So as I study up for the game there’s one aspect of DW that I continue to have some unease with: the level of…

So as I study up for the game there’s one aspect of DW that I continue to have some unease with: the level of…

So as I study up for the game there’s one aspect of DW that I continue to have some unease with: the level of freedom provided the GM. I know that may sound strange but I can’t help it.

Most of the monsters are some stats that are of moderate importance in their presentation. But we’re reminded time and again of how the monster is more than these stats, that they’re an interesting fictional creature filled with excitement. Play their tags, play their descriptions, be true to the fiction. I TOTALLY get that and it’s exciting!

Now most people like to point at the Dragon as an illustration of how awesome and terrible creatures are, beyond their stats. Honestly, I look at the dragon and he seems pretty terrible on stats alone and there’s not much in the way of description that makes him worse. There’s Terrifying and Messy which help but those are totally up to the GM to make as relevant and deadly as wanted.

But I’m encouraged to stay true to our fiction too. So I guess I get to bring in other qualities to represent my dragon and maybe that falls under the purvey of Elemental Blood because otherwise I just have no idea what that means. Ill just make it up and assume it means magic resistant, knows magic, and has a killer command of certain elements. So there’s a pretty awful opponent.

But I’m just making shit up. And that’s what I’m struggling with. Ultimately it’s my fiat that decides whether their plan to shred the dragon’s wings with arrow fire can work. My fiat dictates when, instead if just doing damage, the dragon shreds armor or even removes a limb. The dragon is going to be exactly as horrible as I decide to make him and it doesn’t really have anything to do with the dice rolling.

Now for me personally, sure the dragon of the book is okay, but the ghoul? Man, we expect dragons to be bad but when that first hard move becomes available and someone’s arm is wrenched from their shoulder with a cartilage crunching wet pop…that’s gonna be rough.

So where’s the line between being a dick and being a fan? Do other GMs struggle with this in DW?

26 thoughts on “So as I study up for the game there’s one aspect of DW that I continue to have some unease with: the level of…”

  1. I dislike the how monsters are “expected” to be run in DW. I ignore it mostly. It tries to add too much logic to a ridiculous setting with Hit Points and Magic Healing.

    If I try to take this nonsense seriously, then there is really no reason I can see that the whole world isn’t just overrun with Gelatinous Cubes which don’t have a vital organ.

    In the 16hp dragon example the DM rips of a characters arm and all the PCs run away to fight another day. Bollocks to that too.

    Realistically the one armed man is in shock and bleeding out. There are plenty of crunchy games that rules on what happens next. In DW you can run away? A moment ago we had to use the realism of a Dragon, but now we will ignore biology.

    I run DW like a run any game that has a hit point attrition system attached with a smile and laughter. When I want a realistic physics engine in a game to portray realistic awesome situations I run that game.

    I definitely intend to be in the minority with this opinion. I like DW and like Runequest says “Your Runequest will vary”.

  2. Sure, sounds good Joshua. So you run the creatures pretty much on the stats alone and don’t worry much about doing any more with it in the fiction.

    You may still be able to help me. I’m assuming your dragon still flies. Can the characters Volley the dragon on the wing? And who decides that: you, the players, or consensus? Can they devise a plan to cripple its wings and who decides the plausibility of that? Can they approach the Dragon to attack it or is it too Terrifying?

  3. Chris, when a question like this arises, just ask yourself the following questions:

    Does it fit the fiction as established?

    Does it sound cool and fun?

    If the answers are yes, then your answer is yes. In the case of wing-shredding arrows, you could put it to a spout lore roll.

    On a 10+ “that would work, so long as the dragon was within range of your bow.”

    On a 7-9 “you have the seed of a good idea, but mere arrows won’t cut it. You’ll need something bigger, more powerful”

    On a miss “no way to know until you try it I guess…”

  4. Chris McNeilly

    Well first my dragon is not immune to Hack n Slash. Maybe that’s good in some silly story with hobbits. But I’m not running that game. Mostly because I think it is more punishing to the player who chose the fighter, a character with nearly half its sheet devoted to how cool its attack will be.

    I haven’t created a Trap the Thief has no chance to be disable. Or a wound the cleric has no chance to heal. And imagine I could, but those Macguffins would get tired really quickly. Why tell the Player his move is invalid?

    Now this might seem like I’m taking it easy on the players and that isn’t quite right. But narrative style games have quite a bit of control the GM gives up to the players and “Yes, and” is typically the way go.

    I guess I could tell them the Dragon is too scary to attack and they now have to Spout Lore or Discern Realities instead of the reckless charge the player had decided on. Then Spout Lore could be utilized to say Dragons are allergic to kittens and then spend 10 minutes finding a Macguffin. Or I could let them attack the Dragon which puts the PC in a pickle because he is standing right next to it.

