I have never played Dungeon World, but I am trying to get a grasp on the way that the proverbial conversation flows in an action sequence. I'm intrigued by DW's potential to create combats with improved flexibility and range of actions.

Let's say, for example, that the players have caught the attention of a Hill Giant, and it consequently decides to use its Club move against the nearest player. I want to make this a soft move and give the player a chance to respond as the club comes down on them. Now let's say that the player responds with a Hack and Slash move of any kind.

A few interrelated questions come up:

  • Does the player take damage at all if they succeed on the hack-and-slash, or do they interrupt the ogre's attack completely?
  • If the player does take damage, does this happen before or after the ogre's damage?
  • Could this be resolved by insisting that the player take a Defy Danger move before they are allowed to make their attack?

I understand that I don't have a thorough grasp on Dungeon World as a system, so if you feel that I'm inadvertently glossing over a core consideration, feel free to include the correction in your answer.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you provide an example dialogue (between player and GM) from the game? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Jun 11, 2018 at 15:20
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I think your phrasing is tripping you up. The giant does not "decide to use its Club move"; it "decides to whack the character with its club." Remember: Begin and end with the fiction. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 12, 2018 at 0:48

7 Answers 7


Remember, the player doesn't get to declare a move, they get to describe a response in the fiction.

If you've advertised a threat, like a hill giant's club rushing at a character and the character ignores it, that's what the book calls a golden opportunity. When that happens, you can make a move as hard as you like.

Remember that what makes a hard move is that it is irrevocable, it's not necessarily damage. Remember also that "as hard as you like" is not the same as "as hard as you can think of".

So go back to the fiction here. If you said, "The hill giant's huge step rumbles through the earth as his club swings in a low arc towards your group. Draager, you're the one most in its path, what do you do?"

Then what happens next depends entirely on the player's response. If they say, "I dive under the club, roll to my feet, and bury my axe in the giant's shin!" Then there's your defy danger right there.

If they say, " I hack and slash!" Your answer is always going to be some variation on, "Cool, what does that look like?" Until you get an answer in the fiction, not the mechanics.

I heartily recommend you read the DW Guide, it's a huge help for many.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ "What does that look like?" "I imagine it looks a lot like my character getting smeared across the landscape..." \$\endgroup\$
    – Mike Caron
    Jun 11, 2018 at 22:46

There's a very important detail you seem to be missing: The players don't declare moves. They describe what their character is doing, and a move is resolved only if that description matches the move's trigger.

And if the description ignores the threat and triggers some other move, then it is time for you to make a move (as hard as you like), because ignoring a threat is just the perfect example of the player giving you a golden opportunity.

If you want to go soft, just ask the character if they really ignore the club coming down on them. They will probably respond with some detail that would trigger Defy danger. If they don't, then they don't. Continue with whatever makes sense in the fiction.

If you want to go hard, just make them face the consequences of whatever threat they just ignored, and then continue with what they were just saying, if that still makes sense.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Might be worth adding that "the players" includes the GM, they don't declare moves either. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Jun 11, 2018 at 12:42

Whether they need to Defy Danger to get a chance to Hack & Slash can depend on a number of variables.

If the Hill Giant's Reach is greater than the player's, the player might need to Defy Danger to avoid the club and get close enough for them to be able to use their weapon.

If you've already used a Soft Move to establish the danger of the club swinging down and hitting the player, then the fiction may well flow in such a way that the player needs to Defy Danger to avoid any damage before they can do anything else. This is an excellent example of a Soft Move being used to set up a Hard Move.

In general, the established fictional positioning always, always dictates what moves trigger and when. If it makes sense for the player to have to Defy Danger before they can Hack & Slash then that's what happens. If there is any debate at the table as to whether a specific move triggers or not then it is discussed and agreed by the group. This usually entails the GM and/or players being clearer in describing exactly what is going on in the fiction.

To answer your specific questions:

  • Does the player take damage at all if they succeed on the Hack & Slash, or do they interrupt the ogre's attack completely?

