D&D 5E Context Switching Paralysis, or Why we Will Always Have the Thief Debate

GSHamster

Adventurer
I think the phrase "awesomeness aversion" is biased, and putting a thumb on the scale. No one wants to be averse to awesome.

But I kind of think that all you "awesome-friendly" DMs would still just say No if the fighter asked to do a kamehameha (iconic energy blast attack from Dragon Ball) out of the blue, even if the player considers it awesome.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

What's an example of an "awesome" thing that happens in a game? What context enables or prevents that awesome thing? If the awesome thing happens every session, or even multiple times per session, is it still awesome?
 

Celebrim

Legend
Er...I've been DMing actively for over four years now.

Oh bless your heart. That's so cute. Seriously though, the world needs more good DMs so keep up the fight.

Haven't once had that happen.

Maybe you just have a higher wisdom than I do, but there are plenty of times I've house ruled something or set a precedent I regretted. Like that time I decided that since 1e cantrips were basically harmless, I could allow M-U's to use them at will. That had to get yanked back to like 2 x your caster level really quick, because it turns out 15-year-old boys given unlimited ability to make people belch...

And my game absolutely uses the Rule of Cool (or Rule of Interesting) very heavily.

I believe you, but then I it sounds like when you describe it you are more using the Suggestion of Cool or maybe the Guideline of Cool. It might be helpful if you told me what you think the Rule of Cool is. Because honestly, the Rule of Cool has been around like 10 years longer than you've been DMing, and it sounds like your version has nothing to do with willing suspension of disbelief or even really breaking the rules of the game.

This has nothing to do with the Rule of Cool though. It's the result of giving a general benefit with no limitations, rather than addressing a specific scene and tailoring the response to fit. So, for example, in that parallel thread about whether a Fighter could pray for divine aid, my process might look like this:

So I'm really not sure what you've established here or thought you've established. Like many DMs since the days of Gygax you've found the utility of occasionally letting PC's appeal for divine aid in circumstances you thought were appropriate. And like many DMs since the days Gygax mentioned this in the 1st edition DMG, you've wanted to make clear that while it can happen that calling on the aid of a deity can potentially make them angry or otherwise has costs - especially if you do it flippantly or too often.

Ok. What's your point here?

Absolutely a scene powered by the Rule of Cool, and yet not one that leads to a "use it literally every time, all the time, forever" tactic.

Because you very much suggested the existence of rules and costs. And frankly, I don't even think that's much powered by the Rule of Cool. At no point did your character ask to do something that breaks the rules of the game so that he could have a moment of awesomeness. At no point did you consider breaking the rules of the game. I mean this last time we played D&D we had like 3 or 4 divine interventions occur. Granted, I decided I wanted them to be enough of a part of my game that I turned the general, "Ok this can happen" into a system that doesn't depend on as much fiat as your spontaneous ruling. But as I noted, a ruling is just rule that has been discovered.

There's your problem. You're assuming that "Rule of Cool" means "low-risk, high-reward tactic(s.)"

No, I'm assuming "Rule of Cool" has something to do with allowing PC's to exceed there normal abilities when doing so would be cool, even if and particular if doing so would break the normal rules of the game. I'm assuming the "Rule of Cool" has to do with when ruling, you consider primarily what would be dramatic rather than what would make sense given the assumptions of the setting. And that further it has to do with enabling those game breaking actions by not imposing such a high difficulty on them that you are effectively saying "No." The Rule of Cool is not "I have cool things happen in my game." because then there is no difference really between using the rule of cool and not using it.

You know, the things that were originally called out by ChattyDM and which are inspired by the original citation of Rule of Cool with respect to how it works in other media, namely: "The limit of the Willing Suspension of Disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to its awesomeness."

...what on earth? You can always validate your players without bowing to their every whim. Don't conflate being a supportive DM with being a completely permissive doormat.

If you quote me out of context, then of course what I say won't make sense. The particular paragraph you are citing is offered as a counter-argument to the methodology I suggested for play. Of course I believe you can always validate your players without bowing to their every whim. We don't disagree on that. That's agreement with me. I'm conflating nothing. Please reread the arguments I'm making more closely.

These two things are totally orthogonal. I'm honestly deeply confused why you would think there's any relation between them at all.

