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:

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.  


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."  


  1. Your development of Stonetop reminds me of how P. G. Wodehouse apparently wrote, according to Douglas Adams:

    When Wodehouse was writing a book, he used to pin the pages in undulating waves around the wall of his workroom. Pages he felt were working well would be pinned up high, and those that still needed work would be lower down the wall. His aim was to get the entire manuscript up to the picture rail before he handed it in.

    That's what you're doing with Stonetop... every single move is being examined, playtested, discussed and polished until they're all up at the picture rail :)

  2. Okay, I'm gonna jump in in defense of my fav Would-Be Hero move, Big Damn Hero. "Draw all attention from your ward to yourself" was one of the special options for that move; if that's just a normal Defend thing now, BDH is down to Defend + "Give your ward a chance to escape".

    Granted it's a no-roll 10+ Defend every time, which is AWESOME, but I liked having an extra couple of options there too.

    1. Yeah, Big Damn Hero will need a tweaking with this. It'll probably just lose the extra options, because one is now inherent in Defend and the other really is already implied by drawing all attention to yourself.

      I'll probably change it to be something like this:
      When you *first jump into danger to protect someone*, don't roll to Defend. Instead, treat it as though rolled 10+, and you automatically draw all attention from your ward to yourself without having to spend hold.

      Which means it's basically an auto 10+ to Defend *with* an extra 1 hold. Which is fuckin' *boss*. But it's also replacing a previous move, *and* it's a 6+ move. So... I think that works.