Hey, a friend of mine is GMing a DW game for the first time and was asking me for help on how to handle 7-9s on defy danger rolls. I also frequently find this challenging, especially in the middle of actual play. I ended up writing a bunch of thoughts for him (and for myself!), and thought I would share here for feedback. I’m certain some of you have much better insight and better ideas on how to handle this than I do!

**Side note: he was specifically asking for help with 7-9 results when players are dodging threats, so there is more of an emphasis on that here.

Ok, so in my experience one of the most difficult things to do is come up with satisfying 7-9 responses to defy danger, especially during combat. For one thing it is hard because you don’t want to just end up in a circle of stagnating 7-9 rolls. This is extra tricky because defy danger is a very common roll, and it takes all sorts of forms. Let’s use a few scenarios as examples:

-Dodging a magical attack in combat (in this case, let’s say a fireball)

-Dodging a regular attack in combat (The spider pounces at your with its fangs)

-An environmental challenge (climbing up a cliff)

-Sneaking into a camp

The first thing I try to keep in mind is that a 7-9 is fundamentally a success; the player gets what they were aiming for. The added part of 7-9 that’s tricky is to differentiate between “worse outcome, hard bargain, and ugly choice.”

WORSE OUTCOME – A fundamental success, but not quite as successful as you had hoped, or with a drawback you hadn’t expected. There are several ways to do this one. For me I tend to either take away a resource, deal damage, put them in a spot, use a location or monster move, or reveal an unwelcome truth.

Dodging a magical attack: TAKE AWAY A RESOURCE: “You roll under the fireball and it explodes behind you, but as you come up off the ground you realize that your pack got snagged on a rocky outcropping. You still have your weapons, but now you’re fighting without your gear.” [And if you want to add on a hard bargain…] “Oh, and the fire is spreading towards your bag.” OR “You hold up your shield as the fireball meets it and explodes around you. You drop what is now a hulk of melted metal just in time to avoid it fusing to your skin, but you’re ok.” OR “Throndir drops all his arrows” DEAL DAMAGE: This feels like a poor choice if the only threat of the fireball is damage in the first place. Maybe if the fireball is trying to blast you away from your enemy and you roll an 8, I might say “You hurl yourself forward as the fire forms just in time to avoid the explosion that would’ve knocked you away. Take 3 damage as the fire singes your skin, but you’ve managed to close with the mage.” In general though, I like to reserve damage for the hard bargain option, as it doesn’t feel fun as a player to receive unexpected damage on a “successful” defy danger. PUT THEM IN A SPOT: This one is money. “You jump out of the way of the fireball, but find yourself surrounded by the flames. The wizard’s skeletons march through the flames towards you, seemingly unfazed by the fire.” “You dodge the beholder’s disintegration ray, but it cuts away at the foundation of the gate, and now Jenn is standing on top of crumbling rock. What do you do?” USE A LOCATION OR MONSTER MOVE: “You easily dodge the fireball, but as you blink your eyes at the explosion of fire you see that the wizard has teleported on top of the pillar, well out of reach.” “The fireball goes off, missing you easily, but the mushrooms are catching on fire, each one exploding into a puff of dangerous spores as they go up in a blaze.” REVEAL AN UNWELCOME TRUTH: I have a harder time coming up with unwelcome truths to direct-damage threats, but sometimes I can think of something. “Tylis easily absorbs the fire ball with the flame eater’s shard, but the wizard just snarls and twists the top of his staff. It goes from an orange, flaming glow to a cold, blue crystal – seems he can change the element it uses!”

Physical attack: This is mostly the same as the previous. TAKE AWAY A RESOURCE: “You deflect the spider’s fang with your sword, but it knocks it out of your hand and well out of reach.” DEAL DAMAGE: Again, probably better to save for hard bargain imo. Works well if the spider has got you in its teeth, though: “You pry open the spider’s fangs, pulling yourself free, but you get cut up in the process. Take 1d6+1 damage.” PUT THEM IN A SPOT: “You dodge the spider’s fangs but it’s leg pins your cloak to the ground, holding you in place. You’ll have to deal with it here and now, and quick, because the other spiders are closing in…” USE A LOCATION/MONSTER MOVE: “You roll out of the way… right through a patch of the spider’s sticky webbing! Your left arm is pinned to your side and you can’t run like this.” REVEAL AN UNWELCOME TRUTH: “You roll out of the way, only to come face to face with the corpse of the child you were searching for, wrapped up in the spider’s web. How do you react?”

Environmental Challenge: TAKE AWAY A RESOURCE: “Throndir slips about halfway up the cliff, barely able to catch himself from falling. All of his arrows are jarred out of his quiver, falling into the abyss.” “The cliff is tougher than you expected, and you end up breaking quite a few hammers and pitons(sp?). Mark off an extra use of adventuring gear.” DEAL DAMAGE: “You make the climb, but not without avoiding the steam vents. Take 3 damage, and tell me what the steam burns look like.” “The cliff face is extremely difficult to climb, and it takes everything you have. Mark the shaky debility.” PUT THEM IN A SPOT: “Sure, you reach the top of the cliff, but at the edge the rope gives out and you barely grab on to the ledge. By the time you pull yourself up, the hook horrors will have caught up with you.” USE A LOCATION OR MONSTER MOVE: “On your way up you steady yourself on an outcropping… but it turns out to be a hive of rock wasps! They swarm out, threatening to sting you. What do you do?” REVEAL AN UNWELCOME TRUTH: “About halfway up you hear a clicking noise from above. Looking around, you realize that one of the 3 hook horrors must have split off and is already on the ledge above you, while the other two are climbing up after you. What do you do?”

