I’ve yet to play or run DW, though I really want to.

I’ve yet to play or run DW, though I really want to.

I’ve yet to play or run DW, though I really want to. This, though, has been a big question for me. Some things are obviously the province of the class in question, such as spellcasting. There are a lot of gray areas, though. I’m good with the notion of specialized talents, such as picking locks or breaking chains. It’s the fringe cases that are tripping me up, especially when the fiction and weaving a good story are top priorities.

The part I’m not quite getting is rolling for these fringe areas. The fighter has a move to beat down a stubborn door. Let’s say there’s no fighter and a paladin is the best option. Does he just roll, without a specific move? If so, does the GM interpret the roll on the fly? 

This is really the last stumbling block I’m having with fully engaging with DW. I want to resolve it, because I really want to engage with DW (and the Apocalypse Engine in general). So, my big questions are:

1) Are moves the only thing that trigger rolls, or can a roll just be called for in response to the fiction


2) If rolls can be called for outside of moves, how is this adjudicated without invalidated established class moves

Any player with a basic grasp of the D&D paradigm will know that only a paladin can lay on hands, or only a druid can shapeshift. It’s things like tracking (I’m a long way from being a ranger, but my grandfather taught me to read animal signs and tracks.) that beg the question. Would Discern Realities work for rudimentary tracking? Would Defy Danger work for some other things?

I could possibly see those working, but with less of a “best case” result. In other words, a non-ranger tracking wouldn’t get additional details about his target. I could also see an unadjusted roll. Like saying if you want your wizard to batter down the door, roll but don’t add STR.

This question also applies to more or less ordinary things that may not be so automatic. I can’t think of specific examples right now, but we all know that there are fairly common things that come up in a game session in which the outcome might be in question. 

I hope this isn’t too disjointed, as you can see I am somewhat vexed by this. I have some ideas, but I really want to hear from people that have actually played and what has worked for them. Thanks for any help.

14 thoughts on “I’ve yet to play or run DW, though I really want to.”

  1. Narration triggers moves which usually call for dice rolls. That’s the only time you roll dice in DW. (Except for damage, I guess.) There are no rolls called for in response to the fiction that aren’t tied to moves.

    People are of different opinions, but I’m in the camp that says Defy Danger can cover many situations, as long as there is danger involved or danger is a possible outcome. Someone other than a Thief picking a lock when time is of the essence would trigger Defy Danger in my game. (Of course the character would need to be able to succeed; some things are simply impossible.)

    You’ve hit upon how the classes are special. The Fighter gets Bend Bars, Lift Gates, a move which gives them a lot of control over what happens when they smash something. A non-Fighter probably has to use Defy Danger, a move that gives them much less control over the situation. Competency in DW isn’t bonuses to die rolls, it’s the ability to frame the narrative in a positive way for your character.

  2. As you said, the fiction and the stories are top priority. That means that asking these questions generally and not as applied to a specific situation that actually happened in a game doesn’t make much sense.

    I’ll try to explain myself better: how is the closed door important? Is it close for some previously established reason? Does it stand between the PCs and a fugitive NPCs who’s going to get away quickly? If it’s important and relevant to the story, you just describe the situation and ask to the PCs “what do you do?”. Probably some of them (let’s say the paladin) will tell something on the line of “well, I open the door!”. Then you ask how they do it, and if they want to bash the door open, then it’s a Defy Danger on Strength (the danger being, the fugitive NPC manages to escape if you fail your roll). See, if there’s no “danger” (in a wide meaning) in the act of opening a door, it doesn’t have narrative tension, therefore we don’t care. They just open the door however they want to describe, no rolls needed. In doing this thing, again, the fiction is paramount. So a stout, hulking human paladin may say “I burst the door open with a kick” and go for the roll, if it has some narrative relevance… but an halfling druid may not, because that action doesn’t make much sense, does it? So if a halfling druid tries to burst a big, reinforced door my kicking it, you don’t ask for a roll, you just tell them it’s not possible, and then maybe hint at something… like (and I’m just improvising, mind you) “you just can’t damage the door no matter how much you try… but a buffalo could”. And that’s it: the druid shapeshifts into some big animal and then the door is burst open. Others idea might be to use Discern Realities and asking if there’s something useful around (and won’t you look at that? Someone left a key under the doormat!) and so on… there are many possibilities as you can see. The point is that if there’s no warrior (or wizard, or thief…) in the game, you should behave like those kind of things don’t exist in the world at all.

  3. Very solid responses, to which I cannot so much add as summarize:

    When a player says they want to do something, ask them how they intend to do it and then tell them one of three things:

    1) Yeah, you can totally do that, no roll required (but feel free to state any relevant costs or consequences; e.g., that halfling might be able to pry the door apart with a crowbar, but it will take a long time and tire them out)

    2) That is a valid approach, but there’s some interesting uncertainty surrounding whether it works or not, so roll for a move (probably Defy Danger, but it depends; e.g., tracking could be Discern Realities, as you suggest)

    3) No, that just doesn’t work, and here’s why, but… (Offer an Opportunity is one of your moves, recall)

    That said, I will add one thing: don’t ever do that “unmodified roll” thing. Ad hoc bonuses and penalties aren’t a good way to model difficulty in this game for a variety of reasons, for one, but more importantly that undermines the player.

    Taking the specific example, if Rolando the Muscle Wizard has 14 Strength, the player is making a factual statement: “Rolando is good at making his strength work for him, in a way that is meaningful to the fiction.” If you ask for an unmodified roll, you’re telling the player that Rolando’s strength doesn’t actually matter. That is the opposite of being a fan of the character.

