It’s time for Tabletop Tuesday!
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to leapfrog over the rogue and flip through the air to land next to the goblin and smash his face with my hammer.”
“I want to grab hold of this powerful conduit of magical energy while casting a spell at the incoming ranks of undead, in the hopes that maybe it will, like, amp up my powers… or something?”
What do you do when your players come up with unique plans and crazy ideas?
Just say “Yes!”
Tabletop Role-Playing is all about collaborative storytelling. It’s all about the characters, the heroes of the story. “Actions speak louder than words,” so when the players come up with unexpected methods to deal with conflict and trouble, that’s an important part of defining those characters for the story you’re all telling.
Sometimes this takes a little bit of stretching, a little imagination to figure out “How do we make this work?” It can be challenging to come up with a solution on the spot, but that gives the DM more practice being flexible.
Someone wants to jump on an enemy and bite at them, Mike Tyson style? Say yes.
Someone suggests setting the whole outpost on fire in order to gain a short-term advantage? Go for it.
Someone decides to activate a mysterious magic device in an attempt to stop a powerful foe? Why not!
Psst, to all the rules lawyers, you and I both know this is completely unacceptable. Stick with me for a bit. If nothing else, they just handed you a golden ticket as the DM.
Perhaps, “Oops, now the whole building is burning down, and you must race to rescue the innocent captives / recover the precious artifacts before it collapses on your heads.”
Or several sessions later, “Remember when you activated that device in order to destroy that elite monster? Yeah, you also set off a beacon that attracted the attention of an incomprehensible alien race that is now making their way to your realm. Better get ready!”
Or, “Hey, that sounds cool. Sure, you gnaw the guy’s face.” And everyone in that region now knows what this hero is willing to do in order to win.
I recall a story from a game designer recounting a session with his son. At the end of the fight, his son says, “My character goes to the statue near the altar and discovers a hidden treasure. He tries to open it, but it has a trap.” The kid starts alternate-DMing for a moment. And the game designer father had the good sense in the moment to just go with it.
The party ends up with a little extra gold, the kid’s character gets poisoned and needs to heal more than he did before, and everyone moves on with the rest of the session. But that moment told the child, “This is your game too. This is your world. Let’s explore it together.”
Just say “yes.” Your games will be better for it.
Okay… rules lawyers, it’s time for a very important caveat.
Are there limits to this suggestion? …Yes. (See what I did there?)
“Is there a way that I can use diplomacy to leap across the chasm and then maybe do an endurance check in order to disarm the trap?”
No. No, there’s absolutely not a way.
Every DM has probably had a player who gets one exceptional skill, and then tries to use it every round. “Can I use my Dungeoneering to fight the goblin? Can I use my Dungeoneering to forage for food in the sky temple? Can I use my Dungeoneering to understand complex magic and recall a historic religious ritual that will help us spot the hidden treasure? I do have a really high Dungeoneering score…”
But your players never want to hear “No.” So what do you do?
You want your default inclination to be “Yes” so long as it makes sense.
Take advantage of that collaborative aspect of the tabletop game. Make them explain how exactly their favorite go-to skill is going to help in this particular situation. You give them the impression you’re willing to go along as long as they can come up with a convincing answer. You show them you’re willing to bend a bit for the sake of story without completely breaking the game or common sense. You put the ball back in their court and ask how it’s supposed to go from there.
Your average tabletop player is probably going to be reasonable and admit that their idea is beyond the scope of reason. If not, then once again go collaborative. Have a majority vote from your players or invite suggestions on how to make it work. And of course, as the DM you have the ultimate power to conclude that there’s no reasonable way to agree to the crazy plan. So, sometimes say, “No.”
But only if absolutely necessary.