So, I’ve been tangling with a scenario in my head.

So, I’ve been tangling with a scenario in my head.

So, I’ve been tangling with a scenario in my head.

If you have a player that decides to fight an enemy, let’s say the enemy is a very dextrous rogue, and the player wants to simply H&S, though you believe the rogue would be too quick for him, how would you approach this?

A) Simply allow him to attack.

B) Tell the player that his sword attack is met with a riposte from the rogue and he cannot penetrate the swirling finesse of the rogue’s short sword. What do you do? (deny the attack)

C) The rogue riposte’s your attack and you find yourself surprisingly off-guard as the rogue draws your sword to one side. Her off-hand slips to her belt and you barely notice that she tries to discreetly, but quickly, pull a dagger from her belt and lunge for your open flank. What do you do? (deny the attack with forward narration for the player to react)

D) The rogue parry’s your sword to one side, leaving you wide open to an attack as she steps forward and slams her foot into your chest, sending you flying backwards. What do you do? (Hard narrative push to demonstrate heightened difficulty with opening for player response)

E) Other?

Sometimes, situations like C and D feel like hard moves to me, and I feel strange performing them without a failed, or at least 7-9, roll result. Where is the line between hard move and narrative heightening of difficulty in a scenario?

55 thoughts on “So, I’ve been tangling with a scenario in my head.”

  1. You’re constantly making soft moves when you play, setting up for things that are going to maybe happen.

    If the fighter attacks a rogue NPC, figuring pfft it’s a fair fight it will trigger H&S, but the truth is the rogue is out of their league? You should first reveal this information with a soft move like ‘your sword is deftly knocked aside with the flat of his knives; he doesn’t seem surprised or put off by your fearsome blow – he’s much better than you thought. Maybe better than you

    If the fighter persists after you’ve dropped that on them, that sounds like a golden opportunity for a hard move to me.

    The way I figure it is: if the players step forward into something and they’ve had no clues about it in the past, but there is reason to believe they’re not immediately punished for it, take the opportunity to broadcast a soft move and clue them in. Then, normal gameplay procedures apply.

  2. Sonewhere between B and C.

    Safe D for the awesome sword sage on the mountain. Adam gave a perfect example of that ones but I am unable to find it again.

  3. Michael Greene Because this is a very narrative game, and there needs to be a way for the player to know that he is up against some bad shit instead of just bumping stats. That doesn’t immerse the players.

    Alfred Rudzki That was my typical approach, though the player was met with confusion as they thought they were bad ass and he wondered, “well, why couldn’t I H&S?” I explained afterwards that the rogue was at an even higher level of skill, but he felt like he wanted to do something, which should trigger a move, but didn’t. I wondered if adding that extra push like the kick in the chest, would show that the rogue means business and create a need for an immediate response.

    Noah Tucker So what if it’s a 300ft. dragon, or a magnificent sorceror, instead of a dextrous rogue?

  4. Yeah, no, the answer definitely isn’t A. An incredibly skilled fighter is just like a 300 ft dragon or magnificent sorcerer – you need fictional positioning to affect them.

    When you can’t hit the rogue, it’s time to discern realities by studying their style and ask what is valuable about the battlefield. Oh what’s that? They favor capa ferro, the lunge? Time to Defy Danger with charisma to trick them into exposing themselves and then draw their blood.

  5. Alfred and Tim got it, imho. Remember though, that PCs are bad asses, usually. That doesn’t mean that they are the most powerful entities of the multiverse, but of course you should give them a way to do something awesome and overcome the obstacles (for a price, if you want to spice things up…) if they want to. Saying “he’s just too much better than you, leave him alone and go home” isn’t very interesting, ça va sans dire and also not in the spirit of the game.

  6. Yeah, there’s no reason – when the fighter can’t penetrate the rogue’s defense – you can’t offer the very honest insight: “You know, if you opened yourself up to his blows, I’m sure you could get right inside his defense and force him to grapple instead.”

    Deal the rogue’s damage all up in the fighter’s face if he’s willing to take the worst of it, but then change the fight and put it on the fighter’s terms. I bet the fighter is a better wrestler than that rogue is.

