Assuming that (for whatever reason) two PCs decided to settle their disputes by means of a fair contest it seems like it would be difficult to determine which character had the 'initiative' to take the first action or which of them wins in a straight contest of brawn.

Let's take a look at a scenario I can very much envision happening in my current game. Lady Vega (a Hardholder) has had yet another disagreement with Goat (a Chopper) and his gang. Both of the characters respect each other and are bullheaded and confident enough to challenge the other to some sort of fair fight or other contest of strength rather than skulking about in the shadows or causing a full-on gang fight.

Given Lady Vega runs a pseudo-medieval society she insists on a duel (with swords) to resolve their latest dispute and Goat, confident in his own strength, agrees. Some time later Goat and Lady Vega are stood in the castle courtyard surrounded by cheering crowds and are about to throw down.

How could I determine which of them has the 'initiative' in the fight, assuming both of their players want their character to act first?

I feel like the flow of the duel would sort itself out past this initial sticking point, but I'm unsure how to get the fiction rolling in a manner that's fair to both contestants. I could simply ask them to make an opposed roll (+sharp probably) but, while trivial in other systems, this seems out-of-place and heavy-handed in the fiction-driven environment of AW.


3 Answers 3


Acting first in a PvP situation is not like other RPG's in *World games. There are no "turns", so taking the "first turn" does not confer an advantage or an edge. As the MC, you should ask both players how they dive into the contest at hand, and decide on how that resolves. If any moves are triggered, go ahead and have them roll it. Remember, no moves, no dice.

If for example Lady Vega is trying to seize the initiative, that is exactly seizing something by force in a swordfight, so have her roll that. If she wins it, then she acts next, ask her what she does, not Goat.

But don't just let them say "I seize the initiative". Ask them how.

If Goat says "I bring my sword down hard. I want her to understand that I'm stronger, and yield", then that's going aggro. Of course, Lady Vega will want to interfere with that. She may say "I'd expect such a coarse move from a Goat. I just step out of the way and let him mangle his sword on the wall behind me", and then roll her Hx with Goat to give him a -2 on his roll.

Remember, to do it, do it. In other words, moves are triggered by what players describe. Let them describe what they do, and see if any moves are triggered.

If not, what happens is up to you.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I understand what you're saying and I'm sorry if my question implied that I didn't understand the workings of moves. However I disagree that triggering the first move doesn't give the triggering player an advantage. It's very feasible that in the duel scenario one player may attempt to disarm the other (seize by force) and providing the move is successful that leaves them at a significant advantage over the other player as they can choose how that move is resolved mechanically e.g. by taking definite hold of it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aiken
    Sep 9, 2014 at 12:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ I tend to think that acting first and triggering the first move are different things in AW. Triggering the first move is not a direct advantage because it also brings risk of failure, which means that the player rolling the move could get hurt as a result. Maybe you could implicitly make sure that's the case as MC, so that triggering the first move becomes a strategic decision rather than a sure way of winning the duel. \$\endgroup\$
    – edgerunner
    Sep 10, 2014 at 8:23
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The edit to this answer has definitely improved it a lot, I guess I was probably overthinking how to make the contest fair instead of how to make it interesting. Asking them how is certainly the order of the day here. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aiken
    Sep 10, 2014 at 8:32

I don't think there's any official ruling as far as this situation is concerned in AW. At least from all of my searching when this came up there were not.

What I did find was:

  1. A thread on Story Games.
  2. Sage LaTorra's take for Dungeon World
  3. The start of a Samurai World hack

That last one is important- it informed my take for my world.

My original take was to have both roll simultaneously, and look at both rolls when narrating the results. That approach worked, but it was ultimately unsatisfying.

My final take when I went back to the drawing board was to make use of hold to only deal with the initiative. Then use the standard approach- including my first take.

When two characters are duelling to the death,

Answer the following questions for your character. The MC will answer for any NPCs.

Are you ready to die? If yes, hold 1. If any player doubts your word on this, say what you will to convince them. If they still doubt you, don't hold 1.

Are you free of remorse or hesitation to kill? If yes, hold 1. If any player doubts your word on this, say what you will to convince them. If they still doubt you, don't hold 1.

Are you completely calm within yourself, free from self-doubt? If yes, hold 1. If any player doubts your word on this, say what you will to convince them. If they still doubt you, don't hold 1.

