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The following is somewhat similar to the issue discussed at How to ask nicely in Dungeon World, but I'm not asking about someone "asking politely" for a concrete action or object.

I'm wondering how, by the rules-as-written, the GM is supposed to react to someone striking up a conversation with an NPC and it is not about wanting something directly from the NPC, or rather, they are just making friendly inquiries the NPC has no in-fiction reason to refuse to answer. (For a concrete example, in a dwarven settlement haunted by creatures from below they start asking one of the terrorized dwarves questions about how exactly these creatures manifest.)

As written, the rules seem to say that after the PCs ask the NPC a question, the GM has to make a move since the players look to them to see what happens. But there is no move like "give out information" - the closest is Reveal an Unwelcome Truth, but is the GM really supposed to come up with unwelcome truths as answers to every question a PC asks an NPC? The answer to the question linked in the beginning explicitly calls out that there is no "Have a freeform social interaction" move, but I feel something is lacking here. In some conversations, Reveal an Unwelcome Truth and Show Signs of Doom are perfectly appropriate, but none of the other moves seem to make any sort of in-fiction sense when the NPC is already established as a hapless peasant or a willingly cooperating scholar or some similar reliable source of information.

Think Offscreen could apply, but this leads to a very strange result where players "fast forward" the offscreen state of the world by asking many questions. I had a hilarious scene where the players tricked a ghost into possessing an egg and then Parleyed with it to henceforward answer their questions by shaking in the classic once-for-yes/twice-for-no pattern. But technically, every single one of these Yes/No questions should have triggered a GM move, since the players looked to the GM for the egg's answer after every question...and there were rather many of those. Making a GM move for every such question strikes me as patently absurd.

So, is the answer that sometimes, the GM doesn't have to make a move? This seems to run counter to everything else I've read about Dungeon World - the GM is bound by the rules as much as the players are, and "make a move when the players look to you to see what happens" is a binding, non-negotiable rule. Is the answer that if I play with a group whose style includes occasionally lengthy conversations without any stake or antagonism, I shouldn't play Dungeon World? I would be surprised at that because everything else about the session went so smoothly that I cannot fathom such an oversight in the basic design of the rules.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Regarding your Yes/No egg case in particular, my preferred approach would be to abstract it rather than playing out the Yes/No game. Either that or I'd constrain it a bit and introduce an impending danger to discourage too many questions. Each answer would 'tick the clock' for the impending danger, with increasingly ominous warnings accompanying the answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Bryant Feb 20 '17 at 22:03
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I think it's helpful to frame things in context of your Agenda: Portray a fantastic world, fill the characters' lives with adventure and play to find out what happens. What you do as a GM should ideally always be in pursuit of that agenda. Our goal isn't to simulate everyday situations and imagine "okay, how would your typical farmer respond to this question?" It's about embracing the fantastic and creating adventure. Always remember to think dangerous while remaining a fan of the characters.

If the PCs have time to strike up an idle conversation, they must be feeling relatively safe. Time to make a move. A few ideas (including a few you already mentioned):

Reveal an unwelcome truth: "It's good to see some adventurers in these parts. Folks have been feeling on edge ever since the Halvred Farm burned down" [most likely you're revealing a grim portent for one of your front dangers]

Show signs of an approaching threat: The man seems quite willing to strike up a conversation and you chat for a bit. Thief, you notice that a few men have stopped to watch your conversation and, maybe you're just being paranoid, but they seem like they might be moving to surround you... [This is in a context where the PCs are floundering a bit and trying to figure out what to do and the character they interacted with isn't very interesting; I choose to just shift the focus entirely]

Use up their resources: I don't know much, I'm sorry, but I am rather hungry. Could you spare a bit of food? [and if they say no, it's likely a chance for some character/bond development.]

Turn their move back on them: "Sure, I can help with that...(shares useful information)" [behind the scenes you note that the big bad learns about this conversation and knows the party is asking about him; ideally you foreshadow this a bit by portraying the NPC as a bit shifty or maybe highlight him briefly in a scene whispering to someone.]

