Monthly Archives: September 2013

Dungeon World – Bonds

Dungeon World


I have written about Distinctions in the past, ripped from Aspects of the FATE system, but Dungeon World handles the issue in a little different way. Dungeon World asks you to select a few physical traits, and then focuses specifically on the way that your character is connected to the other characters in the game. These connections are called Bonds, and as far as I’m aware, they are pretty unique to Dungeon World.  Each character can have several bonds with other characters active at once. A bond is a relationship with another character, generally based on prior sessions (although the system does recommend formats for initial character creation bonds, and recommends structures for those bonds by character class).

One of the ways you gain experience in the system is to test and resolve the bonds you have created with the rest of the group. For example, you may have a bond with another character like, “I do not trust Erik to help me when my life is on the line; I will not rely on him in dangerous situations.” Your bonds should begin with a feeling towards another character, and then end with an action you will take based upon that feeling. As you adventure, your relationships with the other characters should come into play, and change over time as your relationships with that character change in the fiction of the game.

The system actually rewards players for testing and “resolving” these bonds. At the end of a session, you formally gain experience if you have resolved a bond with another player. Resolving a bond means that the relationship has changed or grown in some meaningful way so that the current bond, as written, should be updated or removed. You gain experience and remove the bond, replacing it with a new one.

This system formalizes the personal relationships between each character, and provides a simple mechanic for encouraging those relationships to become dynamic over the course of play.


Dungeon World – Taking Watch and Fast Travel

Dungeon World

I’ve previously written some hand-wringing blog posts about whether and how to incorporate travel rules into Lost Worlds. Dungeon World handles these things by making them standard “moves” of the game.  For example, here’s the rule for taking watch:

Take Watch

When you’re on watch and something approaches the camp roll + WIS. *On a 10+, you’re able to wake the camp and prepare a response, everyone in the camp takes +1 forward. *On a 7-9, you react just a moment too late; your companions in camp are awake but haven’t had time to prepare. They have weapons and armor but little else. *On a miss, whatever lurks outside the campfire’s light has the drop on you.

I like how this move just streamlines the whole process of worrying about light, ambient noise, stealth, perception, etc. It just takes the three possible outcomes we are interested in and delivers the answer right away so the game can keep on. Of course, like some of the other rules, some of the verisimilitude is lost here.  The difficulty is not baked into the roll, so it doesn’t seem to matter how stealthy the approaching enemy is. How stealthy the monster ends up being is baked into the player’s roll (on a 6-, that monster was stealthy after all).

Of course, the fiction should not be contradicted by the move. If a giant stone elemental is crashing through the trees, everyone is awake – no roll.

Dungeon World also gives us an interesting move for fast travel.  Traveling along a safe road generally requires no roll, everyone marks off rations and you arrive at the destination, so fast travel is baked into the game through civilization.  However, DW also gives us fast travel through dangerous areas of the world.

Take a Perilous Journey

When you travel through hostile territory, choose one member of the party to act as trailblazer, one to scout ahead, and one to be quartermaster. Each character with a job to do rolls + WIS. *On a 10+:

  • The quartermaster reduces the number of rations required by one
  • The trailblazer reduces the amount of time it takes to reach your destination (The GM will say by how much)
  • The scout will spot any trouble quick enough to let you get the drop on it

On a 7-9, each role performs their job as expected: the normal number of rations are consumed, the journey takes about as long as expected, no one gets the drop on you, but you don’t get the drop on them either.

I like how this rule allows multiple players to participate in the travel mechanic, and again directly delivers what really matters. The rules are clear that this is move is only for traveling to a specific place – if you’re wandering around in the wilderness looking for adventure, you’d make camp and take watches as normal.  Also, the rule makes traveling alone more dangerous – if you have less than 3 people the party automatically gets a “miss” (6-) on the jobs left vacant.

Like many other moves, this move does not define what happens on a miss. Moves that don’t define what happens on a miss are up to the GM to make one of the GM moves that advance the fiction of the game, and there’s a wide variety of options available to the GM to make in these circumstances to make the game more interesting, and dangerous, for the players.

Dungeon World – Specific vs General Harm

Dungeon World has a rule that tries to cover actual specific harm or wounds. This rule is borne out of the rules regarding health and the ever-present stance that all rules of the game are both “Prescriptive” and “Descriptive,” meaning that if something in the fiction happens to the character, then that thing should be reflected on the character sheet. Likewise if something is reflected on the character sheet, that thing should be reflected in the fiction as well.

So in the section on damage, the rules state:

“Damage is dealt based on the fiction.  Moves that deal damage, like hack and slash, are just a special case of this: the move establishes that damage is being dealt in the fiction.  Damage can be assigned even when no move is made, if it follows from the fiction.

HP Loss is often only part of the effect. If the harm is generalized, like falling into a pit, losing the HP is probably all there is to it. When the harm is specific, like an orc pull your arm from its socket, HP should be part of the effect but not the entirety of it. The bigger issue is dealing with the newly busted arm: how do you swing a sword or cast a spell? Likewise having your head chopped off is not HP damage, it’s just you being dead.”

