How much does a GM typically rely on turning questions around on PCs to dictate the game world?

How much does a GM typically rely on turning questions around on PCs to dictate the game world?

How much does a GM typically rely on turning questions around on PCs to dictate the game world? For example, if they want to know why those halflings are stalking them, should I make something up or ask them why the halflings would be doing so?

How about on a move like spout lore where it says that the GM will tell you the information — if they spout lore to answer “Which God are these orcs worshipping at that altar”, when it’s something I don’t have planned, can I just ask the player to make up whatever they want?

Basically how do you know when to make something up yourself or ask the player to make it up for you?

9 thoughts on “How much does a GM typically rely on turning questions around on PCs to dictate the game world?”

  1. The way I see it, when a move says “the GM will tell you”, it’s the GM’s role to say it, even if he did not have anything planned. A GM can ask players to make stuff up pretty much any other time (he does not have to, of course, if he does not want to). Those moves are a way to ask the GM to make stuff up, too. 

    Of course, if a player come with a great idea, or ask something like “Are those orcs worshipping the same rattlesnake we heard the Baron worships in secret?”, the GM can surely steal that!

  2. If you’ve got an idea, say it. If you don’t, ask. If it’s something that a character would reasonably know, ask the player for input. Mix it up and ask weird characters for input (like ask the thief about magic, or the wizard about gods).

    Do it however you want, whenever you want.

    But always be turning questions on the characters. Questions are the best way to get interesting characters built up quickly — you just ask something, and that player now has the spotlight as they explain what’s up with their character’s knowledge, secrets, inner turmoil, etc.

  3. Oh, hey, that said: Don’t turn questions on them with no information to springboard off of. Like, generally, it’s bad to ask “What’s following you?” if you haven’t established they’re in the woods, at night, and they hear wolves howling, and you’re trying to avoid attracting the ogres in the valley. If you say all that, then they have some sort of basic mental map they can riff off of.

    “Uh, ogres are following us” or “It’s wolves!” or “Hey, it’s some killer trees man, like Treebeard but hella pissed!”

  4. One small but powerful distinction:

    “What do you think is going on with those things?” as opposed to “What is going on with those things?” Focus on the characters’ perceptions and judgments, and the reasons they have for holding them. That gives you a lot of freedom to use as much or as little of it as in-game truth as seems good, as play unfolds.

    And yes, it’s entirely appropriate to say “I don’t have anything worked up. Got a suggestion?” Ditto responses like “It doesn’t look like anything you’ve encountered, or been taught about. It does look like the sort of tangled bloody mess you’d expect in an orc church.” and take it from there.

  5. I like to start each session with some warm-up questions. I put some cards on the table, each with a statement like “I’ve been beyond the Great Wood” or “I have friends in the farmland to the north” or “I know something about the Grey Prison that few people know.” I let the players decide who gets which card, and then go around the table asking the follow-up questions for each card.

  6. I’ll add that there’s a difference between straight questions and leading questions. They’re both useful in different circumstances. If you’ve got a partial answer worked out, a leading question like, “Why do the orcs keep their human sacrifices secret?” lets you ask a question and establish new information at the same time.

  7. When asking questions they don’t always have to be big questions. A lot of the stuff here gives the players a lot of narrative control, and that’s great—a lot of people (including Adam and I) like to run it that way.

    But the questions you ask don’t have to give them that much control. You can ask them mostly about their perceptions of things, or about their character’s internal state, or things that only affect their character.

    For example:

    “What do you think the orcs are up to?”

    “How do you feel about Lord Baker?”

    “Were you well-liked back home in your little village?”

    None of those establish big facts about the world, but so long as you’re asking questions and using the answers you’re doing it right. Possible uses for the answers to these:

    Maybe the orcs are doing what they think they are, or maybe they’re not.

    Lord Baker’s a very perceptive man, he now knows exactly what the player tells you and acts accordingly.

    Maybe they visit their home village eventually, or maybe they run into someone from that village, or maybe that village’s been sacked and burned.

    As a GM don’t feel like you have to give up your say. Use questions, use the players, and use their answers.

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