Roleplaying

Dungeon World Is a Game to Skip

Sometimes you read a new roleplaying book and everything clicks together. You see the designer’s intentions, and your head fills with great possibilities. Unfortunately, Dungeon World won’t provide one of those moments. Dungeon World is a newish roleplaying game from Sage Kobold Productions. An adaptation of the Apocalypse World rules, it’s made in the style of old school Dungeons and Dragons. The game is meant to evoke classic high fantasy adventures, with worthy heroes traveling to distant lands to protect all they hold dear. It’s too bad the rules aren’t better at doing that.

The Language Is Obtuse

Learning a new roleplaying game is difficult, especially if you have no one to teach you. With that in mind, rule books should endeavor to be as neophyte friendly as possible. Instead, Dungeon World bombards the reader with several confusing terms that are mostly new ways to describe old ideas.

The most blatant offender is “+1 Forward.” This also comes in variations like “+2 Forward,” or “-1 Forward.” It indicates a bonus or penalty to a character’s next roll. It’s unclear why a brand new term was needed for this relatively simple concept. It takes up less space than “the character gets +1 to their next roll,” or something similar, but it also sends new players scrambling back to the index at a time when they are least comfortable with the rules. There are other confusing terms like “1 Hold” and “+1 Ongoing,” and they cause the same problem, making it harder to learn and remember the rules. There’s value in developing shorthand, but in this case it isn’t worth the effort.

Far worse is the concept of a “Move.” Many things in the game are expressed through Moves, from the fighter swinging their sword to the bard talking down an angry bartender. Monsters and the GM have Moves as well, except they employ completely different mechanics.

For example, a wizard casting magic missiles uses the Cast Spells Move. The player rolls dice to see if there is a success or failure. However, when a monster performs a Move, no dice are rolled unless that move results in damage. For monsters, Moves are often general descriptions of behavior rather than mechanical rules. The book doesn’t make this distinction clear, which leads to a lot of confusion when the GM is trying to figure out how their beloved Rust Monster works.

Character Generation Is Needlessly Restrictive

There’s a lot to be said for a streamlined character creation process, and at first glance, that’s how Dungeon World looks. Players choose a class, assign the values of their six core attributes, and pick from a handful of class abilities. After that, the only thing left to do is select their race and alignment. So far, so good.

The problem only becomes clear when you look at the race and alignment options for each class. Namely, that there are very few of them. Bards can only be elves or human, because apparently none of the other races play music. Druids can’t be evil, and thieves can’t be good. The list goes on.

The reasons for these restrictions are unclear. The first guess would be game balance, but that doesn’t hold up. Races and alignments have no inherent bonuses on their own. Instead, being an elf will give a different bonus depending on what class it’s selected for. Elven bards gain extra knowledge of old civilizations, while elven fighters are more accurate with their weapons. There’s no possibility of an overpowered combination because the designers created each bonus from scratch.

The most likely answer is that the different options are what the designers felt was most appropriate for each class. This is incredibly unsatisfying to players who want to play a halfling bard or a kind hearted thief.* It’s puzzling why the game is so restrictive in this area, considering how few other options there are to customize characters. In a final oddity, there are no blank character sheets included with the game, only ones premade for the book approved combinations. Any GMs looking to create custom classes will have to make their own character sheet.

The Paladin Is Crazy Overpowered

Most of the different character options are very well balanced, and that’s not an insignificant accomplishment. Unfortunately, it’s overshadowed by how absolutely broken the Paladin class is. One of the holy warrior’s starting abilities is to become completely immune to one form of harm when they are on a quest.* The books lists examples like edged weapons, fire, and enchantments, but the player is the one who actually decides what they are immune to.

It’s not hard to see how bad this is. With only a little bit of forethought, the Paladin can make themselves immune to a huge portion of the adventure’s danger. Is the party questing after an evil lich? Then an immunity to magical attacks will certainly be handy. Is a horde of club-wielding orcs causing trouble? It’s a good thing the Paladin can’t be hurt by blunt objects!

No other class has anything close to this level of power, even in their higher level abilities. The only drawback to this immunity is that the Paladin must take one or more sacred vows to maintain it, except that the vows are all things the Paladin would probably have done anyway. They include such onerous tasks as not using dirty tactics and remembering to observe holy services.

What’s most upsetting about this ability is how obvious it is. It’s difficult to imagine no one in the design or playtesting process ever pointed out its potential for abuse.

Difficulty Levels Aren’t Flexible

The core mechanic of Dungeon World is simple. For almost every task, the player rolls two d6 and adds the modifier from their relevant attribute. 10 or more is total success, 7-9 is success with a condition, and 6 or lower is a failure. This means that the chances of success are governed by how capable the character is, rather than how difficult the task is.

That dynamic is problematic because it means that escaping from a small landslide has the same probability as trying to outrun a massive avalanche. This creates a disconnect between what’s happening in the story and what the rules say. Call of Cthulhu has a similar problem, but in that system, at least the GM has tools to alter a character’s skill for especially easy or difficult tasks.

In Dungeon World, that option isn’t presented in the rules. GMs can always add bonuses or penalties if they remember, but that’s putting a lot of burden on them. It’s very easy to forget stuff like that. Even worse, fixed difficulties often result in PCs failing easy tasks. It’s frustrating to players when their characters repeatedly miss the broad side of a barn.

There Are No Rules for Combat, but There Should Be

Not every roleplaying game needs a combat system, so Dungeon World could have been fine without one. Most of the rules are focused around using a single roll to solve each problem, and there’s no reason that couldn’t apply to combat as well. Burning Wheel has a similar system,* and it works great.

That idea falls apart because of hit points. Monsters and PCs both have them, usually enough that it takes more than one hit to end a fight. This means that players are stuck making the Hack and Slash Move over and over again, until the monster finally falls over. On some of the tougher monsters, this will take a very long time.

On the surface, this might sound similar to how other systems handle combat, but in most cases there’s a framework to make the exchange more interesting. Dungeon World doesn’t have that. The players just keep making the same roll, with nothing to interrupt the monotony. Imagine if the system called for three strength rolls to swim across a river? It would be clear that so many rolls are pointless, and it’s the same for combat in Dungeon World. Instead of an exciting tactical skirmish, fighting monsters only eats up time.

To make matters worse, the rules are strangely silent on when PCs should act during a fight. Only from reading the example of play can you figure out that everyone is supposed to get one turn before anyone else gets a second turn. If that sounds confusing, it is. There are no rounds, or any other suggestions on how to divide screen time during a conflict. To reiterate, this would be fine if combat didn’t require so many rolls – but as it is, things are just a mess.

The Rules Are Restrictive and Vague at the Same Time

Dungeon World is a game that wants players to phrase their actions in terms of the story, but its rules contradict that idea. Everything a PC wants to do must be expressed from a list of predetermined Moves. This means that players often spend more time searching for the appropriate Move than they do describing how their character is acting. The rules are highly intrusive, always making their presence known.

The GM is supposed to follow similar restrictions, though it’s a smaller problem because those rules are easier to fudge without anyone noticing. If a GM did play the game exactly as written, they would spend their time trying to make their story work for the rules, instead of making the rules work for their story.

The rules of Dungeon World fit like a straight jacket, severely limiting what can be done at the table, rather than facilitating it. At the same time, there are many places where they’re frustratingly incomplete. There are rules for weapon range, but no rules for movement. A PC’s spear has a five foot reach, but there’s no explanation for what advantage that offers. How quickly can a character go from Far Range to Close Range? The game doesn’t say.

Another example are the rules for eating. The book mentions a few times that characters must eat, but it gives little indication of how often, or what happens if they don’t. The rules for taking a journey describe eating the “normal number of rations,” but don’t saw how much that is. Does a ration provide one day’s worth of calories, or just one meal’s? This wouldn’t matter, except that characters have to keep careful track of how much they’re carrying, and food takes up inventory space. If the designers weren’t interested in providing more useful rules for food consumption, than they should have saved space by removing them entirely. Few would have minded.

Easily the worst offender is the monster rules. Each monster comes with its own set of Moves, but there’s no indication of how to use them. Rust monsters are supposed to “gain strength from consuming metal,” but nowhere does it say how that strength manifests. Using monsters is extremely frustrating. The game indicates that they only act in response to what the PCs do, but there is no clear framework for how this works. GMs are left to scramble, trying not to offend any of Dungeon World’s overbearing rules.

This one-two punch of rules that do too much and also not enough is Dungeon World’s biggest problem. It’s like the designers couldn’t decide if they wanted a rules light or rules heavy system, and ended up with the worst of both.

Some Things Work Very Well

Despite its many problems, there’s some good to be found in Dungeon World. The character bonds in particular are a great mechanic, helping bind the party together from the get go. Players can either choose from premade bonds, like “Arbin owes me their life, whether they admit it or not,” or make their own. These are very simple ways of expressing how the characters relate to each other, and they’re a lot of fun. They also have mechanical effects. Characters get experience points for acting on their bonds, and certain rolls get bonuses if the characters are bonded together.

The adventure creation advice is solid as well. Dungeon World provides a guide for creating classic adventures, and it’s especially useful for new GMs. It gives suggestions of where to add in new threats, and how to make foreshadowing pay off down the road. There are tips for creating new environments and exciting set pieces. This section is worth a read even if you aren’t planning to run Dungeon World at all.

In the aesthetics department, Dungeon World does a really good job embracing diversity. Its sample characters are a diverse group, and the book uses mostly gender neutral pronouns. More roleplaying games need to make this effort.

Dungeon World has some great ideas, but they’re smothered in a rules system that doesn’t know what it’s doing. It’s certainly possible to have fun playing this game, but GM and players alike have to work very hard for it. Roleplaying games are difficult enough as it is; there’s little reason to use a system that doesn’t measure up. There are other games out there that do what Dungeon World is trying to do better. Playing one of them instead will lead to less aggravation and more fun all around.

Correction: The “Undertake a Perilous Journey” move does say how many rations a character consumes, it’s just written in a super unclear way.

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Comments

  1. O. S. Kerr

    I disagree with much of this article. I find the system quite easy to play, and the dice mechanics are, to me, rather intuitive. I do have the advantage of having played Apocalypse World, and several other of the ________ World games, but even players new to the world of role-playing games have found Dungeon World to be readily accessible. I taught my daughter to play. She’s nine, and found a shallow learning curve in the ruleset. Your mileage may vary. I have been a player and GM for systems as diverse as Rolemaster and 7th Sea; I find Dungeon World to be elegant in its simplicity, and robust in its depth and scope. Cheers!

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Hey man, I’m just glad it worked better for you then it did for me.

      • Mike Pureka

        Honestly, it doesn’t sound like you played this game at all.

        A lot of the criticisms in this article seem very strange – is understanding like, three new terms (“Forward”, “Ongoing” and “Hold”) actually harder than grasping the dozens of very specific terms present in say, Pathfinder? Character generation is “restrictive”? Compared to what?

        Other complaints just don’t map to how the game actually performs in play. You actually have it -backwards-. NOTHING a PC does “needs to conform to a move” but rather, if a PC DOES do something that conforms to a move, then you roll. Otherwise, the GM decides what happens.

        I would encourage you to at least watch a “Let’s Play” of this game before drawing any conclusions, because you seem to have some pretty fundamental misunderstandings of how this game actually works. Maybe another read through of the rules or perhaps the Dungeon World Guide (https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/3269630/dwdotcom/eon-guide/Dungeon%20World%20Guide%20pdf%20version%201.2.pdf) would help too.

