My lunchtime work group mentioned in yesterday’s session that some of the Basic Moves seem pretty powerful (Discern…

My lunchtime work group mentioned in yesterday’s session that some of the Basic Moves seem pretty powerful (Discern…

My lunchtime work group mentioned in yesterday’s session that some of the Basic Moves seem pretty powerful (Discern Realities, for one). They seem to have latched on to the fact that it makes me tell them something true.

They went on to ask why they wouldn’t just use that move all the time. I responded that they certainly could, but BAD THINGS (Hard moves comin’ up!) would happen if they used it too much.

Does this mean that I’m starting to GM the Dungeon World way?

64 thoughts on “My lunchtime work group mentioned in yesterday’s session that some of the Basic Moves seem pretty powerful (Discern…”

  1. Yeah. “What’s to stop you from spending all your time lost in thought recalling bits of lore, or carefully and meticulously studying your surroundings? I don’t know, try it and find out what happens!”

  2. By “bad things would happen if they used it too much”, are you just talking about the natural probabilistic fact that making lots of rolls results in 6- results sometimes, or are you saying that you would start to use your discretion as GM to pick harder moves if you felt they were “overusing” certain player moves?

  3. “Fill the characters’ lives with adventure.” I mean, some spout lore here and there is fine, but if they really do just sit there and do nothing but, your agenda totally says to do something that shakes things up.

  4. “I would use my discretion as GM to pick harder moves”: That doesn’t seem very DW to me, my take on move selection is that it’s supposed to follow the fiction, not be used to “punish” players. You say they’ve latched onto the fact that it “makes me tell them something true”. Are you holding back on telling them true things in your normal descriptions?

  5. Vasiliy Shapovalov I definitely don’t want to punish them. I’m wanting to keep the story flowing. I basically don’t want them to bog down into analysis paralysis.

  6. How Discern Realities can possibly detriment fiction? That’s just a move to pile up more awesome fiction on top of what they know!

    I can see it becoming boring if overused and you’ve burned out your imagination, it happened to me. But fiction-breaking? No way.

  7. Maybe semantics, but giving them “bad” results because you don’t like the way they are playing reads like “punishment” to me…

    But the way you’re framing things makes me suspect there may be something else going on. The benefits of Spout Lore and Discern Realities aren’t usually that great, and the risk of a 6- result is just as big as it is for a Hack & Slash or whatever action-oriented thing you’d rather they be doing, no?

  8. Dan Maruschak A 6-result on a Discern Realities is a very different thing than on a Hack & Slash.

    A 6-result on a Discern Realities means they can only ask one question, but it doesn’t prevent them from using it again. A 6-result on a Hack & Slash gives me a chance to use up resources, cause something else to happen, etc.

    Very different.

  9. My advice would be, as I hinted above, don’t punish them for making these moves, but if the logical consequences of them spending all their time studying and thinking about things rather than acting is that bad stuff gets a chance to develop, especially if you WARN them about that, then following through with the consequences of that bad stuff is totally kosher in my book. Throw them in a time-sensitive dungeon! A volcano on the verge of erupting, a desert vault filling with sand because they opened the door, a cult’s stronghold echoing with the chanting of their great demon-summoning ritual. Warn them that if they dawdle you’re gonna advance the Grim Portents like woah.

  10. I haven’t given much thought to the Grim Portents yet, as I didn’t want to invest too much until I saw they were going to buy in.

    In this particular example, several goblins escaped from them and are in the process of gathering reinforcements, so I have a (metaphorical) timer running.

  11. Jeremy Morgan Now I get your problem. There are two tricks that you can try, separately or both.

    First, try to talk to your players about that. DW is “play to find out” rather than “manage resources to win” – tell them that.

    Second, tell them truth, and enough truth from the start of the scene, so that there is no way to trigger “discern” without some serious commitment to it, like looking under every rock or scouting or something. That way you won’t feel like gameplay is slowing.

    UPD: oh, you’ve misread the move, that must explain the problem. Those tricks can still be useful.

  12. Of course all the moves are not made but TRIGGERED. If they want to trigger Discern Realities they should be doing something: putting their ear to that suspicious door, walking around the chieftan’s room looking through his stuff, tapping the floor with a pole. If the door is trapped, the Chieftan comes back or the floor happens to trigger a deadfall then something will happen.

    If someone Spouts lore, they are at the very least speaking and perhaps lost in thought for a moment, in a hostile dungeon.

  13. Tim Noyce You’ve hit on something I need to do a better job of.

    “What are you doing?”

    “I Discern Realities.”

    “No, what are you doing? Then we’ll decide what move it is.”

