For a long time, I’ve struggled to get past certain elements of DW which have made it hard for me to run.

For a long time, I’ve struggled to get past certain elements of DW which have made it hard for me to run.

For a long time, I’ve struggled to get past certain elements of DW which have made it hard for me to run.  One of the biggest was the ability to subtly manipulate the game through modifiers.  To do that, though, I always felt like I needed a larger “results array” than the default 2d6 gave me.  

After reading a couple of posts and thinking a lot about the situation, I’ve started to sketch out some actual core rules modifications which I wanted to introduce here.  The first involves switching the entire core mechanic of the game over to d20.  The second considers a change towards an advantage/disadvantage systems.  The third creates a new economy using experience points to fuel better rolls — providing a means of flattening the experience curve for people who roll a lot (they often want to use the little bonuses to be more successful) and creates a new dichotomy between being successful in the short term and growing more powerful in the long term.  

Rolls and Results

Once a move applies, it’s time to look at the effects. Most moves tell you to roll+something. The roll part means to take 1d20 and roll it.  The +something part means to add the modifier associated with that stat. So, a character with Dex modifier of +2 who launches a Volley rolls 1d20 and adds two. Easy.

The result of the roll falls into three categories: a 17+ is a strong hit. A 9-16 is a weak hit. A 8- is a miss.  In addition, there are two “special” values – a roll of a “20” is like an extra strong hit and a roll of a “1” is a like a really bad miss. 

Strong hits and weak hits are both hits. A hit means the character does what they set out to, more or less. A strong hit means they do it without much trouble or complications. A weak hit means they do it, but with complications or unintended effects.  Sometimes, a weak hit will mean you need to make a hard decision about what to do next. The move will always say what to do for a strong and weak hit.

A miss means that the character’s action is unsuccessful or carries major consequences. Unless the move tells you what to do, all moves work the same on a miss—the GM takes action, doing something dangerous to the characters.  You learn the most from your misses, and mark 1 experience (XP) each time you miss. 

Special rolls – a natural 20 (special hit) and a natural 1 (special miss)  – provide an opportunity for extra special events to occur.  It’s not a requirement they occur, so don’t treat them as absolute.  For example, a special hit (using the attack an enemy in melee move from above) could allow the character to do the additional +1d6 damage without opening themselves to a an enemy attack, while a special miss could cause them to fling their sword across the room with no hope of easily getting it back.  

Advantage and Disadvantage

Sometimes, the fiction dictates that something a character is trying to do should be very easy because of the situation.  Similarly, sometimes things can be very difficult as a result of the story.  These events are characterized through the use of Advantage and Disadvantage.  Normally, you would resolve a move using only a single d20 roll.  In these cases, though, you actually roll 2 20-sided dice.  If you have advantage, you take the higher of the two dice as your result.  If you have a disadvantage, you take the lower roll between the two dice as your result.  In extreme cases, you may even have significant advantage or disadvantage – where you would roll the best or worst of 3d20.  

Tipping the Odds

Earlier we mentioned that when you miss, you mark experience.  You can tap that experience at any time to improve your odds right now before you roll the dice.  You can spend 1 experience for each +1 to the roll, but you must spend it before you make the roll. 

These are just some early ideas.  Comments welcome.  

23 thoughts on “For a long time, I’ve struggled to get past certain elements of DW which have made it hard for me to run.”

  1. Honestly, this only seems to be complicating the core mechanics in favor of re-skinning it into something more akin to D&D.

    I imagine you’d be better off just playing D&D and using Dungeon World as a point of reference for the game.

  2. Yeah. Jack B. said precisely what I was going to say. My dislike for d20 systems aside, you seem to want a to tun DW into a more mecanically complex game. Why not start with something that’s more complex and add the DW elements you like to that system, rather than the other way around?

  3. I don’t unite understand the “subtly manipulate the game through modifiers” bit of your opening. Could you explain what you mean, to clarify your difficulties with DW and give context to your rebuild of the game?

    I’m not a fan of advantage/disadvantage dice: it sounds like a complete defanging of the best part of DW — that easy things are just done, no dice roll. Why are advantage dice needed? Just tell the player yes. Is there something special and wonderful captured by just not working with the players?

