Phil the Chatty DM is pretty well known for his writings on bringing the solid concept known as the Rule of Cool to the roleplaying tabletop. While I’m sure it has been in practice one way or another for years whether DMs and players knew it or not, as is the norm the first to write about it gets all the credit! Don’t get me wrong, I give Phil lots of credit for all of his writing on it. In the last week or two a crapload of posts have been flying around lamenting this rule and its use in RPGs, while a few argue its virtues and defend its use.
One thing I wanted to touch on briefly is that most of these posts seem to be taking issue with the secondary wording of the rule, “…all but the most pedantic of viewers will forgive liberties with reality so long as the result is wicked sweet and/or awesome.” The issues that most people are raising is inherent to judgments based on someone’s interpretation of an idea. They are not addressing the Rule of Cool itself, they are reacting to a filtered and impure concept. The actual wording is written previous to that and is a much better (and less disputable) statement of the Rule of Cool:
“The limit of thefor a given element is directly proportional to its degree of coolness.”
This does not imply that you should use tons of “wicked awesome” elements in your game so that all but a few players will love it. Instead, it is a rule that can be used by a DM for those random off-hand ideas that seem really cool, so they don’t end up in the trash pile simply because they don’t make complete sense. This, however, is not what I want to talk about right now. For now we should put aside whether or not we like the Rule of Cool in roleplaying, and instead look at a new concept Phil introduced after talking to Dave about a session of my D&D game back in the fall. What I’m referring to, as I’m sure you’ve figured from the post’s title, is what Dave and Phil dubbed the Rule of C4:
“Players are happier if an adventure involves explosives.”
The trigger happy attitude displayed by many characters and parties in D&D is notorious, prone to looting everyone/thing within groping range; a typical group of adventurers in a fantasy tabletop setting isn’t exactly known for leaving places intact when they blow into town. This player/party attitude is brought to the forefront when explosives enter play, but the other thing it does for many players is opens up their tactical and strategic ability. This is why I believe the Rule of C4 should not be quickly or idly dismissed as more of the “Michael Bay” syndrome that many fear happening to their precious D&D campaigns. Instead, look at it from a realistic perspective: explosives are a very literal and tactile manifestation of the player’s ability to drastically alter a location or a course of events. Whether they blow up a building, an entire town, or a group of enemies, when the DM allows the players access to explosives he is handing over a (pardon the pun) ticking time bomb of game disruption. Another thing that D&D players and parties are notorious for is innovation, and this is where the “disruption” comes in and actually acts as a good thing.
The key to pretty much every tabletop RPG gamer having fun is the realization that they are contributing and having an effect on the game. This is the foundation for the Rule of C4: players may love explosives for simple reasons such as a big boom is pretty damn cool or they might be pyros, but on a far deeper and more important level they will love the DM for handing over such an instrumental device fully into their control. This doesn’t mean the Rule couldn’t get horribly out of control, but hey, it’s a fantasy setting and I’m sure a little rain/moisture is all a DM needs to justify some reduction in firepower. This goes hand-in-hand with the Rule of Cool in that it is in no way the end-all-be-all to being a DM, but it can definitely spice up your game and provide memorable experiences for everyone involved.