About “Narrative Control” for Players

About “Narrative Control” for Players

About “Narrative Control” for Players

Christopher Stone-Bush said 

“While I think Dungeon World really shines when the players have a lot of narrative input,” 

and that is true but I sometimes see people applying this incorrectly and thought I’d use that chance to bring it up. 

In short, I am talking about this article by John Harper: 


In this he explains what players can and can’t be asked about. In short, you can only ask about things that are known to the character. You can’t ask someone what is in the Dungeon – only what they know and think is in the dungeon. If they have no knowledge about that you can’t ask. You can set them up by saying they have read about it – but normally we would think they don’t. 

So why can you ask a player about the characters hometown but not about what is in the locked chest? 

Because you are not asking the player. You are asking the character. 

“Hey Gunhard, what is the biggest problem in your hometown” 

“Those pesky Ratmen, coming out of the Sewers at night and multiplying by foul magic.” 

that works right. Cleary Gunhard knows about this. So let’s look at the chest, 

“Gunhard, there is a big golden chest behind the altar. What is in it?”

“Ahem… I don’t know?” 

The conversation doesn’t work like that. You as the GM are talking to the characters. You are addressing them, not the players. You could in theory ask Ashanti, the player of Gunhard what she thinks would be a great idea, but the book isn’t really advising you to do that. It is not Ashanti’s job to come up with these things. It’s yours. 

Does the game break if you do it in another way? Not really.

You are loosing some of the immersion, or at least narrative quality of the game though, if characters need to come up with things they don’t know. 

So how do you deal with this at the table? 

15 thoughts on “About “Narrative Control” for Players”

  1. Old stuff but still valid. Some games like “On mighty thews” let players decide on what’s next, what’s behind the door, what’s in the box. Apocalypse based systems rely on MC to decide that.

  2. Good thoughts on the “known & unknown” of the character’s world. Most of my players were brought into the hobby on games that were not narrative and they were given  little choice in the narrative interplay of the story outside of what immediately pertained to their character and the situation at hand. I would say at my table(s) there has been few if any experiences of “crossing the line”, I have had more challenges with getting them to adapt to the freedom of narrative collaboration.

  3. With that said, I’ve ben blessed with a couple players who spew forth useable content during table-chatter, without any prompting from me.  Our game world was full of details generated this way, like the sulfer slugs, the forest yeti, the red tree vole (“Top of the forest ecosystem; it’s not called the red vole because of it’s color.  Spits teeth with lethal accuracy!  Teeth from the prey it’s killed, which it stores in a dental bladder!”), the resulting fact that the Tooth Fairy was the bogeyman of the forest.  Otherworldly squid-storms in the desert.

    I don’t know that I’d call the resulting world totally “coherent” but had a definite feel.  Incorporating that kind of off-hand player input is lots of fun, and led to some of the best moments in the game. 

  4. Phew, i have no problem crossing the line. Hell, my best groups are those who do it proactively all the time and it comes naturally, and it feels more like a shared story, and thats cool.

    Other groups dont like it, and thats ok too. I dont think its a right/wrong question, just a matter of group dynamics.

  5. Jus kiddin’. No, its just like, if a player says something about the world, its there. Like, hey there is a window in the tower i might climb. Yep, there is, and a dark figure looking out, what do you do? Whoa, i…..and so on :)

  6. The easy way of bridging both playstyles is to turn the move back on the player, and ask questions and use the answers.

    Part of playing to find out what happens is explicitly not knowing everything, and being curious. If you don’t know something, or you don’t have an idea, ask the players and use what they say. 

  7. I’ve taken to asking characters these types of questions in all my games, not only do the players enjoy the input but it saves me some work and usually introduces fresh ideas to the campaign. 

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