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Author Topic: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention  (Read 3940 times)

Meserach

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Hi Joe,

I've been playing Monsterhearts over IRC with a group of six players, and we have hit a major mechanical problem with the basic moves.

Here's the deal: the basic moves don't explicitly state whether you achieve your fictional intention when you roll a hit.

Take "lash out physically". In our game, one character (Ophelia) lashed out physically in an attempt to drag another PC (Abrielle) into the woods. She scored a 10 up and picked "they need to hold steady before they can retaliate". As it happened, Abrielle successfully held steady, so they still got to retaliate (she hexed Ophelia in response). But what the move's text doesn't tell us is: did Abrielle get dragged to the woods or not?

As we initially played it, Abrielle didn't get dragged there. Had she failed to hold steady I would definitely have ruled that she did; but instead, it seemed like she held steady and retaliated, and as such all Ophelia succeeded in doing was roughing her up a bit (i.e. causing harm). But! That kind of sucks for Ophelia, because she got a 10 up hit but didn't achieve anything that she wanted; just some harm!

Compare "seize by force" in AW, the closest equivalent move from the parent game. There, it's way more explicit depending on your choices as to whether you successfully seize the thing definitively, or whether you only kinda do. You do harm as well, but it's a side issue, the key question is "do you seize the thing by force successfully or not?".

After talking about it and reading some of the play examples (most notably the bottle example from the end of the book), we've concluded that the intent of the lash out physically move is that on a hit, you successfully manage to do what you were aiming to do with your violence - in this case, drag a person around, or in the example's case, get hold of the bottle. But that isn't clear from the wording of the move.

We have an even bigger problem of this nature with shut someone down. Simply put: while the mechanical effects of shut someone down are explicit (conditions or strings get changed around, possibly on both sides), what's the in-fiction effect of a successful shut down? What does it imply about what the shut down character can and cannot do, or must do, in-fiction, immediately after having been shut down?

For example, Abrielle was attempting to hex another player, Ping. Ping tried to talk her out of it by shutting her down (she threatens her by saying "You don't want to do this" with a rock in her hand), and succeeds on the roll. So can Abrielle still go through with the hexing, or not? Does she, in some sense, have to react in-fiction to the shut down? Does she now need to hold steady to hex Ping? Or in order to actually modify Abrielle's behaviour, is the only way for Ping to spend a string to force her to hold steady? If that is the case, what's the actual point of shutting someone down, in fictional terms?

I also feel like "hold steady" is missing a "you do it" clause, equivalent to how "act under fire" works in AW. If I keep my cool, that's great, but do I achieve my intention or not? More to the point, if I DON'T opt to keep my cool on a 7-9, does that mean I don't succeed at whatever I was tying to do?

mcdaldno

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2012, 07:58:09 AM »
Meserach,

Thanks for bringing up these issues.

I see a couple different things going on. A big part of your frustration may be in trying to port Apocalypse World expectations into Monsterhearts. The moves are not direct parallels. For example, Seize By Force and Lashing Out Physically are alike in that they both concern violence, but they're unalike in that they care about very different things.

For each of the issues I heard you talking about, I'll give a separate response.

Using "Lashing Out Physically" To Drag Someone Into the Woods

Ophelia wanted to drag Abrielle into the woods. She reaches out to grab Abrielle's hair. Is she trying to hurt Abrielle, or to take control of her?

If she's trying to hurt Abrielle, then lashing out physically will tell you how that goes down. But it sounds like that's not what Ophelia was trying to do, so the move doesn't apply. The move's description in the book specifically says not to use the move unless it's about dealing harm:
Quote
Only use this move when attempting to actually physically hurt someone. If you push someone up against a locker and threaten them, consider the possibility that you’re actually shutting them down rather than lashing out physically. (preview ed: page 19)

So, it sounds like Ophelia is actually trying to get control over Abrielle. If I were MCing that situation, I'd likely just say, "Cool, so you reach out and grab Abrielle's hair. Abrielle, how do you respond?" Another option is to have Ophelia try to hold steady in order to deftly reach out and grab Abrielle's hair. That's what happens in the long example, on pages 140-141: Cassidy rolls to hold steady in order to grab the bottle out of Vanessa's hands (it's explicitly stated that doing so doesn't engage the lashing out physically rule).

