The Rule of Yes, But

Thanks for flickr user Joe Shlabotnik. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Quick post today, and it’s more oriented toward the GM-types, so you player-types can safely nod off. Or, if this piques your interest, direct your GMs here with some love. 🙂 I’ve been ill the past few days, with not much time to devote to gaming (though I did soldier through a session in which we wrapped up our D&D campaign).

I just wanted to talk about a little game that was fun. I created and ran a really silly game once – based off soap operas – and other than a ridiculous set of skills and “dark secrets” for each of the characters, the primary conceit of the game was a rule I called “Yes, but”.

The game took place at the Nexus of Time and Space, and everyone played a character from a different dimension who had gotten lost at some point or other and ended up at this Nexus, kind of a trans-dimensional diner/hospital. They were recruited into the ranks of an organization of which I cannot for the life of me recall the name, but they basically went around fixing screw-ups in various dimensions and timelines.

Anyhow, the plot is barely relevant other than to set the stage for a game which I hoped would be the ultimate sandbox. Anything, literally anything goes. One character was Robot Richard Nixon.  One player was an endless loop of replaceable redshirts. They key to all this was the “yes, but” rule.

Simply stated the rule is this: when a player asks if they can do something, or if something exists, the answer should always be Yes, but…

Can I have robot arms which can turn into any tool I need? Yes, but sometimes they have a life of their own.

Can I have a jetpack? Yes, but it runs on the blood of innocent babies.

Stuff like that. Dice rolls were used, but they were less for success or failure and more for how badly does this go for you.

All in all, it was a wacky system that was used for a few one-shots.

But, to this day, the idea of “yes, but” sticks with me. As the GM, you are the supreme arbiter of your world. You control what goes on inside it. But remember, you’re not a tyrannical dictator with your creations; living, breathing characters live inside and modify that world. Roleplaying is, ultimately, a shared exercise. It’s no fun when your players want to do cool stuff and you just flat out deny them. Thus I recall the concept of yes, but. As long as it doesn’t completely derail the game (and that’s not to say that derailing the game is necessarily a bad thing), be inclined to say yes. However, modify the request. Everyone is a little happier with compromise, and you can really flesh out your world by giving your players a bigger role in adding to it.

3 thoughts on “The Rule of Yes, But

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    1. Sure. First off let me say it was not a very crunchy system – definitely rules-light.

      Everyone had a multitude of skills, and those could be whatever you wanted. They were rated on a scale from 1-100 (with the possibility of more or less). You basically added that number to a d100 roll.

      Instead of having target difficulties, I worked with spectra: Roll less than 50, you generally succeed but things go very poorly. 51-100 was a poor success. 101-150 was success. 151-200 was a superlative success. Above 200 was an incredible success.

      The key was that even with the bad rolls, the player usually got to do what they wanted, it just didn’t work out as intended.

      Like I said, it wasn’t crunchy. The players trusted me to make judgment calls – it was all pretty much an analogue for “i’m good at this and I rolled well, so good things happen”. Imagine if you will a spectrum of possibilities ranging from:

      Unskilled/Poor Roll –> Unskilled/Good Roll and Skilled/Poor Roll –> Skilled/Good Roll

      That’s a simplification of a spectrum since mine was a bit more granular (5 areas instead of three), but that’s the general idea.


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