I haven't played Dungeon World (or any other PbtA game) yet, but from listening to Friends at the Table and reading the DW book I'm a huge fan of the system and am trying my best to organize a game soon.

I just had a really frustrating situation in my D&D game, and I'm trying to figure out in my head how it would have played out differently in Dungeon World. Basically, this is what happened:

The party was walking along a snowy path when suddenly there was an avalanche. Myself and another PC failed our Dexterity checks and got buried in the snow. The DM put us into initiative.

  • On my turn I failed a Constitution saving throw to avoid damage and failed a Strength check to try and dig myself out.
  • My allies failed investigation checks to try and find me
  • On my turn I failed both my rolls again
  • My allies failed checks to try and find me again
  • On my turn I failed both my rolls again
  • Finally one of my allies dug me out, one failed CON save from being knocked out.

All this took about 20 minutes to play out, and the only thing I got to do was roll, fail, wait 5 minutes, roll, fail again, wait 5 minute, roll, fail again, etc. It's the dreaded "you fail and nothing happens" that is my least favorite part of D&D and seems to be one problem that's solved by the fact that failure, in Dungeon World, should fundamentally change the fictional situation.

This is how I would imagine this circumstance would start in Dungeon World:

GM: "You hear a rumbling above and notice snow starting to fall from the edge of the cliff. What do you do?"

Me: "I try to press myself up against the edge of the cliff face so the falling snow goes over my head."

GM: "Make a 'Defy Danger +DEX' roll"

I roll a failure.

At this point, I'm not really sure. None of the GM moves really seem to map to "Bury the player in the avalanche" which makes sense to me intuitively since it's not really a situation that the player can narratively recover from in an interesting way (hence my frustration when it happened). However, getting buried by snow because I failed to react in time to the avalanche does seem like something that would naturally follow from the fiction.

Dungeon World players and GMs: how do you think a situation like this would have played out?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I would like to point out that all of the scenarios listed in the accepted answer would have been perfectly valid in OP's D&D game as well. DW makes it easier to have narrative structures that keep the players engaged but those same ideas can easily be applied to any other system. \$\endgroup\$
    – D.Spetz
    Mar 23, 2018 at 20:39

3 Answers 3


Depending on your style of gameplay there are many possibilities that could happen immediately after failing that DD+DEX. With style of play I mean are you doing a rather slow paced, fundamental type of game, something radical, over-the-top or just some middle of the road not too unrealistic but at points more awesome than realistic?

Also it always helps just looking at the GM Move list. Actually, I'm doing that right now just looking at each and thinking what would make sense. Also remember, you can always make a break for a few minutes to think about fun stuff. Somone at the table always needs to pee/fill their drink/have a smoke anyway.

Just a few examples and the associated GM Moves:

  • use a location move: the mountain you're on is the mystical mountain that is know for making whole groups disappear. Use that location move: "Swallow them whole and suck them into your crystal belly".

  • turn their move back on them: you have avoided the avalanche, but you are now stuck to the cliffside. You are inside a pouch of air that maybe lasts a few hours. What do you do? (Disclaimer: I would probably only make them stuck like that if I know that they have a means to escape like a teleportation spell, maybe even by spending resources like a spell scroll)

  • offer an opportunity, with or without cost: you are being carried away by the avalanche! If you ditch your whole backpack right now, you might be able to pull yourself into that hollow treestump that is being carried around right next to you!

  • show a downside to their class, race or equipment, tell them the requirements and ask: your heavy plate armour is quickly pulling you down. You feel the weight of your shield being pulled at by the snow. The shield... The shield? The shield! If you ditch your heavy, gold-laden backpack now, you might be able to find your inner grace, get up on that shield and ride that avalanche to glory!

  • use up their resources: you are caught by the avalanche, quickly losing consciousness. Take 5 damage. (Dramatic Pause) Take 5 damage. (Dramatic Pause) Take 5 damage. (Dramatic Pause) You open your eyes. A shiver running down your spine. Candlelight. A steaming cup of tea to your side. The local inkeeper found you almost frozen, lying right in front of his mountain inn's door two weeks ago, when the avalanche swept you down. He and his beautiful granddaughter have been nursing you. You owe them your life, and surely a lot of expenses for medicine.

Also, always remember GM moves can also happen off-screen:

  • reveal an unwelcome truth: you avoid the avalance under the shelter of the cliff. However, digging out cost you valuable time. That orc party you were stalking is now long gone and their tracks erased. What do you do?
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Fantastic answer. Out of curiosity, how many of these did you come up with fast enough for live play? Because that's where I struggle. I might come up with similar moves, but almost never within a timeframe suitable for a table full of waiting players. So it's usually "you get buried" or similar D&D-style fallbacks. \$\endgroup\$
    – ammut
    Mar 23, 2018 at 7:34
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @ammut these things come with experience ; ) \$\endgroup\$
    – Maciej
    Mar 23, 2018 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Empishon, et. al. -- While DM experience certainly enhances on-the-spot results and actions, newer DMs can also spend some time before the game envisioning things that might happen and then brainstorm their own moves. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23, 2018 at 16:13

Many GM moves can cover the aftereffects of an avalanche in the broad sense, if you want to just impose some costs and not ask for a whole bunch of extra rolls. On the other hand, if you want to zoom in and make rescuing your buddies from an avalanche into a thing, separate them is a pretty good start.

