Dangerous Space Jail: A Dungeon World Adventure by Encoded Designs
Dangerous Space Jail is the first published adventure from Encoded Designs, the new imprint of Gnome Stew veteran and Engine Publishing author Phil Vecchione. I was happy to find that it was made for Dungeon World, one of my favorite games.
Among other respected folks credited in the product, Vecchione is joined by podcasting mensch Chris Sniezak of the Misdirected Mark show, one of the best gaming podcasts out there
The adventure delivers on Encoded's goal of providing "Weaponized Games for Busy GMs." This is not surprising given Phil's voluminous and ever growing word count of rpg wisdom.
Its fast playing, unique concept clocks in at 39 pages and includes cool, simple art and cartography, including the first published work by Victor Wyatt. I hope to see more of his maps in the future.
According to the company, Weaponizing a game means baking in three primary qualities:
1) Great Stories
2) Interesting Mechanics
3) Ample advice to run the game in a manner suiting the GM's style.
Let’s take a look at how these weapons show up in this adventure.
To ensure that I don't spoil anything, allow me to offer the same textual trailer with which DSJ teases its potential players and GMs.
"After a successful adventure in the Goblin Badlands, the heroes retire to the town of Meridor to rest and recreate. That plan falls apart when the heroes are roused out of bed in the wee hours of the morning by the Mayor. A floating fortress has appeared over the town square, the likes of which have never been seen before. The fortress is motionless, save for the curls of black smoke rising off of the battlements. There are faint sounds of battle coming from above. Why is it here? What is its purpose? What is inside? The townsfolk are scared, and the Mayor needs someone to find out what is going on. There will be time later for ale and merriment, because the Dangerous Space Jail awaits."
GMs are given some suggested opening questions to ask players in order to set some context for what is to come, to hand the GM some juicy narrative hooks, and to generate character bonds. These are helpful for making the bonds meaningful to the scenario.
I love these. After each description of an NPC, a famous actor and one of their
well-known characters is suggested as a GM quick-start for inhabiting the character.
Bulleted Speaking Points
Most GMs I know try to get outside of the box text in order to bring their characters to life, so instead of encasing NPCs' words in quotation marks that are encased in paragraphs, NPC scripts are presented as bullet points, detailed enough that even if some are left out, the players will still get plenty of flavor and information to chew on.
Scenes are organized into three parts: Opening, Body, and Closing. Simple. I was impressed how each scene dovetailed into the next. Or to use another metaphor, the scenes are tongued and grooved with enough repetition forward and backward to help keep everyone oriented and on track. It also helps a new GM with awkward spaces between events where she feels like she is supposed to read the scenario writers' minds.
Tension and Timing
Dangerous Space Jail is a tense affair. This tension is fostered by a narratively appropriate timing mechanic that informs the nature of the players' looming opposition and also their blood pressure.
This timing mechanism and its related variable opposition interlock nicely with custom terrain moves and character condition mechanics. All of this works together to ensure a serious sense of urgency.
Ample GM Advice
The tips in the adventure increase gamemaster options. These are good suggestions many people will use.
Modes of Running It
Details are given that show how to use the adventure as a one-shot (its default mode), as a campaign starter, or as part of an existing campaign. I was impressed by the thought that went into this section.
Custom Hard Moves and More
Also provided are additional Hard Moves that repeat when necessary throughout the adventure, minimizing the need to flip through pages and, thereby, slow the game down. This is good news if you are PDFing on a slow Kindle like yours truly. Of course, there are Hard Move suggestions in addition to the repeated ones when they are specific to the the scenarios current context.
There are helpful thoughts on the opposition mechanic, player Scaling, and character leveling as well.
I had a blast running Dangerous Space Jail for my sons and will use the adventure as one of my go to one-shots for pick-up games and conventions. New GMs, if you are planning one of your first original adventures, this one strikes me as a great first model.
I am excited to see what the future holds for Encoded Designs and its weaponized wares.
*Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of the adventure, but I stand behind my opinions here.
*Additionally, I am not a DW expert, but for me the dissatisfaction that DSJ does not feature outright, traditional Fronts was comforting for a one shot and gave me the sense that I could make a good DW adventure. Mostly, I just relied on Dungeon World's trust in the GM to go with the flow. There is plenty of space--even talked about in the rules--to allow the players to stray from the "prescribed" (not really) narrative. I might run it at the school gaming club today.