The GM's agenda is what they sit down at the table to do:
- Make the world fantastic
- Fill the characters' lives with adventure
- Play to find out what happens
Everything you say, create, and do at the table and away from the table is to accomplish these three goals and no others. Things that aren't on this list aren't your goals. You're not trying to beat the players or test their ability to solve complex traps. You're not here to give the players a chance to explore your finely crafted setting. You're most certainly not here to tell everyone a planned story.
That one deserves repeating: you are not here to tell everyone a planned story. Don't ever plan a storyline. You do not know what will happen to the players' characters any more than they do. Your job is to portray a fantastic world, not provide a canned plot.
To that end, Dungeon World adventures never presume player actions. A Dungeon World adventure describes a location in motion, someplace important with creatures pursuing their own goals. As the players come into conflict with that location, it will snowball into action. You'll honestly portray the repercussions of their actions.
When you play this way you get to share in the fun of finding out what happens to the characters and the world around them. You're not a frustrated novelist trying to organize your unruly characters. You're a participant in a great story that's unfolding. So really—don't plan the story. The rules of the game will fight you.
Fill the character's life with adventure means helping the players create a world that's exciting and full of epic foes to battle, strange places to explore, and treasure to discover. Adventurers are always caught up in some plot or world-threatening danger or another—encourage and foster that kind of action in the game.
The players have an agenda too but it's probably something they'll do by default: portray their characters.
- Draw maps, leave blanks
- Address the characters, not the players
- Embrace the fantastic
- Make a move that follows
- Never speak the name of your move
- Give every monster life
- Name every person
- Ask questions and use the answers
- Be a fan of the characters
- Think Dangerous
- Begin and end with the fiction
- Think offscreen, too
Your principles are your guides. Often, when it's time to make a move, you'll already have an idea. Quickly run it past your principles and make sure it fits, then go with it.
Customizing or Hacking The Agenda & The Principles
Play to find out what happens is the least changeable part of the GM’s agenda. Other options, like “play towards your set plot” or “play to challenge the players’ skills” will be resisted pretty strongly by the other rules. The moves give the players abilities that can change the course of an planned adventure quite quickly; if you’re not playing to find out what happens you’ll have to resist the moves at every step or rewrite many of them.
Fill the characters’ lives with adventure could be rephrased, but it’s hard to really change. “Fill the characters’ lives with intrigue” might work, but intrigue just seems like a type of adventure. Removing this agenda entirely will require major reworking since the move structure is based on this. The effects of a miss and the GM’s soft moves are all there to create a life of adventure.
Portraying a fantastic world is maybe the easiest to change but it still requires considerable rewriting of the class moves. A historical world, a grim world, or a utopian world are all possible, but you’ll need to carefully rethink many moves. A historical world will require magic, equipment, and several other sections to be nearly entirely rewritten or removed. A grim world can only survive if the players’ moves come with darker costs. A utopian world won’t need many of the moves as written. Still, this is the easiest part of the agenda to change, since it requires changing the moves, not the basic structures of the game.
The GM’s principles are more mutable than the agenda but still can seriously change the game with only minor modifications. Address the characters, not the players; Make your move, but misdirect; Never speak the name of your move; Begin and end with the fiction; and Be a fan of the characters are the most important principles. Without these the conversation of play and the use of moves is likely to break down.
Embrace the fantastic; Give every monster life; Name every person; Think Dangerous; and Give them something to work towards are key to the spirit of Dungeon World and fantasy exploration. These are changeable, but they amount to changing the setting of the game. If you want to change any of these, you may have to make changes to all of them.
Leave Blanks; Sometimes, let them decide; and Ask questions and use the answers are important to running Dungeon World well. They also apply to many other games in the same style. The game will be diminished without them, but the conversation of play will continue. These are also some of the most portable principles, applicable to many other games. They may even work in games with very different play styles.
An additional principle that some people prefer to add is Test their bonds. This principle is entirely compatible with the others and with all the moves, but it changes the focus of the game somewhat. Fronts need to be rethought to work fully with this, and you might need to add moves that speak to it.