Give me your best "Provocative questions"

edited March 2012 in Story Games
I am trying to compile a list of some of the best questions to ask a player. Help me with some awesome bangs, ones that would be good to ask at character creation to help get some things started.

Here are some of mine.

Who gave you that scar?
When do you cry?
How do you justify your lies to her in your head?
What made you commit your first kill?
Who do you want to kill but can not?
Who is X and what did you do to piss them off?
X owes you, what did you do for him?
You have a buddy in X, what makes him your buddy?
Why don't you trust X?


  • edited March 2012
    I'm not sure if it's a bang or kicker, but I like asking my friends before they make up superheroes; why does (insert character name here) punch people in the face?
  • Uh-oh.

    *puts on his stuffy glasses, attaches his fake neckbeard*

    I wouldn't classify these as bangs or kickers.

    Bangs: a quandry that ends in "What do you do?"
    Kickers: Player-authored (at least, in original coinage) situations that put a character's story into motion.

    I'd more classify your list as provocative questions, leading questions, or fishing.

    *takes those props off his face*

    Some more questions like those, which I've employed in Monsterhearts:
    -Why does he think otherwise?
    -Why wasn't Jerome in school last year?
    -What rumour did Lucy try to spread about herself? Why would she try to do that?
    -What's with Lindy's face?
    -Why are you such a jerk to Ira?
    -Why do they call you "lizard feet"?
  • (great Monsterhearts question: "So what does the seating chart in homeroom look like?" Props to Mr. Rigney.)
  • I think you have misunderstood the terms "bang" and "kicker", as Joe says. These are more like Apocalypse World questions.

    One key thing to get, is that a Kicker is player-authored. Very important.

    Search story games for "bang" fx, there's a lot here.
  • I always just call these leading questions, for what it's worth. If you check out Dread (the Jenga one), pretty much all of character creation is the players answering these types of questions. For example:

    Why did you originally use sports as an excuse to remain at school rather than going straight home after school?
    How do you combat the stereotype of cheerleaders as airheaded bimbos?
    What was the first thing you did when you got your braces removed?
  • May I suggest we bury this thread and start a new one that's not got a wildly misleading title?

    Let Seth re-formulate his original question - perhaps he's not after kicker/bangs after all, but something else.

    Again, for the gallery, neither Kickers nor bangs are leading questions as such.

  • edited March 2012
    OK, I tried.

    (That was a response to a whisper, sorry)
  • edited March 2012
    Yay, all of our terminology baloney is over and we can get back to the awesome topic.

    They aren't precisely the kinds of questions you are looking for, but the Don't Rest Your Head character sheet asks 5 questions that help you construct your character:
    What's been keeping you awake?
    What just happened to you?
    What's on the surface?
    What lies beneath?
    What's your path?
    Personally, I am stoked about those first four questions. The fifth feels flat to me (and also isn't supported well by the structure of the game), but those first four create a character with dimension and stress. Excellent.
  • "What do you think about [another player character]"?

    "What do you think about [an attribute of another player character]"?

    Ah, PvP.
  • Posted By: thadrineI am trying to compile a list of some of the best questions to ask a player. [...] ones that would be good to ask at character creation to help get some things started.
    My two very favorite and most consistently useful questions to ask (to myself, if I'm playing; to other people, if I'm running a game) are these:

    1. What do you like to do in a game? No, not your character, you, the person sitting at the table playing the game. What do YOU think is fun to do when you're playing?

    2. How does the character concept you're working with let you, the player, get that fun experience you want?

    Because, seriously, forget trying to have fun by accident if you can have it on purpose instead.
  • When did you start beating your wife?

    Let's not softpedal!

  • Who's the father?
  • edited March 2012
    Leading questions are so focusing to the fiction, but as AfT suggests above, its a good idea to first ask the player(s) what they would like out of the game. It doesn't take long, and the players may not even know ( other than have a good time with friends), but.... Its no use setting up PvP intrigue if the player just wants to smash orc heads. So with that in mind:
    Identify what the player cares about.
    'In what sorts of activities do you, the player, want to participate in this game?' Here are some suggestions: Fight? Negotiate? Make things? Escape? Explore? Prove yourself (and to whom)?Be vengeful (and for what cause)? Make discoveries? Get rich? Overcome a weakness? Improve your character’s abilities?

