Wednesday, February 27, 2019

On Learning to Run Dungeon World

Over on Google+ (in it's last, dying days), Tom Pleasant said this (across a couple different comments):

I’ve done a reasonable amount of storygames but am struggling to grok GMing *World.... Played a dozen different *World games and read up on how to run it. All the agendas and things just make me panic.

I've heard that sentiment before and I totally get it. It seems like you're supposed to constantly keep about a dozen different principles in your mind and make sure that anything you say comes from a list of another 12-20 (or more) proscribed GM moves. How the hell are you supposed to do that and juggle all the social realities of the table and know the rules of the game and keep your setting coherent and and and and.

You know. Just do this. It's easy.

It doesn't help that text of most PbtA games present the "How to GM" chapter as rules that the GM must follow as opposed to advice. Here's the Dungeon World text:

This chapter isn’t about advice for the GM or optional tips and tricks on how best to play Dungeon World. It’s a chapter with procedures and rules for whoever takes on the role of GM.

Here's my (slightly heretical) advice, to him and any other potential GM who's intimidated by the agenda, principles, and GM moves, of Dungeon World.  


Forget the agenda. Ignore the principles. Run the game.  


If you've run pretty much any role playing game before, and certainly if you played Dungeon World or another PbtA game, then you already know the most basic, fundamental thing that you need to know: the game is a conversation.

Establish the situation. ("You're standing in front of these two huge teak-wood doors. The mountain wind howls all around you in the fading light. Your breath catches on the cold air, getting colder. It'll be night soon.").  Keep it brief. Maybe ask the characters some questions about why they're there, what they hope to find, what they're worried about it, why they shouldn't dally. As much or as little as you and they are comfortable with. Enough to set the scene and establish their motive for being there.

Restate the scene and the situation (doors, cold wind, getting darker and colder). Turn to a particular player and ask their character "What do you do?" 

If they ask questions about the situation, and you think you the answers would be self-evident, answer them honestly and generously.  ("Are there any handles or anything on the doors?" "Oh, yeah, there are these huge brass rings on each door, like the size of your arms making a circle. They hang down so the bottom is at about chest height.")  Then: What do you do?

If they ask questions about the situation, and you DON'T think the answer would readily apparent, tell them what's required to learn it. Maybe it involves doing something.  Maybe it involves them making a move.  ("Can we hear any noise from inside?" "No, but they're really thick and it's windy out here. Maybe if you pressed your ear to the doors?" or "Are there any footprints or signs that they've been opened recently?"  "Sounds like you're studying the situation. Discern Realities?")  Ask if they do that. If they do, say what happens or engage the move and resolve it per the rules.

If they do something with an obvious outcome, say what happens as a result. ("I grab onto one of the big brass rings and pull." "There's a creaking noise, and the door slowly grinds open. It's like dragging a car in neutral, it's so heavy.  Dust falls from up top as you, gets caught in the wind and swirls. Darkness looms inside.")  Then: What do you do? 

If things are dragging and the PCs are just dickering around, or you want to get to some action, then telegraph some trouble. ("As you step into the door and get your torches lit, you see a huge, vaulted hallway leading into the darkness. Just at the edge of your torchlight, you see a boot, lying in the ground. Then you realize it's attached to a bony leg. A dead figure, sprawled in the middle of the hall.") Then: What do you do?  (Chances are that they'll do something triggers a move. Resolve it.)

If they do something that would trigger a bad thing, say how the bad thing starts to happen but not how it finishes. ("As you approach the dead body, the tile under your foot starts to give way just a little, then click.").  Establish a bad thing about to happen, but stop while it's still unfurling, and ask them (or another character): What do you do?

If they don't do something to reasonably address the bad thing, clarify with them. ("You just stand there? Even though you pretty clearly just stepped on a pressure plate?")  If they really do ignore it ("Pressure plate? pfft, whatever, I study this corpse.") then bring it home.The bad thing happens, full force. ("You feel this burning stab in your gut and then your ears register this THWOOSH and you realize that there's this six-inch dart sticking out of your stomach. Take d6 damage and your whole body starts to feel like it's on fire.")  Probably turn to someone else and say that they just saw that happen: What do you do?

If, when you introduce the threat, they say that they do something about it (good on them), then they're probably triggering a move. Resolve it!  ("Oh, crap, a pressure plate? I dive back and to the side." "Okay, sounds like Defying Danger with DEX to me, roll it.") Resolve the move as written. ("A 7-9? How about a hard bargain? You can dive and get out of the way of what's coming, but your torch will go clattering off into the distance. Yeah?").

On a miss (6 or less) have them mark XP and then decide what's the most obvious bad thing that can happen?  It happens. Tell them what happens  ("As you dive out of the way, there's this burning stab in your leg. As you hit the ground, you realize you've got this 6-inch dart sticking out of your leg. Take 1d6 damage and holy hells does it burn, way worse than it should.")

However the move ends up resolving: re-establish the situation, turn to a specific player, and ask their character What do you do?

In a chaotic, fluid situation (like a fight), keep moving around between players. Each time you re-establish the scene for them, throw in something that they have to react to (not always bad, maybe it's just an opportunity, a chance to act) before you ask: What do you do?

Notice that I'm not referencing agenda, or principles, or GM moves.  You're simply:

  1. Describing the situation
  2. Answering their questions
  3. Giving them some sort of hook or thing to react to
  4. Asking them what they do
  5. Saying what happens next (return to 1)
    OR
  6. Following the rules of the player-facing moves, then saying what happens next (return to 1).

That's the flow of the game, the conversation.

Not sure what to do for #2?  Or as a result of #5?  Skim over your GM moves list and see if something inspires you.

But mostly, just follow the natural fiction of the game and the rules. And don't beat yourself up if for not doing it "right".


Then, after the game, think back on the decisions you made, the things you decided to say. Run those things against the game's proscribed agenda. Did you say or do anything that violated the agenda? Try to avoid that next time.

Look at the principles.  Did you say or do anything that violated them?  Think about what you could have done instead. Think about what adhering to that principle might have looked like.

Look at the GM moves. Think about your major decisions, the things you said to prompt action from the PCs or to give them hooks. Can you match each of those things to one or more of the GM moves?  Where there any decisions you made, where you could have done one of these other GM moves instead? Keep that all in mind for next time.

My ultimate point here is that the GM's agenda, principles, and moves are just ways to codify and describe good GMing.  Some GMs adhere to them closely and intentionally make their moves from the lists. Some GMs keep the principles constantly in mind.

But if they're acting as a barrier to you, and intimidating you, then fuck 'em.  Describe the situation. Give them hook or prompt a response. What do you do?  Resolve a move or say what happens. Repeat.

And then look back on your work and see how you could have done better.

GMing is a practice, like yoga or martial arts or meditation or painting or whatever. You get better at it by doing it, by reflecting on it, by constantly trying to do better.  No one starts off as a maestro. Don't be afraid of being bad or mediocre or less than excellent.  Do the work. Show up. Get better. Get good. Get great.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

42 magic swords

the truth

We did some brainstorming on the DW Discord a little while back. 30 magic swords, no more than two sentences each. We came up with 30 in just under an hour. Then folks kept going. Enjoy.

