GM: “It looks like there used to be a bridge spanning this chasm, but it’s long gone.

GM: “It looks like there used to be a bridge spanning this chasm, but it’s long gone.

GM: “It looks like there used to be a bridge spanning this chasm, but it’s long gone. All that are left are spindly-looking poles where the bridge once stood. They’re wide and sturdy enough that you can hop across, but it’s dangerous. It’s a long fall to the river below.”

Player: “I’m going to cross anyway, I’m nimble enough for it. With a running start I parkour my way across.”

GM: “Defy Danger with DEX, please.”

Player: “Oh no, I rolled a 3! I missed!”

While the obvious response to missing a roll like this is “you don’t make it across”, this isn’t an optimal result, both because the fall would probably kill the PC and the GM doesn’t have anything prepped for what’s below. The GM doesn’t want the player to completely fail, but there still needs to be some hard move. He draws a blank, so instead, he turns it back to the player.

Could the GM ask, “What are you willing to pay to get across?” and have the player suggest how things might get complicated for them?

33 thoughts on “GM: “It looks like there used to be a bridge spanning this chasm, but it’s long gone.”

  1. Whenever the player rolls a 6 or less, the GM makes a move. One of those moves could be to deal damage, in which case the character it probably dead: falling all that way would result in a lot of damage.

    But there are any number of other moves you could make as GM.

  2. Whats wrong with them dying from that? They saw that it is a long way to the bottom and they could be killed by it and yet they still chose to do it. Ergo your follow on move is to go to the gayes of death, where they miraculously could survive.

  3. I always think death needs to be a real possibility.  If a player got mad at a GM for the above situation killing the character, they are placing the blame on the wrong person.  Actions have consequences.

  4. I would go: “You are swift and sure footed and are going to make it across the gap, when a screeching cry from the heavens erupts and suddenly you are snatched in the claws of a giant, hungry eagle (or wyvern or dragon or whatever large flying nasty who is looking for a good meal).

    Or, more mundane; “You don’t quite make it as the rocks crumble under your grasp on the far side of the cliff. Luckily, you only fall a few feet to a small outcrop. Unluckily, you are on the other side from your companions.

    Just flat out killing someone does not make for very good fiction… complicate their lives, not end them. UNLESS! The player thinks that would be good. Maybe it is good fiction if the PC is constantly reckless and it could serve as a notice to the others that this ain’t no picnic, ain’t no foolin’ around, ain’t no hebbie gebbies…. But that really needs to come from the player.

  5. Storn Cook All those would be 7-9 moves I would say. I have the argument that if you have said in the fiction this is a really dangerous thing and if you do it you might die the natural response would be to kill them.

    Which makes me ask one question, why did you set that up if you weren’t prepared for that consequence?

  6. Chris hit the nail on the head.

    You could easily /Reveal an unwelcome truth/, which in this case might be that the poles are much more crumbly towards the middle of the chasm, and the player is now teeter-tottering on a pole that is about to break. turn to another player WHAT DO YOU DO?

  7. james day the way the GM set it up doesn’t read like instant death. “Long fall into a river” sounds dangerous, sure, but no more dangerous than being hit with a troll’s club. Unless the campaign has been set up to be nitty-gritty-realistic previously, killing a character for one failed move isn’t reasonable. The game also has rules for environmental damage, so that’s a possibility (which might kill the character depending on their HP, but it’s not a certainty). However, there’s a great number of more interesting GM moves to use with this type of failure.

  8. My problem with a lot of the moves that people have said is that fictionally it seems like a cheat. As I said fictionally we have set up very dangerous, could fall, thief is cocky and feels they can do it and they fail.

    If you put a dragon in everyone is going to know thats the GM trying to save the chaarcter which means everyone is going to know CONSEQUENCES DON’T MATTER.

    In Dungeon World I feel fiction is king, sometimes in fiction chaarcters die. Would you stop them from dying for example if the failed to defy danger on the dragons breath? Defied danger on the troll club? Yes be fair, it deals you damage you might survive that damage.

  9. True, but as GM we are open to interpreting the scene, and that isn’t cheating. All we know is that the player is running and leaping at an aged log that once held up a bridge with the intent of crossing the chasm. That opens a world of possibilities so I feel like there is no wrong way to do this. The stress of dying is there and the GM could do it but you have this plethora of other moves that could make the session fun.

  10. But the thing is that you’re advocating jumping straight to the hardest move of them all, which actually isn’t even a move. Nowhere on the GM’s Move List does it say “kill a character”. You could argue moves like “tell them the consequences and ask”, but even then that’s not what you’re saying. By saying to just kill the character, you’re invalidating any amount of fictional AND mechanical input their character has. Characters have moves, they have HP and armor, and they have the other characters’ help. By saying “you fell, roll for Last Breath”, you’re telling the players that at any time you can kill them without warning, simply for failing a roll. As a GM, you’re supposed to be a fan of the characters and play to find out what happens. You want to watch them struggle and fail sometimes yes, but randomly killing off a character is in direct violation of both of those agendas.

