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Eric Jome
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Three brilliant moves - Defy Danger, Spout Lore, and Discern Realities

When I first learned Dungeon World, I was very excited to get involved. It has a particularly palatable to me clean and direct approach to game play. Gone are lots of layers of wargamey simulation and gamer dice rolling and you get right to the points - actions and consequences. Players do something, you find the right move, and resolve the results. There's almost no baggage, no charts, no custom rules special to grappling, no arcane supplements for weird prestige classes.

But three of the basic moves really stood out to me as particularly smart and clever in the design. So, I thought I'd share some personal musing on these three and how they mix things up in really new and interesting ways.

Defy Danger - The "every move counts" move

When we started playing, I was initially frustrated and unhappy that the only move that seemed to be available to any specialty was Defy Danger. Someone would do something - pick a lock, lift a rock, search a room, ask around town, stand guard all night in the cold - that to them and to me didn't have any "danger" in it. But it also wasn't clear they would always succeed. I wanted as the GM the chance to trigger a move based on the action not going well.

In older systems, we'd have rolled, they'd have failed, and I'd narrate some consequences they'd use to build on further decisions and choices. Here, it seemed there was a lot of extra baggage before this move applied - "act despite an imminent threat"? But there isn't one!

What was I missing? There should be one.

If I didn't see one or have one already in mind, I should think of one! This is what makes Defy Danger smart and sexy. It subtly reminds us that we can and maybe should keep the tension high frequently or obviously. For me, I had to learn to read it in reverse; instead of there being a danger and this move being the right fit, I could tell the players that if they roll this, there will be consequences. They're making the game a higher stakes situation; a bad roll will authorize moves against them.

This means that you need to be judicious applying Defy Danger. It's not an every minute of the game thing; we're throwing away the concept other games use of making lots of rolls to cause a story to gradually emerge. Instead, you need to just narrate how things turn out - they pick the lock eventually if I don't want them to Defy Danger to pick it with consequences.

Spout Lore - The "I want to GM too" move

Spout Lore... what a weird idea to me at first! I was looking at it just like a Knowledge roll in D&D. Tell me what I know about such and such, Mr. GM... but wait. There's odd baggage here. You can fail? That would be met in the Knowledge check realm with "You can't remember anything about it right now." Because those games don't instruct the GM to do other kinds of things in the context of their pass/fail systems. Here, your failure to say what you know means something bad happens to you? Really, that's just a part of making moves matter...

But what if I the GM doesn't have detailed information to share? In fact, implicit in the way the game breaks down - the player takes an action, that action is recognized as a move, and the roll is made - is backwards here. The player can't actually spout the lore if they're asking the GM to reveal things they don't already know.

But what if they just spout it?

Instead of asking "what do I know about cave goblins?" - a passive voice question - the character could state a truth - "cave goblins are known for their aversion to fire!" and then the GM can clarify or elaborate on it. A success can be met with "You've had personal experience that confirms it!" while a partial could go down like "But here, you see them with many open braziers - would beings afraid of fire have so much openly?" And a failure? Solid choices include "reveal an unwelcome truth", "use up their resources", "turn their move back on them", and so on - have you got the materials to scare them with fire? By encouraging the players to spout lore in an active voice, it can take on a whole new dimension.

Other moves the characters make change the game state. They establish things in the situation. You can use Spout Lore the same way; not a passive question, but an establishing statement.

Discern Realities - The "establisher" move

Ask the GM questions? But I don't know the answers! "What is about to happen?" Egads! I can't answer that... tell me what you're going to do and I'll tell you what's going to happen. I'm not a mind reading fortune teller you know.

"Isn't this a perception roll?" I hear you ask... um. Doesn't seem that way to me. With Perception, there is a truth and the GM knows it and the player is asking for access. Here, the player says "I search the room." we roll and they ask "What here is useful or valuable to me?" Is it really fair for me to say "Nothing?" Doesn't answering that way subvert the player?

Informed again by the idea that this move would only be used in a situation where the player was willing to risk real consequences, then it seems like you shouldn't be using this move to search a room. Well, not any old room anyway. If they're searching an inconsequential "dungeon dressing" room, you probably shouldn't be rolling. Just give them an answer.

Or make something up to make the world more interesting!

In a way, if a player is asking to Discern Realities, they're asking for something cool to be going on here. The subtext is "I think there might be a secret door here!" so they search. Which means if they ask "What here is not what it appears to be?" - you INVENT the secret door you didn't have planned!

Be reluctant to Discern Realities all the time; simple searching should just produce results. Instead, reserve Discern Realities for pivotal moments where you've got answers... or empty moments where things need kicking into gear. Because a success is going to trigger as much complication as a failure here.

