Starfinder When players ask "leading questions" rather than just saying what they want to do.


When you ask your GM leading questions, you’re probably not going to get the answer you want. That’s due to the simple fact that GMs aren’t psychic. Sometimes we don’t know what you’re getting at, and so we inadvertently shut down your plans before they can get off the ground. In other words, it’s much easier to approve of actions than hypotheticals.

This mess just happened in my Dead Suns game. The party mystic was trapped in a corner, and was staring down the barrel of a hard Acrobatics check to escape through an enemy. He asked me how tall the ceilings were. What he really meant was, "Can I cast spider climb and simply walk over my opponent's head rather than trying (and failing) to tumble through his square?" I'd have simply said "sure!" to the latter. The former resulted in several minutes of module-skimming.

Have any of your guys encountered this sort of interaction before? Is there a good way to help players move from "leading questions" to simply stating what they want to accomplish?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

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Game Designer
In my experience, these veiled questions came from a place of lack of trust. Either they were players I had never played with, or maybe I had made a bad call a few sessions earlier, or wasn't in my usual good shape. They fear you shutting down their plan and want to get a firm information from you. "But you said the ceilings were twenty foot tall, why couldn't I climb?"

I don't appreciate these questions and I tend to just say "What are you trying to do ?". The truth is that it doesn't come from a place of malice, and that is the thing that calms me down.

The solution is obviously to have them trust you and feel like you will enable what they want to do as much as possible. Sometimes, this can be fixed with a very simple chat at the start of a session. Nowadays, it's something I generally mention at the start of a campaign.

But it's also possible that this mistrust is a bit too strong. There could be plenty of reasons for it: you have a bit of an adversarial style of DMing, the player has experienced ton of adversarial DMs in the past, etc. If it's something that can't be fixed with a short chat, I would look into making concrete actions to demonstrate openness.

"How tall are the ceilings?"
He obviously doesn't care about the ceilings, he's asking this because he has a possible plan in mind.
"What do you want to do?"
"I want to use Spider Climb, to [...]"

Use NO BUT or YES AND to demonstrate your willingness to enable or even enhance what they want to do.
"The ceilings are not very tall (no), BUT there's very little light and you could get an ambush on whoever is chasing you."
"There's plenty of space for you to climb (yes), AND there's a large pack of cargo held by a claw on a rail."

Hopefully, within a few sessions, showing your willingness to enable and even open new opportunities for them will change their behavior.

Thomas Shey

Yeah, this is usually the consequence of players who've hit GMs who will try to block what a player is trying to do if its inconvenient, so they attempt to box them in so they can't do so without being really obvious about it. Like a lot of gaming dysfunction, its usually the sign of what my wife calls "scar tissue".


Have any of your guys encountered this sort of interaction before? Is there a good way to help players move from "leading questions" to simply stating what they want to accomplish?
Yeah. In some cases I think it's because the player has had bad experiences with GMs in the past. I hate it when players try to lead me down a direction instead of just telling me what they want their character to accomplish. The absolute worst is when the PCs are interviewing people as part of an investigation, stuff like asking if they've seen Vinnie, what happened last night, etc., etc., where the PC speaks in such a circuitous manner that even I, the DM, am not sure what they're trying to communicate.

The most baffling that comes to mind is when I was running a 3rd edition game of Ravenloft in a mountainous area.

Player: What kind of trees are around?
Me: Uh, pine trees.
Player: <mutters under his breath> There'd be hardwood trees too.
Me: What the %#%# does it matter? If you want an oak tree or a birch or something just #%#%# tell me.

I usually respond with, "what are you trying to do?" in those situations. My hope is to get to the action and not quibble on the details.
Me too, except I usually phrase it as "How high do you need them to be?" If the answer is at least semi-plausible then the ceilings are the required height.

If the player has an awesome plan that requires 12 foot high ceilings, I'm not going to insist they are only 11 feet high. I enjoy it when PCs in my campaigns do awesome things. (Not that the players always realise that; some of them seem to take great pleasure in "outwitting" me.)


Tension, apprension, and dissension have begun
If I am mystified by what a player is attempting to have their character do, I will ask outright. If they're going to do something that seems unwise to me, I will make sure they understand the situation as well as I think their character would (because their character is there, so to speak, the the player is not).

The behavior described in the OP sounds like scarring (to use someone else's metaphor) from GMs who ran a lot of puzzles bordering on magic-word-fishing, and/or a lot of "gotcha" stuff if a declaration was "wrong." I make an effort not to GM that way.

I usually don't have these problems anymore. Typically this is a problem I have with new players, ones who are under the impression that I'm trying to pull a fast one on them. There's a code of conduct I've adopted as a DM:
  • Be kind to players - it should go without saying but DMs need to remind themselves that they are in a position of authority, and it's best to not merely be respectful but also kind.
  • Be informative - give details, be consistent, and don't hide things from the players to create a "gotcha" moment. If there's a lot of details, list them. When I know there's important details in my game I make sure I'm using the same descriptive language throughout.
  • Don't be afraid to clarify - most of this game exists in our minds. If there's a player asking for more details it's never a bad idea to ask the group, "does everyone understand what's happening?"

The times I do have these problems I know exactly who will cause them because it's in their nature to ask for number values rather than treat it as a narrative. When it does happen it can still catch me off guard. Some people are just like that. They want to figure out what they can do, part of it is they're paralyzed by the thought of making a mistake and having "no take backs." Kindness goes a long way here too.


Dusty Dragon
As far as asking for numbers, I often do. Maybe it's because I'm a scientist?

But too often I've seen description that are ... almost useless, because they use relative words. A "large lake" for example. What is a large lake? 1 km across? Lake Superior?

In one pathfinder adventure (Kingmaker) there is a section where the lair of is describe as being in a tall rocky spire.

... the spire turned out to be about 100 feet tall and several hundred feet wide, shaped like a hockey puck really.


In my experience, the player is trying to outmaneuver an adversarial GM.

Whether that GM is actually present varies from table to table.

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