In my experiences in running dungeon world there are two main concerns as far as class balance goes with the core…

In my experiences in running dungeon world there are two main concerns as far as class balance goes with the core…

In my experiences in running dungeon world there are two main concerns as far as class balance goes with the core rulebook. It’s common to hear complaints of wizards and paladins being ‘overpowered’ because of their flexible and very fictionally powerful moves. However, in my experience, it’s the aspects of those classes the GM generally CAN’T touch that make them so strong. Yes, the spells of the wizard can be extraordinarily powerful especially in changing the direction of the plot, but intervention of a planar power or other magical entity can make disruption of a particularly powerful spell possible, and as each spell’s effects can be interpreted in many ways: especially depending on roll results and the interpretation of partial and full successes as well as failures. Even ‘I am the Law’ can be house ruled or have it apply differently than usual. Instead of ‘attacking you’ physically, they do it verbally and expose a misdeed to a local authority, leaving you in some serious circumstances to deal with. My point is, as a gm I have plenty of tools to mix what I imagine into my world despite the moves as written. I love that about dungeon world. However, there are two main concerns I have with these classes. 

Let’s start with the Paladin. I am the Law gives him a spell-like ability to control NPC actions if they respect his/her diety. Lay on hands gives you a consistent heal you can use on your party. Quest allows you to gain substantial fictional boons in return for some costs and sacrifices. All of this makes him very strong, but I still love it and he’s easily manageable. The problem I have is that he muscles into the fighter’s role.  Yes the fighter has their own cool bag of tricks, but statistically, why play a fighter when you can deal the same amount of damage, have the same amount of armor, have the same base health, as well as be able to control NPCs, heal and call upon divine power? Because of this, the fighter’s martial skills are pretty well marginalized when you can be just as tanky and still have a d10 class damage even if you are also a healer and  divine. Fictionally and mechanically, that get’s formidable: which is okay, I like having strong paladins, but fighters just get overlooked imho once the players become experienced with the mechanics of dungeon world and look at just the numbers. Obviously, playing a fighter is still very different as far as moves go and play-style feels. But the Paladin can still take as many blows and chop as many monsters as the fighter at the same time. I’m not entirely sure what the thought process was  behind giving a divine class 10+con health and 1d10 damage. Reducing one or both to 8+con health and/or 1d8 damage would make the fighter feel relevant again. It just means the fighter stands out as either as doing more damage and being as tanky as the paladin, or as doing the same damage  and being tankier than the paladin. I really feel like that one small nerf (which I used in house rules) would change how I could deal with paladins. They will have at least one part of their class that isn’t entirely optimal and it will give other classes a chance to show off their strengths: that no one else has in their specific blend of it.

Now for the wizard advanced moves. Spell defense, arcane ward, and arcane armor make a slightly broken combo. At level 2, a wizard can have as much armor (3 armor) as a typical level 2 fighter or paladin and can still roll to reduce damage on top of that (arcane defense) as long as they don’t forget all their spells in one day. You literally just have to choose a mediocre level 1 spell and then choose to never cast it and you become a wizard who never has to worry about physical harm. At level 6, the wizard can have up to 5 armor with plain jane leather armor: above and beyond a lighter clad fighter. To get that amount of armor, a warrior would have to wear heavy plate mail as well as a shield. And warrior’s can’t cast spells and run around willey nilley without being weighed down. This makes it exceptionally hard to know how to deal with wizards. If you try to overpower them with physical force (you would think that would be their weakness, as they are wizards). You either throw enemies that can ignore armor at them (which is a possible solution, but annoying, because they basically become orc and goblin proof unless they get unlucky or are put in a spot) to teach them they can’t play tank mage, or you knock them with enough damage that it gets through their armor. However, since they’re wizards, one or two high damage rolls (what you need to deal any damage to them after their armor) will almost kill them. If you try to challenge them via magic it can be much more entertaining, but that’s they’re strong rolls and suits and if you make every magical entity able to overcome them they won’t feel powerful, wizardly, or heroic anytime soon. In other words, I’m finding it hard to challenge and make adventures exciting and interesting for wizards who can overcome physical danger just by having a high armor score (not something the hero actually does, just has) as well as use his cool magic abilities to solve many a problem. It means every time I want to challenge a wizard, or ‘show a downside of their class’ because these moves make it harder for me to challenge them physically, and they should be able to take a spotlight when their arcane talents are needed. In response to this, I really think reducing the armor granted by arcane ward and armor by 1 would balance that out. 1 armor point in dungeon world is pretty huge: it’s pretty much the equivalent of a heavy shield, and granting a lot of it through magic has become problematic


