I’ve played Dungeon World a couple of times and enjoyed the heck out of it, so I jumped at the opportunity to run it…

I’ve played Dungeon World a couple of times and enjoyed the heck out of it, so I jumped at the opportunity to run it…

I’ve played Dungeon World a couple of times and enjoyed the heck out of it, so I jumped at the opportunity to run it for a friend , his son and their friends.

So the first thing I learned about running DW is that going in with almost no prep is HARD. I did have some semi-generic maps available (castle ruins, town, dwarven hold, etc.) but trying to get the story going was tricky for me. The players did give me some great material to work with, though: two of the PCs fought side-by-side at the battle of Charmountain against the forces of the Nameless Lich.

Bingo, we have a plot hook!

There is no evidence that the Lich was destroyed permanently at the Battle of Charmountain. The map of the castle ruins became the site of one of the major battles of the war, and the party has learned rumors that the keep may have been infiltrated by the Lich’s agents prior to its destruction so they are looking for evidence.

The second thing I struggled with was trying to find creature stats to use. I know there’s an index at the back, and there is some good thinking in grouping related creatures, but just flipping through the book to see if there was anything I could use was time-consuming. When I work on my prep for the next session, I’ll be sure to have appropriate stats.

I am definitely looking forward to running DW again, and I hope to be better prepared with a toolbox of beasties and fronts to use!

49 thoughts on “I’ve played Dungeon World a couple of times and enjoyed the heck out of it, so I jumped at the opportunity to run it…”

  1. My current campaign started like this: “You are all on a rope halfway up (or down) a high stone wall. There is a window about 20 feet above you and a dragon flying right at you. He fires a fire breath at you. What do you do? What wall are you on? Are you coming or leaving? Why?”

    So I had absolutely no idea what the story, location or anything else in the campaign would be.

    It turned out it was the tower of a castle, and they were there to rescue a princess betrothed to a man she did not love. I added an assault on the castle by a rival king to explain the dragon.

    On of the best games ever.

    Prep? Sitting alone for about two minutes with my eyes closed, dreaming up the cinematics of the adventure hook.

    I also pull monsters out of my backside as I go along. But one caveat – write their stats down BEFORE the players start rolling dice, otherwise they will feel that you are cheating.

  2. See I never do that. I am not allowed to do that as a GM. I eyeball monster stats on the fly or just use the stat line of a similar enough threat but once I have decided the statline is fixed and set in stone. I am honest with my players.

  3. David Guyll – I’d be annoyed if I was one of your players. If the rules are less than perfect they can be improved and the improvement publicised, but even if David Guyll is perfect he cannot be copied 🙁

  4. Tim Franzke I’m with you on this one. But it’s not just about honesty, it’s about playing to find out what happens. If you decide when would be cool for a monster to die, you’re not letting the game surprise you. In other words: in DW there’s no need to do this, there’s no grinding, you don’t prep a fully statted boss only to see it pulverized in mere seconds (or the contrary, it can’t happen that what should be a random nuisance causes TPK). You just play without caring about that and the story develops on its own to surprise you!

  5. David Guyll there is no “premature death” in DW – you’re meant to play to find out what happens. If the dice say the monster dies, that was its appointed time and place 🙂

  6. Joseph Le May is that what the text says? As I read it says:

    “When you sit down at the table as a GM you do these things:

    * Describe the situation

    * Follow the rules

    * …”

    If it did encourage this, it would be a less useful game for it. “The GM may secretly fudge” is a really dubious aspect of RPG culture. It undermines player trust in rules, grossly increases player expectations of GMs, and thereby reduces the likelihood that people will publish good rules. It also reduces the likelihood that when people publish good rules other people will actually use them (see the current thread for examples 🙂 )

  7. I will have to side with David and Joseph here.  What is the ultimate goal of playing Dungeon World if not to have fun and build great stories?  I see no issue with making minor adjustments on the fly if it enhances the game and the story.  Remember, the agenda says you need to “Fill the characters’ lives with adventure” and an important principal is to “Begin and End with the Fiction”.

    If a combat is dragging, is it really cheating by allowing a 9HP blow to take down a 10HP creature to keep things moving, especially if the end result of the combat is not really in doubt?

