Should you roll dice to determine if something a player says about the world is true?

Should you roll dice to determine if something a player says about the world is true?

Should you roll dice to determine if something a player says about the world is true?

Rolling dice to determine if something a player says about the world is true has come up a few times lately in different guises.

On the face of it, this seems like a good idea: character players get to contribute details about the world and the dice roll messes with those ideas to make the game (hopefully) more interesting.

However, there’s a darker or, more accurately, duller side to this: the move may not be available to all characters and the dice roll slaps down a random selection of the ideas contributed to the game.

This isn’t a problem in games where the players’ contributions are entirely focused on their characters, and introducing ideas about the world is a privilege normally restricted exclusively to the GM. 

But what about games where the character players contribute, not just to the character play, but to the wider world and adventure building as well?

– If a character doesn’t have the requisite move, does that mean their player can’t contribute ideas to the world?

– If their character has a low value in the requisite attribute, what effect is the high rejection rate for their ideas going to have on their willingness to contribute to this aspect of the game.

And, what about the ideas so good that arbitrarily killing them would be a waste? Or, so bad that they will undermine the character of that particular game if they become cannon? (Yes, I know you can always find a way to weave anything credibly into a game.  But why do it the hard way, when that effort could be spent running with things that are a much better fit for that game.)

Technically, DW is written with a clear division between the GM, who runs the world, and the other players, who run their characters. 

However, games where the players are encouraged to contribute to fleshing out the world are, in my experience, much richer and more enjoyable than those where they aren’t.

Which leaves me with the view that moves that restrict who can contribute details to the world or enforce an arbitrary failure rate on contributed ideas are not good for the game.  But that’s just me.

What do you think?

22 thoughts on “Should you roll dice to determine if something a player says about the world is true?”

  1. I rather like the ideal of a Ranger who makes a “Lore (Anduin Forest)” roll getting to add details about the Anduin Forest, but when he flubs it, his details are wrong, or things have changed since he was here last.

    In fact…that idea…was the original impulse that set off the chain of design thought that led to Universalis. 

  2. I don’t always require a die roll or a game move to add to the world.  That’s why this game has a GM.  If I like it or if it doesn’t conflict with what has been established or especially – if it takes the story somewhere interesting (or potentially, in the future) – it’s in.

  3. For me, this is a play on the principle saying Ask questions and use the answers. P.162 The margin text recommend asking questions about what happened, is happening or will happen. P.357 mention a principle that isn’t there in the GM section, but still goes : Sometimes, let them decide.

    This is coherent with AW principle : Sometimes, disclaim decision-making.

    Hope it helps, otherwise, make it a custom move ! 😛

  4. GMs are players too. I’d rather have everyone at the table understand what their roles are and how to best work together within those roles (using the mechanics provided) to play to see what happens. This HAS to include making stuff up about the setting / characters /situations we are exploring.

    Moves (both player character and GM) are not so much about restricting contributions to the detail of the game, as focusing them.

    Focus, dig deeper to what the group latches onto,  encourage everyone to ask lots and lots of questions, and re-incorporate like crazy.

  5. Depends on how are they contributing? On the one hand if they are giving you things you know you can use in the future to make the PC’s lives more difficult, then just let them have it. If what they are creating is something to make their lives easier then roll for it (like retroactively saying they know someone or have been somewhere and aren’t like a bard) then what I generally do is have them roll a flat 2d6 so it’s completely fair 

  6. In my experience with DW in particular, the game works best with the GM working as a “curator” of ideas. Anyone at the table can contribute ideas, yeah, totally. But if you don’t have a GM with a steady hand and sense of vision of about the game, building on some and dismissing, even rejecting, others… well, you get a jumble. You get clutter instead of a collection.  Even gonzo has a particular feel.

    The formal elements of the game are very much structured to give that curator-of-ideas-authority to the GM. The GM preps and exploits it. The GM describes the scene and says “what happens.”  The GM is the one giving interesting and potentially useful information on a Spout Lore. It’s one of the GM’s principles to ask questions and use the answers.  But they’ve also got principles that tell them to leave room for player input and to actively seek it out.

    I’ve been blessed with some seriously creative players, who riff constantly on things that could be true about the world. And, yeah, I’d be a fool to not incorporate at lot of it. Some of my favorite moments have been when a player says something as a throwaway (“everyone knows forest yeti hibernate in the summer!”) only to have it come back 6 sessions later as the result of a miss (“oh, yup, you found the perfect tree to perform the sky burial for your buddy… oh, look there’s a hibernating forest yeti up there and it smells fresh meat!”).

    So I certainly wouldn’t want anything in a DW game that got in the way of that. I’m leery of PBtA world games that include “establish facts” as a basic move for that reason.  But I don’t think they’re as dampening as you imply that they are, Michael D.

    There’s a big difference, a huge difference really, between:

    a) the GM asking a player questions of their character that establish facts about the world (“Halder, why do your people always place a white lilly on the graves of loved ones?”


    b) the players (including the GM) riffing with each other about the game world with the GM occasionally jotting down notes that become “fact,”


    c) a player saying “I know that dragons are colorblind, so I can hide under my bright red cloak and it won’t look like anything other than lumpy terrain!”

    In A, the GM is actively soliciting player input. Any GM worth the title is going to use and incorporate what they’re given (maybe with a little bit of wrangling or prodding), or they wouldn’t have asked.  In B, the GM is taking advantage of the idea storm, but still retaining responsibility and authority over what gets to be “canon.” In C, the player is asserting a thing about dragons, which may or may not jive with the rest of the world that’s been established, and the GM is left in the position of saying “okay” or blocking the player’s input.

