Author Topic: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble  (Read 3528 times)

StormKnight

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I recently got a copy of Monster of the Week. I'm got a lot of experience with traditional RPGs and freeform roleplaying, but the more 'narrative' RPGs are still a mystery to me. Unfortunately, MotW isn't really helping with that. I've run three games, but I feel more like I'm forcing the system to act like a traditional RPG that I'm used to than actually taking advantage of it. I love the simplicity of the system. The character archetypes are all very cool, and making characters is fun. But I'm being pretty stumped with running it. I've got a lot of questions here. I tried asking these over on RPGG, but got pretty mixed responses - a lot of people giving opposite opinions!

* At a high level, can anyone provide any advice on what I need to unlearn from traditional RPGs for playing MotW? Like, what I should do differently in MotW than a regular RPG?

* I find it very confusing when the Keepers should be performing 'moves'. "When its your turn in the conversation" doesn't make a lot of sense.

* Do Keepers generally actually bother making a "move" every time they say something significant? It seems like the system is designed around that, but having to ponder that out every step of the way seems like it would really slow things down. It also gets confusing in that the huge number of Keeper moves can cover almost anything that could happen...but not quite. I have no idea if the omissions are intentional part of the system or oversights, as they really seem to be more "things that fell through the cracks".

For example, in our first play a minion nicked a player with a magical dagger putting him into an enchanted sleep. This could be the keeper move "Use a supernatural power". But if instead of a magic dagger the minion had a gotten their hands on a powerful sedative in a syringe, as far as I understand the minion couldn't use that on a character, since no minion move covers that. So should a minion not do that?

* Several moves just don't seem to match up well with how we are trying to play the game:
  + Manipulate Someone: The descriptions make this sound more like "make a deal with someone"; you offer something in return for something else. But this doesn't match up well with what we perceive as how characters normally "manipulate someone"; usually characters want to trick people, or make more emotional/forceful appeals. That it doesn't work on monsters baffles us - tricking or making deals with monsters seems like an absolute staple of the genre!

  + Act Under Pressure: This one makes sense.
  + Help Out: Also makes sense.

  + Investigate a Mystery: Conceptually this makes sense, and I love the "get to ask questions" concept. But the questions you are supposed to ask just never seem to match up well with what is going on when character's do things that logically trigger "investigate a mystery". Its like we're always fumbling to come up with how any of the questions could be answered in the current situation.
Last session I tried stretching things around and had investigating a mystery lead to an answer a bit later. But then, since the "answer" was in the form of meeting someone with info, it logically led to just more than one question worth being answered! And it felt a "railroady"; the PC doing the checking could easily have not gone down the specific route of actions that led to the person, and then I wouldn't have had a clue how to provide the info.

  + Read a Bad Situation: I have no idea in what sort of context people would do this. It just doesn't seem to represent anything that I've seen come up in RPGs before.

  + Kick Some Ass: works fine, though it seems like you easily wind up in situations where its just sort of "And...I hit it again..." a few times in a row.

  + Protect someone: hasn't come up, but makes sense.

  + Use Magic: No clue how this is intended. Can anyone just "use" magic? Do you need to find spellbooks? Obviously some characters should be able to just use magic by default, like the Spell-Slinger, but what about the Chosen who takes the stats focused on Weird? What about a Professional? We've got an entire stat that I've never yet used!
I read through the forums before posting, and saw a thread where someone compared it to "use wifi" - you have to have magic around to use it. But I have no idea what that means. When is magic around? How do characters know if magic is around? If you are on a ley-line should even the Mundane be able to use magic?

* Weapon tags...we've got too page of these and no explanation of how they get used in play. Something like "loud" or "messy" I can readily see results/applications for, but something like "balanced"? I have no clue on that, or how the difference between things like "close" or "intimate" might translate meaningfully into play.

* Motivations for bystanders and locations. Really confused about these. Is the intent that a bystander/location never "acts" out of character for its motivation? Like, if a place is a 'maze', you will never meet a helpful friend there, you can only do that at a crossroads? I have no idea what is accomplished by assigning a motivation to locations, or how that is used in game.

Sorry, that's a big handful of questions. Any responses and help would be appreciated.

Paul T.

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I haven't played MotW, so I won't comment on your specifics (I'm sure someone else will soon!).

However, a few brief comments in the meantime:

1. Don't look at "PbtA games" as being something fundamentally different from other games you've played. Chances are pretty good that they're not! For many, many people, the MC style of playing a PbtA game is just the way they've played RPGs all along.

Instead, just focus on what the game (Monster of the Week) is, and playing it to its best potential.

What do you have to unlearn? The main thing might be just trusting the rules. In many "trad RPGs", the GM applies rules flexibly, to achieve their agenda, particularly when they have a specific plot in mind. (For example, consider "fudging".)

The design of a good PbtA should make that totally unnecessary, and, in fact, could ruin the game. Many of the rules put quite a lot of power in the players' hands, so be ready for them to make their own through your imagined scenario. Let them make their moves and then follow them to their logical conclusions.

If you come with a "prepared plot" in mind, the rules will fight you.

2. The idea of the MC move is simple:

It's "your turn to talk" when the players expect you to make your contribution to the game/fiction. They look at you because they're curious about something, or because they need your input to continue playing.

For example:

"I lift up the rock. What happens?"
"I open the door. What do I see?"
"Crazy fool! I'm going to try to grab the knife from the table before he gets it!"
"Uh... so, where were we again? Were we in the tavern?"

All of these demand a response from you before play can continue. That's what it means for it to be "your turn to speak".

Yes, when it's your turn, you should pretty much always make a move.

A move is simply your contribution to play. Just like those player prompts above, your contributions should demand a response from the players (in order to continue the conversation of play). The list of moves are just a list of categories or suggestions which tend to accomplish that well. Read them flexibly; yes, perhaps a minion with a syringe is "making an attack" or "using a supernatural power". Or maybe this minion has a "custom move" (stab with a syringe). The important part is that you're prompting a response from the player.

Sometimes you'll be "padding" your conversation with pure description, dialogue, colourful narration, and so on. That's fine; just remember to also "make a move" at the end of it. Don't forget basic moves like asking leading questions, offering opportunities, and so forth.

