What are your best practices for handling the Messy tag when it comes to monsters and enemies?

What are your best practices for handling the Messy tag when it comes to monsters and enemies?

What are your best practices for handling the Messy tag when it comes to monsters and enemies? It seems sorta overpowered to be able to always hack off bits with every attack.

22 thoughts on “What are your best practices for handling the Messy tag when it comes to monsters and enemies?”

  1. Good question. I sort of vacillate between just messy/splatter, and messy/maiming. I tend towards splatter, as I feel it’s fair that char<>monster – if PCs can do it to an NPC, an NPC can do the same back. Hope that makes sense, low on coffee right now.

  2. In a more general sense, also think about the effects of watching a messy weapon at work from the perspective of the enemy if they’re intelligent creatures or human: if you’re pitting the PCs against a small swarm of something like goblins or kobolds, the sight of watching one of their comrades explode against “messy” hammer might cause the rest to flee where a normal killing blow would not.

  3. Undead can survive grievous injuries and keep fighting (with suitably lessened effectiveness). Don’t use them all the time, but if you want to go full-on gorepocalypse a room full of zombies can give the messy-wielder a chance to strut their stuff while still being challenged.

  4. It came up in my game last night. I had the barbarian take a messy claw wound so I had her holding in her guts and taking ongoing damage until she could find some healing. In return she was cleaving monsters apart, but in all honesty she was killing everything with one hit so it didn’t have a mechanical effect

  5. Messy doesn’t always mean your ax is going to be cleaving off arms and legs, I just means it has the potential to. If they are aiming for something specific, it’s a good way to reward the players.

    “Your opponent is keeping his shield up preventing you from striking his head or center.”

    “Then I want to sweep low, and strike his feet.”

    “Roll + STR.”

    “11 after adding my strength.”

    “Excellent. His shield blinds him to your attack, and by the time he notices what you’re doing your ax has already bitten into his leg, breaking the bone and almost cutting all the way through.”

    The reason I let him cut the leg, is because he was specifically targeting it, and he rolled a +10. Naturally there is no rule for this. So you might decided the enemy has to much armor so he’d need a +12 or even more in order to take their arm off. Maybe you have it only trigger on doubles. It’s up to you the GM to decided.

  6. Against players: I try to emphasize that this is an injury that isn’t going to heal on its own. They’re going to want to find a magic healer if they want to keep that leg.

    Against enemies: Eh, they’re gonna die anyway. Each hit limits what they might do next, but they still get to do something!

  7. IMO it’s not being a fan of the player to give characters with messy tags monsters with acidic blood and regenerative capabilities. If my players with messy tags make a good roll, they get an opportunity to describe some cinematically cool kill. I love messy. Consequently, monsters with messy attacks are bad news. Very bad news.

  8. The common thread I’m seeing here is when a player uses messy bits fall off of bad guys and you need to come up with a different compromise. This concerns me.

    If I put a barbarian up against a T-Rex and he hits it with his sword, he’s gonna fictionally cripple it in one go. And it won’t have been a Defy Danger to get to do that thing where a 7-9 means getting stepped on. I can’t put a clock on it and make it take more than one roll. It’s a passive bonus he gets for hitting it with a sword.

    (I’m familiar with the 16 HP dragon essay, by the way. I know getting into position to hit a T-Rex with a sword is hard and takes a lot of work. But it does happen.)

    I guess my concern is this: is this the intent? Am I reading this wrong? If this is the intent, that’s cool. If I don’t like it I can change it. But before I do I want to make sure it’s not me that needs changing. 😊

  9. It can be OP, but it depends on the fiction. So it’s great in the moment (Messy might be used to scare the minions nearby, for example), but it doesn’t mean more damage and isn’t necessarily OP ~per~say~. Sure; you might hack something off during your attack, but that approach also leaves evidence and your character bloody, also it was probably loud if it is so messy and the noise could give away your location.

  10. Dylan Green messy damage vs a t-Rex doesn’t necessarily mean it’s crippling. It might be the fictional justification needed for being able to roll damage in the first place.

