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Rule of Who?

Recently, Blind Mapmaker put up a fair and thoughtful review of my most recent DF book. In it, he says:

While the book is rules-oriented it is less so than you might expect from a DF book.

This, I think, is true. A great deal of it is descriptive detail: coin shapes, largely mundane fabric types, a list of colors, and a big-ass table of decorative motifs. Very little of this gives us the pluses we so dearly love (as alluded to in the intro section, "What's The Bonus for Shiny?"). There's a reason for that, which gets into something which doesn't get discussed in much detail in places I frequent.

One of the phrases which keeps coming up is "the Rule of Cool," the idea of conflating successful/effective with cool/awesome/impressive. I'm down with that, of course, but the question is, what's cool? How do we get there? How do we build cool?

Consider this INCREDIBLY FREAKING AWESOME sequence which open's John Woo's Hard Boiled (go ahead, I'll wait; in fact, Imma watch it again myself):

Considered game-mechanically, most of this is probably fairly dull. There's a vast number of missed to-hit rolls, successful dodges (some of which might be considered acrobatic or dodge and retreat), a weapon with a high ROF predictably not hitting its intended target with most of its shots, and many of the shots which do hit don't do a lot of damage as one would expect from low-caliber bullets mostly missing vital spots. The only rules-remarkable bits, really, are Mr. Chow's slide down the banister half-way through and roll over the flour-covered table at the end to end up in close combat range.

I would argue that makes it cool--and it is undeniably cool (watching it again...OK, I'm back)--is the details. At the start of the fight, Chow KICKS open the fallen cage to bring out the guns. He LEAPS BACK WHILE FIRING BOTH PISTOLS (missing with most bullets, but damn it looks good). One of the cops ROLLS OUT OF THE WAY LEAVING A HAIL OF GUNFIRE IN HIS WAKE. We get an impressive dolly shot plowing through a bunch of waiters getting gunned down as though the camera itself it taking them out. Furniture splinters and plates and cups explode and the submachine gun fills the air with bullets. And at the very end, he doesn't just roll over the table. He comes through a gout of fire (from a missed shot harmlessly hitting a propane tank or something in the kitchen) and cloud of dust to come out covered in white, the color of death.

So, class, what have we learned here? A lot depends not on what happens, but how you spin it. This combat is full of failure, and yet it's amazing. What makes it cool is that things never stop happening. It's not a dodge, it's a rolling spin keeping the intended target a fraction of an inch ahead of a stream of bullets. It's not a missed shot, it's an exploding window or a flock of frightened starlings fleeing a shattered cage. But in order to make the scene awesome, you have to look at more than just the basic actions, but the scene as a whole, so the motion never stops. I'd also note that cool doesn't necessarily mean successful. It is its own reward in many ways, though the banister trick and the I-am-become-Death roll probably qualify for cool = more effective.

Which brings us to Glittering Prizes. Blind Mapmaker is absolutely correct that there's less rules than one might expect from a DF book. What I'm working towards instead is building up a vocabulary for cool. Just as a shot that blows a waiter out a window to fall on the roof of a police car screeching to a halt in front of the building where the shootout is happening takes a miss and makes it awesome, I like to think that the details I'm adding may not make a gold piece or a garment necessarily more valuable or otherwise utilitarian, but do give it the awesome of deep description.

One of the things I hope I'm bringing to gaming from my background in archaeology is that things carry stories with them. Items are produced in historic and cultural contexts and are shadowed by their ghosts. The details of this or that item can be suggestive of a broader world, partaking of the grandeur of this faintly remembered empire, that elegant and stylish monarch, or the horror and tragedy of the other extradimensional breach bringing Things That Man Was Not Meant To Know into our world to be repelled at great cost. So one gold piece may not buy more in town than the next, but for those who look beyond what they can be traded in for, there's awesome aplenty.


Worst gunfight in the whole movie!

But I'll pay you the best compliment I possibly can about your book: I'm using stuff from it in my game.

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