How to ask nicely in Dungeon World


(and some of the other Powered by the Apocalypse games)

There’s a basic move called Parley in DW:

When you have leverage on a GM Character and manipulate them, roll+Cha. Leverage is something they need or want. ✴On a 10+, they do what you ask if you first promise what they ask of you. ✴On a 7–9, they will do what you ask, but need some concrete assurance of your promise, right now.

It further elaborates:

Parley covers a lot of ground including old standbys like intimidation and diplomacy. You know you’re using parley when you’re trying to get someone to do something for you by holding a promise or threat over them. Your leverage can be nasty or nice, the tone doesn’t matter.

Merely asking someone politely isn’t parleying. That’s just talking. You say, “Can I have that magic sword?” and Sir Telric says, “Hell no, this is my blade, my father forged it and my mother enchanted it” and that’s that. To parley, you have to have leverage. Leverage is anything that could lure the target of your parley to do something for you. Maybe it’s something they want or something they don’t want you to do. Like a sack of gold. Or punching them in the face.

The prerequisites of the move are well defined. But what if my character is merely asking politely? The game seems to suggest that such interactions are entirely up to the GM, and sometimes it makes sense, like in the example provided. But often enough the GM doesn’t have a strong opinion on what should happen. That’s where dice come out in most other games, and skills like Diplomacy or Bluff.

Time and again this has tripped us up as we try to engage in some social interaction, reach a point where things could go either way, and then hum and haw over the move list. There is no leverage, there’s just a glib tongue. And even if we do manage to frame something as leverage, such as "I’ll chat with you for a few minutes if you let me through," it comes out forced and feels wrong.

It’s worth noting that the original move in AW is worded as "When you try to seduce or manipulate someone, tell them what you want and roll+hot." But the rest of the move still talks about making promises.

Are we handling social encounters wrong? PbtA games play differently, so it’s possible we’re dragging the baggage of Diplomacy and Bluff into it. If so, how should we handle leverage-less interactions?