You know all those polls I’ve posting lately? This is where they got me.

You know all those polls I’ve posting lately? This is where they got me.

You know all those polls I’ve posting lately? This is where they got me.

Warning: it’s long.

Questions and feedback are of course welcome.

Hack & Slash, part II

I previously talked about Tinkering with Hack and Slash in order to make it a move that explicitly dealt with initiative and, in the process, address some of my beefs with the move as-written. That led me to put some polls up on G+, and the responses (and ensuing discussions) led me to discard the initiative idea and and think more deeply about the move.

33 thoughts on “You know all those polls I’ve posting lately? This is where they got me.”

  1. Very good read. I’m having a go at designing my own game right now. Your process was very insightful, and I like your revision so much I’m going to use it when I start my next DW campaign in October. I’ll let you know if anything unusual crops up in our gameplay.

  2. Very interesting. I think a longer post on “when to use Defy Danger, when to use this new Hack & Slash” would be helpful; I agree the distinction is subtle (it’s all about the player choosing from a list, in the end). Your modification actually makes this distinction even more blurry!

    What about Volley? Do you think it needs an update along these lines, as well? And is “the initiative” hack gone for good?

  3. Yochai Gal I don’t actually think it does blur the line any further. I just added/edited this in the blog post:

    I think the key things that make a maneuver H&S instead of DD are:

    ● You are trying to hurt someone(s) at hand-to-hand range

    ● There is some plausible chance of hurting them

    ● They are are able and willing to fight back

    That’s always been true of H&S, right? What this change does, though, is have Hack and Slash “claim” situations in which you are both trying to hurt someone and get something else out of it. You don’t have go “what you really trying to do here?” Is this violence? Hack and Slash.

    On the resolution side, H&S and Defy Danger are quite similar. 10+ yay! 7-9 yay, but…. The key differences are:

    ● Hack and Slash is always STR (unless something like the precise tag changes that)

    ● For Hack and Slash, dealing damage is guaranteed on a 7+ (whereas it’s entirely a product of the fiction in Defy Danger)

    ● Hack and Slash has that interesting player choice on the 10+ (extra damage vs. avoid counter attack); Defy Danger is just “you do it.”

    ● Hack and Slash promises the enemy’s attack on a 7-9 (as opposed Defy Danger’s more generalized “worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice)

    All of those differences are still there in my revised version of Hack and Slash. The only thing I’m really adding to the mix is that I’m having the move resolve what you set out to do, above and beyond dealing damage.

    Does that address the blurriness?

  4. Jeremy Strandberg I was thinking about the “your manuever works” bit, which I realize isn’t in the trigger at all. So yes, the trigger is clearer. Maybe it’s Defy Danger that could be cleared up. Not that it comes up much in my games.

  5. As for Volley… maybe? I haven’t seen it come up nearly as often with ranged attacks as I have with melee.

    There’s basically two flavors of “non-murderous” ranged attack, right? Called shots and suppressive fire.

    For called shots, where you’re trying to shoot them in the leg or the hand or whatnot…. well, that’s partly covered by the Ranger having a special move. (Though, I’ve tinkered with that move plenty, because I am not a fan of the one in core DW.)

    Without a special “called shot” move, you’re basically trying to do something that’s harder than usual. And ranged attacks are more about a single precise moment than the fray of melee, so it seems like telling them the requirements and asking gets you most of what you need.

    “You want to shoot its eye out? Well, you’ll need to take your time and wait for your moment, and who knows what happens while you do that. You try?”


    “You want to shoot it in the eye? Volley with disadvantage.”


    “You want to shoot it’s eye out? Well, roll Volley, and if you do 4 or more damage, then yeah, I think you take it’s eye.”

    For suppressive fire, where you’re trying to pin them down or deny an area or drive them into an area… well, for starters, that’s a very modern concept enabled by semi-automatic weapons. When you’ve got one archer taking a shots with a relatively slow rate of fire, it’s a lot harder to realistically do that.

    But the PCs are badass heroes, right, so fling arrow after arrow makes sense.

    Thinking about how I’ve resolved this in the past…

    “I shoot a bunch of arrows into the woods to make them keep their heads down.” Okay, no roll, that’ll work. But it’ll cost 1 ammo.

    “I send an arrow through the doorway, just to let them know I’m covering it. Anyone else comes through, I’ll shoot them.” Okay, cool. No roll for now, but if I decide that someone shows they’re face, you get to Volley for sure.

    “I pop out of the doorway and Blot out the Sun. Those soldiers aren’t getting out of this courtyard!” Cool, spend the ammo and roll Volley. 7-9? What do you pick? Expose yourself to danger? Okay, roll your damage, but I think the guys with shields hunker down and the second rank starts shooting back at you, what do you do?”

