I’ve been playing a bit of Dungeon World and I’m interested in damage dice. Specifically, what do they add to the game? In AW, there’s just a harm number and it’s modified with +/- mods and the harm move, but no damage roll. What’s better about doing it the way DW does it?
The answer that I’ve come up with is, basically, nothing. Or rather, the link to D&D may have value (familiarity, sentimentality, kitch or whatever) for some people, but not me, and I’m not seeing anything else. So, I’m hoping there’s something cool about it that I haven’t noticed or thought of yet.
What is it?
21 thoughts on “I’ve been playing a bit of Dungeon World and I’m interested in damage dice. Specifically, what do they add to the…”
I’m pretty sure it’s a genre emulation thing. It adds randomness and reminds everyone that DW is a game about punching monsters and stealing their stuff as opposed to a game about profound characters and emotional exploration (not to say you can’t have those).
Essentially, it’s special because it’s part of the game’s focus, while AW harm counters are just another countdown, just like any other of the million countdowns you could be using for everything.
It draws out a fight, a bit, to show off the narrative of the fight. AW feels a little more to the point with a focus on the outcome and consequences.
It also serves as a way to differentiate the Fighter (d10) from the Wizard (d4). In AW, Harm is tied to the weapon, making a Brainer as deadly as a Gunlugger in some situations.
To be honest, I’m right there with you, Christopher — I don’t know what they add, if anything, and I’m not in love with them. It feels awesome when I H&S with a 12+, and then roll an 8 on my 1d8, and a 6 on my extra 1d6, and shout out at the GM “14 damage, punk! Take that, Orc Chieftain Hurgleblog!” But it feels so much crappier when I roll a 12+ on H&S and then roll a 1 on my 1d8 and a 1 on my 1d6. The crappy feeling, to me, outweighs the good feeling, and I’d rather just have the static damage of AW.
So, then, here’s me playing devil’s advocate, and trying to come up with some reasons: (and, while I was writing this, I was pre-empted so that my answers are now repeats, damn you you smart fast people you, but, c’est la vie)
(1) The size of the damage dice allow for easy differentiation in combat ability. The Brainer shoots you with a shotgun? 3-harm. Battlebabe shoots you with a shotgun? 3-harm. There are some moves that will adjust this up, but for the most part, even the combat inept will pretty much do the same harm as the combat savvy, especially towards the start of the game. But the Wizard only does d4 with a sword, while the Fighter does d10. They could still both roll 1, but at least the Fighter can and is more likely to do more damage, thus representing skill.
(2) “Play to find out” pacing stuff. In AW, an NPC has, what, 3 harm worth of health? Pretty much uniformly? So dealing damage to them isn’t about pacing a fight scene, it’s about, y’know, killing them dead. The DW fight, on the other hand, is against a badass monster with 16 hp. Thanks to randomly rolled damage dice, no one’s taking it out in one-hit, most likely, and there’s a good chance that the fight will be extended in interesting directions as people roll unexpected results. Then again, maybe the fight shows off how awesome the Fighter is when the Fighter does roll enough damage to kill the 16 hp monster in one hit. Which is itself surprising and kind of cool, in a way that wouldn’t really happen in AW.
(3) Simplicity, moving away from weapon fetishization. In D&D, your damage is tied to your weapon, like in AW, which means that if you want higher damage you need to pursue a better weapon. But in DW, it’s tied to you, and your weapon just modifies some tags, how you deal damage, at what range you fight, and maybe it gives you +1 damage, or if you’re wielding a magical weapon of great power, something like +1d6 damage. Ultimately, the damage you’re dealing is simple and easy to determine by just looking at your character sheet’s damage die. No need for complex tables of any kind to track all the damage dice of the different weapons you’re likely to find.
(You can easily just take the average (rounded up or down) and have static damage, many people do it in D&D, too.)
Gregor, yeah, and that’s sort of where my thinking is headed, but I don’t want to implement even such a simple hack and miss out on cool stuff in my ignorance. So I’m just feeling the topic out a little.