  1. A singing sword, floating in the darkness for ages, guarding this now-empty ruin from intruders yet so, so lonely. Jeremy Strandberg
  2. A sword carved from the thigh bone of a Nephilim. Bane to both demons and angels, bleeds in the presence of either. Jeremy Strandberg
  3. Shifter's Demon, this scimitar is engraved with the phases of the moon from new to full along th blade.  Any shapechanger who views the weapon finds themselves stuck constantly shifting between all their forms in agony. Torin Blood
  4. A blade of ice that never melts, extinguishes nearby fires when drawn. You’re never too warm or too hot in while you wield it, but neither do you feel any urgency or sense of passion (Your Drive for any session in which you wield it becomes “let a problem escalate while you do nothing.") Jeremy Strandberg
  5. Marcu's miracle shortsword is a plain merchant guards sword passed from hand to hand for generations.  The wielder of the blade will never lose at any dicing game so long as it has been used in defence of a merchant in the last month. Torin Blood
  6. Sidhe’s Lament, a scimitar of black starmetal  that hums with the music of the spheres when rapped on metal. The longer you fight with it, the greater it’s volume and vibration, unless glass shatters and stones crack around you. Jeremy Strandberg
  7. A sword carved of white wood, handle worn smooth and tiny notches chipped up and down the blade. Not much use against steel, but perfectly capable of beating the crap out of ghosts, wraiths, specters, and the like... won’t destroy, but sure gives ‘em a licken’. Jeremy Strandberg
  8. The Slithering Steel of Abraxcus,  this twisted and serrated sword breaker seems to always be in motion when held.  The blade shifts to always wrap around and trap weapons that attack the wielder. Torin Blood
  9. Gefyn, a gladius of exceptional quality. It has endured millenia of constant wars and fighting, when sharpened it never seems to lose material. Halsver
  10. A sword made of leaves woven together with spider silked and magically hardened with the blood of an ancient elf,  the memories of the elft come to the weilder as horrific dreams. Torin Blood
  11. A leaf-shaped blade of orichalcum, dull red and no cross guard. When you cut or stab a creature infected by the Things Below, it burns like heat of three forges and sears flesh and bone. Jeremy Strandberg
  12. A longsword stained crimson after being quenched in dragon's blood.  Light reflected from the blade revels wounds that will be suffered within the next week. Torin Blood
  13. The Historian's Lament,  a rapier that when thrust into any book makes it so the book was never written.  The wielder of the blade instantly learns everything that was in the book. Torin Blood
  14. A serrated greatsword made of a single crystal. It is said when the sword sings a new age has dawned. Torin Blood
  15. No blade, just a hilt with a grip wound in copper wire.  When you brandish it with confidence, a white blade of lightning forms—cuts clean through any metal but also discharges dangerous bolts at random. Jeremy Strandberg
  16. Macco, the pacifist's katana. This blade appears to be ethereal and will pass through inanimate objects with no resistance. Deemed useless by hasty warriors, the thoughtful practitioner will recognize a slow pull against a moving object will realize a perfect clean slice. Halsve
  17. A grim, notched iron sword, spotted with reddish flakes (rust? blood? both or neither?). When you wound someone with the sworn but do not kill them, the wound will never fully heal, not will it ever fester or get worse. Jeremy Strandberg
  18. Goran's Eternity Serverance,  an extremely ornate and gem encrusted Claymore .   It passes harmlessly through all living material  but utterly consigns to oblivion the soul of any corpse it touches. Torin Blood
  19. Bronze sword that once belonged to a petty warlord who trucked with the Things Below. When you wield the sword, those who follow you know no fear and their morale and commitment never falters (but if you wield the sword during a session, your Drive becomes “prove your superiority over another”) Jeremy Strandberg
  20. A pair of earrings like tiny, graceful scimitars. Until you take them off your ears, in which case they become a pair of full-sized, graceful scimitars. Jeremy Strandberg
  21. Juliana, blade of vengeance. Forged by a simple farmer with a singular purpose, this crude blade is dull in the hands of the dispassionate. When wielded by those mourning a lost love, it burns with a brilliant blue flame and a haunting child's voice whispers to its foes. Halsver
  22. A simple, perfectly crafted blade of dull gray steel. Anyone who sees you draw it sees a perfectly clear, perfectly convincing vision of you cutting them down with it. Jeremy Strandberg
  23. Ghostblade, sword of the old god. This blade doesn't cut through metal, flesh and bone, but instead bypasses the mortal shell, and strikes at soul and spirit. Slothman
  24. Thornblight, a greatsword of what looks like an impossibly big and perfectly napped shard of obsidian. Cuts through wood, vines, briars, and any other vegetation like it was soft clay. Jeremy Strandberg
  25. Purity. This longsword was forged in the blood of a dying angel. When wielded by one of pure heart and purpose, it enhances their power. When welded selfishly or in vengeance, it becomes a mundane blade. Slothman
  26. A bronze blade with a hilt of shell and coral, always wet and glistening. Fog and mist billow around it, thicker and deeper the long it’s unsheathed, until eventually... things slither out of the fog. Jeremy Strandberg
  27. Kuzzleyuff, a strange parrying dagger which is incredibly heavy and features an intricate mechanism that spins and rotates rapidly on the hilt. The dagger is clumsy to use intentionally, but will perfectly parry any strike that you fail to notice. Halsver
  28. A blade of black iron quenched in the blood of a dozen innocent men. Cuts through any magical charms, wards, abjurations, or protections. Jeremy Strandberg
  29. Plowshare. A historic gift from one king to another to sue for peace. This completely dull blade is useless in combat, but gives advantage on Parley. If ever used to kill, the magic leaves it and the killer is forever branded a tyrant and murderer to all who see him ChibiYossy
  30. The first sword ever crafted, a crude and ugly thing. Every blow struck with it kills, but anyone who kills with it will be struck a killing blow by the next sword they face. Jeremy Strandberg
  31. Chissors, a pair of blades that seem immutably attracted to one another. Once separated, they will remain apart until they both strike in tandem, shearing through their target and fixing to one another again. Halsver
  32. Rotsman’s sidearm. This obsidian and ceramic blade is immune to all forms of corrosion and acid produced by slimes, jellies, pudding, and fungi. Also has many clever notches and serrations and can function as a pry bar, hatchet, saw, or entrenching tool in a pinch. Breaks easily on any kind of hard target like armor. ChibiYossy
  33. Siddew's Way, a short sword with a core of rough hewn stone and ore encased in polished red bronze blade. This blade is invaluable to the adventurer in a hurry, when struck against an obstacle the sword points in a novel direction that is indeed a short-cut. Halsver
  34. A bronze shortsword that once stabbed a black dragon through its skull and deep into it brain. Now has a greenish tinge, and constantly seeps a vicious acid when exposed to air (kept in a fitted glass sheath... don’t break it). Jeremy Strandberg
  35. Blackbriar. A black blade made of polished living black ironwood. Has green shoots and vines growing out of it. +1 and poisoned, but you have to water it regularly and expose it to sunlight every day, or it withers and dies, useful only as firewood. Not for dungeon delving! ChibiYossy
  36. Some things are better in pairs, this set of two daggers glow a dull red when anyone who identifies as law enforcement is near.  The pair only works when together. Torin Blood
  37. Captain Cutthroat's Cutlass, this rather large and ornate sword once belonged to a famous pirate. It bears a peculiar enchantment, when held against a person's neck, if that person lies about the whereabouts of their most valuable possession it sizzles like a hot pan. Halsver
  38. The North Star is a long, thin, flat blade that has an ornate star map engraved in to its blade. This sword only ever points north, and is constantly parallel to the ground, even when sheathed or fighting. Burch
  39. The Deceiver is a slender silver rapier that is actually considerably longer than it looks, having reach despite appearing to onlookers as a regular (if expensive looking) weapon. It fits in a normal sized scabbard without issue. Helicity
  40. Heward’s Handy Dirk. This is an ordinary leather ring belt. But enchanted with a similar magic to a bag of holding - grabbing the ring in a certain way and pulling draws a steel short sword forth as if from a scabbard. Great for smuggling a weapon somewhere it’s not supposed to be... ChibiYossy
  41. Jackal’s Tooth. This scrappy, curved blade does +2 damage to any opponent bigger than the wielder, and -2 damage to any opponent smaller. Pick on someone your own size! ChibiYossy
  42. Blade of the Wailing Dead, when unsheathed this blade causes all corpses in the area to animate as skeletons that follow the commands of the the wielder until the weapon is sheathed again.  Should the blade ever come in contact with a living creature the wielder will immediately die and turn into a skeleton that cannot be destroyed until the creature the blade wounded dies. Torin Blood

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Deal Damage is a Crap GM Move

I posted this essay on the G+ back in June of 2017. I still feel this way, and in Stonetop and Homebrew world, have replaced the GM move "Deal damage" with "Hurt them." It's not much of a difference, but I find that it better matches how I play. Fair warning: if you ever play DW (or a variation of it) with me running it, expect to be losing HP very often.

obligatory "wounded man" image
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When I've played DW with less-experienced GMs—and certainly when I started GMing DW myself—I've seen this sort of thing happen a fair deal:

"Okay, you got a 7-9 to Hack & Slash the orc? Deal your damage. 3? Okay, he's still up. But he stabs you back. Take 1d8+1 damage.  You still up?  Okay, what do you do?"

