So I'm a brand new GM and a fairly new player. I ran my first session for a group of friends the other day and it just spiralled out of control and ended in complete chaos. I chose Dungeon World because I liked the ruleset and it was quite easy to pick up. I'm still very new at running a game so I obviously made mistakes.

The problem wasn't really that I made mistakes, that's going to happen. The problem is that when I made mistakes, things started to fall apart. I lost the group, my plans flew out the window and by the end I don't think any of the players were at all engaged. They were having fun by deliberately making my life difficult and trying to find holes in the rules. They enjoyed it, I hated it.

I still want to try this and I know my friends well enough to know that they can get engaged and interested in a game like this if I do a good job. I want to try again and we have another session planned for next week.

I've read a lot of the stuff I can find on the Dungeon world reddit any advice from people who've got experience with the game would be awesome.

Question: I want to enjoy running my game next week, what can I do to keep players interested in playing and how do I recover when I make mistakes that bring my players out of the game?

Edit for more detail:

What were your friends actually doing when you say they were "having fun making your life difficult and finding holes in the rules"?

One of them got bored and was trying to use discern realities/spout lore to repeatedly ask complete non-sequitur questions for the situation we were in e.g. 'how do kobolds have sex' - which was throwing me off whilst I'm trying to run a combat encounter.

I was starting to get frustrated and players were deliberately ignoring things or repeatedly rolling discern realities to ask 'Who's in control here?' to take the piss because I'd lost control of the game to get a rise out me.

They're immature, I wasn't running the game very well so they got bored and idle.

What kinds of mistakes or interest issues have you been running into?

I haven't run the game enough to have a full command of the rules, I was making mistakes about the mechanics of how classes etc worked.

The scenario I'd planned didn't fit the characters very well, some of them felt useless and I can't think fast enough on my feet as yet to adapt to that to keep them engaged.

My descriptions of things weren't always clear enough, the combat wasn't that great because I haven't got the rhythm down yet, or the variety and flexibility of consequences that I think is important to making DW interesting to play.

What's happened at the table that you're expecting to see more of?

It just isn't fun to have sit through having having the piss taken out of me for something I'm trying to learn how to do. For the game itself I don't mind if they're silly, serious whatever. I'm just happy if they're aimed at the game instead of at what I'm doing wrong.


6 Answers 6


There are some very specific mistakes you can make in DW that likely led to this state of affairs:

  1. You say you "planned a scenario", but by the very nature of DW you can't really plan a scenario: you can put up Fronts and map out a dungeon - remember to leave blanks! - but you still play to find out what happens. If your plans do not fit the characters well, then the mere presence of these characters forces you to adapt! It's important to realize that this takes even more improvisation on the fly than systems with more DM authority, and that this is can be a very daunting task to a new DM.

  2. Players cannot really "repeatedly roll to Discern Realities". Moves are triggered by the fiction, and Discern Realities is triggered by "closely studying a situation" - it does not really make sense narratively to study a situation again once you have succeeded unless it has changed substantially. Enforcing that moves are triggered by the fiction and not announced like "I roll to Discern Realities" is a crucial part of the system and it really falls apart if you don't.

  3. Even in a perfectly working DW session, the DM is never "in control". The DM is in control only when they get to make a move, mostly after a player fails a roll or when you get a Golden Opportunity in the fiction. But outside of this, the DM doesn't have control. If you are trying to make anything in particular happen regardless of the present state of the fiction, you are violating both play to find out what happens and be a fan of the characters. If you don't enjoy this mode of play - which is fine - then DW may not be the right system for you.

