So completely new to Dungeon World.

So completely new to Dungeon World.

So completely new to Dungeon World. I have been reading over the online SRD, some blogs, and ‘actual play’ stuff but I will admit – this isn’t your conventional set of rules. I get how it gives the feel of old school, but some of the mechanics are… mind bending… In a refreshing kind of way.

That out of the way, and I hate to bring this up because I obviously haven’t played yet and expect the, “try it before you monkey with it” rules-as-written responses, but something just gnaws at me: GM Moves. I get the concept, I do, but other than giving a scene more narrative difficulty for the Characters that doesn’t translate into an actual Character consequence, there are only one or maybe two moves that cause ‘damage’ (Cause Damage / Use Monster’s Move).  Don’t get me wrong I am all for that, and I see how this can be used to weaken or strengthen the opposition (thinking back on something I read  about a 16 hp Dragon). All these moves are… ways to dictate the pacing of a scene. Or am I out in left field here kicking ant mounds?

Sorry I can’t really convey what I am after here to set up my actual thought, so I’ll just get to it: If I could throw the damage move on them or put them in a spot then throw the damage at them, what’s really the benefit to me as the GM to put them in a spot other than pacing and quality fiction? Now, and this would require a little bit of book keeping, but what instead of – say using a Goblin’s 1d6 for a Cause Damage move – I instead took a bonus to that eventual move to say Put Them in a Spot first? Pacing control is still there. The Players, through their Characters, are sensing the setup for impending worsening trouble and it might generate a bit of fire to “Quick, kill this Goblin!” if they know that next they are either going to have to Defend or Defy Danger and if they fail I can either Cause Damage with at 1d6+2, instead of 1d6, or press my luck further and try to spin even more bonus by, I don’t know, Using Up Their Resources (maybe lose a shield to the Goblin onslaught for another GM +2) so I could hit them for 1d6+4?!

A +2 bonus may be too much, I don’t know. It might be better to just keep setting d6s in front of them where I would eventually make them roll them all when I finally get to that Cause Damage move and take the highest result… The point is, unless I am missing something in the RAW, is that there is a mechanical advantage for why to prolong the pacing and build the fiction’s tension in a scene this way.


38 thoughts on “So completely new to Dungeon World.”

  1. Basically my thoughts are this. You put the characters in a spot because you want to see what’s going to happen. You want to see what the characters are going to do in reaction to your set up. You want to see them be awesome and kick but in amazing ways. You want to see them trip over their shoelaces and make things infinitely worse than you could ever imagine. You want to see them do stuff that your group will talk about for years to come.

    Simply doing damage, while appropriate in many situations, is probably the most boring GM move you could make.

  2. But be sure to actually do some damage once in a while, it keeps them honest. There’s no mechanical advantage to prolonging an encounter, but it helps the fiction a great deal. Watch Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s chock full of examples of the GM spinning things out from misses and 7-9s, the truck chase sequence in particular. Also note that the whole Nazi plan to seize and utilize the Ark is a classic example of a Front.

    GM Moves and Fronts are really just a nicely-codified set of Best Practice for a GM. Do what you’d do anyway, especially if you can fit that to a GM Move. If you can’t think of anything to do, skim the list of GM Moves and your active Fronts: there’s sure to be something in ere you can use for inspiration.

  3. So, when you look at the stats for a D&D monster, they describe things it could do in combat. You can take these as a palette of options you use to fight hard against the PCs. At this level, you can be a sort of ‘player’.

    On the other hand, at one level of ‘zoom’ out from combat, there’s nothing in the ‘rules’ about whether that monster will come up with an awesome plan, fall for the PCs’ plans, retreat and find its buddies, make a poor choice and attack, hide in the secret passage and stab them as they leave, etc.

    You generally have to decide all this for yourself – both whether it happens and how effective it is.  You can still imagine yourself as a ‘monster player’, but you’re also ‘directing’ the unfolding events, occasionally (more or less frequently, depending on GM style) making essentially contrived choices to support the game being awesome.

    At the furthest zoom level, when you’re planning the campaign, it’s all ‘directing’ – all are arbitrary, and all support the authenticity and adventurous nature of the setting.

    In DW, it’s the same, except that the ‘directing’ mode has oozed down into the lower zoom levels.  You could just have players hit by arrows from unseen shooters, doing damage all the time, but that’s not as awesome as hearing the creak of goblin-bowstring, and the steely glint of an arrowhead in the torchlight, aimed at the wizard..

  4. Yea, it took me a bit to grok on that but I did ‘get it’ – I think LOL. Like I said it is a refreshing way to experience old school feel, unconventionally. It makes one heck of a dramatic scene too by adding spice compared to other game rule’s of you attack I attack sensibilities. What I was trying to glean from this is that, though it makes for great fiction as written, would there be any benefit to adding a bit of… meda-game stress too that carries over to the Players a bit?

