On another message board, a GM wrote “I liked [Dungeon World] fine

On another message board, a GM wrote “I liked [Dungeon World] fine

On another message board, a GM wrote “I liked [Dungeon World] fine … but my players didn’t. The dissociated mechanics were too weird for them.”

I didn’t know the term “dissociated mechanics”. It comes from http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/17231/roleplaying-games/dissociated-mechanics-a-brief-primer. The brief version is “look at the player’s decision-making process when using the mechanic: If the player’s decision can be directly equated to a decision made by the character, then the mechanic is associated. If it cannot be directly equated, then it is dissociated.”

Most DW moves are associated. Like, in Hack And Slash, “At your option, you may choose to do +1d6 damage but expose yourself to the enemy’s attack.” The character can choose to expose himself for a benefit and a cost.

Some others are disassociated. A Wizard “Cast a Spell” 7-9 option:

*The spell disturbs the fabric of reality as it is cast—take -1 ongoing to cast a spell until the next time you Prepare Spells.

That’s a player choice, not a character choice; the character didn’t choose to disturb the fabric of reality, but the player did. The sort of decision that’s only made GMs, rather than players, in many other RPGs. And some of my correspondent’s players find that weird.

What I’m wondering is: Does it have to be this way?

If the 7-9 Wizard cast a spell were instead:

“✴On a 7-9, the spell is cast, but takes significant extra effort. Choose one:

You make abnormally loud commands and wild gestures. This draws unwelcome attention or puts you in a spot. The GM will tell you how.

You force the spell out through sheer willpower. This disturbs your previous preparation —take -1 ongoing to cast a spell until the next time you Prepare Spells.

You use the spell’s own energy to release itself. After it is cast, the spell is forgotten. You cannot cast the spell again until you prepare spells.”

We get the same effects, recast as player choices. No disassociated weirdness any more.

So then the question is, can we do the same (or similar) for every disassociated move for the benefit of those players who don’t get along with them? Can we find examples where we can’t?


20 thoughts on “On another message board, a GM wrote “I liked [Dungeon World] fine”

  1. I don’t think Cast A Spell choices are player choices. I imagine the caster having a moment of panic, going “fuck fuck I’m not gonna pull this off, I was too hasty…. Maybe if I pull on some of these Astral threads here I can… Hmm or maybe I can funnel my own life force into the spell energies…”

    You could make the inverse argument that choosing +dmg on a Hack and Slash could be a player choice, doing the math on how many HP the goblin has left.

  2. I agree with Aaron Griffin, I don’t think that choice is dissociated – or at least it is trivially easy to explain in an “associated” fashion.

    I personally think Alexandrian’s dissociated mechanic theory has a bunch of flaws anyways, but still.

  3. Could be the people making the original statement were talking about things like Discern Realities. The list-of-questsions moves never work well for me in play, so I could see that being what they meant.

  4. This is actually one of the reasons why I prefer Apocalypse World to Dungeon World, because most (or possibly all) of the moves in AW feature the in-character choices. You can see the dissociation here even more clearly, I think, in the Cast a Spell move for clerics (where the player can end up deciding what their character’s god is doing).

    Also potentially useful for this conversation: http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/38570/roleplaying-games/art-of-rulings-10-fortune-positioning

    I’ve found that many players are made momentarily uncomfortable by the relative oddity (compared to more traditional games) of the fortune-in-the-middle mechanics used in *World games. And I’ve also observed that some people will describe anything they find odd or non-traditional as “dissociated”.

    Even if the mechanic IS associated, it can still be useful to really clearly frame the “midway point” nature of the decision for these players. Describe the first part of the resolution in the fiction, let them make the choice, and then describe the rest of the resolution in the fiction. It will help them transition into the unfamiliar mechanics and figure out how to “interpret” them.

  5. Pretty much what Aaron said, but I’m gonna choose to be a bit more.. ‘real talky’.

    ..Those people are weird. There’s nothing wrong with the way it is. If you’re trying to immerse yourself as your character, then it’s REALLY easy to come up with a fictional reason, as Aaron Griffin did for those ‘player choices’.

    Also at the end there I think you meant ‘recast as character choices’, but really? Those are still all player choices because the player has to make the choice no matter what. The fiction is just included into the choice to begin with.

  6. I always answer Discern Realities question by reference to information that is available to the character. Like, if they ask what is about to happen, I explain what clues they can glean from their surroundings and what they already know, and what their character is able to deduce from that as to what will happen.

  7. I’ve had trouble with BTB Discern Realities too, mainly because I always try to fully inform the players on what clues are available to their characters. I love Vince Baker’s alternative DR moves in the appendix of Seclusium, because the questions are more specific to the situations covered.

  8. Aaron Griffin, if you picked up the recent Bundle of Lamentations, this was included:


    It’s not strictly compatible with Dungeon World, and DR isn’t mentioned, but anyone familiar with DW moves will know what they are looking at, and make the necessary adjustments.

    Baker offers a distinct set of questions for each of these triggers:

    – When you size a situation up…

    – When you size a person up…

    – When you take an enemy’s measure…

    – When you try to make something out,

    by peering or listening intently…

    – For Magic-Users only: When you unveil your inner vision and feel your way outward from yourself…

    The questions are more precisely suited to those situations than the shotgun DR, in my experience.

  9. Here is the beauty of DW or PbtA games (Powered by the Apocolypse) system.  You can tweak anything to suit your game and it is easy to do so.  Want spell work that is draining instead of “ripping the fabric of reality” sure, go for it.    Don’t agree with some of the options on Volley?  Sure alter them.

    Something that a lot of people forget:  The rules are mutable at any given table.  You are not playing a tournament or on a strict rules.  If anything, being a narrative system, the story trumps rules.  You and your players set up the world and make the fun.  A discussion that I had with a friend when I told him that some people didn’t understand the phrase “Fiction First” and he said that perhaps a better way of saying it is the Narration trumps any rules.  Meaning that anything in the story or your descriptions that is true, is true..rules need to conform to that, not the other way around.

  10. I like the alternatives you came up with here Adrian Brooks I think it would be fun to see it move even further in the kind of OSR spell burn (a la Dungeon Crawl Classics) style consequences for a partial success.

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