  11. james day I tend to go with a 2/3 strikes system. You fail, I make things worse and let another player try and correct the situation, if THAT fails too, consequences happen.

    Because I am a fan of the characters 😉

    Note that this only applies in situations where players are not being excessively unwise or ignoring my prompts.

    Because peter established (in the fiction) that the poles are wide enough to traverse (“They’re wide and sturdy enough that you can hop across, but it’s dangerous.”) the player action here is very reasonable, and there is no need to “punish” them overly.

    Had peter established the poles differently (“The poles look rotted and are coming apart, several have broken off long ago”) and they attempt it, I would probably choose a harder move if they fail.

  12. Fiction IS king in DW. As it should be. Plenty of other RPGs on the market that are more dice effect driven.

    Falling into the river below is not only in Fiction everywhere, it is so common, it is a freakin’ cliche! Especially in adventure fiction. I think it is written it has to happen at least once in a Tarzan movie or novel. (Kidding, but it is awfully common).

    There can be a lot of consequences besides death! I am firmly in the camp of being a fan of the characters. Giovanni is right, it doesn’t seem over the top dangerous… if you are in a game where life is cheap and adventuring is super dangerous (ala Torchbearer), yeah, then having the PC fall to their death is an expected result.

    And on a 6- result, a GM MAY make a Hard Move, doesn’t mean they have to. One can reveal a unwelcome truth like Martijin stated… my example of the guy on the other side of the chasm is “separate them” move, my Eagle example is a “reveal monster” move.

    Cross post with Giovanni… totally agree Giovanni. There is no “kill the character” move on the list. And it does set up bad precedent.

  13. Could the GM ask, “What are you willing to pay to get across?” and have the player suggest how things might get complicated for them?

    The quick answer is yes. I think that sometimes the GM needs some input from the players to keep it interesting for the GM and fun for the players. Sometimes you just don’t know the best way to go, but with a little insight from someone else, your brain can suddenly leap forward with a fantastic idea. Often times I will get my players back to the storyline, but in this case , after they (if you choose to make them fall) hit the ground, they just have to take a detour through the underground mine below the bridge, after being badly bruised, beaten down, or with a broken weapon that they now have to deal with.

    I would just recommend that you don’t let them dictate the ending to that situation. Let them come up with some really interesting sacrifice, which would then lead you to come up with the actual result of that situation. It sounds like you were headed there already and I think this is a great exercise to perform once in a while.

  14. In regards to the “let them die” debate, a quick death from a simple and single roll from one task is a bit much. If you set this up as a crazy dangerous situation, and they understand that, and they pursue it anyways, I usually complicate it until I feel like the situation is lost.

    If they fail, perhaps the bridge snaps, they are hanging down 50ft. from the edge. Maybe they fail again and I might introduce a new threat or they lose all their shit to the gorge. Just keep making the situation harder and harder until it feels like, ok, that third fail was your last chance. You fall. But even then I often leave it up to fate. I’ll make them roll damage close to their actual HP left, so the fate of the dice determines if they should live or die. If they live, holy hell they will be hurting and now have to deal with some more tough situations. That’s when a player will probably feel like they really earned a victory.

    I don’t remember the actual numbers, but I once had a player with 26 HP roll something like 3d10 (a crazy high fall) and he rolled a 25. It was just fantastic. I can’t remember ever killing a player character myself as a GM.

  15. “A board breaks beneath you, and you start flailing. You hit a board hard (take 3 damage) and grasp it urgently. The board starts to creak and bend as if to give way soon. What do you do?”

  16. Another way to frame this question is: The PC doesn’t make it all the way across, but doesn’t fall down, either. How are they worse off than they were before?

    Lots of good answers to that question in the posts above.

  17. I also like for all PCs to be potentially indebted to Very Bad Things for situations much like these.

    “You feel yourself about to fall. Your life passes before your eyes. Before you can approach the gates of Death, however, you feel a gnarled hand yank you forward, tossing you onto the other bank.

    “You’re alive. Your heart sinks as you realize you owe The Demon King a favor. What use does he see in you?”

  18. Damian Jankowski: Pfft, not MY players. 😉 (But yeah, that’s why I ditched my first idea, which was that a ghost from the pit below floats up to possess you and save you from falling. Now you’ve got a passenger…)

  19. While it’s technically fair for the PC to just fall to their death I think it’s pretty harsh. DW is typically about over the top heroics, and awesome heroes don’t expect to die because they slipped on a bridge.

    I like to think of my games as TV shows or movies. Movies are intentionally written to provide a satisfying and exciting sequence of events so emulating them tends to give good results. So what usually happens when heroes stumble in high places? The most common answer is that they catch themselves and hold on for dear life. You mentioned poles? Perhaps they’re clinging for dear life on one of those, and it looks like it’s going to snap at any second. Other answers is that they are caught by something, perhaps a flying creature or they get tangled in vines on the way down. In general, make their position worse but give them a few chances to rescue themselves.

