Proper evocative questions

Based on my former post, I’ve been thinking of how to ask proper “evocative” questions. I’ve been thinking about which criteria they should satisfy, in order for them to be “just right”. Dungeon World is all about discovery after all, and asking questions prior to the game can reveal too much. As such, I think it is more proper to ask a lot of the questions during the start of the game, instead of just before. That’s just my perception though, it’s not written in stone.

The criteria I’ve come up with so far is that the questions, and their answers, should…

  • … set the scene.
  • … establish character motivations.
  • … demand action.
  • … be “evocative”.
  • … raise more questions.
  • … be open-ended.

Set the scene

This one is pretty much a no-brainer. Until the scene is set, the players can’t actually do anything, because there’s no context to act in. At least one of the questions, or answers, should create some context. “What was the first thing you saw in these caverns?” does both sets the scene, and gives the players a means to say something about the environment.

Establish character motivations

The great big question of “why are you here?”. If the characters are not motivated to explore the cavern you suggested they start out in, then the players probably aren’t either. The only thing preventing them from leaving is bad die rolls anyway. “You are looking for an artifact here. What is it called?” The character obviously want this, but we do not yet know why.

Be evocative

The questions and answers should fuel the imagination of the players and the GM. “Why are you seeking out the Sapphire Tower?” is a question that does that. The neither players nor GM knows what the Sapphire Tower is, but the name itself gets the imagination flowing, without front-loading the game much except for saying “your characters want something here”.

Demand action

So, assuming we know where the character’s are, we should want to give the characters something to do. If there’s nothing to do, the game will grow boring pretty fast. “From what are you fleeing?” pretty much demands action; they must get away.

Raise more questions

The questions asked should lead to more questions, questions we want answered. Otherwise there’s no real point in playing the game anymore. If we go back to the question under *Demand action*, the character are fleeing from something, but there’s a big “why?” to be answered here.

Be open-ended

The point of asking questions is to get input. The question should be narrow enough to promote a kind of focus, but open-ended enough that the question is meaningful. “How does it feel to be locked up in a basement, stripped of all of your belongings?” is a pretty bad way to formulate the question, because the answer only elaborates on something internal to the characters. Instead, asking “How did you get locked up?” is much better, because it gives the players a chance to influence the external environment. It is pretty hard to answer this question without setting a theme to the game…

Rounding off

These were the thoughts I had on the matter. I suspect that it’s helpful to have theme associated with the questions, but I’m unsure whether its practical. The players will probably derail it anyway.


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About Undreren

I'm a university student from Denmark, currently taking my candidate degree in Mathematical-Economics. I have played pen & paper RPG's since 2004, but my interest for the phenomenon sparked about 3 years prior to that. I'm an amateur programmer and knows Java and Haskell as well as some rudimentary HTML, CSS, PHP and Javascript.

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