“Powered by the Apocalypse”, some implications

As discussed yesterday, the core mechanic of Dungeon World is a Move. When a character triggers a Move; you get a Full Success, Partial Success, or a Miss. I’ve come to love the Partial Success result since I started playing Talislanta in the previous century, so this is was an easy transition to make.

But the “Miss” result is where things get complicated and deep for what seems like an obvious synonym for “failure”. Because another way the Dungeon World encourages narrativist play over simulationist play is that it repeats a core precept of “trust your players” in a large number of ways in a large number of contexts.

So, you don’t roll dice to find out what happens. You play to see what happens. Explicitly even, this is one of the core Agenda items (“Your agenda makes up the things you aim to do at all times while GMing a game of Dungeon World”).

So you don’t roll dice to see what happens (intentional repeat). The story presents opportunities to the characters. And the characters succeed flawlessly, succeed with some complications, or encounter some complication that prevents the character from succeeding at the moment.

And that’s a big sentiment to unpack. Your Thief wants to check a room for traps? They have to put themselves in danger to do so. Heck, the Move for everyone besides a Thief is called Defy Danger. Thieves get Tricks of the Trade, which is similar except the Thief gets better options on a Full or Partial Success.

And if the player rolls a 6 or less, they are in danger of taking damage. And remember, the GM doesn’t roll dice to determine outcomes. So that “in danger of damage” means it’s a judgement call. If the GM decides the character will take damage, the GM tells the player how much damage they could take (the player rolls damage dice to see how much). The GM doesn’t have to go with this option (the technical term is Hard Move). They could go lighter and describe an impending threat, which the Thief might have to make a Move or declare a narrative action to escape (the so-called Soft-Move).

But yeah, implicitly? Every time you’re asking the players to roll the dice, their character is as risk of taking damage. And if they’re not in danger, Dungeon World says “don’t worry about rolling dice”.

Like I said, narrativist play over simulationist play. But it’s a big adjustment for players who are used to rolling dice for everything besides a pre-determined outcome (and man, players hate pre-determed outcomes).

Which brings me to the other thing that happens when a character gets a 6 or less result on a Move. They get an Experience Point (XP) for the learning opportunity. And again, that model only works when you remember that the player should only be making a Move when there’s danger. Your Wizard wants to Spout Lore to remember something about a location, or a monster, or how something works? You only roll dice if a complication would put the Wizard or one of their friends in immediate physical danger.


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