    I’m very curious for you to unpack your intent.

  4. I was thinking the same thing Alfred Rudzki. Adding in Advantage/Disadvantage mechanics now requires the GM to determine if a task/situation is easy enough to grant Advantage, but no so easy that it no longer requires a roll. Likewise they have to determine if a task/situation is difficult enough to grant Disadvantage, but not so difficult as to be impossible. It adds in an extra layer of complication to the game that I feel is unnecessary.

    With the Natural 1/Natural 20 mechanics, there are now five levels of possible outcomes to a die roll (Critical Miss, Miss, Weak Hit, Strong Hit, and Super Strong Hit). Just like Advantage/Disadvantage, the GM now has to narrate the difference between a Miss and a Critical Miss. What is the difference exactly? Does the system need that much granularity? I feel like this just constrains the GM because a Miss is no longer “make a hard  move as you want”. Now it becomes “make as hard a move as you want that isn’t bad enough to be a Critical Miss“.A Strong Hit is no longer “give the players everything they wanted and more”. Not it becomes “give the players everything they wanted and more, but not so much it becomes a Super Strong Hit“.

    How does this affect moves? Do they all have to be rewritten, adding in an effect clause for a Super Strong Hit?

  5. It’s important to emphasize that the 1/20 results, unlike the others, are readings of the natural die faces and not modified totals. With that in mind, it’s not too hard to accommodate special effects that don’t restrict MC moves as Christopher Stone-Bush correctly notes: a 1 is a miss so terrible you don’t mark experience. A 20 is a success so brilliant you gain new insight, marking experience. In all other ways these results function as standard 6- or 10+ results from vanilla DW.

    I agree that advantage/disadvantage is an unnecessary wrinkle — math wise, it’s equivalent to a flat +3 to a d20 roll, very close to a +2 in vanilla DW’s 2d6 system. Guidance for when to hand out a circumstance bonus that size already exists: “very rarely”.

    These are just mechanical fillips, however, that don’t address the core intent of the original post as I understand it – knobs to tune a given action’s success expectations up or down as the MC thinks best. The answer I’ll give is that DW is not a game well suited to that level of granularity; it lives at the strategic, not the tactical, scale, and its abstractions demand heavier trust between MC and party. “I made this harder by stacking conditional penalties” is a mechanical justification for the fiction. Instead of looking for stuff like “the floor is greasy (-2) and covered in caltrops (1d4 ap)” it’s more “the floor is greasy and there are caltrops, it’ll be defy danger (dex) to cross slow, -1 normal pace, -3 if you run. What do you do?” Instead of looking for mechanical blocks to build the fiction, use the fiction as a soft clay and throw mechanical pots or ashtrays as needed.

  6. Paul Echeverri raise a good point (and Alfred Rudzki asks for clarification) about the original intent. I too would like to hear more about what you mean by “ability to subtly manipulate the game through modifiers”.

    As pointed out by other people (both here and elsewhere) DW is a game of fiction. There aren’t a lot of fiddly mechanical bonuses/penalties to represent different conditions or situations. That is all handled by the fiction. Heavliy armored monsters, like dragons, don’t have insanely high armor values requiring high damage die weapons or high magical attack bonuses. Instead their description just says “inch thick metal scales”. If you have a weapon that can fictionally cut through that hide, Hack & Slash away regardless of what the numerical qualities of that weapon are.

    Likewise, if the dungeon floor is covered with grease and caltrops, there aren’t a bunch of numerical penlties you apply to DEX-based moves. You just make things more dangerous or difficult fictionally to represent this situation. Personally, Brennan OBrien, I feel like you’re tryingto apply numbers and mechanics to things that don’t need them.

    All that being said, I’m all for system tinkering. I do it too (as does every other gamer, I’m sure). But there comes a point where you have to decide you should continue to use the framework of your base game, or if you should just make your own sytem. As I originally said, after reading your modifications my first thought was “Why is he still using Dungeon World?” At this point you might consider just making your own system rather than continue to modify DW.

