Would You Allow This In Your Game?
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1171
RPT GM JS asked me this question about allowing a certain player action:
If you have a player cast charm monster and then speak with animals. Would you let them communicate with a Worg?
I know by the letter of the rules it is a NO. But I wanted to get your take.
My player is putting together a group of mercenaries and allies to help reclaim his home county from a goblin incursion.
On his way home he helped roust some Worgs from a farm.
At the end of the game my player mentioned tracking down the Worg, charming him, and taking him with his small group.
Thank you for the question.
There are a few considerations I’d make here, and I’d tackle this in three parts:
1. Make the Decision
The first part would be reaching a decision.
At my table, my thought process would be:
- Am I setting a dangerous precedent that could upset game balance?
Does this open up player logic to be able to charm all kinds of foes I don’t want?
Even worse, could this rule change drive a wedge into other rules that smart players could unravel?
- Is there an alternative, via roleplay, world building, or story for example, to facilitate my player’s wishes without bending, breaking, or house-ruling any rules?
- Can I add a downside, flaw, or cost to the character’s action to create balance?
For example, you might allow the player to do this, but the worg knows it’s being magically controlled and will be an enemy when the spell wears off.
Something else I think about is the player and group.
I would avoid bending rules for min/maxers, for example, but would be much more lenient for roleplayers and newbies.
For experienced groups, my first reaction is to maintain RAW (Rules As Written) and look for alternative ways to make the request happen.
Likewise, I often say no to such tricky requests by default and encourage players to find a different solution as a form of puzzle solving.
At the group level, if I’m running a one-shot then I’ll likely handwave it and say ok, you can do that.
If I’m running a beer & pretzels campaign, I might do the same.
But if I’m running a serious, long-term campaign, then I’m playing the infinite game, which means I play to open up more gameplay.
Allowing such an action could open up a lot of great gameplay.
On the other hand, players could abuse the ruling and ruin the campaign without the GM corralling things back up again.
Another way to think about it is, if this were a magic item with those powers, would the magic item be a campaign breaker? Would I allow such an item?
2. Render Your Ruling
Once I’ve made a decision, then the second part is delivery.
If I say no, then I feel it’s important to explain my rationale. I want players to understand my thought process and hopefully come to the conclusion they’re being treated fairly.
They aren’t thinking long-term or about campaign balance. That’s our job.
Depending on the timing, I’ll also handle this with a quick conversation.
“Ok, let’s talk about this for two minutes and then park it if we still disagree and discuss in-depth between games so we can keep on playing today.”
With discussions, I listen to player arguments or reasons without the intention of proving myself right or just enforcing my Law. I’ll really listen and see if they have great points.
My players often know the rules better than I do. So I try my best to stay open about my thinking.
“I’m inclined to say no here guys. The way I’m reading the rules, the rules do not permit it. And I’m especially worried about opening up a can of wyrms here and maintaining campaign balance moving forward.”
If my group comes up with good counter-arguments or offers solutions for my concerns, then I’ll gladly reverse my decision.
The trap we often fall into is allowing our lizard brains to rule.
We want to be right.
We want authority.
We want control.
So admitting we’re wrong, or overturning a decision, might feel like defeat or weakness.
You can beat this with a simple mantra: Have more fun at every game.
It’s silly, but when I repeat this in my head when I’m having a hard time, it gets me to focus on what matters most => facilitating a great experience for my friends.
I mention this because I’ve had my ego struggles, and I’ve seen GMs at conventions struggle with the same instinct born from our lizard brains. We want to be right.
And this wrecks campaigns.
Back on point, delivery is as important as decision.
So you’ll want to say yes or no in a good way by explaining your thoughts and being transparent about your concerns.
3. Make More Game From It
The third part is follow-through.
You’ll want to log your decision clearly, bullet-pointing your reasons, so future rulings are consistent.
Your players will revolt if you decide against a request one time and approve a similar request another time. Chaos!
With a few quick comments in Campaign Logger or note receptacle of choice, you can revisit your thinking in the future and make changes to it as needed as your campaign evolves or if your players request an appeal.
For additional follow-through, I’ll ponder the situation a bit between sessions:
- How does this decision affect my plotline?
- How does this decision affect my Milieu and world building?
- How does this decision give cool new encounter or roleplay opportunities?
For example, you say yes and between sessions you realize you could therefore give a BBEG the same ability. Now they’ve got a charmed force of dire animals.
This is also another way to maintain game balance, and is part of my argument to players.
“If I allow this, then just be aware that foes can do this too. Are you ok with that?”
The cool thing about following through this way is that it gives me a chance to add great new material for my campaign.
For example, I say no to the request. Later, the PC gets approached by a fairy promising to give them this power. Is it true or trick? Could the fairy be laying a trap? Regardless of the answer, we’ve got great gameplay happening, and players will be delighted you are giving their request another shot, especially through Lore or in-game means.
In conclusion, I feel the way we reach, communicate, and leverage decisions matters more than any particular decision in the long run.
This process helps you maintain fairness and campaign integrity.
It also makes me feel a lot more comfortable when I need to say no. My players appreciate the thinking and ability to be part of the decision. So there are no hard feelings.
I hope this helps, JS. Please let me know what you ended up doing and how it went.