The paladin is stealing the fighter’s spotlight, he’s just as physically capable. In my opinion, their max health and/or damage should be reduced to 8+constitution or 1d8 to allow the tankier or more martially adept Fighter class to have their own spotlight where their talents are most useful.

The wizard’s advanced moves are making them have as much damage reduction (armor) as a fighter or paladin at both low and high levels. This makes it very hard to stress a wizard’s frailty or physical weakness mechanically and not just physically if you rarely have to worry about any mundane attacks. Reducing the armor by one on both arcane ward and arcane armor seems reasonable, especially because of the basic move ‘spell defense’ can also protect the wizard from any sort of physical attack. 

I have implemented both of these changes as house rules, but what do you guys think?

12 thoughts on “In my experiences in running dungeon world there are two main concerns as far as class balance goes with the core…”

  1. Regarding the wizard, it sounds to me like you have a specific mental image of a wizard as “frail” and “weak”.  You want to “to teach them they can’t play tank mage” and “stress a wizard’s frailty or physical weakness”.  At least those are the most evocative phrases that leap out at me when reading that section.  

    The frail wizard is one stereotype but not the only one.  Maybe if your player is taking the advanced moves to make them more physically capable they are trying to play a different vision of the wizard, like Gandalf instead of Radagast, or Mad Eye Moody instead of McGonagall.  Even so, its not like I’d describe either Radagast or McGonagall as “frail” or unable to defend themselves from physical attacks, just that they are less front-line combatants.  Anyway, it sounds like the player gave up other advanced moves in order to take those more defensive moves, so presumably that is the way they want to play it.  

    Personally, I’d talk to the player and see where our expectations differ, and ask them what they see as the downside of the class.  Then I’d be a fan of the player, let them wade into the goblins at the front of the party alongside the fighter, and adjust how I show the downside of the class to match how they are trying to play instead of forcing them to feel weak and frail.  

  2. I play a Wizard and really enjoy the armor. 🙂  It’s powerful, no question.  But I can’t actually remotely challenge the damage output of a Fighter.  And you say I get this armor “without having to wear plate” as if that’s a big disadvantage.  But oh look, the Fighter starts with a Load 5 higher than the Wizard even at the same STR, and plate only weights 4.  And the Fighter doesn’t have to spend two Advanced Moves to get her plate armor.

    It is true that the supposed drawback of Arcane Ward, that it goes away if you have no spells memorized, is highly unlikely to ever happen naturally.  If you really feel like the Wizard is overshadowing the other characters, though, you could make it happen catastrophically, as the result of a failure on Cast a Spell.

  3. I wouldn’t be too concerned with it; i thiiink the stats aren’t quite as bad as all that and, anyway, I’m not sure it matters.

    If you play a fighter, its a signal to the GM that you want to hit shit with a cool sword. If you play a Paladin, its a signal to the GM that you want to be in a position of divine authority — which brings with it responsibilities.

    I’d play to those as GM. That’s the biggest signal players can send, and nerfing will only make them less likely to want to play the character class that speaks to them.

  4. One other thought:  if you still want to make the wizard less defensive, then instead of a mechanical nerf, why not play to Dungeon World’s strengths and rely on the fiction?  The rules give us a sort of map, but it leaves blanks that we can fill in.  Ask your player how the wizard’s defenses work in the fiction, and run with that.  Find the complications and the flavor that comes from their fictional decision.

