When to say yes and when to say no

There’s a common wisdom in gaming circles with regards to running an RPG. That wisdom goes somewhere along the lines of “Never say no to something the player wants. Always say ‘yes, but…” And for most situations that works just fine. However, there’s also a few situations when saying ‘no’ is the appropriate response. And that’s what we’ll be looking at today.

Sometimes the choice is easy.

In today’s post, we’ll be looking at a few situations where the traditional response is either the wrong one and why or where doing the exact opposite is more interesting for your game. So without further ado, let’s dig into it.

First of all, let’s deal with the absolute ‘no’. I know many games and even seasoned GMs have strong opinions on how you really shouldn’t do this, but i’m of the opinion that there are situations when just saying no is the better option.  There are two main situations where I employ this, mostly because I prefer to give my players the chance to try things. However, if a player’s request would either break the world or trivializes the content, I’ll just give them a hard no.

What do I mean by breaking the world. Well, that’s fairly simple. Let’s say you’re playing D&D, in your typical fantasy setting. One of the players might play a wizard who is, in theory, smarter than everyone in the room combined. Which is all fine and good since it gives the wizard a huge bonus on his spell save DCs and whatnot. And then the player decides he wants to invent computers, automation and build an abrams tank. In theory, that’s possible. The wizard is smart enough, the Fabricate spell deals with pesky problems like needing a factory or a supply line and the idea of an armored, horseless carriage isn’t too far fetched. Except we’re playing D&D and NO, you don’t get to shoot a lich with a tank. The idea would simply ruin the flavor of the world and thus gets a hard no.

Similarly, you may be playing a hard sci-fi game and one of the players wants to roll up a psychic. It doesn’t fit the universe and won’t be allowed. Similarly, even if they can somehow fund it, the players straight up aren’t allowed to iron-bomb the system’s sun because while it would certainly kill their enemies, there wouldn’t be a system left to play in.

Yes, bob, it’s a cool concept, but we’re playing in Middle Earth so no, you can’t have a lightsaber.

All of these are situations where the player will just get a refusal, and if i’m feeling generous, an explanation as to why they can’t have it or anything remotely like it.

The other reason to say no is when their idea would completely trivialize a piece of content I have prepared for them. This is mostly a mechanical issue, though there can be in-universe situations like this as well. The most common example is the player picking up some impossibly powerful combo of abilities and attempting to use them. Some games are worse at this than others, but I’ve yet to find a game that doesn’t have some broken nonsense in it. If and when I find it, I’ll either nerf it or just tell them that they can’t have it. Hell, sometimes this might not even be because it’s so overpowered but because I don’t want to deal with it.

Anima: Beyond Fantasy had a combination of abilities that allowed a character to make a series of attacks so fast it was nearly impossible to follow. In terms of mechanics, it involved the player to take 5 consecutive turns, each turn making anywhere from four to a dozen separate attacks. And while it wasn’t outright powerful, actually rolling it out took anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes of time. which was such a pain in the ass that I banned the combination. Similarly, even if your adventurer is the King’s favored cousin, you’re not allowed to call in the King’s Guard to clear out the dungeon you’re heading down. It’s technically possible, but I made that dungeon so you could play through it, not so I could play NPCs against each other for a few hours.

That’s the essence of saying no, really. Sometimes, as a GM, you have to decide between letting a player do or have a cool thing and keeping your game intact. And those are the situations where you tell them no and move on with your game.

It is, however, important to, when you can, explain to the player why they cannot have the thing they want. Arbitrarily saying no will lead to resentment and a few minutes of explaining can save you a lot of headache down the line.

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