Monday, May 4, 2020

Two Questions You Should Be Asking Your Players

People often have different ideas of what exactly is going on, and how things are happening in a game. This isn't so much a problem - for the most part - as it is just a fact of the way the game works. Everyone takes the data of what the GM says and filters it differently, and they have their own assumptions and thoughts on what and how the other characters act when they're not being actively updated with description or narration.

People also often use simple statements. "I attack" or "I steal the item" or "I cure the disease." To the functional plot movement aspect of the game, these are totally functional, valid options that get the important message across of what is being done. What they don't do is engage the story telling aspect of the game, or the characterization in how those things are happening. Which brings me to the topic, and two questions I find very useful to ask players to get them to give that information:

  1. How do you do that?
  2. What does that look like?

How Do You Do That
Is the first question, and for the most part the questions should go in order. This lets us know the approach the person is using, and for the most part should be all we need. GMs often use this in tense situations (i.e. investigating a trapped door) to see how the person is poking at a door and if that will engage the trap or curse, but I think it is good to do at other moments as well to help give a better idea of what exactly the scene is that is going on.

What Does That Look Like?
Is basically a reinforcement question to further prompt the player. This further breaks down the request that we want the visual image. I have this ready because you can easily have the following exchanges that are totally valid but don't necessarily get the point across of what you're looking for.

Example 1
  • Player: I lie to him to let us through
  • GM: Ok, how do you do that?
  • Player: Umm...with deception? 
Example 2
  • Player: I attack.
  • GM: How do you attack?
  • Player: With my sword.
See the problem? Ultimately in both situations the question is misunderstood to be about the mechanics of what is going on in the game as opposed to what the approach is in the story. Following these up with "What does that look like?" may get a non-answer (which is fine) but more often will get the person to tell you what type of scene they're envisioning in their head.

The End Result
The end result of these questions conveys a couple benefits in my experience. First, everyone now has a better idea of what is going on in the game, but also what is going on in the story. Second, we get a glimpse into how the character that is acting does things, which in turns gives us a stronger impression of that character. Third, in the event that this is relevant to something like a check or a cursed item, we now know how the PC is approaching things so we can adjust difficulty based on how likely that approach is to work. 

The first few times you ask you'll likely have Players get cagey or anxious. Why shouldn't they? if you don't ask these questions regularly, they likely only come up along the lines of "Are you sure you want to pull the door open?" or "How do you move the crackling sphere off the table?" that by their presence - and rarity - reinforce that there are likely options available that lead to very bad results. However, if you ask the questions more often at pertinent times that won't happen and players will give a better image of not only what their character does, but how and very possibly why. And that's just awesome.

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