Posted by : David Guyll February 21, 2015

Like most of the Dungeon World classes, I don't like the druid.

Part of my problem is By Nature Sustained: I think it's kind of strange that all druids no longer need to eat or drink, period (just like I think it's strange that all cleric's have Turn Undead).

It would be one thing if it was an advanced move, or a druid of the forest didn't need to eat so long as she was exposed to sunlight, but just a blanket exemption from eating and drinking? Come on: even animals have to eat and drink.

Really though the big thing is that I just don't like Shapeshifter. If you don't have the book on hand and/or are too lazy to check it out, here's the move in its entirety:

When you call upon the spirits to change your shape, roll+WIS. ✴On a 10+ hold 3. ✴On a 7–9 hold 2. ✴On a miss hold 1 in addition to whatever the GM says. 

You may take on the physical form of any species whose essence you have studied or who lives in your land: you and your possessions meld into a perfect copy of the species’ form. You have any innate abilities and weaknesses of the form: claws, wings, gills, breathing water instead of air. You still use your normal stats but some moves may be harder to trigger—a housecat will find it hard to do battle with an ogre. The GM will also tell you one or more moves associated with your new form. Spend 1 hold to make that move. Once you’re out of hold, you return to your natural form. At any time, you may spend all your hold and revert to your natural form.

I've heard some people complain that it's confusing and vague, others about its overall utility and combat power. While it is confusing and vague (especially for new Dungeon World players), that's not really why I don't like it.

I don't even much care about the utility: that's Dungeons & Dragons-grade bullshit, where people whine about how easy access to flying is "broken" because you can just fly over pits and such. Oh no, the druid can turn into a bird and, I dunno, carry a rope up a cliff face (because cliffs are a huge deal), or even have everyone hop into a bag of holding and just cart that about.

If you think that that's bad for...some reason, consider this: at 1st-level a Dungeon World druid can feasibly transform into a roc and carry the whole party about, as-is. In our Expedition to Ravenloft With Dungeon World campaign, the wizard polymorphed the thief into a roc and just flew them over to Castle Ravenloft.

Pits and cliffs have frankly never been particularly meaningful obstacles in the 20 or so years I've been playing and running games so, again, don't give a shit. It's using the move in combat where it starts to overlap with why I don't like it.

See, when you change into an animal the GM tells you one or more moves that the animal form can make, and you spend 1 hold to automatically make one of them. For example, if your bear form (the bear seems to crop up a lot in druid discussions) has been given the move "maul the hell out of someone", then you can just do that over and over until you run out of hold. You revert back to human form, but can just change back and keep going.

That bit at the end there is my problem.

No, not the move "abuse", but the fact that you stay in animal form until you do some very specific things or just opt to change back. From a purely mechanical perspective I get it: if you just let a player make a "no roll" move that allows them to automatically maul people with impunity, that's going to be a problem, so you put a kind of cap on it.

But what's the fictional explanation, here? The druid turns into a bear, and if she mauls people 1-3 times she automatically reverts back. Okay, why? She can hack and slash as often as she wants (albeit likely poorly, which I'll touch on in a bit), but if she hurts enemies in a very specific way then it...runs out? That doesn't make any sense to me, and it's also more than a bit silly to envision a druid turning into a bear, mauling one or two enemies, reverting to human form, then changing right back into a bear to keep on fighting. Rinse and repeat.

Another problem is that your stats don't change at all. If you're a bear and you try to Hack and Slash, you still use your normal, non-bear Strength, whether it's +3 or -1. I get that if you're a hummingbird that you can't exactly Hack and Slash things, but against all reason whether you're an elf or bear you have the exact same odds of success and inflict the exact same amount of damage.

Having played a witch throughout an entire campaign, Melissa can confidently say that she mostly likes the Skinchanger move: instead of going with a roll-and-hold move (for all the reasons above), you can freely change (no roll) into an animal and gain all of its abilities and limitations until you change again. While it was useful, her main gripe was that if she turned into a bear (which she actually tried doing), that she is just as effective in melee combat as she was before, which is to say not at all.

We think that shapechanging moves shouldn't have such a...strange duration, and rely less on the GM pulling random moves out of their ass. Right now I'm thinking something like this:

When you spend a few moments changing into an animal that is human-sized or larger, you gain any features and limitations of the form and roll+WIS. ✴On a 10+, choose 3. ✴On a 7-9, choose 2. ✴On a miss, choose 1 in addition to whatever else the GM says.
  • You don't take -1 ongoing to INT, WIS, or CHA until you revert to human form (GM's choice)
  • You take +1 ongoing to STR, DEX, or CON until you revert to human form.
  • Gain +1 armor.
  • You gain one of the following tags: forceful, messy, 1 piercing.

