My GMing Philosophy: Why Saying No is a Bad Idea

Well, time for a break from writing and worldbuilding posts and some talk about RPGs – more specifically, my philosophies as a GM/DM/Storyteller. Of course, these are only my thoughts and experiences on the subject, so feel free to disagree about them – though if you do, I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below!

In this post, let’s talk about why saying “No” to your players is a Bad Idea. Why? Well, let’s first get something written down: the goal of playing a RPG is for everyone to have fun together. Getting denied is not only not fun, but also uninteresting. If I come up with an awesome idea on how my character can jump through the balconies of the Great Hall, grab the curtains and use them to swing on top of the chandelier and promptly cut its ropes to fall into the Big Bad Evil Guy, why should I be denied simply because the rules don’t cover such actions? Flat out saying “no” destroys the player’s fun, and flat out closes the door for their creativity. The story being told is not the Storyteller’s alone, but rather a joint creation where all players contribute – and saying no negates the players’ contribution.

However, don’t say “Yes”, either – unless the player’s action is just too awesome and fits with your plans as well. But generally, much more interesting than either “No” or “Yes” is to say “Yes, but…” or “Yes, and…”; this way, you let the player pursue their creativity and get their moment of awesomeness, but you have some room to deny any particular point you don’t like, and better fit their ideas into your plot. For example, perhaps you will allow the stunt I described above as an example, but instead of falling directly on the Big Bad Evil Guy’s head, I only manage to hit his minions! Or, perhaps, I do manage to hit the Big Bad Evil Guy, but in the process I wound my leg as well, thus relying on my comrades to rescue me in time from the Big Bad Evil Guy’s minions! See, much more interesting than a flat “No”.

This does not mean you should always give everything to the players, of course. This philosophy is only applicable in situations where a player wants to do an action that they think is awesome, and which is not covered by the rules – or perhaps just beyond their reach by the rules. In these cases, accommodating the players’ desires is a great way to enhance the fun all around the table. In other cases, however, where the player wants something only to be better than the other players or to show off, he should be denied – but that’s not a case of stifling creativity, but of having Bad Players.

As I said above, the main goal of playing RPGs is having fun. If everyone is having fun, then the goal is achieved. The rules are only a means to achieving that fun, and whenever they get in the way they can – and should – be neglected and ignored, in favour of the group’s continued fun. It doesn’t matter if the character’s attack couldn’t have depleted the remaining 200 hit points of the enemy Ogre; if the player came up with a suitably awesome description of him climbing on a tree, giving a battle-cry and jumping on the Ogre’s back, thrusting his blade deep into the beast’s neck in the process, he should be awarded with having the Ogre dead – that’s way more fun than having his awesome thought-out attack deal 17 damage just like a bland “I swing my sword at the Ogre” would have done.

What are your own philosophies on GMing a RPG?

-JNicolini

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2 thoughts on “My GMing Philosophy: Why Saying No is a Bad Idea

  1. Too true–I think DMs (and players too) sometimes get bogged down in the Rules of a system, so much so that they lose the role playing part of the game.
    The thing that irks me most is from the player’s perspective; say you come across a situation and don’t know how to proceed, some players will leave it to others to figure out. I’ve had players literally “sit out” because they didn’t know what to do. In those cases, I think it’s the DM’s role to give them options and encourage creativity.

    • Yup, I hate when that happens as well. I try to always keep my mind open to the possibilities the players might create (which is far easier on PbP than on tabletop, certainly, since in PbP you have more time to adapt and adjust your plans, but should be doable in both); incidentally, once players get used to my way of GMing, I find that more often than not they feel free to take the reins of the scene or situation themselves, and actually add details to the world, which is awesome, and should always be encouraged.

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