Assuming Defy Danger is not required, On a 10+ the player does their damage, taking no damage in return. If Defy Danger is required, it is resolved completely before Hack & Slash, including applying any damage for failing the roll.

  • If the player does take damage, does this happen before or after the ogre's damage?

If the damage comes from a failed Defy Danger then it is applied before Hack & Slash is triggered. If it comes from failing Hack & Slash then it depends on the established fiction, including the description of the player's action and how the enemy is behaving.

  • Could this be resolved by insisting that the player take a Defy Danger move before they are allowed to make their attack?

If a Defy Danger move is triggered, then it must be fully resolved before any action that triggers Hack & Slash. The result of the Defy Danger move would dictate whether a Hack & Slash was even possible. On a failed Defy Danger, one of the options might be that you don't get near enough to strike out for example.

I would strongly suggest you take a look at The Dungeon World Guide, which can be downloaded here, as this goes through some excellent examples of how and when to use moves like Defy Danger.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoelHarmon good suggestion. Is that better? \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Jun 11, 2018 at 11:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, and remember Hill Giants are Huge and Forceful. On a failed Defy Danger, you likely get golfclubbed across the room. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 11, 2018 at 11:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, that first line looks good. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 11, 2018 at 11:39

First off, the Players don't really determine what moves they make, they say what they are doing and you say what mechanical move fit's best.

You should set the scene (something like "the giant is swinging its club down at you, you have an instant to react, what do you do?") then they say how their character reacts while sticking to the fiction (so if they are just trying to avoid the attack they might say something like "ok, I try to jump out of the way of the club by running between the giant's legs") and then you determine what move best fits what they are doing (sometimes you might need to probe a bit to see what their goal is, like to see if they want to avoid the incoming attack or to just go for a counterattack).

They should then make the move you have determined to be appropriate for their stated action and go from there. The Players should try to avoid saying things like "im going to make a hack-and-slash against it", or "I'm going to defy danger using DEX by jumping aside". They need to stick to the fiction you set forth, then you tell them what mechanics are triggered by their actions.

"Does the player take damage at all if they succeed on the hack-and-slash, or do they interrupt the ogre's attack completely?" If you judge their actions to fit a Hack-and-slash move, then they pass it (and don't choose to deal extra damage and take a counterattack) then NO, they don't take any damage. The way you determine how they avoid the damage in the fiction is up to you and them explaining how the interaction went down, but not all damage needs to be cuts and bumps, it might only be the few last health points that you really consider to be physical damage, anything before that might just be exhaustion or mental strain.

"If the player does take damage, does this happen before or after the ogre's damage?" It depends on what causes the damage. If you judge that they need to make a Defy Danger move (maybe to avoid the Giant's club) and they fail it, then you might choose to deal some damage as part of the fail. If this is the case, then they just take the damage right there.

If you have judged that they are focusing on attacking the giant rather than just avoiding the attack, and get them to make a Hack-and-slash roll, and they roll a 7-9, then their damage and the giant's is dealt SIMULTANEOUSLY, although again, it's up to you and them explaining in the fiction how this occurred.

"Could this be resolved by insisting that the player take a Defy Danger move before they are allowed to make their attack?" Yes, absolutely, especially against an enemy who might have an advantage with reach over the player's character.

If you set the scene of the giant attacking, and the PC responds with something like "I try to jump out of the way of the club by running between the giant's legs, then swing around and slash at his ankles with my sword" I would probably get them to make a DEX based Defy Danger to avoid the oncoming attack, then a Hack-and-slash for the attack.

Alternatively, you could just get them to make a Hack-and-slash and if they only make a partial success or fail, it makes sense in the fiction for them to take some serious damage.

It's really up to you what moves they need to make, although if they specifically state that they want to attack a target, you usually do need to get them to make a Hack-and-slash or Volly to get to deal damage (unless their targets are in a position where they are helpless/unaware/unconscious/asleep ect.., in which case you might just get them to roll their damage as it is assumed that they get to attack without any opposition. Or you might get them to Defy Danger to successfully sneak up on their target/avoid missing their shot etc..)

