What's a better name for the "The Mountain Witch Trick"?

edited May 2007 in Story Games
Basically, what I'm referring to is this (I used it a lot, glaringly obviously so, in my "The Mountain Witch - Tenra Bansho Crossover" this last weekend):

GM: "There's a mural on the wall here. It disturbs you (points at a player). What is the mural, and why do you find it disturbing?"

GM: "As you pass the graveyard, a gravestone marker attracts your attention (points at player). Whose is it?"

GM: "The ghost mouths something to you. What is it saying?"

That sort of thing. This is something I refer to as "The Mountain Witch trick", since it's used a lot in that game. I use it in a lot of games, particularly when I'm stuck and need a player-nudge for Something Cool to happen soon.

I used to refer to it as... the word I've forgotten*. Basically the counselling trick where you turn the person's statement back into a question at them, ala ELIZA (the computer program):

Person: I like bananas.
Counsellor: Why do you feel that you like bananas?

But I'm trying to think of a better name. Not necessarily "technical term in the consulting world", but if there is such a word I'd love to hear it.



* Wait, is it "reflection"?


  • I think of it in my head as "fill in the blank." Because you, as the GM, are requiring the players to fill in the blanks in your setting and situation (not "setting" in the sense that "Greyhawk is a setting" but in the sense of the immediate setting of the scene).

    It's a good technique.

  • That is fantastic, Andy.

    Wow, nice.
  • Very nice technique... it deserves an awesome name :)

    How about 'The Mountain Witch Trick'? Too obvious?
    How about the Kitkowski question?
    The Andy Enigma? *grin*

    In all seriousness, I think that calling the method 'reflecting' or 'mirroring' (I like the second more) pretty much encapsulates what you are looking for.
  • Hang on, reflecting means something different in counsellorspeak. It means:

    Me: There's a mural on the wall and I'm looking at it.
    Counsellor: So you're looking at a mural, on the wall.
    Me: Yeah.

    Mirroring means something too, if we're in counsellorspeak: that's when you mimic the other guy's body language. Less likely to get confused, though.

    This is a trick Keith Johnstone recommends in Impro, but I can't remember whether it's got a name.


  • This is sort of an application of the Socratic Method, isn't it? Instead of teaching, you're creating story, but you're still achieving it by asking questions (whose is it?) instead of providing answers (this is what it is).
  • Posted By: iagoThis is sort of an application of the Socratic Method, isn't it?
    Heh, my master's thesis equivalent in college was essentially "Why the Socratic Method is a Big Lie, and Sucks" (using modern connections to sociology, discourse and social constructivism, but still). :-)

    The thing about Socratic Method is that:
    1) It's deceptive. The leader always has an agenda.
    2) It goes on and on, doesn't just start and stop with one question, the leader always carries it further... again, to intentionally reinforce their point.
    3) Influence, agenda and deception are so tied into "Socratic Method" as to me inseparable.

    Even taking the idea at its face value, it leaves a funky, unsettling taste in my mouth. :-)

  • Oh, and I like "Prompting" for now, but would love to hear more ideas if anyone's got them.

  • Posted By: AndyOh, and I like "Prompting" for now, but would love to hear more ideas if anyone's got them.
    Prompting is good. It also has a sort of "on the fly" or "on-demand" aspect to it that I have an urge to try to capture, since it seems to have an aspect of establishing character detail or setting background "on the fly", at the prompting (see, that's why "prompting" is good) of the GM.
  • The lawyer in me immediately went to "willful blindness". You see the gravestone--heck you just pointed it out to the player--but you're intentionally not reading the name on it.

    But, personally, I like prompting. It's appropriate on two levels. In theater, it's the act of one person (off-stage) encouraging another person (the actor) to deliver their line. And in computers, its the way the computer tells you that you need to input something, i.e., we're waiting on you.
  • edited May 2007
    I fourth prompting and since The Mountain Witch i like to use this all the time.

