A player in my group shows interest in taking the 'Smash!' barbarian move soon, so I wanted to ask how much should I allow when using it.

For example if an enemy has more than 12HP and the barbarian rolled a 12, that would not kill the enemy, but the move allows the player to say something like "I slice his head and take it!" This would kill the enemy even if the barbarian's damage roll does not bring him to 0HP.


1 Answer 1


First, beware that the 12 needs to be rolled on the 2d6 for the move, not on the damage dice.

Now that that's out of the way…

This is not the GM's job

The GM doesn't get to decide how or when this move is used.


When you hack and slash, on 12+ deal your damage and choose something physical your target has (a weapon, their position, a limb): they lose it.

No part of the move Smash! tells the GM to decide anything. The move happens when a Hack & Slash move's roll is 12+, and the Barbarian's player chooses what the opponent loses.

Deciding against this isn't the GM's job anyway. The GM's job is to be a fan of the PCs and to make their lives interesting: neither job involves limiting how much smashing the Barbarian does, and following those instructions should mean cheering when the Barbarian does something awesome like this.

Making the moment good is your job

And remember the Principle most relevant to this:

Think dangerous

Everything in the world is a target. You’re thinking like an evil overlord: no single life is worth anything and there is nothing sacrosanct. Everything can be put in danger, everything can be destroyed. Nothing you create is ever protected.

So when the Barbarian rolls that 12+, looks you in the eye, and says “I choose the villain's head,” make it happen: let your creation die. The whole point of GMing Dungeon World is to create a world that the PCs can touch and change irrevocably. They've just handed you a golden moment of dramatic climax, so make it good, make it wonderful, be a fan of what the characters have just accomplished, and let them relish their victory.

After all, ending the Big Bad suddenly and with finality, with only cold anger and cold steel, is what the Barbarian does.

Also, that doesn't mean it solves the problem well. Maybe it does! Maybe it doesn't. As always in Dungeon World, a new problem or a complication caused by previous PC actions is always just around the corner, so the Ultimate Villain losing their head may be the end of the game, or can just as easily be the beginning of the next chapter. It doesn't disrupt the game's forward movement, so it's not something to ever worry about, let alone try to prevent.

Aside: A note on “limbs”

Some people can get caught up on the definition of “limb” and whether a head counts as a limb. It's not actually important though, because the list in the move (“a weapon, their position, a limb”) isn't to pick from, it's just a set of examples to give an idea of the possibilities. Yes, a head isn't a limb — but that doesn't matter, because it is valid to choose as “something physical your target has”.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think reducing "losing something" to "auto kill" is very uninteresting and removes most of the "fun" uses of this ability. Why would you remove a weapon or a position or a limb - ever - instead of just killing them (yes, in weird mcguffin situation, fine, but most of the time). Letting this kill basically makes it lame and un-fun which is the opposite of your job... \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 1:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Because it's fodder for later. Nothing stays uninteresting in Dungeon World. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 1:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is innately uninteresting. Can it be parlayed into something interesting later? Sure. But it's not doing you any favors. If you need a head or sword, hacking it off postmortem is equally effective, and there's not "standard actions" to save. Sorry man, this takes "pro player" and converts it to boring. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 1:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was going to comment that this is the best Dungeon World answer I have read. It is a shining example of how the author understands DW. But I stopped because such a comment does not contribute to the answer. But then I read these specious take downs of the answer by commenters. Do these people even play DW? I keep catching whiffs of D&D in their complaints. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 18:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've had this experience GM'ing many long sessions of Cyberpunk 2020 back in the day, and Apocalypse World recently. My players were never worried about if they could pull something off. They played capable protagonists and they could given enough determination. They were worried about what would come after. I think this is reflected just as well in the rules of DW. Lobbing heads off? Why not, yes. But what happens when the word of this foreign-looking big guy taking heads left and right gets around? That's the part they should be worried about. \$\endgroup\$
    – edgerunner
    Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 9:20

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