Sunday, March 30, 2014

You Can't Do That.

One thing about the GM is: they know more about the scenario than the player.

I mean: the player might know more about the equipment they're carrying, but the GM could just ask. The player can't ask "What's behind the next door?"

So anyway, when the player thinks up something and goes "Ok, I'm gonna tie a string to the sword and whip it around my head, and decapitate everyone" or something else clever and the GM says "No" the GM is saying many things with that "No" but one is:

I know this scenario, I know where the treasure is and I know where the monsters are and I know: even if I deny you this, there are still many ways to beat the situation. I am challenging you to think of another one.

It is like in one of those riddles where you can ask yes or no questions. Each 'No' is saying "You thought of something but it won't work" but it's also saying "Try harder. Think more".

'No' is a disastrous thing to say if your game is about a power fantasy, but it's the engine of solution-driven adventures, and games based on the fun of challenging the players to think.

And if the GM says 'no' to too many things, or the GM never has any yesses except the ones s/he expects, then that GM is a bad GM and you get rid of them. Stop electing them to that job.

48 comments:

  1. Somettimes you just got to let them tie the string to the sword so they get to see why it was a dumb idea.

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    1. either way you get the point

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    2. Sometimes, right in the face, apparently.

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  2. I agree wholeheartedly. There's this horrible concept that has developed in gaming circles that you should either say yes or roll the dice. That's just silly. If the player says "I want to shoot an arrow at the moon" there's no die roll involved. That just can't happen. I don't care if you roll a 20 on a d20 or 00 on 1d100, the 1st level character is not going to tear down the magical, titanium, triple-locked door unassisted with his bare hands. I've seen the verisimilitude of multiple campaigns get wrecked by the "well, Bob rolled a 20, so I guess this crazy, impossible thing happens..." It's one of those things that sounds more fun in an Internet discussion than really is fun at the table. There's a huge difference between that and, "at the last second, Bob rolled a 20 and managed to leap across the 10-foot pit before the dragon got to him." That's possible, and it's fun and dramatic. Makes a great game story. But the logic doesn't extend to everything. I don't want to game in a world where there's a 5% chance that whatever crazy-ass thing someone comes up with will actually happen. That's why there's a living, breathing GM who can understand logic and a veneer of reality and not just an unthinking randomizer at the end of the table.

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    1. Vincent Baker, who I'm pretty sure floated this maxim, addresses the very point you make (http://sgcodex.wikidot.com/say-yes-or-roll-the-dice). Luke Crane, who I'm pretty sure hewed onto the maxim explicitly with his explanations about how he thinks Burning Wheel (and the other related games he's made) makes a point that dovetails nicely with Baker's points: you roll the dice when the outcome is uncertain.

      To my mind, the player who says "I want to shoot an arrow at the moon" is missing the point if that's not a meaningful goal within the context of their game: if actions have nothing at stake, are boring, or have no uncertainty behind them, then you don't roll the dice.

      To my mind, when the player says "I want to shoot an arrow at the moon", I say, "Sure. You do that. You draw back and shoot off your arrow at the moon. It arcs off into the night and comes down in that town over there. You hear a distant scream." If I'm feeling generous. Otherwise, I say, "Sure. You loose off an arrow into the dark; it comes nowhere near the moon. Mark off one arrow."

      I think the point is not that the "say Yes" part means "congratulations you succeed", it's more that it means "your actions have the expected outcome, and we won't roll because really there's nothing at stake."

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    2. Sigh. No comment editing. "... how he thinks Burning Wheel (and the other related games he's made) should play, ..."

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    3. At the risk of sounding like Grandpa Gamer, I think the concept is even older than that.

      Regardless, despite your logical interpretation of how to handle the concept in this situation, I don't believe that's the way many people interpret it. There's a pervasive idea is that a GM who says no is a "bad GM," which is an overreaction to actual bad, adversarial GMs who say no to everything. GMs who have been misled into this approach, rather than say "no" when they should, say "roll," and hide behind the die, assuming that the player with the impossible action will roll low or even mediocre, and the GM will be free of responsibility when he announces the failure. But of course, if the d20 clatters across the table, a 20 will come up 5% of the time, and the players suddenly look to the GM expectantly. Now, the poor GM either has to say, "it still doesn't work, I was just making you roll for no reason," and look like an ass, or he has to come up with some crazy way to insert this impossible thing into the narrative of the game. (Even at the link you provided, it mentions games where if you roll well enough on a very hard perception roll, you find whatever it is you want to find. Which is pretty silly.)