        • Chris

          I agree with you, Mike. Lot of hate for the system when it just simple sounds like the person writing it didn’t actually give it a proper go. “Oh, it does things differently and is popular, better hate on it”.
          In my 20ish years of gaming tabletop, its been one of the easiest, flexible, and most story-friendly games I’ve ever ran. The rules can be adapted to literally anything.

    • Buck Huckins

      Dungeon World’s great for kids, because, no offense, they will play anything that doesn’t have a lot of confusing rules.

      The core mechanic for Dungeon World is elegant; but from there it kind of goes downhill.

      For example, it’s just as easy to hit a trained duelist, as it is to hit a low level goblin or even a commoner. Some people say “well you don’t even have to roll to hit a goblin” but that’s not true. Hence, the static TN the game uses is kind of a problem. That’s okay, you can tack on a -1 or -2 or something. Or just not worry about it and let hit points take care of it. But then the game is oddly specific in other parts of its rules.

      Apocalypse World was a much more elegant game with a lot more generic potential, than Dungeon World is, in my opinion.

      • Mike Wice

        There absolutely are rules for fighting a skilled duelist vs a commoner. You have to look beyond the bare mechanics of the roll. However you can see in the monster creation rules there are mechanical rules for that as well (giving a monster more AC because of its skill in defense for example).

        A duelist will have moves that a peasant will not. One of those moves could be something like “disarm an attacker” or “redirect an attacker into a dangerous place” or “Skillfully parry a weapon away harmlessly.” These kind of moves would require that the players team up on the duelist, or find another way to fight him. In the case of the Parry move, perhaps the character needs to trick the duelist somehow to land a blow, or draws a secondary weapon to strike with while the first is being deflected, or fights dirty and simply throws a dagger into the duelist’s back.

  2. Peter

    DW is not a simulationist engine but a story-now
    game. You don’t need special rules for describing combat because combat actions are treated the same as any other fictional events. The game is guided by the conversation between the players and the DJ not by the rules. Only when an event in the fiction triggers a move the rules apply (and, most of the time, the dice are rolled as a consequence of that).

    This guide helped me to understand how different DW is from d20 systems, for example.
    http://www.mediafire.com/?2qyqqkbhwdzot6d

    • Buck Huckins

      This is really very similar to how all RPGs work, though.

      “yada yada I do X”
      “yada yada he does Y”
      “okay, that sounds like a Z check, go ahead and roll it”

      Yeah there’s fewer rules, but the structure is essentially the same.

      Most of the good ideas in this system end up balanced out by the weird flaws that it has: the racial restrictions, the confusing double-duty of the moves, and the vagueness of some of them. Why do we need anything for half of them? Why not just say 2d6 + stat, 7-9 is partial success, 10+ is full success? The moves only exist to restrict WHEN you roll, which is a problem in a lot of groups where the GM makes the players roll for every little thing. But it’d be better to say “only roll when it’s really important and has a pivotal roll in the story, not to just start a campfire the 7th level ranger knows how to start” rather than “here’s a specific list of times that you would roll.”

      • Mike Wice

        Nobody rolls to start a campfire in Dungeon World. Have you played this game?

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          He didn’t say Dungeon World makes you roll to start a campfire. He was saying a blanket “roll when it’s dramatically appropriate to roll” would have been better than Dungeon World’s list of moves. The campfire reference was just demonstrating what wouldn’t qualify as dramatically appropriate.

          • Mike

            Ah I see. My mistake.

            I could see a case being made where the basic moves are dropped and replaced with a simple “Roll +stat” catch all (which is what Defy Danger is) but I get the impression the basic moves were included in some ways to direct new players to quickly understand the kinds of things they would be doing in the game. It would be more elegant to use roll+stat for everything (except perhaps specific class moves that allow you to do crazy things outside of mortal means). There is a simplified Dungeon World variant called “World of Dungeons” that does just use roll+stat for everything basic.

      • theNsmith

        You wrote, “which is a problem in a lot of groups where the GM makes the players roll for every little thing.” It sounds like your GM doesn’t understand the system, then. Obviously, you aren’t meant to roll for every little thing. I think it’s clear the authors didn’t intend it that way. Also, the racial restrictions are only what you make them. Like EVERY other RPG ever made, the authors intended for more content to be made. In fact, in the book itself, there are guidelines for how to add new races (which with the tiniest smidgeon of creativity you would realize can be applied to existing races not included in the starting classes).

  3. Nikos Carcosa

    This seems more a review of the text of the game rather than an opinion born out of playing the game. I also am confused how concepts of moves, holds, and +x forward/ongoing are somehow more esoteric than THAC0, AC, Saves, etc. Apocalypse Engine games have far fewer new concepts to learn than any simulation or gameist rules..

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Just to be clear, when I critique Dungeon World, I’m not holding up D&D in any of its forms as a shining example of the right way to do things. D&D has all kinds of problems as well.

  4. Mark

    Extensive and thoughtful review for the most part, but I am curious: Have you actually played DW? It’s a great game, and it’s far from difficult even for beginners. I’ve sat down at a table of 5th graders with no RPG experience and had characters made and an adventure going within 30 minutes.

    • Nikos Carcosa

      That’s my biggest confusion. DW and the Apocalypse Engine family of games are among the most accessible in practice. There’s really just a handful of concepts to learn. It’s a very unified set of rules. I think established players have a bigger problem with it because it’s pretty alien to what’s out there.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I have indeed played Dungeon World, though perhaps not as extensively as some of the commenters here. Everything in the above article is from first hand experience trying to run it.

    • Buck Huckins

      “Have you actually played DW? ”

      Why do people always ask this on Dungeon World criticisms?

      I’ve seen the game run at the store I work at several times, and the players came away with this criticism each time. They also like narrative and rules-light games, which, I believe, are qualities that Dungeon World aims to have. They liked a lot of the ideas behind it (they liked the mechanic, although the DM added on a -1 and -2 difficulty penalty in some cases, but sparingly), but overall they felt it was a waste of good ideas.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        I’ve noticed that when I critique a game, the first thing fans assume is that I haven’t played it. It’s generally easier to assume that someone doesn’t know what their talking about, then concede different people might have had different experiences.

        • Jeff W

          A year late to the party, but I think in this case the reason you get that response so much is because people are flabbergasted that you seem to have missed the point of DW by so much. It’s like you read the rules, but forgot the “Playing the Game” section, or somehow just completely misunderstood it.

          I have a feeling that you are either one of two kinds of GM: 1.) You are already doing a good job of creating interesting narratives and keeping players invested in the story in your more rules-heavy games, and DW’s attempt to achieve something that you have already mastered merely confused you.

          2.) You play combat simulation games dressed in D&D flavor and don’t give two licks about having a narrative conversation between GM and players beyond “I hit the goblin with my sword”, and so DW’s heavy focus on building that narrative doesn’t let you do the things you want to do.

        • Ted

          People react this way because you titled the article “Dungeon World is a Game to Skip”… The reasons you listed do seem to entirely miss the point of the game, so one can only wonder if you actually played it. If you decided you didn’t like the rules and then played it to prove the point, maybe it’s self-fulfilling (they call that confirmation bias). A ton of people like this game so maybe you are missing out on something. Or maybe we’re the crazy ones, who knows.

          • Chris

            Nail on the head, Ted.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            So Ted, serious question here, leaving aside our disagreements over the substance of the game: If I ran this game and thought it was terrible, should I have reviewed it positively because other people liked it?

          • theNsmith

            It seems like a lot of the hatred for the “moves” stems from the disconnect between “moves” and in-story actions. That is compounded by the fact that many players (and GMs) are super roll happy. They have dice and they want to use them. I’ve encountered this problem even running D&D, and this system would only be tougher to comprehend if that is already a problem.

  5. Nick

    I think you have a bit of confusion on how combat/monster moves work. The idea is that players don’t have turns or discrete numbers of actions or even initiative order. Players just say what they do, and then roll an applicable move. This won’t always be hack and slash. Sometimes a player may roll defy danger, or something else. Unless a move specifies otherwise, each class always deals a set amount of damage. The difference comes in the narrative meaning of that damage. A couple damage with a sword may be a gouged arm, while the same damage from a flying elbow drop may be being knocked senseless. I’ve personally found dungeon world combat to run VERY well for players because rather than waiting for turns, players can just jump in when they want to. The only restriction is the story itself and what makes narrative sense.

    As for when you make a monster move, these occur whenever players fail/partially succeed on a roll, or ignore a threat. The monsters have a set amount of damage they do and it’s up to the GM to interpret what the monster move means in the narrative. One GM might just have dragon breath be a blast of heat. The other might have it set characters on fire. Another might have it blast people into the air.

    Also, some of the things like including rations and race restrictions come from the game emulating old school D&D. Feel free to make up your own handling bard or good hearted thief rules if you want.

    • Buck Huckins

      Emulating the bad parts of AD&D (race / class restrictions) is kinda lame in my opinion. That’s why the race restrictions in Dungeon World are annoying; yes you can homebrew past them, but why did the restrictions need to exist in the first place?

      There’s really not much to do in terms of character customization. A rules light game with a solid mechanic and good character customization, could win a LOT of points with gamers.

      • Jeff W

        There’s an entire section of the book dedicated to making new moves, and making new moves when it seems appropriate is highly encouraged. The base example of play even has new moves created on the spot.

        I’m sorry, but I just don’t see what’s so difficult about adding a “Halfling” tag and a minor boon to a character sheet. The bonuses are minor and intended to add unique flavor, so add something of the sort if you don’t like the race restrictions. Seriously, the whole focus is on how much of RPGs are games of make-believe, so make-believe!

      • theNsmith

        I have to back up Jeff on this one. GMs do soooo much work in so many other systems. Adding some quick flavor is not that hard.

        Besides that, though, I think it’s really all about what you’re trying to get out of the game. I think the intentional restriction is to make things easier for new RPGers. My very first experience with an RPG was 3.5, and I had no idea what I was doing. We played 2 sessions, then I didn’t play another RPG for almost 2 years. I don’t believe this game is meant to be a lite alternative for experienced gamers. I think it is intentionally aimed at newcomers. I think the assumption is that if experienced players are playing the game, they have the know-how to make those sorts of on-the-fly adjustments.

  6. Adrian

    You mentioned the Paladin’s quest move as overpowered, which I’ve found to be quite untrue in games I’ve played. Let’s take a closer look at the quest move you mentioned:

    First, the trigger.

    “When the Paladin dedicates themselves to a mission through prayer and ritual cleansing, state what they set out to do”

    Triggers are very important in dungeon world’s player facing moves. In order to engage that move, the trigger must be fulfilled. The Paladin cannot pledge a quest or take the benefits until they dedicate themselves to it through prayer and ritual cleansing. This is an opportunity to see what that entails for the Paladin, to get an insight into them, but it’s also a requirement. The Paladin cannot get the benefits without taking the time to pray and cleanse themselves.

    Then the Paladin has to choose the goal of their quest.

    “Slay _______, a great blight on the land
    Defend _______ from the iniquities that beset them
    Discover the truth of _______”

    By filling in the blanks, they set their goal. These statements must be true. The Paladin couldn’t have “Slay the baker’s son” as a quest objective, if the son is not a Great Blight upon the world. This qualifier guides the Paladin to pursue actions that exemplify their nature.

