Question about failing a discern realities check from a noob GM: So we’re just getting started with our first session of a PbF adventure (so there are no fronts, portents, etc. yet) and the characters are in a cave investigating the disappearance of some miners. The very first move someone makes is a druid … Continue reading “”


Question about failing a discern realities check from a noob GM:

So we’re just getting started with our first session of a PbF adventure (so there are no fronts, portents, etc. yet) and the characters are in a cave investigating the disappearance of some miners. The very first move someone makes is a druid discerning realities and she rolls a 6. I wasn’t planning on their being anything right where they were, in the mouth of the cave, but it seems like failure should mean something bad happens, instead of “you don’t find any clues”, right? I’m thinking from the discussion above that a 6- on Discern Realities is not the same as a failed Perception check in Pathfinder, for example.

Also, having rolled a 6, this means she gets 1 XP for failing at the end of the session, right? This also suggests that something problematic should spring up. I just want to make sure I’ve got it all straight!

Thanks for bearing with me if the answers are obvious – I’m not only a first time GM for DW (have GMed D&D/Pathfinder for years), but I’ve never played the game (when six of us  online wanted to play, and no one else offered to GM, I figured I’d give it a shot rather than no one getting to play). 

36 thoughts on “”

  1. Yes, “nothing happens” is not a GM move, so don’t do it! The “correct” way to do it is to make something bad happen – it could be she slips and falls down a hole while moving around to examine the cave entrance (the ground gives way under her or whatever) or she disturbs a subterranean creature with her footsteps or something just happens to happen at the same time with no obvious direct link between her actions and the thing. 

    Basically, look at the GM move list for inspiration, then make something happen – doesn’t matter what as long as it’s plausible that it could have happened right then and there.

    Also, she gets the XP immediately.

  2. What Alex said 🙂 Also, you have to be flexible with your planning. If you are adamant that there was no danger in the cave, maybe the noise attracted a wandering rust monster, or alerted the goblins, who are now preparing an ambush?

  3. Thanks! Yes, I get and very much appreciate the DW agenda of “playing to see what happens” (that is, as GM, I haven’t figured it all out), but it will take a while for it to come naturally!

  4. Yup. What Alex Norris and Eric Nieudan said. I’ll also point out two other things.

    1) Just because the Driud got a 6- on her roll doesn’t mean the GM move you make has to target her. It’s totally valid to have something happen to one of the other characters. Something particularly nasty if you’re an evil bastard like I am. 😉

    2) She doesn’t get that 1 XP at the end of the session. She gets it right then. As soon as a player rolls a 6-, they mark XP.

  5. Do folks let folks get new moves from leveling while playing as opposed to between sessions? The mark xp immediately comments prompted this. They’re not used like action or fate points, though that’s an interesting idea

  6. You don’t level up until you have downtime (at least hours and maybe even days). It’s part of the basic move for leveling up — so you can’t level up in the middle of a fight, but if there is time in a session (maybe training at sundown while other gather food and firewood?) you can get a new move during a game session.

  7. Yup. What Alfred Rudzki said. The trigger for the Level up move is “When you have downtime (hours or days) and XP equal to (or greater than) your current level+7”. Whenever those things happen, players can make the move, just like any other move.

  8. Ideas for the failed move…

    Hey! These mushrooms can cure poison! (they cause poison)

    Hey! There are old bear tracks here! The bear has obviously abandoned the cave! (missing the tracks of the ogre that ousted the bear)

    Hey! This cave is safe to rest up in! (it isn’t, the roof is precarious)

    Hey, this cave is safe to rest up in! (it isn’t, it’s the back entrance to an undermountain goblin kingdom)

  9. On Discern Realites you can still reveal some information on a 6-, but the player doesn’t get to choose the questions and of course the information is most likely an “unwelcome truth”. 

    It’s always important to remember that a 6- means “the GM tells you what happens”, not necessarily “you fail”. 

