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In Dungeon World, combat runs without concept of rounds or turns.

However, in some cases, I need to simulate the passage of time in a pitched battle. In other systems, I could use estimates like "the bomb will go off in another 3 rounds!" or "it's the start of a new round, Freida, you may try to break through the restraints again"

In the context of Dungeon World, what can be used to keep track of time in combat/conflict, when it is important to the fiction?

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The most common way I've seen this handled is with a doom clock (which I believe comes from Apocalypse World). The GM lays down an index card with 3-6 check boxes indicating the approaching doom, and uses a GM move to advance the doom clock by ticking off a check box. Once all the boxes are checked, the doom comes to pass.

This works well for a number of reasons. It ratchets up the tension at the table as the players see the doom approach. It can be used on a 7-9 as part of a hard choice ("focusing on the goblin is going to cost you time, but doing so means the wizard will live to cast another spell") or as a consequence ("doing that will take up precious time, are you sure?") or just a hard move in response to a failure.

If you want to be really creative, you can give the players a custom move that advances the doom clock on a 6- or even a 7-9; this works extra well with cursed items.

Most importantly, it fits well with the narrative flow without tying you to a specific timeline and is abstract and flexible enough to cover any kind of event or timespan. You could even use a doom clock as a front in its own right ("the great conjunction approaches!")

Of course, as @SevenSidedDie suggests, you should always think about whether tracking the passage of time is really necessary. But the doom clock is a useful tool when you choose to do so.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. Though the last paragraph is a bit off: doom clocks track GM moves made, not time passed, anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 10 '14 at 0:57
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Revisit the assumption that you really need to keep track of time. You almost never do in Dungeon World fights, because what a timer would represent in another RPG is handled instead by your opportunities to make GM moves.

  • A bomb going off? Use a golden opportunity (a missed roll, the players asking you what happens next) to Show signs of an approaching threat: the bomb ticking down. That sets you up to later use a second (or third) golden opportunity to have the bomb explode — which could be any of Use a monster, danger, or location move, Separate them, Put someone in a spot, Deal damage, or any other GM move that's interesting and follows from the exact fictional circumstances when the move is made.

    You don't need an actual timer here, because the player-GM moves structure hands you opportunities to advance the danger.

  • How often can Freida try to break the bonds? When you send the spotlight Freida's way. You don't do this on a timer, you just move the spotlight around the battle as you normally do. When you ask Freida's player what they want to do, it's up to them what they want to try to do, which may or may not be "try to break free again." They might have a better idea, and focusing on a timed set of opportunities for this just distracts them from getting creative.

Every situation that might be timed in another RPG is a matter of the flexible ebb and flow of your chances to use GM moves, and the regular flow of combat. Making important things happen out of turn isn't one of the GM's powers in Dungeon World! Deciding what players do when they have spotlight is similarly not the GM's job.

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