Running Dungeon World for New Adventurers

Running Dungeon World

for New Adventurers

A 20 page methodology collected by Phillip Wessels

What to Bring2

Settling In2

Concept, Aim, Tone & Subject Matter (5 min)3

Teasing Out the Story (5 min)5

7-3-1s: Go-To Content5

Character Creation (10 min)7

Q&A (15 min)9

The Characters’ Backgrounds9

The Adventure Premise9

The Opposition11

Establish Bonds11

Share Flags11

Giving Stats to a Creature13

XP & Leveling Up (5 min)15

Scene (the rest of your session)17

Frame the Scene – The Die of Fate17

Paint the Scene17

Demand Action (& ask what they do)18

Expanded Undertake a Perilous Journey19

Navigate the Labyrinth19

Between Sessions: Solo Fun20


Compendium Classes20

Love Letters20

Dungeon World can be purchased at

Based on the work of Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA.

Additional resources and inspiration used in the production of this guide:

What to Bring

  1. Another game. In case Dungeon World doesn’t work, you’ll need a go-to replacement. I would suggest a board or card game, in case it’s the roleplaying scaring them off. 

  2. Dice for everyone. You’ll need at least 2d6 and a few sets of polyhedral dice. I recommend a set of 12d6 and a big bag of polyhedrals.

  3. Tokens for the XP method we’ll be using.

  4. Sand timers, if you want, for calling breaks or tracking time.

  5. The printed play kit, which can be downloaded from 

  6. This, printed. I suggest printing it booklet-style. Make sure it’s printed double-sided, with page flipping on the short edge.

  7. Pencils and index cards

  8. If you are bringing alternate class playbooks, some Q&A questions might prove useful.

  9. A recording  app on your phone. While notes are essential, a recording really keeps things fresh if you have time to review it.

  10. Maybe some low ambient sound or music tracks, on a quality speaker with the volume just right. YouTube has great stuff. 

Settling In

  1. If you don’t all know each other, introduce yourselves.

  2. Pass out supplies, if you have enough to go around. Make sure your players have an index card for writing their character name and class.

  3. Put the character class playbooks in the middle of the table, along with the XP tokens.

  4. Food & drink is an awful interruption. Schedule dinner plans outside of play time (or order it in, if you must), and make sure snacks and beverages are available.

Concept, Aim, Tone & Subject Matter (5 min)

Derived using the method by Patrick O’Leary

Ask: Do you know what Dungeon World is?

Dungeon World is a conversational roleplaying game for playing out a fantasy adventure story. 

Ask: Do you know how roleplaying works?

You’re going to be the players and I’ll be the Game Master. You’ll each play a main character. I’ll control everyone and everything else in this world, but I will sometimes delegate decision making to you. Traditionally, roleplaying uses first person language, and you would speak as if you yourself are the character. However, you can describe what your character is doing in third person language, if that is more comfortable for you. 

Ask: Do you know how scenes work?

We’ll figure out and play various scenes in the adventure, and jump between them when it makes sense, like in a movie. If you want a certain scene you can just ask for it or make it happen with your character. Sometimes play will be more of a continuous exploration of a place.

Ask: Do you understand what fictional positioning is?

Occasionally something will happen in the conversation that'll trigger the rules and we’ll roll dice. Conversely, to trigger the rules we have to position it in the story. You’ll have to keep your mind on the game and contribute in the scene.

Ask: Do you know about “failing forward” through the story?

Sometimes things will happen that aren’t good for your character. Try to understand that this is what makes the story interesting. The rules will often reward you when bad stuff happens, and we will do our best to keep you playing and collaborating on the story. Even death in Dungeon World can be played around with.

Ask: What should we aim for at the table for a great Dungeon World experience?

We should aim to play to find out what happens, to give each other space to create story, to explore this world and make it real, to struggle together as a party of characters, and to know each other’s characters and see them do amazing things.

Ask: What kind of tone do you expect from this story?

This will be a pretty lighthearted adventure. There will be moments someone might be invested in treating seriously. It’s important to look at the other players at the table, consider and try to recognize what matters to them in this story. Let them have their moments. You can always broadcast your intentions going into a scene, and if something is too gonzo, we can take a break to do that.