Separate them: "I...have a sensitive question to ask of you; Cleric, can we speak privately?" [This can be a set up for a subsequent danger while the Cleric is occupied or might spur some character/bond development while the characters talk without the Cleric present.]

Give an opportunity that fits a class' abilities: "Bard, you do sense this woman knows something, but she seems hesitant to share the information" [basically an invitation to play with Charming and Open, which is a wonderful two-way move.]

Show a downside to their class, race or equipment: Fighter, she seems rather apprehensive of you. In fact, several of the people here are giving you that look. You hear a faintly muttered racial epithet for dwarves, though you're not sure who said it.

Offer an opportunity, with or without cost "Could you spare a few coin? I found something on my land that you might find interesting."

Put someone in a spot: Wizard, as he gets closer, you recognize the man as a friend from your childhood who you had a falling out with due to a betrayal. How did he betray you?

Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask: You can spend some time to press the man for information, but your quarry will get further away the longer you talk. Do you want to keep talking? [I'd usually also fast-forward through chit-chat at this point and jump to the key point.]

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    \$\begingroup\$ These are great. GM moves can be low-key when moving the game forward; they don't have to always be cataclysmic. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 20 '17 at 21:38
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In Dungeon World, the narrative flows until a Move is triggered. Until a Move is triggered, no mechanics are involved. Conversely, once a Move is triggered, mechanics do become involved.

So, if the conversation doesn't trigger a Move (e.g. "Parley") just talk. Respond as the character would. The mechanic isn't meant to be involved in every single action the players do, just the ones that trigger moves.

The problem text appears to be this advice on page 164

When to Make a Move You make a move: When everyone looks to you to find out what happens When the players give you a golden opportunity When they roll a 6-

I think it's in how you read "when everyone looks to you to find out what happens" If you interpret that too broadly, you're literally always going to be making a Move, since all the players will always want to know what the GM says is happening.

However, I'd argue that, if you're roleplaying back and forth, you already know what's happening: people are talking. There's no need to trigger a Move here. And, in fact, I've seen games break down when people try to apply Moves to every fictional action.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's a basic assumption of the DW's "fiction first" mindeset that the fiction is going to prompt you to make Moves. If you don't see a Move to be made, i.e. the fiction doesn't prompt you to, you're in freeplay mode, which is just the sort of situation you're looking for in your question. If you have leverage over an NPC and want something from them, then you've triggered "Parley" in the case of your big bad. \$\endgroup\$ – Doctor Kill Feb 20 '17 at 15:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ That clearly conflicts with "Since the “everyone looks to you to find out what happens” trigger matches, it's now the GM’s turn to make an appropriate move, instead of falling into “time for unstructured social exchange improvisation!” habits that they have brought with them from some other game." from d7's answer from the linked question - you are advocating doing precisely that, unstructured social exchange improvisation, until the GM thinks a move fits. Am I misunderstanding something here? \$\endgroup\$ – ACuriousMind Feb 20 '17 at 15:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ No. That is exactly what I'm advocating. Moves don't happen until they're triggered. The question seems to hinge upon what exactly "when everyone looks to you to see what happens" means. My interpretation is in my edit. \$\endgroup\$ – Doctor Kill Feb 20 '17 at 15:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ "When everyone looks to you (...)" should not be interpreted too broadly. It's a tabletop RPG, of course the players are going to look at the GM, especially when in a conversation with an NPC. The "what happens" part in "When everyone looks to you to find out what happens" doesn't apply to literally everything. The "what happens" part is (usually) as a response to a player move, is it not? \$\endgroup\$ – MGlacier Feb 20 '17 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MGlacier No, it's not in response to a player move. Those follow their own rules already. But you're right that “looks to you” is not triggered quite as often as it might seem: it's when the action stops, nothing is happening, and the group is waiting for the GM to move the game along. “looks to you” is the DW rule that ensures play doesn't stall. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 20 '17 at 18:33
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Game (move) recognize game (move).

