In the couple of DW one-shots I’ve run, Spout Lore and Discern Realities are two moves that I / the party struggle…

In the couple of DW one-shots I’ve run, Spout Lore and Discern Realities are two moves that I / the party struggle…

In the couple of DW one-shots I’ve run, Spout Lore and Discern Realities are two moves that I / the party struggle with.  I think the main reasons for this are:

* Ambiguities over when the move should be triggered – The party often doesn’t remember the move or say/do anything that would trigger it, and I’m not sure how legit it is for the GM to be the one suggesting it.

* Particularly when it comes to Discern Reality, the players tend to be trying to determine something specific – A monster’s weakness, an alternate entrance to a castle, what is keeping the room sealed…  Sometimes the questions just don’t seem to fit and it gets awkward trying to keep things rolling…

I tend to describe Spout Lore as “a chance to receive some useful exposition” and Discern Realities as “roughly the equivalent of search/spot/listen checks in other games”.  I’m starting to move away from the latter description, since it is probably what is resulting in the second point I mentioned above.

Any advice or suggestions on how I can use these moves more effectively?  I’ve seen mention of people tweaking these moves, so if there’s a popular revision of them, please let me know!

20 thoughts on “In the couple of DW one-shots I’ve run, Spout Lore and Discern Realities are two moves that I / the party struggle…”

  1. Discern Realities is a move that describes close study of a thing. It doesn’t start with an end result in mind, but with the act of studying a thing. There might be a wish for some info, but that’s not actually an action.

    In real life, I don’t “discern how strong Greg Baatard​ is”. Rather I’d “watch him closely hoping he lifts something heavy” or some such.

    I like to describe Discern Realities as military tactics – if a general sits back and watched the enemy’s movements for a bit, they may have a better chance to counter them in the future. This helps explain the action AND the resultant +1 bonus

  2. The trigger for Discern Realities is “When you closely study a situation or person…” Look for times players seem to have their characters hit that trigger. When a player says things like “I look around the room” or “I watch the count’s face”, ask them how intently they are studying that thing. If it’s just a glance, simply tell them what they see as usual. If it’s a longer look than that, then suggest the move. As the only way to get the info DR provides is by making the move, players should be looking to trigger the move if they want info. Also, move triggers are not optional; if they take the fictional action, the move triggers. It is totally fair for the GM to say, ” That sounds like a Discern Realities move to me.”

    As for the questions, some of my players didn’t like being limited, and wanted to be able to ask any question. I explained that the provided questions can actually cover a very wide variety of situations. “What here is not as it seems?” covers monster weaknesses, secret doors, hidden traps, people’s motivations, nearly anything.

  3. Spout Lore is more of a codified version of what people do in pretty much every RPG – “does my character know about this?”. Well, how would you know? Ok, sounds believable, roll Spout Lore. Yeah, you did learn about these creatures back when you were a scribe…. Etc etc

  4. Aaron Griffin – I understand how DR is meant to work, but have found that players only tend to study something closely if they have a specific reason to do so – i.e. they have an end result in mind. 

    Chris Stone-Bush – Similar to what I mentioned above, but generally my players don’t just look around a room or look at someone’s face without having something specific that they’ve stated they’re looking for… 

    Perhaps I should gently remind them a few times, particularly early on, and make sure that the payoff is worthwhile/interesting when they succeed, to encourage them to keep the move in mind… However I don’t want to turn them into a party that intently studies every room and person and situation they come across for no reason other than to have some unforseen boon…

  5. Assume their intent until they get it. “Oh we made it past the guards and snuck into his room? I’m gonna look around” this is a DR check, even if they’re not clear. No one would just give a cursory look after so much danger.

    Similarly, play up the +1. Ask them to study groups during combat to see if they can figure out tactics or their leader.

  6. Moves are triggered when appropriate. It’s nice if players notice them, but if they don’t there’s no reason the GM shouldn’t point them out. The player can deny the move if they want, I suppose.