The strawman GM in my example is making the GM move deal damage, but they aren't following the principle of begin and end with the fiction.  As a result, the whole thing is flat. The player reduces their character's HP total. We vaguely know that the PC landed their blow, and the orc landed one back. But we've got no sense of the actual fiction, the details, the momentum. Who hit whom how? When? And Where?  Is the PC's axe still stuck in the orc's shoulder? Does the orc up close and personal, stab-stab-stabbing you with his rusty knife?  What the hell is going on?

Now, you can blame that on the GM (obviously: they aren't following their principles).  But you've got literally a dozen principles always competing for your attention, and it can be tough to keep them all straight.

You can also lay a lot of blame at the feat of the Damage and HP and "down at 0 HP" system that DW inherited from D&D.  But if you start tinkering with any of those things, you end up changing basic moves, and class moves, and how you make monsters, and equipment, and spells, and pretty much the whole mechanical economy of the game.

So what about the GM move itself:  Deal Damage.  I'd like to argue that this move—its name, its description, the fact that it exists at all—is part of the problem. And maybe an easier one to fix.

Of all the GM moves, it's the only one that maps most directly to a purely mechanical outcome. "Take 1d8+1 damage."  The GM must evaluate the fiction a little to determine how much damage you should take, but not much… you can just look at the orc's damage die and say "you're fighting an orc, take 1d8+1 damage."  And because the result of move (the roll, losing HP) is so mechanical and abstract, it's easy to forget to return to the fiction and describe what that damage actually looks like.

(You don't see this issue nearly as much in Apocalypse World, even though it basically has HP and has basically the same move: inflict harm as established. I think there are two reasons. First, the way NPCs suffer harm is much more handwavy than in DW… each level of harm corresponds to a rough description of trauma, and it's GM fiat to determine if the NPC is still standing. Thus, the GM has to decide on the specific trauma, in the fiction, in order determine if the NPC is still a threat. It's pretty brilliant.  Second, against PCs, there's the Suffer Harm move, which can generate all sorts of interesting fiction.)

Compare deal damage to use up their resources. When the GM uses up resources, they must decide which resources to use up. If they decide to "use up" your shield, then the natural thing to say isn't "you lose your shield, reduce your Armor by 1" but rather "it smashes through your shield!" or "you feel the strap on your shield snap and the thing goes flying, what do you do?"  Even if the GM uses up an abstract resource (like adventuring gear or rations), it's pretty easy and natural for everyone to visual your pack getting smashed or torn open or whatever.  HP are such an abstraction that it's easy to just decrement them and move on.

Every now and then, the conversation crops up that you just shouldn't use the Deal Damage move, or that you shouldn't use it very much.  Other GM moves are more interesting, etc. etc.

Another relevant detail:  on page 165, there's this gem that often gets forgotten:

Note that “deal damage” is a move, but other moves may include damage as well. When an ogre flings you against a wall you take damage as surely as if he had smashed you with his fists.
With a sidebar of:
If a move causes damage not related to a monster, like a collapsing tunnel or fall into a pit, use the damage rules on page 21.
So… could we just remove "Deal Damage" from the GM's list of moves?  If it just flat-out wasn't a choice, and instead you always had to make a different GM move (or monster move), one that might also happen to deal damage, would that help GMs begin and end with the fiction?

Or would it just confuse things? Or not make a difference?  After all, you'd still have the GM move Use up their resources, and you HP are really nothing more than a resource.

It's entirely possible that I'm just overthinking this, and the "solution" to this "problem" is just learning to "begin and end with the fiction."

Discuss!

Now, for some selected comments from the post:
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Aaron Griffin:  I like the idea of removing it, but you'd need to have some more coaching about "on the fly"/improv monster moves.

In your orc example, I doubt the orc has "hit with sword" as a move. A novice GM with a strict reading of the rules might not understand that the orc can swing that sword even if it doesn't say it.


Me:  I'm actually thinking you would NOT replace it with "attack" moves for monsters.  But rather, any time the monster attacked, it'd be a different GM move that happened to also inflict damage.

E.g. when the orc "makes an attack against you," if I don't have "deal damage," I'd be forced to pick do something like this instead:

Use a monster move >> the orc's Fight with abandon : "So, you like run it through, but it doesn't seem to notice. It just pushes itself onto your blade, hacking at you and your shield over and over with that vicious meat cleaver thing, scoring a number of blows before it expires. Take d6+2 damage and your blade is stuck right in the thing's gut. What do you do?"

Reveal an unwelcome truth:  "You gut the orc, but he scores a scratch on your arm, not a big deal but holy shit does it burn, take a d6+2 damage. And you're like, uh oh, what's that greenish oil coating this dead orc's blade?"

Use up their resources: "You slash it across the chest, and it reels back, then follows up with just this reign of blow after blow. Take a d6+2 damage and your shield is just in splinters, it hauls back for another chop, what do you do?"

Separate them:  "So, yeah, you run the orc through as it leaps at you but its momentum carries it into you, knocking you down the ravine in a tumble. Take d6+2 damage and you land in a heap, a dead orc on you, the fight up top.  Ovid, you see the Hawke and the orc go tumbling off the cliff and another one comes swinging at you, what do you do?"

Put someone in a spot: "Oh, yeah, you totally slice this orc's throat open and goes down in a gurgle, but the other two rush in on you and hack away, take d6+3 damage (+1 cuz of the extra one, right?). And they keep reigning blows on you, herding you back toward the pit, it's just a few feet away, what do you do?"

Etc. etc.

I.e. there's no replacement for the "Deal Damage" move, no general monster moves like "stab them."  So whenever a foe makes an attack, the GM must make a different GM move, one that makes no sense unless you begin and end with the fiction.

----------------------------------------------------
Greg Soper:  I really like this. I think that there should still be references to damage, but just push it through the general-Damage dice lens (scrapes and bruises = 1d4, etc). So GMs can still be liberal with dealing damage, but just as a result of other moves, and never just as an automatic response to a 7-9 Hack & Slash or a missed Defy Danger.

Me:  oh, I still think there's a lot of value in having distinct Damage values for monsters. It's part of what establishes the "difficulty" of fighting (e.g.) orc bloodwarrior (d6+2) vs. an orc berserker (d10+5!!!).  
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Wright Johnson:  I think the problem with deal damage is actually the name.  As you said, the move itself is the only one written purely in the language of game mechanics.  Inflict harm as established is not a phrase which rolls off the tongue outside the context of Apocalypse World, but it's also consistent with the mannered way the rest of the AW game text is written.  DW is written in natural, conversational English, so the shift into purely mechanical jargon stands out.  If the move was called something like hurt them, I think it might be less jarring.

Asbjørn H Flø:  That was my first instinct too​, with that exact wording. Making hacks and rule changes strikes me as too much work, but rewording it to hurt them opens it up sufficiently to remind you to consider the fiction and your options.

Jason “Hyathin” Shea:  Aside from removing the option entirely (a valid solution, IMO) hurt them is a great option. As I've been reading comments that phrase has been rattling around my head, and it leads me to say, "okay, so how am I going to hurt them?" I don't think that way when I read "deal damage."

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There were also a number of comments around the idea of introducing versions of AW's Suffer Harm player move, discussion of Paul Taliesen's A Descriptive Damage Hack for Dungeon World, and so forth.