So, Ophelia grabs Abrielle's hair. It's just a thing she can do. If it's an especially scary or tense thing to do (because Abrielle's terrifying!!), then maybe she needs to hold steady in order to do it. Otherwise, she just does it.

And then Ophelia wants to march Abrielle into the woods? Well, there aren't any moves triggered by marching into the woods. So, "Abrielle, what do you do?" Abrielle most likely says, "I kick her in the shin, and run the fuck away!" Great! There's our move. Abrielle should roll to run away.

In short: If you want to determine whether Ophelia drags Abrielle into the woods, or Abrielle manages to run away, then that's run away. Don't roll lash out physically if you're trying to control someone or take something, because the move isn't about that.

(Side-note: another possible way this could have gone down, depending on player narration... Ophelia grabs Abrielle's hair, and yes she's doing this to cause harm, so she's lashing out physically. Then, still holding her hair, she marches her into the woods. Abrielle responds by trying to run away.)
« Last Edit: March 14, 2012, 08:42:54 AM by mcdaldno »

mcdaldno

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2012, 08:20:05 AM »
How Shutting Someone Down Works

We have an even bigger problem of this nature with shut someone down. Simply put: while the mechanical effects of shut someone down are explicit (conditions or strings get changed around, possibly on both sides), what's the in-fiction effect of a successful shut down? What does it imply about what the shut down character can and cannot do, or must do, in-fiction, immediately after having been shut down?

For example, Abrielle was attempting to hex another player, Ping. Ping tried to talk her out of it by shutting her down (she threatens her by saying "You don't want to do this" with a rock in her hand), and succeeds on the roll. So can Abrielle still go through with the hexing, or not? Does she, in some sense, have to react in-fiction to the shut down? Does she now need to hold steady to hex Ping? Or in order to actually modify Abrielle's behaviour, is the only way for Ping to spend a string to force her to hold steady? If that is the case, what's the actual point of shutting someone down, in fictional terms?

Daniel Wood (who is editing the game) also drew attention to the fact that this move needed more explanation and clarity in the text. As a result, the final edition of the game includes a multi-paragraph example in the basic moves section.

Quote
Vanessa’s been cornered by a couple school bullies.
They’re harassing her and the group’s leader is
demanding she hand over her backpack. Vanessa stands
tall, looks him straight in the eye, and says, “Why, did
your mommy forget to pack you a lunch of your own?”
Vanessa’s player rolls to shut someone down, and gets
a result of 11. Her retort succeeds in giving her the
upper-hand and putting the bully in his place. His
friends laugh at him, and he looks foolish. She chooses
“give them a Condition” from the list, and labels the
bully humiliated.

If she’d rolled a 7-9, both of these characters would
have ended up vulnerable in some way. The bully’s
friends might still laugh at him, but they’d also be
whispering that he should teach this girl a lesson.
Vanessa’s player might have chosen the “you each give
a Condition to one another” option from the list –
labelling the bully humiliated but gaining the
Condition dead meat in exchange.

Shutting someone down is about hurting their feelings, insulting them, trying to get them to bow to you socially. It is fundamentally not about preventing them from doing something, but about shaming them. Sorry if there was confusion over that.

So, Abrielle is going to do a hex. Ping is trying to talk her out of it.

At this point, as the MC, you should ask Abrielle, "Are you even listening to Ping, or are you just chanting fervently in tongues?" If Abrielle isn't listening to Ping, then Ping's only recourse is in spending a String. This is a perfect time to ask, "So Ping, Abrielle doesn't even pause to listen to your pleas. How does this make you feel?"

But let's say Abrielle holds off for a moment, and Ping has her attention. Ping has a rock, and is threatening Abrielle. Don't reach for the moves! Reach for the provocative questions, and then build upon the answers. "Abrielle, do you think she'd actually throw the rock? Are you scared?" You aren't ready for a move yet.