    GM: Your character looking about sounds like Discern Realities, want to roll that?

    Player: No, he’s really not paying attention to wha’s going on.

    GM: OK

    That said, you do want to encourage players to note the moves for when you don’t yourself. They could come to rely on you to say when a move is triggered, if you’re the one that always seems to call them out, possibly out of a sense of traditional play where it’s always the GM who decides when to invoke mechanics. From that POV you can phrase it more like:

    GM: By your character looking about, are you deciding that they’re Discerning Realities?

    Player: Oh, yeah, definitely, I’ll roll. ‘

    GM: Cool, just tell me next time when you trigger that move.

    Player: Got it.

  7. Greg Baatard – When you pay attention to something, it is likely you have some expectation.  You may or may not be hoping for a particular response, but you anticipate something.

    And the general “something” you’re expecting for will dictate how you pay attention.  Do you scan with your eyes?  Put your ear to the door?  Look at ripples in the water?  Pull your glove off to feel for change in direction/temperature of currents in the air?  Taste that weird looking statue?

    As you realize the players are stepping into Discern Realities, take your time with them.  Ask them to describe their investigative methods.  As they choose their questions from the list, ask what they are thinking about, as well.

    The GM is expected (FREE!) in Dungeon World to “play to find out what happens” along with the fellow players.  Frequently my players delight and surprise me by what they expect to have show up in a scene, and i’m usually thrilled to roll along with it.  If we’re firmly in a scene tied to a front or other prep, then i’ll seek ways to incorporate their expectations into the scene, without invalidating the “facts” that we’ve already established in the narrative.

    One big thing DW has taught me – any scene worth exploring is making cinematic.  Role playing doesn’t have to be a bored wander through social and investigative scenes, punctuated by lively bursts of combat.  If the players want to pay attention to a thing, i seek to find ways to make that thing worth their time and care.

  8. I think it’s pretty normal to have an idea of what kind of information you might get from “closely studying” a situation or person, and sometimes that’s what you get.  The examples you give in your question – a monster’s weakness, an alternate entrance to a castle, what is keeping the room sealed – I’d say those all easily fit under “what should I be on the lookout for?” or “what here is useful or valuable to me?”  Go ahead and give them the information they want, if it seems dramatically appropriate.  If not, give them less, or more, or something completely different, an unexpected left turn.  “Well, you don’t see another way past the guard, but as you’re studying you notice he doesn’t cast a reflection in the mirror.  What do you do?”

    All that said, sometimes we do find the format of DR doesn’t really fit our intentions, and rather than shoehorn it we sometime use this alternate:

    Loot the Room

    When you take time to search a location, roll+WIS. On a 10+, you find a valuable clue, piece of non-obvious useful information, or item of value. On a 7–9,  the GM will offer reward at a price, such as expenditure of adventuring gear, 1d4 or 1d6 damage in cuts and scrapes, or future disadvantage.  (Narrate how this cost occurs during the search.) 

    Note that the trigger for DR is “study a person or situation”, and the trigger for Loot the Room is “search a location”.  Technically, if there are no people present, the trigger for DR probably doesn’t even apply, which is why half the questions don’t make sense in that case.

  9. The way I do the “Loot the Room” concept is in line with GUMSHOE style – if there’s a clue to be had, they get it, as long as they’re searching right. “I lick the walls and smell the mattress” is not searching through desk drawers. If you want a roll, because something might happen on a 6-, then it should be Defy Danger – with potential consequences announced. “If you’re rifling through things, it could be noisy and a guard might hear. Sounds like there’s some Danger to Defy!”

  10. Aaron Griffin that’s all legit.  On the other side: (1) sometimes I didn’t even know there might be a clue here, or what it might be for.  Gumshoe style only applies to clues that are “necessary” for the “plot to advance”.  (2) Sometime they’re looking for treasure, not “clues”.  (3) Sometimes the danger might be from a trap they don’t know about yet, or from breaking the treasure they haven’t found yet.  (4) Sometimes it’s just being a fan of the characters to let them roll to see if they can find something that’s been hidden for centuries.

