Dungeon World is Jeopardy the RPG

I enjoyed running last week’s Dungeon World game. First and foremost, the narrative combat was an absolute blast. The human fighter was using his hammer to drive two giants deeper into a pit. The elf druid turned into a badger while trapped in the loin cloth of the giant. It was messy and fast-paced fun.

What I have found when running or playing Dungeon World is to phrase things, as much as possible, in the form of questions. After all, we are all playing to find out what happens.

After resolving the conflict, the cleric who had lost his shield went looking for the deceased fighter’s shield; An ice giant had thrown the shield into the surrounding snow. I could’ve said “Sure you found it.” But instead called for a Discern Realities move, as I felt the location had to have something interesting present, what with the ice giants, the arrival of snow elves, a cave that had some mammoths in it, and ice pit trap.

Before I go on, take a look at the Discern Realities:


Discern Realities

When you closely study a situation or person, roll+Wis. On a 10+ ask the GM 3 questions from the list below. On a 7–9 ask 1. Take +1 forward when acting 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’s really in control here?
  • What here is not what it appears to be?

The player had clearly stated his intent of finding the shield, had described what he was doing, and I informed the player it was a Discern Realities. There was a minor disagreement about the choice of move, but in reviewing the other moves, we agreed this was the closest fit.

The player said he only wanted to find the shield, nothing more. And I pushed back, saying “You don’t get to decide what you find, I do. Now, since you are looking for the shield with single-minded purpose, it is likely on a success that you will find the shield. However, if you get a 10+ you will have to ask the 3 questions.”

I made a ruling at that moment requiring that the player ask the three questions, because I strongly maintain that in searching around you don’t have a say in what all you might uncover.

There was further discussion, and eventually the player rolled a 7. He asked “Do I find the shield?”

I said “Do I find the shield?” was not on the list, pushing back, mandating that the list be used. There was further disagreement, primarily the player wasn’t interested in anything but the shield. Eventually he asked “Do I find something useful or valuable to me?”

“Yes, you find the shield you were so single-mindedly looking for.”

As GM, I was within my right to have the character find something more valuable, but it made narrative sense to have the player find the shield.

As we were arguing, I realized that I wanted to see the player engage with the narrative. To take a risk, ask a question that would influence the direction of the game. Sure, finding the shield was his goal, but maybe there was something more important to ask.

It its core, there was a fundamental play style difference. As a GM, I wanted my players asking questions, prodding for answers. Interacting, taking risks through moves. I felt that the disagreeing player was looking for absolutes. What is the Perception DC to find my shield?

But Dungeon World explicitly doesn’t go that way. In Dungeon World, as a player, you have ridiculously powerful moves at your disposal. Entering into the Discern Realities move, everyone should assume the state of the game is going to change – perhaps dramatically.

And when I look back at the flat Perception DC for finding my shield, I just don’t want that as part of my game; I want everyone, on both sides of the GM screen, to have a mechanism for moving the game/narrative along. And the moves in Dungeon World are a strong means of this happening.

I found that this was an important discussion to have at the table, and even more important to bring to light for those playing Dungeon World. Especially since Dungeon World is on a lot of people’s radar – congratulations on being a Golden Geek Finalist.

I’m hoping the player will provide the clarification in the comments, because he raised some interesting points, and instead of reinterpreting them, I’ll let him explain them.

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2 thoughts on “Dungeon World is Jeopardy the RPG

  1. I wasn’t there but based on the write-up this doesn’t sound right to me.

    It sounds to me like the story demanded, and the player expected, a denouement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dramatic_structure). Instead he got a 30-50% chance that the GM could make a soft or hard move, which is typically a Bad Thing, based on a move that doesn’t actually follow the fiction and doesn’t sit comfortably with the release/exhale/transition that the scene resolution should end with.

    Also, does “Discern Realities” really follow from the fiction of “I go look for the thrown shield in the snow”? That really doesn’t sound like the character was “closely studying a situation”? or trying to figure out “What is about to happen?” or “Who’s really in control here?” or any of the other questions. It feels very forced.

    What meaningful consequence might come of the action “I look for the shield”? At best, maybe a Defy Danger would be appropriate where the danger is Revealing an Unwelcome Truth, finding Signs of an Approaching Threat, or somesuch.

    If, in the fiction, “the location had to have something interesting present” then you should do what the fiction demands and execute a GM move directly. Otherwise it doesn’t sound like there was a reason for requesting a character move.

    I appreciate your write-up and your perspective.

    • Thank you for the perspective. You have made a very convincing argument, and I am tempering my stance.

      The “closely studying a situation” is applicable. Situation has two meanings:
      * A set of circumstances in which one finds oneself; a state of affairs.
      * The location and surroundings of a place.

      So looking around a wind swept snow field in the day light was enough for me to call for the move. And, I didn’t really know where things were going, so I felt that calling for the move was a means of letting a player ask questions that was important to him – especially on a 10+.

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