I hope this clears some things up, If you have any questions, don't hesitate to leave a comment and i'll get back to you.


Rolling a move can always make things worse. Sometimes, it's a viable choice to deliberately accept incoming consequences in order to avoid the chance of worse things occurring.

When someone rolls a 6- on Defy Danger, this means that two things happen:

  1. They take the consequences of the danger that they failed to avoid (damage, etc.)
  2. Something else happens in addition (you make another move).

If someone chooses to not even roll Defy Danger in the first place, they automatically incur #1, but not #2. The more players roll, the more chances there are for things to snowball. Therefore, it can be a tactical decision to intentionally not roll in order to avoid pressing one's luck.


Moves reflect things that happen in the fiction. It's important to keep your fiction synced with your players'.

So, one of the important things about getting to grips with any Apocalypse Engine game in general, and Dungeon World in specific, is to internalize that there is no seperate mechanical action called "making a move".

On the player end, it's saying something that prompts a die roll or a structured GM response. On the GM end, it's something that prompts a player response. But before anybody starts resolving a move, it's important that everyone be clear on what's happening in the fiction.

What the GM Should Say

So, right, you've got this mental image of HILL GIANT using CLUB on FIGHTGAR, but you don't say that. Instead:

  1. Start from the idea of one of your GM moves, which is probably "put someone in a spot" given your stated intentions; basically, give them something dangerous to react to.

  2. Look at what you want to use to make it and work out how that's going to happen: HILL GIANT used CLUB, that's easy enough.

  3. Here's where you start actually talking. Describe the things that are happening as clearly as you can. How is HILL GIANT using CLUB: at the edge of its reach, right up close, flailing with one hand, securely with two hands, underhand, overhand, sweeping? Is anything else going on while that's happening: lesser enemies fleeing, the ground shaking, the swing hits some terrain or structure and brings debris along with?

  4. Okay, now you tag to Fightgar. Fightgar, what are you doing?

In all likelihood I am making this seem more complicated than it usually winds up being. This is the full debug procedure; often you'll "start at step 2" with an idea of what you want to happen, so just quickly look back at step 1 to make sure you're giving players something to react to. Like, you're looking to put Fightgar in a spot, so make sure when you describe the swing you tell Fightgar why it's putting them in danger. Probably it's headed right for them, but it could also be aimed at taking out something that Fightgar's inside of, on top of, maybe just in front of.

And then you look at Fightgar's player, who for purposes of this example we will call Steve, because it's Steve's turn to talk.

What the GM Should Say to Steve

There's one important difference here, right up front. When you told the table what the hill giant was doing, you didn't mention any of the GM moves you were using, or any of the hill giant's monster moves for that matter. You just talked about what was happening. For you, moves are there as a starting point to help think about what's happening. Actually telling people the names doesn't really give them new information.

Player-facing moves, on the other hand, have a bunch of scripting attached to them, and as a result everybody needs to agree that the move can happen, and be on the same page as to how it's happening, before the script can kick in. For that reason, bringing up move names as part of that discussion is totally fine.

So if Steve says Fightgar is going to Hack And Slash the giant, and you agree that Fightgar can currently just engage the giant in melee, you still need to know how Steve thinks that's happening. The canonical means of doing this is to say "Cool, how?" until you're satisfied, but after that Steve can just roll Hack And Slash and you can go from there.

Or maybe you don't agree, in which case explain why, and offer a path to get there if you can. Like:

You're 30 feet away and that club's coming in awful fast. You're going to have to Defy Danger to get close enough to hit the giant without being batted away.

And if Steve doesn't roll Defy Danger and just says Fightgar runs screaming at the giant, perhaps because it's what Fightgar would do, well, Fightgar gets batted away before they get close, with damage as you deem appropriate, and Steve doesn't get to roll Hack And Slash at all. It's what you said would happen. (This is called "the player giving you a golden opportunity".)