----------------------------------------------------

In the end, I've replaced Deal Damage with Hurt Them in my Dungeon World hacks, along with these instructions to the GM: 

When you make a GM move that involves someone getting banged up, knocked around, hurt, or injured, then deal damage as part of that move. If the damage is caused by an established danger, deal damage per its stats. Otherwise, what would it do to a normal person?
  • Bruises & scrapes; pain; light burns d4  
  • Nasty flesh wounds/bruises/burns d6  
  • Broken bones; deep/wide burns d8  
  • Death or dismemberment d10
Debilities are ongoing states reflecting the tolls the characters have taken. Inflict them as (or as part of) a GM move. They are:
  • Weakened: fatigued, tired, sluggish, shaky (disadvantage to STR and DEX)
  • Dazed: out of it, befuddled, not thinking clearly (disadvantage to INT and WIS)
  • Miserable: distressed, grumpy, unwell, in pain (disadvantage to CON and CHA)
Debilities might also cause someone to Defy Danger to do things that are otherwise safe.

Yes, those are different debilities than core Dungeon World. That's a post for another time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

New Inventory System for Stonetop

I've spent the last few weeks updating Stonetop to use a new inventory system.  Here's the new system at a glance:


And here's the detailed explanation.

Outfit

When you prepare for an expedition, decide if you’re carrying a light, normal, or heavy load—this tells you how many slots you have available. Fill your slots with items from...
  • Your possessions
  • Your steading’s Prosperity list (or lower)
  • The Trade & Barter move
Tell the GM what you’re bringing, and answer their questions about your gear and where you got it.
  • In each blank, available slot, write [?][?][?]    
  • In each slot holding 1 small item, add [?][?]  
  • In each slot holding 2 small items, add [?]

This move mostly takes the place of going shopping before an adventure. The players choose the level of load they intend to carry, define as much of their inventory as they want, and leave the rest of their inventory undefined with [?] icons. During the expedition, they can use the Have What You Need move to convert [?] into specific items (see below).  

A character’s load can be:
  •   Light: 3 inventory slots.  Easy to move about, quick and quiet.
  •   Normal: 6 inventory slots. Weighed down; they tend to make noise. 
  •   Heavy: 9 inventory slots. Noisy, hot, slow, quick to tire. 
Some playbook moves interact with load (for example, the Fox’s Catlike move reads “When you carry a light load and move with care, you make no noise.”) Beyond that, there are no explicit mechanical penalties or benefits related to a character’s load. Use the load to inform the fiction and your GM moves. “The slope is steep and somewhat treacherous, but there are plenty of handholds. You can clamber up it, but anyone carrying a normal or heavy load will be Defying Danger for sure. What do you do?” 

Players track their load and current gear on the Inventory insert. After Outfitting, it might look like this:


Most items (like a bow, a quiver of arrows, a cloak) take up one inventory slot. Small items (like a dagger) take up only 1/3rd of a slot. Big items (like a roll-up sledge) take up two slots. Tiny items (like a little magical charm) don’t take up any slots, but a character can only carry as many tiny items as they can fit on their sheet. 

When choosing items, players can pick items from either:
  • Their personal possessions. This includes things that they got during character creation (assuming they still possess them) and items that they acquire through play (as loot, as gifts, via Trade & Barter, etc.).
  • The gear lists matching their steading’s Prosperity or lower. Stonetop starts as a Poor steading, which means at the start of play, players can pick from the Poor or Dirt lists. These lists represent items that are commonly available throughout the steading, things that any household might have or that can readily be borrowed or traded for. 
Here's are the Prosperity lists, for reference. Remember, Stonetop starts as Poor, so only the first two columns are freely available. 



As for possessions, each playbook starts with a small number of special possessions. For example, here's the Marshal's choices: 


PCs acquire possessions through play, as loot or gifts, by using Trade & Barter (see below), etc.

If there’s something else that a player knows they want to bring on an expedition (something not on the steading's Prosperity List and that they don't already possess), they can Trade & Barter for it as part of Outfitting. They have to do this before they leave town—they can’t use the Have What They Need move to retroactively Trade & Barter.   

If a character loses, discards, or expends an item during an expedition, they remove it from their inventory. That space is now free. If they pick something up, remind them to add it to their inventory (and tell them if it’s normal, small, big, or tiny). A player can absolutely increase their load by picking up new stuff (e.g. go from a normal load to a heavy one), but they don’t get to retroactively put [?] icons in the unused spots; they only get to do that when they Outfit.  

If a follower is joining the PCs on an expedition, then they make this move, too. Have the “leader” character set the follower’s load and populate any slots that need populating. 

Have everyone declare their load and announce any specific items they are carrying. Ask pointed questions about the gear they’re bringing. Frame little scenes, too. Use this move to show what NPCs think of the PCs. Maybe the blacksmith gives the Would-be Hero a new dagger as a sign of respect. Maybe the party’s provisions came from the missing boy’s kin—packing up a good lunch is the least they can do. 
Rhianna says “Okay, let’s go get us some bears. Me, my crew, Caradoc, Vahid, and Blodwen. Plus Andras, the new kid, to see if he works out. Outfit?”
“Sure,” I say. “Don’t forget, you’ll need warm clothes. And a few sledges, one per Surplus you hope to bring back.”
Rhianna looks at her Inventory sheet. She knows she’ll want her long bow, her arrows, and a warm cloak. She considers taking only a light load, but wants a melee weapon and will probably want some miscellaneous supplies. So, she takes a normal load and puts a bronze dagger in one slot. A dagger is small, so she puts [?][?] in the rest of the slot. She could put [?][?]]?] in the other two slots, but decides that she’ll haul one the sledges. The sledge is big, so it takes up the last two slots. 
The long bow is from Rhianna’s personal possessions, and everything else is from the Poor Prosperity list, so no need to Trade & Barter. When she’s done, she tells me what she’s taking and I ask where she’s getting the sledges from. “Oh, I think all the hunters have one. For dragging game back home, you know?” Her crew are all hunters, so, sure, that makes sense. “How many sledges are you carrying? Are you each bringing one?” “I don’t know,” she says. “I’ll have my crew each carry a normal load, too. We’ll decide who has one when we need to.”
The other PCs Outfit, too. Blodwen takes a normal load, with her sacred pouch, thick hides and furs (1 armor, warm, crude, big), a staff (close, crude), and two sets of  [?][?][?].
Vahid brings a normal load: the Mindgem (big), a cloak, his silver dagger (small) and [?][?], and [?][?][?] in the last slot. 
Caradoc brings a normal load: the same spear and shield (big) he brought on the last expedition, his lantern, a cloak, and [?][?][?]. This is the first time Caradoc has brought a cloak on an expedition, and I feel like exploring that. We know his family is pretty poor. “Where did you get that cloak, Caradoc?” 
“Um… from Morwena, I think.” 
“Oh, totally! She catches you in the square as the crew is gathering. She’s got a bundle under her arm and avoids eye contact. ‘I… I was weaving this for you… before… and, well, the embroidery on the back isn’t done, but if you insist on going out there again… well, you’ll need something warm. So… here.’ And she blushes and shoves it in your arms and runs off.  What do you do?”

Have What You Need

When you decide that you brought something with you, replace the appropriate number of [?] in your inventory with the item you brought ([?][?][?] for most items, [?] for a small item, etc.). If the item is tiny, you can just add it to the Tiny Items section, as long as there’s room. You can only produce items from...
  •  Your possessions
  •  Your steading’s Prosperity list (or lower)
Whatever you produce, it must be something you could’ve had all along. The GM or any player can veto items that make no sense.
This move lets the players convert undefined [?] in their inventory into specific items. It means that when they Outfit, they don’t have to decide on everything that they’ve brought with them; they determine how much they’re carrying and can define their inventory in the field. 

Most items will replace [?][?][?]; small items replace [?]; big items replace [?][?][?] [?][?][?]. If you don’t have enough [?] still in your inventory, you can’t produce the item. Remember, most items take up an inventory slot; small items take up 1/3rd of a slot; big items take up two slots.

Tiny items don’t require that you replace any [?]. Players can declare that they have any available tiny item, as long as they can fit it in the Tiny Items section of their inventory. Yes, if someone writes very small, they can have more stuff. Don’t worry about it too much. 

