Tuesday, May 15, 2012

You Are Not Entitled

I've been thinking about how I run game. One thread I think that runs through it is this (usually unstated) rule:

You are not entitled to success. It doesn't matter why you think you should succeed, or how clever your plan is, or how detailed your description is, or how skilled your character is (or for that matter, you are as a player).

Sometimes this is a result of the rules. You the player give an utterly convincing explanation of how to fight the battle - but you're playing an illiterate barbarian with Strategy-8 and you rolled a 17. Or you describe a totally awesome chandelier swing into melee and a swipe at an orc's head and just plain roll badly and miss. Or you just have a string of bad rolls and your crime-fighting vigilante, The Batdude, gets beaten by a mugger. It happens.

Sometimes it's a result of the campaign situation. You role-play a great explanation to the King why he should back your lord's war, but he doesn't back you - because the GM already determined the King isn't interested in helping. You have this awesome plan for making silver-plated handcuffs for capturing werewolves but the blacksmith doesn't know how to plate silver . . . and the GM isn't convinced your character does, either, just because YOU do.

Sometimes, yes, it's a GM who is being a bit too inflexible or rules-literal. But even so, you aren't entitled to success. If the rules say a situation calls for a roll and the GM makes you roll despite you clearly being unable to fail, so be it. That's what the GM is for.

I've seen this with players of both the old school and new school stripe. It's usually subtle - the implication that you aren't respecting the genre, or you're a slave to the rules, or you didn't really give the plan a chance. You didn't respect the concept of the character. You didn't realize that player skill is supposed to trump your game's direction. You didn't realize . . . something.

But in my games, it all comes down to that one thing: you are not entitled to success. I do believe you are entitled to a try, and I'm usually willing to set a ludicrously low chance that your utterly unlikely plan might work anyway (for more, see the third rule here). But I still might just say no, you can't, you fail, it's impossible, it doesn't fit the game, your character couldn't possibly know how to do that. And I figure that's part of the prerogative of being a GM.


  1. @Black Vulmea - thanks.

    @ulfgard - thanks as well!

  2. I think that goes both ways, as you've said. You're not entitled to success OR failure. You have plans, and skills. So does the world . . . helped along by an omnipowerful GM. Some events have to happen, sure, because that's THE STORY. Still, a great idea means you're not ON the continent that explodes. Count yourself fortunate. :-)

    1. Yes, but have you ever heard a player complain when the breaks go their way? When, against all odds, the King throws the weight of his kingdom behind them despite their unlikely story? When the lantern soot disguise fools the troglodyte guards and they appoint you as the sole guardian of their treasure cave? When the chandelier swing works and you take out the vastly superior enemy swordsman with a lucky hit?


      But you'll hear it sometimes when they fail. ;)

      I just like to make it clear that your player skill (and your character skill) doesn't entitle you to succeed just because of your effort, planning, or cool ideas. :)

  3. This is why I like a realistic, simulationist game most. Follow the rules, make the dice rolls out in front of god and everybody, and let the story emerge from those results - it may not be the story that you or your players intended, but a great story it may well be.


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