My favorite thing about Dungeon World is the conflict resolution system.

My favorite thing about Dungeon World is the conflict resolution system.

My favorite thing about Dungeon World is the conflict resolution system. So many of these in other games seem binary – someone (either a PC or a NPC) makes a roll; they either pass/succeed or fail. If they succeed, the thing they wanted to happen happens. If they fail, nothing happens. In Dungeon World, you have specific and fun outcomes to your rolls, finding “nothing happens” absent. These days, I find other games hard to play because of that binary pass/fail system.

Has anyone else experienced this? Am I playing these other games with the apparently binary conflict resolution wrong? Has anyone tried using GM moves – or the general principle of a failure always having an interesting if complicated or dangerous outcome – over to other games? Does it work?

29 thoughts on “My favorite thing about Dungeon World is the conflict resolution system.”

  1. I like paranoia because of the degree of success fail.

    basically you have a number to beat, if your number you roll has greater difference, the greater the effect of your success or fail.

    It is possible to say, succeed too good and hurt the world in a way you didn’t expect to, complicating the situation. It also helps guide a fail to a result, an example with a gun:

    1.missing an attack (1-3 below target number)

    2.weapon malfunctioning and needing repair (4-7 below target number)

    3.absolute chaotic overdrive that leaves you most likely dead. (8- below)

    Other games like DnD I don’t enjoy nearly as much anymore

    Dungeon World and Paranoia, my faves forever.

  2. I don’t think it’s quite so cut and dry, as many games have protocols for partial success or success at cost (and even succeeding on an attack doesn’t necessarily mean the opponent dies = partial success), but PbtA games do a better job of focusing on partial success than most games.

  3. Ryan M. Danks That’s a good point. I think that many of the games I’ve played focus on nuanced success only in combat, which makes combat the most interesting part.

  4. Very true.

    As a GM, I always try to come up with some reason why a character failed that doesn’t include them not succeeding.

    Fail to negotiate with someone = they had a better offer from someone else.

    Fail to pick a lock = just before you did pick it, guards discovered you.

    Fail to craft an object = either you forgot or the schematics were missing a page, but there is a missing ingredient.

  5. Joseph Madigan AW, DW etc. changed my whole world, regarding RpGs. I wrote this thing millions of times, already. However, its’ damn true. Also, I felt really difficult to adapt its phylosophy to other games, ’cause the whole system is responsible for the “magic” inside it. Player moves + GM moves + dynamic turns + zooming in and out etc. It’s all important.

    Also, another awesome thing is that “6-” is not a failure of the player move. It’s simply the chance to make a GM move. So, if a character is climbing, and he rolls 6- ’cause it’s a tense situation, I, as GM, can tell:

    – you slip, and fall down (failure), take X damage

    – you succeed, and are on top, but now you see a couple of guards approaching the cliff! (success, but I generated future trouble)

    – you succeed, but when you are on top, you see your sword got stuck in a rock, 20 meters behind… (success, but with a price, I removed an item)

    etc. etc.

    This is really fantastic.

  6. Yeah, the first few times a Wizard in my DW game rolled poorly on “cast a spell” he was like “Oh, I guess it didn’t work.”

    And I responded with, “No, it worked, it just didn’t work the way you wanted it to.” And narrated from there. After that, the players all felt more comfortable with the rolling because no matter what they rolled, SOMETHING interesting was going to happen.

  7. I tried porting the idea of player moves (including equivalents to 7-9 results) to noncombat skill use in D&D4e. It was a lot (lot) better than f-ing skill challenges, but it still missed the explicit expectation that on a miss I got to–and was expected to–make a hard move. And that made it feel flat.

  8. Jeremy Strandberg, have you tried doing a risk/reward scenario for D&D? I make it a situation where the player declares what they are doing, then I describe the inherent risk involved. If they fail, that risk comes true to some degree (based on how much they failed by), if they succeeded, they avoided risk and got what they wanted (to some degree, which is actually handled fairly well by D&D standard rules).

