I am a first time GM in a PBM game. One of the characters (the Thief) is following an NPC (another thief) and would like to not be noticed. They are in a port, among warehouses and depots.

I feel that this is triggering a move. The most fitting that I can find is the omnipresent Defy Danger (DEX variant). I feel that the Defy Danger move is being triggered because the NPC being followed is an expert thief (this has already been discovered in-game).

If the NPC were a normal guy, the Thief would be able to follow him without being discovered (since the Thief is an expert in such things, and a normal guy is not alert to being followed without a previous reason for being suspicious). So if my player were following a normal guy, I wouldn't reckon any triggered move.

But we have another expert in the art of spying and being inconspicuous. And so following him is not an automatic feat: there is a danger of being noticed.

Since this is PBM I have the luxury to think about it and not improvise on the spot. Is there some other idea that I am overlooking?

  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I tried to explain my reasoning, let me know if it sounds right or if I am misunderstanding. As I said I am new to DW and this is the first time that I am GM-ing it (while instead I am not new to GM in itself, which could mean that I have some misconception ingrained in me..) \$\endgroup\$
    – Francesco
    Nov 12, 2016 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Looks good to me--thanks. I'm sure you'll get a good answer from one of the DW experts--they've been really helpful to me! \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Nov 12, 2016 at 20:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ NPC can not be Thief. He can be an expert rogue of some kind, but not Thief (a Player class). It is explicitly said somewhere that classes are only for players. \$\endgroup\$
    – aragaer
    Nov 13, 2016 at 19:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ yes, I said like that as a shortcut. The NPC is "like a thief", I don't mean that he has a character sheet like if he were a player. But he is not a normal guy, he is well versed in thief like activities. \$\endgroup\$
    – Francesco
    Nov 13, 2016 at 19:05

3 Answers 3


It might be Defy Danger, but if it is you need to ask your player a question first. You can say

He moves like a fellow expert. If you don't take precautions, you're sure he'll notice you tailing him. What extra precautions do you take?

This is because Defy Danger doesn't trigger on there being a danger, it triggers on how the character tries to avoid the danger after noticing the danger. So tell them the danger, and ask what they do about it. Their response will determine which ability bonus applies to Defy Danger. (And if they do nothing to avoid the danger, it's no roll and the danger automatically comes to pass with a GM move.)

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ That's clear now that you point it out. Ask "what do you do..." and then trigger the move if any. Between my inexperience and the PBM setting I was jumping a bit too forward. \$\endgroup\$
    – Francesco
    Nov 13, 2016 at 5:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Francesco I do it too. Defy Danger is the move that trips me up the most. On the plus side: it's normal to feel like you're always learning with running this game! I have lots of experience, and it doesn't feel like I'm done learning. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 13, 2016 at 7:03

So this is one of the difficult parts of playing Dungeon World for me - "when you don't have a move." It becomes tempting to deliberately not have moves to cover things and to just use Defy Danger in every circumstance.

I'm actually playing a rogue variant called the Burglar off the complete class list in our Mummy Rustlers campaign, mainly because the Thief as written has zero focus on stealth, and it has an advanced move specifically for that...

☐ Sʜᴀᴅᴏᴡ

When you follow an NPC through an urban environment, roll +WIS. ✴On a 10+, hold 3. ✴On a 7+, hold 1:
• Gain a useful bit of information about your quarry, the GM will tell you what
• Your quarry isn’t aware of your presence
• You discover your quarry’s final destination

So the dilemma comes up - should you be able to do this just as easily if you don't have this ability? Heck, as the Burglar, should I avoid taking this move and just saying "I follow him, you know, nimbly" since I have a high Dex and rely on the ubiquitous Defy Danger tool?

Defy Danger isn't meant to be the skeleton key for all circumstances - it's to "act despite an imminent threat." Not avoid detection, or achieve other goals. In DW I'd say that the opposing thief, for example, leads you into a trap that Defy Danger is required to avoid.

It's a fine line in DW between letting people try things the fiction allows (like shadowing someone) and allowing them to just do everything with a roll regardless of all the Moves. At a bare minimum, if they don't have a Move for it and are subbing you should use hard instead of soft moves on failures, require more successes, and bring greater threat to the table.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I do agree that Defy Danger isn't and shouldn't be the "default" choice. Thanks for your input, the Shadow move is very interesting. I notice that it is WIS based and not DEX based which surprises me a bit. In the end, in our game, I asked my player what he was going to do, and he surprised me and played something that I had not thought of (and I am very happy of this!) So there was no "Defy Danger" move because he played differently. I really like the depth and the nuances of DW, even if I am a beginner. \$\endgroup\$
    – Francesco
    Nov 14, 2016 at 14:03

A little belated, but...

This move from the DW Wiki might help: http://a-dungeon-world.wikia.com/wiki/Prowling_About

Prowling About

"When I have players stealth, I ask them how they sneak, what their path is, what their backup plan is, etc. This gives me tons of information to seed partial successes and failures. If they're sneaking in the rafters above the guards in the warehouse, there are failures about guards looking up, beams breaking, slipping (but not alerting guards as they hang from a beam), tools falling, etc. Furthermore, as a GM, you have the option of choosing the granularity of the stealth rolls that are done. It could be sneaking into an entire castle if the your campaign doesn't care about stealth or sneaking through a single room if it matters."

When you move silently and hidden from sight, hold 3 Cloak. When you risk revealing your presence while holding Cloak, roll 2d6+ Cloak :

  • On a 10+, you remain undetected.
  • On a 7-9, choose 1 (the GM will fill in the details):
    • You arouse suspicion and lose 1 Cloak.
    • You are spotted but have the drop on them.
    • You stumble on an obstacle you did not expect.
    • You leave behind incriminating evidence.
  • On a 6-, lose 1 Cloak in addition to whatever the GM says.

When your Cloak reaches 0, the jig is up.

Rolling 2d6+CLOAK is key here: the longer you stay hidden and the more stuff you do, the harder it is to remain undetected. No nonsense like "it was just my imagination" from the guards.


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