You ask too much.
Before I get into the meat of this, an acknowledgement: yes, it can be hard to transition from a game where when the GM asks you questions they mostly just have “right” and “wrong” answers. Part of my standard spiel when I’m teaching PbtA games goes something like:
As part of this game I’ll be asking you questions about your character’s past experiences. This isn’t to set things up to your advantage or disadvantage, just let you talk more about your character and add color to the world. You can always say that you legitimately don’t know or don’t remember, or bat it back at me: “I’ll let you answer that.”
We all have to be okay with all the answers everyone gives to those kinds of questions.
That’s usually worked out okay, but people who show up for demos of a PbtA game are maybe a little more willing to engage with that sort of thing, just on principle.
However, there are good questions and bad questions to ask. What makes for a bad question has to do with
Crossing the Line
John Harper (designer of Blades in the Dark) has some relevant commentary on this from the earlier days of Apocalypse World. Sorry for the long quoteblock but I think it’s pretty well set up. (emphasis and censoring mine)
In Apocalypse World, the players are in charge of their characters. What they say, what they do; what they feel, think, and believe; what they did in their past. The MC is in charge of the world: the environment, the NPCs, the weather, the psychic maelstrom.
Sometimes, the players say things that get very close to the line. Usually this happens when the MC asks a leading question.
MC: “Nero, what do the slave traders use for barter?”
Player: “Oh man, those (guys)? They use human ears.”
That’s a case of the player authoring part of the world outside their character, however — and this is critical — they do it from within their character’s experience and frame of reference. When Nero answers that question, he’s telling something he knows about the world.
Compare that exchange with this one, which is crossing the line:
MC: “Okay, Nero, so you get the box of barter away from the slave traders and haul into the back of the truck.”
Player: “Cool. I open it up.”
MC: “Okay. What do you see when you open it?”
Player: “Um… uh, a bunch of severed fingers?”
See the difference? In the first case, the MC is addressing the character and asking about some knowledge he has. In the second case, the MC is fully turning over authorship of the world in-the-moment to the player, which is not part of the player role in AW.
When you ask a player “Why is Tlex after you?”, it probably just seems to you like you’re asking them to describe some past pecadillo, which is well on their side of the line. The problem is that in order to answer that question, they need to know why Tlex would go after anyone, which is firmly on your side of the line. Intentionally or not, you’ve left them to define that, too.
How Not to Cross
“Who is Tlex?” is a legitimate question, and not something you’re supposed to leave up to a player to define. It’s on your side of the line. You can see how the past events leading up to things might be different depending on your answer to the question, like:
Tlex is a bounty hunter. A really high-end one, only works contracts from the back room, 500 coin and up. So, Tik-Tik, any clue who from your past is 500-coin interested in you?
Tlex was a bounty hunter, working high-end contracts, but she made enough to retire on. Or at least, she would have enough to retire on, if she wasn’t constantly bribing local officials to look the other way while she “tested herself” on strong targets. So, Tik-Tik, where and when was your last big boast?
Tlex was a bounty hunter, but then she found religion, and by “religion”, I mean “the cult of Sussurax, Bleak King of Sorrow”. So, Tik-Tik, any idea how you got on the cult’s bad books, or did your name just happen to cohere out of some incoherent sobbing?
Tlex is a bounty hunter, and you’ve worked with her in the past, but the last job you were on went disastrously, grudge-holdingly wrong. What happened out there?
Asking provocative questions is a good skill to develop, as a GM of PbtA games, but you always need to think about what’s in the answer you’re expecting your players to give you. If you’re asking them to cross the line, fill out things more from your end so you can meet them halfway.