Discern Realities: Trigger the questions separate from triggering the move?

Discern Realities: Trigger the questions separate from triggering the move?

Discern Realities: Trigger the questions separate from triggering the move?

In my Bardic Lore question last week, James Young wrote:

> If he’s used to Pathfinder he might be used to that passive roll-and-listen style. “I roll perception. 18. What do I see?”

That pretty much nails the experience, and I think the same expectations crept into a Discern Realities attempt he made during that session.

To be honest, handling Discern Realities has been hit-or-miss for me on the GM side, even though I’ve been running Dungeon World off and on since 2013. So the trouble during this session wasn’t entirely due to Pathfinder expectations.

During one scene, the Bard stopped to carefully look and listen to the environment—the inside of a strange “clock tower”—which I took as a trigger to Discern Realities.

He rolled high enough to ask 3 questions, and picked “What should I be on the lookout for?” as his first question.

Me: “That depends on what you are doing. How are you investigating that? Are you poking at the springs and gears?”

Bard: “No…”

Me: “Hmm. I can’t answer that yet, but I might be able to answer it as you continue investigating.”

Bard: “Okay. What here is not what it appears to be?”

Me: “Right on! This is not a clock tower! There are small windows at intervals opening to the night sky outside. You can see some of the machinery is controlling the position of lenses facing the sky. The lenses are directing faint rays of what must be starlight to a central column of crystal that forms the core of the tower. The crystal seems to be responding to the light by pulsing and turning slightly. Could be a sensor of some kind…”

Bard: “I really want to know what should I be on the lookout for. I guess my next question is what is about to happen?”

Me: “I can’t answer that from just what you can see or hear without doing something more. Want to interact with the scene more and ask again later?”

Bard: “Sure. You said there’s a door here?”

I suppose I might have said “You don’t notice anything to watch out for / anything imminent about to happen.” That’s supported by the text: “Of course, some questions might have a negative answer, that’s fine. If there really, honestly is nothing useful or valuable here, the GM will answer that question with ‘Nothing, sorry.'” But that seems like a worthless response in light of the risk of triggering a GM move on a miss.

Now that I write about it, I guess I jumped the gun on triggering the move. The text says straight up “You can’t just stick your head in the doorway and discern realities about a room. …you have to look under and around things, tap the walls, and check for weird dust patterns on the bookshelves.”

I realize this could be a perfect time to ask the players and use the answers, but I also see that I was responding as though the questions must be triggered by the details of the investigation.

That’s the nub of my question: When you run Discern Realities, is any investigation that triggers the move sufficient to answer all the questions, OR are some of the questions disqualified based on the nature of the investigation?

What do you say?

For my next session, I was thinking about using D. Vincent Baker’s alternate “Perception Test” moves from Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions. They are written up for B/X-style D&D, but that makes them very easy to adapt to DW. They have three separate triggers covering more specific situations, and the questions available for each are more closely tied to the specific triggers.

9 thoughts on “Discern Realities: Trigger the questions separate from triggering the move?”

  1. This is one of those eternal debates. I personally make the first question must be related to what triggered the move originally. Then they may ask follow up questions. If they are looking for a trap in the bookshelf they won’t learn of the trap on the staircase, unless they are connected somehow.

    So they may ask a question that has an answer in the room, but won’t get it because they are looking for it specifically.

  2. Huh I really like the idea of starting off an “investigation” with a roll, and having them spend the hold while looking around.

    In theory, this fixes a lot of the issues I have with the move. It makes it much more like Read A Person, where the questions come during interaction.

    I’m going to try this idea a bit and see how I like it.

