On Discern Realities

On Discern Realities

On Discern Realities

Heya everyone, I’ve been having some thoughts about our resident Read a Scene move, and I’m looking for some insight.

Recently I’ve started thinking about how often I get to use it in my games and about the questions it offers – the first two in particular. Basically, they feel like they’re a little at-odds with how I naturally present scenes in my games, regardless of system.

Let’s use the example of a dingy tavern, full of scum and unpleasant folk. My players Discern Realities to look about the place and they ask “What happened here recently?”, so I tell ’em about how it looks like there’s just been a barfight – people are still picking up shards of broken bottle off the floor.

But isn’t that kind of information the sort I’d just tell the players anyhow? After all, I’m looking to Say What Honesty Demands (not a GM Principle in Dungeon World, but both implied and explicitly referred to) and heck, that seems like a perfect way to Reveal an Unwelcome truth (a GM move) and show the players just how unpleasant the tavern is. Even if the players are looking to investigate a mystery or suchlike, wouldn’t “What here is useful to me?” be a more appropriate question there? They already know what happened there – that’s how they know there’s something of import to Discern Realities in the first place!

“What is about to happen?” seems to run into that same issue. It seems like it fills the same role as “What should I be on the lookout for?”, just with a focus on the future rather than the present – but I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a situation in one of my games where that distinction was ever important. It’s also something that I feel like I’d generally cover with a GM move – maybe Revealing an Unwelcome Truth, maybe not.

Am I making sense, or have I gone mad? Help me, Dungeon World Tavern.

10 thoughts on “On Discern Realities”

  1. I’ve said this in a few threads like this, so I’ll repeat: Discern Realities is an offshoot of Read A Sitch, which requires a charged situation. That is: casually looking about in your bedroom isn’t charged or tense or whatever – there’s no pressure. But once there’s outside pressure, the situation becomes charged.

    I apply this to Discern Realities too – roll if there’s pressure or danger, otherwise just make a GM move when they ask (because they’re looking to you to find out what happens)

  2. Aaron Griffin I apply the same logic to my own games, but I’m asking about the move as-is.

    And even in a charged situation, I’m not sure I’d ever not tell my players something covered by the first (or possibly second) questions as a simple matter of setting the scene or raising the stakes.

  3. There are things that a character might not notice without a closer look and not revealing it immediately isn’t lying…it’s just following the fiction. If there’s time then I’d just allow a closer look and tell them honestly what they see. If there’s limited time, they are acting under pressure or a chance of a mistake I use the move

  4. I like Paul Sheppard’s answer so I’ll expand on it using your example of a bar fight. I agree that seeing the evidence of a bar fight should just be given, but you can give extra details when these questions are asked. What happened here recently? GM: clearly a bar fight. However, you notice some different colored blood splatters. Some green, some red. Clearly a fight between a group of orcs and humans. Based on the amounts, looks like the Orcs won.” I’ve given some extra details outside the obvious. Yes these truths could be unwelcome but they get a +1 forward when acting on them and they aren’t an immediate threat that needs dealing with.

    I agree with you that the “what is about to happen?” question leans even more in the direction of a GM move. However, in the case of investigations if you keep it focused on what they are interacting with it doesn’t necessarily become an immediate threat. In this example I would say something like “Certainly the humans will be out for revenge. Could be a long night for the city guard!” Then I’d follow up with a more immediate GM move unless I knew the players would have a reaction to the above as a GM move.

    In the case of DR during combat, it gets even more blurred. I think the +1 when acting on the answers is already a great benefit that it’s okay for the response to be more GM move like (generally soft), but you could argue, and I’ve allowed for some increased fictional positioning without triggering a move as result of asking “what is about to happen?”.

    I think it can be challenging to identify the sweet spot on the spectrum of beneficial information and GM move when it comes to DR, but I think if you keep the agenda, principles, and fiction in mind as well as look to reward your players for risking a roll then you should get to a good place. If your player feels rewarded with information rather than punished for asking, I think you’re getting it right.

  5. Cameron Burns I’m actually suggesting that this is the move as-is, and not some tangent. Look at the question options – what’s about to happen? who’s really in control here? Those aren’t questions you ask in a casual, comfortable environment.

  6. Hi everyone, this is what I do in my Dungeon World:

    Q: What happened here recently?

