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I'm GMing a Dungeon World campaign with players completely new to tabletop RPGs. Every time I present them with a situation and ask them what they do next, none of them ever arrive at a conclusion, and I end up railroading them by suggesting what they do next. How can I stop this from happening? I'm thinking of trying "choose to do either X or Y" type choices if all else fails, but I really think that detracts from a game's open-endedness.

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First, stop railroading them when they don't do anything. You're here to make the world do stuff, not make the players or the PCs do stuff. Making their decisions for them just teaches them that it's not really important to make those decisions themselves, and that's the last lesson you want people new to roleplaying to take away from the experience.

Second, when they sit around and look at you, follow the GM rules: make a move. ("Suggest they do X" is not a GM move, for good reason.) Look over your GM moves and use one. Unless the situation is completely static and non-hostile, something will naturally happen if the PCs just stand and stare at it. Two moves that suit not-obviously-threatening situations are Show signs of an approaching threat and Offer an opportunity, with or without cost. If you've already established that the situation is dangerous, that opens up the rest of the moves. But really, when in doubt Show signs is your default, go-to move, with Offer an opportunity as a nice variation.

For example, if you've put them in front of a cave entrance with eerie mist drifting out of it, and they stand around debating what they should do, Show signs: "The sun is setting, and the forest around the cave begins to come alive with unnerving sounds. What do you do?"... or Offer an opportunity: "As you watch the cave entrance and your eyes adjust, you notice a faint glint within the gloom. What do you do?"

If they simply do nothing, you are now allowed to make any move you like, as hard as you like.

  • "A pack of demon wolves slowly pads out of the forest, surrounding you. What do you do?" (Show signs again, this time setting up Make a monster move that will likely Deal damage.)
  • "The glint shines more. As you stare at it, you feel drawn toward it. You get to mark XP if you walk openly and directly toward it. What do you do?" (Make a location move that Offers an opportunity.)

They're standing around because they don't know how RPGs work, and they know you do, so they're deferring to you. Get the game moving by keeping the world moving, giving them new things to interact with or that will interact with them.

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Nice answer.. there's the reminder that something happens even if they don't make a choice (might be something worse than if they did). And the insight that they're probably deferring to the GM (this one I hadn't thought about). –  Roflo Oct 19 '13 at 1:30

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