I have two questions regarding Discern Realities. It reads:

I have two questions regarding Discern Realities. It reads:

I have two questions regarding Discern Realities. It reads:

“When you closely study a situation or person”

1. What does closely studying a person look like?

I had a player last session ask me if someone was lying, and I thought this triggered (how else would they know this? I assume studying the person closely to see what they can tell about them), but once they rolled and had to ask from the list of questions, it made little sense (most of the questions just didn’t apply and all they really wanted to know was the one question they were asking).

2. Why is there the list of questions?

Nobody in my games ever likes this list when the move comes up, because it feels like, “You can do anything in this game, except for this one particular area where you read directly from this list”. It seems really odd to me, so I feel like I must be misunderstanding this move – it completely breaks the flow of what is happening.

I’ve asked about Discern Realities before, and I will probably ask again – I just can never understand how it works.

Any advice?

17 thoughts on “I have two questions regarding Discern Realities. It reads:”

  1. Discerning Realities is meant to be used in stressful “charged” situations. When a player studies something in a normal situation and asks you a question, they’re looking to you to see what happens and you make a move: unwelcome truth or opportunity with or without cost are usually the best here.

  2. I asked about this a while back and got some interesting responses. What most helped me to understand Discern Realities was to read through Apocalypse World, whose moves “Read a Sitch”/”Read a Person” are the inspiration for the DW move.

    How I think of it now is that Discern Realities is about inspiring the creation of new fiction. When players trigger this move, it’s a signal that they’re not sure what to engage with. The questions are designed as prompts to encourage creating situations to engage with. “Is he lying?” doesn’t tell you much. “What here is not what it appears to be?” invites alternate ways to expand the fiction, where (possible) lying is just a part of that context.

  3. I think part of the challenge here is that PbtA games encourage a particular way of engaging with fiction that doesn’t focus so much on narrating the moment-to-moment details of what happens, but rather highlights the pivot points, where details spur actions and actions trigger reactions and so on, with GM moves propelling things ever forward.

    Discern Realities provides ready-made pivot points to help encourage interesting GM moves to keep things moving.

    Bear in mind that if the player asks “are they lying?” this doesn’t necessarily have to trigger Discern Realities. You can ask to clarify if that’s what they’re intending (implying they’re studying closely.) If they just want to know if they’re lying, you could just make a GM move like reveal an unwelcome truth (yeah, they’re totally lying; they have no intention of letting you leave peacefully) or offer an opportunity (he’s holding something back, but you’re not sure what; in fact, you notice him fidgeting with a pouch of coins at his belt.)

    Note also that if they do want to study someone closely, you could also tell them the requirements or consequences and ask (yeah, you can do that, but he’s talking with you and he’s definitely going to notice you’re sizing him up…and then his burly friends might notice an up-tick in the overall conversational tension.)

  4. Closely studying a person is getting in their face and eyeballing them like a mad man. It’s saying ridiculous shit to get them off balance and watching how they react. It’s pretending you know stuff and seeing what gaps they fill in when they call your bluff. It’s looking at their boots to see where they’ve been, even if that means kicking their stool out from under them to get a glance. It’s eavesdropping from the next booth while they have a conversation with someone they’ll actually talk to.

    Closely study means it’s not a cursory study — what you do in day to day conversation is probably a cursory study, I would wager. It’s going deeper than that, probably in a way that invites problems or repercussions if the Roll goes badly. They think you’re giving them the stink eye, they get sick of your nonsense and walk out, they call your bluff but know you’re onto them, they kick your ass for messing with their stuff.

    There’s a list of questions to focus and hone the answers you get. The answers all propel the narrative forward, inviting new details to fill the shared fictional space, specifically because there are no Yes or No questions on the list. Remember that! On the GM’s side, you’re supposed to ask leading questions that supercharge the narrative with stakes and meaning… the Discern Questions work the same way from the player’s side. No “yes, he does suspect you” because someone is free to ask humdrum shit like “is he on to me?” No, you get stuff like “what’s about to happen?” “Oh, he’s got his boys circling around, getting set to cut you off and get you cornered.”

    The former just says “yeah, you were right” — the latter, coming off the backs of smartly worded questions builds a scene and scenario at once by demanding the GM nail something down. It gives the players a concrete world. Eliminating a list of questions runs the risk of players not fielding useful or meaningful questions that keep the conversation chugging along… we all have long days at work, we all feel under the weather, we all have times where we don’t think fast, so hey, here’s a list that gives you Bang for your Buck.

  5. Good advice above.

    1. What does closely studying a person look like? I dunno, as that’s going to depend on the character taking the action. But regardless of what it looks like, I feel that the character has to take time to do it. This isn’t just a quick glance; this is an investment of time, and the character may miss something else going on around them as a result.

