I've encountered this situation enough to notice it becoming a possible anti-pattern in my Dungeon-World Campaign:

GM: "Character A, two strange snake-like creatures burst out of the ground in front of you ready to strike, what do you do?"

B: "Wait, I'm fairly close to character A and I have a halberd which has a bit of a reach. I step forward and thrust the halberd into the snake closer to me."

This situation looks like a hack-and-slash move, albeit not in the turn order I anticipated. The players have been pretty good about sharing the limelight so it isn't problematic in the sense of one player hogging all of the action. So, given that player B is close enough to attack with a couple tiny steps taken, I consider it a Hack-and-Slash, not Aid. Fair enough, right?

Next situation is harder:

GM: "The mansion guard moves to the edge of range where both of your halberds are touching. It looks like either of you could attempt a thrust against the other. Character A, what do you do?"

C: "Wait, before she attacks I'd like to throw one of my knives at him from the side. Maybe it kills him, but at least it would distract him, right?"

GM: "Uh sure. You're throwing a knife at him so that's Volley."

C: "Great I roll an 11. I'll deal damage, and... 7 points!"

GM: "Yep those are good rolls. The knife goes straight through his noggin and he drops to the floor, halberd and all. I guess you're not clashing with him character A, but you still have the two guards engaging your friends further down the hall on the left. What do you do?"

Here the spotlight was taken from player A and moved to a Volley with C. Now this one was stated with the objective of either harming or distracting the guardsman. Distracting sounds like Aid, but I mean, it's a knife.

Suppose I had ruled that one was an Aid and it was successful. Does that mean the knife hits the target and doesn't deal damage? Does it mean it hits but deals negligible damage? Does it just mean it hit nearby the foe's head and grabbed his attention?

I had a similar situation deciding whether something was Defend, Aid, or Hack-and-Slash in another setting. In all of these, Aid is the weakest move in terms of how much help it potentially provides. Are the consequences of a failed Aid significantly weaker than a failed Defend or failed Volley?

When do I decide performing some manner of attack is Aid and not Hack and Slash or Volley?

up vote 12 down vote accepted

It's not your call.

It seems like there are a few different problems with your approach, which boils down to one of the basic "How to GM" steps; follow the rules. (All of them. Without exception.)

Problem 1: There are no turns. Pg. 17, Playing the Game

There are no turns or rounds in Dungeon World, no rules to say whose turn it is to talk. Instead players take turns in the natural flow of the conversation, which always has some back-and-forth. The GM says something, the players respond. The players ask questions or make statements, the GM tells them what happens next. Dungeon World is never a monologue; it’s always a conversation.

A player literally cannot preempt another player's turn because there are none. If someone is hogging the spotlight, direct your questions and get the targetted player's response, then check if the other player still wants to do what they said and then resolve any moves. Not every action in the fiction is a move, moves don't need to happen in any particular order beyond what the fiction determines, and as it says, the game is a conversation.

Problem 2: It isn't your job to decide what moves apply. Pg. 18, Making Moves

Everyone at the table should listen for when moves apply. If it’s ever unclear if a move has been triggered, everyone should work together to clarify what’s happening. Ask questions of everyone involved until everyone sees the situation the same way and then roll the dice, or don’t, as the situation requires.

It's your job to respond to what the players do with a new fictional state but it's everyone's job to decide what and which moves apply. If you know at least one move applies but you're not sure which, or one person thinks it should be Aid and another person thinks it should be Volley, then talk to the players and reach a consensus. Sure, it will take a little time out of the flow of the game but once you resolve the initial question, it probably won't need to come up again within the same group.

Problem 3: Moves are rule. Pg 18. Making Moves

The most basic unit of rules in Dungeon World is the move.

....

Moves are rules that tell you when they trigger and what effect they have. A move depends on a fictional action and always has some fictional effect. “Fictional” means that the action and effect come from the world of the characters we’re describing.

Moves are rules, each move has a trigger, and all rules must be followed all the time. That means if two moves trigger off one action, you don't make a choice; you do both. So with all that in mind, lets look at your examples. In both examples, you probably should have gotten Character A's player's answer first so let's focus on the moves' rules.

Character B defends:

GM: "Character A, two strange snake-like creatures burst out of the ground in front of you ready to strike, what do you do?"

B: "Wait, I'm fairly close to character A and I have a halberd which has a bit of a reach. I step forward and thrust the halberd into the snake closer to me."

