Redux: Fronts in Dungeon World

Originally posted to Google+ in May 2015:

I typed up a whole thing about Fronts and such in Dungeon World for a topic that, turns out, didn’t really need it… but I already wrote it all, so I guess I’ll just post it as its own thing. I wound up using the Cloud City of Bespin as my example for creating a Front, which is pretty standard for anytime I write stuff about Dungeon World… I always jump to Star Wars for examples.


Fronts are folders that you use to organize your thoughts, so that when you’re sitting at the table you don’t ever have to stutter or stumble over what you do next — you can consult your folder, find something worth saying, and bring it to the fore.

So, you figure out what the theme of the Front is, like, what do all these things you’re putting in here have in common. Maybe they’re all in the same area (“Front: Occupied Cloud City”), or they’re all hunting the same thing (“Front: The One Ring”), or they’re all side-effects of one root cause (“Front: Kingdom in Anarchy”). This helps you organize and unify your vision for what you’re working on.

You figure out what the specific Dangers represent this overarching front, maybe pick 2 or 3 and flesh them out. So, maybe the “Front: Occupied Cloud City” gets “Danger: Lando Calrissian” and “Danger: Darth Vader” — you waffle about whether or not the Stormtroopers are a Danger, and decide that no they don’t have an agenda they’re incidental. Your Dangers have agendas and that is why you drill down and detail them. You think about Boba Fett… he has an agenda, sure, but he’s not very active… you decide to go for it and add “Danger: Boba Fett, bounty hunter” to the Front.

You figure out what your Danger types are, you figure out the types so that when all else fails, and you have no idea what to do you can just have them follow their type’s motivation — and so when you’re unsure what their agenda might be, you can get inspiration. So, lets see, maybe you decide Darth Vader is a Planar Force… yeah, he definitely is, look at that Planar Force move “Expose someone to a Truth!” You pick a specific type and make Darth Vader a “Type: Construct of Law (impulse: eliminate perceived disorder).” Perfect.

You try to figure out what kind of Danger Lando might be and then you realize, actually, the Danger isn’t him… the Danger is Cloud City itself, given the Troopers, and the betrayal, and all of that… so you revise your Danger: Lando into Danger: Cloud City and make it a “Cursed Place,” and decide to make it an “Abandoned Tower (impulse: to draw in the weak-willed).”

So you see what I’m doing? I’m picking Danger types, and they have Impulses… in the middle of play, I use those Impulses to fill in gaps in my own thought processes. We’re playing, I’m making soft and hard moves, and suddenly – suddenly – the party does something totally unexpected! Or they roll a miss! Oh man, uh uh uh, oh I know…! I look at my notes and say something that fits this Front, or this Danger, or whatever, to keep things moving. And you see how willing I was to change around my notes and change what one of the Dangers were? That’s okay, as long as you don’t contradict any of the fiction already introduced in your game. Fronts are not meant to be straitjackets — they’re supposed to work for you, so tear down, rip up, throw out, move around anything that does not serve you.

And then at this point, now that you know what the TOPIC is (the Front), and what the DANGERS are (the dangers, duh), you figure out your cast… okay, so Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Lando Calrissian, and in a proper game you’d probably make up 1 or 2 more if you felt like it. This part is just about making sure that there are interesting NPCs to interact with, to fight with… to really know who the relevant faces are in this particular Front.

Grim Portents/Impending Dooms
And then finally you work on Grim Portents and Impending Dooms. So, first, you pick your Impending Dooms for each Danger. Your Impending Doom is the final step, the end of the evil plot, what will happen if the people in your Dangers get their ways. Its what these Dangers are really all about. You look at the Dangers you made, you look at what Front they’re all involved in, you think about what you know is going on in your game, and you make some judgment calls… okay, well Clearly Boba Fett wants to spread “Tyranny” by carting off Han Solo for Jabba… and okay, so Darth Vader wants to spread “Usurpation” because he wants to either destroy Skywalker and end his destiny or bring him into the fold… and okay, Occupied Cloud City wants to spread “Impoverishment” and turn the place into another rubbish Imperial stronghold.

I think starting with your Impending Dooms is easiest… you already have Types for your Dangers and you already know what context you’re using them in, so just pick an Impending Doom that sounds cool and think about how it may fit… this is really easy if the villain was introduced in the game first and you’re now going back and applying these notes to them, because you probably already have details to work with.

Then, I would say, start from your impending doom and work backwards to find your Grim Portents. Work backwards, step by step, and write down how the Danger gets from Point A to Point B. What obstacles stand in their way?? What would make a REALLY COOL Hard Move to whip out in play and reveal the Danger is advancing?? So, if Boba wins he will spread Tyranny… how does he spread Tyranny. What is the very LAST step that guarantees Tyranny is a little stronger? Well, maybe, “Disappears into the sunset with an imprisoned PC.” Okay, cool, but how about before that, how do we get there? Maybe, “Imprisons a PC,” that would be simple… but hey, check this out, you can tie your Dangers together in interesting ways. Maybe you like the idea of putting imprisonment on Vader’s Grim Portents, and you want to really get down into the moment by moment with Boba’s plan, so you just give Boba some straight forward ones like “move an imprisoned PC to the ship,” “start up the engines,” “take off.”

Final Thoughts
Your Grim Portents don’t have to be huge depending on whether you’re writing a Front for use as an Adventure (which is more what I’ve been describing here) or for a Campaign. In an Adventure Front, you want Grim Portents to be immediate, to be actionable, to be obvious, and to drive the narrative and the action.

A Campaign Front is, in a lot of ways, identical to everything I’ve talked about here — however, its Grim Portents tend to be larger, occasionally more ephemeral, or glossing over huge details. A good way to look at things is this! A Grim Portent on a Campaign Front could — if you wanted — probably be turned into an Adventure Front!

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