      As an aside, hiding behind the dice sometimes even goes the other way. GMs so interested in appearing dissociated or unbiased call for rolls for actions that just should be automatic successes. But then that pesky 1 comes up, and now we have to come up with some reason why the Hulk couldn't bash his way through the sliding glass door.

      My point is that GMs need to be willing to just say no or yes to actions when it's appropriate and--as you said--only roll when the outcome is uncertain.

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    4. Monty, I'm kinda surprised by your comment. As far as Fantasy RPG's go, the only laws of realism that should be applied at all are from the dice themselves. If a PC wants to shoot at the moon, by all means let him--and if he's soo fortunate to roll whatever number he has to get( 20 on a d20,000 on a d1000 ,ect) --then something happens. What that exactly happens should be is for the GM to decide. Hitting the moon is impossible on our world, but it wouldn't be too far fetch of making that one-in a-thousand-chance a reality in say the Dreamlands (and probably pissing off some moon beasts in the process) or even in Atlantis were that same lucky shot maybe he didn't hit the moon, but he sure as hell nailed the ultra rare moon dove that happen to be flying by.

      My point being, a GM should't say no no to the player matter how ridiculous his action might be. Just have em' roll some dice and be ready to tell him the outcome. After all, there's only so many times someone can shoot at the moon without their bow snapping or trying break an adamantine lock with their bare hands.

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    5. @Iron
      Why on _earth_ would you try to tell another GM what_their_ game should be like?

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    6. Hold on--am I telling Monty that he should only let people play Halflings or the world needs needs be flat?I am not. My point taken is I don't think absolute logic has a place in fantasy RPG's ( most especially D&D) and that it's better for a GM to think creativity and to come up with a solution that fits within in the context of the game. Saying "no" to a place has time and place, but there's better ways to get your point across to the player that what the want to do( no matter how silly it is) isn't going to happen. So, I say let the player shoot the moon, and if he scores a natural 20, then as the GM you should come up with a response that suits the game. Anything from a random table to saying, " nice shot, but you still miss", will always work much better then having to say NO.

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    7. What makes you sure that, in Monte's game, with Monte's group, the time spent doing that wouldn't be better and more usefully spent just moving on to better solutions.
      There is a time and place for many things, but in your original comment you told _him_

      "If a PC wants to shoot at the moon, by all means let him-"

      that is a sentence in the imperative (command) mode. You are saying, in effect "I know your game and table better than you and here is what will work out better"

      Then you pretended
      "but there's better ways to get your point across"
      that you know Monte's players better than him.

      "Anything from a random table to saying, " nice shot, but you still miss", will always work much better then having to say NO."

      Really? Always? You ALWAYS think that? That will always work best? No matter who the players are? No matter how much time they have to play?

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    8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    9. Iron: you're not answering the question. Nobody asked how _YOU_ think. They asked why you're second-guessing someone else's aesthetic call.

      Also "freak out"--why are you suddenly projecting THAT onto Monte?

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    10. Re edit from previouse post::

      YEAH, I do THINK that way! That's because don't have a problem when players try strange , of-the-cuff things, that make other GM's freak out because they don't know how to handle something that didn't go along with their plans. In fact, I relish the moments when it DOES happen because it makes be an even BETTER GM as I know have to rely on my skills and creativity to come up with a good response that fits the tone within the game. So am I going to say no you can't shoot the moon, or you can't dangle a sword from a rope or you can't jump on the dragons back--not at all. I'll let my rulings, dice rolls or both decide on the outcome.

      Nope, don't need to know Monte's players or his game. All I'm interested in is his post as I ( politely) disagreed with It an would like to hear a response.

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    11. AGAIN:
      Iron: you're not answering the question. Nobody asked how _YOU_ think. They asked why you're second-guessing someone else's aesthetic call.

      Also "freak out"--why are you suddenly projecting THAT onto Monte?

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    12. I already said I disagree with Monte's post and wanted to hear his response. So far it's been only you who's responded and I already know where you stand.

      Really? Do you actually believe I would imply a veteran player and game designer
      that he doesn't know how to run a game without the help of a module or have the skills set to improvise a game? The same guy who created Ptolus from his home campaign? come on, man...


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    13. Iron:
      1. You are _still_ refusing to answer the question:

      Why are you' second-guessing someone else's aesthetic call?