    2. Why is there the list of questions? As other people have said, this is inspired by Apocalypse World’s Read a Person/Sitch move. I had a player who really balked at being forced to chose from a list of questions. I eventually told them that if the information they want to know absolutely can not be answered by one of the Discern Realities questions, they probably don’t need to trigger the move. Just ask me, the GM, what you want to know and I’ll tell you what your character perceives. Maybe this is actually an MC move instead, as other people have said.

    Also, to echo Dan Bryant, Discern Realities is a way to progress the fiction when the players aren’t sure what to engage with. The questions they pick show you the GM what they think would be interesting, and it’s your job to come up with an answer. While “Nothing, really.” is a valid response to a DR question in some situations, I really think the GM should make something happen.

  6. Cool, lots of good advice so far, thanks everyone. I have the AW 2E, I will read that for a better idea of Read a Person/Sitch.

    Chris Stone-Bush I really like the idea of if the questions don’t fit, it’s not the move being triggered. I think that makes perfect sense. Hopefully next session I can get everyone on board with it.

  7. Tom Brooks Yeah, if they’re not actively trying to study the person, asking a question is basically an invitation for you to make a free GM move. The players have an interest in this because you fill their characters’ lives with adventure. They know it’s ‘safe’ to do because you’re a fan of the characters and even though you think dangerous, you’re not, as a player yourself, actively working against them. This is the nature of collaborative fiction that PbtA works to foster.

  8. Hopefully that will help Tom Brooks. But remember, “to do it you have to do it, and if you do it, you do it”. So if a player has their character do something that triggers Discern Realities, you really should follow through with the dice. I just told my players to be aware of the questions and not to push for the move when they felt none of the questions were going to help.

  9. Most of what I’ve got to say, I said in the link Peter J linked to above.

    My general answer for “what triggers Discern Realities” is “the GM asks what do you do?” and your response involves taking action in order to gain more information.

    The action doesn’t have to be particularly detailed or specific or descriptive. It could just be “I size these guys up… can I get a read on them?” I don’t think there’s any need to get super detailed about it.

    Where it gets a little weird is when you’re just free playing dialogue, PCs talking to NPCs, and a PC wants to Discern Realities on the NPC. They aren’t responding to a “what do you do?”

    Instead, it usually looks like a player dropping out of character and being like “is this guy lying?” or “I don’t trust this guy, what’s he up to?” When that happens, it’s back to you, the GM. You either describe the situation (“well, he’s sweating and keeps fidgeting with his hands”) and/or make a GM, like tell them the requirements (“he’s definitely nervous about something; you wanna Discern Realities on him?”).

    Also, it doesn’t need to be a particularly tense situation to Discern an NPC. Think about the questions… just by asking them, you’re making the scene at least a little bit tense.

  10. I’ve had a similar situation a few times. Instead of DR You might even try a Defy Danger with WIS … What’s the danger? I’ll let my player tell me a lot of the time… “The danger is that I’m too focused on him to notice his toughs moving in behind me” or “The danger is I don’t realize that he’s lying until it’s too late”. Both of these “dangers” add to the fiction and allow you to play to see what happens

  11. I personally love Discern Realities. It forces me to flex my creative muscles, and always leads to places that none of us expected five minutes earlier. But yeah, don’t trigger it if you don’t think you’ll be able to answer the questions. There was quite a good discussion of how to answer situationally unexpected DR questions on a recent episode of the DR podcast (appropriately enough). Remember that you could also trigger a Defy Danger if the person they’re sizing up is potentially a threat.

  12. It’s worth mentioning that in AW 2e, Vincent Baker explicitly says not to be a stickler for the exact wording of the Read A Sitch/Person questions. Most questions people would ask when triggering Discern Realities are probably variations on the DR questions anyway, so what I’d do is pick the listed question which most closely resembles the question they asked and go with it. That’s a pretty expansive reading of the move, I suppose, and DW is a different game, but I think it’s valid and within the spirit of the rules.

    Also, remember that you can and should write custom moves as needed. You could create a separate move with the same structure as Discern Realities for reading a person if you wanted, and only use Discern Realities for reading a situation.

  13. Wright Johnson​​ I’ve seen Adam Koebel​​ refer to doing that in streams of DW, where he says, “you can ask one of these questions or ask another and I will mold it to one of them”. However, I’ve just never been able to do that super well, and for some reason people get very upset that they can ask more than one question, when they originally wanted to know one thing. I think maybe they expect the other questions are invitations for GM meddling, which I suppose is fair for something like D&D, but theoretically being a fan of the characters should mean I don’t do something like that.

  14. If your players feel that asking more than one question mean more chances for the GM to screw them over, you need to have a talk. Even a small one like “Look, I’m not going to do that cause that isn’t how the game works.” Also point out that they get +1 forward when acting on the answers. More questions means more bonuses if they can make the info apply to the situation.

  15. Chris Stone-Bush​ yah I probably do need to talk with them, although I am not sure that is the reason, just my best guess. I can’t really understand why you wouldn’t want more info, but I’ve had it happen a few time with a few different groups.

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