Like many people, when I heard the concept of “yes, and” that improv was bringing to the RPG community, I saw the value. I could remember lots of enjoyable experiences from when I or another GM took a player idea and rolled with it. This formulation of the principle was clear and concise and has clearly inspired many to just say yes when a player asks if there is a chandelier with a rope they can cut or if there is a tree they can climb to get a better look around. This flexibility in cooperative storytelling is potent and valuable.
But “yes, and” has gone too far.
It has been bothering me for some time that the “yes, and” mentality had become so perverted as to exclude “no, but” to the extent that no matter how implausible the player idea it was given a roll with the same probabilities as a sensible plan would have, when it should have been impossible.
I’ve seen deception to pretend to be a lumberjack and make a tree fall and form a bridge across a canyon. I’ve seen intimidation to scare a locked door into opening. I’ve seen insight to know where to find a cult’s hiding place based on their previous activity.
I found these examples and others egregious, but I was ready to pull the plug on this post when I came across some examples that forced my hand.
The first was a retelling of a meet-the-party sequence where the players for some reason needed to milk some goats. Fair enough, let’s see the thrilling events of animal handling checks and bucket kicking that are in store. What actually followed was amusing: athletics checks to swing the goat around, extracting the milk via centrifuge; stealth checks to reach the udders undetected and take the milk by surprise; nature checks to identify a weed that would pacify the goat for milking. All very amusing, but it was clear that each player had merely (afraid of their 10-25% reduction in chance of success using animal handling) chosen the skill with which they had the largest bonus. The DM had not adjusted the DC of the checks one wit to reflect that extracting milk via muscle powered centrifuge is a significantly greater feat of athleticism than milking a goat normally is of animal handling. It was anything goes, and who cares, right? They were having fun. Well, I worry first of all that these characters are going to be 0-dimensional going forward now that they’ve been granted the power of one skill fits all. And then there’s game balance to consider when characters maximized in a stat have +5 to effectively everything and more “well-rounded” characters have a +4. But, eh, it’s 5%. No big deal really. It’s lazy, it defeats the purpose of having a carefully crafted game system, and it removes half your tools for spotlighting quiet characters when the barbarian can achieve with athletics what the rogue was made to do with stealth, but I’m sure the group went on to play many enjoyable, hijinks filled sessions where dice rolls were a matter of process. It’s a style choice.
But then I listened to play-through of a “module” where with the exception of a combat at the start and a combat at the finish, everything in between seemed to have the DM instruction of “present the situation, let them describe how they solve it with one of their skills, doesn’t matter which, have them roll. Here’s a table of DCs by level for the checks (by the way, its just 10 plus the expected maximum bonus at their level giving the oh so popular in 5e 55% chance of success).” The goats I said was lazy but fun, and I implied it would be lazy to keep it through the whole campaign, but in a published module? To have the core mechanics of a published module be “each character has a 55% chance of success, if half or more succeed it’s a success” is beyond lazy, but also the logical outcome when the GM can’t say “no” or even “it’ll be a hard.”