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I am having trouble understanding the specifics of failure Dungeon World. According to the rules, a GM should "make a move" against players when they fail, and that's alright, I get that.

What I don't get is how a GM is supposed to advance the plot by doing so. Let's take an example:

Rick the Fighter is climbing a massive chain that serves to hold down the wizards tower, preventing it from drifting off. He makes the move Defy Danger, to avoid slipping of, since it's raining hard, and the chain is slippery with algae and moss. He rolls and get a score of 5, meaning he fails.

In the above situation, he fails climbing the chain, so the GM should make a move. I have a hard time seeing what move would advance the story here, since I feel that the failure would imply that he doesn't get to the tower.

Is this one of those situations, where you just skip making a roll, and just let the players climb the chain, or does anyone have any idea how to handle the move, so that the story is advanced somehow?

I just want to be able to give the players some dangers that aren't traps and monsters, and I thought that a flying wizards tower was cool. I'm having a hard time seeing how I can advance the story on a failure in this situation.

EDIT: Due to the first answer, let me elaborate on the problem. I will not say that it's wrong to make the players succeed with some "cost", even on a failed roll, it just makes true "failure" impossible. That's my beef about it. The players will eventually succeed at anything that doesn't outright kill them.

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This isn't worth an answer in its own right but why isn't a complication as a result of failiure seen as advancing the story? You are making the situation more difficult/challenging/interesting with whatever complication you are introducing. In my view this counts as advancing the story... –  Phil Nov 26 '12 at 12:39
@Phil So, you say that not climbing up into the tower would trigger a dangerous situation that makes climbing the chain unnecessary? Like being attacked by skeletons transported on flying stone discs, which can be used after the battle to fly up there? –  Undreren Nov 26 '12 at 13:50
Also note that the DM doesn't make a move "against" the players—they just make a move. Most are trouble for the PCs, but not all, and some can be either trouble or an opportunity (possibly with a price attached). –  SevenSidedDie Nov 27 '12 at 5:57
The beauty of all of the Apocalypse World hacks is that the players do always have the option to "get what they want" ... the key isn't in making them fail, but in attaching strings to their eventual success AND offering them other options if the complications are too much for them to stomach. Then it's not that they "failed to save the princess" but that they wanted to "rescue" the treasure more than rescue the princess. They made the choice, not the DM, but the DM gets to create the choice the players get to make the choice. –  aslum Nov 27 '12 at 17:12
@aslum +1. Dungeon World seems to be more about making choice than making rolls. Great for story, less so for simulation. But I guess simulationists will prefer other systems anyway :) –  Undreren Nov 27 '12 at 17:33

3 Answers 3

up vote 24 down vote accepted

First off, all of edgerunner's answers are great. But I wanted to add some Dungeon World specifics:

Check p.19 and you'll see that 6- isn't "failure" - it's "trouble". The GM will say what happens and the player will mark XP. You are attaching non-DW simulationist ideas to DW mechanics by your supposition that 6- means "failure."

These principles can apply in all sorts of games, and have been used by GMs for years. If the PCs have to climb a fence, they're just going to keep trying until they succeed, right? So even in traditional games, many GMs will read "failed" rolls as a lack of some quality - not fast enough, not quietly enough, not without hurting themselves, etc., instead of just keeping them on the wrong side of the fence.

This is because failure is boring and stops moving the story forward. So you are correct, there is no plain-old failure in DW. It's not in the GM's agenda to make the PCs fail. There is no move for failure.

So the problem isn't that edgerunner's ideas are non-optimal, it's that your concept of what 6- means is wrong and that static failure doesn't exist in Dungeon World.

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This is more in the spirit of DW I guess. I now realise that my question was in fact nonsensical :) –  Undreren Nov 26 '12 at 15:24
@Undreren - Actually, I think the question was valuable - I upvoted it! - because it helped illustrate a common issue that may arise from moving from other RPGs to Apocalypse World-derived games. And it generated good answers, adding value to the site. So please, keep asking! –  gomad Nov 26 '12 at 16:36
This. To apply it specifically to the chain climbing example, the roll shouldn't be about whether or not the player is able to climb the chain, but whether or not he's able to do it without further complication. Assume he makes it to the top, no matter what. The roll just tells you what happens along the way. –  Mike Riverso Nov 26 '12 at 18:27
Honestly I think this applies to all RPGs, even ones like D&D. You didn't put a wizard tower in your setting so that the PCs would fail to climb it, no matter what game you're playing. –  Eric B Oct 10 '13 at 19:14
@EricB - that's what I think too. But some games don't frame it that way. It's RAW as written in Dungeon World. –  gomad Oct 10 '13 at 19:17

This looks like a good spot to let them succeed with complications. Some ideas that come to mind are:

  • He climbs the chain but drops his weapon in the progress
  • The chain he climbed happened to be on the wrong side of the tower, so he must brave more of the tower's denizens to reach his goal.
  • The chain also happens to ground the tower's lightning rod, and it's a rainstorm. He arrives at the tower with smouldering prickly hair.

Yet still another one that would really advance the story would be:

  • The climb turns out to be very troublesome and taxing. He makes it to the top and hangs onto a window sill to catch his breath just as the wizard himself approaches said window to see the source of the panting outside.

PS. I must tell that I don't know about Dungeon World, so this answer isn't based on DW rules. I'm assuming that you want failure to advance the story.

Edit: Here's another example that reeks of failure, yet still advances the story, as per your comments.

  • Very close to the top of the chain, our hero loses his grip but his foot gets stuck in one of the huge links. He makes a lot of noise trying to get back but his ankle is hurt badly. Two of the tower guards notice the the noisy adventurer and come out to grab him while dangling helpless from the chain. He quickly finds himself in a prison cell in the tower, due questioning by the wizard himself.
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Everything the players do should advance the story in some direction, regardless of system. What you say is a way of handling it. I have updated my question to answer why I think this might be a non-optimal way to handle it. –  Undreren Nov 26 '12 at 10:53
Don't get me wrong, your technique is nice :) –  Undreren Nov 26 '12 at 11:25
Nevermind, this answer is great. I guess I was just unimaginative :) –  Undreren Nov 26 '12 at 14:23
Here's an example of non-blocking failure you might want to add to the answer: The fighter does fall, but catches themselves before plummeting. Now they're dangling by one hand from a chain, making no progress, and more vulnerable to inhabitants of the tower. (The move being used is "put someone in a spot". It's a small spot, but a spot nonetheless, and "moves snowball." They'll have to take additional actions, likely triggering more moves, to progress.) –  SevenSidedDie Dec 16 '13 at 19:58

Firstly, never ask for any kind of roll if you cannot imagine an interesting failure. Your players' characters are extremely competent, heroic people. They succeed unless the challenge is significant, like indeed the example above. Bluntly when you imagine the climbable chains you should spare a thought for what cool thing happens when you fail to climb them.

When a player get's a 6 or less you make a hard move. You take away their stuff, separate them, add more enemies, use up their resources etc. Do something that hurts. If that makes you uncomfortable you can also add a bunch on minor complications. There are some great examples above but I also highly recommend reading the Dungeon World Player's Guide which gives some excellent advice on how to make soft and hard moves.

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The trouble with this is that it doesn't acknowledge that in DW, rolling is done when a move says to roll, and moves are triggered by what players say, not by the GM asking for a roll. –  SevenSidedDie Dec 16 '13 at 20:01

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