Possibly very stupid question…

Possibly very stupid question…

Possibly very stupid question…

How do you handle “more difficult” actions?

Like… a PC and an NPC characters are in an arena and they just describe something like “swinging my sword at my opponent”.

All things being equal this usually translates to a H&S move, right?

Now, let’s say the NPC is clad in heavy armor everywhere except for the head… classic. And now the PC describes a sword attack aimed at the opponent’s head, in hopes of avoiding the AC rating.

What is this?

How do you handle this?

As it is described, it still qualifies as a H&S.

But the action performed is in theory more difficult than what was described earlier, and it should also grant a special benefit (hitting an unarmored area).

Is it still just a H&S and let’s be done with it?

Or could it be a Defy Danger?

And if so… what is the effect of a success?

Do you get to inflict damage straight on, as a result of the Defy roll?

Which, on a 10+ means you suffer no damage, and on a 7-9 you might still suffer no damage (unless the MC makes it part of the 7-9 effect in place of more interesting options).

Or the Defy roll is an additional step you take in order to then H&S ignoring the target’s AC?

29 thoughts on “Possibly very stupid question…”

  1. I wouldn’t get into it. DW isn’t designed for that kind of mechanical combat granularity.

    Maybe the attack is H&S and if it hits, inflict more damage. That’s the most I would do.

  2. A few thoughts:

    – Bear in mind that H&S is not a single sword swing, necessarily. It could be a series of maneuvers and exchanges.

    – The ‘difficulty’ here is partly modeled in the mechanics just with the armor score. This is similar to how you can increase armor to deal with having cover.

    – If the spot of vulnerability is particularly small and your weapon in the fiction doesn’t have any special way past the armor besides that vulnerable spot, a Defy Danger is a good option to get into a position to exploit the weakness (unless they can come up with some other way, like, say, having another PC distract the enemy.)

    In general, the DW combat model isn’t all that interested in missed weapon attacks; who wants to watch two characters beat on each-other and keep missing? You can roll ‘misses’ in DW, but they result in GM moves (new action) rather than just ‘sorry, your sword misses.’ In fact, you might actually hit with your sword on a ‘miss’ (and deal damage), but then your sword gets stuck in his armor and you lose your grasp on it and another enemy is running your direction now that you’re unarmed, what do you do?

  3. Another thing to bear in mind is that a big part of a success result on a roll in DW is not just the result of the action itself, but also that the GM generally shouldn’t make a hard move yet. Your primary tool as the GM is the hardness/softness of your moves. If the PC is particularly clever in exploiting a weakness, this can be implicitly rewarded by distracting the enemies, so that you shift the spotlight to another PC to take initiative rather than directly posing a new threat as you might usually do after a PC move. The difficulty of combat directly correlates with how you manage the flow of moves and the kinds of situations you throw at the PCs. So you don’t necessarily have to Defy Danger in advance (unless it’s cool or interesting to do so), but a successful Hack and Slash might mean you don’t have to immediately Defy Danger afterward.

  4. This is sort of a question of the fundamental game design. PbtA games tend to base the difficulty of an roll on character skill, not opponent skill. In classic D&D, this is the same as a saving throw – I don’t get a different save vs breath weapon because this specific dragon is more skilled at breathing fire.

    So here’s how you handle challenging things:

    – “he’s in about 3 layers of armor, do you all think he can get his pig sticker in there?” (see what the table thinks)

    – “well you have to really get it in the nooks and crannies, so you’re not really hacking and slashing, more like bobbing and weaving to get in close. So you’ll have to Defy some danger just to get in there and attack, but you won’t be able to avoid his counter attack” (play with the triggers, say the consequences and ask, etc)

    – “there’s no way your dagger is penetrating that armor. The best you can do is distract him, maybe opening up a hole for Fighter to hit him from behind” (set this up as an Aid roll)


  5. Niall O’Donnell the famous Dragon example is spot on, and my initial question stems from there, actually 😉

    I’m trying to find a way to clarify, codify and translate into a useful MC tool/guide the evaluation process that can lead people to say

    “this is a H&S move”

    “nope, too big, you can’t H&S”

    Or also

    “this is a H&S move”

    “nope, too difficult, first you Defy and then you H&S”


    “nope, too difficult, this can’t be a H&S, instead roll to Defy”

  6. The sections on combat in the Dungeon World Guide (available in the download section of http://dungeon-world.com) are really helpful in describing how to change your mindset to the Dungeon World way of handling combat. I’d recommend reading it if you, or other readers of this thread, haven’t already read it.

