Has anyone handled damage over time concepts in a non-turn based game like Dungeon World? If so, how was it managed?

For example: A PC sets an NPC on fire, the burn damage occurs over time. In DW, there are no turns and time passes abstractly. What systems are there to best deal the damage over time?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This question will probably get better answers if you define what the fictional thing you want to represent with "damage over time" actually is. Just because three different things get grouped together as "damage over time" in another system doesn't mean it makes sense to represent them all using the same mechanic in PbtA/DW. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Mar 16, 2017 at 19:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ To a PC or an NPC/monster? How was the damage done? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2017 at 21:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dan Please do not answer in comments. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 17, 2017 at 11:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener, Understood, though it's frustrating when a good question that I'd like to answer is on hold. I've migrated the comment to a full answer now that the question is open again. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan Bryant
    Mar 17, 2017 at 14:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanBryant Patience is a virtue. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 17, 2017 at 21:34

2 Answers 2


In Dungeon World, "damage over time" is not a mechanic; this is a purely fictional construction. If you're on fire, the fictional consequence is that you're on fire! This creates conditions for various GM moves that follow from the fiction. As long as the underlying fictional state isn't dealt with (you're still on fire!), conditions remain ripe for consequences, as expressed in the GM moves you make.

For an NPC that's on fire:

You can reveal an unwelcome truth that their screaming and flailing has attracted the attention of something, which you can hear quickly approaching from around the corner. Note here that we're not so worried about the mechanics of killing the NPC (the NPC can just die when it's appropriate), but rather using the situation to think dangerous and fill the character's lives with adventure.

You can put someone in a spot by having the flaming NPC charge at one of the PCs. If they get a partial on a Defy Danger dealing with it, this could segue into separate them (Cleric, the scattered flaming oil has created a wall of flame between you and the party) or maybe use up their resources (Thief, you narrowly dodge out of the way, but one of your packages of poultices and herbs attached to your belt is aflame; what do you do?)

Give an opportunity that fits a class' abilities: "Jimmy the orc has finally stopped moving, but the corpse is still aflame. The distant growls are swiftly approaching. [Salamander] Immolator, what do you do?"

Offer an opportunity, with or without cost: "The enemy magus is rather distracted by being on fire and has stopped casting his spell. Fighter, you see an opportunity to engage; what do you do?"

For a PC that's on fire:

Deal damage: "You continue to burn, take another 1d6 damage." or "Your skin has started to bubble and melt a bit; take the scarred debility."

Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask: "Sure, you can charge that shaman, but you'll have to run past the Fighter to do it and you'll need to Defy Danger to avoid setting him alight as the sticky flame scatters from your body."

In general, I'd consider continuing to be on fire to be a fictional condition that offers repeated golden opportunities to make moves, likely harder moves than you'd normally make without a miss involved. So in Dungeon World, it's really more "danger over time", in that not dealing with an ongoing persistent dangerous fictional condition will create serious ongoing complications. Other examples include things like poison gas filling the room, being out in the open and under fire from a large group of archers, having a larval demonic abomination growing inside your brain, etc.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Reading it again, I really love some of your creative ideas in here! This inspired a lot of other ideas for me. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 17, 2017 at 16:15

To a Character: As a GM Move

Doing damage to a character is something a GM move can do, so when the GM makes a move (due to a player rolling a 6-, or everyone looking at the GM), that move could be to do damage to the character if that's still fictionally appropriate.

To an NPC: Don't Bother

Just apply the damage up front. Fictionally, something like a sword blow already does damage over time (bleeding), but DW, like most games, applies it all at the moment of the attack anyway.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's what I figured...so if the burn damage is on an enemy, its up to the GM to be fair about how often the enemy is "hit". \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2017 at 19:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't even consider that case. I wouldn't try to space the damage out in that case, just do it all up front/count it as part of the initial attack. Let me add to my answer. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2017 at 21:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok, I'm going to try to clarify my question for other too. Thanks again. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2017 at 23:30

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