  10. Best thing I know of for this or failed investigation/perception rolls in other systems is the stuff you heard is out of some tavern rumor mill. Finding nothing is boring, so your druid finds signs of what looks like a jackalope, nosey hobbits, lost dwarves or sparkly vampires or whatever wild/wrong you think of then just let the player go with it until proven otherwise.

    A failed roll like this is just role playing wood for the fire, as long as it doesn’t derail the game or eat up too much time, go with it as they’re convinced of what they heard on ale#6.

  11. Alfred Rudzki I think it’s not that bad if the player is good with keeping what they know separate from what the character might know. Also if you begin the discern reality with ‘you recall hearing about this in a tavern’ leads them & the party on how it’s more obvious on maybe true or false or just partly true.

    Alternatively just give the basics so instead of the queens guard of country Darhammer camping here (for example) it’s just some people, maybe elves but not seeing the few icons showing specifics.

  12. If they get an answer out of Discern, it has to be honest and binding. Those are the rules.

    Also, remember the principles: be a fan of your characters, not a gotcha GM.

  13. Yeah seriously.

    Here’s the problem with “whoops the info is wrong!” gambits.

    We all know I just missed a roll, so everyone at the table knows you’re either 1) being honest and you’re going to hit me with something else bad (which is a good and valid move), or 2) you’re lying to all of us.

    In 1, cool, I know a thing now and here comes the bad. In 2, great, all you’ve done is misrepresent the fiction around me. The fiction I rely on to play the game. So, now I have to play this “where is the iocaine powder” game of did you lie to all of us? Did you not? And if you did lie — and none of us know — that’s shitty. If you did lie but we do know, and we’re now supposed to just keep playing like we don’t know… I mean: why? You could have made any hard move.

    You could have said: you think its a bear but then an ogre attacks! Or some variation on that. You could have moved the damn fiction forward but instead you decided to lie and say “oh yeah nothing is wrong here, teeheehee!” and then what? It’s back on us to respond? And what… Lay down and nap so the ceiling falls in which we all know is the obvious step if you’re lying to us and why should I lay down and get crushed? Do your job as a GM and be honest and make a real move.

  14. “If you did lie but we do know, and we’re now supposed to just keep playing like we don’t know… I mean: why?”

    Because that’s what the game’s fiction indicates is the truth?

  15. Yeah, I play from the idea of always being honest with the fiction, I used to try trickery in other games but it never worked out in a way that was anything but frustrating for the players. 

    Use failures to make your moves, never answer ‘nothing to see here’ and be prepared to add new bits to your fiction as the players make moves. That snowballing of stuff is really my favorite thing about DW. 

  16. Mark Chance that is a giant cop out. The game’s fictional truth told you to lie to me as a player? Bullshit. If the game’s fictional truth says my character made a mistake, then make a hard move. Tell me I’m wrong about the ledge being stable and then narrate the ledge falling out from under us; if I’m wrong about those banners being allies have them see us and attack.

    Don’t hide behind the fiction to lie to your players, and wait for them to say “oh I do that then” to grin like the cat that ate the canary and pull the rug out from under them.

    I’m saying: a DR miss where I’m wrong only works when you follow through and hit the logical end result. Don’t stop halfway and cackle while your players trust you and blunder the rest of the way.

  17. This isn’t the first time this discussion has come up. None of the GM moves explicitly say “lie to the players”. However, in my mind, several of them could be interpreted as “bend the truth”. Both “Reveal an unwelcome truth” and “Put someone in a spot” could be achieved fictionally by giving the character incorrect or partial information.

    Something like “The cave appears to be empty, but as you step forward a slimey, wet something drops from the ceiling behind you.” Or “What you took to be harmless stalactites suddenly sprout ropey, barbed tentacles when you’re halfway across the cavern floor.”

  18. Just read Alfred Rudzki response and I completele agree. Narrate the character acting on the incorrect information from the failed DR move. Don’t just simply lie and then wait for the players to not metagame and act on your false info.