    Now the Boons that you described as overpowered. The Paladin can only choose two of these:

    “An unwavering sense of direction to _______.
    Invulnerability to _______ (e.g., edged weapons, fire, enchantment, etc.)
    A mark of divine authority
    Senses that pierce lies
    A voice that transcends language
    A freedom from hunger, thirst, and sleep”

    Pretty powerful, but still specific. Being immune to harm from any one source of harm is useful, but Dungeon World is full of as many dangers as the GM has imagination. These boons will help the Paladin, but they won’t totally obliterate challenge.

    Here’s the final part of the move that keeps it interesting.

    “The GM will then tell you what vow or vows is required of you to maintain your blessing:

    Honor (forbidden: cowardly tactics and tricks)
    Temperance (forbidden: gluttony in food, drink, and pleasure of the flesh)
    Piety (required: observance of daily holy services)
    Valor (forbidden: suffering an evil creature to live)
    Truth (forbidden: lies)
    Hospitality (required: comfort to those in need, no matter who they are)”

    “Vow or Vows” suggests that the GM can name multiple vows the Paladin must maintain. This is a built in balance mechanic, where the GM can set how difficult it is to maintain those boons. These will pull the Paladin in interesting ways and encourages them to act according to their prescribed nature. The Paladin would not have invulnerability to clubs if they ambushed the club wielding orcs while having the Vow of Honor.

    Also, what happens if the Paladin abandons or fails a quest? How does their God react?

    For anyone curious about the game and want to judge it for themselves can check out the free online rules: http://book.dwgazetteer.com/paladin.html They’re released under a creative commons licence so you can read and play this game without infringing copyright.

    also reach is a range for weapons.If you have a dagger and a goblin has a spear, you’re probably going to have to defy the danger of it’s spear before you can hack & slash it.

    Hand: It’s useful for attacking something within your reach, no further.

    Close: It’s useful for attacking something at arm’s reach plus a foot or two.

    Reach: It’s useful for attacking something that’s several feet away—maybe as far as ten.

    Near: It’s useful for attacking if you can see the whites of their eyes.

    Far: It’s useful for attacking something in shouting distance.

  7. Leonardo Bighi Lourenço

    This entire article seems to come from the point of view of someone that DIDN’T play the game, but is prejudiced against it for some reason.

    Like what you said about the players having to find the right move. It should be exactly the opposite. The players should be free to declare whatever they want their characters to do, and the GM should decide if it just happens or if a move is triggered. If it does not clearly fit into one of the movies, you just make it happen and move on. If your players are looking for the moves to do anything, you’re playing it wrong.

    One other example is your argument against the Paladin. This seems like you didn’t grasp what the game is about. This is a game where the GM is free to make almost anything happen, not restricted by attack options like other games. Is your Paladin immune to magic? The evil wizard can make ANYTHING ELSE happen. It can make the ceiling fall on him. It can blow the ground. It can attack a nearby statue or tree or whatever and make it harm the Paladin. ANYTHING can happen, the GM only have to say it. Is he immune to cutting objects? The enemies will soon realize and attack with the flat of the sword, or throw rocks or ANYTHING. The anything part is what’s important. And the damage is the same.

    Also, I don’t think you know what “restrictive” means. Not having movement rules doesn’t make it restrictive. It is the opposite. There are no specific rules for how many feet you can walk in a turn because a) it’s irrelevant and b) there are no turns. It’s the opposite of restrictive. It’s free.

    It seems you’re taking all your learned preconceptions about games and expecting to find them in Dungeon World. You say it should change the flow of the game in combat, you say it should have movement rules, you say it should have this or that, but you never really say WHY. Why should combat be handled different than any other part of the game? Is it really something that makes the game better or you’re just saying it because that’s how you learned?

    • Buck Huckins

      “Like what you said about the players having to find the right move. It should be exactly the opposite. The players should be free to declare whatever they want their characters to do, and the GM should decide if it just happens or if a move is triggered. If it does not clearly fit into one of the movies, you just make it happen and move on. If your players are looking for the moves to do anything, you’re playing it wrong.”

      Nah, I think that’s part of the problem, though. A lot of the moves are unnecessary to me. I like the mechanic, it’s a good template, and I understand that you basically freeform RP, then roll one of the moves if it sounds like something that would happen. But except for maybe hack and slash, there isn’t really a lot of interest to them, mechanically. I see other rules-light games that stay out of the way of the story, or actually add to it with their mechanics.

      DW just seems to have an extra layer around its core mechanic that isn’t well developed.

      Not to mention the moves seem to be confused with the combat maneuvers like Viper’s Strike.

      If you play Apocalypse World I think you will see how AW, with Vincent Baker’s actual hand in it, explains the concept a lot better.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        AW is on my list of games to play. I wish to return to the source!

  8. Zombie

    You got a lot of people arguing with you in your comments.

    Rules-light don’t work for me, and it is usually because the rules that do exist feel arbitrary and so abstract that they are completely divorced from what is actually happening, while still managing to trample all over the flow of the narrative in illogical and nonsensical ways that even the heaviest “simulationist” style games somehow manage to avoid. Dogs and Mouse Guard are two examples that spring to mind, and DW is sadly, another offender.

    Anyway, despite my aversion to the abstraction of rules light games, when I first saw the character sheets and basic moves for Dungeon World, I was instantly intrigued. I don’t impulse buy, ever, but for some reason DW jumped out at me and I purchased the PDF right away.

    Since then I have run it several times, and have played in several groups under different GMs.

    I hate GMing it, and won’t be doing that anymore, however I actually rather enjoy playing it as a PC. I’d say my reaction is pretty mixed, and most of my complaints seem to be pretty similar to yours.

    Hold, Forward, Ongoing … of course they aren’t difficult to grasp and learn. We’re gamers, we’ve had to deal with much worse. But the inclusion of these terms serves no purpose, and it almost feels kind of pretentious, and that kind of foreshadows some of the negative aspects of the games tone. It’s almost as if the writers are saying “this is the slang that I use when I am DMing and if you’re not doing it the way I do it, you’re doing it wrong, so it’s now a RULE. Also, I am going to make rules so that you convey your game’s plot, pacing, and theme exactly the way I do it when you’re trying to GM.”

    I enjoy playing the game, but I can’t imagine a game I would have less fun DMing than Dungeon World. For the Dungeon World GM, the rules are abstract and restrictive to a point that I just can not handle. I want to create adventures and plot hooks, mysteries and stories, settings and locations, and I feel like as a GM you have to actively fight the game’s rules engines every step of the way. The whole business of Moves -can- be a little restrictive on the GM’s side of the screen. The Fronts on the other hand seem like they serve no other purpose than needless restriction of creativity.

    You and your group must have exactly 4.5 units of fun, in predetermined increments, using one of these 11 approved fun dispensary methods.

    I thought that the idea of rules-light systems was so that the rules didn’t get in the way of the story, yet this is a common trend I am seeing (again thinking of Mouseguard and Dogs in the Vineyard) where rule systems that are light and airy in task resolution become granite monoliths that come crashing down to trample all over creative freedom when it comes to development and pacing of the plot/conflict/story.

    I agree with you about fights dragging out. This is an impression that has held true for me across several groups under multiple GMs.

    So, yeah, I actually enjoy being a player in DW, but GMing it isn’t for me, or you from the sound of things, and I just can’t understand some of the design decisions that, for me, ruin a potentially great game.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      See, I’m actually happy to see all these people who enjoyed Dungeon World. I don’t like giving bad reviews, I just call em like I see em. I totally get your frustration with supposedly ‘rules light’ games, btw, though I never had that problem with Mouse Guard. For me, Mouse Guard provided just the right amount of support without getting in the way.

  9. Aeter

    I mainly have issue about how you spoke about restrictive character creation. This is a system where most of the “rules” are left entirely up to the GM. Dungeon World comes off more as a guideline. I play the shackled city adventure path by Paizo with a group of people new to tabletop on Mondays and they are absolutely loving the creative room they have because they can customize everything. If you don’t like the predetermined races, don’t use the sheet and let them choose a new one. Select a bonus based on others for it. Bam. Halfling Bard. Don’t like a certain class move? Mix and match it with the dozens of classes out there that people have homebrewed.

    As a GM, I expect the difficulty of telling the story to be in my hands and I actually prefer how fast and loose the system is.

    • Brian

      Any system permits you to homebrew whatever you want for it. I could play unicorn in Warhammer 40K if I wanted to do so, that doesn’t mean that that’s reflective of that system’s character creation. As WRITTEN, Dungeon World has a really arbitrary character creation system that is at odds with the baseline premise of this system.

      • Jeff W

        Except, as WRITTEN, Dungeon World intends the GM to make new rules, classes, etc. and specifically tells you to do this. Two-thirds of the GM half of the book is essentially “How to Homebrew Dungeon World”. Homebrewing, be it the adventure, the rules, the classes, the world itself, is the entire point of DW.

  10. Buck Huckins

    Apocalypse World is a lot better of a game in my opinion.

    This game has some cool ideas but it’s missing what made Apocalypse World fun and interesting. Really the best that can be said about DW is that it is not a lot of rules.

  11. Buck Huckins

    ” Its sample characters are a diverse group, and the book uses mostly gender neutral pronouns.”

    Of the half-dozen female gamers I’ve played with over the years, exactly zero of them have ever complained about “he” or “she” being used in the rules books. Or the diversity. D&D by it’s basic aspects is a game about diversity; just look at all the races and classes. Just look at the art and the range of people it describes. Just switching between “he” and she” and “they” is such a formality it’s not even worth praising.

    • Rand al'Thor

      I’m glad lots of people enjoyed Dungeon World, but do you really need to argue? This is just someone’s opinion. It’s supposed to help you decide if you want the game or not. If you feel willing to try a 2d6 based system with restrictive character creation, then try it! It doesn’t matter if you disagree or not. This type of person had difficulties, so if you agree with most of his points, probably don’t play Dungeon World.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Hey Rand, it’s no problem for me, though I appreciate the support. The fact that what I wrote provoked such a strong reaction is actually a good thing in my books.

  12. Grant Ellis

    I appreciate the perspective the article gives: The game is not for everyone.
    The game really requires enormous imagination, improvisation, and adaptation.

    I’ve game mastered for roughly 20 years, so I was able to fairly gracefully adapt old ideas into their new jargon and I too was confused by seemingly simple terms such as “+1 Forward”… it helped to watch a long Youtube series that was little more than a reading of the book to get a better idea of running this show.

    I have similar criticisms some of the commenters of the article give, but I understand the articles point of view and they probably find more enjoyment in running a different type of game (as some of my friends who play Dungeon World do… they like Dungeon World when I run it, but they don’t like it if they have to or someone else steps in; those sessions and stories and better suited to a different gaming system.)

    Still, I actually enjoy the restrictive character creation, and it becomes far more interesting when you start asking questions and filling in the gaps… learning that the Dwarven Fighter’s signature weapon was hardened-acid-coated dragon’s blood with a chain modification allowing it to hit enemies at range was kind of cool and created some very unique story elements.

    • Rgmadd7

      +1 forward confused me too until I took 10 seconds to look it up. Some games just aren’t for everyone.

  13. Robert L

    I just played a DW game on Roll20 for the first time on sunday. I had read this review beforehand and thought it was going to be horrible, but honestly it was one of the funnest nights i have had in a long time playing a game. Alot of the stuff stated in this review as a negative i found to be very much positives. The limited options during char creation made it very simple for a new user like myself to jump right in. Unlike pathfinder that i have been working on a char for awhile now and am hating the game just from this process (i think thats more on the GM thats making me nuts though).