Ok, I tell you what. Since I'm so opposed to the rule of cool, what don't you give some examples of things you would have allowed in your GMing that you think are covered by the rule of cool and I'd oppose? Or particularly, since it is clear Gygax advice heavily against the Rule of Cool, and in any event the rule wasn't really explained until like 15 years ago, can you explain how the Rule of Cool informs your gaming in way that would be starkly contrasting with Gygaxian DMs.
 
Last edited:

I think the phrase "awesomeness aversion" is biased, and putting a thumb on the scale. No one wants to be averse to awesome.
Based on the way several people have explicitly discussed it with me, no, there's plenty of people who are openly wishing to clamp down on that. "Awesome has to be earned" is a phrase I've heard many, many, many times. And "earned," in this context, almost always means "achieved through many long hours of tedious grinding and/or failure." (Sounds like several MMOs I've played... ;) )

But I kind of think that all you "awesome-friendly" DMs would still just say No if the fighter asked to do a kamehameha (iconic energy blast attack from Dragon Ball) out of the blue, even if the player considers it awesome.
Sure. Doing stuff "out of the blue" is rarely interesting and poorly justified. Just 'cause I can be persuaded to do something due to its coolness factor doesn't mean that coolness factor is the only rule that ever matters forever and ever 'til Kingdom come.

Oh bless your heart. That's so cute. Seriously though, the world needs more good DMs so keep up the fight.
I don't really appreciate being patronized.

Maybe you just have a higher wisdom than I do, but there are plenty of times I've house ruled something or set a precedent I regretted. Like that time I decided that since 1e cantrips were basically harmless, I could allow M-U's to use them at will. That had to get yanked back to like 2 x your caster level really quick, because it turns out 15-year-old boys given unlimited ability to make people belch...
Sounds to me like your 15-year-old players were more interested in playing a humorous game rather than a serious one. Which is fine, if that's what you as DM are interested in providing. If you aren't, then the issue has nothing to do with "Rule of Cool" and everything to do with expectation mismatch.

Or, to turn around the phrase so many others have so infuriatingly used: Why run games for players you don't trust?

I believe you, but then I it sounds like when you describe it you are more using the Suggestion of Cool or maybe the Guideline of Cool. It might be helpful if you told me what you think the Rule of Cool is. Because honestly, the Rule of Cool has been around like 10 years longer than you've been DMing, and it sounds like your version has nothing to do with willing suspension of disbelief or even really breaking the rules of the game.
The Rule of Cool has been around forever. It might not have had a name before then, but it absolutely existed as a principle of adjudication since before Gygax published OD&D, and as a principle of storytelling since before friggin' Beowulf.

When I speak of "Rule of Cool," I mean...well, doing things because they're cool. If you can sell me on the coolness of a situation, I will go to the ends of the Earth with you to try to make it happen. That doesn't mean it always will happen. Some things are simply disruptive, inappropriate, or off-theme in ways that cannot be fixed no matter how much finagling you do. Such things are rare, but they occasionally show up.

So I'm really not sure what you've established here or thought you've established. Like many DMs since the days of Gygax you've found the utility of occasionally letting PC's appeal for divine aid in circumstances you thought were appropriate. And like many DMs since the days Gygax mentioned this in the 1st edition DMG, you've wanted to make clear that while it can happen that calling on the air of a deity can potentially make them angry or otherwise has costs - especially if you do it flippantly or too often.

Ok. What's your point here?
My point is that the scene is cool, which is my reason for embracing it. I would not deviate from the more typical situations of the game (where "praying for aid" is nice flavor, but doesn't accomplish much) without that "cool" factor.

Because you very much suggested the existence of rules and costs.
Why would you ever apply the Rule of Cool without having costs? What would be the point of that? I just...what???

No, I'm assuming "Rule of Cool" has something to do with allowing PC's to exceed there normal abilities when doing so would be cool, even if and particular if doing so would break the normal rules of the game.
Which is what my example did...

And that further it has to do with enabling those game breaking actions by not imposing such a high difficulty on them that you are effectively saying "No."
Why are the actions "game breaking"? Why are you allowing "game breaking" actions? And if the action would break the game, and as a result you are opposed to it, why use the crappy passive-aggressive tactic of setting impossibly high difficulties, rather than being honest and forthright with your players and telling them? It's not hard to say, "Sorry, I'm not comfortable with that as is. What are you looking for? Maybe we can find a different way to make it happen."

