I'm trying to deal with random encounters in DW. If my players are in a town, and suddenly decide to go into a random building how do I decide if the NPCs in there like the PCs? In D&D I'd just roll for a reaction and take it from there. Here I feel like I need to decide if the NPCs want to get along with PCs, and frankly I'm not sure what the NPCs think.

Sometimes I just think a roll of the die is exactly I want for my NPCs.


3 Answers 3


Well, I hope they're not going into a genuinely random building. Just barging into somebody's house isn't likely to get much in the way of a friendly reaction, but if the PCs say "oh, I want to walk down this street" or "oh, that sounds like an interesting shop" or are otherwise pointing themselves in a sensible direction, and you haven't completely planned what's there? Sure, why not be random?

0) Random For What

But first you should have some idea what you want out of it. Everything you do should reflect off of some goal that either you or the PCs have.

Not just entering some random building for the sake of it, but, you know, looking for something particular to buy, fishing for useful rumors, that kind of thing.

And make sure this isn't something that would be covered just by, say, rolling Discern Realities and asking. Just finding a solid weapon store in an unfamiliar town would certainly be useful or valuable to you, but there's still the question of how the blacksmith is going to feel about you when you get there.

1) Random For How

So, yes, as the GM you never roll dice to make moves. Your antagonists will never be able to roll dice, consult the rules, and just make things happen without the PCs say-so. You can't roll for outcome.

Nobody ever said anything about rolling for intent, though.

That's the purpose of things like the Fourth Page Tables, so named because the stripped-down World of Dungeons version of Dungeon World only had three pages of rules. Need a prompt to keep going? Pick up the City page, roll on Population or Society, and work that idea into the situation that's already established. Or, you know, when you're looking over the list or looking up the die roll, if you see something that speaks to you, you can just use that instead. The purpose of the thing is just to give you ideas, not present some random and absolute balance.

2) Random For Why

But always keep in mind, whatever random prompting method you're using? The players were looking at you to find out what happens. So once you've got your prompt, use that prompt to feed into the GM move you lob back to them.

Let's take the simplest prompt mechanism, the one I'm absolutely sure you will have at your table: The Die Of Fate. Disguised as a humble d6, when you find yourself in need of a prompt, consider a question and roll the Die of Fate for an answer.

So, Die of Fate, is this armorsmith going to be favorably-disposed enough to the PCs to work on their armor?

6: Yes, and. Oh, there's something more? Hmm. Let me offer an opportunity that fits a class's abilities.

Clericsdottir, you mentioned your helmet was a particular make specific to the God of Craft? The smith recognizes it and her eyes light up. She makes the sign of the Turning Gears out of respect. She says it's been so long since one of the Faith has visited. ...that's kind of odd for a town this size, but you can worry about that later. You must have a lot going on, but please, sister, can you bless her tools?

Now, that's usually a pretty simple ceremony, but then people usually only have a small number of tools. Big shop like this, it'd tie you up for a whole day to do it proper, but if it's really been that long since she's had a blessing, you could also get quite a few favors out of her in return. Or you could sprinkle a little blessed water and make the sign of the Just Working in the appropriate places. That'd be the least expected of you.

5: Yes. Easy enough. Tell them the requirements or consequences and then ask.

Fletcher, you like going in first, right? Well, the smith sizes you and Rockjaw up and the people following you and grins. You're the sort of people who need the serious work done, he says, which is excellent, as he's the sort of person who likes to make serious coin for serious work.

Custom work on armor takes at least 50 coin and some time without the armor to finish the work. We can talk about the sorts of modifications you'd like once you all work out how much you're willing to spend.

4. Yes, but. It can happen right now, but there's a catch. What kind of catch? ...hmm, I think in this case I'll use up their resources.

When you ask after a hidden compartment in the armor for your poisons-I-mean-medicines, Shanksworth, the smith looks at you and flashes a quick and furtive sign. You get the gist of what's going on here but the countersign doesn't come to mind, sorry.

No can do, he says. He's got other priority projects right now. He thinks for a moment. Of course, if you were willing to pay an expedited processing fee, that might change.... This is going to be a significant bribe, let's call it 65 coin on top of the 50 for the custom work.

3. No, but. So it's not an option right now, but it could be. What's in the way? Hmm. I think I'll show signs of an approaching threat.

The smith looks kind of hopeful as you look over the stuff on offer, Sir Justice, but when you ask about getting some sealants for your armor to protect against noxious vapors, her face falls. She's sorry, she says, but she can't do that. She glances significantly at the wooden icon hanging by her doorway - looks like a long shield with crossed spears behind it. Not now, she says.

Huh. Come to think of it, you did see that sign hanging in quite a few of the market stalls on the way here. And on the armor of a few of the bravos strutting around like they owned the place. What are you doing?

2. No. Alright. But I don't want to just stonewall them, as much as provide a path forward... ah. I'll reveal an unwelcome truth.

You put on your best smile, Stringfellow, but she seems to be wrapped up in her work, and the second you broach the topic of a custom job she shuts you down, flat.

