Quick clarification: when folks are discussing Dungeon World RAW or, playing DW RAW, what exactly does this mean?

Quick clarification: when folks are discussing Dungeon World RAW or, playing DW RAW, what exactly does this mean?

Quick clarification: when folks are discussing Dungeon World RAW or, playing DW RAW, what exactly does this mean? Is that simply playing the game “as originally written” without any home-brew/house rules?

My apologies if this is obvious; I haven’t been active for a bit and I’m seeing the term pop-up quite a lot recently!

34 thoughts on “Quick clarification: when folks are discussing Dungeon World RAW or, playing DW RAW, what exactly does this mean?”

  1. RAW is Rules As Written. So yes, the intention is to play it as close to the rules as possible, with no home-brew stuff and no house ruling unless the text is unclear.

  2. Roy Vieira I’m only one person, but my own attitude about OSR is that you typically don’t/can’t run the rules as written exactly. You have to make rulings. In fact, “rulings not rules” is the mantra. So I would guess that the term RAW is relatively meaningless in an OSR context. Not that they are “anti-RAW” but that it’s a concept foreign to OSR rules sets.

  3. Or it could mean a more casual thing to them – like, I’m running Swords & Wizardry straight; without any major supplements or home-brew stuff.

  4. For me, more than anything it means following the rules that everyone has agreed to—including the rules and procedures for the GM—and not assuming that previous habits and styles of prep and play will serve the game. Some games say the referee’s word is above the letter and spirit of the rules, but Dungeon World does not say that.

    DW has a lot of possible rules and procedures to use as the GM (though not as many as some other games), and it’s a learning curve to become adept at all of them. That mastery isn’t what I mean though. Like, if you haven’t learned to use the Steading rules constructively yet and you just paint the steadings using GM moves during actual play, I would not say that’s a breech of “rules as written”. Same with hirelings (which we’re talking about in another thread—I have a deficit).

    But if you discard the GM moves in order to “go easy” on the players, or “play freeform” in banter with NPCs, for example; or if you seed the setting with “plot hooks” to get the players to follow some preordained sequence of events—those would be well outside the letter AND spirit of the rules.

    To me, RAW explicitly includes the potential for hacking the game. Compendium classes (p349), custom moves (p191), world moves (p345), and adventure moves (p350–351), can each pivot the game mechanics deeper and deeper into territory unique to you and your group. Almost every hero in my current game has taken moves from 1 or more compendium classes, based on their unique adventures and experience—making them unlike any other Bard, Barbarian, or Ranger. I may have written those moves, but the procedure for that is defined in the rules of the game.

  5. Martijn Vos not at all. [Edit – either I misread the question upstream or it was itself edited. I thought it asked if RAW was a DW specific thing.]

  6. Martijn Vos, Ray Otus — I don’t understand what you mean by “The concept of RAW doesn’t belong in DW”. DW has one core rules text, and thus has RAW.

    Granted, we don’t have any form of “official” play, like Adventurers League (and I wouldn’t want to be involved if we did), so clarity about RAW isn’t important like it is for 5e. But we do have a core text — that’s what makes us a community at all — and it’s useful to know what it says. Even if, like me, we’re only trying to understand in order to hack it better.

  7. Rob Alexander I didn’t say it doesn’t belong in DW. I try to play DW RAW. I think 99% of my zine material respects the core RAW.

    I said RAW isn’t specific to DW. And I said it’s not usually an OSR concern.

  8. What I meant with my question is: I know discussions about RAW mostly from games like D&D and Pathfinder where the question of whether to stick strictly to the rules or whether to do/allow whatever makes sense in the fiction, is very relevant. In DW, you always do what makes sense in the fiction, unless it triggers a move.

    So what non-RAW is there? Do you ignore moves when they should apply? Aplly them when you shouldn’t, or apply them differently? To me, it seems like the RAW vs non RAW distinction is less relevant to DW since it’s already about the fiction making sense, whereas in D&D or PF, rules and fiction are frequently in conflict.

    RAW means “rules as written” in contrast to rules as they may be intended, may be interpreted, or should have been written. How sacred is the text of the rules? RAW does not merely mean “the rules”. It’s a specific view on how they should be interpreted. You might call it the biblical literalism of gaming.