The Rule of Cool is not "I have cool things happen in my game." because then there is no difference really between using the rule of cool and not using it.
Sure there is. "I permit cool things to happen, if coincidence should conspire to make a given situation cool" is quite a bit different from, "I actively embrace cool situations, such that if you can sell me sufficiently on the coolness of the scene, you're very likely to get it." The former is passive, unconcerned, detached. The latter is active, seeking to be persuaded, directly involved. They're as different as night and day.

You know, the things that were originally called out by ChattyDM and which are inspired by the original citation of Rule of Cool with respect to how it works in other media, namely: "The limit of the Willing Suspension of Disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to its awesomeness."
I find this overly restrictive. "Rule of Cool" means doing things primarily because of their coolness. Which is what I do.

If you quote me out of context, then of course what I say won't make sense. The particular paragraph you are citing is offered as a counter-argument to the methodology I suggested for play. Of course I believe you can always validate your players without bowing to their every whim. We don't disagree on that. That's agreement with me. I'm conflating nothing. Please reread the arguments I'm making more closely.
Alright, fine. Here's the full paragraph, completely unedited:
Now of course there is a counter-argument to what I just outlined. What if the whole table just enjoys a Monte Haul campaign? What's wrong with that? Why can't you just validate the player no matter what? What is wrong with being a little inconsistent and having NPCs just not be awesome enough to do the things that the PCs do? And I suppose at some level the answer is nothing. It's a stylistic choice to have no real difficulty in the game and let everything come easy. And there are parallels in the larger gaming world. We've seen trends of games that back off the difficulty so much that you basically don't need to develop any skill at playing the game to easily progress through it. And there isn't anything wrong with that, and certainly there are games where I just wanted to play them casually. But we've also seen that aesthetic create a deep hunger for more meaningful challenges, creating a wave of "Dark Souls" inspired games that are unapologetic about requiring skillful play if you want to progress.
All of the leading questions asked here are off-topic, massively biased, or painted in a terrible light. "Monty Haul" has nothing to do with Rule of Cool--that's about loading up the campaign with magic items and pumping characters full of XP so they zoom through progression quickly. There's no further context before or after "Why can't you just validate the player no matter what?" so I honestly do not know what you meant by it--it isn't connected to the "Monty Haul" question, nor does it have any clear relevance to the following question about "being a little inconsistent." Speaking of, that conflates unrelated things, namely inconsistency with rules enforcement vs PCs being different from NPCs. It is not inconsistent to enforce laws differently against the sitting President of the United States than against Joe the Pawnbroker, because some laws actually are different for a sitting POTUS compared to an ordinary citizen.

Further, you then conflate "letting the PCs do awesome things" with the complete and total excision of any form of difficulty. That is a massive and totally unwarranted logical leap. And then a digression on the appeal of Dark Souls etc., which is largely irrelevant because "Rule of Cool" is completely orthogonal.

This is why I singled out just those few bits, by the way. I considered most of the paragraph completely irrelevant and thus ignored it. I singled out those bits because, on the one hand, I didn't see any connection whatsoever to the rest of the paragraph and further struggled to believe that I was actually reading what I was reading (wrt: player validation),

Ok, I tell you what. Since I'm so opposed to the rule of cool, what don't you give some examples of things you would have allowed in your GMing that you think are covered by the rule of cool and I'd oppose? Or particularly, since it is clear Gygax advice heavily against the Rule of Cool, and in any event the rule wasn't really explained until like 15 years ago, can you explain how the Rule of Cool informs your gaming in way that would be starkly contrasting with Gygaxian DMs.
I mean, I literally gave the above example--allowing a non-Cleric/non-Paladin character to pray for divine aid and actually have a real chance of getting it, not a bull feces pseudo-chance--something that has gotten explicit and intense pushback in the other thread. I gave that example very specifically because I have been, and am currently being, told that doing that thing is a horrific violation of the rules that should never be allowed.