Not with the war on, she says. Captain Runcible has everybody going full-time to arm the militia. First you've heard of war. You might be able to finagle some permission out of the Captain, but it might be more important right now to chase down some information. What are you doing?

1. No, and. Hmm. I don't want them to get immediately violent, but what can I- ah! Show a downside to their class, race, or equipment.

You ask if he does custom work, Fightgar, and he grins and invites you around the counter - but as soon as you're clear of the display racks and he catches sight of your clan-braids his face goes hard. But not for you, he says. Get out. Stonehammer gold's no good here.

Oof. Your clan reputation's come into play before but never this hard. Can you think of anybody with that kind of grudge against the clan, Fightgar? Obviously he knows what's going on, but you get the feeling asking might just make it worse. What are you doing?

  • \$\begingroup\$ yeah. this is what I was looking for. \$\endgroup\$
    – kdubs
    Mar 19, 2018 at 11:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Cool, glad it was useful. I mean, I didn't show the "offscreen prep" that was playing into all these choices, but most of them except for that clear "yes" say something I was already thinking about about the city (it's a godless place/run by the thieves guild/mobilizing for war) in addition to something about the merchant. \$\endgroup\$
    – Glazius
    Mar 20, 2018 at 1:38

What you're describing is what I'd call, in traditional D&D, a random reaction roll, not a random encounter — so I'll address reactions and how to decide them in Dungeon World.

The GM rules are your friend here

You pick a GM move and then fill out the details according to what fits the move, while following your Agenda and Principles. See GMing Dungeon World: A Framework.

(When in doubt, this is always the answer to GMing decisions in Dungeon World.)

You can pick one by poking a finger blindly, but better is to pick one with a bit of thought: one that suits the recent pace of the game, or one that you haven't used in a while, or one that will change the game pace because it feels time for a change. (See Choosing a Move.)

Once you pick a move, you probably already have ideas for what's happening inside. Now start narrating that.

For example, you might choose "opportunity, with or without a cost". Then you get the idea that it will be an tense-looking card game at the only occupied table. There are seats free, but the card-players look at the entering PCs warily. You figure they could go either way: aggressive or welcoming, depending on how the players handle it (or maybe they give that table a wide berth). You narrate accordingly:

The inn is dark and smokey, and mostly empty. The one occupied table looks like a card game. The four players freeze as you enter, one with a card mid-draw, and look sideways in your direction. They're obviously wary, evaluating whether you're friends or foes or can be ignored. There are three empty chairs at their table. There four other empty tables too, one near the fireplace.

What do you do?

Then it's up to the players.

Remember: you first job is to set up adventuresome situations for the players to choose how they respond to (that's your Agenda, “Fill the characters’ lives with adventure”), usually not to make conclusions about things they can't influence. (Save the latter for hard moves after you've set things up with soft moves, and things have gone in a dangerous direction.)

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I think this would be better if it tackled head-on OP's apparent belief that there even should be such a thing as a "random encounter" in DW. That, to me, seems a core misconception. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Mar 16, 2018 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 How's that? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2018 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ so in DW there are no random encounters, I've seen that written, but how do you account for what the players may do. I'm guess I'm just not comfortable yet, with just deciding that the bar keep really likes the players or really hates them. seems fun to let the dice roll and see what they say. \$\endgroup\$
    – kdubs
    Mar 16, 2018 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kdubs Read the GMing rules again with attention to how they interact with player moves. And notice how much they say to not do things, and let the players' actions lead the game instead. You shouldn't have to be making those kinds of decisions — understanding & following the GMing rules gives the game a lot of structure, so that you're not left wondering what to do as the GM. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2018 at 20:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kdubs You never "account for what the players may do". You portray a fantastic world and then play to find out what happens. Pretty much all of the DM's rules (they are rules, and they must be followed) are there to help you react to players in an interesting and provocative way. I'd advise you to read them, read them again, play a session, and read them again. Rinse and repeat. I've read through the DM's rules a few times, and I think I've noticed something new every time I've done so. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2018 at 22:00

The urge to roll dice when no roll is called for is a common one. It is one I feel at least once in every game I GM. Not having a move triggered gives a ton of freedom to the GM, which can be kind of frightening. The players walk into a new place and you might have no idea of what you should do. This is what makes me want to roll dice. I want someone, or in this case something, to give me a nudge in a direction, get the ball rolling. But the dice don't know what is good for you or the narrative.

The first thing I do when I feel the urge is to take a moment to think of what I would do for each possibility if I were to roll. I try to walk through all the ways that the dice could point me. What would a success look like? What would a partial look like? What would a miss look like? I weigh each in my head, and I try to find one that is most interesting. If I still feel like I want a nudge in the right direction I ask the other humans at the table, not the dice. I ask the players what they think. "What should happen when you walk into the bar?". "Do you think it would be more fun if we did X or Y?". There is almost always someone at the table with a really good idea.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ In DW it's even easier. Ask one player "Thordek, who's there that knows you?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Mar 18, 2018 at 10:30

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