Hey guys looking for help for a new GM.

Hey guys looking for help for a new GM.

Hey guys looking for help for a new GM. On about my 5th session for my first campaign, can feel myself getting better a little at a time but my group has three tanks in it (Fighter, Barbarian and Paladin) i’m struggling to challenge them in combat. I know I should be trying to make it difficult for them fictionally but I’m having a hard time. Been able to challenge them in other way “traps / roleplaying challenges” but can anyone help me with making the combat more of a challenge?

21 thoughts on “Hey guys looking for help for a new GM.”

  1. Do your combats have objectives, or are they just arena brawls breaking up the exploration? One of the simplest ways to take the fangs off of a damage-heavy party is to introduce complications that keep different party members occupied doing other important things.

  2. Enemies that are difficult to reach, that can disappear and reappear somewhere else, flying enemies, enemies that can ensnare them. Also think about the environment, swamps are good to slow them down and hide enemies, use elevated positions, ravines and bridges, obstacles. Use environments that can change (collapse /crumble) or that has stored kinetic energy – like Patrick Stewart suggested for cinematic effects.

    And don’t forget to root for them while they struggle!

    falsemachine.blogspot.nl – Held Kinetic Energy in Old School Combat Arenas

  3. By choosing a Fighter, Barbarian, and Paladin, the players are flagging that they want cool fights, and they want to be good at it.

    Here’s what I would do: Give them hordes! Especially hordes with the “organized” tag. I like treating the d10-damage classes like they can handle a bunch of soldiers at one time. Throw a whole mess of spear goblins at them, and let the heroes tear through them like Kleenex, and let the goblins keep coming and calling more goblins!

    Give the enemy force a mix of “units”, with different roles and tactics that support each other. Maybe just behind the goblins they have a few ogres who rip up the trees, smash stuff, pick up and hurl the good guys, throw boulders at them, maybe even throw spear goblins at them. You can even have them stomp on the goblins to reach the heroes and smash any structures or shields they use for cover. Don’t fret about throwing in a goblin orkaster with her insidious magic either. And artillery or snipers who can hit the heroes from afar in some way! Warg-riding goblins that can knock enemies prone before mauling them! Having a complex and varied battle will force the players to make critical choices about what enemies to engage, and it will trigger a bunch of their moves besides just H&S.

    Victory will be so much sweeter if the battle is a real challenge in which they don’t know if they’ll live. Even moreso if one or more heroes take their Last Breath!

    I went all in on a goblin-based fight, but you could do the same with any organized horde.

    Create assets and resources or dangers in the battlefield itself. These won’t necessarily be pointed at the heroes, but if they take note, and maybe discern realities, they might be able to use any of the above against their enemies.

    Don’t be afraid to show the downside of these classes, and create opportunities in which other classes might shine. The Fighter/Barbarian/Palladin combo might have faster reflexes and clearer heads in combat than the Cleric or Ranger, but there’s a reason those other classes exist in Dungeon World. Showing them problems that can’t (obviously) be overcome with force of arms will provide contrast that reinforces what they are awesome at.

    Find other stuff in the fiction that the heroes care about, and paint a target on that stuff! They might be able to hew through martial opposition, but will that help them protect the rainbows and flowers and frollicking children and other stuff?

    My last session unintentionally put our Barbarian in exactly this position: d6.beardedbaby.net – The Flameghoul Reloaded. Dungeon World, Planets Collide, Session 16

    We’ll be picking up the pieces this weekend!

    That’s all for now! I hope it helps.

  4. Carl James Black, I wouldn’t say that what any of us posted is “the” “correct way” to think about combat, just some dials you can turn up or down as needed.

    I’m curious how you’ve been thinking about combat in a different way? What has worked, and what hasn’t?

    The hard part for me to get a handle on was when to make hard versus soft moves. I accidentally nerfed an evil wizard in my first Dungeon World run—simply by making too many soft moves and not seizing on golden opportunities—and they killed him in one “round”.

    And the example with the goblins and ogre was drawn from my very next session, which killed the Fighter. At the time, I was afraid that I was hitting too hard with the hard moves. But now that I’m more comfortable with the system, it doesn’t bother me at all. Hit hard when it suits the situation, make everyone sweat it out to see what happens—even yourself!

    If a fight feels like a forgone conclusion, it should be because one side strategized and stacked the deck, not because one side is just swinging their weapons until they fall down. 😉

    That goes with anything in DW. If we frame a scene and I feel myself thinking “I know exactly what’s going to happen”, it’s time to use my GM moves to add complications that push the players to make meaningful choices. You can’t play to find out what happens if you’ve solved the problem before showing it to the players.

