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To give context: in a session which I am playing, a player has opted to play as The Princess class. This class has a move which deems them the owner of a Unicorn, which they must then name and describe with tags given by the character sheet. The GM has deemed that this particular move is too strong, however, stating that Unicorns are far too powerful in Dungeon World for him to allow it into the campaign at this time.

He did, however, offer that the Princess could have another creature. They were given a few choices, however, the GM then stated that the animal chosen would share the character's HP pool, and utilize her stats if they chose to take the move. This has made the player reconsider the option entirely, as it would simply give the GM a secondary target to utilize for destroying the Princess without any real benefits.

Granted, there's now some house-ruling going on here, but I would like to know about how to handle the original move (and maybe, by extension, how it would apply to these changes). How should this move work, exactly? Does the Princess just simply have a Unicorn, with monster codex stats, which follows her around and fights on her behalf? Or is this treated more like a Ranger's Animal Companion? Additionally, how do the tags work in relation to the Princess? Do the Color tag buffs apply directly to the Unicorn, or to the Princess (especially in context for the Luminescent tag, which I don't believe that the Unicorn has the Gentle Touch ability?), or both?

For those who do not have the character sheet, the move is a levels 2–5 Advanced Move, and reads as follows:

Unicorn

You have a Unicorn. Choose one from each list and tell the GM their name.

Temperament: Chatterbox, Vain, Brave, Savage
Build: Towering, Skeletal, Solid, Chubby
Colors: Pastel (+1d4 damage), Dark (add the messy tag when in melee), Luminescent (heal +1d6 with Gentle Touch)

(Note that Gentle Touch is a starting move for the Princess that heals for 1d8 or one disease.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hold up: Can you clarify how someone is playing a class that the GM apparently didn't read before the campaign started? Normally the GM is the one who chooses which classes are available in a game in the first place, making this kind of event impossible. This makes me wonder if there is some kind of background information to this situation, which might be relevant to answering. What exactly happened there? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 30 '17 at 15:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie As far as character creation was concerned, it became a matter of people picking classes and getting them approved. In this case, the player looked for something unique, found the princess, and the gm reviewed and agreed to it. However, Unicorn was eventually deemed to strong. To be fair, most of us are new to DW, so it's possible he didn't think that it was a big deal at the time and then later on questioned it when the move was becoming relevant. \$\endgroup\$ – Sugar Star Dancer Jan 31 '17 at 3:28
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It seems to me that the Unicorn has exactly the same status as a Ranger's animal companion. There are modifiers to the Princesses moves - a Pastel Unicorn adds +1d4 damage to the Princess, for example, in the same way a companion would add its ferocity.

It's present fictionally; a Unicorn follows the Princess around for all to see, and the the rest of the world should behave accordingly.

Everything else it does also the same as for an Animal Companion; the GM makes a move. If the Princess lets the girls of the village brush the Unicorn's Mane, the GM says what happens. If the Princess asks the Unicorn to fight the Cosmic Hamster, the GM says what happens. And by "says what happens", I mean just that. No dice rolling or trading hitpoints; just say what happens. The decisions should be influenced by the Unicorn's Tags, though; do you leave your Savage Unicorn alone with the village girls? Will it attack the Hamster if not Brave? Will it win if it's Deathly? And so on.

The fact that there's a Unicorn described in the Codex is irrelevant. They're not the same thing at all. The Princesses Unicorn has no stats beyond those described in the move.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've removed by own consideration that the Unicorn in the Codex is in any way confusing. The Codex also contains Wolves and Bears, potential Ranger's animal companions, and they're equally irrelevant. \$\endgroup\$ – Slow Dog Jan 31 '17 at 12:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ As the author of The Princess, I can confirm that this answer is exactly how the Unicorn move should be handled. \$\endgroup\$ – JuneShores Aug 30 '18 at 22:00
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Before I get to the real answer at hand, let's look at the Ranger, a classic class. It has the move Animal Companion. As we know, the Ranger's animal companion has no stats (as in, HP, armor, moves, damage, etc). It gives mechanical benefits (ferocity, cunning, armor, instinct), but most importantly it exists in fiction. The Ranger has a loyal animal companion. In DW, that's all the rules the move really requires: it just also gives other rules about how the Ranger directly benefits from their companion.

