Is Defy Danger a bad move?

@Mathias can you say more? I’m not really sure I’m picking up just what you/re putting down here.

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As a move its purpose seems to be to handle all those edge cases where you want to disclaim decision making to the dice.

But it is the least elegant choice for sure. So, how do you motivate people to look to other moves first?

Make people prefer any other move. The most likely outcome is a 7-9 which is more taxing on the GM and it spells bad news for the player. So everyone will look if a different move fits, first.


Ah, see… I disagree with that.

I agree that Defy Danger should be the “worst” move from a player-facing standpoint. That makes it a baseline for other moves to work against. If a basic, special, playbook, or custom move doesn’t provide some advantage (mechanically or fictionally or procedurally) over Defy Danger, then it’s not worth having. I think it’s really useful benchmark to design against.

And I agree that players should want to avoid Defy Danger if possible, and use a different/better move when they can, because the best you can hope for with Defy Danger is “you do it, cool.”

But I do not think that the move should be taxing the GM, or otherwise be unpleasant to the group as a whole, so that they try to avoid try to avoid it. That’s like when players would try to avoid combat in Storyteller games not because combat was a bad choice, but because it so awful to play. That’s not… good.


I said it is simply more taxing than other moves.

For my money: yes.

For two reasons, both of them rather involved.

First reason: I think it fucks with the core gameplay loop of the game.

Now, I have a whole rant about this, but to boil it down: there’s a tendency in some AW-adjacent design (including in statements by Adam & Sage) to argue that “player says thing > basic move activates” is the core gameplay loop and “player says thing > MC makes a move” is an exception/outlier, and I firmly believe (and for what it’s worth, so does Vincent) that the precise opposite is true.

“Player says thing > MC move > what do you do?” is the basic loop of the game, and moves (especially basic moves) represent specific exceptions that are called out as operating differently.

In that context Defy Danger is terrible, because the trigger is so vapidly generic that it forcibly flips the structure. So instead of looking to the MC to see what happens, we fumble for dice and look to Defy Danger instead.

Second reason (and this is a critique I have of DW across the board): I think the move trigger “when you act despite an imminent threat or suffer a calamity” fails at one of the key functions of move triggers.

Jason D’Angelo has an excellent blog called The Daily Apocalypse where he is slowly, meticulously engaged in a deep text reading of AW 2E that draws equally on the game mechanics, the places in the text where the Bakers state clear intent, and their wider work / statements as designers.

At some point he breaks out and talks about what it means to be powered by the apocalypse. And in this post, he draws a bunch of Vincent’s past design thinking together and makes some points I found hugely compelling and transformative.

To quote Jason quoting Vincent:

"If you want awesome stuff to happen in your game, you don’t need rules to model the characters doing awesome things, you need rules to provoke the players to say awesome things. That’s the real cause and effect at work: things happen because someone says they do. If you want cool things to happen, get someone to say something cool.

If your rules model a character’s doing cool things, but the player using them still says dull things, that’s not so great.*"

And herein lies the genius of AW. When you “read a charged situation”, when you “seduce, manipulate, bluff, fast-talk, or lie to someone”, when you “go aggro on someone” or “attack someone unsuspecting or helpless”, and especially when you “open your brain to the world’s psychic maelstrom”: shit is always interesting. All these statements are provocative, pointed, laden with risk. Not to be twee, but they’re charged statements.

The move triggers in AW are chosen to engineer the conversation such that because you want the agency and benefits and perceivable consequence that go along with activating them, you are much more likely to say those interesting things.

Compare that to “take aim and shoot an enemy at range”, “attack an enemy in melee”, “consult your accumulated knowledge”, “have leverage on a GM character and manipulate them”. Where is the urgency? Where is the charge, the risk, the stakes, the interest?

(I can imagine a Conan style game where a not dissimilar set of actions are framed in a far more provocative and interesting way).

But bringing this tangent back to Defy Danger specifically: it is the guiltiest of the problem above out of all of Dungeon World’s moves.

“Act despite an imminent threat or suffer a calamity” is so vague it does nothing to engineer the conversation or tell the players anything about what to play, especially given the second half of the clause is triggered by the GM and completely out of the player’s hands.

At least “do something under fire or dig in to endure fire” requires that the fire is already here, in your face, and in the middle of fucking you up, rather than just vaguely “imminent”.

Anyhow, that is a whole lot of text. Apologies for going on a little.

Obviously a lot of this is my lens on good AW-adjacent design / other people I respect’s lenses on the same, but a thread like this always is.