In practice, I think you *could* skip some opportunities to make moves, but, generally speaking, it's a good idea not to. Those would exceptions to the rule rather than good practice, if that makes sense. "Offer an opportunity" is a good "default" move if nothing else seems right.

Munin

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I was in the middle of writing a long manifesto that dealt with each of your points in some detail. Then we suffered a power outage.  :(  I'll start over again this evening.

Munin

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OK, take two:

Just as a general suggestion, you might get more traction on the  generic PbtA aspects of this question if you ask it in the AW subforum. Also, I'd like to preface my responses by saying that though I've read through it, I've never run or played MotW. I have run/played scads of Apocalypse World and a smattering of Dungeon World, however, so maybe take my responses as high-level stuff rather than nitty-gritty.

Right, so I'll try to handle your questions more or less in order. Warning, wall of text follows:

* What to unlearn: I'm going to disagree with Paul T. a little bit and say that at a high-level, PbtA games are paradigmatically different from what most people think of as "traditional" RPGs (and I'm thinking D&D, GURPS, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, etc here). There are three big issues that you'll need to "unlearn" to really start to get the system firing on all cylinders for you.

1) First and foremost, you need to wrap your head around the idea that the rules do NOT in any way simulate or model reality. There's no "encumbrance" mechanic. There are no rules that tell you just how wide a chasm your character can jump across. Instead, the rules are mechanics to help drive the story. So instead of saying, "There's a 15-foot chasm," and looking to see if the PC has sufficient Strength (or Agility or whatever) the MC (Keeper) says, "There's a chasm, but you think maybe you can jump it if you get a running start." If you try to jump it, the MC will probably say that this is Acting Under Pressure and call for a roll. The width of the chasm is immaterial; if you aced the roll, it was clearly narrow enough that you could clear it. If you completely flub the roll, well, I guess it was a little wider than it looked, and now you're in some deep shit.

2) You need to let go of the idea of fixed time increments. There are no "rounds" or "turns" or "phases" or "initiative." Instead, you're just describing what's happening around the PCs and they're telling you what they're trying to do. The order in which that stuff happens isn't determined by stats or die rolls or whatever, but rather by what is happening in the fiction.

3) Finally, combats are way more abstract than you'll be used to. There is no "to hit" roll. Get out of the mindset of "I hit it in its hit-points until it has no more hit-points." More on this on the "Kick Some Ass" section below.

* Conversation: remember the part about not having discrete time mechanics? Here's where the "conversation" part becomes important, as that's exactly how it works. You say something. I respond. You respond to my response. Mike chimes in with his two cents. You take Mike's idea and run with it. And so on.

* Making moves: Here's one where Paul T. and I agree - pretty much any time you talk, chances are you're making some kind of move. Even something as simple as describing what the players see is making a move: When the players ask, "What do we see when we enter the crypt?" and you say, "The place is dank and mildewy. There's a stone sarcophagus in the middle of the room, and as soon as you cross the threshold you hear a low, grinding noise and the lid begins to move." In AW parlance, this is you announcing future badness (or in DW parlance, revealing an unwelcome truth). Either way, you're letting them know that bad shit is about to happen.

In this regard, it's just like any other RPG - your job is to describe the world the PCs inhabit; what's happening, how do they perceive it, etc. The list of Keeper "moves" just serves to give you some handy reminders and structure for the things you can/should be saying.

In terms of what moves are appropriate for minions or monsters, your basic Keeper moves are always appropriate. It's totally cool to have the minion stab a PC with a syringe full of sedatives - that's you inflicting harm as established, one of your basic MC moves.

But it's here that I want to make a little digression to talk about just how "hard" or "mean" the moves you make should be. For the most part, you'll want to describe actions but stop short of their consequences. So maybe, "The minion is coming at you, a syringe full of a milky substance in his clawed hand. What do you do?" Again, this is you announcing future badness, making it clear that if the PC does nothing, he's going to get stuck with a syringe (and this is what's meant by "setting up" a future move). You stop short of inflicting harm on them, giving them a chance to react -you're turning the conversation over to them. Hence, "what do you do?"

In certain circumstances, however (typically either when you've already set up a move or when the player misses a roll), you'll narrate both the action and its consequences at the same time. So for instance, "The minion comes at you, and he's faster than you guessed. Before you can stop him, he jams a syringe into your shoulder an pushes the plunger to the stop. In an instant, you start to feel woozy. Take two S-harm and make the harm move for me." In AW parlance, narrating both an action and its consequences at the same time is usually referred to as a "hard move." And as mentioned, this is usually the result of the player flubbing a roll.

But don't be afraid to make a hard move if the fiction warrants it or if you've done the appropriate set-up. For example, I have a player whose first response is almost always to try to talk her way out of a situation, even in cases where that's wildly inappropriate. So an exchange might look like this:

MC: "As soon as he figures out that you've given away the Loc-Nar, Dremmer roars 'You bitch! I'll fucking kill you!' He's in the process of drawing his big, shiny, long-barreled magnum from it's holster. He's fucking foaming at the mouth. What do you do?" This is me, announcing future badness. I'm making it abundantly clear that Dremmer's past the point of negotiation, and that dedicated violence is about to occur.

Player: "I say, 'Wait, wait, I'm sure we can come to some kind of...'"

MC: "You're standing there jawing away, but as soon as his front sight crosses your center-of-mass, he unloads several rounds into your chest and abdomen, still shouting bloody murder. Take 3 harm minus your armor and make the harm move for me." I've done my due diligence in explaining the fictional situation to the player. Because the player has done nothing to alter the fictional situation when it was her turn to speak, I make the move I've set up - I inflict harm as established. I'm narrating the action (he shoots at you) and the consequences (you get shot) at the same time, a classic "hard move."

