Let’s say the PCs in your game come across a murder scene.

Let’s say the PCs in your game come across a murder scene.

Let’s say the PCs in your game come across a murder scene. You’ve got a dead body in a room that’s obviously died as the result of foul play and your player wants to look the body over. Do you let them describe going through the motions if the player wishes to get their CSI: Camelot on and answer what they find as they do the things, or do you insist on a Discern Realities roll and adhere closely to the questions available?

I had a situation like this during a recent session where I described the general lay of the land with the victim laid out on the floor. We determined that a Discern Realities roll was in order, they rolled a 7-9 and got 1 and asked what happened here recently. The player goes back and relays the murder scene to the party and when they return, another PC decides to start looking over the corpse and rolls well and finds some clues that furthered the story, which happened to be a key and a journal. The other player seemed slightly annoyed as they definitely felt they would’ve gone through the pockets of the corpse had I allowed them to, but we agreed on Discern Realities being triggered and so they never got the opportunity to do so.

Anyone else have experience with this? I think the DR call was correct, but being that they ended up going with “What happened here recently” there’s really no way to answer that in a way that has anything to do with the contents of the victim’s pockets. If your PC comes up against something like this, and it triggers a DR roll, and they end up rolling poorly, do you ask them what they want to do after the weak DR roll and let them do the things they’d be doing to investigate the crime scene further, or do explain to them that they’ve learned everything they can even though they know they haven’t done some specific thing that they would’ve liked to?

15 thoughts on “Let’s say the PCs in your game come across a murder scene.”

  1. What the character say or do that triggered DR? I ask because you said “we determined that a discern realities roll was in order.” If he said “I go through his pockets”, you tell him what’s in the pockets… edit … even after the DR roll of he wants

  2. Brian Holland Ok, so even after a general request to investigate a body ends in a “what happened here” question, I should open it up with “do you do anything else to investigate this situation?” I wish I’d have noted exactly what was said at the time, but whatever it was it was just vague enough to trigger the DR, and then I think the player assumed they had learned all they could could learn, so we moved forward. I guess the correct course of action should’ve been to offer up the moment for them to do something else. I think maybe I had put too much power onto the move and should’ve just let things unfold naturally, but at the time it just didn’t seem clear.

  3. Ok. You don’t necessarily have to trigger DR. You can ask her to describe how she’s looking him over and give her the info she needs. You only need to ask for a roll if there’s a chance of failure, or if failure may make things more interesting (IMO).

  4. Investigations can get kind of wonky like that. If they are looking to closely observe something and you know there might be many more DR moves later on, try to get the players to be very specific at what they are looking at. Then later on when someone want to do DR again, make it so they have to look at something else in order to trigger the move. Otherwise they find exactly what the other person finds.

    Example 1st player looks at murder scene, wants to Discern Realities. GM asks what they are looking at specifically, and the player answers the clutter around the room, whether there was a struggle. He rolls 7-9 and you give him his answer. When player 2 shows up and says they want to look around, the GM asks what they’re looking at. If they say the clutter then just answer the same as when player 1 looked and don’t even roll. If they say I’m checking the body then allow a fresh roll to check the body.

    This approach would also technically allow player 1 to follow up his observation of the room with a closer examination of the body, perhaps triggering another roll. Some GM’s might feel weird about this. I would say the DW moves, in my opinion, are meant for adventuring and sort of break down when used as tools for solving a mystery.

    Friends at the Table has an episode where they splice the sherlock holmes rpg with DW to do a mystery. Might be worth checking out.

  5. If a character is questioning the fiction, they’re looking to you to see what happens – you can respond with a GM move.

    Discern Realities comes from Read A Sitch, which requires a “charged” situation. I find DR falls flat is a situation isn’t charged/tense/etc

  6. As Aaron Griffin points out, Discern Realities comes from Read a Sitch. The difference is that Read a Sitch makes total sense in the context it is used for in AW, while everything is shoehorned into Discern Realities in DW, and imho it doesn’t work particularly well. I’m afraid to say that I honestly don’t think DW is among the best designed PbtA games.

    With that said, my opinion is that if a player declares her character is examining a body, ask HOW. If the player says the character is searching the body’s pockets than that’s it, what is there is found. Or even if the player doesn’t go into details, basic stuff like items in pockets etc should be found automatically. There’s no reason to roll Discern Realities for something as simple as that. However, making sense of what happened does justify the roll.

  7. I guess it depends on whether the key and the journal were items you’d already planned and knew were in the pockets of the corpse up front, or something you came up with later for the second player when they asked e.g. “what here is useful or valuable to me?”

    If you’d decided the items were there from the start, the first player should have probably found them when they searched the scene, because you always say what honesty demands. The DR roll would be to learn more, not to find those items you already knew were there.

    If you made up the items later, when the second player asked “what here is useful or valuable to me?”, then perhaps you could have put them somewhere more obscure. You’d already established that the first player had searched the scene and not found them, so it doesn’t really make sense for them to be somewhere obvious like in the victim’s pockets. You need to justify why they weren’t found the first time – maybe the second player finds them in a hidden pocket in the lining of the victim’s jacket, or finds scuff marks on the floor of his room which allows him to find the swinging secret panel with the journal and key behind it, or something.

    WRT using DR in a situation that isn’t charged, surely any situation can become charged at the drop of a hat? The PC is in a room with the body of a murder victim – if you roll a 6-, suddenly the gardener looks in the window, sees them with the victim and starts yelling “Help! Murderer! Guards!”

    Or if the murder is already known before the PC shows up, perhaps the town constable arrives and wants to take over the investigation. Or maybe a relative appears and starts having hysterics over the death (but perhaps something feels a bit off – are they actually distraught, or are they overdoing it?)

  8. Good advice here. This may be harsh, but it sounds like you (unintentionally) cheated the first player out of finding the keys on the corpse Brandon Fincher. Discern Realities doesn’t replace a character’s fictional action. I feel you should have asked the player how their character was investigating the crime scene and given them any clues they would have reasonably found without rolling. Jumping right to the DR move, and then calling things done, robbed the player of clues their character should have found. On the other hand, if the player did not make it clear they were searching the corpse’s pockets, I can see the GM overlooking it.

    The GM is the character’s senses. It’s your job to give them honest information. Anything and everything the character can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch should be information that’s freely given out. That doesn’t mean you tell them about hidden things; just thig things their character would be aware of given the situation.

    For me, Discern Realities isn’t a “find the clues” move. It’s a “putting the clues together” move. Searching a corpse is going to reveal everything in its pockets. Going through a wizard’s desk is going to turn up all the contents contained therein. Tapping along the wall with your sword hilt is going to reveal the hollow space behind it. Looking at the feet of the statue is going to show the scuff marks on the pedestal. All of those things should be revealed when a character narrates an appropriate action, and don’t need a DR move to find.

    When I GM, the DR move happens when the player says “Based on the wounds on the body, what killed this guy?” or “I’m going to study the key we found in the wizard’s desk. What does it go to?” or “OK. There’s obviously a space on the other side of this well. How do we get in?” or “Those scuff marks at the statute’s feet don’t look good. What do they mean?”

    I also stick to the questions on the list and don’t allow my players to deviate. But, I also tell them that if what they want to know absolutely cannot be answered by one of those questions, that the DR move probably won’t trigger.

  9. Chris Stone-Bush(null) Solid advice, and not harsh at all. I completely agree with what you’re saying, but I think it was a combination of the player not being particularly clear on her actions and me being too quick with a DR call. I’m getting better as a GM, but it’s definitely been a process and I have a lot to learn still. Thanks to all for your input!

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