You know what sucks, in pretty much every game system?

You know what sucks, in pretty much every game system?

You know what sucks, in pretty much every game system? When the sneaky/stealthy/social character sneaks off ahead of the party into some dangerous situation, and you follow that character’s actions and play that out while everyone else sits and twiddles their thumbs.

It can be particularly bad in Dungeon World because of the 7-9 results’ tendency to escalate situations, and because of how you GM: describe the situation, make moves, ask “what do you do?”

One of the best experiences I can recall having with this was playing D&D, where the party’s rogue was an NPC with very little personal initiative. He’d scout ahead if we asked him to, and he’d disappear for a bit and then the GM would tell us whether he returned and what he found.

That got me thinking… is there a way to frame “scouting ahead” in such a way that the scouting happens off-camera, and the details come out as what happened? (Rather than playing them out as they happen.) And that led me to this:


When you go off on your own to explore a dangerous area, tell us how you do it and add…

…+DEX if you rely on stealth and agility

…+CON if you rely on patience and endurance

…+CHA if you rely on blending in with the locals

On a 7+, you make it back safely and the GM will describe what you encountered. Then, on a 10+ pick 3; on a 7-9 pick 1:

* Ask a question from Discern Realities about what you encountered (you can choose this more than once)

* You were able to sneak something out of there; ask the GM what

* You made some preparation or created some advantage to exploit upon your return; work out the details with the GM

* You got away clean: leaving no trace, rousing no suspicion, etc.

On a 6-, mark XP and choose 1:

* You make it back to the others but with trouble hot on your heels! Ask the GM what follows you.

* You’ve been captured, trapped, pinned down, or otherwise stuck out there. We won’t know how or where until the others come looking for you.

* You’re missing in action; the details will be revealed later

(Edited that last bullet based on discussion in comments.)

40 thoughts on “You know what sucks, in pretty much every game system?”

  1. i will definitely be using this in future, this is so much better than constantly rolling Dex checks to stay hidden while scouting an enemy camp or assessing a town

  2. Damian Jankowski yeah, I think the 6- results need to be there in order to establish the “frame” of the move. Maybe not these 6- choices, but something to prevent us as a a table from zooming in on the scout’s immediate circumstances.

    Thinking about it more, a better version of the 2nd option would be “You’re missing in action, the details to be revealed later.”

    That gives lots of flexibility while still enforcing the move’s framework.

  3. Kinda interesting, but I’d probably rather just have 9- results spill back to the rest of the party rather than elide the sneaking stuff like this.

  4. It looks excellent to me – this kind of situation is always tricky to handle; I wonder if there is or could be a way to add a spout lore variant into the 7-9 choices. I’m thinking of the scout coming back, relaying his findings/adventure, and in addition to the GM describing what he saw, then the scout adds in “Oh, and yeah, there was this big sleeping ogre there, I totally snuck around him,” or whatever features he wants to describe to make it sound like it’s more from the character’s voice perspective.

  5. Scott Heyden you mean like the clause in Spout Lore where the GM asks “how do you know this?”

    If so: yeah, I think would work. I was rolling around a clause after the pick the list, something like: “Regardless of your choices, answer the GMs questions about what you got up to.”

    If that’s not what you mean… maybe elaborate?

  6. I was just experiencing this last night. This is very cool.

    I have a different solution on a napkin, which is based on Bond-like trust – the party and the thief are so ‘with it’ that, as their experience and professional habit, that they can essentially meta-game based on hunches. “Bartle’s been a long time, maybe we should go help.” “Hmm, Bartle probably went left here, he always does that.”

  7. I like how this move accelerates time and speeds to the net result of the infiltration. “You sneak off. How do you do it?” “Okay, here’s what happens while you’re away, let’s all move on.”

    So many RPG pacing fouls are due to the GM operating at too granular a time scale.