  7. Brennan OBrien , if you want to go this way, you may look to some other Powered by Apocalypse games for inspiration. The “extra strong hit” bit is covered in most of those games (as Apocalypse World or Monster of the Week) as “Advanced Moves”, a special result for the basic moves when you roll 12+, that you can choose from your sixth advancement. You can create a special move that every booklet can choose at the 6th-10th level, that gives the player two “advanced” basic moves of his choice. You can also make possible take this move two times, if you wish, but I would suggest no more, and to not give this before and automatically to everyone, because, if you take inspiration from the advanced moves of other games for the result, they are real game changers. I’m not sure how harder you can make an hard move for the “extra strong miss”, unless you want to introduce a goofy table of fumbless (please don’t!). 

    Advantage and Disadvantage: put as this, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you ask a player to roll is because he can fail: again, how hard you need them to fail? And if, on the other side, what they are doing is so easy he can roll twice, why is he rolling at all? However, another PbA game, Monsterhearts, cover Advantage and Disavantage as fictional elements involving NPCs. In some situations, dictated by the rules of the game, but basically when he can exploit some weakness of the PCs or is taking actions despite being in a critical situation, an NPC can act at an Advantage or Disadvantage. When he acts at an Advantage, his action gains him new followers, or leaves him better protect, or set him up perfectly for a follow-up action. When he acts at a DIsadvantage, the action alienates his allies, or leaves him exposed to danger, or leaves him exausted or without an escape route.

    Maybe thinking along these lines can be more organic to the game as it is.

  8. I don’t see any advantage in going this way. The DM is not there to “subtly influence” anything. The DM is there to kick the players’ asses when they give him a golden opportunity 😉 and, more seriously, and to present them with threats and menaces to interact with. 

  9. Christopher Stone-Bush  — I’m not quite sure why you’re so intent on bashing this, but whatever.  I feel your tone with me has been very condescending and I’d appreciate if you stop.  You don’t have to like this.  You don’t have to play it.  

    Let’s give an example of why I might want a little more range in the array.  Giving a reward of a +1 sword in game is a HUGE event RAW.  It completely alters the mechanical side of the game by introducing a huge bonus.  Now, fictionally, I could address this by saying “You have a magic sword”, but what does that mean?  In this case, the fictional elements of the game aren’t able to appropriately be reflected in the mechanics.  By widening the array a bit, I can introduce this capability in without dramatically impacting the outcomes — allowing the game to be shifted subtly rather than with brute force that a RAW +1 would give.  

    Another case is the problem with experience that’s generated by the characters who roll a lot (I’m looking at the thief) versus those who roll much less often. By simple frequency, those characters will have a higher number of failures and a corresponding higher number amount of experience.  Over time, this will spread the party out and lead to a level of dissatisfaction between players.  This isn’t something that can just be handled through the fiction… a solution to this requires some means of flattening the results.  An easy way to do this is to make experience into a commodity which can be spent to alter the mechanics (which in turn alters the fiction).  The tendency will be for those with a higher amount of experience to be more willing to spend them to gain advantage in the game.    

    The A/D system was meant as a precursor (mechanical outline) to redesigning the Debilities system, which I feel lacks much emphasis RAW.  I wanted a capability that expands the effects of the system.  I think what I’m hearing people say is that it would be better in their opinion to treat this as a “take +/-3 forward until X” and drop the A/D idea entirely as overly complex.  

    I appreciate the constructive critiques some of you have given, particularly Paul Echeverri and Domenico Marino 

  10. I still don’t understand manipulating the game through modifiers. Please unpack this phrase. Do you mean manipulate as a GM or as a designer? The former isn’t really necessary to run the game, so you should be fine — and the latter is fine and dandy, but I don’t know how it would interfere with running the game.

    A/D is just a weird system that steps on the toes of your jobs to Be Honest/Be A Fan. Don’t use +3/-3 modifiers, because they’re boring and are more trouble than they’re worth. If a situation is super advantageous, just give the player something great; don’t give them a +3 on which they could still fail. It’s creates a situation of telling them the odds are good, and then punishing them for trusting you because the dice pulled the rug out.

    Additional levels of success and failure are probably fine; they’re used in AW and World of Dungeons. Check out WoDu for its implementation of Criticals and Skills.

