had a vision of him standing victorious on a pile of dead enemies (from his Bond). This told me that our Stakes were pretty epic. If someone in the game wants to be the big hero, you have to give them an equally big villain to fight. The Ranger seemed pretty invested in the town we’d all built together, which told me she valued the little guys who might get hurt in a struggle between the powerful. I’d already started to mess with that by setting the town on fire and killing NPCs, but now I knew to make the sacking of White Cross part of a deliberate ploy by some big bad instead of just some pillage happy orcs.  

Next, I flipped through the Dungeon World book to get a sense of what kind of bad guy they’d be facing. They’re in the forest, but none of the creatures listed there seemed enough of a hero-level challenge. Instead of confining myself to the locale they were at, I decided that it would be something inflicted on the forest. A necromancer lich, a Lord of the Undead who seeks True Immortality, has risen and is corrupting forest creatures in his quest. His name was Durga Wledig of Gwynedd, and he was a bad man. I put two quotes on his sheet to remind me of that. The first is from the Dungeon World description of a lich.

 “I endure. I live. I will see the death of this age, and the dawn of the next.”    
“Let me show you why you are afraid of the dark.”

Such a grand villain deserves more minions than some rowdy orcs, so I made up some undead centaurs and hill giants to serve him and underline just how much this necromantic influence has been corrupting the forest. This didn’t really affect their stats, but it gave me some fiction to work with. These guys go under Dangers, with a Type and an Impending Doom. They’re pretty much mindless zombies who are super dangerous and completely loyal to Durga, and they could give rise to some pretty gnarly badness. Because I’m an evil GM, though, I wasn’t finished. My group is full of experienced players, so I thought adding a dragonbone (it’s described as either a undead dragon or some kind of golem that looks like a dragon) as Durga’s personal protector tipped the scale to the right level of epic. If I was wrong and the centaurs and hill giants were a big enough challenge, the dragonbone never had to come onstage. I named him Gelert and wrote him down under Cast. Although certainly a danger to the PCs, Gelert is part of Durga's threat. I tried listing him on his own, and he just didn't have enough personal motivation to cut it, but he still is part of the Front.

That brings us to Grim Portents, which is what happens if the PCs don’t save the day. I’d already destroyed White Cross, so it became a retroactive Grim Portent. I planned additional raiding parties and the razing of the forest, with the evil influence building to a peak when Durga gathers enough power to obtain immortality and moves on to enslave the world. I kept these pretty loose, as I knew this game was only going to be a few sessions. I used them as a reminder to Think Offscreen, too. This is a good place to revisit the particulars of your PC’s fears and weaknesses for additional ideas.

To introduce some further chaos into the equation, I made an additional NPC: an elven cleric. The game does not allow elf as a choice for player clerics, and I took the opportunity to give him a sinister, unnamed god. He shows up as a captive being tortured by some of the orcs whom the heroes rescue. His motivation was left a little vague, as I wanted to see how the players reacted to him. They immediately assumed he was a plant, and while they took him with them, were kind of hostile. He provided some sorely needed healing and an extra sword in a fight, and lots of tension. I made him an actual character sheet and let the players run him during combat, but I talked for him the rest of the time.

And with that done, I was ready to run my Dungeon World campaign. Figuring out my Front took probably an hour, and I don’t really do other prep for Dungeon World games other than glance over my notes to re-familiarize myself with what’s going on before each session. Everything else is improv, which is why I like running AW-style games. There’s a low time commitment for both MC and players, which is nice when you’re an adult playing with other adults who all have jobs and family and adult-type things to do, like binge-watch guilty pleasure TV shows over pizza while ignoring the pile of laundry in the corner. There’s a good balance between story and mechanics in my style of running it, so everyone can get a little of what they love about gaming.

You can download my filled Front sheet here. It has only two Dangers, which took us around three sessions to play through, and I left the Stakes off so you can make your own. However, that also gives you room to explore, and tie it into your own Campaign Front.

Next I'll be showing off some example Fronts based on popular stories, movies, or TV shows. These will serve both as further examples as well as being a fun little thing to throw at your players to see if they're paying attention. I'll be taking requests, so leave your suggestions below!