  14. Yes! Definitely. “Discern Realities” isn’t a thing players do. “When you closely study a situation or person” is a thing players do.

  15. “No, what are you doing? Then we’ll decide what move it is.”

    Try to reframe your approach here. Instead of saying “No”, say “OK, but tell me how you’re doing that so I can visualize what’s going on”. You don’t want to risk slipping into an adversarial “you have to say enough words before I give you permission to roll the dice!” mindset. It’s perfectly acceptable for a player to start by saying what move they’re doing in mechanical terms.

  16. Dan Maruschak It’s acceptable, sure, but this particular group of players is not experienced at RPGs (a fact I forgot to mention in this thread). I don’t want them to fall into that particular trap of using the character sheet as a crutch.

  17. It’s not a “crutch” or a “trap”. It’s part of the game. In AW-derived games both the mechanics and fiction of a move matter. Neither is privileged over the other. From a *W games’ perspective, never talking about the mechanical part of play is just as broken as never talking about the fiction.

  18. Good thing I read to the end cuz I was about to say the same thing as Tim.

    “Moves aren’t made, they’re triggered” is one of the the most important (and difficult, from a gamer habit perspective) things to learn about *W.

  19. The question you ask is “great, how are you doing that? ” and you always say what the consequences are “you will have to poke your head above the parapet to see what is going on, you’ll be exposed to the Goblin bowmen” 

  20. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure I buy the “moves aren’t made, they’re triggered” phrase as one that’s helpful in understanding the AW architecture. Page 12 in Apocalypse World says pretty clearly that the fiction and mechanics of a move are a package deal. It’s not clear to me why it would be wrong to think in terms of “making” them.

  21. Not sure what you mean Dan. Every move has a “when you roll…” trigger. You don’t get to roll just by saying “I want to make this move”. You roll when you say words that the GM recognizes as hitting the trigger for the move.

  22. Ralph, do you have the AW text handy? Your explanation doesn’t read like a restatement of the page 12 rules to me. I don’t disagree that all the moves have “fictional triggers” associated with them. You “get to roll” when you make the move. “Making the move” involves both doing the thing that matches the fictional trigger and doing the mechanical thing of rolling the dice against the appropriate snippet of procedures. Saying “I’m Going Aggro, I walk straight toward the door with my gun pointed right at his forehead” and “I walk straight toward the door with my gun pointed right at his forehead, that’s Going Aggro” are equivalent in game. Saying “Player: I walk straight toward the door with my gun pointed right at his forehead. GM: That’s Going Aggro? Player: Yeah” and “Player: I Go Aggro. GM: Cool, how? Player: I walk straight at the door with my gun pointed right at his forehead.” are also equivalent. At least according to the way I read page 12.

  23. All the moves, even Spout Lore, have actions assigned to them.  When a player says “I spout some lore about this ogre” you say “what are you doing?  where is that knowledge coming from?” and they need to respond before the roll is made.

    Sure, everyone can Discern Realities, but you need to know whether it’s just standing there taking a good long look around or touching stuff or whatever – it’ll dictate how you answer and what answers they can get out of you.  A blind man can Discern Realities about a room just as well as a sighted one, but the kind of information they get will be very different.

    Also, any 6- is a golden opportunity to do anything you like, so long as it makes sense in the fiction.

    GM: You’re running down the corridor, the walls crumbling around you.  The castle is coming down!  You come to a hallway – one way left, one way right.  What do you do?

    Cassius: I stop, taking a long look down each hallway, trying to remember which way we came from.

    GM: Sounds like you’re trying to Discern Reality there.  Except, you know, rocks and stuff are falling on you.  Are you ignoring that?

    Cassius: I don’t want to take a bad turn, yeah, I still stop.

    GM: Defy Danger with your Con, you big lug.


    GM: Okay, NOW you can roll to Discern Realities.


    GM: Looks like you can’t remember a thing, you poor goon.  It’s also dark and smokey down here and what’s that I hear?  Is that the Ogre you left behind coming barreling down the tunnel towards you?  WHAT DO YOU DO?!

  24. Dan Maruschak I understand what you just said. I don’t understand how that means you’re disagreeing with what I said. Perhaps you are interpreting “move” more broadly than I?

    One of the challenges of introducing *W games is when people fall into the habit of treating moves like skill / proficiency checks. Like “I’m gonna hide in shadows made it, now I’m hiding in shadows” or “make a perception check”. Moves aren’t made…like that.

    That said, while all the variations in your list are legal, and I’ve done …probably all of them…I actually think the best way is:

    Player: “I walk straight toward the door gun pointed at his forehead”

    GM: Roll “Go Aggro”

    This is slightly different than the similar variant you wrote because here the GM isn’t asking for confirmation…IMO it doesn’t matter whether the player intended to trigger “go Aggro” what matters is that the fiction they described did…in the GM’s opinion.