    Personally, I’ve never experienced meaningful party dissatisfaction with level disparity — there just shouldn’t be much disparity in a well-run game that gives everyone something to do. And when disparity does crop up, it doesn’t change power levels, just move access. It really should not be a problem, and I’d be curious to hear about your experiences with problematic level disparity, for my own education.

    Finally, I agree with you that a +1 magic sword disconnects from the fiction greatly. But then, that’s why the RAW says not to use +1 magic items. They should have more robust, and creative magical properties that interact with the fiction. Rather than creating a greater modifier spread by using a d20 to justify a “better magic item,” I would review the magic item section of the book and how many of its entries are built.

  11. Dungeon world magic items are more often designed to give some kind of new fictional hook instead of a flat +1 bonus to a roll. Instead of a +1 sword, you have a sword that can only harm something with a evil heart, or plants and flowers grow from the wound, or it can cut through metal like it was butter, but stops dead at flesh, or steals the warmth from those it cuts. Magic swords in stories aren’t magic because they’re easier to use.

    Dungeon world modifiers aren’t really about expressing the difficulty of a task, since they aren’t directly tied to a binary pass/fail outcome. It’s about the characters’ effect on the world, and the consequences of their actions. The question in hack and slash isn’t “do you hit your opponent” its “what happens when you attack your opponent?” Which is a broader, more open question. Difficulty, danger, and the stakes of a roll aren’t established by manipulating numbers, but by looking at what’s happening in the fiction, and saying what is required to trigger a move.

    The dragon is huge, armored, and thrashing about, you don’t take -1 to hack and slash. You have to defy danger, perhaps multiple times, to get into a position where your attacks will harm it. All the nuance and tactics comes from this fictional positioning.

    Don’t ask how hard something is to do, but do ask how dangerous it is. If something is complex, there are more things to go wrong, more dangers to defy. Break an action down into several steps and dangers the must be attempted, navigated, or defied.

    I’ve played a DW game where the GM didn’t understand this and the game suffered. The game stalled as negative modifiers were applied and nothing happened on a miss. Monsters and situations aren’t dangerous because of how hard it is to succeed, they’re dangerous because of what it costs you to even try.

    If you wanted a wider range of results but still wanted to keep the very attractive bell curve of 2 dice, you could map the rolls to 2d10 or 2d12. This will still give you the stability of a bell curve, but reduce the power of a +1 bonus, and avoid the flat probability line of the d20. The problem with d20s is that in order for the results to be reliably positive, you need a very high bonus of +6 or more. This can cause your players to chase mechanical superiority instead of concentrating on fictional positioning.

    Level disparity (or rolling more) may be a problem for some groups, and I had a few players question this and start looking for easy failure XP. (Though I found it was the more active players that made more moves, and failed more, rather than any given class.)

    Triggers for moves don’t change when you level up. You may have more tools at higher levels, and be slightly more competent at using them, but Level disparity stopped being a concern when 1, it was demonstrated that a level 1 character may contribute as much as a level 7 character in the same game, and 2, hunting for failure XP is handing your GM golden opportunities to take away your stuff. Like limbs.

  12. I would encourage moving away from the flat curve of d20 and instead use a 2d10 if you are more comfortable with a larger range of results.  Normalizing the die rolls towards the middle distribution is a huge advantage of 2d6/2d10/3d6/etc over the flat 5% chance of any number coming up on d20.

  13. Brennan OBrien — “I could address this by saying ‘you have a magic sword’ but what does that mean?”


    Maybe you can straight-up slash ghosts like they were living people. Maybe you can carve through a dragon’s scales like butter. Maybe when you get up in the morning and set the sword down it will fall toward the largest pile of gold, unerringly. Maybe you can call the sword back to your hand but it was made by a dragon so when the sword ends up in peril there’s a chance you’ll get called to the sword hilt instead.

    Fill the characters’ lives with fantastic adventure and give them a sword that does whatever the heck you want. And be a fan of the characters and arrange circumstances so the sword they found comes into play. Or, you know, if they went questing for a sword with a particular property, like the magic sword Plowshare that can fight and slay famines, they can now progress the plot by fighting the famine.

    Other than that I’m with Adrian Thoen on DW’s approach to both task difficulty and the level curve. You are not encountering problems, you are encountering features, and trying to work around them is going to be more than a bit counterproductive.