    It's a shame because my debate/conversation style is SO socratic and I have always gotten into trouble with this approach (I'd say I have mellowed a bit in that regard). People rarely like rhetorical questions when they are wrong ;)
  • edited May 2007
    This is so good. I think I've even done this, but forgot all about it. It's like I had a loaded bazooka and forgot where I put it. It was under the bed? Sweet. Thanks, Andy.
  • The Madlib Method.
  • The Eliza method.
  • The cynic in me thinks of it as wakening.

    But maybe:


  • In my text for the Infected, I call it "Fishing with dynamite"
  • Maybe just ''Fishing''?
  • Or call it "Spotting" as in "Putting the player on the spot."
  • Fishing is cool because it suggests another technique: Trolling. A GM suggesting something completely unacceptable ("A stealthy thief steals your wand of neeming!") with the intention of provoking a a demand for a rewrite ("No way! when I feel that bastard's hand on my sword, I whirl around and backhand him!") Not to be used every time, but if players are lackluster about adding to the story, trolling is one way to get them to add something...

  • What is it called in sword fighting when you draw someone in?

    Story Feinting?
  • I would like to see this thread bookmarked when people complain about jargon, as an example of both a widely agreed need for the jargon term and the difficulty in finding a good one.
  • edited May 2007
    "Content Pull"?

    "Plot Push" is "This happens"
    "Plot Pull" is "What happens here?"
    "Content Push" is "This item of color is true."
    "Content Pull" is "What color can you attach to this?"
  • The Kleinert Manoeuvre
  • Is that where you reach around someone from behind and squeeze, and a bit of color pops out?
  • Posted By: IskanderThe Kleinert Manoeuvre
    I kinda like "timtrick", myself, it has a nice ring...

    But seriously, I'm not sure. I've used Eric's "fishing" once or twice.
  • Really, Andy is just trying to trick us all into agreeing on the most obtuse possible jargony term for the thing. That way, in a year or two, we will have freshly inaccessable jargon for the new folks to rally against.

    Therefore, in support of Andy's devious ways, I vote for "Timtrick". Only we need to work on shortening and altering the term 'till it's completely unrecognizable as having anything to do with a gaming technique at all. Or to do with gaming for that matter.

    Oh, I know. Let's call it "TMWT". And, next year, we can argue if it stands for "Tim's Mountain Witch Technique" or "The Mountain Witch Trick".

  • Posted By: VaxalonI would like to see this thread bookmarked when people complain about jargon, as an example of both a widely agreed need for the jargon term and the difficulty in finding a good one.
    Actually, I see it as a case of gamers striving to apply a jargonesque title to everything they encounter, rather than proof that such is needed.

    I think it's a good technique to use in roleplaying games. I don't agree that all techniques need to be boiled down to a single jargon term.
  • Fishing and prompting still win out as the least-jargonny summarizations of what's going on in a single word. :)
  • I like prompting.

    Either that or teh Kleinart eFfect

    With the necessary punctuation. Abbreviated KF.

    Because we should either be transparent or funny.

  • oh, but prompting is also just a "regular" word usable in gaming, as in "what do you do next?"
    person A is "prompting" person B.
    so, if my cents are valued, i'm more for something-not-a-single-english-(etc)-word,-but-maybe-a-phrase-or-something.
    and, fresh from the other recent jargon post, i wanna chip in
    'but, hey, i really LIKE the term "the impossible thing before breakfast" "
    not that it would save on printing costs at all...
    ...if i were printing the internet...

    so, in ben's duality, i'm voting funny, because "transparancy ain't what it used to be" -yogi berra
  • edited May 2007
    I think prompting is inching ahead for the win, at least that's what I'm going to be writing into TBZ's GM Tricks section.

    Fred's four up there are interesting in the "technical designer tools" style, but I think that "prompting" is the slickest and easiest to understand from hearing it on the player/GM side of the barn.