    I narrate a flashback of any scene that happened that is relevant to the story at hand. For instance: “A few seconds ago before your arrival the famous killer Archibald crossed the tavern hall and used his ring of the wormhole to escape from you, the people in the tavern still look afraid. So, what do you do?”

  7. I will add to my comment. There is nothing bad with Discern Realities used to find out “What is about to happen” triggering a GM “Reveal an unwelcome truth” move. The mechanics integrate each other in many cases.

  8. Cameron Burns your example dingy tavern seems to be missing the context of actual play.

    Why are the PCs there? (i.e. why do they care?)

    How did you describe the scene?

    What GM move did you make just before asking “what do you do?” (and the player Discerning Realities)

    At what point did you decide that there was recently a bar fight?

    What else do you know about this dingy tavern?

    Like, if the PCs are there because they’ve come looking for Bugsy McBad, gang boss around these parts, because this is where he hangs out… and if you describe the place a dingy tavern full of toughs who turn your way as you enter… and you show signs of an approaching threat by saying the conversation dies and everyone’s watching you and more than a few hands go to their hilts and the barkeeps hands are both below the bar, what do you do…?

    …well… if that’s the setup, I honestly doubt that the first question the PCs ask with Discern Realities is going to be “What happened here recently?” It’s just… not. Why would they ask that?

    Now, they might ask these:

    Who’s really in control here? (I’m looking for Bugsy) Well, there’s a door to a backroom with a couple of particularly attentive, particularly rough looking gents guarding it, so whoever’s in that room appears to be in charge. You’d bet that Bugsy’s back there.

    What should I be on the lookout for? The barkeep and the crossbow he’s got under the bar.

    What is about to happen? Well, one big guy is moving to get between you and that back room, he’s scowling and putting a hand out toward your chest, his other hand back on his knife hilt, and you can tell he’s not going to stab you but he’s not planning to to let you through, either. He’s about to start talking, what do you do?

    Now, by comparison: if PCs walk into tavern because they just got into town and they’re looking for a place to stay, and you just describe it as a dingy bar with a bunch of tough looking sorts all around, and you asked “what do you do?”

    Well, what was your GM move? I guess you could argue that it was reveal an unwelcome truth (the truth being, there’s only one tavern in town and it’s a total dump). But it sounds more like you just changed the environment and left it at that.

    Neither of those are particularly good choices for a GM move in this situation. They don’t fill the PCs lives with adventure or weave epic fantasy. I’m left wondering why you didn’t just tell the players “okay, you check into the only tavern in town, it’s a total crap show but what are you gonna do, right?” and then offer them an opportunity (“you saw a card game going on when got here, wanna join”) or show signs of an approaching threat (“as you checked in, you got this skeevy vibe on the innkeeper and, Thief, you’re pretty sure a couple of the locals were whispering about you as you came in, probably wondering if they can murder you in your sleep and rob you blind.”)

    But you didn’t do that. You just described the bar, left them standing there in the doorway and asked them “what do you do?” That’s cool! It’s not great, but it happens. Happens all the time, really.

    So, the character looks over the room, triggers Discern Realities, and asks “what happened here recently?”

    But you know what the player just did there? What they really just did was ask “HEY GM WHERE THE GAME AT?”

    Like, for reals. They’re wondering what they’re supposed to do with this, why are you asking them what they want to do in this fairly mundane situation with no obvious threat or mystery to explore. They’re Discerning Realities in order to say “gimme something to interact with, please.” They just asked you to make a GM move.

    And… you do! You decide that there was a bar fight here recently, that folks are still cleaning up broken glass and, shit, is that a blood stain over there. No one’s even paying it any mind. You just revealed an unwelcome truth (this place is violent, and people don’t seem to be bothered much by blood shed, not exactly safe, have fun sleeping!) and now when you ask “what do you do?” you’ve given them something to react to.

    My point being: yes, of course anything you could announce with Discern Realities could also be you making a GM move. But you didn’t make that move, did you? You made a different move (or didn’t make a move, or didn’t make it hard enough) and the players were like “what the hell do I do with this?” and they used their move to ask you to make one.

  9. Some much-needed insight here. The biggest thing is just that it hadn’t really clicked for me how the DR questions and the GM moves mesh together.

    I think I’ve got it figured out now. Thanks a bunch everyone!

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