  8. This makes for a great “Quick Scout” and to just see what is there. In some cases you don’t need to roll, just narrate that the character went out and give him information as it comes up. “Yeah, I got to here and around this corner were two ork guards. I avoided them in favor of getting back to you….And here is where I found a secret door but didn’t explore it yet.” This could be a great way for the GM to place down a map and describe some things for the players that the scout or thief found out but couldn’t investigate further until he had back up. Often, rather than having the players map it, just put down the map and make generalizations like, “You couldn’t get into here without getting caught but you have a guess that it is an armory due to the people going in and getting weapons. And you have no idea what is in here as it was too well guarded and you couldn’t get close enough.”

    Things like that. I like the 6- roll where you are trailing something. You could set up ambushes that way too.

  9. Yeah, something that’s intentional in the design but not explicitly stated: the move frames the scouting action in the past, right? So by the time the GM is giving you intel and you’re spending your options, it’s already happened.

    That means the GM can ask questions of the character about what they saw or what happened, and it doesn’t cross The Line into asking the player to make stuff up that’s outside of their character’s purview. It pushes right up to that Line, sure, but doesn’t cross it.

    Not everyone cares about that, but I do.

  10. This discussion made me think of two other moves: the Engagement move from The Regiment, and the Conduct an Operation move from The Sprawl. They are designed to fast forward through long, boring planning sessions and prevent groups from getting bogged down in details. This is another situation that is often heavy on one or two people dominating the conversation while the others wait around. Granted, The Regiment and The Sprawl are tactical and caper games, respectively, but could a similar move work for DW?

  11. Peter J yeah, probably. A classic dungeon crawl is arguably a tactical caper.

    I’ve toyed with a Determine Your Disposition move few times (inspired by the Regiment), but a solid fictional trigger for it (and the stats you’d roll for it) always eluded me.

    The other tech that I think is worth considering is the Approaches from Blades in the Dark, where you pick the approach (assault, recon, intrusion, etc.) and decide on a couple pertinent details (when/where, target, point of entry, etc.) and then dive into the action.

  12. Matrix Forby Jeremy Strandberg That’s the kind of thing I was getting around to from my earlier post. How to make it more about the character describing what he saw and found, and less GM-y. I think you two covered what I was thinking more eloquently than I.

  13. Jeremy Strandberg The simplest method for that situation would be to roll+INT, but that’s not exactly a satisfying choice. How about something similar to Recruit, where each factor in the group’s favor is worth +1? The first point I can think of is: “+1 if you know of and are exploiting a weakness or vulnerability in your target.” Can we think of two or three more?

  14. Peter J oh, yeah… I’m a big fan of fiction-base modifiers, and I think they’re a great fit for moves that reflect the actions of the group rather than an individual. (Though they can work for individual actions, too, if the game is set up for it…

    Let’s step back a sec, though… what’s the specific sort of “action” you’re thinking about modeling? I feel like we might talking about different things right now.

  15. Jeremy Strandberg Okay. What I would like to model is the planning phase of attacking an enemy lair. The intel and general goal is defined, the move would cover everything from there up to just before the action really begins. Not necessarily a Perilous Journey, though that may precede it.

  16. Peter J In my mind, it keeps breaking down into a series of stages. Like:

    1) Legwork (similar to the Dirty Dungeons-esque move we workshopped a while back), to generate intel (and Preparation) before leaving.

    2) Outfitting (shopping, Supply and Recruit moves, Bolster)

    – Let folks spend Preparation on flashbacks, to buy or set something up retroactively

    3) Getting There (some variant on UPJ, but more here’s what happened instead of here’s how the trip goes)

    4) Recon (this Scout Ahead move, or similar, like casting intel spells)

    5) Insertion (everyone chooses a role/approach and rolls to determine effectiveness… STR if you kick in the door, DEX if sneak in somewhere, CON if you lie in wait, etc.). Results determine each pc’s starting disposition. Frame the scene and go!