    Isn’t it more interesting for the Fighter’s mighty 14 HP slash to cut down two or even three of the 5 HP goblins in a sweeping blow, rather than just getting massive overkill on one.

    Sure you’ve taken the Big Bad down to 0 HP, which means he is mortally wounded and going to die, but I see nothing wrong with letting him continue on a little longer to do “one more cool thing” that makes for a better story.

  8. Dungeon World, like all rpgs, is a tool for generating fun, dramatic or otherwise desirable experiences. When you bend or break the rules, especially if you let one person do it secretly, you weaken the link between the rules and play.

    I’ll admit that I’m not so bothered about these fine detail points. They’re well within the kind of things that simple error is going to cause anyway (e.g. forgetting about an NPCs armour, or thinking that he has some when in fact he has none). It’s the principle of the thing I’m arguing about here. (“principle” in the general sense of the word, not the *World sense 🙂 )

    Ultimately, what I’m trying to do here is make sure that no-one reading this thread misses:

    * That DW is designed to be played rules-as-written without GM fudging (unlike most RPGs)

    * That it can work well rules-as-written (unlike many RPGs, which assume fudging)

    (and that, therefore, there can exist games with those two properties)

    On your specific point “Fill the character’s lives with adventure” doesn’t require that the Big Bad gets to do “one more cool thing”, especially as the latter conflicts with “Play to find out what happens”.

    (NB as I read it, the Agenda items are your goals, and the Principles are guides for achieving those. That’s certainly I’m treating as I’m writing them for a game of my own. So “Begin and end with the fiction” should never countermand “Play to find out what happens” because the former is only a means to an end)

    (Fighter’s mighty slash – I think that’s within the hack-and-slash move as written, anway)

  9. By the letter of the rules, but I don’t think it violates the spirit of the rules.  Is your result really any different from a game perspective as in both cases the monster is no longer effective in combat?  It is our job as a GMs to interpret the Move results and describe what happens in a way that best suits the fiction for our group.  In my case, the monster is slain as it no longer serves a purpose for the fiction, while in your case it is out of the fight but still alive (perhaps leaving it around to be interrogated fits your story). 

  10. Confession. 

    I used to be a fudging GM.

    Then Sage (or was it Adam) chided me for it. I did not take much note of it, until I played as a player and my GM obviously fudged. I felt cheated. 

    Sage (or Adam, can’t remember) was right. 

    I will not fudge again. 

    And I have been clean for 5 sessions now. (I think)

  11. When the fighter hits you twice with a messy weapon for 2 damage you might not be at 0 HP but you are missing a hand and your other arm is seriously messed up. Most things are basically out of the fight then.

  12. We can argue this all day, but I guess it just comes down to different play styles.  I have had the same experience as David.  The groups I play in and GM have a high level of trust, so if the GM makes an adjustment that greatly enhances the narrative, no one is complaining. 

  13. I think that if a combat/action scene is boring the problem is about what gm and player moves are being used, something that’s not really resolved by an arbitrary decision on when the fight should end.

    Edit: also, what Tim said.

  14. The players can certainly add to the narrative and enhance other player’s fun, but it is the ultimately the GM’s job to portray a fantastic world and fill the characters’ lives with adventure. 

  15. Here’s my feeling on it. This you could say is the intention behind the game, but that doesn’t bind you to follow it.

    Your job as the GM is to honestly portray the world. It’s the first point on your agenda (“Portray a fantastic world”) and the first point in what you do as a GM (“Describe the situation”). You create things, but once they’re in the world, they’re as established. If you’re the GM, and you have this cult in the background that the players know exists but not much more, you might start it as a lizard cult and then decide it’s a fire cult instead: no big deal since the fact that’s it’s a lizard cult hasn’t come into play. 

    This applies to everything: if you make a “big bad evil guy” and give him 5 HP and the players kill him in one slice, well, guess he wasn’t so big bad evil? (Or maybe he was, and the challenge is in getting to him, once you get a sword in him he dies like anyone else.) Your job as the GM is not to make certain things happen, it’s to create and portray a world filled with things for the players to interact with, and see what happens when they do.

