In Dungeon World, the Cleric class has the following starting move:

Turn Undead

When you hold your holy symbol aloft and call on your deity for protection, roll+Wis. ✴On a 7+, so long as you continue to pray and brandish your holy symbol, no undead may come within reach of you. ✴On a 10+, you also momentarily daze intelligent undead and cause mindless undead to flee. Aggression breaks the effects and they are able to act as normal. Intelligent undead may still find ways to harry you from afar. They’re clever like that.

The stated actions involved are "praying" and "brandishing your holy symbol". Can you do other non-verbal actions while praying? Can you pray just in-your-head? Must your symbol be held in a hand?

For context, the party ventured into a great hall full of skeleton oathbreakers. Foolishly, they decided against running to a choke-point and engaging a couple at a time and instead waltzed right into the center of the room, prompting our Cleric to Turn Undead (successfully.)

However, her player then believed that she wouldn't be able to participate in combat and was visibly disappointed. This was with the assumption that brandishing the symbol would require the use of a hand and her only weapon was a two-handed staff. The party fortuitously found an amulet bearing a suitable holy symbol upon it that she could simply wear while turning undead and have both hands free, at least allowing the use of her staff.

Eventually, I ended up in an awkward spot where she was attempting many actions that seemed difficult to do in parallel with Turning Undead such as engaging in serious combat, evading rocks being thrown by skeletons outside of her range, and Spouting Lore (this last one we decided was impossible, even if she prays in her head because doing two things that involve language at once is nearly/completely impossible for humans in real life.)

One solution I can think of to address this is to require Defy Danger on all kinds of moves as she must focus on praying while participating in otherwise mundane activities.

Another is to disallow many actions to the chagrin of the player.

Finally, I could just allow it all but that may make undead encounters too easy, or worse, uninteresting. (She has 18 Wisdom so failure isn't very frequent for her.)

What do you do in this circumstance? Supposing there is an absence of explicit rules, what makes the game interesting and exciting for a Cleric wishing to Turn Undead?


2 Answers 2


Can you do other non-verbal actions while praying? Can you pray just in-your-head? Must your symbol be held in a hand?

You should ask the player to describe what she's doing, then hold her to it. This is the DW Principle "Ask questions and use the answers".

Ask her what prayer looks like for her cleric. A god of music might require singing. That'll start requiring some Powering Through to Defy the Danger of getting tired. On the other extreme, prayer need not be verbal at all. A real-life friend of mine strives to be constantly praying to God. For him, that means constantly being open to and aware of the presence of God in his life. In a DW game, remember that the god in question is actively trying to help the cleric. Perhaps strong emotion is enough, or an inner monologue of "ohgodohgodohgod".

Ask what brandishing looks like, and how this works. Presumably this involves being held in your hand, but perhaps not. Don't forget to ask how the effect works. If the undead are simply afraid of the light it sheds, the cleric will need to hold it over her head or risk undead sneaking up in her own shadow.

what makes the game interesting and exciting for a Cleric wishing to Turn Undead?

The DM following the rules about the Agenda, Principles, and Moves.

Be a fan of the characters and Give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities. This means that a room full of undead is exactly the place for a cleric to shine. Let her have a moment of pure awesome.

Ask questions and use the answers. Once you've established what's happening by asking questions, be sure to keep doing it.

  • How exactly are you going to climb that rope while brandishing the ankh on your shield?
  • The downed fighter is pretty heavy. How are you going to drag him and keep the symbol aloft?
  • The rogue has slipped around the corner. How are you going to signal him about the skeletons headed his way while still singing your prayer?

Beginning and ending with the fiction should keep those answers plenty interesting and offer you various opportunities to use DM moves.

Fill the character's lives with adventure and think dangerous. Feel free to use the DM move Reveal an Unwelcome Truth to point out that the rat swarm is not undead, and the statue in the corner is actually a golem in the corner.

Use up their resources. My favorite here is time, but in a dungeon torches can be used up all too quickly.

Offer an opportunity, with or without cost. Sure you can defend yourself, but you'll have to stop brandishing that symbol for a moment, and you'll stop turning undead.


Like so many things in Dungeon World, this is a "what does the fiction allow?" question, so there is no one answer that would be correct for all groups. Requiring Defy Danger for trying to do two things at once seems very reasonable, if you allow them to do something else active while praying at all (personally, I wouldn't: if you want the power of your god to manifest enough to drive away undead, you have to really seriously pray, not just subvocalize some rote words; defensive actions, like dodging projectiles, seems okay, since that's already Defy Danger and Dungeon World doesn't have a notion of difficulty modifiers).

Note that a 6- on a rolled move doesn't have to (only) affect the character of the player rolling: someone else's failure could make the cleric's life interesting even if she personally always rolls well enough.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I hadn't thought of the 6- from another player impacting her! Brilliant! \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2017 at 23:49

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