Thursday, May 7, 2020

Desafiando o Perigo

The coolness continues!

Frederico Fiori (a.k.a. /u/pidin on Reddit) translated Defying Danger into Brazilian Portuguese. As I speak no Portuguese, I can hardly comment on the quality of the translation, but the layout is slick!

I'm rather shocked that both this translation and Francesco's Italian one managed to make everything fit in basically the same space. I tend to fill my projects' layout to bursting, with lots of thought given to cutting words and making each line "fit." That's hard enough to do in English (o scavenger of words! o lexicographic bone-picker!), which often has a dozen ways to phrase any thought, many punchy and short. The romance languages always struck me as having longer, more flowing words and phrasing, so it impresses me to see translations of this game squeezed into the limited space.

Anyhow, here's the goods:

click for PDF

Frederico actually sent me this almost a month ago, so I feel bad for just now posting it. I'd like to blame the pandemic, but, really, I'm just sometimes a bit of flake.

Anyhow, I'm sure Frederico would love to hear about it if you use his translation. You can contact him on Reddit or via email at "hayako" at protonmail dot com.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Sfidando il Pericolo

Well this is all sorts of cool.

I got an email out of the blue from Francesco "Checco" Catenacci, who stumbled on my game Defying Danger and translated it into Italian.

Click to see it!

Francesco also pointed out a few typos and whatnot in my original draft, prompting me to update it. Nothing major, but the current version is now just a little better. Grazie Francesco!

If you use Francesco's work, I'm sure he'd love to hear about it. You can contact him at checco at tutanota dot com.


Sunday, March 22, 2020

Running Fights in Dungeon World & Stonetop

I've been working on the GMing chapters for Stonetop, and recently finished the "Dangers" chapter. Part of that chapter is a section on "Using Monsters and Running Fights." It's a distillation of procedures, advice, and wisdom that you'll find floating around the Dungeon World community, but that isn't really specifically laid out in the DW text. 
If you've been GMing Dungeon World (or any of its hacks) for a while, you probably know all of this already. I'm mostly posting this for newer GMs, or those who've been running the game but still feel uncertain when fights break out.  
Some caveats:
  •  The Multiple Combatants and Abstracting Groups sections assume that you're using an updated version of the Follower rules originally presented in the Perilous Wilds. In Stonetop, Followers can make the same moves that PCs do (like Defy Danger or H&S), but the roll either +0, +1, or +2 depending on their tags and you might have to Order Followers to get them to do things.  Expect a future blog post on that!
  • You'll see references to GM principles, moves, and agenda items that are slightly different from those of core Dungeon World. I trust you can see the parallels. It definitely assumes that the GM move "Deal Damage" has been replaced with "Hurt Them" 
    Okay, let's do this. As always, questions and feedback are appreciated!

    Introducing Monsters

    Whenever it’s time to make a GM move, you can introduce a danger and put a monster in the scene.

    Don’t worry about your monsters being “fair fights” or “balanced encounters” or something that the PCs can even defeat. Worry about your monsters making sense. Portray a rich and mysterious world, right? If it makes sense for the PCs to stumble across a pair of (extremely dangerous) thunder drakes, go for it. Then play to find out what happens.

    Exactly how you introduce a monster will depend on the situation, the monster’s tags and qualities and moves, and the actions of the PCs. “Obvious” monsters encountered in a wide-open space will give the PCs plenty of opportunity to plan and react. Stealthy monsters in a dark, cluttered space while the PCs stumble around in torchlight? Not so much.
    The PCs are up in Gordin’s Delve trying to trade off some valuables they found in the Green Lord’s tomb. Rhianna’s off talking to a contact. Vahid, Caradoc, and Blodwen are at a pub. Caradoc and Blodwen get up to leave, and Vahid sees a couple of unsavory types get up and follow.
    Now, if these guys are just a pair of local miners that Caradoc managed to tick off, then I’ll introduce a danger and let the PCs see them coming. “About halfway back to your hostel, you realize that you’re being followed. It’s those guys from the pub and they look pissed. What do you do?” The PCs have all sorts of options—they might try to lose them, or set an ambush, or talk, or whatever. 
    But if these bad guys are stealthy cutthroats who regularly murder unwary travelers in alleys and loot their corpses, then I’ll be much more aggressive about it. I’ll start by hinting at more than meets the eye. “You find yourselves in a dark, empty little trash-strewn square, and everything’s quiet. Too quiet. You feel like you’re being watched. What do you do?” 
    Let’s say they Discern Realities, roll a 7-9, and ask, “What should I be on the lookout for?” I’d say “You’re pretty sure someone’s following you, or maybe circling ahead. And these alleys are a filled with good spots for an ambush. What do you do?” Whatever it is, they’ll be on guard. My next move will probably be to introduce a danger, but softly and with a chance to react. “As you pass a dark side-alley, two thugs rush out towards you, what do you do?” 
    But suppose they Discern Realities and get a 6-, or just ignore my veiled threat and blunder on. In that case, I’ll introduce a danger hard and painfully. “Caradoc, this guy comes out of a dark side-alley and snags your right arm, twists, and shoves you face-first into a wall. Take 1d8 damage. Blodwen, you see a second guy step forward, sneering, a glint of metal in his hand. What do you do?”

    These two guys follow you into an alley...

    The Flow of Battle

    Fighting foes is a big part of the game, but combat isn’t a distinct mode of play. There’s no moment where you say “roll for initiative” and different rules kick in. There’s no orderly round-robin where everyone takes one action on their turn.

    When a fight starts, you run the game: describe the situation, make a GM move, ask “what do you do?” Resolve their actions. Repeat. Fights are—like everything else in the game—a conversation.

    Monsters don’t Hack and Slash or Volley; you don’t roll to see if their attacks succeed. Instead, you make a GM move. Usually, you describe the attack but stop short of it connecting. Ask the player(s) in the spotlight, “What do you do?” Whatever their response, it’s likely to trigger a move. Resolve the move, and let the situation snowball from there.
    Caradoc just got slammed face-first into a building and a second cutthroat is advancing on Blodwen, knife in hand (I’m announcing trouble). “What do you?” I ask. 
    Blodwen left her staff back at the hostel; she’s basically unarmed. “I’ll give ground and back away,” she says, “looking for a stick or a rock or something to defend myself with.” That’s Discerning Realities, and on a 6- the guy’s probably gonna shank her. But she gets an 8. 
    “Yeah, sure, there’s a broken broom up against the alley wall, you could use it as a club. And a few loose bricks.” I then put her in a spot. “But as you see them, the guy comes at you, knife stabbing low like this. What do you do?” 
    Fights usually involve a lot of things happening at once. You need to manage the spotlight and keep everyone involved. When there’s a pause in the action, address a different character (ideally one who hasn’t talked in a bit). Describe the situation from their point of view, make a GM move, ask “What do you do?” Sometimes you’ll move the spotlight after resolving a single PC action or move. Other times, you’ll resolve a few moves that flow naturally together, and move the spotlight when they’re done.
    Blodwen Discerned Realities and spotted some junk she could use as a weapon, but I kept the spotlight on her and had the cutthroat attack. She says “I’ll twist out of the way, then dive for that broom!” We agree she’s Defying Danger with DEX (with advantage, for acting on Discern Realities). 
    She gets a 9, and I offer her a cost or a lesser success. “You can get the broom but you’ll be cut for 1d8 damage, or you can dodge clear and not make it to the broom.” She decides to get the broom, taking 5 damage in the process. “Okay, you’ve got it,” I say, “but your shoulder is bleeding from that cut.” 
    It’s been a while, so I move the spotlight to Caradoc. First, I recap his situation: “So this guy has your right arm twisted behind you and he’s pushing your face into the cold, rough brick wall.” Then I make a soft GM move (one of my monster moves, fight dirty): “He grabs your hair and pulls back, and you just know he’s about to smash your face back into that wall, what do you do?”
    A character actually suffers a monster’s attack when: 
    • You set up an attack with a soft move, and the PC ignores it 
    • The results of a PC’s move (like Hack and Slash) says that they do 
    • The PC rolls a 6- on pretty much any move, and you decide that they do
    Suffering a monster’s attack doesn’t (just) mean that they take damage. It means you use the monster to make an aggressive, hard move. You can, of course, hurt them. Or you can make any other hard GM move that makes sense. If your move involves the PC getting hurt, roughed up, or worn down, then deal damage as part of that move.
    “So this guy’s got my right arm twisted? But my left arm’s free? When he pulls me back by my hair, I’ll quick draw my new dagger like this and stab behind me.” I wasn’t expecting that, but it makes sense based on how we’ve described things. Hack and Slash it is!
    He rolls a 4, and I start thinking about hurting him and breaking his nose on the wall. But Caradoc invokes Impetuous Youth, bumping his result up to a 7-9 (at the cost of losing his knife). He stabs the thug and deals damage (3 of the thug’s 6 HP) but also suffers the thug’s attack. I decide to turn his move back on him. “He yells and lets go of your right arm. But then he grabs your left arm, the one with the knife, and like twists it up and over like this, kicking your legs out and smashing you down. Take 1d8 damage, and oh yeah, your knife goes flying from your hand.”
    A PC’s actions are informed by their fictional positioning—where they are, what they’re doing, where their enemies are and what they’re doing, weapons, momentum, terrain, lighting, and everything else that we’ve established about this situation.

    Fictional positioning affects whether a PC’s actions trigger a move, and which move is triggered, and whether an action is even feasible. It also affects the range of possible results, both good and bad. A strong fictional position can mitigate the bad results of a roll, and a desperate fictional position can mean that a 6- is really, really bad.