That said, perfect execution of the system won't help you if you players are deliberately trying to make you miserable - in that case, talk to them out of game about what they're doing and why it's not enjoyable for you. However, it's also perfectly normal for players to try and test out the limits of a new system - maybe that is what's happening here, with no malice involved. In that case, stringently enforcing the points above, and more generally all the GM principles and the primacy of the fiction, can go a long way to show them how the system is intended to work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ apparently can't edit longer than 5 mins ... Hi, thank you for the reply. To respond: 1. I understand that this is how the game is meant to work but adapting on the fly and producing a satisfying outcome is difficult and I don't have much experience doing it. As you put it, it's a daunting task. Do you know of any resources with good examples / advice for how to improve at this? 2. Very true, I didn't get it across very well at the start and by the time this was happening people weren't really listening to me. 3. Thank you for the advice \$\endgroup\$
    – ePigeon
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user2447545: My main advice would be to play more. Many also suggest taking improv classes. You could also ask around chat. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 17:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ My advice is to be a player with a good DM, and watch how they handle it. Some games alternate DM every x number of weeks so everyone gets a go. \$\endgroup\$
    – NibblyPig
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 17:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ePigeon One of the ways I help manage the daunting task of coming up with ideas is to make the players do it. If I'm ever stuck on what should happen, I'll pick an uninvolved player (or just random) and put it in terms of the fiction. IE "Kratos, does this remind you of a situation from your past? What happened then and what's different here?". Sometimes this just gives me time to think, and sometimes the player has a great idea to build off of. YMMV, it depends on the group. My players really like it, but I could see why some might not \$\endgroup\$
    – Vlad274
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 18:40

Hmm. Well, there are several things. Let's start with

0) Forget the first session. It never happened.

Don't try to build on that train wreck. It's just as easy to start again, and it sounded like you missed a lot of things during setup.

Also it'll reduce the chances of people deciding that continuing running gags from last time is more entertaining than listening to you.

1) No shame in not rolling your own.

It's like pasta, in that regard. The sauce is the individual part, as in the way you play it out at the table. The scenario is a bunch of interesting scenery and things to think about, but unless you're a rockstar even your best scenario isn't going to be all that distinguishable from something premade, since most of the flavor is going to come out in the play.

For that reason, a semi-popular pastime has been to make Dungeon Starters. This collection of Mark Tygart's has a lot of variety to it. A Dungeon Starter is not a fully-formed dungeon, just a set of interesting ideas and questions and items that all come together and give you something to look at to spark your imagination.

But even with a Dungeon Starter, there are still some things you'll have to do for yourself.

2) Every class has something unique. Pry at that.

So, everybody's got a choice to make. You can set up the general scenario of whatever starter you settle on, but then you've got something to pry on for every class.

  • The Barbarian has appetites, and probably a story to tell about the times they got them in trouble.

  • The Bard has a school of bardic knowledge and a particular memoir in their starting gear, so there's something to ask about.

  • The Cleric has a deity, a precept of their religion, and a benefit. So how's all that fit together?

  • The Druid knows a Land and can turn into some animals. So how do they feel about their land and what's their favorite thing to be that isn't a human?

  • The Fighter has a signature weapon. There's a story behind that.

  • The Immolator has given up something precious to the flame and received a mark in return.

  • The Paladin has a quest to swear to and you have oaths to ask of them.

  • The Ranger has an animal companion to put together.

  • The Thief has a favorite poison, and a reason why it's their favorite.

  • The Wizard has their starting spellbook. Why'd they put things in it? Why'd they leave other things out?

It will help to have your own copy of all the relevant playbooks so that you and your players are working off the literal same page.

3) Every class has bonds. Pry at those.

Wizard, what have you foreseen about the events to come that (bond character) might be so vital? Thief, how does that con you're running with (bond character) work? Druid, what have you heard of the dangers stalking (bond character)? Don't just run down them all, look at the scenario and figure out maybe one per class that's going to be important.

So now that you know some things about the characters, you have a little more ammunition to tie things into the starter scenario, find people a place, as it were.

4) Imitate the action of the shark.

That is to say, keep moving forward. Unlike some other games where the GM builds opposition and those opposing characters take their own turns, in Dungeon World the GM plays the world and the external cast, opposition and not, on the terms they decide are appropriate.

When people roll a 10 on a move, that usually means the move itself has little to no immediate blowback on the person doing it. That doesn't mean that dangerous and threatening things stop happening for a moment. They're all still happening.

When people roll a 6 on a move, it helps to have an idea of the dangerous and threatening things that are happening to them, or waiting in the shadows, so you can give them a downside worthy of the XP you're also giving them.

When people clear out the immediate threats, you should have some idea of what's looming so they don't get too complacent. Unless you've reached a good wrap up point.