Other possible examples (most of which are Dungeon World, I'll mark 4e or 5e ones explicitly):
  • Allowing a 5e character to attempt to Action Surge (with some sort of steep cost) despite not having any Fighter levels
  • Allowing a 5e character to attempt to re-weave a spell or enchantment that has already been placed, using an Arcana roll
  • Completely skipping any negotiation process in a 4e Skill Challenge because a character's argument is persuasive and his reputation is beyond reproach
  • Imbuing a player character with a spirit of law, rather than doing anything strictly "harmful," after they botched a roll to avoid a modron's final suicide attack
  • Allowing a 4e character to treat a shield as a no-frills, simple heavy thrown weapon (e.g. the baseline +2 proficiency modifier)
  • Bringing a character back to life despite the party having no means of resurrecting them, but with some sort of cost, detriment, debt, etc. in order to keep the story going rather than grind things to a halt (and, more importantly, to prevent a player from having to sit out multiple sessions before they can rejoin)
  • Having useful coincidences, such as the party Ranger with a massive extended family/clan (established by his backstory) continually find distant cousins in useful places, such as working with the "internal police/secret service" branch of the region's primary religion
  • Letting a player blend together traditions of magic that have, for thousands of years, been kept as separate but related things
  • Letting one character "apprentice" to another character, with the goal of learning the basics of certain magics (here, Druid shapeshift); I said it could definitely be learned, rolls would just determine how well/poorly lessons went, though I did say the "apprentice" couldn't do combat forms even once they'd learned to transform.
  • Inventing, on the spot, a ritual to allow a character to purge a group of devilish taint, as the character felt kinship to these tieflings (who had been "blessed" with the blood of the character's own devilish ancestor), completely outside the ordinary rules of the game
There have probably been other examples in games I've run and games I've played. These are just ones that come to mind that actually happened (well, other than the first 5e one, that is just one I invented as an example.)

As for the ways the Rule of Cool, at least as I practice it, would be starkly different from (so-called) Gygaxian DMs, well for the first point I'd actually embrace people playing something other than human if that's what excites them. Gygax very explicitly called out anyone who wants to play anything other than bog-standard human as doing so EXCLUSIVELY because they want to powergame. Not because they just find it exciting, not because it resonates with them or sounds like it could have interesting potential, but (and this is an exact quote), "principally because the player sees the desired monster character as superior to his or her peers and likely to provide a dominant role for him or her in the campaign." (You can read the full text here. It's got a lot of problematic advice in it.) So-called "Gygaxian" DMs love to ban stuff. They ban classes, they ban races, they ban feats (usually all feats), spells, items. Ban this, ban that. It's Oprah Winfrey, "You get a ban, and you get a ban, and EVERYONE gets a ban!"

Unless, of course, you follow the rest of Gygax's advice here, which is to be a passive-aggressive jerk about it rather than have an adult conversation with the player. Instead of being honest and just straight-up saying, "I don't permit that in my games," the strictly (so-called) "Gygaxian" DM lets the player think it can be done, only to sabotage them at every turn until finally they give up: "The less intelligent players who demand to play monster characters regardless of obvious consequences will soon remove themselves from play in any event, for their own ineptness will serve to have players or monsters or traps finish them off." And that passive-aggressive "don't tell players they can't, just never actually let them succeed" attitude is quite prevalent among self-avowed "old school" DMs today, including legitimately awful behaviors like literally actually ignoring a player who plays a dragonborn whenever they're trying to interact with shopkeepers or the like. (Yes, that was something I was actually told was a person's DMing policy, by an actual user on this forum. With the explicit intent that this frustrate or bother the player in question until they depart from the game or wise up.)

I have a standing, explicit policy: I will do whatever I can to support anything my players are enthusiastic about which isn't coercive, exploitative, or disruptive. I try to have a lenient attitude about what counts as "exploitative." Disruptive and coercive are more complex because those have more to do with how a player's behavior affects others.
 

What's an example of an "awesome" thing that happens in a game? What context enables or prevents that awesome thing? If the awesome thing happens every session, or even multiple times per session, is it still awesome?
Sometimes. Depends on context.

I always felt awesome using I Am The Law as a Paladin in Dungeon World, even though that was a basic move I had from the very beginning and which never changed its function across an entire two-year-ish campaign.

