I was reminded today of the oft-repeated Old School gaming maxim, “Never say no.” That typically is a piece of advice to the Dungeon Master, who should always allow the players to try whatever batshit crazy stunt they want, no matter how far-fetched.
As long as they have an inkling of the consequences (assuming they should have any), it’s fair game. You do something stupid, you have a good chance of suffering bad consequences. You do something obviously suicidal, it’s not the DM’s job to talk you off the ledge. He’s there to help you step off, if that’s what you really want to do.
And then there was this the other day:
The cool thing about RPGs that I wish more people would know about is that you can just say “no I don’t think that happens” and no one can stop you in any way that matters.
I was thinking about this today after seeing some Bad Tweets about character death and after talking w/ @TheRpgAcademy on an #AcadecOnline panel this afternoon but no one can stop you from saying “no, what actually happens is…”
I wish I could remember who said it but an OLD episode of RPG Design Panelcast had a story of a character in a historical fiction game contracting some serious illness and the player looked the GM in the eyes and said “No, that doesn’t happen.”
I lived w/ that power move in my back pocket for literal years until recently in my IRL group when my character dove from a cliff to save his boyfriend. We rolled falling damage and it was A Lot. The GM said “this would kill you.” I said “That’s a bad story. That doesn’t happen.”
Oh sweet Incabulous, where to start?
First off, this is a further demonstration of the wisdom of the title of this post, although it now becomes obvious that it must needs extend not only to the DM, but also to the players. If the DM is encouraged, nay, required, to allow his players to do whatever crazy ass shit they want to do, then those same players must be similarly required to endure the consequences of their actions.
And that, I think, is the kernel of this entire thing. This is yet another example of someone who thinks that life shouldn’t have any consequences, no matter how many awful choices one makes. Which is complete and utter bullshit, whether in real life or in a game like D&D.
Now, there are absolutely “story games” whose rules give this sort of agency to the players. They aren’t as popular as they were seven or eight years ago, but they’re still out there, and apparently some people (like the individual quoted above) think the mechanics of such games should be (or, in this case, must be) applied to all RPGs.
Dungeons & Dragons, however, is not a story game in that sense. I wrote about this many years ago; while it is perfectly possible for a game of D&D or AD&D to have a story, such should not be the goal to the point that it overrides the mechanics of play, but rather the story is something which emerges as play goes on.
Traditionally, in A/D&D, the players and DM have an adversarial relationship. The DM designs encounters, and traps, and tricks, and monsters, and on and on and on which the players are supposed to overcome. This can be done through the straight mechanics of the game (combat, skill checks, etc.) or through clever seat-of-the-pants improvisation, but the relationship is clearly, “the DM makes the challenges, and the players overcome those challenges.”
It is from that overcoming that the story advances, and the true enjoyment of the game comes from overcoming those challenges in a way that provides a genuine threat of defeat. Without the certain knowledge that one’s character could die, the game becomes nothing more than a rote recitation of some predetermined script, with minor variations that are mere beats on an inexorable road towards an ending which cannot be avoided. Such is inevitably dull and boring, because there are no real stakes. The players in such a game literally cannot lose, and that makes for a dull game indeed.
I am reminded of the classic Twilight Zone episode “A Nice Place to Visit.” It’s a terrific episode, where a thug finds himself in a presumed paradise, but he cannot lose in anything he tries, and gets everything he wants. He thinks he’s in Heaven. Here’s the stunning ending (please do watch it, it’s not only great television, but a great example of my point):
“When you win every time, that’s not gambling. That’s charity.”
That said, the arrogance of the original poster is simply astounding. I present as Exhibit A the following quote from page 2 (!) of the AD&D Players Handbook (1978):
Now, that’s from AD&D 1st Edition, of course. Modern players might be expecting something different. But, no; the 5th Edition Players Handbook (p. 6) says pretty much the same thing:
3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions. Describing the results often leads to another decision point, which brings the flow of the game right back to step 1.
Nothing in there about having narrative control over what happens to your character, nothing in there about being defiant when something bad happens, nothing in there about being a spoiled child who throws a tantrum when he doesn’t get his way.
And finally, there is, of course, a factual error in the OP. When he says:
…no one can stop you in any way that matters.
There is indeed a way I, as DM, can stop you in the only way that matters. I can tell you to either accept my ruling as DM or get the hell away from my table. You play whatever game you want, but you don’t have the right to force your game on me and my other players.