How do you play Dungeon World?

Inspired by the Quantum Ogres vs. Read a Sitch? side discussion, I am curious how you play your personal version of Dungeon World?

One of the neatest things about DW is how not only it emulates Dungeons & Dragons as a genre but also how it has done so as a product: everyone I know that plays it for any length of time drifts it strongly into a personal direction.
I think this is a different quality than other PbtA games have, that even when put into different contexts still aim to draw on what makes the core game unique.

And I think it’s a great quality of the game and a way to get a fantasy game that explores the stuff I enjoy about fantasy.

My own DW kit basically looks like this:

  • Class Warfare by Johnstone Metzger
  • My own customization of Jason Cordova’s Labyrinth move (from Discern Realities Annual)
  • The Heritage move for PCs from Planarch Codex: Dark Heart of the Dreamer by J. Walton
  • The “Draw the Map” technique and journey moves from The Perilous Wilds by Jason Lutes and Jeremy Strandberg

And then I’ve added my own alterations:

  • gone are race moves and alignment; the Heritage move from Dark Heart replaces this and it is much more interesting to me; it uses the player characters as a unique lenses of the cultures they come from.
  • I still use Bonds but treat them almost more like Burning Wheel Beliefs for relationships that are evolved in small steps (most of the time)

And my own additions are:

  • Escaping the Horde, a peripheral move about managing overwhelming odds
  • Sway Hearts & Mind, a new basic move to allow players to mechanically engage Threats by means other than violence (structurally it mirrors Defy Danger with different approaches)
  • Smooch & Smash, a peripheral move about exactly what you think

So that’s basically Mathias World… but what additions and alterations do you use as go-to’s? I’d be curious to know (and maybe lift for my own kit).

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I use the Core book and any DW stuff from Codex (especially the DR Annual, worth its weight in gold pressed latinum).

However in the past my players have shown little interest in ‘co-developing’ the setting, so I just run games in Greyhawk or my homebrew setting of Rikirta. There is little conversion work other than deciding which Deity/Divine Guidances aspects fit with the deity list.

Yes I use Alignment, but as a guide.
Yes I use Bonds. If the Bond has a meaningful change then update it. ‘X smells like prey’ becomes ‘X has potential to join the pack’ becomes ‘I will aid X vs our rivals’ etc.

Though I use premade settings, there is still plenty of room for ‘Player 1 tell me what is unusual about this inn/fountain/merchant and Player 2 tell me what happened last time you were here?’

I allow any race move to be used with any class. It’s a game. Refer to race as species as much as possible.

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My ongoing campaign is using the playtest rules for Freebooters on the Frontier 2E, so starting with those differences: random character generation, a lot more involved shared world building, a lot more OSR-isms and “emergent” play, much squishier PCs and more dangerous monsters, higher chance of character death (no Last Breath move, which I kinda miss sometimes), ability damage, luck … other things but I can’t list 'em all and that I think covers the big stuff. Bonds work differently, and so do heritage moves, as does travel (since the game emphasizes traveling more). More robust rules for Followers (hirelings).

On top of those, I have a few of my own house rules. We’ve switched back to DW’s method of healing over night (regain half your max XP rather than gaining 1+CON [minimum of 1]) because one of my players wasn’t having fun because she had a -2 CON and thus only ever got 1 HP back at a time. We’re trying that out to see how folks feel about it, and will switch back if it feels OP. I have a feeling it’ll be fine though. I’ve also added the Discern Realities questions back into Perceive, which didn’t have any set questions, and basically using @Jeremy_Strandberg’s version of it, where the questions are part of the trigger (which I think is so much better). We’ve also added Defend back in, because we weren’t sure why it was taken out, but have found no one really triggers it very often.

I’ve also been working on hacking in a heritage system like what @Mathias is talking about, but we haven’t quite got there yet. (On that note, the new culture generation rules for Freebooters I think are going to make this a lot of fun, generating heritage moves).

We also have a lot of player disagreement in our group, so I hacked Negotiate (Parlay) to contain a PvP element, based on Apocalypse World and MOTW:

Negotiate or Manipulate

When you want something from someone that they don’t want to give up, make your case and roll…

…+STR to intimidate them

… +CHA to convince, charm or manipulate them

For NPCs: on a 10+, they name their absolute minimum price; on a 7-9, they name a price they could live with; on a 6-, mark the ability used, and prepare to be milked for all you’re worth.

For PCs: on a 10+, both; on a 7-9, choose 1:

  • If they do it, they mark XP and take +1 forward
  • If they refuse, they must erase any bonds they have with you and reveal how they could be convinced (if they can be; they might not)

On a 6-, mark the ability used, and they decide how badly you offended them and choose 1:

  • If they refuse to do it, they mark XP
  • They’ll do it, but they’re going to hold it against you; erase any bonds you have with the PC

I think that’s pretty much everything? There’s some stuff from Codex and the Discern Realities Annual that I’ll use, but that’s sort of more on a case-by-case basis; I can’t think of anything that fundamentally changes how my table plays vs one running stock DW.

