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Sunday 30 August 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: The RPGPundit's "The Goggles do Nothing Law"

RPGPundit's "The Goggles Do Nothing" Law of Game-Mastering

Over at theRPGsite, I've gotten into an extensive debate with the Swine; apparently, they've decided to make what we could only optimistically hope is their last stand on that site over the subject of my hatred of R. Borgstrom's Nobilis game, and her writing in general.

Though really, I'm guessing it'll be far from their last stand. I've whupped their asses over and over again, but they never seem to tire of it. They always come back for more, like the good little gang of masochists they are. Trying and trying over and over again at something I know and they must certainly know by now is doomed to failure.

Speaking of which, that's the nature of the fight we're having.  The Monarda Law, which I've written a counter-law for (the "Rebecca Borgstrom is a Moron Law"), essentially states that a GM is forbidden from EVER saying "no" to his players.
Of course, this is so unplayable as to be utterly absurd, and is evidence of the hole in Borgstrom's head.
However, most of the Nobilis Swine try to reinterpret this law as meaning "you can say absolutely anything to your players, other than the literal word formed by the letters "n-o", including anything that essentially means no".
Which makes the law absolutely meaningless.

GrimGent, over on theRPGsite, has a very particular interpretation, his own little attempt to make the law palatable and useable and to defend it from reality.  In his parallel universe's version of things, the Monarda Law means "you have to let your players explore every possible action they want to take, you can't just say no "no that wouldn't work" to them; you must instead ask them "how would you do this", or "yes, but.." or "well, you could TRY".  The idea is again based on some kind alternative 60s-hippie child-education principle, that somehow kids will best learn if they are allowed to "explore their mistakes", that even if the teacher knows that 2+2 definitely doesn't equal 5, she should let the children "explore" their answer, and reason it out, rather than just saying "no, sorry, its 4" and going on. Because to do the latter would somehow "stymie the child's creativity" and "hurt the child's self-esteem".

Of course, I would say this is a king-rat stupid fucking idea even for children, put forth by a gang of marxist ruffians who wanted to destroy civilization.  But it's even more stupid when you consider that in RPGs, we're talking about fucking adults here.  There's no reason to allow adults to explore their fucking mistakes, if you know that what they're trying to do is doomed to failure. It's just a stupid idea, that wastes time, and gives your players faulty ideas about the world. And THAT; dear reader, is the true "cardinal sin" of the Game Master, not saying no to them as Becky Borgstrom alleges in her stupid Monarda Law.

So in honour of both Borgstrom and Grimgent, I have decided it's time for a new addition to RPGPundit's laws of no-nonsense game mastering.

The law is basically this:

The "The Goggles Do Nothing" Law
Anytime you already know that a possible GM-player interaction regarding a PC's desired action will lead to nothing, don't bother with it. You're only wasting your time, the player's, and everyone else's.  If you, as the GM, already realize that a particular plan can NOT work, then simply tell that to the player, instead of trying to create the "placebo" of giving the player the illusion that his intended action would somehow have a chance of succeeding.

There you go.
The Law's title is, of course, inspired by the famous quip in the Simpsons, where Ranier Wolfcastle is given a pair of plastic protective-goggles to protect against a rushing flood of acid.  Naturally, and obviously to anyone who saw the onrushing river of acid, the "goggles" were only a useless placebo.  Unfortunately, Wolfcastle only realizes this at the last second as he's being swept away by the current of acid, screaming "Arrgh, the Goggles do Nothing!" in his typical Arnie-accent.

It's the same with players.  If you, as a GM, insist on trying to "let them try" every single hairbrained idea a player has, because Borgstrom or some other second-rate game writer has told you so, you are only engaging in useless busywork that slows down the whole process of the game.  If you have to spend ten or twenty minutes spoonfeeding and handholding your players every time that they think up an idea you already realize as GM is doomed to failure, you are only taking up ten or twenty minutes of their lives and yours for no meaningful end.  And what's worse, you are telling them that they can't trust you with presenting them an accurate vision of their Player Character's perception of the world.

PCs depend on the GM to be their senses, the way the GM describes the world and their perception of the world is the only thing they've got.  So if the player is trying to shoot at something that the GM knows is too far out of range for him to possibly hit it, but the GM spends 15 minutes letting the Player "work it through" himself, all that does is tell the player that the GM can't be trusted to tell the player that his PC realizes a shot wouldn't hit.  The GM is reducing the player's PC to an idiot. For you see, thinking up an idiotic thought doesn't make one an idiot, its following through on that thought before/instead of being able to reason that it would not work, that's what makes one an idiot. And that's exactly what GrimGent's little scheme does to players. If you aren't going to use something like the Monarda Law to actually allow the players to define reality (which sucks for all kinds of other reasons), then using the Monarda Law at all, especially how GrimGent implies one should use it, only results in a smokescreen that turns your players into idiots because you fail in your duty as a GM to tell the players what they are or are not capable of doing.

Your player's aren't idiots, nor are they children, much less the sensitive spoilt children that Borgstrom or Grimgent would like you to think they are. They're grown-ups, they can handle being told "no".  It will usually, in my experience, push them to try another idea. Possibly a better one than the first idiocy that might spring to mind. Or, at the very least, it will lead the players to move on with things, rather than lingering, stuck in a moment, trying to accomplish something that you know they can't possibly accomplish.

So there you are, trust your players enough to say "no" to them.

I guess to some this sounds pretty radical, but its really just what great GMs have been doing for the last 30+ years. It'll certainly get you further than Borgstrom's pathetic mollycoddling philosophies, or Grimgent's poorly-thought-out interpretations thereof.


(originally posted november 17, 2006)


  1. So... am I misunderstanding? A Player presents an idea to tunnel into the bank vault and steal the money... but you, the GM, know that plan won't succeed because, unbeknownst to the Players there is a foot of steel plate under the vault floor. Therefore the GM should announce, "You're plan will not succeed!"... rather then letting them try and fail?
    That instead it should be a guessing game where they name a plan and wait for the GM to pronounce it good or bad before proceeding?
    Surely I'm missing some subtle nuance here...

    1. No! The part you got wrong here is the "unbeknownst to the players" part. Because in fact your description is of something that is not just unbeknownst to the players but UNBEKNOWNST TO THE CHARACTERS. That's the important part.
      So in that case, the GM shouldn't stop them from trying this plan. What I'm saying above is that the GM is the extension of the PCs' senses. So when there's a situation that ought to be apparent immediately to the characters, in the world, as non viable, that's when the GM should step in and say that it just doesn't work. Because clearly one of two things has happened: either the GM in some way failed to accurately present the situation,. and the players are operating under the wrong impression of what their characters should be seeing or hearing or what knowledge they should already have; or the players have just been too dumb to understand the impossibility of something that was clearly explained to them. So, unless the player is intentionally playing dumb because his PC is an imbecile, there's no good reason why they should engage with something that ought to be obviously impossible to the characters in the world.

  2. I call this the "There's no left tunnel" law. New or inattentive players frequently miss key details and try actions which are logically impossible. My formulation of the law refers to spatial relations because that's where most errors and glitches of imagination happen.

  3. I seldom say NO to my players. if only because it doesn't get the point across like "don't be fucking stupid"