Adventures are filled with stories of friends and compatriots who, though they were not the main characters and they did not save the world, still contributed to the effort and were a valuable part of the characters’ lives.
This is a supplement designed to bring that concept to Dungeon World.
Unlike hirelings, whose effectiveness always pales in comparison to the heroes and are designed never to be able to be heroic without the main adventurers, allies are different. They offer great magics, powerful strengths, daring heroics, and other services to make adventures exciting and meaningful. This is done to increase the epic nature of these campaigns. After all, a grand wizard is only made greater by having grand connections.
This supplement is split into two main parts. The first is a mechanical overview of allies and how they differ than hirelings. Included are the various skills they have and differences in gameplay. The second part is a collection of allies split by type. These allies are ready to go and can be placed in any adventure, though GMs are perfectly free to tailor them as much as they wish to fit them into their campaigns.
Two key components of Dungeon World are to portray a fantastic world and fill the characters’ lives with adventure. One of the ways you can do both of those are by giving the players plenty of interesting and compelling NPCs to interact with.
It is clear, though, that the creators of the game were careful to avoid the dreaded “GMPC” scenario, when the person running the game wants to be in the game that they create a character to adventure with the party. In the worst cases, these characters are just as critical to the main plot, if not more important, than the other players, which means the GM steals the spotlight from the players who they are running the game for.
Their solution was hirelings, compatriots that can add flavor and story to a game but are, by design, so much less powerful and less impactful to the story than the player characters. In fact, the descriptions in the base game seem to describe what hirelings can’t do more than what they can. This ensures that any potential GM is warded off from making these characters central to the story.
However, for GMs who wish to include powerful compatriots to their players, the hirelings approach seems insufficient. The limited nature of hirelings makes them feel like they exist solely for the players and does not prompt much offscreen thinking. While this does not stop skilled GMs from making memorable and exciting hirelings, there is some design space still left unexplored. Part of filling the world with adventure should be implying that the player characters are not the only ones going on adventures, and having NPCs who also adventure is one way to show that.
Allies offer an alternative take on NPCs adventuring with your players. Allies have lives of their own and their own natures and skills. Each ally has moves that indicate what they do when the players meet them or leave them to their own devices. Their skills indicate competence and strength even though the impetus to adventure is still on the players.
Allies avoids the GMPC problem not by making them incompetent but by making them have weaknesses and conflict with the party. Adding an ally to the party is less like adding another party member and more like adding someone like Boromir, whose skill with a blade was powerful but whose devotion to his country and to his father blinded him to the needs of the world, or Littlefinger, who offers fantastic info and insight but whose true nature can never be trusted.
Allies also give the GM space to explore betrayal, sacrifice, and conflict amongst the party without risking the cohesion of the party of players.
It is also important to point out that allies are not a replacement for hirelings but an addition to the game. While any adventurer with coin and a goal should be able to find some hirelings willing to join them, a huge city may only have a handful of allies, if that. In essence, whenever a character feels too important or competent to be a hireling, make them an ally. If they feel too important or competent to be an ally, put them away completely until they can be played by a player.
What Makes an Ally?
Just like hirelings, allies are comprised of loyalty, cost, and several skills. Allies are distinct in that they have a deeper set of skills to draw upon and distinct adventuring lives apart from the party, so also give the ally 2-3 moves and an instinct that give them more character and personality.
When creating an ally, choose a starting loyalty, a cost, and several skills. Then write a couple of moves about what they normally do, and choose an Instinct that explains why they are not the heroes of this story.
Loyalty & Cost
Both of these concepts work exactly the same for allies that they do for hirelings. Just like with hirelings, a starting Loyalty of more than 2 is rare as is a Loyalty of less than 0. Treating an ally well may give +1 Loyalty forward while disrespecting them may have the opposite effect. Ignoring the ally’s cost may even permanently reduce their loyalty.
The following costs are available to choose, though you may wish to add to this list depending on the needs of your campaign (as evidenced in the examples section):
The thrill of victory
Fame and glory
The following move is used in place of Order Hirelings:
When you order an ally to do something that is within their nature and does not present serious threat to their well-being, they do it, and the GM describes the effects.
When you order an ally to do something that is against their nature and/or presents serious threat to their well-being, roll+loyalty. On a 10+, they do it as well as can be expected and do not resent you for it. On a 7-9, the GM picks 1.
They do not commit fully to it and do not do it as well as you hoped.
They will demand their cost at the next opportunity.
They act on their instinct.
