43 thoughts on “Intentionally Provocative Poll: Is “Advance a grim portent” one of your GM moves?”

  1. I like to have a boss or some b-plot going on along with the central focus of where the characters are. If a group is in a dungeon, the grim portent progression is typically like the boss is getting stronger/closer to completing its ritual/more minions are joining in/etc. If there isn’t anything like that in the immediate location of character play, than I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE to progress a preexisting portent or make a new one off scene with a new camera. Ie The camera pans across the village skyline and a silhouette is seen carrying a sack while jumping rooftop to rooftop; back in town, the camera pans onto your new found crush, Jennica. She looks sickly. It looks like the magical plague has finally infected her too; the city guard is cuff in your mother away for some unknown reason.

  2. I would say it’s not because, to me, an unwelcome truth is typically used for like one scene or short term complication.

    Portents, though, are unwelcome by nature, right? So it’s kind of not the same thing but here’s how. I see the two being different

    Advance a portent: points of a narrative that you have presubscribed to come to fruition on/off camera, with/without player intervention.

    Reveal truth: something that is interesting right now that is to the detriment to the players.

    In my examples above they do start out as seeming like unwelcome truths, but as I keep the running tally they turn into fronts. Also, it may be me just stating matter of factly that the players don’t really know what it means, like ‘off in the distance you hear a muffled conversation’ the next progression may be ‘the conversation turns into yelling.’ those aren’t necessarily unwanted truths because it’s a neutral stimulae.

  3. “You can advance a grim portent descriptively or prescriptively. Descriptively means that you’ve seen the change happen during play, so you mark it of. Maybe the players sided with the goblin tribes against their lizardman enemies—now the goblins control the tunnels. Lo and behold, this was the next step in a grim portent. Prescriptive is when, due to a failed player move or a golden opportunity, you advance the grim portent as your hard move. That step comes to pass, show its efects and keep on asking, ‘What do you do, now?'” (P. 193)

  4. Also, it may be me just stating matter of factly that the players don’t really know what it means, like ‘off in the distance you hear a muffled conversation’ the next progression may be ‘the conversation turns into yelling.’ those aren’t necessarily unwanted truths because it’s a neutral stimulae.

    So, they hear a muffled conversation and it turns to yelling… are you SHOWING SIGNS OF AN APPROACHING THREAT?

  5. Are you asking the people who admit to advancing grim portents to show where, explicitly, they get the GM license to do so?

    I guess, based on the move list, it could be ‘Reveal an unwelcome truth’ or more so ‘show signs of an unwelcome threat’ (threat being off camera via ‘think off camera, too’)

  6. I personally tend to think of it as “part of a move”—like, it doesn’t feel like a full move if I just check a box in secret without signaling to players in the fiction that something happened. (And the text I quoted above supports that, I think.) But yeah, sure, I do sometimes choose to advance a portent as a move and then ask myself “How can I show its effects?” Other times I pick some other move and think, “Oh, and that advances a grim portent,” but probably not as often in that order.

  7. Jeremy Strandberg​ can you speak to why you posted this question?

    I do sometimes progress the fronts, but after looking I’m the rules (unless I missed it), I don’t think it says that a GM, explicitly, can progress a Front via GM moves.

  8. Jason Tocci but then… why is it not listed as a GM move?

    And in play, are you not actually making a different GM move, one that actually announces the unwelcome truth of the portent? Or puts the PCs in a spot because of the portent? Or is just the danger using one of it’s danger moves to achieve the portent?

    When the College of Arcanists discover the key to the White Gate, is that me advancing a Grim Portent?

    Or is that me announcing an unwelcome truth? “Sala shows up from his shift at the dig, and tells you that there was some big hub-bub. They found something important, all right… the stuffed shirt from the College was all excited, and when he came out of the pit, the box he was carrying under his arm, it was, well… glowing. What do you do?”

