Hints, tips, advice and wisdom for players and runners of role-playing games

Saying, “No.”

In Storytelling on June 20, 2013 at 11:00 am

IMG_3337Storytellers fear saying it, Players need to hear it, and games benefit from it. How can these two letters really benefit a game, and how can Storytellers and Players learn to communicate it?

It’s hard to say “no” to people. It’s made even more complicated when a Storyteller worries about losing players because they were told they couldn’t have something they wanted. How do you say “no” and keep your attendance growing? How do you say “no” and keep your game happy?

The truth is, experienced Storytellers will all tell you, saying “no” is NOT a bad thing, and it doesn’t drive good players away. In fact, the opposite is true. It attracts good players, and it makes them like your game and respect you more.

Think about any time you’ve ever travelled to another game in a LARP, or played in a different MUSH or with a different tabletop group of players. Never will you hear from a good player, “Thank God I play here, where they allow all of my power-gamed wonky stuff!”

Now think, have you ever heard a Player say, “I can’t do anything about that character, his Storyteller gives him whatever he wants, so he’s unstoppable.”

I bet you have.

Once, I travelled to a LARP event game, and on the way home, one of my players told me a story. He said that while we were at the event, someone saw something enter play and said to him, “I wish my ST’s allowed that!” My Player then immediately told the other Player, “No you don’t. Remember, if you can have it, so can the bad guys, and the more crazy all these toys get, the more ridiculous the game gets, because everybody is always trying to push the limits and have something more powerful than everyone else. Eventually, there’s no limit, and the game is just a cartoon.” The other player considered this for a moment, and then agreed with him.

And then, my Player thanked me.

It’s testimony that Players are more likely to respect a Storyteller who is willing to tell them “no” when they ask for inappropriate things. They learn they can’t walk all over you, and that the game is bigger than just their own enjoyment. There are others around them playing, and the Storytellers are looking out for all of them.

The key to saying “no” is doing it in a way that doesn’t disrespect the Player making the request, and that doesn’t compromise any precedents the Storytelling staff has set. Remember these helpful suggestions…

Listen to the Player: Hear his entire pitch, start to finish, even if the first words out of his mouth tell you the answer is “no.” It’s important the Player feels listened to, and given the chance to explain his request.

Consider the Past: If you just let another Player have the exact same thing, you need to have a pretty good justification for telling the next guy “no.” Certainly, as a Storyteller, you don’t HAVE to justify your decisions. But if you want to keep your players trusting and respecting you, you should try. Keep your rulings consistent, and if you have multiple Storytellers on your staff, always discuss the pitch with your full staff before answering, so no one is uninformed and the Player cannot get a different answer from the rest of your staff.

Be Nice: Don’t just fold your arms over your chest and say, “No.” Consider your body language and your tone of voice. Tell your player, “I’m sorry, but that request is not something we can do at this time.”

Explain Your Answer: You don’t have to reveal to your Player the secret inner-workings of the game to convey why you are saying “no.” A simple answer with some examples or a few justifying facts is really enough. Players just need to know you aren’t knee-jerking your response. They want to know you really thought about it, and they like to know why they cannot have what they are asking for. If you give them good reasons, they will be disappointed, not angry. They are also less likely to bother you for the same thing again in a few weeks.

If you try all of these tactics, and the Player still stomps his feet and quits the game, perhaps they weren’t a good Player to begin with. Game is about community, fun, good story and dozens of other things.

If they are only playing your game so they can get that one special thing they are asking you for, then maybe your game is better off without them.

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