Learn to Say Yes to your Players

by Blackrook

Saying "Yes" is a rule of Improv that is just as important when you are the Game Master...

Some GM's delight in saying "no" to their players. "No, you can't do that." "No, that doesn't work." "No, your character doesn't know how to do that."

Here's the thing, every time you say "no" to your players, you kill a little bit of their fun, and if you say "no" enough times, your players won't want to play in your world anymore. But if you say "yes", even when the players want to do something totally crazy you never thought they'd do, the fun increases exponentially!


I have recently had this situation as a player. I tried everything my character could do to get out of a sticky situation, a monster I did not want to fight. Unfortunately, none of my spells or skill rolls worked, despite very high rolls, because the DM was determined that I meet that monster, no matter what. Guess what, I'm not having fun.

As a GM, one of my most despicable villains in Gordovia was Nemes the Inquisitor. He liked to burn things, mostly people, but sometimes books as well. He was a combination of Spanish Inquisitor from the middle ages and brownshirt from the 20th century. He was rotten to the core, and a religious fanatic on top of that. Nobody in my campaign liked this guy.

Anyway, the PC's are rolling through town, and they encounter six witches getting burned at the stake by Nemes the Inquisitor. One of the PC's was a witch herself (a Pathfinder character class) so she took this personally. The PC's decided they'd finally had enough of Nemes the Inquisitor, and they would put an end to him.

But they decided not to take him out directly with violence; they decided a more subtle approach would work better. So they infiltrated the Order of the Cleansing Rain (Nemes' faction), one by one, telling people they were Order members from the capital city.

Now mind you, none of this was planned by me. This was an adventure idea the player characters came up with all by themselves, but I rolled with it.

The player characters ate meals with the Order members, and told them that an "Internal Cleansing" was about to begin, and Nemes was behind it. A "cleansing", in case you need clarification, is what this Order did to other people, and it meant killing them. Soon, rumors were flying within the Order, started by player characters, that an internal purge was about to begin.

I rolled a straight up 50% chance that this whispering campaign would work, and I rolled it, and it did. So the Order members dragged Nemes and his closest supporters out to the square, and burned them.

Now a GM who wanted to keep control would have said "no" to all this, or made sure it didn't work, but my philosophy is to say "yes" and the players had a ton of fun, and this is still one of their favorite stories how they brought about the end of Nemes the Inquisitor.

When to say “No”

If what they want to do is game-breaking or a clear violation of the rules on what their characters can do, just say “no”. Another thing you can do, if what they’re trying to do seems unlikely to work out, is to assign a chance of success, and roll for it, like in the example above. But I’d caution you against making the chance too difficult, especially if it’s a cool idea that would enhance everybody’s fun.

Conspire with your players

Conspire with your players to make their plan happen, not against them. If their plan involves the wizard climbing the cavern wall, but he doesn't have the skill for it, maybe there's a leftover rope hanging there from previous adventurers. If they need to sneak past two guards, maybe one of them fell asleep at their post.

Remember, you are not the players' adversary, but are there to help everyone have fun.

My brother Stolph once ran a session with his kids where the PC's were trying to play a prank on a mean merchant they didn't like. Their plan was to spike his drink, but the merchant was sitting right there with them. So Stolph had the merchant get up to go to the restroom to make it easier for them.

But don't make it too obvious, or it might spoil their fun.

Try it yourself!

It takes no time to implement this idea, only a willingness to be flexible and to let the players control what's happening in the story.

Implement this idea the next time you play. Do this before your players get so frustrated with your world that they don't want to play in it anymore. If that happens, have a conversation with them and promise to be more flexible from now on.

This idea, if implemented, will require tons of freeballing on your part. When you let your players literally do anything they want to do, your well made plans may not even be used.

If you're not saying "yes" to your players, your world is just not going to be that fun. And fun is the reason we play this game, is it not?