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I have recently noticed that my players don't really try to find out much about the world and story beyond the direct "what do we see?" I want to have them interact more with their environment and actually explore the reasons behind things without me leading them by the nose. "Why are these monsters working together?" "What are the villains trying to accomplish?" How do I get my players to be curious and ask those questions that start the gears of imagination like Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?

These kinds of questions can really bring a world to life and add SO much depth to a story but they just don't ask and if I tell them without them asking the game drags on and they begin to feel like I'm monologuing.

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6 Answers 6

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Questions will be asked when it's clear there are answers to be had.

There are a lot of ways to do this, but the whole thing boils down to letting them know that questions can and will be answered. You can do this in-game or at the table, subtly or blatantly, amusingly or seriously, but if your players trust answers are possible then the questions will flow.

Show them things that don't make sense.

"The warriors of Lord Yu and Anubis surround you. It's obvious they're working together."

"Lord Yu openly opposes Anubis and Anubis put a price on Yu's head. What could make their loyal warriors work together?"

Emphasize seemingly unrelated events.

"Our GM is really hammering home that our inn was deliberately burned down last night while we were out following a bad lead. Who gave us that tip-off, and how are they connected to the arson?"

Model behavior: Have NPCs ask questions.

"You say you got this cuirass off an elf? Hogwash, it's clearly of drow design; why would an elf wear drow armor?"

Make answers matter.

"The dumb half-orcs we've been killing can't possibly solve this puzzle door! If we can figure out who Sir Keegan was and where he turned back the northern savages, we'll be worthy to enter and rest inside this shrine to him."

Tell them what you're not telling them.

Unorthodox for some playstyles, but think of it like a scene in a TV show where the audience learns something the main character doesn't know.

"Unknown to any of you, the laser pistol salesman is so unhelpful because he was threatened by someone just before you arrived."

"That's strange, how did they know we were coming here?"

Reward them with good answers.

Answers need to be interesting. If you don't have interesting answers, the questions lose value. Sometimes answers can be useful or plot-relevant, but what matters is that they make people happy to have learned them.

"These villains are only working together --despite it slowing down their plans-- because they're childhood friends? That makes it hard to get them to turn on each other, but awww."

And try stopping your descriptions before you've said everything they want to know.

It'll get them in the habit of asking questions. Don't be mean, of course; tell them about the pit blocking their path.

A caveat: Don't expect your players to play 20 Questions.

If there's something they need to know, either tell them what it is or tell them that they're missing something --and make it absolutely crystal clear, no hinting around. There's little more frustrating than hearing "You didn't ask" about something you didn't know to ask about. If you do this by accident (which is sadly easy to do), apologize and make restitution immediately. Failure to do so will ruin the trust dynamic you're trying to build, and result in either the players leaving the game, or losing most of your sessions to time-consuming paranoia:

"I sniff the doorknob; does it seem poisoned?"

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+1 One for the nice answer and also for the chuckle imagining this interaction between GM and player: "You fall in the pit." "What?!" "Oh, I would have told you you had seen it, but you didn't ask." –  David Hall Mar 1 '13 at 13:07
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@DavidHall I have done that: with a group that consistently declared actions before I was done with the first seven words of description. Not my most mature moment as a GM, but it got the point across and I made sure the results wouldn't be fatal. –  BESW Mar 1 '13 at 13:30
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@DavidHall You also bring up a point that I'm going to think about how to add to my answer: don't expect players to play 20 questions; if there's a question you need them to ask, make it crystal clear and then make it more explicit than that. "You didn't ask" should never be a reason for major failure --that'd be cruel and petty. –  BESW Mar 1 '13 at 14:17
    
While I agree with not being cruel and petty, I also think that it is fair to make asking questions a major part of the game. You first point captures this nicely "Questions will be asked when it's clear there are answers to be had." Some of my favourite games were in worlds where the GM had seriously invested in the world building. Knowing answers are there, and knowing that not asking questions will often have serious consequences can make for some very exciting role-playing. As a player I've never minded my own (or more my character's) stupidity coming back to bite me. –  David Hall Mar 1 '13 at 15:24

There are several ways to approach this problem.