    As always, Aaron Griffin offers good advice above.

  7. Alessandro Piroddi, I’m not sure you need another MC tool than the “begin and end with the fiction” principle you’ve got to follow!

    For example: the big bad armoured foe is matched up against a fighter and a rogue.

    The fighter is probably the only one who’s going to stand a chance at straight-up duelling a heavily armoured opponent; they might get to Hack and Slash right off.

    The rogue might have to Defy Danger to slip inside the opponent’s guard, then just get to deal their damage! A quick-moving, dagger-wielding enemy inside your guard is going to be hell to deal with if all that armour weighs you down.

    Just gotta follow the fiction to figure out what works; the rest of the advice in this thread is great, too! Personally, I’d avoid setting up multi-stage challenges where the key is making the right series of moves – play to find out what the characters do, and have them make moves based on that!

  8. I think the impulse to “codify” is what gets you to D&D rules eventually. Leaving it more open to interpretation (and there are some great interpretations above) is kind of the point of this rule system.

  9. I would just say if their attack hits the NPC doesn’t get its armor to lessen the damage done. Not going to get into the repeated message of “go with the fiction” since the player already is making it clear that he is going for the head. I wouldn’t make it anymore complicated than that. On a mixed success it would just hit him in an armored spot and the NPC would retaliate as usual. On a miss that heavy armor was too thick in the spot they hit, their weapon breaks or goes out of their hand and the arm they use gets that “I just hit something really hard and now my arm is numb” feeling, etc. Just whatever you are feeling at the moment.

  10. There really isn’t an “easier” or “harder” to rolls in Dungeon World, there is only the probability curve of the hit/partial/miss system. Instead, you use the easier/harder in describing the result after the roll. If the hero damages the big armored guy by roll, then clearly he had to have hit the head or found a gap in the armor or gotten a really lucky shot in or something. The probability curve is there to control the narrative pacing, not simulate reality.

  11. Niall O’Donnell I feel the need for better fiction handling tools, be they MC or Player facing, because I saw at a lot of table (and read in a lot of discussions) that people often struggle a lot with it.

    In my personal experience I’ve seen a discouraging amount of MCs and Players focus on number crunching (even the minimal amount present in DW), which distracts them from the fiction, which makes moves and effects look weird, trigger in uncomfortable ways, etc.

    So, considering that I am working on a PbtA of my own (with a definite DW ascendant) I wanted to try and refine the process. To turn vague guidelines into clearer procedures. Even just a little bit.

    (reading AW2ed it is easy to see how a LOT of thought went into re-writing the same stuff in clearer, more accessible, less ambiguous ways)

    Jason Tocci I believe the opposite is true.

    D&D tries to codify the “imaginary physical engine” of the game world, but more or less ignores the real game procedures, like WHO can say WHAT and WHEN, and how to handle the GM-Player communication and contributions.

    On the other hand DW (and basically all coherent designs) focuses on offering clear codified procedures for the latter… while the former is either abstracted and left to personal judgement (as in DW) or codified in a way that is hopefully supporting the rest of the design (for example Mouse Guard).

  12. Alessandro Piroddi When it comes to ‘fiction handling’, I think the main issue is that spontaneous creativity is a challenging skill and requires a lot of practice/cultivation to get the kind of ‘smooth’ results you see from really experienced GMs/players.  And even they still fumble sometimes or wind up going down a few silly/awkward detours before getting back on track.  That applies to all systems, but especially so in DW, where there’s less crunch, so the texture/flavor of play is even more starkly highlighted.

    Where DW shines, as I see it, is in providing a  relatively thin framework to help encourage and guide this kind of spontaneous creative narration with hooks and prompts to help you stay on course.  The GM moves list is basically: “not sure what to do?  Here are some cool tricks that often help add a sense of danger/adventure.”

    This isn’t to say you can’t create more codified mechanics to help guide situations, but bear in mind that just as codified mechanics assist, they also constrain.  The challenge is finding the right balance for your particular style of play.  I do definitely believe that constraints can enhance creativity, by virtue of giving you fewer choices and thereby making it easier to imagine what happens.

