Roleplaying Games and the Rule of Cool

Anyone who has read enough of my blogs or sat around and listened to me jibber jabber about roleplaying games for any length of time has almost certainly heard me mention the Rule of Cool. If you haven’t, you haven’t been listening.

Interestingly enough, with many gamers, I mention the Rule of Cool and they know what I am talking about just like people instantly understand “skin thirty” or anyone left alone with an old Windows box will come up with the term “blue screen of death” on their own. Still, in many games, people seem to forget about this.

Roleplaying books often mention the so-called Golden Rule. This is your game. Take what works for you. Discard the rest. But, they often gloss over what isn’t included in the book–what you need to add. And what is it you need to add to every roleplaying game? Coolness.

Use the rule of cool in all of your games.
Real life representation of the Rule of Cool.

You want to run and play in games that have those moments that people will remember and talk about for many moons to come. This is true whether it is an action fantasy game, a Victorian horror game, a dystopian future, space opera, or any other genre. Whatever floats your boat. How do you get those memorable moments, though? You get it by doing–and allowing–cool stuff in your game.

But My Games Are Already Cool

Hey, that’s great! Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. Who am I to judge, especially if I am not in your games?

I have played a variety of games–everything from Rolemaster, D&D, Pathfinder, and GURPS to FATE, Cypher System, World of Darkness (new and old), and more. Some games lend themselves better to awesome roleplaying hi-jinks. Fate, for example, is all about descriptions. Aspects are a major part of your character, equivalent–and more than–stats used in other games. And those Aspects are statements, descriptions you come up with on your own and figure out how they fit into the story. It’s not to say that Fate is the right fit for every game or every player, but those cool little descriptions allow you to set a sort of standard for the type of cool you will be having (hopefully) in your game.

Other games, like newer versions of D&D and Pathfinder, abilities and powers are more strictly defined. I don’t mean to pick on those systems. There is nothing wrong with them. However, people often play them RAW (or, rules as written). The book says you can do this and you do it like this, so this is what you do and this is how you do it.

A lot of people end up getting stuck in what the book says can be done and forget to look beyond what the book doesn’t tell you.

How to Make it Cool

To make it cool, though, you have to be able to break out of that quantified and regimented thinking. Don’t just swing your sword. Grip your blade and swing high to bring it crashing down on your opponent’s head as your roar in defiance. There needn’t be a mechanical benefit here. There doesn’t need to be a called shot. You were just being descriptive.

Then, if you roll well, the DM or GM should be able to describe what happens beyond the amount of damage done. Not every good roll has to be one for the history books, but you should see a smattering here and there. The same is true for a bad roll. Don’t just make the effect mechanical, make it descriptive as well.

If someone wants to do something that’s not in the book–let them do it, especially if it’s cool. If you need to makeshift build some rules around it on the spot–do it, but keep it simple. Otherwise, just have fun with it.

You are, after all, playing a roleplaying game and it is supposed to be fun. Remember the Golden Rule. And, to achieve the Golden Rule, you need the Rule of Cool.

3 Comments


  1. We have some guys in Seattle who do this really well. More than once, the entire table has sat enthralled while they described some epic action their character was about to take, THEN they roll the dice, and ad-lib on the fly the actual result. It always turns out especially funny if it’s a bad roll, and the flub doesn’t match the epic setup.

    It helps they are wired with natural sense of theatrics, but they are a lot of fun to play with.

    Reply

    1. That is one of the things that I run into–the giant set up and THEN the roll. It can fun to do that way. At the same time, I have seen the roll and then the description too, which works about the same, but not quite.

      Reply

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