Ultimately, I want to climb this mountain and light a signal fire. It probably signals the Rohirrim or something. To do that, presumably I need to deal with an icy cliff and who knows what else between here and there. In the model of games I like, several salient facts might include the ambient weather conditions, the height of the cliff, visibility and so on. I might then pick a tool, like say, throwing a grappling hook, hammering in some pitons, carving handholds with an ice axe, just barehanded climbing it, casting levitate, and so on.
I'll pick from that set of tools, whichever one I think will best achieve my goal here. If the cliff is short, probably that grappling hook, if I have time and a reasonable climb check, probably the pitons or ice axe, if I'm being pursued or afraid to make noise, maybe the spell slot or potion of levitate, or if I think my odds of success are good enough, maybe I'll just climb.
Ok, this gets back to what I was speaking to above. I brought up "climbing" (and BJJ) for a reason. I did that because mountaineering or rock climbing is a very technical, very intricate endeavor and it is so multi-dimensionally; gear and how its deployed (if its even deployed), developing the understanding of various faces and mixed faces to develop a climbing beta, the multi-layered physical and mental fitness component.
What I'm seeing above here? I'm not expecting a granular, process simulation nature of play where you're making decisions that are supposed to be informed by a vital decision-space and dynamic consequence-space that are discretely and collectively informed by naturalistic coupling of cause and effect. I'm seeing:
* 4 different forms of genre logic. One deployment of gear (hammering pitons) that is only one stage of a complex technical procedure that employs other gear and other technical expertise. One deployment of gear (carving handholds with an ice axe) that is a mismatch for naturalistic coupling of cause and effect because (a) this isn't how ice axes are used (they're literally your hands and your "acoustic equipment" when climbing a mixed-face with ice or a fully iced face) and (b) they require more gear (crampons minimum...you're not "canvassing" with ice-axes; hand climbing where foot placement isn't "in play"). Hand climbing is a very complex thing with multiple, diverse, essential parameters involved. Simply "hand climbing" is basically the equivalent of deploying abstract genre logic; the same as each of the other choices.
I don't see any meaningful differences between these genre logic choices above and I certainly don't see vitality of decision-space or dynamism of consequence-space or a tight coupling of naturalistic causal logic.
* Finally we get to "casting Levitate." Unsurprisingly, this is the only piece here that results in "applying a somewhat granular packet of (total fantasy) inputs onto a clear situation where we can operationalize the decision-space and consequence-space (hint; there is none because unfortunately, D&D spells are OP as hell and don't require a casting check) in a meaningful way." And that way is "spend a 2nd level spell to obviate an obstacle or set up a gambit when dealing with a multi-dimensional obstacle."
So you've been talking to various parties about Dungeon World. So I'm going to show you how something like the above actually works in Dungeon World (and how I've actually operationalized it in the past...this could basically be an excerpt of play from one of my DW games). This will be a bit involved, but I'll try to build out what a back-and-forth conversation between myself-as-GM and a player who very much understands the "meta" of Dungeon World. If this below doesn't operationalize an extremely vital decision-space with a dynamic consequence-space, then I don't know what does. But it has no pretension whatsoever to granular process simulation:
: Alright, you're well above the tree line staring up at the fortress domain above you. Your campsite is situated on the shallow cave of a precarious landing. Before you is an array of prospects to navigate the vertical pitch.
* You've got a flat, mixed-face of granite and ice with dangerous seracs looming above. Cold, wind-swept, and gear-dependent....but quite obscured from the above (in large part due to the dangerous serac above you).
* You've got a much longer climb that is ice-free, featuring a nice crack and an arete (vertical corner of rock that juts out from the face and likely spans a large portion of the climb). Again, very gear-dependent and technically demanding. A long climb. Totally exposed to the elements and to any aerial or scout surveillance.