Moves are how you tag the "game" parts of the conversation back and forth - the parts where the players have to roll dice or otherwise engage the mechanics, and the parts where you're prompting the players to roll dice or otherwise engage the mechanics. If the players aren't doing something you have to make a GM judgment call on, they're not making a move. They may be asking for a better description of the world around them, which is one of your other responsibilities as GM.

So if, for examples, this occasion arises:

"As you approach the town of Safeton (town motto: It's Not Ironic, We Swear) the flag of the kingdom of Dobravia ripples majestically in the morning breeze-"

"What's it look like?"

"What's what look like?"

"The flag of Dobravia. You know, what color is it, does it have a sweet sword or goofy lion or something?"

And, well, they're not asking for weird obscure lore about the flag, it's right in front of them, and there's nothing secret about it either, so you're not going to prompt them to Spout Lore or Discern Realities.

You can just keep going with your description of the world around the players, which now includes some details about the flag of Dobravia.

Similarly, conversations are a way of describing the world. They're describing what the person you're talking to is currently saying.

What Descriptive Conversations Are

You know how when you're describing a forest you don't detail every individual tree and bush? And when you're describing a town you don't detail every brick and beam?

When you're describing a conversation, you don't have to detail every breath and word, either. Describe enough to tell people about their conversation partners - mood, style of speaking, general informed nature, that sort of thing.

Now that you've got the ghost talking, that oppressive feeling fades from just behind your eyes, but it just kind of spins in place - don't know - whenever you ask it about anything that happened in the dungeons recently. It doesn't seem very up on current events.

or

The smith is glad to have the company; it's a very slow day at market, and you can trade gossip between customers for as long as you like. He's happy to pass on what some guy in a pub told him about anywhere in the world, but judging by the stories of islands made of gems and three-footed giants, "some guy in a pub" is a pretty universal constant.

or

The dwarves seem to run out of words when they start describing exactly what happened to them in the deep tunnels. Part of it is that the terror's rushing back, part of it is that they can't seem to actually describe what went on. The pauses get longer and longer. Is this hurting them, somehow?

At some point you have to stop describing and prompt the players, though, don't you? So what do you prompt them with? Well, that ties into:

What Descriptive Conversations Aren't

They aren't guaranteed to be interesting, useful, or even true.

Yes, I know, you're supposed to tell the truth as a GM, but you can tell the truth that what somebody's saying isn't true. Or, if you prefer, necessarily true. The smith heard a rumor from some guy in a pub about an island of gems ruled by three-footed giants. That says nothing about whether that island actually exists!

As a player, what gets you interesting, useful, and true things? Making moves. So, as a GM, when you're finished with the descriptive part of a descriptive conversation, you can prompt your players to make some moves. Whether in the conventional style, such as:

The ghost's certainly a willing source of information, but you're going to need to fill in the gaps in its memories with what you already know about the tower. You can roll Discern Realities and ask me questions about the whole place.

Or:

Rumors don't just come out of nowhere, though. If you wanted to find out whether there was any truth in anything the smith was telling you, you could always Spout Lore and see if something comes to mind.

Or you can put your own spin on it:

You can carefully question the dwarves about what they've seen, of course. Just start asking questions from the Discern Realities list and I'll answer them. But for every two, you'll take -1 ongoing to interact with the rest of this mining camp until you deal with what happened to them, or at least help them recover.

Things can break in other directions than just that, of course. If you've looked over your list of GM moves and something is jumping out at you as a natural endpoint to the conversation, follow your heart. Heck, maybe the conversation is just something to get dramatically interrupted.

In and of itself, though? It never has to be a move, just a description.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd argue that in Dungeon World (and PbtA in general), descriptions can (and should) usually be part of GM moves. Moves triggered by player character actions are part of the game mechanics, but arguably the GM moves (in the context of the Agenda and Principles) are the more critical mechanic, even if it's not as immediately visible to the players. You're not describing for its sake, but in the service of portraying a fantastic world and filling the characters' lives with adventure. The GM moves give you a framework for shaping that description toward a call to action, moving play forward. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Bryant Jul 24 '18 at 1:38

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