I learned about Dungeon World, as I assume many do, by listening to the Friends at the Table podcast, specifically the Hieron seasons. This was so different than D&D, the only other system I had played until then. This involved cooperative storytelling between GM and players. This had mixed successes and a focus on narration over rules. Dungeon World will always hold a place in my heart as being the gateway RPG that led me into the world of Powered by the Apocalypse systems.
Since then I have read, researched, listened to podcasts about, and played several of these systems, including Blades in the Dark, Monster of the Week, and Urban Shadows. Each was accessibly familiar and yet remarkably different in tone and feel. This really got me interested; how could this single, rules-light system power so many diverse and interesting works?
As is my personality with all things, when I become interested in something I usually dive in face first. I started buying up more books than I could ever play through. I emailed writers and publishers to ask questions. I started a weekly Dungeon World game so I could live and breathe the system every Saturday morning. Somewhere along the line, the notion of writing one of these systems nestled into my brain, where it would constantly nag at me.
Cut to April 2017 when I had an idea: weird pirates. A couple of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies came on Netflix and of course, I watched them. I love the high-intensity action mixed with the ridiculous attitude of virtually every character. It’s like a cartoon with real people. I wanted to combine the outrageous nature of these pirates with a classic fantasy feel and throw in a system of magic that wasn’t your standard wizards throwing fireballs. When all this finally crystallized, I thought I had the theme for my next Weave playset. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t seem to get it to fit with that system.
Then it hit me: just write your own system. That nagging little kernel of an idea to write my own PbtA system came back and, with full voice, would not let me rest. Finally, on April 25th, I started work. It was just an outline, a Google doc with bullets and half sentences. A collection of links to pirate imagery and few key phrases like “Call the Code” and “Shaper” and “Demonic Bond”. Over the next 12 days, that outline would become rough playbooks which would become a full set of rules. I wrote 41 pages, over 18,000 words, and I didn’t even get heavy on theme or setting. When I finally stopped writing I had in front of me a document that I could give to virtually anyone and expect, with some degree of confidence, that they could run the game. I had almost no confidence that it would be good or balanced, but it was playable.
So, now I have a huge pile of words and the nagging has subsided. As far as my brain was concerned I had accomplished my task. Job well done. If you’ve ever designed a game or written a book you probably know that this is a weird time when you feel very accomplished but soon the realization of playtesting and proofreading start to loom. This is where the real work starts. I have to convince people to not only dedicate several hours to playing the game but then provide me critical and actionable feedback. I started to panic.
As of right now, I’m still panicking. I’m hoping to do my first playtest with friends in the coming weeks, so hopefully, they will mix in a dash of gentleness with their feedback. More on that later.