Hack and Slash triggers "When you attack an enemy in melee" so you made the correct call there, however it also might be a trigger for another move. Defend triggers "When you stand in defense of a person, item, or location under attack". This is the sort of moment where a discussion should occur with the players starting with the question: "Are you trying to defend Character A or just attacking the snake?" If Character B isn't trying to defend Character A, Hack and Slash triggers. If he is then you and the other players should discuss whether or not one can actually "Attack an enemy in melee" while "Standing in defense". This may even revolve around such intricacies as whether the player is using the halberd at range, or closing the space (possibly triggering the "Defy Danger" move in the process). If they agree that both can happen at the same time, then both happen. Allow the player to resolve both rolls and describe any successes, then perform any GM moves and resume the normal flow of the game.

Character C Aids:

GM: "The mansion guard moves to the edge of range where both of your halberds are touching. It looks like either of you could attempt a thrust against the other. Character A, what do you do?"

C: "Wait, before she attacks I'd like to throw one of my knives at him from the side. Maybe it kills him, but at least it would distract him, right?"

Volley triggers "When you take aim and shoot at an enemy at range" so if we assume from that that the character is indeed at range (because Hack and Slash would apply to attacks in Melee, not just with "melee weapons") we can safely discount Defend as a possible move. However, Aid triggers "When you help or hinder someone" and the stated goal of Character C's player is to "at least distract him". As stated, Aid would trigger regardless. Whether or not Volley triggers once again comes down to a discussion with the group. Can you both aim and act in time to serve as a distraction? If you can't then the trigger for Aid precludes the trigger for Volley (since Volley triggers if and only if you take aim) leaving the player to make a choice.

  • I misspoke (wrote?) when I mentioned the concept of "turn order". I simply meant who I was asking "What do you do?" to directly. – BlackVegetable Feb 13 '17 at 12:56
  • @BlackVegetable Fair enough, but the lack of turns (not just turn order) is still super important to the summary point. A lack of turns means no need for an action economy means no reason to choose between options. – Wesley Obenshain Feb 13 '17 at 14:41
  • Plus I stand by my suggestion for how to handle the issue of players pre-empting each other since you've suggested it's a problem in your game. – Wesley Obenshain Feb 13 '17 at 14:51
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    -1 it's implied you can't trigger two moves at once. In fact it's discussed specifically wrt Defend vs H&S: "Defending yourself is certainly an option. It amounts to giving up on making attacks and just trying to keep yourself safe." You don't get to double dip. – mxyzplk Feb 13 '17 at 17:13
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    I'll self-answer in a bit so it is more visible, but yes I did have a chance. – BlackVegetable Feb 26 '17 at 18:59

I've had a chance to apply the feedback from these answers. My takeaways:

1. The table determines what moves are triggered, as per the rules.

Previously I was interpreting some rules regarding immersion to mean that the GM was solely responsible for deciding what moves were triggered from fiction. However, I have corrected this so we jointly determine what move is triggered when it isn't clear cut.

2. Simultaneous moves are hard; reword things to avoid them.

Because the rules aren't clear on how to treat simultaneous actions, it is better/easier to rephrase fictional actions to match serial events. This follows fairly naturally from #1 where the players are helping to determine the moves being triggered. Once aware of the difficulty regarding simultaneous moves, the players were fine to slightly change their fictional behavior to fit within this constraint. (Although there is a philosophical argument to be made that no two independent actions truly are simultaneous in any circumstance...)

3. Because the GM can make moves as hard and soft as he/she would like, Aid need not be as risky as Hack-and-Slash.

The piece that really needed defining for my group was why you would ever want to choose Aiding a vulnerable ally when you were physically capable of just intercepting their foe and performing Hack-and-Slash. This was resolved by realizing that in many circumstances, Aid isn't as risky to fail as Hack-and-Slash. This is based upon fiction, of course, but I think the following example can help clarify:

Having recently seen repeated failed rolls from our Bard leaving the party in a crippled and vulnerable state while being swarmed by gargoyles, the player of the Cleric opted for a more conservative approach to assisting against yet another swooping gargoyle attack.

Novalee: So Jamie (the thief) is having two gargoyles dive at her, right? I'll... swing my mace wildly near the approach of the closer of the two gargoyles.

GM: Ah, so are you just trying to make it easier for Jamie to evade the Gargoyles' attacks or are you attempting to intercept one of them?