Whomever spends the most hold goes first. Unused hold can be used to increase the die roll by one on your attack. If both players spend the same hold, they make their rolls simultaneously, and both outcomes are applied.

It worked well. And it also made duels as epic as I'd wanted to make them.

  • \$\begingroup\$ While a duel to the utmost death isn't likely (I can't imagine the characters in question harbouring murderous intent towards one another) I like the idea of asking and answering questions to determine how a character is approaching the fight. This certainly gives me a starting point to build a custom move from if needed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aiken
    Sep 9, 2014 at 14:33

The author of Dungeon World, Sage LaTorra, addressed this question in a thread in 2013 or so. The general consensus of that thread is the following:

  1. Go back far enough in the fiction to where you can determine that one character is more capable or more prepared to go first. That player goes first.

  2. If the answer is "both players are truly simultaneous," here's a matrix that could work:

    • Player A rolls a 10+ and Player B rolls a 10+: Player A and Player B both deal their damage to each other. If one of them chooses the extra damage option, he deals +1d6 and takes his enemy's damage again (obviously this is only a good choice in certain situations). The other fictional effects take place at the same time. In the fiction, both characters surpassed each other's defenses and guarded themselves from counter-attack.

    • Player A rolls a 10+ and Player B rolls a 7-9 (and vice versa): Player B takes Player A's damage from B's roll. Player A takes Player B's damage from B's roll. Player A deals damage to B from A's roll. At A's discretion, B takes 1d6 more and A take's B's damage again. The other fictional effects take place at the same time. In the fiction, A has made a clean attack while B has made one that opened him up at the same time.

    • Player A rolls a 10+ and Player B rolls a miss (and vice versa): Player B takes A's damage, plus d6 if A decides (and takes B's). In the fiction, A has made a clean attack and B has made a misstep.

    • Player A rolls a 7-9 and Player B rolls a 7-9: Both deal damage, both suffer damage. In the fiction, both have made attacks that open them up to counter attacks.

    • Player A rolls a 7-9 and Player B rolls a miss (and vice versa): B takes A's damage. A takes B's damage. B suffers whatever else. In the fiction, A has made an attack that gives B an opening, and B has made a misstep.

    • Player A rolls a miss and Player B rolls a miss: Both have whatever the GM decides.

The thing to remember here is that your hack and slash roll isn't making you invulnerable or something. It's saying that your attack didn't open you up to any extra counter attack.

And, for emphasis, he's saying that in PVP, both characters take damage twice -- for their own moves and their opponent's countermoves.

  1. Or have both players deal damage and then you make a move.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Definitely good advice for a duel in Dungeon World but I was more looking for AW-specific advice given the more dangerous nature of harm in AW. Assuming both characters had a longsword [3-harm hand] and were wearing no armour (in the interest of a fair fight) they would both wind up at 12:00 on their harm countdown and be in serious danger of dying. Also this doesn't really answer how to adjudicate a simple contest like a tug of war which doesn't involve inflicting harm. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aiken
    Sep 9, 2014 at 12:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ At the risk of saying something you already know, in Apocalypse World, choosing to go for a fair fight is likely to end up with both characters dying. Duels for honor are kind of romantic nonsense, and once characters start dealing damage for real, it gets ugly quick. As for the tug-of-war? Man, I'm not even sure that's a Move. AW and its offspring don't lend themselves to white-room combats. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jadasc
    Sep 9, 2014 at 12:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's hardly a white-room combat, but it is one-on-one in front a cheering (or jeering) crowd and if the players do decide to undertake it I'd be going against my principles (by not being a fan of the characters) in preventing it. Likewise I'm aware that combat is very lethal in AW but even using their bare fists [0-harm] the character who makes the first move gets to write the first 'sentence' of fiction to which their opponent must respond, which is definitely an advantage two competing players and their characters would angle for. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aiken
    Sep 9, 2014 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Okay. Help me improve my answer. What is it about the suggestions in this post that won't work to resolve your duel? Even if you don't like #2 as too deadly, what's wrong with #1 or #3? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jadasc
    Sep 9, 2014 at 13:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's nothing wrong with #1 at all, if one of the characters had done something to give them the upper hand, I'd rule that they can describe their actions first and if that triggers a move, roll the dice. Failing this, expanding on #3 is possibly a solution, 2 or 3 harm is tolerable for a character and the results of the harm move would determine how the fight progressed from there. Perhaps disclaim decision-making to a character's opponent for the results. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aiken
    Sep 9, 2014 at 13:37

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