I’ve been running quite a few games lately and the one common theme between them all is outlandish actions. We’ll be in the middle of a combat or negotiation and one of my players will invariably ask “can I blow up the car with a shot?” or “can I convince this villain that my spellbook is really just a book of Orcish mating rituals?” They’re actions and suggestions so off the wall and awesome that I have to stop and sputter a bit. And after thinking a bit I smile, say yes, and sometimes call for a roll. Because some actions are just so awesome that they have to work.
These outlandish actions have only enhanced my games, but it’s taken me a long time and a lot of mistakes to get to the point where I can say yes. When I was younger and less experienced I’d often just blurt out “No!” The actions didn’t fit into the rules, or they seemed stupid, or I couldn’t think of how to make them work. These days I’ve loosened up a lot and my games are far better for the change in attitude.
These moments now fall into my “rule of cool” philosophy (I know I’m cribbing this name from somewhere – probably an Evil Hat game – forgive me if I don’t cite the original source). In essence this rule boils down to: if the action is outlandish and increases the fun at the table it’s going to work. In some cases I might call for a roll, but if I do I always make sure that the rule is something that the PC is good at, because they should probably succeed at such a task.
For a lot of new GMs this sort of thing can really throw you for a loop. It seems really cool (or really stupid) but you don’t know how to fit into the rules you’re using. My personal suggestion is to just let it work outright or let it work with a common roll. Now, this only applies if the action is going to make things more fun for everyone. If the action really only serves to make one character better then it’s probably fine to say no, or yes, but… To really qualify for the Rule of Cool your action has to really make things better for everyone at the table or at least make everyone at the table go “awesome!” or break up into laughter.
That’s the Rule of Cool in a nutshell. It’s made my games a lot more fun and helped my players feel more empowered. Hopefully it can do the same for yours.