Defy Danger revisions, scenarios, and POLLS!

I definitely like the wording of “when the stakes are high” for at least insinuating that some actions aren’t worth stopping to roll for. It may come down to each group or person’s sensibilities for what counts as high stakes in practice, but at least you get people thinking about if this particular moment really matters enough to call for a roll. I could see playing with the wording of the back half of that sentence to get at the same thing (“you act in the face of significant or meaningful danger,” for example) to get people to think about it from the point of view of, “is failure actually interesting here?”


It’s a fair question, and if I was sure (and could articulate it), I’d make that be the trigger, right?

Like, there probably a number of “categories” of Defy Danger getting triggered, right?

As a “skill check” (knowing that, yes, that’s a very loaded term). The PC says they do something that is itself inherently dangerous or very difficult: climbing the icy cliff… leaping the chasm… sneaking into the bandit camp… running all night to get news to the count… figuring out the pattern before the crystal explodes… fitting in during the prince’s gala.

These are cool and fine when the stakes are significant. They’re un-fun when the threshold for triggering the move is too low, and you get asked to Defy Danger to scramble up a steep slope to see what’s on the other side, with no monsters are pressure, etc. The only “stakes” are likely your dignity, maybe some gear or HP, and… meh?

As a “saving throw”, when the GM makes a soft move that sets up something bad and says “what do you do?” and the player has their PC react to avoid or prevent it. A fireball is incoming… “I dive for cover!” The monster is terrifying and you feel yourself freeze up >> “Screw that, I howl my rage and charge!” The knife just nicked you but the wound is burning way more than it should, you feel your arm start to convulse >> “I grit my teeth and press on!”

These are cool when the player takes the situation and reacts in a bold, interesting way that changes up the situation regardless of success or failure. Diving for cover against that fireball is obvious, but still pretty cool, because even on a success they just dove for cover… they’re not standing where they were anymore, and the situation will be different when this is done. Howling in rage and charging the monster is again kind of obvious but still pretty cool, cuz it establishes bold action… on a hit, they’re charging the monster and that’s a dynamic situation to resolve. Gritting their teeth and pressing on despite the poison is, again, obvious, and honestly not very interesting. But at least we get some characterization out of it?

These are less cool, and a little disappointing, when the declared reaction is boring and doesn’t significantly change the situation or reveal anything about the character. Monster swings at you >> “I dodge out of the way?” Okay, well… that resolves that blow, I guess. The move doesn’t really generate much of a snowball… we’re down to GM principles to keep things moving in an interesting way. Which isn’t bad, but… I dunno, it’d be nice if the move itself did some of the lifting? Or just got out of the way until the character did something that was interesting and potentially situation-changing.

As a move-to-allow-another-move, as in “I rush in swinging with my sword, stabby stabby” “He’s got reach on you… you want to stabby stabby, you’ll have to get past his spear.” “Oh, then i’ll like smash that spear aside and down into the ground, then lunge at him and stabby stabby.” “Okay, Defy Danger with STR, I think, to get past the spear!”

This is basically the “skill check” version but with the rather explicit purpose of getting into position to do the thing you really want to do. Which, on the one hand, cool! Work that fictional positioning, right? On the other hand… it can feel like “rolling to get to roll,” which can feel… not fun?

I sometimes wonder if that sort of thing would play better with just a -2 forward or imposing disadvantage. But mostly I think this is okay as-is, unless everyone starts ignoring the fiction and just treats as roll-to-see-if-you-can-roll.

As a way resolve some non-standard tactic in a fight, like tackling a foe instead of stabbing them, or trying to disarm them, or trick them, or something like that. Almost always interesting, though there’s often questions like “is it H&S or Defy Danger?” or “Does it deal damage?” Ultimately, I’m not too worried about these. The PC is doing something other than just trying to deplete enemy HP? Yes, more of that!

Though… I’m sure there are versions of this where the game would work better with just a GM move. Like, should it really be a Defy Danger to throw sand in someone’s eyes? (I’m honestly not sure.)

As a way to see just how bad a calamity was. E.g. the rage drake chomps down on your arm, hard, and does [b]2d10+3 damage, messy… is your arm still attached? Usable? Defy Danger (probably with CON?) to find out.