    Doing it this way ignores villain turns and does away with player “turns” (the whole damn initiative system) altogether.

  9. Plenty of modern games use resolution systems that are not binary.

    In terms of novelty, Psi*run comes to mind: if you perform a significant action using your psychic powers, you’d roll 5 dice, and assign each one to four possible slots: the action outcome, whether you have a flashback, whether the chasers get closer, and whether your powers go bananas. You get to pick where your good and bad rolls go.

    If the idea of complex resolution systems appeals to you and you’re new to indie games, take a look at Psi*run or Questlandia – both having fairly interesting mechanisms.

  10. Jeremy Strandberg, I’m pretty sure that 4e fights any sort of alteration to the rules. 🙂

    (Ironically, given how much I like “story first” games, I liked D&D 4e the best of all editions.)

  11. Rather than “partial success” I tend to turn failures into “success but with a serious cost.” That seems to work just as well. Most games are quite amenable to that. Ironically, I find players to be more resistant to the idea…

  12. Given that some games have had a long history – take RuneQuest for example – there will be resistance to change. This is normal. People get comfy with the status quo. I have many years of rpg experience, and still I keep my eye out for something new. FATE Core is that kind of new, Dungeon World is that kind of new. New systems come and go, but it’s always going to be that way. I’ve mentioned this before: as long as people still play table top rpgs, DW will always be one of my go to games. Yes, I’ve implemented DW into my other games. It works well.

  13. HeroQuest and Little Wizards both spring to mind as games that have graduated success and failure. Little Wizards has an excellent explanation of how to make failure mean more complications over simple whiff factor.

  14. Of course you have the wheel games that when you fail there can be twists that happen or you can get what you want with a condition or something bad also happening.

    I feel you can play the binary systems with failure mattering its just something you have to bring to it. The thing that I feel Dungeon World does that doesn’t i feel get noticed as much is that it explains how to use all its systems.

    D&D explains nothing really and this is why you get wildly different rules depending on the GM. Which I think is a cardinal sin and strikes it down in my opinion.

  15. The only problem I have with D&D and Pathfinder is that they don’t approach Games Mastering as it should be (ok, I have a lot of problems with both games, this is just one of the many…lol.)  They mention that you, as GM have the final say, but they don’t really give you any guidelines other than that.  Wouldn’t it be nice if they included optional concepts, like “other than pass and fail”, and seeing the PCs as people “using their powers to make the world a better place, while trying to live normal lives.”  It always seems like the PCs are wanderers that stumble into dramatic (or not so dramatic) situations – like they have nothing better to do.  What if the Fighter is a veteran of a bloody war and is suffering from PTSD and his cousin is the local cleric.  She is trying to bring healing into his life and just when she thinks she is making progress, the local ranger stops by for a blessing since she is going to investigate some smoke trails.  It turns out some f’d up Gnolls decide they want to take over some new territory which happens to include the local farming community. Meanwhile, a newly minted wizard has returned, with his wizarding degree in hand, to his farming village and is looking forward to doing some research on that old tome his mentor at the Collegium Nocturnum Ars Magika presented to him before he left.  He’s already done the cleric a favor by providing some calming herbs for her brother. By the way, did I mention that he made a friend at the Collegium who has tagged along?  Well, he keeps that a secret since she is a Salamander who saved his life from a fire that started in one of the alchemists’ labs.  Now, this might not seem so bad, but when you start to size up the situation (impending doom?  grim portents? stakes?) it looks like the young warrior is going to have to pick up his sword and don his battle armor once again…dam the luck.  The only halfling villager hears the news from the Salamander, who lives just outside the village, and sighs as she sharpens her daggers.  She ran away from the thieves’ guild in the city hoping to change her life for good, and now this – so much for a peaceful life in the countryside.  And so goes character creation and forming bonds.  Those other games have nothing like this.

