It appears that I ruffled some feathers with yesterday’s The Rule of Cool – Only for Idiots. So let me expand on why I think the ‘Rule of Cool’ is bad advice for GMs.
Note: None of which follows is an attack on Chatty DM, he has merely written something I disagree with.
Defining the Context
Here is the definition used by Chatty DM in his original post.
The limit of the Willing Suspension Of Disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to its degree of coolness. Stated another way, all but the most pedantic of viewers will forgive liberties with reality so long as the result is wicked sweet and/or awesome. This applies to the audience in general, as there will naturally be a different threshold for each individual in the group.
Chatty DM goes on to say
Which basically makes me think that my efforts as a DM should not so much be on far-reaching World Building and tight nitpicking-proof plot lines and such.
I should go all out for encounters and role playing that will swamp my players in coolness. Think combat on ice Bridges, negotiating the release of prisoners in a flooding underground prison, hopping from floating island to pieces of flying ruins in order to catch the thieves of the Star jewel of Radnia…
From the wikipedia entry on Cool
Cool is an aesthetic of attitude, behavior, comportment, appearance, style and Zeitgeist”
What is Cool?
A commenter on my post pointed out that I “automatically equate the Rule of Cool with explosions and CGI”. One of the two reasons I did is because Chatty DM did – Ice Bridges, flooding prisions, floating islands falling to pieces – all of these would be CGI-fests in a film.
The second reason for linking CGI & explosion with cool is because coolness is an expression of sensory pleasure and predominately linked to visual stimulus. Exactly the sort of stimulus you see in action movies with explosions and slow motion gun fights.
What is not Cool?
No one would describe an Agatha Christie book or film as cool. They are slow moving with a lot dialogue between irritating Belgian’s and crusty upper-class murderers. Yet this style of whodunit is an important aspect of fiction whether it is books, films or role-playing games.
In a similar vein, no one could describe Frodo & Sam’s grueling slog across Mordor at the end of The Return of the King as cool. It is the slow, emotional progress of two souls coming to terms with their fate. It is a vital part of the story, without which the character’s rescue by the giant eagles would mean nothing.
How Much Cool?
My starting point was Chatty’s own comment that he “should go all out for encounters and role playing that will swamp my players in coolness” (highlights are mine). What Chatty is proposing is that games (or at least his games) should be full of CGI-fest type scenes and this is what I consider idiocy.
Notice that I’m not saying that these scenes should never occur or even that they should be rare. My point is that unrestrained use of coolness is patently self-defeating. Players will get desensitised and they lose their impact. As I stated in my original post, ‘The Matrix’ was cool is because the cool bits were preceded by long periods of character and plot development. Compare this to ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ where no cared about the characters, especially the Littlest Cancer Patient, because no time was invested in letting the audience get to know them.
Cool and Fun and Good GMing are Different Things
Some of the commenter seem to equate doing cool things with fun and good GMing. More than one commenter expressed the idea that “As long as everyone is having fun, it’s OK”. Role-playing (at least how I see it) is not about having fun, it is about entertainment.
How a GM entertains his players depends on how long the game is likely to run. If it is a single session then there is no reason not to go mad with big scenes and other ‘fun’ things. But if you are running a campaign lasting months or years, every week cannot be ‘fun’. Some weeks the party have to miss a clue or a secret door and spend the session going round in circles. Other weeks a character may die. Neither of these are fun but they have pay-offs that increases everyone’s enjoyment. When the party finally spots the clue and catches the bad guy, they will saviour it all the more than if the GM had handed it to them on a plate. The death of a character makes all players more worried and nervous about combat which increases the excitement and makes victory even sweeter.
When to use or not use coolness and fun is the secret to good GMing. Players need to be rewarded with cool for being inventive, even if it sometimes breaks the consistency of the game. Players having a bad session, for whatever reason, need to be pulled into the game with fun events. Balancing these and all the different aspects of a game is nothing to do with the rule of cool, it is simply good GMing.
So Who Are The Idiots?
Well not Chatty DM I’m sure. Judging from his writing he clearly understands about plotting, character development and all the other aspects of good GMing. Even when writing about swamping his players with coolness I’m sure his adventures are closer to ‘The Matrix’ than ‘Matrix Revolutions’. However the Rule of Cool is still bad advice.
Movie producers and GMs who think that it doesn’t matter what they do as long it is cool are destined to fail. Where as those who understand how coolness works and use cool appropriately will create blockbusters.