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My cheeky answer is to say “See Episodes 1-60 of Discern Realities.” That’s also my serious answer.

The link, for anyone who has never heard of it:

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Those intra-party mechanics are super interesting. I’ve been holding it that between PCs things need to be resolved mostly via rp for DW. I do enjoy PbtA PC conflicts in other game a lot, though.
The fact that they have to rebuild their social bonds when they mess up their relationship with each other is very intriguing!

I didn’t know about that take on Discern Realities… yeah, that seems like a super useful way of approaching it. Feels like something to offer a group that feels more comfortable with it all, though? But I like it.

Re: Heritage move: That’s a huge topic, I want it because big parts of fantasy as a genre is about interrogating different cultures and world views… so I’m super open with them as a vector for player input and for exploring that aspect in particular.
But what I generally like about it: they don’t generalize something about a whole people, they say this is an aspect of these people’s culture that manifests in this individual in this one particular way.

And yeah, technique-wise I’ve certainly taken a lot in from Discern Realities; the use of painting the scene and polling the table is a regular one. I suspect there are more habits and good practices picked up through osmosis of listening to it! <3

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if anyone reading this thread has not listened to discern realities, please do. and yes start at the beginning

the dwarven ale in ep 3 that lets you re-live the dwarves last stand and tale of the paladin and vampiress in ep 4 are just brilliant.

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Thanks! Part of it is my own stuff, that I get kind of activated by in-character arguing that goes on for too long (this is, of course, ill-defined) so this was a way to be able to step in as GM/Judge and say “alright, I think at this point we’re not really getting anywhere; Lady Goldbludgeon, is there any way at all that Terib might be able to convince you? Yeah, alright, let’s roll Negotiate then and see what happens.” (As a player in a D&D campaign I once got into an in-character argument with another PC about whether we should steal a boat or not, and the player–who’s a bit obstinate herself–was playing a Lawful Awful Paladin who was beyond stubborn, and the whole thing–which went on for like a half hour of us going back-and-forth and none of the other players or DM stepping in–left me feeling overwhelmed and out of spoons; that’s when I started thinking about the usefulness of something like this. It actually doesn’t come up a ton, but we’ve been happy to have it.

This has a bit more to do with how bonds work in Freebooters 2E vs DW, where they don’t exist automatically but are built through character interactions (using a move called Keep Company) because there are different assumptions about whether party members know each other and how. Additionally, bonds aren’t resolved in Freebooters, they’re more to guide roleplaying and give a mechanical benefit that can be used with Help or Hinder. Bonds can be a little more tenuous given the nature of the PC relationships, so I thought erasing bonds could be an interesting way to represent the consequences of the conflict. The mechanical consequence is that you can’t add bonds to Help or Hinder rolls.

I see what you mean about it feeling like you need a group that feels more comfortable, but tbh 3/4ths of my group are PBTA newcomers and latched on to it pretty easily. I’d be interested in hearing whether @Jeremy_Strandberg has any additional thoughts on that point, since he’s the one that came up with it.

What I like most about it is that it drives home what Discern Realities/Perceive is about … gaining insight into the bigger picture. Perceive as written in Freebooters tends to default to basically being a Perception check from D&D, which is kinda boring, you know? I don’t think players should have to roll to find treasure when they loot a monster’s corpse or whatever, that just seems unnecessary (in D&D as well, but definitely in DW where it feels like it goes against the fundamental philosophies that underpin the game).

I’d love to talk more about heritage moves sometime. I don’t know if this is necessarily the place for it, but I like what you have to say about how they work for you and I’d love to hear more about how they work in play (and maybe some examples of some of the moves you and your players have come up with?)

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Here’s how I run my ongoing DW campaign…

I think advancement is a little too rapid. Leveling requires 10+current level in XP.

Characters don’t have an alignment. Instead, they have a player-defined Drive. This is roughly equivalent to a character’s “High Concept” Aspect from Fate. At the end of a session, if the character has made at least one significant action based on their Drive, mark XP.

I have removed all race moves from the game. Instead, every character defines a Trouble (again, stolen from Fate). I am experimenting with the following Basic Move, and the jury is still out…

Embrace Your Trouble
When you let your Trouble get the better of you roll +your lowest stat. On a 10+, tell the GM how your Trouble just made life more complicated, and hold 3. On a 7-9, the GM tells you how your Trouble just made life more complicated, and hold 1. Spend 1 hold to gain a +1 Forward on your next move.

