It’s Too Easy: Handling Difficulty Levels in Dungeon World

I’ve said before that Dungeon World is a game that is mechanically broken. That was a straw man I set up to prove my point that fiction is the mechanic that “fixes” the “broken” system.

When it comes to tasks of varying difficulty the system once again breaks down. To make a Move you roll 2D6 plus the appropriate attribute modifier against a static target of 7-9 semi-success, 10 is full success. There is no provision in the rule for assigning modifiers based on difficulty. Or is there? Yes, another straw man.

Fiction is once again the savior in this case. Spoiler alert: There may be a pattern here.

One task is more difficult than another because of the fiction. What makes one castle harder to sneak into than another? Castle A is abandoned and being used as the base for some highwaymen. Castle B is guarding the border of a well administered, prosperous kingdom and have received warning of an impending sneak attack.

Find What Makes the Task Complex

Deconstruct complex actions into separate obstacles and accomplish each one in turn. As usual, obstacles are boulders in a stream, so there’s no need to think of solutions to the obstacles you pose or decide what move applies.

For Castle B we could imagine that the ground is clear and the guards attentive. The clear ground is one obstacle and the attentive guards another. By presenting these obstacles you immediately move beyond a single Defy Danger roll to sneak into the castle to something which becomes an engaging roleplaying experience.

Flying Castle by Asganafer

Some castles are harder to sneak into than others. Flying Castle by Asganafer. Used without permission.

This Still Seems Too Easy

Sometimes things just seem too easy in Dungeon World. When I started thinking about the challenge of really incorporating fiction into the game I was expecting to be able to pick a bunch of monsters and situations and illustrate them. I was looking forward to the amount of content it would generate.

Instead I’ve found that the solution to increasing the difficulty of situations doesn’t require much prep. By breaking down a task into individual obstacles and letting the players come up with solutions to each one the job of the GM is largely complete.

What’s worse, the answer was already in the game. The GM move of Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask is exactly what is needed for this situation, along with the principal of Ask questions and use the answers.

After all, who said GMing had to be hard.

What do you think? Do you need more concrete examples of how to run specific encounters or situations in Dungeon World? Let me know in the comments or hook on up to Google+ or Twitter. Also don’t forget to Subscribe to keep up with future articles.

This article mentions rules from Dungeon World, a roleplaying game by Adam Koebel and Sage Latorra. ©MMXII Sage Latorra and Adam Koebel. It was released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. You can find more about the game on Dungeon World’s Official Website.

Flying Castle art by Asganafer used without permission under the artist's Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. ©MMXIII Asganafer.

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