    As for the vague rules. I think that allowed so much freedom for the GM and party that it led to some great situations. I don’t understand what is hard to figure out about combat though.. we used a normal INIT system for us and the npc’s…

    And while the class/race combo’s are limited from the start. i doubt there is a GM alive that wouldn’t let you play something you wanted to as long as it fit into their world. I really think the spirit of DW lies in the fact that it is vague and you can modify as you wish.

    As someone stated above i think you are actually confusing restriction with freedom.. To me this is a very GM reactive game, allowing us all the freedom to do anything we desire within what a gm will allow.. the lack of guidelines and rules just allows for a much more enjoyable playing experience. Of course this would require you to have a good DM or you are gonna have a bad time

    • Brian

      “I don’t understand what is hard to figure out about combat though.. we used a normal INIT system for us and the npc’s…”

      That’s easy to explain: you didn’t use the combat system. The book is very clear that there is no turn order. Using an initiative system really helps clear up a major problem with the game.

      • Peep

        Oof, no, don’t use an iniative system. That’s very much not how it’s meant to work. The game is a conversation. Switch between players as and when they have something interesting to say or something interesting is happening to them or its an appropritem momentioned to check in.

        Gorbo dodges the giant cyclops axe (defy danger) he then clambers up its arm to chop (hack and slash) at its face, causing it to roar in pain. Gorbo takes the opportunity to try and rip the gemstone fron the cyclops’ forhead (bend bars). Now it’s time to check in of someone else.

        Don’t break up someone’s flow with arbitrary turn orders. It’s a conversation, and the system moves real fast, just don’t let someone hog the spotlight and you’ll be fine.

        Also I can’t remember where it’s stated but the narrative elements for character creation are guidelines, not hard rules. The bard doesn’t have to be x race any more than the fighter has to have cruel eyes.

  14. Brian

    I just wanted to say that this article pretty much summarizes everything I don’t like about Dungeon World: creating terms that 1.) are untethered from English and 2.) completely unnecessary; confusing combat; vague rules that become oddly restraining at unusual times. I would only add that I also don’t like the bond system, at least as far as it goes for pre-play character generation. It encourages players to play to an arbitrary feature rather than to the actual character.

  15. Rand al'Thor

    Torchbearer has race/class restrictions.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That’s true, and I don’t much care for them either. But Torchbearer delivers an excellent game, despite its admitted flaws. Dungeon World, in my eyes, does not.

  16. J.L Wickham

    Interesting responses here.

    I have only played in one game of Dungeon World (which I enjoyed tremendously). From the players perspective, I did not find any of the complaints (restrictive character creation, confusing terms, poor combat mechanics, etc.) to be true for me, personally. I found the game to be intuitive, free-flowing, exciting and story focused, while moving along at a rapid pace.

    I can’t compare the game to Apocalypse World, as I haven’t played AW yet (though I do own and have read the rules). AW rules do seem a bit complex for my tastes, though. It may be a granularity/crunch preference thing, with regard to the different opinions on the games.

    I’ve never DM’ed a game of Dungeon World, but have a game planned for the 14th of January, when I have some friends of mine coming in from out of town. The main charge here seems to be that the game is a pain to DM. I’ll be interested to see whether or not that is the case, and also what my players think of the game.

    I hope it goes well, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Wish me luck!

  17. Matrix

    I am looking into this game. This is a very negative perspective. It also shows that not everyone is going to “Get it”. Coming from the perspective of a Tactical type of role playing game, like D&D or Role Master and the like of the “Classic” role playing games, yes the rules are confusing and a bit obtuse and restrictive.

    Coming from the concept of a Narrative Role Playing game, it makes sense. It is more of a Narrative Storytelling Role Playing Game. This definition along with the understanding that you don’t need to restrict yourself to “I take a combat action to swing my sword, then a Move Action to take Cover, does that provoke an AOO?” type of limited thinking.

    Now that said, I completely understand the restrictive character generation, That has me a bit confused and feeling that I am restricted and limited to cookie cutter types of characters.

    Consider this: This is one of the first types of games to have this type of Style. Remember when White Wolf came out with the Storytelling RPG concept: Compare that to AD&D. Now compare D&D 1st box set to D&D 5th. They are vastly different, with concepts built on each other. I liken this system to D&D original when it came out. Elf was a class, Dwarf was a Class, Fighter was a human fighter. The system was confusing, mostly because no one has done it before. The classes were restrictive and the information was limited and confusing. Because it was the first and nobody knew how to express the concept of role playing games yet.

    That is how I see this game. It is the first, the simplest, and a “first draft” type of a game that introduces some unique ideas that haven’t fully been integrated and understood yet. The full understanding is poor and prior knowledge of the more tactical role playing games get in the way of understanding how to go with the Narrative styling.

    So, give it time, the Beta test of the idea has yet to be integrated, digested, and then organized into a more cohesive idea to be re-articulated and developed into more a more stable idea.

    Matrix

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I agree that Dungeon World is trying to be a narrative first type game in the style of Mouse Guard, but they specifically fail in the area of combat. It’s not very narrative or interesting for me to have to use Hack and Slash multiple times until the enemy falls over. A truly narrative system would have me either defeat the enemy or not via a single roll, then suffer the consequences. As written, it’s just representative.

      • Matrix

        Well certainly, I can see that it would be repetitive to simply use Hack&Slash multiple times. Just as in any other game it is repetitive to simply hack at the monsters until you die or win. Reading what I have, I can see it is completely up to the GM’s understanding of the game. If the player’s continually go, “I hit it with my Sword (or other weapon)” with out employing tactics or getting into the “Fiction First” concept. Then it will be boring. Being a Narrative game, I think that first both players and GM need to be on the same page and actually describe their actions and counter-actions. Hack&Slash is only one of the options on what to roll on. You could have a player take the monk attitude and attempt to spot places that nerve clusters are and hit those, making a Spout Lore as an attack roll. I also can see that most monsters wont go down in one hit. If they do then they are a minion and not a serious battle threat. It’s really all up to the GM’s interruption. A character could just as easily make a Volly check to cut a rope of a hanging boulder to squash that Cave Troll. Now, as far as a traditional role player, I can’t see it being a permanent fix. I noticed that ALL of the actions are simply rolls of 2d6 with a bonus of an attribute. That follows the Roll+Type Bonus+Equipment Bonus pattern. It would be easy to try to game it into your advantage by the min/max technique. But, the game isn’t about the tactical experience. It is about the story, the Narrative. For what it’s worth, As I see it, it makes a good first step. As a GM, you can make different calls and even create a more complex skill system or more complex dynamic. That is sort of like taking Role Master charts to D&D though. Needlessly cluttering up the system. You can do it to have more detail, more nuance, but it comes at a price. (to joke: a 7-11, succeed with cost)

        I must say that I haven’t played it yet, looking forward to trying it, but I can already see that I would be making a more complex version, less “rules lite” version for myself for a more continued game or campaign, beyond a one shot or short series of games.

        Matrix

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          There really aren’t any other tactics, is the problem. Or at least, none that are apparent. As different as DW is from D&D, it still has the same basic premise that an enemy (or PC) is defeated once they hit zero HP.

          Hack and Slash is the only move that makes that happen. I can Defy Danger all I want, I’ve still got to Hack and Slash if my goal is to defeat the lich. The system just isn’t complex enough for anything deeper.

          The GM could invent a lot of house rules if they are that devoted, but I don’t see the point. DW is lacking in so many areas that for the amount of house ruling it would take to fix it, you might as well make your own game.

          • Matrix

            I disagree. I have ran it once now. Many moves can cause damage. A Spell, Hack and Slash, Volley, and even the general fiction of a situation. It all goes down to a the fiction.
            I had a situation where a Monk used his Agility move to jump from one side to another in a set of Library racks to then land on a Dire Bat. He rolled a 10+ so up he went into the stacks and landing his normal damage on the Dire Bat, the second part of the attack was that he went on top of it, so it had lost height allowing the other characters to get a swipe at it.
            I also can see them enraging it and then rolling a Defy Danger Roll+CHA) for it to run smack into a wall, the PC dealing their damage as if they swung their sword. If failed (6 or less) on the roll, I can see the Dire Bat swooping down, picking up the PC and throwing them from a height (dealing it’s damage)
            So, yes the mechanics are simplistic and require quite a bit in interpretation and some non-linear thinking. You don’t think along the lines of map tiles or “To Hit” or anything of the sort, you think: What are they doing and what is the response of the monster? You present them with a possible effect and then have them explain what they are doing: The roll and action depend on what they do.
            While this lacks the sophistication of game mechanics it make up for it in story. And I have found that running a group and keeping it going and keeping the excitement going can be a bit challenging for a GM that is not used to lots of descriptions and listening to what the players are saying closely. It is also hard to keep track of things in a mass battle or where you have lots of different opponents. So the game isn’t for everyone but can bring lots to the table. On the Story end, A lot.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            You could certainly house rule other maneuvers to do damage if you want. At least, I’m fairly certain it would be a house rule. I don’t remember seeing anything about that when I read through the book.

            You still have the same basic problem. Why is a PC who’s good at Hack and Slash going to switch to Volley? You could force them to by narrating the enemy getting too far away for a sword strike, but the player isn’t make a choice there, you’re just forcing them to use a non-optimal strategy.

            The same goes with using a Charisma based Defy Danger to cause damage. Certainly you can do it, but unless the PC is a bard with high charisma, why would they? And once they know it’s possible, why would they do anything else? It also raises the question of why a bard luring a giant into a rock slide would do less damage than a fighter doing the same thing (since the bard has a smaller damage die).

            It’s possible to treat DW as a system where the PCs just describe what they’re doing to the GM, and the GM tells them which stat is most appropriate, but if it’s trying to do that then why does it have so many unnecessary rules? Why is everything so codified into moves if the GM is just meant to make stuff up on the spot?

            I have no problem making stuff up on the spot, but it’s harder to do when DW keeps telling me I have to do things its way.

          • Mike

            The main issue I think you may be having is that you assume that anything that isn’t defined as a “move” is a house rule. With Dungeon World this isn’t the case.
            I think you are letting the specifically defined moves arbitrarily restrict your understanding of what is “allowed” in the game. This is akin to thinking that the Fighter’s Bend Bars Lift Gates move is the only way to destroy something or perform a feat of strength. Which is absolutely not the case. Dungeon World has the Defy Danger move that covers every other type of situation that calls for a roll. It even states that in the move’s description: “You defy danger when you do something in the face of impending peril. This may seem like a catch-all. It is! Defy danger is for those times when it seems like you clearly should be rolling but no other move applies.”

            You don’t have to defeat a lich using only Hack and Slash. You want to collapse the ruins around him? Roll +STR to push over that column. You want to banish him into a holy artifact-prison? That could be a Wizard Ritual, or might require some kind of special quest item, etc. Maybe you just want to knock him down and hold him to keep him from casting spells?Describe what you do and roll +STR. If you fail, you’re going to be in the Lich’s ice cold life-draining embrace though.

            As for tactics, you can simply describe anything your character can reasonably do. You have to fight 5 men at once? Describe how you retreat back to a narrow corridor and use your spear to keep them at bay. The GM then has to make moves that make sense based upon what is currently happening in the game.

            As for varying difficulty, the book states under the moves section “Changing the Basics” this: “When a player makes a move and the GM judges it especially difficult, the player takes -1 to the roll. When a player’s character makes a move and the GM judges it clearly beyond them, the player takes -2 to the roll.”

