27 thoughts on “How does one handle unarmed combat and damage in Dungeon World?”

  1. Damage would still be the characters normal damage die.

    As for how, assume anyone who has a weapon has reach, anyone who has armor is much harder to directly hurt. The players have to get much more creative in actually doing their damage (you can’t punch a dragon out, but you might be able to rip, bend, or break something).

    As long as it’s making narrative sense, it’s just like any other combat.

  2. I agree with Joseph F. Russo​. If the character is in a fictional position to do damage, resolve it as normal (hack and slash, generally).

    If damage is not an option, or not the PC’s goal, wrote a custom move OR in the instance of grappling, they are using strength or Dex, perhaps, to defy the danger of the opponent getting away (or drawing a weapon, or whatever they are trying to do)

  3. Most of the time, a Defy Danger would be appropriate.

    If the unarmed combatant is trying to kill their opponent, then they should be using STR, and success means they deal their damage.

    If they’re just trying to trip or distract their opponent, then they should be using DEX or CHA, and success means they create an opening for another character or to start running away.

    If they’re trying to pin or grapple their opponent, then they should be using STR to get hold of them and a second Defy Danger using CON to keep them incapacitated long enough for it to matter.

    Meanwhile, if the opponent is armed, the armed combatant should have no trouble dealing monster moves or Deal Damage to the unarmed foe on a miss or a 7-9.

  4. Fighter/Monk could have Bloodstained-Fists as their signature weapon, with the tags Hand, Close, Forceful, and Messy (Huge and Versatile) by RAW and deal 1d10 damage with a normal H&S, if a player is looking to make a nasty pugilist.

  5. I echo Joseph F. Russo and Tim Jagodzinski. One other note, I would be a lot more lenient with a Fighter who chooses Fists as their Signature Weapon in regards to when it is fictionally appropriate to do damage. Maybe they have honed their fists into iron-hard clubs by pounding sand, trees, and rocks or their is some magical or psionic component at work. Maybe they belong to an order with secret magical unguents they rub on their hands from birth to make them supernaturally hard. Or they bathe their hands in the holy flame of ____. Anyway, in the case of a fighter, I would probably treat their hands just like a mace, range=Hand. For a true Monk character, I would consider “Hands” more broadly as hands/feet/kung fu. This is just something I would agree to with the player beforehand. It won’t break the game or anything. The only real advantage they get by choosing hands is they can’t be disarmed (unless they literally have their arms severed). The trade-off is the range. They would probably have to Defy Danger Dex at the start of combat to get inside the range of someone with a Reach weapon. (I would only make them do it once per combat/opponent unless they clearly break apart in the fiction.) 

  6. Ivan Vaghi ah you’re right. It still does suggest that if it’s not a move and threatens “scrapes and bruises” then it’s 1d4 damage. But you’re right it doesn’t mention unarmed damage in the official PDF.

  7. Have the player narrate her fiction and then have have her make the move that follows.

    If they want to do damage, use hack and slash and their damage die. If they want to pin them or put them in a hold roll to interfere. 

    Here’s two examples:

    GM: The Undead Knight lazily swings his massive morningstar still covered in remains of your poor henchman Bob. Only his glowing red eyes are the only things visible behind his the visor of his heavy black armor. He steps over Bob’s lifeless corpse advancing on you. What do you do?

    Rebbecca Playing Ragor the Barbarian of the Southern Steppes: Well I just lost my great sword in the last room, but to hell with it, no guts no glory. I charge the knight while unleashing a bestial battle cry. I grab him by the leg swing him around over my head and throw him against the wall!

    DM: Okay you run up to him and as you come within reach of his morning star he brings it down on your back [making a hard move because the PC ignored an obvious danger] take 9pts of damage as you feel the weight of his massive weapon backed by his hatred of all living things cracks against your heavy shoulders. You get to his legs, roll +str [hack and slash].

    Rebbecca: 12!

    DM: do you want to deal more damage or avoid a counter attack

    Rebbecca: Is that even a question?! MOR DAMAGE!

    DM: That’s what I like to hear! You swing the undead warrior around over your head and fling him towards the nearest wall. As you release him one of his armored feet slam into Ragor’s chin. You take another 7pts of damage.

    Rebbecca: Yeah [rolls her d10+d4] but that abomination takes 13 as he crashes into the wall! I could probably use a medic over here!


    GM: The Undead Knight is advancing on the Ragor’s stunned body. Celeste what do you do?

    Bobby playing Celeste the Wizard: I don’t want him to murder a helpless Ragor and I don’t have any spells that can stop it! Hell with it in the spirit of Ragor I run up grab the Undead Knight around his back to slow him down! Hopefully Ragor will come out of it soon or we’re all screwed.

    GM: [sits in stunned silence for beat] …That’s awesome! You know what?  The Undead Knight is completely not expecting the wizard to run up and grapple him so go ahead and roll. 

    Bobby: + str?

    GM:Are you to damage him but slow him down?

    Bobby: I really just want to slow him down and give Ragor a chance to snap out of it. 

    GM: Okay roll+ Bond

    Bobby: Well my +0 bond with Undead Knight is better than my -1 Str, so hear goes nothing! 10!

    GM: Okay you’re completely piggy backing on the back of the Undead Knight! That might just be enough to save Ragor’s bacon!

    [in the last example, if the goal was to redirect the Undead Knights attention, I’d probably call for Defend]

  8. Ray Otus Jason Cordova​ yes please! I would love a Discern Realities on the topic of unarmed combat. What does and doesn’t work? If it is just class damage, then why have disarm moves? What about a fighter who chooses his fists as his weapon of choice?