    I’m not running Gritty High Magic Fantasy I’m much more likely to be running “Bitterwood”, heroic high magic pulp sword & sorcery. The PCs are defined by a Class and it seems weird to blatantly say all Adventurers are scared of everything, well then why are they the heroes?

    Now if the player wants a Cleric that is scared of undead Terrific!

    Now this next comment might be due to me being 34 and having played a rpgs for a while and I am sure the tags are helpful to some people especially fledgeling GMs, but I don’t find them very useful and I’m not really into to twitter or other social media tagging.

    How does one describe Messy for 2 hit points of damage?

    Overall I think DW is great fast way to run D&D, but it’s still D&D and has all the blemishes and flaws.

  5. Not a lot of time at the moment but thanks all for the input. I agree first and foremost, fun always and be true to the information we’ve established so far. That’s how we play all of our games, nothing new here.

    Joshua Cupp, I like what you’re doing. It works. You’ve pretty well routed around the discomfort I’m having. I can really boil the whole discussion down to the Messy tag and have it serve as the primary example. You don’t use it so no problem. Tags are irrelevant to me as well as they’re only reminders of description. I’m just curious how most GMs use it. It’s clear that’s it’s meant to be terrible, but that’s a lot of ambiguous terribleness left to fiat. When does the DW GM feel its appropriate to utilize that aspect of a creatures description on the player? I don’t see how the game expects me to use that without being a dick.

    Having played RPGs for a very long time myself, I’m comfortable doing things the way I think they should be done as well Joshua. But I also like to try and feel what the game design is asking me to do. And I’m just not quite getting this part of it.

  6. And I’ll add for further reference to my discomfort. Hill Giant for example. Check him. He’s a wuss via stats alone. So I need to evoke the terrible image in my mind via description and narrative moves. So obviously I add to “hope you like having cows thrown at you”, with “getting batted across the cavern” and “stomped flat”. I think the Hill Giant can do these things. But it’s just up to the GM any time he gets a hard move to essentially mutilate and destroy a character via a thrown boulder or a stomp.

  7. There’s a difference between “fiat” and “fiction”. Fiction involves foreshadowing, warning the players of how it’s going to be, and then following through (soft moves and hard moves). Fiat involves deciding in the moment, arbitrarily, with reference only to one’s own whim. Fiat can be tyrannical and exasperating; fiction is thrilling and collaborative.

  8. Sure Willem Larsen, totally. But once the fiction is established its still totally at the GMs whim to pull the trigger on the foreshadowed and well defined bullet.

  9. Hmm. The DW book mentions creating fiction “honestly” a lot. I think once you and your players discover your (the GM) rhythm of what tends to be honest for your setting, then it should no longer feel like fiat. It’s funny, every once in a while I do worry about this fiat issue in my game (“will this feel arbitrary?”), but it doesn’t come up. The players are too busy enjoying the “moves” and flow of the fiction as the grapple with the world. Maybe it’s just about building a rhythm that the players come to expect. And again, they have a huge amount of input too. They can declare details about the dragon that does make it susceptible in new ways, without even using spout lore, as long as it’s in the flow of the fiction.

  10. In my experience, the best way to be a fan of the players is to kick the living shit out of them and then watch (and play fair, don’t be a dick about trying to steal their victory) while they do amazing things to overcome the scary world they live in.  Don’t be scared to be brutal to them because coddling the players is definitely not being a fan.

  11. I don’t comprehend how ripping a character’s arm off is playing fair and not imminent death. Why not just let the Dragon bite the PC in half?

    There is probably a line every GM decides to draw for any game they play. For me the game system/style influences where that line is drawn.

    It is a probably too ingrained in my brain from other Rpgs that the PCs are the protagonists in the fiction and they are typically better than NPC Bob. So while I don’t shy away from putting them in danger, instant or meaningless death is not something I enjoy or set out to do.

    I will say there is definitely a style of OSR game that emulates PCs as common folk and some people love it. Fans of DCC really enjoy the level 0 concept, but it’s not for me. But I also don’t like Game of Thrones because it lacks a protagonist, it’s just a bunch of people acting like selfish, whiny, conniving…well people.

    I know I’m a terrible person. I prefer Discworld to pretty much any other fantasy book. 🙂

  12. You don’t just do it and rip their arm off for nothing.  You lay it out slowly, using the snowballing GM moves.  Start by showing them a scene of battle after the Dragon’s gone away.  Severed limbs and blood everywhere.  A god-damn massacre.  

    Then, when they talk to the grizzled commander who led his troops in a failed attack on the dragon’s lair, describe his missing eye and the way he shakes uncontrollably.  Describe the husk of a man that stands before them.

