"Act under pressure" seems to be kind of a wildcard move, useful for broadly anything when there's any kind of risk involved.

It seems to me that it's somewhat broken, in the sense that it's too powerful compared to other attributes. As a GM, I tend to find too many rolls falling into "act under pressure" just because there isn't anything more specific. Need to quickly pick a lock? Roll +Coolness. You got lost and need to find the way before something gets you? +Coolness. Trying to disarm a trap? +Coolness...

From the core rules:

Coolness measures the character’s grace under pressure. A Cool PC is good at stealth, theft, and other situations demanding quick decisions under stress.

First aid for stabilizing wounds, according to the core rules, is a Coolness roll "if the PC is working under time pressure, in distracting surroundings, or dealing with immediate threats". This is my main issue: it seems to cover anything that is done "under pressure or in a risky situation", which could arguably cover mostly any interesting roll as RAW.

How could I avoid a high coolness score giving an unfair advantage to one character?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Not (yet) enough for a proper answer but: you don't have to roll for everything. You should first consider saying "Yes, and...", "Yes, but...", "No, and..." or "No, but...". \$\endgroup\$
    – Roflo
    Jun 9, 2021 at 23:00

2 Answers 2


The thing about making a decision is that you have to know what your choices are.

Or: the thing about acting under fire is that fire is bloody obvious.

This discussion is unfortunately going to have to start with

0) K:DL is a flawed implementation of some of the ideas from Apocalypse World.

Apocalypse World made act under fire, the obvious ancestor of K:DL's act under pressure move, linked to a single stat in large part because its smaller number of statistics and character types let it sensibly define who was cool and who wasn't through a limited number of starting stat arrays. The Battlebabe was cool. The Angel was kind of cool. The Hardholder could only be cool at great cost.

K:DL throws that out and lets anybody be as cool as they want to be, right from the start. But the free definition of stats by players carries with it the expectation of good and bad choices, characters out of balance with one another, instead of covering each others' weaknesses. So that's a bad place to start from.

1) Cool guys can't do anything special.

What's act under pressure let you do? Get away, get out, get through. Things anyone could do. The pressure's what makes them tough.

Can "anyone" do great things, difficult things? If "anyone" could then they would. While it's true that "anyone" in the right place at the right time can make a big impact, does "anyone" know the right place, or the right time?

There are certain plot structures you can plug "anyone" into. A secretive GM mastermind gives the PCs a shiny golden MacGuffin and tells them to run it through a tortuous obstacle course, after which it'll do something important on the other side. But in a story like that, the PCs are just doing what they're told. PbtA games don't work too well with PCs who just have to do what they're told.

The structure of most moves let PCs prioritize their own problems or take the risks to implement their own solutions - and there are some Coolness Advantages that work like this. All that act under pressure really does is set you up to get into a situation where you can make an impact, usually through another move or sometimes by virtue of narration.

But all that said, when you're coming from the narrative and trying to work out a fitting move to represent the problems PCs are facing, they're going to be under pressure a whole heck of a lot. So how do you make the call?

2) The pressure's what makes them tough.

An easy way to determine whether act under pressure is the most appropriate move to make is whether or not the pressure is the most important thing - if the PC could pull this off, no problem, if they were only among friends and had enough time to breathe. Every move assumes there's some sort of pressure in play; the GM often gets chances to express it on a 10-14 and always on a 9-. Broadly speaking, there are three types of situations where act under pressure isn't appropriate:

The PC doesn't know what to do. This applies to things that are plainly impossible, like leaping out a twenty-story window and finding a way to defy gravity before you hit pavement. It also includes things that require special training or preparation to accomplish, like some of the things covered by Advantages - disarming bombs, swaying entire crowds, maintaining a network of contacts.

The PC can't know exactly what to do. Some things are too chaotic for there to be a course of action you know in advance, where the tough part is the execution under pressure. Things like winning a fight (engage in combat), getting someone to do what you want (influence other), or seeing the truth behind the misty shapes of reality (see through the illusion).