  5. In this situation, the spiteful GM in me would come out. Lead them on with some really weak guys. Goblin Scouts or just Bandits. Stuff they can kill without even having to roll. Then i’d pull a curveball on them. Something that they’d have to think to overcome, such as a wizard whose attacks can cut right through armor, or worse, mind control requiring WIS saves (something they’re likely not good at). And if they start beating that, let them.

    Its final spell would summon forth an abomination capable of not just tearing through armor, but tearing it off.

    See how well they handle themselves without their tin cans.

    Of course, that’s all just to scare them a little.

  6. 1) Make them work for the chance to Hack & Slash. Immunity to normal weapons, high mobility, reach, superhuman skill or reflexes, being vulnerable in only certain areas… these are all great.

    When they describe an attack that doesn’t account for these “blocks,” either tell them the requirements or consequences (if it’s something that’d be obvious) or reveal an unwelcome truth and possibly put them in a spot (if the defense wasn’t obvious).

    E.g. “It’s a nine-foot tall bronze statue, moving of it’s own accord. You’re pretty sure that whacking it with your ax ain’t gonna do squat. You still want to try?”

    E.g. “Their clumped together behind a shield wall, a bristling phalanx of pikes between you and them. You’ll need to get past those if you want land a blow. What do you?”

    E.g. “Yeah, hold up… don’t roll Hack and Slash. You step in swinging, and the old man slaps your blade aside with his open palm, effortlessly, and while you’re processing that he steps in toward you with chop at your neck, you’ve barely got time to react and your weapon is out of position, what do you do?”

    2) Don’t “Deal Damage,” make GM/monster moves that happen to also involve dealing damage. What Aaron Griffin said, basically. There’s an oft-overlooked bit in the book that says “‘deal damage’ is a move, but other moves may include damage as well. When an ogre flings you against a wall you take damage as surely as if he had smashed you with his fists.”

    So when they attack the monster and “expose themselves to its attack,” don’t just deal their damage die. Instead…

    Put them in a spot: “It’s tendrils lash out around your neck SQUEEZE, crushing your throat, lifting you off the ground. Take d10+1 damage and you’re hanging there by your throat, what do you?

    Reveal an unwelcome truth: “The goblin’s blade nicks you, barely a scratch, but holy cow it burns, burns like nothing. Take d6 damage (ignores armor), and you notice that the goblin’s blade has some unsavory looking green slime on it. Poison!”

    Use up their resources: “WHAM, the ogre’s club slams down on your shield and smashes it back into your face. Take 1d8+3 damage and the shield just collapses on your arm, worthless.”

    Separate them: “Okay, so you smash your ax into the weak spot on the treant, but before you can pry the ax free it just swats you and sends you flying, like 20 feet back into the brush. Take d8+3 damage from the blow.”

    Show a downside of their gear: “The orc’s hammer smashes on the side of you helmet, take d6+1 damage, but more than that, the face plate twists to the side and your ears are ringing and you can’t see anything and you hear the orc growl and just know its about to swing again.”

    3) Throw harder and harder moves at them, even as “soft” moves. Like, don’t just attack the fighter. Unleash a cone of flames that threatens the fighter and all the party’s followers/hirelings and the wizard all at once. Show how the huge stone golem smashes things likes a wrecking ball, and that if they get hit they’re looking at having bones ground to dust, and then follow up on that.

  7. I guess part of my problem is just being new to being a GM. I know I definitely don’t think dangerous enough and sometimes I struggle to come up with a GM move that is interesting which is probably my bigger problem I guess. But I really want to do this so i’m going to keep at it.

  8. Keep in mind that not every GM move needs to be genius: obvious is okay, and often times it’s better, because obvious means it’s tied to what is already going on — which is how it should be. You want your GM Moves to act like a house of cards, or a row of dominos: a bunch of little pieces, set up in respect to one another.

    If you want to train your ability to make GM Moves, I recommend watching good adventure movies — Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Jason Bourne movies — and making yourself study the action as it happens. When something happens that changes the action and puts the protagonist in a situation, in a large or subtle way, make a note of it and keep watching… watch for how that situation twists and turns or shifts. Indiana Jones is great for this: ask for a relic, get told no, nazis attack, the bar is now on fire — escalation, building on itself.

  9. Carl James Black, everybody is bad before they get good, and the willingness to keep doing it is what will make you better!

