So I’m struggling a bit with my shape-shifting Druid.

So I’m struggling a bit with my shape-shifting Druid.

So I’m struggling a bit with my shape-shifting Druid. From advice I’ve garnered elsewhere, the best way to keep this extremely powerful ability in check is to make sure the misses hurt. But this Druid is rolling really well and has a good WIS, so he almost never misses.

One of the things I find tricky about the move is that the only downside to rolling 7-9 is that you get 2 hold instead of 3. Is it permissible or wise to also give a subtle additional downside, like slightly weaker animal form moves?

Right now the biggest issue is that he has a few go-to combat forms that I’ve consistently given lethal moves for. For instance, he turns into rhinoceros, so I say “you can stamp a terrifying warning or charge with your horn”. Of course, since he already has the hold, he can charge and kill most things pretty much for free. It feels like maybe this is not working as intended.

Maybe it’s just a matter of the combat flow? His background is that the transformation is extremely quick, so I’ve let him immediately use an animal move after transforming. This has lead to some cool sequences, but maybe it would work better if I made a soft move to intensify the danger a bit after a successful transformation?

36 thoughts on “So I’m struggling a bit with my shape-shifting Druid.”

  1. Why are the moves you gave him lethal? What are the moves? He should just be doing normal druid damage in animal form (or else he has no reason to take some of the advanced moves)

  2. Aaron Griffin I was thinking that too, wondering why the damage boosts would be needed. I think where I’m struggling is how to rationalize it in the fiction. If a rhino gores you with his horn, you’re probably dead. The way you’d generally get around that is by dodging out of the way. But monsters don’t get to dodge in response to the rhino’s charge, because he doesn’t roll for the move (he already rolled for the hold.)

    Is it just a matter of rolling damage, then rationalizing like “you charge at the monsters and they get banged up while desperately leaping out of the way”?

  3. Let ’em.

    Let them be awesome, but maybe dont allow for complete K.O. You can/should have them roll damage.


    Dang, i got ninja’ed

    And yes, roll damage and play out the scene. Remeber that its not just a swing of a sword or ram of a horn, its a complete fight scene.

  4. Spending 1 hold to “Charge with your horn” does not mean instant death. It means the Druid-rhino charges with his horn successfully. You can rule that it’s insta-doom for, say, a goblin. But you can also say “cool, you charge their ass, roll damage!”

    Look at their damage roll, the opponent’s hit points, and narrate appropriately. Bring in the fiction of rhino charging your ass but respect the damage roll. They roll 2 vs 3hp? “Yeah, you swat that goblin aside, he goes flying! Ranger, you see him land in a heap, but he’s crawling to his feat and about to bolt into the woods! What do you do?”

    Also, don’t forget to show the downsides of the druid’s moves. A charging rhino does not stop or change course lightly. “Okay, cool, you plow through the goblins and scatter them! But just past them, you spot a weird clearing in the wood with a… blanket? Tarp? Something in your still-lucid brain is warning you to stop, that this a trap, but you’re hurling headlong right at it. What do you do?”

  5. Robert Doe But if damage stays the same, it means that whacking the thing with his staff would’ve been safer/smarter than turning into a rhino and charging? I love the awesome sequences, but just trying to figure out how they’re intended to play out.

  6. Dan Bryant you think a rhino’s horn is any more insta-kill than a barbarian’s club or a big battle axe or a punch from a hill giant?

    Just because the druid looks like a rhino, doesn’t mean he’s actually all that good at fighting like a rhino or even charging in a straight line. Roll some damage, maybe it’s a glancing blow, maybe they take the brunt of it with their forearms, maybe it just shatters their shield…

    Your druid feels powerful because you’re making him that way. A druid fighting as a rhino certainly has permission to do all sorts of things, but he’s still limited by the need to Defy Danger, Hack and Slash, and the like.

  7. Yep, thats DW for you. The druid is more use to using a staff and how to bonk a goblin on the head. Becoming another creature is tough and he cant do it as well as a real rhino might be able

    Its even written in the rules. A dagger in the hands of a fighter does more damage than in the hands of a wizard…. Why? Because the dagger isnt doing the damage

  8. Dan Bryant​ the druid eventually gets moves that makes animal forms better than hitting with a staff if they want to do that. Consider what benefits rhino form can have OUT of combat, too! “Druid, they barricaded the door, rhino charge it!”

