A Dungeon World Wiki

In classic DW, a monster is any living (or undead) thing that stands in the character's way. Not all NPCs are necessarily monsters but if abused, mistreated or taken advantage of, even the most otherwise friendly villagers hasthe potential to become them. Not all monsterous-looking creatures or cultures are necessarily going to be adversaries instead of allies to the adventurers. Jumping into combat isn't always the wisest route to dealing with monsters. Sometimes its the only practical choice.  Monster-slaying is a core element of the epic fantasy genre.  The adventurers will generally being doing a lot of it.  

Using Monsters

Your first agenda is to portray a fantastic world. The way you describe the monsters and adversaries the characters face can be a tool to help you fulfill that agenda. Describing those creatures and people in vivid detail will bring them to life. The player characters are the heroes. Monsters exist to illustrate what a dangerous awful place Dungeon World can be—how it will remain if the heroes don’t step in. You shouldn’t be rooting for the monsters to win, but they may challenge, and even sometimes defeat, the heroes.

One thing that your agenda and principles don’t say anything about is setting up a fair fight. Heroes are often outnumbered or faced with ridiculous odds—sometimes they have to retreat and make a new plan. Sometimes they suffer loss. When adding a monster to a front, placing them in a dungeon, or making them up on the fly your first responsibility is to the fiction (portray a fantastic world) and to give the characters a real threat (make the characters heroes), not to make a balanced fight. Dungeon World isn’t about balancing encounter levels or counting experience points; it’s about adventure and death-defying feats!

Beasts In The WIld

Mundane animals, even wild animals, generally avoid contact with humans unless they outnumber them, resorting to violence only when cornered, desperate, or suffering from some behavior-altering affliction. That is something to consider before using them as monsters. Making the world fantastic, however can include taking an ordinary beast and making it much bigger, bolder, and more dangerous via magic or other phenomena.  Providing them with instincts that go beyond self-preservation helps too.  

Elements Of A Monster

  • Every monster has a species; intelligent monsters also have names.
  • Every monster has moves that describe its behavior and abilities.
    • Just like the normal GM moves, they’re things that you do when there’s a lull in the action or when the players give you a golden opportunity. As with other GM moves they can be hard or soft depending on the circumstances and the move: a move that’s irreversible and immediate is hard, a move that’s impending or easy to counter is soft.
  • Each monster has an instinct that describe its goals at a high level. The monster’s instinct is the guide to how to use it in the fiction.
  • The monster’s description is where all its other features come from. The description is how you know what the monster really is, the other elements just reflect the description.
  • Damage is a measure of how much pain the monster can inflict at once.
    • This a die to roll possibly with some modifiers just like adventurers possess.
    • A monster deals its damage to an adventurer or other target whenever it causes them physical harm.
    • Each monster has tags that describe how it deals damage, including the range(s) of its attacks.
      • Any tag that can go on a weapon (like messy or slow) can also go on a monster.
      • There are special tags that apply only to monsters.
  • A monster’s HP is a measure of how much damage it can take before it dies.
  • Some monsters are lucky enough to enjoy armor. When a monster with armor takes damage it subtracts its armor from the damage done.
  • Special qualities describe innate aspects of the monster that are important to play. These are a guide to the fiction, and therefore the moves

Monster Tags

  • Size
    • Tiny: It’s much smaller than a halfling.
    • Small: It’s about halfling size.
    • Large: It’s much bigger than a human, about as big as a cart.
    • Huge: It’s as big as a small house or larger.
      • Titanic: Think Krakken, Gods, and things just beyond the pale. {Custom}
  • Organization:
    • Solitary: It lives and fights alone.
    • Group: Usually seen in small numbers, 3–6 or so.
    • Hoarder: It almost certainly has treasure.
    • Horde: Where there’s one, there’s more. A lot more.
    • Swarm: Too many to count. {Custom}
  • Basic
    • Amorphous: Its anatomy and organs are bizarre and unnatural.
    • Cautious: It prizes survival over aggression.
    • Construct: It was made, not born
    • Devious: Its main danger lies beyond the simple clash of battle.
    • Intelligent: It’s smart enough to speak/comprehend a language and possesses a personal name; some individuals pick up other skills.
      • The GM can adapt the monster by adding tags to reflect specific training, like a mage or warrior.
    • Magical: It is by nature magical through and through. Mundane weapons may or may not harm it.
    • Organized: It has a group structure that aids it in survival.
    • Planar: It’s from beyond this world
      • Defeating one may cause the wrath of others. One may sound an alarm.
    • Stealthy: It can avoid detection and prefers to attack with the element of surprise.
    • Terrifying: Its presence and appearance evoke fear beyond the average monster.

Customizing Monsters

The easiest place to modify monsters is in the questions used to create them. The simplest changes have to do with adjusting lethality or randomness to your liking.

A more interesting change is to change the questions being asked to present a different view of monsters. The views built into the questions imply that monsters are more or less like other creatures: they can be of many alignments and won’t always be opposed to the player characters. If you want to make Dungeon World about hunting down evil monsters and destroying them, you might rewrite some of the questions, maybe adding this:

The monster is Evil through and through. Choose one to reflect why it’s evil:

  • It’s an intrusion of the Old Ones Beyond the Walls: Planar, +5 damage
  • It’s a product of the Old Wizards of the Red Tower: Construct, +5 HP
  • It’s from The Time Before Man: Primordial, +5 damage, +5 HP

When creating new monster questions you can either reinterpret existing monsters by answering the questions for them again or only use the new questions for new monsters. If the new questions you add or change are key to your vision of Dungeon World it’s best to redo all the monsters you use; if the question only applies to a specific kind of monster anyway you can just use it for new monsters.

see: Making Monsters

see: Monsters & Treasure

see: Monster Settings

GM Resources