    Or is that the ambitious organization claiming territory or resources? “You come stumbling out of the tomb, the Key wrapped up under your arm, squinting in the daylight, and realize the forest around is quiet, too quiet, and it slowly dawns on you that you’re just surrounded, dozens of lizardfolk all standing with spears and blowguns at the ready, and this stuffed shirt human with these gleaming leather boots steps forward and says ‘Mr. Jonas, I see you have something that belongs to me.’ And he reaches his hand out towards you. What do you do?”


  9. Whoops, cross post with Jason Tocci.

    Andrew Huffaker, I think I’m (obnoxiously) getting at what Jason said here:

    I personally tend to think of it as “part of a move”—like, it doesn’t feel like a full move if I just check a box in secret without signaling to players in the fiction that something happened. (And the text I quoted above supports that, I think.) But yeah, sure, I do sometimes choose to advance a portent as a move and then ask myself “How can I show its effects?” Other times I pick some other move and think, “Oh, and that advances a grim portent,” but probably not as often in that order.

  10. Aaron Griffin I read that as “use one of the danger moves from the danger’s type” (e.g. one of the Ambitious Organization moves), not as “advance a danger’s grim portents”.

    The only hint in the text that advancing a grim portent could be a GM move is what Jason points on page 193.

  11. Jeremy Strandberg Technically, it is listed as the first MC move, “use a monster, danger, or location move.” Flip a couple pages later for the explanation of what that means. (“The overarching dangers of the adventure also have moves associated with them.”) They go into detail about these moves in the fronts and monsters sections of the book.

    Edit: Ah, Aaron Griffin beat me to it.

  12. Jeremy Strandberg I think it’s also fair to say that any given scene in the fiction can potentially be described with more than one move. To me, they’re most useful as creative prompts to make sure whatever I do next moves the story definitively. When a velociraptor opens a door in Jurassic Park, the director could be making a monster move (“appear nearby when prey feels safe”), revealing an unwelcome truth (crap, they learn fast!), AND advancing a grim portent (velociraptors now roam freely through the park).

    But we only look at it that way in hindsight. When I’m running the game, I need reminders to put the pressure on in terms of the big picture, so I’m constantly looking for openings to advance grim portents on hard moves before I look to other moves.

  13. Which leads me to a couple thoughts that have been rolling around in my head…

    1) Advance a grim portent isn’t listed as a GM move, but it probably should be. That text on page 193 is, again, the only spot in the book where it hints that explicitly advancing a grim portent might be a GM move. If I’m looking at the GM cheat sheets, for example, it’s not listed there.

    But in practice, I think I do the same thing Jason Tocci describes: usually, I think “okay, I’ll advance this grim portent, now… how can I show the players some sign that this has happened?” or “okay, time for this grim portent, now what does that look like on screen?” and then I end up making a move that’s both advancing the portent but could also be a different GM move.

    I’m wracking my brains for times that I’ve advanced a grim portent as my move, but not actually shown any evidence of it on screen. There aren’t many, and even the ones that I’m coming up with… I’m not (in retrospect) sure how committed I was to those decisions. Did the grim portent of “the Hillfolk bands join forces to oppose the slavers” really happen when the Seasons Change move called for a threat to the region to get worse? (Sorry, Stonetop stuff here.) Or did it not really happen until I put that on screen, sessions later, when the PCs were traveling through Hillfolk lands and the learned what was going on?

    2) Any given thing you do as the GM can be construed as any number of GM moves. GM moves themselves are both prescriptive and descriptive. Prescriptive: you decide to make the move, now say what that looks like in the fiction. Descriptive: you decided what happened in the fiction, without thinking about the moves, but after the fact, sure, it definitely fit one or more GM moves.

    This is especially true when you get into more specialized GM moves like Dungeon Moves or Danger Type moves or monster moves. Almost all of them can boil down to a few of the core GM moves. Hell, even a number of those core GM moves are just more specific flavors of each other.

    3) So what’s the point of GM moves, if any given thing you do as the GM could construed as many different GM moves? Well, I think the answer is: a list of GM moves gets you to think about doing stuff that you wouldn’t otherwise think to do. It’s a list of ideas. Inspiration.