The only thing you probably shouldn't do is suckersmack somebody for a whack of hit points or similar permanent consequence out of nowhere. (A roll of 6- isn't necessarily nowhere.) Always try to make a threat clear before it starts wrecking house.

5) You rule the world.

On the one hand you should be responsible for that. Everything you throw at your players you are choosing to throw. Don't disclaim responsibility for anything bad that happens because the world's just that cruel.

But on the other hand, that means moves don't happen unless you're satisfied that they happen — you can't attack someone in melee from three stories down, you can't spout lore about whatever you choose since you only get something relevant to the current situation, you can't discern realities if you have no way of finding out what you're asking.

Try and lean toward the players if they're trying to act in good faith — if you don't think they can make a move, you can just straight up ask them how they're doing it. But if even they don't believe in what they're trying to do there's no reason to let it happen.


First, you cannot force others to enjoy themselves. There is no techniques that will make a game interesting to players against their wills. What you can do is agree on what kind of game you would like to play. The same page tool is a good approach to do that provided that you and your players are aware of the wide range games can take. Even if you are not, it is still a useful exercise although you will be talking about things that you might not have a good knowledge of. That is fine as long as you are aware of your own limitations.

Second, I would be much more worried about the deliberate intension of your players to make it difficult for you. That is not how friends behave. Five geek social fallicies springs to mind. Maybe finding another group to play with would be better…

Thirdly, mistakes happen. The way I deal with them is to either admit it or use the mistake to enhance the story. In the former, I tend to re-run a little bit if possible or just gloss over and ignore that bit. In the former, I justify what happened in terms of plot thus generally making the plot more interesting. In case of rules, discussing it with the players is always a good option and deciding (read: compromise) on a house rule we are all happy with.

As to out of game comments, they happen. Trying to stop them is near impossible so you should have breaks (snakes, make coffee, order and eat pizza, …) where the game pauses and conversations happen. During play, make sure that the camera (aka your attention) shifts from player to player so that they all feel that their screen time is relevant and frequent.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A snack break would be another option for pausing the game and having conversations, but I'm more interested in what constitutes a "snake break." \$\endgroup\$
    – 8bittree
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 22:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @8bittree For some reason, those two words are interchangeable in my dyslexic mind… ☺ I shall leave it as is so people can have a giggle. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 8:17

I know this is an old question, but you asked for resources and I would like to point others with similar problems or situations to some good ones.

  • The Dungeon World Guide: First and foremost, you should read through the Dungeon World Guide. It is full of advice on how to actually run Dungeon World. Hopefully, if they ever make a second edition it will be added to the core rules. As it stands, you can get it from the download section of the Dungeon World website.
  • Suddenly Ogres: Advice and what to do on Spout Lore and Discern Realities misses: Sometimes these two moves fail and it can be difficult for a new GM to figure out how to move the story along. This document, culled from discussions in the Dungeon World community, gives a great, example driven, guide and what one might do.
  • Stealth in Dungeon World: One tricky situation that can come up in Dungeon World is stealth. In the core rules, there are no good rules that explicitly handle stealth. Or is there? Following off the core principles and ideas, stealth is no longer just a rule but an extended conversation with triggered moves along the way.
  • \$\begingroup\$ This seems to be very general-purpose advice that isn't specific to the question here. We prefer that general-purpose advice be given in answer to a question that is about general-purpose advice, and that specific questions be given specific answers. (You can always edit you answer to improve it.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 21:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I disagree. The original poster wanted to find ways to make he game more interesting and have ways to recover from mistakes. These guides specifically address both and are full of play examples to show how that would look. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 0:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not saying these aren't useful, I'm saying the answer doesn't do any of the lifting expected of quality answers. It would improve the answer then to discuss the exact parts of the resources that help the specific question asked. Put another way: it wouldn't be appropriate to paste this answer under every question that somehow involves making mistakes while running Dungeon World — that's equivalent to saying “read this other thing to find your own answer”. The expectation is that answers be tailored to the specific question, rather than leave it as an exercise for thousands of readers. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 1:18

Much of this is subjective but for me it is much like teaching a class of kids. You want to be the fun, cool teacher but you need to maintain discipline as well. It's wise to set boundaries, where you joke around but as things get out of hand ramp up the strictness.