First, be aware that not all players are curious by nature. Some people simply do not feel the drive to ask questions about their environment or to pursue interesting threads. Other people are unceasingly curious and will question everything.

My current group has two of the former and two of the latter. I am finding that I need to tone down my descriptions of locations, because even a casual mention of pipes on the wall, intended simply as flavor while the group makes its way through an abandoned waterworks, prompts a ten-minute detour as the curious players examine every aspect of the pipes. Now, my uncurious players are often prompted to act based on the investigation of the curious ones, so it may be that your group lacks an instigator whose curiosity will bring the others out of their shell.

If this is the case and you have an entire group full of non-instigators, you need to either find or create an instigator. You could add a new player whom you know to be curious (granted, not a very simple or easy solution, or even an applicable one in many cases). Or you can create an instigator, by finding out what interests one of your players and creating a plot hook for that player to latch onto. For example, in my previous game, one of the characters had a tragic backstory involving a dead little sister. I had a mysterious note delivered to him from the supposedly dead sister, and he was off like a shot, dragging the rest of the party with him.

Second, make sure you are giving your players a story they will be curious about. If your villain is attempting to steal a relic or destroy a village, your players likely have little reason to care. However, if the villain is attempting to steal the paladin's ancient holy relic to use in a foul ritual of undeath, or is leading an army whose next target is the bard's home village, the situation is now personal. The players have reason to be invested in the plot, and they will begin asking questions.

For example, also in my previous game I had a fighter who was just quiet - stayed in the back of the party, kept to himself, never spoke up. I'd originally hooked the party by offering a large reward for the retrieval of the relic stolen by the villain, but this character just didn't care. He went along with it because he was basically a good guy and his friends were doing it, but he had no personal interest and so didn't participate much. So I had the living personification of the relic appear to him (and only him) in visions. As he got to know her, not only did the loss of the relic become personal to him, but he also started asking questions at the prompting of the other players, because he was the only one the personification would appear to.

Third, be aware of how you comport yourself as GM. If you do find yourself monologuing, then stop. Give your players a basic description of the area/situation, then put on an evil GM grin, sit back, and say nothing more.

Silence is sometimes the hardest part of running a game. You have an awesome story you want to tell, so you try to tell it - but in the telling, you don't leave enough room for the players to find their footing. To stop talking is almost certainly going to create some awkward silences at first, especially if your players are accustomed to you eventually caving and talking more. So if they don't speak up, prompt them; say "What do you do?" and then, again, stop. Wait.

There's often a bit of acting involved in GMing, and I'm not just talking about portraying PCs. You must give the impression that you are a) confident, b) in control, and c) planning something. Silence is a powerful tool for portraying all these things; silence says "I have given you everything, and I expect you to act now". Silence puts the ball in the players' court; they will learn quickly that things will not progress if they don't speak up.

A final consideration: If you try all the suggestions in all the answers and you still find that your players simply won't ask questions, it's probably time to talk to your players about why they aren't speaking up or interacting. Then work with them, both in and out of game, to resolve their concerns, whatever they may be.

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+1 for "be aware of how you comport yourself" and "talk to your players." –  BESW Mar 1 '13 at 5:35

Two suggestions.

Limit how much you speak. I've found that when I speak too much, my players go into audience mode. They become passive and want to listen to the story rather than tell the story.

How much speaking is too much? Obviously that will vary from group to group, but my limit is three sentences of prepared speech. I'll probably end up talking more than that at some point, but I don't plan to. If I'm describing the scenery outside the dungeon, three sentences is all I get so I better make them useful.

Give them interesting answers. If the players ask what the walls are made of, they're not trying to improve their mental picture. They probably have a goal in mind. Maybe they're trying to figure out if they can bust through the walls to bypass a hazard. If so, I say give it to them.