If Ping wants to shame Abrielle, then reach for shutting someone down.
If Ping wants to use emotional leverage over Abrielle, tell her to spend a String.

If neither of those things happen, I don't think there's a move here. "Abrielle, do you continue with the hex?" If she does, then ask, "Ping, she's chanting again. Do you actually throw the rock?"

If both Abrielle and Ping continue with their course of action, then their rolls are both really obvious: Abrielle is rolling hex-casting, and Ping is rolling lashing out physically. It's up to you as an MC to determine who rolls first (and thus what happens first). And that's just about narrative sensibilities and how you imagine the situation in your head.

In Short: Ping threatening Abrielle doesn't trigger a roll. Or if it does (like shutting someone down), that roll won't tell you how Abrielle responds. That's Abrielle's player's job.

(Side-Note: If Abrielle were an NPC, Ping would be rolling to manipulate an NPC. Since Abrielle is a PC, she is fundamentally in control of her own responses. So roleplay it out until a move is triggered.)
« Last Edit: March 14, 2012, 08:44:42 AM by mcdaldno »

mcdaldno

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2012, 08:40:05 AM »
Holding Steady and "Doing It"

I also feel like "hold steady" is missing a "you do it" clause, equivalent to how "act under fire" works in AW. If I keep my cool, that's great, but do I achieve my intention or not? More to the point, if I DON'T opt to keep my cool on a 7-9, does that mean I don't succeed at whatever I was tying to do?

What you are trying to do when you make a hold steady roll is to keep your shit together, to hold steady, to not freak out. There is no other "intention" that this move cares about. Everything else is outside the purview of this move.

Let's invent an example, so we have something to actually talk about.

There's a werewolf on the prowl. You're hiding in a safe place (the car), but you want to run to a different safe place where your friends are (the park outhouse). The MC says, "Okay, but the werewolf is literally standing five feet away from your car. You can see its hulking frame basked in moonlight. Its paws are matted with blood. If you want to drum up the courage to leave this car, you're going to have to hold steady."

Car Guy makes his roll. A 7! He chooses to gain the Condition terrified, but ask the MC a question. "I'm going to try to make it to the outhouse. What should I do if it catches me?" The MC thinks a moment and says, "You should probably play dead. He'd move on to more interesting sport." Pause. "So, you're terrified and shaking, but you manage to open the car door, silently. You can see your friends waving. Now what?"

At this point, the hold steady move is rolled and resolved. It's over. We've moved on.

"I make a dash to the outhouse, as quietly as possible."

That sounds like running away. So the MC says, "So, you're running away, yeah?" Car Guy nods, picks up the dice, and rolls.

In Short: Holding steady determines whether or not you hold steady. It doesn't determine any other stuff.

Is this a scary or tense situation? Roll to see whether you can keep your shit together. If yes, then proceed as planned. Does your action fall under the purview of a move? If yes, roll. If not, don't roll anything.

It's perfectly fine to have things not fall under the purview of moves. Ophelia grabbing Abrielle's hair? Probably not a move. Ping trying to talk Abrielle out of a hex? Probably not a move.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2012, 09:07:08 AM by mcdaldno »

mcdaldno

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2012, 09:02:53 AM »
Monsterhearts, Character Control, And What It Means To Be Evil

A few things are important to note in Monsterhearts.

When you make a move, that move won't dictate another character's response. This is talked about at length with turning someone on, but is true throughout the fabric of the game.

You can't take control of someone by making a basic move. You can't lash out physically in order to have someone's body do what you want it to do. You can't shut someone down in order to have someone's conscience do what you want it to do. You can't turn someone on in order to get someone to sleep with you.

But, put yourself in a teenager's shoes for a moment... don't you wish that you could? Don't you wish you could get a certain response by simply forcing your will or body on others? Yes. You do. You're a stupid teenager and you don't know better.

