Jan 7, 2009

Too Cool For School? When did awesome become lame?

I couldn't help but notice all of the noise out there regarding the "rule of cool". As a blatant effort to drag you kicking and screaming with promises of a train-wreck, my thoughts...

I'm not looking for a fight. If I was, your mother is always the first casualty of war :) I fight dirty. This, however is not like that. This is my respectful disagreement with intelligent, articulate, and otherwise great folks who I also happen to strongly disagree with.

NOTE: If you don't actually read the text of the "rule" you may be a bit confused, please scope that out first - I'll wait.

NOTE B: If you aren't linked it is because my IT department thinks you are bad bad bad! I will try to read the google cached images, as they still get through :)

Alrighty then.

First off, this may or may not make a difference, but as a statistical anomaly, it bears reporting that all of the bloggers in question have rejected 4E. I can't speak 100% for 6D6, but if the Pathfinder RPG campaign summary is any clue, they have fallen to the dark side as well :)
This may very well be a red herring, but with "traditional" RPG values being what they are...well, I'm not opening that particular can of worms today.

I do, however, think this is a good indicator as to the dislike of flash over substance. The rule of cool, after all is basically saying that the rules take a backseat to enjoying the ride. Our problems start with the fact that the rules specifically referenced in the article pertain to movies and reality. The more I read over at 6D6, posts one and two, the more I feel like, while well written, the great guys there missed the point.

I say this because nowhere in Chatty's rule (slightly modified from the above tropes article) does he ever say that this awesome kewlness should be A.)All pervasive or B.)All consuming. I agree with them in that a campaign can be TOO COOL. Over-the-top cheese, covered with monty haul hot fudge, smothered with homebrew gravy, two scoops of Uber NPC's, and topped with Munchkin sauce sounds TERRIBLE. Point is, (IMO anyway) that isn't COOL, and therefore the rule does not apply now does it? Too much of a good thing comes to mind.

Thing is, I keep reading these analysis posts, and the assumption seems to be that the rule of cool means ALL AWESOME, ALL THE TIME. This is simply not the implication or the case.
Brushing aside the inherent problems with comparing a made up fantasy storytelling game with a big budget audio-visual blitzkrieg, we can boil the two down to the lowest common denominator...Fantasy.

Not swords and sorcery fantasy, but escapist fantasy. What is escapist fantasy? Without a dictionary and a 9mm, no two people are ever going to agree on that - hence, the root of the "problem". If you can't even agree on a common set of rules for skewering orcs, how are you ever going to find more than a sliver of Venn love for matrix style I eat-the-laws-of-physics-for-mid-morning-snacks? I for one LOVED the matrix movies, easily amused fool that I am :)

Movies to RPS's (as much as we like to wish it otherwise) are apples and oranges. I won't bring up the two D&D movies, if you all promise to do the same! One is a passive experience. You check your cares at the door, pay your 8 bucks, and escape your cares for 2 hours. An RPG has an interactive element that cinema simply does not have. Everything in the game is a subjective, shared figment. None of it exists outside a small group of friends sharing said figment. And, as is natural to the beasts we are, there is nothing out there that is better than our figment.

We naturally externalize our individual experiences, leading to the vaunted "Yer doing it wrong" memes that even the elite group that we are, are quite guilty of. Nowhere in any of the posts above, and only grudgingly brushed upon in the resulting comments, is "what if I LIKE doing it that way?" Idiocy, Being disowned by other gamers, or ridiculed...great job supporting the hobby guys. A little more tolerance would be a good thing all around.

Another thing I see, is that people are losing sight of the interconectedness of the various tropes. By my interpretation, the rule of cool and the rule of fun are inexplicably interconnected. After all, is it possible to have one without the other? Is there really any difference? Isn't Cool = Fun?

In other words, say, a movie screen shows a monk dodging a clip full of hot lead, before single handedly de-spining 14 bad guys in 45 seconds. Is this FUN? Or is this COOL? Where is the line? Do we need a stinking line in the first place? By extension, is being able to do this as say, part of your character design suddenly stupid? Why?

Need a different example? Your character (edition neutral) has a two-handed sword. When it was "given" it to him, did you actually tell him it was a Zweihander? Or a Claymore? how about a Uchigatana? If you ask him to describe it, and hint that it matters, which one do you think it would be? BAM! Rule of cool just ate your ass! See, given a choice, he will make it whichever one is either A.)Most aesthetically pleasing, or B.)Gives mechanical advantage. In a word, whichever one is cooler, right?