    And of course, if there’s something obvious, no need to roll to find it.  And if they say they check the desk drawers, I tell them what’s in the desk drawers, that doesn’t need a roll.

  11. colin roald totally fair. Ad-libbing a mystery is hard. I find it helps to encourage players to have their characters think out loud and tell me what they’re searching for or what kind of info they want out of the old woman on the edge of town.

    “Hmm, I go through the book cases to see if he has any sort of books that might link him back to the ideals of the cult”. (Oh, good idea!) Yeah, you do find some philosophical texts discussing freedom from suffering in death and all that stuff. Actually, upon further inspection, the book was written by Carlton Wilks himself! The very leader of the cult!

  12. Many thanks for the feedback and suggestions – I like the idea of a Loot The Room move, although I might tweak/generalise it – and hey, when I do so I might end up with a better understanding of how to apply DR and not end up needing it.

    I think my main issue with DR is that when players have a definite goal (whether they’re looking for something physical, trying to determine useful intel, etc) is that the questions often end up feeling shoehorned / awkward.

    PC: I study the patrolling guards, looking for an opportunity in their route that I could use to slip past.

    [Discern Realities is rolled, player gets a 10+]

    PC: So do I spot a gap?

    GM: Questions from the list only.

    PC: Umm…

    The player was definitely “closely studying a situation”, so the move is triggered.

    Some of the questions could be interpreted to give the information they want, but it tends to feel clumsy and awkward.

    And assuming you give them the info they want with their first question, they’re then left with two questions that they’re not really sure what to do with – Should they receive additional useful info despite having been looking for a very specific thing?

  13. I, too, feel like the questions in DR are odd, but I play them as is. I suspect that the sort of information gathering DW expects players to do may not mesh with the style of game you’re running. If that’s the case, modifying the move to suit your play style should be okay. Here are some information gathering moves from other PbtA games that I really enjoy:

    Malandros: (note: Malandros rolls a single d6)

    Find Something Out

    When you go looking for information, roll the appropriate ability – Talking if you if you canvass people on the street, Knowing if you delve into the recesses of your own memory, and so forth. On 6+, you find what you wanted, if available, and choose 1:

       • You gain an ally.

       • You get bonus information.

       • You find out quickly.

    On 3-5, choose 1:

       • The search takes too long.

       • You have to spend wealth.

       • You suffer harm.

       • You have to call in a favour.

       • What you seek is out of reach, for now at least.

       • Your search attracts unwelcome attention.

    On 2-, the GM chooses 2 from any of the above.

    Monster of the Week: (note: advanced moves require a purchase upon leveling up)

    Investigate A Mystery

    When you investigate a mystery, roll+Sharp. On a 10+ hold 2, and on a 7-9 hold 1. One hold can be spent to ask the Keeper one of the following questions:

       • What happened here?

       • What sort of creature is it?

       • What can it do?

       • What can hurt it?

       • Where did it go?

       • What was it going to do?

       • What is being concealed here?

    Advanced: On a 12+, you may ask the Keeper any question you want about the mystery, not just the listed ones.

  14. I completely sympathize with the struggle to frame all instances of Discern Realities in the question list provided.  When i first played DW, my inclination was to be fast and loose with the listed questions, and to allow players to add to or change the list.

    But at some point, i recognized that the short list of questions was valuable.  It focuses the move, and challenges the players (including GM) to be creative within the context of that focus.

    It also helped me understand when Discern Realities really wasn’t necessary.  I initially used it as a “spot check” – and that is NOT really the function Discern Realities serves.

    Rather, in DW, the GM is encouraged to give away information to the players if it is available to the characters, or if that availability serves the fiction, without a roll.  In your example above, the players want to spot a gap in the patrol so they can slip past.

    Defy Danger If they are going to wait/watch for the opportunity, perhaps they can see one, but they run the risk of being observed while doing so.  What do they do?  Act casual? Hide? Pretend to read a paper?  Might be defy danger….