Once they use this move to produce an item, that item is now in their inventory. They can drop it, use it up, break it, give it to someone else, etc.

Regardless of size, this move can only produce items that the character already owns (their possessions) or those found on the gear lists matching their steading’s Prosperity or lower. They can’t retroactively Trade & Barter for stuff once they’re already in the field, which means that they should identify any “special” stuff they want and acquire it before they leave town. 

Ask questions about the stuff they produce. “What kind of provisions did you bring?” “Who did you get that from?” “What made you think to bring that?” You’re not (usually) trying to challenge their decisions; these questions provide texture and help you portray a rich and fantastic world

The “veto” clause in the move is there to maintain plausibility. You shouldn’t need to invoke it often, but it means that you can say “no” when a player decides they’ve been carrying a caged chicken (alive, awkward, loud, big) with them while they’ve been sneaking through a silent ruin. It also means you can reveal an unwelcome truth when appropriate, and say things like “Wait, you’re producing a clay pot? Didn’t you tumble down a rocky slope earlier today? I don’t think anything fragile like that would have survived.” (And maybe they plead their case, maybe you roll a Die of Fate, maybe they retroactively Defy Danger with INT to have packed it safely, whatever makes sense.) 
They’ve just dispatched the remaining bears in the cave, momma and her three cubs. Surprising no one, Caradoc got himself injured, and Blodwen tends to his wounds.
Caradoc has lost 9 HP, so Blodwen would like to use poultices on him. Alas, she didn’t actually get any from Gwendyl before she left. Poultices are on the Moderate Prosperity list, so she can’t produce them with Have What You Need. She can produce bandages, though (they’re on the Dirt list), so does just that. She has two inventory slots with [?][?][?]. Bandages are small, so she replaces one of the [?] with “Bandages (4 uses, slow).” She then expends a use and Caradoc heals 4 HP. She’s got 3 uses left, and that inventory slot still has [?][?][?].  “Do you say anything to Caradoc as you’re tending to his wounds?”
...
They finish butchering the bears and Rhianna's like "so, how much did we get?"  I tell them this is probably worth 3 Surplus, if they can get it all home, and I remind them that they'll need one sledge per Surplus.

Rhianna already has one sledge on her Inventory, and each member of her crew is hauling a normal load. They've each got a long bow, a quiver of arrows, and a cloak, plus three slots each of [?][?][?]. Sledges are big, so each one replaces 6 x [?].  Rhianna notes that Lowri and Eira each brought a sledge, and that they've only got one [?][?][?] left. No problem. 
... 

Things don't go so well getting home, and they end up having to camp overnight in the Great Wood. It's freezing cold, they're exhausted, and they've got three sledges piled high with fresh (well, now rather frozen) bear flesh. On the plus side, they killed a whole bunch of crinwin about an hour ago, so hopefully they don't have to worry about them.

Rhianna and her crew are more worried about wolves and drakes. "A fire should keep them at bay," says Rhianna, "and let's face it, we need one to keep warm."  

They're in the middle of the Great Wood, but it's the middle of a deep, snowy winter so any wood they'd be able scavenge would be wet and terrible for burning. "Firewood (big)" is on the Dirt Prosperity list. Rhianna Has What She Needs and uses her follower's [?] to produce it.  "Let's say that Harri was carrying half, and Aled had the other half" A big item (like firewood) would normally replace six [?] from someone's Inventory, but I'm fine with her splitting it up between two of her followers—it's firewood.
"How do you get the fire lit?" I ask. "Does anyone have a tinderbox?" Caradoc says that he has one. "Might as well get my lantern lit, too, yeah?"  A tinderbox and lamp oil are both items on the Poor List, and they're both small. That means he can Have What He Needs to produce them. He replaces [?][?] with "Tinderbox" and "Oil (3 uses)" (and he's still got one [?] left). Caradoc expends a use of oil and lights his lantern, then they use the light to get a campfire going.  

But even with the fire, it's going to be a long, cold night.  

Trade & Barter 

TRADE & BARTER
When you wish to acquire stuff in your home steading, you can freely buy, trade, or borrow anything from the current Prosperity list or lower. For example, if the steading is Poor, you can freely acquire Poor or Dirt items. 
If you want something else, tell the GM what you're after. If it might be available in town, roll +Fortunes: on a 10+, it’s available for a fair price or a good reason; on a 7-9, it's available, but the GM picks 1:
  • It'll take some convincing on your part
  • It's someone you really don't want to ask
  • It's not quite what you were hoping for
  • It'll cause bad blood and/or put people out; -1 Fortunes if you acquire it
On a 6-, it's not available and don't mark XP. 
For assets held in common by the steading, you still roll +Fortunes but treat a 6- as a 7-9.
The PCs have ready access to anything on their steading's Prosperity lists. They might not own a thing themselves, but someone has one they can trade for or borrow. Maybe ask them who they get a thing from, or who they'd go see about __, but again, that's just for texture and to flesh out the town.
For stuff that’s not on the steading’s Prosperity lists, you have to decide whether it “might be available” and therefore whether they should roll +Fortunes. In general, an item might be available if any of the following are true:
  • If they’re looking for coin, up to a purse of silvers
  • It’s on the next-higher Prosperity list
  • It’s on the steading’s list of assets (e.g. one of the town’s horses, the wagon, etc.)
  • It’s something that one of the steading’s neighbors has in surplus and it’s any season other than winter
  • It’s something that you’ve already established that a particular NPC has, or obviously would have (e.g. the blacksmith’s anvil)
  • You think it’s feasible (even if unlikely) and want to let the dice decide
Make the decision based on your principles. In particular, remember to both be a fan of the characters and to begin and end with the fiction. Be open-minded, but don’t let them roll +Fortunes to acquire things that just don’t make any sense. 

If you decide that something might be available, they roll +Fortunes to see if it is. The steading’s Fortunes represent the confidence, resilience, and good-will of its people. When Fortunes are high, the steading has more to go around and folks are more willing to trade/sell/loan things.  

On a 10+, the PC can acquire the item “for a fair price or a good reason.” If they’re trying to buy it or trade for it, then decide on a fair price (see Coins & Surplus below). If they’re hoping to borrow it, or just acquire it as a gift, then they’ll need to provide a good reason. Sometimes that good reason will be obvious, sometimes they’ll need to come up with it themselves. Either way, you can either tell them who they need to talk to, or ask them to make it up. Play it out in as much detail as you care to.

On a 7-9, the thing they want is potentially available, but there’s a complication.

The easiest choice is “it’ll take some convincing.” Tell them who they need to convince and reveal why (they want too much for it, they hold a grudge, they just don’t want to give it up, etc.). Ask the PC what they do, and play from there. 

If you pick "It's someone you really don't want to ask," the thing that the PC wants is available but getting it involves a conversation the PC would rather not have. This could be fraught and emotional, annoying, or just uncomfortable. "Steel-tipped arrows? Well, Dermos the merchant is in town from Gordin's Delve... you could probably buy some off of him. But, y'know... he was Ennin's brother, and you just know he's gonna ask whether you've seen her. What do you do?" 

If "it's not quite what you were hoping for," then maybe it comes with fewer uses than normal, or maybe there's something wrong with it. Be careful, though, not to turn this into a 6-! If what they want is something from the Moderate list (like a boiled leather cuirass) and you offer them something from the Poor list (like thick hides), then you've basically said "no, that thing isn't available" because they don't need to Trade & Barter to get something off the Dirt list.  Better: offer them what they want, but with a quirk. Maybe the only leather cuirass in town is make of fine drake skin and it'll cost you twice as many silvers as you were hoping to pay. Or maybe your hands on a hound, but it's a vicious mongrel with a bad attitude, not a good dog at all. 

If you pick "it'll cause bad blood and/or put people out," then you're basically telling them "you can get this, but it'll hurt the town if you do." Save this for resources that really do represent a common good: the town's horses or wagon, the tanner's vats or the smith's anvil, etc. 

