Last night I ran my first Dungeon World game.

Last night I ran my first Dungeon World game.

Last night I ran my first Dungeon World game. I wanted to capture some notes and ask some questions. I have two more Dungeon World games planned in the future. I want to shave down some of the sharp edges my group and I ran into last night.

Overall we had a lot of laughs and told quite the story. Most of them felt that, while fun for a single shot game, it didn’t have enough meat for the PCs for them to want to play in a longer term campaign. Part of this might have been my over-focus on the scope of the moves, but my group also loves more tactically focused games. We’ve primarily played 4e, then playtested Next for the past nine months, and now we’re moving on to Pathfinder for a short bit so these guys like crunch.

The game was based on the classic module used as an example in the book, Against the Cult of the Reptile God. It has a nice town and a couple of good dungeons. In one three hour game they group got ambushed, went to a bar, got into a fight there against kidnapping cultists, went into an underground caverns below, and fought a charmed priest of the naga.

So some questions:

I had read that Dungeon World focuses exclusively within the characters’ moves. If there isn’t a move for it, that character can’t really do it. There aren’t generic “attribute checks” for things like a priest breaking down a door or a rogue sneaking. If the players go with the narrative, the DM brings it to the potential moves. This got weird with things like “Discern Realities”. One of the players wanted to see if, when his charm wears off on the priest previously charmed, if it will return to the main charm or not. He rolled for a “discern realities” but none of the six questions really fit what he wanted to know. Our group is used to more open-ended skill systems like newer versions of Dungeons and Dragons. We can just roll stealth or perception or something like that. It isn’t quite as easy in Dungeon World, it seems.

So was I doing it wrong? CAN players roll attribute checks to do “ad hoc” moves based on the situation? Does the DM always have to bring it back to a move or can custom moves be built on the spot to cover the reasonable intent of the player and ability of the character?

The other issue with discern reality is the question “what is about to happen”. Since I’m nto forcing the plot to go any direction, how the hell would I know? I don’t want to give them too specific an answer or I’ll end railroading them. I’m interested in what DMs typically come back with when a player asks this question.

My group also had a tendency to focus on finishing bonds so they could rack up experience points and move forward. It wasn’t as awful as it sounds but it was a little forced. How do DMs typically handle it so that players aren’t trying to artificially complete boons just to get experience. What are the triggers that typically complete boons?

Lastly, have other groups found that Dungeon World works well for shorter campaigns? Is this a common response? I certainly want to try it again, although the number of people I had (six players, one DM) was a bit too many, I think. What is the right way to bring them back if they feel the game was, overall, too simple for them to want to really dig into?

I’m hoping Adam Koebel or Sage LaTorra might offer some advice. Thank you for all the feedback!

8 thoughts on “Last night I ran my first Dungeon World game.”

  1. Complete boons are fully completed and resolved, not just triggered. For example, “Devon knows my worst secret” is only resolved if the character or Devon starts blabbing the secret.

    Think of them as bonds that tie those two characters together and when they are resolved the bond is gone. 

    As for Discern Realities. It covers the situation you described. Remember you are starting with fiction: The character wants to know what will happen when his charm wears off, will it return to the original target (I’m not sure I understand this question). First, the fiction: I want to check with the energies of the spell to see if there is still a connection to the original target. Make Discern Realities. Ask “What is about to happen.” This follows from the fiction so is an answer to the question “What is going to happen when the spell wears off”

    I think the trouble is if the player simply says “I want to Discern Realities. I rolled a 10 so I’m going to look at the list of questions and ask 3.” There’s no fiction, the character didn’t trigger the move by doing something so it doesn’t work.

    If someone wants to know what’s about to happen tell them. Whatever you tell them is true and happens. You don’t need to have planned anything.

    Finally. Dungeon World may not be for everyone. I like wargames and am a tactical player in 4e and Pathfinder. However the point of Dungeon World is to invest in the story and the characters. Once your players buy in they will want to find out what happens next and care less about positioning on the battlefield.

    Dungeon World can be tactical. Think about tactics as something other than movement on a grid. Introduce enemies that cannot be defeated simply by hacking them with a sword. This can be creatures which fly, are too many to take on at once, or who’s hides are too thick to pierce with normal weapons. Try to come up with shortcuts to encounters that will make them super easy. If a player says “Hey, you said the Golem is made of mud. If we heat him will he dry out” Say yes. Tactics!

  2. “I had read that Dungeon World focuses exclusively within the characters’ moves. If there isn’t a move for it, that character can’t really do it.”

    That is totally backward of how DW operates.  The PCs can do anything.  The fiction is the only limitation.  The moves are only there to jump into the fiction when they are triggered.  Players shoudl be doing stuff outside the moves all the time.


