This is the final article in our series all about improving your games in a way that both your players and an audience can enjoy. We’ve covered a lot of specific advice over this series, so to close it out, let’s talk about the golden rule of tabletop gaming: the Rule of Cool.
You’ve likely heard the phrase “Rule of Cool” bandied about, especially since it’s famously used by prolific GMs like Chris Perkins and Matthew Mercer. But what does the phrase mean? Most frequently it refers to allowing your players to do awesome things in the game, even if it isn’t supported or it may conflict with the rules. The Rule of Cool can be interpreted as a broader GMing philosophy, which champions narrative over rules as written. In reading the past articles, I’m sure you can see why keeping this golden rule in mind is an excellent tool for shaping your games. Most people don’t turn on an actual-play podcast to listen for the rules of the game. They tune in to hear a compelling tale.
The Rule of Cool emphasizes that the rules of a game are simply a frame to hold a fantastic creation, and the frame should never pull focus from the piece itself. Cultivating this kind of storytelling does take practice. When there aren’t specific rules written, it is much easier to say, “No, you can’t climb on top of the dragon’s head and poke its eye out,” than to take a moment and figure out how to make such a wild action work. Great GMs are the ones who don’t say no in a crisis but rather invent new solutions and new systems to support creativity. So what if you can’t technically use a spell a certain way; if there is a compelling reason to do so, isn’t that more interesting? The best moments of games are those starstruck turns of creativity when dice, imagination, and circumstance align to create an intense scene. And when such moments happen, the quickest way to kill them is often by not letting the little things (that is, rules) go. That covers the general philosophy of introducing cool to your game table.
We can also look at the Rule of Cool as a method for creating and running your show. Our world, and our audiences, change and evolve dramatically in a short amount of time. The shows that can roll with the punches are the ones who will grow and the ones who will still have legs to stand on two, five, even ten years later. Writing in stone how your live stream or podcast has to be is likely a death sentence for your longevity. I think it’s quite rare for folks to find a group and play the same campaign for multiple years often for this reason. People are constantly changing, and if the game you run doesn’t change as well, conflict is inevitable. It is very much the same for a long-running show. To keep your projects running, learn to love the surprises and potential you open yourself up to with the Rule of Cool. Whether that means changing up your format, changing up your cast, re-working your branding, or heck, changing the game you play, if you say yes to opportunities that make sense, your meta-narrative will be just as thrilling as your very cool games. Times and people are turbulent, so staying cool is the path you need to keep your show on course. And if you are that pillar of chill in the center of the chaos, your players and your audience will most assuredly stay by your side through it all.
I wanted to end this series on that note. It’s important to learn about all the topics I’ve covered, but it is crucial to learn how to be a solid center. Behind every successful show and game, there are the core people that keep it anchored. Learn to stay steadfast but don’t grip too tight—just tight enough. If you ever find yourself struggling, remember the Rule of Cool.
That’s all from me, dear adventurers. Good luck out there!
Greetings travelers! And welcome to Beyond the Audience where we take a look at tips and tricks for building an RPG show that is loved by both your players and the larger audience beyond your table.