200th Episode: The King is powerful because we bow to them

In the 200th episode of the Gauntlet Podcast, around minute 35, the crew talks about how we learn about other characters in the game by reacting to them. Greg mentions that in theater, we know that the king is powerful because the other actors bow to them. In RPGs we know how dangerous a monster is by seeing villagers fleeing in panic when they hear the news that it has started to nest.

This is a powerful technique and I would love to hear your examples and tricks how to make this work.

My personal favourite:
Personally, I once learnt from a TV show editor that there is a rule of a third reaction. That says that a dialogue is meaningless if there is just stating of positions.

Character A: You are this thing, while I am that thing.

Character B: But you are this thing. I am so much more that thing.

The scene shall never be over after this. It only starts becoming interesting when we see a reaction to the other’s actions or statement. Only then do we actually establish a relationship between the two, only then do we see a relationship making progress. Something like:

Character A: I am disgusted by your statement, I never want to see you again.


Character B: # shows a vicious smile. They seem to start planning something. #

Try to identify such elements in your favourite TV show or book you read to see what a difference it makes.

In our games that means we should pro-actively ask for a third reaction if they don’t come up naturally.


I don’t think this is a dramatic law, but an aesthetic choice. Let’s say it’s one tool in the dramatic toolbox, and it’s anyone’s choice to use it or not. I’d compare it to : “you know how much a character values something when they sacrifice something else for it”. Those are specific tools to apply the “show, don’t tell” principle. Sometimes you want to tell, and sometimes even showing is too much. I am not saying using a reaction is wrong or false, only delimiting the scope of its use.

Also, you could still get good results with example characters A and B playing status games without stating anything about anything, really. Which makes me suggest that it’s not reaction but status that is the point. Sorry, I find myself once again questionning the assumptions of the question instead of answering it.

So in a nutshell, NO : the reaction shot is not the best GM tool in the box. Other, more specific tools, like “the monster is slowly discovered” (horror genre) or “give them all the necessary information” (“open secret” play) are better most of the time because they come with an explanation of when, why and how to use them. And YES : I cherish games where “emote” is a valid character move. Notably secret roles games (Mafia, Werewolves, Among us, etc.), and Chuubo’s, but also Star Crossed, and emotion-centric PbtAs and BoBs (Bluebeard’s bride, Monsterheart, Dream Askew, Wanderhome, etc.)


Fourth World, the unofficial (but IMHO best) Earthdawn game, a supplement for Dungeon World uses ‘flags’ instead of bonds. These flags are invitations for other players to strengthen your characters vision. If your PC is ‘manipulative’, other players get XP for believing their lies, etc. Thus, if you want to play a king, they will advance by bowing :slight_smile:

1 Like