  9. The Druid is way, way not better off with the staff than the rhino horn.

    Mechanically, player rolls+WIS to shapechange and on 7-9 gets 2 hold with no immediate consequences. Spend 1 hold for damage. Still have 1 hold. Have suffered no consequence. GM probably makes a soft move at you, but you can react. You’ve even got that 1 hold still.

    Hit it with his staff = hack and slash, roll+STR (almost certainly worse than WIS), with a 7-9 meaning damage +suffer an attack.

    Fictionally, the rhino can attack things the humanoid Druid can’t. “I whack the stone golem with my staff.” “Okay, it bounces off and does nothing. Your hand is numb. The golem swings its might fist at you, what do you do?” Vs “I spend 1 hold to charge the stone golem’s ass.” “Cool, roll damage!”

    The damage is also fictionally different. Rhino charge damage will be effectively forceful, possibly messy and ignores armor or even area of effect. A staff causes bruises, broken noses, concussions if you’re lucky.

  10. Okay, it’s starting to make a bit more sense now. It’s taking some time to get used to the combat abstractions in DW. I’ll just have to level with my poor Druid and tell him, sorry, I read the rules wrong and, no, you can’t instantly kill everything anymore. 🙂

    Also, that idea of the charging rhino opening up a whole new danger is brilliant; I’m absolutely going to use that if an opportunity presents itself. 🙂

  11. Jeremy Strandberg Very good points. I do definitely still want him to have fun with his rampages and I think there will still be lots of things flying around, just not so much instant-death of monsters. 🙂 That and I do still have some evil ideas in mind for if he ever rolls a miss…

  12. Jeremy Strandberg​​

    I agree with the first mechanical analysis of shapeshift vs H&S

    But your second analysis of the fictional aspect sounds more like D&D and its other incarnation.

    The rhino is essentially a weapon, and the druid spends most of his time as a human/elf rather than a rhino. Sure, shapeshift opens up more moves, but the characters ability to control the animal form will cause its damage to be par with a human form using a staff.

    I recognize you cant charge down a wall with a staff, but in a complicated fight seen with another creature, many actions occure that would reduce the mechanical damage the rhino form can produce

  13. On a side note, he also just picked up “Elemental Mastery”, which is another crazy open-ended, potentially quite powerful, yet possibly cataclysmic ability. Should be fun. 🙂

  14. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll just chime in with my modification to the Shapeshifter move, which I came up with for exactly the reasons you state… there’s no real downside to the 7-9 result.

    In my house-ruled version, the 7-9 result becomes: hold 2, but also choose one:

    * You draw unwelcome attention (possibly from the local wildlife) or put yourself in a spot. The GM will tell you how.

    * The spirits tire of your demands; take -1 ongoing to Shapeshifter until you spend some time quietly communing with the land.

    * The animal spirit takes a strong hold; you are not completely in control, and the spirit will take time or effort to dismiss when you try to leave this form.

  15. Robert Doe “your second analysis of the fictional aspect sounds more like D&D…”


    My second analysis is: being a rhino opens up fictional possibilities that being a human with a stick doesn’t have. Like dealing damage to a hunk of living stone. It’s the whole “fighter with a mundane sword doesn’t get to hack and slash the Apocalypse Dragon, unless he can fictionally position ’emself first” concept.

    It’s not like I’m talking about Damage Reduction 10/magic or “+1 or better weapons to hit” or anything particularly D&Dish.

    I think you’re saying (in your last two paragraphs) that, because the druid’s damage die doesn’t change, the attack is effectively the same between a druid-with-a-staff and a druid-as-rhino.

    But that’s like say that because their STR stays the same when they’re a rhino, the druid doesn’t actually get any stronger. Of course they’re stronger. And any misses you roll on a STR roll (or any other miss even) should probably reflect the misapplication or consequences of that rhinoscerian strength. And of course a rhino charge is going to generate more consequential damage than a guy with a stick. It’s not doing any more HP damage, but that just means it’s no more likely to take any given foe out of the fight. The fictional consequences are still the fictional consequences.