    Oh, wait, that was Graham's term? Fuck that, then. :-)

    "Marvelous Proactive Collaborative Creation Prana"

    EDIT: Ohhh, how about "Narrativisationism"? That should be pretty straightforward and not loaded with meaning.
  • "That thing, you know, like in that game Tim Somebody did, with the samurai and shit... with the filling in the details... That thing."

    That ought to do it.
  • Creatively undertaking narrative transferrence.
  • I would have called it "soliciting player input," but shit, prompting works.
  • Aggressive player immersion.
  • I like provoking. You provoke a thought, you provoke a response. It's got more emotional weight to it than prompting, but a similar general meaning.
  • Dude, there is totally a name for this in Impro. But I can't remember what it is. It must be on some Impro websites.
  • I have *no* clue what this is called elsewhere. But it's good, and thanks for drawing attention to it.
  • Posted By: James_NostackDude, there is totally a name for this in Impro. But I can't remember what it is. It must be on some Impro websites.
    Provoking makes sense to me.

    Barring that, I'd go with the Kleinert Five Venom Collaborative Witch Fist.

    Clinton, why the Eliza Method?
  • edited May 2007
    Posted By: Juddwhy the Eliza Method?
    Because of the famous 'eliza' program by Joseph Weizenbaum, which does keep reflecting stuff back at you wrapped up in a question (a method of Rogerian psychoanalysis).

    A freely available implementation of an eliza-like system is alice bot.

    In the book where Weizenbaum tells about his development of Eliza there's this anecdote about his secretary being set up that Mr. Weizenbaum wanted to read the logs of her "sessions" with Eliza to see how well or bad the program worked. Obviously, it worked well enough (for the small domain Eliza could handle - reflecting back) to entice the secretary to tell the system very private stuff.
  • I would call it 'eliciting'. That's just the closest word I have for what it is.
  • Posted By: Dave HallettI would call it 'eliciting'.
  • Posted By: Mr. TeapotPosted By: Dave HallettI would call it 'eliciting'.

    Amusing, but I was trying to stick to English as she is spoke...
  • I'd also go with the "ELIZA effect". This is a real term in computer science. There, it means something slightly different (because computers don't actually have minds, and the people you game with hopefully do), but I think it works here well enough.
  • As Iago observed in another thread, giving it a name which is a word in common usage - that is, appropriating that word and giving it a specialized technical meaning in a certain context - is potentially more confusing than giving it a unique name that is obviously a technical term.

    Even if it isn't instantly obvious what that term means.

    Because it's not instantly obvious what the common term means, either - you still have to explain, and if people are confused by the common usage it's harder for them to listen to your explanation.
  • What's being described is very close to being an Offer in improv terminology. It's been my strongest technique since I fell into doing it in a Cyberpunk 2020 campaign in the late 80s and had amazing results; the group grew from 3 players to two groups of 7-8 players each on word of mouth. Except then I called it, "man-we-have-been-gaming-and-blue-booking-for-eight-hours-and-I-can't-think-anymore-why-don't-you-tell-me?"
  • Ooh, Offer is good too.
  • I'd call "The Mountain Witch Trick" passing the fiat since the GM is temporarily passing that authority to another player - in a way limited by the scope of the question.
  • edited May 2007
    Oooh, hold on, again.

    Matthew's right to suggest the term offer to describe this. But it's not "offer" as in "offering" it to the players.

    An offer in improv is any addition to the scene that other players can build on. Roughly translated into game terms, an offer would be anything added to the shared fiction for players to build on:

    GM: There's a mural on the wall, depicting people dying in battle.

    Now, there's another improv concept: the blind offer. In a blind offer, you add something to the scene, but you only partially define it, leaving it to someone else to define.

    Translated into game terms, it's pretty much what Andy suggests...

    GM [makes blind offer]: There's a mural on the wall. The paintings on it are disturbing.
    Player [defines blind offer]: Yeah, they're scenes of people dying in battle.

    Except, in Andy's original post, the GM is framing part of the blind offer as a question. But that's fine. It's still a blind offer.

  • 'prompting' is awesome, and something like 'cueing' or 'cued input' would work in the same vein.
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