What kind of moves should I use with a spellcasting enemy!?

I'm having a little trouble trying to wrap my mind on how do handle spellcasting creatures that deal things other then direct damage.

How should I call on mind controlling, paralysis, polymorph, petrification, etc.??

Are those custom moves? How does a player get free of them?


3 Answers 3


Yeah, I get it. You don't want to go

As you open the door, Wizzrobe meets the gaze of the Medusa and is turned to stone!

any more than you want to go

As you open the door, Wizzrobe dies!

So, first off:

0) Monster moves are how GM moves happen.

Like, look at the lich. One of its moves is to cast a perfected spell of death or destruction. And sure, that's a way to deal damage, but when done on the ceiling it's a way to separate them, if it slowly tears a path of destruction toward Clericsdottir it puts someone in a spot, and if you tell Wizzrobe how the runes all flash by so fast but their shapes are so familiar, that offers an opportunity that fits a class's abilities.

So when one of the cool things you've written down that a monster can do is "transfix with a stone gaze" or "transform interlopers to swine", okay, you'll probably want to start out with moves that foreshadow future badness or put people in a spot, but ultimately no matter how much you go

The rune of pigification traces itself out beneath your feet! You taste bacon. What are you doing?


You catch a glimmer of the medusa's emerald eyes and your legs start to stiffen. What are you doing?

people are going to roll 5, 4, 2, and 3 and you're going to have to commit to it. So in that case, and for that case, because you really shouldn't be dropping instadeath or its second cousin on your PCs without doing some prep:

1) Seek a way out!

Okay, so once you're stone you can't just will your way out of it. That makes sense. So, how can you get out of it? Wizard's got Ritual. Cleric's got a deity to petition. You can just say what you like as a GM there.

And of course, with an effect as powerful and noteworthy as this, there's got to be some Lore that anyone could Spout about it, and the ways to break out. Maybe Bard (Arcane Art) and Paladin (Lay on Hands) could work then, or at least give you a shot at clawing yourself back from the brink.

But not everything has to be true forever.

2) Consider making it "just for long enough".

Rather than being permanently charmed to switch allegiance, or plunged into the forever-sleep, or completely paralyzed, an effect can have a decent impact even if it only works for a single inopportune moment.

The crocodile pit looms in front of you, gaping and... somehow inviting? Yeah. Inviting. You should just give Sir Justice a shove, Leafwillow, and all that armor would just weigh him down. These are totally your thoughts and not at all related to the glowing eyes of the stone crocodile statue opposite the pit.

Mark XP if you do this thing you completely legitimately just thought of, or Defy Danger to think of something else.

Granted, mental effects seem a lot more temporary, but even a medusa's gaze or polymorph spell that needs to be refreshed once a day can turn a total party statueing into something else.

3) Consider making it "build over time".

Just 6 on that Hack and Slash, Fightgar? Well, alright then, here's what happens. You go in for the shot, figuring that's just an ornamental sword and she's got no kind of grip on it. It turns out it's one of those form-follows-function sorts of ornamental with a good sturdy edge, and she hasn't got so much no grip as every grip? She moves like a snake, which makes more sense now that I say it out loud.

Anyhow, three increasingly off-balance parries later, you finally manage to go where her guard isn't and strike a glancing blow. Give me damage minus 1d6? And in the rush of combat, you've completely forgotten this isn't an enemy you can lock eyes with.

Everything in you recoils backward and it seems to take forever, but you do scatter free, though your breathing is labored and your chest feels like it's make of lead, or something similarly dense and inorganic. If you could, write down on a clean space of your character sheet: "Fightgar = Statue", and then draw four circles next to that. And then fill in two of them.

Shanksworth, you saw something of how she moves and it's pretty clear those eyes could find their way pretty much anywhere. So while Fightgar's staggering backward, what are you doing?

Yes, it's completely legitimate to give people, in addition to their stock of Hit Points, a stock of Not Being A Statue Points or Not Yet A Pig Points. That way you can "deal damage" to it and get palpably closer without having to try and make people feel more threatened through description alone.


These are monster moves.

When writing/"statting" monsters like these, I'm not likely to write a cast a spell move for them. For a medusa it'd be stony gaze, for a mesmerist it'd be befuddle.

But use them with care.

It seems to me (partially from the question, partially from some conversation in chat following its posting) that the ones you're having trouble with aren't troublesome mechanically, but rather are likely to cause narrative trouble. Mind control, paralysis, petrification... they all take a player out of the game.

Dungeon World's a game that's fundamentally about PCs doing heroic things. There's not much heroic about being a thrall executing another's orders, or standing stone-still while everyone else acts. So there's no wonder that these feel a little off: they're antithetical to the ethos of DW. After all, while a statue what do you expect that character's player to narrate to trigger one of their moves? And narrating one's character's actions is the only thing a player can do in this game.