    Skillful players will look for ways to shape their fictional positioning, allowing them to trigger more advantageous moves, set themselves up for better results, or even skip needing to roll entirely.
    I jump back to Blodwen, who just dove past her assailant and grabbed a broken broom to use as a weapon. She got cut, but now has some distance between her and her attacker. I describe the situation: “You grip the broom and he turns to face you, a little more respect in his eyes.” Then I offer an opportunity for Blodwen to seize the initiative. “He crouches down like this, knife at the ready—you can tell he’s waiting for his moment. What do you do?”  
    “Just like old Seren taught me. I’ll pretend to be scared and present and opening. When he attacks, I’ll sidestep and smack his wrist, then swing up and smack his face.”  
    I could say “no, he doesn’t buy your act” or maybe even tell her the requirements and say she’ll have to Parley to lure him in. But I think this guy is a big bully, not expecting much of a fight, and he gets suckered in. “Cool, roll Hack and Slash!”  
    She gets a 7-9, so her maneuver mostly works but she suffers his attack. She rolls only a 1 for damage (vs. this guy’s 6 HP), so I say that she smacks the knife out of his hand but doesn’t get the follow-up swing at his face. Because he no longer has his knife, I make his attack softer than I would have and put her in a spot. “Before you can swing up, his left hand grabs the shaft. Then he grabs on with his right hand, and you find yourself struggling over this broken broom handle.”  
    I jump back to Caradoc, who’s in a spot of his own—on the ground, no knife, angry bad guy above him. “He’s still got your left arm twisted out behind you, and he’s like kneeling on your back.” I announce trouble. “He keeps adding pressure. It feels like your arm is going break or something. What do you do?”  
    “I’ll, like, reach back with my right hand and grab his face, try to gouge an eye or tear his cheek or something.”  
    That’s just not reasonable given the position this guy has him in. I clarify the situation, then tell him the requirements and ask. “You’re gonna need to get free of his hold before you attack him. And if you want to force yourself free, that’s going to be Defy Danger with STR. You do it?”  
    “Wait, wait. I think this counts as a threat to my loved ones, right? These guys are trying to kill Blodwen, not just me. Anger is a Gift?” It’s a bit of a stretch, but sure. “Cool, I spend 1 Resolve to act suddenly and catch him off-guard. Do I still need to roll?”  
    “You’re still in a really bad position here. But I tell you what--I think catching him off guard means you can twist free and attack him at the same time. So a Hack and Slash instead of Defy Danger. Cool?” He agrees, rolls a 10+, and manages to wrench free with a yell and punch the thug out. 
    You’ll generally focus the spotlight on one or two specific characters at a time. Other players can interrupt and interject, within the bounds of what the fiction, the rules, and politeness allow. Don’t be afraid to shut down (politely yet firmly) a player who keeps stealing the spotlight, or whose character is preoccupied, or who wants to do something implausible.
    Caradoc finishes off his foe and I jump back to Blodwen, who’s struggling with the other cutthroat over the broken broom handle. I show a downside and tell her “He’s a lot stronger than you, you can barely hold on. What do you do?”  
    Before she says anything, Caradoc jumps in. “I spend my last Resolve and act suddenly. I come out of nowhere and bowl this guy over. Hack and Slash?”  
    I’m tempted to say “No, this is happening while you’re fighting with your guy.” But his move does let him spend Resolve to “act suddenly, catching them off-guard.”  
    “Huh. Yeah, I guess. Roll it!” 

    As a fight goes on, avoid anything that feels like “trading blows” or just a grinding away at each other’s HP. Use your GM moves and the results of PC moves to constantly shift the momentum of the fight and the fictional positioning. Even when one side rolls low damage (or no damage), look for a way to make the situation change.

    Regularly ask yourself, “Would this monster keep fighting?” Use its instinct as a guide, as well as what you know about its personality and why it’s fighting in the first place. Cautious foes in particular will look to escape violence as soon as a fight goes south.
    Caradoc gets a 12 on his Hack and Slash and does indeed tackle the cutthroat. He rolls only 1 damage, but his maneuver still works. “You shove him up against the far wall and he grunts a little.”  
    I shift the focus back to Blodwen and offer her an opportunity. “Whew, you’re free. You notice this guy’s dagger at your feet. What do you do?”  
    “I pick up the dagger and calmly walk up to them. Caradoc has him pinned?”  
    “Eh, he's still struggling, but mostly, yeah.”  
    “I put his knife to his throat. ‘Stop. Piss off right now and you live. Keep struggling and I’ll bleed you like a spring lamb.”  
    I’m thinking that’s a Parley, but really, he’s got no reason to resist. They’ve clearly won, and this guys’ more of a knife-in-the-dark type than a fight-to-the-death type. “He stops struggling,” I say, “and his eyes bug out at you, Blodwen. He nods a little. Caradoc, do you let him go?”  

    Foes They Can't Hurt

    Sometimes, the PCs can’t feasibly attack their foe. The monster might have a special quality (like “made of stone”) or tag (like huge) that makes them effectively invulnerable to the PC’s weapons. It might have a move (like “swat arrows from the air”) that counters attacks. Fictional positioning might make an attack extra dangerous or impossible (it’s got a reach weapon and the PC has a hand weapon).

    When you first present such a monster, convey how hard it’ll be to hurt. “It’s got this lashing, whip-like tail, at least 10 feet long.” Or, “It’s like literally a moving tree, 30 feet tall and made of wood.” Or, “She moves with the calm confidence of a master fighter.”

    If the players say that they attack in a way that just wouldn’t work, then they don’t trigger Hack and Slash or Volley. Instead, tell them the requirements (“you’ll have to get past that tail first”) or reveal an unwelcome truth (“you chop into it full-strength, and it just, like, takes a chip out of it”) or put them in a spot (“she side-steps like its nothing and her own spear flashes at your throat”) and ask, “What do you do?”

    Make the PCs work for it. They might have to figure out a way to actually hurt this foe. They might need to Defy Danger to get close enough, or Aid each other to have any chance of overcoming its defenses. They might need to use the environment to their advantage. They might have to retreat or flee because they just can’t hurt it. They might need to wait for their moment. They might need to do something drastic.

    Reward creativity and effort. If they have an idea or a move that would work—even one you never expected—then run with it. Be a fan of the player characters. But also, respect your prep and the fiction. If your notes say that this monster is hurt only by bronze, and they don’t have any bronze, don’t let them steamroll you into agreeing that it’s also vulnerable to, oh, silver.
    They’re exploring the ruins near Three-Coven Lake. The room gets suddenly colder and the lanterns flicker, and (after a 6- to Discern Realities) a long, hand-like shadow reaches out and grabs Vahid. He drops his lantern and starts shaking in a fit. I address the others: “What do you do?”  
    Caradoc doesn’t hesitate. “I draw my knife and slash into that shadowy limb, trying to cut Vahid free. Hack and Slash?”  
    “No, don’t roll.” I reveal an unwelcome truth. “Your knife goes right through the shadow, like there’s nothing even there, but your hand goes numb and there’s frost on the blade. Rhianna, Blodwen, you see this happen, what do you do?”  
    Blodwen looks at her possessions and says “Bendis root! I’ve got some from my herb garden.” She drops her staff, sets down her lantern, and Has What She Needs to produce some.  
    “It’ll take a few moments to get it out and light it. You still do that?” (Tell the requirements and ask). Yup, she’s doing it. “Rhianna, what are you doing?” 
    “This is like a ghost, right? So what hurts ghosts? Iron? Silver?” 
    That’s Spouting Lore, for sure, and she rolls a 10+. “Silver. In fact, you’re pretty sure that’s why Vahid got that silver dagger last summer.” 
    “Oh. Oh! I’ll step in and pull it off of him, then attack this thing.” 
    “Cool, roll Hack and Slash!” 

    Multiple Combatants

    NOTE: Some of this is significantly different from what's presented in the Dungeon World book. In particular, the DW text has you roll damage once and apply that same roll to each enemy you hurt with a single attack. I don't do that, because it means that you either drop EVERY foe you hit or your drop NONE of the foes you hit. 

    When the PCs face multiple foes (and they often will), break up the action into multiple smaller engagements—the Ranger fights one crinwin, the Fox fights another, the Marshal and his crew deal with the rest of them. This isn’t anything formal. It’s just a natural way to manage the scene.

    Unengaged foes—those that aren’t pinned down in combat—are all sorts of potential trouble. Incorporate them into your moves whenever you have the chance. Announce trouble and have them move to flank the PCs. Show a downside of being outnumbered and have them block a PC’s path. Reveal an unwelcome truth and have one come out of nowhere and smack a PC when they roll a 6-. Bad guys don’t just sit around waiting to be attacked.

    When a PC or follower engages multiple foes, make more aggressive moves than when they face a single foe. If they ignore the threat posed by multiple foes, tell them the consequences and ask. If they carry on and give you a golden opportunity, or roll a 6-, or otherwise suffer the enemy’s attack, then make your move extra hard.

    When a PC or follower’s attack could feasibly hurt multiple foes—because of the area tag, because they describe it in a way that makes sense, etc.—then they roll Hack and Slash or Volley just once for the whole group, but they roll damage separately for each individual foe.

    When multiple PCs and/or followers attack a foe at once, one of them rolls Hack and Slash or Volley and the others Aid. If a group of followers attacks a single foe (or a significantly smaller group), they effectively Aid themselves.

    When multiple combatants deal damage to a single foe, roll one combatant’s damage (usually the best one) and add +1 extra damage for each capable attacker after the first. Apply tags from all the attackers as they make sense. For example, if a PC fights two Hillfolk warriors (d8 damage, 1 piercing) riding horses (d6+2 damage, forceful) and suffers their attack, you’d probably roll damage from one horse and add +3; that’s d6+5 damage (1 piercing, forceful). Ouch.