  9. Martijn Vos Hmmm… I’m not familiar with those specific kind of discussions, probably because although I play a bit of 5e, and have played Pathfinder, I don’t GM them much and I’m not interested in them as designs to build on.

    When I use “RAW”, I precisely mean “what the literal text of the rules says”. I’m not necessarily interested in playing that way — more likely, I’m trying to understand the RAW so I can think better about the hack I’m writing. I don’t accord the DW book any privileged status in that sense.

    That said, DW is written as a game with specific rules that it tells you to follow strictly. In that sense, it’s closer to Pathfinder or 5e that an OSR ruleset or a rule-zero-heavy “trad” one. And DW, at least nominally, is the unifying text for this forum — the Dungeon World Tavern functions, in part, because we have a common understanding of what the game is we all play. DW’s meta-rule that “the GM follows tight rules too” is one of the most distinctive things about it.

    What I most care about here is clarity in discussion. E.g. I started a recent thread saying “I have experienced problem X” and someone came back with “Do this, do that, you’ll be fine”. And I replied with roughly “Is that RAW? Is that RAI? Is that common practice in this community? Or is that just what you (as one GM I don’t know) happen to do?” I wanted to know so I could weight it accordingly – I trust RAI more than RAW, common practice according to my estimation of the practice community concerned, and one stranger’s local practice least of all.

    (What I really wanted, in that case, was extensive justification of they did what they did, and discussion of alternatives and what effects they might have. Jeremy Strandberg is excellent at this.)

    Do you have an alternative term to “RAW” that you think fits the above use better?

  10. I suppose rules play a different role in DW compared to PF. I admit I don’t have much experience with DW in pratice (it appeals to me, but sadly my group play mostly PF). But it appears to me that rules in DW play a totally different role than in trad games. If trad games, rules either describe what PCs can do ( the most restrictive interpretation, which I hate, but us sadly common in Pathfinder), or how to resolve most of the things you can do.

    My impression is that in DW, some rules describe how to resolve a few of the things you can do, whereas most of the things you can do have no rules and most of the rules are about how the GM should run the game and structure the story. So the rules are about different aspects of te game.

    I remember the RAW vs RAI discussion in trad games from way back in discussions about what to do when players want to do something the rules don’t cover or cover in a way that seems unreasonable. Rules that don’t make sense, that sort of thing. Do you stick to the rules exactly as written (and what are those exactly?) or do you bend or reinterpret them to suit your needs?

    Not to mention that it’s possible the designers meant something other than what it literally says.

  11. It seems like a lot of the big DW fans don’t play RAW, but modify the game a bit to get away from some of the less necessary residue from D&D that shows up in its design, as well as to incorporate innovations in PbtA design that have emerged since DW’s publication.

  12. Jeremy Downey maybe. But Jason and David of DR run DW RAW AFAIK. They add custom moves, but that is encouraged by the book. I don’t think they actually change any rules.

  13. Roy Vieira, I don’t know the answer to that. I have SWM, but I’m reluctant to make any claims about it until I actually have a chance to play. I want to!

    Also, I didn’t mean to act like I’m trying to tell people what they should do with a game: “Hey you! Yeah, you guys, the people who are having the fun over there. Cut it out! You’re having that fun wrong and it’s making me sick!”


  14. Roy Vieira, what I can say is, when I was coming back to the hobby years ago, I was running Trollbabe and writing about it on the Adept Press forum. Based on stuff that came up in actual play, the author of Trollbabe told me maybe this group would have a better time with Tunnels & Trolls. Boy did he hit the nail on the head.

    So, I do think there’s merit to finding a game that is better suited to what you want to do, rather than bending your mind to believe that this game can do anything you want.

  15. Yeah, building on that, I think it’s important that the system that you’re using (which includes the Rules As Written, and how the players are using them at the table) should strongly match the players’ intention for what they want their play experience to be. To me, the advantage of at least starting with RAW for any given game is that (ideally), the designer(s) put a lot of effort into devising a set of procedures to create a specific experience, and deviating from those procedures is probably going to create a different experience. If the designed experience is different than what you’re looking for, hack away, or design an offshoot or something entirely new, etc.

