I’ve run DW twice this week, first time I’ve done it in a while.

I’ve run DW twice this week, first time I’ve done it in a while.

I’ve run DW twice this week, first time I’ve done it in a while. And I was pretty strict at hewing to the DW conversation model as I see it:

(1) The GM describes the world state, and what’s just happened

(2) The GM asks the players, or one player in particular, “What do you do?”

(3) One player (GM’s choice) gets to be the one that acts

If they described plausible action corresponding to move trigger, execute the move

If the move fails (roll of 6-) and no special handling of that is given in the move text, the GM makes a hard move

If they describe a golden opportunity for the world or an NPC to fuck them up, the GM makes a hard move

If neither of the above, the GM makes a soft move

(4) Loop back to (1)

This meant that I was making a lot of moves, and doing very little else. This kept things interesting, but felt too intense at times. I’ve heard one of the players talk about another GM’s DW game as being “like being on a rollercoaster”, with threat after threat and no peace.


1) Do you think my model of above is right? I think I’ve captured the RAW, but they express this procedure vaguely, across several locations in the text.

2) Do you, in practice, use extra moves a bit like these:

a) Let Them Succeed – just let them do what they’re trying to, without opposition

b) Rest – describe the situation, narrate events, without (knowingly) saying anything dramatically significant

I suspect that in the past, when I’ve been less obsessive about mapping my every response to a move, I’ve implicitly used those a lot.

32 thoughts on “I’ve run DW twice this week, first time I’ve done it in a while.”

  1. Yes with notes.

    Be a fan is a very important Agenda. Follow all of them..

    Consider doing no- or low-stakes scenes with each player when a rest happens.Award XP liberally. Make up custom moves liberally. Just plain have them roll the dice when something is at stake and no existing move covers the situation.

  2. I do #2 a fair bit. We sometimes don’t roll the dice for 15 minutes or more as a result.

    As I read your #1, it seems to demand a hard move where the RAW just says a move (hardness unspecified).

  3. That sounds very similar to how I run DW and other PbtA games.

    One difference though, and this is related to your question 2a, if no move is triggered by the player’s narration and nothing is preventing the described action from succeeding, then it succeeds.

    Basically, I don’t always make a soft move on your “neither of the above” clause.

  4. Ben M the RAW says “Generally when the players are just looking at you to find out what happens you make a soft move, otherwise you make a hard move.” I read that as a recommendation for a hard move, albeit not a requirement.

  5. Michael Llaneza WRT principles, such as “Be a fan of the characters”, my reading is that we’re supposed to use them to guide our move choices, but not to override other rules:

    “Your principles are your guides. Often, when it’s time to make a move, you’ll already have an idea of what makes sense. Consider it in light of your principles and go with it, if it fits.” (p160)

    WRT “Award xp liberally”… are you saying that’s what you do? RAW, the GM has no particular power to award XP.

    WRT creating custom moves on the fly, I think that’s in RAW but I don’t like it — it gets away from the idea of the GM’s role being rules-shaped game and moves it towards a GM-judgement-shaped one. It creates a pretence that rules are being applied, when in fact the GM’s live judgement is predominantly the thing being used. Done with player agreement, rather than in the GM’s head… maybe.

    WRT “plain roll the dice…”… you mean without defining a custom move?

  6. Chris Stone-Bush “if no move is triggered by the player’s narration and nothing is preventing the described action from succeeding, then it succeeds” … I suspect that that’s the intent of the authors in their phrase “look to you…” — you’re supposed to make a move when, and only when, there’s some uncertaintly about outcome of an action.

    Of course, this depends on how you’re handling offscreen state — if you’re using a pure “only established fiction is concrete” model (as in “The first level…” in my post here https://mhuthulan.mediumquality.uk/2018/08/30/the-high-level-structure-of-dungeon-world/), then it will probably be clear to players whether there’s uncertainty. If you’re treating offscreen state (in the GM’s head or notes), it’s more likely they’ll be surprised by how the world responses to their apparently-straightforward actions.