    Clever tactics can make a huge difference when dealing with multiple combatants. Holding a chokepoint reduces the number of foes they have to fight at once. Focusing fire on a tough opponent can help drop it more quickly. Attacking a group’s flank and dropping some of them before they can react? Golden.
    Rhianna, Garet, and Eira (two of her crew) find Caradoc barely holding a doorway against six crinwin. Some turn and hiss. Rhianna says “We draw hatchets and wade in!” Her crew are archers but not warriors, so she has to Order Followers. She gets a 10 and they follow her lead. 
    Caradoc’s got two crinwin occupied, so I tell Rhianna she’ll be dealing with the other four. “How are you doing this?” 
    “I’ll take point, chopping the first one and plowing past him to get at the next. Garet’s on my left, Eira’s on my right, a step behind, each hacking at one of their own.” 
    “Sounds like Hack and Slash with Aid from your crew,” I say. “But they’re not providing advantage—they’re letting you fight multiple foes at once.” Rhianna rolls an 8. She and her crew deal their damage but suffer the enemy’s attack. 
    Rhianna rolls her 1d8 damage twice (once per crinwin she engaged), getting a 7 and a 2. Crinwin have 1 Armor and 3 HP, so the first one goes down and the second is up but injured. She also rolls her crew’s 1d6 damage against each of the other two crinwin, getting a 4 and a 3. Garet drops his, Eira’s is badly wounded but still up.  
    They also suffered the crinwin’s attack. I don’t have a particular move in mind, but I know it’ll deal damage, so I start with that. “Rhianna, each of you takes 1d6 damage from the crinwin you’re fighting. Actually, you take 1d6+1, because you fought two of them.” 
    “Really? Didn’t I cut the first one down before it could hurt me?” 
    I could tell her that it got a lick in before it went down, but whatever. “Good point. 1d6 damage to each of you.” She takes 4 damage herself. Garet takes 1 and Eira takes 5. They’re all still up, but Eira’s in trouble. I let that inform my move and I put her in a spot. “Okay, so Eira got tripped by hers and it’s on her chest, smashing her head against the wall. She looks out of it and, Rhianna, you’ve still got a crinwin in your face. Meanwhile, Caradoc…” 

    Abstracting Groups (Optional)

    If the PCs have a group of followers, then you’ll often want to abstract their actions in combat. Resolve the group’s actions with as few individual moves as possible. For example, if the Marshal’s crew of six opens fire on a horde of 20 crinwin, have the Marshal make a single Volley roll to see how it goes.

    If the group deals damage to another group, or takes damage from another group, then you can roll damage once per side and abstract the results. A group deals damage and has HP and Armor as though it was one individual member of the group. For example, the marshal’s crew of six would deal 1d6 damage, have 8 HP, and 1 Armor from the thick furs & hides they wear. The horde of crinwin would deal 1d6 damage, have 3 HP, and have 1 Armor from their agility and reflexes.

    If one group outnumbers the other, they get a +1 bonus to damage and Armor for every multiplier past 1. For example, the 20 crinwin outnumber the crew of six by about 3:1, so they’d get a +2 bonus to damage and Armor.

    Damage represents casualties. If one group loses half its HP, then about half that group’s numbers are out the action. Adjust the bonuses to damage and Armor accordingly! So if the crew of six dealt 4 damage to the crinwin with their Volley, that’d do 1 damage after Armor and reduce the crinwin from 3 HP to 2 HP. One third of the crinwin (let’s say seven of them) would be out of the action, reducing their advantage to only about 2:1. Their bonus to damage and Armor is now only +1.

    Shift the spotlight between the group and individual PCs. Switch the scale and “zoom” of the action accordingly. Foes that are engaged by individual PCs aren’t really part of a group. So if one PC ran in and attacked two crinwin while another PC Defended and drew the attention of another three, the Marshal’s crew of six would be left contending with only eight crinwin (20 to start, less 7 dead from the Volley, less 5 occupied by PCs). That’s basically even numbers, so the crinwin have lost their bonus to Armor and damage.

    A group reduced to 0 HP is routed, massacred, or otherwise defeated. The fate of individuals within each group is up to you.

    Keeping Fights Interesting

    Fights should be exciting, dynamic, and tense. The players should never feel like they’re just "trading blows" or trying to deplete a foe’s HP. Players shouldn’t get bored waiting for “their turn,” and the outcome should never be entirely certain.

    Make soft GM moves all the damn time. After every player move, describe the situation and make a soft move: say something that provokes action or raises the tension. Then ask someone, “What do you do?” Sometimes, your soft move will be offering an opportunity for a PC to act freely, or to follow up on a previous move’s success. It’s easy to do this accidentally, though, which results in the monsters seeming to just stand there and not do anything. Be intentional!

    Make your moves—especially your monster attacks—colorful, descriptive, and specific. Don’t just say, “It attacks you,” say “It swoops down at you, talons out like this, coming right at your face! What do you do?”

    Demand the same of the players. If they say “I stab it with my spear,” then reply with “Okay, cool, what’s that look like?” If the player seems uncertain, or hesitant to commit, then offer them choices. “Are you, like, running at it? Bracing yourself? Are you going for its gut or its wings or its face, or what?” If you can’t visualize the action, ask for more detail.

    Consider the momentum of the action and other elements of fictional positioning. Incorporate them into your descriptions and your GM moves. So if your soft move was “it swoops at your face, talons out” and their response was “I brace myself and drive my long spear into its gut!” and they get a 7-9 to Hack and Slash, then the results should take all that into account. “Yeah, you impale it and but its momentum yanks the spear out of your hands and they both tumble over here, next to the edge. Roll your damage!”

    Vary your GM moves, especially when a monster’s attack lands. Don’t always hurt them or put them in a spot. Lean on your monster moves to add variety. Sometimes, look at your list of GM moves and pick something you haven’t done in a while, just to keep things fresh. No matter what move you choose: if it involves roughing up the PCs, or it could maybe take them out of the fight, then deal damage along with the move.

    When a PC “whiffs” a damage roll, respect the fiction of their attack and the fact that they (probably) got a 7+ on whatever move allowed them to deal damage in the first place. The low damage roll means that it wasn’t a telling blow, but it should still change the fiction. “Only 2 damage? Yikes, you don’t pierce its hide. But it’s still disoriented a bit, and struggling for breath—looks like you knocked the wind out of it.”

    Keep in mind what other enemies are up to. The PC stabbed the monster that was swooping at him, but what are its friends doing? Use your next soft move to bring them into the action. “…looks like you knocked the wind out of it. Meanwhile, the next one is swooping down at you while you’re unarmed, what do you do?”

    Keep the spotlight moving. When one PC isn’t actively engaged, make a soft move at the current PC, then move the spotlight to the idle PC and ask what they do about it. “…the next one is swooping down at you while you’re unarmed. Rhianna, you see this happening, what do you do?”

    Give less-combat oriented characters opportunities to shine. Encourage the Seeker to Spout Lore about the foe’s vulnerabilities. Include spirits or beasts that the Blessed can interact with. Include victims to rescue, fragile treasures to protect, and puzzles to solve. Not always, and not every fight, but often enough to keep everyone engaged.

    Incorporate the environment into your description and your moves: lighting, terrain, visibility, and the fog of war. They’re on a massive staircase? Use a monster’s attack to put them in a spot and bowl them half-over the edge. It’s pitch black except for their sphere of torchlight? Have the monsters retreat and then announce trouble, “You can’t see them, but you hear their calls as they circle for another attack, what do you do?”

    Populate your battlefields with potential energy—heavy things to knock over, high places to fall off of, kindling to set aflame. Throw in some active hazards, too: raging fires, crumbling ceilings, sucking mire. Present these elements as opportunities to the PCs. Use them to answer “What here is useful or valuable to me?” Incorporate them into your GM moves, soft and hard.

    Recap and summarize the situation regularly, especially as you move the spotlight around. “Okay, so: Vahid’s, on the upper part of the stairs. His spear and the creature he wounded are over here, near the edge. Caradoc, you’re hanging off that same ledge. Blodwen, Rhianna, and Andras on the other side of the gap, with Blodwen holding the torch aloft and Rhianna and Andras scanning the skies. Caradoc, you feel your grip starting slip. What do you do all do?”

    End fights earlier rather than later. If it’s clear that the PCs will win, have the bad guys flee or surrender. If things start to drag and someone rolls a 6-, use your hard move to drastically change the situation—a new monster shows up, a PC gets captured and dragged off, a follower sacrifices themselves to save the PC and finishes off the monster. If the PCs want to flee, let them Struggle as One to escape instead of playing out individual actions.

    Finally, remember that this isn’t easy. GMing is a practice, not something you master. You’ll likely start out forgetting to do all of this stuff, and that’s fine. Reflect a little bit after each session on what was fun and exciting about your fights, and what seemed to drag. Ask yourself what you could have done differently, and try to do that next time. Keep pushing yourself to improve!

    Thursday, February 27, 2020

    "Discern Realities" in Stonetop & Homebrew World

    Discern Realities is a move that is near and dear to my heart. It's one of my favorite moves, and I've written about it at length: I tried using that "make the question part of the trigger" approach to the move a couple times, but didn't really like how it worked in practice. Either the players had to keep the questions constantly in mind and intentionally ask them, or as the GM I had to keep them constantly in mind and watch for the players asking them. Also, a lot of my playbook moves add questions you can ask to Discern Realities "for free, even on a miss" and those don't jive well with the "ask first" approach.  
    So, for Stonetop and Homebrew World, I use Discern Realities as follows. It's quite similar to the original, the key differences being:
    • the trigger specifically includes "looking to the GM for insight"
    • both games use advantage/disadvantage instead of +1/-1 forward
    • "Who is control here?" has become "Who or what is in control here?" (with "their fear" or the like being legit answers)
    The accompanying text is the first draft of what I plan to put in the Stonetop book. It'll probably get cut down a little to fit on one spread, but this is the text that I wish I had when I first started learning to run Dungeon World. I hope you find it useful, too. 

    Discern Realities 

    When you closely study a situation or person and look to the GM for insight, roll +WIS: on a 10+, ask the GM 3 questions from the list below; on a 7-9, ask 1; either way, take advantage on your next move to act on the answers.
    •   What happened here recently?
    •   What is about to happen?
    •   What should I be on the lookout for?
    •   What here is useful or valuable to me?
    •   Who or what is really in control here?
    •   What here is not what it appears to be?