    How do they get back up? Sometimes they pull themselves up, sometimes get help, sometimes they don’t get back up. If the cocky thief needs help then that can be a great chance to fulfill a bond. They might need to expend some resources such as adventuring gear. But that’s up to them, you’ve set the scene, now they have to find their solution.

  20. The question for the GM is “Why did you put it there?” Answers like “Because it sounded cool” and “I didn’t expect anyone to miss” are an automatic fail. I’ve seen variations of this question raised in several forums and my take is don’t just throw things into the story unless you have thought about the failure modes.

  21. I would put him part-way across, hanging from a pole.

    He can make a roll again. If he gets another miss, he got to the next pole but it is breaking and things fell from his pokcet.

    Only on the third miss in a row would he start to fall, giving his friends a chance to perhaps throw a rope or some magic or something to give him a fourth chance.

    After that, well, if he’s got a +1 Dex, then his chance of 4 misses in a row is 1.234567901%, so he dies.

  22. Rather than a flying monster, I like the idea of a decrepit-looking bridge-troll emerging from its cave in the wall of the chasm, looking as run down as its bridge. It’s still remarkably spry though, especially when it comes to someone crossing its bridge without permission.

    Or perhaps the player discovers that one of the poles is in fact some Gygaxian monster imitating a pole, just waiting for things to run into it. Think some pole-shaped equivalent of the Lurker Above, Cloaker, Roper…

    If instead some of the poles turn out to be rotten and collapse behind the character crossing, leaving no way for the rest of the party to cross behind them, they’ve basically given you a “separate them” move for free.

  23. Matthew Browne Have you seen The Two towers? I believe in the fight against the warg Aragorn rolled a 6- and went over the cliff. He went to the gates of death and rolled probably a 10 I think since he just seems to still be alive.

    You can still do good storytelling even with the most extreme of outcomes.

  24. I would say no, you can’t just “turn it back on the player” if you’re out of ideas, because you should never ask an open-ended question. You should have an idea what kind of answer you want when you ask a question, and frame the question accordingly. Otherwise you’re dumping your own problems on the player without any of your context.

    Your players should be completely cool with you asking for a couple of minutes to gather your thoughts. Take those minutes to look over your central list of GM moves and think about how they could apply.

    There is a move called “turn their own move back on them”, but that’s more for granting your own characters the same advantage a move granted the PCs. In this case that one isn’t likely to apply. I mean, unless the party in general and the player in particular are being stalked by a smoke knight assassin who uses the player’s parkour line across the destroyed bridge to pursue them before the rest of the party can react, but what are the odds of that happening?

  25. If someone ignores a danger enough it’s fine for the outcome to lead to death I think. On the other hand it can be fun when your thief looks at a nymph and dies immediately from her overwhelming beauty (one of my favorite, although temporary, deaths in my games). He got better, sure, but that’s why Last Breath exists right? Otherwise you may as well take it out of the game if you want a grittier experience. If this character failed to cross the dangerous bridge, I would probably have them fall, but give them another chance to save themself or ask if any of the party has a way to do it. The ranger could pin their cloak to a pole with an arrow or the falling character could use adventuring gear to produce a pick that they stick into one of the poles to stop their descent. Or you as the GM could narrate him landing amidst an almost invisible spider’s web that was made between the poles. Now Shelob’s cousin is making its way towards them. To answer the question, yes, you can turn it back to the player. But you have a lot of options yourself that could make for interesting story.

  26. Ok, so the fiction of it is, “The bridge is crumbled away, It is a LONG way down, being a Chasm.”  The Thief goes about hopping across, and fails.  So the move for me would be the whole, “You are falling to the bottom of the chasm.”  Then if the other characters are standing around watching, it would be good to ask them what they do.  If no body else is around in the fiction, Tell the thief that he is falling into the chasm and describe the chasm a bit more then ask him, “As you are falling what do you do?  You have very little time.”  Give the Thief one chance at another move, one possible solution would be to dig in his pack for a prepared grapple hook to throw.  I would still give him damage from dropping a distance if he manages it.  You don’t get that chance for free.  Another solution the thief may have is to try to use a melee weapon to slow him down or a ranged weapon with a bit of rope to shoot into a wall, and catch himself.  Be a fan of the characters, they can do amazing things and help build the tension and the “Uh Oh” will come naturally.

  27. Alternative failure possibility: “You miss the far edge of the chasm, sliding down the rock face until you suddenly plunge into a concealed cave, containing… .”

    Once they finish dealing with the cave, they find the secret way out in the back, which lets them out where they would have wound up if they’d made the jump.

  28. I think the important thing is that if you think it’d make a bad story/conversation to say “you stumble as you cross the pit and fall to your death,” that is not the move to make. (I’d find it anticlimactic and dull at best, probably even frustrating, so I think coming here for other ways to think through it was a good call, and I appreciate reading everybody else’s answers!)

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