So recently I’ve noticed my players are being somewhat passive during fights, to the point where I feel like I have…

So recently I’ve noticed my players are being somewhat passive during fights, to the point where I feel like I have…

So recently I’ve noticed my players are being somewhat passive during fights, to the point where I feel like I have to specifically say “, what do you do,” for to act.  They seem to have much more agency outside of a combat situation.

A couple of them come from a strong Dungeons and Dragons background, so I think they’re not quite realizing the full potential of the narrative system.  Any thoughts on how I can encourage them to open up and use more creative solutions or get more active and take charge in combat?

I’m running a deadlier game, so it’s possible they’re daunted at the prospect of rolling low and suffering the consequences…

18 thoughts on “So recently I’ve noticed my players are being somewhat passive during fights, to the point where I feel like I have…”

  1. Have the monsters use some of those tactics. Have them set traps, use the terrain to their advantage, give them a changeable environment, and so on. Even kobolds can be deadly when they fight smart. Once you show them the possibilities, they’ll start to think outside the box more.

  2. Hmm. That really is a tough one. I think the problem relates to your players not necessarily realizing they are in danger and the need to act fast (and possibly not punching acid blobs). Plus, some might be a bit used to the “this is the turn order, obey it” approach most games employ.

    Maybe there’s a way to use narrative cues to pass the ball around, so to speak. Then again, that might be counter-productive as it will imply a turn order in a system without turn orders.

    I do however think, this problem might solve itself, seeing how half the party wiped. Maybe your players will try a different approach next time. (Maybe they won’t.)

    I think your safest bet is to educate your players. Failing that, maybe you can bait them into being more active by rewarding them in one way or another? Though no non-subjective, fair approach comes to my headache-ridden mind right now 🙁

  3. I only tent to narrate fights that way. I make my move and ask a character what they do. 

    Everyone just yelling what they want to do leads to confusing and rude conversations and I as the GM don’t get the chances to make enough moves at people. 

  4. I prompt specific players all the time. Show them opportunities or dangers that they’re in the best position to deal with. I find it’s a natural part of the back and forth conversation of combat and helps create fluid, interesting fights. Unless the enemies are dead or routed, each PC action leads to a reaction from the  opponents.  There are a huge number of possible reactions that might reasonably flow from the fiction, so I try to pick ones that either threaten a character I’d like to see act, or present that character an opportunity.  I figure this thinking falls solidly within, “be a fan of the characters,” with the specific choices being “show signs of an approaching threat,” “give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities,” “show a downside to their class, race, or equipment,” “offer an opportunity, with or without a cost,” or “put someone in a spot.”

  5. Thanks guys!  I feel like I’m using the GM moves at my beck and call, but that the players aren’t hooking onto them…. I’ll redouble my efforts.  Also, as Manuel Warum said, now that they got a few of themselves killed, they may realize they need to push forward tactically.

    I’ll probably also point out to them that the Basic Moves actually imply a huge range of tactics- Hack and Slash isn’t just “I hit it with my axe” but also “I wrestle it to the ground,” “I tie a rope around its waist,” and “I bullrush it off the cliff.”

    I’m surprised this time around primarily because I’ve run Dungeon World twice before, and each time was packed wall-to-wall with player action and creativity- my moves spiraled into theirs which escalated mine until everyone was bloody, mostly victorious (hard earned, of course), and grinning ear to ear.

  6. To be fair, I skimmed the VOD again, and I don’t think the problem you described originally was too prevalent. (or at least not to a degree where one should panic ;))

  7. I think there’s a deliberate mechanical reward for players using the narrative creatively, built into DW, and that’s the reward of being able to avoid rolling the dice. For example, if a player positions herself, or the monster, or even the environment, in such a way to surprise an enemy, that might avoid any number of moves, which is a really juicy carrot.

    They just do what they wanted, because they were smart about it, and that’s what the narrative dictates.

    You can encourage that sort of behavior by reminding the players what they did to earn that reward, lest they forget those rewards exist.

  8. First of all, I’m loving your roll play r&d sessions, they’re a great online resource for showing people how DW can play online. I haven’t caught up with this weekends game yet, so I’m half trepidatious and half excited to find out how the characters died.

    As for the question at hand, add details that are just begging for them to be awesome. Show them a possible avenue of action or give them props to use – a lever with an unknown purpose, a brace of barrels tied together with rope, a precious jewel just out of reach, etc.

