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19 Jul 2013

Interesting Combat

Interesting combat in Dungeons & Dragons

A while ago I read a very interesting article about Why DnD’s editions have so many rules for combat. What struck me was this:

Combat in OD&D isn’t that interesting unless the DM knows what he’s doing and the players are active and creative– neither the games rules nor its advice really funnel play towards “fun” combat. To the degree that combat is interesting, it’s interesting because you’re allowed to bring in whatever non-combat systems you have for handling problems– the nets, 10-foot-poles, and spells of physical problem solving– into the combat. If that’s fun in the rest of the game, you’re probably going to have fun with OD&D combat, too.

And I wonder:

How does this apply to Dungeon World?

I would say that Dungeon World hasn’t any special rules for combat. The rules for combat are exactly the same as for every other part of the game. When you do something, you do it and maybe it triggers a move. Of course, there are special moves for combat (Hack’n’Slash, Volley, Defend and some special class moves) but their core is not different from other non-combat moves.
The good thing is that you can do virtually everything you wish if it follows the fiction. If your action triggers a move, you roll the dice. If it doesn’t you and the GM just narrate what happens. You can bring everything into combat as long as it is logical in the game world.
Unfortunately, such a system is not easy to grasp for new players who have played more “traditional” rpgs before. From my experience, people tend to cling to the moves sheet and thus limit theirselves to the “hard” game mechanics instead of doing things more “free-formly”.
(You can circumvent that by not handing out a move sheet for every player on the table if you like.)

So, is combat not interesting because you don’t have “special” combat rules?

Heck, no! Because of the “Partial-Success-Engine” which powers Dungeon World there’s plenty of room for complications. The chance of getting or 7-9 on your (2d6) roll are fairly high and that means that the GM can make a so-called GM move: monsters attack, you get separated from your party, you lose your equipment, the ceiling begins to fall down…
I personally love to fail completely with a 6- on my roll because that’s when you get XP. So, for me, a failure is as interesting as a partial success. When the player rolls poorly, the GM can also make his moves and things quickly escalate.
Again, don’t get me wrong, DW has special combat moves but not special combat rules, at least that’s the way I see it. But it still works and makes combat interesting.

Why D&D Has Lots of Rules for Combat: A General Theory Encompassing All Editions by Oddysey