* Manipulation: This move is all about using leverage to get someone to do what you want. The important part here is the leverage, which can come in a number of varieties; a quid pro quo (the kind of "deal-making" you've identified), empty threats, promises of future rewards, etc. And when I say "empty threats," I mean it, as any time you are 100% willing to inflict immediate violence if the person doesn't comply with your wishes, that's not manipulation, that's going aggro. But you can threaten someone without being willing (or able) to inflict immediate violence. So saying, "Tell me where Moxie is or I swear to god I'll tell Dremmer that you were the one who stole the Loc-Nar" is manipulation (a threat, but not one of immediate violence). Or "Tell me where Moxie is and I'll give you my fragment of the map" (a deal). Or "Tell me where Moxie is and I'll owe you a favor" (a promise of future rewards). And if you hit the roll with a 10+, then sure, maybe the guy's willing to take you at your word that when he comes to you asking for a favor, you'll help him out. But on a 7-9, he presses you; "You first. Give me your piece of the map and I'll tell you where Moxie is." At this point it's up to the player to decide whether information about Moxie's whereabouts is worth parting with a piece of the map. And on a miss? As hard and direct a move as you like; "He hems and haws and finally grumbles, 'Yeah, OK, I'll take you to her. Follow me. But don't do anything stupid.' He leads you through the back door into the kitchens, but as you pass the walk-in cooler, someone steps up behind you, touches a stun-gun to your neck, and you black out." This is you, capturing someone. And as an aside, this is a great time to shift the spot-light onto the other players - "Man, Wentworth left to talk to the guy about finding Moxie like an hour ago and he hasn't come back yet. What do you do?"

The trick for the Keeper is in determining whether or not what the player is offering/promising/threatening constitutes adequate leverage/motivation for the NPC. And this is why you typically can't manipulate monsters - their motivations are inscrutable, unknowable, and/or totally alien. But if the PCs do happen to figure out just what it is that motivates a particular monster and can secure sufficient leverage, well, then maybe using manipulation on them is appropriate.

* Investigate a Mystery: I'm gonna let someone with more direct experience with MotW tackle this one.

* Read a Bad Situation: This is a move you use when shit's about to get real and you need to form an exit strategy. It's for when things are tense you're looking for any small advantage to help you get out the other side of it. That's why acting on this information gives you +1 forward - forewarned is forearmed, so to speak. So for instance, your conversation with the cultists is getting tense, but by reading a bad situation you suss out that they all look to Professor Calder for leadership ("who's really in charge here?"). So maybe when the bullets start flying, killing him first will throw the rest of them into momentary panic or disarray, giving you a better chance of escaping without too many holes in you.

*Kick Some Ass: Remember how I said there's no "to hit" roll in PbtA games? Combat moves in PbtA games are way more abstract. Depending on the scope of the encounter, one roll to kick some ass might be an entire battle. Or it could be one exchange of gunfire. Or anything in between.

And since it's not, "one roll, one swing/shot/hit," it's important to let the fiction dictate what happens next. It is your job as the Keeper to take the choices the player has made and turn that into a fictional consequence. Say the PC has chosen to inflict lots of damage or frighten the enemy - what does that look like, and how does it affect the fictional situation? "You unload on the creature with your shotgun, pumping round after round into it as it staggers back. Bleeding profusely, it hisses, then darts down a nearby sewer grate. You didn't think something that big could fit down an opening that small." And of course, "What do you do?" This makes it clear that "I hit it again" isn't really an option. Now you're not shooting the creature again, you're casting about for the nearest man-hole so you can get to tracking a wounded monster through the sewer tunnels. Hilarity ensues.

This is what people mean by "following the fiction." You're using both the unfolding fictional situation and the game's mechanics to help you say what happens next, which in turn leads to the next fictional situation and the next set of moves, and so on.

Also, it's important for the Keeper to take a turn as the monster(s) as well. Don't just have the monster stand there like a dope - have it do something that puts the PCs at risk. For best effects, have it do something they can't ignore, usually by setting up a future move. Even if the PCs attack does damage, you can use the effects of that damage to drive the story; "You swing laterally, your sword tearing deeply into the dusty, tattered wrappings of the mummy's torso. It staggers back from the blow, but recovers quickly. Worse, it emits a dry, raspy chortle, and you see shiny black scarabs pouring from the wound you've just opened. The scuttling swarm of insects is lightning quick and heading straight for you. What do you do?" I can virtually guarantee that "I hit it again" is going to be low on the priority list for the player's next thing to say. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd put my money on something that sounds more like, "Oh, shit!"

* Use Magic: Again, this one's too MotW-specific for me to want to tackle in too much detail. But as a general rule, if it's a basic move, anyone can do it. How good or bad you are at it will have to do with how Weird you are.

* Weapon Tags: Most of these are relatively self-explanatory, but where they really come into play is in helping to work with the fiction to either describe what can happen or what has happened (prescriptive versus descriptive). So if you have a weapon that has a tag of "hand," but your enemy isn't within arm's reach, you can't use that weapon to hurt them (prescriptive). That's how the range tags (intimate, hand, close, far) work, indicating which weapons you can use at a given range - and the range between people right now, at this instant is part of the fictional position. When a player asks, "How close is that guy?" give him or her an answer that indicates which weapons might be useful: "He's maybe 20 feet away, definitely close range."

Similarly, if you're using a weapon that has the "area" tag, it applies its full harm to multiple people at once (descriptive). If a weapon has the "flaming" tag, hitting someone with it lights their shit on fire. This gives you some clue as to what happens next, how the use of this weapon or piece of gear changes the fictional situation.

* Motivations for Bystanders and Landscapes: Think of these as an extra set of moves that give character to a scene's location or extras. They're helpful hints for ways to mess with the PCs when it comes time to say something about the world.

Where these come in most handy is when you're setting your next scene - where is it taking place and what is happening there? Who else is there and what are they doing? Say for instance that you've decided that the sewer tunnels are a Landscape Threat, and further that they constitute a "Maze." One of the things a maze does is to hide something. So maybe when moving on to the next "chapter" of the story, you use that landscape to set the scene: "Casey comes to you in tears. When you can finally get her calmed down enough to make intelligible words, she blubbers, 'Keaton. He followed the...he went right down the man-hole. I begged. I said not to go. Not alone. Please help me. Oh god, you have to help me find him!'" And you're off to the races.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2017, 01:24:26 AM by Munin »

Paul T.

