340 Just Say No

As GM’s we are often encouraged to say ‘yes and’ when responding to a player’s inquiry on whether their character can do something within a tabletop rpg. There is also ‘no, but’ method. This is where the GM is a bit more firm, yet still providing something. Are there times when a all out ‘no’, ‘just no’, is not only justified but required?

Recording Monday, May 3rd.



In my own experience running “old school” games there is definitely a time to say a flat “No.” It is when a player says his character takes an action that simply isn’t possible - like trying to play a piano to entertain some NPCs when the character has never played piano before. (Unless, the player suggests that the PC making a fool of himself on the piano would be entertaining.)

Peterson talks about the core definition of a role-playing game as a game in which you can “try anything.” I agree with that in the sense that a player has no limits on what they can try with their character, other than the constraint of what makes sense in the fiction itself. A thief in old school D&D has a good chance to “climb sheer surfaces,” even at level 1. When presented with a wall of glass, would you let the thief try to climb it? I would say “No” unless the thief had suction cups attached to his hands.

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If a player is using “character motivation” for being a dick at the table, absolutely. This isn’t common, but saying “no” is a skill good GMs develop in order to redirect, or if necessary stop a course of action or inaction that will result in a bad time, hurt feelings, etc.

In one case I had to say “no” to a character. I had a player make up a PC that had no motivation to adventure, and thwarted the game for a week. I had to go to the player and give his PC the hard “nope.” (I learned a great lesson. Now I simply ask the players to come up with that motivation as a hard requirement to play.)

I’ve had to give a hard “nope” at a con game when a player began a line of inquiry with a NPC that was obviously going to lead towards another player’s “line” (as in lines and veils"). I shut it down and did not explain at the table – again could not figure out how to do so w/o hitting that line.

I’ve also had to effectively say “no” when engaged in a historical/cultural RPGs – only to reinforce the themes and mores of a game. For example, running Bushido back in the 80’s or L5R in the 90’s with folks who were not yet keyed into the cultural norms of those societies. In some of those cases it was not a hard “no” but rather… “Your character can absolutely do that, but I’m sure your character knows that by disobeying your superior in court they will shame them publicly. Blood is likely to flow in seconds. Is that the intention of your PC?”


For me it’s about genre, for some Fantasy includes steampunk automatons and vehicles, for others it does not. So i’ve had to say No to steampunk or firearms requests and suggestions when i’ve been running a dark ages/bronze age conan sword-n-sorcery style game.

In any games you want to keep the conversation going, so you say No that’s not right for this system/setting, but you can do X or Y instead? give them some parameters - not everyone is as familiar with the genre or subgenre as you may be.

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I think this discussion kind of encompasses multiple topics, some of which aren’t exactly saying no as much as reaching a consensus.

For example, if you, as a GM, says, “I don’t want to use ancestry X or class Y because [reason],” and the player says “I think Y actually fits because [reason],” that’s a discussion, and while the player desires are important, the GM is also a player at the table that needs to enjoy the game, and is an important voice. The GM needs to present their ideas, but should probably be open to a discussion of their reasoning.

Discussing player actions and consequences is also maybe not really about “no,” but about making sure that every one is clear about what is about to happen. Sometimes this discussion isn’t just about “your character wouldn’t do that,” because, ultimately, that is the player’s choice, but what the GM and other players have a say in is “do we want the campaign to go this direction.” If someone is about to kill someone, and the whole team would become criminals on the run, that’s something to have a meta-discussion about, which isn’t even about “would you do this,” and is more about “are we okay with one player changing the paradigm because how they want their character to act.”

Related, but different is a safety discussion.

“I’m going to torture this captive.”

“I really don’t want to be at a table where this is going to be an option. I’m uncomfortable with this.”

While it’s a no, its a no about someone saying that they may not be emotionally or mentally okay with addressing a topic in a game, which is different than just discussions about genre emulation or even storytelling trajectories. Like the GM that says what rules will and won’t get used, this is something you can at least start to address in a session zero by establishing lines and veils, but without the negotiations you can have for rules. If that person isn’t comfortable with a topic, and you want them at the table, you can’t include that content.

Then there is the very simple yes and no that GMs just have to adjudicate.

“If I throw a dagger at that barrel of unstable alchemical materials, can I get it to blow up?”

“No, you still need to apply fire or some kind of catalyst.”

“Can I throw my gun to another player, in such a way that they get to fire it because I hit their finger, but I’m rolling my throwing skill to attack but I get their bonus to gun damage?”

