This article covers in-game “Hard No’s” where the PLAYER actually really does WANT the situation to happen but their CHARACTER draws such a clear line in the sand that the desired events don’t happen. They might, for example, want an in-game romance but have their character react so badly to the very idea of it that no one pursues the option. The player is then confused and annoyed as to why their character arc isn’t progressing as intended.
The Obvious Hard No
The half-orc barbarian, Allisa, stands outside the entrance to the cave, with her arms crossed. “I won’t go inside that wretched hole,” she says roughly to her three fellow adventurers. When the others give her reasons to enter, she shakes her head. “I don’t care about any of that. I’m not going!”
The others give in, confused as she chose to come along on this encounter, and offer her a few tentative options (guard the entrance, come with them or head back to the tavern) before entering without her. She feels neglected and left out. She’s become the victim of her own in-character Hard No.
You can see the problem here. The player of Allisa thinks this could be a cool scene for a confrontation or comfort scene but she’s shut down the very idea of going with such vehemence that there’s no inspiration in how the other characters could actually move into such a scene.
She hasn’t given a “Yes and…” or a “No but….” It’s just “No.”
The other players are now left scratching their heads regarding where to go from here.
The Subtle Hard No
Unlike in the prior example, Allisa now mentions her claustrophobia and childhood fear of cave spiders due to a childhood incident, which gives the characters something to work with. They decide to help her through that trauma. After 10 – 20 minutes of coaxing, the other adventurers are no closer to convincing her (or at least there is no sign that they are) and so they give up and enter the cave without her.
A “Subtle Hard No” is where the character gives hints as to the right course of action, but stubbornly argues the point for 20 minutes until everyone else gives up. The truth is that all LARP time is accelerated time.
There’s no room in the average game to slowly roleplay through weekly sessions of exposure therapy, after all. And that therapy would only be helpful if your character were willing, anyway.
If you shoot down an option, the character will assume its the wrong one. They might try the same thing with a different angle, but eventually they’ll give up. If you want to roleplay being stubborn, you can do so, but you can’t mimic real life levels of resistance as there simply isn’t the time in game for anyone to overcome it.
The Reversion to Hard No
Allisa agrees to enter the cave but after a short distance all her fears come back to the fore and she immediately leaves. All the characters’ prior work is undone. They’ll need to start from the very beginning but find new tactics as her resolve has hardened once more.
Reversions tend to be exhausting to go through for the other characters (and especially their players). While it may seem like a thrilling new character development, the truth is it’s a complete 360. To the other players it feels like a bad twist: Surprise! Nothing has changed but time has been wasted.
It would be different if the development were wholly new – perhaps Allisa needs more assurances or moves at a slower, more trembling pace unless comforted. That would reward folks for their efforts and offer new opportunities for roleplay.
The Hidden Hard No
Allisa enters the cave after the party raise a multitude of good points, but her own acquiescence sits poorly with her and the character begins to internally panic (though the player is fine). Allisa didn’t want to come into this cave so if anything goes badly, she’ll knock one of them down to buy herself time to run.
This one comes up from time to time. The other characters didn’t pull off the perfect persuasion (difficult to do even when you have more time and resources) and so they only got grudging agreement from the character. While almost a Yes But (i.e. Yes I’ll go into the cave but you’re going to suffer), the truth is the other characters couldn’t convince Allisa and had no way of knowing that.
The Hidden Hard No tends to breed discontent. The other characters put in the effort and are getting punished for it. While in some settings and scenarios this can be appropriate, if you make the other characters really work at convincing your character to do the thing you wanted them to do then if you betray them, all you’re doing is teaching them not to try again next time.
So what do you think? Ever been hit with one of these Hard No’s? Ever accidentally given a Hard No and been confused when folks accept it and move on? What do you think is the best way to keep things moving?