          • Porkins

            You mention that combat in DW consists of rolling Hack/Slash until the enemy’s HP is to zero.

            “If the enemy isn’t prepared for your attack… restrained (or) helpless- then that’s not Hack and Slash. You just deal your damage or murder them outright, depending on the situation. Nasty stuff.” p 93

            Per the rules, if I can restrain an ogre during combat, then he is effectively dead: my buddies ‘murder him outright.’ Combat is over without having to deal with HP. Rolling Hack/Slash is a good way to get yourself killed, unless you’re rolling only 10+.

            “A weapon is useful primarily for its tags” p35
            “Messy: It… rip(s) people and things apart” p35

            If I am fighting the lich, all I have to do is chop off his hand with my Messy weapon. No more spell-casting for that lich! This is a single Hack/Slash roll that essentially decides the encounter. Now, before I can get close enough, I have to Defy Danger (CHA) from his Dominate attacks, and the Wizard would need to cast Dispel Magic to get rid of the lich’s protective Shelter. Finally, before being able to dispel the Shelter, the Wizard would need to Spout Lore to identify the lich’s shimmering magical defenses as, specifically, a Shelter. Of course, all of these rolls would need to be 10+, otherwise we would be in for some surprises. This is a standard RAW DW combat, as the example on page 93 describes:

            “Attacking a dragon… with a typical sword… just isn’t going to cause any harm, so it’s not an attack… if you’re in a position to stab a dragon on it’s soft underbelly (good luck with getting there) it could hurt, so it’s an attack.” p 93

            Getting in position to stab the dragon is going to require a lot of Shadow of the Colossus-style Defy Danger (DEX) rolls, maybe a few Volleys to distract him, and finally a Hack/Slash to bring it all home. Not only is there a variety of attacks here, but consider that it is a totally different set of skills than fighting the lich. Fighting a dragon is mostly about Dexterity: he is powerful, but slow. Fighting a lich is about Intelligence: only pure magical power can defeat him.

            This isn’t about requiring “more rolls.” A DM in D&D who asks for three consecutive STR checks to cross a stream is the same as a DW DM who asks for three consecutive Hack and Slash rolls to kill an orc: he’s being a dick. DW is not about filling up or depleting an HP bar: it’s about telling a story.

            “Inevitable… 21 HP… seemingly immune to mortal harm” p90
            “Dragon… 16 HP” p88

            “Bandit… 3 HP” p91
            “Your starting HP is equal to your class’s base HP+ Constitution score” p 8
            These figures alone should tell you that HP is largely for flavor in DW. If a Dragon has the same HP as a first level Adventurer, and a Cthulhu-type dark god has just a few HP more, then HP cannot be said to describe how difficult it is to defeat these creatures. HP is there for the same reason Elves, Dwarfs and Vorpal Swords are in there: it reminds people of the old editions of D&D. If you had a D&D-type game without HP, people would complain that it isn’t “old school” enough.

  18. Alex

    Interesting discussion! Having played AW variants pretty extensively and DW like once, I agree with a lot of what Oren said, especially the general feeling that DW is too rules heavy for a story game and too loosey-goosey for a tactical game.

    I agree with the comments that said the initial review is getting it a bit backwards when it comes to players and moves, though. It’s very unintuitive, but I think maybe the best way to describe DW is that it’s a reverse-crunchy game: there is an amount of crunchiness to the rules, but it’s only for the DM’s side, not the players. As far as I understand the player “ought” to play by just saying “I jump over the thing and do a cool flip and throw a dagger at the guy!” and then it’s entirely up to the DM to decide whether that means they do a Defy Danger or a Hack And Slash or whatever. Personally as a player I find the system to be often annoyingly metagamey, as if I want to get a good bonus I need to tailor my description to what I hope the DM will interpret as me using the Move I want to be using. As a DM, as people mentioned, it seems incredibly stressful because you have to pick from the unwieldy list of Moves and interpret what the players are doing based on them.

    My only time playing was pretty annoying because I was playing a Charisma-based Paladin who didn’t want to fight the monsters, but instead intimidate and cow them with my holy majesty (which I took a starting skill thing for iirc) but that ended up basically never working despite my successful rolls because the DM wanted us to hit them to death. (This was a con game with randos.)

    Personally if I want to get some hitting-things-game in my story game, I much much prefer to play Anima Prime, which in general has a much more elegant system for turning your words into mechanical effects. http://www.animaprimerpg.com/main/

    • Porkins

      “As a DM, as people mentioned, it seems incredibly stressful because you have to pick from the unwieldy list of Moves and interpret what the players are doing based on them.”

      There is a Move for each Attribute, and Defy Danger, which is essentially a Saving Throw that can use any Attribute. Then, there are a few Special Moves beyond this, that cover things like gaining levels or carousing in town. What of this seems unwieldy?

      “my holy majesty… ended up basically never working despite my successful rolls because the DM wanted us to hit them to death.”

      If you were rolling 10+ for Parley, the rules state you can get the enemy to do what you want in exchange for a promise. 7-9 means you have to do something for the enemy first. If the DM was not following that, then they weren’t following the rules. Don’t knock the rules, knock the DM.

  19. Matrix

    I think that the point of the game IS for the player to simply state what they are doing. The GM then decides what move it is. As far as what the GM does, “It starts and ends with Fiction” and “Never tell the players what move you are making”. That is the point. For players that want an “optimized attack” or to “Optimize” their rolls then they see a role playing game as more of a competition, not group storytelling. When I ran DW, I was actually less concerned as to the “Moves” that I could make but more of what is happening in the game. Now as a GM, it is stressful to keep the energy up and be asking “What do you do?” a lot but to me, my excitement level affected the players excitement level. It’s not, “I swing my sword and hit doing x damage.” It IS, “I stab at the goblin with my sword swinging it to cut him down.” A player needs to do almost no work what so ever, just describe what they want to do and have the GM tell me what “Move” I am making and roll. This is ROLE playing not ROLL playing. So, yes, it is less tactical, more losey goosey, and not as concrete as to tactics. It has it’s place, that place is not for everyone and it is simplified in many ways. Lacking sophistication isn’t a crime. And I haven’t checked out Anima Prime yet but it sounds like it could be a happy medium between the two, Tactical and Narrative. Many people are getting too tactical and too caught up in what type of action (Partial Action, free action, full round action, ect) they are doing and not WHAT they are doing in the action.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I really don’t think it’s fair to categorize players who wish to use optimal strategy as “roll-players.” From an in-character perspective, a character is going to try to do what they know they’re best at. It’s not unreasonable to roleplay as such. A super strong fighter isn’t likely to suddenly try out smarting the bandit, she’s going to hit the scoundrel with that sword she’s spent years learning how to use.

      As a player, I would never be comfortable just describing what I want to do with no idea how the GM is going to ask me to do it mechanically. If the GM decides on a different mechanic than the one I wanted, fine, but I need to be involved in that process. It seems very unrealistic to expect that players won’t be interested in which moves are being used to carry out their stated intents.

      Just going from your description, Matrix, it doesn’t sound like the rules provided you with much, if any, support. I had a similar experience when I ran DW.

      If we go with the idea that DW is meant to be one of those “Say what you want to do, roll some dice, keep going” games, then fine. I love those games. But DW has all these other rules hanging around that make that type of game untenable. You can do that with something like Prime Time Adventures, or even Mouse Guard, but not DW.

      • Jeff W

        Players vs Characters.

        The difference is, if Johnny is playing a character that is an inexperienced coward, if this “coward” is calmly employing advanced combat tactics to outmaneuver his foe, his player is pretty obviously roll-playing and not role-playing.

        It’s the difference between the players trying to see if their characters are going to be able to win, or if the players themselves are trying to “win”.

        If it’s that second bit, you’re playing more of a tactical combat simulator than an RPG. That’s fun in its own right, as the steady popularity of Warhammer indicates, but Dungeon World is absolutely not the game you want to try to use as a tactical combat simulator.

  20. J.L. Wickham

    I have now GM’ed a couple of games of Dungeon World. The very 1st game I GM’ed was completely without prep. It’s the first time I’ve ever attempted to run a game this way. I used an adventure primer I found online (basically, a series of questions you ask the players at the start of the adventure, that establishes broad guidelines for where the game takes place, what you’re doing, the foes you might be facing, etc.)

    Well, it worked brilliantly! Everyone had a blast and after the game, the players excitedly discussed how the rules could be adapted to a variety of campaign settings (one of my players said she thought it could be modified to run a game in the sci-fi setting of the Miles Vorkosigan series). Even my girlfriend noted that I was much less stressed and more relaxed when running the game, because I didn’t have to race to prepare material ahead of time, track stats or chase down rules for feats and conditions during play.

    Like any RPG, Dungeon World (and other PbtA games) is not for everyone. If you don’t like the game, or didn’t work for you, then that’s the way it is, and your opinion is certainly no more or no less valid than that of mine and my players. However, I would like to address a couple of the comments from some of you above…

    Matrix said- Consider this: “This is one of the first types of games to have this type of Style. Remember when White Wolf came out with the Storytelling RPG concept: Compare that to AD&D. Now compare D&D 1st box set to D&D 5th. They are vastly different, with concepts built on each other. I liken this system to D&D original when it came out. Elf was a class, Dwarf was a Class, Fighter was a human fighter. The system was confusing, mostly because no one has done it before. The classes were restrictive and the information was limited and confusing. Because it was the first and nobody knew how to express the concept of role playing games yet.”

    While I generally agree with the rest of Matrix’s comments, I think he’s missing it here. This is not a limited or incomplete system (nor are games like B/X D&D with their race as class and seemingly small selection of character types). These are games that lend themselves to easily creating custom classes (in the case of B/X) and custom moves (in the case of Dungeon World). They are also games for people that define their characters as much (or more) through personality, description and role-play than they do through game mechanics.

    I liken it to fantasy fiction. You have broadly the same character types in all S&S fiction: warriors, thieves, and mages. Despite these same basic archetypes, authors create interesting, different and wildly distinct characters based upon them. An imaginative player can do the same, and produce one character that plays very differently than another character, even if both characters have exactly the same mechanical statistics.

    Oren Ashkenazi said: “I agree that Dungeon World is trying to be a narrative first type game in the style of Mouse Guard, but they specifically fail in the area of combat. It’s not very narrative or interesting for me to have to use Hack and Slash multiple times until the enemy falls over.”

    In Dungeon World, you can attempt any combat maneuver you can image. You can attempt to grapple, trip, disarm, lure a foe into a trap, cast spells on them, backstab, or any number of things. I think where you’re getting hung up is that you aren’t able to adjudicate these actions without a hard and fast mechanic for each of them (as in Pathfinder, etc.). Always remember, any PbtA game action essentially boils down to this: Roll 2d6+ a modifier. On a 10+, you succeed. On a 7-9, you succeed but at a price, or with a complication or twist. On a 6 or less, you fail.

    It’s fairly easy to intuit what ability modifier to use to base an improvised move on. Are you trying to grapple with a big strong barbarian? Use STR. Are you trying to grapple with a rangy, agile monk skilled at Jujitsu? Use DEX. How would I interpret the result, though? Let’s say you’re trying to grapple to get an orc in a headlock. On a 10+, you get the orc in a headlock. What happens now? The orc probably struggles, trying to get free. Maybe he tries to elbow you in the gut to make you let go, or flip you over his shoulder. The DM could make you defy danger rolling 2d6+STR to keep the orc from flipping you over it’s shoulder. Or 2d6+CON to shake off the elbow strike to the gut.