This is my absolute least favorite version, but it’s there in the original trigger with "When you… or suffer a calamity. The GM is the one calling for it, but then the player has to say how they deal with it, and that’s just… very weird, and different from the flow of play. And besides. if the GM’s following principles (Think Dangerous, Begin & End With the Fiction), then any sort of calamity will establish all sorts of danger the player will defy (as a “saving throw” or as a “skill check”) when they do anything other than just lie there and die.

In other words: I’d be happy without the “or suffer a calamity” half of the trigger.

So where does this get me? Other than bleary-eyed from staring at this screen?

I think most of these “versions” of Defy Danger are good and have their place, but I’d like a way to make sure that:

  • When used as a “skill check,” it’s only for situations that are high-stakes and significant actions
  • When used as a “saving throw,” it’s only for reactions that actually change the status quo, OR the move self-enforces that a rather boring reaction still rolls into a change of the status quo (I’m thinking fo Monsterheart’s Keep Your Cool move here).
  • When used to a move-to-earn-another move, that we don’t lose sight of the fiction behind and let it turn into rolling-to-get-to-roll.
  • It can still work to resolve non-standard tactics in a fight
  • It maybe doesn’t need to be invoked for any non-standard tactic in a fight

Splitting it into two moves (proactive skill check vs. reactive saving throw) might help, but I’m still clinging to my constraint of “let’s just keep one move called Defy Danger to cover both these things.”


First off, that was a fantastic analysis and response @Jeremy_Strandberg.

Secondly, when I was answering the questions, for me, the dominant thing running through my mind was what was being risked at that action. What were the immediate consequences I could apply should a miss or a partial result happen. For me (I know this is sort of backwards) but I looked to what COULD be interesting if they missed or failed, even if I didn’t know exactly have an answer, but I felt like the situation could change in an immediate and interesting way, I thought it should trigger the move. I then assessed which trigger I thought it hit. If I felt like it didn’t really hit either of the specified triggers, then I also would say “Didn’t trigger”.

So for me, when I was taking the poll, I was thinking should ANY move be triggered because an interesting thing could happen on a miss or partial result. If so, is the move that should be triggered this version Defy Danger based on those triggers. For me, having a broader net would mean more things would be captured by Defy Danger. But if there were another more specific move out there it would probably trigger first.

So my votes may not have been the most useful to you, as I clearly answered in away that was NOT testing what I think you wanted to test. Thinking back I probably could have answered the way you wanted based on the instructions… I just didn’t.

For better or worse my mental loop is:

  1. Player: I want to do this thing!
  2. Me: Cool. [to myself] are there interesting possible things for miss or partial hit?
    a. Nope, can’t think of any. No move trigger either they just do the thing or tell them why the move they want doesn’t actually trigger.
    b. Yup, interesting things could happen. Figure out what move is the most specific, do that. If no specific moves fit, look at “defy danger/keep cool”, if that fits do that. If it doesn’t. Just do an MC reaction.

This is probably something I should think about for “Defy Danger/Keep Your Cool”. About actually looking at those specific triggers and what they should be triggered on.

Anyways thanks for the great insight on Defy Danger.


Excellent breakdown. I feel like if you CAN somehow distill this into a clearer Defy Danger, it will be amazing. :slight_smile: To get there, I think it might be useful to look at the bullet points you conclude with, figure out which (if any) might be cut or offloaded to other sections of the rules, and determine what those that are left have in common. Looking at this list, I kind of feel like Defy Danger is trying to do too much (in a game with other basic moves, anyway), and it might make sense to have Defy Danger and some other, additional basic move, or even a new GM move or principle.

For instance, I personally don’t think “move-to-earn-another-move” or “non-standard tactics in a fight” need to be covered by Defy Danger: The former seems better covered by GM moves and principles (or some new rule, like a blunt mechanical penalty as you suggest), and the latter could be covered by the same, or rolled into the other combat moves by offering a flexible “stunt” option or the like. (If you’ll forgive me for getting some OSR in our PbtA, I actually see these as potentially best handled by the “offer an opportunity, with or without cost” and “tell them the requirements and consequences and ask” GM moves, phrased along the lines of “dilemmas” from Electric Bastionland. E.g., “You want to throw sand in his face and then attack? Okay, you can hack and slash, but choose 1 less option.”) (EDIT: This example would be better if there were a clear benefit from throwing sand in the face, so I’d want to rethink that by asking the player what they want to get from throwing sand in the opponent’s face. But I like the idea of just limiting what they can accomplish, or opening them up to more danger, using the options already built into player and GM moves.)