  7. Part of this might involve what counts as a soft move. For example, “tell them the consequences and ask” could just be the GM acknowledging non-move actions and telling their in-game results and prompting them querying what they do next (e.g. OK, you pick up the rock, it seems like a typical rock. What do you do?). It has been a while since I’ve read the text, but I have the impression that there’s supposed to be a bit of ebb and flow in intensity, which I think mostly corresponds to how “zoomed in” you are on action and how specifically you prompt. When the PCs are in a place of comparative safety (e.g. after a big fight where all the threats have been dealt with) I think it’s reasonable to back out a bit and do generalized “what do you(plural) do?” to open up room for some kibbitzing amongst the players. (When you do this the game needs the players to eventually do something that directs the action back into a place of increased danger, such as deeper into the dungeon. I think this is in conflict with an “act like a real person” player agenda, I think the game needs something more along the line of “act like an adventurer”).

  8. It’s the last bit that’s wrong. “If neither of the above, the GM makes a soft move”. You only make a Move, barring 6 or golden op, when “everyone looks expectantly at you, waiting to see what happens next” (or some wording like that, I forget). So if everyone’s like “welp, time for a rest” then no GM move. If everyone is like “that should obviously succeed”, no GM move.

    Admittedly I don’t find this trigger all that satisfactory, but it is the RAW.

  9. Joshua Fox yes, you’re right. RAW, you only make a move when one of (p164) —

    “•When everyone looks to you to find out what happens

    •When the players give you a golden opportunity

    •When they roll a 6-“

    Is that what you do in practice? Anyone else?

  10. So, RAW, my step (3) should be more like:

    (3) The GM waits until

    a) A player describes a plausible action corresponding to move trigger, in which case…

    b) A player describes an action that’s a golden opportunity, in which case…

    c) The players look to the GM to find out what happens, in which case the GM makes a soft move

  11. Rob Alexander Yeah me too. Also, it says “When you have a chance to make a hard move you can opt for a soft one instead if it better fits the situation.” So to me the hardness is very much in the GM’s hands. Having said that I generally treat a 6- pretty hard.

  12. My point was that if you wait until the players look at you and whatnot, it (probably) won’t be a constant maelstrom of action.

    Honestly, I don’t pay attention to the detail of the MC rules anymore. When I try to, it just makes my brain freeze. I’ve internalised them just enough to fly by instincts, periodically re-reading them to calibrate those instincts. So no, I probably don’t follow those rules exactly – But broadly I do.

    But my current formulation of how I GM, for a PBTA game I’m writing at the moment, is that I make a Move:

    – When the rules demand it

    – When the fiction demands it

    – When pacing demands it.

    This means I do sometimes refrain from making a Move even when everyone is looking at me expectantly, and sometimes I do make one even when they’re not. The rest of the time I’m just deceiving [edit: describing!] the world, without necessarily making a Move.

  13. “3) One player (GM’s choice) gets to be the one that acts”

    Usually, but not always.

    Sometimes, especially at the start of an action scene (and then periodically throughout), I’ll ask everyone what they’re doing and get them to commit before touching dice (“free and clear,” so it’s totally cool to be like “oh, Fighter is engaging these guys? I’ll take a shot at the priest instead!”).

    Then, we either chose to resolve one of those moves first, because it’s clearly happening “faster” than the others or otherwise affects the resolution of other player’s actions, or they all roll (if a roll is required) at once and then resolve the results in whatever order makes sense.

    (Or, break it down into smaller groups: the Fighter rolls Defend at the same that the Thief rolls Discern Realities and the Cleric drops his pack to start rifling through it; then the Wizard casts his spell at the same time the Cleric Defies Danger to see if he can get find get the torch out and light it with the tinderbox in the midst of all this chaos.)

    This approach has a few advantages over more discrete spotlighting. It puts everyone on the same page, at least to start. It makes sure everyone has a chance to contribute. It creates opportunities for clever tactics that are harder to coordinate when you resolve stuff “in series.” It makes Aid come up a lot more frequently, because they’re all declaring actions at once (you don’t need to prompt others to help out, or wait for someone to interject). Against a “big bad,” it prevents the party from huddling as a whole while the Paladin tanks it, and that often means more rolls which means more opportunities for a miss, and that can make the big bad feel more dangerous.

