Last week I posted about various kinds of dice systems and got some very interesting feedback. Several people remarked about PbtA moves and how they might fit in. In case someone is not familiar with these, this is an example from a Star Trek hack I wrote:

When you open fire or throw punches, roll +Aggressive. On a 10+, choose 2, on 7-9 choose 1.

  • You hold them at bay.
  • You don’t suffer heavy retaliation.
  • You take something from them or disable one of their systems.
  • You allow an ally to move into an advantageous position.

If you are in an advantageous position or if your specialty is in security, you may also choose:

  • Take them out.

A move always starts with a trigger, that tells you when to execute it. On a success, it might offer some choices like this, have a direct effect or ask another player to detail something. Effects on a miss are usually not detailed. If they are not the GM is free to make things go wrong. PbtA games usually have some guidelines called “GM Moves” or – for better differentiation – “Reactions”.

So what’s the point? Isn’t that just some formalized way to write down a rule? We’ll come back to that in a moment. The thing about PbtA games is that unless there is move for that situation, you do not roll. Typical PbtA games come with up a dozen moves and that list is final (except for house rules). In terms of the last article’s methodology, PbtA looks like this:

  • When to roll: When a move comes up.
  • What to roll: What the move tells you to. Sometimes nothing.
  • What happens then: What the moves says. Usually some direct effect, some choice or asking some player to detail an element of the fiction.
  • When to roll again: When the next move triggers (can be immediate result from this move).

This is indeed different from any pattern we have seen in the last article. Let’s call them Move Sytems. The chronologically first one I found is not Apocalypse World, but My Life With Master. Note that by this strict definition Defy Danger from Dungeonworld is not a Move.

As I said before, what moves do isn’t all that special. Let’s write some other rules in a move-y way:

  • When the adventurers camp in the wild, roll 2d6 on the following table to find a wandering monster.
  • When you create a character, follow these seven steps… (each involving some choices or dice rolling or detailing).
  • When combat starts, roll initiative and… switch your whole playstyle over to what I called Move And Target in the last article.

I call rules like this procedures. They have some conditions when they become active and then a step by step description on how to resolve them. Procedures can be used to add almost any subsystem to a game. As long as you have a clear entry point, almost anything goes.

At this point we have come full circle. The patterns described in the last article appear to be procedures, too. Albeit usually with a rather fuzzy trigger (Provisions excluded). It therefore seems that you can get away with a fuzzy condition on your encompassing system. We can then look at games like PbtA like this: They forego such an encompassing system and subsystem everything.

P.S.: Some people unhappy with my depiction of Please Roll systems in the last article. Criticisms included…

So, like other games Please Roll systems can include other kinds of systems as procedures. But they are in fact more open for this than other setups because of the GM’s central role. The GM in these games mediates between the written rules and the playing group. And if the GM regularly calls for the same rolls under the same conditions, well, they could as well have been officially parts of the rules. Players will come to expect them and may in fact ask for them.