  7. A great example of the above: Sin City.

    Marv is a fighter. Kevin is a rogue. Marv can’t lay a hand on Kevin and constantly gets his ass kicked. He stops Kevin by letting Kevin take the advantage and deal his damage – the GM then lets Marv slap some handcuffs on Kevin once he’s in too close and left himself open. Restrained by cuffs, the rogue gets pounded senseless by the fighter.

  8. Damian Jankowski Dragons are obvious. I think you have some responsibility to show in advance that the rogue is really so good that you can’t possibly hit him. Otherwise you’re just messing with your players.

  9. Noah Tucker See, that’s a bad attitude I think. “Magic is different!” is the kind of thinking that lets some characters engage with the fiction on a greater scope than others.

    There is no fundamental difference between a skilled fighter, a wizard and a dragon. They can all present a challenge, and they can all be challenged by any of the PCs.

  10. James Etheridge Both a dragon and a skilled rogue could present a similar challenge. But there is indeed a fundamental difference between them: They are very different in the fiction: Size, weight, strengths, powers, psychology, fighting strategies…

    On the other hand, I agree with you: Both  should be contestable. Specially, is hard to believe that the fighter has no chance of damaging the rogue, for example.

    Last but not least…

    Fill the characters’ lives with adventure: Is this fight a thrilling adventure?

    Be a fan of the characters: Is the character’s defeat really increasing drama?

    Play to find out what happens: Is the fighting result predetermined?

    Think dangerous: Why is the rogue so important they cannot be defeated?

  11. James Etheridge has the right of it. There is no fundamental difference. The greatest fighter should be just as interesting and powerful [not in the literal sense, but more so in the sense of danger or impact on the players] as the greatest wizard and the greatest dragon, just in different ways. 

    Even if that is how you feel, Noah Tucker, the core value in my question remains the same. It still applies to a situation where a wizard is right there in front of the character. If the character wants to attack, now magic stops him from being able to do so, rather than dexterous skill. Same scenario, just a spell caster rather than a skilled fighter.

  12. Damian Jankowski Nails it. Having no chance of damaging a sufficiently skilled rogue should be no more or less possible or believable than having no chance of damaging a dragon or wizard. Or dragon wizard.

  13. Pedro Pablo Calvo Don’t take this the wrong way now. No one is saying the fighter can’t hurt this rogue. The point is that, in this case, the fighter should not necessarily be able to just attack and roll H&S whenever he pleases. Games should present obstacles that make you think further past the simple slash mechanics.

    Yes, you can hurt the rogue, but not that way, or not with your simple sword swing. Maybe you have to rethink your tactics and get creative. You’ll be able to if you do the right thing, but a blind swing at a very skilled target would not build any suspense or tension in the battle. I want battles to mean something, not just feel like a rinse and repeat.

    Nothing exists in my world that cannot be done or cannot be defeated. It just depends how clever you are to accomplish it.

  14. Damian Jankowski You’re right.

    I think the line between hard move and narrative heightening of difficulty in a scenario is the fun at the table.

    Preventing an action or challenging without rolling can be fun! It depends on the fiction and the playing style…

  15. I’m still chewing on the notion that there’s some kind of disconnect between narrative and “bumping stats.” We should never be just bumping stats, obviously.

    Seems to me that a character who’s dressed in the medieval equivalent velour and lycra, but who nevertheless takes hardly any damage from what should be solid hits, is plenty justification for a lot of cool, evocative description of evasive grace.

    But maybe that’s not the desired mechanical effect here, which maybe seems closer to just saying “No” to the basic mêlée move. (?) Anyway, seems like another approach would be to supplant H&S with a NPC-specific custom move.

  16. If they are trading blows, that sounds like Hack n Slash to me. The result of the roll says who is the better fighter.

    But that doesn’t mean you don’t give an elite swordsman enemy extra mean monster moves that make 7-9 results of hack n slash more interesting and force the heroes to change tactics, like…

    *Fight dirty (low blows, sand in the eyes, etc.)