    Maybe he knows a charm that makes his skin as hard as iron.  What are the complications for that?   Is it always on, and if so what does that impact in his life?  Does it add a hundred pounds to his weight and make it really dangerous to swim, or does it take away his sense of touch, or does it limit the types of non-magical healing he can benefit from (no stitches for you!)?  If it is not always on, then when is it off and what is involved in activating it?  Under what circumstances can he be surprised and unable to use it?

    Or maybe he uses magical defensive barriers like Dr Strange’s Shield of the Seraphim or the 4e DnD Swordmage.  Strange’s protections were most often in two types.  He could surround himself in a bubble of force that protects him from all sides, but that limits his ability to interact with the world physically, make melee attacks, etc. so his offense is limited to just his spells.  Or he can opt to manifest it as a smaller wall or hemisphere (usually directed with his left hand) which he could use to intercept attacks he’s aware of while still able to touch / attack something with his other hand, but that means it wouldn’t protect him from an unobserved attack from his rear.  And of course  he’d be vulnerable to any surprise attacks while out for a walk through the forest, unlike the fighter who’s sweating in his plate armor.  

    The fiction lets you play up and celebrate the differences between the two characters, even if they have the same mechanical amount of armor.  And it makes it a lot more fun too, actually adding to the flavor of your world instead of simply making a boring tweak to a number.  Just my 2 cents…

  5. I think the amount of stats the Paladin has to use also weakens the Class more then you think. The Fighter will probably have a +3 in his strength meaning he will never be able to lose a hack and slash. The paladin has to kind of spread his pool about so he is partially succeeding/failing more then the Fighter.

  6. Really great responses that leave very little for me to add. 🙂 My opinion is don’t worry about mechanical class balance. Instead make sure the players are having fun, are getting equal spotlight time, and are getting equal opportunities for their characters to be awesome.

  7. Apparently the response I tried to make yesturday never actually posted. Lovely. Thanks everybody, these have been great comments,and I think I have let the less important mechanical stuff get to me a little bit. I guess I like the wizard to mitigate damage in a more magical way, and the +2 with an arcane theme just doesn’t do it for me. Really great  stuff  and  suggestions for making it more flavored and limiting it that way. Either way, my players are still have a complete blast, it’s just one of those little things that bugs me. I like my changes, so that’s how I’ll play but I understand why things are the way they are a little bit better now. Thanks for your input 🙂

  8. Also consider that while the Wizard is using Advanced Moves to defend himself, the Fighter can be using her AMs to multiclass. A level 2 Fighter can cast Wizard spells or perform rituals as well as having a ton of armor and HP, being great at melee combat, AND being able to smash stuff really well, so being able to protect himself doesn’t seem to make the Wizard all that overpowered, in comparison.

    The Paladin does seem a little more likely to infringe on the Fighter’s niche, but as others have said, they do have mechanical and fictional limitations that the Fighter doesn’t. The biggest mechanical issue is that their class moves use CHA, so to be effective in combat and at their class moves, they need to prioritize CHA, STR, and CON, where the Fighter just needs to pump up their STR and secondarily their CON. If they prioritize combat and make STR and CON their highest modifiers, then they’ll fail a bunch when it comes to Paladin things (and might as well just play a Fighter instead). If they prioritize CHA, then they won’t be as good at fighting, and the Fighter’s niche is safe. This is way more important than it might seem, since a modifier to a 2d6 roll is way more mathematically significant than a change in damage die, HP, or even armor. In addition, the enhancements of the Signature Weapon already account for more of a difference to damage than you propose. The difference between a d8 and a d10 is just 1 damage on average, but the Fighter can start out with +2 damage, or +1 damage and 2 piercing, or multiple reaches, or messy and forceful.

    In addition, the Paladin’s whole thing is being limited to some degree by the rules of their god or order. (When on a quest, at the very least, and those drawbacks should be significant and emphasized whenever possible.) My player who always wants to play a Fighter would never want to play a Paladin, since the thing she loves is getting to smash stuff with reckless abandon. The Fighter’s niche is “killing and breaking everything.” I don’t think the Paladin can threaten that, even if they are nearly as good at melee combat in some specific cases. (And if they can, then a difference of 2HP or one die size won’t be enough to fix that.)

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