In addition to Bonds, which are related to other PCs, I have also added character Goals, which are related to the Fiction. Once per scene, a character may take a +1 Forward when directly acting in pursuit of a Goal. Wheh a Goal is resoved, mark XP.

I use The Perilous Wilds for overland travel.

I have also made my own version of the Labyrinth move to abstract dungeon delving in general…

Explore the Dungeon
When you explore a dungeon without a map, roll +WIS.

  • On a 10+, gain 1 hold, OR gain 2 hold and expose yourself to the dangers of the dungeon.
  • On a 7-9, gain 1 hold, and expose yourself to the dangers of the dungeon.
  • On a 6-, you stumble into danger without warning: The GM will tell you what happens.

When you gain hold through this move, it goes into a pool that can be shared among the party. Making this move multiple times can add additional hold to the pool.

At any time, spend 1 hold to return to the entrance of the dungeon or to the last place you rested in the dungeon (whichever is applicable in the fiction.
At any time, spend 1 hold to Make a Disovery in the Dungeon.
At any time, spend 5 hold to reach the end of the dungeon (i.e. the item you seek, a passage through, the Boss, etc.) Keep in mind that the end may be guarded by a Final Obstacle.

Make a Discovery in the Dungeon
When you discover something in the dungeon, roll +WIS.

  • On a 10+, pick two from the Dungeon Discoveries list.
  • On a 7-9, pick one from the Dungeon Disoveries list.
  • On miss, something discovers you: The GM will tell you what happens.

Dungeon Discoveries

  • You find an easily-defensible location suitable for resting.
  • You find a friendly creature or a site of wonder.
  • You find useful information.
  • You find a useful tool or weapon.
  • You find treasure or supplies.
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Despite writing the “make the question part of the trigger” hack of Discern Realities, I haven’t really implemented it. I’ve used in informally, but didn’t really find that it changed the game much for us. It actually was a little jarring for the experienced DW players. But then, I’m super comfortable with the move and watching for when it would/wouldn’t be a good use.

The other reason I haven’t deployed it widely is that I screws up playbooks with moves like “When you Discern Realities, you can always ask ‘What here is a perversion of nature’ for free.” I’m a big fan of those types of move, and haven’t come up with a satisfactory way to adapt those moves (which I use widely in by Homebrew World and Stonetop playbooks) to work with the “ask first” model.

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As for “how do you play DW…” If I’m running it, I use my own Homebrew World. It’s streamlined for short arcs (one-shots or 3-4 sessions), rather than long-term play.

The big differences from core DW:

  • Most +1/-1 modifiers are replaced with advantage/disadvantage (roll an extra die, discard the lowest/highest).
  • Parley is completely different ; it’s as much an info-gathering move as it is a “convince them” move. Also: works on PCs.
  • Aid and Interfere are rewritten as well. Aid is now “grant advantage but with risk” and Interfere is its own thing.
  • Expendable gear (rations, ammo, bandages, gear, etc.) is condensed into “Supplies.” Load is replaced with a series of gear slots. Make Camp, Volley, and other moves interact with the Supplies instead of rations & ammo.
  • Most “Special” moves are gone. Undertake a Perilous Journey is replaced with Venture Forth . I’ve included a couple of my favorite custom moves for speeding up play.
  • There are only 3 debilities , and each affects two stats . But they’re easier to clear.
  • XP and leveling are different , because this is meant for one-shots or short-term play. You get XP on a miss or when you Make Camp (instead of at end of session). An advance costs only 5 XP. You can burn XP to give yourself a +1 on a roll you just made.
  • No more “big number” on stats, just the modifier. Likewise, HP is now a set number per class.
  • “Race” is just part of your look. But everyone has a choice of Backgrounds , which replace the “race” moves and that give you a series of bond-like questions to use during intros.
  • Drives instead of Alignments ; same mechanic but less baggage.
  • Many changes (some small, some big) within the classes themselves.
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99% of my games are run using One Shot World, which is basically Dungeon World minus long-form mechanics. That means no 3-18 Ability Scores, Load, Coin, etc. It also replaces Alignment with Drives, and railroads the character generation a bit (though it augments them at the same time). It does however push the GM and players to create the world either the “Perilous Wilds” style or the “Dragonslaying on a Timetable” style. Inspired partially by this thread, I did a quick write-up of how exactly I do that for those interested.

When I run DW games, I always using the Minimal Playbooks Plus from Greg Soper (who designed the OSW playbooks as well). I usually replace Alignment with Drives or Keys, and Jeremy’s Revised Debilities.

I think I might start running Homebrew World instead of OSW, though - I prefer it in many ways.

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Smooch & Smash? That might actually convince me to play/run more DW… ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

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Would love to hear your thoughts on this!

Bless you! I thought no one would ever ask!