  17. +Jeremy Strandberg I think retroactive knowledge/gear might be the way to go here, with the legwork and recon setting up fictional knowledge beforehand (or maybe just preparation?). With that in mind, let me try something…

    When you launch a coordinated attack on a target, each character involved decides how they are getting themselves into position to make their attack. Then roll…

    +STR if you lead a direct assault

    +DEX if you infiltrate the area stealthily

    +CON if you lie in wait for them to come to you

    +INT if you exploit a known weakness or vulnerability in your target

    +WIS if you provide overwatch from a good vantage point

    +CHA if you coordinate with your allies to help

    *On a 10+, hold 2. *On a 7-9, hold 1. Spend your hold to:

    Get the drop on an enemy.

    Appear right where you need to be.

    Produce a useful piece of gear you need for the attack.

  18. So here’s the thing that I have learned while playing The Warren, another Powered by the Apocalypse game, with kids that might have some relevance here.

    NEVER focus on one person in the party.

    Whether they are together or not, nothing says you can’t switch focus from person to person. It is especially imperitive that you don’t when they split up.

    You see, kids never stick to a plan. They always go running off in different directions.

    If you want to keep your game going, and all the players involved, then you are going to want to move the spotlight around.

    And here’s the cool part. It makes for a better game.

    You just play out the action a little until a roll is required or a suitable amount of tension has built up…

    And then you switch to someone else and do the same.

    Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

    No one gets bored. Everyone is engaged because they don’t know when they will jump back in the spotlight or when they get to resolve the last cliffhanger or roll you left them waiting for. There is plenty of interest and tension to go around.

    The players are hanging on every action AND you get a little bit of time to figure out the best next action to throw at them.

    This has worked so well that I have resolved to do this in every one of my games going forward.

  19. Reminds me of the decker problem from Shadowrun. When the decker needs to do their thing, suddenly the action stops and all attention is focused on the decker for an extended period of time.

  20. Peter J okay, cool. Now, let’s see if we can’t turn that “launch a coordinated assault” move into something that establishes the scene, rather than helps us resolve it.

    Like, I think the results need to generate more momentum and more complications. That gets me thinking, though, that each “approach” might need its own mini-move.

    How about…

    When you launch a coordinated assault on a location, have everyone pick a role and resolve them in order.

    If you create a diversion, describe how you do it. If everyone agrees that it might work, roll +INT. On a 7+, everyone else gets +1 forward. But on a 7-9, your actions generate unexpected danger (to you or your allies) of the GM’s choice. On a 6-, you generate unexpected danger but without any benefit to your allies.

    If you lead an attack on a secure point of entry, name your point of entry and roll +STR: on a 7+ you’re in and pick 2 (on a 10+) or 1 (on a 7-9).

    * You’ve overwhelmed the guardians and they’re no longer a threat

    * You managed to avoid harm (otherwise, take damage as established by the GM)

    * They’ve yet to raise the alarm

    * There’s a fleeting opportunity; take +1 forward to act on it.

    On a 6-, they’re holding the breach, for now!

    If you support an attack but don’t take the lead, roll +BOND with whoever’s on point. On a 7+, they either get inside (if they hadn’t already) or pick 1 extra choice. But on a 7-9, you’ve suffered an attack from one of the defenders. On a 6-, you’ve suffered an attack.

    If you infiltrated the location in advance, tell us how you did it. If you slipped in unseen and unheard, roll +DEX; if you donned a disguise or otherwise tried to blend in with the locals, roll +CHA; if it involved patience or endurance or putting up with discomfort, roll +CON; and if it involved a clever ploy, roll +INT. On a 10+, you’re in position and no one’s the wiser. On a 7-9, you’re in but you’ve roused suspicion or found yourself in a spot, GM’s choice. On a 6-, you’ve been found out and captured/surrounded/overwhelmed.