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Good stuff, Munin!

Without knowing why and how PbtA games are different from StormKnight's previous experiences, we can't be too sure what needs to be "unlearned". I think your points are also a likely guess! There are many games which do those things you're describing.

StormKnight, you were asking about the use of MC moves - Munin's examples show it well, particularly the combat examples. Each time, the MC is doing some description (for instance, what it looks like when the sword hits the mummy), but then he is *also* making a move (like the scarabs pouring out of the wounds). That's what keeps the action moving. Read them again if you don't see what I mean!

By the way, my uninformed guess on the "Do Magic" thing is that it applies when you, as a group, agree that it does. Are you playing in a world or genre where any old person can try to "do magic"? (Probably not.) So, then, what does it take?

I'd imagine it will usually be when they have an opportunity to do so. If they stumble across a cultist's directions for a summoning ritual, and they want to act out those directions to see what will happen... well, now they're (trying to) Do Magic. Roll it!

If those directions were fake, though - useless, inert - then, no, they're just making fools of themselves (or wasting time).

KidDublin

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Good advice all around from Paul T. and Munin. You two have explained the core PbtA philosophies well.

StormKnight, let me try and address your issues with MotW specifically. I've been running MotW for a stretch now, and it's a hack/setting that I really enjoy.

Moves
Manipulate Someone: Echoing the above, the key with this move is to start with the established fiction and go from there. If it seems like a monster/minion *should* be susceptible to the kinds of leverage hunters would apply (threats of violence... promised favors... flirtation, and so on), then let the hunters try and manipulate them! "Dream Away the Time" has notes on Oberon which make it clear that he's a minion who can be manipulated. If a hunter tries to manipulate a monster with no reasonable chance of coercion, don't call for the roll, and make sure the hunter knows this baddie isn't down for negotiations (always say what honesty demands).

Examples:
Ted, the Mundane: "Okay, so, what if I offer this vampire lord like, some blood? My blood? Will he go away then?"
GM: "'I need more than just one little snack,' he says." (offering an opportunity with a cost)
Ted: "How about... every month? My place?"
GM: "Roll manipulate someone."
Ted rolls and nails it at 10+. The vampire lord will skedaddle... for now.

Lane, the Chosen: "I tell the werewolf we'll buy it steaks if it stops killing people at the clown college."
GM: "It 100% doesn't understand you, and now it's advancing, baring some scary-sharp fangs. What do you do?"

It's also worth noting that the Monstrous playbook has as an advancement (Dark Negotiator) which allows a hunter to just generally manipulate monsters. I'd play that pretty loose--in the example above, maybe a Monstrous with Dark Negotiator *could* convince that werewolf with a nice ribeye.

Investigate a Mystery:
The questions given for this move (or for most PbtA-style "query" moves) seem more limiting than they actually are. I find that most of the time a hunter's investigate question falls into one of these categories, even if they're not asking that question word for word. Again, always look to the fiction and keep your answers grounded in the fiction as well. Don't answer a "What sort of creature is it?" by saying "It's a chimera made of household pets." Instead, give tangible details about the clues the hunters find.

Also, keep in mind that "What sort of" =/= "What is." Ghouls and carrion worms are both necrophages, and the hunters may need to do more investigating to suss out just what kind of corpse-eater they're dealing with.

Example:
Louisa, the Expert: "I'm scoping out the crime scene with my full toolkit out."
GM: "Give me investigate a mystery.
She rolls a 10+, meaning three questions.
Louisa: "What sort of creature is it?"
GM: "You have a ruler and magnifying glass, right? You measure some of the tracks--they're pretty deep, and spaced apart too wide for a regular wolf. You also find some long, gross hairs. This thing is some sort of bipedal animal."
Louisa: "Like a werewolf?"
GM: *coy glance* "You've got two more."
Louisa: "Okay. Does it have a den nearby, maybe?"
GM: "You're not sure about a warren but you see the tracks head north, through some thick brush, towards the park." (The GM didn't say it, but they're treating this as "Where did it go?" It's not a direct answer to Louisa, but it's not a lie, and it's in the spirit of her question.)
Louisa: "Yikes. I go over to the corpse and check him out. Like, what exactly happened?"
GM: "You said you had a year of pre-med, right? This dude's throat's been torn out--bite radius is *huge*--and, wow, it sure looks like something just tore his arms clean off." (You could count this as either "What happened here?" or "What can it do?," as we've established the creature is a biter and crazy strong. Answer's the same either way, and--again--it's playing fair with Louisa's fictional positioning.)

Read a Bad Situation:
The two most common uses I see are when the hunters are looking to setup an advantage in a fight, or when the hunters have walked into danger, but they don't know it yet. In the former, a hunter might say they're frantically looking around for something that might drive the giant spider away. In the latter, the hunters might have walked into the giant spider's lair, and the spider's hiding somewhere, waiting to pounce.

Examples:
Zuzu, the Divine: "This thing's killing us! Is there anything in the room that might help?"
GM: "Roll me read a bad sitch."
She gets a soft hit, so one hold which she spends asking for a way to "protect the victims."
GM: "There's one of those big red factory push buttons here which looks like it's connected to the loading gate. If you close that the spider won't be able to reach the bystanders on the other side."

The hunters have broken into a factory after dark, looking for the giant spider queen.
GM: "There's webbing all over the place. Blood, too. Man, this place looks dangerous! Anyone want to try and read a bad situation?
Zuzu: "The situation's bad?"
GM: "Zuzu, as you're walking along you accidentally kick a dismembered arm."
Zuzu: "I'M READING A BAD SITUATION."
She nails the roll and starts spending hold.
Zuzu: "Are there any dangers we haven't noticed?"
GM: "Zuzu, after kicking the arm you slowly look up, and see the spider queen hanging off the roof, high above you. It looks like it's ready to pounce!"

Kick Some Ass:
If your hunters are engaging in tit-for-tat scrums with monsters too often, consider a few things.

1) How tough are your big-bad monsters? Specific playbooks can get pretty tanky, but a straight-up fight with a vampire leader should never be a sure thing.