  19. Christopher Stone-Bush: neither of those are lying or bending the truth, though!

    There’s a distinct difference between telling the players “the cave is empty” and going back on that two minutes later, and telling the players “as you investigate the cave, you realise it isn’t empty.” If you tell the players a fact about the world (the stalactites are harmless, the cave is empty) then you’re supposed to treat it as just that: something that is true.

    Basically, it’s the difference between what you actually tell them on a miss. Never, ever lie – the result of the miss is that something bad happens as a result of the character doing something in the fiction, not that the players get incorrect information. You can and absolutely should narrate a PC’s actions if it’s part of a GM move.

  20. I’m not sure how to word this or where it intersects with Dungeon World Alex Norris, but I think there is space to lie to the characters but not the players. Lying to the players is a mistake, as everyone can see that 6- roll sitting on the table plain as day.

  21. I think the fiction always needs to be the truth. If you find yourself needing a little misdirection tell your players something like “You’ve heard [x] and you’ve heard [y]” knowing that one of these is true but making them decide what to believe or follow up on.

    Once your players have to start wondering if you’re lying or not they are forever going to be questioning the fiction. Now your game slows down because before acting on the fiction they have to decide if the fiction is “good.” It’s ok to give partial or incomplete answers but when the GM speaks it needs to be the truth.

  22. Christopher Stone-Bush

    What he said. The snake eyes are staring at everybody at the table as the GM says “The cave is as safe as your granny’s house.” The players know it is hard move time. They know that it is coming. This is not lying to the players, it is playing the game in the fiction.

  23. Wynand Louw only Christopher Stone-Bush can say for sure, but I think that’s not his point at all.

    If the snake eyes are staring at us, and you say the cave is safe, and they go inside based on your info and then you hit them with wild cave orcs? No, that is not the fiction — that is you lying to the players. You just told them it was safe, to their faces.

    There is a world of difference between:

    >”It’s safe, as far as you know — but suddenly the floor gives out!”


    >”It’s safe.” Players enter based on your info “HERE COME THE DRAGONS!”

    Even if the players know you’re full of crap and lying about the cave being safe, you haven’t added anything to the fiction. You’ve withheld fiction from them. You can wiggle your eyebrows all you want and make it clear you’re being soooo slyyyyyy but you haven’t updated the fiction. Throw them a bone, even if you have to launch that bone 100 miles an hour from an ogre’s sling shot into their sword arm.

  24. Alfred Rudzki I agree with your point. I’ve struggled with something similar though – making a move off-screen. Let’s say they roll a miss and they draw unwelcome attention, but I want it to come a bit later. The dragon 3 levels below just heard them and woke up. I even tell the players, alright nothing bad happens yet, but later on it will find you. You’re saying I should make sure the characters know about it too, right? They hear an ominous, deep rumbling yawn.

    Like grim portents for fronts, it’s not a grim portent until it intersects with the characters somehow. “The dragon wakes up” isn’t a portent of things to come, but receiving news of the dragon waking is, and gives them something to go on. Similarly, missing the signs of a weak floor is not enough, your GM move is incomplete until the trap is sprung and they have something to react to. No fair pausing halfway through. Makes a lot of sense.

  25. That’s basically what I’m saying, yeah. The moves (for the most part) are indivisible. You need to make and resolve the entire move. Its not super polite for me to go half way, keeping information to myself (because that’s what it is if I know what I’m going to do to you) and wait for you to goof up. I’m not here to trick you.

    If as a GM you’re supposed to show signs of trouble, and broadcast it when possible, how is the complete lack of troubling signs foreshadowing?

    I mean come on: you know in movies, right before the big ambush? The character is waxing poetic about nature or the birds and then someone goes “what birds?” And you realize all the birds have flown away because mf’in’ bandits man! The GM move is the bandits, not being confused about the presence of birds. The conspicuous lack of birds is the clue but you have to give them the clue even if the clue is just “something is missing.”