    Like, I do 2 HP damage to a 3HP goblin with a staff, GM’s like “you smack him hard in the face, hearing this crunching sound as his nose breaks. He reels back, blood flowing all over his face as he snarls a leaps at you what do you do?”

    I do 2 HP with the fighters messy forceful axe? “You fuckin’ lop his leg off in a spray of blood! He drops to the ground, blinking, in shock really, but he’s still brandishing his rusty knife at you and snarling, what do you do?”

    I do 2 HP with a rhino charge? “You don’t impale him with your horn or anything, but give him a good SMASH and send him flying, he lands in a heap. As you wheel around, you see him get to his feet, wobbling a bit, and starts running in a crooked line into the woods. What do you do?”

  16. You say the transformation is extremely quick.  We had always played that the need to make a move to transform tempered the shapeshift ability to some degree.  Whereas the Fighter could H&S every round, the Druid had to stop to use a move to shapeshift again after using up hold.  Otherwise, you are giving the Druid back to back moves every time he shapeshifts.  Given it is in his background, maybe he only insta-transforms on a 10+ and the 7-9 is slower (so he can’t instantly attack).

    Also, keep in mind that even though he does not need to roll to make the animal move, that does not mean he never has to roll.  Either because of fictional positioning or the 7-9 shapeshift result, you can always introduce a complication that forces a roll.

    -As you transform, you realize the recent rains have made the ground between you and the target treacherous mud.  Roll Defy Danger + Str to muscle through the muck.

    -You rush the Ogre, but he is in close melee with the Fighter.  Roll Defy Danger + Dex to avoid catching your compatriot in the charge. 

    -As you charge the Giant, he uses his reach to swing the tree trunk at you as you cross open ground.  Roll Defy Danger + Dex to avoid his attack as you rush his legs.

    In addition, remember the downside of the animal moves.  Charging is not an instantaneous event.  The Rhino form needs some room to get up a head of steam for the charge.  If the target is near the Rhino form, the can’t just move a few feet as a charge as it is the mass of the Rhino coupled with the momentum that does the damage.  For example, the attack may be delayed as the Druid has to circle out and back to get up to speed or it may give a golden opportunity a the Druid clears the melee opening himself up to the enemy archers waiting for a clear shot.

    Being a fan of the players, you can couple complications with rewards.  On a 7-9 roll, the trio of Orcs you are charging brace and form a wall of spears.  Roll Defy Danger to avoid getting impaled.  On a success, you can let him smash into the line, possibly letting his damage roll apply to all 3 Orcs and knocking them all to the ground.

    Finally, when designing animal moves, you don’t have to give every monster an attack move. Try to think about what is unique to the animal and design accordingly.  This may be helpful:

  17. Rhinos have TERRIBLE eyesight. Just pointing that out.

    Rodents are small and can get into tight spaces, but are also very nervous and flighty. Birds are lords of the air, but pretty much useless if you can bring them down or blind them somehow. Large animals make for bigger targets. Predators have a strong drive to hunt and have aggressive instincts. Aquatic creatures are only helpful in very specific situations.

    Don’t forget that just like all classes and equipment have downsides, animal forms have weaknesses too.

  18. I have had a druid get stuck in a tight space because they wanted to go to their elephant-sized wolf form in a normal sized tunnel (the elephant sized wolf was a special gift from an NPC creature). But all in all, if I give a player the move, eviscerate someone, I have it in my head beforehand that the enemies they are fighting are weak enough that they can one hit them with a hold. If it is a big bad, I make them roll damage. I also am a big fan of “be a fan of the characters”, so that also plays into it. The main point is, a druid is only powerful if you let them be. The occasional hard move for a 6- is good enough to ruffle their feathers, like “you turn into the animal, but you can’t control the dormant mind, everything looks like prey” and then make them roll evens or odds to determine if they attack one of their allies. When my wife rolled a 6- and that happened it opened up a whole new front concerning it, with the Grim Portent being, something primal takes over the druid. They had to fix that eventually, but it was a great side quest (plus she got to turn into a t-rex after they completed it). So feel free to give them the occasional hard move, but don’t make them afraid to use shapeshift. Sometimes it’s better just to advance the story than hit the player where it hurts. Monsters are disposable, your players having a good time is priceless.