  3. I think that this one is very much up for debate no mater where you go with it.   Here is my take:

    Decern Realities:  It IS the way to get more details from the environment that may lead to more details that are hidden.  Often times you get the question of “Ok, I Perceive around me, what do I see?”  Which to me simply triggers the opportunity for the GM to re-describe the scene with some possibly overlooked details on the first scan.  It still doesn’t trigger a roll.  This is a good time to ask questions and use answers.  “This seems to be the lair of a mad scientist or magic user of some sort…What would you expect to be here?”  Then use the answers. Then the character goes into the room, “Ok, what do I see here?”  “Well you already got a basic description of the room, what are you looking for and how are you looking?”  This is basically probing for them to search around a bit and asking the Player what is important to his character.  If he asks about some of the specific stuff and tells me he is really searching then I trigger Descern Reality and have him roll.  I tell them that they can get 3 specific answers (on a 10+) and base those around the suggestions listed.  Usually a little guidance here on getting the player to ask the Right Question.  If they get a 7-9, I might still give them 3 questions or better yet give them a choice.  “By your searching, depending on how agressive or careful you search you can take 3 questions answered or 1”  the 1 is the normal, “I am being very careful not do disturb anything or trigger anything.” and give them one question.  The 3 questions I use sort of like the Hack&Slash move uses an extra +1d6 on a 10+, you get a hard or soft move but you succeeded.  So, “I take 3” you give them the answers but narrate the lack of extreme caution and describe a trap triggered or another move involved for “Getting too close” to this or that.  For a Thief, I may have a warning after each question that will lead them to a trap triggered if they ignore my hints.

    So to summarize: Decern Realities is for when they are REALLY looking and not just scanning around.  It will also take a few minutes of intense study and using observation.  Some things that are not immediately obvious are given BUT I narrate on what the PC did to get the information or what was necessary to get the information.  Yes this gives them more info than immediately obvious but it cuts to the action quicker.  Or if I am feeling mean, I hover on the edge of my seat and ask some questions that will lead them to trouble or lead them to be more cautious.  You will be surprised by the “Are you sure?” will do for caution.  Or even a, “Hmmm, Ok if you really want to do that.”

  4. > Huh I really like the idea of starting off an “investigation” with a roll, and having them spend the hold while looking around.

    That’s exactly how I was running it. When the player rolled, I said “you have 3 hold, and you can spend 1 hold to ask one of the questions as you poke around”.

    I might have picked that idea up from an online discussion somewhere, but when I was writing the post about it today, I noticed the move doesn’t mention “hold”.

  5. Deep Six Delver Looking at your scenario, I think you called for Discern Realities at exactly the right time. You changed the environment (GM move) by describing the weird clock tower and asked him what he did, right? And he said “I look and listen carefully!”

    Practically speaking, Discern Realities gets triggered when the GM asks you what you want to do, and your response is to take action in order to learn more information. If you’re holding stock still, head cocked, peering into the shadows and staining your ears for anything amiss… yeah, that’s closely studying a situation. Roll it!

    As the GM, an important principle to remember with Discern Realities is begin and end with the fiction. They told you what they’re doing to study the situation, right? (Look closely, listen carefully, stay put.) Then answer their questions from that point of view.

    So when your Bard asked “what should I be on the lookout for?” don’t say “you can’t ask that question.” Ask yourself what he’d see and hear, and could be gleaned from that. Based on how you describe the room above, I can think of all sorts of things they should be on the lookout for that’d be apparent from there.

    Like, it’s a clocktower, right? (Or close enough that it seems to be one at first glance?) Then there’s going to be shadows, and blocked line of sight, and things rotating and swinging and moving about on their own accord. It’s going to be loud with the click-clicking of gears. You should be on the lookout for something or someone hiding in here, they could be anywhere. (And if there is someone hiding in there, maybe they think they see a figure darting behind one of the gears… or was that just your imagination?)

    Are these big gears, turning with ponderous, inexorable strength? You should be on the lookout for them! Don’t get your hand, or your spear, or loose clothing stuck in there, you’ll be ground to paste!

    Are these contraption delicate? Precariously balanced? Of strange purpose, far stranger than a simple timepiece? Well, you should be on the lookout for disrupting it. Poke or prod it in the wrong spot and the whole thing could come crashing down in a terrible cacophony, unleashing who-knows-what arcane disaster!