    Of course it’s got disadvantages, too. It can be hard to juggle everything, and sometimes one of the players really just is going to do nothing dramatic or interesting, and then all this stuff plays out while they twiddle their thumbs.

    Oh, also… some playgroups have a more chaotic conversational style than others. I remember discussing Aid/Interfere a while back, and I described something like your steps 1-3, and a few Italian folks were like “dude, the way you describe the conversation makes it sound like a lecture; we’re always butting in and talking over each other and jumping in to help out.” Which sounds exhausting to me, but I can see happening, especially among friends whose style of conversation is much more dynamic, fluid, and assertive.

  14. The mapping you present also leaves out a whole bunch of stuff that happens in the conversation, which isn’t really covered by GM moves.

    For example:

    The GM asking the characters questions (“Ragnir, you’re from around here… what’s this town most known for?”)

    [Edit to add]: The GM clarifying intent or actions with the players (“Okay, so you’re tapping the jars with your dagger… what are you trying to accomplish here? Is this Discern Realities?”)

    The GM answering questions about the scene (which is really just elaborating on “describe the situation”).

    Portraying NPCs (which, yeah, sometimes you use them to make moves, and sometimes you’re just portraying NPCs and enjoying the banter)

    Sitting back and letting two or more players talk something out, in or out of character. (Maybe interjecting here and there with corrections on established fact, probing questions, adding details that they’d clearly know, etc.)

    Discussing the rules themselves

    Discussing the larger fictional situation (“wait, Ifan… is that Mini-Mouse? Or Schmuckface?” or “No no, Gordin’s Delve is 4 days west of Stonetop, and you all are like 12 days southeast of Stonetop.”)

    Spotlight tricks, like where someone rolls a miss and then you immediately cut to a different player and do steps 1-3 for them, then jump back to the character who rolled that miss and drop your hard move on them, then go back to (1) for them.

    Point being: the game is a conversation. The rules for how to GM don’t touch on when or how to do any of the things above, but they happen, right? They’re part of game, because they’re part of the conversation.

  15. As for this:

    This meant that I was making a lot of moves, and doing very little else. This kept things interesting, but felt too intense at times. I’ve heard one of the players talk about another GM’s DW game as being “like being on a rollercoaster”, with threat after threat and no peace.


    2) Do you, in practice, use extra moves a bit like these:

    a) Let Them Succeed – just let them do what they’re trying to, without opposition

    b) Rest – describe the situation, narrate events, without (knowingly) saying anything dramatically significant

    Yeah, there’s a real risk of being just relentless.

    There are two ways to address that, I think.

    One way is to think of as yes, you’re making a move pretty much any time they look to you to see what happens, but some moves aren’t very provocative.

    So: “I open the door.” And you make a soft-as-bunnies GM move, change the environment: “Okay, you see a long, dark hallway, stretching out to the edge of your torchlight. Smells like dust and damp air. What do you do?”

    Or: “I tap the jars on the shelves with my dagger.” And you make a soft GM move tell them the requirements and ask: “They go ting ting? If you want to know more, you’ll have to, like pick them up and open them or whatnot. Or, like, Discern Realities. What do you do?”

    Or: “I drop my torch down the pit.” And you offer an opportunity with “It drops maybe 20, 30 feet down and lands on something hard. The light flutters a little, but then flares back up. You don’t see the light reflecting off of the walls all the way down there, so there’s probably a bigger chamber to explore down there. You could climb down with a rope. What do you do?”

    And lots of times, when they look to you, they’re not looking to you to see what happens, they’re just asking you to describe the situation in more detail. I.e. “please go back to (1) and do more of it.”

    The other way to address the relentlessness is to accept that sometimes, when they look at you to see what happens, you don’t make a move. You just describe the situation and how it’s changed.

    So when they open the door, you don’t make a GM move, you just describe what’s behind the door.

    When they tap the jars, you don’t make a GM move, you just describe the ting-ting-ting and maybe ask them questions about their intent.

    When they drop the torch down the pit, you just describe it falling to the bottom of the pit, and the fact that there appears to be an open room down there.

