Dungeon World: When You Make a (Punny?) Move...

Giving moves catchphrase/silly/pun names seems to be a somewhat common practice.

This isn't a problem in and of itself: I think they gives most players a chuckle, and can make the class, or at least the move a bit more memorable. No, the problem is when the end result is a move that doesn't make sense, is horribly underwhelming, or even both.

When we were designing The Swashbuckler, some moves were suggested based on quotes from The Princess Bride. You know, stuff like I Am Not Left Handed, and Never Go In Against a Sicilian When Death Is On The Line (which would have probably been broken up into two moves).

Ultimately only one made it in, Only Mostly Dead (bonus on your last breath), but even then as an optional move in the Director's Cut (since we like to add in lots of bonus content). There was also a pretty funny move called A Buck and a Quarterstaff—which makes you better with a quarterstaff—but it was also relegated to an optional advanced.

Our latest class, The Headhunter, not only features several advanced moves with pun names, like Head Honcho and Heads Up, but even the bonds use head puns:

_______ has a good head on their shoulders.
_______ is always sticking their neck out for me.
_______ and I are always butting heads.

During our two feedback rounds, one of the people mentioned that she had seen other people try to use funny/catchy/"punny" advanced moves, but with, well, lackluster results. Before I get into what we did right, here are a few examples of what others did wrong.

The Immolator's Sick Burn is a prime example of a badly designed pun move. It just reeks of a move that started as a name first, but the authors had to use it because get it: burn, immolator...immolators burn things. Eh? Eeeh? What makes it especially bad is that it's not even worth an advanced move at all: the best you can hope to do is insult someone, and then they can't do anything about it for...some reason.

In other words useless, and it doesn't even make any sense.

For my second example I'll avoid naming other names, but there's a pretty badly/lazily designed class with a move called Rags to Riches. Catchy, yes, but what does it do? Well, it lets you, and I'm not kidding, hold a non-magical item in your hands, and melt it into coins equal to the item's full market value.

Just let that sink in for a bit.

I just imagine the character stealing pants and melting them into coins. Why not? It's called Rags to Riches, after all. I do have a question, not that I expect the designer to listen to or address criticism, but who exactly decides the market value? If I take the pants to a place that is in dire need of pants, will they for some reason melt into more coins?

As with Sick Burn, this smacks of a move that started as a name first, and the designer just couldn't come up with something better (whether an entirely different move, or a way to make this move make sense, like melting golden objects into coins based on their weight). The only saving grace is that unlike Sick Burn this one can actually be useful: rather than spend time trying to fence your pants, you just get the cash right away.

So, what did we do differently?

Simple: we wrote the moves/mechanics first, based on what the class needs to do in order to work/fit the archetype, and then came up with the names later.

That's it.

This is not to say that we never come up with names first. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we come up with names while the move is being developed. We just don't start with a pun, catch phrase, or buzzword, and then try to squeeze a move out of it and force it into the class, whether or not it makes sense, works, and/or even fits the archetype.

For example, Heads Up was originally called [Throw Head Move], because I had no fucking clue what I was going to call it at the time. All I knew was that I thought it would be awesome to have a move that lets you throw chomping heads at your enemies. It just so happened that I was also able to give it a catchy name.

There's another move that allows you to animate your heads, so they can float about and fight, scout, trigger traps, and so on (think the Hellboy comic Heads). The mechanic is that they're treated as 1-point hirelings that always do what you say, but only help you with one short-term goal. It was originally just called something like Animated Heads or Flying Heads, but I eventually came up with the name Head Honcho.

And there you have it: if you're going to make silly moves, at least make them practical, functional, and fictionally appropriate.

DriveThruRPG is running their Christmas in July sale. During this time (which is around 4-5 days), everything in our store is 25% off.

We just released The Headhunter: kill your enemies and take their heads, using them to fuel your strange, gruesome magic. We're working on The Rakshasa (which is ready for its first feedback round: hit me up if you want to take a look), followed by another class that's getting close to being revealed.

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out! Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance!

The Dungeon World GM Screen is currently available in pdf and landscape insert formats. No matter which you choose, you get eight sets of pdfs that let you have access to the screen in both landscape and portrait orientation, in color or black and white, and with or without art.

We're waiting on the portrait inserts. Assuming they look good, they'll be available soon. They're now available.

Next up, mini screen!

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