  5. “In DW, it’s the same, except that the ‘directing’ mode has oozed down into the lower zoom levels.  You could just have players hit by arrows from unseen shooters, doing damage all the time, but that’s not as awesome as hearing the creak of goblin-bowstring, and the steely glint of an arrowhead in the torchlight, aimed at the wizard..” ~ see that right there is awesome fiction. Bang! But could it be more dramatic for the Players, it’s already dramatic for the Character, if they know since I didn’t just shoot arrows from the dark and cause damage, that when that threat does manifest in a released arrow, that it has the potential to be a bit more lethal, making time of the essence for them (the Players) to react?

  6. Personally, I don’t think there’s any need to “mechanics up” the GM Moves, John Risus. Fictions is mechanics in Dungeon World.

    Putting the players in a spot by narrating a goblin sneaking up on them while something else important is going on? Well, if the players ignore the goblin, they just get straight up stabbed. No roll, no chance to defend, no dodge. 

    That’s an extreme example maybe, but it illustrates why I feel you don’t need to attach any mechanical bonuses to GM Moves.

  7. I do not think there would be any benefit.  I think you’ll find it totally unnecessary in play, as long as you follow your GM principles and work towards the agenda. 

    Also, folks often miss this bit in the rules (from the Making Your Move section in the GM chapter): Note that “deal damage” is a move, but other moves may include damage as well. When an ogre flings you against a wall you take damage as surely as if he had smashed you with his fists.

    When you’re making a move that would be physical harmful, deal damage.  Maybe not a lot, but enough for them to notice.

  8. Sorry for multiple posts, just having a hard time conveying what I am thinking. I don’t want the Players losing the urgency of it being life threatening for the Character because I decided to see how the fiction would play out with a non-damaging move… (typing that as Christopher replied, so…)

    Christopher Stone-Bush great example at the end there, I will expound on that if you don’t mind. So they are working a lock to a large metal door. I tell them they see a Goblin skulking out of the shadows towards them, what do you do? Player: Goblins do 1d6, we can take that, we keep working on the door. I could just do straight up damage, but what if I wanted to add a bit of urgency? I place another 1d6 in front of them and describe the Goblin pulling a vicious serrated blade as he closes, what do you do?!

    I guess I may have been ruined by Players ‘playing’ the game rather than experiencing the adventure and I just want to make sure I am conveying what I am thinking successfully. I will thank you all for responding, it is reenforced my initial thought that DW is going to be epic when/if I ever get to play it. Keep the thoughts coming, it really is helping.

  9. To use your goblin example John Risus, I feel it doesn’t need anything else. Goblin arrows suddenly flying out of the darkness with no warning (making the deal damage move) is scary and intense.

    But so is the characters hearing the creak of bowstrings and seeing glint of arrowheads right before they’re loosed. Asking “What do you do?” is you giving the players their chance to be awesome, while also telling them “this is going to suck if things go south”.

  10. Jeremy Strandberg I had indeed missed that while reading the Online SRD! In that Ogre flinging example, what would that GM Move fall under? Putting them in a spot? Just trying to reprogram my brain here from years of less eloquent designed rules systems. Funny how I am migrating from other systems to things like DW and FATE as I get older.

  11. Christopher Stone-Bush Hey, that just hit the right note for me! Thanks! By ‘prolonging’ the release of the arrows you get that Player tension. Interesting. I guess another issue I am having as I ruminate on this is that I like low level gritty dangerous games when I play other rules systems. Having started RP with Basic 1970s D&D where, “Well, time to roll up another character….” was commonly heard, I am really am having difficulty with the characters are starting ‘competent’ (an issue I had with FATE) in these “new fangled” narrative systems.

  12. Yeah, see in that example, I don’t think you’re following your principles.  You’re not breathing life into the monsters, you’re not making a move that follows, you’re not thinking dangerous, you’re not beginning and ending with the fiction. 

    “So you’re just ignoring the goblin as he creeps up behind you?”  “Yup. Screw him and his 1d6.”  Well, you’ve just been handed a golden opportunity!  “Um, ok.  While you’re prying on that door, you feel a white-hot stabbing pain in the back of your thigh.  Take 1d6 damage, ignoring armor cuz he came right up under it.  Your leg gives out underneath you and you see him running off into the darkness like the craven coward he his, yelling for his buddies!  What do you do?”

    Ground your moves solidly in who these characters & monsters are, how they’d really act, what would likely happen.  Describe them clearly and compellingly.  Your players will barely even stop to think about the damage. 

  13. I got ninja’ed there. If you’re player says “Goblins only do 1d6” and go back to working on getting the door open, then they’re being lame players, John Risus. Before trying to “fix” things mechanically, I would have a talk with the group.

    Something along the lines of “Look. Part of my job as GM is to portray a fantastic world for you to explore . Part of your job as players is to portray your characters as if they were real people. There is no d6 damage in the ‘real’ world we’re portraying here. If you want to ignore the goblin because your character feels goblins aren’t a threat, that’s fine. If it’s more important to get the door open, that’s fine too. But don’t play the numbers. Play the game.”