    They wake up a dragon off screen? HELL YES MAKE IT RUMBLE! That’s so badass! The ground rattles, shakes, the air thunders around them? Oh man, and they know some shit is gonna go down. But what? Time to play and find out.

    But if they just walk into a room, and there’s a dragon, and the whole cave has been… What? Slimes? Orcs? Mud? And no sign of a dragon? That’s weak sauce, unless there’s a good reason, to me.

    Its a conversation. It’s always a bad conversation when someone obviously knows something and they refuse to tell you, unless you guess or say the magic word or whatever. No! Just tell me what you so obviously are waiting to tell me! If you really need to make a “you forget” hard move, just tell the player that their character doesn’t quite remember what he read about fungus in college and then later do something horrible with fungus when it shows up. You’ve warned them now and they know they’re ignorant. But don’t say the fungus is medicinal and then poison them for D12 damage. 

  26. A few things. Maybe relevant, maybe not.

    Players see their dice results and so know if they’ve failed a roll. (This goes for most games, not just Dungeon World.) But I still present information to the character. So I, as GM, would say things like “As far as you can tell, the cave is empty.” or “You are absolutely sure he’s telling the truth.” and the player knows I am feeding them “false” information. But the character assumes what I said is true (or does if the player is not metagiming).

    That being said, it does seem like a gotcha to say “The cavern is completely safe.” and then hit the characters with something a few minutes later after they’ve let their guard down.

    Sometimes a failed roll means something happens off-screen that the characters don’t see. While there can be some indication that something’s changed, I don’t feel there always has to be. I’ve had little magical scrying glyphs appear over character’s heads for a second, then wink out. (Meaning the Big Bad now knows where they are.) I’ve had the song just barely on the edge of perception pick up in intensity. (Because the Ice Witch is nearly done her ritual.) Stuff like that.

    But I’ve also had, from the character’s perspective at least, absolutely nothing happen. Stuff has happened, but the characters simply were not in a position to notice anything changing. I think that is a valid way to make a GM move, and in my experience, players get really freaked out when they see that 6- but you say “No no. As far as you can tell, everything is absolutely fine.” >;)

  27. The way I see it, the game is driven by those 6- failures. As a player, the best thing to do is grin, mark the XP and RP the shit out of it by over-committing.

    I’ve had entire encounter spin out of control because of my epic fail Spout Lore rolls that CONVINCES my dwarf character that the elf who spit on the ground is blessing the earth and the proper Elven etiquette in reply is to follow it with a kiss to the ground(by tripping him soundly.). Or tonight where I talked the Halfling ranger into blessing our water rations in the middle of the desert so I could bless the tomb we broke into and prevent any undead from attacking us (to my credit, no more undead attacked us, but I did use up 2/3s of our dungeon rations in water supply sprinkling the place.)

  28. Alfred Rudzki Its not lying because they failed the roll. It is the GM playing “in character”. Call it “lying to the characters” as +Cristopher Stone-Bush said if you want to. Call it subtext if you want to. But since everybody knows the player failed the roll, nobody can call it lying. Not by a far stretch of imagination.

    When you fail a hack and slash roll it means you miss in the fiction – and something bad happens to you. When you fail a discern realities roll it means you dont see the reality that stares you in the face in the fiction - and something bad happens to you. Whats the difference?

    If you really want to the GM could say: “Your character thinks the cave is safe.” But that would be redundant.

  29. Eh, not to be that guy, Wynand Louw, but a miss on a Hack & Slash roll doesn’t mean the character missed. It means the GM makes a move. Same for the missed Discern Realities roll. It doesn’t mean the character fails to notice something, all it means is the GM makes a move. 

  30. “The way I see it, the game is driven by those 6- failures. As a player, the best thing to do is grin, mark the XP and RP the shit out of it by over-committing.”


  31. I agree. If you get your feeling hurt when your character fails, don’t play an RPG; go play a a button-mashing Dynasty Warriors=style game where you’re an epic badass and never fail.

    But that is a separate issue from the GM providing intentionally false information.

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