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Author Topic: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble  (Read 503 times)

Paul T.

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #15 on: March 16, 2017, 12:36:10 AM »
As for "applying the rules", here's my take on it:

The procedure of playing a PbtA game is very loose in many regards. However, the rules that are set in stone should be used reliably and consistently.

So, you might have to exercise your judgement concerning what triggers a particular move, but you should be consistent (as a group) in how you do so, and then you should follow the results of the move 100% of the time.

Cohering around the rules is what keeps the group on the same page in an otherwise relatively freeform endeavour.

Munin

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #16 on: March 16, 2017, 09:16:46 PM »
There's one thing that I wanted to add about monster moves like attack with stealth and calculation, and that's to keep in mind that these moves don't always have to be made at the PCs; they can also be used to set up a scene. Consider the following:

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Keeper: "You've gotten a call from Inspector Crabbe, your contact at Scotland Yard. He wouldn't elaborate over the phone, simply saying, 'You're going to want to take a look at this.' When you get to the address he gives you, it's an obvious crime scene. The bobbies have the place heavily cordoned off, but Crabbe is expecting you and waves you through. He takes you to a flat on the sixth floor, giving you the basic details as he goes; 'Single victim, no signs of forced entry. Lividity and rigor put the time of death some time last night around midnight, but this doesn't square with the body temperature. The corpse is ice-cold. As in, substantially colder than room temperature.'

Mort (Mundane): "What do we know about the victim?"

Keeper: "Crabbe looks in his notebook; 'Doctor Raymond Helms, male, age 82. Emeritus professor of astronomy at Cambridge. Widower, adult son lives in the south of France, no other known relatives.' As you enter the flat, you see the victim. He's on the floor of the main room, his throat torn out - the blood-spatter is impressive to say the least. The body lies next to an antique brass Newtonian reflecting telescope that's pointed out the balcony window. There are no signs of a struggle. Crabbe says, 'None of the neighbors heard anything. Not even so much as a thump when the body hit the floor.'"

Louisa (Expert): "OK, so aside from the body being inexplicably cold, why did you call us?"

Keeper: "'Right, that would be the study. If you'll follow me.' Inspector Crabbe leads you into a dim, dusty, cramped room at the back of the flat. The smell of book leather and old paper is strong. At first the room looks ordinary, if somewhat cluttered. Crabbe gestures towards the ceiling with his pen. 'What do you make of that?' Carved roughly into the plaster of the ceiling is a vast array of intersecting arcs and lines. Louisa, you recognize all sorts of astrological symbols. Lying open on the desk is a small, leather-bound journal. It looks old. And there's a huge chunk of missing pages torn out of the middle."

Mort: "I've got a bad feeling about this..."
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Right, so what's going on here is that the Keeper is using the monster's move to set up a scene, describing a fictional situation. Essentially, he's giving the players an opportunity to investigate a mystery, and he's doing it in such a way as to give character to the monster. And before the players even roll any dice, we know a couple of important pieces of information: 1) the lack of any signs of forced entry or a struggle means the monster could surreptitiously gain access to the victim's flat (the attack was stealthy). 2) the victim's background, the strange carvings, and the pages torn out of the journal mean that the monster was after something specific and that this wasn't just a random killing (the attack was calculated).

The monster might be long gone and pose no immediate threat to the PCs, but the entire scene and everything that follows from it stems from the Keeper having the monster attack with stealth and calculation. In this sense, the move doesn't reflect something the monster is doing to the PCs, it's something that you (the Keeper) is doing to drive the story.

Does this help put the monster and minion moves in context?

StormKnight

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #17 on: March 17, 2017, 05:33:06 PM »
StormKnight, you're right to point out that MotW asks for substantially more preparation than vanilla AW.
I wasn't comparing to AW, which I never played. Just to "traditional" RPGs. Though stating out enemies is way, way easier in MotW! :D


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However, MotW does *not* ask you to prepare a plot.
Yeah, it tells you not to, then it tells you to decide in advance what is going to happen at each location. Sorta. Like "this place is a crossroads, so you are going to meet someone there". Which seems like a lot of "plot" to me. Kinda. I'm really confused about the whole thing.

I feel like trying to set up games as it describes, I'm doing a lot of useless work and not a lot of useful work. For example, deciding what will happen if the PCs aren't there...that all usually gets completely scrapped in the first 30 seconds as soon as the PCs interact with things in any way. So what does that accomplish?

It asks you to define what a place is. So I define a place as a "maze". But I don't spend any time thinking of what sort of things that will happen there that will make it feel like a maze, so when it actually comes up in game, it doesn't wind up feeling like one.