2) Are you using the harm moves? Even 0-harm exchanges can knock away weapons or put hunters in dangerous situations. (For example: one mystery I ran, set in a cannery, saw the hunters getting repeatedly knocked into the canning machinery by devious government reptilians.)

3) Are your monsters/minions too willing to "just attack"? You don't need to answer every kick assb roll with a strike of your own. Monsters can try to escape, try to hide in the shadows, try to do a maniacal monologue, and so on. A "trickster" monster might not even fight at all, instead opting to dance and dodge around, taunting the hunters.

Use Magic:
Should every hunter be able to use magic? In short: yes. In not-so-short: depends. As always, the fiction's the thing to focus on. Use Magic isn't an ability that everyone "gets"--it's a set of options, for everyone, guiding what *could* happen when someone in the fiction uses magic.

The better question to ask when this comes up (remember your principles: "ask questions and build on the answers") is "How do you do that?"

Examples
Ezekiel the Lesser, Spell-Slinger: "I'm going to use magic to place a binding spell on this clockwork tiger."
GM: "Okay, how do you do that? Like, where does this spell come from?"
Ezekiel: "Well, I'm a Spell-Slinger, so I learned it from my order during my training. It's an incantation, and I have to wave my hands like this." Ezekiel demonstrates.
GM: "Fair enough! Roll it! But, I'm going to say you need your spellbook to cast as well."

Morton, the Mundane: "I'm going to use magic to locate the missing children."
GM: "Woah, really? Aren't you a plumber Mort? Where'd you learn to do arcane geo-positioning?"
Morton: "Ah... I got nothing. I guess I'm calling my plumber buddies instead to see if they've seen anything on the job."

Now, there's nothing to say that Morton couldn't, eventually, learn some sort of basic magic. He's rolling with a crew of monster hunters, after all--maybe Ezekiel teaches him something! Point is, a Mundane or Professional (depending on the Professional's agency) aren't going to have as many good explanations for a use magic roll as, say, a Spooky, Monstrous, Expert or Spell-Slinger.

Motivations
These are chiefly for you, the Keeper. Isn't that nice? They're like the elevator pitch for that location/character. If you use them "incorrectly," your hunters will never know. That said, they *are* a good tool to have in your kit. When the hunters finally drag themselves over to the Sacrifice Pit, I'm not going to be scrambling through my notes, wondering what the hell I put that Pit in for. I just scan my locations for "Sacrifice Pit: Location: Hellgate," and I quickly remember that, oh yeah, that's where the stone golems are coming from.

It's the same for bystanders. While I might prepare a quick bio for each my key NPCs, something like "Dave Henton: Bystander: Detective" does *alot* of work when I need to pull Dave and his confounding inquisitiveness out in the middle of a mystery.

Let me know if this helps StormKnight. MotW is one of my favorites for quick n' easy RPG sessions, and it'd be awesome to hear that you're getting a better handle on the system.

Munin

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Morton, the Mundane: "I'm going to use magic to locate the missing children."
GM: "Woah, really? Aren't you a plumber Mort? Where'd you learn to do arcane geo-positioning?"
Morton: "Ah... I got nothing. I guess I'm calling my plumber buddies instead to see if they've seen anything on the job."
Absolutely, but keep in mind that if Mort's player is creative, the exchange might go like this:

Morton, the Mundane: "I'm going to use magic to locate the missing children."
GM: "Woah, really? Aren't you a plumber Mort? Where'd you learn to do arcane geo-positioning?"
Morton: "I apprenticed under this crusty old master plumber who also dug wells. He used dowsing rods to find the best spot. Swore by them. I mostly thought it was bullshit at the time, but after some of the crap I've seen in the past eight months, I'm not so sure. And at this point, we're out of leads, so I'm gonna bend a couple of metal hangars into dowsing rods, hold them loosely in my hands the way he showed me, and focus my mind on the kids."
GM: "Fantastic! Roll+Weird!"

KidDublin

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Quote
Absolutely, but keep in mind that if Mort's player is creative, the exchange might go like this:

Morton, the Mundane: "I'm going to use magic to locate the missing children."
GM: "Woah, really? Aren't you a plumber Mort? Where'd you learn to do arcane geo-positioning?"
Morton: "I apprenticed under this crusty old master plumber who also dug wells. He used dowsing rods to find the best spot. Swore by them. I mostly thought it was bullshit at the time, but after some of the crap I've seen in the past eight months, I'm not so sure. And at this point, we're out of leads, so I'm gonna bend a couple of metal hangars into dowsing rods, hold them loosely in my hands the way he showed me, and focus my mind on the kids."
GM: "Fantastic! Roll+Weird!"

Yeah you're spot-on Munin. My usual mode for RPing a Mundane is "sad-sack monster hunting newbie," but there are always other options, as you've shown.

Paul T.

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A note on the "ask questions" moves, like "read a bad situation":

When I play, I always like to ask, "What are you doing?" or "How are you doing that?" or even "What do we see your character doing, right now?"

I find this really helps ground the action a bit. It helps to answer the questions (because I can phrase the information in a way which relates to what they're doing), and it helps me choose a move on a miss.

For the former, if the character is trying to find out "What happened here" by inspecting the body, I'd give them an answer by describing how it looks like the victim's arms were torn out of their sockets. But if they said they were inspecting the house where it happened, I might answer by saying that they see lots of broken glass - clearly, there was a scuffle inside the building, and then someone very large jumped out of the window.

For the latter, their actions tell me what they're exposing themselves to. In a firefight, a character ducking behind a wall might say they "read a bad situation" by peeking over the wall quickly. This leads naturally to a miss result: they take a bullet, without it feeling forced or like I just made it up on the spot.

StormKnight

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Thank you for all the responses, especially Munin for the very long response - so sorry it got deleted. I hate it when that happens!

I feel like I'm just having a mental jam here. Some things just don't compute, down to the whole concept of the game. Maybe I'm just thinking about it too hard.