    This distinction, I think, is the heart of “to do it, do it, and if you do it, you do it.” There’s no “and if you do it…but don’t want to do it you can say it but not have to roll for it” option. You said words…the words hit a move trigger…now you roll and take the consequences.

    “Talk until the GM let’s you know you triggered a move” is not the only way to go…but I think its a good target to shoot for…even if you don’t always hit it. It’s a good thing to practice.

  25. You don’t make a move because you are not selecting it, the move flows from the fiction, it is triggered by the characters actions, but just as it is said in the book, when a trigger happens, then the rest of the move must as well.

  26. You can make moves by selecting them, too.  You can say “it is my intent to trigger Hack & Slash” and the GM will say “how do you do that?” and you’ll discuss the fictional ways you might be able to trigger the move in the current situation.

  27. I am kind of strict on this one. If we go to the text on p12 AW (and DW is free to do things differently, but I do not see that it does) it says that the GM gets to make the call that the fiction triggers a move. The player is NOT allowed to do something in the fiction that triggers a move without rolling the move. Conversely if you want to make the move you have to provide the appropriate fiction – you need both.

  28. Yep.

    1) player describes an action that triggers a move. Roll dice.

    2) player wants to make a move. The game requires fictional trigger. Discussion leads to action. Roll dice.

    3) player describes action that triggers a move, but doesn’t want to roll. Discussion leads to changing the action and maybe a different move, maybe none at all.

  29. Ralph, you’re allowed to personally prefer that if you want, but the text of AW on page 12 says that the first two I listed are the intended way to play and the second two are examples of small-but-recoverable deviations from the intended way to play. At least the way I read it. I’m not sure if we disagree or not, I’m interpreting “move” the way AW does (at least I think I am).

  30. DW p15 “It’s a conversation between the players and the GM—the GM tells the players what they see and hear in the world around them and the players say what their characters are thinking, feeling, and doing. Sometimes those descriptions will trigger a move—something that’ll cause everyone to stop and say “time to roll the dice to see what happens.”

  31. Yeah, I’m not a fan of Adam’s #3 at all. That seems weak sauce to me. Maybe if necessary to ease in a new player. But not for someone whose played and knows what’s what.

  32. Actually Ralph I think that what Adam is saying in #3 is the AW principle “if you do it, you do it”. If the player is not prepared to make the move they triggered they don’t get the fiction either. It does happen and that is when you need to provide guidance as a GM.

  33. Ralph Mazza it’s actually how the game works.  It’s a conversation.  Saying your character is doing something doesn’t set it in stone.  It’s just part of that conversation.  An example;

    Avon: “I stab the orc with my sword.”

    GM: “Well, he’s ready for you, and he’s fighting back!  Roll your hack and slash.”

    Avon: “No, dude, I just stab him.”

    GM: “Attacking an enemy in melee triggers a move.  If that’s not what you want to do, you’ll have to try a different way.”

    Shank: “How about I help out?  I’m going to jump up and down, screaming at the orc, trying to get his attention so Avon can stick it to him.”

    Avon: “That sounds more like it!”

    GM: “Okay, Avon, you roll Defy Danger (the orc’s attention span is the danger) and Shank, you help.”

    The game reached the intent the player was making without a) anyone being an asshole about it and b) breaking the rules.  Adjustment and adjudication is everyone’s responsibility.  The simmering rules lie bubbling in wait under the surface of the narrative, only to erupt into action when the game is ready.  You know?

    Tim Noyce that’s definitely a part of it.  It’s the whole “If you don’t want to take the risk, you can have the rewards.” thing.  No trying to evade the mechanisms!  They’re your friends, stop hiding from them!

  34. I get that, and I get that sometimes you need to be flexible to do it that way. But I think the game works best when that’s the exception as needed and not the standard. I like the pacing to be more tense and less optimized Sorcerer “Free and Clear”

  35. Ralph Mazza I’m not sure I see the alternative.  When someone says their character is doing something that triggers a move, even when that was not their clear intent, the move happens regardless and they should have been more careful in how they described what they were doing?

  36. Do you find that frequently happens with experienced players? I mean are there really veteran *W folk who say “I stab them” or “I threaten them with a gun” and then are surprised that that’s a move?

