Just Because A Solution Is Awesome, Doesn’t Make It Valid

Posted: September 21, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Roleplaying Games

Sometimes, the adherence to the so-called “Rule of Cool” can be detrimental to a game.

Having such a rule in effect in a campaign can result in players taking risks that they would have otherwise have avoided, but one has to be very careful about where to draw the line between “Cool” and “Stupid”.  Perhaps this is me being too discriminatory, but I enjoy it when players take risks, or decide to apply non-standard solutions to a given situation in order to solve a dilemma.  However, there are times when some ideas lean too far towards the argument of “But it’s Cool!” than actually being a workable plan.

So, perhaps to defend my position, let me present my little mental checklist when it comes to spotting Awesome but terrible ideas:

  1. Is there an actual objective? – This is the first step.  Sometimes, I’ve seen players blather something about “Kicking the guard in the face” or some other wild action with no real intention in mind.  Usually, this results in the said character getting beaten up, thrown into solitary and deprived of food for a few days.
  2. Are you making wild assumptions? – The first sign of a plan that wasn’t quite thought through, is one that runs on a boatload of assumptions.  Once the player starts saying “And then this guy will do this, which will then cause this, and then this… it can’t NOT work!” then it’s time to start getting the bucket of ice cold reality ready.
  3. Are you lashing out? – Sometimes players just get plain frustrated and lash out.  This is the rebellious action declaration, the passive-aggressive method of sabotaging a game.  I’ll admit that I’m not immune to this sort of thing, and now and then a player will declare something absolutely reckless just to get me to react in some fashion.  I try to spot this as early as I can so I can call them on it and bring the discussion off the game and into a conversation between friends.  I’d rather not have it escalate into an in-game arms race of disruptive actions that will ultimately just ruin the game for everyone.

To put things simply, the Rule of Cool is a great idea, and I honestly accept it as a part of my games.  However, the idea of abusing the Rule of Cool to let your players run roughshod over everything just because is lazy gaming.  As with all things, coolness requires some measure of moderation.  Too much of it, and the game feels thin and uninspired, going for a quick bang rather than actual, well conceived events.

Coolness has a place in my game, and I welcome it.  But when Coolness tends to overstep its bounds and starts wailing on Good Taste, then it has to be shown to the corner.  Key to any sort of GMing is consistency, and when the Rule of Cool threatens that consistency, then the Rule of Cool has to give.

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Comments
  1. Anthony says:

    Sometimes a random action has its own merits as well though. For example, there are times – in some games at least – when the person the party is after is simply smarter, better at planning, and has better resources than them. At this point, one of the group’s best choices is to just start smashing things and hope they break/disrupt /something./ Then they can, hopefully, catch the bad guy or the thread of the plan when things move to help protect it.

    It’s not the best idea ever, but sometimes it is all you have. Which means that sometimes someone just wanting to smack the guard could be because the player – or the character – can’t see any other way to get at their target so they default to “when in doubt, blow something up.”

    All that said. Actions have consequences, and sometimes players need to be reminded of what some of those consequences may be.

    • Hey Anthony,

      I agree with what you’re saying. Sometimes it’s not clear as to what players ought to be doing at a given point, and sometimes doing something is preferable to not doing anything at all. As GM, I feel that you should be more forgiving when you realize that the players are actually in this sort of unstable footing. Coming down too hard on them for trying something when there is clearly no sign as to what else they could be doing would just be mean-spirited.

  2. icgat says:

    Erm… is there an actual objective? … nah: it’s just a player trying to have fun in, you know, a roleplaying game. Are you really going to tell him/her … “no?”. Ever seen an action movie where the character didn’t get beaten /thrown into jail, etc?

    Wild assumptions? To paraphrase a famous adventurer… “I don’t know! Fly casual!!!” Sometimes you just gotta go in there on a wing and a prayer… like good adventurers do.

    lashing out? OK, so that’s a no go, but you know that (needless) coup de grace on a beaten foe is… OK cos it’s not overstepping some cool boundary?

    Just an opinion but coolness just makes you a better DM, especially where it helps you make your players (and blog readers) happier.

    • Hey there!

      Nah, I’m not about to tell anyone no. I just ask, “Are you sure?” If it’s a yes, then they encounter whatever results their action usually has. I try to go for a fair judgement rather than an outright “no.” Players have every right to declare what their characters are doing.

      “Fly Casual” is a good point, but it’s not working on presupposed assumptions. It means responding to things as they come. I applaud players who can react to each situation as it comes, while keeping their eye on their objective, so I think we’re actually in agreement on this.

      Lashing out in this case means taking actions that are disruptive to gameplay for the sake of lashing out at the GM. If a player declares that his character is doing something that is a deliberate attempt to swing the game to a direction where Things Will Not End Well ™ then I think I’m well within reason to call the game to a halt and talk to the player outside of the context of the game and see what’s really bothering him. I’m afraid I didn’t understand your coup de grace example though, there’s too much room for interpretation for me to give a straight yes or no answer with regards to whether or not this is permissible.

      Before anything else, I’d like to reiterate that I like Coolness. I find that every game benefits from it now and then. However, I feel that sometimes extreme actions can be inappropriate and detrimental to a game. However, I also believe that it falls to each group to decide their threshold with regards to the matter. Some groups like going balls-to-the-wall with the Rule of Cool and I respect that. If you’re having fun with how you play, then that’s what matters… nothing I say, or write should stop you from having fun your way.

    • Hikkikomori says:

      My 2 pence regarding this issue of being permissive is that, when a GM is too permissive just because a Player is “imaginative”, then there’s no point in playing.
      They can just continue each other’s story, and remove mechanics, dice-rolling, and basically every other counter-“fun” element in the game.

      Actually, with that kind of setup, its no longer a Game – since there are no longer rules that govern what should incur positive or negative consequences, it is just plain storytelling, or basically Role-Playing.

      If your basis of a game is an action movie, then those types of games most likely cleave to Pulp or the same type of genre which allows for superhuman heroes that have complete disregard for collateral damage and future consequence – which of course allows for more leniency.

      But if you’re running a more gritty and down-to-earth themed game, prime example would be nWoD, then walking away from an exploding building though may appear “cool” and “awesome”, but there are still taxes to be paid, property to be repaired, lives to be accounted for.

      • I think you’ve hit on a very important point here, Hikkikomori.

        Tolerance for coolness should vary by Genre. As such, the expectations for that sort of tolerance should be agreed up on by all parties by the time the game starts as to establish a baseline “norm.”

  3. loquacious says:

    I wish more GMs thought about this. Many times, when a player is doing something “random” it’s because the game in question is no longer fun, and the GM is oblivious to how insulated their BBG really is…

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