More on the Dungeon World XP Hack

This past weekend, I was at JoshCon, the birthday house con run by my good friend Josh Rensch. It was an exciting, grand ol’ time, where we played games. The games I played all got hacked up, including Technoir & Dungeon World. I’ll blog later about hacking Technoir, but some folks expressed interested in what we’re doing with DW.

A number of people have been using my XP hack for Dungeon World, and Nora Last, looking to DM some Dungeon World at JoshCon, wanted to take it for a spin. As I listed off the options, I found myself saying “Let’s not use Aid/Hinder. It’s pretty weak.” So we didn’t.

Two characters had Converse highlighted, and after one of the fights, one of them wanted to Parley with the other to get him to do something. The details are fuzzy thanks to copious amounts of scotch[1], but what I remember was this:

The target of the Parley wanted to do an opposed roll, which we said was Hinder. I started thinking “man, he should be able to highlight tha…DUDE THAT’S CONVERSE HE SHOULD HIGHLIGHT THAT.”

I cannot recall if I was as loud as I imagine. Again, scotch. Anyway, I said “Mark XP. That’s totally converse,” and filed the thought away.

Then I emailed the co-creator of this XP hack, Colin Jessup, when my findings, to which he celebrated. It meant less work on our parts to make up new moves for Aid/Hinder in a hack we’re tinkering with.

Which means the new rule is:  When you Aid or Hinder another PC, and the move you’re affecting is covered by one of your highlights, mark experience.


Then shit got interesting, because Nora took the hack in a different direction. Colin & I have build the idea as “moves have concrete highlights. X is Attack, Y is Defend, etc.” Spells and other “sub-moves” are split up appropriately.

Nora said “nah, I’m gonna interpret that on the fly.” Sometimes when Ben Demonslayer, my still-not-dead halfling fighter[2], did some crazy shit because Stunt is highlighted, Nora would check my intent. Sometimes, she would tell me that I wasn’t stunting, but defending, which I didn’t have highlighted. And that brought up some interesting thoughts.

I’m not sure if I like “open to interpretation,” partly because it means one more decision that has to be made in the flow of play. But it’s one I hadn’t considered until Nora did it. (Thankfully, I can tell Colin “you decide”. Design partners are awesome!)


She also challenged me, being a third level fighter, by not highlighting my Attack in one of the games I played. Which worked for me, because Ben had a good chance of surviving crazy shit. Level 1 characters are, by contrast, sweet sweet tasty death magnets.

That made me think about going easy on highlighting level 1 characters, so they have a chance to level. After that, change it up. That also supports the idea of platforms and tilts in stories, a la improv. It also goes into Carl Rigney’s philosophy on games where the first thing the players do should showcase competence, if the game is about that, as that first action will color expectations of that game & play session.


Finally, she did some awesome stuff with putting monster damage rolls in Dungeon World. That added some Push Your Luck style excitement, and I’m totally going to roll[3] with that later.


Thank you, Nora, for being my guinea pig. Next up, getting crazy with Technoir…

– Ryan

[1] Hi, Jeremy.

[2] Hi, Nora.

[3] Hi, attempt at comedy.


10 Responses to More on the Dungeon World XP Hack

  1. Nora says:

    Someday, Ben Demonslayer…

  2. Jerry says:

    This resonates with me more the more I read about it.

  3. Colin says:

    Been thinking about On The Fly vs Hard Coded Exp.

    So On The Fly adds a decision step and feel like edge cases can be manipulated into what ever category a verbose player can get away with, easily making them use anywhere highlights. (I attack by jumping of the ledge making it Stunt!)

    I like hard coding, it reinforces that if “to do it, you do it” which is important to the rule set. If you are hack and slashing you are attacking regardless of the why. Moves already have an implied intent by their nature. Plus by making custom moves a specific highlight you really nail down what the move does.

  4. Lily says:

    This reminds me that I really should read more of my copy of DW.

    P.S. “sweet sweet tasty death magnets” is the name of my nerdcore rock band.

  5. I love scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch.

  6. We played it as written by Hamish last night and it worked well. Everyone leveled practically at the same time, even though there were very different sets of highlighted action types.

    We found healing to be the most problematic. We found it worked better in Aid than in Defend, as Aid/Hinder by itself is very weaksauce for the first few sessions until you have some +2 or +3 bonds. But we had other problems with healing anyway, as per: http://21sided.o-r-g.org/2012/01/21sidedint-dungeon-world-analysis.html

    We used hard coded, as it’s easier for everyone to keep track of, with the occasional “That was totally Discover, mark XP” when as GM I noticed it.

  7. A more detailed take on the XP Hack:


    Summary: Drop Aid, but Mark XP when the move is covered by one of their highlights, not one of yours. Also maybe tweak Aid or Interfere move to not be quite so crap.