    *Get inside their guard and counterattack

    *Disarm, trip, and otherwise befuddle them

    *Dodge away faster than they can react

    The fighter rushes in, GM says, “Ok roll hack n slash… 8… you graze him as he spins sideways, roll damage but he has an extra armor point from how agile he is. He takes advantage of your lunging momentum to stomp your foot and shove you forward, you eat dirt and your sword tumbles out of your grasp as he dances away with a laugh. Wizard, this guy is good, he just made your buddy who you thought was the best in the biz look like an amateur, and now he’s coming for you – what do you do?” 

  17. I think a lot of this discussion is missing a key factor: how the fighter’s attack is described fictionally. Also, what we already know about the fighter and how they fight.

    If the fighter’s just like “yeah, I stab this punk” I’m a lot more likely to reveal an unwelcome truth (he’s way better than thought) by having him party & riposte. And whether that riposte deals damage or I give the fighter a chance to block/dodge/whatever will depend on whether this is a skillful, dexterous, cagey fighter or a brute force wrecker in full plate.

    If the fighter describes moving in with a feint and then a blazing lunge, I’d just reveal that unwelcome truth by having the rogue dance out of range, drop into an easy crouch, and smile with blade extended. “What do you do?”

  18. That’s not playing to find out what happens, Tim Franzke; it’s deciding the outcome in advance. It’s not good faith as a GM to say, “You simply can’t do that.” Instead you should say, “The consequences were more severe than you anticipated,” and make sure you are signposting such possible consequences. E.g., “The man in black who stands before you is none other than the Dread Pirate Roberts, whose legendary swordplay is known for gutting many and leaving few alive. Now that you’ve finally tracked him down, how will you apprehend him?” If the heroes want to melee, it’s your role as GM to make that dramatic and interesting, not simply forbid it. 

  19. Seriously: Adam Koebel already said long ago that yeah having a swordsman blow off your attacks cause you suck is totally valid. Taken in sum with the 16 HP dragon means: fictional positioning first, sort out your moves last. The moves do not decide who the better fighter is, the truth of the fiction decides.

  20. Marshall Brengle no one is forbidding it though. It is just following the fiction. 

    Mostly it is making the attacking character approach the encounter in a different way instead of their usually combat style. That is being a fan of the character

  21. Interesting question, thank you for posing it!

    If it is important that the NPC is just plain superior, and the PC isn’t much of a challenge, that could be alluded to narratively, with or without a hard move.

    If you want to keep this disparity a secret until too late, i would simply describe how the PC is thwarted, and consider assigning damage as a hard move.  If they attack a dragon with their fists, without the magical dragon-punching mcguffin, the dragon responds as natural.  Likewise, if they swing a sword at the little old woman who just happens to be the world’s foremost swords-master, it makes sense that the NPC thwarts the attack and reacts appropriately, even if that means dealing damage and/or pressing the attack.

    But as a fan of the PC, rather than the NPC, i don’t want to surprise them with nasties too often.  It becomes dull, discourages them to stretch for things.

    Instead, when they’re contemplating their attack, i would indicate that they should be wary….  “This old woman doesn’t seem aware of you, at first.  but as you move close, her hand casually drops to her side.  It may be nothing.. or she may be readying some nasty surprise.  What do you do?”

    If they go in with a probing attack, provoking a response but with defenses up, they may do a defy danger instead of a hack and slash.  They won’t deal damage, but at the least they may escape it!

    If they decide to evaluate further before attacking, they may get to discern realities, and depending on that roll, i may make it very clear they’re outmatched.

    If they press on with the attack…. things get interesting.  She’s one tough granny!

  22. How to GM: Exploit your prep

    If you have prepped: “X is a more agile and tricky combatant then the fighter” then this is a fact in the world. 

    If your rogue has a special quality/move 

    Avoid bruteish attacks 

    then they will do that. If the player says “I attack her in a wide arc with my Mace” then you can trigger that move. 

    That is all totally going by the rules. 