In my current game, the Battle Master still continues to use tactics he had from day 1. These tactics have saved his bacon and others'. Knowing you avoided a bad situation by the +1 you got from an ally? Pretty awesome, if a little hair-raising. The party Bard, who learned minor shapeshifting from the (now-semi-retired) Druid, is really obviously always just delighted to be able to turn into a little sparrow and hide from opponents or scout around in public places with minimal risk of being caught. (Not zero risk though; his tiefling horns remain a tell IIRC, so a close examination would give him away.) The aforementioned Druid never stopped being happy with his living-wood stick, even though he got it in like the third session.

Something being awesome does not mean that it has to be bowl-you-over dramatic. Waterfalls inspire awe, and yet they are a necessary and natural consequence of the existence of gravity and the water cycle.
 
Last edited:

Celebrim

Legend
@EzekielRaiden : So, at this point I'm convinced that you don't really rely on "Rule of Cool" in your gaming. You have a concept you think is "Rule of Cool" and it works for you, but it really isn't Rule of Cool. If you could put a thesis on it, it would be something like, "I will do whatever I can to support anything my players are enthusiastic about." That's a interesting paradigm but it's not "Rule of Cool". Of all of your examples, only 2-3 even seemed like they could be Rule of Cool, and the way you listed them didn't prove that conclusively. About the only thing you seem to be doing that you could definitely say is different than my style is you seem to rely more heavily on "Fail Forward" than I do. A huge percentage of the time you say you are using "Rule of Cool", it seems to be to prevent PC death which is "Fail Foward" and not "Rule of Cool". The rest of the time you are just using very conventional literary tropes.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Oh bless your heart. That's so cute. Seriously though, the world needs more good DMs so keep up the fight.

I just want to point out that this comment here could be one of the worst posts I’ve ever read on this site. I realize that perhaps it’s not what you intended… you kind of tried to put a positive spin on it there, but that didn’t prevent it from being condescending and elitist and just plain rude.

It’s a real trend around here. That the longer you’ve been doing something, then the better you must be at it. And while there is of course some truth to that (I’m not gonna argue against experience on a site primarily devoted to D&D), there are also negatives that go along with that.

We can get set in our ways. We can think we know it all. We can think there’s nothing mew to be learned. We can be dismissive of people who haven’t “put in the time”. We can try and shut down discussions because “it’s all been said”. And so on.

I’m reminded of some people I’ve worked with in the past who have had more experience than many of those around them… set in their ways, resistant to change, dismissive of new ideas or new voices. Very often these people are not nearly as knowledgable or as capable as they think. They use antiquated processes and don’t take to new methods as quickly.

It’s a poor attitude to have and I wish it was less prevalent on these boards. Because there’s always the possibility that the folks who’ve been GMing for decades have been doing a pisspoor job of it for decades.
 

Voadam

Legend
For me I think of rule of cool as putting story first to make a cool genre story instead of running a more toned down reality simulation.

For example a PC can want to jump from a second floor balcony to swing from a chandelier and land on top of a table to attack a guy at the foot of the stairs. A more reality focused DM can call for acrobatics and dex checks to resolve the situation. A DM can weight this as a bad choice by making the checks hard and having consequences that make the player look like a buffoon like falling damage and being prone while losing the attacks for failure on any of multiple check at any point in there, while pointing out that going down stairs is safer without the risks. Or a DM can go for rule of cool genre simulation of an action movie/comic book/three musketeers swashbuckler story and go with it, either calling for a simple check, or just going with it and not calling for any check.

This can also be weighted by appropriateness of the character/situation for the action or not depending on DM taste/style preference.

A non-rule of cool approach could be calling for the checks for a swashbuckler dex-based swordsman character with acrobatics skill, just applying their mechanics to the tough situation in fine grade fashion figuring out possible penalties for grabbing the chandelier one handed while wielding a sword, setting DCs based on evaluations of difficulty from a real world perspective instead of an action movie one, etc. A rule of cool ruling could say that an Aragorn Ranger can just do it even if he is not specifically the pirate background or 2e swashbuckler kit. A rule of cool ruling could also be that Legolas just does it because Dexy elves are just awesome and better than you while Con based physically dense and heavy armor wearing hit point tank Gimle has to roll and is likely to be a bit of comic relief tension as the chandelier swings around precariously, possibly crashing under his weight.
 

