My normal prep uses the Lazy Dungeon Master Adventure Prep, though sometimes I turn to the 7-3-1 technique or what I call Monty Hall Prep. When my players in a Dungeon World campaign told me (in Stars & Wishes) that they planned for their PCs to return for a third time to a tunnel to search for the McGuffin, I decided to mix it up. I needed to think differently about this setting, which they’d already visited multiple times. And I’d been wanting to get better at thinking through and improvising moves, so on my lunch break I made a list of all the moves. Then I thought of an example for each for this tunnel they would be exploring again:
|Use a monster, danger, or location move||Your footsteps echo off the narrow mine walls. Each step seems to resound down into the distance.|
|Reveal an unwelcome truth||You see a bloodstained rag of cloth, which looks like it came from a sailor. [The PCs thought he had been killed elsewhere.]|
|Show signs of an approaching threat||The air smells rank and rotten, humid with decay. You’re not sure if you hear flies buzzing nearby or a snake hissing. [poison trap]|
|Deal damage||A light mist moistens your skin, which suddenly begins to bubble and boil. Take 3d4 damage.|
|Use up their resources||A swarm of emaciated, famished rats crawl towards you. (Can be distracted with Rations.)|
|Turn their move back on them||The fireball ignited the wooden mine cart, and billowing smoke has enveloped you, so that you can no longer see where the enemy is.|
|Separate them||A thick iron grate slides noisily down, giving you enough warning to jump out of the way. But you’re now on the other side of it from the rest of the party.|
|Give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities||Wizard, you feel a well of magic swelling up, giving you vertigo. This is a place of power!|
|Show a downside to their class, race, or equipment||Druid, the left side of your body has changed, but the right side hasn’t; you are Confused.|
|Offer an opportunity, with or without cost||A gleam of light from your torch reveals high up the cavern wall, among loose rock, a star gem!|
|Put someone in a spot||The other two are stricken, gasping for air, unable to move. You can pull one of them out of there: who will it be?|
|Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask||You can carefully examine the walls looking for more gems, but it will take much more time to do it the less light you have.|
|Change the environment||A narrow stairway leads down.|
|Point to a looming threat||You hear the grating of stone on stone, and the sudden bleating of goats.|
|Introduce a new faction or type of creature||This goblin has a beard, wields an axe and a crossbow, and is less scrawny than the others. (Bearded goblins, which have dwarven ancestry.)|
|Use a threat from an existing faction or type of creature||The cyclops has wandered back and is blocking the entrance, poking in with its pike.|
|Make them backtrack||A band of these bearded goblins bars the way and are raising their crossbows.|
|Present riches at a price||You hear a faint echo, far away, of a steel hammer repeatedly striking an anvil. A smith works away at some weapon or piece of armor, you imagine.|
|Present a challenge to one of the characters||The iron grate itself is too big to bend or break, but you see hanging near the ceiling of this cavern the counterweight.|
I got all but 3 done over lunch, then filled in the others later in the day as they occurred to me. I grabbed a map from the Neutral Party Patreon for use on Roll 20.
This is where I’m supposed to tell you it worked great.
However, one of the players decided that rather than go back to the tunnel he wanted to confront the cyclops instead, so off they went to do that. Bummer. But fortunately I had already had in my head what was in the cyclops’ cave so that session went off well (with some great gameplay from failed rolls). But then they ended the session saying they’d try the tunnel again next time.
So the next session I got to use this prep, which I hadn’t touched in the prior week, other than deleting the two moves relating to the cyclops.
And I felt like it worked like a charm. I used seven of the moves and felt like I did a better job of improvising other moves. For instance, when the druid cast Elemental Mastery for the first time, and failed, I used “separate them” – she caused a cave-in that separated one player from the rest. Had I not just prepped an example move of each type, I might have just had rockfall damage her; so this helped me align the fiction better with the moves.
I don’t look at the prepped moves I didn’t use as wasted; they were like a training or visualization technique for success. I’m not going to use this method for every session, as I typically run a sandbox where players have a lot of agency to go in very unanticipated directions. I do plan on turning to it again when I feel like I could use a review of all the moves and an upcoming session will be more constrained — I have a climatic battle coming in a few weeks, which I think it would be great for.
And I’ll definitely use the technique when I’m prepping for a first session using a new PbtA system (I’ve got Monster of the Week in my sights).
If you’ve got an upcoming session where you could use some inspiration and you have a good sense for the environment your PCs will be in, I encourage you to try it out.
Image credit: Burning Wheel, publisher of Dungeon World