    Player: "Uh... what should I be on the lookout for?"
    GM: "Well, funny you should ask..."
    (image by Jakub Rozalski)

    There are two parts to triggering this move: closely studying a person or situation and looking to you for insight.  You ask “what do you do?” and they say that they’re doing something to get insight into the situation or the person, and look to you to fill in that insight. 

    Discern Realities doesn’t trigger just because a player asks you what they perceive—that’s just them asking you to establish the fictional situation (a core part of your job, right?). It doesn’t even trigger every time they take action to get more information. If they toss a torch down a stairway, tell them what the torch illuminates. If they drop a coin down a well, tell them what they hear. 

    No, Discern Realities happens when they ask a question that requires interpreting what they perceive, or when they do something to study the situation or a person, but look to you (and this move) to try and figure out something that isn’t obvious. In practice, it often looks like this:

    “What’s on the bookshelf?”
    “Oh, some old leather-bound tomes. They’re old and unlabeled. The upper shelve also has some crude clay pots. It’s all covered in dust.”
    “Huh. Does anything look like its been handled recently? Or out of place?”
    “Sounds like you’re Discerning Realities, yeah?”

    Because part of the trigger is a player-to-GM action (looking to you for insight), the player can pretty much always back down and not make the move. But if so, you don’t owe them any information beyond what their character could perceive and their actions would obviously reveal. 

    Remember, though, that they have to do something in the fiction to closely study a situation or person. If they just ask you for insight or say they want to Discern Realities, ask what they do, what that looks like in the fiction. It’ll often be subtle (“I scan his desk and his office while he and Vahid talk”) but it could also be quite overt (“I toss the room… taking the books off the shelves, looking in those clay pots, tapping the walls”).  

    The trigger for the move (and the questions they can ask) scales nicely between immediate, here-and-now situations and broader, bigger-picture situations. It’s just as viable to listen closely to the strange noises heard from a campfire as it is to spend a few hours chatting folks up in the streets of Marshedge, getting a feel for the political situation.  

    On a 7+, the player gets to ask one or more questions from the list. You’ll find that players often chafe against the questions, wanting to ask something else. The list of questions is there to ensure that players ask something meaningful, that they get actual insight into the situation or person rather than just detail. You don’t need to be a stickler about it, though. If they ask a good question, but not one from the list, you can ask choose to answer it or direct them back to the list. Alternately, you can accept the question they ask but answer a question from the list.

    Answer their questions honestly, generously, and helpfully. Rely on your prep and sense of the fictional space to guide you. Sometimes (often), you’ll need to make up details on the fly in order to provide them with a good, useful answer. These details then become true parts of the fiction! If you aren’t sure how to answer the question, ask the player for guidance. “Well, the old coins are obviously valuable, but what sort of thing were you looking for?”

    Remember to begin and end with the fiction. Don’t just tell them that Siowan is about to betray them; describe how Siowan is acting nervous and keeps glancing at the door, like he’s expecting someone to burst in any second. Alternatively: answer their question directly and simply, and ask them what details lead them to that conclusion. 

    Adjust the detail and usefulness of your answers to reflect the fiction. The move isn’t magic; it doesn’t let the characters know things they’d have no way of knowing. Scanning the area while holding still should give less-specific and less-useful information than getting in there and interacting with the situation or person that they're studying.  

    Sometimes the honest, generous, helpful answer is the obvious answer. 
    “What here is valuable or useful to me?”
    “Those gold coins that I described earlier. Everything else is basically junk.” 
    The answer might even be basically “nothing.”  
    “What should I be on the lookout for?”
    “Honestly, not much. This place seems quite safe.”
    “Who or what is in control here?”
    “No one. It’s a damn free-for-all.”  
    Such answers might seem like cop-outs, but they confirm the obvious and give the player good, actionable information. And remember—they get advantage on their first roll to act on the answer.

    On a 10+, they get to ask multiple questions. Sometimes a player will ask their questions all at once, but it’s best if you answer one, and then ask them for the next question. The answer to one question might influence the question that they ask next. You can even let the player “hold” their additional questions, playing out the scene a little between each question.

    If they do ask multiple questions, they only get advantage on their first roll to act on any of the answers; if they get a 10+ and ask three questions, they get advantage once, not thrice. 

    When players Discern Realities and get a 6- during a tense, active situation (like a fight, an argument, or when something bad is lurking just out of sight), your move will often involve the character getting interrupted or surprised as they take time to study the situation and figure things out. 

    But during a less-tense, seemingly-safe situation (like investigating the scene of a struggle, or searching a “safe” room in a ruin), you might find yourself struggling to come up with a good, meaningful GM move. Good options include:
    • Revealing an unwelcome truth: “You find Bethan. Oh gods, someone slashed his throat!”
    • Using up their resources: “You really don’t find anything else of interest, but by the time you’re sure, your torch has started to sputter; it’s going to out soon.”
    • Telling them the requirements and asking: “You just can’t tell from here whether the passageway is safe; you’ll need someone to walk down there to be sure, do you go?”
    • Introducing a danger (often aggressively so): “As you investigate the carcass, you realize the birdsong has stopped and you’re hearing these quiet trilling sounds from the grass, all around. You look up into the eyes of a hunting drake, and you know that means you’re surrounded.”
    • Advancing a grim portent (from one of your threats): “You spend time asking around town but no one has anything to useful to tell you, just ill-founded rumors and speculation. But a few people mention how this is clearly all the fault of Annick and the other Hillfolk refugees. In fact, that night, as you’re heading toward the public house, a group comes staggering out, well into their cups and shouting about they’re going to teach Annick a lesson. What do you do?” 
    Whatever you do, don’t lie and don’t take away player agency. For example, if they say they peer down the dim hallway, waving their torch around and looking for traps, you could tell them the requirements (“You can’t tell anything from here, you’ll have to further down the tunnel if you want to learn more”) but you shouldn’t tell them that it’s safe when it isn’t, and you certainly shouldn’t tell them that they step forward and trigger a trap! An NPC might step forward and trigger the trap, but if you tell the player that their character does something that they didn’t declare, without their permission, you’re cheating.


    They’re in the Great Wood, staring up at what looks to be an enormous wasp nest, a good eighty feet up in the air—a crinwin nest. They ask questions about its size (“at least as big as a house back in Stonetop”) and the tree it’s in (“like a redwood sequoia, with a 20-foot diameter trunk and the lowest bough maybe 60 feet up”) and whether they see anything moving about the nest (“nope”). Then Rhianna asks “Can I tell if there’s been activity recently? Tracks or whatnot?”  That’s looking for insight, not just data, so I say “Sounds like you’re Discerning Realities, yeah?”   
    She agrees and rolls +WIS (with advantage as her crew Aids her by poking around a looking for tracks) and gets a 10+.  “Is the nest still active? Like, are there any signs of recent activity?” she asks. That’s two questions, neither of which are on the list. “So you’re asking ‘what happened here recently?’ Or ‘what should I be on the lookout for?’”   
    “Oh, yeah. What should I be on the lookout for? Specifically, should we be on the lookout for crinwin right now?”  I say no, nothing to be on the lookout for. The nest doesn’t appear to be occupied and actually seems to be damaged. Geralt (from her crew) calls her over and shows her the crinwin bodies he found, rotting away in the brush.  
    “Whoa. Okay… what happened her recently?”  Not much has happened here recently (except for crinwin corpses rotting), but that’s a crap answer and not helpful at all. So I tell her that they find more crinwin corpses, and even find one or two crinwin that appear to have killed each other. “A few weeks old, at least. But, like, there aren’t enough corpses for a full a nest. And you find some signs of crinwin dragging off other crinwin, heading the same general direction they carried off Pryder.” 
    “What the hell?” spits Rhianna. “Crap. Um… who or what is really in control here? Like… who or what is behind this?”  I know that Sethra the swyn (a hypnotic, monkey-headed giant snake) is behind the attack, having entranced some of the crinwin and ordered them to bring her the rest. But I don’t see how Rhianna could possibly deduce that. So I give her as useful of an answer as I think the evidence would allow: “Well, after searching all over the place and maybe heading down the path a little, you spot a… scale? Like a drake scale, but bigger. Flatter. More like a snake, maybe? And it’s got a golden shimmer to it.”   
    “Do I recognize it?” Rhianna asks, and I say “I don’t know, sounds like you’re Spouting Lore?” And she agrees, and rolls with advantage for following up on an answer. 
    Blodwen finishes tending to Pryder’s wounds while Caradoc fends off crinwin at the door. He’s holding them off for now, but there are more and more coming. “Is there like another exit or anything?” she asks. I prepared a map, and I know that, yeah, there’s a hidden entrance near the top of the chamber that the swyn uses to get in and out of the barrow mound, but it’s not obvious at all. “Nothing obvious,” I say. “But it sounds like you’re closely studying the situation? Want to Discern Realities?”   
    She agrees and rolls and gets a 7-9, and asks “what here is useful or valuable to me?” I know from my notes that there’s some treasure hidden in this room, but that’s clearly not what she had in mind. “You realize there’s another entrance, up near the ceiling, hidden by an edge protruding from the walls. How do you figure out that it’s there?” 
    Rhianna is interrogating a strange creature, like a man made of vines and thorns. They caught him trying to steal from Vahid in the night. He bemoaned how a swyn showed up and kicked him out of his lair and stole his treasure, and Rhianna just convinced him (in exchange for some trinkets from Vahid’s pack) to tell them more about the swyn, its crinwin minions, and the lair itself.   
    He’s giving them the details in his high-pitched, whiny voice, but I also mention how his eyes keep darting back to Vahid’s pack (where Vahid has the Mindgem, of course). Vahid doesn’t trust this thing. “I’m sizing it up while Rhianna talks to him, trying to figure out what he’s up to.” That’s Discerning Realities for sure, but he gets a 6-. 
    I’m thinking that I’ll turn their move back on them and reveal something valuable to the spriggan. “Okay, so I think you like, notice that there’s a lose strap on your pack and go to tighten it, but the pack like, um, spills out and the Mindgem falls out.”
    Vahid’s player gets indignant. “Uh, like hell I do. I wouldn’t touch my pack while talking to this thing, and besides, the Mindgem is like packed away at the very bottom.” 
    I’m taken aback, but he’s right. He said he was sizing the spriggan up, not poking around in his pack. “Shoot, yeah… you’re right, I’m sorry. How about this? He keeps staring at your pack, and licking his lips, and losing his train of thought as he stares at, finally shaking his head and finishing his tale to Rhianna. ‘Take youse to it, old Tomas can! Show youse the way in, secret and safe!’ But its eyes dart back to your pack, and Vahid, you just get this feeling like it knows there’s something in there. He probably doesn’t know what it is, but he wants to find out. What do you do?”