On a miss, in addition to any other effects, they may act on their instinct.
The party enters a tavern to see a minstrel enthralling a crowd with a song and dance. – A hunter emerges from the forest with a boar on her back and a goblin’s head in her hand. – The dwarf charges into battle as soon as the foes draw their weapons, screaming, “THIS IS WHAT I LIVE FOR!”
An ally’s moves represent what they normally do. These are highly indicative of the ally’s background, so someone with a background in politics may have moves revolving around garnering public support and persuading people while an ally with a militaristic background will have moves about what they do when surrounded by enemies or after they have captured a prisoner.
As a GM, ally moves are a great way to think offscreen. Use these to show how these characters live when they are not involved in adventures. While sometimes these moves may help the party, they may just as often provide an inconvenience, especially when their style of adventuring does not match the party’s. Usually, though, they simply reflect the nature of the ally.
Instincts work as GM moves and can be used whenever a GM move could. In addition, good places to use ally moves are:
When the players first meet an ally
When the party makes camp
When the party enters a city
Right before a battle
Right after a battle
When sharing a meal
When the ally leaves the party
Note: It may be helpful to make notes on an ally for when you think their moves would be relevant when you make them or decide to use them.
Examples of ally moves:
Charge headfirst into battle
Openly flirt with the most attractive person in the room – and their friends
Isolate themselves to study a magical phenomenon
Proudly boast of all their accomplishments
Lecture someone on something they know very little about
A mercenary cheats at cards, inciting violence from the huge orcs he is playing with. – The bloodthirsty berserker slams an axe straight into the defeated bandit. – The warlock feeds information to the same evil overlord the players are questing against.
Each ally has their instinct. In essence, their instinct is the reason why they are not the heroes of the campaign. The knight ally may have been able to stop the god king emperor from taking over the world if it were not for her crippling addictions, her fear of authority, or the fact that she is just plain evil.
Instincts should be chosen and tailored to the party based on the composition of the party. They should provide some conflict that the party should have to overcome or get over. It is quite possible that allies could be heroes in a different story, but it is vitally important that they are not the heroes of this story. The fact that Helga the Deathknight is working for Death would not be a source of conflict if the whole party is evil, but would provide some interesting tension if the party is good.
Examples of instincts:
To indulge in their addictions
To sell out others to further their own ambition
To revel recklessly in the glory of a kill
To devoutly avoid violence (and anything that could lead to violence)
To put the needs of nature above people
To daydream when it is most inconvenient
You may wish to make the instinct invisible until it comes into play. You may also wish to hold off on choosing an instinct and play to find out.
When creating an ally, in general, try not to keep in mind that allies should not have more than 1 skill at 3 or greater, and having 3 or more skills should be reserved only for allies who specifically devote their lives to being a jack of all trades.
The following skills are taken from hirelings with modifications done to better fit allies.
An adept has practiced with arcane magic and is capable of a few tricks of their own.
Arcane Assistance — When an adept aids in the casting of a spell, the spell’s effects have a greater range, duration, or potency. The GM will describe exactly what the bonus will be before the spell is cast. However, if the spell's level is greater than the ally's skill, a 10+ roll will be considered a 7-9 roll due to the difficulties of working with multiple people.
Signature Spell — An adept may cast basic magics, but they also have one signature spell of lower level than 2x their skill that they can cast consistently and reliably. This spell may be cast when they act on your behalf and when they act on their instinct.
Burglars are skilled in a variety of areas, most of them illicit or dangerous. They are good with devices and traps, but not too helpful in the field of battle.
Experimental Trap Disarming — When a burglar leads the way, they can detect traps almost perfectly. If a trap would be sprung while a burglar is leading the way, the burglar suffers some of the effects but the players get +skill against the trap. They also add the burglar’s skill to their armor against the trap. Burglars often need healing after facing a round of traps. If the players Make Camp in a dangerous area, the burglar can locate and disarm traps around the camp by the time camp is broken.
Something for You, Something for Me — A burglar can always pick the lock on a chest or room, though tougher locks will require more time. In addition, when they do so, they will also always sneak an item for themselves before sharing with the rest of the party. The tougher the lock, the better the treasure, and they will use this item when acting on their instinct.
When a smiling face is needed to smooth things over or negotiate a deal, a minstrel is always happy to lend their services for the proper price.
A Hero’s Welcome — When you enter a place of food, drink, or entertainment with a minstrel, you will be treated as a friend by everyone present (unless your actions prove otherwise). You also subtract the minstrel’s skill from all prices in town.