For example:
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What do you have to unlearn? The main thing might be just trusting the rules. In many "trad RPGs", the GM applies rules flexibly, to achieve their agenda, particularly when they have a specific plot in mind. (For example, consider "fudging".)
Isn't PbtA all about "applying rules flexibly"? I mean, very little is defined to any mechanical extent; most of the game is based on GM fiat. Like, in a traditional RPG, the GM might "fudge" to let a villain escape (likely an example of "bad" fudging). In MotW, they rules tell the keeper 'sure, have a monster escape no matter how well contained it is'. Its a move. I can't think of much that you'd "fudge" to do in traditional RPG that you can't just do by the rules in MotW.

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If you come with a "prepared plot" in mind, the rules will fight you.
I've seen a lot of comments like this and am still confused by it. The MotW rules actually recommend a lot more preparation that I often do for games! You are figuring out what will happen in each place, what the role of each NPC is, how the monster will be defeated...lots of stuff that I wouldn't normally plan in advance!

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In practice, I think you *could* skip some opportunities to make moves, but, generally speaking, it's a good idea not to.
So, if a "move" is basically "say something"...what would "skipping" a move look like?

Like, in last game the PCs decided they wanted to get into a locked room that was actually totally irrelevant; they'd seen a "bad guy" try the door, but that was because he was confused about which door he was supposed to use. So, was having there be nothing interesting in that room be "skipping" a move?

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In terms of what moves are appropriate for minions or monsters, your basic Keeper moves are always appropriate. It's totally cool to have the minion stab a PC with a syringe full of sedatives - that's you inflicting harm as established, one of your basic MC moves.
Wouldn't 'harm' be the game keyword? I figured that was for doing damage with weapons, per the comments about how to handle things if one party in a fight isn't fighting back.

And its not a minion move, which I assume are meant to limit what minions can do.

Why is that a monster can 'attack with stealth and calculation' while a minion cannot?

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This move is all about using leverage to get someone to do what you want. The important part here is the leverage...
From what I've heard, 'leverage' is used in other PbtA games, but it isn't mentioned in MotW. The 'manipulate someone' move seems to be all about 'I'll give you X if you do Y'. Now there's nothing inherently wrong with that. Its just that, when I was talking with my wife whose been playing RPGs with me for about 20 years about this, neither of us could remember a single occasional in an RPG where "I'll give you X for Y" happened in a game. This doesn't mean its never happened for us, just that it was never memorable or interesting. Whereas occasions where a character has tricked someone, bluffed someone, seduced someone, made an emotional appeal to someone...that's like pretty much every session!

So I guess I understand this move fine...it just doesn't really work for us.


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* Read a Bad Situation: This is a move you use when shit's about to get real and you need to form an exit strategy. It's for when things are tense you're looking for any small advantage to help you get out the other side of it. That's why acting on this information gives you +1 forward - forewarned is forearmed, so to speak. So for instance, your conversation with the cultists is getting tense, but by reading a bad situation you suss out that they all look to Professor Calder for leadership ("who's really in charge here?").
"Who's really in charge here" isn't a question in MotW. :)

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* Weapon Tags: Most of these are relatively self-explanatory, but where they really come into play is in helping to work with the fiction to either describe what can happen or what has happened (prescriptive versus descriptive). So if you have a weapon that has a tag of "hand," but your enemy isn't within arm's reach, you can't use that weapon to hurt them (prescriptive).
Yeah, but as you mentioned, there's no definitive timing or location. So "I dash across the room to stab them" isn't "harder' in any sense than "I reach out my arm and stab him".
There are a few situations where I can see the 'range' tags applying (one person is restrained, there's an obstacle in the way, the monster is going to splash acid when cut so you really don't want to be next to it). But 'balanced'? I haven't a clue!

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Motivations
These are chiefly for you, the Keeper. Isn't that nice?
Hmm. I feel like I'm struggling to fit places into these odd terms that don't really mean anything or tell me anything useful. It just isn't a concept that makes sense to me.

StormKnight

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2017, 12:00:03 AM »
So I'm kind of thinking that I've been taking the keeper moves as restrictions, whereas most people see them as suggestions. I very much got the idea from the book that the intent was that the keeper ONLY performs the listed moves, and shouldn't do something if its not a move. I mean, if there's a different list for 'monster  moves' and 'minion moves', doesn't that mean that a minion should NOT do something on the monster move list?

StormKnight

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #11 on: March 14, 2017, 12:09:43 AM »
So, with 'Investigate a mystery' is the intent is that you design the mystery around the move, planning situations where the questions will logically make sense and can be answered by the available info?

The sample mystery really didn't do that though...the witnesses don't know anything, and there's no 'crime scene' to investigate.

KidDublin

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #12 on: March 14, 2017, 02:50:47 PM »
StormKnight, you're right to point out that MotW asks for substantially more preparation than vanilla AW. AW lends itself to big, sweeping, cinematic stories, while MotW is explicitly aiming for the feel of an episodic television series. It really helps the game's pacing when you can start a new session and be ready to roll with a fresh bag of tricks.

However, MotW does *not* ask you to prepare a plot. It asks  you to stat up at least one big-bad monster; probably some minions, bystanders, and locations; hooks for the hunters; and the countdown. Those things inform the plot, but they aren't the plot itself. You're playing along with the hunters to discover the plot, and the hunters will take or leave what you have on your mystery sheet. Even if you put "Hawkins' Middle School" down on paper, you absolutely can't think that it's your job as the keeper to get the hunters there--they might not go to the school at all, but still manage to solve the mystery. Likewise, the mystery countdown is what *would* happen if the hunters don't interfere. It should inform your choices as keeper and guide how you put pressure on the hunters over time, but it's not a list of set-pieces that you're driving the hunters towards.

This is where "investigate a mystery" comes in. You can--and should--sketch out specific mystery elements and their solutions. Just remember that those notes aren't the plot, and aren't the only things the hunters will try to investigate.

For example, let's look at the sample mystery again, "Dream Away the Time." When I ran this for my hunters, they went to question one of the redcap's victims, Alice Rigsdale. In the course of their interrogation, my Expert got her hands on Alice's phone, and used some killer hacking skills to access the camera.