  14. “Just to follow up, things can get damn gritty in Dungeon World if that’s how you prefer to play. ” ~ Christopher Stone-Bush I would love to read an example, but that might be for a different thread.

    Jeremy Strandberg I guess my thought of a GM prolonging the scene of the Ogre throwing a character against a wall by calling it a Put Them in a Spot and not doing damage kinda goes against my job of making a believable setting, “An Ogre just threw you against the wall!!!” after all and kind of dictates some kind of damage, and maybe even a PTiaS too….  ‘slumped on the floor’.

    Wow, this really could melt my brain! Just saying! Subtle nuances of greatness right there cooked right in….

  15. “Ok, the troll has stopped shaking the Paladin and has hurled her at the wall behind you with a really nice overhand technique. What do you do ?”

    I laughed my ass off at that one Michael Llaneza.

    I think that’s a great example of how some moves include doing damage. I mean, a troll can’t hurl a paladin against a wall and not deal damage in the process, right? 

  16. At some point in the ex ha be the DM is going to roll,the troll’s damage… unless another player can do something. A move of their own, some nifty fiction to justify an Aid roll, or just plain “I roll with the impact and come back at it swordpoint first.” (Which is DD with +Con or +Dex).

  17. To bring it back to GM Moves, they both dictate the fiction and are dictated by the fiction. If a troll grabs the paladin and hurls her at a wall, I feel the GM Move there is “deal damage” since that makes the most fictional sense. Though you could do any number of other things, too.

    But if a player gets a 6- on a move, sometimes you’re caught off guard as GM. That’s when you scan the moves and pick one that makes sense. Or one you havent used in a while. But whatever you pick, make it seem like the result of the chatacter’s action or the situation at hand.

  18. I’d use the throw-someone-across-the-room move on a 6-, I’d consider it a medium move because the damage can be mitigated. On the other hand, while they were doing that the troll would be up to something.

  19. Michael Llaneza Two things, first I would imagine and correct me if I’m wrong, if the D/GM leaves the Paladin flying and en media res (sp)? “The Troll hurled her at the wall ” looks to the Rogue, “What do you do?” Assuming the Rogue doesn’t do anything to help the Paladin, then it is a “You’re careening toward a wall! What would you do?” for the Paladin. An example of that tension, I had missed originally. Right? Second, you mention that the DM would roll for damage. I thought Players did all the rolling, or do you prefer to, and why if so?

    Christopher Stone-Bush As I mention above I guess it would be as subtle as where you move along to the next Character and how you word the Paladin getting hurtled; “The Troll hurled you at the wall…” vs “The Troll hurled you into the wall.” are amazingly different in the connotation of DW rules and what moves might be used. Correct? Or am I reading too much into it?

  20. I’m going to answer out of order.

    DW breaks the AW rule that the GM rolls no dice. In an IRL game I rolled no dice, in a PBP I had fun rolling damage dice. You can go either way with it, but as written in DW the GM rolls damage.

    As for what happens if the Rogue ignores the Paladin flying through the air…, well that just screams slo mo. Let the Rogue declare his actions, then leave him in stuck in slo mo while you ask the Cleric what she’s doing, then leave her frozen while you talk to the wizard again. When you ramp back up to normal speed, everyone’s moves go off at once, possibly messing up the big bad in a serious way. However it plays out, if it plays out like a good action movie with multiple protagonists in a scene, then the the GM is doing her job.

  21. Michael Llaneza Rules as written are that the players roll the damage they take.  From the Deal Damage description:  Most damage is based on a die roll. When a player takes damage, tell them what to roll. You never need to touch the dice. If the player is too cowardly to find out their own fate, they can ask another player to roll for them.

    That said, I’m solidly in the “I’ll roll my own damage as the GM” camp.  John Risus, here’s why:

  22. I roll monster/trap/hazard damage dice, but there’s no reason you couldn’t have the player roll. There’s also no reason you couldn’t do set damage (like whatever that average dice roll would be) if you want to.

    You have illustrated exactly how Dungeon World can be dark, dangerous, and gritty, John Risus. “The troll hurls the paladin at the wall. What do you do?” is very different from “The troll hurls the paladin against the wall. There’s a sickening crunch as she impacts and slides to the floor. What do you do?”

    In the first case, I’m expecting a player to do some awesome slow motion maneuver, or for the paladin to catch herself and possibly leap back off the wall. In the second case, well, I’m expecting the players to go back to town and recruit a new paladin.

  23. Only if they had a really Hard move coming. Otherwise, it’s just damage. 

    On the third hand, once the troll has a firm grip on your character, it’s time to start daydreaming about other playbooks.

  24. In my very earliest DW session I remember thinking “I’m not Dealing Damage very often” – I only used it as a hard move, or a miss on Hack and Slash. Yet as the adventure continued, characters were maimed, burnt, lost their weapons, their clothes, and – yes- died.

    It’s a different pace to D&D, but it works.

    /Edit flinging a character at the other characters is a way making sure the recipients don’t feel left out of the damage dealing process

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