Volley – One of the biggest quirks in Dungeon World

Volley – One of the biggest quirks in Dungeon World

Volley – One of the biggest quirks in Dungeon World

Lets settle this once and for all

You know how you can’t Hack&Slash a Dragon or an Iron Golem with your wooden training sword? You are not engaging in melee in any meaningful way because you can’t hurt them with your weapon. We all understand that or if not it get’s quickly explained. 

Now let’s look at Volley

When you take aim and shoot at an enemy at range, roll+Dex

Now let’s imagine a situation in game. 

MC: “So Seraphine, the Dragon has its giant leathery back to you, Becca the Fighter keeping it busy. While she does so, what do you?”

Seraphine: “I take out my Shortbow and adjust my aim. I take a valuable moment and then shot at it. Every arrow after that coming quicker then the last. I roll Volley?!” 

So Seraphine definetly took aim and she shot at the dragon right? That is what she does. When she rolls a 10+, 

✴On a 10+, you have a clear shot—deal your damage 

and then rolls a 6 for damage. So while a dragon can not be harmed (presumably) by a normal weapon. It can be by arrows. The rules say so. 

There also isn’t a special quality on the dragon we could point at to explain why it doesn’t work. 

An Iron Golem has Special Qualities: Metal though. Does that mean that someone can’t “aim and shot” at them in a meaningful way? For me that doesn’t make sense. I’d rather let the roll Volley and then explain how all the damage is negated by the arrows bouncing of the metal body. 

That reasoning definitely works but it is weird to explain that in melee you need a suitable weapon while someone with a ranged weapon always has the right to roll. 

Some of this is definitely that ammo is a limited resource that you might need to spend to continue firing and you are not always at fire-weapon range but still it is weird. 

When we go away from Arrows and look at thrown weapons though it gets really weird because the dragon that you can’t Hack&Slash with an Iron Sword can be volleyed by an Iron Thrown Dagger and you get to deal damage. 

What wording for volley would you suggest that would allow someone to say “yeah, normal arrows don’t work” without writing it in a way that is cringeworthy? 

I do understand that this is a very strict reading of the rules and that you can just run volley with that restriction in mind but the move supports my reading more I think

8 thoughts on “Volley – One of the biggest quirks in Dungeon World”

  1. Well, two things:

    “When you attack an enemy in melee” doesn’t technically say anything about the attack being meaningful. That note is in the description of the move, and since volley comes after hack and slash, we can assume that the same thing applies to volley, no?

    Also, special qualities describes things about the fiction. Like it says in the monster section, “A quality like intangible means … stuff just passes through it. That means swinging a mundane sword at it isn’t hack and slash, for a start.” (Although, strictly speaking, I would prefer to think of special qualities as “rule-breaking traits” or something, in the vein of exceptions-based design).

    So anyway, it looks to me like the explanation that volleys must also be at all meaningful is an oversight, and the authors assume that what is true for hack and slash, fictionally, is also true for volley.

    As such, I would retain the wording of the volley move, but reword the explanation of volley (and of the special qualities section) to include that clarification.

    (In your specific example, I think it is reasonable that the archer can hurt the dragon, but the swordfighter cannot, because the dragon has scales, and arrows can get between them, whereas the iron golem’s special ability should negate volley, because there are no vulnerable gaps in its metal skin. Especially since I feel like those two special qualities are different obstacles and should be treated that way).

  2. But at the same time, if the player can explain why they are able to melee with the dragon or the iron golem, then use the move as is, right? A sword can’t hurt an iron golem, but a forgehammer sure can.

  3. This is one of those fantasy world problems, and I think it probably could use a more extended discussion (in DW or wherever).

    In AW, everybody is people, they do people things, we all have a pretty good understanding of what people can do. But when there are wizards and demons and legendary fighters, who knows, right? So you have to examine the fiction before you get to a move. The Inscrutable God appears before you. Can you “read a person” on It? No, it is inscrutable. To study It, you need to come up with a way that would actually work. Use your magical spectacles to see into the astral. Maybe elves can smell magic, so you sniff It out?