Hmm, well, for me rolling random damage is about chance/alea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man,_Play_and_Games). Sure you roll a 1 and it sucks but then you roll high and off that monster in one hit…it’s the thrill of the unexpected, kinda like gambling. Depends on the game of course.
I also think there’s something about advancement, here. In AW, you never get more hit points, so to speak. In DW, you do, and different monsters have very different hit point values. As such, what you roll can make a very big difference, particularly at lower levels. As such, taking “do an extra d6” when you’re a fighter and rolling a 15 is a really big deal in a way that just automatically doing 3 harm isn’t. The same is true when the DM hits you and rolls damage. In AW, no matter how “advanced” your character is, a shotgun blast is going to bring them most of the way to death. Emulating D&D, though, a higher level character can simply take more, not matter what, although a really good hit from a really tough monster might still take a chunk out of them.
So this is a perspective more from old school D&D, but I think it applies here too.
The more randomness there is the more variation there is, and that leads to surprise and in turn interest regarding finding out what happens in a particular situation.
Like, if all sword attacks do 4 points of damage then all sword attacks are the same and you are no longer playing to find out what happens in that particular part of the game. You could fold this into the attack roll, but DW doesn’t really do that (at least, not with as fine a granularity).
The same thing could be said about monster HP (and is one reason you roll for HP in trad D&D). There are game reasons for rolling for HP too, but the story reason is that some ogres (or whatever) are runts and some are bruisers. It’s fun and surprising to let the dice tell you which. The referee is, after all, a player also.
Rolling dice for some people is a very funny part of the game
Rolling damage also makes things riskier and prompts players to gamble more — “I have 10hp. I have good odds of not being taken out immediately by that Troll. Okay. I’ll wade in, hacking and slashing!”
Static damage lends itself to planning and being sensible — “I know a magnum deals 3 harm, and I’m sitting at 9:00. Shit, okay, I break away and find a place to hide.”
Random damage is more adventuresome cause you can pull victories out of ludicrous odds. Static damage is more “authentic” because you know when you’re going to be screwed and when to press the advantage.
In my personal hack, I switched back to the harm system, but this is because I wanted to have more brutal, but less frequent combat. HP helps create a very “epic dungeon crawler fantasy” where Harm is “gritty adventure fantasy”.
Colter Hanna I’ve found HP (when done with few modifiers) has led to the best example of gritty adventure I’ve run yet (using OD&D, and re-rolling HP every session).
The main reason, I think, is that totals are kept low even for mid level characters, making all combats risky propositions. Even an exceptional constitution only grants +1 HP per HD in 3 LBB OD&D.
There’s a beautiful, deadly symmetry to 1 HD = 1d6 = one weapon hit. An average hit kills an average person. But you might be lucky… as Gregor Vuga noted above, there’s a bit of gambler’s attraction here too. (Sorry, I should stop talking about OD&D in DW space.)
The passage below is from the Advanced Delving chapter. Maybe Sage and Adam playtested it and found it lacking and will drop by to comment why later.
“Moves can also change the basic structure of the game. Consider this one, to avoid the use of damage dice:
When you would deal damage, instead of rolling the dice, substitute each dice with the listed number. d4 becomes 2, d6 becomes 3, d8 becomes 4, d10 becomes 5, d12 becomes 6.
Moves like this change one of the basic features of the game. Be very careful with moves that muck with the fundamentals.”
Genre Emulation, tension of a roll, combat uncertainty, uncertain effectiveness and it’s fun to roll dice.
Also it is totally boring to look at every monster and know for sure how many times you have to risk your hp to kill it.
Todd Nicholas where did you read that higher level PCs get more XP? AFAIK there isn’t that in DW, unless there is some advanced move that I don’t remember, or you increase your Con (but the effect is very little, unless you spend most of your advances on it).
Brendan Strejcek Granted, if it works for you, that’s great. I just personally have difficulty remembering to make damage feel like a real thing, and not just like a loss of an abstract number when I run with HP.
Funny-shaped dice. And what everyone else said.
Christopher Weeks You are not alone in this, so it was a good question.
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