Posted by: markfender | June 10, 2015

Saying Yes

There’s the common phrase in gaming of “Say Yes or Roll the dice.”

keep-calm-and-just-say-yes-5It’s a good policy and one that I generally follow. Smarter people than I have talked about this “rule” before. But I’d like to extrapolate from that and apply it to the story itself with the following maxim: Say Yes or ‘Splain How.

We’ve all been in games in which the players talk amongst themselves about whatever situation the GM is presenting them. And sometimes, they have better ideas than the GM does about what the story is. This is the first part of the maxim. If the players’ idea is better, then you should definitely say “yes” to it. Rejigger your game so that what they said is true. They don’t even have to know.

However, sometimes the ideas the players have aren’t great. Maybe they don’t know enough about the game world yet to really analyze the situation. Maybe they don’t even realize one of the main bad guys in your game hasn’t been introduced yet and so their explanations of what’s really going on are missing some important elements. That means it’s time for the second part of the maxim: ‘splain how. Introduce those missing elements. Broaden the pieces the players have to work with so that they can get back to coming up with better ideas than you have.

I find this a pretty good rule, especially for the types of games I run where there’s a lot of secret, moving bits. If the players have a better idea than me, I figure out how to incorporate it. If they don’t, I try to point them in the direction of the truth. Maybe, along the way to the truth, they’ll come up with a better idea and I’ll just incorporate that instead, but the important part is to push them in the direction of the truth – sooner rather than later. If you can fill in the missing pieces, they’re that much more likely to put the pieces together into a new form. But, otherwise, they’re missing key details, which can lead to frustration.

This pretty much comes out of the usual problem with Perception-type rolls in games. If the player’s fail, they don’t get a clue and now you’re stuck trying to reintroduce a clue. “Say Yes” has had that debate before, but that same type of frustration can arise around game situations that don’t involve dice. It’s not necessarily a Perception roll to notice that your close ally Bruce Wayne is never available whenever Batman shows up. But if that reveal is an important part of your game, you still need to be pointing the players towards that element. They might come up with a better idea (“Hey, did anyone ever notice that whenever the Joker and Batman are having a fight, Bruce is never around? He must be the Joker!”), but if their ideas are leading off on wild tangents that are far from the direction you’ve intended to go (“The Batman is obviously part bat. We need to investigate the zoo.”), then it’s time to ‘splain how and provide additional clues to the mystery.

This stuff seems pretty obvious to me. But I also recognize that it’s not always advice that I follow. So, hopefully, by codifying it into a witty aphorism, it’ll stick in the brain better in the middle of a session.

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