Dungeon World is a world of fantastic adventure. A world of magic, gods and demons, of good and evil, law and chaos. Brave heroes venture into the most dangerous corners of the land in search of gold and glory.
Adventurers take many shapes in Dungeon World. The races of elves, men, dwarves, and halflings all have their heroes. Some are near-invincible beasts of battle encased in iron armor. Others are more mysterious, conjuring up and wielding the mighty forces of magic. Treasure and glory are sought by a holy cleric, a tricky thief, a mighty paladin, and more.
It isn’t all easy heroics and noble bravery, though. Every time the ranger guides his friends through the ancient woods there are a hundred things waiting to bite his head off. Slavering hordes of goblin troops, maybe. Or is this the Cursed Wood, where dwells the Gray Witch? Or the throngs of hateful dead, looking to drag a meaty corpse back to their lair? Scary, sure, but there’s treasure, too. More gold and jewels and magic lost to man have fallen between the cracks in the world than you can imagine. Who better to retrieve it than a band of stalwart heroes?
You and your friends are those heroes. You go where others can’t or won’t. There are monstrous things lurking in the world. Are you ready to face them?
The poems say an adventurer’s life is all open roads and the glory of coin and combat. The tales told in every farmhand-filled inn have to have some ring of truth to them, don’t they? The songs to inspire peasantry and royals alike—to soothe the savage beast or drive men to a frenzy—have to come from somewhere.
Enter the bard. You, with your smooth tongue and quick wit. You teller-of-tales and singer-of-songs. A mere minstrel can retell a thing, but it takes a true bard to live it. Strap on your boots, noble orator. Sharpen that hidden dagger and take up the call. Someone’s got to be there, fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the goons and the thugs and the soon-to-be-heroes. Who better than you to write the tale of your own heroism?
Nobody. Get going.
The lands of Dungeon World are a gods-forsaken mess. They’re lousy with the walking dead, beasts of all sorts, and the vast unnatural spaces between safe and temple-blessed civilizations. It is a godless world out there. That’s why it needs you.
Bringing the glory of your god to the heathens isn’t just in your nature—it’s your calling. It falls to you to proselytize with sword and mace and spell, to cleave deep into the witless heart of the wilds and plant the seed of divinity there. Some say that it’s best to keep the gods close to your heart. You know that’s rubbish. God lives at the edge of a blade.
Show the world who is lord.
Cast your eyes around the fire. What has brought you to these people, stinking of the dust and sweat of the city? Perhaps it is a kindness—do you protect them as the mother bear watches over her cubs? Are they your pack, now? Strange brothers and sisters you have. Whatever your inspiration, they would certainly fail without your sharp senses and sharper claws.
You are of the sacred spaces; you are born of soil and wear the marks of her spirits on your skin. You may have had a life before, maybe you were a city dweller like them, but not now. You’ve given up that static shape. Listen to your allies pray to their carved stone gods and polish their silver shells. They speak of the glory they’ll find back in that festering town you left behind.
Their gods are children, their steel is false protection. You walk the old ways, you wear the pelts of the earth itself. You’ll take your share of the treasure, but will you ever walk as one of them? Only time will tell.
It’s a thankless job—living day to day by your armor and the skill of your arm, diving heedlessly into danger. They won’t be playing golden horns for the time you took that knife to the ribs for them in the bar in Bucksberg. No flock of angels will sing of the time you dragged them, still screaming, from the edge of the Pits of Madness, no.
You do this for the guts and the glory, for the scream of battle and the hot, hot blood of it. You are a beast of iron. Your friends may carry blades of forged steel but, fighter, you are steel. While your traveling companions might moan about their wounds around a campfire in the wilderness, you bear your scars with pride.
You are the wall—let every danger smash itself to dust on you. In the end, you’ll be the last one standing.
Hell awaits. An eternity of torment in fire or ice or whatever best suits the sins of the damned throngs of Dungeon World. All that stands between the pits of that grim torture and salvation is you. Holy man, armored war machine, templar of the Good and the Light, right? The cleric may say his prayers at night to the gods, dwelling in their heavens. The fighter may wield his sharp sword in the name of “good” but you know. Only you.
Eyes, hands, and sweet killing blow of the gods, you are. Yours is the gift of righteousness and virtue—of justice, of Vision, too. A purity of intent that your companions do not have.
So guide these fools, paladin. Take up your holy cause and bring salvation to the wastrel world.
Vae victis, right?
These city-born folk you travel with. Have they heard the call of the wolf? Felt the winds howl in the bleak deserts of the East? Have they hunted their prey with the bow and the knife like you? Hell no. That’s why they need you.