With this you can change into a bear, choose +1 ongoing to STR and the forceful tag, and be able to better swat enemies about without having to change back and forth.

I specify human-sized or larger so that you can't turn into, say, a cat and get +1 armor or 1 piercing. Though, I suppose you could add in the stealthy tag to the list, so that way a cat could choose to gain +1 ongoing to DEX and stealthy.

This could be changed so that you can only transform into animals that are your size or smaller, with advanced moves that let you turn into animals with the Large and Huge tags (gaining the Reach tag, as well as Forceful and even a damage bonus).

Other advanced moves could modify what these do, or even open up new options: take +1 ongoing to a second stat, choose a second tag, choose an additional option (even on a miss), +1 damage in animal form, with the option to bump up damage to d8, and so on.

February Announcements
First things first, The Cultist went on sale (on Friday the 13th, no less). Though it's been very well received, there's been a...whisper of "criticism" about it.

Second, throughout the entire month of February we're putting both The Witch and The Bard on sale.

We've also modified their prices in our Awfully Big Playbook and All of the Playbooks bundles, making them just that much more tantalizing than they already are: $22 nets you eleven twelve—now that The Cultist is out—classes, which come with design notes and clarifications, custom character sheets, additional moves, magic items, and even compendium classes.

{ 14 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. My last post didn't seem to go through, so I apologize if I doublepost.

    I like your writings not because I agree with them, but that it disagrees with most common opinions and make you think. That said, I do think you need a bit more suspension of disbelief, not just because I enjoy the druid's shapeshift. (Thought I'll still try yours when I get the chance.) The hold limit isn't a set duration, but the number of successes you accrue, when you run out of successes, you have to gamble again on the dice.

    So what about the druid reverting back and forth? This is where I feel that suspension of disbelief comes in. If my players shape shift back to back, I just assume they never changed back. And I know that bears should be stronger than a thin elf, but your STR doesn't affect your damage, just your skill at fighting. Turning into a bear wouldn't make an ordinarily frail elf any better at fighting. So why change? So you can do something your frail elf body can't, sticking with the bear for example, ignore an ordinary attack, or, fly into a rage (grants bonus to Damage). Every time you roll while in an animal form, you are denying the instincts of the animal you turned into, instead using your own mind and talents. Those moves the GM comes up with are your animal instincts. They are better than your own instincts and are the reason you choose that animal.

    Lastly, I'm sure the reason Druid's don't "eat or drink" is because through nature sustained, when the party makes camp, you turn into a hawk and catch a meal, or as a boar you dig up some wild carrots. The fauna and flora around you sustain you.

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    1. @Cory: I was talking to Melissa about this today: I post things that I think people will get upset about, only to find that quite a few agree with me (see Inverse World and my 5 Problems with D&D Magic, which is sitting at over 80 +1's and nearly 7k views).

      I do it not to ruffle feathers, but because it's what I actually believe. I think plenty of people are afraid to voice their opinions due to potential backlash or making the "wrong" person angry. But, meh: I stand by my opinions and works.

      The Shapeshifter move specifically says that you revert back to your natural form when you run out of hold. I could say that you don't actually change back, but then there's the issue of why you can't maul anyone anymore.

      Someone else brought up the bit about STR affecting your fighting skill, but it DOES affect your, well, Strength: your Load is based on STR, if you defy danger by powering through depends on your STR, the fighter's Bend Bars, Lift Gates move is keyed to STR, and presumably if a player wanted to bash their way through a door I'd have them roll+STR, too.

      Currently you would change into a bear to, say, gain a move that lets you maul someone (which could be an auto-kill, or at least destroy their armor). The problem is that, again, officially, once you maul 1-3 people you change back and have to roll again.

      I would prefer to see a druid that can change and have some meaningful tradeoffs, or to have a favored animal form that doesn't have lots of useful, and/or "auto-kill" moves.

      By Nature Sustained is a bit muddier. It doesn't specify that you have to be in an area with available food and water. So, if you're fine whether you're in a lush forest, a barren wasteland, a flimsy raft in the ocean (with no rain), an ancient ruin that's been sealed for centuries, an alien dimension, and so on.

      The move could stand for some clarification.

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    2. I'm going to meet up with some friends later this week and I'll see if my druid wants to try your move.

      Idealy, the GM should work with the player on the animal moves. If the druid wants to break down a door and turns into a bear for its strength, sure, give them a move for mauling enemies, but make one of the other moves: destroy an inanimate object. The point of transforming isn't to roll the dice in a different body, but to use the skills of an animal. You are shifting to get access to an animals super human abilities.

      Through nature sustained, in a barren wasteland or on a raft, there are still fauna and flora, and there is an ecosystem built there. The druid becomes part of that ecosystem.

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    3. @Cory: If you create on the fly moves that allow an animal form to auto-complete something, then that makes the move drastically more powerful, especially when the druid gets WIS +3.

      Trying to bash down something? I transform into a big, burly animal that gets a "bash down something" as a move. Trying to run someone down? I transform into an animal that gets "run prey down". Trying to find someone? I change into an animal that gets "track a creature".

      That's another issue I take with it: when I play a druid, I might just want to change into an animal and go to town. I don't want to change, do 1-3 things, change back, then have to change back again. I also don't want to automatically do various things: it takes the fun out of it when I know that my move WILL work no matter what.

      Even so, if you end up using it I'd be curious what its failings are.

      As for By Nature Sustained, I think that's kind of reaching. Yeah, some animals can survive in some environments that humans can't, but again: it's a blanket exemption. Nothing about the move suggests that the druid transforms and eats/drinks a bunch of stuff or whatever.

      Also, again, you can go into a crypt devoid of all life and survive just fine.

      I think the move would make more sense if it at LEAST required that you be in a terrain you have from Born of the Soil.

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    4. My way of explaining the constant shapeshift rolls is less literal than 'the druid shifts in and out of animal form repeatedly'. I say something regarding the druid exerting himself so much that he needs to regain focus or lose his form, etc. This way they're not bear -> human -> bear -> human etc but just still in bear form feeling the ability wearing off. Maybe the fur starts receding back in to their skin, etc. It just helps with the flow of the story.

      My druid sometimes likes to shift in and out and I think it makes for cool fiction.
      Shifting into a hawk to fly across the battlefield then transforming into a wolf and defending the wizard who was under attack etc. I'll give him a "Bare fangs" move as he describes this.
      My goal is the match the moves to the fiction they've established so that they are just always coming up with cool things.

      I do add a 'soft move' on their partial miss (some equipment fails to shift with them and falls off, these goblins are expert trappers and have specialized training in fighting you, etc) because I did find that the odds of failure were too low and partial success was just as good as a total success due to the unlimited nature of the ability.

      The idea of 'automatic 100% success' doesn't make sense in my interpretation of Dungeon World. DW is driven by GM moves that put the PCs in danger and a huge source of this is the rolling.
      I have never interpreted the rules as the shapeshift moves as having guaranteed success. I could be incorrect here but it works for my group so I doubt we will be changing that.

      For the example of a bear with a 'maul' move. They would spend 1 hold to make a hack and slash move with the messy or forceful tag. Maybe add 1d4 or something. I would still make the roll + str and have the same rules as any other hack and slash attempt.

      The idea of an 'auto-kill' move is absurd in my book. Every monster in the game could have this ability if you considered all things literally. A bear is no more dangerous than a giant wielding a tree as a club and yet the giant's attack isn't an autokill (necessarily) .

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    5. "My way of explaining the constant shapeshift rolls is less literal than 'the druid shifts in and out of animal form repeatedly'. I say something regarding the druid exerting himself so much that he needs to regain focus or lose his form, etc. This way they're not bear -> human -> bear -> human etc but just still in bear form feeling the ability wearing off. Maybe the fur starts receding back in to their skin, etc. It just helps with the flow of the story."

      I'm not against houseruling a game, but that doesn't make the game "better". That also doesn't address my other problems:

      A druid in bear form is just as strong and tough as a druid in human form.
      You basically get to roll your best stat for 1-3 automatic successes (the real challenge becomes learning specific forms).

      "My druid sometimes likes to shift in and out and I think it makes for cool fiction.
      Shifting into a hawk to fly across the battlefield then transforming into a wolf and defending the wizard who was under attack etc. I'll give him a "Bare fangs" move as he describes this.
      My goal is the match the moves to the fiction they've established so that they are just always coming up with cool things."

      Yeah, that can be cool, but sometimes you just wanna be a bear and maul people apart. If I wanna do that, I have to completely overhaul the Shapeshifter move.

      "I do add a 'soft move' on their partial miss (some equipment fails to shift with them and falls off, these goblins are expert trappers and have specialized training in fighting you, etc) because I did find that the odds of failure were too low and partial success was just as good as a total success due to the unlimited nature of the ability."

      That's just more houseruling. Yeah, a GM can make a GM move whenever, but if you're soft-moving a druid's 7-9 even when it doesn't have a soft move result built in, are you doing that for ALL 7-9 results?

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    6. "The idea of 'automatic 100% success' doesn't make sense in my interpretation of Dungeon World. DW is driven by GM moves that put the PCs in danger and a huge source of this is the rolling.
      I have never interpreted the rules as the shapeshift moves as having guaranteed success. I could be incorrect here but it works for my group so I doubt we will be changing that."

      That's countered by both the book (sidebar on page 107) and designers. Obviously you don't have to go by that, but again, houserules.

      "For the example of a bear with a 'maul' move. They would spend 1 hold to make a hack and slash move with the messy or forceful tag. Maybe add 1d4 or something. I would still make the roll + str and have the same rules as any other hack and slash attempt."

      There's a thread over on rpg.net where Adam or Sage says that if you turn into a dinosaur with the move "stomp someone into the ground", then you spend a hold and that's it: the target is stomped into the ground. You don't roll+ anything, or roll at all: they're dead. There's even mention of a panther with the move "tear someone's throat out".

      "The idea of an 'auto-kill' move is absurd in my book. Every monster in the game could have this ability if you considered all things literally. A bear is no more dangerous than a giant wielding a tree as a club and yet the giant's attack isn't an autokill (necessarily)."

      Maybe, though that would be a boring game if the GM just randomly and wantonly killed players off. The giant isn't smacking you directly with its club, otherwise that would be an instant kill. The lich has the move "cast a perfected spell of death or destruction", which sounds like it would be an instant-kill, the boar has the move "tear someone apart", and the centaur can "fire a perfect bullseye" (which, in the skull, would be an instant kill). There are also plenty of "tear off a limb" moves, vampires can charm, and basilisk can turn you to stone.

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    7. "Animal moves just say
      what the animal naturally
      does, like “call the pack,”
      “trample them,” or
      “escape to the air.” When
      you spend your hold your
      natural instinct kicks in
      and that move happens.
      If you spend hold to
      escape to the air, that’s
      it—you’re away and on
      the wing"

      My interpretation of this is that you can do anything that animal could do as easily as that animal could.

      Your GM shouldn't force a mountain goat to 'defy danger' while scaling a rock face. The task is trivial for a mountain goat and so it is trivial for the shapeshifted druid.

      Whenever there is danger or opposition outside of the animal's normal situation, I believe a roll is expected.

      If giants started hurling boulders at the mountain goat scaling the cliff, I assure you the druid should roll to defy danger. The move no longer 'just succeeds' even though the move might be 'scale even the steepest cliff'.

      A hawk can fly across a field easily, but add a hail of arrows flying across the field and suddenly there is a roll required.

      I apply the same thing to an animal in combat. There is active opposition. An army won't just stand there while a rhinoceros tramples through their ranks. They will scatter, seek shelter, stab with their spears, etc.

      "Maybe, though that would be a boring game if the GM just randomly and wantonly killed players off. The giant isn't smacking you directly with its club, otherwise that would be an instant kill. The lich has the move "cast a perfected spell of death or destruction", which sounds like it would be an instant-kill, the boar has the move "tear someone apart", and the centaur can "fire a perfect bullseye" (which, in the skull, would be an instant kill). There are also plenty of "tear off a limb" moves, vampires can charm, and basilisk can turn you to stone."

      You'll never say "A centaur gets a jump on you. He fires an arrow directly into Bob the Druid's skull. Bob is dead." because that isn't fun and is totally arbitrary.
      I believe its the same thing in the other direction. It isn't fun for anyone (except maybe the druid) when he says "I just rip out the orc warlord's throat. Encounter over". Everyone else would just be left thinking "why are we even here?"

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    8. @Luc: "My interpretation of this is that you can do anything that animal could do as easily as that animal could."

      That's all well and good, but what the rule says is that when you spend hold to trigger a move, that move happens.

      "Your GM shouldn't force a mountain goat to 'defy danger' while scaling a rock face. The task is trivial for a mountain goat and so it is trivial for the shapeshifted druid."