On a miss, the thing isn't available. No, they can't roll again, at least not until circumstances have changed. It's not available. You can (and probably should) still tell them the requirements, though. "Well, no one who lives in Stonetop has any chainmail or similar heavy armor, but Duilin'll likely be passing through in a couple weeks, and he often has stuff like that. So you could wait. Or, I guess you could head up to Gordin's Delve and get it there."  

For town assets (like the horses, the wagon, etc.), a 6- counts as a 7-9. That stuff is available, it's just a question of whether they can use it free of consequence.

If a PC uses Trade & Barter to buy or trade for something (as opposed to just borrowing or, or getting it as a gift, or commandeering it for the public good), then they should add it to their list of Possessions.

Blodwen has a bad feeling about the bear hunt and would like to bring some healing poultices with her, but those are on the Moderate Prosperity list and she can’t just take them when she Outfits. It’s totally reasonable that they might be available (Blodwen’s mentor Gwendyl is the town healer after all), so I tell Blodwen to roll +Fortunes. On a 10+, I’d totally have Gwendyl show up the night before the expedition and press the poultices into her hands with some snippy remark like “You’d best take this, Danu knows that boy Caradoc is going to need patching up.” 
But as it happens, Blodwen gets a 7-9. Gwendyl’s the obvious person she’d get the poultice from, and I don’t think she’d need convincing nor is she someone Blodwen would want to avoid. I could pick “not quite what you were hoping for” and say she can only get 1 use instead of the usual 3. But instead, I play up the fact that there’s no Surplus left and folks are getting desperate. “Well, you know you could get some poultice from Gwendyl, but you also know that her supplies are running thin. If you take it, it’ll basically clear out her shelves. Others will go without and the town will take -1 Fortunes.”
“Really?” says Blodwen. “We’re only going to be gone for a day. What if I end up not using it? Will we still lose the Fortunes?”  
“Well, you know Gwendyl… it’s not like she’d keep her mouth shut about you taking the last of the town’s healing supplies, even if you do bring it all back unused.”
“Ugh. You’re right. Dammit, Gwendyl.” And Blodwen decides not to take the poultice after all. 

Coins & Surplus

The PCs can't produce coin or Surplus using the Outfit or Have What You Need moves.

Stonetop's economy is mostly based on barter and sharing, so coins aren't really important for day-to-day living. Many residents go their entire lives without holding coin. Thus, there's no real need for the players to track individual coins they possess or carry. It's abstracted: "a handful of coppers" or "a purse of silvers." 

If the PCs want or need coin (for example, because they're heading to Gordin's Delver or Marshedge and want to pay for an inn or other services), they need to Trade & Barter for it. Copper and silver might be available in Stonetop (so they can roll +Fortunes) but gold won't be—at least not at the start of play.

Exchange rates are anything but standard, but use the following as a guide:


"Surplus" is a steading-level resource, representing the food, fur, whisky, and other wealth that the town has generated, above and beyond what its people need day-to-day. The steading generates Surplus in summer and autumn, and consumes Surplus in winter. Surplus can also get consumed when the PCs have the steading Pull Together on repairs or construction, or when the PCs trade it (on behalf of the steading) to a merchant or another community.
The PCs eventually return to Stonetop with 3 Surplus of bear meat, which is good for them because the town had none left and they consumed 2 during the winter. When spring breaks forth, they've got only 1 Surplus left.  
Vahid and Rhianna really want to work towards the "Palisade" steading improvement. The first requirement is that they acquire a whole bunch of timber. Cutting down trees in the the Great Woods is off limits because of an old pact with the Forest Folk. "How about we set up a logging camp for a few weeks in the Foothills?" suggests Vahid. "Sure," I say, and we Make a Plan. The requirements are:
  • You'll need to wait until most of the tilling and planting is done
  • You'll need to borrow the town's horses and wagon
  • The steading must Pull Together, taking the rest of spring and costing 1 Surplus (to feed the logging crew)
  • You'll risk the crew getting attacked by monsters and beasts in the foothills!
They wait until spring planting is done and then Rhianna tries to borrow the horses and wagon. They aren't her Possessions, so she needs to Trade & Barter and roll +Fortunes. "Crap, a 4."  These are town assets, so that 6- becomes a 7-9.  I tell Rhianna that it'll take some convincing. "There's a lot of grumbling, and while they're objecting to you using the horse and the wagons, you can tell that really, folks are just scared. It's been a while since anyone did a run to the foothills, and with all the troubles lately, well... you know how it goes." So Rhianna calls a general town council and lays out her plans, and Caradoc gets angry and inspires everyone to follow his lead, and eventually folks agree to do it. 
Rhianna's running the show, so she spends the 1 Surplus and rolls to Pull Together (with advantage, because of her Logistics move). She scores a 7-9, chooses to have Fortunes get reduced by 1 but the work gets done without further complications.  Nice.  
Summer comes and they get a 7-9 on Seasons Change. Blodwen is feeling the most content right now, so she rolls for Surplus and generates 2. She then gets a 7-9 on the Fortunes roll. In summer, that means a boon (no threats), and she chooses an unexpected bounty for another 1 Surplus (3 Surplus total). 
The next requirement on the palisade is "an engineer/foreman of moderate skill." We talk it over a bit and decide that Vahid can fill this roll. So that brings them to "supplies worth 1 purse of silver." Now that's not on the Dirt or Poor Prosperity lists, so if they want that, they'll need to Trade & Barter. It's summer, and the kind of supplies they'd need would be things like rope, tools, nails... all stuff they could theoretically get from merchants passing through. I have them roll +Fortunes. 
On a 10+, I'd tell them that, yeah, a merchant from Marshedge comes through in early summer with just what you need, and (looking at the buying power list), she's willing to trade it to the steading for 1 Surplus worth of furs and whisky.
On a 7-9, I'd maybe say that such a merchant was passing through with just what they wanted, but those goods were meant for someone up in Gordin's Delve and it'll hurt business if she doesn't make her delivery. Maybe they can convince her otherwise?
On a 6-, I'd say that the merchants passing through just don't have what the town needs, and if they want to get this palisade going, they'll need to travel to Marshedge to get those supplies (and probably need to haul a cartload of Surplus to do it, unless the PCs can scrape together a purse of silvers between them).  

Sunday, January 13, 2019

30 Minor Magical Items, Ranger Edition

Over on the DW Discord, Yochai Gal asked for a brainstorm of minor magical items that might be relevant to a ranger.  I had just had a few cups of coffee so I spammed him with answers.  Here you go.  (Most of these are mine; attribution given to those by others.)


  1. When you state a natural substance, this wristband grows warmer as you near it. (by Tam)
  2. Jerky that lasts forever as long as you only eat a single bite of it. (by Tam)
  3. A magic map that paints itself as you go. (by Tam)
  4. Terracotta birds.  Get one wet and it turns into a real bird, goes where you send it.
  5. Folding campfire, put it in your pocket and take it with you
  6. Paint/chalk that can only be seen by people also marked by that paint/chalk
  7. The classic elven camo cloak, helps you hide in outdoor areas (by Helicity)
  8. Adventure-proof satchel.  Stuff inside never gets wet. Burn, cut, puncture, shatter proof.  Only holds 2 weight (or similar). 
  9. Tracking arrow... you always know where it is.
  10. Carved mask, like stylized animal.  When you wear it, natural creatures and spirits of the wild treat you as if you were that animal.
  11. Self-stringing bow. Will regenerate it's own string if cut. Made of cartilage, kinda gross.
  12. An everburning torch that can't be seen from more than 20 feet away.
  13. A signal whistle/horn that can only be heard by people you want to hear it.
  14. Myrlund's Spoon (put it in a bowl, it generates gross-but-nutritious food)
  15. An iron pot that, when covered, brings any water inside to a boil.
  16. Everfull canteen
  17. Pocket tent (comfortable pop-tent for one person, two if they're intimate; folds up to a 1 weight item)
  18. Boots of trackless step (you leave no trail to follow)
  19. A handful of seeds that sprout into a large patch of nasty plants (brambles, poison ivy etc, your choice) (by Helicity)
  20. A bit of Elbis root (3 uses): when you eat some, expend 1 use and clear a debility.
  21. Vineseed (3 uses): plant a vineseed in rich soil and it will quickly grow a supple vine, about 50 ft long.
  22. Gili cloak:  wrap the cloak around you stay still, and you'll look and smell like a local shrub or plant to all observers.
  23. Bag of leaflings:  reach into the bag and pull out a leaf, it animates as a little forest spirit.  Can deliver messages, spy, scout ahead, that sort of thing.
  24. Gloves & boots that let you climb and leap like a squirrel or monkey
  25. Magical pigments that let you move through underbrush, briers, etc. unimpeded
  26. Pouch full of dirt (1 wt); throw a handful of dirt on a fire (up to a bonfire in size) and it's instantly doused
  27. Handful of bright blue feathers. Put them in your hand and blow them in a particular direction. The prevailing winds will soon shift to blow in that direction, too.  
  28. 2d8 pearls. Drop a pearl in water and it produces a blanket of fog maybe 30 paces across. More pearls equal wider/thicker fog.
  29. A vial filled with eagle tears (5 uses). Drip a use into your eyes, you can see with an eagle's vision for the next 10 minutes or so. Good luck looking at anything close up in the meantime.
  30. A paste of pale leaf. Smear it under your nose and your sense of smell becomes as keen as a wolf's.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Rewriting Defend