Guide. Hunter. Creature of the wilds. You are these things and more. Your time in the wilderness may have been solitary until now, but the call of some greater thing—call it fate if you like—has cast your lot with these folk. Brave, they may be. Powerful and strong, too. But only you know the secrets of the spaces between.
Without you, they’d be lost. Blaze a trail through the blood and dark, strider.
You’ve heard them, sitting around the campfire. Bragging about this battle or that, or about how their gods are smiling on your merry band. You count your coins and smile to yourself—this is the thrill above all. You alone know the secret of Dungeon World: filthy, filthy lucre.
Sure, they give you lip for all the times you’ve snuck off alone, but without you, every one of them would have been dissected by a flying guillotine or poisoned straight to death by some ancient needle trap. So let them complain. When you’re done with all this delving you’ll toast their heroes’ graves.
From your castle. Full of gold. You rogue.
Dungeon World has rules. Not the laws of men or the rule of some petty tyrant. Bigger, better rules. You drop something—it falls. You can’t make something out of nothing. The dead stay dead, right?
Oh, the things we tell ourselves to feel better about the long, dark nights.
You’ve spent so very long poring over those tomes of yours. Conducting experiments that nearly drove you mad and casting summonings that endangered your very soul. For what? For power. What else is there? Not just the power of King or Country but the power to boil a man’s blood in his veins. To call on the thunder of the sky and the churn of the roiling earth. To shrug off the rules the world holds so dear.
Let them cast their sidelong glances. Let them call you “warlock” or “diabolist.” Who among them can hurl fireballs from their eyes?
Yeah. Didn’t think so.
Why play Dungeon World?
First, to see the characters do amazing things. To see them explore the unexplored, slay the undying, and go from the deepest bowels of the world to the highest peaks of the heavens. To see them caught up in momentous events and grand tragedies.
Second, to see them struggle together. To gather as a party despite their differences and stand united against their foes, or to argue over treasure, debate battle plans, and join in righteous celebration over a victory hard-won.
Third, because the world still has so many places to explore. There are unlooted tombs and dragon hoards dotting the countryside just waiting for quick-fingered and strong-armed adventurers to discover them. That unexplored world has plans of its own. Play to see what they are and how they’ll change the lives of our characters.
This book is going to teach you how to play Dungeon World. If you’re going to be the GM, you’re going to need to read the whole thing, though you can skim through the monster stats for now and save the Advanced Delving chapter for later. Try printing the play aids too, they’ll help you see what’s most important. If you’re a player, you might not need to read more than Playing the Game—a lot of the rules in Dungeon World will be contained in the character sheets you use during the game itself. You’ll come back to the text a few times throughout your game to refer to certain rules, but it should be a rare occasion.
To play Dungeon World, you’ll need to gather yourself and 2–5 friends. A group of 4 to 6, including you, is best. Choose one person to be the Game Master (GM). Everyone else will be players, taking the role of the characters in the game (we call these the player characters or PCs). As you play, the players say what their characters say, think, and do. The GM describes everything else in the world.
You can play a single session or string together multiple sessions into a campaign. Plan accordingly if you plan on playing a campaign, maybe setting aside a night of the week to play. Each session will usually be a few hours and you’ll be able to start playing right away within the first session.
You’ll need to print some materials. Before you start a new game, find or print off at least:
Everyone at the table will need something to write with and some six-sided dice. Two dice is the minimum but two dice per player is a good idea.
You’ll also need some specialized dice: four-sided, eight-sided, ten-sided and twelve-sided. One of each is enough but more is better: you won’t have to pass them around so much.
Playing Dungeon World is all about finding out what happens when your characters encounter dangerous and exciting monsters, strange ruins, and unusual people on their quest for gold and glory. It’s a conversation between the players and the GM—the GM tells the players what they see and hear in the world around them and the players say what their characters are thinking, feeling, and doing. Sometimes those descriptions will trigger a move—something that’ll cause everyone to stop and say “time to roll the dice to see what happens.” For a moment everyone hangs on the edges of their seats as the dice clatter to a stop. Tension and excitement are always the result, no matter how the dice land.
As you play your characters they’ll change from their adventures and gain experience while learning about the world, overcoming monsters, and gathering riches. You’ll discover how they feel about each other and where their moral compass points them. When they accrue enough experience they’ll gain levels, becoming more powerful and having more options to explore.
You can play Dungeon World with the same group, session to session, over a long series of adventures, watching your characters change and grow together. You can play it as a self-contained game in a single-session, too. Whether a long campaign or a one-shot, Dungeon World’s rules are here to guide you and help you create a world of fantasy adventure. Time to get out there and explore it!