  16. I interviewed Sage and Adam a while ago and this got brought up. Thought it relevant to this conversation.

    What is one thing from your book that you feel should be in every RPG? (general advice, a mechanic, etc)


    Rules (not just wishy-washy advice) for running the game. Actual “do this or you’re breaking the rules” sections for the GM.


    Damn, Adam beat me to it.

    The funny thing is, I don’t think most games are very far off from having rules for GMing. The innovation in Apocalypse World that we stole is in some ways a matter of presentation. It’s also something that ties back to an older tradition: you read something like Moldvay and it’s dead-clear on what you do as a GM, how, and to what goals.

    My personal theory is that over time some of that clarity got lost to “it’s your game, we can’t tell you what to do” (which is trivially obvious) and “this game can do anything” (which it can’t). When your game is written to be ignored, or is trying to be everything to everyone, you really can’t give much in the way of clear procedures.

    Me- I feel that this is why the whole pass/fail system became so flat in D&D. The DMG never went into what happens when you fail or what to do. It just left you high and dry.

    Here’s the rest of the interview if you are interested.

  17. I do wonder if it’s the non binary system at work or the trigger that is the most important change. AW games require you to speak in the fiction first to trigger moves. Preventing players from taking actions which are disassociated from what’s actually happening in the fictional space. This helps the GM to ground the reactions, possible failures and consequences more easily in the game world. 

     As Jeremy Strandberg pointed out though, the move system is quite integrated and requires a few elements to function effectively.

    I’m also not entirely convinced that PBTA games avoid meaningless choice, a boulder rolling down a hill at a character will almost certainly trigger a defy danger like move,  which isn’t much of a choice for the character besides get crushed or roll. (I’ll get back to this point, gotta scoot now though.)

  18. Timothy Stanbrough Good point, playing with a fiction-first mindset certainly makes it much easier to come up with interesting outcomes to any action. Fiction-first is another mindset I’d like to see tried out in other games.

  19. To the extent that games have binary pass/fail rules and they work, it’s largely because those games have a strict turn-taking structure. When there’s, say, a combat round where you get one attack, if you whiff your attack roll something bad has happened to you – you’ve effectively lost your turn to little or no benefit. Similarly, if the monsters roll to attack you and miss, they’ve lost their turns so good for you.

    In its original incarnation D&D put you in a dungeon and on the clock, so that trying to do something outside of combat and failing brought you closer to a wandering monster encounter which would waste your resources to little benefit (because the loot’s in the monster lair, not on the guards). 

    But where there isn’t any kind of turn-taking structure, binary pass/fail kind of falls apart. 

    Dungeon World doesn’t really have strict turns to begin with – it puts various people in the spotlight at various times, but there is no necessary order to it. So it needed something more than just binary pass/fail to really work, and by gum it got it.

  20. Actually as I have played and looked at games and gotten to know games design I do feel that old school d&d was the purest form and probably the best and the latest editions by trying to be all things to all people is kind of a mess.

  21. The funny thing is: I don’t like the successes in dungeon world. The failures are always exciting and make the situation more interesting, but success simply allow the players to be successful and deescalate the situation. When the players only roll high the sessions tend to new more boring. At least from the GM perspective

  22. I know the feeling Vincent Shine. The fiction gets a little stale when the whole group has +3 STR and goes for hack and slash every time. It’s cool in a way – the story ended up being very action-movie like – but to spice things up I started throwing crazy magic, incorporeal enemies, and attacking their “Aunt May”-type NPC friends.

  23. I can see the danger of the GM thinking about this to much though, we get the drug of wanting more and more failure when we don’t realize the players WANT success and if you talk to them they feel that every dice roll could cause problems(which is true). There is a balance of both feelings.

  24. Part of the problem can sometimes be how to balance a game out so that there’s enough danger to make it challenging while allowing enough slack for the PCs to feel like there’s progress. Also, to consider, is the current chapter of a hack n’ slash variety or is it more problem solving or perhaps intrigue. Every gaming group is different and so will be the way DW or any other game is played.

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