So me and my newbie players are slowly getting the hang of ‘fiction first’ DW combat and that’s really nice, but now…

So me and my newbie players are slowly getting the hang of ‘fiction first’ DW combat and that’s really nice, but now…

So me and my newbie players are slowly getting the hang of ‘fiction first’ DW combat and that’s really nice, but now I wanted to expand our repertoire, so I nudged our last session in a direction that was more about interaction with NPCs in a not immediately threatening environment (for those of you who remember my other questions related to that DW session, it’s lizard priests in a monastery, up to no good, but not right now).

Although the session went well and everybody had fun, overall I thought that the evening felt way too much like one long expositionary infodump. The players kept in character and tried to roleplay, but mostly just endlessly ‘interviewed’ the various NPCs, or carefully checked out the environment. Even though this perfectly fit within the fiction (if I had been in the characters’ place I would also have asked lots of questions, and mapped out the location), and even though I successfully nudged them towards a couple of Discern Realities and Spout Lore rolls to drive the story forward in unforeseen ways, I couldn’t help but feel that they were mostly on the rails of what little backstory I had prepared. I was telling them stuff, they were reacting to it.

So, my question is basically: how do I break that pattern, without just taking the easy way out and fabricating more monsters and sudden dangers? Are there any specific other techniques or approaches you guys use to keep player/NPC interactions inventive and spontaneous?

(I have a sneaky suspicion you guys are going to say “Fronts!”. Yeah, you’re going to say “Fronts!”, aren’t you? 🙂 )

As always, many thanks in advance for your ideas and feedback.

19 thoughts on “So me and my newbie players are slowly getting the hang of ‘fiction first’ DW combat and that’s really nice, but now…”

  1. In a hurry so this won’t be formatted well:

    1) Instead of just telling them stuff, ask them questions.

    2) One of your principles is to think dangerous. Your characters really shouldn’t spend too much time in a safe situation. NPCs have goals and plots that conflict with the player goals. That is a kind of danger.

    3) This thread might help how you think about free form role play social interactions in DW: – How to ask nicely in Dungeon World

  2. Social situations are hard. Here’s a good trick from Hillfolk: have characters want things from other characters, but be unable to get them for some reason. Let the player characters work at getting those things.

    This becomes the currency of the situation. “Oh I can’t talk about that, it reminds me too much of when Charles and I were friends, but we haven’t spoken in months. I wish he would forgive me…” Damn, so if the players need this info, they have to go get Charles over here so these two can make up…. but Charles will only do it if you can get his dog back from Diane…

    This gets complicated real fast, so write it in a relationship map and leave it in front of the players.

  3. I have rule when I GM: When a player takes out his cellphone, builds dice pyramids, or starts talking about anime shows, I make a move at him. The worse the level of inattention, the harder the move.

    Just fabricating monsters because monsters is not the answer. It is like a random wandering monster table, which is ok for classic dungeon crawls, but not when you want some sort of story to emerge.

    So you said it: Fronts.

    You know who your bad guy is. He has resources at his disposal. As long as the players are having fun infodumpster diving, let them do it. But the moment their attention starts wandering, drop it on them.

    The magic word is conflict. It does not have to be physical. Any conflict is good.

    Announce off screen badness. Reveal an approaching threat. Ambush them. Attack them.

    Cause conflict.

    But not randomly! Remember your bad guy is determined to exterminate the PC’s, so everything that happens is purposeful and advances the story through conflict. But it happens now because you need to make a move now.

    If the players were having fun now it would not have happened now, but later.

    So here are some pointers:

    • Find the conflict.

    • Make it personal.

    • State the stakes clearly. They must matter to the PC’s because they are personal.

    • Escalate the danger.

    • Escalate the stakes.

    When the conflict becomes physical it will also be meaningful.

  4. When you say you “nudged them in a direction that was more about interaction with NPCs in a not immediately threatening environment,” what was their motivation? What were they looking for or trying to find out?

    One of the most important GM skills in RP scenes is knowing when to call cut and move on to the next thing. And to that end it can be really helpful to know a) what the PC wants and b) what the NPC wants. Play the NPC with their want in mind, and if it’s not obvious what the PC wants, just flat-out ask them. Cut the scene when one or the other gets what they want. Hint: sometimes an NPC’s want is just to be left alone.

