How do I design a peripheral move that essentially says "This regular move is more difficult under this situation"? My normal instincts say to apply a -2 modifier to the roll or something, but that seems really not in keeping with the spirit of the game at all.

As a concrete example, we've established in-world that Uncle Richard is inscrutable. I want to give rules-weight to that, so I've been toying with a couple of ideas:

When you read Uncle Richard, roll+sharp as normal, but it’s also acting under fire (and the fire is: he is disappointed in you).


When you read Uncle Richard, you may only ask questions from this list:

  • Is Uncle telling the truth?
  • What’s Uncle really feeling?
  • How could I get Uncle to __?

or even both...

Fundamentally, what is the best practice for assigning difficulty to an action while keeping to AW's consequence-based mechanics? And not break the ruleset in the process?


2 Answers 2


There's a discussion on creating custom moves that represent difficulty, first thing in the Advanced Fuckery chapter (p. 268-9). You've got the basic idea already, and your suggestions map right on to some of the ideas. To summarise the ways you can made a move reflect a difficult task:

  • You can make a general move that lets you change the difficulty with a -1 or -2 when "things are tough", but most groups find this custom move boring/annoying/not a valuable addition. (This one isn't relevant to you particular case but here for completeness.)

  • You can cover difficulty into a more specific, but still general "when the NPC is strong" move, treating it like the NPC is interfering with a 10+, giving the PC's roll a -2. This is a totally legit thing to do as the MC in Apocalypse World and matches one of your ideas. Just give them a -2, because reading Uncle Richard is just that hard.

  • You can make a move that just layers itself over another more basic move, modifying its outcome. Something like, "when you're trying to read Uncle Richard it's acting under fire, and the fire is: Uncle Richard is disappointed in you." This can have whatever variations you can think of, and is just like one of your ideas.

  • You can roll difficulty right into the substance of a move, saying "when you read Uncle Richard…" and then giving a new, more interesting, tailored, but ultimately fictionally disadvantages list of options on 7-9 and 10+.

    You can mirror an existing move or make it a subset of options, as you suggested above, but to do it cleanly just crib the options and make it a move all to itself without mentioning the basic move. If you want to do it with style, change the options so they reflect the idea that this move doesn't get you want so easy, making the choices tougher, meaner, and more interesting in their focus on this particular person.

All that is to say, you've got the right idea: make a custom move, however you like, to reflect Uncle Richard being damn inscrutable. Either just make it work, or make it cool, but make it.

And of course, you can always just say, "Yeah, ok. But doing that is Acting Under Fire and the fire is Uncle Richard is disappointed in you." That's just fine for ad hoc difficult situations. When you're finding you want to do that every time a particular circumstance comes up, then that's exactly when you should be (as you were) thinking of making a custom move for it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the breakdown! And yea, not sure how I missed that that discussion in the book was all about difficulty. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sohum
    Commented Aug 2, 2011 at 12:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's easy to mentally relegate the "advanced" stuff to "not worth thinking too much about" when you're going through the book for the first few times and just trying to get a grip on how to start a game. I forgot the details of it myself and didn't realise how much your solutions matched the book until I re-read it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 2, 2011 at 15:55

Here's another angle for the same thing. The MC move ask questions like crazy can cover a lot of ground for making things difficult without having to make special moves.

When your player asks to read Uncle Richard, just ask him how he intends to do it without disappointing Uncle Richard. Take his answer and use it to push him through one or more preliminary moves before he even gets a shot at trying to read the Uncle.

— I'd better figure out what the Uncle's up to. Can I read him?
Probably, but how do you intend to explain the reason why you're standing there and staring at him?
— Well, I try to put on my best smile and just be nice, ask him how he's doing and stuff like that.
OK, he could expect that from you but his icy gaze turns this into acting under fire. Roll+HOT and we'll see what happens.
— [roll]… That's a 4. Ouch!
Ouch indeed. Uncle Richard looks at you with the kind of disdain normally reserved for scum and vermin. He snorts "I thought you had stuff to take care of…". Do you still insist on hanging around to read him or do you scurry off out of his sight?

See now the player is on the defensive, and must face new consequences in order to get a shot at what he wants.

In AW, higher difficulty isn't represented as lower probability of success. It is represented as bigger risks and consequences, as well as tougher choices.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I like this. It reminds me of the suggestion (from DW so the terms may be different) to say, "You want to hack/slash that giant swinging a tree trunk? How do you get close enough to do so?" Perhaps reading Uncle Richard takes more time than reading most people, and you'll need to explain how you create your window of opportunity. Once you get it...then it's a regular roll. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeff Fry
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 17:11

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