World creation in Dungeon World according to its principle is meant to be broad and keep some blanks for the players to fill.

But what about an established setting like Forgotten Realm or Greyhawk? Famous settings like those leave little place for blanks to be filled. Am I wrong to think playing in an established setting in Dungeon World would go against the "Draw maps, leave blanks" principle? Of course Forgotten Realm doesn't describe every villages and every citizen in the world but there are little blanks to be exploited about famous and exciting places like Waterdeep or Neverwinter.

Bonus point for anyone who can describe their own personal experience of using Dungeon World to play in an established setting as an argument.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm tackling this right now, so I can share my approach but it's untested right now. I can say that I've been pondering how to uphold the intent of the rules while using an established setting/dungeon for a while though. An answer will have to wait until I spend some time typing, but in the meantime, excellent question and I'm looking forward to the answers! \$\endgroup\$ Feb 19, 2013 at 17:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think most players' approaches are going to be largely untested at this point. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Feb 19, 2013 at 18:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've only done this with one-shots, but even then it was very much treating the existing the content as an outline and letting the players make things up during play. \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Feb 21, 2013 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm willing to throw another +100 bounty after this one, if Stack Exchange allows that... I'm very interested in Dungeon World and a good answer to this would help me and others like me. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 21, 2013 at 20:48

3 Answers 3


Dungeon World actually contains some procedures and advice on adapting material. Though I know the game well, I'm only now doing a thorough cover-to-cover read since my hard copy arrived, so I missed this section.

Appendix 3 (p. 382) is all about converting existing adventures into a form that suits Dungeon World's structure and the GM's agenda and principles in particular. Briefly:

  • Review your agenda and principles, as a guide for exploiting the published material.
  • Review the adventure, looking more at themes and interesting playing pieces that can fulfil your agenda, then put it away. You don't want to convert all the details faithfully, since you want to be faithful to Dungeon World first. Focus on threats, dangers, neat magic, fantastic places, and interesting NPCs and monsters and their agendas – stuff that would be in an adventure Front in the first place. Ignore or mangle stats, linear plots, and square-by-square details. Steal liberally, discard freely, and add new ideas.
  • Redraw the maps in your own hand, leaving blanks. Alternatively, use the originals, but don't look up things in the map key – if you remember it and it's cool and suits that moment in your game then it's good; if you can't remember it then it wasn't interesting enough and you should make up something in normal Dungeon World fashion to fill it. Play to find out what is in the blanks on the map and in your memory.
  • Pick a couple forces and make them Fronts. Follow the normal procedures for picking and making Fronts, but now you're exploiting material instead of just your own imagination. Blend them.
  • Don't forget stakes questions. These are about reminding you to leave the best blanks for discovery during play.
  • Convert the ideas of monsters, focusing on what they do instead of their numbers.
  • Look at what magic items are for in the adventure, rather than treating them as raw loot. Raw loot is not part of DW's reward cycle!

Again, this is all for converting an adventure, but it gives us solid guidance for a setting since the adventure is the raison d'être for the setting in a game of Dungeon World. Let's pull in the procedures of the First and Second Session to see what I mean.

The First Session: Blanks & Questions

In the first session, your job is to set the PCs' life of adventure into motion immediately once play starts. No wandering around a gorgeously-detailed countryside looking for adventure – put them right in the middle of a situation that demands reaction right away. The suggestions in the text – in a tense negotiation, at the mouth of a dungeon, ambushed, spying on a band of orcs – these all put the moment of play ahead of the setting. Setting comes second.

So, to adapt a setting, review it as you would an adventure. Look for the interesting bits you can remix. Redraw the map from memory, leaving blanks and thinking of questions and pondering the forces at work you find neat. Then zoom into a single location that you want to combine with the creative unpredictability of the players and brew up some adventure ideas for it. That's where your setting begins to actually exist once play starts – establish details during play, and all else is just your ideas, to be used or discarded when the game gets there. Set up your initial situation, and let the moves snowball.

You can work up a whole dungeon or adventure, but you don't need to – a few hours of play can easily be filled by letting moves snowball and doing the normal first-session things. Ask questions and use the answers. Tuck away interesting facts that play establishes. Bring the NPCs your players actually focus on to life and forget that anyone named Elminster or Vecna might have existed in an alternate reality version of this world. Fold, spindle, mangle, and crease the setting until you'd make the post office blush.

The Second Session: Fronts

Have your first session, and gather all the ideas that you normally do in DW when there is no pre-made setting, and let it simmer a day or two. Then do your second-session prep as the book prescribes (p. 183).

Think of the forces behind or near the action of the first session. Which ones are adventure fronts? Make a couple. Which, if any, could be a campaign front? Since you started with action, the direction of a campaign might already be emerging from the creative chaos. Make a loose campaign front out if that.

