What’s the most succinct way to describe the distinction between a monsters tags and its Special Qualities?

What’s the most succinct way to describe the distinction between a monsters tags and its Special Qualities?

What’s the most succinct way to describe the distinction between a monsters tags and its Special Qualities? The rules say:

Special qualities describe innate aspects of the monster that are important to play. These are a guide to the fiction, and therefore the moves. A quality like intangible means just what it says: mundane stuff just passes through it. That means swinging a mundane sword at it isn’t hack and slash, for a start.

But tags also describe “innate aspects of a monster that are important to play.” And since the rules encourage the invention of new tags, why not just make Intangible a tag?

I guess I wonder if having a “Special Qualities” entry for monsters is really necessary at all.

This question is constant for me at the moment, since I’m writing up lots and lots of monsters. For instance, where do I put “Undead” — as a tag or Special Quality? And isn’t its fictional effect identical regardless of where I put it?

15 thoughts on “What’s the most succinct way to describe the distinction between a monsters tags and its Special Qualities?”

  1. Special Qualities can be modified and edited to whatever you feel that monster should have.  It’s the difference between “Specific” and “Innate”, innate it something natural that the creature is born with like hard scales and keen eye sight, specific is that the hard scales are made of diamond and the keen eye sight sees infrared at night.

    In your question I would say that Undead is a tag.  Undead doesn’t grant any extra bonuses or thematic differences that you can’t come up with on the spot in the middle of the game.  But say you were running a Flaming Skeleton, whose flame is fueled by the screaming souls of the damned they’ve slain, I would put “Special Quality: Immune to fire” or something along those lines. 

    The next hurdle is where do you draw the line between “Special Quality” and “Useful Adaptation”?  The answer is one is something that is used in response to something else while the other is something that makes this creature the unique creature that it is.  For example, I would say that a Mimic’s Special Quality is “Shapeshifting” because that’s just what the Mimic does.  A Crystal Dragon would have the Useful Adaptation of “Blinding Crystal Scales”, scales it has adapted to allow it to survive.

  2. Thanks, and upon re-reading my post I need to go and modify a bunch of monsters on my D&D to Dungeon World Conversion blog. 😛 

    But teh moral of the story is no matter what tag you use or where you put it, if you as the GM know what you meant or what you’re trying to accomplish with the monster it doesn’t really matter.  The players aren’t ever going to see it.  This is for you alone.

  3. Agreed, great explanation, Karlen Kendrick — but in your latter example, wouldn’t just having moves like “Shapeshift” and “Blind with crystal scales” work just as well?

  4. I believe that it doesn’t matter where you put it when it comes to playing a game. If you are creating supplements, however, I would keep to the DW syntax and be a bit more specific, to honor the rules since they were designed that way for a reason.

    Just like writing Fronts. I don’t necessarily create Fronts when I play a game, but if I was to write up an adventure that used them, I would certainly use the terminology that DW uses, including grim portents, etc.

    I think Karlen did a great job differentiating the different categories.

  5. Sure, you could do that.  But as monster descriptors and not moves you give yourself more room to write the moves you actually want.  The description section of the monster is there to get all the obvious things about a monster out of the way in simple words, the moves are there for you to tailor the monster to what you’re doing and add more fluff to the actions of the monster.  

    In the case of Shapeshift I would say “Shapeshift into a basic bathroom item to protect the Porcelain Throne”, because the Mimic is there to do that.  Simply saying “Shapeshift” saves me the time from worrying what it will shapeshift into.  The Blinding Crystal Scales simply describes what they look like.  “Blind the enemy with shimmering crystal scales” is a move the Dragon could actually do to something it is attacking.

  6. Yeah, that makes sense. That’s pretty much how I’ve been doing it, but your notion of tags and qualities being innate/general vs. specific is super helpful.

    How would you handle leaders of a Group? In the dungeon I’m editing right now, there are some common humanoid monsters with the Group tag, led by exceptional individuals of their own kind. I’m giving the common group and the leader separate entries, but I’m torn between making “Leader” a tag to take the place of “Solitary,” and tagging the leaders “Solitary” but with the Special Quality “Leader.” 

  7. I think that Special Qualities are basically tags that you want to especially stand out : they are functionally the same, but they are in a different place in the monster description, closer to its moves and instinct, so it’s more obvious. It’s also a way to quickly add something special to a monster without the need to check if there is already an existing tag for it.

  8. That really depends but I think you’re on the right track.  I definitely think that “Leader of X” is a Special Quality, but I would have to really think about how that would work mechanically if all the creatures are the same but have a leader.  But if this guy is a leader than assume he has Group of some of his elites with him so you can just stat them up as a group so one group of bad guys isn’t way overpowered compared to the other group.  But that’s just one way to do it.  If you want your leader to be this big bad entity than sure roll him up as a solo guy so his attack die is huge and the players know he’s a cut above the rest of his minions.

  9. Looking at the overall design of DW (and other PbtA games), pretty much any time there are tags, there are also tag dictionaries. And the tags often have “mechanical” ramifications (even if those mechanics are only the monster creation rules).  

    So I’d argue that the original design intent for Special Qualities was to include tag-like things that…:

     – aren’t common enough to be included in the tag dictionary  – didn’t fit nicely into the monster-creation rules

     – are too complex, foreign, or nuanced to express in a one- or two-word tag

    I think the tag dictionary (and monster creation rules) could pretty easily be expanded to include the following:

     – insubstantial (incorporeal?)


      – _-proof

      – fearless

      – mindless

      – flying

    And then save special qualities for things that are really unique, or that require more than a one-or-two word description.

    With that said, for actual published products, I’d lean towards what Jordan Raymond said and use the standard tag dictionary from the DW rules (with everything else as a quality).  And I say that knowing that I wrote some followers for you who almost certainly used non-standard tags. 😐

  10. As for “leaders,” I’m not convinced that you need anything special. If they fight as part of a group/horde, give them that tag/HP/damage, possibly modified for things like “skilled in offense” or “vicious armaments.”

    If they don’t really fight in a group, but are the big bruiser that happens to be with a group, make them solitary.

    Either way, consider giving them the organized tag and a move to represent the way they command/lead.

  11. I like the “Leader of” as a separate entry for the enemies.

    So we’ll have “common goblins” with Group, “common snotlings” with Horde, and “hobgoblin commander” with Leader attached to one of those formations. I like it.

  12. It has always struck me as counterintuitive at best to use “solitary” as a tag for the leader of a group.  But the rules do:  see Formian Queen or Gnoll Alpha or Orc Warchief.  Perhaps there’s meat to the idea of treating “leader” as a fourth Organizational tag, which could give another option in the “How does it usually hunt or fight?” subsection of Making Monsters, and possibly an explicit guideline about getting a move to command its followers.

Comments are closed.