After GM’ing several sessions of Dungeon World I feel I’m getting into the ‘flow’ of how the moves are triggered and…

After GM’ing several sessions of Dungeon World I feel I’m getting into the ‘flow’ of how the moves are triggered and…

After GM’ing several sessions of Dungeon World I feel I’m getting into the ‘flow’ of how the moves are triggered and how to resolve them.

However, I still struggle sometimes with when to use discern realities and spout lore, and when to simply provide information or make them do a different type of roll. Some situations are obvious (someone is checking out a room = discern realities, someone wants to see if they know something about X = spout lore, etc).

But some situations are not so obvious, to me anyway.

Two recent examples:

Situation 1: I described one of my room in a dungeon to have various pictures of rituals etched into the wall. The room was known to belong to a cult they were investigating. One of my players wanted to examine the pictures more closely and figure out if they provided them with any more information. I did not have anything specific in mind up front.

Discern realities’ questions didn’t really seem to apply to this. I went with Spout lore (which resulted in them finding a riddle pointing to a hidden door), but i’m not entirely sure this was the ‘proper’ way to handle this.

What would you have let them roll, if anything?

Situation 2: A player obtained an artifact belonging to the cult I mentioned before. The use of the artifact (a bracelet) has not been established yet (for the players, I do have something in mind). One of the players wanted to fiddle with the artifact around the room to see if it reacted to anything.

Although I wasn’t really planning on them doing this, it seemed cool to me. The answer “It doesn’t react to anything” would be unrewarding and lame. However, simply telling them ‘oh it reacts to XXX’ might be a bit too easy. This action uncovering something potentially dangerous felt unfair without there being a roll involved.

How would you have handled this?

9 thoughts on “After GM’ing several sessions of Dungeon World I feel I’m getting into the ‘flow’ of how the moves are triggered and…”

  1. Situation 1: First I would just describe what they see on the picture and give them all the information they can glean from it – unless there is some kind of symbology or historical knowledge involved in which case Spout Lore is a reasonable roll. However if they study the object closely (as opposed to just looking at it) DR is triggered and you can either come up with something that you haven’t thought of before (there is movement on the picture, a mysterious glow, a barely visible keyhole etc.) or you answer truthfully that sometimes there is nothing about to happen or that the PCs are actually in control here etc.

    Situation 2: If the use of the item can uncover something potentially dangerous DD is triggered probably with WiS, INT or DEX depending on what they describe their character is doing.

  2. My rule of thumb when I don’t have anything prepared is to hand it back over to the players and allow them some authorship. Re-incorporate that shit like crazy! The players will love it.

    In AW I get players to roll ‘Read a sitch’ all the time. Same in DW. The questions guide the narrative in the vein of Adventurous Discovery (by design).

    You can always use defy danger too, but be explicit about the ‘danger’ prior to the roll. For example, that player fiddling with the artefact? Roll +WIS or maybe +INT… Ask the player what’s the WORST thing that that bracelet could be / do? If they fail, they get an XP, but then that’s what it is 🙂

  3. Situation 1 – I’d probably go with DR. Whenever a character inspects something closely to glean more information it’s DR. The answers don’t have to be physical, they can just be “information”. Who’s in control? These are clearly cultist carvings and symbols, they are. What’s useful or valuable? You make out a riddle that leads to a hidden door! What’s not what it appears to be? The carvings at first appear to be some kind of lesson to the cultist followers, but you’re able to discern that it’s actually a riddle! What’s about to happen? You have a sense of safety in this room for the time being but one shouldn’t tarry too long in a cultist temple! etc. etc.

    DR works in any situation (physical or conceptual) in which the characters don’t have all of the information and are trying to get it.

    Situation 2 – For me it would depend on the extent of the fiddling. One of your GM principles is to think dangerously. Are they banging and tapping it against things, putting it IN fire? I’d probably go with DD WIS or INT. The danger being the magic item has a dangerous property they didn’t know and messing with magic items in an aggressive manner is risky business. However, if they described it as carefully holding it near things to see if there is a reaction, DR all the way. Again they are trying to get more information that they currently don’t have.

    My general rule of thumb is if the characters are: trying to get information they don’t have – DR, If they are trying to share information they already have – SL, If they are messing with something with little regard to the potential risks – DD.

    Hope it helps!

  4. Here’s how I distinguish between Discern Realities, Spout Lore, and me just telling them stuff.

    If they’re just asking for clarification on the environment, what they see and here and feel, what should be immediately obvious, then I’ll just tell them.

    “What are the paintings of?”

    “Is the tunnel, like, worked stone? Or natural?”

    “What sort of stuff is on the shelves? Anything valuable?”

    “How many of them are there?”

    “I drop a coin down the pit… do I hear it hit bottom?”

    All of these are basically the player asking me to do my job and describe the situation. But they’re also invitations to make a GM move (because they’re looking at me to see what happens).

    Are they asking something that really should be immediately obvious? Tell them! Is there a looming threat you can point to at the same time? Do it! “Yeah, the tunnel is like, raw stone and not bricks, and it doesn’t look, like, hewn… it’s more like it was… melted? There are these ripple-marks, and parts in the ceiling where it looks like the stone was almost, like, dripping? What do you do?”

    If what they ask isn’t something that’d be immediately apparent, then tell them the requirements and ask. _”The stuff on the shelves? Just a few ceramic pots, a couple rotting wooden boxes, and a bunch of dust and spider webs. None of it looks valuable, but who knows? You’d have to like open the containers to find out. Do you?”

