Dungeon World Defiling

Dungeon World is a game changer. It brings the focus of the fantasy rpg back to being immersed in the story rather than needing far too many reference books just to move a character. Since that’s what D&D was long ago, I suppose Dungeon World is a game changer-backer. No surprise then that I made the switch and am now using Dungeon World for a Dark Sun campaign. With so much lore available for Dark Sun (preferably from 2e) it was an easy switch, but I made a point to not make any rules that weren’t necessary.

Other than using some Dungeon World Dark Sun classes to enhance the experience, the players needed a defiling special move. The defiling option of the Dungeon World Dark Sun wizard from the other version of the wizard upon which the above classes are based was more of a penalty with no advantage to defiling (Cast a Spell:.. On a 7-9, the spell is cast, but choose one:… defile the land, withering plants, sterilizing soil, and fouling water around you). In a previous post I ran through the history of defiling and mentioned how defiling has consequences that are hard to write as rules, but in the fiction-driven Dungeon World, defiling as a choice fits quite readily. So the group house-ruled the removal of the “7-9” wizard defiling option and put in place a new option for wizards. The option is adapted from the wizard adept from the Dungeon World hireling section:

When you choose to defile when casting a spell, the spell’s effects have greater range, duration, or potency. Casting of the spell results in plant life and the soil near the caster to be drained of life resulting in an area of black ash. The more barren the landscape or the higher the spell level the greater the area defiled. The exact effects of the spell and the area defiled depend on the situation and the spell and are up to the GM. If the area is already defiled then the defiled area expands. The GM will describe what effects the defiling assist will add before the spell is cast. Any negative effects of the casting are focused on the caster first.

Simple and open to interpretation based on the situation. More importantly, it begins the conversation:

How does the character feel about having to defile?
How do the other players react to the defiling?
How do NPCs react to the defiling?
How do monsters react to the defiling?

With this option, one might think it could be abused, and they would be right. But that’s part of the story and can even drive it forward. Perhaps the heroes are no longer considered such because of the defiler in their midst. Perhaps sorcerer-kings, their agents, or the veiled alliance begin to seek out the defiler (new front!). Perhaps the character must wrestle with the option and perhaps hides his defiling from others (think of the bonds here!). The point is that this mechanism of defiling is more in line with the Dark Sun fiction and makes for a better story.

7 Replies to “Dungeon World Defiling”

  1. That’s really cool to hear. For me 4E will likely be my favorite edition for Dark Sun. Perhaps time will prove me wrong (it has previously!). I have trouble imagining a better system to capture the cinematic qualities, the terrain, and the super-heroic moves of the PCs. Of course, I’m a huge 4E fan.

    I’ve tried Dungeon World, but perhaps I should give it another try and see if I like it better. I do like the way it promotes the narrative, though with my gaming groups that has never been in short supply.


  2. Hello,
    Concerning defiling: it gives a free advanced move (empowered magic) with automatic success.
    Isn’t it better to use defiling as an optional result of 7-9 ‘Cast a Spell’ move and as fluff of empowered magic move?


    1. I can certainly see the merit in that approach, and I would be greatly interested in how that method plays out in a game. My rendering of defiling in the fashion I have described conveys defiling in the way I always hoped to see it:
      1. To have defiling be seen as the easiest, crudest, and most purposeful form of magic usage. So we need a starting move that every wizard can do and does not have to be “learned” as an advanced move later.
      Another version of Dark Sun Dungeon World classes has defiling as a 7-9 “failure” of Cast a Spell (a starting move). As a kind of failure, it removes defiling as a choice to make spells more powerful (the inherent purpose of defiling).
      2. To have defiling itself be the detractor of any success. This version of the move may be seen as an automatic success, but I see as the act of defiling as causing all manner of woe to the player(s) using it.
      For more on this, see my larger post regarding this move here).


  3. 1) If the player rolls 7-9, and choose “You draw unwelcome attention or put yourself in a spot”, what will you tell him?
    In Dark Sun, the first thing that come into my mind is – “defiling”!
    2) Remember all the times that Sadira defiled? When she escaped the prison in “the verdant passage”? Or crossed the desert in “the ember enchantress”? She didn’t defile to increase the duration of her spells, nor to empower them – she defiled because she pushed her spell limit. I think that make the player choose between forgetting the spell/decreasing his casting ability or defiling the land put him in a very similar position and make an interesting hard choice than merely “defile the land to empower the spell”.
    3) Of course, I do think that defiling could empower spells, but that’s covered too with the “Empower Magic” move – choose defile and empower magic.
    4) I just want to remind that for Int 16 character, the odds to roll 7-9 is about 42%, which means that this dilemma should occur often. I don’t see 7-9 roll as a failure, but as a success with a cost, and yes, defiling is a cost.
    5) To enhance the former point, perhaps for NPCs defiling is a merit – the SKs and such malevolent being use defiling to gain power. But for the Heroes, defiling is a temptation: they can use it to save innocent lives or to stand against stronger evil, not just to increase their acid arrow damage…
    6) To summarize, I think that the current mechanics cover defiling perfectly when using game fiction.


    1. Well said! Empower is always a great option if the player selects it as are using hirelings in casting, and both are defiling-free. Defiling in my game is essentially the same thing, but it has a cost and doesn’t have to be selected as an advanced move later (and so the move choice can go to something else). It is used mainly to drive the story forward when there is need. There have been games where truly epic deeds are accomplished by defiling even with empower as a move and hirelings at the ready.

      Regardless of the 7-9 concept being a success-with-cost, if one rolls a 10+ they don’t defile. Ergo, there is no choice in the matter. Even with a 7-9 and a choice to defile, the defiling doesn’t inherently give the character anything or any good reason to defile.

      The great thing is that if your a fan of 7-9 defiling and it makes for an exciting adventure, then it should be the method used. Surprisingly, in my group, wizards have rarely used defiling despite clear power gained from it. I attribute this to the players getting into the preserver/good-guy mentality, using hirelings effectively, and me making the people in the world react accordingly.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: