“What is about to happen?”

“What is about to happen?”

“What is about to happen?”

I often have trouble with this Discern Realities question. To me it feels contra to the “play to find out what happens” principle. I’m even thinking of tweaking the question to something like “What is likely to happen next?” This would give the players some insight into the situation, but not be so … set in stone 🙂 How do you usually handle this question?

9 thoughts on ““What is about to happen?””

  1. “Play to find out” doesn’t mean don’t prepare things and don’t have NPC movements in mind. It doesn’t mean ad lib everything. It means “don’t plan outcomes”.

    Your NPCs should absolutely be moving against the PCs and have plans to do that. The PCs can totally foil those plans, and you adjust.

    “What is about to happen?”

    – The papers suggest Shilor is sending her gang against you. They’re probably at your base now!

    – The thumping through the cavern actually sounds like… Yeah, war drums. And if you know anything about kobold culture, that’s Grakther’s son coming for you.

    – etc

  2. I just answer it. I don’t know what’s about to happen, but they’re asking me to tell them so I make a decision right then and there. If they’re asking me, I’m giving the players what they want. As GM you are allowed to have ideas about things, and in fact you are encouraged to have ideas about things, you’re just supposed to not force the players into them. If you’re thinking ‘hm I’m picturing a big scary valley, maybe there’s a big spider lord of the rings type thing in there? Or something?’ and the players get down into the valley and they ask What is about to Happen, then maybe you go ‘hmmm okay yeah, sure, spider ambush’ or you go ‘Nah, nah, they said something earlier about Rocs, there is totally a Roc nest and a Roc out hunting.’

    Beyond that I would really avoid the wiggly language of “what is likely to happen” because that is just giving you, the GM, squirmy room to say something and then go back on it later. As the GM you’re supposed to be honest, yeah? Well, if you house rule to let yourself use squishy language like “likely to happen” then you are leaving the door open to (inadvertently or not) trick your players if you decide on something different between answering them and acting on your answer. “Guys, I only said it was likely there would be a Spider thing… turns out it was actually something else!” By making the answer concrete, you give the players something solid to work with, and you fix yourself to the truth of the fiction, that you’re then expected to honestly present.

    Just my thoughts!

  3. Thanks, so you interpret is also as a way to relate probable outcomes rather than absolute (“They’re probably at your base”). This is how I’m leaning, and I guess changing the wording of the question is in line with that approach.

  4. Dion Kurczek​ Discern Realities isn’t prescience. In my example I said “the papers”. Presumably the papers suggest gang member movements. But you can’t learn progress from paper.

    It’s not about probability – what is about to happen is that the gang is moving on the PC’s base. What is still in question is the progress of such a move… Are they there yet? Who knows. But they’re definitely moving.

    Similarly, answering with “you’re about to get shot by the arrow arcing through the air” and “you’re about to get shot by the archer drawing his bow” are identical answers with different levels of progress towards the thing.

    Do not change the wording. I’m not suggesting that the NPCs raid the player base or not, but that the trajectory is certain and progress may not be.

  5. I enjoy this question when it comes up. If a threat wasn’t already pending, it’s probably a good idea to introduce one; by asking this question, the player is signalling that they are looking for something to which to react. The key to make sure the answer is actionable; this is how successes can drive the snowball effect just like misses do. It should also tie into the fiction of whatever action triggered the Discern Realities move in the first place.

  6. I might be projecting here, because i struggled with the transition to DW, and this was one of my stumbling points.

    Before DW, when i was the GM, i was the adversary to the players. I held plot secrets with the hope of surprising them at dramatically appropriate moments. I put hours into designing maps, puzzles, and statting out enemies, and if the players solved them too soon, i would throw in plot armor as needed to protect my return on invested time. If the puzzles or plots dragged on too long, i would throw more and more clues out, feeling quite clever.

    DW operates differently. We are called on to be open, and honest, with the players. If they trigger a move that lets them ask the GM a question, the GM has to be forthcoming. That trust between the players, including the GM, is important to the game itself.

    From your question, it feels like you’re struggling with this transition – you want to hedge your bets and protect your secrets by indicating to the players what “might be about to happen” without committing yourself to it.

    My advice it to embrace the new philosophy – let the players look behind the curtain, when the rules of the game allow it.

    When you’re framing a scene, throw a few details out there at a time, and see which, if any, the players respond to. As they pursue interesting bits, some things will be ignored – that’s okay, you didn’t invest a lot of time developing them. If they get to ask “What is about to happen?” – look to your prep, the fiction established, and what intrigues you in the moment, and tell them what is about to happen.

    When they respond, look to your GM principles and agenda, and your GM Moves, and react to your players.

    If the players rush to the big bad boss too early in the session, and they kick its butt, then make the story about dealing with success instead! they have the treasure, but can they get it home? How will they deal with the boss’s followers?

    One of my favorite experiences in this regard, from a few years back, was when i put my PCs against an Orc Warchief. In the book, the Warchief has the following special qualities: “One-Eye blessings, Shaman blessings, Divine protection from mortal harm”

    Divine protection from mortal harm. Sounds great! Wonder how long it will take the PCs to give up and how they’ll break/flee from the combat.

    Instead, they used a series of moves to determine how the divine protection worked, and found a way, during combat, to strip the protection away. I had no clue this was an option, until they were doing it, and i was absolutely amused and excited to see how it was working out.

    By the end of the scene, they had killed the Warchief, who i had previously expected would remain a threat for a good long while, and we got to consider what happens when there is a power vacuum during an orc invasion.

  7. I’ve always read it as the player asking what’s about to happen if they just stand there and do nothing. Sometimes I’ll even preface my answer by saying “unless you do something…” That way, we have a clear picture of where things are going but it’s still “playing to find out” because I’m leaving room for the PCs to interfere.

  8. Andrew Fish My question didn’t come from an adversarial perspective, and I do nearly zero prep for DW sessions (just jot down a few ideas). It was more an uncertainty about how to answer the question in a non prescient feeling way. Thanks to your and everyone else’s feedback I have more confidence in how to handle this question now 🙂

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