The player that introduced me to DW/AW seems to feel that it's not in the spirit of the rules to tell the players 'no'. I feel that is too extreme, so I want to know, MCs/DMs, do you say 'no' to your players? If so, where do you draw the line? If not, where would you draw the line? What is your guiding principle in cases where you must consider telling a character they can't do something?

I do have an example: The fighter in my 'group', initiated combat from a ways away, and stated that he attacked the bad-guys' leader, even though his men were there to defend him.

I bowed to his greater experience with the system at the time, but now I feel that was a mistake and he should have had to fight the leader's men first. It's not a big deal, but I feel like I let myself get railroaded by a player.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @LitheOhm I think this is fair as a "I'm trying to figure out how Dungeon World works" question. It's akin to asking how to calculate CR in 3.5e, in that the asker has a problem particular to using the rules of this game, and there is a "right" answer for this game even though it sounds like a system-agnostic style question because the playstyle and system are integrated. A separate sys-agnostic question would be interesting, if someone wanted to ask it… ;) I think it would be phrased differently and garner different advice, to take a broader diversity of play styles into account. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2013 at 1:37

4 Answers 4


Here are the traditional reason I would say no to my players and why I shouldn't in Dungeon World:

  • Because doing so would ruin my plans
  • In my head, this is physically impossible or there's not enough time etc.
  • Because the action would cause sudden PvP combat

Here's why I would be wrong to say no for those reasons in Dungeon World

1. Because doing so would ruin my plans

In Dungeon World, you have no personal agenda to railroad the players in your stories and your intentions. GMing Dungeon World is about letting go of selfishness and let the player be the master of their own destiny. That's hard for me because I often prepare stuff in advance and will unconsciously lead the players into my preps or simply make them happen regardless of the players' actions.

It's really hard for me coming from a Dungeons and Dragons background to let go of that. I usually plan my setting and often the players will ask me if their cool idea would work in my setting and I would often say no...no you can't play a Drow they are evil and you'll be attacked on sight in the first village you visit. No you can't play a Druid because the game is about political intrigue and a Druid wouldn't fit in the court of the king. Plus..there are no forest around the starting area to host a druid circle.

That's just bad. For some reasons it's assumed in many games that you should ask the GM if your character fits in his world. In Dungeon World you should feed from the players' ideas and background. When they asked me details about the starting area, I told them nothing more than simple stuff that wouldn't ruin their character concept. We'll be starting in a small village near the coast where pirates are constantly threatening the locals. It respects the principles of the game because those are broad strokes and it leaves place for player inputs.

2. In my head, this is physically impossible

The problem there is I would often describe the situation and the options but didn't mention some details that seemed obvious to me. By lack of description, the players will often assume nothing prevents them from doing something.

In your example, I would have asked if he understood the leader was surrounded by guards and passing through that line of defense would be dangerous. If yes, you ask how he reaches the leader. If it makes sense, you call for a move (usually Defy danger) based on the description. Description is the key and will often set the options available for the players.

3. Because the action would cause sudden PvP combat

In my games, I usually forbid the players to start physical conflict between them because the system is not balanced for players to fight other players (like 4E). Also, I think conflict would simply threaten the future of the game (read 1) so I would say: No pvp combat. Fix this out of game.


With the bond system and the way alignments work in Dungeon World I realize that player conflicts could be really interesting. I remember playing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition and they have a party sheet with a conflict tracker. I loved it and included it in my Dungeon World game after the players playing the elf and the dwarf said they didn't like each other. I made a GM move out of it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a nice breakdown of how existing habits honed in other games can conflict with the way DW already handles these things. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 5, 2013 at 20:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Wow. A beautiful answer, neatly encapsulating what's different about Dungeon World. (Notice that my entire answer fits inside case 2, with room to spare!) +1 for you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tynam
    Feb 6, 2013 at 9:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Very nice- especially on the PvP front. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Feb 6, 2013 at 15:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not certain I agree those reasons are a good idea even in D&D but a good analysis of why they don't work for DW. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 4, 2014 at 23:40

When they can't tell me how.

Sounds simple, but a wealth of detail is hidden in that simple question. When faced with an implausible action declaration, ask "How?". By asking, you're forcing your players to:

  • Consider whether their action makes sense.

  • Limit themselves to plausibility - if they can't even imagine a way that could work, then they won't be able to describe one, and they'll have to think of something else to do.

  • Surprise you, by having an interesting answer! Desperate attempts to reach impossible goals make for moments of great RP.

  • Give you a concrete basis on which to look for an appropriate move, and its consequences.

  • Roleplay, by describing the character's actions, not their objectives.

