DMing Tips: When to Say “NO”

Lots of articles and blogs out there talk about how as a DM you should always say “yes” and never “no” when players attempt to perform some task in game. They all talk about how “no” is a destructive answer, how it halts the action, and how at the worst you should use “yes, but” in order to throw a complication your players’ way.

I gotta say that I strongly disagree with this approach for several reasons.

* First is that the game you run is yours; you do share it with your players and they contribute a meaningful portion of the game, but first and foremost the game is yours. You are putting in a lot of prep work and have a great deal of material to review and know so it is not unreasonable to say no to a player who wants to play a variant race or class, use some feat or skill trick, or item that you aren’t comfortable with allowing.

* Secondly your job as DM is to ensure that the game is fun for everyone and in some cases saying yes to one player can lead to a situation in which no one else is having fun. For example one player wants to fight everything and they’re asking if they can start a fight that you know will end in a TPK. Another example is a player who wants to do something that will make another player uncomfortable; topics like racism, sex, and child abuse fall into this category.

* Third its okay to say no in order to preserve the in-game consistency. If magic is rare in your campaign and only the largest cities have mage guilds it is perfectly okay to say “no, there is not a mages guild in Elmvale” because that is a fact about the world.

There are plenty of times when you can say yes, but there are some where you should definitely say no in order to keep your game moving and fun for everyone.

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~ by katallos on December 9, 2009.

2 Responses to “DMing Tips: When to Say “NO””

  1. I totally agree.

  2. This topic seems much more complex than is presented here. I try never to be absolute about anything. I say no all the time. I try to allow the party to do anything. You see it I see it as a “setting” and “plot” issue. I as the DM control the setting. The party and I control the plot by what we do. I try not to tell the party “no” when it concerns “plot” or actions. For example, “I want to explore the library looking for ancient volumes of magic.” I wouldn’t say, “That’s a waste of time because there isn’t any.” Instead I’d let them look and find various ancient books on several subjects I think would be available to them.

    In your example, instead of saying “No there aren’t any guilds.” you could instead explore the plot of having him look for a guild and run into something just as interesting or even better deadly.

    I do tend to disagree with your overall statement about the game being yours. I consider it, “our time.” I think the best measurement is, are people having fun. If people aren’t having fun because you say no you might reconsider your answers.

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