      Answer the question or you will never be allowed to comment here again. Refusing to answer questions is not a conversation.


      2. Nobody said a WORD about the _ABILITY_ to make something up about shooting the moon or whatever. This is about the _DESIRE_ to do that.

      Do you grasp that? Yes or No?

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    14. Like, we all know you're ABLE to change your name to "Billy Bob Warner McGee" but that isn't an argument that you _should_ and it especially isn't a reason to tell someone else _THEY_ should: so answer the question.

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    15. "I disagree" is not an answer to the 2 questions you were asked.

      You are banned here until you acknowledge your mistake.

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    16. And because your last comment didn't answer the questions and instead was a bunch of name-calling, it's been deleted.

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  3. The practiced Mary Sue will make sure he is sandwiching all his official feats and powers into the action. Thus, when you say no, he can cry foul. The argument often continues till you promise conditional success, like "sword-whipping decapitates up to 3 HD in a 10' radius".

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    1. Why do you play with that guy?

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    2. I was his invitee to the group long ago. He rages only rarely, and I've GM'd long enough to develop one round adventure regeneration. Sadly, being a grognard doesn't help some gamers play co-op...

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    3. I don't understand. Why do you play with that guy?

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    4. You know, maybe I'm subconsciously waiting for him to mess up. Am I feeding the angry wolf? Not to mention his vegan palate, which frees up more tallow snacks.

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  4. No. You can't do that. Try something else!

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  5. It remembers me of a past teacher: "Saying No is a permission to think"

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  6. Honestly, I'd say yes to both the Sword on a String and shooting an arrow at the moon. With the first scenario, depending on the edition of D&D we were playing, I'd set up some modifiers, adjust the difficulty check, perhaps change the damage output and then let them try.

    For the second one, since I feel it's pretty impossible to actually put an arrow into space with a bow, I'll just say "Your attempt fails."

    The problem I have with saying "no" implies that said action is impossible to perform, which is silly since anyone can grab rope, tie it to the pommel of their sword, and swing it around their head. Anyone can knock an arrow, aim at the moon, and let fly said arrow. The question becomes, is the action worthwhile? Most of the times, I think a player will get the understanding that performing such an actions (in either scenario) is a bit of a waste of their time.

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    1. WAIT WAIT WAIT:
      You just said "I'd say yes to both the Sword on a String and shooting an arrow at the moon" AND THEN YOU SAID
      "For the second one, since I feel it's pretty impossible to actually put an arrow into space with a bow, I'll just say "Your attempt fails."
      YOU JUST SAID THE OPPOSITE OF THAT. That's saying 'no.'

      Which is it?

      I'm not saying "Your character is under my control and cannot attempt this thing" (nobody is, that's preposterous, and it's preposterous you'd think anyone was saying that) I'm saying "the attempt will fail and, likely, it is obvious to your character."

      Do you grasp this?

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    2. I've sadly DM'ed with some people who would likely say "No, you can't do that" and thus, not even allow the attempt. I'm not sure why they denied the action, which is what I was inferring with the article. Saying no with some people I've played literally meant "No. You cannot try that because it's dumb.." or whatever so my apologies if I mistook that literal meaning.

      But, regardless, I think it really depends on the situation and the communication between the group and DM. Most players I've played with and DM'd for probably wouldn't ask to attempt to shoot the moon because even they know such at attempt is well.....not really possible unless some HEAVY magic was involved or if we're playing in Zelda (which is fun too). The sword on a rope, well I could see them asking to try that and I'd probably let them.

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    3. There's no sword on a rope, there's a sword on a _string_. Much different

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    4. Why are you commenting on a thing I didn't even write?

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    5. I was under the assumption (wrongly, I admit) that saying "no" implied the very direct literal meaning of it - as in "no, you cannot attempt that."

      As for the sword on a "_string_" still, I'd probably allow them the attempt. String strength is variable depending on material, so it's not unfathomable that a _string_ could maintain the weight of a sword while being swung and not break.

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  7. I can't help but feel that my GMing style is counterintuitive based on this. I say yes a lot, or at the very least, "Hmmm, that could work, roll."

    One too many GMs of the type you describe in the last paragraph illustrates why I tend to dislike playing and prefer to GM.

    Oh dear, none of the dozen clever ideas I and the rest of the party have come up with is the 'right' one? How foolish of us not to get that reference to 13th century German architecture you gave us no additional clues about.