    If you’ve got no idea what the answer is, you could ask questions and build on the answers. _”The paintings? I think they depict a number of important historical figures… you recognize a couple of them, who are they?”

    Now, if they they _take action in order to figure out what’s going on, then they’re Discerning Realities. “I shine my torch all around the opening to the tunnel, looking carefully at the walls, those dripping stalagmite things, the ground.” “Sounds like you’re Discerning Realities to me!”

    If they _ask if they know something or ask what they know about __ or assert that they must know about _, then they’re Spouting Lore. _”Do I have any idea what could have made a tunnel like this?” or “Do I recognize the style of the pottery? Like, can I tell where it came from or how old it is?”

    If it’s not clear which one they’re doing, either interrogate them and/or the fiction until it becomes clear, or just ask them which move they’re trying to trigger.

    Also: there’s nothing wrong with giving them an opportunity and just being like “Ovid, I bet you’d know something about the scenes in these pictures, what to Spout Lore?” or “Well, you could search the shelves to find something valuable, that’d be Discern Realities.” In Apocalypse World 2e, they specifically call out “Push Read a Sitch” and “Push Read a Person” (etc) as GM moves for certain threats. (The GM principle of never speak the name of your move is talking about the GM move. There’s no prohibition against using the names of PC moves, and in fact you pretty much have to name those moves in order to play the game.)

    More thoughts (a lot more thoughts) on Discern Realities here: – *In defense of Discern Realities* *in which I express numerous opinions (LONG…

  5. To specifically answer you questions:

    1) I’d have told them what the paintings were of (generally), maybe asked a couple questions (“You recognize one of these places, where from?”) and then prompted them to Spout Lore (“You want to Spout Lore to see if you recognize the significance or anything?”).

    On a 7-9, I’d have made up something that connected the paintings to the cult, but given only fuzzy details about it (“so, yeah… you’re pretty sure your recognize most of these portraits and places… and the thing that jumps out at you, is that they all were people who came from humble beginnings and rose to prominence in society.”)

    On a 10+, I’d give them some last piece of info to make it all relevant and immediately useful, like:

    a) “So either these guys were all cultists and the cult is responsible for their rise to power, or the cult respects their rise to power. But hey, now that you think about it, didn’t the merchant who hired you to investigate this place also used to be a lowly wainwright?”)


    b) “You notice something a little weird and out of place, though. In each painting, there’s this strange ankh shape… all the portrait subjects are either wearing one, or holding one, or it’s on the wall behind them… but you’re pretty sure that it’s not like a heraldic device for any of them. And, hey, look at that, on the far wall… there’s a faint indentation that looks like that ankh.”

    OR if they had described just searching the room and the paintings, I’d probably have gone with Discern Realities. (Yes, of course it’s a situation… you’re in a dungeon, right?). On “what here is useful to me?” I’d point out that the paintings are pretty nice, and would fetch a decent price if you could get them safely to a collector. On “What here is not what it seems,” I’d maybe point out the recurring ankh motiff in the paintings and ankh-shaped depression hidden in the far wall. On “what should I be on the lookout for?” I’d probably warn them about traps, especially magical glyphs of warding or detection.

    2) Situation 2 is pretty clearly a Discern Realities to me, especially if you knew that the object was both magical and dangerous.

    “What here isn’t what it seems?” Well, this clearly isn’t just a bracelet. You feel a warm… thrum of power when you put it on, and when you move your arm about. (Or, alternately… “The bracelet, there’s a powerful, subtle magic in it… how can you tell?”)

    “What here is useful or valuable to me?” When you move the bracelet towards a torch, you notice a slight flickering of the flame. it’s, like… bending towards the bracelet, just a little. Maybe more when you concentrate on it.

    “Who is really in control here?” No one, right now. But you sense that you can control the bracelet’s power through practice and force of will.

    “What should I be on the lookout for?” Well, there’s all sorts of stories about magical artifacts influencing or corrupting their wearers. Also, any cultists that see you wearing this are clearly going to want it back!

    “What is about to happen?” As you move the bracelet closer to the flame, the flame like… leans in. You’re pretty sure the flame is about to jump onto the bracelet!”

    “What happened here recently?” What, to the bracelet? Or this room? Nothing. You guys are the first people to enter this room in decades, maybe centuries!

  6. Horst Wurst Andrew Alwood Nathan Roberts Jeremy Strandberg Thank you so much for the elaborate replies. They really helped getting a grasp on the differences between DR and Spout lore.

    Jeremy Strandberg after reading your suggestions I realized I might be falling back a bit into my D&D habit waiting for the PCs to do something that needs a roll, rather than making moves as a Dungeon World GM and pushing the story forwards. That seems to sneak in every now and then (my party not being the most ‘dive into danger’ types does not help there either :P).

    Thanks for taking the time to write down the example of possible scenarios, very helpful!

  7. What here is not what it seems?

    Gasp! The murals are signed by Sovi Kausnik, the famed Cult of Evil Chaos muralist. But the paint chips you’re chewing on taste like Acrylic paint, and everyone knows Kausnik worked only in oils. It’s a forgery! Those dastardly Cultists of Evil Chaos are low, but you never knew they would stoop to this.


    In serious, though, I go by Jeremy Strandberg’s answer.

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