In our roles as GM’s we frequently are placed in positions—either by virtue of the die or system mechanics—or through our own doing, where something happens in a game and we qualify that statement with an “and” or a “but.” But have you put much thought into which fosters a certain type of response and why? For starters, let’s agree that they’re not mutually exclusive; you can use both in your games.

The Power of Improvisation

I read a powerful excerpt of Daniel Pink’s book on salesmanship, “To Sell Is Human.” In it he describes an exercise pulled straight from the school of improvisation: the power of using “and” to form a collaborative effort. But before we can discuss “and” let’s look at how we typically approach situations which is using “but.”

Imagine an exercise where two people build off each other’s statements. The only restriction is that they must start each statement with “Yes, but.” On the surface this seems somewhat benign but look at the results starting with a player.

  • Player: “I want to search for secret doors.”
  • GM: “Yes, but that’s going to take time to do.”
  • Player: “Yes, but we can’t get around the guards since there’s so many of them.”
  • GM: “Yes, but you haven’t considered using a distraction to pull them away.”
  • Player: “Yes, but we want to avoid a fight.”
  • GM: “Yes, but there’s nothing stopping you from ambushing them.”
  • Player: “Yes, but our employer said we get paid double if we’re not noticed.”

See how this doesn’t really accomplish much? It’s almost cyclical. Now, obviously we don’t run our games this way, solely using “Yes, but” to describe every event. The intent is to show that “Yes, but” is inherently less inclusive; it can block options and consensus.

Now, as Daniel Pink describes, consider the same discussion using “Yes, and.”

  • Player: “I want to search for secret doors.”
  • GM: “Yes, and you find one on the eastern wall.”
  • Player: “Yes, and we’ll plant the fake evidence implicating the Duke before leaving.”
  • GM: “Yes, and you find an appropriate spot to do so.”
  • Player: “Yes, and we don’t want it to seem too contrived or obvious.”
  • GM: “Yes, and with your character’s background that’s easily done.”
  • Player: “Yes, and on our way out I’ll make sure to cover our tracks as we close the secret door.”

See the difference? “Yes, and” is inherently more inclusive. It encourages collaboration, whereas “Yes, but” spins you around in circles.

So, when you’re posed a question as a GM and don’t know the answer consider starting your response with “Yes, and” to see what happens. There will still be times where you’ll say “No.” The intent isn’t to roll over for your players, just foster collaboration.

In Practice

I’m hard pressed to think of a better example of where these techniques could be used then in the new Fantasy Flight Games‘ RPG, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. The die mechanic is so designed that on pretty much every roll not only do you succeed or fail but something happens, good or bad. The trick is deciphering the results in such a way to keep the flow of the game uninterrupted but also include the player’s in the decision-making process.

In the case of what the game calls an Advantage the GM (or the player) could default to using “Yes, and” to frame their responses, since an Advantage gives you other perks than you’d normally receive.

  • Player: “I shoot the Stormtrooper.”
  • GM: “Okay, go ahead and build your pool with the following modifiers.”
  • Player: “A success, AND an Advantage. I hit the Stormtrooper while ducking into a doorway AND recover two stress.”

Conversely with a Threat result (which can even happen on a success) one can lean on “Yes, but” to frame the results.

  • Player: “I shoot the Stormtrooper.”
  • GM: “Okay, go ahead and build your pool with the following modifiers.”
  • Player: “A success, BUT two Threat.”
  • GM: “Okay, you damage the Stormtrooper BUT in doing so expose too much of yourself from what little cover you had, providing the next attacker a Boost die to hit you.”

In your own games try giving this a shot. Use the power of “Yes, and” to help build collaborative scenes and perhaps try to avoid the “Yes, but” except when absolutely necessary. Even in the second example above, we could have framed the Threat with a “Yes, and” with the same result but making it not seem less GM versus the player.

  • GM: “Okay, you damage the Stormtrooper AND in doing so expose too much of yourself from what little cover you had, providing the next attacker a Boost die to hit you.”

Is it semantics? No, I don’t think so, especially when including the players. Agree or disagree? Let us know below!