Dungeon World combat post

Dungeon World combat post

Dungeon World combat post

OK, yesterday I ran a one-shot, and we were setting up for a small fight scene when Craig Hatler had to leave for work. “_Damn your luck…_” But I realized one thing about the fight, and that had something to do with “zones and situational aspects”.

Situational aspects and tags

I ran Fate pretty much like I would Dungeon World, with the exception of breaking the action up into scenes. I realized how much it added to the game to sit down and make situational aspects.

The game began in a tavern, and we had the in the dead of night, *behind enemy linescrowded* and loud aspects here. The two first had more to do with the outside environment, meaning that it was midnight and that the players were in a different gang’s territory, but just adding the *crowded* and *loud* aspects made the tavern they were in much more alive.

In fact, these aspects helped me describe the situation much better. All it took was a conscious effort to think a bit about them. I even compelled the players on one of them, which would be akin to be making a move on them. 

In Dungeon World we could have done the same same just with tags instead. We could have had the midnight, enemy territory, crowded and loud tags, and they could have had more or less the same effect. The aspects are open in the sense that the players know that they are there.

If it’s pitch black they can’t see a damn thing without a light source, and that could easily become a “golden opportunity” for an ambush later.

But we could also use location moves (or dungeon moves) to emulate the tags; a location can after all have moves just like a monster.

So, let’s look at the tavern…

The Bait & Switch

Attract shady clientele


These moves can be made as appropriate. Since they are in enemy territory, a soft move could be that a larger group from a rival gang enters the place. A hard move could be that a player got hit in the head with a chair, took damage and got disoriented.

All because of tags. Fiction first, right?

But we can extend the concept a bit, because now we are going to talk about zones.


In Fate, a zone is a part of a conflict in which all characters present can interact with each other, as in they are within fighting distance. A conflict can include multiple zones, and in Fate, you can move to an “adjacent zone” and still take an action.

We don’t have actions in Dungeon World, but we can still use zones as a unit of length. If two characters are in the same zone, then they can freely attack each other. An adjacent zone could be near distance and also charging distance. Zones longer away than that would be at far distance. If you have something that lets you ignore distances, like incredible speed, you can probably increase your charging distance.

While using zones as a unit of measurement can be sort of useful, the power of different zones is that they can have different tags.

The fight I was setting up in Fate was on a docked ship. We had three zones (which should have been four, so I’ll include the fourth):

– Above deck

– Below deck

– The Pier

– The crow’s nest

We already knew that the piers had the aspect crates everywhere, and it was still in the dead of night, but the “above deck” zone had the aspect rigging, which would also be the only way to access the “crow’s nest”, and it might even require a roll to get up there, defy danger, if someone was in the nest and tried to murderize you on your way. The nest would have been cramped, meaning that at most to people could be up there.

The map would have been like this:

– Above Deck would have been adjacent to all other zones, but there wouldn’t be “line of sight” to below deck.

– All other zones would not have been adjacent.

– The crow’s nest had line of sight to the piers and vice versa.

Even if incredibly formalized here, it wasn’t really hard to come up with in practice. If you feel the need, you can also add zones on the fly whenever it makes sense. If one was thrown into the harbor, we could add the harbor as a zone, possible with the water and filthy tags (or aspects).

Zones would lend a tactile element to Dungeon World, making the combat more formalized without adding any real overhead. I say “no real overhead” because tags derive from description, so writing down one or two words per descriptive element doesn’t really take much additional effort. It’s also a big sign to the players saying “you can use this!”

What it does is that it helps you force yourself into actually adding these elements. It does so by helping you think in terms of “What is here? What makes this place special?” and just writing it down. You will finally remember to include that total darkness description that you always forget! (OK, that I always forget, but come on, I’m hardly the only one…)

I was quite amazed how the focus on situational aspects in Fate helped me describe circumstances with mechanical details, and I think that the same approach can be used more or less the same way in Dungeon World with tags.

I’m at least going to give it a try some time. What do you guys think?

26 thoughts on “Dungeon World combat post”

  1. Well done! I think it is always useful to establish a grammar or procedure for things that are often assumed or that come organically. The idea of combat zones will definitely help organising my thinking as GM in a combat situation. 

  2. I’m just going to check my understanding – you provide these tags to the players? On a map? As a part of the narrative description?

    “The enemy ship is moored a few hundred feet away from your hiding spot on the dock. There are crates everywhere, their outlines visible in the dead of night

  3. I’m not a big fan of aspects because of how they formalize parts of the fiction at the expense of others and generally slow down a game.  But I really like how they ensure the good GM habits you mention here.  

    Like Wynand Louw, establishing procedures for, or at least acknowledging, these “GM 101” assumptions is great.  I think my new GM move will be something like: “Before PCs enter a conflict, always describe at least three unique or interesting aspects of the environment or situation.”  A white room prophylactic!

  4. Ben Kaser I think that would be absolutely useful of there is a chance of combat to describe tactical features of the terrain.

    “There is a balcony to the left, heavy velvet curtains and a large chandelier” and then hope the Swashbuckler will take his cues from that…

  5. I think its useful to have these tags for scenes handy. When i prepare for DW i sketch maps for some possible locations and write notes about certain eminent features it has ( or even draw icons ). Reading this i think ill add more hidden aspects too, for if they stumble upon or discern realities you have it there already. So its a white paper room with sketches and notes in it to fuel the fiction.

    Thinking about it a list of tags grouped into location type would be great, especially for improvising.

    Like Ben Kaser i wouldnt formalize it though.

  6. Ben Kaser I’m curious as to what you mean with:

    “_I’m not a big fan of aspects because of how they formalize parts of the fiction at the expense of others and generally slow down a game._”

    In our Fate session, it didn’t seem to slow it down at all, and I’m not sure which parts of the fiction you feel are sacrificed?

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, I just don’t know what you are talking about.

  7. Well yeah, i found the metagaming aspects 🙂 of Fate outside Char and setting creation rather ennerving after some time.

    I think it is really slowing down the flow of the game if you switch back and forth between narrative and meta talk about aspects, invocations compells and so on very often.

    A bit like telling a story and repeatedly stop and talk about how you want to tell it.

    To a certain degree you have that in all RPGs, but Fate actively encourages it.

    You may check out pdq, also metagamie but on the lighter side.

  8. Pdq takes the nature of aspects, and makes them the primary stats with the modifiers attached directly to them.

    I’ve often thought about using pdq qualities with modifiers ranging from – 3 to + 3, and have a few basic defy danger style moves for a aspect/world mashup.

  9. As for giving fiction-inspired tags, qualities, or moves to locations, this is definitely something I’m exploring with Lands of the dead. It has some established tags for locations you can draw on, but explicitly tells you to come up with tags of your own, and any location you create can have it’s own GM moves.

    I need to do some more playtesting to make sure locations can be built and played with dynamically and quickly during a game, but you could easily construct an entire dungeon or area with the as they stand. Currently, they may have a few too many moving parts that can be stripped out to streamline them for faster, more improvised play.

    For those interested, here’s the current draft:


  10. Kasper Brohus Allerslev To answer your question:

    I get what you’re going for here and I’m not against it.  But non-mechanical Tags in DW are simply described fiction and nothing more, right?  

    If the GM isn’t providing enough interesting details, or if the players aren’t using those details, writing them on notecards might help.  Otherwise, I feel they are unnecessary and, like Roland P said, will slow things down and potentially make a scene less immersive.

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