Along with deal damage, put someone in a spot, and show signs of an approaching threat, it puts together a picture that goes kind of like this:

Even with Fightgar helping that's still just a 5, Wizzrobe. Tell you what, why don't both of you mark XP, let's see if you live to spend it.

Everybody else! So, that was a lot of snow and debris and frantic, frantic running. Roll yourselves 1d6 damage, ignoring armor, and let's take stock of each other. You're scattered around the edges of the collapsed mountainside but you can see each other just fine. Well, most of each other. You're down by two. So what's going to happen now is this.

oooooo <- This is your search progress. You want to fill this one up. (In real life I will have drawn six circles, or perhaps a clock with six segments, on one of approximately ten hojillion note cards I keep around for the purpose.)

oooooo <- This is Fightgar and Wizzrobe's body temperature. You don't want this one to go down.

oooooo <- Like that. You don't want that to happen exactly five more times. (Another six circles or clock on another note card, and one segment fills in.)

You've still got your adventuring gear, and Rockjaw's sense of smell, Fletcher, and whatever sense of smell Leafwillow wants to borrow, and not a lot of time, so think to yourselves about a plan and lemme cut away here for just a second.

Fightgar, Wizzrobe, buddies, here's the deal. The first thing you notice is the pain. Best of 2d10, no armor. The second thing you notice is that you're each alone in a surprisingly bright space, on account of the sun filtering down through the snow and all, and also snow is pressing in on you from all directions so you have no way to tell up from down. The third thing you notice is that you're already starting to go numb from the cold so here's the deal. If you want to take the effort to make an aid roll and help your friends on the surface find you that's almost certainly going to wear you out and let the cold in. Maybe you want to try and conserve what warmth you have. Maybe you're thinking of other uses for that fireball you prepped.

Surface peeps! Hands up who's got a plan, and remember, any traces of your buried compatriots are going to be useful or valuable to you.

And... that's setup. I am assuming everybody was at full or near-full health to start with and tossing out damage amounts that sounded impressive but couldn't kill anyone, yet.

So how is this any different? Well.

  • Nobody's acting in initiative order. They're acting on the clock. The clock moves at the speed of drama and ticks when I want it to tick. I can offer freeze-clock ticks as a proactive or retroactive price for certain investigative actions, and dangle rescue-clock ticks to tempt people into taking risks or using up resources.
  • People aren't locked into rolling a single appropriate skill. They can do what they like. If you burn an adventuring gear it can turn into anything. Warm blanket? Flint and steel and tinder, wrapped in wax paper? Lamp oil? Rope? Yeah, cool. Leafwillow's got a library of animals that might be helpful to shapeshift into and I can roll with any one of them because I'm writing the animal moves on the fly. I've explicitly told the people buried in the ice how they can help the search but they can still take what actions they want, too, and all this matters because
  • There isn't a DC to overcome, there's a task to do. Fightgar and Wizzrobe are in the ice and don't know down from up. Everybody else is free to act but don't know where Fightgar and Wizzrobe are and will still have to get them out. Those are the starting conditions, and in addition to making progress on rescuing them, the actions people take also change those conditions. If they can tell Fightgar which way up is, there is now an obstacle between himself and the surface and Bend Bars, Lift Gates can come into play, but oh child those downsides. The avalanche isn't a place of power, so Wizzrobe can't perform a Ritual, but oh look Clericsdottir's domain is What Lies Beneath and that has never been a more appropriate preposition.

In addition to the answer of @iraserd

This is how I would imagine this circumstance would start in Dungeon World:

GM: "You hear a rumbling above and notice snow starting to fall from the edge of the cliff. What do you do?"

That isn't how the circumstance should start. If you lead with:

"You enter the snow covered pass. There's a distant rumble, and a rush of wind, and a cloud of powdery snow rises in the distance"


"Here the trail is cut by a pile of snow embedded with rocks and splintered trees where a recent avalanche has crossed"


"The mountain above you creaks and groans. The heavily snow-covered slope above and ahead is riven with sunken cracks"

(these being show signs of an approaching threat) and the party carries on having taken no precautions against the obvious, then you absolutely should allow that threat to come fully to bear and sweep them off the mountain or bury them in the snow. If (properly signalled) threats never come to bear you are failing to follows the fiction, and your game is toothless and unsatisfying.


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