Center of Attention — When a minstrel walks into a room like they own the place, they can hold the attention of everyone in the room for 30 min x their skill. During that time, no one will notice the party unless they have reason to, but when it ends, the party’s presence (or absence) is noticed by someone there. In addition, people in the room may be willing to act on the minstrel’s behalf to accomplish the minstrel’s instinct.
Priests are members of the clergy of a religion who are not sent out on adventures and may be lower ranking. While not granted spells themselves, they are able to call upon their deity for minor aid.
Ministry — When you make camp with a priest, if you would normally heal, you heal +2 x skill HP.
Turn Undead — This ally can use their holy symbol to ward off weak undead whose number is equal to or less than their skill or one powerful undead.
A protector stands between their employer and the blades, fangs, teeth, and spells that would harm them.
Shield Wall — When a protector stands between you and an attack, you increase your armor against the attack by the protector’s skill. Reduce their skill by 1 until they receive healing or have time to mend.
Guard — A protector can guard an area for days equal to their skill if you promise to fulfill their cost. The protector will be able to defend from minor threats and will be aware if the perimeter is breached from any section. If they attempt to guard for longer, they may miss something or act on their instinct.
Trackers know the secrets of following a trail, and they are experts at finding prey that they have studied.
Track — When a tracker is given time to study a trail made by a studied prey, they can follow the trail to the next major change in terrain, travel, or weather. Studied prey can be types of creatures, like goblin hordes, or types of groups, like bandits. Whenever they track a type of prey they have not previously tracked, add it to their list of studied prey. When this list is equal to their skill, they have exhausted all their knowledge and cannot track different prey than the ones listed.
Guide — When a tracker leads the way, you automatically succeed on any Perilous Journey of distance (in rations) lower than the tracker’s skill.
While not as threatening as the players, warriors still offer a notable battle presence and can be quite handy with a weapon.
Man-at-arms — When you deal damage while a warrior aids you, add their skill to the damage done. If your attack results in consequences (like a counter attack), you may choose to have the man-at-arms take the brunt of it.
Brawler — During a battle, a warrior can engage with similarly-sized enemies. As long as the number of enemies engaged does not exceed the warrior’s skill, they are able to keep the attention of those enemies and not lose ground against them. They may also fight one large enemy whose size does not exceed the warrior’s size x their skill. However, the warrior will not be able to deal significant damage without being given some advantage, and they will be bested if the party abandons them.
The following skills are new additions for allies.
Poisoners, backstabbers, and marksmen. These are good people to have on your side and bad people to be enemies of.
Assassinate — If you pay the assassin’s cost, you can ask them to kill someone for you. They will leave and get back to you after 7-skill days. By then, that person should be dead with no trace back to you. However, if the person is exceptionally well guarded or knows they are being hunted, the assassin may only come back with information on how to kill them and things that must be done before it is possible.
Brew Poison — When an assassin makes a poison for you, they will give you it in a container that will last days equal to their skill. As long as it is still in that container, the poison is not dangerous for you to use. They may require you to bring them materials and time to prepare it.
While some may say a cook is not necessary to bring, those people clearly have never had to dine on hard rations for months on end.
Bon Appetit! — Your rations have +skill uses as long as this ally is preparing them.
Nose Knows — This ally always knows when food has been poisoned or tampered with. In addition, if they are preparing a meal for a group of people, they can poison the meal and keep a number of entrees equal to or less than their skill safe to consume.
These allies are able to use their keen perception to assist and give information on tough to understand scenarios.
Insight — When a detective is given extended time to observe a situation or person, players can ask them a number of questions from the Discern Realities move equal to their skill. The answers will be accurate, but something will be left out, either because the ally misses it or because they choose not to disclose it. Take +1 forward when acting on the answers.
Narcissistic Power — When you let this ally take the lead and defer to their “superior” judgement, you can Order Ally with +skill instead of +loyalty. If you fail, they may increase their cost.
Historians can offer greater understanding of key pieces of history.
Consult — When you have time to discuss a mystery or question with a historian, you are able to raise the result of a Spout Lore move from 6- to 7-9 or 7-9 to 10+. Doing so lowers their skill by 1 until they have the opportunity to spend time in an area of great knowledge. When their skill drops to 0, they have temporarily exhausted their intellect.
Research — When a historian is in a city with access to libraries and research, you can ask them to research something for you if you have paid their cost recently. After 4-skill days, they will return with something useful or valuable.
These allies always seem to have the right tools for the job.