That's where weird monstrous powers come in. And in this genre, whenever someone uses a weird power to try and get control over someone else, it is fucking evil and it is fucking scary.

Where was I going with this? Oh, yeah.

In Monsterhearts, you can't just "do a move" in order to get someone to respond to you in a certain way. You want to drag someone into the woods against their will? There's no heroic action maneuver that'll let you do that. You can use hypnosis, or knock them unconscious, or kill them first.

Moves don't dictate responses. After every move, there's an (either implied or stated) question of "so, what do you do?" That goes for basic moves just as much as hard moves.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2012, 09:10:10 AM by mcdaldno »

mcdaldno

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2012, 09:12:00 AM »
Also: 6 players is a lot! The text specifically says 2-4 players. How has that been working out for you all? Does IRC make managing large play-groups more feasible?

reaction

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2012, 03:27:49 PM »
I'm one of the players, and it's been pretty manageable as far as I can tell. The ability to easily split us into multiple concurrent scenes helps a lot.

I guess my question is as regards doing something that somebody doesn't want. In the bottle example, if I don't want you to take the bottle, what are my options? What are your options? I'm holding onto it tightly, so according to the extended example, you'd have to lash out physically, but as you've stated, that doesn't actually get the bottle away from me, it just hurts me.

I think I understand the feeling of helplessness that you're going for, but, um.. I know of teenagers, and they can actually grab things, physically pull people in directions, etc. I think you might be thinking of phantasms. Common mistake. :)

Meserach

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2012, 03:44:28 PM »
Joe, I am going to need to read over that all carefully and process it, but I just wanted to thank you now for the detailed response.

Shreyas

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2012, 03:50:19 PM »
The problem with these moves as-written is not that they do not dictate responses - if you look carefully, you will observe that the same thing is true of moves in AW.

The problem is that these moves are decoupled from the fiction in a profound way. There is no text at all that reflects what the fictional events are when you successfully shut someone down, for instance. Instead of creating constraints in the fiction (compare seduce/manipulate) they are creating mechanical tags. It's less good.

Meserach

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2012, 04:18:26 PM »
There's a werewolf on the prowl. You're hiding in a safe place (the car), but you want to run to a different safe place where your friends are (the park outhouse). The MC says, "Okay, but the werewolf is literally standing five feet away from your car. You can see its hulking frame basked in moonlight. Its paws are matted with blood. If you want to drum up the courage to leave this car, you're going to have to hold steady."

Car Guy makes his roll. A 7! He chooses to gain the Condition terrified, but ask the MC a question. "I'm going to try to make it to the outhouse. What should I do if it catches me?" The MC thinks a moment and says, "You should probably play dead. He'd move on to more interesting sport." Pause. "So, you're terrified and shaking, but you manage to open the car door, silently. You can see your friends waving. Now what?"

...

In Short: Holding steady determines whether or not you hold steady. It doesn't determine any other stuff.

Is this a scary or tense situation? Roll to see whether you can keep your shit together. If yes, then proceed as planned.

So hey, I am not sure these statements all make sense together.

It seems like in the example you have provided, rolling a hit on 2hold steady" has indeed determined something fictional beyond whether or not Car Guy keeps hi cool - namely, we have decided whether Car Guy manages to leave the car at all or not. Like, had Car Guy rolled a miss on hold steady, I'd have been within my rights as MC to pick a hard move which meant that Car Guy doesn't leave the car, right?

(This is a separate issue to the subsequent choice to run away or not. What I am interested in is simply the answer to "does Car Guy leave the car?")

Meserach

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2012, 04:50:24 PM »
Shutting someone down is about hurting their feelings, insulting them, trying to get them to bow to you socially. It is fundamentally not about preventing them from doing something, but about shaming them. Sorry if there was confusion over that.

So, Abrielle is going to do a hex. Ping is trying to talk her out of it.

At this point, as the MC, you should ask Abrielle, "Are you even listening to Ping, or are you just chanting fervently in tongues?" If Abrielle isn't listening to Ping, then Ping's only recourse is in spending a String. This is a perfect time to ask, "So Ping, Abrielle doesn't even pause to listen to your pleas. How does this make you feel?"

