January 17, 2011


It’s a commonly offered piece of advice to GMs: Say ‘yes.’ Say yes to every crazy idea, say yes to every character concept, say yes to every behavior and desire. And if you don’t say yes, throw the dice.

Other people tell you to NEVER say yes. Leave it up to the dice, or tell the players it’s impossible.

Really, neither way is right.

As I’ve mentioned before, talking to your players is the first thing you need to do. Expectations, both theirs and yours, need to be addressed so that the game can operate on some accepted terms. If you’re expecting a gritty ‘realistic’ game with long lasting wounds and heavy consequences, your players need to know this before you drop that first broken limb on a character.

Talking with your players also lets you know what kinds of crazy things they’re going to want to do. If they want to take down the local/world government, you know ahead of time and can find a way to make it happen and be interesting for both parties.

At this scale, the campaign design, it is generally a good idea to compromise. Sometimes, the appropriate answer is yes.  Sometimes, it’s no. If you’re running a high fantasy romp featuring a band of royalty taking a McGuffin to be destroyed, and they suggest a fairly boring creature with almost no personality and no skills, you might need to reconsider how that story takes place. Of course, if all of your players suggest such characters, maybe your entire campaign needs to be refocused?

Lower down the scale, at adventure design, you will usually be saying no to new adventures while they’re in one, but after the climax, you want to say yes. If they think it’s not pertinent to continue the current story line, and move on to an interesting tidbit that was mostly a side concept, let them follow it. You as a GM should be flexible enough to play anywhere.

On the encounter scale, absolutely say ‘yes.’ ‘Yes and . . .,’ ‘Yes, but. . .,’ ‘Yes, if. . .’ Any one of these allows the player to do what they asked for, and continues to keep the game interesting. The players decide to complete a ritual sacrifice because it was an enemy on the altar? Yes, and a dark god now has its eye on these apparently fallible heroes. They want to pull of a crazy stunt to get the drop on an enemy? Yes, but if they fail the roll, the enemies see them and get the surprise instead. They want to create a large explosive with a stick of gum, a computer and a paperclip? Yes, if they can make the necessary rolls.

Now, I used to use ‘No’ to stop my players from wasting time on things that weren’t going to help them. I wish, now, that I’d caught the hint, and used those preventative measures to make the story more interesting. A personal failing, but one you can learn from: if the players focus on some shiny thing, make something up for them, it’ll be better than you think.

So, GMs, any time you can think of in which saying yes, or no, made your game more interesting?


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