The Druid move Elemental Mastery gives you these choices:

  • The effect you desire comes to pass
  • You avoid paying nature’s price
  • You retain control

My player has been choosing the first 2, "the effect comes to pass" and "you avoid nature's price".

I'm trying to reconcile what to do with the "lack of control" seeing as "the effect you desire comes to pass".

Say he gets a water elemental to make it stop raining around him. Is it okay to make it snow instead?

Or he uses an air elemental to make a sail boat go faster. Do I make it go too fast?

He made a successful roll so it seems wrong to punish him for that, on the other hand he is dealing with the forces of nature.

I'm struggling with the balance between "the effect comes to pass", him not "retaining control" and that it is a successful roll.

(mixed success or failure I'm not worried about it)

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ When answering, please give holistic advice on handling this kind of situation. Please do not merely provide one-off examples. Guide readers through handling this and other potential situations with the move in general in keeping with Dungeon World's principles and agenda. We should be teaching people how to fish here, not merely giving them a fish or two. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 9 '18 at 15:24

One possibility is that the elemental does something else in addition to whatever it was summoned for. For example:

  • An earth elemental summoned to break through a wall succeeds at the task and then starts breaking other terrain features and otherwise rearranging the landscape.

  • An air elemental instructed to carry a message tells the intended recipient, and then tells everyone else it meets as well.

  • A fire elemental ordered to incinerate the druid's foes gladly does so, and then proceeds to spawn uncontrolled flamesprites wherever it finds sufficient fuel.

In other words, the druid gets what they want, but there are consequences beyond that.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I still have trouble with the player then getting punished for a successful roll. It seems that no matter what option the players pick something is going to go wrong with this (or at least could) \$\endgroup\$ – kdubs Aug 9 '18 at 12:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kdubs That's kind of the point of this move; it's very powerful since you can describe any effect you want. The tradeoff is that all the success brackets are "shifted down" a level: success is more like partial success, a partial is more like a missed move, and a missed move is just downright catastrophic. This post goes into more detail on this concept. \$\endgroup\$ – EightAndAHalfTails Aug 10 '18 at 9:35


So, the dice have fallen, your Druid has chosen, you have adequately played to find out what happens. Now it's time to shift focus to some of your other responsibilities as GM, like portraying a fantastical world and filling the players' lives with adventure.

I'm going to explain how we get there in just a second, but while the following sections grab your eyeballs I'd like you to have a certain concept percolating around in your skull - the thing the Druid actually set out to accomplish is being produced by a machine, and the spiked-hairin'-est white-coatin'-est person you can imagine just charged breathlessly into the scene, pointed shakily in its direction, and screamed, well, you know.

An Introduction: Success, Failure, And the In-Between

You've mentioned you feel bad coming down on your Druid because they rolled a 10, and a 10 means success. This isn't the first time I've heard people say this, and I know where you're probably getting it from.

The results always fall into three basic categories. A total of 10 or higher (written 10+) is the best outcome. A total of 7–9 is still a success but it comes with compromises or cost. A 6 or lower is trouble, but you also get to mark XP.

Each move will tell you what happens on a 10+ and a 7–9. Most moves won’t say what happens on a 6-, that’s up to the GM but you also always mark XP.

The first paragraph there is just an overview - the second paragraph is the important part. Each move will tell you what happens on a 10+ and a 7-9. You don't somehow get a minor version of the one downside you don't pick on, say, Bend Bars, Lift Gates on a 10+ just because you get a success. It's just worse on a 7-9 because something also happens in addition to it. Similarly, if you're trying to shapeshift into a tiger and get a 7-9, you're not somehow a rubbish tiger because it's a 7-9. You get less hold, which means less time doing important things as a tiger before you need to take the risk on shapeshift again.

So, the downside on a 10+ is just as potent as the downside on a 7-9. It's just the only thing you have to deal with, instead of one of two.

Nature: Red In Tooth And Claw

So the thing about nature that people sometimes forget about is that nature doesn't care about anyone or anything. The only thing nature does is act natural. And, well, predators are natural. Every freaky swamp plant that kills things to get the necessary salts out of their bodies? Natural.

Wildfires are natural. Avalanches are natural. Earthquakes are natural. Hurricanes are natural.

And now you've given all those natural things a will and a direction and you've lost control.

Malfunction. Malfunction.

And this is where the machine thing comes from. Like a machine, nature follows its own modes of operation. Like a machine, it does its task and it doesn't care for the side-effects.