Celebrim

Legend
It’s a poor attitude to have and I wish it was less prevalent on these boards. Because there’s always the possibility that the folks who’ve been GMing for decades have been doing a pisspoor job of it for decades.

Oh it's absolutely possible. In fact my very next sentence was to admit the possibility that he is just a wiser person with better judgment than I am. But as a refutation of my claim, that if you DM long enough you will run into a situation where you regret saying "Yes", bragging to me that you've DMed for four whole years is just funny. Yes there is a situation where grognard neck beards like me can totally be too dismissive of players with less experience. But there is also a counter-point to that where someone decides they absolutely know more about DMing than someone that has been doing it ten times longer than they have.
 

Celebrim

Legend
For me I think of rule of cool as putting story first to make a cool genre story instead of running a more toned down reality simulation.

For example a PC can want to jump from a second floor balcony to swing from a chandelier and land on top of a table to attack a guy at the foot of the stairs. A more reality focused DM can call for acrobatics and dex checks to resolve the situation. A DM can weight this as a bad choice by making the checks hard and having consequences that make the player look like a buffoon like falling damage and being prone while losing the attacks for failure on any of multiple check at any point in there, while pointing out that going down stairs is safer without the risks. Or a DM can go for rule of cool genre simulation of an action movie/comic book/three musketeers swashbuckler story and go with it, either calling for a simple check, or just going with it and not calling for any check.

I listened to a Matt Mercer pod-cast on the rule of cool, and I thought Matt's answer was characteristically thoughtful. He described Rule of Cool as something that he situationally applied to new players that didn't know the rules and who therefore didn't know what a character ought to have in order to perform some task reliably. So for a reasonably high-level character that wants to do that sort of thing, the sort of acrobatics check to swing from a Chandelier and kick someone in the face is basically trivial. An experienced player proposes to do that sort of thing because they know in the game fiction they have the capacity to do it. But a new player to the game doesn't know what the conventions of the fiction actually are, so they tend purpose a lot of things without being aware that their character isn't that "cool" quite yet. Mercer purposes that for those novice player, you put your thumb on the scale and make the chance of a success a little bit higher than what you would for a more experienced player because you don't want their first experience of the game to be failure and ineptitude. Give them a chance to be cool early on, even if technically it's more than their character could do.

And I think that's a very functional application of the rule of cool. There are problems with that, but having DMed my niece for the first time a few years back I can totally relate to the situation Mercer is talking about and I can totally remember feeling the need to do that for her until she found her feet.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Oh it's absolutely possible. In fact my very next sentence was to admit the possibility that he is just a wiser person with better judgment than I am. But as a refutation of my claim, that if you DM long enough you will run into a situation where you regret saying "Yes", bragging to me that you've DMed for four whole years is just funny. Yes there is a situation where grognard neck beards like me can totally be too dismissive of players with less experience. But there is also a counter-point to that where someone decides they absolutely know more about DMing than someone that has been doing it ten times longer than they have.

Bragging? No, I don’t think so. You said @EzekielRaiden had not been DMing long and he said he’d been doing it for four years.

Clearly, you don’t think that’s enough to have earned him the wisdom needed to do the job. But based on your awful take on the rule of cool, I’d advise him to be unconcerned with your opinion.
 


Celebrim

Legend
But based on your awful take on the rule of cool...

As far as my take on the Rule of Cool, you don't have to take it from me. You could google "Rule of Cool" and "Rule of Cool RPG" and get pages and pages of discussion of the Rule of Cool that will often look a lot like what I'm saying here. I think the community consensus on the Rule of Cool is now pretty much that it has limited utility and you should use it very sparingly.

