|This idea just isn't going to fly. Unless you're playing Rifts.|
There is a time and place for saying "no."
And your players will appreciate you for it. After all, the game is meant to present them with a challenge. If any action was met with an affirmative, the game could be ended as easily as saying "I beat the bad guys, win the treasure, save the day!" The problem is not that GMs say no, it's that it is sometimes difficult to know when is the right time to say it. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. You have to take a lot of things into consideration and use your best judgement. Fortunately, if you are focused on providing players with the means and encouragement to persevere and succeed, you can still get away with declining certain options. Keep in mind that these situations are not the ones that involve a roll. A roll of the dice means that there is a possibility. These are situations in which the answer is just a straight negative. There are a few hallmarks of a question that you might fairly answer with "No,"
If an action is logically impossible. (Jumping across a hundred foot chasm without a special power.)
If something would create a contradiction within the rules or established fiction. (A player finding windows within the underground bunker.)
If it would hurt the entertainment value of the game. (Letting the team clown pull down the pants of the fighter's arch-nemesis during their dramatic confrontation)
Remember that enabling the players to be creative and have fun is still your top priority. That being said, the first thing they try does not have to be guaranteed to work. If everything is solved with the first idea or suggestion the players toss out, your game risks becoming too easy, and a bore. So don't be afraid to politely suggest the players try something else.
If your players get frustrated when confronted with an obstacle, there are other methods available to a wily GM. I've spoken before about the term "Yes, and..." Another useful tool in the GM's disposal is "No, but..."
Is there a door into the next chamber?
No, but there are some loose bricks in the wall nearby.
Can I sweet-talk the gnome without knowing its language?
No, but he looks like he is already very scared of you.
This technique rewards players with new information and prompting instead of simply stonewalling their forward momentum. You're giving them something for their actions, and suggesting directions for their next action without directly giving a solution. Just be sure you are not limiting your allowances strictly to the particular way you think the players should handle the situation. And don't discriminate towards the contributions of a particular player. Give every action suggested by the party a fair consideration and keep an open mind.
Odds are that the players will come up with their own solutions for a challenge before they even touch upon the ones you had thought up. Let it happen that way. And if they get stuck on a problem, be open minded to alternative solutions that could resolve the situation. This may seem anti-climactic, but if your game gets stuck in a rut, it's not going to be fun for anyone. Better to put things back on track and move on when it seems necessary.
|WWE's Daniel Bryan shows us how to say it.|
Often these alternatives will be costly. The player might be forced to choose between two options that will each have their own consequence. This is bad for the character, but great for the game and the player! If there is never any cost, there is never any drama. No drama, no investment. No investment, no fun. So don't shy away from presenting these dynamic scenarios in which there is no 'right' answer. Let the player decide for themselves what decision is correct. Let them deal with the consequences and play out the adventure they want. Show them that obstacles are simply there to be overcome by presenting them with challenges to surmount. Total victory should be rare enough that it feels special. Often the loss of a tactical advantage, the reveal of a villain's larger plan, the fall of a useful ally can present a great jumping off point for further adventures.
Your players may press you at times to just give them what they want, but the overall enjoyment of your game for all of your players is your main priority. You won't be able to please everybody every single game, and you can cause yourself a lot of grief if you try. Hold firm to your own instincts, and make it up to the player by playing to their tastes in a future session. You don't want to be the players' adversary, but neither do you need to pander to every whim. You're there to make the game fun and challenging, and hopefully have fun in the process. And sometimes that's going to mean a little tough love. But as long as the group all knows what to expect from the kind of game you are running, the obstacles along the way will make their triumph all the sweeter!