Is there a good way to introduce a monster’s passive qualities in the face of successful player dice rolls?

Is there a good way to introduce a monster’s passive qualities in the face of successful player dice rolls?

Is there a good way to introduce a monster’s passive qualities in the face of successful player dice rolls?

Let’s say I have a beasty that cannot be attacked in a certain way, e.g. it is impervious to magic. My group gets into a fight with this monster, the Wizard reacts first, and casts Magic Missile. He rolls a 12!

So do I then just say: “well, your spell was totally successful, it just doesn’t do any damage at all, sorry”? Seems a bit contrary to the spirit of the player’s excellent roll. (On a 6- or even a 7-9 it wouldn’t be a problem at all, of course.)

36 thoughts on “Is there a good way to introduce a monster’s passive qualities in the face of successful player dice rolls?”

  1. I’m not sure I’d tell the Wizard to roll. The Wizard is all “I cast magic missile!” I go “cool! The bolts of silver magical force pepper it’s body, Wham wham wham wham! They sputter and evaporate, like snuffed candles! Looks no Bueno, wizard!”

  2. Yeah, I agree with Alfred Rudzki – have it fizzle in some way to where it doesn’t actually cost anything to reveal it.

    That said, I think the wording of the trigger in Alfred’s case would still require a roll (the spell was cast, right?). So I’d do something like “As you summon the magical energies, you can’t seem to get a purchase on this beast… it’s like the targeting magics just slide off of it. It doesn’t seem like the spell is going to go off the way you want – still wanna try?”

  3. Depends on the move and the fiction. I’d always make them roll to Cast a Spell because:

    a) the tigger is black & white, no judgement call… they cast the spell, they make the move

    b) magic is IMO always risky; always.

    In this case, the 10+ means they cast the spell successfully and fzzt, it doesn’t do any damage! It keeps plodding on and lunges towards the Fighter with jaws agape, what do you do?

    By contrast, Hack & Slash’s detailed explanation makes it clear that there’s a judgment call. You have to have a chance of harming it and it has to be able to fight back. Against a foe that was somehow impervious, the solution I’ve come to like best is that you describe their attack getting fouled and then immediately follow that with a soft move, often at the fouled attacker. So like “yeah, you come in swinging but don’t roll H&S; she just, like, ping PING! knocks your attack aside like it was nothing and lashes out with a thrust towards your throat, faster than you can think. Quick, what do you do?” (And then don’t let them finagle that into a H&S… if they’re like a “I duck the thrust and whip my blade up, catching her extended wrist” you can be like “nah, man, she’s too fast, you’ll be lucky to duck out of the way! You want to do that, you’ll be Defying Danger with DEX.”)

  4. Jeremy Strandberg But if “no damage, it keeps coming, now the Fighter is in danger” is how you handle the 10+, what would you do on a 7-9, or, heaven forbid, a 6-? What you describe seems like a textbook 7-9 to me…

  5. I agree that the move is still triggered and the player rolls dice. As Jeremy Strandberg​ says, the trigger is black and white. However, before the player rolled, I’d make sure to say something letting them know this beast is immune to magic. It seems unfair to not let them know. If the player keeps going through with it though, oh well. The spell fizzles.

    That being said, if we were playing a gritty, hardcore version of DW, I’d just let the spell fizzle.

  6. You could have the 10+ result give the wizard the clear knowledge that this monster is IMPERVIOUS to all magic. A partial success would be less definitive, just tell them that the magic missiles bounce off or seem to not harm the monster.

  7. Alfred Rudzki agreed, which is why I think “show the consequences and ask” is the best response. “As you begin to form the spell, you notice/feel …”

    I think the roll needs to happen if they cast, but it needs to not be a gotcha – tell them it might not work somehow

  8. The text of Cast a Spell doesn’t tell me that my spell has the intended effect. It tells me that I cast the spell.

    On the 10+ to cast a spell, I reveal the unwelcome truth that the monster is immune to (at least that sort) of magic. That’s valuable information!

    On a 7-9, I’ll reveal the same thing, and whatever else based on the player’s choice for Cast a Spell.

    On a miss, maybe they don’t even get the spell off. The thing might chomp them before the spell is cast. Or whatever seems right based on the fiction, my prep, my principles, etc.

    Giving them warning ahead of time, before they trigger the move, that’s solid, too. Whether or not I do that, though, depends on so many nuances of the fiction, how spells (and this spell in particular) have been established or described, the nature of this magic immunity, etc.

  9. This assumes that all magical poof is the same kind of poof.

    I think there’s something to be said for:

    (A) describing the texture of the poof immunity, granting the wizard additional information above and beyond that of the monster being unharmed. Because this monsters not just genetically immune, right? “The Gems of Aquilonia on its chest seem to be sucking up the magical energies in a vortex.” Now the PCs can attack those gems; maybe destroying them renders the monster vulnerable, or he information is otherwise actionable and grants a +1 forward when acted upon.

    (B) adding nuance to “immune.” There’s “the magic just goes away”-immune, but there’s also “the missiles slam into it, rat-tat-tat, each collision rocking it back on its feet – but when the mystic vapors clear, there isn’t so much as a scratch on it.” The latter is tactical information, and can still be acted upon (e.g., fighter gets it over a pit, and wizard magic missile-shoves it over the edge).

    The issue, I think, as to why you don’t know what to do with the 12+ isn’t that the monster is immune to the success of the roll, but that that immunity isn’t defined with enough nuance to allow a success to coexist alongside it.

  10. Matt Horam Sure, just Reveal an Unwelcome Truth. The enemy is standing in a magical circle or has a wand that deflects spells. You’ll have to deal with that if you want any magic to affect them at all.

  11. One of the things that is great about Dungeon World is that there are no turns, therefore, the “succesful” casting of Magic Missile that bounces off the monster doesn’t “cost a turn”. Because it was a 10+, the Magic Missile spell isn’t “spent/forgotten” either, allowing it to be used in the near future.

    Upon a little thought, I would have gone with: “The missiles hammer home, but the beastie’s scales reflect them harmlessly away. The monster has paused for a second from the impacts though, what do you do?”

    This way, you’ve mitigated the failure to do damage (it’s immunity) and the wizard is not immediate peril and is free to come up with another answer (“I summon Magic Missile again to fire at the rocky ceiling overheard the bastard’s head!”)

  12. I agree with the consensus a bit here. You don’t need to have the Wizard Roll. You don’t roll if the outcome is certain. You just narrate. Now what you can do, I think it was mentioned, is to narrate the spell going off, fizzling and then have the Wizard do a Defy Danger as the Monster comes in for a strike on the impudent wizard who dares to throw magic at a magic impervious foe. Role play it up. Monster laughing or some such. But you really only roll when there is the possibility of failure with costs or difficulties to the players. In a situation of lock picking: Alone in the dungeon, all the time in the world to pick the lock and no trap to go off if he gets it wrong, then boom he opens it, takes a few minutes, no roll. Now if there are patrols, wandering monsters, or something that would cause danger on a failure to open the lock quickly enough, then roll.

    Just keep the action going.

  13. If you DO make the wizard roll, I highly recommend making sure SOMETHING cool happens. Don’t ever have a players roll fizzle and do nothing. Make the magic missile bounce off the enemy and blow up the roof, make the magic overwhelm the monsters power and open them up to attack from someone else, whatever, something! Remember as a GM its your job to be a fan of the characters.

  14. But it’s also my job to begin and end with the fiction, to Think Dangerous, to exploit my prep, etc.

    Being a fan of the characters sometimes means revealing “oh crap, your usual trick didn’t work” and seeing what these awesome characters do instead.

    And I’m not saying that “no, you shouldn’t give the character something cool on a 10+;” I’m just saying that I don’t feel any compulsion to do so if all my other principles and prep wouldn’t indicate that they should.

  15. I mean that’s fine, its down to you as GM to decide where and when you apply those ideals – but knowing that an action will fail for sure, having a character roll for it then telling them their 12+ roll did nothing at all feels to me like a flat note at best, and a wasted opportunity at worst. Esp. when you can use it to encourage clever play or some neat narrative action.

    I don’t mean to say that on a 10+ you should throw out your prep, only that on a 10+ Something Cool should happen, regardless of your prep. As GMs its kind of our whole deal to come up with neat stuff happening on the fly, and theres no reason you can’t come up with something cool, that also fits your other ideals for the scene. There are dozens of ways to have a usual trick not work in a way that still makes the player feel good for having attempted it, and encourage alternative solutions to a problem

  16. Matrix Forby Actually, a move happened – Cast a Spell as it’s trigger is “When you cast a spell” so I would have the wizard roll to cast the spell first and then follow up like Jeremy. The Hack and Slash move I wouldn’t roll as it’s trigger infers that you need to be capable to do damage.

  17. Paul Sheppard not all spells are attacks; all hack and slashes are. I think you’re capturing the letter of the rule at the expense of its spirit.

  18. J Stein​ I don’t think I am. As GM I am supposed to parse what a player says to determine a move has been triggered. As soon as a wizard says I’m casting a spell that’s a Cast a Spell move. What if the wizard casts the spell and got a 7-9? He might have chosen to forget the spell but if you just automatically bypass the move to actually cast the spell then that wouldn’t happen. I’m with Jeremy fully on this one.

    If there is a reason for the wizard to suspect that the magic won’t work I might ask first if he’s sure he wants to do it but I wouldn’t just automatically assume he cast it and the magic failed. Heck some of my favorite moments happened when a cleric rolled to cast light and got a 6- and everyone was glowing neon pink for a day

  19. Paul Sheppard You’re also supposed to be a fan of the characters; I know that’s a grey area principle, but it applies here. The fundamental structure of moves in the apocalypse engine is:

    10+: You accomplished your immediate goal

    7-9: …at a cost, or with a complication

    6-: You didn’t accomplish it, with a cost etc.

    Was the PCs goal to fling MM, or to attack the monster? You know the answer, meaning the 10+ is scratched out, invalidating the fundamental structure of the game. That’s why you don’t roll hack and slash when the mob is immune to harm – the “move architecture” literally doesn’t map to the set of possible outcomes. That the cast a spell move is written in more generic form doesn’t change that dynamic; it just means a generic move was written for dealing with a big spell list. The result as you’ve described it means the PC can’t possibly accomplish their actual goal, and now they’re just rolling to see if you get to make no move against them, a soft move, or a hard move.

    Making PCs roll just to see how hard you get to screw with them is contrary to the “be a fan” principle.

  20. See Jeremy’s answer above as it mirrors my thoughts. I can be a fan and still ask for a roll. The reason I don’t ask for a roll with a Hack and Slash if the monster is immune is because the H&S move specifically says “Note that an “attack” is some action that a player undertakes that has a chance of causing physical harm to someone else. Attacking a dragon with inch-thick metal scales full of magical energy using a typical sword is like swinging a meat cleaver at a tank: it just isn’t going to cause any harm, so hack and slash doesn’t apply. Note that circumstances can change that: if you’re in a position to stab the dragon on its soft underbelly (good luck with getting there) it could hurt, so it’s an attack.”

    With a Hack and Slash move against the dragon in the example, I would tell the fighter up front that he would need to find a way to get his attack through the scales. Similarly, if the wizard had a reason to suspect that his magic wouldn’t work (as determined by the fiction) I would step in and give the warning ahead of time. If he thinks it’s just a normal goblin and not a magically immune one, then no, I would have him Cast a Spell, and then describe what happens – appropriate to the dice roll. On a 10+ maybe they magic missiles hit it in the eyes giving a +1 forward to the next attack, or whatever seems appropriate.

  21. Paul Sheppard I think you just described, in detail, what I was referring to as getting the letter of the rule and missing the spirit.

    I’m willing to let this conversation rest. I think we’ve adequately expressed our respective points of view, and just fundamentally disagree. That’s OK.

  22. And that it is. I will be honest, I tend to feel that for the most part, in other crunchier systems I tend to be more in the spirit of the rule than letter, but obviously here we disagree and as you say, that’s cool. I will admit that my players’ reaction would make a difference but they haven’t complained in this case. I just feel they want a roll to successfully cast a spell vs a roll to see what effect the spell has

  23. I think the differences here are relatively minor and ultimately both lead to good play – the important thing I think we can all agree on is not forcing people to do useless rolls that bog down the game. In Paul’s case they make that work via interesting results on successes, taking the spirit of “the players intent” over its written rule, and J’s approach is just to cut the roll altogether to encourage alternative solutions. I’m sure all our players are happy with us 🙂

  24. Hmm, from one perspective a roll is appropriate, from another it isn’t.

    Taken from a different view: A spell cast from a scroll is expending as a

    Hold, no roll needed, spell goes off without the Wizard rolling. So given

    that: You could rule that the spell was automatically successfully cast as

    if they got a 10+ but didn’t get any true effect out of the spell as

    intended due to the fact of immunity to magic or immunity to that spell,

    then Narrate the hell out of good fictional descriptions.

  25. In the Magic Missile example I would have the monster stumble a bit from the impacts of the magic bolts and have that stumble narrated as the thing that saved the mage (or another character) from an attack but the creature seems otherwise unscathed. Taking away a 10+ under any circumstance just isn’t the correct way to go, IMO.

    If they decide to have a go at it again with something else…I wouldn’t make it too obvious that the critter is immune to magic effects unless you specifically need to as part of your narrative.

  26. “Your spell was successful, but because the monster can’t be directly affected by magic, you hit something else that exploded and showered the monster with shrapnel. What went kablooie?”

  27. You can use their answer to Show Signs of an Approaching Threat or Turn Their Move Back on Them Yep, your spell really showed them, but since you hit that support beam, the whole room is shuddering, what now?

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