It’s a well known tip that you should say yes to your players. The “yes, and” has been one of the first tips I was given when I started DMing. This way, not only you allow your players to more actively take part in the storytelling but also let them work as extra sources of inspiration for you , which can be more satisfying for them.
However, this can sometimes lead to bad outcomes. You, see the “yes, and” is actually an improv tip that has jumped over to RPGs. So, it’s not always applicable here. You can’t always say yes to your players’ suggestions. But that doesn’t mean you have to say no to them either.
Except the “yes, and” phrase there are two more that, if used correctly, will never leave your players dissatisfied, no matter whether you granted their wish or not. And these two are the “yes, but” and “no, but” phrases. But let’s take a look at all three of them.
The first one, as I mentioned, is the “yes, and”. This can be used when a player asks something or tries to do something and you want confirm or allow it. For example in the Out of the Abyss campaign I’m running, when my players enter a new cave they may ask if there is any light. I can just answer “yes, and its source is some kind of bioluminescent moss”.
The second one is the “yes, but”. It can be used when you want to confirm or allow something but you want to go on a direction your players may not anticipate. So taking the same example I could answer “Yes, but its source is a campfire and around it are a bunch of goblins”. So this time, I may be giving them what they asked for but they also have to overcome an encounter they weren’t expecting.
And last but not least is the “no, but”. It is different than just a plain no. You may not allow them to do something or confirm something they will ask but you give them something in exchange. You may even give them the possibility to achieve what they want. So, using the same example, I could answer “No, but your torches light the cave enough for you to spot what appears to be a recently abandoned campsite”.
You shouldn’t say no to your players. You shouldn’t always say yes to them either. And these three simple phrases are a powerful toolkit so you can avoid both of those situations. You can use it in your next game and see how things go.
And until next time, have fun!