Friday, July 11, 2014

Dungeon World moves as fortune telling

Haven't written here in a while.  I have lots of potential posts, but the energy has subsided.  Not surprising.  But I do have something I want to pontificate on today, Dungeon World moves.  Let's use Hack and Slash as the example.  Remember that the trigger for Hack and Slash is "when you attack an enemy in melee".

Over at a post on the Dungeon World Tavern on Google+, a poster talks about how he has had trouble figuring out how to model granularity in the difficulty of fights.  To summarize his concern, he feels that he cannot judge fine gradations in relative skill between opponents.  This is related to the advice given in the Dungeon World Guide on page 18.  If you are going up to an enormous giant, what you are doing with that giant doesn't count as "melee" for the purpose of the trigger.  Nor does stabbing some poor schlub of a drunken city guard in the back.    But what about conscript city guards versus normal city guards versus elite city guards?  The poster is concerned that the game gives him no, or at least very cryptic and difficult to use, tools to demonstrate these gradations.

I really hadn't felt this problem in my limited experience. But after thinking about why that is, I realized that since the first time I played Dungeon World, I have been treating Moves as fortune telling, not as modelling any process.  Here is what I mean.

Your Fighter (the player character) is going up against some city guards and their leader.  As the GM, I think the guard leader is a better fighter than your Fighter.  But in a very really sense in Dungeon World, I have no idea if this is actually true.  There is no metric (such as Qualities in Fate Core) to make this determination.  Whether this is true or not is contingent on the results of your Hack and Slash (and Defy Danger, and whatever else) Moves, and has a big whack of random chance involved in it.

Therefore, when we play out the fight, the mechanic is forcing us to follow the Agenda "Play to find out what happens".  If you roll a lot of 6's, I guess that guard leader really was a better fighter than you.  If you roll a lot of 10's, guess I was wrong.  The Move is not a model of some action and how difficult it is, the Move is a checking of the fates, like consulting the I Ching.   Granularity just doesn't exist.  You figure out the real skill difference between the fictional participants after the fact, as a consequence of the Moves, not before hand.  

This is a different model of role-playing rules than almost every other game most of us have ever played.  This goes to what Rob Donughue said in this other blog post: Dungeon World may be best if treated "as a diceless game that happens to have dice".  The only game I can think of that explicitly treats the dice mechanic as a kind of fortune telling rather than modelling some kind of process is Four Colors Al Fresco, where dice rolls are interpreted as literally consulting the astrological  influences on a particular situation.  But Dungeon World is doing the same thing stealthily.

Therefore, I avoid any attempt to find or create granularity in difficulty.  Instead, I accept that I am just as uncertain as my players are as to the exact capabilities of the NPC's, monsters, and threats I create.  There really is a whole big grey area between enormous giants and drunken incompetent city guards, and the game doesn't want me to break it down into finer categories.  "Play to find out what happens".

EDIT: Spout Lore is an even better example.  The trigger is "When you consult your accumulated knowledge about something".  Now, like Hack and Slash, there are cases where the move would not trigger; cases where you actually have no accumulated knowledge (e.g. a Barbarian wondering about esoteric magic theory).  But everyone else?  The Move happens.  If you are just a novice in magical theory, or an ancient master...roll the dice.  Roll a 6?  I guess that means there was a gap in your prodigious knowledge, ancient master!