Especially remember that you will not be doing a Grand Tour Of The Setting – make your fronts relevant to the PCs now, here, and scope them to fit your 5–12 sessions. The game might go elsewhere (follow it!), but right now you should focus on immediately relevant things to help you resist the scope of a typical published setting. Think of novels: they focus on narrow slices of setting, where the conflict unfolds. You can always start on a second saving-the-world once this campaign wraps up.

This is also when you can consider some custom moves to highlight the unique character of the setting. Are interactions between gods and mortals an important thing? Maybe a custom move that triggers when you swear and oath or when you invoke divine intervention would be cool. Are there places where magic is twisted and broken from the fallout of cosmic events? A move that triggers on using magic there, or that adds a new 7–9 option to Cast A Spell would suit. Is there a dangerous place nearby, a political situation, or a renown person, near the PCs that they might interact with? Custom moves will say something about their importance and place in the world. Some of these moves might be attached to fronts, monsters, or locations, or they might be pervasive and attached to the world. It's all good.

The Last Word

Let the setting be just so many disposable ideas as your own normally are when creating your group's unique Dungeon World with your players, until the setting details are established through play.


This is a good question, because I think there are a lot of good settings and modules out there that can be used for Dungeon World.

...And I think the answer is really simple. You even hit upon it yourself, pre-made settings would leave little room for leaving blanks and asking questions, So, where there are blanks, ask. Where there aren't, don't.

I don't even think that violates the principles at all. There are plenty of places to broaden it if you want to, when they leave those pre-made cities, you should have plenty of room for map and encounter questions, but even in the city, is every building described?

Your questions don't even have to be fewer, merely different. Obviously you don't ask about what is established; ask about things that change or are undefined. What's the weather like? What sort of terrain anomalies do you see? How many orcs do you count in that raiding party? What does the proprietor look like? How many thugs emerge from the ally and how do you know they are thugs? What unexpected thing do you find in the basement?

Or more leading: What sort of portal do you find in the basement? or What sort of important secret about the Grandmaster of Assassins do you uncover and how do you uncover it?


As an addendum and to put things into perspective: Don't get too caught up in one area. I'm not saying ignore any of the GM Agendas or Principles, but use them in a manner suitable to your game.

Instead of feeling bad for already having more of the world figured out, wallow in how much prep you can exploit!

Of the list below, which items do you still feel are impossible or too difficult?

How to GM When you sit down at the table as a GM you do these things:

• Describe the situation

• Follow the rules

• Make moves

• Exploit your prep

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


• Draw maps, leave blanks

• Address the characters, not the players

• Embrace the fantastic

• Make a move that follows

• Never speak the name of your move

• Give every monster life

• Name every person

• Ask questions and use the answers

• Be a fan of the characters

• Think dangerous

• Begin and end with the fiction

• Think offscreen, too

  • \$\begingroup\$ And finally, if you still feel it's a bad fit, try taking bits from the setting material, broad ideas, like races and racial relationships, culture etc. and ask the questions you want to ask. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ich
    Feb 23, 2013 at 2:21

I've only started in my DungeonWorld Campaign, converting Dark Sun for use, so I'm sure this will be modified when I get more experience.

The first thing to do is to look at what the GM is supposed to do, and how this is incompatible with the setting. Another question helped me get that into perspective, How can I encourage players to Spout Lore, specifically, using Spout Lore to reveal a detailed, pre-created world is contrary to the rules. At first this seemed as if it were contrary to using a pre-made setting- until I looked at it in a new light, and with one simple thought in mind:

The setting, as presented, is a framework, much the same as DungeonWorld itself. And everything in it is rumor- some true, and some not. It is a convenient bit of planning, that gives some possibilities, that aren't truly tested until the PCs come to bring it into focus.

That said, I started by setting out my map as written. I mapped out the area where they were to start- their first adventure- into a front, to put them into the middle of the action. I also prepared with basics for the areas and NPCs that they would possibly make it to in their first adventure, classifying each feature in one of three categories. Solid, i.e. they started in Tyr, bound in slavery, and there were the other slaves and slavemasters around, and who the slaves and slavemasters were. Other things, I qualified as mutable, i.e. certain slaves and slavemasters wouldn't like them and would have certain qualities. Everything else was only possible.

If they came into contact with something that was mutable, then their actions would make it less so. If they came into contact with something that was only possible, their actions would define it. They might hear of Urik and Nibenay, and those rumors might be of things defined in the setting books. But until they bring it into focus, none of what they hear is for certain- you find out together what is true, and what is not.

It seems to be working so far, the only hard thing is to keep that truism in mind, that the books are not the setting- the setting is what we create together.


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