    What Alfred Rudzki said about being obvious may sound counterintuitive, but it has improved my GMing 10-fold. When you’re not wracking your brain for something clever, your brain will give you ideas more fluidly, and saying what is obvious to you will keep the game moving. And then, maybe 10% of the time, what’s obvious to you will be a spark of surprise, delight, or brilliance for the rest of the table.

    Another thing I’ve found helpful for practice is taking a situation, and imagine applying all the standard GM moves. I sometimes take a moment in my most recent session and imagine how it could have gone if I used different GM moves, one by one.

    For example, in Session 2 of my current campaign, the Bard was exploring a clock tower when he met a gnome working on the gears.

    The gnome was surprised to see a stranger, so the Bard told him “Didn’t you hear, I’m the new manager!” The player looked to me, so I had to make a GM move.

    – Reveal an unwelcome truth: “You can’t trick me, stranger. I should know the new manager, since I’m him! Just started today.” What do you do?

    – Show signs of an approaching threat: Suddenly the clockwork engine starts rattling and rocking violently, and the gnome says “Never mind! This thing is about to blow. Get outa my way!” What do you do?

    – Use up their resources: A look of relief dawns over the gnome’s face and he immediately pulls out a scroll and says “I’m so glad you’re here! Here’s the project schedule, and you can see in my notes all the things that have gone wrong!” As the scroll unfurls and rolls across the floor revealing 14 feet of lists and addenda, the gnome prattles on and on, as you hear the time ticking loudly by. Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk. What do you do?

    – Give an opportunity that fits a class’s abilities: “Morale has been pretty low around here ever since Buruck put us on double shifts. If only we could hear a song to remind us of our days in the sylvan wilds…” What do you do?

    As you can see, none of these are clever at all, but that’s not the point. The point is to change the situation in some way, and keep the fiction moving.

    A situation came up in my very last session where I did it badly. A situation came up, and it didn’t seem to go anywhere, until we moved the spotlight to another character. Afterward, wondering what happened, I realized what was missing was GM moves.

    Every time the player looked to me, I described the immediate situation—one of the 4 GM tasks in DW—but I forgot to make a move to change or escalate the situation in a meaningful way. It became a sort of aimless banter. That should not happen in Dungeon World.

    It was a short exchange, and it certainly didn’t ruin the session. There’s no shame in acknowledging the mistake, and I’m not going to grovel. But noticing it helps me think ahead and do it better next time!

  10. No to Don’t Deal Damage

    I know a lot of folks are saying not to deal damage but this is actually what killed playing Dungeon World for me. It is pretty much the worst advice that seems clever when you start doing it but in the long term is very harmful.

    The players are choosing advanced moves that converse with damage – if you invalidate their choices you are saying that their character is pointless and you are punishing them for not knowing better.

    Don’t ignore damage, try to find new narrative ways of exploring damage. Discuss types of damage with players, resistences, immunities, etc. Your players are all about the damage, nurture that, don’t make fun of it.

  11. Aaron Steed, when Aaron Griffin said pretend the “deal damage” move doesn’t exist, I think he was referring to what Jeremy Strandberg wrote above.

    Let it not be said that I flinch from dealing damage! That would be bad for my reputation. 😉

    > Victory will be so much sweeter if the battle is a real challenge in which they don’t know if they’ll live. Even moreso if one or more heroes take their Last Breath!

    > Hit hard when it suits the situation, make everyone sweat it out to see what happens—even yourself!


    > If a fight feels like a forgone conclusion, it should be because one side strategized and stacked the deck, not because one side is just swinging their weapons until they fall down. 😉

    And of course, every single alternative to deal damage that Jeremy Strandberg listed ALSO DEALT DAMAGE.

  12. Aaron Steed​ I didn’t say ignore damage or not to deal damage. My advice was to pretend the move didn’t exist and then determine how you’d fight the PCs.

    Damage should be an afterthought for cinematic battles. It should be more of a triggered move than a GM move.

    “The Minotaur charges toward you, your back at the edge of the cliff. …. Oh shit, rolled a 4. The Minotaur tucks his head and sends you careening over the cliff. Take some harm from that fall! It’ll be… let’s say 2d6”

  13. I had the same problem in my game. Ultimately solved it by making the NPCs’ goals something other than “kill the PCs.” If, when the PCs show up, the BBEG flees, leaving his minions to slow the PCs down while he goes off to complete his evil plan, it doesn’t matter that they can slaughter their way through the minions. They will still lose if they can’t find a way to keep the BBEG grounded. And a Fighter, Paladin and Barbarian might not have too many options to do that.

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