  9. Personally, though, I tend to run it as any other sort of combat, but you have to fictionally justify triggering hack & slash. Otherwise, you’re probably just defying danger to improve your position.

    Example: The Eye-of-Gruumsh has the wizard hostage, grabbing her by the hair and a knife at her throat, planning to spill her blood over the crude stone altar. The paladin steps into the clear, uses I am the Law to tell the orc to drop it and flee, and biffs the roll. “Your god has no power here!” yells the orc and starts to slowly slice the wizard’s throat (the wizard takes damage).

    I describe the pain to the wizard and ask what she does. “He’s got me by the hair in one hand and has the knife in the other? My hands are free? I’ll elbow this fucker in the solar plexus and wriggle free.” Defy Danger with STR. She gets a 7-9, so we say she takes damage again but manages to stun him and wriggle free.

    The paladin is then “she’s free? I charge him, shield first, Cap America style.” We decide that wizard’s elbow to the gut did in fact stun him momentarily, so that gives the paladin the chance to close the distance. But it’s not a sure thing… the orc has a chance to see the paladin coming and react, so we treat as a normal Hack & Slash.

    7-9, so the paladin deals damage (not enough to drop the orc) and opens himself to counterattack. I say that the orc grabs onto the paladin and pulls them both down to the ground in a grapple. The orc starts chanting, his hand glows with dark power as he claws at the paladin’s face. The paladin’s too draw his sword. “What do you do?”

    “I shield based him, right? So my shield is between us? I’ll use my free hand for leverage and try to push the edge of my shield into the orc’s throat.” Yeah, that feels like hack & slash to me. Paladin agrees and rolls.

    Another 7-9. The paladin does it, deals damage, but the orc is still alive and gets his attack. The Eye-of-Gruumsh’s normal damage is “Inflict Wounds” (close, far, ignores armor) and he has a move of “Take an eye.” They’re at hand range though, and it doesn’t feel right to take the paladin’s eye on a 7-9. So I say while the paladin’ is slowly biting into the orc’s throat with his shield, the orc plants his hand on the paladin’s face, burning it with necrotic damage and inching towards his eye! It’s inside the orc’s normal reach, so only deal 1/2 damage, but also tell the paladin to mark the Scarred condition.

    (Meanwhile, the wizard is free but bleeding heavily. Another orc rushes the paladin and Eye-of-Gruumsh, but she magic-missiles it to death. She 7-9s, chooses to fray reality, and we decide that some of her blood did land on the altar and her magic missile opened some rift above it, and arcane lightning is crackling between the rift, the blood on the altar, and the wizard. Wind is swirling around. The last orc help approaches her, cut back to the paladin.)

    “You’ve got him pinned by the throat, but he’s still grabbing your face and burning on, inching towards your eye. What do you do?” The paladin squirms, wrests the Eye-of-Gruumsh’s hand away from his face and shifts upward, grabbing the orc’s head and pinning its arm. That’s Defying Danger with Str (not Hack & Slash because he’s not trying to deal damage, just improve his position). He nails it with a 10+.

    “Is there anything hard and angular I can smash this fucker’s face against?” the paladin asks. “You mean like the altar?” “Yeah, like that. I roar and twist, and throw him face-first into the altar.” Now that’s hack and slash. Rolls it, 10+, rolls max damage and SPLAT. The Eye-of-Gruumsh’s skull splatters on the altar, covering it with blood!

    The lightning from the rift goes nuts! Lashing at the blood and growing, growing, the wind howling, until there’s a sudden calm and the wizard sees a dark shadowy form flitting away into the night…

  10. We’re recording today; I’m happy to discuss how I’ve handled unarmed combat in the past. It’s a good topic. I agree with a lot of what has been said on this thread: the specific fictional circumstances are going to play a big role in figuring out which move gets triggered (if a move is triggered at all; you might just be handing the GM a Golden Opportunity). 

  11. Paul Showalter I love those examples.  A couple things I’d do differently:

    On the first scenario, 1) I’d tell Rebecca the consequence of that action before just inflicting damage (I always try to do that do before seizing a golden opportunity). And 2) I’d have then ruled it as defy danger (with Con or Str) to keep going despite getting whacked with a mace.  (That’s a personal sensibility thing. I visualize the mace as a big honking thing, and hit from it would likely send someone flying or at least check their momentum. Your visualization and play style might vary, of course!)

    On the second scenario, I’d have played that as a defy danger rather an “interfere.”  Interfere doesn’t really work against NPCs/monsters, because 1) you don’t (by default) have bonds with them and 2) they don’t roll, so the -2 penalty doesn’t matter.  

    However, I totally love the idea of rolling bond to defy danger in that case. But I’d have her roll her bond’s with Ragor!  She’s acting to save his bacon, after all!

  12. Jeremy Strandberg I would be happy with any of those rulings. I honestly think most of the problem GM’s have running DW is overthinking the problem and the second is like unto it, worried too much about the ‘correct’ way to apply the rules to the fiction.

  13. You always do your base damage. Weapons only give you different options with tags like piercing or range. Here is a example where unarmed combat would not even trigger the hack and slash aktion. “I punch the dragon on its very armored leg“. While “I punch the dragon in its unprotected belly/eye“ would trigger the aktion.

  14. Oh man, now I totally want to play a Jackie Chan character with improvised weapons from whatever the fictional environment has to offer (like piles of firewood, hot coals and a shovel, tent poles/canvas, a bedroll, crumbled blocks of rubble, etc…)

    Then I’d want it all to count as an extension of a martial arts/Fists Signature Weapon that justifies the extended tag range from Hand to Close, while upgrading the damage to 1d10 lethal instead of merely stun/subdual damage!

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