  19. Scott Selvidge

    Yeah, still working on the right balance.  The main reason I brought it up is that I felt the Ranger was getting overshadowed somewhat in combat by the fact that the Druid had instant-lethal moves.  I mean, he was still contributing a lot and I think he was still having fun, but he was having to work hard to get his shots, sometimes putting himself in a spot when rolling a 7-9 on Volley.  The Druid, on the other hand, was rhino-izing a lot of encounters, with the 7-9 just resulting in one fewer enemy he could eviscerate.

    The discussion here has been very helpful, though, so thanks all for the contributions.  It’s helped me to rethink combat a bit in DW and understand better the scale of the abstraction (i.e. the damage roll is for an overall combat sequence, not one particular contact of staff/horn/whatever with one particular enemy.)  I can also see how, even with the damage roll, transforming is still extremely powerful.

    I think the scaled-back power level will help a lot with making combat feel more dangerous, which is a good thing. 🙂

  20. Remember, as druid you can only “take on the physical form of any species whose essence you have studied or who lives in your land.” It’s easy to forget that a druid can’t just turn into ANY animal he or she wants. Use the “Born of the Soil” move as a limit and balancer to their shape shifting power. Is the rhino native to the particular terrain type they’ve chosen as their homeland? How does your player’s druid know what a rhino looks like?

  21. David Stahler Jr. He’s from the Whispering Plains, which would definitely include rhinos, assuming they live in this world (which, apparently, they do.) He’s done a pretty good job on selecting animals native to the region. The main slip we’ve had was the eagle, which some later research revealed to be more taiga/forest dwelling rather than operating in the plains.

  22. I see a lot of advice here.  One thing that keeps going through my mind is that Shapeshift allows for you to use an animal Move.  Key word here is Move.  That implies that they will need to roll something.  And that something is not always successful.  Yes they shapeshift into the animal and use the hold to perform a move.  Just because you are a bird does not mean that the bird can instantly peck someones eye out.  They do miss.  Now it does mean that they can fly, for the cost of a hold.  Flying away is a passive thing.  Yes, he could fly away, as say a pigeon but you as the GM can continue to push him.  Like “you fly away from the ogre, reveling in the power of flight, a shadow casts across you and you look up.  A Hawk is diving down fast for a tasty morsel of pigeon, What do you do?” *(showing the downside of a Move as a Soft Move)  That would most likely be some sort of taking cover or evasion.  Oh, look they now must make a Defy Danger as a bird and use up another Hold or turn into an elf in midair.  Boom, damage from falling, or another Defy Danger depending on the fiction.

    So you see, it really isn’t that powerful, if you think about the fiction.  It should just provide options and some neat abilities that are accentuated by creativity.  Yes, reward the player for creativity but with in reason.  If there is a doubt that they could “miss” or some uncertainty if the Move will work, have them roll (using what could be the new form’s stat modifier, a rhino’s strength could be a +2 or +3).  If it is something in the fiction that is obvious then let them spend the hold and just do it.  If the goal of the charging Rhino is not to damage but to disperse a group and split it up, then sure, no roll.  If the Charging Rhino is trying to deal damage against a target that is prepared for combat, have a roll.  This is letting the fiction roll with it.  Yes, this means that a cleaver player might never have to roll, but that is being a fan of the character.  Wanting your player’s character to get creative and provide drama and fun.  Push them to do so.  Don’t give them a free pass.

    Just my overly worded 2 cents.

  23. Matrix Forby Monsters have Moves also, but the GM doesn’t need to roll for them. Monster Moves are activated as a GM Move without a roll, just as the Animal Moves from shapeshifting are activated by the Druid spending a hold (again, no roll required). Each Animal Form will have a small number of moves associated with it that the hold can be used on, any other actions taken in animal form will require trigger of a regular move.

