23 thoughts on “Untested, Unnecessary House Rule Ideas!”

  1. Great post! Note you linked to Stonetop, not Jeremy Strandberg​ (perhaps that was intentional?).

    I think Victor Julio Hurtado​ made a “hack” for using rounds in Dungeon World, as well.

  2. Thanks, Yochai Gal! I wanted to link to a page featuring Jeremy’s creative work, but I didn’t know if he has a blog somewhere. The Stonetop collection at least seemed like a good place to start.

  3. Yochai Gal that is correct! I added a link for reference.

    I went through this post and I liked everything I saw except the damage die as initiative. In my opinion, a character or monster can be insanely good at dealing damage but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are quick to react to danger. Other than than that I think it’s a pretty cool post.

    tabletopvault.com – DW – DungeonHacks

  4. This has stirred… thoughts. Not bad thoughts, just… thoughts. They mostly revolve around the interface of GM moves, the conversation itself, and such a formalized initiative system.

    Hmm. Lemme stew on this.

  5. The conversation on Reddit made me notice that any “Roll For Initiative” (apart from method 4 and 5) would have to be a Basic Move with a clearly-defined trigger based in the fiction (like everything else in Dungeon World).

    Some people seemed to think I was proposing the roll as a deterministic force that trumps fiction and rules.

    But when dice hit the table in Dungeon World, the table always has to interpret the outcome and make judgments about the result—interpretations and judgments that are informed by the rules and fiction—and this would be no different.

  6. Deep Six Delver I just spent a fair amount of time typing up stuff to try and work this out, but it went down the road of writing out a bunch of complicated examples and then trying to rethink them based on there being formalized initiative, and frankly, and that’s not worth anyone’s time.

    Ultimately, I think my main thought it just comes down to this:

    The way DW works, the GM makes moves, which the PCs then react to. The monsters do not make moves, the GM makes moves using monsters. And the GM doesn’t make moves when it’s the GM’s turn. The GM makes moves:

    A) When everyone looks to them to see what happens

    B) When a PC gives them a golden opportunity

    C) When a PC makes a move and that move’s outcome mandates a GM move (most clearly on a miss, but 7-9 results are often cues for the GM to make a move… e.g. Hack & Slash’s “makes an attack against you” or Defy Danger’s “worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice”).

    If you implement some sort of turn-count initiative (d20 style, where each combatant has an initiative # and you count down through it) imposes an alternative structure on when the GM is supposed to make a move. It basically replaces (?) A with “when it’s the monster’s turn on the initiative tracker.”

    Now, let’s say a monster has the initiative. The GM makes a move with it. How hard is the move? Does it give the target PC a chance to react (soft move), or does it just hit home (hard move)? If it gives the PC a chance to react, do we wait until that target PC’s turn to see how they react? Or do see what the PC’s reaction is now, and resolve it now?

    If we resolve the PCs reaction now, does that “take up” the PC’s turn or do they get to act again later on their turn? What if their reaction was itself a counter attack? Do they still get to attack again later?

    Or, if we leave the monster’s move unresolved until the PCs action, what happens if a different PC goes before the target PC, and attacks the attacking monster. Does that invalidate the attacking monsters (GM’s) soft move? If so, what’s the value in you having higher initiative, if your attack can be thwarted by a slower-than-you-but-faster-than-your-target PC?

    Same questions, but PC vs. monster: if a PC attacks a slower monster on the PC’s turn, and that monster gets a move out of it… does that take up the monster’s action this round? Or is it a bonus reaction? If it takes up the monster’s action, what if the monster has already acted/attacked this round? Does it lose next round’s action?

    What you end up with, once you answer all these questions, is a totally different game. A game where Initiative (capital “I”) is super important and dictates the flow of the conversation, rather than the conversation reflecting who has the initiative (lower-case “i”) based on fictional positioning and the results of PC moves.

    Compare that to your stated benefits of introducing formalized initiative:

    * Spotlight distribution (“Its fair: everyone knows they’ll get a turn”)

    * Predictability (“And they know when their turn will come”)

    * Generating fiction (“Interpreting the results… quickly creates interesting [stuff] that no one would have created on purpose)

    Does such a system (whatever it ends up looking like) actually achieve these goals? And if so, what did it cost? And is that worth it?

  7. I appreciate the thoughtful, clear, and honest scrutiny, Jeremy Strandberg! Thank you for taking the time to respond.

    My question is this: In the hypothetical examples I posted here—

    d6.beardedbaby.net – Comments and Afterthoughts on Random Action Sequences in Dungeon World

    —suppose you didn’t know the action sequence was rolled. Can you point to anything in the flow of conversation that isn’t keeping with Dungeon World? Anything that grates against the way player moves or GM moves are triggered or resolved?