    “What’s about to happen?” they ask. “Probably nothing if you stay put, but the more you look at the gemstone, and how the construct is keeping the light focused on it, well, the more important that seems. Like, if you interrupt that beam of light or touch the gem, its going to disrupt the whole setup. It might release some energy, or set of an alarm, or bring the whole thing crashing down. But you’d have to get closer to learn more. What do you do?”

    See what I did on that last one? I answered their last question, pretty generously from their fictional position and then told them the requirements and asked.

    (BTW, I’ve wrote a pretty extensive post about Discern Realities. Some of its directly relevant, I think.)

    plus.google.com – In defense of Discern Realities in which I express numerous opinions (LONG) I…

  6. Oh, and in response to your original question (ask all at once? or hold and spend?): I’ll generally let them “hold and spend” unless the situation is chaotic and rapidly evolving (e.g. fevered combat). I don’t say it like that, though. I just don’t object if they describe doing something else between questions, especially not if what they’re doing is related to their investigation (getting closer to something, picking something up, etc.).

    And if they ask you a question that you don’t think could get them useful information without doing something extra… what you did seems solid (“how are you investigating that? are poking and proding the devices?”).

    Though… do not make that sort of thing into a trap. If you’re they ask “what here should I be on the lookout for?” and you’re like “do you poke and prod it to find out?” and they’re like “sure” then the last thing you should do is take that as a golden opportunity to hit them with a hard move. That’s setting them up for failure, not being a fan! Instead, maybe they poke the thing gently and it causes everything to start rocking and swaying… “You’re pretty sure that this hold thing will come tumbling down with just a careless bump.”

  7. Wow, awesome ideas Jeremy Strandberg!

    It’s clear I wasn’t thinking dangerous enough about the immediate situation: I definitely wasn’t going to make a hard move if the Bard took more concrete actions to investigate. I do think the player imagined it was a trap, though, as if touching the wrong pixel might trigger a “Save Or Die”.

    The situations just outside the tower and unfolding on the rooftop above them were so intense that I wasn’t thinking about the dangers of the clockwork machinery itself or what might be hiding behind the big old gears and pendula.

    When he asked “what should I be on the lookout for”, my mind turned to the tower’s proprietor, who was right then on the rooftop sacrificing citizens in order to seal a rift between the worlds. The “clock” was a complex barometer measuring the status of the rift, and the proprietor was a demon-dragon in disguise. But on the spot, I couldn’t think how to telegraph those dangers into the present situation.

    Seeing your examples made me see obvious answers, even without ratcheting up the immediate danger:

    What should I be on the lookout for? “Machinery like this obviously requires a lot of maintenance. (They had already seen a toolbox and rag nearby.) The fittings are well-oiled and even the gears are polished. But it would take little bodies and little hands to get into all those nooks and crannies. The machinists must be around here somewhere.”

    What’s about to happen? “As the gears turn you see the clock winding large coils high above you, and the coils swell with tension. The clock will keep counting down—to whatever it’s counting down to. Do you want to hang out until the clock chimes Midnight?”

    These aren’t as exciting as your suggestions, but there was no shortage of excitement. They did meet the tower’s gnomes, reached the tower’s pinnacle, disrupted the ritual, saw the dragon-demon’s true form, and even prevented another planet from colliding with the one they live on from the other side of the portal. A Lot Happened!

  8. Sounds like you are on the right track. I probably would have used the GM move about filling their lives with adventure or showing them something they didn’t want to know. Like “What is about to happen?” The clock is getting closer to midnight and as it does, the crystal grows brighter. Was that a scream you just heard or the grinding of gears? “What should I be on the lookout for?” There is a large depression in the ground. The whatever made it is flat and even, obviously not natural. You hear a distant, steady thud. Like footsteps, but heavier. Much heavier.” Then there is suddenly a clockwork golem guarding the tower that wasn’t there before they asked the question. I think that falls into them giving you a golden opportunity. And it gives them something new to overcome!

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