On Tim Franzke’s request, I’ve made a post about stealth in Dungeon World on my blog. Stealth is something that…

On Tim Franzke’s request, I’ve made a post about stealth in Dungeon World on my blog. Stealth is something that…

On Tim Franzke’s request, I’ve made a post about stealth in Dungeon World on my blog. Stealth is something that comes up fairly often, and it is debated relentlessly why there’s no moves that cover it.

I thought I’d drop it here.


67 thoughts on “On Tim Franzke’s request, I’ve made a post about stealth in Dungeon World on my blog. Stealth is something that…”

  1. I don’t either, but laying an ambush would be pretty much the exact thing I’m thinking of. Just like hunting deer– you set up a blind, hide, wait…. sometimes for hours…. 

  2. there certainly are situations where that works but that is that specific moment. That is the other half of the article i guess. Because sneaking is about not getting seen at that moment. And that can be enduring an uncofortable situation, thinking fast for a place to hide, jumping into the shadow before the door opens, smarttalking them etc. 

    But what of these options work depends on the situation right now, all based on fictional positioning. 

  3. I think a lot of the impulse to unnecessarily over-mechanize DW comes from people having difficulty letting go of an initiative-order turn structure and their “this calls for a roll” instincts tuned for other games. They implicitly want to treat “what do you do?” as “what move do you make?” and get puzzled when there’s no player move that corresponds to something they’d do in another game, like “make a stealth roll”.

  4. Dan Maruschak I agree, but I think it’s worth having a move when you’re actively trying to deceive someone – like if you wanted to trick them with a shell game or put on a disguise and convince them you’re someone else.

    Here’s a draft of a move like that from a hack I’m writing:


    When you attempt to do something without anyone noticing, roll+Dex. On a 7+, your targets see what you want them to see, whether that’s something besides what you did, or nothing at all. On a 7-9, pick one:

    • Someone gets suspicious.

    • You leave some evidence of what you’ve done.

  5. An excellent article. I think Kasper has managed to capture the essence of the DW conversation here.

    Yet I do agree wit Burk Diggler that a mechanical move is sometimes in order. 

    GM: The stone bridge across the chasm is wide enough for two carriages. There is a guard box on the other end, and two guards warming themselves by the fire. They do not look very alert. What do you do?

    Farley: Any shadows on the bridge?

    GM: The torches are all on the left, so if you stayed close to the wall on the left hand side there is almost uninterrupted shadow all the way across.

    Farley: I creep across the bridge, making no noise and staying in the shadow.

    GM: Roll [That stealth move that does not exist] please.

    On 9- there is ample opportunity for soft and hard GM moves. 

    Farley rolls 10+

    Farley: I reach the other side unnoticed. I  want to backstab the guard closest to me. 

    GM: He has an iron breastplate and a heavy cloak. You’ll have to grapple him first in order to get through all that with your dagger. But sure, go ahead.

  6. This is the first time I’ve wanted Adam Koebel to chime in and haven’t seen him here already…

    Actually, scratch that. Sneaking is getting out of he way.

    ” I look over the map and say “Well, there’s certainly a danger of being discovered that I think you’re defying. Sounds like Dex to me, since you’re moving carefully and silently,” so he picks up the dice and rolls. The dice show 1 and 2, plus his Dex of 2 is only 5.

    “Damn!” he says.”


    “Which stat applies depends on what action you take and your action has to trigger the move. That means you can’t defy danger from a steep and icy floor with a charming smile just so you can use Cha, since charmingly smiling at the icy floor does nothing to it.

    On the other hand, making a huge leap over the ice would be Str, placing your feet carefully would be Dex, and so on. Make the move to get the results.”

  7. Getting out of the way OR acting fast.

    Getting out of the way, for me, includes keeping out of the way, including keeping out of sight or earshot of the danger.

  8. If you want to give advice on how to run a game, then it isn’t really helpful to discard the rules in the process. That doesn’t help anyone.

    As I also said in the post though, there’s nothing wrong with house ruling your way out of it, but it just isn’t necessary, and my experience is that it works better not to for me.

    But experiences differ! Do whatever works for you 🙂

  9. Burk Diggler i do. Because i want the specific experience the game text is offering me. Otherwise i could just reintroduce disciplines, generations and frenzy back into the game because that is more fun to me. 

  10. I wanted to make a “well then i just play Dungeon World like DnD and don’t care for what the game actually is” remark but decided that the constant nitpicking on traditional DnD doesn’t help the community so i changed it to Vampire terminology. Maybe the sarcasm didn’t came through.

  11. I always defer to the GM’s interpretation, but while I agree the move probably needed a third description, those examples of Defy Danger as a catch-all with appropriate stat are the way I have tended to GM.