    'What elements of the game (situation / setting / character) as it currently exists, do you, the player, care about? Why?'

    Then you have more of an individual guide post to your 'fishing', as you address the character and ask provocative questions. The questions you are after are those questions that really get beneath the skin of the player's. They prompt the story to go somewhere or do something. These questions tend to revolve around personal issues. Ask the questions that come naturally to you. Be comfortable asking simple questions. Don't feel like you need to build every answer into a phenomenal story arc. Just take it one question, one action, and one moment at a time. The main idea being that you present the players with choices, and see who picks what, and what does that say about their characters?

    It can be uncomfortable if it's not your normal thing, but the results can really get the players invested in the game through questions. The players do the work, You act as a director. So if you want to frame a scene about a particular issue, ask a character what it looks like. Everyone at the table will be thinking of it at the same time and you'll all be able to contribute to its expression in play.

    If you are 'stuck' you can structure your questions through keywords. There are lists all over the internet. Ask the players to choose one or more that they are interested in and then on a piece of paper write a 'map' with the words in their own boxes or circles or whatever. Then ask questions of the players focusing first with the keyword, then writing the answers down. Dig deeper if you wonder about something.

    You'll find the kinds of details you want when your questions ask about or imply bits of the world, or personalities / creatures / organisations within the setting. If you want them to fill in the world more, that's a fun 'ice-breaker' for the group. Pick a place on the map, and just ask about their experiences there. But you can absolutely bring up any setting element they name drop during 'the conversation' of play and ask about it over and over. Get different players' opinions on the same element. Basically, any time that anyone introduces anything to the fiction and you think ‘Huh, I wonder what that is about?’ - then ask them out loud!
 Start with general stuff, 'How do you do this, where do you find that,' sort of fishing then slide the spectrum towards more personal stuff, when those player character details actually emerge in play. Wait for their characters to react to someone or something, then ask 'why did you do that?'

    If there is no bang apparent, you can start real simple and then chain questions together, in order to manoeuvre a player into an interesting situation. 

A nice variation of this technique is to spit out a detail of your own, but then ask for more from the player. You can frame a bang scene with the answers and ask 'What do yo do?' Sometimes, a player can push for a mechanical action in answer to a provocative GM question (like a roll or a conflict) You can then ask a deeper question (revolving around the same issue) of another player character, effectively inviting someone else's vision of the situation into the mix and resultant mechanical resolution. This is a fantastic way to build relationship maps and otherwise entangle the PCs in the same issues.

    Some examples of increasing 'depth':

    How did you get your (whatever item)?

    Where do you live? Draw it on the map, here. How do you decorate the place? Where did you get your furniture from?


Who do you work for? What do you do to get wealth? 


Which (of the other PCs) would you save, if you could only save one? Why?

    Have you two (PCs) ever gotten in a fight? Tell us about it...


Who would you turn to in a real emergency?


Where do you see yourself in five years?


I don't know if you've ever stolen anything but if you had to, who would you steal from?

    Where/Who do you get your sustenance from and where do you eat / drink it? Anybody ever take it from you? Do you know what's in it or where it comes from? Do you want to know what's in it?

    Who's your favourite NPC organisation? How do you get along with__________ then, when she hates them? What do you do when people want you to switch allegiance?


Where do you live? Really? How do you stand the smell / noise / refuse / neighbours? Why do so many people think your neighbours are crazy? Why don't you move into a larger place, there's bound to be one around here somewhere?


Are you single or attached? Anybody on the side? Why is that? So last time (name a PC) was hitting on you, what did you do? Did anybody see? So why's (another PC) always giving you that look, or is it something else?


Where did you get your clothes / trappings / costume / magical miscellany? Did you find/make them yourself? Are they new or worn out? How many people have tried to kill you for those (magical) shoes of yours? (A NPC) said (a PC) has the exact same outfit as you and therefore you two are in cahoots, what do you think of that?