    The main lever to adjust ‘crunchiness’ in DW is custom moves, which let you assign rolls and concrete results for situations that you expect to come up.  You could certainly come up with a custom move for fighting heavily armored opponents, codifying the increased difficulty to hit and the extra damage if you do.  Add enough of those and you push the game toward a different kind of system and if that’s the kind of game you and your players enjoy, why not?  It might be a bit of a struggle, though, since it is orthogonal to DW’s core design philosophy.

  13. There are drowning moves, falling damage moves, bar fight moves, foot race moves, jousting moves and much much more that ive seen created in my short time with the community. All of which did there job well, brining each table its own flavor and solving a problem those players had. It surely is a one of a kind system that not only allows, but gives you the tools to impliment modifications into the this wonderful game

  14. Dan Bryant got at what I was trying to explain better than my quick answer could, Alessandro Piroddi. You want to get more detailed, you make custom moves. You have a ton of custom moves, you’re basically checking your rules with greater frequency. You check your rules with that much frequency, you reproduce the feeling of early D&D, where you had to consult a table every time to rolled an attack just to see if something happened.

    THAT SAID … I have sometimes used a D&D 5e-ish “advantage” rule in PbtA games, whereby you roll 3d6 and keep the best 2 results (or the worst 2 results, with disadvantage) when it will make things go faster than asking for an extra Defy Danger or trying to figure out if it’ll break things to boost an enemy’s armor. It’s not perfect, and fits better for some games than others, but it’s useful for not bogging things down by checking for “what do the rules say?” too often.

  15. Another interesting possibility, depending on the desired level of crunch, is to start with a crunchier system, like D&D, then play it a bit fast-and-loose with regard to when you call for rolls.  You can definitely play a more narrative-driven D&D game, tossing in checks where they’re interesting and ignoring them where you don’t want to bother with it.  Before PbtA was a thing, I’m imagining that’s how a lot of DMs who preferred more narrative-heavy styles would tend to play things.

  16. I think when I see confusion about these things, it comes from a struggle to make custom moves on the fly. Here’s what helped me:

    Everything is Defy Danger, with the 7-9 risks spelled out in advance

    That’s basically all you need. Custom moves are just a way to write down a very specific form or Forge style Conflict Resolution.

    CR goes kinda like this:

    – “I hit him with my sword”

    – “Ok, why? Are you trying to kill him?”

    – “No, I want to frighten him and make him flee so I can take the shield on the wall”

    – “Ok, cool, so your goal is to make him flee. That means you’re risking some unintended consequences, where he might not flee for long or you might accidentally kill him. He might even take his shield with him”

    When you hack at the troll to make him afraid and flee into the night, roll+Str. On a 10+, roll damage and he’s terrified enough to flee. On a 7-9, roll damage but choose two: he doesn’t flee for long; the hit is too hard and he struggles to get away; he grabs his shield before fleeing.

    The move here isn’t actually necessary because we just came to the same conclusions when negotiating the stakes of the roll.

  17. In addition to advantage/disadvantage as described earlier, something else I keep in my back pocket is “a glancing blow”/”a solid blow” are -/+1d6 damage respectively, and 12 is “a critical”.

    So you’re aiming for the head? Okay, H&S, but you’ll strike a glancing blow on less than a 12. (Or, you know, if you get a 10 and open yourself up to do more damage.)

  18. Wow, some great answers!

    I’d play it as a Defy Danger (Str or Dex depending on how the PC wants to play it), with 10+: PC hits the unarmored spot, full damage, and avoids ill effect. 7-9 choose two: you hit for half damage on an armored spot; you don’t take extra damage from the foe; you don’t put yourself out of position (minus 1 forward). 6-, all bad. I might also use something similar for called shots.

    I realize that this is a) codifying, and b) half of a custom move.

  19. First of all, thanks to all for the feedback.

    I might not like/agree with it, but it is being 100% useful to help me clear things in my head and zoom in to the core of the issue 😀

    I think that Dan Bryant got the closest with his previous post:

    “Where DW shines, as I see it, is in providing a relatively thin framework to help encourage and guide this kind of spontaneous creative narration with hooks and prompts to help you stay on course.”


    I’m trying to improve on THIS.

    I don’t want more fiddly exceptions (custom moves).