The PC needs to find out what to do. This is one of your example scenarios: you get lost and need to find the way. This matches something you can find out with observe a situation: "What's my best way through this?" PCs may also need to understand NPC motivations (read a person) or analyze elements of a mystery (investigate) in order to take action.

In cases where the PCs need to find out what to do, it can often make sense to require them to act under pressure to do it once they find out. Like disarming a trap - if the trap doesn't have an obvious way to disarm it, observing a situation and asking "What should I be on the lookout for?" or "What is being hidden from me?" can provide that information. But if the trap is itself a source of pressure, even when they know how it's done PCs can still need to act under pressure to actually pull it off.


It's worth considering the context of coolness.

From p7 of core.

Coolness measures the player character’s cool. A cool character is good at stealth, theft, and other situations demanding quick decisions under stress.

The focus is stealthy acts, and remaining cool under pressure while you solve things with an agile mind. It isn't on generally succeeding at all situations where you are under pressure.

Before making a roll a coolness one, consider if this is the sort of thing a thief would do in their core role, and do well. If not, it's not coolness.

So, yes to picking a lock. Classic thief move. Yes to disarming a trap, thieves have to disarm traps in their path, no to perceiving a path, that would be perceptiveness, finding the way isn't a stealth thing.

This would be my list of common acts which fall under coolness- assassinations, stealing stuff, sneaking around, disarming traps, using lies to persuade people, parkour, and sleight of hand.

You could make a similar list for any stat. Insight say, might include emotionally destroying people, finding out secrets from people, picking the safest path based on the people, healing trauma, navigating a complex social situation to find a person, and cold reading.

Reason would be being right about facts, finding monster weaknesses, finding out secrets from books, investigating a location to find the safest route, identifying where someone is from, detecting forensic information.

Each stat will have things they're good and bad at.

Criteria to make it not a coolness move.

Does it require specialized knowledge? It's probably reason.

Does it require reading other people? It's probably insight.

Does it require excellent knowledge of the environment? It's probably perception.

Does it require hurting others skillfully? It's probably violence.

Does it require persuading others to do things? It's probably charisma.

While many acts include aspects of acting under pressure, they primarily include other things.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "Coolness measures the character’s grace under pressure. A Cool PC is good at stealth, theft, and other situations demanding quick decisions under stress." The examples are about classic rogue actions, yes, but the description literally says "situations demanding quick decisions under stress". Healing wounds is explicitly a coolness move if I remember correctly... \$\endgroup\$
    – raven
    Jun 3, 2021 at 8:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Healing wounds is a reason move, see battlefield medicine. Remaining cool under pressure isn't the main thing that helps you heal people, logic, facts and reason are. Consider, is calm, slow action the main thing that helps people succeed? If not, it's not coolness. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nepene Nep
    Jun 3, 2021 at 8:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, you're right. I was thinking of first aid for stabilizing wounds which according to the core rules are a Coolness roll "if the PC is working under time pressure, in distracting surroundings, or dealing with immediate threats". This is what makes it too broad an attribute for me: it covers anything that is made "under pressure or in a risky situation" which I think is very, very broad. \$\endgroup\$
    – raven
    Jun 3, 2021 at 14:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ In short, my issue is that "situations demanding quick decisions under stress" could arguably cover mostly any interesting roll. Maybe I should go with your suggestion, find what attribute feels right for me in each skill test, and ignore that part of RAW. \$\endgroup\$
    – raven
    Jun 3, 2021 at 14:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I added extra criteria to help. It's worth thinking what the prime driver of a situation is- almost every situation benefits from several attributes. If you can't perceive, you can' act. Gut instinct could cover everything. Reason can solve many problems. Some situations need more of one characteristic than most. First aid doesn't need a stat unless you are in a dangerous situation- the coolness may include using stealth and rogue skills to evade detection from the local horror. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nepene Nep
    Jun 3, 2021 at 18:18

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