  16. That said, there are two important bits that specifically relate to DW (and other World systems):

    1) The rules *explicitly have instructions and guidance on embellishing, interpreting, expanding, and even completely replacing the fundamentals of the system. (“Making Moves”, “New Classes”, “Changing the Basics”, even changing the core Agenda and Principles of the GM is covered) Cleverly, this makes whatever alterations you make to the Rules as Written part of the Rules of Written, so go nuts.

    2) The lineage of Dungeon World includes Vincent’s idea of “concentric design”. If you play everything by the letter, awesome. If you forget how harm moves work, or don’t like using Fronts, cool, you’re still getting most of the game. If you just use the basic moves and playbooks, and forget how everything else works, you’re still gonna be doing pretty well. Even if you strip it down to the miss/mixed/hit die rolls and improvise everything else, you’re still hitting the core of the game. None of these are “wrong”, they just provide different levels of focus for the play.


    lumpley.com – anyway: Concentric Game Design

  17. Marc Majcher wrt (1), what I think you’re saying is that

    1) The DW RAW are well-designed

    2) Well-designed games lead to good play experiences

    3) The DW RAW include instructions about changing the rules

    Therefore (4) we can be confident that any changed rules a DW GM comes up with will lead to good play experiences.

    Is that right?

    (It seems a bit of a strong claim, as game design is much harder than GMing. I trust the DW core rules to provide a reasonably good game (modulo a couple of sides worth of key FAQs and watch-out-fors); I trust the guidance on hacking much less.)

  18. Marc Majcher wrt (2), Vincent’s claim there about AW may indeed hold true for DW. Certainly, the things I see as distinctive about AW and DW are all in his level 1 (“The MC’s agenda, principles, and what to always say.”) or level 2 (the basic player-facing moves and the MC’s/GM’s moves).

    I suspect that the DW Tavern etc mostly work as communities insofar as everyone agrees about the lower levels.

    (I suspect we can have quite a lot of unstated differences at level 3 and still communicate. And level 4 is always likely to differ between groups.)

  19. Just to be clear (because I’m someone who brings it up a lot): whenever I reference “RAW,” I mean “the rules as presented and described in the text of the game.” That means:

    – not counting my modifications

    – not counting modifications I could make

    – not counting modifications you (whoever “you” are) make

    – not counting your local play culture

    That is all I am trying to say when if and when I say “RAW.” “What is written in the book/SRD.”

    This is not to discount the idea that there’s value in talking about whether your ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ run a game RAW, or pointing out inconsistencies within the RAW, or if a particular approach is consistent with RAW, or if there’s a better what to do it than RAW, or any of that. That’s all great stuff.

    And I recognize that there’s history around RAW vs RAI, and that DW as a text goes out of its way to say “go ahead and tinker with this.”

    But there are rules written down that form the “official” basis of the game, and those are are the Rules as Written, the RAW. That’s all I ever mean.

  20. Jeremy Strandberg, I agree. I think there’s a little variety of views presented in this thread, so I’ll try to clarify what I mean too: RAW means the printed rules in the book that we can all look at. Running the game RAW includes a lot of other stuff referenced in the book, but not given forth ex cathedra, though. Like custom moves, compendium classes, and the answers players will give when you ask questions to use the answers. 😉

  21. I think my use is consistent with Jeremy and John — when I say “RAW”, I mean “what the text says”. Hence I most of often use it in the sense “By my reading, that’s not quite what DW RAW says…”.

    As John points out, when you actually run DW you are likely to generate custom rules, most obviously in the form of custom moves (in AW at least that’s strongly encouraged, becuse the Threat sheet has a space for a custom move). But most likely these custom things will be small in scope — their triggers will be narrow and their effects will be modest. So you can still come here and expect discussion of “DW RAW” to be applicable to your game.

    Now, as you add more custom moves, with broader triggers and more powerful effects. (“When you put one foot in front of the other …”, “… on 10+, you are now the GM for d6 minutes”) your game will move further and further from that of others. You’re increasing doing game design rather than playing a game.

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