    Thursday, February 13, 2020

    Defying Danger, the RPG

    Here's a thing I made, as a bit of a distraction from working on Stonetop. It's a light-weight RPG, in the vein of World of Dungeons.

    click for current version

     The highlights:

    • There's only one "basic" move, Defying Danger. The usual 10+, 7-9, 6- framework. 
    • No stats (like, no STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, CHA).  Instead, you choose 2-3 ways of Defying Danger where you roll 3d6 and keep the best 2 dice. Any other time, you roll straight 2d6.  
    • Each class has an additional move, that indicates a thing they're generally better at.
      • warrior gets Hack & Slash
      • rogue gets Manipulate
      • The wizard can Get Answers 
    • Each class has a spendable resource (Mettle, Cunning, or Power) that lets them boost rolls or do cool stuff. Wizards, in particular, use this to cast spells. 
    • PCs don't have HP, per se. Harm is closer to Apocalypse World, but the players have a little more control over how, exactly, they get messed up.  
    • Gear is very similar to the system in Homebrew World, but even more simplified. 
    As of this posting, Defying Danger is a completely un-playtested game. I don't know if any of this actually works!  It's basically an idea that spawned from a conversation on the DW Discord--an idea that got lodged in my brain and now, a week later, here's a game. Enjoy!

    If you play this, please let me know how it goes. In the comments below, over in the DW Discord, or at jack underscore blackfoot at yahoo.

    EDIT to add

    Sunday, January 26, 2020

    "Parley" in Stonetop and Homebrew World

    In both Stonetop and Homebrew World, I've rewritten the Parley move to be at least as much of a "gather info" move as a "convince them" move. What follows is the text of the revised move and a draft of the "discussion" write-up for Stonetop.  

    The evolution of this move was... involved. It started with a post from Johnstone Metzger (a very sharp dude whose stuff I strongly recommend), which was sadly lost to the Google+ vortex. If you're interested, you can read through the various drafts (and surrounding discussion) here:

    My gripes with the standard version of Parley boil down to:

    • The trigger ("When you have leverage on an NPC and manipulate them...") requires too much processing and too many decisions. By the time we've figured out whether or not the PC's action counts as leverage, the roll feels superfluous or (worse) contradictory.
    • The 10+ result and the 7-9 result often just don't work in the kinds of situations that adventurers find themselves.  At least, not without elaborate mental gymnastics.

    Ultimately, what I like about the Stonetop/HBW version is that:

    1. It's easy to recognize when a PC is pressing or enticing someone, and from there whether a roll is necessary.  You don't have to consider "is this leverage?" You just consider "are they resisting?" 
    2. The question posed by the move isn't usually "will they do what you want?" but rather "what will it take to convince them?" The move is basically an opportunity for you to tell them the requirements, and in so doing, reveal the NPC's personality and motivations.  
    3. The 7-9 results are quite easy to work with. I'm particularly fond of the "distasteful" option.
    4. It's very flexible, and works in a wide variety of situations. 

    Also, these revisions led to a PC-v-PC approach that I think works pretty well.  

    Parley (vs. NPCs)

    When you press or entice an NPC, say what you want them to do (or not do). If they have reason to resist, roll +CHA: on a 10+, they either do as you want or reveal the easiest way to convince them; on a 7-9, they reveal something you can do to convince them, though it’ll likely be costly, tricky, or distasteful.
    This version of Parley triggers when a PC tries to convince an NPC to do something. If you, as the NPC, put up resistance and the PC persists, it’s Parley. Clarify what they want the NPC to do/not do, and challenge their approach if it doesn’t make sense. “How would she know you wanted her to do that? I think you might need to actually ask.”

    Once the goal is set, decide if the NPC has reason to resist. Consider their instinct, personality, background, wants, needs, fears, etc. If they’ve no reason to resist, they do it. But if the NPC has a reason (even an irrational one), then call for the roll.

    On a 10+, weigh the PC’s approach against the NPC’s resistance. If the resistance was weak or the PC’s approach is strong, just have the NPC do it. But if you don’t think the PC’s approach would cut it, reveal the easiest way the PC could convince them.

    On a 7-9, the NPC isn’t convinced yet but they’ll reveal a way they could be. You don’t have to make the requirement tricky, costly, or distasteful, but its more fun if you do.

    Things that might convince an NPC include:
    • A promise/an oath/a vow
    • A chance to do it safely/freely/discretely
    • Appeasing or appealing to their ego/honor/conscience/fears
    • A convincing deception
    • A better/fair/excessive offer
    • Helping them/doing it with them
    • Violence (or a credible threat thereof)
    • Something they want or need (coin/food/booze/etc.)
    • Concrete assurance/proof/collaboration
    • Pressure/permission/ help from ____
    • Or anything else that makes sense to you

    Reveal how the NPC can be convinced via their words or reactions, and/or as insights that occur to the PC. It doesn’t have to be easy, or even plausible, but the revelation has to be true.
    It’s okay to offer two or more alternatives on how the NPC could be convinced. “He’s waiting for a bribe; a few coppers would do it. Or you could rough him up a bit, you’re pretty sure that’d work, too.”

    On a 6-, make it clear that the NPC won’t be swayed, interrupt the conversation, and/or end the scene. Alternately, have the NPC comply but with complications (treachery, overzealousness, misunderstanding, etc.). Or, the whole interaction could offend someone else, upset the social order, or otherwise generate chaos. Your threat (page XX) and homefront moves (page XX) will be golden here.
    The PCs just killed a band of crinwin, only to see another set of pale, unblinking eyes staring down at them. “Ugh,” says Rhianna, “we barely took care of this lot. I try to scare them off. Parley?” 
    “Cool. What do you do, exactly?” 
    “I hoist nearest crinwin corpse by its head. Glare out at the other crinwin. Then I’ll saw its head off, start yelling, and chuck the head into the woods. And keep yelling.” 
    Yikes! Grim stuff, but the crinwin outnumber them and the PCs are pretty beaten-up, so I think they have reason to resist. Rhianna rolls +CHA and gets a 10+. I think that little display was plenty, so I say “They scamper right off and you’re left standing there, covered in black blood. Caradoc, how are you feeling about Rhianna right now?” 
    Caradoc is keeping watch with Geralt, and he pries a bit. “So, you’ve been with Rhianna’s crew for a long time, right? You ever seen anything like… like that? I’m trying to get him talking, maybe learn something about Rhianna’s past. Parley?” 
    I consider making him roll, but I realize that Geralt’s got no real reason to resist. “Sure, but don’t bother rolling, he’s happy to talk. Rhianna, what’s a good story for him to tell Caradoc? Like, a time you did something particularly bloody and ruthless?”
    Blodwen crouches down to eye-level with the girl, keeping her distance and holding out some flatbread. “Hey. Hey, are you hungry?” 
    I’m sure she’s enticing the girl to do something, but I’m not sure what. “Are you, like, trying to get her to come out from the corner?”   
    “More like I’m trying to get her to trust me and start talking.” The girl is terrified, and definitely has cause to resist, so Blodwen rolls. She gets a 10+, and I think about this girl and look at the list of things that could convince her. I think appeasing her fears would do it.  
    “Her eyes lock on the flatbread, and she swallows, but then her eyes dart to Caradoc, then Rhianna, then her crew. She’s clearly terrified of the warriors. You think she’d come out and talk if they were gone.” Blodwen asks the others to step outside, and they agree. 
    “Cool. As soon as they leave, the girl snatches the bread and wolfs it down, staring at you. Then she gulps, and whispers ‘More?’ What do you do?” 
    Vahid is up in Gordin’s Delve, selling a sphere of silver filigree. Mutra the Yellow has offered two handfuls of silver for it. “Why, this is worth four handfuls of silver at least,” says Vahid. “I could get two handfuls if I took it to Foundry and had them melt it down for metal.”  
    “Sounds like you’re pressing him into giving you more coin for it, yeah? He’s definitely got reason to resist, so roll to Parley.”  On a 10+, I think I’d have Mutra ask for some more info about the sphere’s provenance, and give up the silver for the truth or a convincing lie. And on a miss, I think I’d tell the consequences and ask, saying that Mutra stonewalls at two handfuls and silver and Vahid can tell that he’ll send thugs to try and steal the sphere if he refuses. 
    But Vahid gets a 7-9, and so I go for something distasteful. “Fah! You’d barely get a single handful if you melted thhhis down. But I tell you what… I’ll pay two handfffuls now, and if you show my man Gunther where you found thhhis beauty, I’ll thhhrow in two more handfffuls of silver on his safffe return.” He smiles with his too-sharp teeth. “Do we havvve a deal?”

    Parley (vs. PCs)

    When you press or entice a PC and they resist, you can roll +CHA: on a 10+, both; on a 7-9, pick 1:
    • They mark XP if they do what you want 
    • They must do what you want, or reveal how you could convince them to do so.