The move may be called Elemental Mastery, but the Druid isn't really attaining mastery. They're setting a spirit on a task for a reason, and the thing you need to think about as a GM is the reason. What can you do to accomplish that, but complicate their lives as much as you want because they chose to lose control?

That's a golden opportunity there, no mistaking it. The druid called up an uncaring spirit of the elements and chose to lose control. So make a move.

Make a move that makes the world seem fantastic and gives the players an adventurous way to accomplish their original task.

For Example

The Druid wants it to stop raining around them but loses control? Maybe the rain just gathers above their head in a giant, pulsating orb that sloshes about as they move, and occasionally bits of it spill over the edge, sending great splashes of water down to the forest floor. Now they're going to need to walk carefully as the orb gets larger and larger.

Maybe the rain all starts vectoring off in a different direction and now you've got a water cutter making a nice clean line in the landscape for anything that's tracking you to follow.

Maybe it starts turning back into a cloud when it gets near the ground and the Druid's in a rapidly thickening fog bank.

The Druid wants wind to fill the ship's sails? Great, it does. And then it keeps going, and going, and one of the restraining ropes on the sail snaps and flails around on the deck like a giant's whip.

Or maybe a huge wind blows up behind the ship, and now the ship is headed to its destination atop a fifteen-foot-high wave.

The Druid wants an earth elemental to make a hole in a wall? Right, it merges itself into the wall and then flexes, tearing itself apart. Now there's a hole in the wall, occasionally interrupted by the twin earth elementals jealously lashing out, grabbing bits off each other or trying to knock them off.

It's all going to revolve around giving the druid what they want, but on a timer or with a side-effect or complication that stems from the loss of control that they chose to have.

  • \$\begingroup\$ thanks for this. it sounds like I just need to be a little more adventurous with the lack of control. trying to find the balance between successful roll and the DM being a jerk. \$\endgroup\$ – kdubs Aug 10 '18 at 17:38

By the wording of the Move and its failure, if the player passes the roll then the DM can't narrate something that this is 'catastrophe'. Assuming that the player typically chooses options 1 and 2, it seems logical that 'not retaining control' leads to the effect they wanted being more powerful than intended, having an altered area of effect, or unforeseen side effects - but cannot be construed as catastrophe. The spirit of the rules here seems to be that Nature is a mighty power but one either pays the price or it's a little uncontrolled.

Making it stop raining - I would suggest that maybe this leads to a short period of drought, or maybe a very small area where it never rains for the next X years (only selecting a small area for the enhanced effect stops this ruining swathes of farmland). An alternative might be stopping the rain altogether in the vicinity rather than just locally to the desired effect, but note that this wouldn't be a good option if the players goal was to stop rain in a specific, small area. If they wanted to keep the area dry, then making it snow instead isn't really ok - they won't get the effect they desire.

For the Wind effect - they player wants their boat to get to its destination faster, so blowing them off course isn't an ok move. However, having the boat damaged by hitting the port at high speeds would probably be ok, or having the wind continue to blow fast around them for another few hours after arriving - causing visibility issues or accusations of witchcraft would probably work.

Give the player what they want but they should either pay the price or accept a few logical, narratively appropriate side effects. Those side effects can't be a catastrophe or undo what the player was trying to achieve.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I did make the boat run ashore because it couldn't stop, even with the sail down. your thinking does seem to line up with mine. for success, they get what they want, but I exaggerate it a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – kdubs Aug 9 '18 at 14:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yep, if you think about this as being a short term Front - 'The Mighty Spirits of Nature will Not Be Tamed' or something, then you can make moves from that point of view \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Aug 9 '18 at 15:11

"The Water Elemental you summoned abides your biddings, but the Water Spirit seems disgruntled to be enslaved for such a mundane task. Maybe you should keep an eye on it for it might be hostile after it's finished it's task."

"You summon forth an Air Elemental to aid your naval journey. Underestimating your powers, the force it produces is way beyond what you imagined. The sails won't hold for long under such strain. What do you do?"

  • \$\begingroup\$ so the point being that even with success the forces of nature are not to be used without risk? \$\endgroup\$ – kdubs Aug 9 '18 at 12:48
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Nothing in DW is ever to be done without risk! We're not here for fun and games, are we? They chose to not retain control, and not having control over an Elemental you summoned sounds quite risky! \$\endgroup\$ – iraserd Aug 9 '18 at 12:51

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