Ask: What kind of content do you expect we’ll see in a story like this?

Dungeon World is a fantasy game, so you can expect fantasy tropes (though we will mix in plenty of original stuff as well). This world is a dangerous and scary place full of monsters, so you can expect some suspense, horror, violence and death in that regard. If we don’t want this experience, we probably shouldn’t play Dungeon World. I brought this other game though, so we can play this if we want.

Otherwise, if there’s something you really don’t want in the game, you can say so now. I really don’t want talking butterflies.

Content to avoid:

Any time you want, especially if something is bothering you, we can take a break. Even in the middle of something. Just ask to take 2 or 3 or 5. You can come talk to me during it, and we can rewind and take the story in another direction if something is lame or makes you feel uncomfortable in an unfun way. That is a lot of fun to figure out. You can also call for a break just to use the bathroom or get a snack or whatever. You don’t need to say why.

At the table, we will use sand timers for this. Just flip one!

Teasing Out the Story (5 min)

Inspired by the dungeon trailers technique by Ray Otus.

Let’s take a few minutes and go around the table. When it’s your turn, give us a quick, evocative description of something you want in this story. We’re not playing the game yet, just laying out some ideas. We may not get to them all, but they will be on our mind.

You can describe:

Non-Player Characters (NPCs)

“A dwarven merchant opens her wagon to unveil an array of wonders.” 

“A monk in a white, barechested robe of sorts, pounding his bruised chest.” 

“A dragon in human form, his purple scales faint behind his handsome facade.”


“A thunderous storm that soaks us to the bone and waves that nearly drown us.”

“A city upon a floating island in the sky, cables dropping to the land below.”

“A tight, dark cave waist-deep with sticky blood… Oh gods, the screams.”


“A vicious, white goblin with no eyes and a mouth of long, sharp teeth.”

“A phoenix with iridescent red feathers that leaves a cinnamon scent in its wake.” 

“A gigantic, muscular dog rolling around excitedly in the snow.”


“An emerald sword the reflects the astral plane and is intoxicating to touch.”

“The Royal Necklace (more like a jeweled drapery) is too hot a steal to wear.”

“Davanti’s spellbook has his notes on the mysterious magic of shadowbinding.”

7-3-1s: Go-To Content

This technique is by Jason Cordova.

Through Q&A, you’ll want to start developing:

  • 7 set pieces, NPCs or encounters you can drop in anywhere;

  • 3 descriptive details about each (sight and sound);

  • 1 way of embodying them at the table (voice, mannerism, noises)

It’s a good idea to write them alongside your notes, on index cards. As you use your 7 set pieces, NPCs or encounters in the fiction, replace them in free time or in-between sessions. You might also create more on the fly. It’s OK to have more than 7. Create as many as you want.


★Start 7-3-1s: Identify set pieces, NPCs or encounters you can use. Note any descriptive details or ways to embody them. Later, we will flesh these out more.

Character Creation (10 min)

  1. Every player needs to pick a class to play. No two players can play the same class. If anyone is confused about the classes:

The Barbarian – A crazy melee berserker who must fulfill their “appetites" for destruction, lust or greed

The Bard – A musical genius and writer of local histories who buffs allies and debuffs enemies

The Cleric – A holy warrior with a book of spells who heals allies and easily destroys undead

The Druid – They have a magical connection to a land and can shapeshift into the animals from there

The Fighter – A highly trained professional killer who wields a customized signature weapon

The Immolator – A sharp, enigmatic warrior who fights with fire and sees things in the flames

The Paladin – A holy knight on a righteous quest who unleashes justice on those who would do evil

The Ranger – A hunter with a pet creature; they are an expert at ranged attacks and tracking

The Thief – They stay in the shadows, using poisons to disable and kill, and have expertise in stealing and backstabbing

The Wizard – With their spellbook always in tow, they are a academic of the powerful and dangerous arcane magicks

  1. For stats, we’ll use the default array of 16, 15, 13, 12, 9, 8. Assign each number as you see fit to your stats (be sure to look at your moves and which you’ll be leaning on most). Mark these “stat scores” in the white boxes, not the white circles.