    Of course you can allow every situation/enemy to be Hack & Slashable. The game won’t brake. I personally don’t think that makes the game better though. 

  23. James Etheridge  “Or dragon wizard.” Problem – there are NO dragon wizards!  (please oh please oh please oh please don’t let these dragons learn wizardry, or wizards learn… uh.. dragonry!)

  24. Now this has me thinking in a new direction…

    If the player is fairly evenly matched, they get to roll hack & slash.  In this instance, they could get a 6-, and fail.  And they get XP.

    What you’re describing is similar to a result from a 6-.  If you dictate a failed attack without giving a roll, should XP be awarded?  Is it still a ‘learning experience?’ 

    I could definitely see it that way.  This may soften the blow to the player, letting them know this is a considered move on the GM’s part, not just an arbitrary decision, and encourage them to consider the importance of what just happened and how to move forward.

  25. That would mean every time you make a hard move they would get XP. That gets impractical when a hard move targets the whole group or subsets of them. 

    Also every GM decision in DW is arbitrary. The problem is whether they are in line with the principles and agenda. 

  26. Tim Franzke

    I wouldn’t argue for an XP reward for every hard move i make.

    But in the case of a player doing something that would normally trigger a move, and the result being essentially a fail, i could see that as substantially different from many other hard moves that i might make.

    I don’t make many arbitrary decisions while GMing.  I’d like to think i avoid it entirely.  I build my moves from the fiction, and i encourage all the players to help build that fiction.

    Part of what i love about DW is that it provides a great framework for GMs to build with the PCs, instead of for them.

  27. So here’s the thing. If you want to “attack an enemy in melee” you need to get into melee with said enemy. If the rogue you’re fighting is just fucking up your shit with a flurry of blows and high-speed bullshit hijinks, you’re just not good enough to barrel in and engage. That’s just not happening. You have to think your way around it. Slow them down, get an advantage, learn the Shimmering Salmon Sword Style up on Mount Fireleaf from Ancient Master Sinsa Vuul because without it, this guy is just too damn fast for you.

  28. Hrmm. Still not sure I understand the motive for this, but if this is a case of “punching a dragon,” then it seems like no PC move would be triggered for the initial “attack.” The narrated outcome of that attack would likely “reveal an unwelcome truth” (soft DM move) as the fighter is shown just how deep the doo-doo is, and maybe “tell them the consequences and ask” if there are dangerous options (like Hack & Slash but with 10+ rolls counting as 7-9, etc.)

  29. I’m sticking to my guns that you’re still in melee even if the opponent is a legendary sword master who skillfully defends your every cut and thrust. The exchange of hand to hand blows is more or less the definition of melee. And to Andrew Fish’s point, dueling said legendary master would be fictionally an excellent learning opportunity, which we abstract to XP, therefore outright disallowing H&S robs the hero of said learning opportunity.

    That said, it’s ultimately a game that plays differently from GM to GM, PC to PC, and heck, even session to session with the same players. So go with what feels right and fun at the table at the time. 🙂

  30. PC: “I swing my sword at the rogue!”

    GM: “He deflects your blow, his swords flashing like lighting! What do you do!”

    PC: (“I don’t even get to roll Hack and Slash?”)

    GM: (“I guess not. Hmmmm…)

    PC: “I grit my teeth and roar, taking a wild swing!”

    GM: “He dodges easily, flowing out of the way, kicks you in the knee and knocks you on your butt. Take 1 damage. What do you do?”

    PC: (“Okay, fuck this guy.”) I roll backwards, keeping my guard and size this bastard up.

    GM: “He laughs at you, taunting you to engage again.” (“Roll Discern Realities!”)

    PC: (“I get one question; what here is not what it appears to be?”)

    GM: “This is no ordinary rogue – you see it now, he’s using the Silver Swan style, long thought forgotten, known to be impenetrable by mortal martial training. You’ll never be able to break his defenses this way.”

    PC: “Oh hell no, I run.”

