There is a tried and true improv method called “Yes, and…” that can make it really easy to make a roleplaying situation more dynamic and fun. The Mythcreants have a good article about it’s use in RPGs and Geek & Sundry has a good article about games that make it really easy to use this option. Chris Perkins uses this all the time in the Acquisitions Incorporated series and it’s one of the reasons those are so much fun to watch. This is just the tip of the iceberg, so read on to up your GM game.
Using “yes and…” can enhance your game but it also means you are accepting a certain level of uncertainty. I was talking with my brother (we’ll call him Factol Rhys) about this very situation the other day. When it goes well, this technique makes some awesome and memorable situations but it can just as easily create rough situations where the story spirals out. First of all, I don’t really accept that stories can get “ruined” when people do things that they think sounds cool. These things might lead to a situation that didn’t go like you wanted or that didn’t engage everyone but you can always turn it into something fun later.
There’s always the situation, though, that you can see something coming that could potentially steal momentum from the game and you want to avoid it. On the other hand, you don’t want to be a “bad GM” who’s “doing it wrong” so you might feel like your only option is to let it happen. That’s the case in the link in the paragraph above where a Reddit user outlines a situation from their home game. One of the players insisted on breaking into a military facility which led to a situation where one player got further and further into a mess and the other players watched with (at least what the GM saw as) glass-eyed boredom.
To me, the GM in the situation above did everything right. They placed some parameters on the action that made it a long shot… the player just got lucky. That hopefully doesn’t make the GM less willing to do that in the future. If you get into these situations, try some of the following options to mitigate things.
- Once it becomes clear that the situation is going to take a while, start cutting between scenes. While the one player gets in over their head at the military facility, cut back to the other players’ characters, even just for their reaction to the situation.
- Use montages to cut down on detail. Lots of times, small “yes and…” scenes come to dominate a game session because they just take forever to work through. If someone says they want to look for a bar to gather new info and you know that there’s no new info to gather, just say skim the details instead of talking through it in real time.
This is a great alternative to giving into a player’s weird idea without opening the flood gates. Instead of saying yes to their suggestion and adding some new details, say yes and then add some limiting factor. This is a way to make it less favorable or give the player a reason to give up on the plan while still getting credit for coming up with something good. Here are some examples from the military facility example…
- “You want to break into the military facility? You can do that, but a quick bit of surveillance shows that you won’t have any chance of getting in for another 12 hours or so.”
- “Break into the facility? Yeah, but your local contact overhears you musing about it and says ‘Are you crazy? You do something like that and you can count out our help.’ Do you others want to let him risk that?”
You don’t have to agree to everything just because you’re in charge. Giving players agency makes the game more fun in general but that’s not the same as giving up on trying to create a story and nodding along with anything at the table. If you reject something, feel free to soften it by adding some more details. For the military facility that might looks something like this.
- “You want to what? Oh, no that’s definitely not something you could manage and you know that because you have a friend who’s low-level military analyst. Want to contact him instead?”
- “You’re going to try to break in? No, you’re not set up for that right now and it’s not necessary because Carlos says he has some of the info you’re after anyways.”
This is the most interesting option to me. When a player suggests something that could throw off the whole game session you can turn them down and try to redirect to something that is more prepared, rewarding, or both. The trick here is to make it tied to their character’s experiences as something they came up with. You don’t want to say “don’t look there, look over here” but maybe you can narrate why their character has an instinct that another path might work better. In the case of that military break in, this might be what you end up doing.
- “Uh, no you aren’t able to break into that military facility but you think there might be some nearby government offices that are more vulnerable.”
- “Break into that facility? That’s not something you think would work out but it’s possible your local contacts know someone on the inside who could help out.”