    Edited to add: but yes an element of “a card laid is a card played” is a good thing, I think. In the same way that the pressure of timed moves in Space Hulk leads to the occassional “oh fuck…I didn’t mean to…” moments, having play move on Bam Bam Bam, and then”fuck…i.guess I actually shot him…oops” is often much more imtense than “umm…no…wait…let me think about that again”

  37. Ralph Mazza context is everything in *W games.  Sometimes “I stab him” is a move.  Sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes “I stab him” is seizing by force but other times it’s just killing somebody. 

    Sometimes, to succeed, you have to set up a situation where you don’t have to make a move – your outcome is assured.

  38. Picking a move than going for the fiction works, but the game will flow a lot better when they come to the Gm with the fiction they want instead of just a move in mind.

    I always make it clear what is going to happen after the described actions, rolls or not. I had a PC surrender himself and be sword to the neck last sessions, a misunderstanding around the discussion with the NPC was leading a party member to ayyac them, meaning throat slit, no rolls. We cleared it up and nobody died, at least not there and then.

  39. Right…but that’s the MCs call.

    If the MC is playing by the principles and not adversarially than its the MC who decides if the guy just dies. Look at NPCs through crosshairs be a fan of the players = sometimes he’s just dead. But other times “I stab him” = silver platter and you just bring the Hard Move without a roll. And other times you opened with a soft move and “I stab him” is the response and you go to a roll.

    But that’s the MCs call

    Stopping to debate context with the player is I think taking the “conversation” thing too far. The player shouldn’t be all “oh I thought you’d just let me kill him out right…if I’d known you’d make me roll I’d have done it differently”…that’s weak.

    As I said, maybe baby steps for a new player but anyone else…suck it up and deal. Maybe you want a different aesthetic for DW…but in AW “tough shit” is a thematically appropriate response.

  40. Indeed, MC’s call tied up with a sense for when people are not on the same page before they described an action, most problems come from there, avoiding rolls is something they must make a real effort to achieve for me, though in my case of sword to the throat, the player willingly surrendered himself, and I cleared it with him that he understood they were armed and could just run him through, he went with it.

  41. “Tough shit” is definitely not on the agenda.  This isn’t to say you’re encouraged to be soft on the players, as a GM.  Stick to your prep, to the fiction and to the consequences of the actions of the characters – not just the statements of the players. The game is about being a fan of the characters and about having a conversation to create fiction that fits the understanding of everyone involved.  

    Hammering someone who didn’t mean to make a move just because they weren’t sure if they were triggering it or not isn’t really in the spirit of the rules of any game I’ve ever played.  The point is that sometimes players have a characters intent in mind but describe the action incorrectly.  Just as the GM is allowed to make mistakes and correct themselves, the player should be as well.

    “oh I thought you’d just let me kill him out right…if I’d known you’d make me roll I’d have done it differently” isn’t a fair argument, you’re right, but the moves have solid triggers and if the GM says “doing that will trigger a hack and slash” the player is well within their rights to say “oh, I don’t think I want to actually enter combat exactly, what I am trying to do is…” and then the conversation continues.

    Once the player has agreed that the move is what they had intended and the dice are rolled, there’s no going back.

  42. Raoni Monteiro “Picking a move than going for the fiction works, but the game will flow a lot better when they come to the Gm with the fiction they want instead of just a move in mind.”

    That’s absolutely true, and the intended flow of the game, but sometimes a player will want to do something and, based on the fiction at hand, not know how to get there from here.

    GM: You see a ghostly apparition floating before you.

    Player: I want to attack it!

    GM: You do, swinging your sword through it.

    Player: What about hack and slash?

    GM: Oh, no, you’re not actually harming it.

    Player: I want to, though.  What can I do to Hack and Slash this ghost?

    GM: I don’t know, does anyone know about ghosts?  Anyone have any special training or knowledge to call on?  

    Play continues.

  43. Raoni Monteiro absolutely. And that’s actually the hardest part for me in *w games. I’ve long held the position that the scene that played out in your head is often very different than the scene that played out in my head except for those points where mechanics force them to converge. So not being on the same page is definitely more of a thing in *W games that rely so heavily on fictional positioning than in most games I play.

    So yeah…if you have to rewind for fictional disconnect that falls into the “sometimes its necessary but ideally no” category.

    But then that’s where all those “how do you do that” “what’s that look like” questions come in.

  44. Adam Koebel I’m not sure where you’re actually disagreeing with me. I said you can do it when necessary but its weak and not ideal…and all of your counter examples are example of times when it was necessary but weak and not ideal.

    Also where you say “Hammer” and Dan says “Punish”…I’m not saying either of those. I’m saying…”holy shit you stepped in it now, shits about to get real.” Cuz that’s when the game gets awesome.

