I am the GM for a Dungeon World campaign and had the following situation:

The player characters had just finished killing off a bunch of satyrs that were ambushing an NPC in the woods. One of the characters was wounded, so the bard decided to weave their lute playing into a spell to heal him, triggering the Arcane Art move from the Bard move list. The bard got a 7-9 result which means that the spell works but either:

  • Draws unwanted attention OR
  • The magic reverberates to other targets, affecting them as well.

This is the GM's choice. The thing is, I'd rather not do either of those at this moment. The PCs have just fought and won a battle, and now I'd like to give them a chance to talk to the NPC, do some investigating and get some plot relevant information.

If I choose to have the spell draw unwanted attention, I could have the spell draw out a new threat, e.g. a monster hears the music and comes to investigate the source (indeed I did do this when the bard got a 7-9 result during the fight), but I feel like that is just prolonging the fight and not really adding anything interesting to their lives.

I could have the NPC react to the magic, but I'm not sure how to make it 'unwanted', other than simply having the NPC proclaim the bard to be some sort of witch and refuse to deal with that character. A valid option, but not one I'd want to use all the time, and there may not always be an NPC around.

The other GM choice, magic reverberates to other targets, seems even less suited, as there are no 'enemy' targets around (and as I said before, I don't want to introduce a new one at this point), and healing other PCs as well seems like a bonus more than a setback!

So, my question is: What options does a Dungeon World GM have in this situation? How do you respond to the 7-9 result when the PCs aren't in combat, and you feel that adding a combat threat would detract from the story, rather than add to it?

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Unwanted attention doesn't have to be dangerous, it just has to be unwanted.

The bard stops playing, and then they hear a rustle and clicking almost right beside them — but there's nothing there. Searching around, it seems like it was nothing. Oh well! But then later that night, the bard wakes up to find their inn room full of fairies — and they require the bard perform their wonderful music for them, right now (or else suffer days of pranks and petty tortures from unhappy fairies).

There are so many ways you can bring unwanted attention to a bard. You just have to be creative: be a fan of the character, think off screen, think of future effects, think of other PCs it might affect instead of the move-maker, and don't always look for violent threats to the PCs.

One more point, that can't be left unsaid. This:

The thing is, I'd rather not do either of those at this moment. The PCs have just fought and won a battle, and now I'd like to give them a chance to talk to the NPC, do some investigating and get some plot relevant information.

Dungeon World does not work well when GMs “don't want” to follow its rules. The PC took an action that carried an inherent risk of something going wrong, and it is the GM's duty to put what is actually happening in the game first, and not priorities their pre-planned plot ideas. Any plot ideas or pacing preferences of the GM are disposable, and cannot supersede the moves and the GM's rules for when they are allowed to make a move. (Also note that “force the next part of my plot” is not a GM move.)

So cool down, follow the PC's move, and do what it says. Figure out something interesting — not necessarily dangerous — and play to find out what happens.

There will be time for mining your plot ideas for in-play experiences later. For all you know, how the PCs react to the next bit of unwanted attention may give you a golden opportunity to tie it together with your plot — and then you'll look like a GMing genius. (This is the point of DW's rules for the GM — they make you look like an even more clever GM than you already are!)

  • 2
    Ah, that fairy suggestion is brilliant! Would have been perfect to use, just wish I'd thought of it at the time. I also didn't realise the unwanted attention doesn't have to be immediate, that opens the door to a whole bunch of new options. – Flipster77 Oct 8 '16 at 4:37
  • Fair point about DW not working well when the GM doesn't want to follow the rules. It's my first time GMing, and my first time playing DW so I expect I've got a lot to learn. I still haven't quite got a handle on how much preparation you can have. In this situation the party was searching for this NPC, so I guess I just wanted to move on to them interacting with her. I can't remember what I did for the 7-9 result, but it was pretty insubstantial. In the future, I'll try to keep 'fiction first' in mind :) – Flipster77 Oct 8 '16 at 4:48
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    @Flipster77 It takes practice, practice, practice—both GMing in general, and GMing for DW in particular. :) Every once in a while review the GM section between sessions, and you'll come away with fresh insights each time. – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '16 at 5:08
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    Unwanted attention doesn't have to be immediate, on-screen, or directed at the rolling character. Keep the theme of unwanted attention and look to the rest of the principles and moves to help you make it concrete in the fictional context. – gomad Oct 8 '16 at 20:31
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    +1, and I think it would be helpful to emphasize that be a fan of the characters and think offscreen, too are not just good ideas, they are Principles and therefore rules the DM must follow. – Joel Harmon Oct 9 '16 at 2:28

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