      Getting off track, but I wouldn't require anyone to defy danger to scale a rock face unless there was something going on to make the outcome reasonably uncertain. That said, I would give the mountain goat "quickly scale a mountain", or something similar like that.

      "Whenever there is danger or opposition outside of the animal's normal situation, I believe a roll is expected."

      The GM provides one or more moves. Using those moves requires spending hold. Outside of that it's business as usual.

      "If giants started hurling boulders at the mountain goat scaling the cliff, I assure you the druid should roll to defy danger. The move no longer 'just succeeds' even though the move might be 'scale even the steepest cliff'."

      Dodging a giant's boulder and scaling a mountain are two entirely separate things.

      "A hawk can fly across a field easily, but add a hail of arrows flying across the field and suddenly there is a roll required."

      As with the mountain goat, those are two separate things.

      "I apply the same thing to an animal in combat. There is active opposition. An army won't just stand there while a rhinoceros tramples through their ranks. They will scatter, seek shelter, stab with their spears, etc."

      I never implied that. If there are a bunch of soldiers trying to stop you and you have the move "knock aside", then if they stand in your way you can spend 1 hold to knock them aside. If you have the move "trample underfoot", then you can spend 1 hold to crush someone. There's no roll. You might have to roll to avoid arrows, or perhaps a spear, but you don't roll to knock them aside or crush them: THAT is what just happens.

      "You'll never say "A centaur gets a jump on you. He fires an arrow directly into Bob the Druid's skull. Bob is dead." because that isn't fun and is totally arbitrary.
      I believe its the same thing in the other direction. It isn't fun for anyone (except maybe the druid) when he says "I just rip out the orc warlord's throat. Encounter over". Everyone else would just be left thinking "why are we even here?""

      That entirely depends on numerous other factors. Really though, my numerous examples of instant-kill moves are because you said that "every monster could have one".

      MANY moves are completely arbitrary, whether they are instant kill, cause you to lose a limb, break your gear, and so on and so forth. If the druid has a move that says "tear out someone's throat", and you use it on the orc warlord...why shouldn't it work? What's so special about the warlord's throat, as opposed to all the other orc throats?

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  2. First of all, I think its funny that you and I both seem to love Dungeon World and D&D while hating some of the core aspects of both games. Just my impression from reading your blog.
    I agree that Shapechanging is weird in Dungeon World. I want to be really strict with what somebody can do in animal form, but it totally goes against the feel of the game to restrict a player who's both clever and excited about their idea.
    I wonder if the open-ended nature of the ability is too much. Making a character select specific forms might give them more character and let you nail down their stats better. It also loses some of that creativity, so I don't know.
    The Cultist looks cool, I'll have to pick it up.

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  3. @Eodrid: I suspect a lot of people have similar issues, but for whatever reason just don't voice them. Maybe they just shrug and deal with it (like I did with D&D magic up until 4th), maybe they're afraid of ruffling someone's feathers, or maybe they just ignore parts of the game that are the root of the problem.

    I dunno, I just find that whenever I post about something that I think is really going to piss people off (Inverse World reviews, 5 Problems with D&D Magic, etc) I find that a LOT of people agree with me. Case in point: my 5 Problems article has over 80 +1's.

    I don't want to stifle a player's creativity, but I don't want creativity to effectively eclipse the other classes. I think a druid "by the book" could largely take the fighter's place by stomping enemies into the ground, flying over obstacles, kicking through doors, etc.

    I think my proposed move would let a druid take on a variety of forms and see some form of benefit, without the 3rd Edition wizard issue of being able to just auto-succeed at things.

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  4. @Eodrid: Also, curious what you think of the cultist. I think it's one of our more ambitious classes, on par with the witch or pirate in terms of content, so I'm hoping that it's worth the $2.50.

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    1. Just got it, at a glance it looks great. I think if I was planning on including it in a game I'd want to come up with a few examples of Dark Ritual for the player to get an idea of how it works. I was thinking of doing something like that for the Witch already. I like the attention given towards the Black Goat, that seems like the easiest one to fit in a fantasy setting (in Cthulhu Dark Ages its surmised that goblins are her spawn, something I wanted to expand on).
      I'm getting close to being able to run a DW campaign with none of the original classes (though I'd include Barbarian, maybe with more background options).

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    2. Eodrid: Someone pointed out a mistake on the character sheet, so if you notice anything wrong lemme know!

      Also, what classes are you needing to round out your class roster? We're preparing to do a vote over on G+ for the next class we do.

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