    It’s inside this space where I think you really find out the difference between GMs and players who are working together to build the fiction, and those who are not (for whatever reason).

  4. If the player can not achieve success you shouldn’t make them risk failure. If it is immune to “normal arrows or only vulnerable to precise shots the gm should just narrate the action. No dice should hit the table if no success is possible.

  5. “Your arrows just bounce off the dragon’s scales. You realize that you need some special knowledge about this dragon in order to kill it. Have you heard anything about dragon’s weaknesses during your  travels? If so, spout lore.”

    On a success: “OK, you’ve heard a tale about this dragon who was killed with an arrow in the left armpit… Shot from the right side. If you can figure out how to do that…”

    On a miss: “You realize that this might be your last chance to start running.”


  6. The way DW wants to solve this problem is by treating it as the player and GM being out of synch with each other with regard to the fiction. A player describing a Volley attack implicitly interprets the fiction in a way in which their weapon isn’t useless, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have their character doing something useless. If the GM thinks the attack is useless then the player and GM aren’t on the same page about the world. The canonical solution for this kind of mismatch is to rewind until everyone is on the same page, and then going forward the GM should probably describe things such that normal-weapon-immunity isn’t a weird surprise but feels like the reasonable interpretation of the fictional situation.

    (Personally, I’ve long thought that the “swords don’t work on dragons” thing is wrongheaded — weapons are meant for monster-killing so it’s a reasonable default assumption that they will work, and it would have been better if monsters had been designed with HP levels and special powers consistent with that expectation, e.g. if dragons are supposed to be immune to normal weapons give them a lot of armor and then a special rule that magic weapons bypass their armor or something.)

  7. I think that, if the GM is honest, the player either knows of his enemies’ immunities, or he CAN find out rolling Spout Lore.

    So, if he tries to do something without a chance of success, no roll is required, and the GM makes a move (as if everybody looked at him): “Yes, you can, but”, or “sorry, the unwelcome truth is that…”

    More technically, isn’t it enough to state that special qualities trump normal moves? So, well stated qualities (and their meanins well explained to the players) should suffice.

  8. Arrows vs Iron Golem: No roll, the narrate the metal of the arrowhead bouncing off the metal skin of the golem.  (sparks?) 

    Arrows vs Dragon:  While technically possible here is something to consider: Elemental Blood.  Meaning Fire blood.  A pitiful metal arrowhead and wooden arrow wouldn’t have a chance, it goes in, barely a pinprick to the dragon and then bursts into flame (sealing the wound back up immediately)  

    Sword vs Dragon:  A Dragon is 1. Huge and 2. Has Reach.  Does his sword have reach?  You also have the same problem with the Elemental Blood.  Then there is the Terrifying to take into account.  Oh, and Flight, A dragon can just fly up a bit.  Remember this is a short action scene not a single attack.  So no, nothing says that they can’t attack it.  It just wont do any good.  Not unless they have something special going for them.  Killing a Dragon SHOULD be an epic event and SHOULD be very difficult.  Narrate the fiction toward that. 

    So, a Volley is your best chance or a Warrior with a magical Spear.  But with the Volley, better have a special weapon as well.  In The Hobbit movies, to take down Smaug, it took: 1. Special Balista of Dwarven make, 2. Correct positioning and timing, 3. Finding a weak spot, and 4. Timing: had to get it there at the specific vulnerable spot when the Dragon was using his breath weapon and it was charging into the special Hardened, Piercing, 1 1/2 yard of metal Balista Bolt that may or may not have had Dwarven Magic in it.

    Make it Dangerous and Epic.  Make it a challenge and make if fun.  The Harrowing tale of how you killed a Dragon should LIVE in memories and be Epic.  Unless of course your world actually has wussie dragons.  Your choice.

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