Dungeon World Playbook Concepts: The Mentor and the Dark Knight

Hey, whoa, wait a minute! Does that title say “Dungeon World?” What the heck is this?! It isn’t Tuesday! Why are we talking about tabletops right now?!

Hello there, adventurers, and welcome to Not Tabletop Tuesday. No, this isn’t a new segment – I just wanna talk about tabletops today, even though it is Sunday. I hope this is a forgivable offense.

In my Dungeon World group, we have never actually played the game with the base classes designed for it. You know, the Fighter and the Wizard and the Bard and so on. Instead, we’ve always played with homebrew classes. The player chooses their class, describes to me the inspiration, and then I build a custom class based on that. Now playing a new RPG and immediately replacing elements of the gameplay with homebrew content is not something that I recommend – you should experience the game the way the creators intended it before you start changing things. Change the elements of the games that don’t work for you, but give them a chance to work first.

Anyway, so as I sit around making customized classes for all of my players, my mind naturally wanders to what classes I would want to design for myself. While I’ve gone back and forth between different ideas, I’ve settled on two main concepts. If I were to play Dungeon World instead of GMing, and were to custom design the class I wanted to play as, I would choose from two different concepts: the Mentor or the Dark Knight.

The Mentor is inspired by characters such as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, Kratos Aurion and Regal Bryant from Tales of Symphonia, and Halt from the Ranger’s Apprentice novels. This character is someone who is a lot older than the rest of the party. And not in the way that an elf is 800 years old but still looks like a sexy 22 year-old and kicks butt with crazy acrobatic swordplay and pinpoint shooting. No, I’m talking legitimately older, someone who has seen things and whose own adventures have left him/her grizzled and jaded.
While these characters are all vastly different, together they create a sort of common theme: they’re the members of the party that everyone else looks up to. They offer advice and instruction (often focusing their efforts on a specific person), have brushed with death more times than they can count, and often wield something ancient and powerful that cannot be unleashed flippantly. These are the main things that inspire the mentor: past adventures, a pupil, restrained power, and brushes with Death. Their starting moves are based on these ideas.
My idea for the Pupil move is that the mentor chooses one ally in the party to be his/her pupil. Each session, the mentor chooses a lesson that (s)he wants the pupil to learn. If by the end of the session, it can be agreed that this lesson was learn, both mentor and pupil mark XP. Additionally, when the mentor takes actions specifically because those actions would help the pupil learn a lesson, (s)he takes +1 forward.
The concept of restrained power inspired the move Sheathed Sword. Every mentor character carries a powerful magical weapon. The player gets to describe exactly what that weapon’s true power is. However, the character understands that this power must be used wisely, and as such wields the weapon sheathed (either literally or figuratively) until the time that its true power must be unleashed. When calling on the weapon’s true power, the player must roll wisdom to determine the consequences of showing off that power. This can draw in enemies new and old, or even cause the magical weapon to have serious side effects.
Constant brushes with Death lead to the move Memento Mori. Due to years and years of dying, making bargains, and just barely escaping Death’s clutches, the mentor has a weird sort of friendship with Death. When mentors take their Last Breath they can roll at +1, but doing so prevents them from succeeding any more than a 7-9. Dealing with Death will always have a price. On top of that, mentors take +1 to Spout Lore when they talk about things that only those who have been beyond the Black Gates would know.
Finally, the idea of being an adventurer in their prime inspired the move Old Dog, New Tricks. This allows the mentor to choose a starting move from any other playbook. “Whoa, isn’t that a little overpowered? That means the mentor can fill pretty much any role they want.” Well, yes and no. Part of being old and set in your ways is that sometimes you don’t do things in the most efficient way, particularly if you learned to do it years and years ago. Moves that mentors take from other playbooks have to be used with INT, even if they weren’t before – this represents that they have to remember how to do it, and that their body isn’t necessarily as up to the task as it used to be. Additionally, using the move has some kind of quirk that the character will have to deal with in the fiction. Maybe it aggravates an old wound, causing aches and pains; maybe the mentor’s tools are the same ones (s)he had 30 years ago and are thus rather outdated; maybe (s)he can’t quite remember how to use the move and so has to spend a minute thinking about it. These quirks balance out the potential abuse of this ability, and add a layer of character and fun to the otherwise dark mentor.
I think this would be a blast of a class to play. I’m still working out the bugs, but I have the starting moves pretty much set in stone for this one. For race I decided to go with the big three: Human, Elf, and Dwarf. For alignment, I figured mentors make the most sense on the moral spectrum: Good, Neutral, or Evil. If you’re interested in seeing a copy of the mentor class when I’m finished with it, read on to the end of the post!