    “The revenant completes its climb, and stands poised at the lip of the chasm. You can hear more of its friends scrabbling up the rocky wall below it. You think if you act fast, you could push it over the edge and maybe take a few of its buddies with you, What do you do?”

    Another way I love to spark creativity is that when I present a problem, I state clearly what will happen if they don’t act, so that they know the stakes.

    “The duke on the opposite balcony from yours pulls on a wall sconce, and a secret panel opens up. The gap is large, if you run around without trying to slow him down he’ll definitely get away. There’s three large, ornate chandeliers Hanging across the hall, just a little above your height, you think with a few expert swings you could make it with time to spare, what do you do?”

    “As they swarm over and around the cart full of gunpowder barrels, you realise there is a lot of goblins, far too many for even you to fight fairly. If you don’t even the odds somehow, this is going to go very badly for you. What do you do?”

    Death trap dungeon games with a high mortality rate do call for cagier players in general. Getting them to be proactive is about giving them opportunities to stack the odds in their favour.

  9. Thanks for the tips Adrian Thoen!  I’ll see if I can’t make consequences more clear.  That plus more setpiece curiosities plus a better understanding of the flexibility of the Moves… should probably do the trick. 🙂

  10. I constantly threaten my players with impending or imminent doom. React or get messed up. They are always making moves. Dont get me wrong, there is plenty of room for tactics, but sitting on the sidelines just isnt going to fly.

  11. Steven Lumpkin: It’s sort of offtopic, but it somewhat ties into the subject at hand. I briefly touched it over on reddit, but I think I will elaborate a bit more here:

    I think as a last resort measure, it would also have been an option to use the two hirelings the party picked up earlier to act as a voice of reason. Sort of expendable givers of insight (e.g. give an insightful hint and then possibly find their imminent demise later, so they don’t run around with hirelings thinking FOR them. Or in other words: “Hi! It’s me, your faithful hireling speaking. Here is a piece of helpful advice. Now let me just put on this red shirt for the rest of the dungeon. kthxbye XOXO”).

    What puzzled me a little bit during the session was the absence of hirelings contributing to the encounter. I may misremember things, but if I do recall correctly, Chana and Scratch twiddled their thumbs most of the time. Even if they don’t engage directly, they could still be a voice of reason, or someone to drop a helpful clue; and maybe even a meat shield in very dire situations. If you think the players begin to rely on them too much, or just to suit the narrative, you can also get rid of them (have them die, they quit, they run off, they fall down a black hole while screaming “run, you fools!”, …)

    I know this probably qualifies as hand-holding, which might not be something that’s suitable for a deathtrap dungeon or to your liking; but on the other hand, it might be a way to jumpstart their strategic approach and initiative.

  12. It’s a thing I’ve noticed at my table as well. You ask “What do you do?” and they  immediately look at their character sheet, looking for options. We’ve been trained for years to look to the mechanics for options. 

    I think that suggesting a set of options based in the narrative and then asking “what do you do?” might help. Basically teach by example?

    Also though, coming up with something cool to do all the time can be creatively taxing. I think some players just get fatigued or possibly are lazy. Sometimes they just want you to tell them a story about how cool they are….

  13. What is wrong with looking at the sheet for options? 

    Looking back at my GMing though this is what i do most of the times in fight. It is my go to move. Put them in a spot where they can only interact with 1 of 2 things. It keeps fights engaging and chaotic. 

  14. Tim Franzke I guess it’s shorthand for the players being in the game space instead of thinking in the fiction? Which can be problematic if the fight is getting dull as it only really has 2 “fight moves” (H&S and Volley)

  15. Well you pull then back in “so HOW do you H&S this thing? You know that you need to get past the razorleafes first right?” Starting with a move you want to make is not a problem. Also in DW i don’t feel there is so much of a game vs. fiction state as both are so closely connected to each other. 

  16. Tim Franzke Well yeah, but that’s not the players being proactive and coming up with good stuff. Not exactly a problem, but I’m not sure it’s the system firing on all pistons.

  17. My two favourite phrases for getting the players to start thinking outside the box is “you notice …” And “you think if you…” To give them give them opportunities for cool stuff.

    I play a very loose swashbuckling style of game, and I find it helps to tell the players “it’s cool to look at the sheets for inspiration on what to do next, but it’s also cool to come up with a crazy plan of action. Don’t worry about what move it is, we’ll figure that out once you tell us what you want to do.”

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