    This approach works better, I think, with a space that is established as “real” based on your notes or prep. Like, you’ve got a map of this room, and it shows the pit, and the chamber at the bottom with a tunnel leading to another part of the dungeon.

    The danger of this approach is that it has the opportunity to stall out, right? The players spend an hour pixel bashing the 2nd room in the dungeon, rather than pushing forward to explore it.

    But! The dungeon (or whatever dangerous place they’re exploring) is itself sort of constantly making a tacit GM move: “Present riches at a price.” They know they’re in danger down here, right? But they also know there’s stuff worth exploring and finding. So the very situation is constantly pushing to them to act and react. And if they dawdle too long, you’ll almost certainly make a GM move that does raise the tension.

  16. I had a difficult time running Dungeon World at first for this very reason. It wasn’t until I applied some of the Apocalypse World 2nd edition Master of Ceremonies advice (page 80 to 94) that my games started to breathe more. That’s really the crux of the difference between running the game where you are focused exclusively on making the moves and one where you are focused more on the conversation. In my experience, putting the conversation first has been a much better experience.

    Most of the time when I DM/GM/MC now I find that I don’t even refer to the moves unless I have a moment come up where I’m not sure which one fits best (and usually I call for a 5 minute break when that happens).

  17. Jeremy Strandberg wrt your list of other things happening in the conversation —

    That’s all true, but I don’t think immediately significant for my purposes here. None of the above directly interfere with the loop, which carries on alongside them. The GM has to multitask, keeping track of their loop position while doing other things, but that’s not hard because they spend most of their time in the step 3 waiting state.

    (NB if it’s not already obvious, although I give an apparently strict, mechanical, procedure above, I take some level of deviation, adaptation, take-back, and repair action as given. This is a procedure for intelligent humans in a messy real-world context, not a computer program.)

    There is a risk here, though, that during any of these extra things the GM forgets to run the main loop. For example, when playing NPCs, the GM gets caught up in “being the NPC” and adlibs their side of the conversation, forgetting to look for move opportunities. When a PC asks the Queen for help defending their lands, that’s a great opportunity for a GM move (e.g. future badness — “I would, but my forces are massing at the border because of the suddent advance of the…” or “”).

    And I suppose that if you use a strict trigger of “the players look to the GM to find out what happens”, there are a number of things there you can’t do.

  18. Dan Maruschak, Jeremy Strandberg — I think your ideas about move intensity are really interesting. Soft/hard is a binary distinction because of irrevocability, but we can think in terms of a parallel scale of intensity. I’m going to think about this some more.

  19. Did anybody mention “make a move that follows”?

    +Rob Alexander If your session felt like a rollercoaster all the time could it be that you were so focused on selecting hard/soft moves that your moves didn’t exactly “follow” the natural ebb and flow of the action?

    In my opinion, when GMing, as long as you remember to keep things reasonably moving it’s difficult not to make moves. You might not always be aware of which move you are making. They might not all be great. Basically if the narrative is not stuck and you’re not railroading then you are making moves.

    On the other hand I don’t think it is a move having players make arbitrary rolls, like someone suggested. I do it sometimes but I always regret it. If a situation is not addressed by a move it usually means it is not that critical. I’m making it critical because it probably caught me off guard and I was afraid of “giving away too much”. Plus it feels really D&D-esque to say “mmmh, no move triggered, tell you what: roll+DEX to see if you make a fool of yourself”.

    ! Edit cause I’m reading your blog post right now. Consider changing step 3.1.a of the loop from:

    If the move fails (roll of 6-) and no special handling of that is given in the move text, the GM makes a move as hard as they like.


    If the move fails (roll of 6-) and no special handling of that is given in the move text, the GM makes a move that follows.

  20. Stefano Casella — I’m not sure what you mean by “natural ebb and flow of the action”. Do you mean “what would naturally happen in the fiction”? Or perhaps “what feels natural for a game of this type”?

    My reading of the RAW description of “Make a move that follows” is that it has nothing to do with the intensity we’re talking about here, per se — it’s solely about fictional consistency. If non-stop action is consistent with the fiction, then it’s consistent with that principle to enact non-stop action.