    Also, instead of nudging them toward moves that will move the story forward (which can be its own kind of railroading, even if it will open up unexpected options), refer to your GM moves. For me, when they’re obviously spinning their wheels in an RP situation, it’s the same as “whenever everyone looks to you,” which is basis for a move.

    > Use a monster, danger, or location move

    > Reveal an unwelcome truth

    > Show signs of an approaching threat

    > Deal damage

    > Use up their resources

    > Turn their move back on them

    > Separate them

    > Give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities

    > Show a downside to their class, race, or equipment

    > Offer an opportunity, with or without cost

    > Put someone in a spot

    > Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask

    The bolded things are moves that might be relevant to this monastery investigation. The key thing a GM move can do in this kind of situation is change the situation, so new factors need to be taken into account or responded to. Shaking things up helps keep things moving.

    For instance, a location move could be, “the bells ring for evening prayer and all of the lizard monks excuse themselves to their cells. The cloisters are empty now, and the moon is rising. What do you do?”

    Often players will feel like they need to keep asking questions without really knowing what they’re looking for. it helps in those situations to ask “What are you looking for?” in order to get them to focus. If they still don’t know, time to switch things up — reveal an unwelcome truth, show signs of an approaching threat, put someone in a spot. And of course a threat need not be a monster — maybe the head inquisitor just showed up at the monastery gates to start the interrogations; the strict prioress gets wind of interlopers and asks them to stop disturbing the peace; someone sees two monks whispering heatedly in the shadows.

  5. Your desire to add in drama without simply adding monsters and more dangers is GOOD! You just need to figure out how its mechanically supported by the rules of DW; and it is!

    First – keep in mind that everything you do is a GM Move; whether in response to a golden opportunity, or snowballing from another move, or when the players look to you to find out what happens.

    Especially when you’re at a loss for an exciting, appropriate response, take a moment to look at the GM Moves. Try to pick one that you don’t use often, to challenge yourself. Or – there are 12 of them; have a player roll 1d12, and use the corresponding GM Move. This will help you improvise better, as you set challenges like this for yourself.

    If you wanted something less vague:

    When they’re looking around town, fishing for excitement, or running errands, look at your GM Prep – what Grim Portents have been ticked off, and how are they represented in the world?

    Pay attention to what the PCs are doing/asking – this indicates what the players are interested in. Are they looking for antivenom? Sounds like they want venomous dangers! Do they want to crash a royal reception? Sounds like they want courtly intrigue! Whenever a player takes the time to have a PC do a thing, try to find a way to reward that interest by making it relevant.

    And finally, reference the PCs’ bonds. During less-tense scenes, you might be able to get some interesting interplay going on by simply addressing a relevant bond, and turning the players loose to work on a bond. Some of my best moments as a GM are when i can step back, and watch the Players for awhile.

  6. Jason Lutes Cool, I did do some the things you mentioned: the priests all went off to attend evening service, which indeed gave two of the characters the chance to sneak out and meet up with some other monks who had approached them earlier. That just led to more NPC questions-asking, though. 🙂 The other characters decided to attend to service. Maybe I should’ve let something happen during the service, come to think of it. By my improvisational skills aren’t that good yet to come up with something like that on the spot.

    I think my problem is precisely that if I want to use GM moves to change the situation and provide new factors for the players to take into account, I feel I need to know what the situation is — otherwise I’m just making up random crap, and that’s no good either. So I either I over-prepare and start railroading, or I improvise and the overall story just moves from moment to moment without developing a coherent larger plot.

    Dangit, I really do need to start using Fronts, don’t I…

  7. I played for a long time without fronts, just relying on improvisation. Then, one day I finally sat down and decided I would bite the bullet and figure out how fronts work. Fifteen minutes of work paid off huge dividends. I can’t recommend them enough.

  8. Andrew Fish Can you give me an example of how to set in motion bond-related interplay between characters? My players are always forgetting their bonds and not incorporating them into their roleplaying, so I am very interested in ideas on how to use GM moves to bring the bonds more in the spotlight. Is it as easy as, when character A is in danger, turning towards character B and saying “you have sworn to defend A and now the troll is advancing on her — what do you do?”