* Finally, you've got a pair of smaller faces with a rest in between them. This is both obscured from aerial or scout surveillance and protected from the elements as the bulk of it is recessed chimney climbing. But the danger here is the fall. Its pretty nearly absolute. Mechanically, the risks here go from fairly minimal to moderaly punishing on the first part of the ascent...like 1d4 fatigue damage - no armor - on a 7-9 on the first portion of the climb (the first Defy Danger move) or a Debility Strength (-1 ongoing to Strength...the ability they would be leveraging here most likely and their "big gun" PC build-wise if they chart this course) on a 6-. That 2nd portion of the climb though? That invites death. 6- there and you're just toast; donezo (unless you have some sort of means to turn a 6- into a 7-9...of which there are ways to do this). 7-9 and you're utterly exhausted. If you didn't get a Strength Debility on the first portion, I'm hitting you here on a 7-9. If you did, I'm nailing you with 1d8 fatigue damage no armor. You can tell, you'll be pumped beyond words; fingers, forearms...damn nearing useless for a good while.
: Considers their options.
* Maybe decides to surveil the scene with a Discern Realities which will (a) invite consequences on a failure (from the weather suddenly worsening...which is apt to happen in these kinds of places...to the introduction of aerial or scout recons...or possibly a serac failing and triggering serious danger that they'll have to deal with...or maybe they realize that they didn't load out as much gear as they had thought and I tax them 1 Adventuring Gear which is a precious and scarce commodity, typically sitting between 2-4 uses, particularly considering the situation before them) but (b) will decrease their unknowns by sharpening the imagined space and (c) amplify their movespace (they take +1 forward when acting on the answers).
* Or maybe they decide to Spout Lore to learn something interesting, or interesting and useful (which changes the situation because now maybe they have a new course they could chart)...but this also invites "bad news" on a 6- because I'm "showing signs of an approaching threat" or "revealing an unwelcome truth" which indexes the conversation we're having around the accumulated knowledge that they have on the subject matter at hand.
* Or maybe they pull out a playbook-specific move that does particular thing x (like broadens or amplifies their move-space and prospects) or guarantees thing y (like removes certain complications from the menu of things I can choose from should things go wrong).
* Regardless, we're having a conversation about the possible routes to be taken, the possible moves to be made, the possible resources to be spent, the suite of consequences staring them in the face if things go pear-shaped. Like maybe that mixed-face climb with the serac means they'll need to spend 1 of their 3 Adventuring Gear (ice axes and crampons) to make that climb, but doing so will let them use Wisdom in their Defy Danger because ice-climbing is so much about the senses (tactile and acoustics) as much as it is about technically deploying equipment. Maybe the realities and consequences of this is 2 x Defy Danger moves to start, but a 6- will increase that...you've gone off course a bit and made very little headway...now you're going to have to deploy yet another of your scarce Adventuring Gear (2 now spent) and reroute with a more dangerous situation before you (taking -1 forward) on these next 2 subsequent moves. And we'd talk about serac failure and the peril of being swept from the face unless they spend yet more Adventuring Gear to mitigate that consequence and just suffer 1d6 (no armor) damage from the debris...or no Adventuring Gear but they can manage to cling to the face with their ice axe and crampons but their head takes the worst of it (no further Adventuring Gear spent...but now they're concussed and eating a Wisdom Debility, which is -1 ongoing).
And then maybe the last climb is 3 x moves, Adventuring Gear (pitons & hammer, carabiners, rope, harness, etc) allows Defy Danger Int (because its so technically demanding), and they can use their Mountaineer Hireling and their special ability (they can Intervene and give the player take +1 but (a) they can't get a 10+ result and (b) the Hireling is also at risk for the consequences the PC endures...and maybe the sherpa has an ability to give their life for the PC...but this is an important NPC to the player and they have a Bond, mechanical and fiction, with the NPC...so putting them at risk or sacrificing them has multidimensional consequences for play). So its very Adventuring Gear intensive, but much "safer" while also inviting the prospect of an increasingly hostile and escalated situation at the top (due to the exposure that this route entails).
