Friday, August 26, 2011

Rule of Cool

The Rule of Cool, as it is memetically known, refers to the audience allowing something to pass in a work if it is, quite simply, cool.

I almost used it in the last post, but found enough controversy that I did not.  I always assumed that the Rule of Cool did not preclude internal consistency and logic from a work — the rising action of a story is a sort of escalation, an arms race imposed by the Rule of Cool (things get more enthusiastic as a story continues because a drop in enthusiasm would bore the audience).  I typically think of it as not being over-the-top (a dude walking down the street in an R. Crumb Keep on Truckin' walk cycle is cool without being ridiculous, for example), but it certainly can be.  That doesn't prevent internal consistency or even a certain level of dignity.

But, there seems to be a misunderstanding of what the Rule of Cool is, particularly in gaming circles.  Is it simply that cool things should happen in your games?  Or is it carte blanche to jump over a T. rex on your motorcycle in your otherwise-realistic Vampire: the Masquerade game?  You can read about the debate from the Chatty DM, or from Geek Related.

I was under the impression that the Rule of Cool does require suspension of disbelief, but not necessarily within the setting.  For example, diving out of the way of an explosion stretches suspension of disbelief too far in a realistic setting, but is just fine for an action movie.  Solomon Kane isn't going to wall run, kick off the wall, and dive-bomb into a squad of warriors, though the Prince certainly will.  You wouldn't want to include a wall run and dive-bomb in, say, your intrigue-laden Vampire game, but it might be all right in D&D (depending upon setting, edition, and personal preference) and would certainly work in Exalted.  I run a setting called World Pulse Remix that runs primarily on Rule of Cool, but can support more serious themes (killer7, one of the source materials, is a high-concept political thriller, but one of the main characters is a luchador with a grenade launcher).

Basically, as with all other things, the Rule of Cool is something to consider, and possibly something in your toolkit.  It's neither good nor bad, merely something to invoke when appropriate.

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