So every time I see a custom move pop up, or think about them at all, it occurs to me that really they’re just…

So every time I see a custom move pop up, or think about them at all, it occurs to me that really they’re just…

So every time I see a custom move pop up, or think about them at all, it occurs to me that really they’re just ability checks. Its functionally exactly like what we used to do when we played D&D and AD&D. Now I have no idea if that was in the rules or not, I assume so, but it very well may have been a drift. But they were important and drove play. And custom moves are just formalized ability checks. And that’s cool.

21 thoughts on “So every time I see a custom move pop up, or think about them at all, it occurs to me that really they’re just…”

  1. From the Moldvay Basic rulebook (1980), page B60:

    “There’s always a chance.” The DM may want to base a character’s chance of doing something on his or her ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, and so forth). To perform a difficult task (such as climbing up a rope or thinking of a forgotten clue), the player should roll the ability score or less on 1d20. The DM may give a bonus or penalty to the roll, depending on the difficulty of the action (-4 for a simple task to +4 for a difficult one). A roll of 1 should always succeed, and a roll of 20 should always fail.

  2. On my way to make myself the most annoying person you’ll ever meet!

    geez, what that has to do with moves?

    – there isn’t always a chance when doing things in DW. Some things trigger moves, some just can’t be done because they don’t fit the established tone and style of the current game, and everything else can be done without rolling; what action falls in what category is (again) established by the tone and style of the fiction (so mainly by the players and their wishes);

    – it’s not the GM who decides on which score you roll for moves (with the exception of Defy Danger obviously);

    – it’s not for the GM to arbitrarily decide when something is a move and when is not (that is, if you try to attack a dragon and the gm tells you it’s not hack’n’slash because its scales are too hard, it means that it’s a previously established fact the player should know about, not just the gm doing what he wants);

    – there are neither bonuses nor penalties to rolls representing difficulty because rolls aren’t about the difficulty of doing an action;

    – the is no such thing as the automatic failure on a miss (you could succeed because the move made by the gm has nothing to do with succeeding or not in your action);

    – there is no “either succeed or fail” as the result of a roll; player moves themselves just send the fiction in unexpected directions, they’re not about succeeding or failing, they’re about adding things to the fiction. Hack’n’slash is not about “did I hit the monster?”, is about “while I smash the monster, do I suffer some consequences?”

    I don’t want to be polemic but really I don’t see any connection beside the fact that ability scores are intentionally the same and you roll some dice on them. The closest thing to a skill checks there is here is defy danger, except it has nothing to do with skill checks because it does completely different things for completely different reasons. If you rolled skill checks like moves in DW that just means you were decades ahead of every other gamer! Also, if thinking of DW moves like skill checks helps you play better the game, by all means go on. More over, at the end, I’m not saying how you should play. If you want to play DW with those skill checks, fine by me!

  3. there isn’t always a chance when doing things in DW

    I think you’re not reading Moldvay charitably. You can’t make a strength check to move a mountain. While it is true that Basic D&D does not have language about rules following the fiction, the principle is implicit (it was 1980 after all, and the language didn’t really exist).

  4. lol!

    No, but I’m talking about, for example, like in a recent thread, about “should the fighter be capable of climbing sheer surfaces in a full plate? ‘Cause in D&D you just put a very high difficulty and that’s all.”

    In DW, the fighter either can climb it or not (or maybe, it’s defy danger, who knows?). And the decision is made pondering on the established tone, style and atmosphere of the game.

  5. Not annoying at all Alessandro Gianni! Interestingly enough, I agree with most of what you said I think. But it’s still, at its heart, an ability check to me. And no, I don’t plan to do ability checks in the traditional sense. I’m talking specifically about pretty much every custom move that gets discussed. And every one that might get created in the moment at the table.

    The whole process of creating a custom move is very similar to calling for an ability check in the traditional sense. It has always been about the player achieving what they set out to do with the fiction and giving a touchstone for how complicated the fallout may be.

    The main difference is that we now know that status quo results are boring. The overall mechanic of the World games aims at overcoming that and Custom Moves influence the traditional ability check in the same way. But the overall goal of the Custom Move is pretty much identical to the goal of the ability check. Did you influence the fiction in the way you wanted to do it. And we’re gonna base that off of the ability that would most likely apply.

  6. Alessandro Gianni, I think we would have handled the wall climbing stuff exactly the same way in D&D as we would in DW. First is it plausible. Yes or no. If so, sure in D&D we’d do an ability check. Maybe we’d defy danger in DW or maybe not. My point though is, IF you go forward and create a Custom Move for handling that…you essentially just created a DW ability check.

  7. D&D didn’t have formal difficulties until 3E (though situational modifiers were sometimes used to similar effect). Ability checks work close (in practice) to what you wrote above: a fighter can either obviously climb something, or it’s impossible, or maybe they need to make a dex check. The decision is also made pondering on the established tone, style and atmosphere of the game (including past precedents set in play).

    There are some differences. For example, DW has a very rich range of potential success: failure with XP, partial success with consequences, or full success. That is (the main way) how roll+STR is different than “make a strength check.” (There are a few other subtle differences regarding narrative control too, but I definitely see the connection the original poster was making.)