But let's say Abrielle holds off for a moment, and Ping has her attention. Ping has a rock, and is threatening Abrielle. Don't reach for the moves! Reach for the provocative questions, and then build upon the answers. "Abrielle, do you think she'd actually throw the rock? Are you scared?" You aren't ready for a move yet.

If Ping wants to shame Abrielle, then reach for shutting someone down.
If Ping wants to use emotional leverage over Abrielle, tell her to spend a String.

If neither of those things happen, I don't think there's a move here. "Abrielle, do you continue with the hex?" If she does, then ask, "Ping, she's chanting again. Do you actually throw the rock?"

If both Abrielle and Ping continue with their course of action, then their rolls are both really obvious: Abrielle is rolling hex-casting, and Ping is rolling lashing out physically. It's up to you as an MC to determine who rolls first (and thus what happens first). And that's just about narrative sensibilities and how you imagine the situation in your head.

In Short: Ping threatening Abrielle doesn't trigger a roll. Or if it does (like shutting someone down), that roll won't tell you how Abrielle responds. That's Abrielle's player's job.

(Side-Note: If Abrielle were an NPC, Ping would be rolling to manipulate an NPC. Since Abrielle is a PC, she is fundamentally in control of her own responses. So roleplay it out until a move is triggered.)

Okay so I think I understand this. This is close to how I initially thought the move worked, before I encountered (I think valid!) objections from the other players that it made "Shut someone down" kinda fictionally toothless.

The way I read this, it seems like the only way to make "shut someone down" actually influence a PCs behaviour (assuming the PC doesn't just decide to change their behaviour based directly on the narration and any associated provocative questioning) is if you use Shut them down to obtain a string on them, and then immediately spend that string to either offer them XP to do what you want, or force them to hold steady in order to do something you don't want. Right?

I'm going to again to draw analogy to AW. In AW you can manipulate PCs as well as NPCs - but when you manipulate a PC, you get choices (offer them XP and/or make them act under fire) which are equivalent to things that you can only get by spending strings in MH.

So, I can see how that works out and it kind of makes sense. But the effect of it, I think, is to make manipulating PCs a lot harder to do in MH than in AW. Like, to get the equivalent of a 10+ roll on "manipulate a PC" from AW, I have to get TWO strings on the person I want to manipulate (from whatever preliminary combination of other moves, either just now or earlier, each of which has probably exposed me to the possibility of failure) and spend them both: and then if the person goes ahead and does it anyway (by passing up the XP and successfully holding steady), I have lost my strings to no real benefit, right? So that's significantly higher cost toward manipulating PCs in MH versus AW.

Maybe that is intentional? I don't know. But I think it is an interesting difference between the systems.

mcdaldno

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #11 on: March 14, 2012, 05:20:58 PM »
It seems like in the example you have provided, rolling a hit on 2hold steady" has indeed determined something fictional beyond whether or not Car Guy keeps hi cool - namely, we have decided whether Car Guy manages to leave the car at all or not. Like, had Car Guy rolled a miss on hold steady, I'd have been within my rights as MC to pick a hard move which meant that Car Guy doesn't leave the car, right?

So, Car Guy wants to leave his car. The only thing standing in his way is terror. He overcomes his terror (with a 7 up). Now nothing stands in his way, so he can slip out of the car.

Yes, this move is governing whether or not he manages to leave his car, because what's potentially stopping him from leaving his car is the need to hold steady. If there's a thing that a character wants to do, and the only thing stopping them is fear, then overcoming that fear means they can proceed as planned.

Let's say that Car Guy rolled a 5. He's overcome with sheer terror! He can't keep his cool, he can't hold steady, and you make a Hard Move. Depending on whether your friends are NPCs or PCs, options might include:
  • The werewolf sees you in your car, and begins mauling the vehicle.
  • Your friends give up on you and take off.
  • Your friends decide that it's smart to try to rush in and save you, fighting off the werewolf
  • The werewolf attacks your friends while you watch on in the safety of your car

mcdaldno

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #12 on: March 14, 2012, 05:42:13 PM »
So that's significantly higher cost toward manipulating PCs in MH versus AW.