  9. Leo Breebaart what you’ve suggested in definitely a way to invoke a bond.

    Basically, keep their bonds in mind; it’s nice to have them read them aloud at the start of the session.

    In your example: “You have sworn to defend A”

    If A is going to wander through town looking for information, you can turn it a couple of ways.

    “B, you’re in town. Civilization. Safety! You can trust the guards to do their duty, to keep the peace. You’ve kept A alive this far, and you can relax. How does B feel as this burden shifts to others, however temporarily?”


    “B, you’re in town. Civilization. Safety! you can trust the guards to do their duty, to keep the peace. You’ve kept A alive this far, and you can relax. Or so you think… but as A wanders down the cobbled street to search for information, you feel that itching between your shoulder blades. Is that lady watching A too closely? Are those beggar children really running recklessly, or are they a gang of halfling assassins…. There is more to fret about in town than in dungeons; especially if you’re paranoid. What do you do?”

    Basically, making bonds meaningful is as straightforward as holding them up in front of the players, and asking them relevant questions about them.

    This is how they become resolved, and hopefully evolve into new bonds.

  10. I had this problem last session too, and I was already using fronts, so I look forward to reading all these responses.

    In my game, I finally got fed up and said, “You visit the rest of the bars and the archives too” – they seriously just kept saying they wanted to visit another pub to ask more questions, for over an hour in real time, well after they’d gotten as much intel as they possibly could, and I ran out of ideas for pubs and NPCs. My losing patience forced then to actually follow up on the leads they’d already gathered, but it kind of broke the narrative to deal with it in that tone. :-/

  11. Jason Tocci I know the frustration, but it might be worth considering why they’re continuing to beat their heads against the bar.

    If it’s players being intentionally obstinate and disruptive, that is an issue you handle outside of the game mechanics. That’s the groups job, not the GM’s.

    But if they’re playing with good intentions and continue asking questions after you feel they’ve been answered, then the players (not necessarily the characters; but the players themselves) might be interested in something that maybe you haven’t picked up on.

    In cases like this, do what Jason suggests above- ask the players what they want out of the scene, and find a way to collaborate toward it.

    The more i learned to dialogue with the players and avoid using “GM Fiat” the more fun i’ve had, and the more i’ve felt surprised and entertained by players.

    I used to look at GMing as a bit of a draining chore, compared to playing a a PC. Now i see it as simply being another player, and enjoy it quite thoroughly.

  12. Andrew Fish: I actually prefer GMing usually, but it’s true I don’t ask much what they want out of a scene – I’m nervous that will pull back the curtain too much and disrupt the sense of discovery. Of course, getting annoyed does this too… But I don’t mean to hijack Leo Breebaart’s thread!

  13. Jason Tocci that’s the point where I zoom out.

    “Ok well you keep going bar to bar, is there anything special you’re looking for?”


    “Well, you’ve found a lot of rumors, but none of them sufficed? You looking for specific rumors then?”

    “Well, rumors about the mayor or maybe those spider people”

    “Ok cool, well it takes a bit but at the Salty Boar near the docks you find an wrinkly old woman, half drunk, and willing to blather on about the spider people and how they ruined her life. Fighter, she keeps eyeing you up and down, smiling and making eyes at you. What do you do?”

  14. Maybe the characters should be on the “move” when talking with the NPCs. You make the PCs see the world around them, and the NPCs should be “pointing” at cool stuff to look at.

    For example, if your characters are investigating the ruins of a village that was burnt to the ground by a orc warband, they might have a survivor guiding them around; the players would problably ask questions like “from which direction the orcs came?”, “what where they looking for?” while they explore the place. The important thing is to never make them feel safe, the PCs might believe that there would be some orcs still around, waiting to ambush them at every corner.

  15. Print out the GM moves in big bold text and keep that sheet in front of you while you run the game. Remember, everything you do is going to be one of those moves. There is no move called Engage In Idle Conversation. Any “idle conversation” is just a vehicle for one of your GM moves. If nothing remotely meaningful is happening, describe a montage or summarize the scene (perhaps by revealing an unwelcome truth or showing signs of an approaching threat) and proceed to the next player prompt of ‘What do you do?’.

Comments are closed.