    Yes- again, there are no rules for these things. This is a narrative game with a very simple core mechanic, that relies heavily on the players imaginations and the DM’s ability to improvise and narrate the action based on what they imagine. If either the DM or the players don’t come by this naturally, or have the capacity to develop these abilities, Dungeon World (and other PbtA games) will not be a good fit for you. This doesn’t make the game bad or poorly designed- just not a good fit for your particular group.

    Oren Askhenazi also said: “You could certainly house rule other maneuvers to do damage if you want. At least, I’m fairly certain it would be a house rule. I don’t remember seeing anything about that when I read through the book.”

    Yes, it’s certainly easy enough to create custom moves. And for something particularly complex or unusual, perhaps you would want to. But really, as I pointed out above, PbtA games are really meant to use the core mechanic of 2d6+modifier and interpret the results creatively based upon the game fiction, in order to create dynamic, exciting combats and encounters. If used as intended, my experience has shown that it does this exquisitely well. Again though, it requires imaginative players and GM’s with a knack for improvisation and running narrative-focused games.

    Oren Askhenazi also said: “It’s possible to treat DW as a system where the PCs just describe what they’re doing to the GM, and the GM tells them which stat is most appropriate, but if it’s trying to do that then why does it have so many unnecessary rules? Why is everything so codified into moves if the GM is just meant to make stuff up on the spot?”

    Fair enough. I look at it like this, though; the game provides a framework for implementing and interpreting the most common actions characters might take in a fantasy RPG (fighting, resting, parleying, foraging, etc.) through the lens of the 2D6+modifer core mechanic. This is helpful for those who need a bit more guidance, structure and examples of how to use the core mechanic in play.

    But I don’t see why this should be problematic for you. While I do use pretty much all of the codified moves, there’s no reason why you can’t just chuck them out and rely strictly on your own interpretation of the 2d6+ dice mechanic. If you would rather do that, then just do it. Dungeon World is meant to be simple and easily modified. I’m hard pressed to think of a simpler modification than that.

    Alex said: “My only time playing was pretty annoying because I was playing a Charisma-based Paladin who didn’t want to fight the monsters, but instead intimidate and cow them with my holy majesty (which I took a starting skill thing for iirc) but that ended up basically never working despite my successful rolls because the DM wanted us to hit them to death. (This was a con game with randos.)”

    Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but you can’t blame the game rules for this situation. Judging from your own comment, the problem is clear- you had a shitty GM.

    Matrix said: “I think that the point of the game IS for the player to simply state what they are doing. The GM then decides what move it is. As far as what the GM does, “It starts and ends with Fiction” and “Never tell the players what move you are making”. That is the point.”

    Absolutely! This is what the game is all about. If you and your players understand this, if your players have vivid imaginations and you have the ability to improvise and narrate based upon the fiction using the core mechanic, you will have no trouble running an exciting, successful campaign.

    Oren Ashenkazi said: “As a player, I would never be comfortable just describing what I want to do with no idea how the GM is going to ask me to do it mechanically. If the GM decides on a different mechanic than the one I wanted, fine, but I need to be involved in that process. It seems very unrealistic to expect that players won’t be interested in which moves are being used to carry out their stated intents.”

    This is telling, and I think it is the real heart of why this system doesn’t work for you and your players. Dungeon World assumes an attitude of trust on the part of the players toward the GM, to make rulings that are reasonable, fun and produce a satisfying game. It also assumes that the players are primarily concerned with the game fiction and imagining the roles of the characters within that fiction, in preference to concerning themselves with the exact mechanics of every action and whether or not that action allows them to tap into the best mechanical bonuses to their character every time.

    The game does not, coincidentally, assume that players will be uninterested in which moves are being used to carry out their intents; it just assumes that that the players will be primarily interested in the game fiction, and will not be overly concerned if sometimes the circumstances of the game fiction dictate that they will not always receive the most favorable bonus.

    Based on your statement above, I feel there is no way you and your players could possibly enjoy Dungeon World, as its core expectations are diametrically opposed (in this one specific way) to what you want from an RPG. This is not a flaw in the game itself, but rather an illustration that the games style and way of doing things is simply incompatible with that of you and your players. Which is why I find certain dogmatic statements in your blog frustrating. For example:

    “If we go with the idea that DW is meant to be one of those “Say what you want to do, roll some dice, keep going” games, then fine. I love those games. But DW has all these other rules hanging around that make that type of game untenable. You can do that with something like Prime Time Adventures, or even Mouse Guard, but not DW.”

    Stating that the game is unplayable as an objective truth is at best misleading; at worst, patently false. This is proven by the fact that myself and many others have used Dungeon World to run our games and have gotten superb results.

    If you don’t like the game and wouldn’t recommend it to others, then fair enough; that is your opinion and you are entitled to it. But don’t conflate your inability and the inability of your players to utilize the rules as written, as proof that they can’t be used at all.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      You’ve clearly put a lot of thought into this, but just a point of order, I never said DW was unplayable. Clearly it’s playable, I played it. What I said in that comment was that a specific type of game that many seem to be advocating, which is a narrative heavy “roll to do or not do the thing and don’t be too concerned with mechanics” type game, would be “untenable.” You can certainly do it if you try hard enough, but I don’t believe it’s a stable position.

    • Matrix

      Far better Articulated that my reasoning. Thank you.

      I especially liked. “This is telling, and I think it is the real heart of why this system doesn’t work for you and your players. Dungeon World assumes an attitude of trust on the part of the players toward the GM, to make rulings that are reasonable, fun and produce a satisfying game. It also assumes that the players are primarily concerned with the game fiction and imagining the roles of the characters within that fiction, in preference to concerning themselves with the exact mechanics of every action and whether or not that action allows them to tap into the best mechanical bonuses to their character every time. ”

      I will admit that I was taking it forgranted that the GM should choose what specific “Move” is made but added to that is the simple fact that it is a narrative and therefor the choice is negotiable. If a Player gives his fiction and the GM says, yes that is “X Move” Roll+ X Stat. Then the player can say that his thinks that “X Stat” would be more appropriate given the circumstances. Now this shouldn’t happen for every situation but a certain amount of trust in the GM/Player relationship should happen and this mechanic will get smoothed out over time. Remember the GM is a “Fan of the Players”. This means that he wants the players to succeed and create a good story. Good story involve conflict and difficult things, not succeeding all the time. It gets boring if it is the same all the time; too easy; too hard; or just plain not appropriate. Some accord must be reached. It is not GM vs Players. That is a problem that many tactical games fall into.

      Overall, Story wins over the rules. The system does try to emphasize this but provide a framework for going “off the map”, that is, outside of the rules and improvise as any good GM should do from time to time.

  21. J.L. Wickham

    Untenable , according to Merriam-webster, means: not capable of being defended against attack or criticism : not tenable.

    The implication is clear: We cannot defend the position that Dungeon World is playable as a narrative game because, in your own words: “If we go with the idea that DW is meant to be one of those “Say what you want to do, roll some dice, keep going” games, then fine. I love those games. But DW has all these other rules hanging around that make that type of game untenable. You can do that with something like Prime Time Adventures, or even Mouse Guard, but not DW.”

    I’ll write it again, for emphasis… “You can do that with something like Prime Time Adventures, or even Mouse Guard, but not DW.”

    In other words, DW cannot be used in this way at all. This cannot be interpreted as anything but a dogmatic statement, and is demonstrably false, as there are people in this very comment’s section who have offered tenable arguments to the contrary, and personal testimony that the rules will ably produce a game of the type which you claim they cannot.

    Now you have back-peddled and changed your position to this: “You can certainly do it if you try hard enough, but I don’t believe it’s a stable position.”

    Need I point out the contradiction in your statement here? If a game is tenable if you try hard enough, it is tenable- regardless of how much (alleged) effort is required.

    But don’t try to claim that you didn’t say the game was unplayable. You stated quite specifically that it was unplayable in at least one way. To suggest otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

  22. Matrix

    I think that my only complaint so far, other that the system can be too simple is that running it can be exhausting. But in a good way.

    The GM and the Players are constantly challenged with descriptions and the descriptions drive the game. Painting the picture with words can be a bit taxing. Fun, but at the end of the night I am a bit drained. I may be trying to hard. But my players seem to have a ton of fun, so it’s worth it.

  23. Tom Knight

    Having done this a few times before stumbling across this article, I agree with a lot of the underlying criticisms of DW. What I find particularly irksome about the system is that it represents a sort of a trap. DW is a rollicking golly-gee-willikers funfest that is easy to learn and fun to jump into with minimal prep… as a player. As a GM the rules are unwieldy and you have the house rule some pretty significant chunks of the game if you want to tell a coherent story.

    Any system that my players love but gives me a headache is a recipe for GM burnout, especially when there are so many superior low-prep options (like Torchbearer).

    • Ryan

      I think I have told multiple coherent stories with no house rules. I don’t understand the comments against DW, perhaps you can be more specific.

      • Jeff W

        I ran a solo session for myself last night, as prep for a game that will be happening sometime in the next few weeks, and I was amazed with the results. I just came up with a simple goblin encounter in a simple cave and even though I was playing both sides, it wasn’t like I knew exactly how everything was going to play out.

        It’s a little nerve wracking at first, just letting things happen, but I mostly just thought about “what would be cool here?” or “what would they do in that situation?” and when that caused a move to trigger, I rolled the dice.

        One thing that helped was I read the story of the “16hp dragon”, and it really illustrated how the game was intended to work. You’re not looking at the stat block to see what moves you or your monsters do, you’re describing interesting events, and that triggers die rolls.

        The way the rules work, while the players do succeed 50% of the time, they also fail 75% of the time, and that’s where the GM can be absolutely brutal if the situation calls for it. Yeah, you stabbed the dragon, but thanks to his thick hide it was basically just a scratch, and now your arm’s off because the dragon decided he didn’t appreciate the poke, and took a swipe at you with his giant claws. It was your sword arm too.

        With the kind of guys I play with, I’m pretty stoked about what they will come up with.

  24. Long-Time GM

    The writer of this article sounds like they are an inexperienced GM. I’ve been GMing for over 20 years and I don’t think I’ve found better rules for facilitating an amazing game with good roleplay and equality among players in terms of everyone getting a say at the table etc.

    All the rules of this game are there to make the session always move forward and pretty much teaches both players and Gm alike how to play a table top RP for the most amount of fun.

    I’ve literally only found one or so rules/pieces of advice in the Dungeon World system that are bad, or poorly explained for novices.

    The main culprit being ‘separate them’ which any experienced GM knows is a bad move, unless it’s confined to ONLY combat, or like, a trap in a single room. But generally if players TRULY separate then you end up GMing two games at once instead of one, and some players usually get left out. It also creates a bad environment for meta-gaming, since players from one part of the quest can hear what the characters of another part of the quest are doing, but must act like they don’t know. Etc.

    As an experienced GM I can tell you exactly how to use the Dungeon World rules without them being restricting. But first, let me explain the one criticism that I feel is correct in this article.

    The one piece of criticism in this article that is correct is that the pre-set character sheets and pre made things in this game ARE restricting, even though a great starting place to build your characters or just run a game right off the bat, and a great starting place for new players or GM’s too.

    So the one bad thing I will say about this system myself is that it would indeed take quite a lot of work to create your own custom character classes if you wanted to play a different setting.