If anyone mentions rolling for stats, let them know that the default array is pretty good, but they can roll if they want to: Tell them to roll 2d6+5 and write down the total; they must do this 6 times. If no numbers are 16+, they may change one to 16, but another number must be changed to 8 or lower (if none are).

  • Intelligence is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

  1. Your Hit Points (hp) is what it says on your class playbook: a number plus your Constitution stat.

  1. Next, in the white circle for each stat, write your modifier.

















  1. Start making selections on your character sheet but ignore bonds and flags for now. Select your race, name (fold the index card you have and write it on there, with your class), look, alignment/drive, starting moves and gear. The wizard will need to choose spells for their spellbook. Both the cleric and the wizard will need to choose which spells they have prepared to start with. Everyone also has the basic moves. We will fill out bonds/flags in the Q&A section.

NOTE: You will get XP when you hit your alignment/drive, so try to pick one that seems like your style.

  1. Add up the armor gained from your gear and write it at the top of the front of your sheet.

Q&A (15 min)

Address the characters, not the players. Modify questions to work in details from Teasing Out the Story. Players can ask questions, too.

The Characters’ Backgrounds

Ask further questions where there’s a good opportunity for story.

Everyone, what’s your name, look, race and alignment/drive?

Barbarian, are you armored or mostly naked? What’s something about your homeland, why you left or what you left behind? What are your appetites? What token do you have of your journey?

Bard, what is your area of expertise? What instrument do you play?

Cleric, who is your deity? What is their domain? What does your religion preach? What is your Symbol of the Divine?

Druid, what land are you attuned to? What creatures live there?

Fighter, what is your signature weapon?

Immolator, what is the symbol of your sacrifices past? What metalwork have you hand crafted?

Paladin, what is your quest and what are your boons? Let’s talk about your vow. And what is your Mark of Faith?

Ranger, what is your animal companion?

Thief, what is your chosen poison?

Wizard, what does your spellbook look like? 

The Adventure Premise

Original question set by John Aegard.

Create player-premise-player triangles when asking these questions (modify them to tie into the previous answers)

Barbarian, what appetite has brought you here? How will you satisfy it?

Bard, what legend drew you here? What do you hope to see while here?

Cleric, what vision has your deity given you? What is the prophecy?

Druid, what troubles this land, and how can these adventurers help?

Fighter, who or what do you want to slay? Do you have a rival?

Paladin, how does this relate to your quest?

Immolator, what needs to be sacrificed or destroyed?

Ranger, what have you been tracking? What’s happened on your hunt?

Thief, what have you come here to steal, or have already stolen?

Wizard, what magic or mystery draws you here? Or do you already know exactly what wizardry is at work?


★Continue 7-3-1s: If you don’t yet have a good mix of 7, identify more set pieces, NPCs or encounters you can use.

★Start mapping the world. Don’t be precise; leave room for detail. If you use an index card for each location, you can easily insert places. Take a photo when you’re done so you can reconstruct it next session.

The Opposition

Original question set by John Aegard.

Always ask after each, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Bard or Wizard, why do you need protection when you travel here?
Cleric or Paladin, what enemies of your faith dwell here?
Druid, who threatens or intrudes upon the wilds?
Fighter or Barbarian, what do you hate or fear about the enemy?
Immolator or Thief, who’s in control here? What’s precious to them?
Ranger, what beasts hunt these lands?

Establish Bonds 

Go around the table and have each player read their bonds in the form of “who?” questions. Other players can volunteer for bonds they want, or make suggestions. The player doesn’t have to accept a volunteer, and bonds don’t have to be filled in.

Let the table know, they can write a PC’s name in without asking. Let them know that an NPC can work, too. Ask at the end, “has anyone written any names in?” and have them share it with the table.

If the bonds on a player’s sheet aren’t their fancy, they can write one in.

Share Flags

Based on the original flags concept by Rob Donoghue

Players can also write in 1-2 flags in the bonds section and share them. Flags are ways that they want other players to interact with their character, for better or worse. Flags often play up tropes or set up for messy situations. 

While the resolution of bonds looks to the story as established, flags are for broadcasting your ambition for the story going forward. Bonds and flags go hand-in-hand; hitting a flag can be a good premise for the next bond you want to write.

