Hi folks – just found the community, a week after discovering Dungeon World, which I’ve been having a blast with. :-)

Hi folks – just found the community, a week after discovering Dungeon World, which I’ve been having a blast with. 🙂

Hi folks – just found the community, a week after discovering Dungeon World, which I’ve been having a blast with. 🙂

Question for everyone: I’m thinking ahead for my City State / Wilderlands of High Fantasy DW game (session two just played), and trying to grok how to create NPC / monster spellcasters. I get Monster Moves, etc, but am wondering how much detail you guys put into your magic-using NPC / Monster opponents. Do you assign them a notional level, let them learn / cast the actual spells in the PC classes? Do you jot down a “Casts Fire Magic”-type move, then list a suite of approximate spells they can cast, and the rough power level? Or do you just have a vague move “Casts Lethal Magic” or some such, and hand-wave everything?

My reason for asking is simple pragmatics: when I’m GMing, I find I like to have the parameters of an NPC / Monster written down for ease of reference – I’m usually busy enough imagining and describing the events of the game, without also having to spontaneously come up with fully-formed and consistent critter capabilities off the top of my head (instant spell lists? argh!). So, I’d ideally like to have a “Monster Move Reference” which incorporated the sort of magic an NPC / Monster can use – without being unnecessarily arbitrary. The magic-using critters in the DW bestiary don’t have much detail on that front. Say the PCs are about to raid the Tower of the Ebon Sorcerer and confront him in his chamber of magic – how would you prep the Big Bad’s NPC “stats” for that?

19 thoughts on “Hi folks – just found the community, a week after discovering Dungeon World, which I’ve been having a blast with. :-)”

  1. What do you want him to be able to do? That is what a move is all about. A move is only a vague description of what a monster does or can do. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s a spell or not.

    “Shoot laser beams from his eyes” is a spell if you want it to be. “Throw a boulder” can be too. The important thing is to show it through the fiction that it’s a spell.

    If the sorcerer waves his arms in the air while speaking in a long lost tongue, the acid rain is as much a spell as it’s ever gonna be 🙂

    When you write down his spells as moves, add moves until you have an idea of what he should be capable of. And remember to leave room for those unknown powers that will keep the ætension nice and high. God, I love those 6- results 😉

  2. Yeah, I get the “leave space” and “show it through the fiction” thing. However, I’m more interested in providing myself with sufficient GM support in the midst of play, so that I have a cool list of ideas for what the Evil Sorcerer can cast, so I don’t have to rely on myself coming up with awesome stuff on the fly. I’m just wondering what others do – I could certainly write a list of, say, 20 or 30 separate moves describing all the things the sorcerer can do, plus ways of handling them – he can turn you into a frog, sap your will and make you a zombie slave, cause you to break out in boils, bind your spirit into a gem in his pocket, stiffen your limbs, disenchant your magical items, cast fireballs, levitate you to a great height then drop you, etc, etc. In the heat of play, I often find that I plumb for the easiest and most memorable magical effects – so I’m looking for a nice shorthand to give me a list of cool stuff with any interesting game mechanics side effects ready-made.

    The DW rules already provide a list of generally applicable in-game effects usable by critters and NPCs, in the various Special Qualities and in particular tags. I’m wondering if there’s scope for producing a list of cool magical effects (and any mechanical notes) which NPC / monster spellcasters could use.

    There’s also the issue of spellcaster “magnitude”, ie different effects based on how powerful a sorcerer or magical monster might be. I wonder how people handle that? After all, one sorcerer’s fireball may not be another’s – I guess that’s where the move needs to be more descriptive than a single effect name. 🙂 

  3. I’m still new to Dungeon World myself, but I suspect I would take the category approach, noting “Fire Magic” rather than the vague Lethal Magic. I would think that have a couple of areas of expertise, and maybe a descriptor or two, would be plenty to keep your brain focused on the interesting stuff. 20 or 30 moves seems way too excessive.


    • draw upon the destructive power of Hellfire with ease

    • bend the mind or body to his will, with great effort

    • escape with arcane trickery

    I think this would help me keep the NPCs tactics straight in my head. I’m not sure that’s the official way it’s done, but it’s what I’ll be trying.