  11. Jeremy Strandberg​ that’s an interesting read. I wouldn’t have considered saying messy is the justification for damaging a T-Rex is clever. I may steal that. 😊 That being said, I don’t think it’s the intent of the tag.

  12. I don’t think the tags really have “intents”. They’re descriptors to be used in your fiction.

    In some books, the type of slug used in the Prothan Slugthrower 976 is critical to understanding the fiction. In others, the protagonist just “fires his gun”.

  13. Aaron Griffin Perhaps intent is the wrong word. But, clearly there are ways to use a tag wrong, which implies that if there isn’t a “right” way to use them there are certainly better ways to use them. (Honestly, I’m pretty sure we’re intended to use these better methods) I’m curious about ways to use this tag better but, personally, I’d like those choices to be supported by the game’s design rather than only what “feels right” to me as a GM.

  14. Dylan Green beyond saying something absurd like “the messy tag makes them want to hug you” I can’t really see a way to use it wrong.

    In my game, I tend to use messy as “hard to heal” wounds that you can’t just throw spells at, or else they heal wrong.

  15. Dylan Green the only thing we really have to go on is this text: “It does damage in a particularly destructive way, ripping people and things apart.”

    The only thing that is doing is informing fiction, which in turn informs the conversation at the table. But it’s just informing fiction, not overriding it.

    Like, my knife isn’t messy. But when a stab a pixie with it, it’s gonna get messy.

    Likewise, a mighty axe could be messy, and tend to lop off the limbs of foes similar to me in size. But against a beast that’s as long as a schoolbus? I’m happy that its cutting deep enough to notice! (And my knife? It ain’t gonna notice my knife.)

  16. Aaron Griffin you make a good point about what is wrong. I’ve tried to include an example below.

    Jeremy Strandberg and when I as the player say “It says right here “rips things apart” I hit your school bus monster with my sword. Why wasn’t it ripped apart?” (This, by the way, is “using it wrong” as I see it. It’s wrong for a couple or reasons. It’s either fictionally inappropriate and/or its seeking an unearned mechanical advantage)

    You say… because it’s ridiculous and violates how we all see the story. (This is why its wrong to always rip everything apart with a messy weapon). Remember last time where X happened that justified this concept in the fiction?

    So we talk it out and, as a table, make a judgement call that in our game even though messy says “rips things apart” there are some things it doesn’t actually rip apart because it’s silly, and we don’t want to play a silly game. (Or alternately, we decide we do want to play a silly game, or you had a good fictional position on the soft underbelly of the thing and messy applies, etc).

    Cool. That all makes sense. I forgot that we’re all supposed to talk about what works and doesn’t in the fiction (and why) like adults and even if the tag says “rips things apart” its our job (players and GM’s) to apply that or not on a case-by-case basis based on what makes the fiction coherent, interesting, and appropriate.

  17. Despite what my previous post sounds like, in Dungeon World, it all starts and ends with the fiction. So my application of the messy tag is completely in the context of the established fiction. In some cases, a good roll by the PC with the messy tag would allow a cool cinematic auto-kill of a monster(s), but in other cases the messy tag would fictionally take on something else. Start and end with the fiction always.

  18. I played a barbarian once. He literally ripped peoples faces off. When he used his knife, he didn’t use it to simply kill, he celebrated in their guts. It told a story of somebody who was just not able to hold back their ultraviolence.

    I don’t think +messy was overpowered. But you better not allow it to be optional, neither the barbarians ultraviolence fighting style or a great weapon of war. They always go big.

  19. Have your PC describe their weapon to you and what makes it messy. Hooked claws that tear? A giant sword with a serrated blade? A mace covered in mean spikes? Then imagine a monster actually getting hit with that weapon and how it would affect them.

    Make sure to describe the action and the wound to buy yourself some time think about it/help you brainstorm/make it fun.

    An example from my game was when a fighter got a 10+ on an attack against a huge snake using his Final Fantasy sized sword. The snake recoiled from the severe pain caused by the gaping wound, giving another PC the chance to attack. Even after that, the wound was still there, so the snake had to move a little slower than it otherwise would have.

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