21 thoughts on “A thesis:”

  1. The contrapositive:

    If you are not provoking action from the PCs or changing the state of play, you are not making a GM move.

    Hmm. So what statements don’t provoke action or change the state of play?

  2. “Change the state of play” is so general that I wonder if you could just apply it to anything at all. I wonder if “provoke an action from the PCs” is actually enough in itself as a guideline. The key is to keep putting the ball back in their court, never leave them looking at you to see what happens next once you’ve finished speaking. THEY (and possibly the dice) determine what happens next.

  3. This sounds right to me. A move is something that meaningfully changes the game state. (Compare to chess: rotating a piece within its current space isn’t a move, shifting it to a different space is.)

  4. Plenty that the GM does without making a move provokes action from the players or changes the game state in a meaningful way.

    When you make a GM/MC move, you say something about the fiction that changes the state of play in a manner that challenges agency, issues constraint, or signals elevated significance in the narrative sequence.

  5. Mo Jave’s version, above, nails it pretty well for me. The “dumbed down” version is simply this: say something which requires a response from the player(s).

    So, for example, if I say, “The table is carved of old oak, with grooves along the edges. Birds are singing outside”… that does not (necessarily) require any kind of response. It’s not a move.

    (Although it could be, under rare circumstances – like if the PC is desperately searching for the last remaining songbirds in the world or something equally esoteric.)

  6. I agree, Jeremy Strandberg. (This relates to my pet peeve – I think GM ‘moves’ are correctly named, and player ‘moves’ aren’t. Actually, I suppose my pet peeve would be resolved if players all had a move which is, ‘Say what you do, or speak what you say’, which would be the equivalent of the GM saying what follows from the fiction.)

  7. Michael Prescott MH2 uses the terms “moves” for player actions (“making a move”) and “reactions” for the MC actions. I think I like the nomenclature quite a bit

  8. Thinking about this more, these are things that I think a GM might say or do that aren’t intrinsically moves:

    * Ask questions (to establish intent, to clarify fiction, to invite players to establish fiction, etc.).

    * Point the spotlight (change who you’re addressing, which character the game is focusing on; “okay, Ovid, while that’s happening where are you?”)

    * Establish fiction (framing a scene, narrating details, barfing forth apocalyptica)

    * Portray NPCs (just the talking in character stuff, “Hey boss, sup?”

    or witty banter or conversation that doesn’t necessarily provoke action or reveal something of import.

    * Answering questions (“what color is his hair?” “how does Augury work again?” “Can I see Ovid yet?”).

    Any of these things can be part of making a GM move, or lead right into a GM move. You might do any and all of them while making a GM move. But I don’t think of any of those things as intrinsically a GM move.

    Now, plenty of those things can change the state of play, meaningfully even, without necessarily provoking action. “Night falls. What do you do?” changes the state of play (it’s night now, it’s dark outside, etc.). But lacking specific context (e.g. they were waiting for night to enact their plan) it doesn’t provoke action. “Night falls, what do you do?” “Uh? Stay home and go to sleep?”

    In other words: I’m down with dropping “changes state of play” from my thesis. Even if you add “meaningfully” to it (“or that meaningfully changes the state of play”) you get into super-fuzzy territory about what constitutes “meaningfully.” And as a definition, that’s not helpful.

    I’m still feeling good about the “provokes action from the PCs” part. And I think it’s important to note that it’s provoking the PCs to act, not the _players to say or do something. I don’t thinking asking a player what they’re carrying is a move. I don’t even think “where do you all want to go first?” is a move because the answer isn’t a declaration of character action, it’s a declaration of player desire or intent.

    I feel like that’s not quite enough, though. Like, consider this (in response to a missed Spout Lore in Dungeon World):

    “Yeah, you know all about this quicksilver taint. Why don’t you tell me about the horrible experience you’ve had with it and why it still gives you the willies?”

    I’m turning their move back on them, but I’m not necessarily provoking action.

    It’s not really challenging agency or issuing constraint (per Mo Jave’s suggested definition). It’s arguably elevating something’s importance in the fiction, but I don’t think that’s all it’s doing.

    I think what it is doing is asserting badness, introducing something into the fiction that the PCs don’t want. Yeah, you’ve had a run in with this stuff before, tell us how it scarred you. Yeah, you’re too late, Pitr slips and falls off the cliff and you hear a sickening crunch, he’s dead.

    So I’m thinking my thesis becomes instead:

    When you make a GM/MC move, you say something about the fiction that provokes action from the PCs and/or establishes some sort of badness.

  9. Still trying to figure out where (if) GM moves like make them pay or use up their resources fit in.

    “Bish patches you up and you heal 2 harm, but he charges you 2 barter and that’s the friends rate”

    “You’ve been on the road for a few days, everyone mark off 3 rations”

    Those are like textbook examples of examples of a given GM move, but neither one really provokes action. And while, yeah, you might wish you didn’t have to use up those resources, it’s not like those expenditures are bad. They’re totally expected and normal.

  10. Jeremy Strandberg I think different games/game styles vary in terms of how immediately they want their dramatic payoffs.

    Marking off rations is totally a ‘sign of impending danger’ type deal, it’s fine with me that there’s not necessarily an immediate dramatic payoff. It’s a setup for one of two things – either the PCs are rewarded for caution (securing food supplies early), or when the gun goes off and they’re starving, in which case it was foreshadowing.

  11. It fits with the critique I sometimes hear about pbta: the rules don’t allow for a quiet time of inaction as they force the MC to push for change and reactions

  12. Ivan Vaghi Never had that problem in my games. As long as the players don’t trigger any moves, and as long as there’s not “a pause in the conversation and everyone looks to [the MC] to say something,” the ball’s still in their court. In my Urban Shadows game, this often led to downtime as the PCs gathered in the Wizard’s sanctum – until they looked to me to find out what might prompt them to take some other action.

  13. Jeremy Strandberg Make them pay and use up their resurces seems akin to the clocks in blades in the dark.

    Hopefully, it ramps up the tension by signalling that something bad will probably happen when the counter gets to zero (you have no more hp, you ate all your food and now you’re starving – how will we climb out without ropes?)

    The players are, then, in a bad situation since they have no more meaningful resources, or approaching to a bad situation.

    It’s like the reverse side of “announce future badness.

  14. Here’s my working model:

    When the conversation naturally flows so that it’s your turn to say something — because everyone’s looking at you, because someone made a roll and they want to know what happens next, because you just think it’s your turn jump in — do one or more of the following, in any order and combination:

    ● Ask a question

    ● Point the spotlight

    ● Establish fiction

    ● Answer a question

    ● Portray NPCs

    ● Make a move

    And making a move, here, means: say something that provokes action from the PCs, that establishes badness, or that depletes the PCs resources.

    You pretty much have to do one at least one of of those the other things as you make a GM move, but you can do those things, too, without making a GM move.

    This framework gives you permission to let the game breathe a bit. You can spend a fair amount of table time just asking and answering questions, letting the PCs interact with each other, or (if you like) just portraying an NPC’s interaction with the PCs.

    Then, when everyone is looking at you expectantly, waiting to know what happens next, or when you feel the need to just push the game forward, you make move.

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