  4. I think the idea is to use the NPC’s moves list to set up ahead of time a few of the things she’s most likely to do.  A sorceress might have in theory lots of magical effects she can generate (though I note even the PC Wizard is pretty limited in how many he can memorize), but in any case there’s probably a few that are her go-to combat moves.  For instance, one of my monsters has got

    • Charm the weak-minded

    • Lightning Strike (d8 near)

    • Destroy the light

    Those aren’t the only things he can do, but I don’t really expect him to live long enough to really need more options than that.

    At least, that was the impression I got from earlier drafts of the game.  I note that now, for instance, the Goblin Orkaster says “Unleash a poorly understood spell”, but in the old Bloodstone Idol adventure they have listed “Cast Hold on someone, paralyzing them so long as the Orkaster maintains it”, and “Contact a powerful being and beg for aid”.

  5. I usually just try to stick to a theme for a “spell” move. Something like:

    “Summon a horror from the beyond”


    “Conjure illusions to terrify or deceive”

    Something that gives you an impression of what kind of magic they do, but isn’t exactly a specific spell.

  6. Ross Cowman, Threat moves are interesting, but I’m not sure how you think they should be used here.  They certainly aren’t what I generally think of as spells.

  7. I go with general idea of what he can do with his magic, that would be tailored by the situation at hand, putting a lot of restriction and also, leaving enough open to make the NPC interesting.

  8. I would do something like Ryan Gigliotti suggests, above. Making the moves somewhat evocative (Hellfire, not just fire) helps your GM brain as you’re running. You’ll also note Ryan uses three different situational-type modifiers — “with ease,” “with great effort,” and to “escape.” That helps funnel your decision making process so that you’re thinking about what to do with Hellfire, not which of three distinct moves to use.

  9. Awesome – thanks very much everyone for the really cool and useful replies. Culling broadly from all your ideas, I’m thinking I might do something like the following:

    – indicate the “areas” of magic and how good the NPC is at them in either the NPC description or (potentially – need to think about this) in the Special Qualities.

    – create a short list of Moves the NPC is likely to use in encounters with the PCs, breaking out into Custom Moves as required (so, standard monster creation).

    – touch upon the broader magical effects the NPC can do “offscreen”, either as Moves or in the description text. My feeling is that if the NPC is powerful enough to do anything significant here, he’s likely to be a Danger anyway, and the spell effects will be listed in the Danger Moves in the appropriate Front.

    I’m left with a couple of questions I’m still mulling over:

    – How to handle “damage” caused by a spell. Does every attack an NPC does do exactly the same damage, regardless of whether it’s a quarterstaff, poisoned dagger, magic missile, or fireball-type spell? Or should there be differentiation. The rules imply the former, though I’m not sure if that’s going to feel a bit lame in play. I probably need to play it through a couple of times. One thought is that according to the monster creation rules, Sorcerers are likely to be Solitary, so will have a base damage of d10 (and 12HP).

    – The more magic-using NPCs and monsters I create, the more I expect I’ll end up with a list of “magical moves” or “spell moves” at some level of abstraction which I can re-use. I think this will be useful, certainly for me as GM and certainly when improvising encounters.

    – I’m still unsure about magnitude. I think adverbial constructions like “with ease”, “with extremely difficulty” are certainly an option; likewise probably phrasing moves like “do devastating damage with fire magic”, “cause serious structural damage with earth magic”, “magically sharpen swords for a minor beneficial effect”, etc, could be useful – maybe that’s some way of modding the base damage of an NPC, so you could have something like:

    –> Minor damage: use the -w damage tag (ie w(2d10))

    –> Major damage: use the -b damage tag (ie b(2d10))

    –> Minor beneficial effect: +1 bonus, etc.

    At the moment we’re just playing through G1 – Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, which is allowing me to cut my teeth without too many complications – but I can see I’ll need to start statting up magic-using opponents fairly soon. 🙂

    Thanks for all your advice! What do you guys think of the above?

  10. You may be focusing too much on the rolls and their values.  Remember that a fighter does d10 damage with an improvised chair-leg-club in a bar brawl as well as a finely crafted sword mid-adventure. This is because with a club he’ll mess a guy up, and with a sword, he’ll mess a guy up.  How much damage can usually fold into fiction.  Oh he did 3 damage? He probably cast a minor hex. Oh 12 armor piercing? Yeah that’s probably a giant fireball of some sort.