Smooch & Smash

When you consensually get intimately involved with a frenemy in close quarters, roll +Bonds you have with them.

On a 10+ you smash and smooch to both of your hearts’ content. At your option, you may remove a Debility but expose something vulnerable of yourself to your frenemy and (if they are a PC) they mark XP.

On a 7–9, you do the thing but neither of you can gain XP from a Bond with the other this session (and maybe re-write that one, you both seem to be a bit uncertain in how you actually feel about the other, it seems?).

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Can you get Bonds with NPCs in your version of DW? If not, then the 7-9 result is a bit weird…

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That’s intentionally so, yes. There is no good mechanical reason to write a Bond with an NPC… but there is nothing that says you couldn’t, I think?

Now, you might have a reason to… or you roll with +0.

This is for sexy times during adventuring, right? I wanted it not to be super clear if it’s a good idea but still open up the game to allow for some romancing.

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My social interaction move that I mentioned:


Sway Hearts & Minds

When you are swaying the hearts and minds of others or otherwise find yourself socially or intimately in a vulnerable position, say how you are putting yourself out there, what you hope to achieve and roll. If you do it…

  • …by being physically imposing or impressive, +Str
  • …by tricking their senses or distracting them, +Dex
  • …by being stoic and stubborn, or just laughing it off +Con
  • …by arguing your case, wether in good faith or not, +Int
  • …by being insightful and empathic, or preying on their weaknesses +Wis
  • …by inspiring or playing to their emotions, +Cha

On a 10+, you do what you set out to do and you do not suffer a backlash.
On a 7-9, you come across as awkward, desperate or fumble your message: the GM will offer you a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice.


And the peripheral move about managing overwhelming odds (I found this useful for when combats go south or things have gotten real bad with a Threat, to escalate appropriately):


Escaping a Horde

When you are trying to escape a horde, describe how you are trying to get away and the GM will tell you what Modifier to add to your roll. On a 10+, choose 3. 7-9, 2:

  • You manage to keep one of your companions close and in sight, choose who.
  • You do not take 2d6 damage in the fight against their endless numbers.
  • You do not lose the main weapon you were carrying.
  • You are not taken prisoner.
  • You are able to cut down your damage die times your level in enemies.

On a 6- still choose 1 but be prepared for the worst!


It’s basically “just” an elaborate way to separate them.

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It’s really more about personal preferences. Essentially, after playing DW two-to-four times a month over a two year period as a “one shot” system I felt there were a lot of changes that could be made in order to accommodate that style of play. So I gave myself a goal: facilitate “one shot” play (particularly in regards to teaching new players), but stay as close to DW core as possible.

In the end, this was an excellent constraint to have, the product of which I’m very proud of. However, like many other veteran DW GMs, I grew to dislike a number of core elements, and in my long-form games/campaigns began to swap in new rules, hacks, etc. I ran other systems (both DW-derived and not) and began to truly move away from the core DW experience. You can hear more about this in the Gauntlet panel I did with @Jeremy_Strandberg (how that happened I’ll never know).

Homebrew World, in my estimation, realizes an “optimal” version of DW, while keeping to the goal of the original system. This is just my interpretation of course; who am I to say what the creators intended? Anyways, HBW has a number of revisions and alterations (as Strandberg laid out earlier in this thread) which match my particular preferences; there are a few I might add someday, but FWIW, it seems an ideal form of the game. At the very least, it’s more interesting! The Supply/Inventory system is completely original, and takes one of my favorite abstraction concepts, and dials it up to 11. Also, have you seen those playbooks? I totally stole the “look” of those for the final build of OSW.

Hope that clears things up. Thanks for the question.

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Thanks so much @yochaigal! That’s very helpful. I’ve played using OSW (which was a great time, and I plan to use it in my ongoing campaign to do a series of one-shots that fill in some history), but not HW yet, and I hope I can try it sometime soon. I seem to be drifting in the opposite direction, finding Freebooters to be pretty close to my optimal version of DW. I know there’s a lot of debate in the community about making DW more PBTA-like and less D&D, but I find that Freebooters manages to lean into the D&Disms and make a more coherent game experience than stock DW. Most of the attempted “2E” hacks of DW haven’t appealed to me much, but HW does, so I’ll have to see how I feel about it in play.

I’ll also be honest that for some reason I am having trouble grokking the inventory system, even though it seems like it should simplify things.

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I too am desperately waiting for Freebooters 2e to finish; I actually watched Jason’s last youtube stream of it, and follow all his blog posts (rare as they are). It’s closer to the OSR experience I am looking for, honestly - and the worldbuilding is top-notch! So yeah, right there with you.

I had a hard time figuring out the inventory system as well, but I pestered Jeremy so often he finally broke it down for me. He did an excellent write up on his blog about it as well.

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