This rule almost feels like a second thought – in comes early in the book and is not highlighted in any way, and it’s not referenced again by any of the GM moves. Still, the rule is clear about its intent. The GM has the capability of inflicting very specific types of damage – anything from a twisted ankle to a cut throat – and the fiction does not have to be generalized away as HP loss.

There are  pros and cons to this approach. On the plus side, the game can be lively and there is no status or ongoing impact on a character that the rules can’t support, since this really allows the rules to support anything the GM can think up.  On the other hand, this rule will require a fair amount of trust between the players and the GM. The players will have to be pretty understanding if the result of some series of actions actually ends up being that their character’s arm is permanently (or even temporarily) ripped from their body, causing them to lose the ability to defend themselves.

DW gives the GM another tool to inflict more general maladies on the players, specifically with Debilities. There are six Debilities, and each one reflects an injury to one of the six attributes: Weak (Str), Shaky (Dex), Sick (Con), Stunned (Int), Confused (Wis), and Scarred (Cha). The effect of debilities are simple. You suffer a -1 to your attribute modifier when making any rolls. Debilities don’t stack.

This makes debilities feel a little bit weak, but they’re clearly meant to stand in as a quick and easy way of applying some form of attribute damage without getting in the way of the flow of the game. Debilities are also harder to heal than HP, making them stick around a bit longer. Again though, the rules are still clear about the fiction coming first:

“Debilities don’t replace descriptions and using the established fiction. When someone loses an arm, that doesn’t mean they’re Weak, it means they have one less arm. Don’t let debilities limit you. A specific disease can have whatever effects you can dream up. Sick is just a convenient shorthand for some anonymous fever picked up from a filthy rat.”

Dungeon World – Core Mechanic

Dungeon World


The core mechanic of every action in Dungeon World (that requires a roll) is to roll 2d6 and add a bonus. This bonus is generally a character attribute, such as Strength or Dexterity, but sometimes it comes from something else, like the loyalty of a henchman. Since there’s a 2d6 roll involved, the results of the roll are not linear, and the system takes advantage of this by having three categories of success for every roll: 10+ is an unequivocal success, 7-9 is a partial success or success with a complication, and 6- provokes a “GM move.” This mechanic really puts the focus on the player characters, and the GM is given a great deal of flexibility to determine what happens on the 6- and 7-9 results of die rolls.

There are a few things that result from the way this mechanic is structured.

1. The mechanic is simple and fast to execute

2. It gives the GM great flexibility to tell the story and keep the game moving

3. It’s a standard template for all moves of the game, making the game easier to extend through custom actions or “moves” as DW calls them.

4. All rolls have a consequence of failure (6-) meaning that players will rarely train rolls like they would in D&D (all 5 players make perception checks at every door, lore checks at every opportunity, diplomacy checks, etc.)

5. Replaces GM rolls. Basically, if you attack an enemy and roll a 7-9, you hit them and they hit you. If you roll a 6-, they hit you. This doubles the speed of the game since the enemy attack is also built into the player attack.

The rule book is very clear about making sure that these “moves” are all connected with the fiction of the game. A player cannot take a move without having qualified for taking that move through the fiction. Likewise, the player must take the move if their character triggers that move through the fiction. In other words, you cannot Hack and Slash if you don’t have a weapon and you can’t Parley if you have no leverage with which to Parlay.

Just about every action the player mechanically takes outside of the fiction follows the same template. There is a move for taking watch at camp, fast traveling, and even leveling up (although the level up move doesn’t require a 2d6 roll).

What to like about DW Core Mechanic:

  •  Homogenous throughout the game
  •  Easy and fast to execute
  •  Non-Linear
  •  Varying levels of success
  •  Effectively reduces overhead on GM

 What not to like about DW Core Mechanic:

  • Low range of results means characters improvement cannot be very granular or cover wide range of skill
  • Difficult is not really factored into the core mechanic.  This is hard to get your head around at first.  Essentially, this makes a goblin as “easy” to hit as a demon.


Dungeon World

Dungeon World

One of the games I purchased at GenCon is Dungeon World.  I highly recommend you check it out.  Dungeon World takes a few of the principles that I have with game design, and meshes D&D with a story game.  It has an “old school” feel to many of the rules, the black and white art, and some of the powers and spells – but it presents the game in a well-structured rules-light and story-focused way.  I frequently comment on this blog that I want to do away with big lists of powers, feats, spells, etc.  I always talk about wanting to build a framework that’s easily extended by the users (GM and Players) to play the game they want to play.  Dungeon World succeeds with this in spades.

In the next few weeks I will be reviewing the Dungeon World rules.  You’ll find that there’s a lot to love about this game, and there’s quite a lot that blends very well into my own design principle for a RPG.  This is the first set of rules in a long time to get me excited about playing RPGs again, and will certainly be an inspiration for me as I continue working on Lost Worlds.

You can check out Dungeon World here.