Thing is, the rule of cool, isn't just breaking the laws of physics and reality. It is about what the individual being subjected to the circumstance in question thinks. Ever give a player a small treasure just for being persistent while "in-character" BAM! another piece out of your arse! Ever fudge the HP of a tough monster because dragging out the encounter would result in more awesome factor? BAM! you are running out of arse! Let's not even talk about Role-playing experience, or immortal mythical monsters using a riddle any 5 year old could solve JUST because you already know your players are too dense to figure out a REAL one.

Geek Related uses the helicopter RPG example of lame. Below, I agreed, but upon further thought...I only conditionally agree. My Shadowrun/Cyberpunk/GURPS character spent a frickin butt-load of money and precious develpment points on cybernetic implants, A rocket pack, Retinal targeting systems, and a fully automatic rocket launcher. Why in the hell can I NOT jump out of a helicopter and shoot down missiles? Are YOU the DM going to tell me that I CANNOT do it? Rule of cool be damned, tell me why?

The rules are the rules until they get in the way, that's when you throw them the frack out, and improvise. I guarantee that your player wanted jump out of that helicopter for a reason, it is a futuristic make-believe fantasy game, or are we playing my lame ass life as an insurance agent in the year 2305?

This post has gotten long enough. I will close by saying that I'm okay with agree to disagree. I look for reasons to say yes, while the older ways always felt like overly complex ways to kill a PC before level 3 until they get bored and quit. This doesn't mean that you should give your players the world on a silver platter. Nor does it mean that you should just hand them the adventure, and tell them to take notes. It means that you have a DUTY to your players to make the game fun. If fun means occasionally letting the rules fall by the wayside, why not?


Christopher B said...

"...while the older ways always felt like ways to kill a PC before level 3..."

I wouldn't say "always." It comes down to gaming style. I can relate plenty of cool actions I've let - if not encouraged - my players to attempt in games, regardless of levels, to-hit chances, etc. I've always run games using "The Rule of Cool" - long before it earned a name and a place of controversy on the interwebs.

And I'm one of those old-school guys who doesn't think 4E is really D&D.

Donny_the_Dm said...

Disclaimer: Any absolutes portrayed in my posts are a result of my own personal experience, and not an indicator of any reality uside of the one I an currently stumbling around in.

That said, I have a black folder with all of my dead second edition characters. Out of 22 of them, only 5 made it past level 5. I blame 2E for why I no longer enjoy PLAYING, as opposed to DMing.

I will take a partial agreement though :)

Thank you for coming by!

Chris Tregenza said...

A good article, and thanks for the kind words.

"Cool = Fun?"

Even this idea breaks down because people are using the word ‘cool’ very differently.

To some 'Cool' means anything pleasing or fun. To others, such as myself' it has a more specific meaning as something admirable.

Your comment about 4e and anti-RoC I think is very accurate.

At 6d6 we have only just got our 4e PHBs and are reading through them. Our consensus so far is that it is a good game system but it isn't D&D.

I think one aspect of that is the amount of powers a character gets at first level. To someone who cut their teeth on AD&D 1e where a 1st level character had no special abilities at all, 4e seems a over-the-top.

TheLemming said...

Well, while it was easier to get a pc killed in level 1-5, there were two nice side-effects. Either you felt really great for overcoming this 2nd and 3rd edition obstacle and enjoyed a very long living character afterwards or you had all reasons (like we did) to start at level 5 with more experienced characters...

You should really give playing a second chance though, it's imho best to learn from other dungeon masters and not always be on one side of the table

Donny_the_Dm said...

@ Chris - Tell me about it. Even fun has different meanings to different people.

I would re-iterate the flash over substance (and it's inverse) as a root cause of the disagreements here.

2E, and even 3E to an extent were very substance, while 4E is going for flash.

Cinematic, Narritivistic, Potato, Potatoe, it really just comes down to "I like vette's but think mustangs are for losers."

We all have "our" brand, and can never quite figure out why in the hell ANYONE could want the "other" one.

Thanks for stopping by! Even peeps I disagree with get the red carpet here :)

That means you too, Lemmi :)