Design Journal: Dragon World

“Something is wrong with these people, and I don’t know what it is.”

I’ve said it before, but Apocalypse World provides a fascinating framework to work with. There have been certain big hit games that have thrived in part by encouraging hacks and customization. Fiasco’s playsets are an obvious example, and there are AW hacks, IaWA oracles, and Technoir‘s transmissions are poised to become the next example of this phenomenon. Technoir also joins AW in having a printable player reference book[1], an idea I think I’ll have to try for quite a few of the games I’m working on.

The more I work with moves, the more fun I have with them. Where AW has moves that play into desperate badassery, Dragon World moves reinforce a very different kind of fiction. I’ve ended up writing a lot of moves that say things like “You end up looking stupid in front of everyone.” Writing up moves for the different character types is proving a little harder, and I suspect that’s where a lot of the real challenge of this thing is going to come from. Here’s my first draft of the Explosive Mage character type, which is basically for players who want a character like Lina Inverse from Slayers. I’m not satisfied with the moves yet.

Writing the MC moves for Dragon World is really interesting too, since in a sense I’m trying to distill my own best practices for running silly games like Maid RPG. And when I think about it that way, it becomes incredibly awesome in my head, since it means I’m using ideas and techniques that go back to when I first got my copy of Toon back in middle school, literally something like 20 years ago[2]. I’m too intuitive a designer to make some grand point about how humorous RPGs should work, but I think I’m on the track with Principles like “Break your toys in the name of comedy.” Comedy is subjective and challenging and all that, but I think if an RPG can give players better tools for, say, horror, then the same is surely true of humor.

The thing that’s been sticking in my head for quite a while now is how slapstick characters react to physical punishment. Toon handles this by having Hit Points[3], except if you run out you Fall Down for three minutes and come back. A while back I dug out my Toon rulebook and ran a session. It was a lot of fun, but the whole time part of my brain was saying, “Cartoon characters don’t have hit points!” I’m still feeling out how to handle this kind of thing, but I think that cartoon physics work more on a scheme where characters are fine until they hit a certain threshold, whereupon they Fall Down, and then the scene changes shortly thereafter. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to implement that, and especially how to implement it gracefully within the framework of Apocalypse World’s rules. The big problem with a binary system like that is making it work appropriately for a genre where powerful evil overlords are pretty much a given. For that I think I’m going to have to sit down and really rigorously brainstorm.

Also, it occurs to me that if I finish this and try to publish it, finding someone who can do the right style of art is going to be a challenge.

[1]Though AW’s ludography mentions that Vincent got the idea from XXXXtreme Street Luge.

[2]The fact that there are notable things in my life that were 20 years ago makes me feel old, though my grandma would tell me that I’m nowhere near old yet.

[3]Specifically, a Toon character gets 1d6+6 HP, and things typically do 1d6 damage. Also, I’m trying to not think about rewriting Toon to use AW moves.

7 thoughts on “Design Journal: Dragon World

  1. The Explosive Mage template seems like a good start – I kind of like it and am thinking maybe your templated idea can work (I advised Combined Templates previously but see how this may work). It feels like it needs a bit more, but it’s a good start – and I like the feel of the game.

    As for art, I can always hook you up with some of the contestants from my contests.

    1. “The big problem with a binary system like that is making it work appropriately for a genre where powerful evil overlords are pretty much a given”

      shouldn’t you just add a “powerful evil overlord” character type or two? :D


  2. This looks like it will be a rather interesting game to try out – I’m definitely looking forward to it. Additionally, I was wondering if there any news on when the next release of Magical Burst may be?

    1. Thanks!

      I have the next draft of Magical Burst nearly done, but I’m going to playtest it myself and do some revisions based on that before I post it up.

      1. That sounds great. Take your time – I’m very much looking forward to it, but I know that with the effort you put into your work the extra time spent waiting will end up making it an even more pleasant surprise when I get to see it.

  3. After reading that playbook, I’m of the definite opinion that Big Bang should work like this:

    You can toss out a hugely destructive spell. When you do, roll+magic. On a 10+, pick two, on a 7-9, pick one:
    – You make any minor enemies in the area Fall Down.
    – You don’t catch any friendlies in the blast.
    – You don’t cause massive collateral damage.
    On a miss, none of the above, and you look like an idiot.

    Frankly, having a Dragon Sl…..Big Bang miscast instead of whiff is just funnier in my humble opinion.

  4. Cross-posted from the Apoc World Hack forums.

    I’m not a huge anime watcher, but am at least aware of some of the genre conventions. Like you, I also have fond memories of Toon, and the Loonyacy of the Tooniversal Tour Guide. :)

    Anyway, this sounds like an interesting and challenging hack- does the 6- result in a comedy genre (Falling Down? Being Humiliated?) need to have the same narrative drive as a Hard Move in AW, and if so what does that look like? That’s what struck me on reading the Explosive Mage.

    The Animation Controller (AC) sets up the embarrasment, then follows through on a missed roll? Guidelines on how to do comedy gaming would be something special. I’d be very interested to see what else you’ve come up with since this slightly necro-ed post…

    Had a thought about the Sacrifice and being captured- perhaps give them a move like the Savvyheads where Hold can be spent to have them being on-the-spot:

    Damsel in Distress: at the beginning of the session, roll+(Primary Stat: Charm has a certain logic). On a 10+, hold 1+1. On a 7–9, hold 1. At any time, either you or the AC can spend your hold to have you already be captured, with your friends knowing where you are and/or the Adventure MacGuffin on scene, with or without any clear explanation why. If your hold was 1+1, take +1forward now. On a miss, the AC holds 1, and can spend it to have you already be captured, but in an embarrassing, compromising or comedic situation.

    Or maybe it’s a 10+ Hold 1+1 and choose three when the Hold is spent, 7-9 Hold 1 and choose one:
    -The MacGuffin is on scene
    -You can expect rescue soon
    -They know who you are
    -They don’t know who you are

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