Flag: Interfere when I tread on those beneath me

Resulting Bond: Valeria’s kindness to the Gnomes of the Vale has swayed my heart; I will prove to her I am not the callous fiend she thinks I am.

Let players know: when your flag is hit, write the hitting character’s name next to it. You can use this when a move has you roll+Bond, but only during this session.


★Continue 7-3-1s: If you don’t yet have a good mix of 7, get there now. If you have time, give stats to potential foes (see next page).

★Note the worst that could happen. Maybe you can use this for fronts.

Giving Stats to a Creature

To run a creature in a fight you need to know its Hit Points (hp), Armor and Damage. Come back to this and stat out creatures when you have time or when the game demands it. Add emphasized words as tags; tags inform the fiction. These are guidelines more than hard rules; you can always “reskin” a similar creature and use its stats. Creatures may also come with an instinct and some moves to prompt you as the GM. 

Hit Points

It’s solitary
or in a group of 2-5
or in a horde


It’s tiny (e.g., cat) or small (e.g., halfling) or human-sized
or large (as big as a cart)
or huge (much larger than a cart)


It has uncanny endurance


It’s favored by the gods*

+2hp divine

It’s kept alive by something beyond biology


It lacks organs/discernable anatomy

+3hp amorphous

*Favor of the gods gives +2 hp or +2 damage, not both.


It wears cloth or nothing
or leathers or thick hide
or mail or scales
or plate or bone
or it has permanent magical protections

0 armor
1 armor
2 armor
3 armor
4 armor magical

It’s skilled in defense

+1 armor

It actively defends or shields itself

+1 armor cautious

It lacks organs/discernable anatomy

+1 armor amorphous

You don’t need 2500 hp to make a fight scary or hard. Make the fights epic using the fiction. Play up their descriptive tags. Describe the harm they do and make it as horrific as it should be. A 16 hp dragon has tough scales and will shred through their armor. They’ll have to roll just to get over their fear and do anything. Encounters like these should be traumatizing.


It’s solitary
or in a group of 2-5
or in a horde

roll 1d10 damage
roll 1d8 damage
roll 1d6 damage

It’s tiny (e.g., cat)
or small (e.g., halfling) or human-sized
or large (as big as a cart)
or huge (much larger than a cart)

-2 damage, hand
+0 damage, close
+1 damage, close, reach
+3 damage, reach 

It has unrelenting strength

+2 damage, forceful

It has the favor of the gods*

+2 damage, divine

It has combat experience

[b]2dx (roll 2d, take best)

It strikes deftly

+1 piercing

Its armaments are vicious or obvious

+2 damage

Its armaments are small or weak

decreased d size

Its attack keeps others at bay


Its armaments can slice or pierce metal
or it can just tear metal apart
or if armor doesn’t matter with its damage

+1 piercing, messy
+3 piercing, messy
ignores armor

It usually attacks at range

near and/or far

Its primary danger isn’t from wounds

decreased d size, devious

It (or its species) is ancient

increased d size

It abhors violence

[w] 2xX (roll 2d, take worst)

*Favor of the gods gives +2 hp or +2 damage, not both.

Piercing is subtracted from armor before damage is dealt.

When a group or horde attacks, do not roll and deal damage for each individual creature. Just deal the highest damage among them and add 1 damage for each other creature attacking.

Example Creatures – If you need more, grab your book.

Bandit: group, intelligent, organized. Instinct: to rob. Moves: steal something, demand tribute. Dirk (d8, close), 6 HP, 1 Armor.

Cave Rat: horde, small. Instinct: to devour. Moves: swarm, rip something (or someone) apart. Gnaw (d6 1 piercing, close, messy), 7 HP, 1 Armor.

Dragon: solitary, huge, cautious, hoarder, terrifying, elemental blood, wings. Instinct: to rule. Moves: bend an element to its will, demand tribute, act with disdain. Bite (b[2d12]+5, 4 piercing, reach, messy), 16 HP, 5 Armor.

XP & Leveling Up (5 min)

Ask: Do you know what XP and leveling up are?

