What Core Moves Are

When switching from D&D to another system, there are lots of growing pains. I’ve compiled some conversations from a few reddit threads to try and better understand how we should be using Core Moves when playing City of Mist.

From Blademaster on Reddit

One of the traps I felt into was thinking that Core Moves defined what my character could do. After all, this is how other RPGs worked. Do not fall into this trap.

Core Moves are what a player can do to change the scene, for better or worse. They mirror the actions that a player would want their character to take in a scene to change the narrative.

The Core Moves

  • Convince - Get a target to do something that they might not want to do through social means.
  • Change the Game - Make a change to the environment or scene in a way not covered by the other Moves (this is a very broad and flexible Move).
  • Face Danger - Survive, avoid, or shrug off an attack or negative effect.
  • Go Toe to Toe - Get into an evenly matched contest and win. (e.g. A fistfight, a verbal debate, a chase scene, etc.) This replaces most contested roll from other systems.
  • Hit With All You Got - Go on the all-out offensive when your target can’t defend itself (e.g. Sneak attack, dropping a literal or political bomb)
  • Investigate - Find something hidden or learn answers to burning questions
  • Sneak Around - Avoid notice through deceit, stealth, or subterfuge.
  • Take the Risk - Do something stupid reckless that is high risk, high reward.

If they want to do anything drastic that’s not covered by the Core Moves (including Take the Risk) then they have to Stop. Holding. Back.

When To Use Core Moves

This leads me into when to use Core Moves. The Core Moves should only be used when the outcome of an action is in question. Every roll should be able to advance the story, for better or worse.

If an action can only fail or only succeed after multiple attempts, don’t have a player roll. Core Moves assume the character will make multiple attempts (e.g. Go Toe to Toe in a gunfight assumes that the player is firing multiple rounds) which is why players can’t reroll failed rolls.

Remember, Core Moves are meant to be cinematic and change the story, for better or worse. If an action doesn’t do that, then rolling for it cheapens things for everyone. Rolls provide tension and uncertainty. Bruce Banner doesn’t want to roll to see if Hulk can break down a door. He does want to see if Hulk can roll to break it down and hit the guys on the other side with it.

Which Core Move To Use For An Action

Very often you will have scenes that multiple moves can apply to. Is a political debate Convince or Go Toe to Toe? Is a sneak attack Sneak Around or Hit With All You Got?

The answer? It depends.

This is actually a hard question to answer. It’s actually one of the toughest things an MC has to do (and it’s really not that tough, which is nice). Fortunately it’s hard to get wrong from a player’s perspective. No matter what, players always do Roll+Power. And because the context of the action doesn’t change (unless the player changes their approach) the tags and statuses shouldn’t either. Meaning, no matter what move, you already know if they succeed or fail based on if they hit the target number.

So how do you determine moves if the numbers don’t change? Ask what the players goal is. If that doesn’t help, look at the consequences. In a political debate, is their goal to convince their opponent (Convince) of their view or are they competing with their opponent to win over the public (Go Toe to Toe)? Usually it’s the latter so you use that move to determine what happens. Maybe they succeed and win over the crowd or fail and they lose the public’s ear.

Looking at the consequences can also help. Go Toe to Toe and Hit With All You Got got mixed up a lot in the games I ran. People didn’t know why they couldn’t go all out in a fist fight. A look at the consequences shows why. Hit With All You Got assumes that even a partial success is a direct hit. It’s just a matter of how bad you hurt them and if they can retaliate. Go Toe to Toe says that a partial success can be a hit but you expose yourself to do it. That feels a lot more like a fist fight than Hit With All You Got.

Sometimes you will need to do a linked move. Sneaking up on a thug to knock him out cold is both Sneak Around to get close and (if successful) Hit With All You Got to drop the hammer.

Reddit Discourse on failing rolls


This is as opposed to a fight where it’s “normal” to throw another punch after a missed one.

You should never do the same roll twice if circumstances haven’t changed. They are supposed to have exhausted their potential for fisticuffs (for example) in this exact way, and shouldn’t do it again until the circumstances change.

