In Dungeon World the GM makes moves according to a variety of situations. Without going into those trigger conditions, suppose a failure is rolled by a Cleric casting a healing spell and a GM move is to occur. One of the principles to guide GM action is:

Think off-screen too

Just because you’re a fan of the characters doesn’t mean everything happens right in front of them. Sometimes your best move is in the next room, or another part of the dungeon, or even back in town. Make your move elsewhere and show its effects when they come into the spotlight.

Now, suppose I (as the GM) make a move to Give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities by re-animating a fallen foe earlier in a dungeon (The Cleric's abilities against the undead is what I'm trying to highlight), but then the players rapidly exit the dungeon. I have potentially two problems at hand:

  • The fiction becomes simply "Your spell fizzles (insert descriptive stuff here) resulting in no apparent effect. What do you do?" This doesn't demonstrate that I even made a move; is that ok?

  • The party is no longer anywhere near the re-animated foe. Is this move "wasted" until I have a chance to re-introduce the foe as the undead later in the game, supposing I have that chance at all?

In short, is it ok to have GM moves appear to do nothing from the players' perspective until a later time (with the possibility of never coming up again)?


3 Answers 3


The basic answer is "yes, it is OK." Smiling and making a note, possibly after looking something up, is optional.

If you don't want that to happen, your re-animation move is a soft move (DW, p166) that isn't immediately obvious to the characters. That gives you the chance to change it, if you decide it was wasted, and revise the fiction. This isn't a retcon, because the characters (and the players) never knew what was going to happen.

If you don't want to have the possibility of doing that, then you could have the re-animated enemy show up on the way out of the dungeon, or follow them. As it was reanimated because of the failed spell, it could be linked to the cleric in some way, maybe even regarding her as its master.

You have a lot of choices. The moves system in DW makes it easy to mistake for a strongly structured game, where there are "wrong" answers. As I've got to know it better, that idea seems wrong to me.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget to laugh quietly, like a maniac, to make your players concerned about what you've triggered for them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Feb 8, 2017 at 19:02

You can make a move elsewhere and still signal it to the players, even if it's not seen by the characters.

Somewhere in the dungeon behind you, a dead hand twitches, a dead leg jerks, as the unholy mirror of your spell finds a host...

Then move on. The players have seen the move and the danger has been telegraphed, but the characters are unaware.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Or, if they are still in audible distance, tell them "you hear the shambling of undead feet and a muffled moaning from someone longing to taste the flesh of the living" \$\endgroup\$
    – Mrkvička
    Feb 9, 2017 at 12:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ If they're that close, I'd consider it "on screen" - the question to me is, "Would the characters in the movie / show of this game be aware of it in this scene?" If they can hear it, they can react to it, it's not really "off-screen". I think your version is a fine one but doesn't really address the off-screen criterion of the original question. \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Feb 9, 2017 at 14:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ That is a very valid point. I based my comment on my own assumption that they might be close enough to hear it, but perhaps unable to react to it or not seeing it as an immediate threat (e.g., currently unable to go back due to the door behind them getting closed and locked as they changed room in a dungeon - if they need to go back the same way out, then they will inevitably have to deal with it). However, it might still not really fulfill the criterion of being truly off-screen, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mrkvička
    Feb 9, 2017 at 14:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is what DW is all about. Don't keep the fiction from the players even if the characters are unaware. Nothing wrong with a little dramatic irony. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 9, 2017 at 16:37

I'm just hoping you haven't prepared dungeon levels, because if you did, you'd have to ditch them.

Whenever you make a move, you should have something to tell the players about it. It does not have to be directly about what just happened offscreen. For your example, I'd go for Reveal an unwelcome truth;

– Cleric, sometimes when you cast your healing spell, some of it seeps back to you. Not enough to really heal you but just enough to make you feel better. This is one of those times. And now that you feel better, you remember that the weird iron ring on the finger of that knight you killed two levels up terribly resembles the picture of the ring of reanimation you saw on a dusty tome in your master's library as an apprentice.

One other thing you can do is cut to the chase right away. There's nothing keeping you from just fast-forwarding the game time as a part of your move.

– So the healing is done and you just keep hacking and slashing through two more levels of the dungeon but down in the sixth level you hear a somewhat familiar sound of clanking armour. Cleric, your holy symbol begins to glow. What do you do?

As I said, hope you didn't prepare levels 4 and 5 ;)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I did not prepare a dungeon that concretely. However, I had never thought of the notion of skipping ahead as such. I'll have to decide whether I like that idea or not. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8, 2017 at 21:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BlackVegetable, If I 'skip ahead', I'd generally try to do that as part of a tell them the requirements or consequences and ask move. "Cleric, you sense that the magic has drawn the attention of forces deeper below. If you choose to keep delving, you are likely to encounter those forces. Do you all wish to delve further into the dungeon?" At that point you have party buy-in to 'skip ahead' in cinematic fashion; if players object, you can always rewind and switch to a different tact. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan Bryant
    Feb 9, 2017 at 14:50

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