<This post has been sitting idly by while I tried to come up with a conclusion, gave up, and forgot it, and we got into another game. But by group, before starting the current game (ACKS in Barrowmaze), played a few sessions of Dungeon World. >
The mechanics are ok — most actions fall into one of several categories: attacking (“Hack & Slash” for melee, “Volley” for missiles), defense (“Avoid danger” for most saving throws and dodging, “Defend” for standing your ground/gritting your teeth or protecting someone else), informational (“Spout lore” to know things, “Discern realities” to notice something), and a general “Parley” which is sort of a “social combat” action, trying to gain some advantage or reaction from an NPC. These are all 2d6 rolls, modified by a relevant attribute. A total 7-9 is generally a “partial success” (you accomplish the act but there is a complication or drawback); a 10+ is full success. Class abilities add more actions, with various results for partial or full success. Then there are a dozen or so “advanced” actions that are more specific to tasks like travel, or else do not involve rolling at all (like recovering or leveling up). That’s mostly fine, although some players in my group really hated how abstract this made combat.
The other significant thing is a mechanic called “bonds.” You make a list of sentences describing some interaction of your PC and another PC – “I want to keep X out of trouble” or “X knows incriminating information about me” or whatever. These “bonds” come into play two ways: first, when you attempt to “aid” another PC, each bond your PC has with them adds to your roll; secondly, “resolving” bonds is one of the ways you gain XP. Whether or not a bond is resolved is basically up the PC who takes the bond (the GM might veto this though). It was strange that each PC would have four or five bonds that the other PCs were not even necessarily aware of. This made the bonds seem a little forced and unnecessary. During play our GM had the insight that the whether or not a bond was resolved should probably be up the other PC, not the one with the bond, which we all agreed would make more sense. Adopting this change to “bonds” would probably help. (It would also help to keep a record of “resolved” bonds! Because otherwise they are plot points that we throw away as soon as they resolve.) Still, I have a problem with the assumption that the bonds are somehow creating a story in a sense that just playing a game without them would not. This is something I am probably being obstinate about but I just don’t agree with the theory that game-mechanics-driven-story-construction work, or work as well as just letting story emerge naturally from interactions at the table. DW (and all the indie games) seem to try to “hard wire” storytelling into the game.
Another thing about that I’m ambivalent about is the style of DMing Dungeon World encourages. The DW rules explicitly tell the DM to be very hands-off about giving players different avenues to explore, and in fact to prepare as little as possible. The intent is to avoid wasted efforts and to allow as much room for improvisation as possible, I think. I’ve seen this outlook praised fairly persuasively. So I think the idea is well-intentioned, but I’m not sure it works, at least with my group. The players are expected to come up with adventure seeds. This is probably very empowering for a certain kind of player who wants their character to be central to the “story” of the game. One could say, “Oh by the way, I almost married the bandit king’s sister but broke it off because she’s a werewolf, let’s go talk to her”. Or: “Hey, there’s an ancient catacomb under East End. Let’s explore that.” I don’t find that quite as satisfying as interacting with an environment that is “there” whether I explore it or not. It seems to me that DW is more like kids playing “let’s pretend” than what I’m used to doing with D&D.
It took us a couple of sessions to really get the mechanics down, but once we did it was not bad. My main gripe would be that the system makes it a little too easy to fall into the rut of going around the table with each player rolling to “spout lore,” “discern reality,” etc., and paying more attention to the applicable skills than to the situation the PCs are supposed to be in. I’m not sure you can really blame the mechanics for that, or if it is laziness on the part of players, but in my experience, I am more motivated to come up with descriptions, look for clever stratagems, role-play interactions, and so one when there is no “base” chance for things to “just work” because of some numbers on my sheet. DW certainly falls on the lighter side of rules systems when you look at the amount of math, modifiers, and dice rolling, but even so the broad categories of the rolls you can make still seem to steer players into the kinds of patterns that completely turn off to 3rd and 4th edition D&D.
TL;DR: Dungeon World is pretty good, and could use a little tweaking in how “bonds” work, and I’d probably play it again, but my group didn’t really love it.