Hacking Damage in Dungeon World

Writing about Dungeon World in my 2011 round-up post made me think more about it. And if you listen to today’s Podge Cast episode where David Pinilla & I talk about hacking games, you’ll hear me spout forth love for Dungeon World. Oh, that reminds me…

Relevant Annoucements

I talk about hacking games on the Podge Cast! Also I hit on David. A lot. And I’m apparently an accidental dubstep DJ when my Skype goes to pot.

And you only have a couple days left to get your submission to me for Don’t Hack This Game! The pitch window closes on this Wednesday, January 4th, 2012. 11:59PM Pacific Time.

Back to Dungeon World

The way Dungeon World works in combat is interesting, because it puts everything on the player’s roll. If you do the Hack and Slash move, on a 6- you get fucked, a 7-9 you hit & get hit, and 10+ you hit without getting hit in return (or can boost damage in exchange for getting hit).

When a player damages someone, they roll damage dice. But when they’re hit, the DM just tells them the amount they take in damage. And the more I think about that, the more that feels flat. Recently in looking at board game mechanics & terminology, I have a better vocabulary for articulating that:

That removes a great deal of the Push Your Luck vibe that D&D and other games inherently have with random damage rolls. If I can determine whether or not I know getting less than 10 on 2d6 plus my stat will kill me for certain, there’s something uninteresting there. Like the way crap skill challenges can be run.

There’s nothing to say you can’t push the randomness back in. Give monsters variable dice. Don’t say that a monster hits with four points. Roll a d6, d8, d4+2, 2d4, whatever works. This is the sort of thing that could be tailored by level, naturally.

One of the elements to DW (and its predecessor Apocalypse World) has is that only the players roll dice. Now, I can take or leave that in design, so I don’t really care if it’s the DM rolling damage or the players forced to roll their own pain. Either way suits me fine enough.

Now that we’re rolling for damage, we’ve introduced Push Your Luck. Say you’ve got 5 hit points left, and you’ve discovered that the monster does 1d8 in damage. Well, now you can choose whether or not you’ll risk another straight-on Hack and Slash, or if you’ll try something else. If you know for sure that the monster does, say, 6 points of damage, you know you’re dead — there is little interesting choice there[1].

The other way makes sense when you have a game with six hit points, three of which are “and you’ll eventually get better on your own”. Not so much for a game of increasing hit points.

Anyway, once dice are added, if you want to add a bit of chaos, you could have monsters have custom hard moves that are triggered upon how those dice react. Like, say, having a giant slam a character across the field of battle when a 1 is rolled on damage. There is still the fiction-in-fiction-out elements: the giant is attacking & inflicting harm on the character, and the character is being hit across the field. The only thing added here is a sense of a critical effect against the character.

Maybe that’s too much to the hack, maybe not. I’m curious to try it out. As with many hack brainstorms, some ideas are shittier than they appear. But trying tells you something you didn’t know before about game design.

– Ryan

[1] Some will argue that “what about setting up a meaningful death”? Sure, but that requires actually setting something up. And using dice doesn’t remove or add to this element anymore than a fixed, known amount does.


9 Responses to Hacking Damage in Dungeon World

  1. nemomeme says:

    Might be fun. I love Push Your Luck but also simplicity. Because there are no “turns” in DW, your hypothetical player still has has the choice of deciding whether or not to even step up right then in the first place or to instead hope someone else takes care of the problem at hand. Or maybe they Defend or Discern, etc. That’s still pretty interesting to me.

    I might roll 2dF under a die cup next time.

    1) I could still use the base damage I or the scenario designer has determined.

    2) I’d get an interesting 11.1%/ 22.2%/ 33.3%/ 22.2%/ 11.1% curve so they don’t know the first time someone gets hit for five what the base damage of the opponent is but they have a reasonable guess.

    3) I’d get to roll Fudge dice. ;)

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      The idea of putting Fudge Dice in intrigues me. In fact, it kinda makes me want to do all damage like that, rather than old school. I don’t know if it’s the right fit, but it’s a hell of a neat idea!


      – Ryan

  2. One of the things I like about DW is it keeps the AW “the GM doesn’t roll dice” feature. I may consider making the players roll their own pain. There may be a problem of the player not having the right die if they’re only rocking the 2d6, their damage die, and a d4 (since DW uses bonus d4s left and right), but keeping the appropriate polyhedrals on hand is not too terribly difficult.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Huh. I hadn’t thought about that. I come from a community where we share dice freely, so I tend to forget about things like non-communal groups and dice fetishizing. (Which is why one of my games assumes a communal pool, because it’s a lot of freakin’ dice.)

      – Ryan

  3. Here is an idea to create some randomness in the die rolls without adding extra dice or rolls.

    First, reduce base monster damage by a few points.

    6- Add your 2d6 roll together and add that to the damage. Should be adding a number between 2-6.

    7-9 Take the lower of the 2d6 and add that to damage. Should be adding a number between 1-4.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Interesting idea, but it doesn’t work for me for a couple reasons: D&D is partly about those die rolls, so it’s not alien to the play. This is a bit. And it makes a 6 worse than a 2, rather than making all misses equal.

      But it is thinking outside, and that’s what hacking is about, so rock on! \m/

      – Ryan

  4. DelveLord says:

    Interesting … I came the the same conclusion after reading DW … monsters need to roll for damage! I would hate to remove the tenseness of the damage roll from play – it’s a trope of D&D that deserves to remain.


    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I like your minimum one point of damage idea. A hit should actually, yeah, be a hit. :)

      I’m of a mind to get all crazy with damage, not just take the midpoint and a simple die roll. Maybe 1d4+1, or 1d6, or 2d4 or whatever. It feels more D&D to have somewhat flavorful rolls like that.

      – Ryan

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      And now that I think about it, for a weak hit/miss, the converse should also be true: minimum 1 damage, even if your armor would soak it.

      – Ryan