Freebooters, Dungeon World, PbtA Question about multiple simultaneous "Dangers"

In Freebooters on the Frontier, a PbtA game add-on/Dungeon World Hack by Lampblack and Brimstone, one triggers the emergence of DANGERS through various moves in the wilderness or in a dungeon. A Danger might be a trap, a creature, or anything else that’s… dangerous.
This sort of thing happens in vanilla Dungeon World as well, when a “threat” manifests through GM moves. Suddenly, there’s a danger to deal with. What do you do?

I’d like to discuss with experienced PbtA fantasy gamers what happens when there are multiple different dangers in the scene at once.

For example, last night we had a “boss” encounter. The (6th-8th level) PCs finally faced a long-time nemesis, the evil cleric Frunga – a maniac obsessed with Kobold genocide. With Frunga was her mind-controlled slave, a green dragon. Frunga herself was quickly dealt with: poisoned by a follower and left in a cataleptic state.

The evil Dragon, free from its bonds, served its instinct and attacked the players. (In fact, a “World Building” move had much earlier established that this would happen, despite the player’s mission to serve the Kobold queen and the “Connection” special quality that kobolds have for dragons.) A wild battle ensued.

Suddenly, a new danger appeared: a group of powerful minions that Frunga had summoned: a Fire Giant and a Troll! As the dragon battle raged, the Fire Giant and the Troll suffered damage from some a powerful ranged area effect spell cast by the Mage.

Now we’re getting to the question. The minions were mostly ignored by the fighter, the ranger and the druid as they fought the dragon and supported each other. Move after move: fight, shoot/throw, druidic invocations, follower moves and more, all directed at the dragon.

I began to feel that fighting the dragon while “ignoring” the giant and the troll should cause those minions – a second separate, danger – to pose more of a threat. A knee-jerk reaction is that one is defying the danger (aka “Make a Saving Throw” in FotF) of the Minions to attack the Dragon, but this leads in a precariously tactical direction. Which characters are exposed to which dangers? Soon you’ve got minis on the table and movement rates and ew. Then who is where? Some answers are implicit: the Mage and Ranger have ranged attacks, but that giant can close a lot of distance in a few steps.

Let me know your thoughts.

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I think you’re right in calling for Saving Throw rolls, and I also don’t think that makes the scene unnecessarily tactical. Remember that all of the ranges for weapons are couched in natural language: what’s the difference between close and near? It doesn’t actually matter, but we have an idea of something that is close-by compared to something that is nearby.
All that to say, there are three dangers — it’s totally plausible that while the Ranger was firing off arrows at the dragon, they didn’t see the troll get up close (or hear the mage call out a warning over the din of the battle).

All of this should be working in concert with the partial success and misses that are happening from the players. How does the Ranger stay out of range of everything all of the time? Even if that happens by chance, it’s boring. How is the Fighter keeping battlefield awareness of three separate, powerful enemies? What sacrifices does the Mage have to make as overwhelming force? (e.g. how are they not endangering their allies for the sake of battlefield control?)

I would also consider if the PCs are truly equal strength to a dragon, troll and giant — those don’t seem like your average riff-raff, even for a group of relatively high level PCs.
Even without misses and mechanical permission to make a hard move, you should still be making moves as the monsters: they have motivations and moves all their own, which don’t actually depend on any trigger except you saying it happens.

I think you should be pressing hard on the PCs. This is a pretty epic battle and, frankly, the PCs should be questioning if they can even “win.” Maybe a retreat would’ve been better.

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I think there’s a lot of room between a theater-of-the-mind fight and miniatures on a tactical map. If fictional positioning starts to get hard for me to track mentally, I’ll put down some index cards to represent different general areas of the battlefield (“hillside,” ridge,” clearing,” etc. and write down where the various actors are. This helps track relative physical position without getting into 5’ squares.

I share @darren’s take on monster moves as well. The Freebooters rules say that the Judge makes a move when:

  • Common sense dictates
  • They look to you to see what happens
  • They give you a golden opportunity
  • A 6- result tells you to do so

I put that first option in there precisely because I was finding that fights against large groups or multiple different enemies could feel too static if the enemies were limited to acting on rolls of 6-. I will commonly make soft moves in between PC actions, regardless of the numbers they roll, to mark shifting tactical conditions and intensify the situation until a hard move makes sense (“You strike the first orc down in a single blow, but now the rest of them are surrounding you,” etc.).

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Also, because multiple threats affect fictional positioning (raising stakes), you could have more than one threat act as a single GM move. Even a 7-9 can be significantly dangerous when there are multiple threats nearby, so go harder than you ordinarily would–deal damage and telegraph another imminent threat at the same time. On a 6-, hit them super hard, with damage + the most vicious monster move at your disposal, or damage against multiple PCs.

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