I hope I’ve at least shown enough working here to satisfy Fraser’s desire for a critical framework :stuck_out_tongue:

(Addendum: Part of the reason I give Act Under Fire an easier time than Defy Danger is because I strongly dislike roll + stat. Every basic move is a chance for the designer to put their thumb on the scale of conversation, and specificity - whether suggestive or prescriptive - is important. Roll +Cool makes certain specific assertions about the ontology of the fiction; roll +stat tells us nothing.

Adding conditions to the move trigger - “When you gaze into the abyss, name what you’re looking for and roll”, “When you challenge someone’s actions, say if it’s their honour or their sense you doubt then roll” - seems to me a more interesting way to invite specific elaboration from the player than “do you roll +Dex or +Int?”).

(Addendum 2: The 10+ on Defy Danger is really awkward in how it flows back out into the fiction, too. “You do what you set out to, the threat doesn’t come to bear” makes some weird and specific assumptions about what kind of action you’re taking despite an imminent threat. Read literally, it seems to imply that if I am Defying Danger to push a comrade out of the path of a fireball aimed for both of us, on a 10+ I am somehow not burned despite what honesty would seem to demand?

The 10+ on Defy Danger feels like Act Under Fire and the Resistance roll from Blades weirdly mashed together and tangled up without any clear intentionality, and it doesn’t do it for me.)


I have a broader, more direct take on this that encompasses the issue with Defy Danger-type moves. Mostly that they interact with a type of stake-setting and success that is antithetical to the rest of AW-adjacent design. Luke, above, and I have agreed around this before (but haven’t really nutted it out like we need to) The thing is…I disagree that Act Under Fire gets the better end of it. I think Defy Danger is kind of the best of these bad moves because of what it’s trying to do.

DW is trying to be accessible to D&D people. There’s a reason that a lot of Gauntlet play (that doesn’t want to emulate how we played D&D as teens and twenties) has to so thoroughly hack the system and build in play culture. This also works with DW trying to create a fantastical and heroic tone, both of which can resist players having the kind of freedom Defy Danger offers. The aforementioned “I determine the trajectory and roll +INT” isn’t actually wildly outside of the tone of what DW-as-written WANTS to be.

D&D has a trope of “I want to do this wildly fantastical thing” “ROLL!” “Nat 20!” Crowd goes wild. The idea that, hey, with a 20, everything is possible. So the 10+ stakes of Defy Danger being “you do it [without consequence]” is also consistent with what its largest audience wants. The truth is that there’s so little impact in the trigger being so fictionally wild because the fiction is so fictionally wild.

If you don’t want that, if you do want to ground your game differently, you’re going to need to build in a way to limit the way Defy Danger interacts with success. You’re going to need to decide what players can and can’t fictionally Defy Danger to do, because at the moment there’s really nothing built in to the system that does that for you. DW’s loop of play is based on that old style of D&D, the type where creativity and ingenuity are the player’s best weapons. The OSR mentality of “if you’re not rolling your best stat, you’ll fail, and if you fail, it’s time to die”. And that’s supported by the “player says -> MC makes move” loop, which is very indie. Horseshoes for days.

Honestly, this is another thing in DW that leans so heavily on the 16HP Dragon: That the MC should be controlling when moves can fire, because the triggers and stakes of the moves don’t control it enough itself. It’s an interesting part of it’s design, and I don’t hate offloading it to the MC like that, to give the game some flexibility, but it does feel like DW is a very different beast to AW2e, despite the surface similarities.

Also yes, despite everything else: “10+ you do it, 7-9 you stumble hesitate or flinch, 6- you don’t do it” are literally the worst stakes and we can do better.


I totally agree: a move with a provocative, interesting trigger and a beneficial outcome gets players to say provocative, interesting things that they wouldn’t otherwise. Specific moves can push the conversation in a direction that freeform play wouldn’t go, which is much more important than a system for dice to arbitrate success and failure. Without interesting triggers and results, all moves do is make the narrative pacing more random.

I think in general Defy Danger tends to deflate tension (“You hit a 10, so I guess everything is fine, actually?”) rather than give push it forward.


Yup, and that’s why I hate them. The beauty of apocalypse world moves is that they don’t solve any problems, they just create more interesting stuff. DW is very very different.


I’m not sure I buy the idea that Defy Danger is any worse than Do Something Under Fire or Act Under Pressure or any of the other essentially identical moves I can think of from many PbtA games (Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, The Sprawl, Monster of the Week, The Veil, Uncharted Worlds)-- in fact, the language is often identical, or nearly so: “you do it… [or] flinch, hesitate… [and get a] worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice.”