If you’re thinking Batman, get that nonsense out your head right away. When I speak of the dark knight, I’m taking my inspiration from the class as it is seen in Final Fantasy. Specifically in the titles Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon and Bravely Default. Dark knights command incredible offensive power, but the cost of that power is high, tearing the knight apart and always leaving him standing on the edge of death.
There are a few abilities that are common between these two concepts of the dark knight, and certain moves that would only come from one or the other. Dark knights have one very dangerous strategy: sacrificing health to deal high damage, increasing in power the lower their health reaches, stealing health to stay alive, and taking their foes down with them if their risky plan leads to its inevitable conclusion: death. As such, my starting move concepts are based on these ideas.
The health-sacrificing move I will probably call Sacrifice or Black Bane. What I plan to do for that move is to have a die roll in addition to the standard damage roll that deals armor ignoring damage to both the dark knight and his/her target. I’m not sure if this die should be a constant d6 at all levels, or maybe start it out at d4, and have it reach d6 and then d8 as potential level-up moves. The latter would allow the player to choose how significant Sacrifice is to their strategy, while the former would probably keep the dark knight a bit more balanced.
As dark knights lose health, their other abilities increase. This will be represented by a passive move tentatively called Adversity. I don’t want this move to be a flat copy of the Barbarian’s A Good Day to Die move, taking +1 ongoing as long as the character only has 3, 2, or 1 HP left. Instead, I’m thinking of the dark knight taking +1 forward each time they suffer a certain amount of damage. My gut instinct is to do a percentage, since not every dark knight will have the same amount of health, but at the same time calculating percentages and having to round decimals doesn’t exactly feel like a Dungeon World sort of thing to do. I think 5 damage might be a good flat number for this – this means that enemy attacks will frequently activate Adversity while using Sacrifice will likely not, meaning that the character won’t be able to just stack +1 forward constantly.
To increase the survivability of the dark knight, (s)he needs a way to heal. Of course, dark knights aren’t going to stay healthy by using holy spells – that just doesn’t fit the character. Instead, they’ll have to steal health back. This move will likely be called Drain Blade, and it’s a move that I still haven’t worked the kinks out of yet. The ability to steal health from enemies, if not well-balanced, will either be totally useless (and thus the dark knight will still die all the time) or completely broken (dark knights will never die even with their pain-based abilities). I also have to consider how broken it would be on other classes using the Multiclass abilities. What I do know for sure is that I want this ability to be based on a CON roll, which means it isn’t guaranteed that the dark knight will heal every time. I don’t want it to replace hack and slash, either, so there needs to be a specific context to activate the ability.
Finally, what happens if the dark knight’s strategy doesn’t pan out and (s)he dies? That’s where See You in Hell comes in. This move activates when the dark knight (inevitably) takes his/her Last Breath in the heat of battle, allowing him/her to deal a ton of damage to his/her enemies and potentially bring them down as his/her final act. Because dark knights will likely face death a lot, I’m thinking of adding a dimension to this move where the character gets forward to Last Breath based on how many enemies are killed along with him/her. Because the dark knight strategy involves sitting on the edge of Death so often, it seems unfair to make the class without some kind of advantage when dying. Otherwise, no one will play as this class for longer than a few sessions.

Now I’m not done designing either of these classes yet, but I intend to be by Friday. Why am I telling you that? Because Friday is the day that I post exclusive tabletop content on Facebook! Now if the technological limitations of that particular social media site don’t prevent me, my plan is to post these finished classes on the Adventure Rules Facebook page so that you all can enjoy playing as them. Why make homebrew content if other players don’t get to enjoy it, right? If it works out and there are plenty of adventurers who like having access to these special classes, then in the future I might design some more, or post ones that I designed for my players. It’ll all depend on how well Friday goes. So if you’d like to play as The Mentor or The Dark Knight and you aren’t a Facebook follower yet, you might want to head to the Adventure Rules Facebook pageĀ here.

I hope you all enjoyed having some Sunday tabletop content, and that you’re excited to see these classes completed on Friday!

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