Maybe that is intentional? I don't know. But I think it is an interesting difference between the systems.

Yes, intentional.

There aren't any moves that kick in when you're trying to manipulate a PC. You do that through roleplaying. Strings afford you leverage throughout that process, but it's still very much a conversation.

Why are there no moves that kick in when you're trying to manipulate a PC? Because those conversations are the juicy substance of the game, and Monsterhearts is designed to lead people into those conversations and then abandon them there.

How do you manipulate Becky into telling you the (secret!) whereabouts of Jaina? That's a good question. The system doesn't give you an easy answer. Maybe you develop emotional leverage over Becky (by turning her on? by relying on your monstrosity?), and then use that leverage to pressure her into telling you. Maybe you threaten to kill her if she doesn't tell you - a threat that'd be resolved by asking "in that case, what do you do?" back and forth. Maybe you sleep with Becky's boyfriend, and then threaten to tell her unless he convinces her to tell people where Jaina is. And so on.

Strings add weight to your attempts at manipulation, but those attempts are ultimately not governed by a move.

If you'd like, I can turn to media sources and explain why this is true. Monsterhearts is patterned pretty directly off of genre material. I could explain "manipulating PCs" using: Buffy, Twilight, or Misfits. Your choice. The Misfits example is the cleanest, as I just watched that show and so it's fresh in my mind.

mcdaldno

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #13 on: March 14, 2012, 05:51:05 PM »
Why are there no moves that kick in when you're trying to manipulate a PC? Because those conversations are the juicy substance of the game, and Monsterhearts is designed to lead people into those conversations and then abandon them there.

And a note to clarify:

There are lots of ways to design around the "juicy substance of a game." Monsterhearts frequently opts to lead you into a messy situation and then let you figure out how you navigate it. It's a messy situation generator much more than a messy situation arbiter. Moves don't have a tendency to resolve problems like they do in Apocalypse World. That's intentional! That's what makes the game good (and also, for some people, what probably makes it not good).

Monsterhearts is decidedly not an action game. It's a horror & romance game. The mechanics don't help you fix problems, because problems are opaque and scary things in this genre.

mcdaldno

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Re: Monsterhearts Basic Moves and achieving your in-fiction intention
« Reply #14 on: March 14, 2012, 06:01:14 PM »
I guess my question is as regards doing something that somebody doesn't want. In the bottle example, if I don't want you to take the bottle, what are my options? What are your options? I'm holding onto it tightly, so according to the extended example, you'd have to lash out physically, but as you've stated, that doesn't actually get the bottle away from me, it just hurts me.

You want to swipe a bottle from Juno. Does that fall under the purview of a move? It's going to depend on context - maybe you need to hold steady in order to do it without hesitating, or maybe there's no move required.

So, you're going to try to swipe a bottle. The MC is going to ask Juno, "So, what do you do?" That question is either going to be asked (A) as you're reaching in to swipe the bottle, or (B) once you've swiped the bottle. In other words, can Juno's reaction prevent you from taking the bottle?

The MC gets to decide which order of operations we're following: A or B. Likely, the MC is just going to naturally assume that one of those two orders is the "logical" thing, and without even thinking about it is going to play it that way ("So, you grab the bottle. Juno, what do you do?" or "Juno, she's reaching out to swipe your bottle. Do you stop her somehow?").  If the MC does stop to ponder what order these go down in, the situation will likely point to one or the other: is Juno tensed and ready? Is she expecting something physical to go down? Are you swift?

This isn't a battle. There are no tactics. It's fine for the MC to say you swipe the bottle, no roll necessary. It's fine for the MC to look at the hard moves and decide, "You reach out to grab the bottle, but fuck it up, knocking it onto the floor. Now what?" It's fine for the MC to turn this back on Juno, asking what she'd do.