Just regards to keeping flow going and stopping bickering and arguing:

My personal methods were the wandering monster, and the ceiling collapse. If people took too long and bickered and argued, then they'd hear the sound of a wandering monster. I specifically used that term and they soon learned that wandering monsters started to appear when players spent too long dicking around. The second was the ceiling collapse. The ceiling begins to shake and small pebbles start to fall. If they continue to argue, fight, try to undermine me etc. then it intensifies, maybe larger rocks fall down and start to hit the players. Note that yes, I used this outside as well even in the middle of a field.

Players learned that there were boundaries of the game, much like when you're playing a video game and you reach the edge and it says 'TURN BACK' and automatically kills you in 10 seconds if you don't do it.

It does come down to respect a bit, so if your players are just rude and unpleasant people you might struggle but players respected the boundaries of the game when I employed these tactics and it created an amusing hint that would hurry them up if they were taking way too long over something trivial.

A stronger alternative to the unruly player is to say 'You spend your round contemplating the mating practices of kobolds' and skip right over them. Don't be afraid to be harsh if they're not getting the hint. Ramp it up. Take them out of play. They soon learn, and then they can enjoy the game. Often one player is harming the fun for others, so by punishing them others are often relieved a little.

Number one rule for me in general is to keep things interesting so if you don't know the rules, give the players a brief few seconds to explain and if they can coherently do so without arguing, go for it - otherwise, make them up to keep things flowing and look them up next time.

For example "Crap, does a magic dagger do +2 or +3? Do I add that to the attack roll or the damage?" and the player says "Oh you add it to attack roll not damage", okay perfect.

Alternatively, "Crap, do the rules for tumbling past multiple enemies cause them to get an advantage?", player says "Not sure, I think so, I could look it up", player 2 says "Yes, it definitely does, I think, maybe.", player 3 says "Uhhh dunno let's all tumble around in circles wheeee" you just say "Okay we'll look that up later, for now it seems reasonable to give them advantage so let's go with that".

If they argue, "The walls start to shake a bit and dust falls from above. You feel like some powerful all-knowing being is growing impatient."

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer, too, does not seem specific to Dungeon World. In particular, there is no such thing as "skipping over" a player - what they do either triggers a move or it doesn't - and showings signs of a collapsing ceiling or an approaching monster would specifically be the DM move Showing Signs of Impending Doom which the DM is not allowed to make at will. This is not a system where problems can be solved by asserting the universal DM authority that exists in other systems \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 17:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ironically, many of these suggestions would work in Dungeon World, but not in the way they are being suggested. These would fit as expressions of the Agenda, Principles, and Moves, but this answer is clearly missing how to do them while following the GMing rules of DW. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 18:48

For rules mistakes in RPG's, one of the best ways to recover is to run with it for one session, then apologize to your players next session, and make sure they understand what is actually supposed to happen. In one of my first campaigns for D&D, I had my players roll initiative every round, which is not the way it's supposed to be. After a couple sessions, at the beginning of one, I said "We were doing it wrong, this is the way it's supposed to be."

For a troublesome group like you've described, you have to be prepared to not say no, unless they want to do something truly outlandish (my brother once tried to randomly summon a dragon at level 1 in D&D, obviously don't do something like that). GMing is a form of improv, and one of the first rules of improv is to never say no. Plan your story loosely so you can be prepared for your players to poke holes in it like Swiss cheese.

For an inexperienced group, try to push the players in the right direction, but don't force them. Make the path of the story easy to follow, and try to get them interested in going the right direction on their own. I've always granted my players XP out of combat to reward clever thinking, exceptional roleplaying, and as incentive to move the story forward.

You can make your story more engaging if it feels less mechanical. Put your players "in" the story as part of it, instead of making them like any other adventuring party that may inhabit any given world. Make sure your story feels unique. It wasn't any random person that could blow up the Death Star, it had to be Luke Skywalker. Try to find engaging story moments like that, and help your players truly feel like part of the action.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer, in particular the mention of "awarding" XP and having a planned "story" seems to be generic advice that is rather useless for the specific challenge of DMing Dungeon World. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 15:38

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