Sneaking into a camp: TAKE AWAY A RESOURCE: “None of the guards notice you, but a watch dog does. Mark off a ration use to calm it down.” DEAL DAMAGE: “You slip in over the wall, landing quietly but hard. Your ankle twists painfully, take a -1 forward, but no one has noticed yet.” PUT THEM IN A SPOT: “As you reach the commander’s tent, you hear some fanfare. You look back and see that Agent Delgado has returned with a contingent of Animatrons. You may have gotten in here safely, but getting out won’t be so easy.” USE A LOCATION OR MONSTER MOVE: “You sneak your way through the Chosen camp, almost invisible. Suddenly, you hear a hissing noise, and see green gas piping through the vents. Its another Spellguard gassing!” REVEAL AN UNWELCOME TRUTH: “You make it to the commander’s tent and find the plans you were looking for, but you also find a note about something else. It looks like while you’re here, the Numinous Order is springing an ambush on the rest of your party back in the webbed wood!”

HARD BARGAIN – sometimes this is just the same as worse outcome but with an element of choice, making it a softer move. “You dodge the fireball but drop your bag, which is right in the fire’s path. Do you continue to charge the wizard or do you save your things?” “Sure, you can pull yourself out of the spider’s jaws, but you’ll take 1d6+1 damage to do it.” “Yeah, Tylis can get past the shadow tentacles to strike at Delgado, but he’ll take a hit from them, or he can just avoid them but not get close to Delgado.” The key is that you give the option of success with a cost, and let the player decide. “You can shoot the sword out of the goblin’s hand before he stabs the girl, but you’ll have to mark off an ammo.” <-- That's an example, but a bad one, because who won't take that bargain? That would probably be better used as a worse outcome (no choice it just happens), because the player would likely be fine with it. Meanwhile, the Tylis/Delgado fight is a better chance to give a hard bargain because it is an important strategic choice (and one that the player chose the safer option on if I remember correctly). Another example is Tylis' fight with an Umberhulk: "The Umberhulk starts to cave in the room, what do you do?" "I try to dodge the rocks and take it down." "Roll DEX defy danger" "8" "Ok, you can dodge the rocks and get out of here, or you can get in an attack before the rocks hit you and try to finish this thing off, but you'll take damage after." In any case, that would've been a poor time to simply use the worse outcome option - the situation needed to allow for player choice.

UGLY CHOICE – this one is pretty different from either hard bargain or worse outcome. It’s all about having to do something disagreeable or desperate to succeed. “The fireball flies at you – you can dodge it, but if you do it’ll be headed right for the orphanage… or your horse… or Throndir’s arrows.” Or an actual situation from Throndir’s solo one-shot: “You’re in the room with the elven maiden, and the guards are about to cut through the door. She looks at you and says ‘please, don’t let them take me alive again.'” “I want to climb out the window with her.” “Roll STR defy danger.” “9” “You can either save yourself and leave her or lower her out the window and get caught yourself.” “…I slit her throat and jump out the window.”

ADDITIONAL RANDOM THOUGHTS: Sometimes a 7-9 defy danger result just feels stagnating. Like in the fireball example, if character is trying to dodge the fireball to attack the wizard, then “You dodge the fireball but it keeps you from getting to the wizard” feels a little boring. What really happened? Nothing. But using the other party members can help remedy that feeling. “Tylis dodges and the fireball explodes, encircling Tylis with flame and cutting him off from Delgado. Jenn, you have a clear shot at Delgado now, or you can help Tylis out. What do you do?” That frames the narrative of the battle and gives characters some clear options. In the end, it is always a collaborative effort between everyone playing to establish and clarify the fiction within the group’s shared vision, and call for rolls together.

6 thoughts on “DEFY DANGER 7-9 RESULTS”

  1. The most helpful thing for me is keeping the GM Moves printed out and right in front of me.

    I make tick marks next to each one as I used it to remind myself to vary from roll to roll, but I wasn’t too strict about that; sometimes it just makes sense to Use Up Their Resources a few times in a row.

  2. Marshall Brengle That sounds like a great general practice, one I’ll likely adopt! For Defy Danger though, the 7-9 result isn’t actually a GM move, right? Its one of the prescribed “worse result, hard bargain, or ugly choice” options. Admittedly, those three options are likely to fit into one of the GM moves, but there seems to be a distinct difference between 6-: make a GM move, and 7-9 : offer a worse result, hard bargain, or ugly choice. I’ve heard other GMs interpret the 7-9 as “make a soft move” for defy danger, but that is also different from the actual description of how the move works.

  3. Have your friend re-watch Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indy doesn’t roll better than a 7-9 in the whole movie. The whole thing is paced like a well-run PbtA game and I’m pretty sure you could get through that “adventure” in little more than the runtime of the movie.

  4. Jeremy Stewart worse result, hard bargain, or ugly choice …

    The last two are just synonyms …

    In play, it goes like, “oooo, rolled an 8 … ok, ugly choice: avoid the breath weapon and lose a use of adventuring gear as your pack catches flame (GM Move: use up their resources), or take w[2d8] and save your gear (GM Move: Deal Damage)”

    (Worst damage being the DW equivalent of “half damage on a save”)

    The GM Moves are really just suggestions of stuff to do to Fill Their Lives With Adventure. They’re (mostly) not discrete rolls like Protagonist Moves.

  5. Deal damage could be reduced damage (“save for half”), damage to someone or something else, or to gear… or delayed damage. Moves need not be a straitjacket, just an inspiration.

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