    When one PC wants another PC to do something, and the other PC clearly doesn’t want to, invoke Parley. Make sure the second PC (the one being pressed or enticed) is resisting, and ask if the first PC (the one doing the pressing/enticing) wants to roll. If they roll, use the move. If they don’t roll, tell them to let it drop (and use a GM move to push things along if they don’t).

    On a 7-9, the rolling player chooses between offering a reward (1 XP if the other PC does it) or forcing the other PC to either acquiesce or provide a way they could be convinced. On a 10+, both: the other PC gets XP if they do it, and they have to reveal a way to convince them if they don’t do it. The player being pressed/enticed ultimately decides what their character does.

    When a player reveals how another character could convince them, it doesn’t have to be easy or even plausible, just honest. The revelation can be explicitly stated (“I’ll do this, Rhianna, but only if you promise that no one gets killed”) or described through insight (“My eyes dart to Vahid, and I think you’d realize that I won’t answer with him in the room”) or discussed player-to-player (“I think I’d agree to stay home, but only if you promise to bring back that thing’s corpse for me to study”).

    On a 6-, you might turn their move back on them and let the targeted player ask how they could get the Parleying playing to do something, or offer an opportunity to the targeted player. Or you could interrupt the conversation with some other move, like introducing a threat or changing the environment. Don’t presume actions or reactions from either player, and don’t tell them how they feel.  If you’re stumped, query the table (particularly the targeted player) for ideas.
    The swyn is dead, the children rescued, and they’re getting ready to head back towards Stonetop. But Vahid is refusing to go. “There’s so much here to learn, so much to discover!”  
    Rhianna loses it. “Dammit it, Vahid. We’re going and that’s final!” That certainly sounds like pressing him to do something (shut up and leave) but Vahid isn’t ready to cave. “You’re going to have roll,” he says. He even goes so far as to Interfere with WIS (by being stubborn as hell) and getting a 10+. Rhianna decides to act anyway, rolling Parley with disadvantage. She gets a 7-9. 
    Rhianna’s player is sure that Vahid won’t give this up for just 1 XP, so she picks the other option. “You’ve got to come with us, or tell me how I could convince you.” 
    Vahid’s player thinks for a moment, then says “Okay, okay…I’ll come. But give me a few minutes to put sanctifying marks on the entrances. And promise me that we’ll come back to explore it, and not tell anyone else. Deal?” 
    “Fine. Go make your marks. Eira, keep an eye on him.”  

    Saturday, January 18, 2020

    42 Minor Magical Items, Thief Edition

    I had just downed a coffee stout and a bunch of cookies last night, so I was feeling both wired and unfocused. That's my perfect state for brainstorming, so I challenged the DW Discord to help come up with 40 minor magical items for thieves.  We got 41 in 39 minutes. (#42 came to me while I was compiling this list.)

    Here are the fruits of our tipsy labor. Attribution given for each; if there's no attribution, it was mine.

    1. A vial of ink. When you write something with the ink, say someone’s name. Only they can see the writing.
    2. A worn leather purse. No one ever notices it or pays attention to it unless they see you open it.
    3. Sticky gloves. When you touch something smaller and lighter than your palm, wrap your hand around it and cross your fingers - it sticks until you cross your fingers the other way. (Caiphon)
    4. A pair of gloves. Whenever you touch something magical while wearing them, the magic thinks you’re whoever you last shook hands with while wearing the gloves.
    5. Whisper powder. Spread it around in a circle. Noise made inside the circle is never louder than a whisper to anyone outside the circle.
    6. Letter-opener. First, spread it over a piece of writing like you're spreading butter. Then, open a letter - the opened letter becomes a copy of the original piece of writing. (Caiphon)
    7. Incongruous Hat. While you wear this hat, any stranger who sees you will remember the hat (and your features) differently.
    8. Dagger of Silent Death. This stiletto completely silences anyone's whose flesh it pierces. No more screaming guards! (Marcus)
    9. Sculpting putty. Shape this soft putty however you like, then tap a special tuning fork and touch it (still vibrating) to the clay. The clay sets hard in exactly its current shape, as tough as strong ceramic. Another touch from the tuning fork shatters it.
    10. Thorn rope. Twist one end of this rope, and the fibers become razor sharp, making it deadly to climb up or slide down. (Caiphon)
    11. Second Story Shoes. These comfortable loafers let you jump great vertical distances, perfect for getting to those second story balconies. Warning: they provide no protection from falls, nor do they make it easier to jump down from great heights. (Marcus, w/edits)
    12. Affinity box. Anything you place in the box will be considered extremely valuable and desirable by anyone other than you.
    13. Chewie Manacles. Normal manacles, but they pop open with a guttural command word.
    14. Nightlight. This small lantern glows with a dim purplish light which is only visible to the one holding the lantern. (Marcus)
    15. Sleepytime Flute. Playing a soft tune on this instrument for a few minutes will lull everyone nearby into a light slumber. They're easily awoken, and you feature prominently in their dreams. (Marcus, w/edits)
    16. Fire moth. A little jar holding a tiny, mostly tame fire elemental. Will flit around you and generally go where you please. Doesn’t usually set very much on fire. Usually.
    17. Dominoes Mask. While you wear the mask, you can always ask the GM "How can I get out of here?" and get an honest (though perhaps convoluted) answer. Gain advantage on your next roll (or take +1 forward) to act on the answer, but only if you do so in an audacious or spectacular  manner. (Caiphon, w/edits)
    18. Bug shoes - shoes that allow you to stick to the ceiling, if you can get up there... (Mangofeet)
    19. Deck of useless items. Shuffle the deck, draw a card. Its face displays some unlikely, generally worthless mundane item. Tear the card in two and the item appears in your hand. A replacement card magically appears in the deck, but it will never show the same item twice.
    20. Talk-pick. Place this lock pick in a lock, and spend a minute whispering words of encouragement - it will pick a non-magical lock hands-free. (Caiphon)
    21. Taster Demon. A very small demon, like a grumpy slug with teeth. Lives in a vial. A connoisseur of poisons, it knows them all by taste or scent and will happily tell you all about them. Much louder voice than you'd expect.
    22. Catching mitt. Throw this glove at anything flying towards you, and it will catch it and fall gently to the ground. (Caiphon)
    23. Hand of glory, lesser. A candle made of a hanged criminal’s hand. Carry it while lit, and no one will notice you as long as you move slowly, make little noise, and don't touch anything. (Dialas the Spellbreaker, with edits)
    24. Hand of glory, greater. Carry it while lit, and everyone in its light except you is paralyzed.
    25. Weighted Dice/Rigged Deck. This normal-looking gaming accessory returns whatever result the owner wills. (Marcus)
    26. Trick pockets. Whatever you put in one pocket can be pulled out of the other. Yes, you can remove them and sew them onto different articles of clothing.
    27. Signal whistle. A whistle and earring set. Only someone wearing the earring can hear the whistle. (Toasters)
    28. Listening wire. A spool of enchanted copper wire. Wrap one piece around your ear, and then around your midsection. When you speak the command word, it records the next few minutes of conversation. Each strand can store only one conversation. (Caiphon)
    29. Gem of thought-storing. A semi-precious stone that you can whisper thoughts or memories into. You forget them until you hold the stone and ask for them back.
    30. A deck of playing cards. Playing games of chance with them reveals players' secret plans (via interpreting the cards they are dealt). (Caiphon)
    31. Stubborn twine. Animated, unbreakable, uncuttable. Smart as a three-year-old. Can talk, has many absurd or backwards opinions.
    32. Doorvish Ale. Break this bottle on a door, then drink as much as you can from the spill. You'll cough up a key to the door. (Caiphon)
    33. Purple lipstick, made of powdered oblivion moss. Kiss someone while wearing it and they forget something they were just thinking about. You learn it.
    34. Ear Worm. You put this worm in your ear and it sings a super catchy tune that you can't help but dance to. The benefit comes from the fact that this dance makes you uncannily good at dodging traps and attacks as you bob and weave to the beat. (Marcus)
    35. A pair of corks, each with a different rune. Anything in a bottle sealed by the first cork will seep into the bottle sealed by the other.
    36. Dupli-dice. Anything you place as a bet with these dice is duplicated after the roll. Weighting the dice breaks the spell. (Caiphon)
    37. Shadow gossamer. A small bundle of fine gauzy black silk. Unfurl it and it becomes an area of extra dark shadows.
    38. Ring of 1001 keys. Fits in a pocket, only seems to have like 10ish keys at once, but there are many, many more.
    39. Spy shell. Say one magic word and this conch shell starts to record what it hears. Say another, put your eat to it, and it plays it back.
    40. Passwall Chalk. Drawing a portal (circle, doorway, etc) on a wall creates an opening that persists just long enough for one person to jump through. (Marcus)
    41. Distraction in a box. A little music box. Crank it and leave it somewhere. After awhile, it starts making noises that sound like (roll 1d6): 1. a riot starting; 2. insults; 3. guards calling alarms; 4. a woman shrieking for help. 5. A large animal roaring. 6. GM makes something up. (Dialas the Spellbreaker, with edits)
    42. Swindler's Purse. Finely embroidered with silken thread, in patterns that are never the same. Put something in the purse. When you pull it out, it will appear to be something else of similar size and weight, something of considerable value. You have no control over what it will be. The illusion lasts until you tell a lie.

      -BONUS late addition-
    43. Sleeve Snake. A small magical serpent-construct that hides in your coat or under your shirt. Swallows small objects (coins, gems, etc.) that are slipped up your sleeve. Can spit them back out on command, in reverse order (last item in, first item out).  (Jimmeh, w/edits)

    Saturday, January 11, 2020

    My Framework for GMing Dungeon World

    I've been working on the GMing chapters for Stonetop, and it's made me think about how the conversation really flows. I've also been thinking about GM moves, and Principles and Agenda, and how they all work together. I thought I'd talk about them a little here. 
    I don't think that what follows is fundamentally different than what the game text tells you to do. Like, if you read the DW text and the DW Guide, and GM the game enough, I think you end up doing what I describe below. This is just how I conceptualize it, with 8+ years of experience running, playing, and talking about DW and similar games. (This is also pretty similar to what I describe here.)
    Maybe you'll find it useful? Maybe a new GM will find this and something will click for them. Regardless, I'm going to be posting some excerpts from the Stonetop GMing chapters over the next couple weeks, and I think this will help set the stage. 
    As always, feedback and questions are appreciated!

