One significant improvement that 4e D&D has over previous editions is the “say yes” mantra. DMs are actively instructed to let things happen. No matter what comes up at the gaming table the DM is now encouraged to say yes and find a way to make it work. That’s not to say that the DM should let the players get away with anything and everything, but if a player comes up with a creative idea the DM is encouraged to find a way to make it work and say yes.
In my experience the majority of DMs took this idea to heart. At the beginning, when 4e was still relatively new, players were trying all kinds of interesting things because they knew that the DM would likely say yes. However, over the past year or so I’ve realized that most players are content to player squarely within the rules. They are unwilling to take chances and propose ideas that are outside of the normal rule-set. This is especially evident in public-play situations like D&D Encounters. I think it’s time that the DMs make a point of reminding the players it’s ok to use your imagination. Being creative is a big part of what makes D&D fun.
When we first began Dungeon’s Master we wrote a series of articles we called Skill Focus (all of which can be found in our Skill Challenges archive). Each article looked at a different skill and we proposed alternate ways to use your skills at the gaming table. Some of the ideas were clearly outside of the normal rules but all of them had merit. None of these suggestions had the potential to break the game, but all of them gave players the potential to have their PC do something remarkable with a decent skill check.
Some examples include:
- Using Bluff to create a fake accent in order to blend in better.
- Using Heal to identify the most vital places on your opponent’s anatomy allowing you to crit on a 19 or 20 on your next attack.
- Using Endurance to temporarily eliminate your armor’s speed penalty.
Regrettably we didn’t get through all 17 skills but I think the ones we did cover deserve some additional attention. Players should look at the articles from this series and use them as a source of inspiration. These are the kinds of things that you should be trying at your gaming table. Don’t limit yourself to the rules as written. If you can think of something awesome that you want to do on your turn, run it by the DM. Remember that he’s inclined to say yes anyway. If the thing you’re attempting is reasonable and makes sense for the situation you’re in then there’s a really good chance that he’ll allow you to at least try it.
Skills are probably the area of the game that DMs are willing to be most flexible because a skill check is unlikely to cause a monster any damage. When you try to bend the rules to make another attack of inflict more damage than a normal character then the DM will likely be more resistant to your idea. Remember the rule of cool – if your action is appropriate for the story, even during combat, and it’s going to be spectacular if it succeeds, then the DM will almost always let you roll. You many need a natural 20, but in the back of the DM’s mind he’s thinking “say yes” at the same time he’s thinking “this will be awesome if you succeed.” Remember the DM is on your side. It’s not DM vs. players. You’re all in this to have fun and tell a good story.
During out-of-combat situations players should try to be equally creative with their attack powers. I’m not saying you should attack the diplomat during a negotiation, but look at the name of your power and the flavour text. Don’t always look at the literal meanings of things. Use your imagination and think of how that power might be used for some other purpose or effect. When I’m the DM I like to reward players that demonstrate imagination and creativity. So even though they’re asking to use an attack power in a non-combat situation, if they sell it well enough I’m always going to let them try.
If you’re a DM at D&D Encounters it might be worth having a conversation with the players before the beginning of the next season and reminding them that, yes there are rules to D&D, but the rules shouldn’t limit their creativity. They should be encouraged to think outside of the box and play the character they want to play.
How often do players at your gaming table try things that are outside of the normal rules? Have you seen a decline in number of times players try these creative things at the gaming table? What can DMs do to encourage more creativity in their games?
- Putting More “Action” in Action Points
- Eight Rules That Will Make You A Better DM
- Skill Focus: Athletics | Bluff | Diplomacy | Endurance | Heal | History | Intimidate | Nature | Perception | Religion | Streetwise