  24. Robert Finamore Yes, Monster’s Moves are triggered by the PC’s Moves but the PC must still trigger the move.  This means that anything that triggers a Move will still do so, even if it is an animal Move of the player.  Here is from the sheet that I have:

    “You may take on the physical form of any species whose essence you have studied or who lives

    in your land: you and your possessions meld into a perfect copy of the species’ form. You have

    any innate abilities and weaknesses of the form: claws, wings, gills, breathing water instead of

    air. You still use your normal stats but some moves may be harder to trigger—a housecat will

    find it hard to do battle with an ogre. The GM will also tell you one or more moves associated

    with your new form. Spend 1 hold to make that move. Once you’re out of hold, you return to

    your natural form. At any time, you may spend all your hold and revert to your natural form.”

    This indicates that you can still do other things but doing something specific to an animal Move still uses your stats: Hence it triggers a Move and a roll.  The fact that you get to use the hold to do an animal Move does not nullify the need to make the roll for the Move.  Now if the fiction was the Rhino was defending against an attack, being bigger and armored, The player would spend the animal hold on the Defend Move, which doesn’t require a roll, but in the case that is stated most, a Charge, causing damage as the result, that is a Hack&Slash, requires a roll, Move is still spent if you gain any bonuses or is a specific part of the fiction. One example that I would have, a charging Rhino would have a different damage than the Druid, say 2d8b, so the player would roll that.  Unless they want to just to their class damage of d6, then it is handled as a regular Hack&Slash with no Animal Move spent, dispite having a weapon that is better but if they do the damage and get the tags associated with that weapon (charging Rhino, I would give at least Forceful and maybe even Messy) then they use the Hold associated with Shapeshift.

  25. Unfortunately, Matrix Forby, you are not interpreting this correctly. First, Monster Moves aren’t always triggered by a PC Move that requires a roll. For example, a Monster Move could go off because a PC ignores an impending threat or because of some other Golden Opportunity. Second, as stated in the move’s text, you keep all of your regular stats in the animal form. Therefore, you can’t just arbitrarily give the Rhino form a damage die of 2d8. Third, spending the Hold triggers one of the assigned Animal Moves, not one of the Basic Moves. If all the Hold does is trigger a Basic Move, why even bother wasting time shapeshifting? I should just stay in Druid form and Hack & Slash. Suppose I have a T-Rex form with the Animal Move of “Tear something to pieces with my massive jaws.” If I want to stomp on an Orc with my dinosaur foot, I have to roll Hack & Slash and do my normal damage, but if I want to tear the Orc to pieces with my massive jaws, I spend the Hold and the effect just happens, no roll required. You can think of the Hold as representing saved automatic successes with the assigned Animal Moves.

    Fictional positioning does become important here. The T-Rex could easily tear apart an Orc or even an Ogre with its jaws, but it probably couldn’t do that to a massive Dragon. In that case it might be more appropriate to roll normal damage for the jaw attack (but it still wouldn’t require a Hack & Slash roll).

    This interpretation has been corroborated by one of the game’s authors, Sage Latorra. For one such instance, see his second response near the end of the thread for this linked post:

  26. Hmm, interesting point.  I read the Sage Latorra’s response.  In the example it pits a bear up against a goblin.  Not a very even match and to me akin to an attack on unarmed and unprepared combatants.  I can see your point. 

    To respond a bit: I was omitting the Golden Opportunity due to the fact that it was not relevant to the conversation. My point was that what was previously a monster/creature move is now a pc move.  PC moves are triggered by the fiction of their actions.  So giving a Rhino a “Smash an opponent with a charge attack to do extra damage” would be a Move that the PC would be given to do extra damage.  (side note, I said 2d8b, which is roll 2d8 and take the better of the two, not roll 2d8 and add, big difference)  So the Move gained is similar to the Merciless Move that can be taken by a fighter to add +1d4 damage.  The Move comes from the form so that they do their normal Hack&Slash and if they do damage, I can see, due to the fiction, that the player can opt to spend a Hold to increase that damage, per the fiction and per having the form (and extra Animal Moves).  The other Move that could be taken with the Rhino that I discussed does follow your pattern, “Charging Rhino disperses a group of smaller or less dense enemies.”  where the Player expends a hold to simply scatter a group of Orcs or Goblins to make them easier to deal with.  Another one that was suggested is using the Rhino ‘s great strength and ramming ability to break down the door.  This would be a wooden, non-stone or non-metal or fortified door, that we are talking about.  “Rhino Charges and Rams down Door.”  No roll needed, just use a Hold.  Now if it is a fortified stone door, I can see the GM coming up with a door toughness on the spot and having the PC roll for damage to overcome the fortifications.  Same thing if it was a gate at a fort.  According to the fiction, a much tougher target.