    The Game is a Conversation

    You say something. The players say something. You say something in response. You ask questions of each other, clarify, interrupt, talk over each other. To quote Vincent Baker: "you take turns, but it’s not like taking turns, right?"

    The whole point of this conversation is to create the fiction, the shared imaginary space that we're all talking about, where the PCs and NPCs and monsters all exist and act. The game's rules mediate the conversation, and help us figure out what happens when there's uncertainty, and help introduce unexpected and challenging elements into the game.   

    Dungeon World is (despite what some folks will tell you) a rather traditional RPG. It structures the conversation and assigns responsibilities and authority in a very familiar way: 
    • The players are responsible for portraying their characters (who they are, their actions, their thoughts and opinions, their experiences and backstory). 
    • The GM is responsible for portraying everything else: the world, the NPCs, the monsters, etc. 
    Dungeon World is different than a lot of RPGs because it explicitly encourages (and arguably requires) the GM to ask the players for input on the world, particularly during the first session and about areas where their characters have experience or expertise. But that's not that different than how lots of folks play D&D. (Ever done a session 0 where you make characters, talk about backstory and the kind of setting you want to play in? It's like that, but it's done during play.)

    Different groups take this collaborative spirit to different degrees. Some DW GMs are very cognizant of The Line (I know I am) and avoid asking the players to make up details about what their characters are experiencing on the spot. Other GMs will actively ask the players to make up details about the room they've just entered, or the NPC they've just met, or what happens next. Some groups collaborate on where the story should go, and what kinds of scenes they want to have. None of these are wrong. They're just a matter of taste.

    The Structure of the Conversation

    Here's how the conversation generally goes. Stuff with black outline is stuff you say (or at least facilitate), as the GM. Stuff with a purple outline is stuff the players are saying/doing.

    click and zoom for details!
    Side note: this is similar to Adam Koebel's "how to play DW" flowchart, but I think this represents more of the conversation that happens during play. 

    First: frame a scene. Say (or ask) who's present. Say (or ask) where are they. Say (or ask) when is the scene happening.  Say (or ask) what they'e doing.  Give some impressions. If you're not sure what scene to frame, or how to frame it, then ask questions until you are. 

    Once the scene is framed, you establish the situation. Give (or ask for) details and specifics, enough to visualize what's going on but not so much that player's eyes gloss over. In an action scene, establish momentum and relative positions. Tell the characters what they see/hear/sense. Ask questions. Answer questions from the players and clarify what's going on.

    Now, make a "soft" move. In my opinion, a soft GM move is when you say something in order to:
    • Provoke action/reaction from the PCs
    • Raise the stakes/tension in the scene
    That often means saying that something bad is about to happen, or is in the process of happening, but the PCs have a chance to do something about it. But it also could mean that you're presenting them with the obvious choices and prompting them to pick. Or that things were previously calm and peaceful and now there's trouble. Or that you're giving them an opportunity to act and seize the initiative. Or or or.

    It could also just be the slow turning of screws: their torch is getting lower, their food is getting used up, the storm is getting closer, the fire is spreading. 

    SIDE NOTE:  Dungeon World's text defines a soft move as "one without immediate, irrevocable consequences.... [Either] something not all that bad... [or] something bad, but they have time to avoid it." And it defines a "hard" move as having "immediate consequences." 
    I've never found those definitions satisfactory. The difference between them ends up being differences of degrees. You can almost always find an "immediate consequence" in whatever soft move is presented, and supposedly "hard" moves like deal damage aren't all that bad if the damage die is low and the PC's HP are high.  
    I think it's much more useful to think of a soft move as "provoke action or raise the stakes" and a hard move as "establish badness."  There's still overlap between soft and hard moves with these definitions, but they're more actionable. It's much easier to look at the scene and think "how can I provoke action or crank up tension?" than it is to look at the scene at think "how I can say something bad-but-not-too-bad or something that threatens badness but gives them a chance to escape it? 
    I'm sure that my definition isn't perfect, either. But it makes more sense to me!

    My list of GM moves are similar to those in Dungeon World but slightly different. They are:

    • Announce trouble (future or off-screen)
    • Reveal an unwelcome truth
    • Ask a provocative question
    • Put someone in a spot
    • Use up their resources
    • Hurt someone
    • Separate them
    • Capture someone
    • Turn their move back on them
    • Demonstrate a downside
    • Offer an opportunity (with or without a cost)
    • Tell them the consequences/requirements (then ask)
    • Advance a countdown or grim portent

    And the "Exploration" GM moves (which replace the "Dungeon" GM moves) are:
    • Change the environment
    • Provide a choice of paths
    • Bar the way; make them backtrack
    • Hint at more than meets the eye
    • Present a discovery
    • Point to a looming danger
    • Introduce a danger, person, or faction
    • Offer riches at a price
    I do NOT think it's important to intentionally pick a move off these lists. I think the point of having a list of GM move is to give you inspiration when you're stuck, or to inspire you to say something different than what you'd say naturally. When you make any given GM move in an actual game, you can often retroactively match it to more than one of these moves. That's fine. It doesn't really matter which of these moves you're making, as long as you're provoking action/reaction and/or raising the stakes/tension.

    Your moves should follow your principles. They should begin and end with the fiction, and you should address the characters, not the players and you shouldn't say the name's move. Etc. etc. (More on that below.)

    After you make a soft GM move, ask the player(s) "What do you do?" 

    "What do you do?" is a ritual phrase. Like, you know how when you're playing traditional D&D and the GM says "roll for initiative," and everyone sits up and starts paying attention? It's like that, but way more frequent. It's the GM's way of saying "your turn." This question drives the back-and-forth between GM and player, and it's a touchstone of good PbtA GMing.

    Okay, the conversational ball is in their court. Now what?

    If they ask questions--about the fiction, about the rules, about what you just said--then answer them, honestly, generously, and enthusiastically. Then put the ball back in their court: "So, what do you do?"  If they ask something that wouldn't be immediately obvious, tell them so and what they'd need to do in order to get the answer. Then: "What do you do?" (or "Do you?")

    If they do something that triggers a player move, like Spout Lore or Discern Realities or Hack and Slash or Defy Danger or whatever, then resolve the move. Begin and end with the fiction.

    On a 7+, do what the move says and establish how the situation has changed. If the move prompts you to add some detail or action to the fictional situation, you can use the list of GM moves for inspiration. For example, if they trigger Hack and Slash and get a 7-9 and "suffer the enemy's attack," then their attack succeeds but they also suffer the enemy's attack. That attack can be any GM move, from using up their resources to hurting them to capturing someone to whatever.

    On a 6-, then they mark XP and you make a hard move.

    If they do something that does NOT trigger a player move, then they're looking to you to see what happens.

    • If they ignored a threat, did something stupid, or did something with obvious bad consequences, then you make a hard move.| 
    • Otherwise, you just say what happens as a result. 

    Making a hard GM move means: establish badness. Say that something bad happens, or make us aware of something bad that happened in the past.  Use the list of GM moves for guidance and inspiration, but, again, you don't need to intentionally pick from the list.

    Regardless of what they did and how it resolved: ask yourself, is the scene still going?  If so, say how the situation has changed (and recap the situation if appropriate), then go back to making a soft GM, asking "what do you do?" and resolving their action.  Keep doing this until the scene ends.

    When the scene is over: wrap it up. Take care of any bookkeeping (using bandages/poultices or the Recover move in Homebrew World/Stonetop; erasing "hold," figuring out how much time has passed, etc.). Have any meta-discussions you need to have as a group, like:

    • Do we want to keep playing? Or wrap up for the night?
    • What should we do next? 
    • What are we trying to accomplish, again?
    • How far is it back to __?
    • Etc. etc.
    Figure that stuff out, then frame the next scene. If you're not sure where or how to frame the next scene, ask questions until you are.

    To summarize:
    1. Frame a scene, if you haven't already
    2. Describe the situation
    3. Make a soft GM move (provoke action, raise tension/stakes)
    4. "What do you do?"
      1. If they ask questions: Answer, clarify the situation, back to "What do you do?"
      2. If they trigger a move: 
        1. On a 6-, make a hard GM move (establish badness)
        2. On a 7+, do what the move says to do!
      3. If they don't trigger a move:
        1. Did they ignore a threat? make a hard GM move (establish badness)
        2. Otherwise: say what happens
    5. Scene still going?  Return to #2.
    6. Scene over? Wrap it up, take care of bookkeeping & meta-talk. Return to #1.

    The Spotlight

    As you have this conversation, you'll change who you're addressing, moment to moment. This is often called "moving the spotlight" or "pointing the spotlight." Whoever you're talking to right now is in the spotlight.  

    Sometimes you'll keep the spotlight unfocused and address the group as a whole. Sometimes you'll focus it on just one character.  When lots of action is happening simultaneously, you swing it back and forth between individuals and groups.

    There's no formal process for managing the spotlight, just like there aren't formal rules for most conversations. The most obvious time to move the spotlight is after you resolve a character's action. Before you describe/summarize the situation, address a different character and describe the situation to them. Make a move at them. Ask them, "What do you do?"

    But you can technically move the spotlight at almost any point in the conversation. For example:
    • You ask "What do you do?" and they freeze or stall; shift to someone else, give them time to think, then come back to them. 
    • You ask "What do you do?" and they say that they're going to do something that takes time; shift to someone else and come back to them as they finish their action (or as something interrupts it).
    • You ask "What do you do?" and they describe an action, and it triggers a player move, and they roll. You're not sure how to resolve the results, so you stall for time by shifting to someone else for a bit, then come back and resolve the first player's move.
    Regardless of how and when you move the spotlight, be a good facilitator. Try to keep everyone involved. Make sure everyone gets some good screen time and has a chance to contribute. It's generally okay if players jump and interrupt each other, or kibitz, or have their characters act "out of order."  Heck, sometimes a move (like Defend) explicitly gives them permission to do so.  