    [Obviously the Thief saying she put her head in the dragon’s mouth is absurd. I was just using an over-the-top example of a golden opportunity.]

    To me the only thing that doesn’t quite fit in the standard flow of Dungeon World conversation is the roll for initiative itself, and that’s conveniently elided in the examples.

    But in the examples I wrote, I don’t see the mechanistic treatment of actions you caution about in your comment. In writing them, the sequence suggested by the roll for initiative worked sort of like a creative prompt, like a whisper telling me to direct attention to this or that character with my next GM move.

    Sometimes, I pause in the middle of the conversation to pick a GM move from the list. It’s a bit like consulting an oracle, like the I Ching or something. By not speaking the name of the move and beginning and ending with the fiction, the result of “consulting the oracle” doesn’t seem stilted or artificial, but simply moves the conversation along.

    Interpreting the results of “Roll +stat” moves is often the same way for me: If the Wizard gets a 7–9 when casting a spell and chooses “draw unwelcome attention or put yourself in a spot”, the table must interpret that in light of the current fiction. You don’t draw unwanted attention from an inanimate gazebo or put yourself in a spot by sinking into quicksand every single time.

    And their moves don’t allow adventurers to do absurd things like tripping a Gelatinous Cube, because the moves live in the fiction. The moves and dice give you prompts and it’s up to the GM and players to use interpretation and judgment to bring them into the fiction and flow of conversation.

    To me, taking the sequence suggested by the dice was like that. It wasn’t about “rounds” and “actions”, as much as it was a series of nudges to bring this or that character into focus next. Going through so many different permutations of a single situation, highlighted for me that it wasn’t about giving everyone a “move”, but simply using the player and GM moves to include everyone in a possibly unforeseen way.

    I’m still cautious about trying it at the table, because the trigger for a RFI Basic Move would have to be definite, clear, and specific in relation to the fiction, and I’m not there yet.

    Do you agree that the examples seem to flow like Dungeon World? Or do you think I’m fooling myself on that mark? Or, do you think they work within the norms of Dungeon World, but only because they are contrived to do so? I’m interested in your honest feedback.

    †Unless you’re playing for very silly humor. But that’s not how we do it.

  8. Slow Dog from Reddit says “Hi, I’m here, too”. Jeremy has made the same conclusions I have. There, I’m trying to show examples to Deep Six Delver that show how initiative breaks the norms of DW

    – essentially, you have to make a Monster Move just because it’s the monster’s turn, not as the result of anyone’s failure.

  9. Thanks, Adrian Brooks. I do appreciate your critical analysis, but after a good night’s sleep I think it’s wise for me to drop it.

    This whole interchange has given me a much closer appreciation of the interaction between GM moves and player moves in the Dungeon World conversation. I concede that you and Jeremy are right that this would introduce an unnecessary hitch in that conversation without a great benefit.

    I think there remain points of disagreement, and there still seems to be a gap in our communication, but I’m afraid I’m taking away from more constructive conversations about Dungeon World by ensnaring you and Jeremy in this thought experiment.

    I thank you sincerely for your help in clarifying my thinking about this!

  10. Jeremy Strandberg, the proviso in your “Pay Up” move from Perilous Wilds helped me form this:

    Fight or Flight!

    When you scramble to seize the initiative, anyone who could go first rolls their damage die. The countdown begins, from highest roll to lowest! If you roll higher than everyone else, the GM will tell you an opportunity to act. Otherwise you falter, hesitate, or flinch. When it’s time to make a move, the GM will feature the next character in the countdown, unless there is a golden opportunity. You can’t trigger this move again until the countdown ends or everyone backs down.

    GM section: For a hero, that would mean framing some situation for them through a soft or hard move, then asking what they do. If the next character in the countdown was a monster, it would mean tilting the players’ attention toward that monster with a soft or hard move—then asking a player what they do.

  11. The idea is that it explicitly maintains the flow of conversation between player and GM moves, and it explicitly relies on a judgment of the fictional positioning: Completely Silent Assassin Striking a Distracted Enemy from Behind is not scrambling to seize the initiative—they just deal damage, or maybe trigger H&S if it’s a character who can’t be surprised. Slow, Confused, and Bumbling Wall-eyed Goblin may rush into the fray, but he’s not a contender in seizing the initiative either.


  12. My problem with the idea of a roll-for-initiative move isn’t that it’ll trigger too often (and thus needs a “can’t trigger until” clause). The problem is that I don’t think it’ll clearly get triggered at all given how fights tend to start in Dungeon World.

    Like, think about the fictional and conversational setup that would lead to PCs “scrambling to seize the initiative.”

