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So I was reading about the GM Moves in Dungeon world and I started to have a string of questions running through my mind... It went something like this (all within about 20 minutes)

Am I going to get headaches trying to keep track of using a move without blurting it out loud? Oh, maybe I can ignore them entirely, since they cover every situation? Which led to; What will I be doing with this list, will I memorize it, create a cheet sheet? Do I need these rules as inspiration for when I don't know what to do next? Then I starting thinking that maybe players would like to know which rule is being used and it should be revealed so they feel like I'm using the moves fairly...

So my question is, how does this work out in practice? What is normally actually going through an experienced DW GM's mind while they use their moves?

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3 Answers 3

In practice, you stick to the moves and use the list, until you internalize it and no longer need to refer to the list, but even them you continue to use it. Just like when playing a Eurogame with a board, you do what the game says, exactly, if you want it to function as advertised.

The GM's moves are multi-purpose. They:

  • teach GMs new to RPGs how to GM
  • teach GMs new to Dungeon World what their job is in this game
  • help experienced GMs out of a rut, if they're in one
  • when you're stuck for what do do next, provide a pick list to jump-start ideas
  • remind you that this is how much/little you get to do on your turn to speak
  • prevent the GM from getting in a rut in the first place by keeping all their move options visible

The list is super-important, because Dungeon World is not your average dungeon crawling RPG, and not using the list of moves usually results in running it as if it's some other game, and then wondering why it's not as great as everyone keeps saying.

In practice, what goes through my mind is either

  • "Okay, my move. I already know which and have a good idea for this one, so let's do it. Let me pause a minute to work out my narration so it's well integrated with events instead of just slapped down disconnected…"
  • "Okay, my move. I have no clue! What looks inspiring here, or which have I not used recently…?"
  • "Okay, so what happens is… Wait. I haven't consulted my moves lately, I'm probably letting habit run my responses, better check the list quick to be sure this is my best move right now," followed by "Yep!" or "Oh hey, that would be much more interesting/fitting/novel."
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Skilled GMs often find they're already doing many of the things on the list, they just don't use that particular phrasing or think of it as a "move." –  Alan De Smet Jul 17 at 17:50
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@AlanDeSmet Yeah, that's true. Even so, experienced GMs do often lean more heavily on some of those "not-moves" than others though, and for those GMs (which includes me!) the list is helpful to diversify their responses. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 17 at 18:01

GM Moves are always consequences to what happens in game so at first I had to memorize what has become a simple reflex:

  • When everyone looks to you to find out what happens
  • When a character gives you a golden opportunity
  • When they roll a 6-

Whenever any of them happen, I go with either the most obvious choice relative to the situation or have a look at the list for inspiration. I try to not use the same move twice in a row unless I feel like this is inevitable. For instance Deal damage is really boring after a while. You attack orc, orc stabs you first. You attack orc again, orc blocks and stabs you again. Nah. Use their resources, reveal an unwelcome truth, separate them and put someone in a spot are my all time favourites. It's easy to fall on a routine. Also, nothing prevents me from using the move later (if it makes sense). For instance you could realize after the combat that your bag was slashed open during the fight and a potion slipped out but you were so focused on the orc that you didn't notice.

And in doubt, ask the players. So Sophia just missed her spellcasting move again. Any of you ever seen a magic mishap? What does it look like? What have you seen or heard in your adventures? If they go like "One of them exploded all over the walls!" you can tone it down and say "Woah, really? I guess magic is really unpredictable. But Sophia didn't cast a spell 4 times her level so she won't explode but I guess her nose start bleeding a lot." Doing this, you use your player's input, you validate their ideas but you also establish the fact that a player will not die simply for failing magic missile.

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I don't know if I'd consider what I do best practice, but I more or less ignore them because they're just a codified list of things I'm doing anyway as a GM.

"Give an opportunity that fits a class' abilities." "Offer an opportunity with or without cost." "Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask." "Deal damage." These are just things that a GM does as part of the course of running a game.

I feel like the list of "GM moves" is really aimed at people who've never GM'd anything before, especially Dungeon World, and if you are brand new, maybe you do want to keep the list handy to glance at for inspiration, to remind you what a GM does.

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I'm a long time D&D 3.x GM, usually running pre-made scenarioes. Since I have a pre-made environment, I almost never give opportunities fitting the PC's abilities, or offer opportunities with a cost, and I almost never tell them consequnces of their actions (they need to try and live with it) - I feel the list is aimed at those who didn't play in DW's style before: some DMs will find out they already play that way, some won't. –  Zachiel Jul 17 at 16:26

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