Stealth in DW

Stealth in DW

Stealth in DW

Yesterday I ran a short game with one player, and there were some stealth situations that I have no idea how to play out.

There is a small jail, with two cells. A guard is asleep at the desk.

Player looks over the guard, sees they have the keys in sight, possibly grabbable.

Player tries to grab the keys through the bars.

To me this seems like a Defy Danger roll+dex. However, there are some issues with this:

– There is no immenent danger – if you fail, the guard wakes up and then something else happens. So maybe it is not Defy Danger?

– The book says, “by getting out of the way or acting fast” – this is not fast, it’s actually going to be slow. So again, maybe not Defy Danger?

– But if it’s not Defy Danger, the GM just makes a move, and this seems arbitrary – like, the player has no say in how skillful they are in doing this thing. There are basically two ways this can go – the keys are gotten easily, no consequence; or, the keys are not gotten easily, some consequence (maybe you rattle them a bit and the guard shifts, might be waking up – show signs of an approaching threat). However, even something as benign as that move seems really arbitary – the character had no control over whether they rattled the keys. Dice seem like a good way of deciding that kind of control.

– But, if it is Defy Danger, the partial success is:

> the GM will offer you a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice.

I have no idea what any of that would be for “I am trying to be sneaky and I succeed kind of”.

It seems like this is a sitation that has no danger unless you screw it up, and deciding if you screwed it up by GM move seems arbitrary or by roll, too harsh (partial success that will feel like a failure).

Anyone have examples or ideas on how I am doing this wrong, or could do it better?

BTW they rolled a 12 so it just worked fine, and I didn’t have to resolve partial success, but they wanted to know what that might look like.


talked about it with the player, and I think it would be something like:

– Failure: keys drop, guard wakes up

– Partial success: you get the keys, but the guard stirs a bit and might be waking up

I guess that is a worse outcome… what would a hard bagain or ugly choice be like? Defy Danger is really confusing to me.

12 thoughts on “Stealth in DW”

  1. Were there prisoners in the other cell that could see the PC reach for the keys and all demand to be released as well?

    You could zoom out a bit, too; make the whole move about “get keys and get out.” Then you have options for ugly choices, like the guard stirring and needing to be murdered before they wake up or else they sound an alarm (bonus if it’s a hapless guard just doing their job).

  2. There’s totally a danger there: that the guard wakes up and notices them trying to get the keys (leading him to be more watchful, split the PCs up, dole out a beating, etc.).

    I know I tend to assign stats to Defy Danger more loosely than the specific triggers. Like you say, there isn’t really a good option for “acting with finesse.” You could maybe make it a WIS roll (for mental fortitude… staying cool under pressure) but just about everyone with any D&D experience would call that a DEX check. So, yeah… I’d call for Defy Danger with DEX (and maybe ask the player if they had a good reason why it should be something different).

    As for how to read the results: on “stealth” rolls, there are generally two parts: do the thing, and avoid notice. An easy 7-9 result for Defying Danger with stealth would be a hard bargain: you can either do it but get noticed, or back down and avoid notice.

    (BTW: in this case: “worse outcome” or “hard bargain” or “ugly choice” all look pretty similar: you get the thing but get noticed, or you don’t get the thing but stay unnoticed, your choice.)

    If they choose the former, they get the keys in hand but they jangle and the guard jerks awake. “He lurches up, and his eyes dart to yours, then the keys, and he takes in a big breath like he’s about to bellow for help, what do you do?”

    If they choose the latter, they’re reaching for the keys and almost have them, but the guard shifts and snorts a little. “His hand comes absentmindedly down to the keys. You jerk your hand away, silently, unnoticed, but he grabs those keys and sleepily hooks them onto the peg on the other side of him, totally out of your reach now. He falls almost immediately asleep again, but the keys are out of reach. You’ll either need to come up with someway to extend your reach about 5 feet to even have a chance of getting those keys. Or wait until the situation changes. What do you do?”

    (Notice that in both cases, I’m describing the outcome of the roll and then sliding straight into a soft GM move: put someone in a spot or tell them the requirements and ask. This keeps things moving forward, so that we don’t dwell on a static situation.)

    On a miss: they don’t do it and they get noticed. They drop the keys, the guard wakes up, and then you make a GM move the follows, possibly a pretty hard one. Or maybe it’s relatively soft, but escalating quickly. I’d be inclined to show signs of an approaching threat, with the guard calling for backup and them chatting about how they need to go in there and break the PCs fingers.

  3. Defy Danger is a little bit a challenge, yes, expecialli the 7-9 results. The situation you are describing is a Defy Danger imho, on Dex (the generic nature of the move, alas, eludes the descriptions sometime), so that part is fine.

    THe 7-9 could be a lot of things, but you should be as clear as you can on the results when you’re setting things up, particolary about success and failure: “ok, you”re trying to be sneaky here. It is a Defy Danger on Dex. The danger being: the guard wakes up and catches you in the middle of the deed, and will react accordingly. With a success, of course, you’ll get the key and the guard would still be sleeping, none the wiser”. It is important that all the player on the table understand what’s at stake. This also helps you improvising the 7-9 results: the guard wakes up but doesn’t know what were you doing… to get some examples of ugly choices I shound know something more about the environment of the scene, if somene else was here, or something (just making it up on the run, something like: “if you choose to take the key, you’ll crash the lamp on the floor and start a fire…”)

  4. i have never really understood the difference between a Hard Bargain and an Ugly Choice tbh. The important thing, though, is knowing when to use which, or more specifically, when it’s easier to to use which. In that case, Worse Outcome is both easier and more fictionally plausible than ugly Choice or Hard Bargain

  5. Mark Weis I try to think of like this:

    On a hard bargain, you can do it but suffer this consequence, or back down and not do it (accepting whatever happens as a natural consequence of that).

    On an ugly choice, you’re committed to the action but the GM offers you a choice of two or more unpleasant outcomes. “Yeah, you catch the ledge as you fall, but you’re going to have a shitty, crumbling one-handed grip unless you drop your sword into the abyss and grab on with that hand, too. What do you do?”

    (Note you can combine them: give them a hard bargain they can back down from, but a choice of unpleasant consequences. Or an ugly choice that’s either a worse outcome or an unpleasant consequence.)

    Also: totally agree with you that deciding which one to use is the real art of resolving 7-9 results on Defy Danger.

  6. Thanks for all of the discussion, gives me a lot to go on. I will hopefully be playing again soon and I hope we have some stealth rolls, am excited to try some of the suggestions out!

  7. INT is also worth keeping in mind for a stealth-related Defy Danger. A lot of stealth comes down to knowing things – how to place your feet, how to misdirect attention, how to grab/hold/use things quietly, how to judge light and shadow…

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