So…surprise in DW.

So…surprise in DW.

So…surprise in DW.  If it’s the players surprising a monster, that seems straight forward, but if it’s a monster surprising the party?  Since all DM moves come from player results, how do i adjudicate a surprise attack on the players when they are completely unaware of the threat?  If it is an attack do I just give them damage?  If it’s an ambush designed to ensnare them in a trap are they then ensnared with no resistance?  I’d love some examples of how you guys have dealt with this.  Thanks.

24 thoughts on “So…surprise in DW.”

  1. “You realize to late you’ve been set up as arrows begin whizzing past you, you have seconds to think! What do you do?”

    “Your stomach sinks as you hear a metalic clank of the gate falling! Stone grinds against stone as the walls beign to close in! What do you do?”

    “You gasp in shock and pain as your guides slides a knife in your ribs! (take 5 damage) ‘Infidels will never learn the secret of T’ssouini’s Treasure!’ he shrieks as he pulls the blade out, ready to plunge it in again! What do you do?”

    Or something like that.

  2. Well, specifically, GM moves are used “whenever everyone looks to you to see what happens.” If the party is wandering along and there is no fictional reason for them to suspect anything (in which case they may Discern Realities, if they indicate they are suspicious and looking around warily), then they’re looking to you to see what happens next. You could just deal damage from an attack or attacks to start the engagement (of course with much more interesting narration) and the players will have it flowing from there.

  3. One thing to consider is that some playbooks (for example, the Thief) have moves to counter being surprised. To me, that means surprise is well within the GM’s purview when the situation dictates. It should always follow the fiction and should evolve from something the players have done (or failed to do).

  4. A surprise attack is (mostly) the result of a GM move. Wether the result of a soft or a hard one, the damage (or other effect) simply happens, with or without a chance for the PCs to react. You don’t cherck for enemy stealth. You simply make a move, when you can, which takes the form of a surprise attack.

    that’s how I handle it in my games.

  5. All GMs moves come from you. Not only a player result makes you go for a hard move. Just ambush them if the monster has something like the stealthy tag. 

    Maybe don’t deal damage but just do something nasty to them. 

    It totally works. 

    It is like walking up to a Medusa. You don’t need the player to fail a roll before you can turn her character to stone. 

  6. Anytime you roll for any reason and get a 6- you could do it. Strolling in the garden spouting lore about the flowers? You rolled a hard move.

    Surprises can be the result of action or inaction on their part, or story, not just a die roll… For example a grim portent, or a hit man hired by an enemy, or a thief that heard about their recent success. You should have known when you flashed all that gold around…

    And if they’re in a dungeon, anything is fair game, roll or not. You knew before you went in that dungeons are dangerous, so no special warning is needed. Things jumping out of the shadows is a standard dungeon move.

  7. I would not go with a hard move right away. A surprised party (or adventurer) is in a (bad) spot (arrows coming their way, a dagger inches from their throat without a weapon in hand, attacked on both flanks, etc.), but I think that hard moves should be kept for golden opportunities and failed rolls. The hardest I would go, if it fit the fiction well, would be “offer an opportunity with a cost” (“you can dive to dodge hat blow, but leave yourself open, or dash to safety as the blow connect”).

    I would use the same guidelines with a trap, too. If a DM told me “you fall in 20 feet deep acid pit. Take 7 damage” or “as you enter the room, you fell the pain of 3 arrows shot by stealthy assassins waiting for you . Take 7 damage” without any setup would really hurt the kind of contract we both have. It’s not impossible through the fiction, but it’s telling me that the DM is going to go hard on me whenever he wants (actually whenever it fits, but in a dungeon, it would always fit, so that’s the same), without giving me any chance to react. That would feel like railroading and spoil a lot of my fun.

    Of course, if you describe a dark black alley with plenty of hidden spots and the PCs just rush in without precaution, it may be a golden opportunity. Even then, I’m not sure I would go full hard right away.

  8. It depends right? If the players heard about the lurking black batlizard in the dungeon beforehand and simply decided not to be careful when going places then you have every right. They knew about the threat and offered you a golden opportunity by not acting on that information. 

    A hard move based on players “going easy” on something now and then does not hurt the game but keeps people on their toes i think. 

    (but that also be my torchbearer influences speaking) 

  9. I have no problem using a hard move for surprise. It is fundamentally no different than telling PCs that they have the element of surprise. Attacking a monster that doesn’t know it’s coming requires no roll – just deal damage. The key is to use this sort of situation sparingly. It does not, in my mind, violate any contract because it is a special case. Now, if I used such a scenario every other session, sure, you could accuse me of being too arbitrary and heavy-handed. Each table may feel differently, but my players don’t mind.

  10. What follows suppose that the kind of game you play (and fun you have) does not revolve around PCs taking every single precaution all the time in a dungeon (you know, always walking with a 10 foot pole in front of them while throwing sand everywhere and checking every step for traps and whatnot). I personally don’t like it, so if you do, ignore what I say here and game on. 🙂

    They “simply decided not to be careful when going places then you have every right”. Well, maybe (again, I’m not sure I would go hard right away in that situation), but I think a DM should assume the PCs are minimally on their guards when in a dungeon (they keep an eye out, pay attention to sounds, that kind of things). So unless the PCs describe their actions as careless, going hard without a specific setup not taken into account and telling them “you were not looking at the ceiling/wall/floor/chasm/NPC/trees/whatever” feels like railroading. If something was up with the ceiling/wall/floor/chasm/NPC/trees/whatever, the DM should have shown sign of an approaching threat or something. 

    The idea is that as a player, I cannot take into account every possible thing that the DM could come up with (just like the opposite, actually, which is why DW is so good), so I cannot take every specific precaution. Knowing that there was a batlizard in the cave should have prompted me to learn a thing or two about it, and if I did not bring some antitoxins knowing it was highly venomous, that’s my mistake and a golden opportunity, for the DM, to use the full force of that venom if one of the PC get bitten. But knowing that there is a batlizard hiding in the dark somewhere in the cave cannot mean that it’s a golden opportunity to just deal damage and poison a PC that do not specifically and thoroughly check every corner, not anymore than knowing that there are goblins in the castle or a troll in the swamp is.

    So, back to the original question : most of the time, I would show sign of an approaching threat when surprising the PC. The situation could still be very dire (“you barely have time to notice that arrows are flung at your face fast as you hear roar behind you and some magic words spoken on the balcony above. What do you do?”), but the move would still be soft-ish. If I was feeling very nasty, I would offer an opportunity with a cost, but not harder than that (and the cost should not be lethal : choosing between getting your throat slit and the NPC they are leading to safety getting shot in the head is not fun either).

  11. Regarding this notion of a hard move with no warning at all, I would certainly not do something potentially lethal. If the monster does do and I know the character has 9 HP left I might call for 1d6, or w[2d8]. And no messy arm removals! Adjust it so it hurts, but allows a response/reprisal.

  12. Do you guys roll the monster damage or let the players?  I watched an example of online play run by Steven Lumpkin  and he had the players roll all the dice.  That may have been a limitation of the software being used, but I don’t know.

  13. Certainly the hard move should not be potentially lethal without warning in the name of general fairness, but dealing damage (like an arrow from an orc) that is damaging but not enough to kill the PC is totally fair game to me.  I can understand the other side of it, that it feels unfair to deal damage without warning or a chance to detect something, but then it depends on the off-screen setup.  In the same way that, in the real world, a sniper is well hidden and specifically scanning for targets all the time, so an orc archer should be considered to do the same, if the setup is that the area being entered by the PCs is under orc control and being defended by hidden archers.  If it is the intent of the creature to remain hidden and attack on sight, it is reasonable to assume that the PCs being on their guard does not reveal to them the position of the archer, unless someone says (when you describe the terrain as being full of heavy brush and woods, for example) that they are slowing down and scanning/searching the area for signs of traps/danger.  In that case, Discern Realities.  If a class has moves against surprise, apply that obviously.  Otherwise, though, it’s fair game and not railroading in any legitimate sense.  My two cents anyway.

  14. In answer to the last question by David Benson, it’s a matter of preference.  I roll my own, others don’t.  Just depends on how you want to handle it as a GM, I’d say.

  15. Well, maybe if it’s along the lines of what Chris McGee says, I could find it ok (as a player) that the DM made a hard move if it was crystal clear that there would be straight up hard moves in this forest.

    But the more I think about it the more I’m confident that I would not do it as a DM. I do not see how it adds to the story and the fun, but I can definitely see ways where it would subtract. Letting the PC react (by showing sign of an approaching threat or putting someone in a spot) does not mean that they will always succeed at what they try (6- or even 7-9 on defy danger could still mean damage, for example). Narratively, they are still in a very dire situation, may be hurt as much (a 6- could mean a clearly legit hard move, so maybe even more), and it let the players feel their PC is epic by having the chance to dodge a surprise thrown dagger. To me, that’s filling their lives with adventure much more then going straight to damage (or killing their hireling or breaking their shield or turning them to stone) before asking them what they do. 

    In other, more traditional system (I’m thinking D&D 3.5), a surprised PC usually still get a chance to dodge (the attacker still have to roll against his AC, the PC still get his saving throw, etc.) In DW, if the DM’s move is deal damage, that’s the end of it. Doing it without some immediate and recognizable setup, even if it does not go against the fiction, feels like bad DM fiat. 

  16. David Benson going by the book the players roll the damage they take. If they don’t want to they can ask others to roll the damage but should be ridiculed as chickens.

  17. If a monster surprises the party, bam! That’s hard move city. Deal damage, put someone in a dreadful spot, take away their stuff, split them up, whatever you choose, someone screwed up and now they’re paying the price. Dungeon world doesn’t feel dangerous unless you aren’t afraid to hit hard.

    Or is this monster extra stealthy? Is there something that makes it more badass than other monsters that fall like chaff before the adventurers?

    On a more serious note, How hard you go depends on the tone of your game, but don’t be afraid to use up those hit points, a thing only gains utility in its use, why does the fighter have so many hit points unless he uses all, or most of them? Hit points only create tension when the character is theoretically only one blow away from death. Where players have hit points, you have monsters and hazards and such, but you have infinite monsters.

  18. I had the players roll all the dice in my game tonight. I didn’t roll a single die. They loved it. They cheered when they rolled a one and cursed when they rolled high.

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