I ruled that as "investigate a mystery," and called for the roll. Expert gets a soft hit, meaning one question: "What can it do?" Now, in other systems it's possible to separate the success of an action from the outcome the player wanted--sure, you passed the skill check to hack the phone, but you don't find anything useful. PbtA/MotW doesn't work like that, though, and just saying "you don't do it/find it" is rarely a good keeper move.

Instead, I described how Alice's camera flipped on when the redcap attacked her. The video was blurry, but my Expert managed to briefly see the  outline of some sort of hulking figure before it disappeared in a shadowy (clearly supernatural) fog.

Now, almost none of that stuff is in the mystery sheet. There's no line saying "hunters can find a blurry video of the redcap on Alice's phone," and Alice herself isn't even given a full bystander paragraph. But, that investigation made sense with the established fiction, so I answered the Expert's question honestly, revealing that the monster can cloak itself in shadow.

Munin

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #13 on: March 15, 2017, 02:41:20 AM »
Isn't PbtA all about "applying rules flexibly"? I mean, very little is defined to any mechanical extent; most of the game is based on GM fiat.
Sort of. But it's not so much about applying the rules flexibly, it's about applying the flexible rules consistently. Essentially what PbtA systems do is say, "here are some tools that are handy for telling compelling stories about cool characters." And they do that by abstracting all of the simulation-of-reality stuff that has a tendency to bog down a lot of traditional RPGs.

One of the key concepts to consider is that of the "inconsequential roll." This is a roll whose outcome (either success or failure or both) leads to no change in circumstances. A good example of an inconsequential roll is a missed "to hit" roll in D&D - all that means is that you have to try to hit again. Or a failed "spot" check, or anything that uses a multiple roll system to resolve tasks the characters might undertake where time is a factor (i.e. roll once each turn until you amass X successes).

By design, PbtA games largely do away with inconsequential rolls. It's not a matter of making a separate Climbing check for every 10 feet of cliff you want to ascend; in a PbtA game, you make one roll and the result of that roll dictates what happens. Treating this as acting under pressure, if you hit a 10+, awesome, you've scaled the cliff. If you hit a 7-9, you've scaled the cliff but it has cost you something (the Keeper is going to offer you a worse outcome, a hard bargain, or an ugly choice). And if you miss, the Keeper is going to make as hard and direct a move as he or she likes (inflicting harm, capturing someone, separating the PCs, taking away their stuff, etc).

But here's the important part - whether you succeed or fail, the underlying fictional situation has changed. "I try it again," is almost always the wrong answer. If you are doing your job as the Keeper correctly, those successes and failures (both) have consequences, and those consequences have tangible effects in the fiction. This is what Vincent means in AW when he says the best moves are those which are irrevocable. The "ugly choice" is pure magic for this; you can kill the monster, or you can save the kid, but you can't do both - which is it going to be? Whatever you decide, there will be repercussions.

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If you come with a "prepared plot" in mind, the rules will fight you.
I've seen a lot of comments like this and am still confused by it. The MotW rules actually recommend a lot more preparation that I often do for games! You are figuring out what will happen in each place, what the role of each NPC is, how the monster will be defeated...lots of stuff that I wouldn't normally plan in advance!
I think KidDublin handled this one well, but I'd just like to add that it's best to give your NPCs/monsters solid motivations and then just turn them loose. As the players do stuff, the NPCs/monsters will react, and their plans will change by necessity. Because players are players, you might have no idea what they are going to do, which means you don't know what the monsters are going to do in reaction. Hence the term, "play to find out." If you have a rigid "Clue X leads to Encounter Y leads to Clue Z leads to Boss Fight Omega," what are you going to do when the players kill the guy in Encounter Y who was supposed to give them Clue Z?

Instead, just set up the situation, the motivations, the rough initial plans (this is essentially what your countdown represents), and blast off. Re-evaluate at every step based on the PCs' actions (or inactions).

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In practice, I think you *could* skip some opportunities to make moves, but, generally speaking, it's a good idea not to.
Like, in last game the PCs decided they wanted to get into a locked room that was actually totally irrelevant; they'd seen a "bad guy" try the door, but that was because he was confused about which door he was supposed to use. So, was having there be nothing interesting in that room be "skipping" a move?
Getting into that locked room is a perfect example of an inconsequential roll; don't do that. Unless succeeding or failing to enter that room will have some consequence, just let them do it. And in doing so, give them some information that gives some insight into the NPC: "Yeah, you force the lock in short order. But the room is just a supply closet. Mops, buckets, bleach, big rolls of toilet paper. You wonder what he could possibly have been looking for, and if not finding it is important."

But a better way to handle this is to highlight the NPC's confusion up-front: "The guy stops in the hall, visibly indecisive. He takes a few steps one way, then stops and turns around, trying the door on the left. When he finds it locked, he looks a little panicked for a second. Then he tries the door on the right, finds it unlocked, heaves a sigh of relief, walks through, and closes it behind him."

You do this because the important part is not that one of the rooms is irrelevant, but that the NPC is confused.

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In terms of what moves are appropriate for minions or monsters, your basic Keeper moves are always appropriate. It's totally cool to have the minion stab a PC with a syringe full of sedatives - that's you inflicting harm as established, one of your basic MC moves.
Wouldn't 'harm' be the game keyword? I figured that was for doing damage with weapons, per the comments about how to handle things if one party in a fight isn't fighting back.

And its not a minion move, which I assume are meant to limit what minions can do.

Why is that a monster can 'attack with stealth and calculation' while a minion cannot?
Ah, OK, I think I see part of the problem here.

You have a list of basic Keeper moves, right? These are ALWAYS appropriate. You can do these at any time. So long as you can follow the fiction along its appropriate course, you can do this with any agent. So if one of your Keeper moves is capture someone, then it's totally cool to have a minion be the thing that captures the PC, so long as it is fictionally appropriate.

Where the monster moves versus minion moves are important is in shaping the scenes. So attack with stealth and calculation describes how the monster makes its approach - but minions don't attack that way because they aren't smart enough. They can both attack the players, it's just that monsters are more clever about it than minions (who are more of a blunt-force tool).