Novalee: Just swinging as a distraction, so just Aid. [rolls dice] 6 + 2 for our bonds is 8.

GM: Ok, you are able to discourage one of the gargoyles from attacking for the moment as it veers to change course and the sight of your magical mace flailing about is a distraction to the other. It is especially distracting because of that light spell you cast on it earlier. However, you are flailing so wildly it actually flies out of your hand. Jamie, are you still planning on jumping out of the way?

Jamie: Yup. I'm going to leap out of the way, so Defy Danger. [rolls dice] 2 + 2 from DEX and +1 from Aid for a total of 5, great.

GM: Ouch. Ok, not only does the gargoyle slice you up a little, roll d6...

Jamie: [rolls dice] 2 so minus 1 for my armor, I take 1 damage.

GM: ...but your dagger goes sailing through the air. If I recall correctly, that special gem within the dagger was your only other light source. You are now working with only the now-dim light of Novalee's (the Cleric) mace which is on the floor a few feet away from all of you while two gargoyles are possibly closing in from above and you have the wounded one in the doorway. What do you do?

Rather than risking further HP loss from Hack-and-Slash, a common side-effect, Aid was used to minimize risk. This is because in the fiction, Aid tends to represent (and be triggered by) a less risky set of actions. But, the partial success from Aid was still a bit of a problem for the group as illustrated.

Also, however, keep in mind that partial successes and failures are quite different as one triggers a GM move and the other doesn't. And the partial success on Hack-and-Slash is often more deadly because of the counterattack built into it. So that's also a balancing factor.

Each move has a trigger.

If the move is triggered in the fiction, that move can be used. Of course, some events of fiction can have triggers for multiple moves. In such case, the player should probably be the one to decide which move he uses (so long as the GM thinks the move is triggered).

Now let's look at your examples.

GM: "Character A, two strange snake-like creatures burst out of the ground in front of you ready to strike, what do you do?"

B: "Wait, I'm fairly close to character A and I have a halberd which has a bit of a reach. I step forward and thrust the halberd into the snake closer to me."

This situation looks like a hack-and-slash move, albeit not in the turn order I anticipated. The players have been pretty good about sharing the limelight so it isn't problematic in the sense of one player hogging all of the action. So, given that player B is close enough to attack with a couple tiny steps taken, I consider it a Hack-and-Slash, not Aid. Fair enough, right?

Looks like a trigger for Defend (Trigger: When you stand in defense of a person) to me, especially if B's intention was to help A by fighting one of the snakes. He could choose to spend a hold to "Deal damage to the attacker equal to your level."

But H&S would also be justified in my opinion. B is fighting an enemy that knows about B.

GM: "The mansion guard moves to the edge of range where both of your halberds are touching. It looks like either of you could attempt a thrust against the other. Character A, what do you do?"

C: "Wait, before she attacks I'd like to throw one of my knives at him from the side. Maybe it kills him, but at least it would distract him, right?"

Here the spotlight was taken from player A and moved to a Volley with C. Now this one was stated with the objective of either harming or distracting the guardsman. Distracting sounds like Aid, but I mean, it's a knife.

Volley (When you take aim and shoot at an enemy at range) and Aid (When you help someone) would both be triggered, like you said.

Now you need to remember that if the fiction has triggers for multiple moves, he still only gets to make one move. What I mean by this is that if chooses to Volley, he shouldn't get the benefits of Aid; likewise if he chooses Aid he shouldn't get the benefits of Volley.

He chooses Volley, he does what Volley says he does. Roll+Dex, and possibly deal damage. Volley makes no mention about distracting someone, does it?

Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask.

GM: "C, do you want to harm the mansion guard, or distract him?"

C: "Uh, I was thinking about both, but I guess distracting is more important?"

GM: "Great teamwork. That's Aid."

But wait, how does this work in fiction? Surely a knife that is thrown at someone could both hurt and distract, right?

Begin and end with the fiction. First, the fiction. Then, the "mechanics", the rules. Finally, the fiction again. You shouldn't bother yourself with fiction during the "mechanics" phase.

C: "So I have one bond with A... Nice, I got 11.

(at this point the GM thinks how a thrown knife can effectively distract but deal no damage)

GM: "Right. You hurl a knife at the mansion guard's head. He wore a helmet, so the knife bounces off quite harmless, but in process it twisted his helmet around. He's blinded for a moment; you guys take +1 forward against him. A, what will you do now?