The major, obvious difference being the open stat vs. rolling off something like +Cool, which doesn’t seem like the deciding factor for me at least. Setting aside the stat issue, I’d look at the trigger and results. As people have said, the way the move pushes the fiction does deescalate tension, which is counter to how many PbtA moves operate, but again, I believe that’s true in AW as well as DW. It might be nitpicking, but I guess I want to push back on the idea that Dungeon World is somehow being a “bad” PbtA game here, when Defy Danger works basically identically to how Apocalypse World’s equivalent move worked.

Tangentially, I believe games that fall under the PbtA heading have plenty of license to play with how their moves and systems operate and the type of play they push-- as many people have said, DW is meant to feel like a different genre and type of game than AW. Generally speaking, I’m somewhat skeptical of criticisms about how one PbtA game isn’t designed like another, or like the original, but that’s neither here nor there.

Can people provide examples of games they think have done this better or in more interesting ways that address how the “10+, you’re fine for now” model isn’t pushing the fiction like other moves tend to do?

Edit: This maybe sounded like a way to shut down criticism, like if people can’t provide better examples, they shouldn’t criticize these moves, which wasn’t my intention. I agree that Act Under Fire/Defy Danger are unusual in how they don’t really suggest further action and was just wondering if people had seen other games that had strayed further from this type of move in interesting ways.


It’s certainly compelling! I didn’t mean to imply people needed to meet my expectations, just that for most people talking about what they like and dislike about X game, they often seem to use those preferences to determine if it’s good design or not. By no means was I trying to draw a line in the sand or invalidate opinions.


Hi this is a pretty bad take actually. Edit: yeah, I misread this and cut the quote too early. Which lead to me considering the complete opposite of what was said. I fucked up here, sorry. Leaving the rest for posterity.

I understand what you’re saying, but remember that criticism isn’t criticism. That is: analysing, discussing, and finding gaps in a move is not the same as pulling its hair and pushing it in the mud. Everyone can and should speak up about moves that rub them the wrong way regardless (or maybe especially?) if they don’t know what a better answer looks like.

There’s steps to critique, and all of them are valuable to one degree or another. Trying to shut down the early step of identifying a problem, by demanding a later step of finding a solution will only stifle discussion and lead to worse games.

I understand that you are seeking those solutions, it’s really uncomfortable to be stuck between “I don’t know what I want” and “but it isn’t this”. But that discomfort is a part of the process.

Re: moves that go beyond the 10+ = you do it paradigm and yeah sure. There’s a ton of options out there. Blades in the Dark is a version of this where you decided how high the stakes are before you roll, so 10+ may be limited effect, you only get a chance to roll to do the thing you really want. Also sets the 7-9s well. That’s a good idea, I don’t know if it’s what I want but it’s a solid idea. That way “So something nigh impossible” and “do something routine but with stakes” don’t use the same move and it’s nice.

I think you are misreading @DeusExBrockina, the full quote was:

Edit: This maybe sounded like a way to shut down criticism, like if people can’t provide better examples, they shouldn’t criticize these moves, which wasn’t my intention.

[Emphasis mine] So the take you are calling bad is not one @DeusExBrockina is making.

Back to the topic: Other PbtA examples are typically lists of options where you still don’t get all of them on a 10+, or a choice like on Hack’n Slash where you can opt in to trade something for even more effect.
Just having this choice prompts players to take a position on the fiction.

In general, having a basic move that leads to a “it’s fine now”, no immediate further snowballing necessary is not the worst when viewed in a comprehensive context.
It allows you to take a breather from the spiral… especially when you subscribe to the view that the core loop is player action -> gm move.


Bwaaaap yeah that is on me. Absolutely misread that. Thanks for having my back, mate.


One point I’d like to make here: I almost didn’t respond to this thread because labeling things “good” and “bad” is not a mode of criticism I like to engage in. But I do have criticisms about the move and I appreciate the opportunity to do a deep design analysis like this one. I think many of the critiques above are valuable without them claiming to know how DW “should have done it.”

I’ve got one that comes to mind. Masks is one of my favorite PbtAs. It simply does not have a “do something difficult” move. There isn’t one. So you don’t get hung up rolling on things that don’t matter to the young superhero genre. If none of the moves trigger, you just go to a GM move.