    Now how can you play without ‘moves’ feeling restricting? Well, for that you have to have the experience as a GM to know what the difference is between a core mechanic, and its dressing.

    If your players are saying things like, ‘I hack and slash’ you’re playing it wrong. You encourage them to speak only in narrative, “I slash upwards blah blah” then you can say, ‘roll a hack and slash ‘ or ‘roll + str’ or ‘do a str check’ or whatever. It doesn’t matter how you ‘say’ it, don’t treat the moves as a restriction, they are only there to serve your actual narrative actions.

    In the same manor, you don’t have to adhere to the exact consequences for a roll of 6-, 7-9, and 10+ stated in the rule.

    This isn’t said explicitly or if it is it might only be in one small part of the rules book, but an experienced GM will know this, and that’s, if you find the consequences for a particular ‘move’ like hack and slash, to be too restrictive, YOU DON’T HAVE TO FOLLOW the suggested consequences of the move. Strip the dressing from the actual mechanic.

    The actual mechanic is laid out way at the beginning of the book. 6- = fail with consequences, 7-9 = success with trouble, 10+ = pure success. That’s all you actually need to play. You have six attributes, the exact same as in DND, and you roll ‘checks’ that are appropriate to whatever you’re doing, exactly as in DND, just without the dressing.

    So if you’re rogue is trying to do something you as the GM would ask yourself, ‘what attribute would that use, wis, dex, int? pick one, then make the player roll+the appropriate mod.

    Upon rolling a 6-, you do the fail + consequence, etc.. you don’t have to use the exact consequences of the actual ‘move’ associated with that modifier, like ‘volley’ or etc. Though you can if you’re stuck for ideas.

    The only other mechanic is as said in the article, to remember to give penalties or bonuses based on circumstances.

    If you find your players are failing really simple tasks that no one should fail, you’re GMing wrong. That’s up to you, not up to the rules. If something is so simple they shouldn’t be able to fail – don’t make them roll, just make it happen. If something would be fairly simple with little chance of failing, but SOME chance of failing, give your player the appropriate bonus! It’s okay to say, ‘well, you’re a thief so I will give you a +3 to attempt stealing from that big ogre while he’s distracted.’ That’s up to YOU, the GM, not up to a rule book to spoon feed you.

    You’re the one making the game not fun for the players if you try to enforce rules in a way that is burdensome, like making them roll to turn a doorknob. Or not giving any bonus to an expert archer when they are shooting playing a target-game with the Chief of the Naru tribe.

    • Long-Time GM

      I apologize for the arrogant tone in my reply. There is good advice in there but my tone was wrong, because I spoke so passionately. I apologize for being patronizing and arrogant.

      I don’t know if the article writer is inexperienced or not, and I shouldn’t have boasted so much about my own experience. And although I stand by the advice in my response, I apologize for the tone I used and the haughtiness.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        That’s quite alright, I don’t mind people disagreeing with me. For the record, I’ve been GMing for 17 years, but that fact isn’t terribly relevant. Even if I’d been GMing for 30 years, that wouldn’t make the above article more or less correct. I wrote that post because I believe it to be true, and the points will stand or fall on their own, regardless of how many years I’ve been running games.

    • Samuel Johnson

      House rules are the last refuge of a poor game designer.

    • Maezar

      I use “Separate Them” in a lot of creative ways. Even a small bit of distance or the sudden realization that the enemy is divided can require the characters to, for example, make a numbered set of roll-connected moves (3?) without invoking each other in their individual fictions.

  25. Ryan

    The oddest complaint I have heard is; it’s as easy to out run a Avalanche as a small landslide, that is completely false! As a DM if my players roll a 7-9 is where this shows, for a small landslide the consequences are minor but for an avalanche they are not. It also shows in the 10+ roll that it I shouldn’t let them get unrealistic success just because of a roll.

    Every problem this article points out is either wrong or just weird because they are issues with poor DMing.

    • Jeff W

      I wouldn’t call it poor DMing, I’d call it a different style that is wholly incompatible with the DW style. Every game advocates the storytelling style, even D&D says to slap your players if they say “I want to make a dex roll” instead of “I’m going to walk across the tight-rope”, but very few games actually enforce it, and a lot of games actively get in the way of it. I’d say the current iterations of D&D are neutral on the issue, maybe helping a little, while the first couple of iterations of D&D actively got in the way of the storytelling.

      But the fact of the matter is, a not-insignificant portion of the gaming community plays the game by saying “I want to make a dex roll to try to cross the tight-rope”. You can run fun games like that in a rules-heavy quasi-simulationist game like D&D, but they aren’t narrative games, and DW fails completely if you don’t run it with an almost complete focus on the narrative. It doesn’t have the complex ruleset to fall back on that makes that kind of game interesting. Like, Warhammer is an extreme example. It’s not an RPG at all, but it has fluff, and players in a game usually come up with a story for why they are fighting, and then after that it’s pure combat simulation. That’s fun for a lot of people, but it’s fun because of the rules, not because of the story. Dungeon World doesn’t have those kinds of rules, so it won’t ever be fun in that way.

      That’s why they say over and over and over “fiction first” or “the fiction drives the action” or “do what the fiction demands”, fiction fiction fiction! It’s ALL about the story. Think of the coolest thing you read in that fantasy book, have your character do those things, and DW will make things happen in spectacular style. Don’t do that, and DW is going to suck.

  26. Mike

    Dungeon World is by far the most mechanically simple tabletop RPG game I have ever played. I certainly understand that your group had a different experience with it. If you’re used to playing more rules heavy games, it is definitely a leap to change gears in order to play or run DW in the way it’s intended. For me it was like learning to GM all over again after 20 years. I had a hard time with the same roll with a small modifier for everything at first as well. However, when I finally stopped focusing on the mechanics and started focusing more on moves, the story, properly utilizing monster moves and making good moves in response to players rolling 7-9 or 6-, the game really started to shine.

    You mentioned the Paladin is overpowered, but I disagree simply because the GM should be utilizing threats that the Paladin isn’t immune to (in addition to allowing that power to shine of course.) But compare the Paladin moves with the Wizard’s Ritual move. Or the Druid’s shapeshifting move. You can quickly see that power balance doesn’t happen in terms of mechanics, it happens in terms of the actual story.

    Some of my group loves it while others don’t care for it. Interestingly enough I find that new players LOVE the system compared with something more dense and simulationist like most tabletop RPGs. While veterans are generally confused or frustrated by the oversimplification at first. I think for me its the absolute best “pick up and play” one shot or short campaign style system. The restrictions on character creation are a boon when you are running a game on a time limit or running for new players. For veteran players, I recommend using the book “Class Warfare” to build your own classes if you feel too restricted by the core class rules.

  27. 3Comrades

    I like the game but agree with most of yyour points. For me combat has always worked great, but I get it requires more out of the boxness setting up than most and doesn’t really prepare the DM for that. I disagree the Paladin is the most overpowered, that belongs to the bard, fully working Cleric and Wizard in just a few levels is a bit absurd.

  28. Maezar

    I totally respect that Dungeon World is not for everyone. My 5E 20-something friends can’t stand the looseness of it, but at the same time, I disagree with most of their points and those made in this article. As a 38-year veteran of RPGs, I have found that Dungeon World brings exactly the right blend of imagination and structure to allow both seasoned gamers and novices to enjoy fantasy role-playing at the same table. In fact, I’ve found that aside from a little help with roll mechanics, players will have almost exactly the same type of experience and fun when playing Dungeon World as they will in more structured systems. The big pickurfor me is time saved. You’ll spend less time prepping, less time researching complex rules, less time watching players look for something to say or do as they scour a character sheet for that they can “do”, and zero time in the court of rules-lawyering. As in any system, GM knowledge is essential, and it took me a few days to grasp the concepts like “forward”, “hold” and “triggering” but in this day and age I was one YouTube video away from a live play example and had my own table up and running after just a few hours of reading and research. In fact, as a gamer since 1978, I find the Dungeon World experience far closer to that experience of mystery and all-out fun that we had playing D&D, AD&D, and other early games than any other system available today. Meanwhile, recognizing that old-school gamers might find the modern format of the character sheets and playbooks to be a bit new-fangled, I created some free variants that you might enjoy. You can find them at http://mysticworks.com/dw/

    Finally, I want to mention that I switched from “classic” Dungeon World to the even _lighter_ variant called “Freebooters on the Frontier.” It has a basic D&D feel and works beautifully as the structure behind our most in-depth and exotic FRP gaming, and can also be used to bang out the perfect 4-hour oneshot. Find my free goodies for that system at http://mysticworks.com/freebooters/

    As for over-poweredness: because the system is so prep-light, it is of course very easy in my opinion to offset what seem like over-powered character classes. To the point: I for one would never allow “I’m immune to blunt objects” to be spoken by Sir Goodall. Perhaps, “The weapons of the savage beast-men who oppose us” might do, but imagine the Paladin’s woe when, realizing their usual tactic of ganging up on the fighter isn’t working, those semis-intelligent foes wise up and redirect ALL of their physical attacks against the poor mage and thief hiding at the back of the party—or worse, drop their weapons and spring in with teeth, claws, and curses blaring against all.

    As for scalability of challenge, it is nonsense that DW isn’t easy to keep challenging. It’s easy to string a long “narrative of rolls” coming for a larger challenges. Maybe it’s a 3-roll avalanche! “Just as you dodge the icy boulder and regain your footing a massive pine tree swings creaking and crashing down towards you. What do you do?….. Dodging beneath the tree proves to be harder than you thought it would be as you find yourself clutching to an icy hillside with Sir Goodall crashing down towards you in full armor.” Then of the GM is free to impose situational modifiers as well… The avalanche move might require you to make the first roll at -1, the second roll at -2, and the third roll at -3….
    The entire point is telling the story of how your characters succeed or fail.
    In fact, I’d venture that a vast majority of GMs in more restrictive rules systems use house rules, fudged rolls, and nerfed versions to achieve exactly the same overall relationship between rules and stories. One must never imagine that this type of game was ever first intended to be played as some kind of “balanced system.” If it were I think we’d all be playing a kind of RPG “chess” against computers by now.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I appreciate your polite disagreement Maezar, though I can’t help but chuckle at the 5E reference in your seconds. The commentors in my 5E review can tell you what I think of 5E.

  29. C.

    I don’t really want to respond to article, but I feel that I need to, and I’ll tell you why. At the end of last year, I was hearing great things about dungeon world from people my friends associated with (friend of a friend kind of thing), so I took to the Internet to check it out and found this article. I read it once and since my primary experience was with D&Dish type games, the article spoke to me. I stayed away from it, put any curiousity out of my mind, even quoted the article to people who lauded praises on DW.

    I couldn’t have been more wrong.

    Let me be clear. I’m not writing this to rebuke the author of this article. I’m sure he’s a fantastic GM who makes the table fun for all of his friends. That’s what’s most important in a game.

    I’m writing this for the people who are thinking about playing Dungeon World and have stumbled across this article, just I did. I find it very unlikely that, given the age of this article, anyone will read through all of the comments to find this at the bottom. Nevertheless, for those or the one who made it here: Play this game. Let me tell you why.

    Dungeon World, and games that use the same system, create a unique and open roleplaying experience designed around the gaming philosophy “Play to find out.” This means that you’re not playing a story the GM dreamed up sometime before the session. Instead you’re playing something that builds off the decisions that you make in character, brings them to the forefront of the story and makes them important to the whole game. No one sitting down at the table knows what’s going to happen, not even the GM. It’s unique experience, and worth trying for that alone.

