Sitting down to write this piece, I tried to remember where I first heard the idea, “Avoid saying ‘No’,” and after banging my head against a wall a few times, nothing managed to come to me. So I can’t remember if I read it in a book, on a blog, from a video, or even someone from a Con’.
I’ve been a DM (Dungeon Master), Story Teller, Game Master, or Judge – which ever version you prefer to use – for about fifteen years now. I still hold the fact that learning to “Avoid saying ‘No’,” was one of the best tips I have learned during my years of being a DM.
You’re probably asking yourself the same thing I was asking myself, “Why should I do that during my games?” The thing I learned from avoiding the word no was that my games quickly began to open up more, at least story wise. I also felt my players had a greater sense of, “Hey, let’s be creative.”
Back when I started, I fell into the trap I know many new to the title fall into: You create a story or you have some really amazing idea. But when the players try to steer away from anything you have planned, you gut react and say, “No,” and pull them back on the path of your story. Have you ever been in one of those games? They get boring quickly.
Now I’m not saying you should allow your carefully crafted story to fall into the oblivion as your players joy-ride throughout your world murdering every NPCs they see or try to start their own cult of followers because you didn’t say no. You can still try to steer them on your carefully crafted path, but you need to be more subtle about it.
Let’s say your players are in a situation where they are trying to find a mole in the town guard. You might only plan for one or two scenarios where they would get a guard alone. For example, you predict they may try to get one drunk and hope she talks or maybe you think they’ll try to capture one and question him. What happens when one of your players comes up with another idea? What if it’s a really good idea even though you didn’t plan for it? Are you going to say no because you hadn’t planned for it, thus discouraging your players from trying to think. Or will you allow your players to try to see what happens?
You should totally try their plan.
Here is one of my personal mottoes and tips: The player can always roll to see if they succeed. It doesn’t mean they have to. If you are die-hard set on not allowing them to do the thing they want to try, give them the illusion that they, “had a chance”. Tell them to roll, if they roll anything but a Natural 20, say they didn’t succeed but give them a bonus or perk for trying. If they roll a Natural 20, quickly make something up and reward them again for being creative. By allowing your players to come up with an idea, suggest it, and then attempt it you’ll quickly see them start to come up with more ideas. And that’s part of the fun. There is something special about coming up with a crazy-off-the-wall plan and watching it work in favor of the party.
If you’re still new to running your own games, do your best to make this a habit. It can really take the game into fun directions. It will also help you think on your feet because you’ll need to adjust the story to work.
Sometimes a situation calls for you to say no to a player. If they have no logical way to do the thing they want to do, then say no. They happen, but make sure you explain why you’re saying no.
Remember to keep it fun. That’s why everyone is there. Allow your players to be creative and give to the story and you’ll be amazed how quickly they get more and more involved.