  31. Thanks for chiming in, Adam Koebel. That reinforces what I think most of us were getting at. I feel like that line I was imagining is a fuzzy one, but I can see better now how far from that line I can be at times. Thanks to all for the feedback, this really helped me solidify how to deal with these scenarios.

    It’s sort of like, start with B. Oh you don’t get the picture, well here’s C. Really? You’re going to make me do this? Here’s the fucking D.

  32. Damian Jankowski the issue is less about the line and more about training your group to recognize that the moves are a privilege, not a right, though their triggering is absolute. Sometimes you have to earn your way there fictionally.

  33. Adam Koebel Have you ever experimented with awarding XP after denying a fruitless action by a player because they find themselves in too weak a position within the fiction to trigger a move? 

    Put differently – is XP an appropriate reward when there has been no roll, but “revealing an unwelcome truth” provided the character with the catalyst to develop in an interesting direction?

  34. Andrew Fish never. That feels like babysitting, not playing a game, to me. Bad shit happens to your characters. Sometimes it’s your own fault and you learn from it, other times you’re just too shitty to accomplish your goals. Too bad!

  35. If it’s any consolation, Andrew Fish , it’s taken me a year to even begin to get rid of the training wheels and make hard moves when it’s appropriate, BUT my players have had nothing but appreciation for it. One of the most common complaints I got was that I was “being too nice” and that they never felt like they were in any danger – every session felt more like sightseeing than adventuring. Once I started making threatening situations actually feel threatening, everybody started having about 100x more fun, including me!

  36. Another thing that jumps to my mind about this whole conversation: I’d never do something like this (badass untouchable npc) unless it was clearly, explicitly in my prep or had been clearly established as a possibility during play (probably as a detail added by a player and/or a result of Spout Lore).

    Just deciding on the spot that this guys some sorta ninja seems pretty lame.

  37. Eh, I guess. But you’re already assuming there is a mysterious badass. And unless there’s some pre-existing indication that such overwhelming skill exists in the world, I’m not going to feel comfortable just saying to myself “this guy I just made up? he knows divine Kung Fu that the fighter’s attacks can’t overcome.”

    Maybe I’d do that as a hard move on a missed H&S, but off the cuff? That doesn’t feel like it follows from the fiction.

  38. Jeremy Strandberg  I know I didn’t bring it up, so why are you guys assuming that this is an untouchable PC or something out of the realm of normal? Every adventurer is bound to come across someone or something bigger and badder then them – or at the very least, a good match! It surely doesn’t make sense that some random guy in the alley that has no relevance to your story should be much more difficult – but I don’t think that’s the case here. This is a scenario of a specific, expected, trained and skilled NPC that is meant to be a challenge. Not Joe off the cobblestones that I threw in because I couldn’t think of anything else.

    Also, if you want to plan it, great. If you think of it on the spot, it could still be completely relevant to your story. I only prep about 5% of the content of my games so I also don’t understand your requirement for a pre-planned or completely expected character in that regard either.

  39. I’m using “untouchable” is mostly just a shorthand, but I wouldn’t shut down The Fighter’s (remember those caps, this isn’t any ol’ warrior) ability to H&S unless this was a truly remarkable opponent.

    And I guess that’s my point. I’m not going to just have a truly remarkable opponent appear spontaneously. Without something pointing in that direction (like “hey Hawke, what have you heard about this Scarlet Fox? Oh, that he’s the best swordsman in the land? Cool, cool…”), I’m not going to say “nah, he’s like wicked good and slaps your blade aside, Fighter!”

    A big reason I like to do prep (specifically writing up monsters) is to give myself permission to do that sort of thing. Otherwise, I’ll generally assume that they’re someone the fighter can get into melee with just fine.

    Obviously, this is all personal preference and tendency. And what constitutes “previously established” is a subtle, slippery thing. You’re milage may vary and all that.

  40. I say B. A move that isn’t a move… It isn’t a move. So if the master thief is unreachable, ’cause he’s super badass, then no H&S rolls.

    Time to study a plan, time to observe the enemy and learn a weakness with a move etc. Of course, a good master thief should play fair, and have those things in his NPC sheet.

Comments are closed.