* So we'd be building out a multidimensional move-space and a dynamic consequence-space for the prospective ascents. Gear resources, PC build resources, basic moves, the ability to employ different ability scores and opening up playbook moves based on the fiction/array of obstacles, different and varying consequences being on the line (from HP loss, to Gear/Coin/Armor/Weapon complications contingent upon a risky effort to recover them or outright loss, to Debilities (-1 ongoing and difficult to recover this status), to an escalated situation top-side, to a possible encounter with aerial predators/threats, to falling or being swept from the mountain outright, to implications for Hirelings (including the negative resolution or loss of Bonds, to Loyalty loss, to loss of service or outright death), etc.
Players should be making decisions based on multidimensional inputs and hard choices (catch 22s) when things go wrong and an increasingly perilous and accreting consequence-space that has to be assessed and re-assessed.
This is not process simulation or the granular type of 3.x play you seem to be enamored with. But, I'll be honest...I've run an S-ton of both 3.x and Dungeon World. You ask me to a run climbing conflict of this variety in Dungeon World vs 3.x? Its going to be DW all day long and twice on Sunday because its got way more tools (and provocative ones at that), built-in efficiencies, and a host of beefy, biting consequences that can be employed to build out a compelling play space for this sort of scenario.
And even if we have a Wizard, its waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more intense than it is in D&D proper. Levitate isn't even a Spell in DW (because its so stupidly powerful...and happens to be level 2). But if I was going to include it, it would be a 3rd level spell in the game along with Fireball. DW Wizard spell loadout is rather punishing (not as punishing as Torchbearer, but its many times more trying than the comparatively EZMode D&D Wizarding). You can Prepare Spells whose total levels don't equal your level +1. So if we're level 5 when we're tackling the above? That DW Wizard is having to choose between an array of (a) 5th level spell + 1st level spell loaded out or (b) a DW version (read; nerfed) of Levitate (3rd level) + either 1 more 3rd level spell or 3 x 1st level spells. Further, to cast Levitate, you have to make the Cast a Spell move (roll +Int) which invites an array of stock or supernatural complications:
Cast a Spell (Int)
When you release a spell you’ve prepared
, roll+Int. On a 10+, the spell is successfully cast and you do not forget the spell—you may cast it again later.
On a 7-9, the spell is cast, but choose one:
- You draw unwelcome attention or put yourself in a spot. The GM will tell you how.
- The spell disturbs the fabric of reality as it is cast—take -1 ongoing to cast a spell until the next time you Prepare Spells.
- After it is cast, the spell is forgotten. You cannot cast the spell again until you prepare spells.
Note that maintaining spells with ongoing effects will sometimes cause a penalty to your roll to cast a spell.
So a DW version of Levitate + the short route (the handclimbing one) would most likely result in:
* The Wizard has levitated to the top but now has to spend 1 Adventuring Gear to set a rope for their pals to ascend to the Wizards position.
* A complication (because of the likelihood of a 7-9 result); either Levitate is gone (now they have either 1 more spell at 3rd level or 3 x 1st level spells), take -1 ongoing to cast a Spell, or some kind of danger has manifested (either supernatural or related to the the physical imagined space).
Alternatively, the Wizard might have made a Discern Realities move to amplify their movespace and they took +1 forward when acting on the answers and got a 10+ on Cast a Spell. And/or they used Spout Lore and have the Wizard suite of moves around this so they tyically find something interesting and useful. So they find an easy way up once they're at the top and they don't have to spend 1 Adventuring Gear to deploy a rope for the ascent of their mates...they lead them up an unseen path. Or maybe the Wizard has a bunch of moves like Empowered Spell so they're able to cast Levitate on multiple folks and they Levitate everyone up top. There are multiple prospects for the gamestate based on PC build and move-space and moves made by the player. Regardless, the Wizard is "balanced" with the Fighter in DW (despite the DW Fighter being significantly more powerful than its Classic D&D counterpart, sans 4e, and the DW Wizard being massively nerfed by comparison to its Classic D&D counterpart)...and their spellcasting is more volatile and compelling genre-wise (because of the expansive supernatural consequence-space from Cast a Spell).