Well, actually, Aid doesn't do that. A successful Aid gives your buddy +1 on their roll. In our example A didn't even declare any action yet: from a technical standpoint C probably couldn't have Aided in the first place. But oh well. Keep the game flowing.

When do I decide performing some manner of attack is Aid and not Hack and Slash or Volley?

My answer to this question is: You don't.

Now as for when Aid should be used... it's when a PC declares action (which triggers a move), and some other PC is in position to help that acting PC. I suppose it's kind of situational?

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    As far as I know, it doesn't actually say anywhere in the book that two moves can't trigger at the same time. No turns means no "action economy". Moves (including triggers) are rules and all rules must be followed. If they occur sequentially or conditionally in the fiction then that's how they're triggered, but if the triggers occur simultaneously in the fiction then both moves occur simultaneously; as do any consequences. And the GM doesn't decide when a move triggers; the table does. – Wesley Obenshain Feb 13 '17 at 0:13
  • @WesleyObenshain Never said two moves can't trigger at the same time; on the contrary, I said that while two moves can trigger at the same time, usually only one is followed through. – MGlacier Feb 13 '17 at 0:49
  • You imply it in multiple places and literally say "Now you need to remember that if the fiction has triggers for multiple moves, he still only gets to make one move." And you may have meant to say the thing about one then the other but I don't see it there. – Wesley Obenshain Feb 13 '17 at 14:47
  • Triggering a move != making a move. What you quoted is me explicitly saying that multiple moves can be triggered at once. Just because a move is triggered doesn't mean you need to make that move. – MGlacier Feb 13 '17 at 14:52
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    Moves are rules. You must follow all rules. Therefore, yes, if a move is triggered you DO need to make it. – Wesley Obenshain Feb 13 '17 at 14:54

Dungeon World has no turns, but "talking out of turn" is still a thing.

So, yes, while:

There are no turns or rounds in Dungeon World, no rules to say whose turn it is to talk. Instead players take turns in the natural flow of the conversation, which always has some back-and-forth.

let's talk a bit about "the natural flow of the conversation". We'll suppose you and some humans are seated around a table talking about human things, and you're curious about some specific human's uncle, so you ask them a question. That doesn't make it okay for all the other humans at the table to shout at you about the features of their human uncles in a curious game of one-uncmanship. You were talking to one human and had a question to ask one human and you don't have to accept answers from any other humans.

So when Fightgar, Sir Justice, and Shanksworth are all charging through the halls of the risen tomb of Pten-Amon-Hiss, and you decide to put Fightgar in a spot by having some snakes jump out at them and saying "Fightgar, what are you doing?" it doesn't matter that Sir Justice's bec-de-corbin has Reach and Shanksworth has a brace of knives. (Assuming, you know, a neutral prep state, not that that Sir Justice is already Defending Fightgar, or Shanksworth has taken a compendium class that can run overwatch.) You were talking to Fightgar, the spotlight is on Fightgar, and you're waiting for Fightgar's answer.

Aid, Unique Among Player Moves

Now, this is cheating just a bit, but the Apocalypse World move that obviously inspired Aid has an interesting qualifier to it (emphasis mine):

When you help or interfere with someone who's making a roll

So that's your avenue to listen to someone who's talking out of turn. And it makes sense, right? "Is the spotlight on Shanksworth or Sir Justice?" is a very different question than "Can Shanksworth or Sir Justice help Fightgar?" Of course they have to be able to take the actions in-fiction that would let them help - Sir Justice needs to be able to support Fightgar from the back ranks, Shanksworth needs a moment free to toss a knife as a distraction.

And it's completely legitimate to tell Shanksworth and Sir Justice the requirements or consequences and then ask. Shanksworth has to mark off a knife. Sir Justice is going to be attacking into the melee. Because you need to have something ready to go when they roll snake-eyes, like Fightgar catching a glancing blow (-1d6 damage) of friendly bec-de-fire, or Shanksworth's knife causing an excellent distraction as it shatters a pot on the windowsill and caroms off into the trackless wilds.

In Summation

  • If you ask someone what move they want to make, you don't have to listen to anybody who butts in and let them make a move instead. You can focus your part of the conversation on anyone or no one.
  • Aid rolls break this focus to some extent, in that helping is possible when being in the spotlight is not.
  • You can impose whatever requirements or conditions make sense from the fiction of how someone is aiding someone else.

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