Are there functional limitations, or good ways to add limitations, to the bardic ability Charming and Open?

The ability Charming and Open reads:

When you speak frankly with someone, you can ask their player a question from the list below. They must answer it truthfully, then they may ask you a question from the list (which you must answer truthfully).

This ability is unquestionably powerful in social circumstances, having many of the benefits of various magical effects from other systems, such as Zone of Truth in D&D. It can be used to force an enemy to reveal details of their plans, so long as the bard is willing to surrender information in return.

Being powerful is not, in itself, an issue. However, RAW, the ability also seems to have no defined limit. Unlike some other abilities in Dungeon World, it does not limit this ability to "once..." or "the first time you encounter...". It has no cost and requires no check.

What prevents a player from using this ability repeatedly, over and over in sequence? Doing so would allow them to keep a villain monologuing indefinitely, while also plumbing the entirety of their evil plan in full. Is there any point as which the villain in question would be capable of shouting, "Enough!!" and refusing to continue the conversation? Is the answer that the enemy should just get really frustrated at the bard for talking so much and attempt to murder them first?


2 Answers 2


There are limitations already built in, but they're easy to miss when thinking in terms of more familiar games.

First, it's only easy to trigger at all, let alone over and over again, in situations that tend to already have fairly low stakes. (Not always, but often.) You have to speak frankly with someone, not at or to them, so they have to be at least minimally receptive to listening to your frankness, and that tends to be when things are already mostly going OK. Guards hauling you away to prison and dragons about to eat you for lunch are either not going to talk with you at all, or are not going to speak frankly with you, except under, well, exceptional circumstances.

But the bartender with a secret, or the duchess with a political plan, who doesn't realise the Bard is a social force of nature — that NPC is easy to get into such conversations. All it takes is not being on guard in the first place, or letting their guard down for even one conversation. Yes, this will sometimes catapult the game's events forward at a rapid pace, as secrets and sordid scandals are unearthed with ease, but speed is normal in Dungeon World and the GM's job is not to keep secrets safe, it's to fill their lives with adventure. Throwing them headlong into the middle of sociopolitical tangles is definitely living up to that job. The Bard's move is more helpful to the GM than not!

Even when stakes are high, the move is still more useful to the GM than you might think. Sometimes it will let you pull the group into an intrigue effortlessly. Sometimes it will let you give them information that will heighten an already tense situation. Sometimes it will let you find out much more about the Bard than the Bard bargained for. In fact, it's a very dangerous move for the Bard to make carelessly…

GM: “… Okay, so now that the villain has explained her plans, she asks in the spirit of frank, open discussion you've established, ‘What could I do to make you betray your companions, right here and now?’

GM: “And remember, you have to answer truthfully.”

(And “Nothing!” is almost never a truthful answer, while “Uh, give up your evil scheme?” isn't answering at all yet because it would help rather than betray the Bard's companions.1)

The limitations on moves in Dungeon World are always — always, always — the risks that are the potential consequence of making the move, which naturally balance the potential rewards, not difficulty or up-front limitations as in most RPGs. And with this move you don't need a player to roll a miss to reveal the unwelcome truth that their friendliness invites risk when they're being very frank with dangerous NPCs.

1. A very clever Bard might take advantage of such a question by truthfully answering something that the villain would (probably?) refuse to do, or which would further a greater good even while it betrayed the rest of the party. Such cleverness is awesome and is the stuff of epic finales.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ There's also a limited set of questions: Whom do you serve? What do you wish I would do? How can I get you to ______ ? What are you really feeling right now? What do you most desire? \$\endgroup\$
    – Slow Dog
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 12:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Most of those can't usefully be repeated, and there's no "tell me your evil plan" option. And "How can I get you tell me your evil plan" doesn't have to give an answer the Bard will be willing to do. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slow Dog
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 13:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, and my Bard asked the future BBEG "What do you most desire?" He answered "One day, I shall rule this Kingdom". And despite the Bard knowing, it happened anyway, which only made even more interesting \$\endgroup\$
    – Slow Dog
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 13:08

The limit is right there in the description. This move triggers:

When you speak frankly with someone...

Speaking with someone is a reciprocal thing. If the listener isn't willing to talk to the bard, the ability can't trigger. A villain in the middle of executing their plan is (possibly) unlikely to be willing to talk, making it impossible to trigger Charming and Open.

On the other hand, if the player was to meet that same person earlier at a tavern, festival, or some other social event it could be triggered fairly easily.

  • \$\begingroup\$ When the move is not triggered that can also be informative - the Bard tries to set up a Charming And Open conversation but their overtures are rejected: "You're not how you know, but you are sure she is lying to you..." \$\endgroup\$
    – glenatron
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 18:06

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