  8. And that’s all I really meant, not that they’re clones of traditional ability checks but that they were DW equivalent of such. And they are born from the same motivation within the fiction.

  9. I kind of disagree with this. Because generally speaking D&D has 2 states: Succeed and fail. There is nothing in the middle. If you miss your roll you failed what you were trying to do. In later editions you might get some hints but still fail.

    In DW there are 3 states: Succeed flawlessly, Succeed with some complications, DM makes something up. Neither of those 3 are failing. It allows you to come up with original consequences for a move outside of “you fail to pick the lock”. It in fact ENCOURAGES you to make up new stuff that exists and only exists because the player rolled 6-.

    Is it an ability check? Yes in the strictness sense of the definition this is an ability check. You try to do something and you make a roll to see how you do. But I think the differences in the way the result of the skill check is handled is what makes DW custom moves have so much more potential.

  10. In D&D, if the fighter wants to climb a sheer surface and that calls for a skill check, fine; you either climb the surface, or you find yourself unable to do it. In DW, if a fighter climbs a sheer surface and that calls for a custom move but misses, the gm can very well tell the fighter how fast and steady his climb is, only to discover that there was a hidden orc on the top who smashes a very big club on the fighter’s head as soon as he’s arrived.

  11. Completely agree with you Alessandro Gianni and Rami Finkelshtein. I’m not communicating very clearly I think. Ill see if I can figure out a better way of saying what I’m saying and revisit this maybe.

  12. I’d say it in another way: they are different because they serve different purposes. In D&D, you need skill checks like those to create the atmosphere of a survival and adventurous exploration game where even the most skilled warriors can die horribly while the pettiest peasants can get away alive and with the treasure. DW is clearly about different things, so that calls for different ways for the players (including the gm) to add their own things to the story.

  13. I had always felt like custom moves were largely a way of creating specific outcomes for defy danger ahead of time, in a way that saves you from having to come up with options for the players on the fly.

    But, I’ve played maybe a couple dozen times without ever using one, especially as more than half the time we play one shots generating the setting as part of the game.  Maybe I’ll bring them up during that part next time, makes sense that they could help describe the setting.  (I’m not sure this is the same as an ability check — but maybe it is?)

  14. I agree James Myers, and I sort of lump Defy Danger in with this discussion for that very reason. Defy Danger by nature is like an impromptu Custom Move every time.

  15. I think custom moves differ in three very important aspects. First, you know the chances and possible results very early, giving you a decision landscape to manouver yourself into position to trigger or avoid triggering it. Second I think good custom moves are quite specific, thus pointing everyone’s interest to that thing in the fiction even without being triggered, just by sitting on the table. And third, some (again, the better ones) structure the post-roll discussion both in “who says what” and scope, duration and extent. That is also very far from a generic skill check and I don’t think they are comparable in their roles in the respective games. To make it more clear: I think the usual skill checks with modifiers are quick rules of thumb for some frequent situations – quite similar to Defy Danger-; but custom moves are tightening up some specific, important events in the fiction.

  16. Second I think good custom moves are quite specific, thus pointing everyone’s interest to that thing in the fiction even without being triggered, just by sitting on the table.

    +1 for Gábor’s excellent summary but +1000 for this.  Moves tell you what the character / setting / game / whatever is about.  

    Look at Monsterhearts, a sister-game to Dungeon World.  It’s about paranormal teen romance. I know nothing about paranormal teen romance, but I was still able to have fun playing Monsterhearts because the moves showed me that the game was about social maneuvers and that my character (the Angel) was all about grappling with hierarchy.

  17. Let me try it this way. Sure, the old school ability check at times was worthless and we’d ask for a check for some dumb thing that didn’t even matter. Well that’s just boring no matter how you go about it and who cares anyway? We got carried away simulation for no apparent fictional reason. Put that aside.

    But the real importance of it, was when the fiction was being pushed in a very exciting direction. We turned to the ability check when someone was getting ready to try something awesome and we wanted to know what might happen without arbitrary fiat. And because it was important, there wasn’t really a simple “you fail”. Failure solutions were built into the fiction. “You’re diving off the ledge with oil flask in hand and trying to smash it on the ogre’s head on the way down? Wow, okay, roll against your Dex? Lets see what happens!!”

    Any number of outcomes are possible there, we just lean on the roll to guide us and make the fiat decision for the table. And that’s obviously a Defy Danger in Dungeon World. And in all Custom Moves, they are created because something is exciting us in the fiction, we want fun guidance without fiat, and we want it based loosely on the inherent ability level of the performer.

    So yeah, I never meant they are exactly like ability checks of old, and certainly not the crappy mundane ones that never should have been made anyway. But the process of creating the move (or adjudicating a Defy Danger in the moment) is almost procedurally exactly what we did with ability checks. The only real difference in my mind is the baked in spectrum of results that DW creates with its die mechanic. But in all honesty, we did much the same with our ability check depending on just how awesome your roll turned out to be.

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