Common threads - Make moves matter

After thinking hard about these different moves, I realized that they had some subtle angles that differentiated them from classic actions and skill checks. The common thread is that Dungeon World is a push your luck game of role playing. If you as the player are going to roll, it means you could fail. So make the failures count, but also recognize that going into a roll as the GM - is failure going to make the game work better here? No? Then maybe don't roll. Are you prepared for both success and failure on a roll? Then maybe it's not the right time for it either.

But encourage your players to use and see Defy Danger, Spout Lore, and Discern Realities as more than just a skill check, a Knowledge roll, or a Perception chance.
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Dave Bernazzani
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cosine wrote:
Instead, you need to just narrate how things turn out - they pick the lock eventually if I don't want them to Defy Danger to pick it with consequences.

Except that some characters have Pick Locks on their sheets. The Thief, for example.

Quote:
Tricks of the Trade
When you pick locks or pockets or disable traps, roll+DEX. ✴On a 10+, you do it, no problem. ✴On a 7–9, you still do it, but the GM will offer you two options between suspicion, danger, or cost.


So what if you want the lock to be a real lock (and not just the equivalent of a closed lid) but don't have a Thief in the party? Do you then Defy Danger? What's the danger? What if you do have a Thief but someone else wants to pick the lock?

The same thing came up for us with Bend Bars, Lift Gates. A neat homage to old-school D&D but can't anyone try to Bend Bars, Lift Gates? And what if the GM wants there to be a chance of failure but without danger? Do I just narrate if there is no Fighter but allow a roll if there is someone who has BB,LG on their sheets?

Dave
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Eric Jome
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wavemotion wrote:
Except that some characters have Pick Locks on their sheets. The Thief, for example.


I know. My examples in this are largely meant to help people understand the gist of it. Maybe that's not a great example - we all know locks are just teeming with spring loaded poison needles and heavily pregnant poison gas bladders anyway.

And here specifically I mean this; it's okay to not roll and just let things happen. It's okay to only roll when consequences are relevant... otherwise you can just say "you take 3 hours and learn a lot from that lock - like how badly you want to kill the designer."

Quote:
So what if you want the lock to be a real lock (and not just the equivalent of a closed lid) but don't have a Thief in the party?


A lock is a closed lid if you aren't Defying Danger.

Say in real life I give you a locked box and tell you to open it. You, I presume, are not a skilled safe cracker or locksmith. But, you will get it open eventually won't you? A drill. A hammer. A pry bar. You'll smash or research or trick it open sooner or later...

Because there's no danger. It's just a tightly closed lid.

Suppose I have a glass of delicious ice cold milk in that box. Now, there's some danger to be defied - clear consequences if you don't do it right and in a hurry. It could be warm or spoil. It could spill or get something in it making it unpalatable.

What is a "real" lock? It's only usually relevant in terms of causing a delay in time such that a thief will be caught before it is breached. Because breaching is inevitable if time is not an issue.

Quote:
The same thing came up for us with Bend Bars, Lift Gates.


I'm gonna go really old school on you here, but it applies both ways.

Any real old school player knows that if you're rolling dice you've already failed.

Yup. I said it. Real old school play is such a long winded conversation with the GM of establishing methods and practices such that when you say you're going to "do X" you've already covered all the ways X could go wrong and the GM is forced to consider it a trivial action...

It's only when time or circumstances don't allow you to do that that you settle for gambling with polyhedrals and the life of your beloved fictional avatar.

So, yeah. They go through an elaborate story about cutting down a tree, forming a lever and lifting the gate. No roll needed.

Or.

Yeah. They "defy danger" using STR "... by powering through" and accept that there will be consequences.

Quote:
And what if the GM wants there to be a chance of failure but without danger?


Basic core DW design seems to suggest that you should not do this. You should have consequential failure, not inconsequential failure. If there are to be no consequences, just rule it a "yes" or a "no"... although you can note that on page 163, GM Moves, there are useful failure options that imply no danger like;

"reveal an unwelcome truth" = "It's too heavy." or "It's stuck."
"show signs of an approaching threat" = "It creaks loudly going up."
"deal damage" = "You totally threw your back out on that one!"

And so on. Lifting something heavy? Always an option for danger, I guess. Like it falling on you.

EDIT: But I think you asking this question is from the same place that I was when this was messing me up too. I was looking at moves as "if conditions, then move" but I've come around to "if move, then consequences"... that's not how the rules are written, I agree. They say "player chooses action for character, find relevant move if necessary, roll and resolve" - the vital parts not outlined in the rules are;

1) When do you as, as a GM, tell the players that what they are doing is going to (or is not going to) result in a move?

