I ran Dungeon World for the first time in what seems like forever on Saturday and had a great time.

I ran Dungeon World for the first time in what seems like forever on Saturday and had a great time.

I ran Dungeon World for the first time in what seems like forever on Saturday and had a great time. I also had some trouble coping with a couple druid abilities. I’d appreciate any thoughts/suggestions:

1. The Shapeshifter ability

Once a druid shifts to an animal form, she has all of the innate abilities of the form. For example, a druid shapeshifted to an eagle can fly. The move also grants the player hold that can be spent to make “special moves” associate with the new form.

The character sheet suggests “escape to the sky” (or something similar) as a special move for bird forms. I’m unclear on why that is a special move given a PC in bird form can fly generally. Is the intent that it takes one hold whenever the PC wants to fly while in bird form? That doesn’t seem right since I doubt we’re going to make a PC blow hold to run when in wolf form. Is the intent that it takes hold for the PC to fly away from a dangerous situation? If so, is success automatic or must the PC defy danger or possibly attempt a custom move created by the GM for escaping to the sky?

2. The Elemental Mastery ability

This one caused much more trouble. The move is extremely broad as written. “When you call on the primal spirits of fire, water, earth or air to perform a task for you, roll+WIS. * On a 10+ choose two. * On a 7-9 choose one. * On a miss, some catastrophe occurs as a result of your calling.

• The effect you desire comes to pass

• You avoid paying nature’s price

• You retain control”

The first time this ability came up, the druid called upon the primal spirit of earth to get the stone dungeon wall around a locked door to move so that the door was broken off its hinges. No problem with that use.

The second time, the party was being attacked by an angry air elemental. The PC called upon the spirit of air to blast the air elemental away. The roll didn’t go as well this time and the PC opted to not retain control. I decided this resulted in gale force winds blowing into the room the party was in. The PC immediately attempted to use elemental mastery to regain control.

I struggled with adjudicating this move in a couple ways.

First, I was uncomfortable with the PC immediately using the ability again to thwart the narrative consequences of his previous roll. In hindsight, I don’t think this was as problematic as it felt at the time. The move has the potential for things to spiral out of control if the PC keeps using it over and over. There ought to be a nice potential reward for taking such risks.

Second, the move seems really, REALLY powerful if used creatively. The PC can attempt to cause pretty much any physical effect imaginable using this move. In the moment, this scared me as a GM. A druid PC could potentially just go to this move when facing any danger at all and cut through challenges like a hot knife through butter. In hindsight, again, I think my problem was pulling my punches on the “paying nature’s price” option. I had a hard time improvising what nature’s price would be in the moment. If it comes up again, I think I would come up with a price that is narratively proportional to what the PC is trying to accomplish.

Let’s say the party is fighting the BBEG and the druid decides to call on the spirit of earth to swallow the monster (e.g., temporarily turn the rock under the monster to mud so the BBEG sinks into the ground). That’s an encounter killer effect. Nature’s price should be similarly killer (I think). Maybe the PC would lapse into a coma for a week. Maybe his left hand turns to stone. Maybe the PC has to go on a quest for an earth elemental lord.

For a relatively minor effect such as lighting a camp fire by calling up the spirit of fire, maybe the PC takes -1 forward the next time she attempts to call on a spirit other than fire.

Prices for moderate effects seem trickier, but I’m feeling a lot more creative now than I was in the middle of the game.

Anyway, I’d appreciate hearing the thoughts of more experienced Dungeon World GMs.

7 thoughts on “I ran Dungeon World for the first time in what seems like forever on Saturday and had a great time.”

  1. 1. “Escape to the sky” would be a hold spent to literally escape a thing. Imagine a collapsing wall, and the GM says “everyone Defy Danger” and the Druid/bird says “nah, I spend a hold to Escape to the Sky”

    2. If it’s a crutch, definitely make the consequences harder. Oh you tried to blow away the air elemental and didn’t retain control? The elemental reaches out, shaping the air you sent its way. In a matter of seconds you’re staring at TWO elementals now. What do you do?

    However, you used the phrase “encounter killer” in there and I want to address that with a question: so what? If they roll in and one shot your bad guy, so what? Does the game end? No. Do the PCs feels awesome afterwards? Probably. Does it affect “your story”? Sure, but that’s now how you play DW – it ain’t about your story. You’re playing to find out.

  2. 1. What Aaron Griffin said.

    Think of the Shapeshift move as having two effects:

    a) You gain a new form and can do things that that form can do. If you trigger moves, roll them normally with your stats. You might turn into an elephant, and be as strong as an elephant, but your STR determines what happens when you wield that strength.

    b) You also get a list of form-appropriate things you can auto-succeed at (the moves) and hold 1-3 auto-successes to do those things.

    So if Druid-as-Eagle wants to fly across the chasm, she just flies across the chasm. If Druid-as-Eagle flies across the chasm dodging a hail of arrows, he’s Defying Danger with DEX. If Druid-as-Eagle wants to, he can spend 1 hold and Escape to the Skies and be like “i’m gone,” no roll required.

    Yes, this is potentially super potent. In my experience, a druid in the hands of a creative player is the most powerful (fictionally and mechanically) class of them all. Especially if you add…

    2. Elemental Mastery.

    The main trick of this move, I think, is to personify the elemental spirits that the Druid conjures. I like to break it down into a few steps:

    a) The druid calls on the elemental spirits of __. “Oh, you’re calling on the spirits of the earth and stone? Cool… you hear them rumbling all around you… the ground begins to shake a little WHAT DO YOU WANT FLESHLING?

    b) The druid says what he wants them to do. “Please make this cave collapse and seal itself away.”

    c) Roll +WIS, make choices.

    d) Narrate the result, including the spirit’s response, based on the choices they make.

    So if they roll a 10+ and pick “effect comes to pas” and “you retain control”, be like “I WILL DO THIS FOR YOU, BUT THERE IS A DARK THING BURIED HERE, YOU MUST VOW TO REMOVE IT… SWEAR IT. SWEAR IT!”

    And if they swear, the spirits collapse the tunnel and that’s that, it’s all cool but now they’ve got a quest to accomplish. If they don’t swear, then they’re avoiding nature’s price instead of retaining control or getting the task accomplished. Which one do they give up?

    Let’s say the accept the quest, and vow to remove the DARK THING. That tunnel is collapsed, so they’re going in another entrance. Things go poorly there, and as they try to escape, the Druid’s like “hey, spirits, wanna collapse this one too?”

    We’ve already got some character behind the spirits of the earth (they’re big and rumbly and want that DARK THING gone) so I jump straight to the roll. This time, Druid gets a 7-9. They’re still in the tunnels, so “You keep control” seems like a really important one. That means the effect doesn’t come to pass and the Druid pays nature’s price. “Okay, the walls start to shake and the earth spirits are pissed, like REMOVE THE DARK THING, DO NOT CALL ON US FOR TRIFFLES” and then, as a castigation, they turn the Druid’s left arm partially into stone! “Mark the Weakened and Shaky debilities, and that’s part of your tell now.” And then the rumbling subsides, the tunnel still intact.

    Point being: if you establish the spirits as things with wants and personalities, the move becomes a lot easier to adjudicate.

    it’s still super, super potent. And simultaneously dangerous to use. It makes the Druid even more of a spotlight hog, because it has such a potential to complete reshape the fictional world.

  3. Aaron Griffin I understand (and to an extent agree) with your point about it not being my story. My concern is a PC that has an uber-powerful move that nerfs the vast majority of encounters. I really don’t care about any BBEG in particular, but if the PC has the ability to knock out virtually every encounter with a wave of their hand, that is a problem. “Think dangerous” is also a principle in Dungeon World. I’m not filling the PCs’ lives with adventure if I never present challenges. No one is going to have fun if a single PC one-shots every BBEG. As the GM, I think one of my responsibilities is to make sure power-gaming doesn’t abuse the rules as written. Which is why I’m looking for tips on how best to adjudicate these abilities so I don’t cheat my players in either direction.

  4. I’ve commented on the Shapeshifter move before… my main gripe in terms of “balance” is that acquiring hold using Shapeshifter is relatively safe, because nothing of consequence happens on anything but a 6- result, and yet you use that hold to auto-succeed on moves that almost always have consequences on a 7-9 result, like Defy Danger.

    I suggested a quick fix which made the 7-9 result similar to the Cast a Spell move, where the Druid had to make a hard choice as well as getting their reduced hold.

    Jeremy Strandberg has a alternative version of the move which is an even larger (and better!) change from the original: https://plus.google.com/+JeremyStrandberg/posts/BBcmAZUCkYQ

  5. I should add I am aware of the irony that I cited “think dangerously” as a principle supporting limitations on the PCs’ ability to cut through encounters. Looking at the DW text, that particular principle is all about not fearing the death or destruction of anything in the campaign world (basically, the opposite of the point I was making). I may not have cited the right principle, but I think it is important to make the game challenging for the players in general even if they mow through specific BBEGs in crushing fashion.

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