So these ideas are fraught with difficulty, but thematically you'd still like a medusa hanging around? Make sure there's lots of warning--show signs of an approaching threat. Or maybe you tell them the requirements/consequences and ask: "the medusa's gaze is turning toward you; you can probably reach her and make an attack but you'll likely be partially-petrified as a result. If you take any damage you could (irreparably) break off an arm or leg. Are you really going to charge her?" Be a fan of the players: let one of them spout lore and discover a way past/around the monster's signature ability.

As long as you remember this one thing you'll probably be fine: the reason this monster exists in the game is to make your players look awesome.

(With thanks to @WheatWizard and @trogdor, whose conversation in chat helped me wrap my head around these ideas.)


I overall agree with what @nitsua60 put forward in their answer, I think all of their suggestions would be fun, but I also do think there is plenty of room in dungeon world for moves that do take away player agency. As long as such moves are played carefully.

Here I want to draw on the experience one of the most fun fights I've ever GM'd. This was a fight between the player characters and a acolyte named Klev. The PC's stumbled into Klev's secret temple so Klev decided to memory blast them and make them forget about the temple. Now the players really didn't want to lose their memories so a fight begins:

Klev begins chanting preparing his memory blast. Omar the theif draws his knife and takes a swing at Klev. Klev is quick and although Omar gives him a nasty cut Omar loses his balance and falls to the floor. Klev finishing his spell turns to cast it on Omar. Omar attempts to scramble out of the way but is hit. Omar begins to feel lightheaded but he focuses all his might and is able to shake off the spell.

Meanwhile Klev turns on the Bard, Demarra, and the Ranger, Allison. Demarra, the Bard quickly tries to talk Klev down but Klev is not having any of it he unleashes his spell on Allison. Allison doesn't have the will power that Omar has and feels herself slipping. She pulls an arrow from her bag and stabs herself in the abdomen to stabilize.

At this moment Omar has come to and gives a wild swipe at Klev. This time he gives Klev a large cut. Klev, injured, begins to flee with Omar and Demarra in pursuit. He escapes into the vestry Omar bursts through the door behind him but Klev was ready for him. As Klev unleashes his blast Omar realizes that if he doesn't duck the blast will hit him but if he does he will endanger his companion behind him. Not having the time to think he goes ahead and ducks. Demarra feels the spell wash over her. Her will not strong enough to fight it she collapses.

Omar now in a rage jumps forward and grabs Klev by the collar. Klev pleads for his life saying that he can heal Allison if they let him go. Omar doesn't trust Klev but Allison is in need of healing because she dealt quite a bit of damage to herself so he puts Klev down accepting the bargain. Klev insists he must heal himself before Allison but Omar refuses to allow him. Reluctantly Klev begins the chant for the healing spell. At the last moment, almost too predictably, Klev turns the spell on himself instead of Allison. Omar lunges at Klev but strikes the book Klev had confiscated from the party earlier. A black goo spews out from the book onto Omar seeping into his skin.

Seeing the opportunity Allison attacks from behind knocking Klev over. Assisting Omar to his feet Allison misses the fact that Klev is casting memory blast once again. Allison, weak from the pain, is unable to resist the power of the spell and collapses to the ground. Omar the last one standing lashes out at Klev once again leaving a serious gash. Klev shoots one last memory blast which Omar doesn't even attempt to dodge, instead Omar just keeps stabbing at Klev. Unable to keep his focus while wildly slashing at the traitor Omar gives in.

Several hours later the party awakes in the wilderness, wrapped in blankets with no recollection of how they arrived there.

Even though the players lost, This fight was really fun for everyone in the party, and for me as a GM. We were all on the edge of our seats from start to end, because there was a real danger. Damage is pretty much always healed at the end of a fight so it really only comes as a minor convenience for the player but being knocked to unconscious and losing your memories is a real compelling danger. The thing to remember however is that there is a difference between

Think dangerous.

(one of the GM principles) and

Cause pain for your players.

(not one of the GM principles). Every time Klev cast his spell there were 2 or 3 player rolls that needed to occur before the spell could take it's effect. Most of the time I would give the players the chance to dodge the spell as it is coming at them and resist the spell once it hit. When Demarra went down it is because Omar chose to protect himself from the blast on a partial and Demarra failed Defy Danger to keep conscious. And even if the players miss both opportunities I as GM don't have to wipe their memories, I can make some other move if I feel that it is narratively appropriate. This gives players choices, and forewarning, which overall serves to make things feel fair.

Of course this is going to vary from group to group because different people find different things fun. Every group and even every player has their own amount of danger they want, so I'm not recommending these kinds of moves unilaterally. After all @nitsua60's proposed moves seem really fun as well but I do think there is room for this kind of thing in dungeon world if you are up for it.


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