I get that its trying to give a set of tools here, but I really haven't the faintest idea how to use them. I don't know if its that they are badly explained or just that it doesn't work well with me. Or that I'm just dense.

It is obvious this DOES work well for a lot of people I guess.

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Getting into that locked room is a perfect example of an inconsequential roll; don't do that.
Right. Totally. But what I was trying to figure out was whether people would insist on making a Keeper move in response to that. To me, I'd just be inclined to say much what you said - you get it open, doesn't look important, you guess he was just confused. Though, I guess one could say that the move is 'make them investigate' since they need to keep looking.

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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.
I really don't think that's intended; monster and minion just define the role of the character within the story, as made very clear in the sample story where there's a minion that is INCREDIBLE clever, powerful and smart. You could easily have a bunch of ninja assassins as minions who pretty much "attack with stealth and calculation" by default.

All of which is moot if one just takes the moves as suggestions, which I'm increasingly thinking is how most people run the game.

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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.
I really disagree with your assessment, though had a good laugh at your pun. :p
In your example of faking the gun, a 7-9 result would mean that "they'll do it, but only if you do something for them right now to show them you mean it". Well, I suppose you could show them the gun you don't have...which kind of leads to failure. :p

Basically, the result is just really narrow that stops making a lot of sense outside the basic negotiation range. And its really limiting - there are so many interesting things that could happen in a "manipulate someone" situation that don't fit that narrow result!

I guess I'm winding up at the point where I should maybe just use the player rules (which I mostly like), but rewrite some of the results to allow more flexibility and basically ignore the Keeper rules...but I guess I'm not getting whatever makes MotW special that way. :(

KidDublin

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #18 on: March 17, 2017, 06:23:41 PM »
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Yeah, it tells you not to, then it tells you to decide in advance what is going to happen at each location. Sorta. Like "this place is a crossroads, so you are going to meet someone there". Which seems like a lot of "plot" to me. Kinda. I'm really confused about the whole thing.

Don't think of your location motivations as things that will happen, but things that could happen, given the appropriate push in the fiction. That isn't really "plot" , is it? No more than the "plot" of Raiders of the Lost Ark is Temple (Deathtrap), University (Crossroads), Tavern (Wilds), Nazi Dig Site (Fortress).

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I feel like trying to set up games as it describes, I'm doing a lot of useless work and not a lot of useful work. For example, deciding what will happen if the PCs aren't there...that all usually gets completely scrapped in the first 30 seconds as soon as the PCs interact with things in any way. So what does that accomplish?

It asks you to define what a place is. So I define a place as a "maze". But I don't spend any time thinking of what sort of things that will happen there that will make it feel like a maze, so when it actually comes up in game, it doesn't wind up feeling like one.

The countdown is your tool for applying pressure. Yes, it changes as soon as the hunters start mucking about, but that's by design (and even an interrupted countdown gives you a good sense for what sorts of things the monster might try.)  Locations don't function like that, though. You don't need to advance a "hellgate" if the hunters neglect it--unless, of course, your countdown has something like "Dusk--Hellgate goes into overdrive."

When it comes to making locations fit their motivation, the keeper section of the rules recommends the creation of custom moves. For example, here's one I used for a "lab" location:

Any hunter that looks for something cool in R&D rolls +Sharp. On a 10+, they find something useful. On a 7-9 they find something potentially useful, and get to decide if they activate it. On a miss, they find something useless and dangerous, and turn it on by mistake.

See how that fits the R&D/Lab location without planning for anything specifically? The move only triggers if the hunters choose to poke around (of course, I fully expect them to do that, because they're #SillyPCs), and it leaves plenty open for improvisation and collaborative decision making. If the hunters don't visit R&D I don't do anything with that location, because it's not important to the story we're telling and nobody is there to trigger my custom move.


Munin

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #19 on: March 18, 2017, 07:30:59 PM »
Yeah, it tells you not to, then it tells you to decide in advance what is going to happen at each location. Sorta. Like "this place is a crossroads, so you are going to meet someone there". Which seems like a lot of "plot" to me. Kinda. I'm really confused about the whole thing.
Oh, oh, hang on - I think I see the issue here; you don't have to make this decision about a particular move in the place in advance. If the PCs are in a location that you have decided is a Crossroads (let's say the local cop bar), then if you're struggling to decide what happens next, you take a quick look at the moves that go along with that location, pick one, and start building a scene around it.