    WRT “it’s difficult not to make moves” — sure. But that’s not what I’m interested in talking about here.

  21. Regarding relentlessness, as a DW GM I believe you need to monitor the load on the players and ease off on adding new hooks and interesting things as the result of them looking to you. Often they’re triggering moves to get more info on existing challenges and don’t want new opportunities to constantly spring out of the ether.

  22. Rob Alexander I’m not totally convinced that this issue has nothing to do with fictional consistency.

    To achieve “non-stop” high-stakes action you actually have to make things happen right? Especially if between GM moves the party doesn’t travel to a different location every time. My understanding is that you got that non-stop action by introducting some new threat or opportunity at every occasion, if that’s not the case I got you wrong and I apologize.

    My point is that after a while this starts having to do with fictional consistency. I’ll explain myself with an example:

    The party is in a dungeon. Up until now they have Discerned Realities, Spouted Lore, Hacked and Slashed, Volleyed. Now that they have explored a bunch of “rooms” and left an amount of bodies on the ground the players “seem reluctant” to push forward.

    If at this point you choose to use a dungeon move like introduce a new faction or type of creature you are actively making this dungeon more crowded.

    If do it again after the next encounter you make the dungeon even more crowded, but maybe you switch to change the environment or make them backtrack by having a tunnel collapse. Now the dungeon is somewhat crowded while at the same time existing in a somewhat geologically unstable area.

    Extend this to an entire session. There is the risk of transforming what was once perceived as a simple goblin-cave into a crowded melting pot of warring races that for some reason camp in a magical living maze that is also constantly plagued by earthquakes and floods.

    How does the “make a move that follows” fit into this?

    If you were going for a Dying Earth style mad-wizard-dungeon-with-a-mind-of-its-own thing, then it’s totally ok. It follows the fiction. Otherwise you should have probably stopped after the last of the goblins went down and allowed for Carouse, Supply, Bolster and stuff like that to happen.

    Some suggestions of things that might not look like GM moves but actually are:

    Now that you catch your breath you have time to notice that you are quite hungry and tired. It must be late afternoon or something. What do you do?

    Change the environment (it’s late) OR

    Use up their resources (they will probably camp and consume rations)

    So the cave actually stops here and as far as you know there’s probably nothing else to do or explore in this place. Do you want to gather your things and travel back to town? What do you do?

    Make them backtrack

    You look at the fallen bodies and you recognize by the their tatoos that this is the bloody-tooth tribe, at the fort near the village the captain offers a good price for a bloody-tooth goblin head, preferably on a spike. What do you do?

    Offer an opportunity

    Now, if you were already doing all this, great! Maybe you just have to wait a couple more seconds before concluding that they are looking at you to find out what happens?

  23. Stefano Casella hmmm… that’s an interesting interpretation of “make a move that follows”. It’s broader than I’ve used in the past, but not radically so.

  24. That’s one of the things about most PbtA games that I really enjoy. The GM moves, agenda, and principles tend to be very open, while still constrained in such a way that they fit the genre being represented. The open interpretation of something like make a move that follows, as Stefano Casella listed above, allows for a broad interpretation that can give the conversation a direction that leads to quieter moments in the fiction.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love sessions where the crap really hits the fan, especially if there’s been a build up and my threats, fronts, or arcs have been allowed to develop naturally to a crescendo, but I love sessions that take place entirely within scenes where characters are just interacting. The best sessions have a nice mix of the two, and a broader interpretation of the moves can really allow that space to be provided where both can happen.

  25. And this sort of thread is gold when you’ve been running for a while so you get the intricacies of the game. When you are new to the game there is literally nothing in the RAW that helps a GM feel confident and empowered with regards to avoiding a relentless (and exhausting!) pace or a “crowded melting pot”. In fact if, as a newish DW GM you wander over to, say, reddit, to try to get a better handle on how to run the game, you’re likely to come away with the idea that relentless and melting pot are the ideal.

    And because the RAW says loud and clear that even the GM must follow the rules you can sort of become obsessed with combing the RAW and trying to do everything just so…

    As someone else said, running Apocalypse World was the best thing I ever did for my DW game. 🙂

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