    4) So, yeah, Advance a grim portent ought be listed on the GM moves, as it’s own thing. I’m changing my vote.

    Sorry for drunk-posting everyone.

  14. Awesome discussion, but I’m going to have to disagree with your conclusion that it should be on the list.

    I think you nailed it when you considered if it has really happpened until you put it on screen. IMO it hasn’t. It’s not fiction yet. It’s still just GM notes. Once you’ve revealed it you’ve made one of the currently defined GM moves.

    Part of me thinks it would create more confusion if it was it’s own move.

  15. After playing so much Blades, advancing a clock has just become second nature for most misses. In DW I like to prep grim portents on index cards in little stacks on the map next to their respective dangers, in full view of the players. They can never dress all of them at once and often by responding to one danger means that the others are free to advance without hindrance.

    Miss your spout lore roll? Well lookie here t this next card…. What nastiness is about to unfold?

  16. I also fall on the side of Advancing Grim Portents aren’t a move on their own, but revealing them can be.

    The definition of a portent is “a sign or warning that something, especially something momentous or calamitous, is likely to happen.”

    Therefore, I feel that advancing the portents is showing a sign of an approaching threat. If your portents aren’t being shown to the players, why have them?

  17. Joseph F. Russo Jake Humphrey Andrew Alwood

    When you use a GM move to advance a grim portent, is your brain typically going:

    A) what should I do? oh, I’ll show signs of approaching badness, but what badness… oh, yeah, that grim portent!


    B) what should I do? Oh, I know, I’ll advance that grim portent, but how will I show/announce it to the players? Oh, I’ll show signs of approaching badness.


    C) what should I do? Oh, I know, I’ll advance that grim portent, but how will I show/announce it to the players? Oh, I know, a soldier from the coast will arrive, utterly exhausted, bearing news of the Persian invasion!

    Because if your brain is doing C (and arguably B), I’d say that your GM move is “advance a grim portent” and you’re just applying your principles (e.g. address the players, begin & end with the fiction).

  18. Usually I’m showing an advancing threat. Something bad is coming. What? Oh yeah, I got this front I can advance. If there’s something better, or more immediate, I’m advancing that (The goblins are shrieking and running at you. One of them has a weird oblong shape in their hand which is smoking as they point it at you…). I rarely advance a front except when I have nothing else I can telegraph at that moment.

  19. Jeremy Strandberg I do B). That doesn’t make advance a grim portent a move any more than it makes make them drop their dagger a move if I think of that before deciding it fits use up their resources.

    Edit: actually, I don’t think it strictly fits any of those options. It’s more like:

    “I should advance a danger. What move can I make that leads to the next Grim Portent?”

  20. We’re getting to a discussion of semantics now. This is a game designed for human beings to play, not for computers to run. It was fun to track down what the book specifically has to say about it, but I’m not really sure how much we gain by splitting hairs about whether something is technically a move or not.

    We have some players here who find it useful to think of “advance a grim portent” as a move because they appreciate having a prompt to remind them to bring the story back to the fronts. (That’s me. I find it easy to remember to describe moves in fiction, but I find it hard to remember to come back to fronts without a reminder.)

    We have some players here who find it more useful to think of other GM moves, and only advance grim portents incidentally as part of those, because they appreciate having a prompt to ground what they’re doing in the fiction. (Maybe that’s you, whoever you are. You find it easy to remember to check off boxes and advance clocks, but harder to come up with a way on the fly to translate that to a specific story event.)

    It’s described in the book as a hard move. It’s not specifically named in the GM moves list as a move. Play whichever way works for you. Be excellent to each other.

  21. Or, hey, maybe folks will find this helpful:

    “Advance a grim portent” is a thing you can do when you need to make a GM move. The move isn’t just ticking off a clock—it’s the grim portent itself, as witnessed or experienced by the players. Each grim portent is effectively a custom danger move, specific to a front.

  22. Jeremy Strandberg I think it’s a mix.

    If they are currently facing or trying to track down a certain danger, then I might reveal some unwelcome truths in session about said danger’s grim portents have progressed further than hoped.

