Redux: Romantic Dungeon World

Some idle, unfinished thoughts circa 2014, care of Google+:


The Smile is the Gate to the Dungeon of the Heart
Behind anyone’s smile waits all that they believe and have to say. The smile can be drawn shut, driving family and suitor away — or opened to invite you in with sincerity or as a trap, each with equal potential. The instinct, in a beautiful and fantastical world like this, is to believe in what someone says. However, that is a dangerous path to walk. A beggar and a Queen alike can gild their tongues with gems to entice you in, and snap off your heads with its sharp edge. When you find your player characters restraining themselves from drawing steel, and they wish to pry answers loose with niceties or without arousing suspicion: remember the Dungeon of the Heart.

It is more than a Parley to take what you want — for that requires Leverage — and it is more than Defying a social Danger with Charisma — for we know not if any danger awaits. Though these moves (and Discern Realities, and Spout Lore) are all a part of what is to come, it is more than the sum of its parts. It is about how one maneuvers the social halls and political barrows of someone’s heart and mind for the greatest of treasures: their faith, secrets, and even their support.

Just as you may Discern Realities in the darkest dragon’s den to uncover what secrets lie in wait, so may you do the same in earnest conversation with the court vizier. What you must remember is this very simple truth: just as you cannot, from a hall, identify the dangers of the chamber beyond — so too can you only identify the dangers conveyed in the moment of your social challenge. It is very important in these situations, then, to lavish them with detail and gild the participants in just as much set-dressing as you would the ancestral caverns into which you would otherwise drive your adventuring party.


Some possible principles (work in progress) that one might add to a game of Dungeon World to focus the gameplay in on Romantice Fantasy tropes. Tropes include social or political considerations, romance itself, and humanizing the opposition to a greater degree than Sword & Sorcery or High Fantasy might.

Make the world beautiful
Dungeon World may take place in dank dungeon ruins, but Hearts of Light does not. The world is still fantastical, but we trade fetid swamps for blooming marshlands whenever we can — we do not explore grime-caked sunken tombs when we can instead marvel at ancient masonry preserved by time. This applies to the inside as well as the outside: reveal an orc breaker’s love for his people’s songs, or allow a monstrous spider to spin delicate crystalline webs.

Give every character a place
So you’ve named the bandits, and you’ve described what role the orcs play in the dungeon ecosystem. Now, figure out what social circles they move in: who are their family? Who are their fathers, mothers, sisters? Who relies on them, and on whom do they rely? What loyalties are right underneath the surface, and whose passion will act on those loyalties when you cleave your way through the thief lieutenant and the old orc shaman?

Think Romance
It’s not all dagger traps falling from the ceiling, moonlit assassins, and devilish perils from across the planes. Sometimes the greatest threat is an unexpected kiss, a midnight rendezvous, or one night spent with the enemy. Think intimate moments and secrecy, misunderstandings and keeping up appearances. Let these exchanges risk a character’s reputation.


Draft 3 of some special moves for romantic fantasy dungeon world. These moves are not basic moves; instead, they’re in the same category as carouse, make camp, or perilous journey.

My design goals while writing these were to: make pursuing love a long-term consideration in general, but allow for love-at first sight passions if the player/character wanted to go for that. I wanted to preserve PC and NPC dignity by allowing players/characters say over when they are and aren’t feeling love; similarly, NPC dignity is preserved by the GMs ability to say yes or no they’re not into you. This level of “consent on behalf of the character” was important to me to reinforce returning love is the NPCs choice, not the players.

Classic Romantic fantasy, at its roots, is a little misogynistic — its roots encourage passivity and damsel behavior on the part of women, and suggests men can and should solve everything. It also demonstrates love as more of an exchange or commodity, but dresses that all up in overblown passions and love-aches. I love the way the romance aspect is dressed up, but I want to step away from these roots and not deal with the problematic territory of: “I’ve done things for you and now you must love me” that is implied in some examples of this genre. More Lackey and Pierce, less King Arthur.

So I’ve done my best to make these moves gender-neutral, I’ve done my best to not use any consequences tied directly to gender, while trying to echo genre-appropriate outcomes to true love: growing passions, heartfelt admissions, overblown heartache at rejection, influencing the rival for your love’s affection, secret romance, others judging the romance’s worth, and the element of task-giving and quest-giving that is at home in the genre.

Game procedures-wise, I took +J. Walton‘s advice from Dark Heart and I went with a countdown timer for true love. It pulls double duty and keeps track of a new stat used to measure how wrapped up in their beloved a character might be. The bonus is built up by player characters embracing the fiction and being themselves (alignment XP) or trying new things (failure XP) with or for their beloved. The bonus is used for the eventual true love roll, where the roll does not determine if they love you (again, the design thought that love cannot be taken by a player rolling dice). Instead the dice determine social complications that arise when these two characters admit their feelings for each other.

I’ve tried to make the eventual endgame of true love for the characters a simple, but nice, reoccurring benefit. I wanted to incentivize players pursuing this in game, but I didn’t want it to be so great that all players must engage this in order to play the game. Its a special move, not a basic move, after all. No one has to embrace carouse to play DW. Similar ideas here. The thought has crossed my mind to replace the final benefits of being in love (below) with class-based True Love moves as a version of AW’s Sex Moves.

Anywho. Draft 3. Work in progress. I think these meet all of the requirements I’ve set for myself.

True Love
When you fall in love (your call), tell the GM about the object of your affection and draw three heart-shaped boxes. At the end of any session where you marked experience for your true love, take +1 passion. At the end of any session where you did not mark experience for your true love, take -1 passion forward. You cannot have more passion than you have heart-shaped boxes. If you must take -1 passion forward and you have no passion remaining, erase all of your heart-shaped boxes.

With preparation, and time and solitude with your beloved, you may ask the GM if you have their heart. If you don’t, I’m sorry — love must be given freely, it cannot be taken. Choose: erase all passion boxes, or mark a debility as your grief drags you low.

With preparation, and time and solitude with your beloved, you may ask the GM if you have their heart. If you do, huzzah! Roll+Passion. On a hit, make an overture to your beloved and promise you’ll be there always and they admit the feelings they hold now. ➲On a 10+ choose two. ➲On a 7-9, choose one, but your love requires a test of your integrity or character (GM’s call):
•Your beloved will wear their affections openly, proudly, and for all to see
•Your passion warms the heart of a suitor who would otherwise challenge you
•You avoid scandal, and those who hear of your love will see its beauty
•Your beloved demonstrates their commitment, providing a tool or skill you desperately need (GM’s call)
➲On a miss, you hesitate, stutter, stall, stammer, lose your nerve, the moment passes, or you are interrupted.

While you and your partner are truly and hopelessly in love, you need only keep track of 1 Passion and one heart-shaped box. The GM will spend your Passion like hold to distract you with thoughts of your love, interfere with your rolls, and put you in dangerous situations for love. You may spend your Passion like Preparation. Also, at the end of a session, if you failed to mark XP for following your alignment, you may mark XP if you acted on behalf of or in support of your beloved.

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