    The other thing to consider about suppressive fire is that it’s largely psychological. Zombies will ignore it. So will trolls, ghosts, automata, or other creatures without a healthy fear of taking a yardshaft.

    So I guess my thinking is, probably don’t need Volley to address it. You’re basically just determine NPC/monster responses to having arrows shot at them, which is more about their psychology than it is about the skill of the archer.

    (Fully expecting to be corrected by a HEMA fan on like any of this.)

  6. I admit that more I saw lines like: “the core complaint I have about Hack and Slash as written: it doesn’t say anything about non-murderous objectives”, the more I thought “H&S doesn’t say anything about non-murderous objectives because it isn’t triggered by non-murderous objectives: defy danger is.”

    It’s possible that the real issue is that the trigger for defy danger is off.

  7. I’m wondering about these examples: drive the orcs back through the doorway, or hold the doorway against their counter charge, or shield bash the one guard over the parapet…

    Like, I can see many of these fitting more into Defend than H&S: If the success of the maneuver is holding ground or getting a better defensive position, I’d use Defend—possibly followed by H&S.

  8. Thanks Jeremy Strandberg it has been a great time reading along your rationale behind the changes that you propose. I’d like to know what the authors of DW think about this article.

  9. Emir Pasanovic I believe you are making fun of me! To which I say: well-played!

    Lester Ward Yochai Gal interested to see where that takes you. I don’t have a problem with Defy Danger; I think there’s a place for a catchall/fallback move. The only tweak I’ve ever really felt the need for on it is to drop “you stumble, hesitate, or flinch” because either it unduly influences your choices as the GM or it gets ignored (and usually, IME, it gets ignored).

    John at Deep Six Delver Defend is probably my next target (maybe after a slight revisit of Discern Realities). People keep bringing it up in these scenarios, but I really don’t think that the either wording of the move or the intent of the creators match how up with “holding a doorway” or “achieving a defensive position,” and I think it’s on shaky ground for “jumping in to take a hit for someone else.” But that’s a conversation for later.

  10. A very interesting read 🙂

    For #FantasyWorld I’ve had to bang my head on HnS too and it’s interesting to see the differences in design goals, the different solutions to similar problems, the different GM approach that then spawns different move design.

  11. It may be worth mentioning here: when those earlier polls were being done, I started thinking about fictional positioning during melee in #FourthWorld and went a different direction. Previously, I rephrased (or maybe “reorganized” is a better word) the hack and slash move to make it easier for other moves to modify the 10+ results. The next release of Fourth World is going to give a starting move to every playbook that gives them an extra choice on the hack and slash 10+ list. These choices are predominantly fictional positioning, each intended to be idiomatic of how that playbook is likely to fight (thus becoming something of a self-fulfilling prophesy).

    By implication, the presence of these extra options means that characters who lack them can’t easily do those things while also trying to stab the bad guy.

    We’ll see how it goes.

  12. Jeremy Strandberg Actually Defend was one of the moves I always disliked from vanilla Dungeon World, particularly the “Deal damage to the attacker equal to your level”, that can easily turn that move into a more convenient attack move for many classes. I wasn’t in the mood for a big change, so I quickly houseruled that for that point you could roll a damage die near to your level (for semplicity sake1-4 level heroes roll a d4, 5-6 level heroes roll a d6, 7-8 a d8, and 9-10 a d10).

  13. That’s a good point, Andrea Parducci! Now that I think about it, I’d probably just use the class damage die on Defend instead. To me, the class damage dice have always signified their overall training and ability to get into position, find a weakness, and land telling blows.

    Why should a Wizard get automatic 9 damage (or d10 damage using your system) on Defend, when they roll a d4 in their regular fighting?

    Jeremy Strandberg, you followed the ancient dialogs when the game was under development. Do you know whether this major difference of damage between Defend and all other circumstances was considered?

  14. John at Deep Six Delver yeah, also fixed damage clashes with the almost all other form of DW damage, and causes insta-death of a big portion of enemies you can find in the book. Also, while with “standard” attack you could say to the warrior “ehi, you can’t deal damage to that dragon so easily, so no H’n’S until you find a way”, with Defend you are forced to say “you can’t choose that option from the list, ’cause… no”. Another point of “fiction rupture”, imho.

  15. Lester Ward that seems really apropos of the disciplines in Earth Dawn. They always struck me as much more tightly envisioned than the more general D&D classes.

    I look forward to seeing what you come up.

  16. Andrea Parducci John at Deep Six Delver I seem to recall Sage or Adam saying that knew they wanted Defend to handle damage differently, and I think more reliably, as an exchange for taking a reactive stance. I’ll try to track that down, because it’s relevant to my main issue with the move.

