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I recently GMed my first real role-playing game in Lady Blackbird with a few friends who are also new to tabletop RPGs, and it went quite well except for a few parts. Here's an example; the basic scenario was (a few parts left out for brevity):

Me: "Okay, so you shoot the lock of the door. It's made of strong metal, and it doesn't break. An alarm sounds, and guards chase after you!"

Player: "We all take off our jackets and stand on them."

Me: "Uhhh, okay...? The guards look at you strangely."

Player: "I cast my lightning bolt at the ship. The ship is made of metal, and all the guards are electrocuted and die."

Me: "Okay, yes, you cast your lightning bolt. The bolt shoots down from the sky, hits the roof of the ship, and collapses onto your party, incapacitating them."

Player: "Wait, no! That doesn't make sense! The ship is metallic, so it should absorb the electricity and conduct it to the guards to kill them!"

Me: "No, the force of the lightning causes the roof to collapse, and the lightning wouldn't get to the ground without hitting the roof anyway."

Player: "But this is a flying ship, it's all made of metal! It should just all conduct to the ground and electrocute everybody."

<snip: 10 minutes of irrelevant discussion>

Player: "Fine, so it makes the roof collapse. Doesn't the metal door collapse, too?"

Me: "No, the door is under the roof."

Player: "The door collapses too, because the roof is also metal! If the roof collapsed, then the door should, also!"

Me: "The lightning bolt only hit the roof; it then collapsed and didn't go thorough."

Player: "They're both metal! They both collapse because they're made of the same thing!"

And so on, ad nauseam. This eventually escalated into something like "Someone else should be the dungeon master, who doesn't want to kill us!" "You can't do anything with magic just because... it's magic." etc.

What should I have done in this situation? I feel like there could have been a better option than continuing to argue with the player and eventually reaching a semi-compromise (in which neither of us were particularly happy with the outcome).

I tried to follow the rule "let the player do what they want, but have consequences," ("Okay, yes, you cast your lightning bolt ... roof of the ship, and collapses onto your party"), but as you can tell, that didn't work out too well. The problem player simply launched an argument for why specifically and realistically his plan would work perfectly. I'm at a loss for what to do to get the player to stop arguing and just go with it, while trying to avoid going out of character ("No, this is what happens, and that's final. If you argue you lose 5 experience points" or something sounds like a terrible idea).

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    \$\begingroup\$ As an electrical engineer, can I just state that both you and your player have gotten the physics of what happens to this electricity very wrong? It’s not really relevant to your question, plus as several point out, magic electricity may not behave like normal electricity at all. But anyway, if a structure has a metal roof, walls, and floor (as seems to be described here), it makes a Faraday cage which prevents there from being so much as a voltage differential in the room, much less a discharge. Standing on jackets/rubber boots are meaningless. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 1 '14 at 13:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Damage to the structure is also very unlikely; that would only happen if the current through the metal was enough to generate heat sufficient to melt/weaken something critical, but metals have very low resistance (which is the same reason you won’t get the lightning bolt inside), so there won’t be a lot of heat. You could be touching the metal at the time and you probably wouldn’t feel it. Airplanes, with their metal skin high in the air, get struck by lightning all the time, and it has near-zero effect on either the plane or anyone on board. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 1 '14 at 13:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Answerers: Lady Blackbird is very different from D&D and other trad games. Answers based on that mindset are probably quite unhelpful and inappropriate. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Sep 2 '14 at 2:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not enough for a full answer, but there's enough overlap with this question (primarily in the "how to redirect a player's creative ideas to work in your game" aspect) that you might find some of those answers helpful, as well. \$\endgroup\$ – thatgirldm Sep 4 '14 at 0:36
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Quite clearly, this answer is not a system-specific one. However, I believe it could be applied to a wide set of games. Note that the answer was written before there was a game tag…


As a GM, it is your job to make sure that the character understand the consequences of their character's actions. Because most of the time, the characters would know the effect the player describe is not what would happen. So, say a player states that his character is doing something and states the reason why. Then it is up to the GM to correct the player if the GM knows that this will not work within his game world.

As Bankuei (now user9935) mentioned, in addition to clarifying the consequences, you might consider using the player's intent to make suggestions as to what else might work instead. This is how you would deal with someone playing a character whose skills/characteristics the player is not familiar with. As Bankuei said:

Part of what makes games work better is to assume the competence of heroes and help players translate their goals into what works for the game.