But why would you agree, or not agree, that Fightgar can currently engage the giant in melee?

What Melee Is, Or, Why Defy Danger Is Kind Of Rubbish As A Move

Simply put, melee is a thing where all the parties are engaged in close combat, capable of hurting each other and being hurt, with no particular advantage to one side or another.

Is Fightgar, at the edge of the giant's reach, as much a danger to the giant just then as the giant is to Fightgar?

And if not, at what point does that happen?

These are things you will have to decide for yourself, based on the further facts of Fightgar and of the giant that may exist.

Maybe Fightgar's signature weapon is a weighty stone hammer, renowned as "the Giant-Killer", and they know well enough how to fight giants that they are a danger to giants at any range.

Maybe the giant is wearing tall iron "siege boots", or has trained in fighting "the little people" so extensively that Fightgar will need to use terrain or trickery or teamwork to even set up to land a solid blow.

Maybe it's somewhere in between - once Fightgar can get inside the reach of that club, they can cut and slice at whatever bits of the giant are close, and the giant can stomp and slap and grab at Fightgar.

But the thing you really should remember, the thing a lot of people often lose track of in the heat of the moment, is that combat is dangerous. Heck, lots of things are dangerous! Very few of the moves on offer in the book assume they're being done in circumstances of absolute safety.

Defy Danger seems like it could apply all the time, and it could apply all the time, but more often than not the dangers are wrapped up in the fallout of some other move. Defy Danger is for unexpected, unusual, or overwhelming dangers that can't be dealt with any other way. So even if Fightgar needs to Defy Danger to try and get close to the giant, if they can engage in melee normally then keep to that. Don't get into a loop where first Fightgar has to keep their balance when the giant stomps and then has to Hack and Slash, or has to dodge away from the giant's grab and then has to Hack and Slash. Only pull that out if you want to make fighting the giant, even up close, significantly more dangerous than any other fight.

Addendum: The Doink Imperative

So let's suppose that the giant is wearing high iron siege boots but is wading through fog so they're not visible, or is trained to pound on littlies but it isn't immediately obvious to Fightgar that's the case, and Fightgar rushes in like it's any other fight.

So, how do you say that without revealing something that Fightgar shouldn't know?

Well, even if Fightgar can't deal damage, Hack and Slash can still come into play here because you want to know how well Fightgar can avoid getting hit in melee combat, and Hack and Slash covers that pretty well too. On a "hit", Fightgar will know for certain they can't just get into melee with their target, whatever else happens.


From the Hack & Slash move:

Note that an “attack” is some action that a player undertakes that has a chance of causing physical harm to someone else. Attacking a dragon with inch-thick metal scales full of magical energy using a typical sword is like swinging a meat cleaver at a tank: it just isn’t going to cause any harm, so hack and slash doesn’t apply. Note that circumstances can change that: if you’re in a position to stab the dragon on its soft underbelly (good luck with getting there) it could hurt, so it’s an attack.

So the first question here is: does the PCs response to the Ogre's incoming Club attack qualify as H&S? This will very much depend on the situation. A Barbarian might be able to pose a threat to an Ogre in 1v1 melee combat, a Wizard probably not. A Thief might be able to take advantage of a slowing poison that they previously applied to the Orgre's food.

If H&S applies the player rolls for H&S. On a 10+ they player can choose to take no damage, or to deal additional damage and in return take damage. Taking damage happens simultaneously, as the numbers are only a representation of the fiction for us. H&S actually represents not a single attack, but a short interchange of blows between adversaries (this is somewhere in the rule, bit couldn't find it right now, maybe someone can edit in a reference?!).

If H&S does not apply, because it is not plausible that the PC can inflict any meaningful damage in a melee with the enemy at this point in time/the fiction, the player has to decide what they want to do instead. Probably somehow avoid the attack, be it Defy Danger or maybe Casting a protective spell, or buckling up and Defending themselves.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .