Here’s my interpretation of the different ways the GM responds to player actions, by changing difficulty and threat.

Here’s my interpretation of the different ways the GM responds to player actions, by changing difficulty and threat.

Here’s my interpretation of the different ways the GM responds to player actions, by changing difficulty and threat.

Is this correct? Does anyone have any other way of looking at this?

Player Move Difficulty Levels

4 Impossible: That’s not fictionally possible at this moment. Try taking some other action that would change the fictional circumstances to make this possible.

e.g. Well the dragon is 1,000 feet in the air, so you realize your arrow would never reach it. Do you want to shoot anyway knowing it would be a futile gesture, or would you like to see if you can commandeer that airship other there?

3 Requires multiple Moves. Before you can roll for that, you must roll for some other move (commonly Defy Danger).

e.g. the kobolds are keeping you at bay with sharpened 10 foot pikes, so you will have to firstly Defy Danger to avoid those and get into range in order to Hack and Slash with your dagger.

2 Move. Roll your Move as written.

e.g. You are engaged in combat with the Orc, so roll Hack and Slash to attack it with your sword.

1 Auto success. Either it’s something that your character would never reasonably fail, and/or the result of a failure or partial success would not be interesting. You can just do it automatically without having to roll (however you have to deal with whatever consequences the GM says).

e.g. You have the halfling held firmly from behind with your dagger to his soft chubby neck, so if you’re sure you want to slit his throat, you will kill him instantly (but messily).

e.g.2 The door to the warehouse is stuck fast, so at first you can’t open it. However with a bit of shoving it springs open revealing what appears to be a recently vacated ritual. WDYD?

[As a hack (not RAW): difficulty 2.5 or 1.5: GM gives the PC +1, -1 (or advantage or disadvantage) on the Move roll based on circumstances.]

GM Move Threat Levels

4 Hard Move plus Soft Move:

e.g. The troll hits your arm for x damage, knocking you off balance; she now looms over you, ready to deliver the death blow. WDYD?

3 Hard Move

e.g. The troll hits your arm for x damage, knocking you off balance. WDYD?

2 Soft Move

e.g. The troll raises her giant club above you as her sinews pull taut, WDYD?

1 Fiction (no threat)

e.g. the troll turns towards you and licks her lips. WDYD?

An example of Low Difficulty, High Threat: The king is right in front of you and not expecting violence, so, yes, can can quite easily punch him in the face and automatically deal your damage. However, the many surrounding guards immediately knock you to the ground with their batons for x damage and pile on top of you, holding you fast. WDYD?

If there’s no Threat then you should usually have the PCs automatically succeed, but if you are Playing To Find Out, then you could require a Move roll with only a Fictional Change as the consequence. e.g. Well I don’t think it’s a given that you will be able to lift the gang leader’s unconscious ogre guard over your head in order to impress him. Roll Defy Danger with Strength. Failure? You struggle to even move the hulking brute, the gang leader laughs at you derisively. WDYD?

10 thoughts on “Here’s my interpretation of the different ways the GM responds to player actions, by changing difficulty and threat.”

  1. These all sound pretty good to me. I think the art is when to go to each one which sometimes i struggle with.

    When do you for example really do the hard move and when do you do the really soft one. Is about Fiction or more what kind of game you want to play?

  2. james day, that seems to me to be the GM’s choice. How hard do you want to be to your players? Does it make fictional sense? You can customise the difficulty to the group, that’s the whole point. That’s why usually you don’t have to worry to much about the level of the characters. An orc can be as tough as you want it to be just by using moves. Use them more as a guideline and source of ideas, plus what you feel is better at any given moment , don’t get locked into “what does the list of moves say”.

  3. I like this kind of thinking. In my own struggles with “difficulty” in DW (and World of Dungeons), I came to a slightly different answer for ‘difficulty 3’, which involves asking, ‘How do you start?’

    Sometimes what’s happening is the player has a different idea of what the difficult part is, and so there’s no second move, it’s just a different move than the one they had their eye on.

    Perhaps they wanted to kill the chubby halfling and wanted to roll hack & slash, but the problem is they’re on a moving stage coach in the rain.

    Almost on principle I don’t like daisy chaining moves together without some fiction in between them, certainly not before the first one is rolled. The first move is likely to produce some new information that’s going to alter fictional positioning, the player’s priorities, or both.

    So I’d tend to ask, “Okay, you want to attack the goblins – they’re behind a dense thicket of pikes, aimed down the corridor at you. How do you start?”

    We may be saying the same thing.

  4. Pedro Pereira​ I see that and to be honest with you I’ve never felt comfortable doing number 4 on the GM move list at any time because I know how sometimes that can feel a bit BS from the players perspective.

    But then again sometimes it does ratchet the tension and I wonder whether some combats have felt flat because I’ve never been willing to go there…

  5. Yeah, difficult to say. It comes down to your experience with the game, the vibe you’re going for, and your particular gaming group. Just look at a list of moves as inspiration and/or as a general guideline. Just do what feels right depending on the dice outcome. The best thing is to also look at what other people do, their sessions, etc. I really like the Gauntlet’s APs for that. You’ll eventually get a feel for the flow and for what you and your gaming group prefer.

  6. This is an interesting list. I have found it hard to tell players that what they want to do is not possible at this time, when clearly it is. Even in Epic scenarios. One example is attempting to do a Hack&Slash on a Dragon with a normal Sword. Now the Dragon is meant to be a fearsome beast. He has hard scales and incredible reach and the whole manipulate fire thing. So, when a player would attempt to run up, get on his back and begin wailing on the dragon, I have to say no. It would go like this:

    GM: The Dragon lands in the flames of the village house that it set on fire with his strafe and spots you approaching, he rears back with a large inhaled breath, what do you do. (Clearly a chance at Defy Danger as the Dragon is about to breath fire on the party)

    Player: I run up and stab my sword through it’s mouth so that it can’t breath fire. So I roll Hack&Slash right?

    GM: Uh, no, do you have a long reach with the sword? Do you have a magical sword?

    Player: No and no. But, I can do this, I am a fighter and all I need to do is roll over it’s armor to damage it.

    GM: No, it has a long sinuous neck, long arms and is surrounded by flames that it can control at a whim. You need to roll Defy Danger as you run up to it as it will be hitting the area with it’s massive breath weapon and it’s reach with it’s claws is well over 100 feet.

    Things go down hill from there as the GM trys to get the player to understand the fiction of the situation. Even the Thief can’t get near with sneaking as a Dragon is quite aware of his surroundings and not likely to miss a thief sneaking up for a back stab. Even if he could, Armor of 5 and a Dagger (non-enchanted) just isn’t going to do the trick. The fiction of the situation doesn’t allow it. Trying to get them to think outside the box is like pulling teeth. Trying to get them to use the fiction. The fighter on a Horse with a lance would have a much better chance at harming the Dragon but with the manipulate fire thing, even a war horse would have a hard time of it.

    So conveying that they just don’t have what they need to pull off the Move that they want, by the fiction and the mechanics, is hard to do and often a let down to the player. Narrating the event is sometimes difficult and a trial to get the players to think and not simply react with the rules.

  7. Matrix Forby That sounds frustrating. OOC arguments about the applicability of triggers are really tiresome. In my head, I’d like to stay with the fiction:

    “I hack and slash the dragon.”

    “Cool, you’re across the courtyard, and it’s looking straight at you, about to breathe fire. How do you start your attack?”

    “I leap onto its neck.”

    “Okay, as you begin your dash across the courtyard, the ripple of flame licks across the cobblestones like a glowing tide coming in. The heat is so intense you can feel your eyes burning from it. What do you do?”

    ..but in practice, I think it’s hard when one player has an incentive to use a favorable rule and would rather argue with you. Frankly, I wonder if DW is the game for this player. Part of the total mechanization of conflict in games like Pathfinder is to try to reduce the scope for this kind of argument.

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