What’s left over are the “skill checks” and “saving throws,” but specifically only when making the roll necessarily means a change to what’s happening in the story at that very moment. Maybe that question of high stakes and changing situation could be part of the trigger, then?


It definitely might be easier if the move were split into multiple parts. @Tam has suggested over on Discord that Defy Danger would be better as two moves, one that’s proactive (“skill check”) and another that’s reactive (“saving throw”). But, again, I’m pretty committed to keeping Defy Danger as a single move, for a number of reasons: aesthetics/sentimentality, reducing move bloat, and (to be honest) marketing purposes–it’s easier to pitch something as an “alternative” or “unofficial second edition” to DW when it has the same recognizable basic moves.

Agree on the former. I’ve been thinking more and more that’d it’d be easier to tell them the requirements/consequences and ask:

“The athach hefts a 5-foot long branch in its left arm and swings it across at you like a baseball bat, what do you do?”

“Duck under it, dart inside, and make with the stabby! Hack and Slash?”

“Well, he’s got reach on you, so you’ll be Defying Danger with DEX to dodge and get close enough to fight.”

“Yeah, but he’s got reach reach on you, so you’ll be Hacking and Slashing with disadvantage.”

And while I’m generally not a fan of crude mechanical penalties, that honestly feels a bit better than just roll-so-that-you-can-roll. And my gut tells me that it’s similar, probability-wise. I still need to analyze that.

Oh, have I ever given thought to that.

There was a whole series of posts and polls on G+ while I struggled through it, but in the end, I came back to a version of Hack & Slash that is really quite similar to the original–the only significant difference being an specific statement that “your maneuver works.” See here for that thought process. So with that in mind, I don’t have much room for offloading this sort of thing to H&S.

Thing is… I think a solution that worked for “skill checks” would largely work for any sort of non-standard tactic. You still end up with the question of “is it H&S or DD?” but I don’t know that it matters all that much, unless one is clearly the “better” choice, y’know?

Here’s what I settled for in the most recent update to Homebrew World:

It doesn’t fundamentally change the move. Mostly, it just clarifies the trigger a bit (high stakes + danger looming + action = Defy Danger), and it cleans up the 10+ and 7-9 a little. I talk about the design thoughts going into it here. I’m pretty convinced that this version is better (sets better expectations, easier to read, provides better guidance, etc.) than the original, but it’s an iterative improvement.

What I keep thinking about is something that forces players to think bigger than “I dodge” but still works for both “saving throw” and “skill check” versions, both reactive and proactive scenarios, and could still work well in a fight. I’m thinking this (or something like it):


With this version of the move, when the Bard throws the sheets at the two cudgel-wielding cultists, we stop and clarify: what does the Bard stand to gain? (“Tangle them up so I can get to my rapier.”) What’s the risk? (“One of them bashes you with his cudgel.”)

On a 10+, cool… the cultists are playing Casper and the Bard has his rapier. “As you turn to face them, one manages to get free and brandishes the the cudgel, what do you do?”

On a 7-9, if the cultist gets what he was after but the risk comes to pass… “Yeah, the get tangled up and you dart past them to your rapier, but as you grab it THWACK, the one closest to you gets free and smashes you in the back of the knee… take a d6 damage and you drop to the ground. He looms over you and raises his cudgel for another blow, but you at least have your rapier, what do you do?”

On a 7-9, if the risk is avoided, but he doesn’t get what he’s after… “The thrown sheets check their charge, but as you’re half-way to your rapier, one of them gets free and swings his cudgel right at your head, what do you do?”

Let’s say it’s that last one, and the Bard responds with “I dodge?”

“Okay, sounds like you’re Defying Danger with DEX… what’s your goal? What do stand to gain?”

