Role of moves with questions


So almost every PbtA has a version of read a sitch or read a person move. However I wonder what is their role and how to play then.

So my first issue with them is who gets the answer - player or character?
So I understand that by looking at someone you can guess if they lie or tell the truth, you could guess how is other person feeling, but questions like “what do you wish I do?” “how could I get you to … tell me where have you hidden the gold” it is next to impossible to learn that in-character from looking at someone. If the fictional position is that Brainer reads someone’s thoughts sure, they can learn that in-character, but not from looking at someone.
So how do you give answers to such questions - do you answer directly to the player or try to answer it to the character they are playing?

One thing also often bothers me - after players asks “how can I get you to tell me …”, if they do it, should I ask for Persuade roll or not?

My second issue with them is that often my players approach them as awareness checks and almost exclusively ask question “what else is hidden here?” as if I as MC were hiding plot behind awareness checks. Very rarely they ask me “who is the biggest threat?” “what is my enemy true position?”. I remember someone telling me that it is better when they don’t ask those questions because then it is easier, they don’t have to deal with strong enemies.
From my perspective as MC the read a sitch moves allow players to ask questions for what they are interested about and I love that it gives them power to create interesting and dangerous environment before the encounter. How do you convey that to the players that moves that ask questions are not there to “uncover” MC secrets but to create interesting things or am I wrong and I should have a ton of secrets?


I was actually thinking about the same thing a while ago.
I have been leaving out “moves with questions” in my PbtA games.
In games I run, I usually just tell players what their characters should perceive/know, or turn it back to them and ask what they think their character perceived/knew.
I guess the questions are good if the MC doesn’t know how to proceed with the story, and they give them and the player a shared prompt.


Definitely the player answering. They can (and probably should) couch it in fiction, but the move is facilitating a player-to-player (or player-to-GM, for NPCs) conversation.

First of all: if you’re talking about Read a Person in AW, there’s an assumption in the move that you’ll ask questions relevant to the charged interaction (and if there isn’t a charged interaction at all, you can’t make the move at all). So, if we’re playing out a shouting match about whether or not we poison Dremmer’s well, you Reading a Person and asking “how could I get you to tell me where you’ve hidden the gold” is completely out of left field and off-topic, and I as player or GM would call shenanigans.

But if our charged interaction does involve you trying to suss out where the gold is, then it’s relevant question and, frankly, an empathic, sharp person can figure that sort of thing out “just by looking.” Cuz you’re not just looking, you’re reading. You’re seeing how they respond, where their eyes go, etc. All sorts of micro-interactions that aren’t easy to recreate at the table, and all sorts of context that “just looking at them” doesn’t convey. The move simulates that stuff.

So let’s say that you know I’ve buried the gold somewhere. We’re having a charged conversation where that’s relevant. The fact that you’re spending 1 hold to ask how you could get me to tell you where it is means that I have not yet told you where it is, and that you think I’m not going to tell you. You spending that that 1 hold to ask represents your knowledge of me and what I value, how I’m likely to react to certain approaches, your ability to read my facial expressions, predict my emotional responses. All very legitimate. Professional salespeople, therapists, politicians, counselors, and educators make a living off that sort of thing.

As for my answer to you, it prompts me to think about what would get me to give up the location of the gold. My answer has to be honest but it doesn’t have to be easy to fulfill. “Huh. You could make a credible threat against Iris or Toyota, that’d get me to spill. But it’d have to be credible, y’know?”

Now, if I’m the GM and you ask me that question about an NPC, I’m might follow up with “how do you figure that out?” Or I might frame it as “you see a little trinket on his desk, one of those metal flowers that Iris makes, and it dawns on you she’s his soft spot. Make a credible threat against her, and he’ll cave for sure.”

As for whether you need to make a Persuade/Seduce/Manipulate roll once you know what they want… in AW, I’d definitely say yes. Read a Person is letting you know what would constitute “a reason” (as in “give them a reason”). But it doesn’t mean you sell it well. That’s the difference between Sharp (figuring out the reason) and Hot (making the play).


Keep in mind that Vincent Baker says, in the MC Playbook for 1st edition Apocalypse World (page 201), “‘Dude, sorry, no way’ is a legit answer to ‘how could I get your character to __?’” It might be a boring answer, but it’s a legit answer.

If you don’t have a copy of Apocalypse World handy, it might be worth your while getting one. Most PbtA games were probably using the first edition as an inspiration, and if those derived games have unstated assumptions in them, there’s a good chance that Vincent stated them in the original.


In trad games, the idea is that a roll usually equals to couple seconds in the narrative. Even if that is not stated in the text, we tend think of it that way, because combat systems made us used to it.

Now, in PbtA games (at least the ones I run) rolls often represent a much longer chunk of time. So to Read a Person in AW, a quick glance won’t do the trick. You need to observe the person, or go and talk to them for a bit. Basically spend some in-game time for your character to be able to learn the stuff the move represents. Then the player gets the answers as per move. The character gets the idea of the answer, but they also got a bunch of other info. Stuff that is not really relevant to the plot.

So this all goes back to when will the move trigger. Simply looking at someone would not trigger the move in my game. Same for looking around / awareness checks. Just because you look around, doesn’t mean you get a roll. I would handle a quick glance to check the place out quickly with saying something along the lines: “there’s nothing out of ordinary here, the place seems relatively safe.”

As for getting answers for stuff that doesn’t make sense like the before mentioned "how could I get your character to __?’” Just imagine a way of how the character could get that info. Maybe they asked some probing questions, maybe they observed the target doing something that signifies what they want. In my games, you or the player don’t have to specify exactly how they got that info, as long as it was possible. It’s kinda Schrodinger’s narrative, or even better a movie. You don’t see the character doing all the legwork to find out something, it would be boring. Instead, there is an establishing shot that the legwork takes place, and then the audience just accepts the outcomes.

Hopefully that makes more sense…


Lots of good answers here; I particular like @Jeremy_Strandberg’s take on it, here.

I’ll make two other notes:

  1. I think that if a “reading” move reveals an NPC’s soft spot, I would assume, by default, that following through on that should be an automatic success, not something you’d need to roll for. That’s the whole point of getting that answer: you now know what would move that character. (There may be situations where that’s not the case, like in Jeremy’s example where the new information you learned is really just leverage, but usually I’d want such information to be really impactful; I think that makes for more clarity and better gaming, too.)

  2. I love, love, love reading moves. However, I find that many PbtA games (especially Dungeon World and its descendants) don’t give the moves any clear grounding, in terms of the game’s genre/style and the move’s fictional trigger. AW’s reading moves are crystal clear to me: it’s that moment in the movie, you know? Same goes for deep brain scan, things speak, and so forth - they’re dramatically and stylistically very clear and very strong. DW’s reading moves, in comparison, are confusing and unclear: when do we actually roll this? Can we roll again? So, to me, it does depend a great deal on the design specifics. I’d find “Discern Realities” pretty confusing, too, in other words.


Since I am an extremely low prep/high improv MC I find the question moves fantastic because they end up making me think about something in a way I wasn’t expecting. Things like Gaze Into The Abyss and Discern Realities always get my creative juices running and get me thinking outside of the box.


Reading moves are excellent in low prep situations as well, yes. Very true!

I played a handful of sessions in a Fallen Empires game which were very low prep and often introduced new characters and new players.

It was amazing how much a few “reading” moves would flesh out our situations and characters. We’d learn about the physical environment, but also about the characters’ desires and history. One reading move I made (“things speak”) started one of the biggest plot threads of the campaign, when we discovered that a character’s sister had been trapped in the body of a camel.