    When I’m running DW (and most cases where I’ve seen it done well), the initiative is already established by some combination of fiction, GM moves, and “what do you do?” By the time we’d stop to roll dice for initiative, someone already has it.

    For example, the PCs are exploring a dark, cluttered tower by shining lights around. They discern realities, roll a miss, and I introduce a threat as my GM move. “Kios, while Nolwenn is examining that big hunk of obsidian, you spot… something… move behind her at the edge of her lantern light. What do you do?” And Kios discerns realities, and asks what he should be on the lookout for (“you catch a glimpse of it, a stone or clay ball the size of a basketball, with all sorts of metal legs sprouting out of it, like an oversized daddy-long-legs. Then it’s gone!”), what isn’t what it appearst to be (“oh crap, there’s 2 of the them!”) and what is about to happen (“one of them is about to leap on you out of the shadows, what do you do?”). I’ve just claimed the initiative and made a move that they have to respond to.

    Maybe Kios responds by dodging. Maybe he responds by spinning and shooting it with his crossbow. Maybe he spins and crouches and puts himself between it and Nolwenn. Maybe he spins and draws his blade and cuts it down mid-strike. Each of these will trigger moves, and rolls, and the results of those rolls will change the situation and establish a new fictional position and momentum and initiative.

    Hell, the rolls for those moves largely act as the initiative roll. A 6- on any of the above would likely indicate that Kios was caught flat-footed, and my GM move is a hard one, an attack by that leaping mecha-spider that closes the distance and does damage and sends Kios reeling. If he, say, Volleys or H&S’s and gets a 10+, then Kios clearly had the initiative and got his attack off before the mecha-spider could launch (or at least land) its attack. (Obviously, the results of the move could be interpreted otherwise; like on a 6- maybe Kios does go first but misses the attack and then the thing strikes. Or on a 10+ the thing launches its attack and Kios shoots it down and dodges to the side as it lands. But initiative-related fiction is totally something that can and should be considered.)

    My point being: I don’t need a separate initiative roll because the momentum of the scene has been naturally established by the moves leading up to it. And the PC moves that trigger during the scene already serve to determine, inform, and reflect the shifting initiative of a fight. Trying to reconcile that with an established initiative order doesn’t sound fun or fruitful to me.

  13. Another, related point: if you introduce an initiative system to players, you have to account for the significant baggage that such a system comes with, based on previous play experiences in other games.

    To just about anyone who has played an RPG before, “initiative” means “when do I get to take my turn” and not “when is the spotlight going to be on me.’ Initiative = when I get to be active and not reactive. Reactive stuff has always been represented by things like having a high/low AC, saving throws, resistance rolls, etc.

    If you introduce an initiative count, and then regularly have your monsters make moves at PCs such that on their initiative they are basically spending their “turn” to defy danger… I think you’re going to have some unhappy players. At the very least, you’re going to have to manage a ton of expectations.

    And yes, I know that you can react to a “soft” move from the GM with a rather proactive response, but not every player has the social or creative hutzpa to assert that kind of thing. A fair number of players will respond with something like “well, crap, I dodge” and roll Defy Danger with DEX and that’ll be their turn.

    Obviously, you do you: if you think that your players would like this sort of system, and that it would add something that you feel your game or GMing style is lacking, then by all means try it out. But realize that you’re tinkering pretty damn near the core of the system, and don’t be surprised if it proves resistant to tinkering.

  14. > But realize that you’re tinkering pretty damn near the core of the system, and don’t be surprised if it proves resistant to tinkering.

    Not only that, but tinkering near the core of the system reveals a whole lot of the system’s inner workings that I might not have noticed or appreciated otherwise.

    The subtle interplay at work here has been worth the closer look this discussion has brought out. Creating a counter-factual “initiative system” and thinking through examples and counter-examples has brought my thinking about GM moves to a new level—not least because of your comments. I’m sure that will help me at the table!

  15. And you know those times when it isn’t obvious? They’re the times when one player might be Aiding the other, if they attack the same thing, or you cut from action to action with “While Bob’s tickling the Kobold, what are doing about the Apocalypse Dragon, Bill?”

  16. I finally had a chance to add a coda to the article, including most of your comment, Jeremy Strandberg.

    By coincidence, I also found this comment from 2012, in which Adam Koebel explained action order after Zak S first wrote about his Dungeon World play experience:

    “For initiative, if I find that I need it, sometimes I’ll make everyone ‘declare actions’ before anyone can make rolls. Getting the GMs attention doesn’t allow you to time travel – while you’re screaming and swinging your sword, other stuff is happening. You don’t get to ‘go again’ until that stuff is resolved, too.”

    Sounds familiar. 😉

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