The broadest move in Masks is “Unleash Your Powers”. You roll + Freak and on a 10+, you do it. But this move is rooted in what your powers do, so the fictional trigger is always delineated by your specific power. Also, if a character has +3 in Freak (say, the Transformed) that doesn’t only mean they have consistent use of their powers. It also means that people see them as a Freak. A 10+ on an “Unleash Your Powers” is a golden opportunity to use the GM move “Tell them who they are”. A kid goes running away crying, a crowd is taking cellphone videos of the collateral damage, they hear the police detective (who is the Janus’s mom) whisper: “Freak”.

Since the moves in Masks connect to shifting labels when adults try to tell the heroes who they are and who they should be, a successful “Unleash your Powers” ties back into the premise in a way that a generic task resolution could not. Does the Transformed accept this label or not? Success just directs the tension of the narrative from physical obstacles to inner conflict.


I completely agree that “good” and “bad” are not intrinsically helpful for framing a conversation like this one, even if that is how this discussion is often framed elsewhere. You can operationalize “bad” in a lot of ways - “poorly defined,” “fundamentally flawed,” “game-breaking” - and I am appreciative that people engaged with this topic on their own terms, pushing it in directions that I hadn’t intended but were more interesting anyway. The conversation has been substantive, and many posts (particularly @gamesfromthewildwood) gave me a lot to think about in terms of overall game design and what role moves’ specificity of language have to play in that.


I am personally very much in the “prescriptive, limited moves” camp of PBTA design personally. I have personally found the core strength of the move structure being the specificity of the move triggers. “Seize by Force” is a brilliant example of a move that explicitly declares something about the kind of world where that kind of behaviour is a default.

Act Under Fire is a bit more general, but the fact that there is an implications that you are trying to avoid being shot, and the fact it’s linked to a single stat, does a good job of anchoring things in the fiction. By contrast, Defy Danger is a touch muddled from my perspective and it lacks that level of setting specificity.

That’s not actually a criticism of “Defy Danger” per say, but I would have personally split those into six different moves, and customised them a bit for flavour. That said, I recognise those are very much my own personal design sensibilities in action.


FotF? What is this acronym?

Freebooters on the frontier?


I don’t think Defy Danger is a bad move, the problems with it are just a side effect of the difference between attributes in Apocalypse World and Dungeon World.

Stats in AW are roles in the fiction. I’m struggling for a good word, but maybe it’s role. The cool character, the hot character, the Hard character. They’re really personality traits. Take Hard: “hard-hearted, violent, aggressive, strong-willed, mean, physically and emotionally strong”. Only a part of that has anything to do with physical ability. A character could be high in Hard without necessarily being all that muscly or physically imposing or tough. Being strong by itself isn’t nearly enough to make the character Hard.

Cool is described as “meaning cool under fire, rational, clearthinking, calm, calculating, unfazed.”

This works because characters in fiction, particularly movies, avoid danger not simply by being fast, agile, strong, smart, wise, etc. Those things on their own aren’t enough. Being calm, collected and focused is what matters because you can be as smart, fast or tough as you like, but if you’re confused, scared or distracted you’re toast.

But note that AW does acknowledge that there’s a problem here, and it does so by granting certain playbooks moves that let them sub in their best stat for Cool on Act Under Fire. It does that for a few other core moves as well, just to give a little flexibility where it’s needed.

Dungeon World has very functional stats. It draws a direct line between material, testable, objective capabilities and stats. That means different forms of danger much more clearly correspond to particular stats. So while AW can say, well whatever the danger is you have to be Cool to survive it, in DW you can’t say the same for any one stat.

So given its approach to stats, I don’t think DW has a choice when it comes to this move. Personally I don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s not ideal, it’s a bit of a mismatch between the design approach of AW where it’s moves derive from, and D&D where it’s stats come from. I can’t blame the designers though, I see perfectly well why they wrote DW the way they did and it achieves its goals very well. I just think Defy Danger is the fault line where the two different approaches to game design intersect.


This strikes me as a very insightful post.

I never quite consciously realised that there is this difference between AW’s stats (being personality traits or story roles) and DW’s (being measures of capability). But now that you’ve surfaced that realisation for me, of course it makes sense, and makes a few other things make sense. In AW, your smartness, speed, toughness etc are all represented in the fiction itself, whereas the stats describe your role in the story.

This also makes it interesting to notice that each stat in AW is explicitly paired with one or more basic moves. So the character with Cool+3 just is the one who acts well under fire, regardless of what that fire is. That’s just what it means to have Cool+3, it’s what role you have in the story. How you actually do it, physically, is handled in the fiction; it’s not what the mechanics are interested in.

Thanks for prompting this realisation!