One again RPGChat generated an interesting discussion I’d like to explain here. It started when I griped that “Yes, And” and “Say Yes or Roll Dice” should be banished from RPGs. In retrospect, these both represent a valid playstyle that I’m sure people enjoy. However, I feel that the style of play opposed to these is under attack in this age of lightweight, shared narration games, with people writing all new, flashy shared narrative control games and forgetting the Game in Role Playing Games, so I thought I would explain my perspective, so that perhaps some of you young, improve schooled whippersnappers would give it a try. Possibly even write some new, traditional games for me to play. Therefore I am going to outline why “Yes, And” is just one tool that a DM should use, and not be an absolute rule as it is in improve, while “Say Yes or Roll Dice”, as an absolute rule, is not conductive to my style of gaming.
Anyway, despite being young in years I tend to follow a very traditional game model when DMing. There is one DM and one to six players, sometimes more. I have a vague outline of what is going on in my game, usually a published adventure, from which I will base what will happen off of. Now, the players are going to suggest things I haven’t thought of, at which point I’ll improvise as best I can to keep things moving and consistent. Anyway, players are going to ask me things “Is there a bank in town, are there any footprints in the grass, can we follow that blood trail, does the Duke of Madeupian have blue eyes, and so on.
I am not going to say yes to all of these. Lets say I’m running a 1920s investigative adventure set in Arkham (Since I’m the most familiar with it). In this case, for the above questions I’d look at my notes, and see if there are footprints on the grass. I don’t just say yes and improve; I give them a clue that will lead them towards the murderer (Or inform them it rained since then, or give them a red herring, you get the idea). For example, if the players know that the killer has blue eyes, I’m going to have figured out which potential suspects are blue eyes ahead of time. So if the Duke isn’t the killer, I’m probably going to say No quite a lot, as if I said Yes, And then every suspect would have blue eyes, rendering me unable to use that as a method for letting them eliminate suspects. In fact, how can you ever eliminate suspects if I can’t say no?
Additionally what happens when players ask for ridiculous things? Can I invent gunpowder? Can I invent a steam engine? Can I make a flamethrower out of this insecticide sprayer I found in a D&D supplement? (Complete Adventurer I think? It was years ago), Can I have a Zeppelin? Of the proceeding, all but the question about the steam engine have all been asked within my game. Of those, the only one that I said yes to was the Zeppelin. Why did I say yes to it, and either said no, or would have said no to the others? Zeppelins are appropriate to a 1920s pulp-action-horror game. Gunpowder, steam engines and flame throwers are not appropriate for the magical fantasy settings in which the questions took place. I will say no to preserve the sprite and feel of the setting I am running, and I feel any good DM should do the same.
A final example, is that sometimes it is a better story to say no. For example, when Gimli asks to destroy the ring, Lord of the Rings would have been a pretty lame book if they’d hit it with a hammer, the end. Saying No, you have to do X, Y and Z first gave a much better story. It also allows Mr. Tolkien to keep using the rest of the campaign he had written, and before I hear any cried of railroading, I’m betting if he was a DM he was not expecting them to split the party and do three adventures at once. In my games I wasn’t expecting the players to use a zeppelin to go hire Louis Armstrong to play at their club, to give them a chance to answer some questions about a trumpet he was reported to have owned. Oddly enough the adventure didn’t account for that, so I let my players fly up to New York and talk with him. It was in character, in setting and there was no reason to say no, and I made up the consequences. Saying yes IS appropriate some of the time, even most of the time. But NO should be a tool in a DM’s toolbox.
Until next time, stay geeky,
Edit: Some people have taken this to mean ‘Say No unless I’d previously planned something’. Rather it should be taken as a “Say yes or no based on the DMs best judgment about what will make an interesting, fun game and challenge the players.” I didn’t have it anywhere in my notes that a player would have an airship, but I let him have it as I couldn’t think of a reason not to. Whereas in other cases I say no, as it would make a less fun game or break the premise I had in mind. So: Best judgment, not silly one line rules.