When to say no?


Much has been made in RPG gaming circles where “you can try” is becoming the default answer when someone asks to do something outrageous.

Now, with ICRPG we have Easy and Hard.
But as @BlazingPolyhedron mentioned about a bulky robot trying to swim… my default reaction is no…it lacks the buoyancy to swim.

What do you use, when someone is wanting to do something really unlikely and lacks any cool factor.

I mean how do I not answer “no” if a player playing a normal human in a modern setting wanting to jump up to the balcony 60 feet above?

This has never been an issue for me, I’m just interested in how to not say no? Or just use common sense?


Personally I use common sense most of the time. If players want to do something and I don’t think that it would fly for whatever reason, I tell them why and I ask them “Ok, how do you want to do that?”. If I don’t receive a good enough response, then the answer is no; they can’t do it.

Asking them how usually makes them go silent. This shows that they don’t actually believe that they can do whatever they are asking to do.


I usually just say no. “I don’t think you can just leap over the Empire State Building.”

However, but then I give options. “But you can probably climb up the base this turn with a hard roll.” Usually the response will be, “Okay, I’ll do that.” And then I’ll say, “Okay, roll it up.” And we move on.

This is an awful analogy (because players aren’t this basic), but it’s a bit like redirecting my dog. No, you can’t chew up a plastic coat hanger, but you can play with this squeaky plushie.


I absolutely say no (just like I say yes, no roll, if the thing is simple).
One of the most important things for me as a gm is describing the scene, and if players want to do something wildly beyond the games aesthetics (meaning: unrealistic, in the fictional context) it is usually because there’s a gap between what I wanted to convey and what they heard. So I treat it just as a clarification. Like @Alex said: no you can’t, unless you first … but you could probably …


I lean into two things I picked up from Powered by the Apocalypse games:

  1. Follow the fiction: Narratively, is there a reason why what the player wants to do is possible?

  2. “Yes, but”: They can make the attempt, but I’m going to add a complication or obstacle.


Sometimes I am not so sure players aren’t exactly this basic.