    No Rules/Move Perhaps they have the fictional position to effectively observe the patrol safely – hand wave it then – yeah, you wait long enough to observe the pattern, and after half an hour, are able to slip through unobserved.  Good job, you sneak!

    Discern Realities Perhaps you want to use DR anyway… Ask them what they do, and then ask their question.  Help guide them toward a question if need be.  In your example, they are looking for a gap – You might introduce a new bit of fiction.  A “changing of the guard” could be useful.  Or an opportunity to subdue, evade, or misdirect them directly.  Or you might find the opportunity to introduce entirely new elements to the fiction, for the merriment and amusement of all….  “What here is useful to me?”  “Yeah, there is a tour group walking this way.  You notice the guards watching their approach.  If you can get the tourists to cause a disturbance, you think the guards will be distracted enough to give you the perfect opening!”

  15. Greg Baatard it’s worth noting that even the RAW say “If a player asks a question not on the list the GM can tell them to try again or answer a question from the list that seems equivalent.”  I don’t see any reason to be too strict about it:  the list of questions is mostly there to guide what DR is (a way to get tactical understanding, insight into a conflict, forewarning of betrayal) and what it isn’t (danger sense, CSI-style technical investigation, or “spot hidden”).

    The main thing I think is important is: it’s not a spot check.  In DW, there is no such thing as “calling for a perception check” to see if characters are caught by surprise, or if they miss a secret door when they aren’t really looking.  This is important.  In DW, rolling a fail means SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS, and therefore players should feel a bit of adrenaline every time they decide to risk it, and therefore picking up the dice must be a decision.  The GM shouldn’t just tell you to do it any old time, and they definitely shouldn’t ask more than one player to roll at the same time.

    So how do you handle an ambush?  You say, “Ranger, you know these woods, and you’re just noticing something feels wrong, too quiet, when out of the corner of your eye you see a flash of color and hear the twang of a bowstring.  What do you do?”  “I throw myself to the ground and yell ‘Ambush!'”  “Okay, roll Defy+DEX to see if you reacted fast enough.”

    How do you handle deciding if they saw the secret door?  Well, if you want, go ahead and be a fan of the most alert character and just tell them.  Or give them a clue something’s weird and let them choose to roll (“the blood trail just sort of ends in the middle of the corridor” or “there’s a cool moist draft here, you can’t tell where it’s coming from” or “you hear a clink and some hushed murmuring”).  

  16. Warning, short essay follows: 

    “And assuming you give them the info they want with their first question, they’re then left with two questions that they’re not really sure what to do with – Should they receive additional useful info despite having been looking for a very specific thing?”

    Well first note that if there’s no information to be had, the answer to the question is simply, “No.” So if they’re observing troops, looking for that gap, and they also end up asking “What here is not what it appears to be?” and “What happened here recently?” You could answer that everything is as it seems to be, and that other than the troops arriving, nothing else has happened recently. 

    But… I personally always use this as an opportunity to extemporize, trying to figure out if there’s anything that I can give that might follow from what I know about the situation that they don’t. So maybe I can answer the above two extra questions and say, “Though the troops seem to be in good marching order, you can sense a bit of a morale problem that seems to be bubbling up under the surface.” And for the second one, “There’s blood on the ground not far away… looks like you may not have been the only ones who’ve tried to pass through her recently, looks like others may have been caught.” Assuming that the adventurers are on the side of the rebels or something, this isn’t that far-fetched. 

    Or you can just get really creative. “Half of the troops look to be mercenaries from Gazahl… who everybody knows are only as loyal as the last time they got paid.” And for the other, “There was a landslide here not long ago from the look of some of the rocks, something you identify from having seen such a thing back in your village when you were young… The ground is clearly unstable, and if things got shaken up considerably, there’s a chance that another landslide would occur again, right in the path of the army.” 