    If you hung back and kept lookout, describe your vantage point and roll +WIS. On a 10+, hold 3. On a 7-9, hold 1. As the situation continues to unfold, you can spend hold 1 for 1 to ask a question from the Discern Realities list and take +1 forward to act on the answer. On a 6-, the GM will reveal an unwelcome truth.

    Once you each of you has resolved your initial disposition, zoom in and resolve the situation through normal play.

  21. Wow, that sure is a lot of material! It’s great for establishing lots of details, although I tend towards the ‘less is more’ school of thought myself. I think this is how I would do it:

    When you plan an attack on a place, describe your target and your goal, then answer any of the GM’s questions they may have on your methods. Then roll:

    +1 if you know of a weakness or a vulnerability in your target

    +1 if you have allies to coordinate your attack with

    +1 if you have detailed knowledge of the area

    +1 if you have something unique or special that can defeat your target’s defenses

    The GM will describe the starting point of the action, based on your roll and options chosen, and present you with the opportunity to act. *On a 12+, you get all three. *On a 10-11, choose two. *On a 7-9, choose one.

    You have the initiative, and can get the drop on your enemies

    You have some tactical advantage that gives you the upper hand in the fight, the GM will tell you what it is

    There are no unexpected complications present

    *On a 6-, your plan has gone awry, the GM will describe the scene with you already at a disadvantage.

  22. Peter J hah! I was just sitting down to type up something similar!

    I was thinking more like:

    When you plan an attack on a place, describe your approach and your primary objective. When the assault begins, whoever made the plan rolls and adds…

    +1 if you exploit a known weakness

    +1 if you have the element of surprise

    +1 if you have someone on the inside already

    +1 if you’ve got something special that can overcome their defenses

    On a 7+, your main force has breached the perimeter. On a 7-9, pick 1 gain and the GM picks 1 twist. On a 10-11, pick 2 gains and 1 twist. On a 12+, pick 2 gain. You can pick 1 extra gain if you let the GM pick an extra twist.


    * Their initial defenses have been overcome

    * They’re still in disarray (surprised, routed, unaware, etc.)

    * You’ve spotted an opportunity or siezed an advantage; take +1 forward to act on it

    * Your main force has penetrated far into the location


    * Everyone in your main force has been injured (damage as established by the GM).

    * Your forces are split up and separated

    * There’s some unexpected threat or development (fire, a terrible monster, a secret weapon, prisoners, etc.) of the GM’s choice

    The GM will set the scene reflecting the choices you’ve each made.

    On a 6-, everyone marks XP and the plan goes awry. The GM will set the scene with you already at a disadvantage and possibly in dire straights.

  23. Looks like we arrived at similar conclusions! Comparing the two, it looks like we differ in when the action should begin. Mine sets up an opportunity and puts the ball right in the PCs court, yours feels more like it sets up a scene in progress. I honestly don’t know enough to say which works better. What’s been your experience on this subject?

  24. I’ve found that starting a situation in media res, with things already in motion, can be a lot of fun. And I think pushing the initial assault more concretely into the past gives the GM more opportunities (and more guidance) to ask “what happened, what did you see?” type questions of the characters.

    But I think both approaches would work. You’d probably have to try each out and see what goes more smoothly for you and your group.

  25. I like this move a lot. It would be a good addition to the basic & special moves. My only thought on it is that the linking of CON with patience feels off. Patience seems like WIS to me, because it involves mental discipline. Maybe it would make more sense like…

    …+CON if you rely on a rugged route less traveled

    …+WIS if you rely on patience and vigilance

    Maybe that isn’t the right wording for +CON, but I can think of a lot of stories and movies where the characters infiltrate a locate by enter along a path that is so harsh no one else would be there (e.g. think of the route the hobbits took into Mordor).

  26. Although I rarely experience the problem this move is intended to solve, I can see our group adopting this move to be used as an alternative whenever it feels right. It’s definitely a nice option when actual play time is limited or for an NPC scout.

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