    Naturally, that same logic applies to any character and anything on their sheet, and you can and should take both the character and the situation into account when determining which of the above answers to give.

  4. A non fighter trying to beat down a door should probably require a chain of dice rolls where a fighter can trigger with a single roll.  A defy danger not to injure himself for example followed by some more rolls before the door comes down.  Whereas the fighter gets it done in a single roll.

  5. Cooper, that makes sense as far as difficulty and balance, but it feels quite un-dungeon-worldy to me. Every DW roll should only happen when it’s interesting, when it matters, and it should immediately make a difference.

  6. yep. I don’t have really time now to write it down properly, but I’ll just say I’m not a big fan of chaining one roll after the other, unless it’s for something really big. Like, getting to a position from which the Apocalypse Dragon can be effectively hit through its thick scales, that kind of magnitude.

    Long chains of rolls bring to a break in the rythm of narration, to a growing probability of failure (which isn’t bad per se, but just saying) and often to an uneven distribution of the spotlight (something to be well aware of, in a game without initiative rolls!).

    So, yeah, I’d use them with extreme caution.

  7. Those are fair points.  Then my answer would be to say that, no, the wizard can’t break down the door.  He just doesn’t have the conan-esque rage capability to pull an 8 foot oak door off of its hinges and “bashing down a door” in a dungeon isn’t like kicking-in a balsa-wood door of someone’s apartment bathroom.  As the GM I would not call for a dice roll at all. Similarly, only a ranger can spot a tiny broach on the wide open plains of Edoras and realize that two little hobbits were carried in an Southward direction.  The non ranger can narrate his intent all he wants, but because the player describes his character flapping his arms, doesn’t mean he gets to roll to see if he can fly.

    And I have no problem with chaining more difficult tasks. It’s how rituals are described and the recommended means by which more difficult tasks are accomplished like the difference between a hack and slash against a 4 hit point goblin and a 4 hit point goblin chieftain. 

    A “chained” tracking roll is exactly like the “turn” function in Torchbearer. A ranger gets to roll one dice and on a 7-9 ends up eating a resource or “turn” in order to get what he wants. What a chained tracking attempt is, is one roll to find the tracks at all…7-9 ok, that took all day, remove your rations, ok step two, find out what direction they were going, 10+? No problem, 7-9? You know the direction but now bad weather is coming in, or you twisted your ankle 1d6 damage, on a tree root in your haste to not loose the tracks etc.

    The book reccomends chaining rolls and the above doesn’t feel at odds with the game to me at all.

  8. Basically tgere are two GM moves to consider when thinking about this. Show the advantage of a class and show a downside of a class. Basically these two moves in tandem kind of tell you that only the thief should be able to pick locks and only the fighter should be able to bend bars and lift gates. But its all about giving them opportunities. You the wizard can’t physically take this door down but it looks wooden so a fireball will probably take it down.

  9. I can see the logic behind that, but I think it’s an unnecessarily narrow interpretation. The only thing with the authority to say “no, you can’t do that” is the fiction–and, by extension, its mouthpiece, the GM.

    Sure, the Thief (or anyone else with the Tricks of the Trade move) has the explicit ability to pick locks, and the accompanying move gives them more control over the outcome of that attempt–but that doesn’t necessarily mean that someone without that move can’t pick locks. What about the dexterous vigilante Paladin in service to the Goddess of Thieves, raised on the mean streets of Lugg? They’ve got the right background to suggest they could pick a lock. If they have the right tools for the job (hairpin and screwdriver in the Adventuring Gear, perhaps?), why not let them make the attempt?

    Likewise, the archetypal Wizard is probably too weak to just break down a door–but I refer again to Rolando the Muscle Wizard, who took more P.E. classes than Thaumaturgy classes at Vance Academy. Again, they don’t have the same level of control as a Fighter if they don’t have the Bend Bars, Lift Gates move–but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t bash through a door, given the right framing.

    Heck, I’ll take it one step farther: the statement “Only Druids can Shapeshift” is purely a construct of the fiction. With the right framing, what’s to stop someone else from trying it? Say, if they’re in a fae glen, a Place of Power where nature’s strength is overwhelming. Or if the nature of your world has it that physical forms are merely an extension of one’s inner self, and anybody can learn to alter that physical form with the proper concentration.

    Moves are there to grant a form of narrative control and explicit permission to do things, not necessarily to deny you permission to do things if you don’t have the right move.

  10. Sure, fair enough.  But the book also cautions against stepping on the abilities of other players classes (part of the reason there is only 1 wizard in the world…your character, is that your character can do uniquely special things).

  11. Oh, yes, no arguments there; niche protection is super important. I’m mainly just talking about if no one at the table actually has a given class, and a player wants to act outside the box in a way that doesn’t step on someone else’s toes.

  12. James Etheridge​ Actually as I was writing that I did say to myself unless that class isn’t there.

    So if there was a fighter and a barbarian i wouldn’t let the barbarian do a defy danger to open that door. They can do it but what does bend bars and lift gates give you, it gives you control do I would probably have the door smash to pieces causing a lot of noise.

    If there was no fighter I would totally let them roll a defy danger. But saying thst I do feel keeping a few moves still not available is a good thing, as it gives the choice the players gave meaning and shows them that hey if you wanted to do that thing another class would give that to you.

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