    What do you do for fun, usually? Do a lot of people do that or you on your own? What happened the last time somebody tried to stop you, and who was it? You think that'll happen again? What happened when you were doing whatever it is you do for fun that you don't tell anybody about?
  • Not sure if your game supports it, but if you can easily have an NPC ask things like this in character, that does wonders. "Why did you leave me?"
  • Why are you in this tavern?
  • How do you feel when you do _____?
  • Opposed pairs.

    What do you like about A? What do you hate about A?

    What about B are you drawn to? What about B must you escape from?

    Or you can spread 'em around:

    What do you like about A? What do you hate about B?

    What about C are you drawn to? What about D must you escape from?
  • Posted By: Graham"What do you think about [an attribute of another player character]"?
  • I sometimes aggressively endow. So for our recent Sagas of the Icelanders game, when we started I built a kinship diagram and asked questions as I went.

    For the Woman, I asked which male PC she was married to, and about her child. We found out she was the Goði's wife and that they had an eight year old boy.

    For the Goði, I asked about his dead wife and her children. When he told me they'd had twins, I asked which one was married and had a newborn (making the Goði, who the player had established as old, a grandfather).

    For the Huscarl, I told him he'd been fostered and asked about his sister, also fostered elsewhere. We found out she was the wife of a neighbor Goði.

    So these pointed questions quickly built the relationship map and drove the game.
  • Posted By: Accounting for TastePosted By: thadrineI am trying to compile a list of some of the best questions to ask a player. [...] ones that would be good to ask at character creation to help get some things started.
    1. What do you like to do in a game? No, not your character,you, the person sitting at the table playing the game. What do YOU think is fun to do when you're playing?

    I have with many different groups, I think maybe 1 was actually able to answer that question.
  • Why is it so important you hide your passion for Rachal?
    What about Bill gives you a rash?
    What made you leave something in Eppy's car that you can only retrieve under cover of night?
    What did you do to Jenskot's wife that makes you jump when he's near?
  • If you didn't start the fire, who did?
  • Posted By: mease19If you didn't start the fire, who did?
    I'm pretty sure it's always been burning, since the world's been turning.
  • Posted By: thadrineI have with many different groups, I think maybe 1 was actually able to answer that question.
    Yeah, it's not an easy question, that's for sure. I think I must've been playing for 10+ years before it even occurred to me that it was a question that should be asked, and took another year or two before I could finally put an answer to it in words...but it was totally worth it and made everything about our games better. So hang in there and keep asking it!
  • Posted By: shreyasWhen did you start beating your wife?
    Or the tougher one: "Did you stop beating your wife?"
  • "Why does your character think that he or she only has one week to live?"
    - Note that it's not a given that death is eminent.

    "Who is stalking your character without your character's knowledge?"
    - As an old Champions player, I like that this "forces" a Hunted... hell, EVERYone takes a Hunted or two, anyway, amiright?

    "Why can't your character ever go home again?"
    - Generates all sorts of shit: enemies, shame, guilt, even amnesia! ("Um, I don't know where I'm from....")

    "What does your character plan to do to [character X]?"
    - PvP and relmaps FTW.

    [I also want to point out how sweetly Burning Wheel makes such questions a part of core mechanics, WRT Emotional Traits!]
  • From a game of Monsters and Other Childish Things: So, why is Davey Johnson beating you up?
  • Are we talking about questions for AW Hacks here?

    If so I just wanted to point out that provocative questions are moves, and some of these (awesome) questions are pretty damn hard moves. I would save them for missed rolls.

    The prob with making lots of hard moves off the bat is they run the risk of never letting us get emotionally invested in the characters. I say, milk and cookies for the first couple of scenes, get them to make some rolls and save these bombs for when they fail.
  • I think the best provocative questions need to be asked in the context of the character, and the campaign. Like, using AW, ask the driver: "Okay, where won't you drive to, no matter what the price? Who was the last person who wanted you to drive something there, and what did you have to do to get them to take no for an answer?" or the Brainer: "Okay, when you Deep Brain Scanned that one warlord, what did you find out? And, uh, what were the circumstances that lead to you Deep Brain Scanning him?" Or even more specific: like, if they give you any details about the character backstory, ask - provocatively, of course - for a little more about that shit.
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