I guess I’m not the only GM who runs into this kind of situations: an action described by a player is so awesome and stunning, that you have to say “Yes!” to it even though it breaks about 45 different rules of the game you’re playing. But, am

I the only one who feels kinda dirty after something like that, like I just allowed something in my game that shouldn’t be there in the first place?

Apparently, I don’t have to thanks to the cosmic law known as the “Rule of Cool”. In case you haven’t h

eard of it, let TV Tropes explain it to us:

The limit of the Willing Suspension Of Disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to its degree

of coolness.

In other words, it is okay to break rules of a game and physical laws of the world it takes place in as long as the action is cool enough. And what works on TV and in the cinemas works in RPG’s, right?

Well, it depends on the game and the setting. In a very gritty, harsh game taking place in a world like Sin City, the Rule of Cool would work differently like in a Wuxia-style game inspired by movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. So, I’d like to extend this rule in order to make it work for role-playing games.

If an action that would normally break one or more rules of the game and the world it takes place in, is

first of all unbelievable cool and adds to the flavor of the setting, that action bypasses the rules that would normally apply.

The flavor-addition is the key here. In a game like D&D, it is considered quite cool to not just simply hit the illithid with your blade, but doing that while leaping from the table towards the magical seal in the room that the mind flayer is using to summon creatures from the Far Realm. Obviously, something like this would not happen in a gritty game of World of Darkness. However, being cool in the WoD means to be able to conquer your own dark side in order to let the good prevail, shining as a golden beacon in a sea of corruption and vice (wow, that sounds like the WoD actually IS a Storytelling game…)

However, some rule sets already support the Rule of Cool to a certain extent by rewarding players for awesome descriptions of their actions. The well-known indie RPG WuShu is actually build around a mechanic that grants you dice based on the amount of detail you add to the description of the action. Other games have similar mechanics to support your need for the ultimate stunt, and to me this is actually a really good thing. It encourages players to say more than “I swing my sword at the Goblin”, and keeps the game fresh and interesting.

On the other hand, some rule systems are just not meant to be pulverized by the Rule of Cool. Rules-heavy games actually depend on the group to use the full spectrum of the rules available, and only ignoring them when necessary. One could state that a cool action is such a necessary occasion, but this might annoy the players in your game who have fine-tuned their characters, just to see them being completely overshadowed by the characters from the players who add a bit more flavor to their game. To some this might seem right, but at first this will just cause drama at your table.

So, next time your players describe something unbelievable irrational, yet terribly cool, think of the extended Rule of Cool, and see if it could apply and add something to your game. Sometimes it’s better to leave that rulebook closed, when all you need is in the description of a player…