    That doesn’t mean that your GM characters can’t be smart. If a monster is becoming a slog, the monster likely thinks that same thing: “man, if I stay here, they’ll just wear me down, what can I do to get out of here?” Treat what some might call your “sense of pacing” as a part of the character your portraying: if you’re getting bored, so is the monster, and they’re likely to try something different. (The same applies out of combat: if you’re getting bored in a conversation with the two-faced guild leader, the guild leader is probably bored too, they might cut to the chase, leave, or start toying with the player characters.)

    You’re a “fan of the characters” in the same way you’re a fan of a character on TV: you don’t want them to just get everything they want, or to always do what’s expected, you want to see them in new and interesting ways every week. Take Battlestar Galactica as an example (especially early on). The fact that characters can (and do) die, fail, and do the unexpected is a large part of what makes the show entertaining. Breaking Bad is almost entirely about seeing the characters react to increasingly tough situations with no guaranteed outcome. You’re definitely not a writer of the characters.

    So, I don’t mess with die rolls or retroactively edit reality (which, practically, has never come up with the published rules in my games).

  16. Anything that contradicts a known reality kills immersion and tears back the curtain, so to speak.

    However, when dealing with things that have not been presented to anyone as reality, like hit points or abilities still only in your head or DM only scribble notes, I would be less worried about changing things as long as it enhanced or improved the story.

    Just remember that constantly hitting a high means youve really just set a new baseline ( or plateau even ). Action and drama should rise and fall. If the bbeg needs some help feeling like that during an encounter, then it was probably miss-designed and you’re fudging to make up for that. However, I think that’s far better than an anticlimactic end.

  17. I’m constantly being ninja’d by tim. POST SLOWER, MAN! 😉

    David Guyll wait, what fudging the dice has anything to do with players doing awesome things?

    Jason Healey I think part of the issue is that you don’t get to decide when and if and opponent will be a bbeg, but only the unpredicted events of your game will.

  18. I was never a fan of using a DM screen in Dragonquest, so all rolls for combat and such were out in the open.  Sometimes the big baddie end up sucking with his luck and died. Other times the filler random encounter turned deadly. Luck is part of the game, DW seems to encourage making creative use of bad luck to further fiction rather then just settling for the failure of the moment. 

  19. which is probably what Sage said: if an enemy drops to very few HP, you don’t need to fudge the dice and let them die; instead, think about what would they do: try to flee? Surrender? Offer something in exchange of mercy? A change of tactics? What’s an appropriate plan B for that villain?

  20. This is conversation about a game and what makes your table fun.   The rules for all RPGs are written by folks who most likely do not play at your table.   Modify and manipulate at your leisure.

  21. “Modify and manipulate at your leisure” – sure. But please do it as a group, and do it knowingly. Roleplaying culture has been greatly inhibited by GM-as-god for a long, long time.

  22. David Guyll c’mon dude, no one said you’re a tyrannical GM and all that exaggerated stuff. We’re really talking about that HP.

    Dungeon World is a solid game. It works even if you accidentally (or intentionally) break it. You can play completely forgetting about one move and it works even if that move was actually needed at some point. You can play even if you miscalculate some stat and end up with a +1/-1 you shouldn’t have. You can totally misunderstand a move and let a miss on a cast a spell roll being “you forgot the spell” all the game session like my first one. Not only you’re allowed to make mistakes because the game won’t punish you detracting from your fun, you won’t even notice them because the game will carry on with it, and you will have loads of fun.

    So obviously should a monster end up with less HP than their allotted quantity, nothing will break, no one will notice, and you will have loads of fun. And no one here is saying the contrary. We’re just trying to explain how DW works just as well if you don’t fudge the dice, because not only it’s intended to be played that way, it totally works if you play it as is (contrary to other games where you have to fudge the dice if you want to create a good story). You as a GM may spend more time on what matters in DW because the game itself will give you the best story you could never predict to have! Then again, DW itself is a hack. You could very well hack the game, I mean, there’s a whole chapter about changing how the game works, and you can slip in the rule “if the monster is at 3 or less HP, you can let it die if you want”. But, as with every house rule, if you’re doing it, just be sure it’s something really needed to increase the fun you get from the game!

  23. Hey, you! Yes, you behind the screen, are you deaf? I am talking to you.

    Don’t you know that I have been working my ass off just to slink outside of the melee, and I was angling to put my knife between the shoulder blade of that stupid dumb ogre?