  45. Ralph, I think AW is written to emphasize how the decision is made and not who has authority to make the decision because it wants people to buy into the idea that “the fiction” leads ineluctably toward certain outcomes. Getting the group to harmonize around “this move is happening at this time” is a technique the game’s design uses to routinely resynch the entire group to get on the same page. I don’t think it’s accurate to say it’s the MC’s “call” because I don’t think AW wants people thinking in those terms. In any corner case where that hypothetical authority would be invoked I think AW would be telling you to have a clarifying conversation rather than use it. The potential conversation to sharpen up whether or not a move is happening is the process by which the scenes in different people’s heads are forced to converge if they don’t already. The fictional triggers in AW moves aren’t about convincing one person to decide whether a mechanical procedure should be invoked, they’re about getting the group to agree about what the current game-state is, both fictionally and mechanically.

  46. Adam Koebel Yeah, those are exactly the kind of things that show to them that a move has to happen in fiction, unlike D&D they don’t wield +1 swords and take for granted having the optimal armor for the level compatible CR monsters. Here they have to evaluate and think well before they engage, for it may become a point of no return.

    In DW these kind of things thrive on showing signs of an approaching threat, meaning they will have more than one chance to be on the same page right there and then, though a surprise with a danger they cannot face right at the time is also an interesting choice.

    Ralph Mazza Being on the same page has always been important to me, DW reinforces that and I believe part of the fun and flow of the game comes from the fact that everyone needs to be but also has reason to be engaged at all times, there is downtime for a player, even in combat.

    Dan Maruschak hits the nail right on the head for me, this is also a learned ability to everyone on the group, with only 2 sessions I can already see that the player are more concerned with how they want to act than what their sheets tell them they can do, they do try to make those choices in their sheet come to play, but they frame it more towards the idea that the moves are their characters abilities and a character tends to act inside his particular set of skills.

    Regarding the OP, Jeremy Morgan I consider all moves powerful, discern realities and parley can be extremely powerful if well used, but being a fan of the PCs makes those well thought triggers a joy for the entire group. What you may need to imprint upon the party is a sense of urgency, when they have goals they can take a long time to prepare unless they are shown there is danger to waiting, then they will act faster and think when it is necessary or have time to spare.

    Most games in D&D that I have played and GMed benefited from a sense of urgency to keep things flowing well instead of the 5 minute work day, where all spells and resources are used in a single encounter and they are up to rest again, for example.

  47. Ralph Mazza I think that any time something happens in the narrative that was unintended (not unexpected) and somehow the players are forced to stick with it anyway, it’s less than ideal.  An extra few seconds to suss out intent can make or break gameplay and fun.

    Though, if the social contract that develops is one of “you are all familiar with the rules, so let’s hit this game and hit it hard” then by all means.

    I guess what I’m saying is that the core tone of the game, the way it is written in the book, isn’t that.

    That said, according the Advanced Delving, tonal changes like that are easy.  Just add “Keep things tense” and “Don’t look back” to the Agenda and Principles of the GM and you’re ready to roll.

  48. Wow, what a monster discussion thread and I think most of it is in violent agreement. I think Mr Lumpley makes it quite clear on p12 of AW: 

    “In order for it to be a move and for the player to roll dice, the  character has to do something that counts as that move; and whenever the character does something that counts as a move, it’s the move and the player rolls dice.

    Usually it’s unambiguous: “dammit, I guess I crawl out there. I try to keep my head down. I’m doing it under fire?” “Yep.” But there are two ways they sometimes don’t line up, and it’s your job as MC to deal with them.

    First is when a player says only that her character makes a move,

    without having her character actually take any such action. For

    instance: “I go aggro on him.” Your answer then should be “cool,

    what do you do?” “I seize the radio by force.” “Cool, what do you

    do?” “I try to seduce him.” “Cool, what do you do?”

    Second is when a player has her character take action that

    counts as a move, but doesn’t realize it, or doesn’t intend it to be

    a move. For instance: “I shove him out of my way.” Your answer

    then should be “cool, you’re going aggro?” “I pout. ‘Well if you

    really don’t like me…’” “Cool, you’re trying to manipulate him?”

    “I squeeze way back between the tractor and the wall so they

    don’t see me.” “Cool, you’re acting under fire?”

    You don’t ask in order to give the player a chance to decline to

    roll, you ask in order to give the player a chance to revise her

    character’s action if she really didn’t mean to make the move.

    “Cool, you’re going aggro?” Legit: “oh! No, no, if he’s really

    blocking the door, whatever, I’ll go the other way.” Not legit:

    “well no, I’m just shoving him out of my way, I don’t want to roll

    for it.” The rule for moves is if you do it, you do it, so make with

    the dice.

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