Monday, December 8, 2014

Review: Dungeon World Part 1 (Presentation, Softcover Edition)

It seems counter-intuitive to write yet one more review for the quite popular Dungeon World. One would think you'd either have an opinion about it already (and I bring nothing new to the table, as there is no lack of detailed reviews) or you didn't care to begin with (and I won't change your mind with this, as I'm not that happy with big parts of it). So let me state up front what this review will be about and go from there. Here's the short of it:

Dungeon World delivers a fast and elegant set of rules to play a (very!) scripted D&D-themed role playing game. If you think this is D&D, you'd be wrong. It's another game (Apocalypse World) wearing a mask that looks like D&D. But anyway, D&D could be played like this and a Dungeon Master could learn a lot by reading (and understanding) Dungeon World. Or just loot what he can carry and be better for it ...

Extensive Review Part 1 (Introduction)

The virtual version of Dungeon World is free under the creative commons and you can play this game without ever paying a cent for it. This was, to be honest, one of my main reasons to invest the 24 bucks for the softcover print-version of the game. It's, in my opinion, how games (most media, really) should be published in the 21st century and I can only support this sort of strategy. That being said, paying for it gives it's physical manifestation some value and it needs to be considered in a review. So this will be where I start in part 1, followed by some words about the overall presentation of the rules and the structure.

Part 2 of this series will be about the rules themselves and how this game is supposed to tick.

Part 3 A and B will be about hacking parts of it into D&D and some ideas what a conversion could look like. 3 A is here and part 3 B can be found here.

Beginning with the physical object might seem as a bold move, but this is how I explored this rule-book. I bought it, browsed it, read it cover to cover and finally started to think about what I could steal from it. And although Dungeon World doesn't leave a very good first impression, I wouldn't write this if I'd think there is nothing to get from this ...

I totally love this cover [source]

Buying the Book (First Impressions)

The product that can be bought at stores is the result of a very successful kickstarter. They've made more than 20 times of what they estimated to be their minimal entry costs to realize the project (started with 4000 Dollar to get it done, ended with a bit more 82.000 Dollars pledged!).

Considering this, I'm really underwhelmed by the physical artifact. 405 pages, with an almost lavish layout that gave me the immediate impression that 300 pages would have sufficed (and that was even before I had read the text).

I love the cover illustration, but the rest (which doesn't amount to much, really) is not that good in quality, rather bland and generic. Well, at least they don't work for me (with maybe two exceptions, but it's all so uninspired, that I wouldn't have missed any of it). And it is quite obvious that the pictures they ordered had been colored and were rendered black and white afterwards (so they paid more to get colored artwork and used it black and white to save expenses with the print-run?).

Every illustration takes up a complete page, too (so again with the lavish layout ...).

The binding seems solid (which is a good thing), but the pages are quite thin for something that would get lots of use at the table and it's really hard to tell how the book would hold up in this regard. One might argue that the thin pages are due to the format (6x9 inches) along with the high page count. But, as I already wrote above, they were really wasteful with their space, so I'd say this could have been done better.

Not a good start. It all seems a bit unprofessional and not very functional for a role playing game-book. And that despite the huge potential that kickstarter should have made possible.

Content and Structure (Presentation)

So. Much. FLUFF. So unnecessary and dull. They are excessive in wasting space. Again. Considering the amount of real substance in this book, half the page count would have been more than enough (a third might be possible, if a bit cozy). Even in this format. This is bloating the content for no good reason.

No running titles or any other indications where you are in the book other than page numbers (something like running titles can be very helpful when searching stuff in a book) and very broad marginal columns (mostly empty or with movie/tv-show quotes, again a waste of space). And I already found a word not referenced in the index (tried to find out what "hold" means). Add the bloat to it and this thing is harder to navigate as it should be.

Also: no character sheet.

There are several well placed examples for how those rules are used in the game, though. I liked that.

Conclusion 1:

So far not at all what I think can be expected from a rule-book. With some tight editing this could have been a solid 150 pages hardcover with some structure and on robust paper for the same price (or just a few Euros more). Especially considering the number printed (more prints of the same make it somewhat cheaper/more cost-effective and the book I own is already the third printing ...).

I don't know if I would recommend buying Dungeon World just going by the presentation, the material and the internal structure. It's not that expensive and if you like the game (and got the spare change), it's one way to support the designers, I guess.

I'd definitely not recommend buying the pdf, though. Paying 10 bucks for some digital bloat mixed with dull fluff and mediocre artwork seems just really, really wrong to me. Especially since the game itself (word by word) is online for free ...

Next up is a review of the rules. It really gets better once you start reading it.

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