You’ll collect Experience Points (XP). When you gain enough, choose a new advanced move from your class. If you are the wizard, you also get to add a new spell to your spellbook. Also choose one of your stats and increase it by 1 (this may change your modifier). Note that changing your Constitution increases your maximum and current hp. Ability scores can’t go higher than 18.

Current Level

XP to Level Up





















Once you’ve reached 10th level things change a little. 

If this happens, do this:

When you have enough XP to go to 11th level, instead you choose to:

  • Retire to safety

  • Take on an apprentice

  • Change entirely to a new class

If you retire you create a new character to play instead and work with the GM to establish your place in the world. If you take on an apprentice you play a new character (the apprentice) alongside your current character, who stops gaining XP. Changing classes means keeping your ability scores, race, HP, and whatever moves you and the GM agree are core to who your character is. You lose all other class moves, replacing them with the starting moves of your new class.

We are going to take XP in action rather than at end of session (which is the way Dungeon World mostly works by default). Why? Because we may not play further sessions and we want to experience this part of the game.

Take a token from the middle of the table any time you:

  • Resolve a bond

  • Hit someone’s flag

  • Act in accordance with your alignment or drive

  • Fail a roll (a total result of 6 or less)

The GM may give you a token, or tell you to take one, if you:

  • Gain possession of a treasure

  • Slay a notable foe

  • Unlock important information

  • Cede to mind control or influence

At the end of each scene we will discuss when and why tokens were taken (or should have been taken). Then, players write in their XP (gaining 1 per token) and the tokens go back to the middle of the table.

Players can level up if they have enough XP.

At the end of the session, we will debrief:

  • Did we prevent a grim portent or even resolve an entire front? (you won’t have these until session 2)

  • Does anyone feel like one of their bonds has been resolved? Let’s write new ones (+1 XP if a new one is written)

  • Should any characters change to a new flag, alignment or drive?

  • Did anyone level up? What did you choose?

Scene (the rest of your session)

Frame the Scene – The Die of Fate

Based on the original mechanic by Luke Crane  for The Burning Wheel

A hard scene framing is usually the way to go, especially for a one shot or a new group that might not be committed to the game.

We can roll something called the Die of Fate to determine how dire the hard framing will be. If the result is high, we’ll start the players off with a lot of agency. The lower it is, the more of a pinch they’ll be in. Keep in mind that we are never looking to antagonize the players; we want to provide a fun and interesting situation.

Roll a d6 for the Die of Fate. Here are some convenient interpretations:

*On a 1-3, put them in a spot.

*On a 1, a threat makes its move.

*On a 2, point to a looming threat.

*On a 3, there is a clear but dangerous exit.

*On a 4-6, give them an immediate opportunity.

*On a 4, there is a consequence whether they take it or not. 

*On a 5, the opportunity comes with a consequence.

*On a 6, the opportunity that demands their expertise.

Paint the Scene

Based on the original technique by Jason Cordova

The key to pulling off a hard framing in a story game without it feeling like the experience is on a railroad (remember: play to find out what happens) is to ask the players establishing questions about why or how the situation is happening. Always work with the answers they give you, incorporate your 7-3-1s and make the PCs awesome. 

You can also paint the scene to highlight a particular thematic, emotional or visual motif. Ask the players very specific, leading questions about what they see that emphasizes this motif.

Don’t overdo painting the scene. It’s great when you need to fill in your 7-3-1s or establish a new sense of place. Otherwise, it’s best to get to the action.

Demand Action (& ask what they do)

It’s not an adventure if no one is ever spurred to action. Demand action with a move (and only 1 move):

  • When everyone looks to you to find out what happens (go soft)

  • When they let you take them on a soft ride or give a golden opportunity (give warning, confirm what they do, then go hard)

  • When they get a 7-9 result (let them have their success, go soft)

  • When they get a 6- result (go as hard as you like)

Going soft means setting up or escalating towards trouble, as opposed to going hard which involves delivering a consequence. Dungeon World provides lists of GM moves, monster moves, danger moves, location moves. These are just inspiration, so review them but don’t feel beholden to them. If you experience analysis paralysis it’s OK to forget about moves and just give an appropriately hard or soft response. In the end the goal is only to demand action, remember?