    However, between sessions I also look at the dangers not being address and I move those along too if they make sense to do so in the fiction. If they went to the cave to fight the spider king instead of the town to protect it from raiding orcs, then that town got raided. When they leave the cave, I’ll show them an unwelcome truth about what has happened while they were at the cave.

    Now I also think it’s totally fair to reveal the town got raided while they are in the cave as an off-screen move shown on screen. I’m in that camp of occasionally showing out of character knowledge on screen to build tension; like a movie does. However, I still think that’s showing an unwelcome truth and I typically use it when their isn’t something more interesting to do in the immediate fiction.

    End of the day, I think GM moves are more prescriptive then grim portents are. Grim portents are not fiction until they are delivered via a GM move. Making advancing a grim portent a move feels like we are locking the GM into a prescribed list and feels counter to the front rules that suggest to move grim portents forward between sessions.

    Fun discussion here as always!

  23. I wonder if this issue is kind of similar to your discussion about the “Deal Damage” move on the GM list, Jeremy. You suggested that Deal Damage could be omitted from the list, and instead the GM could rely on the fact that the consequences of other moves would cause damage.

    The “advance a grim portent” pseudo-move that isn’t on the list could be in the same category… something mechanical (i.e. ticking off boxes on a grim portent, as opposed to reducing hit point numbers on a character sheet) that GMs can do as a consequence of the fiction that arises from the GM moves, but not a move in and of itself (because purely mechanical things aren’t good moves, since they don’t naturally begin and end in the fiction – it requires extra effort/attention from the GM to ensure that they do).

    Also, am I reading too much into these pointed questions you’re posting, or are there some awesome revamped and well-though-out Stonetop Front rules percolating in your head here? 🙂

  24. Robert Rendell You caught me, I am working on something. I don’t know how “awesome” or “well-thought-out” they’ll be, though… 🙂

    Interesting observation regarding Advance a Grim Portent vs. Deal Damage. Not sure it holds up, though… “Deal Damage” is weaksauce because it can easily be misconstrued as “roll a die and reduce a number on your character sheet by the result.” “Advance a grim portent” might mean checking a box on your notes, but that box comes with fiction attached. Inherently. There wouldn’t be a checkbox if you didn’t have a fictional event associated with it.

    Right now, I’m really digging Jason Tocci’s framing of each grim portent as a super-specific GM move for a danger/threat/front. And, like a lot of Danger-Type-specific GM moves (like “Seize territory or resources” or “Recruit a follower or toady”), they might happen completely off-screen, but be revealed to the PCs via other GM moves/techniques (reveal unwelcome truth, point to a looming danger, etc.).

    But at the same time, grim portents are just signposts you’ve placed for yourself that say “here’s what’s going on, here’s where we’re going with this.” And they might inform other moves you make. Because, as Jake Humphrey suggests with drop their dagger example, you don’t always think “what move should I make” and then justify it in the fiction… often, you think “okay, what happens?” and in retrospect any given GM move might Having the grim portents out there, in your notes and in your mind, affects your decisions of “okay, what happens.”

    Turns out this stuff is complicated and nuanced. Who knew?!

  25. At the end of every session, I like to narrate a post-credit scene that is a kind of Grim Portent. The players (in my mind) are stars in a movie and I want to give them a glimpse of the plot under the adventure. I find it fun to hear them give their thoughts on what it means and usually I try to move the major threat toward their thoughts.

  26. “Advance a threath clock” has always been a (hard) GM move in Apocalypse World, why should it no be in DW?

    My favourite move the GM ever used on my failed roll is:

    In a setting were magicians are forbidden/bad my sorcerous “gypsy analogy”-bard rolled a failure, and when I did the GM suddenly went into descritive mode:

    In the [Capitol name]’s Cathedral, in deep prayer, we see the mighty back of a self-whipping man, who suddenly stands up, grabs his helmet and sword and exclaims: “Saddle my horse; there is work afoot!”

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