Example: The PCs are investigating the scene of a supernatural crime. Looking for clues, one of them makes a roll to investigate a mystery and completely flubs to roll to the tune of a 3. Using this opportunity, the Keeper chooses to have the monster attack with stealth and calculation, and narrates this as, "You're looking around the darkened basement for anything that can give you some insight into what happened here. At one point, while Mort and Kevin are busy examining the victim, you notice a few fresh drops of blood some distance removed from the body. Nearby is another blood smear. A few feet away is another - they seem to lead to the basement window. As you're intently examining the latch mechanism for any signs of forced entry, there's a sudden, hostile presence to your left - more felt than seen or heard - and you are struck."

What the Keeper is doing here is using the monster's move to set up the fictional situation. Because the monster is using stealth and calculation, it is making its attack from a hidden position against an opponent who is separated from the rest of the party (rather than merely charging the entire party). What this means is that for at least a little bit of time, the PC who flubbed his roll is fighting the monster on his own, without help. And because you can make as hard and as direct a move as you like on a player miss, it's totally kosher to have this attack actually land and do damage (or have some monster-related custom move effect). And at this point, the Keeper (acting as the monster) has done something, and conversation shifts to the player, which you indicate by saying something like "A tentacle wraps around your chest and something sharp is jammed into your stomach once, twice, three times. What do you do?" At this point, the player does whatever it is he or she is going to do, maybe makes some move, maybe just screams for help and tries to get away, whatever. Dice might be rolled, then maybe conversation reverts to the Keeper. He does something as the monster, then maybe he asks the other players what they're doing while the monster is mauling their friend. Or maybe since this is a stealthy, calculated attack, the monster just gets in a single hit and then vanishes before the PCs can react.

Does that make sense?

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This move is all about using leverage to get someone to do what you want. The important part here is the leverage...
From what I've heard, 'leverage' is used in other PbtA games, but it isn't mentioned in MotW. The 'manipulate someone' move seems to be all about 'I'll give you X if you do Y'. Now there's nothing inherently wrong with that. Its just that, when I was talking with my wife whose been playing RPGs with me for about 20 years about this, neither of us could remember a single occasional in an RPG where "I'll give you X for Y" happened in a game. This doesn't mean its never happened for us, just that it was never memorable or interesting. Whereas occasions where a character has tricked someone, bluffed someone, seduced someone, made an emotional appeal to someone...that's like pretty much every session!
But don't you see? Seduction is "I'll give you seX if you give me Y." ;) An emotional appeal is "You'll make me happy if you do Y." A bluff is faking that you have a gun and saying "Do Y and I won't shoot you." A bribe is straight-up "I'll give you X if you do Y." Blackmail is "Do Y or I'll e-mail these photos to your wife." These are all cases of an "exchange," and manipulate someone is the appropriate move for all of them. You just need to be more open-minded about what you're treating as the "currency" used to make that exchange.

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* Weapon Tags: Most of these are relatively self-explanatory, but where they really come into play is in helping to work with the fiction to either describe what can happen or what has happened (prescriptive versus descriptive). So if you have a weapon that has a tag of "hand," but your enemy isn't within arm's reach, you can't use that weapon to hurt them (prescriptive).
Yeah, but as you mentioned, there's no definitive timing or location. So "I dash across the room to stab them" isn't "harder' in any sense than "I reach out my arm and stab him".
Ah, but that's the important part - depending on the fictional situation, it's entirely possible that it is harder to dash across the room than to reach out your arm. For instance, unless teleportation is a thing in your setting, dashing across the room is assumed to take some (non-specific) amount of time - what is the monster doing while you're dashing across the room? Or maybe the monster is a squid-like mass of flailing, ropy, barbed tentacles whipping every which way. So yeah, you can attack the creature's body with your knife, but first you've got to get close enough to do so. That sounds pretty freakin' dangerous, doesn't it? So maybe crossing that distance is more complicated than just the player saying, "I walk over and stab it," because that doesn't fit the fiction. Instead maybe it's some ducking, rolling, bobbing, and weaving to close the distance without getting mauled, which sounds an awful lot like doing something under pressure to me. This involves making a roll (and suffering the consequences) before you even get the opportunity to make an attack. But if you had a pistol instead of a knife (with a tag of close instead of hand), you could maybe just shoot the thing and kick some ass might be the more appropriate move.

"Balanced" is a little more esoteric (and not present in AW, so I'm venturing a guess here), but weapons that are well-balanced tend to be very quick to bring to bear. I'd almost treat this as the opposite of slow. Between the guy with the regular sword and the guy with the balanced sword, maybe the guy with the balanced sword gets to take the conversational lead when the situation comes to blows (i.e. he's the one who gets to make the roll to kick some ass rather than the other guy). Or if you're fighting an NPC or monster, maybe the balanced weapon lets you get in a hit first before the real mano-a-mano violence starts.

Does this help?
« Last Edit: March 15, 2017, 02:51:21 AM by Munin »

Paul T.

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #14 on: March 16, 2017, 12:33:46 AM »
Remember, also, what I wrote earlier about a move being a piece of new information or a statement which prompts a response from the player(s).

Getting into a locked room (which is empty) has nothing to do with moves at all. (Unless Monster of the Week has a "get into a locked room" move, I suppose. In that case you should roll it!)

When it's your turn to talk, you make a move. If there is danger or interest or suspense in this room, you use that to inspire your move. A hidden enemy attacks, that kind of thing.

If there is not, you use your move to push the game towards the interesting stuff. You say something which prompts a response from the players.

Is there hidden information in the room? Offer it as an opportunity with a cost. "You can see there is a locked safe in the corner. You could probably get it open without too much trouble, but you'll have to fetch the tools from the other room to do so. That means anyone else still in the building would likely have enough time to escape. Do you want to?"

Or reveal an unwelcome truth. "There is a safe in the corner, open wide. There are some photos strewn around the room. Looks like the Company had a dossier on your employer..."

If there's nothing of interest in the room, use your move to prompt the next interesting bit of play. Reveal off-screen badness, for example:

"While you're rifling through the contents of the room, there is a gunshot, somewhere upstairs, then total silence. What do you do?"