  14. Brennan OBrien I think I see what you are trying to accomplish. Bear in mind that using a D20 will significantly alter the curve of your rolls. Perhaps try 3d6 instead? That would give you a similar curve on your rolls, with extreme rolls less likely and a much larger results array that you are after (I have used 3d6 in D20 systems with some slight modifications). Just a suggestion! Hope you find something that works for you and your group.

  15. As someone pretty new to DW and more experienced with the d20 system, I really appreciate this conversation. I love the more improvisational, conversational style of play that DW encourages, but it seems like it can be more challenging, too.

    One of my groups started by playtesting D&D Next, and I really appreciated the advantage/disadvantage mechanic because it was easy to use. When the circumstances seemed to merit, I could just say “roll with advantage/disadvantage” and be done with it. The fiction-first style of DW makes this more difficult to do because I need to come up with a narrative description of the advantage instead, and the players need to trust that this advantage is represented correctly.

    In the last session for that D&D Next group , by the way, we all agreed to give DW a try. I think it’s better suited to our style of play. We only meet once a month and it’s felt like we’ve had to re-learn the rules every time we get together. DW seems like it will give us more freedom to fudge the mechanics to honor the story.

  16. Actually this is not correct at all. You are supposed to follow the mechanics to the letter. D&D allows for fudging by the DM, DW does not. He is not supposed to “honor the story” but rather to push the characters into being heroic. It’s quite different, really. Read the “DM principles” part, it’s all in there. However, I believe that we are going completely OT and I apologize for that. You might want to open a different thread if you care about this.

  17. Andrea Ungaro Good point. I should clarify, the DW mechanics are pretty clear and don’t leave room for fudging, but the moves a GM can make in response to partial success and failures allow for a lot more leeway to push the story forward than damage and effects-based system  of D&D. 

  18. Alex Barrett — Happily enough, you can just say “take +1” and “take -1” in Dungeon World. Most of the moves that involve one player creating an advantage for another, or accepting a penalty for themselves, are +1/-1. 

    However, don’t get wrapped up in that. DW is not designed for the generic adjudication of circumstances from an “is this good/bad in the moment” perspective. If players are trying to create advantages for each other look at the moves like Defend and Aid that already do that and pass +1s around. If players are setting themselves up for something make them roll Defy Danger – this may put them in a position to do something like ignore armor or deal damage automatically, if they can pull it off. And because there’s a move out there, you the DM will generally get some say on a 9 or less.

    Look at what’s going on in terms of the fiction and with an eye to activating moves. If that comes out to “+1 forward”, so be it, but things can get far more interesting than that. DW does tend to be a lot… higher-pressure, I suppose, on DMs, in terms of what it demands from them in the moment.

  19. TL;DR: You don’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) “subtly manipulate the game through modifiers”, but instead through the interesting fictional circumstances that you describe in the game.

  20. Paul Arezina, Andrea Ungaro, Jason Smith  and others…  I’m going to post one last time then close this thread for discussion.  

    My fun doesn’t have to be your fun.   But, at least give me the consideration that I may want to play differently than you, and that’s okay.  I haven’t broken the game for you.  I haven’t harmed the course of the sun in the skies.   It happens that I’ve been gaming probably longer than many of you have been alive, and I’m inclined to tinker — because ‘back in the day’ that’s what we did.  

    DW isn’t a bible, and it’s not perfect.  No game is.  Your way of playing isn’t going to work for everyone.  Sorry.  I haven’t asked anyone to do anything with their game in any way.  I was playing with ideas and sharing what I found.  That’s all. 

    What’s really disappointed me about this whole discussion is the tremendous lack of tolerance many people have for the game being different or alternatives being considered or played with — and it’s not the first time I’ve seen it on this particular forum.  When the cultists see a challenge to their bible…

    A year ago, many people here screamed at the idea of having any sort of fixed adventures of any type, and now I see them posted frequently.  The very act of writing down ideas was, at that time, heresy.  Today, it’s been taken up as part of the religion.  

    I don’t believe in following anything, much less a role playing game, “To the letter” as some have claimed the game must be played.  In fact, I find it disheartening and downright unfortunate for the TTRPG hobby as a whole that it’s attracted such an automaton crowd.   


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