    I vote Yes to yesses.

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    1. I am sorry you had such terrible GMs.

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    2. Thanks. Me too. I'm sure my views on a great many elements of old school gaming would be quite different had my awesome first GM not been followed by a dozen crappy ones.

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  8. Isn't the real problem here that the "yes or roll dice" rule doesn't exist in a vacuum? It always has two friends.

    First (I'm looking at you, ApocWorld/DungeonWorld) is "if you roll, it happens _as the player describes_." This is at odds with people who want to say sure, swing that sword around, it'll have the predictable result of not decapitating everyone. You are ignoring that by the rules of these systems, if dice roll the player description of the action is the result of a success.

    The other best friend of "yes or roll" systems is that the GM doesn't "know this scenario/know where the treasure is/know where the monsters are." They recommend you come to the mostly game cold, and let the players dictate, in large portions, what is actually happening.

    So when a player wants to shoot the moon, and rolls successfully, they hit the moon. And now you have to scramble and say, "uh, so hit the moon. huh. I guess because it's actually the ceiling of a magical holodeck trap that you guys must have wandered into a ways back. So, now that's where we are. I guess."

    I have no idea how this survives more than a few sessions without descending into insanity, but maybe that's the point.

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    1. I'm not sure what system you're describing here, but that definitely doesn't sound like Apocalypse World as I've played or run it. First, Apoc World isn't yes-or-roll - it specifies a set of situations where a roll is made, and outside those it's basically GM-fiat. Second, the player doesn't get to specify the result on a successful roll, although some rolls do let them choose a subset of results (e.g., when attempting to seize by force, the player might choose to "definitely seize the objective" or "deal grievous harm"). Third, while Apoc World does suggest that the GM not make decisions about certain things, this is more in the sense of "don't try to railroad the players" than "don't have any idea of what's going on".

      At least, that's my understanding from reading the rules and playing the game. What have your experiences been with Apocalypse World?

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  9. "Your attempt does not succeed as you were hoping" [and because of this, something interesting happens].

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    1. While that can happen, that _does not_ result in a challenge for the players. If no matter what they try they unlock interesting content that the GM makes up, there is no incentive to ever problem solve.

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  10. off topic (but I don't know how you prefer to be contacted) Mike M and them were just talking about random tables and that they are good. Then Mike M started to elaborate, and then the convo became briefly instructional. Then they talked about the often comedic randomness of random tables: guy says, "yeah, how did that giant even get into that dungeon?" then Mike M answers, "he went in as a dwarf, but used a wish to get 'BIG' and has tragically been stuck in there ever since." just as quick that. thought you would approve.

    on topic: GM: "it sounds like you want to destroy all the enemies in a single attack. I understand, but I can guarantee your string-sword will not accomplish that, so no, think of something else." this way the player can know that he has been understood, is validated in front of the group so he looks like less of a disruptive a.s.s and the focus stays on the brawl at hand.

    in the hands of a competent GM, 'yes' and 'no' are tools, obviously.

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  11. Is this about the "say yes or roll the dice"?
    Because if it is, it's assumed the action is at least possible. It means to say yes even if it wouldn't be your first choice. It doesn't mean that you can't say "fuck that noise and get real, your character ain't leaping 150 feet on a standing jump, much less in armour".
    Sometimes people on forums misunderstand it, yes. But this is entirely on them.

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    1. Of course it is not about "Say yes or roll dice".

      If it was, _I would have said that_.

      If you would like to read about that, however, some people in the comments above are talking about it.

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    2. Reading the comments is exactly why I asked.
      Other than that? I agree, "you don't get to roll for that" is how I phrase it, but the meaning is the same.

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  12. getting a bit terse from the guy who allowed a mend on a 500 ton statue resulting in a boss kill. I say this as a friend.

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    1. That's totally irrational. That "mend" solution (completely within the letter of the written rules being used) _was the result of saying no to other solutions_ .

      In other words: had the GM been "yes-happy" that interesting creative solution never would've happened.

      (Also: I wasn't the GM in that game.)

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  13. We always played "yes or roll dice", it looked a little something like:

    Player: can I do [stupid shit] ?
    DM: sure, let me roll for that.
    -rolls dice, doesn't look at result-
    DM: you failed

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  14. "You hit the moon. Roll for damage... OH NO! The moon is now dead and fast falling towards earth. Your brazen misuse of that bow has killed a world."

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