    To sum up: Shapeshift turns Animal Moves into PC moves.  These are triggered by the fiction like the other moves.  Not all of the use of the Holds are with out a roll, it depends on the fiction.  Normal Moves or Class Moves can be used, do not normally spend the Hold unless you are using the animal form to gain extra advantage.

    I think we are saying similar things and agreeing, in part, on the rules. 

  27. Matrix Forby Having read through the responses here and also digging through the rules a bit more and watching some excellent play on the RollPlay R&D show (with Steven Lumpkin GMing), I think there’s some flexibility here, but Robert Finamore is describing the intended rules better.

    In particular, the rules specifically state that stats don’t change and the existence of damage improving advanced moves strongly suggests that different animal forms shouldn’t improve damage dice. This is exactly in line with the notion that great swords don’t do more damage than daggers; it’s all about who is wielding it and how.

    In general, the philosophy I’m sensing in the DW rules is that we want to avoid a lot of fiddly manipulation of bonuses/penalties that tend to show up more in other game systems. Misses in DW are less about failing attempted actions and more about controlling the pacing/severity of ongoing danger. A lot of times, misses might even still succeed in the sense of the action that was attempted still happening.

    Damage and HP are also more of a pacing system than an attempt to model actual combat. The real meat of it actually comes from the fiction, where a rhino’s charge can have very meaningful consequences, even if it doesn’t do more ‘damage’ in the HP accounting. The HP, damage and armor stats are all tuned toward maintaining pacing.

    In regards to the Steven Lumpkin game I mentioned, in particular, I did notice him apply a few modifications to rolls (including once in relation to an animal form), but it was done very sparingly. As challenges get ‘harder’, the response isn’t necessarily to make the roll harder, but rather to break it into further complications or to harden the consequences of failure.

    In any case, I don’t think what you’re describing is a bad way to play things (difficulty/damage modifiers work fine in many systems), but it’s a bit outside the intended mechanics for DW, as I understand them so far. It’s a hacking of the system, but if it’s working well for you, that’s what matters.

  28. Dan Bryant Ok, I can see this.  Many people see the Shapeshift as overpowered.  I don’t because of the interpretation that I explained.  Perhaps it would be better to apply weapon tags (such as Forceful in the case of a charging Rhino)  but this is all an ‘on the fly’ interpretation that relies heavily on the fiction of the situation.  Also, I felt it was clumsy to come up with many forms that a Druid could take and assign the Moves to each.  Rather I prefer the method on using a bit of logic about the fiction of the form.  So the animal moves are not set ahead of time.  You just change shape and we give the animal Move based on the form and the fiction of the moment.  To me this seems more organic and natural way of doing things.  So due to this, the “Rhino’s Charge” could have several effects when a Hold is spent.  Some will require a roll but in most cases it wont.  And, yes the damage is based more on training, or raw animal urge.  It’s not a bigger sword or smaller one.  But I was going off of an animal and animal instincts and specialty forms.  If you flip it and equate the animals to NPC Mosters, They have different damage dice.  So why couldn’t it be different with different forms of body and natural attacks.  Just like a wizards spells do different damage dice depending on the spell.  But in either case, it is all up to the fiction to me and the situation of the moment.

  29. Michael Mendoza I suppose the point here is that there are many ways you can run it.  That’s the great thing about PbtA or DW type games, YOU and your group choose how it goes.  You also “play to find out what happens”.    There are many ways to read the rules and the only right way is the way you and your group decide on.  The system also skips the boring stuff and gets to the action.  You do not have players tediously killing goblins to scrape together some coins to buy better gear and get into bigger fights.  Jump to the bigger fights, make it epic, make it exciting, “make it dangerous”.  Sure there are some options, SOME magic items but that is not the currency of this game, FUN is.

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