Creating 7-9 results on Defy Danger is the hardest part of GMing DW for me. I thought I’d write down some of the techniques I use to generate worse outcomes and ugly choices.
(I don’t really think about hard bargains because I’m honestly not sure how to differentiate between a hard bargain and an ugly choice.)
LOOK AT THE GM MOVES. To make a worse outcome, look at Defy Danger like this:
6- : GM makes a move
7-9: PC defies danger but GM makes a move.
10+: PC defies danger
Say Omar the Thief is running from the city guard and rolls a 7-9 with the Danger being that he’s caught. As the GM, I’m going to grant Omar his escape. But I can also:
Use a monster, danger, or location move — Omar accidentally runs into a vogue of Necrodancers and gets hit by their Fresh Curse move.
Deal damage — Omar sprains his ankle while running. (this is kind of zzzz)
Use up their resources — Omar had to drop some of his loot in order to get away.
Put them in a spot — Omar escapes pursuit….by hiding in the Rancor pit.
Separate them — Omar gets lost!
WORSE OUTCOMES CAN BE SOFTENED INTO UGLY CHOICES You can turn a worse outcome into a hard bargain by explaining the worse outcome and asking the player to choose between eating the danger or suffering the worse outcome. I think this softens the move somewhat; you’re collaborating with the player on their fate rather than just imposing it.
PUT SOMEONE ELSE IN THE CROSSHAIRS. What else is at stake at this very moment in the fiction? Is another character in a questionable position? Can they suffer the downside of the 7-9?
Say Omar has leapt aboard a panicking wooly mammoth and is trying to calm it while Sanguinus the Paladin battles orcs nearby. The Danger for Omar is that the mammoth will continue rampaging. The Worse Outcome version is that Omar calms the mammoth, but not before it has bowled over Sanguinus and made his fictional position worse.
Say Omar is creeping through the quarantine districts, looting the houses of the dead. The Danger is that he gets the plague. On a 7-9, Omar doesn’t get the plague … but he becomes a carrier of it, and his friend Bug picks it up some time later.
Say Omar is reading the Canticle of Sog-Yothoth aloud to close the Murder Gate (danger: the gate stays open) while Xeno the Wizard casts their Mirror Image spell to distract some cultists. The Dark Gate is closed and Omar’s brain isn’t melted … but the flux of freaky energy results in Xeno’s mirror image becoming a permanent, independent, reverse-alignment version of Xeno.
Sometimes I will totally cheat at this and cut away to another character just before a Defy Danger move is rolled so that the situation can develop some more facets before we start messing it up with mixed successes.
CONSIDER STAKES AT EVERY TIME SCALE I usually categorize stakes as immediate stakes, scene stakes, or campaign stakes. I group them by asking when the pain from failed stakes will come down. If it will come down right away, it’s an immediate stake. If it will come down by the end of the scene, it’s a scene stake. If it will come down sometime later, it’s a campaign stake.
For example, let’s say that Omar the Thief is jumping from rooftop to rooftop (immediate stakes) trying to escape the guard (scene stake) while also remaining anonymous (campaign stake). That’s three goals in the single action. One of these stakes must be the stated Danger of the Defy Danger.
Let’s say that the Danger is that he falls. The complications of the mixed success can be that he makes the leap and escapes, but he is clearly identified by his pursuers and his anonymity is toast. Another possibility is that he makes the leaps safely but so does his pursuit and so he has to figure out another tactic to elude them.
Alternatively, say the Danger is that he’s caught. On a mixed success, he might elude pursuit — by falling and spraining his ankle while the pursuit concentrates on the rooftops. Or he will escape, but lose his anonymity.