One thing that actually ticks me off is when certain DMs start bragging about how they are much better DMs than those old school DMs because they are using some new hot paradigm whether it's "No Myth", "Rule of Cool", "Say Yes or Roll the Dice", or "Fail Foward" or "Success with Consequences" , and when you query them about their play to see if you can learn something, and to see how they deal with the consequences of using those paradigms you find that they aren't using the paradigm at all really, or they are using them very inconsistently or even rarely, and that the only utility of saying they do this thing is so that they can feel they are just so much better than other people. Which they tend to do a lot more than they actually use or understand the paradigm they claim to be following.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
And I see it as "What does it harm to let Legolas do this, other than possibly offending Celebrim's sensibilities?" See, it's not my scene the player is trying to "cheese" with "unnecessary showboating." It is, or should be, all of ours at the table. If Legolas is trying to get around the mechanics (like, trying to move farther in one round than his movement would normally allow), then I might disallow it because it wouldn't be fair to the other players. But otherwise, again: what's the harm?
I think the question of “what harm does it do“ is answered by “where do we go from here”? In the case of action moviemaking, it leads to the problem of topping what went before. You look at the Star Wars prequels, the Hobbit trilogy, and LotR and you see the damage it causes. Once Legolas jumped on the cave troll, then shield-surfed down the steps, the third movie is saying “well, we wowed the crowd twice, but we’ve done those things now” so they try to top the prior action with more spectacle (like the silly oliphant thing). Doing anything similar would just be ho hum. And this can eventually lead to the Hobbit trilogy of not enough story spread over too much movie runtime… and then fill in with action spectacle.

RPGs may not be quite the same, but Rule of Cool does lend itself to a sense of forced escalation because, while it may have been cool to do that thing once, it doesn’t really support that becoming a standard thing. Because if it’s a standard thing, it’s not doable under the Rule of Cool. This is, however, one area where narrative-oriented features may shine. With those, you’re not allowing exceptions to normal abilities because they‘re ”cool” and fresh. Those exceptions are built into the normal rules and are flexible and open enough to do what you need them to do. For example, Mutants and Masterminds allows PCs to use unpurchased power effects as “extra effort”. The player pushes their hero’s power in unplanned ways as part of the game system. It’s incredibly flexible but not allowable simply because it seems cool at the time. It’s an inherent feature and, yes, it allows you to do pretty cool things without leading to Top THAT escalation.
 

As far as my take on the Rule of Cool, you don't have to take it from me. You could google "Rule of Cool" and "Rule of Cool RPG" and get pages and pages of discussion of the Rule of Cool that will often look a lot like what I'm saying here. I think the community consensus on the Rule of Cool is now pretty much that it has limited utility and you should use it very sparingly.

One thing that actually ticks me off is when certain DMs start bragging about how they are much better DMs than those old school DMs because they are using some new hot paradigm whether it's "No Myth", "Rule of Cool", "Say Yes or Roll the Dice", or "Fail Foward" or "Success with Consequences" , and when you query them about their play to see if you can learn something, and to see how they deal with the consequences of using those paradigms you find that they aren't using the paradigm at all really, or they are using them very inconsistently or even rarely, and that the only utility of saying they do this thing is so that they can feel they are just so much better than other people. Which they tend to do a lot more than they actually use or understand the paradigm they claim to be following.
I have no interest in bragging. Frankly, I always fear I suck as DM and my players only stay to humor me. Their assurances don't make such non-rational anxieties go away. I only responded as I did because you made years-of-experience a qualification for being allowed to have an opinion on the matter.

I don't claim to do anything special. I do what Dungeon World tells me. I didn't invent any of that. I reap crop sown by others' hands. "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." I'm not better than anyone else.

Studying the rules, methods, and styles of past games is important, both for what they did right, and what they did wrong. I'll never say otherwise. It would be foolish to pretend that nothing can be learned from past efforts in such a nascent art form.

I have an ethos that matters to me (embracing healthy, non-harmful enthusiasm), but that's an attitude, not a design choice. I will quite happily evangelize for that ethos. I genuinely believe it makes for the best possible gaming no matter what style you favor. But that ethos wasn't some magic revelation, some arcane secret that only I, superultramegahyperOMGWTFBBQVCRgenius Ezekiel, could possibly come up with and promulgate in the world. It's just something I think more people should do.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I have no interest in bragging. Frankly, I always fear I suck as DM and my players only stay to humor me. Their assurances don't make such non-rational anxieties go away. I only responded as I did because you made years-of-experience a qualification for being allowed to have an opinion on the matter.

I think being a bit concerned with one’s ability is a healthy attitude to have. It indicates a level of self awareness and curiosity that I’d say is required to improve at something. Examining our own play can be tough, but it’s essential if we want to improve.

Like I said, there are a lot of people who assume they know it all and can’t learn anything new.
 