For example, in the question's lightning case, the whole thing could have been avoided by saying "Ah, might be worth mentioning that the lightning bolt is not Force Lightning, it actually summons a bolt of lightning from the sky. So the lightning will hit the roof of the ship. It may well collapse it all, burying you in rubble. Are you still doing that?" Clearly, the player missed the fact that the ship would collapse but that is something their character would have known.

This reminds me of this conversation:

GM: You see a large lizard in the cave.

Player: I shoot an arrow at it!

GM: The dragon breathes fire on you. You are dead.

Player: Wait! What?

Sometimes, information will not be known to the character so they will indeed not know what they do. But that is a different topic.

As to how to stop arguments, the best way is to make sure the players are not feeling picked on. Clearly, the player came up with a "clever" way to knock out the guards. Maybe the roof would collapse, but allow the character a dodge roll to get out of the way or suffer some minor consequences. Of course, now the ship is broken.

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I think there are some good generic answers here, so I'm not going to cover that. What I am going to cover is Lady Blackbird. Lady Blackbird is specifically built around the idea of the players and GM developing the world as the story progresses. In fact, I've never had more fun with Lady Blackbird then when the exchanges go like...

Player 1: What kind of gun technology are we talking about here? Muzzle-loading, breechloading blackpowder, magazines...?

Me: That's a good question. What does gun tech look like in the Empire, Player 2?

Player 2: Steam guns.

Me: Would you care to clarify that?

Thus in Lady Blackbird specifically (or in a game I were trying to run in the same manner) I would probably remind the player that they are welcome to dictate what actions they are taking. But when it comes to results, in the end that's why the GM (or as some around here call it the referee) exists; to be final arbiter of all debates. I'd then take a "Yes, and..." or rarely a "Yes, but..." approach.

Player 1: I cast my lightning bolt at the ship. The ship is made of metal, and all the guards are electrocuted and die.

Me: Okay. Well, you can call a lighting bolt and the ship is made of metal, but what happens is up to me and the dice. What are you trying to accomplish by doing this?

Player 1: I'm trying to kill all the guards so they can't capture us.

Me: Okay. Well, it doesn't sound like it would be easy to summon enough lightning to do that. And your jackets probably won't be enough to insulate you if you actually manage to pull it off. I'm going to set the difficulty of calling it down at 6 and if you do actually pull it off you're going to have to make some rolls to avoid getting injured.

Player 1 grabs all her pool dice and succeeds on her roll. "Avoidance" rolls happen with appropriate results.

Me: The deck beneath you lurches and develops a distinct tilt to it. You think the ship might have just gone into a nosedive and it occurs to you that enough lightning to kill the guards probably killed a whole bunch of other important crew members too.

Player 1: Wait, what?

Me (with evil grin): You didn't really think it was going to be that easy, did you?

Admittedly, some will feel like engineering a result like that without warning the player isn't "playing fair" but personally I consider such scenarios as a wonderful time to remind the players that grand gestures often have unintended (and largely unknown) consequences.

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First of all, this is a game. Games use abstractions and abstractions are made to avoid delving into considering every single aspect of the situation every time something happens.

Even in a D&D game, when someone shots an arrow, nobody tries to consider the shape of the armor, where exactly the projectile hit it or similar things. You just compare your roll with the target and call it a day.
Since simulations are leaky, it will happen that something can't be realistically solved by the game system alone, e.g. when someone does a coup-de-grace and it isn't an auto-kill.

Sometimes, the game master intervenes to fix those little leaks, but this changes the rules of the game in unexpected ways. If I was to put my bow in tension and touch the forehead of a tied-up guy with the pointy end of my arrow, I'd expect that to be an automatic hit. A physics-weary player would tell me it's a scratch and 0 damage, since the arrow hasn't gained any momentum the moment it hits the forehead. And the game-lawyer would just ask me to roll to hit, because the game system doesn't care about physics.

So, first thing to do is: if you change expectations (for instance by telling your player that the ship is a faraday cage as KRyan reminds me, or by telling him that lightning strikes come from the atmosphere and not from your hands) allow players to change their action into something else.

Another thing to consider is that the Solar System, on which Lady Blackbird is based, cares even less about what I'd call "game physics". Apparent realism is build by creating verisimilar descriptions, not by applying verisimilar effects.

When you roll your dice, you do it because you have some opposition. The alarm has sounded, the players have been discovered. There's no enemy in sight, no opposition has been introduced but the alarm. And it's not like making it stop will unalert the guards.
Then the patrol shows up, and the players can do something to get free from that situation. Killing all the guards on the ship? It can't be done with a single roll.

