Dungeon World is not a fantasy adaptation of Apocalypse World. Key elements of the fantasy genre, such as mass battles or courtly dramas, go entirely unaddressed within its pages. Instead, Dungeon World is a D&D adaptation of Apocalypse World, meaning it’s about adventurers going on dungeon crawls and not a lot else. That’s hard for me to review, because whilst I love Apocalypse World, I don’t love D&D… and I suspect that the bits of Dungeon World I find most obnoxious will be the bits most celebrated by its intended market.
Even a die-hard D&D fan though would be forced to admit its marriage with Apocalypse World is weird and uneven, and you never stop bumping into this in play. You ace a Hack and Slash move, only to roll low for damage and bounce off an enemy’s armour with no fictional consequence. You adapt to the abstractions of Apocalypse World’s “anything is possible” mentality, then get slapped with a proscriptive Vancian spell list. Even interpreting triggers for the game’s basic moves is a struggle… “When you consult your accumulated knowledge about something” begins the Spout Lore move, which I think is a pretty grandiose way of saying “When you think about stuff”.
Extensive chapters for entertainingly designed monsters and equipment lists suggest the writers know their audience well, and the game’s advice for stating your own monsters makes things much more painless than in D20. The game’s playbooks should also be praised for capturing what makes each class cool and delivering from the get go. In D&D, you might have wait a few levels before your druid can shapeshift, your ranger gets their animal companion, or the fighter gets a distinctive weapon. Dungeon World applies no such arbitrary restrictions.
This isn’t a great game, but its clearly servicing a demand: rules-lite old-school adventuring, that sacrifices tactical play for a modern fail-forward, story-now, play-to-see-what-happens gaming philosophy. Other designers have taken those principles and adapted to more interesting settings, but the Dungeon World system is still a bit too pedestrian for me to want to give them a go. Still, I suppose I’ve played worse.
(I never review a game I haven’t played or run. Check out https://michaelduxbury.com/category/reviews/ for more RPG reviews.)