    I want a clearer, less ambiguous, more supportive basic framework to make the spontaneous creative narration easier.

    So I’m trying to look closer at the judgement calls that standard DW asks of its MC and Players, to try and nail down a clearer guide, a recognizable pattern, something that once highlighted will help a group “get it right”.

    Looking at the 16hp Dragon example the key point is when the Players look at the rules and say “we do this, so it is the H&S move” while the MC looks at the fiction and says “nope, because dragon”.

    Looking at the DW n00b Guide and its amazing goblin archer example the key point is when the Players look at the rules and say “we do this, so it is the H&S move” while the MC looks at the fiction and says “nope, because distance”.

    How do MCs recognize this key points?

    This is what I want to try and clarify.

  20. Yes.

    But “thinking about what’s happening” is of very little use to lots of people.

    To me it’s intuitive, but at least to lots of the people I’ve played with it is anything but.

    What I’m looking for is the logic behind the process.

    Telltale signs.


    Anything that can be used as a flag to help people translate the fiction into meaningful game informations.

  21. Alessandro Piroddi if people lack imagination and stick to hard rules, the solution should not be to give them more rules to stick to, but to teach them how to imagine better.

    I don’t believe trying to codify imagination is a thing you will succeed at. People have been trying to do such a thing since the beginning of the written word.

  22. Oh my… codifying imagination?

    Aaron Griffin I think you’re misreading my intentions 😀

    Do you think that a rule such as this (read below) is a fruitless attempt at codifying imagination?

    Because THIS is what I am aiming for… nothing more, nothing less…

    “In a hectic situation the MC should break the chain of snowballing moves and have each PC and main NPC describe their immediate action; only then Moves can be rolled, in the order that makes more sense for the fiction.”

    I run a lot of DW and AW demo events and one shots, and facilitate for n00b MCs … this procedure is anything but obvious to most people.

    And I met plenty of veteran MCs that struggle handling complex multi-PC scenes (combat scenes anyone?) because it never occurs to them to do just that … as the old sages say: spotlight management is a bitch.

    It is no surprise that in AW2 this procedure got rewritten and highlighted, spelling out to the MC what she is supposed to do and how.

    Another example would be to highlight how the list of MC moves is not an optional tool for n00b MCs, but something that MCs should stick to as strictly as possible… the difference being that, at least in my experience, MCs that just “wing it” usually end up dishing out Hard Moves that are either too soft or the equivalent of many moves rolled into one.

    Sticking to the list helps inspire MCs that are at a loss for ideas, yes, but is also a safety mechanism against MC abuse (intended as an error in good faith) and a balancing tool to help MCs push at least “hard enough”.

    And finally, lots of the MCs and Players I saw in action struggle a lot with the concept of “difficulty without numbers”.

    They are baffled by examples like the 16hp Dragon because they are too used to running games by the numbers to understand why the H&S move should not be rolled in that circumstance. Many people comment that the MC is cheating, in this example 😛

    So what I want to do is to find ways to help people discern the moon from its reflection in the well.

  23. Alessandro Piroddi Here’s the tricky part. Whether the GM says “nope, dragon” depends on what the group finds interesting and wants to explore. If a heroic dragon-slaying is just a prelude to some character development, the heroes may find more convenient heroic opportunities to slay it. On the other hand, if the interesting thing is a very real threat of impending death, the dragon may be very difficult to harm, indeed.

    That decision, conquering hero or terrified mortal, is all about the folks around the table and what story they’re collaboratively trying to create. Some folks want to conquer danger and others want to see what happens when they leap into its jaws.

  24. What I’ve begun doing in my game is tell people that they won’t roll until I tell them to. The move will trigger when it’s appropriate to trigger. If the player says “I’m going to swing at him.” I would probably say “This big hulking brute of a beast is a little too big for you to just walk up to. How are you getting close?”

    And keep the conversation going until we get either a Hack&Slash (player is equally likely to hit as be hit) or Defy Danger (Player is more likely to be hit than hit). I have tried REALLY hard to break way from H&S = Attack, DD = Survive/Defend. And let them be the RESULT of an attempt to attack/survive.

  25. There is no AC Rating. If the player strikes, the opponent’s armor reduces the damage. If the damage is high, say that it struck the un-armored area. If the damage is low, say that it did not.

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