Let me give you an example - I'll use the AW "Landscape Threat" as a template (it's different words, but same concept, and I'll put a MotW spin on it):

Let's say you have decided that the night club operated by the local vampire coven (called "Umbra," of course) is a "Mirage." It's impulse is "to entice and betray people." So the vampires lure people to their death here - think like the opening scene of the film Blade, only more subtle and refined. So now that you've decided what this place is and what it's impulse looks like, you can use this in a couple of ways.

First, if the players go there, you can take a look at the list of moves for inspiration - let's say our PC investigators are looking into a disappearance and that the last place the victim was seen was at Umbra. What will the players find when they go there? Maybe I have no idea, because I haven't really planned it in advance. So I look at the list of moves for this place and see shift, move, rearrange on there. Great! This gives me an idea, and I describe how the PCs are looking around the joint for clues and notice that in a couple of the selfies that the victim posted to Facebook before her disappearance, she's sitting in a particular booth in the VIP room, and that in the photos, there's a door. Only the PCs notice that now, when they are actually here and looking around, the door isn't there. Intriguing! What will they do? Let's play to find out!

Alternately, you can use the location's move as a way to lead into the next chapter of the story. Let's say the PCs don't really have a solid lead and are milling around their office trying to decide what to do next. I look at my possible location moves and see disgorge something as an option. This gives me an idea, and I decide that the thing that gets disgorged is a survivor with a crazy story. No one believes her and she's not even sure she believes herself (maybe she did a lot of drugs last night). The girl tells them that she was clubbing with a friend last night. They ended up at Umbra, where a totally hot guy got them access to the VIP room. They got high as kites and were dancing up a storm, but at some point she passed out - and that's when something weird happened. She remembers vaguely regaining consciousness, unable to move, and seeing a bunch of men - only maybe they weren't really men? - attacking her friend. Terrified, she managed to stumble out and spent the rest of the night passed out behind a dumpster in some alley downtown. Calls to the missing woman go straight to voice-mail. She's afraid to go to the police, and wants the PCs to help her find her friend.

In both cases, I am using the location's move to present them another piece of the mystery. It's just that the first is made in response to something the PC are already doing, whereas the second is made as a prompt to see what the PCs do when presented with a new situation. Does this make sense?

What you should NOT do is build all the moves/scenes/plots in advance and hope the players go through them in some particular order.

It asks you to define what a place is. So I define a place as a "maze". But I don't spend any time thinking of what sort of things that will happen there that will make it feel like a maze, so when it actually comes up in game, it doesn't wind up feeling like one.

I get that its trying to give a set of tools here, but I really haven't the faintest idea how to use them. I don't know if its that they are badly explained or just that it doesn't work well with me. Or that I'm just dense.

It is obvious this DOES work well for a lot of people I guess.
It's designed such that you don't necessarily have to think about it in advance. When the players get to the "maze" location, you can look at your list of moves and pick one without having to plan it ahead of time. So if they descend into the sewer tunnels (which you have decided is a maze) to hunt for a monster, you can look at your list of moves and find one (in AW, an example might be bar the way) and use it according to its impulse (to frustrate, to deny passage). "You wander around the tunnels for over an hour, but after just a short time, things all start to look sort of the same. At some point, you realize you're right back where you started, probably arguing about who screwed up and how you got turned around. What do you do?" Essentially, because the location is barring the way, it is allowing you as the Keeper to say that the PCs can't just walk through, that they must undertake some action or use some cleverness to navigate the terrain.

Or you could make this move in response to a PC's roll. For instance, hunting for monsters in the sewers sounds kind of hazardous, right? So maybe you decide that whichever PC is guiding the party is acting under pressure (maybe with another player giving aid) to keep from getting lost. If the player misses the roll, you can make the moves as a response to the player's (awful) roll. Or maybe if the player hits a 7-9 you can use the move as part of an "ugly choice" to present an opportunity with a cost and say, "You guys keep getting turned around and crossing your own path. If you stick together, you get the feeling this might take half of forever. But you could split up and cover more ground, radically increasing the chances that at least one of you finds a way through quickly. What are you gonna do?"

In your example of faking the gun, a 7-9 result would mean that "they'll do it, but only if you do something for them right now to show them you mean it". Well, I suppose you could show them the gun you don't have...which kind of leads to failure. :p
Yeah, it absolutely leads to a failure, and that's OK. It should be harder to bluff someone with a fake gun.

But here's one of the most important things to understand about PbtA games: failure is OK. Failure more often than not drives the story forward. Failure (or partial success) provides the complications that make the characters' lives interesting. It provides the dramatic tension. If the PCs always succeed, the game really loses something.