    With that said: don't be afraid to shut down an overly eager or aggressive player with a polite-yet-firm reprimand. “Andrew, you’re being rude. I’m talking to Jamie right now.” 

    Principles and Agenda

    The Dungeon World text (and almost every PbtA text that I've read) actually leads off with a GM's agenda and principles, before talking about GM moves and how to make them.

    I get it. The principles and agenda are important. They inform what you're saying and doing during the conversation. But without understanding the structure of the conversation, they're just like a bunch of Zen-koans that can make the whole processes of GMing really intimidating. 

    Here's the thing: your agenda is just what you're working towards. Your principles are "best practices" for getting there.

    For Dungeon World (and Homebrew World), your agenda items are:
    • Portray a fantastic world
    • Fill the characters’ lives with adventure
    • Play to find out what happens
    Basically: it's your job and responsibility to portray the world, and it should be a fantastic world, filled with magic and monsters and all that jazz.  It's also your job to keep things exciting, and give the players interesting, dangerous, exciting stuff to do. And finally, it's not your job to decide what happens in advance.  

    That last agenda item--play to find out what happens--is, I think, the most important one. It's the one that shows up unchanged in almost every PbtA game that I can think of. It covers a huge range of approaches. Some GMs take it to mean: "do almost no prep, ask a bunch of questions, and improvise everything with the players."  Other GMs take it to mean "prepare interesting situations--tenuous and unstable, dynamic and fraught--and see what happens when the PCs interact with them, following the dice and the PC's decisions, respecting your prep and the integrity of the fiction."  Both approaches are valid and great. So is just about everything between them. What's truly important is that you avoid forcing the game into your pre-established storyline or your expectations of how things are "supposed" to go. 

    Side note: the agenda items for Stonetop are...
    • Portray a rich and mysterious world
    • Punctuate the PC's lives with adventure
    • Play to find out what happens  
    The differences are subtle, but important for Stonetop. It's much more grounded setting, and while there are fantastic elements, the mundane elements are equally important. And while the bulk of play focuses on the PCs' adventures, those adventures are interruptions to their day-to-day lives. 
    "Play to find out what happens" is, notably, unchanged.  

    Now, what about the principles? The principles are just your guidelines, your best practices, the things you should strive for. 

    Some of them are really quite easy to do. Like, these principles are just establishing protocols for your part of the conversation. They're pretty easy to do:
    • Address the characters, not the players
    • Make a move that follows
    • Never speak the name of your move
    Basically: talk to the characters in second person, rather than talking about the characters in the third person.  Don't make wacky shit happen just because you can. Don't announce the name of your move when you make it, because that's dumb and sounds weird and doesn't add any value. Once you've internalized them, these principles are easy easy to follow. 

    Another set of principles is basically just "things that will help you portray a fantastic world:"
    • Draw maps, leave blanks
    • Embrace the fantastic
    • Give every monster life
    • Name every person
    • Think offscreen, too
    These take a little effort, and represent a mindset, but they're basically just good advice. Draw maps, and prep a bit, but don't go nuts--leave yourself space to improvise and be surprised. Be cool with fantasy tropes, make your monsters more than just numbers, and try to make your PCs's interesting and memorable and actual people. Think about what's going on offscreen, and how that might come into play onscreen, because this is supposed to be a whole world that we're playing around in and not just a little bubble around the PCs. 

    If you fail at any one of these principles, the game won't, like crumble. It'll just be a little flat.

    Then there's the last set, the ones that I think are critical for running an excellent game of DW. They're also the hardest to do consistently and well. They sometimes conflict with each other.
    • Ask questions and use the answers
    • Be a fan of the characters
    • Think dangerous
    • Begin and end with the fiction
    Like, thinking back over the years of DW-related conversations, these four points are the core of most GM's struggles. 

    Ask questions and use the answers is one of the most radical things about DW (and PbtA games in general), because it pushes you to collaborate with the players in a way that D&D and other more-traditional RPGs don't. There's a real art to this: knowing where to ask questions and what questions to ask; how to phrase the questions to get interesting results without letting the players stomp all over your prep; recognizing which players enjoy this sort of thing and which ones don't; changing the nature of the questions based on the player or the amount of prep you've done or how much the world is established.  It's not easy.

    Be a fan of the characters is fucking crucial, but it also bumps up against all sorts of GM instincts. Like, here's my favorite recent example (from reddit/r/dungeonworld):
    My player's bard has a dinner date with the bad guy. How do I not reveal who he's secretly working for if the bard decides to be Charming and Open? 
    The scenario: This is my first time running a game and I'm running an intrigue-based campaign. One of the party's contacts/quest-givers is a demon, disguised as an affable & handsome gentleman, whose goal is to further the designs of the city's overlords. He's trying to get the party involved in a scheme he's running. The rest of the party is interested in the money/items he's offering to get them involved, but the bard said he was only interested in dinner with quest-giver/demon. Since the demon is a bit of a flirt and is happy not to part with his items, he, of course, agreed to this. 
    As the DM, now I'm realizing that my player may be thinking of using their dinner as a time to be Charming and Open and ask the demon who he's working for. I should have seen this coming, but I am not a smart man, so I didn't. Is there any way I can keep the intrigue going if the bard decides to ask who he's serving after being charming and open on a lovely dinner date?
    The answer (which pretty much everyone gave) is "be a fan of the character" and let them enjoy the benefits of their move.  Don't be precious with your secrets and your storylines, and play to find out what happens.  This GM took the community's advice to heart and ran with it and was delighted with the results, but the whole episode speaks to how difficult it can be let go and let the PCs be the badasses that the game wants them to be.

    At the same time, "be a fan of the characters" can also be used to justify just giving the PCs everything they want, or letting them walk over the opposition, or act without consequences. It is, I think, the principle that most often conflicts with other principles--especially the next two. 

    Think dangerous is the DW version of my favorite principle from Apocalypse World: "Look through crosshairs." Basically: don't protect your NPCs, your monsters, your institutions, or the status quo.  In Stonetop, I call this "let things burn." 

    Regardless of how you word it, I think this concept is crucial to making the world wonderous (or rich and mysterious), filling/punctuating their lives with adventure, and playing to find out. It's a mindset that requires effort and intention to develop. It's basically a discipline of non-attachment, applied to the fictional world you're creating. 

    It's hard. Pretty much everyone has an instinct, a very natural instinct, to preserve their darlings, and preserve the player's darlings (because you want to be a fan of them, right?).  But you have to threaten the things the PCs care about, and then be willing to follow through on your threats. You have to let the PC's wreck your shit and upend the status quo. You have to let them one-shot the dragon, if the fiction and their moves and the dice all say that should happen.

    Anyone who's done serious fiction writing will tell you that you have to "kill your darlings."  But if they're honest, they'll also tell you that this requires an act of will.  

    Okay, finally, we've got this guy: begin and end with the fiction. There's a ton say about this, but this principle is basically what turns this...
    “You attack the ogre? Cool, roll Hack and Slash. A 10? Do you evade its attack or deal extra damage? Okay, roll your damage +1d6. 7 damage? It’s still up, and it hits you back for 1d10+3 forceful, knocking you down. It's going to attack you again. What do you do?”    
    ...into this:
    “You attack the ogre? Cool, what’s that look like? Stabbing upward into its gut? Yeah, sure, roll Hack and Slash. A 10+? Do you evade its attack or deal extra damage?  Okay, roll your damage +1d6. 7 damage? Okay, so like you said, you like stab up into its gut and it goes in but not all the way, and the ogre like doubles over, howling in pain, but before you can get away it just uncoils and backhands you across the face. Take 1d10+3 damage as you go flying and land in a heap, head spinning. You hear it lumbering towards you, grunting in pain and anger. What do you do?” 
    This isn't just an issue of style or fancy language. Without establishing specific fictional details, the game starts to break down. A player says they do something that doesn't make sense based on what you're picturing. Or they do something that they thought was simple and safe but you think is Defying Danger, and now they're salty about it. Or you invoke a player move, and they roll, and you aren't sure how to resolve it because the details aren't there.  

    Beginning and ending with the fiction is how you decide what to do when the rules aren't clear. It's how you determine which PC actions are possible, and what moves they trigger (if any). It's how you decide on a GM move to make. It's how you keep everyone on the same page. It's arguably the single most important thing to do as the GM.

    And it is hard. You have to juggle dozens of inputs, from the players, the dice, the moves, your prep. You have be able to visualize a fictional world and think through how it would react to different inputs. You have to communicate that in a way that is clear and accessible and evocative to your players, without overwhelming them or boring them, usually with only your words and your gestures and maybe some crude drawings or props.  You have to be able to inhabit NPCs and monsters and portray them, making them do things that make sense based on their instincts, wants, needs, knowledge, perceptions.  

    Oh, and you have to decide when to ignore (or change) previously established fiction in order to support other principles (like be a fan of the characters or ask questions and build on the answers). You have to learn what sorts of things to prep and what to improvise, based on your own skills and abilities and weaknesses.   

    Some GMs are naturally gifted at working with the fiction. Others really struggle with it. Some are gifted in one area but weak in other (I myself can run action scenes pretty effortlessly, but struggle with compelling NPCs).  I maintain that this is a skill that can be developed, worked on, improved. 

    Which brings me to...

    GMing is a Practice

    I'm quoting myself, but:

    After each 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 raise stakes/tension. Can you match each of those things to one or more of the GM moves?  Were 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.

    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 the core loop of the game is this:  Describe the situation. Give the players something to respond to. "What do you do?"  Resolve a player 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.