    I don’t like the set damage, for the reasons y’all mention above. It’s also jarring, as it’s the only remaining place that your level gets directly referenced in a core move. That’s an easy fix, though. I’ve gone with “deal damage, with disadvantage.”

    The bigger, tougher issue are [1] what triggering is supposed to look like (proactively taking a defensive stance or reactively jumping in, or both), [2] how people actually use it (regardless of intent), and [3] with [2] in mind, what should the move actually do?

    Like, if people are primarily using Defend reactively, like as an interrupt, it should probably be a “pick 3/pick 1” move and not hold-and-spend move. And maybe the hold-and-spend is something more specialized.

    Or maybe it should be much more clear that it’s a proactive, “get ready to protect the Wizard as he casts a spell” move, Something you only ever trigger before the attack is launched.

    Also… how does spending hold from Defend interact with doing other moves? Can I set myself up with Defend, Hack and Slash someone coming at me and then spend 1 defense hold to halve their damage? Or if someone attacks my ward, can I spend 1 hold to redirect the attack to me and then attempt to counter it with a parry/riposte?

    Also: how can we get it used more? Because it’s the Basic Move that gets the absolute least use in my games.

  17. Jeremy Strandberg I think Defy Danger is appropriate to bring up here, because a reactive version of Defend doesn’t look all that dissimilar from it. On a 7+ you’d avoid part of it, and on a 10+ you’d avoid all or most of it. I also think an argument could be made for a “Withstand a Mighty Blow” move – one that covers both Defending other people and serves as a combat-centric Defy Danger. It’d arguably give DD a stronger identity.

    In regards to your Hack and Slash rework; while I understand the intent behind the use of the word “maneuver,” the move only ever interprets that to mean damage dealt. If I might suggest an approach I used for WoA:

    When you fight in melee or close quarters and open yourself up to counterattack, roll+STR. On a 7+, your maneuver works as expected; deal your damage and impact the fiction accordingly. On a 10+, you also choose one.

    By adding the phrase “impact the fiction accordingly” it makes it clear (in the move text itself, rather than in the GM’s mind or in the rulebook) that this variant of Hack and Slash supports and encourages creative play. Additionally, by going with a 7+/10+ result structure and moving the counterattack text to the trigger, I personally feel that it creates a cleaner move – though you may disagree!

    Or, perhaps something similar, but different:

    When you fight in melee or close quarters and open yourself up to counterattack, state your intent (to kill, to drive them back, etc.) and roll+STR.

  18. “open yourself to counterattack” isn’t something that’d be triggered much, I feel. What player will say “So, I’m, like, slashing with my sword in an attempt to chop off its head and exposing my right side doing so”.

    To me, a good trigger is something the players will naturally say while describing their move. What happens when a player just say “So, I’m, like, slashing with my sword in an attempt to chop off its head” and doesn’t say anything about exposing himself. Does the move trigger still? What other move triggers otherwise?

  19. Cameron Burns, it seems like “…and impact the fiction accordingly” could be appended to any move without changing its meaning. If you aren’t impacting the fiction according to the trigger and outcome of the move, you’re not playing. Am I missing something?

    I can see how this phrase would offer training wheels to players who are used to hitting an enemy and just seeing numbers fall off, but that’s not Dungeon World.

  20. I see where you’re coming from Cameron Burns, but my thoughts lie with John at Deep Six Delver here… it feels like over-explaining and as a result potentially adding confusion or limitation.

    Including the “and open yourself to counterattack” in the trigger feels unnecessary and off, because 1) I’m clearly exposed to attack or else it wouldn’t be fighting (it’d be assault) and 2) that statement describes a particular type of combat or moment in combat that might not always apply.

    Like, if the GM already made a soft move like “the orc is rushing you, chopping down with its cleaver like HAH! what do you do?” and you respond with “I block the chop with my shield and stab under in, into his gut or inner thigh or whatever…” well, you are describing not opening yourself. The attack has been made, you’re trying to counter it.

    There’s also a slippery slope, right? If you include the “open to counter attack” distinction in the trigger, do you also have to include the “have an actual chance of harming it” qualifier in the trigger? If not, why not? Based on conversations over the years, it’s at least as common a sticking point as whether the enemy is fighting back.

    As for “and impact the fiction accordingly,” I agree with John, it’s super weird to say that in this one move but not in others.

    Like, why doesn’t Defy Danger then say “on a 10+, you accomplish what you set out to do, affecting the fiction appropriately, and the danger doesn’t come to bear.” If not, why not? And what about other moves that might get used creatively, or just have impact on the fictional state?