    Something else you need to know: It’s hard to understand this kind of game if you’re coming from a background of pathfinder or D&D. But it’s so, so worth it, trust me. Find a good GM who absolutely loves this game, or go online and find one. Get them to run it for you and you’ll start to see how amazing this game can be. It does require a good GM though. Bad GMs stick out in this system worse than other games. I wouldn’t recommend running it unless you’re relatively new to Roleplaying Games and have no exceptions or stigmas to overcome.

    If you’re interested in my nitpicking everything that’s been said in the comments so far, or you curious about the game system, continue on. If not, go find a good GM who loves DW and get them to run it for you.

    So let’s have a discussion about Apocalypse World and Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games. Anytime you talk Dungeon World, you have to examine it through the lens of these types of games.

    Go back in time to a place where you had never played a roleplaying game before. Ask yourself “How would I make one? What’s the most basic level of a roleplaying game?” I’ll tell you: It’s a conversation. The most basic roleplaying game ever (you played it as a child) would have Player 1 saying what he or she does in the theatre of the mind and Player 2 responding to it. No dice. Just a conversation. Back and forth with Player 1 saying something that happens to him or her in the fiction and player 2 responding with his or her character or describing the world. PbtA games are built on top of this conversation.

    So now let’s talk about moves. In PbtA games, the Player says what he does, triggers a move, rolls the dice, then the GM makes a move in response, based on the the results of the dice and what’s happening in the fiction. I could try to explain to you that PbtA is all about the back and forth dance of moves, but I think Mark Diaz Truman does it better here:

    http://www.gauntlet-rpg.com/1-forward/urban-shadows

    If you are seriously considering playing Dungeon World or other PbtA games, give this a listen. Mark, in my opinion, wrote the best designed PbtA game out there, but he also struggled to “get it” when it comes to these types of games.

    I would say that the vast majority of the commenters here, and the author too (No disrespect intended), have glossed over one of the most important parts of Dungeon World, and that is the GM moves. As I said, PbtA games are all about the back and forth dance of moves. It’s on the GM to make a move at the appropriate time and appropriate to the fiction. Brendan Conway wrote an excellent article on this topic, and I believe it’s very useful reading to anyone who’s serious about playing PbtA games.

    http://www.magpiegames.com/2016/03/17/picking-the-right-gm-move-in-pbta-part-one/

    Player moves are designed to trigger what is most interesting in the fiction, GM moves are designed to create a certain experience for the game. This is hard to explain.

    A designer chooses what player moves are included in the game based on the experience he or she is trying to give to the players at large. There’s no “Turn someone on” player move in Dungeon World because that’s not in line with the tropes associated with Fantasy, but that move becomes central to a Romance based PbtA game. This is not to say that people don’t get turned on in Fantasy Roleplaying Games, it’s just not what’s most important to the genre. You might feel like there are moves missing from the game. That’s why good PbtA games give you a “hacking” section in the back of the book. Dungeon World calls it Advanced Delving.

    The Advanced Delving is there because the GM is supposed to write new moves and add new stuff as they play. It’s written right there in Fronts, the GM comes up with custom moves for each front (A front is threat or adversary of some kind that presents itself in play). Ignoring the existence of this section means that you’re not playing Dungeon World as intended.

    Again, the game is designed for the GM to create custom moves for the challenges they put into the game. If there’s a romantic front/threat, the a “Turn someone on” might actually make it into the game, because it is relative to the fiction at hand. It’s on GM to do this though.

    In fact it’s on the GM to make this game a good experience, perhaps more so than other games, and it’s also not something you’re going to master on your first try. But if you stick to the Agenda, Principles, and GM moves that they give you in the book, then you have the tools to practice and get better. And let me tell you, this game, and other games like it, are super, super rewarding when you get them down. No other game system has been as fun for me.

    I leave you with my favorite Dungeon World actual play experience. It has its ups and downs because they switch around GMs a lot (Which illustrates my point about a good GM), but the characters are lovable and the story they develop is deep and treasurable.

    Chain World
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=tDyRprR-Slg

  30. Baronvonheil

    I am not going to accuse you of not playing the game, but you clearly do not get it. You talk about rolling hack and slash over and over in combat as if the player justs says “I roll hack and slash.” That would be boring. Here is an actual example of play from one of my games.

    DM: Haukr-one eye you awake to find yourself naked in a dank sea cavern, you are tied to a stone altar cared out of the natural rock a sea hag cackles as she stands above you. She clutches a stone dagger and begins to chant.

    Haukr: I mutter a quick prayer to the Stone Father to give me strength and strain every sinew in my body in an attempt to break my bonds.

    DM: Sounds like you are defying danger using strength, roll.

    Haukr: 8+2 from strength gives me a 10.

    DM: Perhaps to Stone Father was listening. You manage to break your bonds. The hag stops chanting and raises her dagger.

    Haukr: Since I have no weapon I head butt her with my thick dwarven skull.

    DM: Roll hack and slash.

    Haukr: 9+2, 11.

    DM: Roll damage

    Haukr: (rolls) 4.

    DM: She seems momentarily stunned.

    Haukr: Do I still have my stone holy symbol around my neck?

    DM: Yes.

    Haukr: I grab it, shove it down her throat, and cover her mouth and nose until she chokes on it.

    DM: Roll it.

    Haukr: 11+2, 13.

    DM: Roll your damage.

    Haukr: 8.

    DM: You hold your hand over her nose and mouth as she slowly asphyxiates on your holy symbol of the stone father.

    That is what DW is like if you embrace it.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Cool example Baron, but that actually is a case of repetitively rolling Hack and Slash. You made it a lot more fun with some excellent description, but you could have done that in any system, nothing about DW is helping you do that. Fortunately in this example it only took two swings to take the monster down, but with bad damage rolls and/or tougher monsters it can take 3-4 swings, and I can only find so many ways to make “you try to do damage to the enemy again” sound interesting!

      • d3vkit

        Not the OP, but I don’t think it is as simple as that. It wasn’t just hack & slash – there was a defy danger in there. Also, I would probably have made the shoving into mouth thing a defy danger + Dex as well, or maybe nothing since the hag was stunned, and then just said “it works and they die”. So the only h&s would be the headbutt, I think.

        But continuing to your example of the player rolling poorly, that actually would have made things way more varied – it should never just be a bunch of hack & slash. For example(I’ll start with the original description from OP, and then we’ll see what some worse rolls might do…)

        GM: Haukr-one eye you awake to find yourself naked in a dank sea cavern, you are tied to a stone altar carved out of the natural rock; a sea hag cackles as she stands above you. She clutches a stone dagger and begins to chant.

        Haukr: I mutter a quick prayer to the Stone Father to give me strength and strain every sinew in my body in an attempt to break my bonds.

        GM: Sounds like you are defying danger using strength, roll.

        Haukr: 6+2 from strength gives me an 8

        (Notice the change I made here – they rolled a partial success. Now they get what they want, but with a cost or complication.)

        GM: You break free of the ropes holding you, but the hag sees you struggling and quickly cuts your cheek, as her chant becomes more fervered. Suddenly you feel and hear a rushing wind all around you. She raises the dagger high above you once again. What do you do?

        (This is my GM move, show signs of an approaching threat – both the dagger and the wind, looks like the ritual is coming to completion)

        Haukr: I don’t have a weapon – I’ll headbutt her

        GM: okay sounds like hack and slash

        Haukr: oh… 5.

        (Here they failed. GM can make as hard a move as they want. The hag has a dagger raised right?…)

        GM: you raise you head up to headbutt the hag, but she sees this coming from a mile away; she dodges back a bit and pushes the dagger down into your left eye socket. Take 1d6 damage, and your eye is now missing!

        (GM move deal damage)

        Haukr: Oh wow, okay I want to just leap up, pushing her down as I do so!

        GM: sounds like defy danger + Dex

        Haukr: 8

        GM: you leap up and push the hag down; her blade goes flying out of her hand. But the rushing wind has grown louder and stronger, and suddenly you see a being now standing before you; it seems illuminated with a faint blue light. It has fiery red eyes and when it breathes, flickers of flame spout from its mouth. What do you do?

        (GM move reveal an unwelcome truth. The character has kept up and even disarmed the hag, but now they’ve got this new thing in front of them)

        Haukr: where is the dagger, can I get to it from here easily?

        GM: the being is between you and the dagger – if you want the blade you will have to probably get around this thing

        Haukr: well, I’ll just hit it then!

        GM: are you looking to knock it out of the way, or get in a fight?

        (This is important to clarify, so the player and the GM are on the same page. The player here can see the GM is basically asking, “is this hack and slash or defy danger?”)

        Haukr: yeah, I want the blade, so I want to push this thing out of my way

        GM: okay sounds like your powering through, give me defy danger + STR

        (Now, this is mechanically like hack and slash. In fact, nearly every move is basically defy danger dressed up a little differently. And yeah, the fighter is getting to use their strength, so they get to do the thing they are good at. However, hack and slash success with consequences (7-9) is specifically that the enemy will make an attack of some sort. Defy Danger is that the GM offers a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice – not necessarily something even related to the enemy making an action.)

        Haukr: 9

        GM: You charge at the glowing figure, looking to knock it aside, to reach the blade lying a few feet away. As soon as you touch it, you realize you are passing right through it – you get to the blade no problem, but now you aren’t sure it’ll do you much good against this thing.

        —-
        And now another reveal an unwelcome truth move – Haukr’s strength is not that useful.

        You can in fact do this in any other RPG, and I tried to include the rules that the game laid out that led me to make my decisions – the game does indeed have rules that help you play this way. I don’t think the game is as dry as you’ve made it out to be, or maybe experienced it to be. Players can try to min max and play to their strengths, and the GM will also play to their strengths. The idea that the players can just hack and slash something (or hit with strongest move each time) is pretty much against the rules. The GM is suppose to “fill the characters lives with adventure”, and if all they are doing is pushing monsters down stairs, that sounds really boring.

        Now, does it play like this every second of the game? Not for me. I have the advantage here of sitting down and typing this out (although in a play by post this would have been pretty easy). But the rules as written mean this should not be just hack and slash, and indeed, in my experience, these rules make it way easier to do this stuff.

  31. baronvonheil

    My point was that the game encourages narrative and to make the claim you are just rolling hack and slash misses the point of the game entirely, and makes be wonder if you even read the book.

    Yes of course you can do this in more rules heavy games but when you do things outside the box in a rules heavy game there is a looking up of relevant rules, calculation of situational modifiers and a bunch of other boring crap. The strength of Dungeon World is keeping the focus on the narrative.

    Many of the concepts in Dungeon World are things good GMs are already doing, but the genius of it’s layout and approach is a way that makes people who weren’t getting it, get it.

    The d20 style games tend to get run in reality is much less narratively focused and much more process oriented. Good GMs don’t run any game that way, but Dungeon World attempts to bring to the masses the concepts good GMs already get, it does this by giving people less rules to worry about, thereby freeing them to focus on the shit that matters.

    It’s not the only game I play, it’s not even my favorite game. That would be King Arthur Pendragon, which I’ve played since it’s first edition, bought it at a hobby shop in Berkeley when I was there for a big national debate tourney and I’ve played it ever since. However, it is certainly not a bad game, and it’s actually what a recommended to my own adult daughter to try out for her first GMing experience. I think it’s quite a good game the reinforces good roleplaying habits and his just enough rules.

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