I've been thinking about the Defend basic move a lot lately. I posted a number of polls about the move to tease out public opinions, and I've spent a fair amount of time discussing the issues that those polls brought up.

For Stonetop and Homebrew World, I'm rewriting the move as follows:

DEFEND
When you take up a defensive stance or jump in to protect others, roll +CON: on a 10+, hold 3 Readiness; on a 7-9, hold 1 Readiness. You can spend Readiness 1-for-1 to:
Suffer an attack's damage/effects instead of your ward
Halve an attack’s damage/effects
Draw all attention from your ward to yourself
Strike back at an attacker (deal damage, with disadvantage) 
When you go on the offense, cease to focus on defense, or the danger passes, lose any Readiness that you hold.

Compare that to the original text and discussion, available here.

I think this leaves the move in the same basic design space as the original, but cleans up a lot of the potential ambiguity and traps that original text introduces. This is pretty close to how I've always used Defend in play anyhow, even though I know it's not how everyone else uses it.

a defensive stance?

The Trigger

 The first change is the trigger. This...
"When you take up a defensive stance or jump in to protect others, roll +CON"
...instead of this...
"When you stand in defense of a person, item, or location under attack, roll +CON"
My goals here are to:
  • Make it clear that you don't have to be defending someone (or something) else to make the move
  • Make it clear that the move can be either proactive (taking up a defensive stance) or reactive (jumping in to protect others)
  • Remove the reference to being "under attack," because "attack" gets used inconsistently throughout the rest of the game and I've had... let's say lively discussions... about what exactly that means and how it applies to the trigger. 
I think this revised wording does all of that.

There's still going to be ambiguity, times when you have to ask the player what they're really trying to accomplish and you all discuss whether this is Defend or Hack & Slash or Defy Danger or whatever. But I think that the intent of the move's trigger is much clearer this way.  

Readiness

The next change is to name the hold. So you get this...
"On a 10+, hold 3 Readiness; on a 7-9, hold 1 Readiness."
...instead of this...
"On a 10+, hold 3. On a 7-9, hold 1."  
It's a pretty minor change, but it's something I try to do whenever I write a hold-and-spend move. I find that players understand "hold 3 <Currency>" much more quickly and intuitively than just "hold 3."  Of course they do. It's more natural language.

For a long time, I used "hold 3 Defense" instead of "hold 3 Readiness." But I like Readiness better, because of what it implies a state of preparation, being ready to jump in and intervene.  I think it communicates the ongoing, stance-like nature of the move better.

"Readiness" is a little off when you use Defend reactively, jumping in to protect another. But if you roll a 10+, hold 3 Readiness, and spend only 1 or 2... you still hold Readiness. And I think that correctly communicates that, yeah, you're still ready.

Spending Hold

In this version... 
"You can spend Readiness 1-for-1 to
Suffer an attack's damage/effects instead of your ward
Halve an attack’s damage/effects
Draw all attention from your ward to yourself
Strike back at an attacker (deal damage, with disadvantage) 
 Compared to the original:
"As long as you stand in defense, when you or the thing you defend is attacked you may spend hold, 1 for 1, to choose an option
Redirect an attack from the thing you defend to yourself
Halve the attack’s effect or damage
Open up the attacker to an ally giving that ally +1 forward against the attacker
Deal damage to the attacker equal to your level"
Obviously, I changed the options themselves, but what I want to focus on right here is: there's no more trigger ("when you or the thing you defend is attacked") limiting when you can spend hold. Instead, 3 of the 4 options are rephrased to only make sense when an attack has already been established (using an instead of the).

This is a pretty minor difference, but I think it makes the move simpler to process. You hold Readiness. You spend Readiness to do one of these things.  Oh, there's an attack?  I spend Readiness and halve its effects.  Oh, I got attacked?  I spend Readiness and hit the attacker back. It's fewer words, fewer when-then conditions. It's also more in line with how other hold-and-spend moves work. You spend the hold, you do the thing.

This rephrasing also means that I can have an option ("Draw all attention from your ward to yourself") that isn't in direct response to an attack. And that opens up design space; class moves/advanced moves/etc. can add other such options.

(Note that "As long as you stand in defense" is also gone, but I'll address that later.)

Taking the Hit and Drawing Aggro

In the original Defend, one of the options is this:
Redirect an attack from the thing you defend to yourself
Seems straight-forward. Except... it could arguably be used in either of these two circumstances:

1) The GM makes a hard move, dealing damage or otherwise inflicting badness on the Defending player's ward.  The Defending player spends 1 hold and goes "nope! it hits me instead!"  This is awesome and heroic. It might also be a very sound tactical decision, especially if the Defending player has more hold to spend and/or good armor.

2) The GM makes a soft move announcing an attack at a character.  The Defending player spends 1 hold to become the target of that attack.

#1 is awesome.  #2... well, I'm just made of questions about #2:
  • Why does the Defending player need to spend 1 hold to become the target of the attack? The GM made a soft move, setting up badness but giving the player(s) a chance to react. Why can't the defending player just say "I step in and take blow!" If the fiction would just justify the spending of 1 hold to do this, the fiction would also justify just doing it. 
  • What happens after the Defending player redirects the attack to themselves? Based on the examples given in the Dungeon World text, the GM escalates the soft move into a hard move when one character Defends another. (That also appears to be the opinion of about 1 in 4 people on this poll.)
  • But why should the Defending player take damage?  Why should the GM escalate to a hard move when one player spends hold to redirect an attack towards themselves? If the Defend move didn't exist, the player could say "I step between the horde of zombies and Avon, and lash out with my hammer at the nearest one!" and he'd be triggering Hack & Slash... which could result in him not taking any damage at all!  Or he could say "I pull Rath behind me and put my shield up, deflecting the arrows" and he'd be triggering Defy Danger.  Why should the character definitely take damage because he rolled a success on Defend and chose to spend hold?
I think that the presence of this option (and the examples in the game text) lead players to think that they have to spend 1 hold to redirect a soft-move attack, even though they only really should need to spend it if the GM's already made a hard move (or a hard move is definitely coming) and they want to interrupt up the action and take the hit themselves. 

My solution is to rephrase the first option to this:
Suffer an attack's damage/effects instead of your ward
So now, the hold is useful when damage or attacks's other effects are already on the table. You can suffer it instead of your ward, implying that the ward was already suffering it. No reason to spend Readiness to redirect an attack that's still in motion, that hasn't yet connected--just say that you do so.  