    First off, your character sheet doesn’t dictate what you can do in Dungeon World, you do. To do it, do it, and make sure everything makes sense from a fictional standpoint. The moves on your character sheet are there to tell you what your character can do that nobody else can, so the Wizard doesn’t start trying to call on animal spirits and the Fighter doesn’t try to Lay on Hands, but if it makes sense for a character to do something, then they can do it. Often, without worrying about “making it a move” or even rolling, which brings us to the next point: Dungeon World doesn’t need “skills” like stealth, perception, or what-have-you because most of these situations fall into two categories: Defying Danger, and everything else. In the former case, they describe what, exactly, they’re doing (I’m sneaking past the guards, I’m dodging the ogre’s club, I’m listening for the invisible assassin), and then roll the appropriate stat and do what the move says. As allows, follow the fiction. In the second case, if there isn’t a danger to defy, why are you rolling? Do you really need to roll to search for secret doors? If the players are looking for a door, they should be telling exactly how they’re looking for it, and from that alone you should know whether or not they’re going to come up with anything. I mean, why reward them for luck on the dice when you can reward them for paying attention to the clues you drop?

    As for your Discern Realities case, the problem was that really should have been a Spout Lore roll. Discern Realities is for when you want to have one of those specific questions answered, while Spout Lore is the catch-all for things like “What will happen when this spell wears off”, “Who is the archduke of Beleria”, and “What is an ogre’s favorite food?”. Remember, moves follow fiction. Were they trying to figure out the answer to their question by “closely studying a situation or person”? or were they “consulting their accumulated knowledge about something”?

    So, if a priest is trying to break down a door, ask yourself these questions: Is there a danger being defied here? I can think of a number of possible dangers (traps, alerting people), but if none of those apply, ask yourself (and the player attempting the action) if that’s something they should be capable of. And I don’t mean “capable because their character sheet says so”, I mean “capable because within the fiction, this priest is very fit and has had to break down more than one door in his lifetime”. Now suppose a thief is trying to sneak past someone. Well, before talking about potential moves, look at the fiction: how is the rogue sneaking? Is she staying out of view? Creating a distraction? Dressed in black under the cover of a dark night? Maybe she doesn’t even need to roll, as it’d be such a trivial thing for a thief of her stature to slip past a single guard. Or maybe the stealth isn’t the issue so much as creating the right distraction? Could be a Defy Danger, with risk of drawing too much attention (or none at all, but that’s much less interesting). Alternately, maybe the danger is in the very action of sneaking itself (the danger, of course, is getting caught), and so that’d be a Defy Danger+Dex (or +Cha, as I often like to do for stealthy stuff, depending on the situation).

    The general formula here is: “Is there a consequence for failure?” If no, just let them do it, don’t worry about mechanics or dice or any of that. Tell a story. If yes, then break out the Defy Danger, and talk with the player about just how they plan to be avoiding these consequences. 

    On first glance, Dungeon World might be simple, but a while ago, I was playing an Iron Kingdoms RPG game as a mounted knight (a very well-designed game with a tactical minis feel) right after DM-ing a DW game, and I naturally thought “Hm, my horse is getting damaged. I should jam my poleaxe into the nearest enemies head and vault myself off my horse so it can run to safety, as I pull out my backup sword to fend off the other attackers.” But then I realized that there was no way I could fit that within the framework of the rules (despite the huge number of “tactical options”), and even if I could, it’d probably be less optimal than a more traditional route, and so I just went back to “I hit it with my axe again.” In Dungeon World, had I proposed that plan, any good DM would’ve said “Sure, so a hack-and-slash to put your polearm in his head?” and then either have me defy danger to attempt the pole-vault stunt, or even just let me do it without rolling, because, awesome. The number of tactical options in DW is limited only to the number of tactical options you can ever imagine attempting.

    tl;dr: Follow the fiction, follow the fiction, follow the fiction.

  4. I guess I have a hard time when the character performs a move that I feel has a consequence but doesn’t quite fit into one of the moves. I get, and we played, that defy danger, hack and slash, defend, and the others can take up some of that slack.

    It’s funny because Dungeon World felt both too open and too closed for myself and members of the group. Straight attribute checks as the catch-alls gives the freedom without the restrictions.

    It’s just hard for me to get my brain around this sort of stuff. Thank you all for the feedback.

  5. “I guess I have a hard time when the character performs a move that I feel has a consequence but doesn’t quite fit into one of the moves.”

    Is the consequence dangerous?  Sounds like a Defy Danger.  Is the consequence harmless?  No moves triggered: just tell them what happens, skip the dice.

    Please also note that it says in the DW book that you will be figuring out how to DM DW for the first few games.  Be okay with the floundering, and keep trying for a few sessions.  🙂

  6. Yep. That’s my plan. My main group was willing to give it a try but they want an RPG a bit meatier in mechanics. I’ll be running this for another group of more light-weight storyteller folks and for the upcoming DC Game Day here in town. I plan to keep DW in my stable of RPGs, but probably not for the same group.

  7. Yeah I think the biggest thing is the consequence of failing in fiction. If there is nothing you can think that would make it more interesting with a GM move if they fail I would say you shouldn’t roll.

    It’s sometimes hard to get away from the habit of rolling to search every corpse, every room, etc. with most of the answers being “nothing happens” because they failed. Now unless there are traps, they are being hotly pursued, time is a factor with a wandering monster patrol, etc. I just keep the action going.

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