I think the question of “what harm does it do“ is answered by “where do we go from here”? In the case of action moviemaking, it leads to the problem of topping what went before. You look at the Star Wars prequels, the Hobbit trilogy, and LotR and you see the damage it causes. Once Legolas jumped on the cave troll, then shield-surfed down the steps, the third movie is saying “well, we wowed the crowd twice, but we’ve done those things now” so they try to top the prior action with more spectacle (like the silly oliphant thing). Doing anything similar would just be ho hum. And this can eventually lead to the Hobbit trilogy of not enough story spread over too much movie runtime… and then fill in with action spectacle.

RPGs may not be quite the same, but Rule of Cool does lend itself to a sense of forced escalation because, while it may have been cool to do that thing once, it doesn’t really support that becoming a standard thing. Because if it’s a standard thing, it’s not doable under the Rule of Cool. This is, however, one area where narrative-oriented features may shine. With those, you’re not allowing exceptions to normal abilities because they‘re ”cool” and fresh. Those exceptions are built into the normal rules and are flexible and open enough to do what you need them to do. For example, Mutants and Masterminds allows PCs to use unpurchased power effects as “extra effort”. The player pushes their hero’s power in unplanned ways as part of the game system. It’s incredibly flexible but not allowable simply because it seems cool at the time. It’s an inherent feature and, yes, it allows you to do pretty cool things without leading to Top THAT escalation.
This is a fair concern: how do you address the possibility of "scope creep" or the like?

Part of my answer is to have several different overlapping or interconnecting focus points, so that the players are comfortable with the scope sometimes scaling down from one scene to another. Another part is to just be mindful and leave myself room to maneuver. Aim high, but not the highest I can possibly shoot for. A third part is introducing changes that arise as a result of the change of scope, which cause new concerns to develop that were not relevant before.

An example of that third seems warranted. In my DW game, Undertake a Perilous Journey rolls became somewhat routine after a while, in part because the Ranger (who is currently on hiatus) was super good at them, and in part because we had three high-Wis characters in the party. I reflected on this for a long time, not doing anything specific (because I wanted the players to enjoy a period of doing well and riding high, as it were.) Eventually, I came upon the idea of adding a fourth role to the standard three--a role that should naturally not be much of a concern for a low-level party, but naturally something that a high-level party, or at least this high-level party, would start to worry about.

I settled on "Stealth" (which sadly doesn't have a nice occupational name like Trailblazer, Scout, or Quartermaster.) For low-level parties, it...pretty well makes sense that you don't really care about covering your tracks. You just want to get to the end of the journey as safely as possible. But for our party, at high level, where they have been drawn into much political intrigue and have to be careful about all sorts of information, getting to where they wish to go without being followed or traced is in fact actually quite important now. It's not so important that it can't be ignored every now and then, but it's important enough that the party is cautious about it. The players were quite happy with this proposal, and the new presence of this role for Undertake a Perilous Journey has added an extra layer of richness and complication to things.

Also, perhaps humorously, I have developed some house rules which do something not too far off from your "unpurchased power as 'extra effort'" example from M&M. For a "max level" (11th) character, spending XP can let you temporarily gain moves you don't have yet, or even gain moves outright if you have enough XP to spend. It's worked pretty well for keeping open advancement even past when DW would normally "end."
 

Celebrim

Legend
I have no interest in bragging. Frankly, I always fear I suck as DM and my players only stay to humor me.

If they show up to your sessions, you are doing your job right. When they remember the things that happened in your game, take that as praise. Occasionally they may even tell you, "Good job. That was a great session." But you don't need to depend on that. If they made them laugh, that is praise. If they care about your NPCs, either loving or hating them, that is praise. If they are "Can we play again next week?", you are a good DM.

I have an ethos that matters to me (embracing healthy, non-harmful enthusiasm), but that's an attitude, not a design choice.

Be the GM you would want to have if you were a player.

I am all the time studying the game and trying to get better. There are things that it took a slow learner like me 20 years to learn. You have some advantage over me in that a lot of people have made mistakes and wrote down what they learned and they can share them over the internet.

But when I had been DMing like eight years, I thought about the same thing you do about a lot of Gygax's DMing advice, and I don't feel that way anymore. It might be helpful to think about just how many players he had had and how many games he had run by the time he wrote the 1e DMG. Or it might be helpful to try running campaigns with 60 players if you want to increase your sympathy for his writing.
 



An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top