    I don’t like C, as a rule. Partly because, as Cody Rogers noted, it’s an assertion of fact in order to give the player an advantage. But also because it’s not their job. At least, not without some sort of move that says it is.  

    And that (finally) gets me to my point: a declare-facts move is useful when it formalizes a player’s ability to establish truths about the fiction, and rewards or encourages interesting behavior about that. And that’s all about design.

    The one I’ve been tinkering with has to do with a book-smart character declaring that they’ve read something useful that they can use to their advantage, but we don’t know just how right they are until the moment it’s tested. To me, that’s an interesting behavior and situation to see at the table.

    The tricky part is to design it to work that way, and not get in the way of the riffing or the GM asking questions or the GM’s role as curator-of-truth. And to make it worthwhile move, at least for some players. And not take up too much space on the character sheet. And and and.

  7. Jason Morningstar​ I think there is never a compelling reason to deny any player’s creative input. But there may be a compelling reason to declare a character’s knowledge of the game world wrong, like a failed roll. The player’s creative input about what the character thinks he knows is accepted as an important part of the fiction. But the input of the dice, that decide that the character is mistaken, is also an important part of the fiction.

    How will the character find out that owlbears are not cuddly inoffensive vegeterians that like their wings scratched? Play and find out!

  8. Jeremy Strandberg Nice post, I just came back to read it. 

    As far as C is concerned: 

    1) Does it clash with other established facts about the world? If not, then regard it as a possibility. If it does, it is rejected out of hand. 

    2) If it is a possibility, I let the player act on the declared fact and THEN roll to spout lore. On a hit it becomes fact. On a miss, the player finds out he was wrong the hard way.


    Player: “I hide under my red cloak since dragons are colorblind.”

    GM: “OK you hide. Now roll spout lore to see if Dragons are really colorblind… You rolled a 6? Take 1d12 damage as the dragon picks you up in his mouth, red cloak and all.”

  9. I always start games of DW that I’m GMing by announcing that the way we’re going to play is that if you Spout Lore successfully, that the player doing so will invent the answer, not me as GM. Same with similiar Bard moves and such.

    On the other hand, I do not do this with discern realities, because of the Czege Principle. There has to be a way for players to ask for danger to appear that requires the GM to provide it. 

  10. 🙂 I know. Rules as written the GM tells the player what the character knows, and the player tells the GM how he knows it. But we often use spout lore as a means to allow players to declare facts in our campaign. (Maybe it should rather be Defy Danger-int?)

  11. So

    When you declare something about the world, roll+INT.

    on a 10+it’s true as you say.

    On a 7-9 “it’s kinda true”?

    Where does the GM role of keeping the world consistent cone in there?

  12. The thing is a lot of times with Spout Lore I really don’t know what information to give the players and what is useful to them. So giving that to the payers is sometimes useful.

    I think Adam said a few times in AW there was ocassions where he didn’t care about this particular thing so left it to the players to come up with something. I feel this sometimes in my DW games as well.

    I don’t see why doing that would be a negative.

  13. Whether the character had the information right or not.

    So if someone wanted to do this here is how I would do it.

    If your ok with it being in the fiction for example the dragon being colour blind then it would totally be defy danger with intelligence. If your not and you got it prepped I would say they can do it but adbise them you have no idea if it would work and then they can sprout lore, on a success you can tell them the proper answer and if there silly enough to still have done it you can deal damage since it works with the fiction.

  14. Tim Franzke wrote: “Where does the GM role of keeping the world consistent cone in there?”

    The same as it always does. That is, if a player creates something that’s inconsistent, the GM should say something. Just as the players will say something if the GM does something inconsistent. 

    What your question might mean is, “What if the player creates something that contradicts information that I have created in prep, and haven’t yet revealed to the players yet.” Well, in that case, you can do one of two things. You can ask the player to change what they’ve created, working out a version that works. Or you can simply change your prep on the spot. I find it’s usually more fun and interesting to do the latter. 

    Example: Player spouts lore (using my version where the player makes stuff up), and says that the winged statue they’ve come across is an icon of a Goddess of the Winds. I had intended it to just be a gargoyle in disguise waiting to ambush the party. Having just been a hungry wandering baddy. 

    Well, OK, now in my head, I retcon the situation and say that it’s still a gargoyle, but that’s because somebody has defiled the statue of the goddess, to create this demonic form within it. Who did that, I wonder? I’ll make sure that there are clues as to the defilement, and hopefully the players will spout more lore and create this new threat that’s going about defiling statues. Or, if not, I’ll come up with something on the fly as needed. 

    Maybe the whole thing will evolve into a war between two religious factions or something. 

    To the extent that players doing this makes the world more complex, that’s a great thing. No amount of prep you can do as a GM is going to ever fill out your world to the level of complexity that matches the real world. So let your players complicate away. Also if what they add distorts the genre or tone of the game… consider that this is them requesting for the game to go that way. Discuss it with them if it’s really odd. But don’t dismiss it out of hand. Your job in creating “consistency” as GM doesn’t mean keeping genre and tone so narrow as to be dull to the other players. Just make sure that everyone playing is on the same sheet of music on these things as you go along, when something really novel is added. 

  15. _When you declare something about the world, roll+INT.

    on a 10+it’s true as you say.

    On a 7-9 “it’s kinda true”_

    You’re kinda right. On 7-9 it is true, but some details are missing. Take the color blind dragon. You hide under your red cloak, and the dragon does not see you, but you forgot about his keen sense of smell…

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