And that's what you thought too. But then you started looking for some way to have this happen, introducing rules that are not there and actually working against the rules. You told Lady Blackbird "no, your magic does not work that way, it works this way instead", where this way was something that would have solved the problem.
You took away some narrative focus from your player.
Instead, try telling him: "do that as you want but remember, your roll can only deal with one problem at a time. These guards, or the door. You want both? You need to cast two spells and risk failure twice." He will provide some way to do exactly what he wants that will be coherent with what he imagines to be realistic. He will color his action with a description, instead of trying to choose a description that could do more and insist upon having his roll do something the game does not allow him to do.
(Dealing with the alarm? Probably not what a fire and lightning sorceress can do. Better leave it to some other character.)

This solves the "I'm smarter than you, I can convince you it works my way and get all the effects I want, and if you don't want to you're an abusive GM" problem by using the game mechanics to stop him, instead of "it doesn't work that way" arguments with no proofs (unless you can build a huge spaceship like the one your characters are in or test electrocution on people to see if they die or not).

This also saves you from spending the whole evening talking about amperes, watts, ohms and other electrical measures instead of playing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't bury the lead - this isn't a general D&D type problem, in Lady Blackbird this is quite different. I'd move all that to the top as it's the real answer to this problem, the rest should be an appendix at best. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Sep 2 '14 at 2:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know, but I was trying to start simple and end with the complex things. I'm doing a slight edit but if somebody can suggest me a way to move that to the top while mantaining the thread of the conversation I'd be glad to reshuffle my paragraph. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Sep 2 '14 at 13:00
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See the article "Random GM Tips – Are You Sure You Want to Do That?":

If your players are suggesting something which is self-evidently suicidal to the GM, then there has probably been some sort of miscommunication. It’s generally preferable to actually explain your understanding of the stakes to the player to make sure everyone is on the same page.

In some settings, you can shoot open doors, its expected. In others, it's ridiculous. If it's obvious to the character, it's not fun or interesting to make the player guess, clarify expectations first.

PC: I shoot the lock.
GM: This is a realistic campaign, there's no way that's going to work.
PC: OK, I can call a lightning bolt on the ship if we insulate ourselves, right?
GM: It'll be dangerous, but it should take care of the guards.
PC: OK, let's go.

Also consider, is shooting the lock more ridiculous than lots of other things that have worked? Can you just say "that's not realistic but it's cool, lets assume it works" or "lets assume you need a 17"?

If they player is always trying to break the system, that's bad, but if they're coming up with cool ideas, that's good -- try to channel them into things that will work.

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I'm going to leave the specifics out, since the issue is not really the particular case.

The real answer is that you can't always avoid such clashes. Sometimes a player has a very specific idea of what's going on in their head and it simply doesn't match yours.

All you can do is try to establish up front that while the game's running you expect the players to limit arguments to no more than 5 minutes and if after that you still rule against them, then you all move on and discuss it out of game some other day.

If you feel that the player makes a good argument, then do-over, if you think they've got a point but not a totally convincing one, given them a saving throw (or just say "I'm 30% convinced, roll d100"). And if you're not convinced at all then say "I don't see it working like that; I'll explain why not later - roll for initiative!

Ultimately, if you keep having problems with the same player, you have to stop playing with them - which is not to say that the player is in the wrong but it will get to the point where the games no fun for anyone and you're all wasting time and probably feeling miserable too. Lief the dwarf's too short, and so is life.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer gets directly at the problem stated in the question. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 4 '18 at 21:33
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You should talk to the player/players after the gaming session and explain to them that you are not attempting to kill their characters or be mean, but to be realistic and to keep the game balanced. Make sure that they understand that what you say is not just random but for a reason and that your word is final. To back this up, make fair and appropriate decisions and outcomes for actions. Think ahead if the outcomes may be too harsh, for it could spark an argument.

If the players are arguing with you, they may be bored or restless, this indicates that it may be a good time to take a break or end the session, or alternately create something exciting or surprising to get the players interested.

It is also a good idea to reward the players for clever or tactical decisions. One example from a campaign I was playing is:

Our party was adventuring through a dungeon and we came to a door that we hear goblins on the other side of. After a bit of discussion we decide to use our wizard's abilities to make a fireball and a dragon noise. When we busted in with the fireball and the dragon sound, the goblins thought the dragon Sarthenax was there, the goblins scrambled around in a stressed and confused state and activated some traps which killed two goblins, and severely injured the third, making our battle very easy

This is an example of how you can reward your players for being creative or clever.

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protected by Oblivious Sage Jun 29 '17 at 13:22

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