    Remember that like the dragon, the strength of the attack and the potency of the wizard comes from fictional positioning.  Think about the image of the spell hitting in your mind and how that effects the scene:

    A wizard casts a fireball and the player attempts to defy danger to get out of the way:

    Weak apprentice casting a fireball? On a 7-9 the choice might be not taking damage but having your cloak/sleeve burn off.  

    Master Wizard lighting up the whole room with a fireball that blazes like a second sun? You might have the choice of having your Adventuring Kit lose 3 charges to cushion your impact, or taking a debility (weak) as you feel some ribs snap. Or perhaps you have to deal with your clothes being on fire.

    Same spell – different fictional positioning.

    Remember that while other ‘wizards’ might have D&D style lists, they don’t have to be limited.  Goblin shamans can control minds with spirits maybe. Last game I think we had a demon-binder who served the One Who Sleeps Below try to fill the PCs lungs with acid with a spell. It’s all up to what makes sense for the story and their power source as opposed to a universal magic source and spell list. Unless that’s your cup of tea, in which case – go for it!

  11. You will not have that NPC alive long enough, even if he has 15 hp, so don’t bother developing too much of his mechanics.

    Think how the NPC would make things happen, how easy or how difficult each thing is to him depends how close they are to his focus but more importantly how well it fits the way the game is being played.

    Focusing on the damage aspects of a spell leaves a lot of its power out of the picture, being able to invoke hellfire is not only about hurting the party, it is about burning forests, causing havok in towns and buildings.

    Furthermore damage is already pretty easy to deal, if you are only watching to hurt the players, it is the other moves that make the NPC interesting and the fight memorable. Instead of causing them damage think what the NPC would want to achieve at the moment, sometimes it is to hurt them, sometimes it will be moving to some other place, activating some sort of trap, running through some hidden door and so on. Make them act like living breathing people who have desires that propel them toward more than just causing damage before they die.

    And don’t forget, minions, lots of minions, willing ones or unwilling ones, they will have them, being solitary doesn’t mean exposing themselves unnecessarily.

  12. Yeah… I guess I simply don’t see a distinction between “the moves” and “the fiction”. The Moves are part of what the GM uses to help create the fiction, surely? I mean, if you narrate an NPC doing something that isn’t annotated explicitly as a Move, then in any case you’re treating it as a notional Move anyway, just inventing it on the fly. As I mentioned, I’m interested in describing the NPC sufficiently so I don’t necessarily have to coin Moves spontaneously – many of my NPCs are fairly complex characters in their own right, and do live long enough to become major campaign villains, etc, so it’s definitely worth developing them to be something more than ciphers to throw at the PCs. If I have the NPCs and other threats sufficiently clear in my mind, I personally find I have more time for the interaction and the “fiction” (ie narrative) than if I have to be constantly inventing opponents fully-formed on the fly.

  13. There is no distinction between the moves and the fiction. Not for monsters. Moves are just a formalized way of telling the GM some of the things a monster can do in the fiction.

    My experience is that monsters often end up doing a lot more than what their moves tell me. That’s because the monster moves are just the flavor you apply to your regular GM moves.

  14. My point though is that if the NPC and the PCs clash, no amount of written moves will save the NPC from them, if you got a fighter that guy can be two hits from death the moment the fight ensues.

    I concern myself more with their personalities, goals and the like leaving the moves as open and yet evocative as possible. This is because how he reacts is the more important decision I make on the table, the moves are then factored into that.

    To me the moves are kinda like dressing, the decision is the important part I need to come up with, I then apply the visuals through the moves and go with it.

    I understand you though, I am actually making an effort in this, because I am one to enjoy a lot more structure and planning when it comes to my side of the game.

  15. Stras Acimovic said: “Oh he did 3 damage? He probably cast a minor hex. Oh 12 armor piercing? Yeah that’s probably a giant fireball of some sort.”

    Personally, I strongly dislike that kind of retroactive description.  I have usually described a lot of what’s going on before rolling damage — it helps focus attention on “uh-oh, this could be bad”.  Waiting until after the roll to figure out what was happening feels kind of lame and retconnish to me, and I’ve never liked games with that kind of mechanic.

    I go more with an expectation that magic is random, and just take the damage as rolled as an indication of how successfully the spell was cast.  And I don’t see anything wrong with an NPC doing different dice of damage with different attacks, if the distinction seems meaningful — ie, if it prompts the players to make decisions about how to approach the fight.

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