In Dungeon World, in particular, the mechanics trigger strongly on the description of how the goal is accomplished. This gives you a basis for deciding what happens when attempts fail. (This approach is described in a lot more detail in What do you do in Dungeon World when someone wants to perform an action they don't have a move for?, which I recommend reading.)

Taking your example, when the fighter wants to attack the leader... ask how. Some example plausible answers are:

  • "With my bow. I'll make a trick shot through the men to hit him in the throat."

  • "In a wild charge; I'll shoulder his bodyguards aside in a rush."

These can probably both be equated to moves available to the fighter, but by making him specify, you're giving yourself room to decide what complications happen if the attempt fails. (1) leads to being stuck barred away from the leader by his troops, but (2) leads to being surrounded by annoyed guards even if it works.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent answer. You said what I was about to, and better than I was going to. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 1, 2013 at 15:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ The only addendum I'd add is that you don't ever really need to utter the word "no". You can just keep asking them more questions like "Cool, what does that look like?" and "Sure, how?" until they, Socratic-style, stumble into the the truth on their own that the answer is "no." When they can't answer reasonable questions about how they accomplish their goal, they'll either escalate to something ridiculous (which you answer with, still, "Wow, OK—how are you doing that?") or they'll accept that they're not going to get away with gaming the GM and do something else. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2013 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Same. +1 Tynam, "How do you plan on going about doing that?" applies for what information can reasonably acquired, and not just what actions are possible. \$\endgroup\$
    – LitheOhm
    Feb 2, 2013 at 1:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point @SevenSidedDie; it's implicit but not explicit in my answer. You want to edit that in, or shall I? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tynam
    Feb 2, 2013 at 11:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ The addendum I would add is to explain why you're asking - to a player who didn't catch that the leader is literally surrounded by his men, the question of 'how' might not make sense - phrase it something along the lines of "Okay, but how? His men are blocking the way." \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Feb 5, 2016 at 21:07

Dungeon World and Apocalypse World are all about the "fictional positioning" – the position in which characters and things are, due to what people have said previously. When you say "no" is when someone's PC is simply not in position to do what they say they do.

This is an easy "no":

Player: I make the demon explode!

GM: What? How? You're in a different room and you're unconscious.

Player: But Dungeon World lets me do anything! You have to give me a roll.

GM: No, sorry. Dungeon World lets your PC try anything. I don't see you trying anything, I see you lying in a pool of your own blood, oblivious to the world. You're not triggering any moves that way.

This is an easy "yes":

Player: I make the demon explode!

GM: Well yeah. With all the gunpowder you hid in the basement, the magically-triggered fuse you set up, and how you just successfully lured the demon into the house, yeah, you light it off and that demon totally explodes. No roll.

This is a move:

Player: I make the demon explode!

GM: Uh, ok. How do you do that, what does it look like? Remember, you're lying in front of the demon and it's all "rar, I'm going to eat your soul."

Player: Oh right. Well remember that holy water the old priest gave me to protect against possession? Well I'm going to wait until the last minute and lob it down the demon's throat.

GM: Woah, ok! Yeah, that might just work, seeing as how it screamed and boiled when it was just splashed with holy water before. That sounds like Defy Danger: and the danger is that it only just hurts and slows it down instead of exploding it.

Player: Uh, ok... here goes nothing then! *rolls*


Though @Tynam's answer is excellent, I did want to give an alternative answer.

When they ask me, instead of showing me.

When we first started playing Dungeon World, I had reservations about my ability not to plan, and one of my players brought up something that I was already doing in the context of Fate that made me feel better about it. Letting the players drive, and rolling with what they were doing.

As the book so ably states, the GM has an agenda:

Your agenda makes up the things you aim to do at all times while GMing a game of Dungeon World:

  • Portray a fantastic world
  • Fill the characters’ lives with adventure
  • Play to find out what happens

Note that the last is Play to find out what happens. Not dictate nor determine. I think that choice of words is important: if a player is asking, then they aren't playing.

What happens (in terms of mechanics) triggers off of the narrative, and how the player chooses to accomplish a said goal. A question doesn't have a move associated with it. So nothing mechanically triggers.

To take your example, I think the player did the right thing. Your response might not have been as fleshed out as it could have been- that's where @Tynam's answer comes in, by framing the narrative, and using the magic words "And then," to trigger the GM action based on the way the narrative proceeds.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmmm... That's an excellent alternative approach to the same basic situation. "Make them show you" is exactly what I was trying to get at. +1. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tynam
    Feb 2, 2013 at 11:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "if a player is asking, then they aren't playing" \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Jul 13, 2016 at 16:54

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