So why doesn't the animal companion have stats (HP, armor, moves, damage, etc)? I think there are three reasons for this:

  1. This way it exists purely in fiction. The GM does not deal damage to it, the player does not directly control it, no one needs to worry about the moves it makes.

  2. This way it cannot be killed without fiction stepping in. Come on, it's the Ranger's best friend and greatest class move. It's not cool to lose a thing like that just because a random encounter goblin happened rolled max damage or something.

  3. It's much simpler to write and play this way. If it had, say, HP equal to your level + 4, and damage based on its form, and armor, and moves, and blah blah blah. Word counts would be met, and the players and GMs wouldn't want to read and memorize the class.

In summary, the animal companion cannot be "overpowered" because it has no stats. It is and does exactly as the GM says, based on the GM's principles, of course. Think dangerous, be a fan of characters, and so on.

So let's clarify a couple things about the unicorn:

Does the Princess just simply have a Unicorn, with monster codex stats,

No stats it seems, and especially not from the GM-only monster codex.

and fights on her behalf

I'm quite certain the fiction says that unicorns are peaceful creatures, but that's just how I imagine unicorns. The way I see it, the unicorn can help the Princess in combat situations, but because it doesn't have moves or damage, it's purely fiction-based. That's not to say that it can't help. You just won't be rolling any damage dice for it.

Or is this treated more like a Ranger's Animal Companion?

Not really? I mean the rules don't say anything about the Ranger. Granted, the rules text for the unicorn could have been a bit lengthier, but the Ranger's animal companion is well-detailed because it is expected to function in a very different role compared to the unicorn. A hunting companion, compared to a tea party guest.

Additionally, how do the tags work in relation to the Princess? Do the Color tag buffs apply directly to the Unicorn, or to the Princess (especially in context for the Luminescent tag, which I don't believe that the Unicorn has the Gentle Touch ability?), or both?

Yeah, I think this is where the confusion came from, and it's definitely not spelled out clearly enough. The way I see it, the tags apply to the princess. Because, you know, the unicorn can't add +d4 to its undefined damage, and doesn't have the move Gentle Touch. Note that if the princess didn't have a move called Gentle Touch, I might have understood it as a case of descriptive rules text, as in: "the unicorn, with a gentle touch, heals d6 damage". But that's not the case.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Nope, those are Tags. It's up to your table to agree what they mean for this particular game, though, so when you later meet a Cosmic Hamster it means the same thing to the Hamster as it did to the Unicorn. \$\endgroup\$ – Slow Dog Jan 30 '17 at 11:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is great, but I think it could be improved by showing that the GM is not following the rules. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Jan 30 '17 at 14:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MGlacier DW only works when the GM follows the rules, and that includes the moves on a playbook. Given this quote: "The GM has deemed that this particular move is too strong, however, stating that Unicorns are far too powerful in Dungeon World for him to allow it into the campaign at this time," I would say the GM is not being a fan of the characters or playing to find out what happens. He's just saying, "Nope, you can't have that." It's very un-DW. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Jan 30 '17 at 14:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LegendaryDude: well, the un-DW thing was to mistakenly read this move as delivering a unicorn with stats from the codex. Once that mistake was made, the assessment that it shouldn't be in the game is precisely the same assessment that the author made when deciding not to give it the stats the GM thought it had :-) One can read "playing to find out what happens" as "even if what happens is easily predicted to be stupid and wrong in the opinion of the GM, all players, and the authors of DW", since the group could make it fun despite all informed opinion being that it won't be. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jessop Jan 31 '17 at 10:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or to put it another way: DW only works when the GM follows the rules, and the ship has already sailed on that as soon as the GM misreads a rule. You can't follow a rule you didn't understand, so it's game over until that's fixed. The only question is whether it's game over because the GM makes a house-rule, or game over because the GM ploughs ahead with the bad (misunderstood) version of the rule. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jessop Jan 31 '17 at 10:58

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