" . . . no"


Next time I disagree with a player, I’m directing them to you.
“Why not”
“Well, one, you’re an idioooo ohhhhh, you know what? Call this guy, he can explain it better than me.”


I think we all learned what we could from applying improv acting techniques to gaming back in the aughts. Yes-and is a great practice for many situations, but not all situations. While there are some similarities and overlapping zones, acting is not gaming and gaming is not acting! Unless you want a gonzo one-upmanship kind of game, you have to say “no” sometimes.

I think the answer for when and how to say “no” from the improv theory side of things was to note when a person was introducing something into the fiction that didn’t fit with all the fiction that came before (in the case of an RPG, this would include the kind of fictional tropes and parameters on the setting as well as the contributions of other players). And the solution was often to “talk it out with your group.”

That’s cool. If you have the time and if it’s important enough - like someone wanting to play a Yuan-Ti Samurai in a gritty human-centric campaign. But when a player simply tries something that is too ambitious – probably because that player and the GM are a little out of synch in the way they are visualizing the situation – it’s easier just to say “that isn’t going to work, try something else” or just “no, that won’t work.”


This concept is something I’ve been thinking a lot about more lately. Simply because when I first got back into the hobby I re-evaluated my previous game experiences specifically around gamemastering. And I definitely wanted to in the past try to retell epic tales and had a very set design in my head. Since then I have become much more flexible and in some cases I haven’t cared what the players picked at all as long as it was something that was in the Roebuck or created from the existing rules.

I have even had a little bit of frustration and some of my games where I felt like the Gamemaster was being restrictive for reasons that I didn’t agree with but the more I think back on it they were simply trying to curate a particular type of experience for everyone including themselves.

When discussing this with some of our group there is a little bit of disagreements all friendly of course but at least some members of our group believe that the game master should be accommodating and allow the players to play whatever they want as long as there’s some rule or mechanic that supports that. While I agree that we should want to run games that our players want it also has to be the games we want as a GM and if you truly want to run a human centric campaign with no wizard then being accommodating for the personal who wants to be a wizard might not be the right thing and in fact maybe your group isn’t the right group to run that game.

I know I’m rambling a little bit here but just kind of brain dumping recent experience I have a player playing a cleric of a particular diety who’s about being crafty and trying to evade death a deity of the night. They mentioned potentially multiclassing into Paladin and it wasn’t for a role-playing aspect but for Pure mechanical advantage. I did step in as GM and say hey that doesn’t make sense this particular deity they don’t have churches per say I can’t see them having Paladin’s running around. In my games and settings paladins are either holy knights or Unholy knights and even in games with other side dieties those ones may not have Paladin’s they could have priests but they won’t have Paladin’s.

Ok enough rambling :slight_smile:


When discussing this with some of our group there is a little bit of disagreements all friendly of course but at least some members of our group believe that the game master should be accommodating and allow the players to play whatever they want as long as there’s some rule or mechanic that supports that.

This, right here, is why I like to play fantasy games other than D&D. Everyone can get on the same page regarding what’s in, and out, or frame very quickly. The recently discussed Symbaroum is a perfect example…

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Yes D&D due to the massive amount of source material appears to cause this to occur more. If your playing something different than D&D you can eliminate this by virtue of it simply not being in a book.

Going into Humblewood I said anything from PHB from a class perspective is good but we are using HW species only. Could someone have said “Can I play this Artificer class from Tashas?” Which in the right setting I am totally cool with Artificers and in someone else’s HW that class might work but not in my version. No one wpuld ask to play an artificer in SYM because it simply isn’t an option right? Well at least I don’t think someone would ask :slight_smile:

All that being said as players we need to respect the game the GM wants to run. All humans…or these 4 classes only…OK thats the game the GM wants. Which is completely cool and if we don’t want to play in that game - don’t play right??

With the way 5E has all the additional supplements to me it feels like a game where you should be bolting on and removing optional rules, classes, species for the specific game your trying to run. Some games I would not encourage that because the game might be built to play a very specific way and its no longer that game if you modify it too much. If I say my world doesn’t have Dragonborn or Druids it doesn’t fundamentally make it not 5E anymore imo. If I remove spellburn from DCC I would argue that you are taking a core mechanic away from DCC and it might not be DCC anymore.

The 5e edition of Symbaroum will surely be a very focused take on things, and will absolutely be the kind of setting where you’d have to be really careful about injecting 3rd party and even “normal” D&D content into the game. Content that by its very existence would diminish the themes that are so central to the game.

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