  • If it seems like the players aren’t just enjoying the ride and actually don’t know what to do, ask how they feel, how they express that, and how they shouldn’t express that. Have them Defy Danger and see how it goes. You can also ask, “What are you afraid of? What’s the worst that could happen here?”

  • If they roll a miss (6 or less), it does not mean they fail at what they are doing. It means they should expect something awful. That awfulness might include their success at whatever it was. Go hard with another move and try to change the situation.

  • If it’s deadly, will death be an interesting development in the story or will it be distracting from a more fun experience? There is also the possibility that it won’t be welcome by the player, and we should respect that. Of course, the mechanics should inform the fiction, so if they miss on Last Breath then work it into the story. You can always ask, “How on earth do you survive this?”’

  • Sometimes they don’t trigger moves but still do the thing, if the fiction supports it. Attacking a helpless or unsuspecting enemy doesn't trigger Hack                                            & Slash and they can jump straight to dealing damage. It may still bring trouble, though.

  • Conversely, you can’t usually Hack & Slash a dragon, as the fiction likely establishes dragons as requiring more creativity to deal with.

Expanded Undertake a Perilous Journey

By Jason Cordova

Follow Undertake a Perilous Journey move as it’s written, but also read:

Trailblazer: Tell us about a distinct geographical feature or landmark you are using to navigate by. Is there a legend or story associated with this landmark? If so, tell us about it.

Scout: What are you particularly worried about running into during this journey? What rumors have you heard that make such an encounter so frightening to you?

Quartermaster: One of your fellow party members does something at camp you find particularly annoying. What is it? One of your fellow party members does something at camp you find surprisingly endearing.
What is it?

If there is a character who does not have a role, the GM should ask them an establishing question about the upcoming adventure.

Navigate the Labyrinth

Based on the original move by Jason Cordova

When you attempt to navigate a labyrinthine environment, describe how you do it, and then roll +STAT. *On a 12+, the party holds 2. *On a 10+, the party holds 1. *On a 7-9, the party holds 1, but is separated or encounters a dangerous obstacle or opposition. No matter what result, always paint the scene a bit.

At any time, 2+ in present company may agree to spend 1 hold to discover a cache of a resource (ammo, weapons, potions), gold or items of monetary value, or something useful or important (the boss’s weakness, a connection to elsewhere, the way back together).

At any time, the entire party may agree to spend 3 hold to reach the final destination, encounter the notable monster or enemy, or discover the memorable treasure. After you have unlocked all 3, you have cleared the area and this move no longer applies. You’ll have to continue your explorations elsewhere. How does the outside world come in to make the cleared environment less threatening?

Between Sessions: Solo Fun


Fronts are a collection of linked dangers facing the players, e.g. “fighting on two fronts.” Each front can escalate through Grim Portents to an Impending Doom. Have written a couple adventure fronts in advance of each session so you can escalate a front as a move, but you can also modify them in play. Fronts are basically a structured way of noting dangers and the worst that could happen with them.

To create a front, answer:

  • What are the dangers involved?

  • How do they act in play (impulses and moves)?

  • What’s the worst that could happen (impending doom)?

  • What should the party prevent from happening that culminates in the impending doom (grim portents)?

  • What are the set pieces, NPCs or encounters (7-3-1s, stats, moves)?

  • What questions do we play to answer (stakes questions)?

Have fronts change in response to the current story. After a bit you might start developing a campaign front. Try to make it so that the adventure fronts suggest greater machinations are at play.

  • What opportunity does an adventure front create for someone else?

  • What coincidence or connection elsewhere is there?

Compendium Classes

Compendium classes are special supplements for characters, each unlocked by a specific experience. If the player takes the opening move, the following moves can be taken like class moves. Finding or writing compendium classes that fit your story is a great way to make the highlight the characters and make the players feel awesome. Use this nifty template to make compendium classes more epic at the table: 

InDesign file: Example: 

Love Letters

Based on the original technique by Vincent Baker from Apocalypse World.

Love letters bring players up to speed on their situation, usually after a break or big change of scene, and include a custom move for the players to roll to see exactly how it’s gone. Often, the custom move will also let the players decide their approach (and which stat to roll).

InDesign file:  Example: 

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