Now I'm not suggesting that everything they attempt should succeed, but that you should give their questions enough useful answers that it is worth their while to continue asking questions. If you train your players that all dungeon walls are malleable, you're going to make your dungeons pretty boring. You want to communicate to them that asking out of the box questions is potentially rewarding.

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I like your three sentence for scenery idea I think I will definitely use that! –  Jonn_Underwood Mar 1 '13 at 4:26
    
+1 along the lines of interesting answers, try to have more than one solution to a problem in mind, so that they can solve it how they see fit, rather than constantly having to figure out the one solution you had in mind, maybe the wall is breakable, maybe there is a nearby board long enough to cover the pit hidden in the shadows, maybe that rope tied to the bucket in the nearby well can be tied to an arrow and shot across the pit. The freedom to solve a puzzle can encourage asking the kinds of questions they like asking. Dont break your story to allow this though, its not always possibble! –  RhysW Mar 1 '13 at 10:42

Reward Desired Behavior

When someone does ask questions, give them a token. When they ask a great one, give them a second. End of session, convert them into bonus experience, or rerolls available, or some other mechanical reward.

Don't punish inquiring about the wrong things.

If they want to investigate the rat holes instead of the snake eating the rats, fine. Make stuff up, jot it down on index cards or in a notebook, and build on what they're looking at.

Don't over describe

Give them a bit too little, and prompt for a new, related question. Hit the high points, and let them lead you to the information.

Allow them to make up answers, at least, if you're brave.

If the guy has Lore 5 of 10 possible, let the player make up his answer, and then roll to see if it's right (with a modifier for kewl-factor and for good-for-the-adventure factor... noting that the two are not the same). Just track what's true and not. You get some REALLY odd adventures resulting from this, but it's great fun.

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+1 Don't over describe! It makes it difficult to determine whats important (frustrating to me as a player). –  Ben-Jamin Mar 7 '13 at 17:55
    
Also, becareful with the reward system as it. Can leadto abuse (& if not completely obvious may go undetected for awhile) + you inadvertantly punish players who are RPing their character (barbarian maynot care or the cleric might not care about about tje history of bard college etc) –  Ben-Jamin Mar 7 '13 at 17:57

Lead by example: Be curious and ask questions as the GM.

  • Why are you helping this guy?
  • What do you do when you're not adventuring?
  • How do you know the prince?
  • Have you met these bandits before?
  • Why do you think the wizard that you're helping didn't mention that the item was stolen from demons?
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This can also help a GM predict what actions the PCs might take. (Avoiding that awkward moment when they pull something out of left-field and u have no idea/weren't prepared for this possibility of actions –  Ben-Jamin Mar 7 '13 at 18:00

A) [Have them] Roll dice

There are few things that get a player's plot-sense tingling more than secret or passive rolls. You want them to question their informant's loyalties ?

Roll me a Sense Motive/Empathy/Detect Bullshit.

[Result: Whatever]

He's telling you the truth, but you sense he's nervous about something.

Want them to ponder what the Archvillain's plans are ?

Players have just neutralized a trio of seemingly random hirelings
Bob, would you kindly Roll Knowledge:Nature ?

[Result: Like we care]

For some reason, one of them is carrying a few Graybells, a rare plant you know to be a component for potent Mind Control potions.

This goes in the same direction than what most others have said already : Don't give too much too soon. Adding the roll helps set the idea in your player's head that the information matters.

B) Post-Mortem

So, the game is over, the day is saved and all is well that ends well. All ? Hmmm... the villain's castle burned down and a villager is somehow sad about it.

Hey, did you know his wife was a servant there ? Of course not, you never asked.

You won't put it so bluntly of course, but sometimes, a detail they've missed puts a little black spot on the victory. Maybe if they'd acted differently, if they'd known... This one's from the old adventure games, where a different course of action changed, if not the whole ending, a few details here and there, coloring your eventual victory. Just because they saved the day doesn't mean they did a perfect job of it. Of course, if they've already missed encounter XP for this, maybe there's no need to punish them further.

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And as usual, no comment justifying downvotes... –  Nigralbus Mar 4 '13 at 10:10

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