    When they reach the dragon itself, tell them about its glistening teeth like swords, bits of flesh rotting between them.  Describe the way its claws have furrowed stone and the way their muscles clench and shake just standing in its presence.

    After all that, if the Fighter wants to just throw himself at the Dragon and flubs his roll, well, my friend, the time has come to make as hard a move as you like.

  13. I don’t think that’s a terrible interpretation at all Joshua Cupp! I’ve enjoyed your input and I totally get it. You’ve identified what you want your game to be and you deliver it and that’s A1! I don’t like Supers games. Not the genre or the idea of playing characters very far above the common folks. So my fantasy games tend to be a little grittier too. But I do like for the PCs to be the hero of the day. Soooo…

    YES, Adam Koebel, that’s exactly me! They don’t get to be heroes because they say they are. They get to be heroes because they’re constantly faced with the prospect of getting the shit kicked out of them. And when they survive we can all say “Wow! Yes!!!”. But the danger needs to be real. And imminent. It doesn’t just paint the fictional background, it’s pressing down on the characters themselves.

    So the heroes have heard the tales of giants swatting fully armored knights across the battlefield and stomping the unlucky into crushed heaps. Maybe they even see the evidence first hand when they approach its lair. But once it all starts to go down its ultimately up to me to decide when to make things ugly. Does it happen with the first Golden Opportunity or Hard Move? Or do I maybe lead into the stomp with some fiction then “defy danger”. Maybe they fail that, now is it time? Or should I maybe draw that out a little more, give more options for avoiding it? But at some point it’s no longer really dangerous, they’re not really being heroes because the danger is no longer genuine.

    Yes to some extent this not a problem specific to DW. I just feel like most other games had more mechanical barriers to lean on in the build up to the Danger. DW really puts it in the GMs hands as to how hard he Moves and when he does it.

  14. I think pacing is really up to the GM.  I often leap in with hard moves from the get go and let players learn from the mistakes they make without a ton of preamble, but you may want to slow that down a little bit.  I wouldn’t call it a problem, exactly, I think it’s just a matter of taste.

  15. Aaron Friesen

     It’s not a death sentence, if you have medical attention. But typically the victim goes into shock and is suffering blood loss which contributes to unconsciousness in the example it appears the PC had X number of hit points left and therefore was able to run away from the Dragon.

    Hit points are weird.

    Chris McNeilly Well I’m glad my brain droppings were even slightly helpful. I wasn’t trying to be antagonizing and I’m glad I came off as just a dude with an opinion. If you are having fun then your doing it right.

    I think the way Adam plays is totally fine and he is right it’s all a matter of taste.

  16. Eeeenh, shock isn’t that debilitating. Heck, it largely exists specifically for the purpose of keeping a person up long enough to get out of danger. Blood loss, that’s a bit bigger, but the body has mechanisms to shut down flow to a limb that isn’t there anymore. Still, that’s carte blanche for loads of soft moves leading to harder moves until it is addressed. Right after you load onto a horse and get the piss away from the flame belching dragon. Still, I figure a quick “Cure Light Wounds” takes care of the blood loss, and probably most of the shock. Won’t grow the arm back, though. That’s what a fantastic petition is for.

    I can certainly agree that mileage will vary though. Look at all the discussions about mobility in heavy armour!

  17. Aaron Friesen But shock is debilitating and then there are the other issues to add to it which don’t seem to be emphasized or could be hand waived by cure light wounds?

    It starts with the logic that Dragons must be brutal and end with fairy tales.

    I like fairy tale games, but I keep those separate from my gritty realistic games was all I was saying.

    If I want to portray realism I tend to not use narrative games.

    I don’t think I have met a game yet I didn’t need one house rule for.

  18. On the flip side of my “ADAM IS A FUCKER” model, you can totally soft-ball the game for kids or less violent grimdark games.  Replace tags, narrate towards cartoonish violence instead.  

    Where “Messy” means “spills blood and guts” maybe you change it up to “causes a mess wherever it goes” and toss in some stuff like “Scary” or “Beefy” and play up the slapstick nature of fights instead of all the bloodguts and hellfire.

  19. When shock and blood loss are involved, you can once again begin and end with the fiction, which is to say the tone of your game. Is it pulpy action hero stuff where you describe them splashing blood about, feeling a little dizzy, but gritting their teeth and struggling on? Does it make sense to roll defy danger+Con to see if they pass out or take a debility?

    Play whatever fits your fiction, and will give you and your players a fun time.

    The best scene in the dungeon world game I’ve run involved the barbarian losing his foot due to dropping a Boulder on it and later the party chopping off the rest of his leg to attach a magical brass prosthetic.

    The impact of having 1 arm in dungeon world is one of fictional utility. It affects what tasks your character can perform, such as using a longbow, but a fighter with 1 arm still rolls hack and slash just as well as he would with two, he just looks more badass!

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