  12. Burk Diggler No, but this an unhelpful direction to take the discussion. I showed how I handled a situation in a game without resorting to house rules. That’s it.

    If you want to house rule your way out of it, then by all means go ahead. But the advice is next to useless if you insist on house ruling your way out of every situation where there’s no clear player move that covers it.

    So let’s get a little less philosophical and concentrate on the merits and drawbacks of my method instead of having weird pseudo-discussions on the importance of following rules.

  13. Matt Horam The only moves I’m somewhat against are those that are so specific that they must be prepared under the assumption that the players do weirdly specific things. That doesn’t ring well with “play to find out” in my opinion.

  14. and i think, when you went through the hassle of creating a specific move there then you are tempted to make it show up. Otherwise why did you do it right? So you are guiding the game to that place where it shows up. 

    I know i would. 

  15. You could make a general “Stealth” move, but if it doesn’t add anything to the game I’d leave it out. I’ve seen various incantations of these, and they all seemed a little “off” to me. Personal preference maybe, but that’s just my opinion.

  16. That’s an interesting point you are raising. At my table, I always used Defy Danger as a stealth move, because I always use “acting under fire” as a stealth move when playing AW. From what I read of your example, I would say that.

    When you don’t make the player roll to be stealthy but instead use a GM move, it can be because you think nothing interesting could come from a failure. But, for example, when you say that “If you go nearer the castle, you’ll be discovered”, what would you have done if the player said “I’m taking the risk anyway !” ? Would you have him roll to defy danger then, or just assume he’ll be spotted ?

  17. Antoine Pempie I’d ask them how they go closer without drawing attention to themselves. I’ll make a new soft move accordingly, unless they trigger a move, in which case that would be resolved first.

    When the players just choose to “take the risk”, they are essentially giving the GM a Golden Opportunity. I’d tell them this and ask if they still wanted to proceed, or if they only do this because they feel that they lack options. If the the former; hard move. If the former, I would tell them a way that they could overcome the situation from the characters’ perspective that doesn’t just hand me a golden opportunity.

  18. As for custom moves, I agree with Tim Franzke. I don’t use them that much, and I wouldn’t especially for something coming up that often. I know a lot of DM using custom moves when basic moves would have worked just fine.

  19. Kasper Brohus Allerslev it’s a brilliant article, thanks for sharing your experience!

    Focusing on the main topic of the article, I’d guess that what comes out of it is that the game provides you with everything you need to play those situations whithout the need to house rule or hack anything.

    The core of every PbtA is the conversation, we can remove everything else and still have a fully functional game if we keep the back and forth between players and gm (as it is in the example provided by Kasper).

    If the player says I want to sneak in…

    And the gm sure, roll defy danger on dex we have just killed the conversation (the example is a brutal semplification), and to fill it of content we resort to all kind of house rule and new moves because “defy danger” will soon get boring.

  20. Kasper Brohus Allerslev Ok. So let’s think another way. The player wants to get from A to B undetected. From what I understand, you’ll make soft moves and he’ll go from A to B passing by substeps A’ A” … until 1)he does something foolish then you go for a hard move 2)there is no way he can achieve this without triggering a hard move from you so he has to get back. Am I right ?

  21. Antoine Pempie I think that if we get to situation 2), then I have failed to be a fan of the character. A soft move can be an opportunity with a cost or even several. Actually, preferably several.

    It can happen, sure, but not if you strictly follow your Agenda and Principles.

    You also miss the third option: 3) Arrive at B.

  22. and there can be a situation where you dodge out of the way of an incoming guard in hte last second. But that doesn’t resolve the whole sneaking operation. It resolves that one. 

    If you want to resolve more of the sneaking or if you don’t care about it that much then just let them succeed and proceed your game at the place where they want to go. 

  23. Lenny Pacelli I don’t get why that would kill the conversation.., If there is a chance for the character to be spotted, then just announce future badness then ask again. If the player still wants to proceed, then let’s break the dice : you’re defying the danger of being spotted by the guards.


    GM : You hear voices behind the door, but they seem pretty far away. Nonetheless, whatever is inside could hear you opening the door since this an old door. What do you do ?

    Player : Hmmm, ok, I guess I’m reaching for the knob and turn it slowly then I sneak in the room.

    Roll 10+ : Ok, you’re in. The guards didn’t notice you over their argument about their card game. What do you do ?

    7-9 : you open the door slowly and sneak in. But as you enter the room, one of the guard stands up form his chair. It seems that he’s going for his patrol and strides your way. What do you do ?

    6- : you reach for the knob, but you hit something while opening the door. The dog who was asleep by the other side of the door wakes up and starts barking in your direction. What do you do ?

