I know about the "players don't announce Moves, they are supposed to describe their actions" part. Let's say a player describes how they hides to ambush someone. The GM asks for a roll, because the player used a Move here. Which one?

As a GM, what move am I supposed to choose when my player is trying to hunt/trap someone?

For instance, the Thief has their "Backstab" move:

When you attack a surprised or defenseless enemy with a melee weapon

But how do you get your enemy surprised? By ambushing them, supposedly.

As far as I know, Defy Danger (DEX) are traditionally used for stealth, but not in this case, I guess.

Defy Danger explicitly states

When you act despite an imminent threat or suffer a calamity

However, when you're hunting/ambushing someone, there is no imminent threat and no calamity. You're hiding because you don't want to spook the victim, not because you want to avoid any kind of danger. So what move are you supposed to use instead?

  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik Remember that correcting misapprehensions is a job for an answer. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 6, 2017 at 5:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ enkryptor, for the sake of answer-writers understanding the context of this question, is this posed while reading the rules, or have you finished reading the whole rules, including the GM chapter's rules? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 7, 2017 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie it was while reading the rules. I've read the GM chapter, but I'm still trying to figure out how does the DW system work. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Dec 7, 2017 at 18:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Okay, that's good to know. Along those lines, this Q&A is probably related to this question then, as well as the other resources explaining the game that are linked to in some of the answers. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 7, 2017 at 19:03

4 Answers 4


Players don't have to try and use Moves. A player should just try and Hunt or Trap someone. If a player is trying to Hunt or Trap someone and a Move Triggers, then a Move Triggers.

So a Thief is hiding in the bushes, and someone walks by, not noticing them. The Thief says "I'm going to leap out and stab them. If they're surprised, then it will be a Backstab". (Players don't have to call out their moves, but it's worth reminding the GM you've got the Move.)

The GM considers. They haven't seen the Thief; the GM concludes the NPCs surely are surprised. The GM thus says "It looks like a Backstab to me". (She might consult the table had she has any doubts about the move triggering.)

There are some cases where the NPC won't be surprised - perhaps the monster has a Move which prevents it - but it's a GM decision, taken by following the Agenda and Principles in the GM chapter.

The other part of the question is really about whether the Thief is spotted in the first place.

The Thief is Hiding. Someone - some NPC - walks towards the Thief's hiding spot. What happens? Follow the Fiction:

The GM might thinks the NPC is unobservant or preoccupied, so uses the GM Move "Give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities" to allow the sneaky Thief to remain unseen, and NPC just walks past. This is the GM Move that lets a Thief do Thiefy things that aren't otherwise explicitly covered. The Thief may freely backstab.

Or; The NPC Guard is actively patrolling, and might spot the Thief. How do we know? The Danger is "The Guard sees the Thief" (or the Danger is the things the guard does if it sees the Thief, but that's the same thing), so that's Defy Danger. If the Thief passes, then a backstab can follow.

Or; The GM knows the NPC Snakeman's IR vision will see the Hiding Thief, no roll required. So the Snakeman attacks or makes some other appropriate action

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Players are totally supposed to be trying and using moves, but the important part is describing their characters’ actions in the fiction to trigger the moves. \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Dec 5, 2017 at 15:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ "The GM might have required a defy danger roll to see if the Thief had been spotted" - so why Defy Danger? There was no danger for the Thief. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Dec 5, 2017 at 15:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe yoink @joelharmon 's mention of Defy Danger being the general-purpose move? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 5, 2017 at 16:31

Deal Damage

(Echoing @SlowDog here, with a few additional clarifications.)

If I'm reading you clearly, @enkryptor, your question boils down to this: "What's the move--or series of moves--for an ambush attack where Defy Danger (Dex) doesn't make sense, because there's no immediate Danger to be Defied?"

Well, if there's no chance our ambushing Thief will get caught (and we agree that "Getting caught mid-murder" counts as a Danger), there isn't a Move engaging at all--the Thief simply describes how they hide inside a bush, and we all nod in agreement because that's just a Thief-y thing to do.

If our Thief--now firmly established in the fiction as hidden--then stabs "a surprised or defenseless enemy with a melee weapon," Backstab engages (if they have that move). The fiction tells us that this enemy must be surprised or defenseless, because we agree that our Thief is hidden in some bushes. If we say "Hey, wait a sec, don't Ixian Bloodraiders have really keen hearing?" well, now the fiction has changed and Defy Danger (where the Danger is "Being heard") engages.

This works even without the Backstab. Our Fighter, given ample opportunity, steps around an alcove and waits in the shadow for her target. As the Lord-Regent ambles by, blissfully unaware, the Fighter comes out swinging her broadsword. This isn't a melee, really--the Lord-Regent probably doesn't even have his sword drawn--so as GM you can use the simplest move at your disposal: Deal Damage.

From the Dungeon World GM section: "When you deal damage you choose one source of damage that's fictionally threatening a character and apply it."

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi KidDublin, and welcome to RPG Stack Exchange. Check out our tour if you haven't already, and whenever you reach 20 rep, you'll be able to join us in Role-playing Games Chat. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 6, 2017 at 22:08

As always, you monitor the fiction as described by the people at the table to see if there is any move that triggers. This could be a special DM Location move created for this scenario, or perhaps a class move. I can't think of any that would definitely apply, but moves like Backstab can easily come out of player description here.

Failing that, the Defy Danger move does say:

Defy danger is for those times when it seems like you clearly should be rolling but no other move applies.

In this case, you'd be defying the danger of being spotted early. The results could, of course, be calamitous.

It's also possible that no moves are triggered based on the fiction. In this case, whatever they say happens, happens.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's why I ask - I haven't found any class moves related to ambush. Even the Thief has zero stealth moves (or I didn't see them). I'm new to DW, by the way. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Dec 5, 2017 at 12:53
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I've revised the answer to expand on something I now realize I'd only implied here: that moves come from the fiction. How the players describe setting up the ambush is what causes moves (both player and DM) to happen. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 7, 2017 at 4:28

What's the character doing to hunt and trap? What’s the thing being hunted? They need to describe what they're doing, and the risks should become apparent. There's a difference between finding a child lost in the woods (the danger being defied is toward the child) versus, say, an owlbear (the danger is getting mauled).

  • \$\begingroup\$ It's hardly an answer though. Do you want me to clarify the question? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Dec 5, 2017 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor An example situation or two would really help. My answer is to ask them as GM what they're doing. \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Dec 5, 2017 at 18:47

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