2) When should you, as a GM, encourage or accept a player action as a move as opposed to other things like approving it, denying it, or asking for more information about it?
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Dave Bernazzani
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cosine wrote:
And so on. Lifting something heavy? Always an option for danger, I guess. Like it falling on you.

Yeah, that's basically when I did at first when players performed feats of strength. But I got tired of having to continually say "you pull another muscle" on the partial successes. I realize that some of those times I should have just narrated fiction but that's less gamey and more group story-tell which is not really what I want out of the game. In the end, while I really like the mechanics, it may be that the "fiction first" mentality here is what will eventually put this on the high shelf for me.

Dave
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Marshall Miller
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The Warren is a roleplaying game about intelligent rabbits trying to make the best of a world filled with hazards, predators and, worst of all, other rabbits.
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Quote:
And what if the GM wants there to be a chance of failure but without danger?

Keep asking questions and extracting more details from the situation until you arrive at an obvious result or a danger. More conversation and less rolling dice.
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Eric Jome
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wavemotion wrote:
But I got tired of having to continually say "you pull another muscle" on the partial successes.


Well, I confronted some similar feelings. I resolved it for myself through a combination of the following solutions;

1) I tried to stop rolling so much. I reframed situations where I might normally roll into invitations to talk more about how something got done - you want to lift that? How you going to do it? - If they gave a good plan, automatic success. If it seemed like a risky or dangerous plan, then maybe a roll.

2) I made a house rule for myself, which I guess I use to help dramatic effect in a lot of games - I just kept a kharmic score in mind. When they would fail too much too fast, I'd just stop invoking direct consequential moves. I'd cut them a break. And if they were winning all the time, I'd ramp up any failures they had faster next time. I guess this might be considered the DW version of "fudging".
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Dave Bernazzani
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Mease19 wrote:
More conversation and less rolling dice.

That's what I'm growing afraid of. I liked that DW seemed to include a good bit of die rolling as it seemed to show up in virtually every example they gave in the book. In fact, roughly 75% of the first 100 pages (on quick look) have some sort of dice roll or modifier to a die roll on the page - often several on the page. It's easy to get a different impression from reading the book.

Anyway, if the game takes too much dicey goodness away then I'm an unhappy camper.
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Eric Jome
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It is a rulebook. They're going to use the pages to talk about how to use the mechanics. So, yeah, lots of examples with dice.

It's another story, but I hit the same problem with this game I've mentioned on the forums a bunch already - good, deep, rich advice on how to GM the game is more important than telling me about the mechanics of skill checks.
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Dave Bernazzani
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cosine wrote:
It is a rulebook. They're going to use the pages to talk about how to use the mechanics. So, yeah, lots of examples with dice.

Fair enough. But there are other story-telling games that aren't 400 pages. Heck, even Red Box D&D was only 64 pages! Most people who play the game won't ever have read a single game related forum so they only have the book to go on. It's possible that the focus on mechanics in the book are throwing some of us off. It did in my case anyway (though I'm not the fastest on the uptake!).

I've played story-telling games like Fiasco and In a Wicked Age. Those came across as more talk, less dice. Dungeon World, while it clearly focused on the fiction, came across as lots of yummy dice in a very old-school way (modifiers, magic weapons, bonuses for classes of weapons, certain classes who could deal out more damage and others that could soak it up like meat shields, etc).

Dave
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wavemotion wrote:
But there are other story-telling games that aren't 400 pages.


I too was surprised and frankly put off by that. Especially after the Basic game.
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Enrico Catanzaro
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I think the huge number of pages is due to the conversational and a-technical style. If the Designers use a "legalese" style the relubook would be only 200 pages long or even less.

The best merit of DW is that it makes really simple the work for the GM.
In a DW game it's very easy prepare dungeons and adventures. You can ignore details, you have to concentrate only to the important things.
This cuts down time needed for preparation, and makes quick and fun any combat-encounter. During a session many more things happen.

Ok, you lose the rich details of Magic you can find elsewhere, or the hard/tactical mode of some playings, but this simpleness is what permits to people like me to play.






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The Harnish
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You should be playing Dungeon World
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The rules of the game only take up about 80 pages (less when you deduct the intro, etc). The rest of the book is taken up by the character classes, monsters, GM advice, and appendices. The original Basic D&D book was smaller, but considering it was a letter-sized book, with a tiny typeface, that isn't surprising.
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Part of the length of the book is that, yes, we're a bit chatty. Part of it is also expectations that we got from people—oddly enough, even when you can make a monster on the fly, people want hundreds of pages of them. I don't get it either.
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Whatever gets players to stop thinking they can give me blank look, roll a die, and have me tell them how knowledgeable they are is a success. That is the biggest and worst legacy of D&D 3rd.
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