Basically, the result is just really narrow that stops making a lot of sense outside the basic negotiation range. And its really limiting - there are so many interesting things that could happen in a "manipulate someone" situation that don't fit that narrow result!
I guess I just don't see it that way. My players use this move all the time for a wide variety of circumstances, and the flexibility that it provides is magical. And one of the best things is that it preserves player agency on both sides of the roll, both the person doing the manipulating and (for PCs) the person being manipulated. This move is pure gold for PvP. So in the case of the fake gun, the person you're trying to bully has called your bluff - now what do you do? Do you back down, slink off, and come up with another plan? Do you escalate to physical violence? Do you change tactics and offer something else? The choice is yours.

« Last Edit: March 18, 2017, 07:35:41 PM by Munin »

StormKnight

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #20 on: March 23, 2017, 07:43:43 PM »
Hey again all. I appreciate all the attempts at help. After more attempts at playing, I think that unfortunately I'm just on a track that doesn't go anywhere. I thought that I just didn't "get" the game, and just needed to learn to play it properly. Increasingly, I don't think its that simple. It seems that there's really no "game" here - the game is really just all "inspiration", and if it doesn't inspire you, or the sorts of "stories" you tend to tell don't sync up with the stories it wants you to tell, I'm just not sure if there's any way around that.

So I'm not sure all this quibbling over details really accomplishes all that much, if it ever was going to in the first place. :(

Yeah, it tells you not to, then it tells you to decide in advance what is going to happen at each location. Sorta. Like "this place is a crossroads, so you are going to meet someone there". Which seems like a lot of "plot" to me. Kinda. I'm really confused about the whole thing.
Oh, oh, hang on - I think I see the issue here; you don't have to make this decision about a particular move in the place in advance. If the PCs are in a location that you have decided is a Crossroads (let's say the local cop bar), then if you're struggling to decide what happens next, you take a quick look at the moves that go along with that location, pick one, and start building a scene around it.
OK, I think I see one difference in our discussion here - MotW locations don't have moves associated with them. There's nothing but a "motivation" and a brief description of what that "motivation" means.

But also, most of the stuff you are giving as examples, like:
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"You wander around the tunnels for over an hour, but after just a short time, things all start to look sort of the same. At some point, you realize you're right back where you started, probably arguing about who screwed up and how you got turned around. What do you do?"
Is exactly what I said seems more useful; coming up with concrete things to happen that give the feeling of the place. :)

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Yeah, it absolutely leads to a failure, and that's OK. It should be harder to bluff someone with a fake gun.

Should it? What if you were trying to threaten someone, got a 7-9 and decide to "escalate" the situation and show them you are serious by pushing the lighter in your pocket against their back and saying you are going to shoot them? Its all relative. A 7-9 is supposed to be "partial success" or "success with complications".

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But here's one of the most important things to understand about PbtA games: failure is OK. Failure more often than not drives the story forward. Failure (or partial success) provides the complications that make the characters' lives interesting. It provides the dramatic tension. If the PCs always succeed, the game really loses something.
But the loss situation you are describing doesn't really move the game forward; it just amounts to "try again" or "try a bit harder". And there are so many potentially interesting results for "manipulate someone". Maybe the person you are threatening does what you want, but then has a heart attack from fear and now you need to help them. Maybe the person you casually seduce goes along with it, but then becomes obsessed with you. The reporter you are trying to get the film from hands it over, but decides to also post it on the internet, letting some enemies know about you - none of which are permitted results as written!

Munin

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #21 on: March 23, 2017, 08:33:36 PM »
Hey again all. I appreciate all the attempts at help. After more attempts at playing, I think that unfortunately I'm just on a track that doesn't go anywhere.
You know what might help most? Go to the original source material from which Monster of the Week is derived - grab the 1st Edition version of Apocalypse World. When 2nd Edition dropped, Vincent put up the 1st Ed PDFs up for free. I can't find a link, but if you PM him (he's lumpley on these boards) he'll almost certainly just shoot you a copy. You may not be at all interested running a game in a post-apocalyptic setting, but reading the Apocalypse World rules will give you a much better handle on how the "Powered by the Apocalypse" games are supposed to work.

OK, I think I see one difference in our discussion here - MotW locations don't have moves associated with them. There's nothing but a "motivation" and a brief description of what that "motivation" means.

But also, most of the stuff you are giving as examples, like: [SNIP] is exactly what I said seems more useful; coming up with concrete things to happen that give the feeling of the place. :)
Yeah, but the important point is that I don't come up with that stuff ahead of time - I only do it when the PCs actually go there.

