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I ran my first session of Dungeon World last night and my party of three third-level characters1 absolutely annihilated a troupe of six Hill Giants.2

I know (now) many things I could have done to increase the difficulty of the monsters. But I think a large part of the lopsidedness came from the characters simply acting more than the monsters.

I was mindful of the advice (rule?) on when to make a move:

  • When everybody looks at you to find out what happens
  • When the players give you a golden opportunity
  • When they roll a 6-

Thing is, there wasn't a single roll of 6- (thank you, modifiers3) and I took advantage of the one golden opportunity I saw, and the players were just very creative and always had things they wanted to do, so there wasn't much of everybody looking at me.

Should these monsters have acted more? Do I go ahead and interject monster moves into combat? Or if the characters are steamrolling (narratively) do I just let them and trust that enough 6- will come along4 to provide openings for the monsters and danger for the characters?


1 - A Ranger, Fighter, and Thief, if you care. They're at third level despite it being our first session because we've "ported" these characters over from an ongoing game in another system.

2 - The fighter took damage once.

3 - the modifiers may have been high-by-one in a few cases, but I'm pretty sure it's no more than that. We were just giving DW a test-run so we quick-and-dirty pulled over 5e characters, ability scores and all. The fighter had an 18 Strength, for instance--but a DW fighter could have an 18 Strength at L3 easily, right? The ranger's animal companion had the "trained for combat" feature, giving him a +1 when attacking with the animal's help, which I now believe was a nonstandard feature. (Turns out I didn't have the right set of starting play materials.) For more info on the modifiers please see this chat conversation--if you think specific info from there is relevant please let me know (in-comment or in-answer) and I'll pull it into this question.

4- And I recognize that if the combat's made more difficult, the players will have to make many more rolls along the way, and thus we're going to see more 6- results.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 13 '16 at 13:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ From the discussion: How does a Ranger's animal companion help with volley? or; How does a Ranger's animal companion contribute damage to volley without being somewhere it can be flattened by a giant? \$\endgroup\$ – Slow Dog Jul 14 '16 at 11:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm confused. Did no one ever roll a 7-9 so a monster could make an attack back? It's not unusual to avoid 6- on stuff, but going an entire fight without rolling a 7-9 is pretty weird. Heck. Hill Giants have Reach. Did the fighter have reach? If so, how did he attack them without getting hit first? Hill Giants have forceful. Did you swat people back out of range when they were hit? \$\endgroup\$ – Airk Jul 14 '16 at 19:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SlowDog I've copied your comment and my response into the chat referenced above. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 15 '16 at 13:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm only getting more confused. How on earth did the ranger do 1d8+5 damage? Dungeon World doesn't really have very many static damage mods, and +5 is enormous. Though to be fair, there were some big rolls, but it sounds like you forgot to play to the fiction in terms of reach and giants being big - I don't know that I would have allowed the thief to "backstab" a hill giant if he can't reach above its knee. \$\endgroup\$ – Airk Jul 15 '16 at 16:17
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Let me start by addressing your stated questions first, then make some observations.

Should these monsters have acted more?

Not as such.

Monsters should never act on their own. The monsters react to things the player characters narratively do, just like the rest of Dungeon World. As this is a very narrative game, much depends on the context you've set up.

Do I go ahead and interject monster moves into combat?

No.

Monster moves are only triggered "Whenever everyone looks to you to see what happens". Just deciding it's a good time to do that is breaking the rules the DM is bound to.

Or if the characters are steamrolling (narratively) do I just let them and trust that enough 6- will come along to provide openings for the monsters and danger for the characters?

No.

"Steamrolling" doesn't sound like "filling characters' lives with adventure". If that's happening, the DM is missing out on a core Agenda item.


I wasn't there, so I can only take a guess at what might not be working for you. Let me give one example to show what might be wrong.

Example:

DM: There are three giants over there.

Fighter: I run in and hack and slash(tm)

DM: Well, that's a move. Roll it.

The problem here is the DM allowed the player to dictate that a move happened, rather than narrating it. Consider this instead:

DM: There are three giants over there.

Fighter: I run in swinging.

Since everyone is now looking at the DM, this gives the DM many, many more options.

  • Use a monster, danger, or location move: throw something is a Hill Giant move; they throw whatever they were holding at the fighter.
  • Reveal an unwelcome truth: As the fighter gets up to a giant, he finds that their longer arms allow them to hit first.
  • Show signs of an approaching threat: One of the giants bellows in surprise and anger, and you hear an answering call.
  • Deal damage: In response to a threat, the giants come out swinging.
  • Use up their resources: As the fighter approaches, he sees the giants picking their teeth with bones. The pile of wrecked equipment looks an awful lot like your missing guide's.
  • Turn their move back on them: <I don't have anything good for this; it happens>
  • Separate them: The fighter runs right past two giants he didn't see. They step out and walk menacingly toward the party.
  • Give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities: The giants are distracted by the howling fighter. The ranger has a great shot against an immobile target.
  • Show a downside to their class, race, or equipment: "Smells like halfling! I'm getting hungry!" says the giant, as he picks up a PC.
  • Offer an opportunity, with or without cost: The giants seem distracted by the fighter and ranger, but the thief notices a pile of treasure in the cave behind them.
  • Put someone in a spot: Another giant walks in behind the party, shouts in surprise, and walks threateningly toward the Ranger.
  • Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask: The giants have big weapons and long arms, so they'll probably hit you first. Are you sure you want to rush in like that?
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  • When everybody looks at you to find out what happens

The one that's easy to miss is as follows:

Player: "I punch the Giant in knee" GM: "That sounds like Hack and Slash. Roll for that" P: "11" G: "That's a hit. Roll damage" P: "9" everybody looks at you to find out what happens

GM: "The giant collapses onto the floor, grasping his injured knee. One of his pals rushes to his aid, and swings his club at your head; what do you do?"

That's going a soft move, though it could be an appropriate soft enough monster move:

GM: "The giant grasps his injured knee and collapses onto the floor, and the ground shakes as he lands, knocking you and the rest of the party over. One of his pals rushes to his aid, and swings his club at you as you lie there; what do you going to do?"

It's certainly true that monsters performing actions that actually damage the players will in general happen a lot less than in some other games. You need to concentrate on exciting fictional action rather than hit-point exchanges.

You also need to account for game difference. Six Hill Giants vs Four players in DW isn't anything like it would be in DnD.

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