    What’s wrong with that ?

  24. Kasper Brohus Allerslev and Tim Franzke I agree with both of you, but I think this kind of make my point : if a failure would be interesting, break the dice. Otherwise, let the conversation going on.

  25. Oh, ok, I get it. I think you take the description of the move too literally. I think those are mere example. For those saying, “yeah, go ahead, change the rules” and that stuff, let me quote the book itself, the description of the move itself : “On the other hand, making a huge leap over the ice would be Str, placing your feet carefully would be Dex”.

    How could “placing your feet carefully” be interpreted as acting fast or getting out of the way ? And yet, this is an example from the book on how to use Defy Danger with Dex.

  26. Just a quick answear, I didn’t mean that the dice kill the conversation, but rolling dice to skip part of the conversation changes the pacing/feel of the game.

    Of course if there’s a danger or something bad might happen and you act despite of the threat we just roll to find out what happens (expecially since we probably have reached a point where the conversation could lead to an arbitrary result for one of the two sides).

    The moves when triggered give us a result that leada to more/new stuff to talk about and keep the game moving, no doubt about that.

  27. Just one other observation. Thieves and assassins sneak. Paladins and fighters can try. Rangers sneak very well but only in forests and swamps and places like that.

    Last game I played there was a Street Rat and a Ranger. The setting was an iron foundry in a city. The ranger did all the sneaking and picking locks on +dex. Which is fine on one level. But since he did not have any moves to do that and the Street Rat had, and he had exactly the same dex as the Steet Rat, I felt that that the Street Rat was cheated.

    So what I would like to advocate is that, however you handle it, respect class differences. Don’t allow a fighter the same chance of success as a thief or an assassin.

  28. But the difference is on a fictional level, not mechanical right? To get from A to B the streetrat might be able to just get there while the fighter has to deal with a soft move beforehand. 

    Also the fighter has to explain why she can pick lock. For the streetrat it is assumed she can. 

    Why does there need to be a mechanical difference when you can just make it more difficult in the fiction to get to that roll? 

  29. Lenny Pacelli I think the issue you are raising is when to zoom in or zoom out of the action. Something like “ok, so you want your character to enter the stronghold unnoticed to steal the Heart of Azurat ? Ok, roll Dex. 10 ? Ok, you’re in the vault, and you have the Heart of Azurat just in front of you” is, in my opinion, contradictory with the “be a fan of the character” principle by making it so trivial.

    But something like : “You want to go to the Market place and lose your trail while doing so. Ok, roll. 10+ ? Ok, so it takes you one hour to get there because you had to take long detours and double back several times. But you are in the Market place, and nobody is following you. What do you do ?” is ok, since zooming out of the action is sometimes necessary to have a good pacing.

  30. Tim Franzke

    I don’t really care wether or not it is a roll move or a fictional move. There is definitely a place for both. But regardless of the type of move I think one should stay true to the classes.

  31. Wynand Louw making sure no one is left out of the action is the GM’s job. What if the party didn’t have someone whose archetype would suggest that they could pick lock ? Should the party be stuck ?

    As Tim Franzke said, you can mitigate that by making harder moves on a character that is “not supposed” to be able to do that.

  32. why would they be stuck? they could blast the door, kick it down, transport the chest somewhere else to be openend etc. I don’t see many options where a locked door stops something. And even if that means they can’t get further. They get back to base and come back later. Always an option in Dungeon World. 

  33. The party is to bargain with the master of the thieves guild to get informations. But first, they are put to the test and have to pick the lock forged by an dwarf smith or they’ll be attacked by the entire guild, right here, right now.

  34. Sure. But that then could also be Defy Danger with fast thinking (INT) as the wizard is trying to remember how his old blind master always did it. But yeah, if one of the character can justify why they know how to do that, without contradicting another part of their background, then sure they can get to wrok on it. But don’t assume it has to be DEX then because that is what trap disarming is based on in other games. (and in the Thief trap disarm move) 

  35. Sage LaTorra This isn’t the first time we’ve had a discussion about what the individual stat “means” in Dungeon World here in the tavern.

    I think there’s an inconsistency between how Defy Danger is formulated, and how it is explained beneath.

  36. Late to the party, but I’ve finally read the post and (most of) the conversation here and IMHO there has to be a space in Defy Danger +Dex for:

     _I walk over a bed of dry leaves so that I don’t draw the gnolls’ attention_  ;

     _I pick up the golden idol without breaking the rays of light that would set up the alarm_ ;  

    or, in a non-stealth realm:

     _I walk the tight rope despite the gusts of wind_

    In short, act slowly and carefully could definitely be added to the triggers of the +Dex move.

    My two copper pieces anyway.

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