    And then the fighter came out of nowhere, gave him a single hit of his rotten blade, and took out 8 of his 9 hp. And I was like “now I will kill it and will  be known as “ogre-killer”, and I will get laid by the mayor’s daughter, that sweet lass…” but no, you had to fudge and take out that single hp, and so now the fighter is the one about whom the bards will sing, the one that will get laid tonight…

    And they say that I am the thief. 


    Hey, you! Yes, you behind the screen, are you deaf? I am talking to you.

    Don’t you know that I have been working my ass off just to slink outside of the melee, and I was angling to put my knife between the shoulder blade of that stupid dumb ogre?

    And then the fighter came out of nowhere, gave him a single hit of his rotten blade, and took out all 10 of his 10 hp killing him (although I am not sure how I know he has 10 hp since no one told me).  And I was like “now I will kill it and will be known as “ogre-killer”, and I will get laid by the mayor’s daughter, that sweet lass…” but no, the fighter had to dish out his massive damage as usual, and so now the fighter is the one about whom the bards will sing, the one that will get laid tonight…

    The Ogre was doomed anyway so why couldn’t I have dealt the killing blow in combat just once.  It’s like my life is a giant game and the dice of fate are always going against me allowing someone else to keep stealing away the spotlight (and they say I am the thief).  I wish there was someone who could intervene and give me a chance to shine, but I guess that is not the way the dice fall.

  25. I understand your point Robert, but that’s not Dungeon World. If you want to shine, there is nobody denying you that chance. Reach up and grab it. Or not. It’s NOT up to the DM to decide who kills the Ogre. It’s up to him to give you the chance. It’s “play to see what happens” not “the DM will decide what happens for the good of everybody”. That is another game, that has been played for 30 years, and frankly I have had my fill of it.

  26. The one thing that trumps the story and seeing what happens, IMO: engagement. The example above pointing out one scenario where engagement may be lost.

    Everything presented to the characters is fictional and a scene being set, most often on the fly based on leading hooks and opportunities. When you, as a gm, decide that 5 more ogres enter combat because the first 5 you initially thought of went down too easily, you’re essentially fudging. Or improvising, adjusting the encounter on the fly, etc. Everything presented to the players is within control of the gm as no matter what statement is made by the players, the gm gets moves ( rebuttal if you will ). Even if the characters all get 12s for every roll, you still get to put forth new challenges and wrinkles. You’re always ready to throw another pitch which they get to swing at.

    I understand that some folks must have had some really tyrannical GMs in the past; that’s beyond the scope of my comprehension though. In most any ttrpg since the 80s, the point has always been to build memorable characters/avatars.

    For me, it doesn’t matter how you allow that to happen. If you finish a game with everyone satisfied and having had memorable moments during the session, then that’s one in the win column. I don’t care if you suddenly changed the dragons HP’s by 30; if I didn’t know about it, its an improvisation done because you think the game is improved by its change, just like throwing more ogres at us

  27. That is Dungeon World, because I play it that way (as do others here).  My groups do play to find out what happens, but some minor dramatic editing, that is transparent to the players and improves the fiction does not break that.

    What really annoys me about this thread is the presumption by some folks that if you are not following the rules to the letter, you are playing the game incorrectly.  IMHO, it’s that attitude coupled with the overabundance of crunch that really took important storytelling aspects away from the “other game” you mentioned.

    It’s our play style and it works well for us so I am not sure why others rail so hard against it and treat it as heresy. 

  28. If you’re beholden to the rules of any game, including the game which shall not be named, and have a gm which treats it like a competition, then I can understand the bias. I, thankfully, have never lingered at a table where that occurred more than once, nor left it on the tables where I presented story beginnings. So, perhaps that’s why it seems there are two ( and more ) divirgent paths.

    However, I don’t think anyone wants a game that’s not fun, so let’s just agree to make our games fun for the table; including the shy person in the corner, who doesn’t ever feel like they know what’s going on, and who always seems to want to do what someone else is doing, but after them.

  29. Jason Healey adding more ogres is fine within the specific rules of DW, as long as you’ve got an opportunity to make a move (and you don’t have them do damage unless you’re due a hard move).