I think also the important thing to keep in mind here is that you “fail forward”, i.e. you should use your players’ failures to propel the plot and introduce interesting elements. For example, let’s say your characters are investigating the scene of an arson and it is their only lead at the moment. They roll investigate and fail. You could:

  • (Poor choice) Have the building collapse so they can’t investigate it at all anymore (Deny Them Something they Want), maybe even giving them a harm status. The plot is at a standstill and the crew is kind of lost.
  • (Better choice) Introduce a new element to the scene. Maybe they are cut short in their investigation because the perp/a rival investigator/whoever was there, a short fight and/or chase scene ensues. Sure, the crew didn’t get clues and answers per se, but they got an interesting scene and they now have a new lead to pursue.

TL;DR use your players’ failures to propel the plot and force them to be creative/try different approaches. Don’t see it as punishing them but rather as complicating their lives (i.e. making them more interesting).


The rules explicitly forbid using the same move with the same tags in the same scene. This isn’t like D&D where you take an action every round. Each roll represents your final total effort, for that move, in that scene. Which means you CAN’T keep rolling Go Toe to Toe until your “do enough damage” - that one roll represents the entire conflict.

Yes, you can fail investigate rolls. You’re expected to. You can’t Try Again, because that represented your best efforts.

But I think you’re not actually reading the GM material enough, because it tells you how to structure a mystery, including one key element - “Do not make the plot depend on a roll”

And the example you give is LITERALLY exactly that.

But what would happen if they fail a roll to investigate a crime scene for example? The whole scene becomes irrelevant

How about I mix it up on you?

But what would happen if they SUCCEED AT a roll to investigate a crime scene AND THEN SPEND ALL THEIR CLUES ASKING WHAT KIND OF ICE CREAM THE VILLAIN LIKES for example? The whole scene becomes irrelevant

So what do you do about that? Declare that Investigate is worthless? Because that’s the exact same outcome as failing a roll.

You can give them some info, BUT! You are using A Hard Move. Try “Complicate things big time"

"You’re looking through the papers, and all you have time to see is an account number at First Central Bank before the window crashes in and guns start firing!”

That’s giving them info (yes) BUT now they’re in danger (Complicate Things)


Also I just want to comment on the way you keep referring to fights as if it’s very different but I think it holds part of the key why you are struggling with moves like Investigate. That is that whenever a player makes a move, successful or not, you should drive the action forward.

For example, they’re in a knife fight and they roll Go Toe to Toe, they apply each others a status. Don’t go “You took a swing at them and hurt them, but he managed to lunge at you and gives you Stabbed - 2. You’re still facing one another, now what do you do?” Of course your player would tend to say something like “Well I take another swing at him”, and then you’d say, what, “You can’t do the same action again until the circumstances have changed”, and your player goes “Well that’s stupid, so I can only swing once with my knife? What’s preventing me?“. And he would be right, because that’s really what makes sense in the situation, you didn’t really drive the narrative forward. So change the circumstances. You can do that with soft moves even if they didn’t fail.

Your initial description could have been something like that instead: “You jump at them, knife at the ready and catch them off guard, inflicting them with a status. They push you back and you circle one another, knives at the ready. You try lunging at them again but they see you coming a mile away, dodging and plunging their own knife into your abdomen. As they do this, they grab your jacket and use the energy from your lunge to push you further into the next room. You crash into a pile of boxes as they make a move towards the window. What do you do?” Or instead of trying to flee if you want this to still be a combat, read it like this instead: “You crash into a pile of boxes as they set their own jacket straight and pull out a gun. They take a few step in your direction, aiming at you. What do you do?” This was soft move for a successful roll, but also a hard move, on top of the player not giving out a status, could have been something like, I don’t know, they disarm your player (Burn a Tag), they successfully get away (Deny Them Something they Want), etc.

Regardless, see how the situation is now really different? How it’s more interesting? Things have evolved, the circumstances have changed. Your player would be unlikely to just say “Well I strike him again with my knife”, because now it’s not just a knife fight, it’s the perp trying to get away, or menacing to end them with a bullet, or whatever else.

When the roll is resolved, your players should really feel like “We gave it our all, there’s really nothing else we can accomplish with this approach at this time”.

I know it can be hard to break of the DnD mentality of turns and resolving actions, but your game will gain in fluidity and be much more interesting if you can break out of it.