“Uh… not getting hit?”

“Nah, I think getting hit is the risk. What do you stand to gain?”

“Oh, I guess getting past him and getting to the rapier after all.”

“Cool, roll it!” 10+ sweet moves. 7-9, either get walloped but get the rapier, or keep dodging but no rapier. Miss = clobbering time.

The thing I really, really like about this approach is that it forces every Defy Danger into a “crisis + opportunity” state. You have establish something that you stand to gain, and it can’t just be “avoiding the risk.” It means that a 7-9 result is always a hard choice (or at least a choice).

I also like how it forces GMs and players to communicate about both intent and risk. This sort of forces the @JimLikesGames was saying about the thrown bed sheet in the first place (“What are you trying to accomplish here”) and makes us think through the risks. That costs a bit more in handling time, but I think (or at least hope) it would cut down on frivolous usage… if you can’t establish a meaningful gain or a meaningful risk, then just skip the roll. Also… knowing the risks up front is good drama.

It does mean more handling time for the move. And I expect there to be a learning curve, and negotiation. Like, I think it’d be a common rookie move to have a player establish a goal of X, but the risk be Y, and they end up being (or at least seeming) mutually exclusive.

“I climb the ravine!” “Sounds dangerous. What do you stand to gain?” “I want to get to the top so I can throttle that cultist!” “Okay, you risk falling” On a 7-9, the PC either avoids falling but only gets part way up the cliff, or they fall and yet make it up the cliff. Huh? (I guess, yeah, they could fall and get back up, but that seems… wrong, right?)

A better risk would be: “Okay, but you risk exhausting yourself in the climb and marking Weakened.” Or “Okay, but your risk taking too long and the cultist backing away, having time to prepare!” Save falling for the 6-.

But there’s still problematic risks like “Okay, but you risk the cultist blasting you with a spell on your way up.” But what’s the spell? If I get a 7-9 and choose to get what I was after (reaching the top of the ravine) but the cultist hits me with a spell… if that spell is a paralysis spell, or a polymorph, or just a concussive wave… those would all potentially interrupt the climb.

Anyhow, interested in other thoughts on this.


I like this a lot better. I shrink a bit from making basic moves too wordy, but I think that once you internalize what this is really asking you to do, it should play out very quickly and consistently. (And since what it’s trying to do is basically “make Defy Danger work more like Ghost/Echo and Otherkind so there’s never confusion about what the aims are,” I am a fan.)

My only concern about the example you give with the bard is that if I were GMing that scene, the player got a 7-9, they chose “avoid the risk,” and they tried to follow up with the exact same move again, as if nothing at all had changed in the fiction, I would freeze up and wonder if I did something wrong. It’s not as if the original Defy Danger was immune to this concern, though, and I can think of ways I might still keep things moving (e.g., move the spotlight to another player, or come up with a GM move that changes the stakes or fictional positioning to avoid repetitiveness). Sure, if ti didn’t have the “avoid the risk” option at all on 7-9, it would force moves to snowball more aggressively, and it wouldn’t feel unfair to me at all (as you’ve already offered an opportunity with a cost and/or opted to tell them the consequences and ask, and they accepted that risk when they went ahead and rolled Defy Danger anyway). That said, I appreciate having the option to turn toward other GM moves if it makes more sense, so I’m not sure that would actually make it a better move — just a more prescribed one.


I really like the trigger, but (as mentioned above) having a choice on 7-10 ends up having the same problem that always makes me shy away from using Otherkin dice, which is that it’s way too easy when someone chooses “avoid the danger” for the situation to end up back where you started and the bard is just trying to go for the rapier again, dodging the enemy each time in the hopes of rolling an 11.

I think it’s stronger if it’s:

11+ You achieve your goal and avoid the danger.

7-10 You achieve your goal but the danger comes to pass.

Actually, would it be better if we changed “danger” to “cost”? As in:

7-10 You get what you want but you pay the cost

Calling it “cost” might help people frame the stakes better, especially in situations like climbing the hill. A cost logically can’t be something that stops you from doing what you’re paying for, so that might make it easier/more likely that the stakes set don’t negate the original intent of the player.