    For me, this isn’t about tyrannical GMs, it’s about lack of clarity (what, actually are the rules we are playing by?) and the way that that has historically inhibited the development of RPGs (the less the rules affect play, the less incentive there is to actually improve them. The means that more weight falls on the shoulder of each and every GM or MC).

    Put another way – the closer you hew to explicit rules (be they your rules or someone else’s), the more responsibility is shared between GMs, players and designers, and the more transferrable knowledge we can gather about how to make games that play well.

    (As others have pointed out, we’re talking about a few hit points here. That is not a big deal, I’d agree. In the long run, it won’t change game dynamics much at all.

    And I’m certainly not in favour of “an abundance of crunch”. Despite my great love for Burning Wheel at one time, I can’t stomach it any more, and I would be very reluctant to run 3E or any of its variants. I advocate simple rules, scrupulously applied, and iteratively improved over time by everyone involved.)

  30. It’s fine to change a rule, if the players as a group agree to that. It’s called house ruling. You are still playing a different game, but it’s OK.

    What absolutely cannot stand is a player changing a rule, applying it to the game, and not even telling the other players about it. This in my book is called cheating, and is not OK.

    Now, I understand that there was a good intent in the case that was being discussed, and a single hp once is not a big deal, but I would advise not to do it. Why? Because it goes completely against the agenda of the game, which is “play to see what happens”, not “play to see a good story according to X”.

    I am sorry if this came out a bit forceful, English not being my mother language I am sometimes a little bit too straightforward to be clearer. Obviously you are free to do what you want at your table, but please be clear and open with your players: if you want the ogre to be dead even if he is at 1 hp, just ask them if they are happy with it. It will be much easier for you in the long run.

  31. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the notion that in a game where GM fiat is the joint motivator behind the game (along with player actions), doing a hit point kludge is some kind of gaming sin. I guess I’ll need to do quite a few Hail Mary’s to expunge the thirty-three years of gaming sin I’ve accumulated.

  32. I would note that I believe in a game where there is no competition, there cannot be cheating. Theres the rules of the game and the presentation of the game; the stage and the set. Assume all parties involved are working towards a great production.

    If a director needs to change an actor out mid performance, that’s pretty jarring and should never be done. This is why I don’t like any game mechanic where a character forgets, or swaps, a known ability or skill, unless that’s part of the flavor of that ability or skill. I also wouldn’t enjoy someone mitigating my “perfectly planned attack,” but hey, that happens in games with magic and fantastic happenings. “No way he’s alive, I beheaded him! Oh..contingency? Yeesh”. Realities and presentations even within the rules can seem like deus ex machina when they’re visible, even with explanation defined in game reality.

    In DW ( and really for me, every ttrpg I’ve played ) you’re a team building the story. But the players have control over the realities of their characters, and really, anything the gm has not presented as fact is also open to them. The gm has control over the facts of the game as defined within the setting, fronts and world. A fact is not a fact until presented to the players, and much like a poster above, hps of a creature are not something I’d ever present unless I was teaching how the game worked.

    Really, unless you believe someone can cheat you, which in DW would mean they can win somehow, I don’t even see worrying about this. The DM can, at any time once prompted, say the world smashes into another and you’ll be dead within minutes, what do you do? Is that fun? Probably not to most. Once you realize the DM can always shape the facts but wants to have fun with you, theres nothing to worry about.

  33. David Guyll, I think you are completely in the right and I do very similar things.  If the players are having a fun fight and I think their enjoyment will be even greater if the monster/villain gets to make just one more attack, regardless of his hit points, then I do it.  It’s about fun and not a slavish attention to the letter of the rules.  Do I fudge a hit point here or there in the name of fun?  Sure, but my players never know nor would they care because they are having a great time.  It does not break my game and I don’t think I’m playing some house-ruled version of DW that the creators would frown upon.  I think fun trumps everything.

  34. The thief part was just a bit of me making fun of the whole thing and at the same time showing how an intervention on the DM part for dramatic reasons can possibly cause problems for somebody else. Fine, I get it that you and your group are happy running things this way and I am genuinely happy for you… It’s not like we do each other harm by playing differently. I do believe that by following different principles you are playing a rather different game, but it’s not important whether we agree on this or not, I have made my point and I’d rather agree to disagree and wish you a good game than keep discussing. Take care and have fun.

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