Of course, the vagueness of the original option ("Redirect an attack from the thing you defend to yourself") also meant it worked (more-or-less) for "pulling aggro."  In this poll, for instance, a full 50% of the respondents voted that spending the hold would ensure that the fighter held the orcs' attention so that the ranger was in the clear, while the fighter got to then Hack & Slash at the orcs.  And in this poll, there's a bit of talk about Defending/spending hold to buy time for the paladin's allies to escape.  I've seen that in play in my own games, too.

I think that there's value to this. I big tough character should be able to pull aggro and "tank" for the other party members, giving them an opportunity to act freely. That led me to add this option:
Draw all attention from your ward to yourself
That seemed to overlap quite a bit with the original option of "Open up the attacker to an ally, giving them +1 forward against the attacker."  It's not a 100% line-up, but if you draw all attention from your ward to yourself, you're basically giving them (and probably other PCs) a fictional opportunity or opening that's at least as good as a +1 forward.  (Also, I don't think that I've ever seen a player choose the "Open up the attacker to an ally" option. So... screw it.)

Hitting Back

The 4th option for spending hold is now...
Strike back at an attacker (deal damage, with disadvantage) 
...instead of...
Deal damage to the attacker equal to your level"
I've always found the idea of dealing damage "equal to your level" very, very strange. No other move directly references "your level" like that, except for Commune and Spellbook and Prepare Spells, and then it's in reference to something else that also has levels, so it makes more sense there. Dealing damage equal to your level is a pretty terrible choice at levels 1 and 2 (because the weakest foe has 3 HP), and at higher levels it becomes terrifyingly effective.  Given how often folks play DW as a one-shot or short-run series, an option that is nigh-useless at 1st level seems like a bad idea.  

The "ramping up" of this option also makes a pretty weird fictional assertion: that high-level adventurers are more effective/deadly when attacked than they are on the offense. Which, while kind of a cool idea, isn't really in line with like anything else in the game. 

So: let's continue using the damage die but make it not-as-good as what you'd get with a dedicated attack move (Hack & Slash or Volley). Disadvantage means "roll the damage die twice, take the lower result." It doesn't (inherently) ramp up with your level, and it means that a fighter or paladin on the defensive is more dangerous than a wizard on the defensive.  It also means that tags and other damage modifiers more clearly apply.  

Losing Readiness (Hold)

The final clause in the revised move is:
When you go on the offense, cease to focus on defense, or the danger passes, lose any Readiness that you hold. 
If anything, this replaces this clause in the original move:
"As long as you stand in defense..."
Which implies (but doesn't outright state) that you can't spend your hold if you cease to "stand in defense." The explanation of the Defend move says "When you’re no longer nearby or you stop devoting your attention to incoming attacks then you lose any hold you might have had." But that's not exactly clear from the move text itself.  

So, I wanted to just come out and say "this is when you you lose Readiness" right in the move's text.  

I also wanted to make it clear that you can still do "defensive" moves and keep your hold.  Like, I think you should totally be able to Defy Danger against an attack and spend hold to mitigate the results of a 7-9 or a miss... and/or to strike back a the attacker.  

It's still a bit unclear whether you can Hack & Slash and continue to focus on defense (and thus hold readiness). Given the way that I've revised Hack & Slash for Stonetop and Homebrew World, I think you can Hack & Slash on the defensive and still keep your Readiness, but it'd be very contextual. Basically, if you fight reactively (cutting them down as they approach rather than closing on them or chasing them down), I think it's okay.  

But I also wouldn't say someone was wrong if they thought "nah, if you Hack & Slash, you're by definition going on the offense."  

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Stonetop at Gauntlet Con 2018

I had the absolute privilege to run three sessions of Stonetop as a "long con" at Gauntlet Con 2018 last weekend.  The players (David LaFreniere, Greg Gelder, Tyler Lominack, and Horst Wurst) were amazing: creative and engaged, giving and attentive... pretty much everything a GM or fellow player could ask for.

Session 1


We did character-creation during the first session (took maybe 30 minutes, not in the video for obvious reasons). The Marshal and Fox playbooks each have some "backstory" questions in which they establish something of their character's and the community's past.  I asked the Marshal (David) to make his "War Stories" about the recent nighttime raid by the crinwin, and that was really all the nudging I needed to do in order to make everything line up with my plans.  

We did a very abbreviated version of Introductions. Normally, you can spend the whole first session doing intros, asking and answering questions and establishing NPCs. Because of our time constraints, and because I wanted to dive into play fairly quickly, I just decided on a couple important NPCs in advance and then set the scene with Saraid the Fox already interacting with them.

Most Dungeon World games, especially con games or one-shots, start in media res, with the players in a fight or at the door to the dungeon or otherwise already on the adventure. Stonetop, by contrast, starts with a little slice-of-life and lets the town breathe a bit, then drops a crisis or opportunity in the PC's laps and says "what do you do?"  There's a whole procedure for it: The First Adventure.

This session also let us see some of the Steading Moves in play: David rolled Deploy ("When you send the steading's people into danger or rally them against an attack...") to establish how things went a few weeks back when the crinwin raided the village, and he rolled Muster ("When you press every able body into the defense of a steading...") when the PCs headed out and left the town in a state of readiness. 

We also got to see some of the procedures for Expeditions in play: Charting a Course, making some preparations (though they didn't Outfit), and actually heading out into the Great Wood. Stonetop doesn't use the Undertake a Perilous Journey move from Dungeon World, instead making the journey itself a significant part of the adventure—and ending with an ambush from darkness-infused crinwin!

Session 2


This session gives us a lot of action, and a lot of missed rolls.  We see a lot of the Marshal's crew in action, a fair amount of mindfuckery used against the PCs, and a lot of fumbling around in darkness.

I particularly liked how the backstories of Ameer and Saraid emerged in play, as the Darkness kept seeping into their brains and drawing forth unpleasant memories.  

Of note, Greg had Saraid revealing a Marshedge that's quite a bit different from the notes I've written up for it, where Brennan and his Claws (before coming to power) weren't bandits preying on traveling merchants but rather a criminal syndicate inside the township itself. I really enjoy when players introduce that kind of twist to the "established" world. 

This part of the adventure played out a lot more slowly than I expected, largely because of the recurring misses but also because I just didn't keep an eye on pacing. At the end, I offered them the chance to abandon Saraid and just flee with the child, but the other PCs refused and left on a cliffhanger.  

Session 3


The scene in the Maw concludes, and (almost) everyone gets away, but not without cost.  

There were some great moments in there: Macsen clearly banking on his Shell Game of the Souls ability to stand against the Darkness... the whole desperate struggle being illuminated by flashes as Macsen repeatedly smashes a hunk of unnatural black obsidian with the Mindgem... White Tree binding the blind crinwin with roots and vines while it tried to kill the baby...  Heledd not quite making out of the hole... so much fun!

We got to use the Keep Company move on the road home, which worked exactly as intended and prompted a bit of reflection and interaction.

We only had a couple hours left, but we got to experience a number of elements of the longer-term play that Stonetop is really built for. 

They leveled up, and I really liked how David tied the improvement of his crew's armaments to their improved fictional standing in the community. I also really liked how Horst immediately had White Tree make an amulet for Saraid, to help protect him against the evil influence he picked.  Sadly, I accidentally stopped recording right as that scene played out, so the recording is missing some great roleplaying between them.  

From there, we got to see the Seasons Change and how it influences long-term play. David rolled boxcars for the town's fortunes, so summer saw blessings and bounty, both of which are numeric/mechanical improvements to the steading. That meant they weren't reacting to anything, so they got to set the agenda. After looking at the possible steading improvements, they decided to try and capture and tame wild horses from the Flats, and that led to White Tree spouting lore, Saraid calling on one of his old contacts among the Hillfolk, a fun little bit of worldbuilding, and finally a short little scene where they fended off hunting drakes out in the tallgrass prairies of the Flats.  

We were out of time, so we wrapped up with a quick epilogue from everyone, including White Tree bargaining with the horse spirits, a hilarious new "pet" for Ameer, a rather grim future established for Saraid, and Macsen ending us off by getting up to his old tricks. 

It left us all wanting more, and I think that's a good sign.