    So the first thing to understand is that, sure, they may say the character is specifically looking for X, but does that mean they suddenly become blind to other realities around them, and not notice them when they’re taking the time to look around? No, the move is triggered by looking around, even perhaps at some specific thing, but the results of the looking can be widespread, and go far outside the player’s initial goal for the character. This is basically a chance for you to dump info on the players. 

    The second thing to understand is that when you dump info on the characters, you should do so in a way that opens up other avenues to the players. In my example with the mercenaries and the landslide, sure, they spot an opening in the army. But now they also have two other ways that they might also deal with the army, one more risky than the next, which gives the players a choice to make as to how to move forward. The more “actionable” information you give them, the more interesting the game is, and the more ways things can go. 

    Note that the same is true of a 10+ result on Spout Lore… it’s just a chance to give info (or make stuff up) that gives the players information they clearly can act upon. With a 7-9, just throw out data, and let the players see if they can invent some way to make the data valuable. 

    And if the players find the data valuable, if they form a plan from the info from either of these moves, always, always, always give it a chance to work. If it seems implausible to you, help them out by creating details about the situation that make it more plausible, avoid the urge to tell them that it just won’t work. The worst tease a GM can give is to hand players information on a potential rout of advance, and then stymie the players when they choose to act on it. Supply the adversity, let the dice decide if they win or lose, and help the players to make the situation make sense. 

    Do the players not have enough coin to reasonably bribe the mercenaries, but they’re bent on trying this rout? Well then invent the fact that Gazahlian mercenaries are lead by freelance princes who can often be bought cheaply if you butter them up enough. The risk being that a wrong word will put you on their bad side, and they’ll make you slaves in their baggage train. Now the players have a decision to make regarding whether that’s the risk they want to take, or if they want to cross the gap instead, or try the landslide. 

    As I always say about GMing, always be giving players information to act on. Discern Realities and Spout Lore are your two best tools in the game to force you to bring out such information. Don’t pass up these opportunities. 

    P.S. if you have the right group (and I usually do) if I don’t know the answers to a Spout Lore or a Discern Realities, I’ll often punt and ask the player who made the roll to make up the information. If it counters my prep, I may counter-offer until we come up with something collaboratively, or just as often I’ll just change my prep to match the created info. Since you can be pretty sure that info players make up is going to be pretty interesting to them. 

  17. tl/dr for the previous post is: Discern Realities and Spout Lore are the moves that force you as GM to divulge information that gives the players ways to move forward. Cherish every success, and try to give more information, not less. 

  18. I actually find the combination of the DR questions and the “make a move that follows” principle often leads to players getting the information they’re looking for.

    The fictional trigger tells you not just when the move triggers, but what kind of answer they get.

    If the fictional trigger is “searching the room for treasure” and the question is “What here is useful or valuable to me?”, well, they find the treasure.

    If the trigger is “watching my opponent’s fighting style for weakness” and the question is “What should I be on the lookout for?”, they see an opening.

    If the trigger is “examining the tracks to see which way the orcs went” and the question is “What happened here recently?”, they see which way the orcs went.

    If they’re casing a castle for an alternate way in, “useful/valuable” or “lookout” could each get you that.

    If I find that giving them what they’re looking for feels shoehorned, then it’s usually a sign that DR isn’t the right move, and it’s either a Spout Lore or just something I should tell them as part of “saying what happens”.

  19. That’s definitely all good stuff, Russel. Always ensure that the answer to their question includes information that the character is specifically looking for.

    But to extend on what I said before, if the character is looking for loot, and asks, “What here is valuable to me?” and there is no loot… but there ARE notes on when the bad guy is going to be arriving back in town, I’m definitely going to give them that information.

    My response will look like, “After a thorough search, you’re sure there’s no loot anywhere unfortunately. However in the process of looking around you notice that one of the notes on the table is a note from Mr. Badguy telling when and where he’ll be in town tomorrow night.”

    Again, I’ll often make this data up on the spot to give the characters something to act on, even if the prep doesn’t indicate that such a thing is there. Because information is what gives players something to react to, and moves the game forward. 

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