Playing to find out “Why X” and not “Will X”?


I’ve been brushing up on DW rules in anticipation of a game I might be running soon.

One thing that’s got me scratching my head is the Stakes in your Fronts/Dangers. So I can cut to the chase, I’m going to assume you already know how they work.

There are some stakes I feel like you could come up with which seem impossible (or at least highly unlikely) to answer "while playing" in a narratively satisfactory manner—stakes that seem like they need to be answered in prep in order to not feel hackneyed or contrived. These would be any stake which begins with Why or How, or in other words, which can’t be answered with Yes or No.

I’ll give you some examples. Here are stakes that I think would be easy to answer in play:

  • Will Cadney the Bard find his long-lost sister?
  • Will the dead break free from their underground prison?
  • Will Knight Peregrine succumb to his wounds?
  • Did the last of the dragons really die out?

And here are stakes I think would be really difficult to answer:

  • Why is King Taggard so afraid of his Queen?
  • How did a dozen goblins ransack an entire village?
  • Why don’t the storms ever clear from Ariadne Island?
  • What’s inside the Cavern of the Deeprock that’s chased all the Dwarves above ground?

The way I see it, the Easy stakes need only player intervention/investigation for an answer to come about. Cadney probably will find his sister if the party goes looking for her; the dead probably won’t break free if the party performs the ancient ritual to release their souls first. Campaigns spring naturally from these kinds of questions, I think.

But the Difficult stakes, to me, seem to demand some kind of predetermined explanation from the DM in order to be answered satisfactorily. How else are the answers going to come about? What could the PCs do that explains why King Taggard won’t look his Queen in the eye? And wouldn’t any answer to that question need to be made up by the DM on the fly (probably inadequately)? The DM could ask the party these questions at the beginning of the story and use those answers, I guess, but where’s the mystery in that scenario?

Moreover, I think many more of these sorts of questions are going to come up organically a lot over the course of a campaign, and it seems distinctly un-Dungeon World for the DM to come up with answers to them on their own. The core rulebook and most guides I’ve found online seem to all point to the same answer: Play to Find Out. So… how?