    Also, if you are going to include an explicit statement about the effect, directly referencing “the fiction” in the text of a move feels… clumsy? Certainly out of place, vis a vis other moves.

  21. The more I think about it, I’m not crazy about using H&S for “maneuvers”.

    Because of the discussions here, I cut the GM move “deal damage” and replaced it with “hurt them”, with an intention similar to “…and impact the fiction accordingly”: “Hurt them” emphasizes showing them what happens.

    To me H&S is a “hurt them” move for the players—when they are fighting within reach of an enemy or enemies. They have to describe their maneuver first, and then we decide if it’s aim is to “hurt them”—H&S—or something else.

    We don’t trigger “standing in defense” nearly so often, but it does come up. Honestly, the maneuver might look the same, and it’s just the player’s intention that differentiates them.

    Other maneuvers are Defy Danger. And of course, some maneuvers just work:

    We had the Barbarian climb up on a dragon’s back while it was distracted (Defying some Danger), at the same time the Bard was trying to Parley and Discern Realities by engaging the dragon in conversation. The Barbarian said while this exchange was going on, she wanted to tie herself to the dragon’s horns so she wouldn’t be tossed easily. Because of the intensity of the Bard/dragon conversation (hella emotions, etc.), she spent a use of Adventuring Gear, and it just happened.

    (What happened next was a pretty wild ride.)

    Of course the fictional positioning involved in H&S will have consequences beyond who gets hurt and who doesn’t, but I’m reluctant to tie the success of other maneuvers into H&S.

    The game is about hard choices, and sometimes you have to choose between catching the expensive vase and messing up someone’s face.

    We had a bunch of that in our last session, when the Barbarian was trying to hold on to the dragon despite barrel rolls, blistering hot scales, incoming arrows, and 90 degree nose dives. But she didn’t want to just hold on, she also wanted to get some licks in AND hold on to her gear. Nearly every time she said “I want to attack the dragon AND do this other thing”, I made the “tell them the requirements or consequences move”—”what do you want to do first?”

    They’ve been in combat before with less fearsome enemies than this, and they often just succeed at positioning and other maneuvers in addition to H&S. But this was a time for hard choices if there ever was one.

  22. Would it work to take a note from the GM side of things and offer a chance for a maneuver to succeed without damage or with reduced damage?

    I guess this treads a bit into seize by force territory, but it would push more detailed fighting vs the swing-hit-swing again descriptions. It also calls to mind the bull rush, trip, disarm style maneuvers from other systems.

    Then again, it’s late and I’m tired, so this may have previously come up and I just don’t recall.

  23. I personally find that using AW2 version of Seize by Force as the base to develop an improved Hack & Slash move yields much better results that using H&S proper as the starting point 😛

  24. John at Deep Six Delver here is the #FantasyWorld version:




    When you use physical violence against one or more opponents that are capable of doing the same

    …exchange harm as established, but first roll+STR.

    10+ = choose 2

    7-9 = choose 1

    1-6 = choose 1 + World Move (not Inflict Harm nor Turn their move)

    – inflict terrible harm

    – suffer little harm

    – impress, dismay or frighten your enemy

    – take or keep clear hold of some thing/person/position

    – keep some thing/person/position safe and undamaged

    – force your way into the opponent’s position/guard

    – force the opponent towards a position of your choosing

    If Protagonist Characters do Brawl against one another, each rolls separately to pick their own options, then harm is exchanged as established only once.



    (…also, in the empty space left by my layout just under the fictional trigger, I write…)



    Brawl is not triggered if you or your opponents are unable to promptly inflict at least Nasty harm to one another.

    Because of this, ranged attacks are usually handled through other moves, most commonly Take a Risk.



    I know it seems big and convoluted compared to some alternatives… but In all my tests having a minimal Trigger ends up creating more problems and negotiations than a longer but unambiguous and terse one.

    Same goes for the rest of the move.

    At a glance it is less intelligible, but used in practice at the table (aka following it as a step by step procedure) it avoids A LOT of confusion and headaches and actually helps the game to flow fast and smooth.

    Especially for the GM, as they don’t need to remember all those details from the rulebook (they are in the move).

    At least, in my tests 🙂

    (including the blind ones where I am not the World at the table, or am not at a table at all)

    Also I don’t share Jeremy Strandberg’s view on the “problems” related to picking an option that is not supported by the pre-move fictional positioning.

    But that’s another topic 🙂

  25. What if you just added the following to the trigger:

    When you describe how you fight in melee or close quarters, roll+STR…

    Leaving the rest of the move as written in the blog post.

    Edit: That does get into the same realm as previously noted where every move requires description (if you do it, you do it). Why should this be the only one that calls out describing what you are doing?

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