Share the Load — This ally is able to carry weight equal to their skill in addition to all the items they need. They may also use these items when acting on their instinct.
Right Tool — When this ally is able to reach you and offer supplies, you may grab a use of Adventuring Gear, Dungeon Rations, ammo for any weapon, or Poultices and Herbs. When you have used this move times equal to their skill, they have run out of gear. When they visit a place of trading and merchants and you have paid their cost recently, they stock up and you can use this move again.
These allies use their smooth talking and stealth skills to give their friends an upper hand.
Infiltrate — When a spy infiltrates a hostile area, they are able to stay undercover for days equal to their skill. Each day, they will communicate to the players and give them the opportunity to ask one question from the Discern Realities list. Take +1 forward when acting on it. After those days are up, their cover may be blown and they act on their instinct.
Disguise — A spy can, using magical or non-magical means, disguise themselves and a number of people equal to or less than their skill. These disguises last until they are heavily scrutinized and may require magical and/or non-magical materials.
The rest of this supplement is dedicated to providing an assortment of allies ready to use in play. It is highly encouraged that you modify and tailor these allies to your campaigns. Add significant familial relations or create connections to players. The following collection is designed to springboard discussion and creation.
A self-described boy detective, Angus is a powerful mind, both in terms of magic and perception, and a trusting spirit. His biggest barrier to being a hero right now is his age. He still has got a lot to learn before he lives up to the title of World’s Greatest Detective.
Find a clue to a mystery.
Study hard and work on skills
Anthony, Head of the Library
Anthony is a retired wizard who now spends his time heading up the city library. However, he has been known to take a few adventurers under his wing who wish to learn from him, though it is often not long before he wishes to be back in the comfort of his chair with a good book.
Skulk about in the library
Make up for mistakes he made in his youth
A knight of great virtue and character who is known to come to the aid of those weaker than him. However, his perspective is skewed, and his own country and familial relationships are more important than anything.
Follow orders of his superiors
Take on the woes of weaker beings
He is one of the few people that when people say, “He needs no introduction,” they mean it. Everyone knows Greg, and Greg knows everyone. You definitely know Greg. Remember when you were at that social gathering the other week, and there was that one person with the flamboyant hat and warm personality that always had people begging for his attention? That was Greg, and admit it: you were begging for his attention too.
Offer insight at a price
Hold a grudge
Helga the Deathknight
Helga used to be a proud adventurer who went from town to town defeating valiant foes. She still does that, though ever since she brushed a little too close to Death, she’s become a servant of Death. Now she mostly does what she wants, but Death can call whenever the need arises.
Engage in great fight
Commune with Death
There are some people who you have no reason to be afraid of. Lucinda is one of those people. Everyone who knows of her talks of her wondrous pastries, her gooey mac and cheese, her garlic chicken filets, and all sorts of tasty dishes she prepares. This is probably why she is a top choice for kings, dignitaries, and other powerful political figures. They love enlisting her and sending her off to neighboring principalities to impress them with her marvelous cooking skills. She truly is a blessing to all of those who meet her.
Prepare an excellent meal for powerful figures
Avoid the blame for mischievous deeds
Rook has seen his fair share of adventures. He has bounced from adventuring party to adventuring party looting tombs, deposing corrupt leaders, and combatting great beasts. He is able to provide valuable skills to any party, though of course, it’s also important to keep in mind that parties that kicked him out usually had good reason to.
Plan a heist of a spectacular treasure
Waste away treasure in irresponsible ways
Keira, Who Knows
Keira’s nickname is twofold, based on her own nebulous backstory and on her uncanny ability to simply know everything that happens. The more people question her, the more they tend to disappear.
Offer insight at a price
Hold a grudge
Sheila the Warlock
A caster of great power and tenacity. The air crackles around her as she casts her spells. Bolder people than I speak of the demon master she serves, but those who do so tend not to live long.
Cast a bone-crunching spell
Collect materials and servants for dark rituals
An intrepid intellectual who is able to put together clues in a dizzying and impressive manner. He could have been a great hero if anyone actually liked being around him.
Seclude himself to study a mystery of sorts
Treat everyone else like they are an idiot
Play the violin without any consideration of who might be bothered by it
When he was young, Wynston, a gorilla, was taken from the wild into a traveling circus. One of the wizards there took pity upon Wynston and stole him away. He magically gifted Wynston so that he could speak and learn, and he taught Wynston about the world and gave him a love of learning.
Teach about the mysteries of the world
Break up a fight