Here's something that's important about PbtA games - they thrive on improvisation. You're absolutely right in that trying to plot specific encounters in specific locations (especially in a specific order) is an exercise in folly. PbtA games will not only not help you in this regard, they almost actively fight you. Where they shine is in giving you the tools to improvise and roll with the story that you and your players are creating. They create the mechanics that help you say what happens next, without having to plan it all out up front. Did you get an 8 on your attempt to act under pressure? Well, the Keeper is going to offer you a worse outcome, a hard bargain, or an ugly choice. Or did you get a 4? Expect something bad to happen.

But here's the catch - that worse outcome, hard bargain, ugly choice, or bad thing that happens flows from the fictional situation. It's a natural extension of what's happening in the game world right now, both on-screen and off-screen.

By way of example, I sometimes run Apocalypse World games at conventions. When I do so, I almost never have any plot points in mind. And often, I don't even have a setting in mind. I'll ask each player (most of whom I've never met before) to give me an adjective that describes their idea of the apocalypse, and we'll build the world completely from whole cloth as we play. And based on the playbooks that they choose and the relationships they form during the Hx part of character creation, and the answers to all of the provocative questions I ask, we build the "plot" as we go too. And it's usually hilarious and awesome. I have never seen any other system that lets me do this.

But the loss situation you are describing doesn't really move the game forward; it just amounts to "try again" or "try a bit harder". And there are so many potentially interesting results for "manipulate someone". Maybe the person you are threatening does what you want, but then has a heart attack from fear and now you need to help them. Maybe the person you casually seduce goes along with it, but then becomes obsessed with you. The reporter you are trying to get the film from hands it over, but decides to also post it on the internet, letting some enemies know about you - none of which are permitted results as written!
No, it's not "try again" or "try harder" - it's "try something different." The 7-9 clause on manipulate stipulates that the person you're trying to manipulate wants something from you first. It makes success conditional or costly, and in that regard is almost exactly like the 7-9 result on act under pressure.

Also, hilariously, many of your "success complications" are the kinds of things I'd actually apply to straight-up misses. Like, "yeah, OK, you missed the roll - but the reporter gives you the film anyway. But she does so by giving you a link to where she's published it on her Facebook page; it looks like that shit's already gone viral." So sure, you get what you asked for - which is sort of like a success - but upon further reflection it wasn't really what you wanted. In AW parlance, that's called "putting your bloody fingerprints all over something" and is one of the best parts of the game.

Like I said, give Apocalypse World a read. I think it will help crystallize things for you in terms of how these games are supposed to work.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2017, 08:37:53 PM 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 #22 on: March 23, 2017, 09:13:57 PM »
It seems that there's really no "game" here - the game is really just all "inspiration", and if it doesn't inspire you, or the sorts of "stories" you tend to tell don't sync up with the stories it wants you to tell, I'm just not sure if there's any way around that.

You know, I'm not sure what you mean by "game" in this context. AW isn't that different, in this respect, from a lot of mainstream roleplaying games.

If you're looking for something more structured than, say, Call of Cthulhu or FATE or something like that, then you're quite right! PbtA games (generally) don't do that. If that's the perspective you're bringing to this, then your observation (the bit I quoted) is completely correct.

Would you like to clarify?

Paul T.

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #23 on: March 23, 2017, 09:22:18 PM »
You're also quite right that the design of moves omits some of the more unusual outcomes we might enjoy seeing - like someone having a heart attack when you're trying to talk them into something.

It might help to know that the rules which these "moves" are ultimately derived from did exactly that. However, the simplicity and ease-of-use of the "modern" move design won out as a more "efficient" way to get to the good stuff at the table reliably. Some of us (like myself) still design and play games based on the earlier concept, though. It's just a different approach to design.

In a PbtA game, those unusual events still happen. They're just not mandated by the moves. Under what circumstances would you bring them into play in some other game? Chances are that you could (and should) do exactly the same thing in a PbtA game. On a miss is a natural circumstance for that, as Munin points out. More normally, they would just be typical "MC moves".

For example, you want to talk the reporter into letting you look at the files. We roll, and that happens. Great. But now it's your turn to make a move again, so you say, "The reporter is watching you rifle through the file, with this focused, hungry look, then turns away when he realizes you noticed." That's hinting at some future developments.

The outcomes described by the moves don't dictate the totality of play, in other words. They establish certain constraints on the fiction, but the rest is up to you and your players, just like it would be in any other game. You're still expected to play and invent and then act it all out. The moves just kick in now and then to steer things in this direction or that.