Rules as Written vs. Rule of Cool: Striking the Balance

Rules as Written vs. Rule of Cool: Striking the Balance

In the world of tabletop games, from board games to role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), a constant debate revolves around which is better - adhering strictly to the rules as written, or prioritising the rule of cool. Today we explore the delicate balance between these two approaches and how they can coexist harmoniously to create enjoyable and engaging gaming experiences for the whole table.

Rules as Written: The Foundation of Fair Play

Rules as written (RAW) form the backbone of your tabletop game, providing structure, consistency, and balance. They establish a common ground and set expectations for both players and game masters, ensuring that everyone is on the same page about how to engage with the world. While these rules may sometimes have ambiguities for flexibility built in, they are not always adaptable. However, adhering to the rules will strengthen a sense of fairness, balance, and encourage strategic thinking.

Rule of Cool: Igniting Creativity and Excitement

The rule of cool (also known as the rule of fun) recognises that TRPGs are ultimately about storytelling, imagination, and collaborative play. It encourages players to think outside the box and to solve problems in ways that embrace flexibility and agency. Where the rule of cool kicks in, the game master will allow for bending, changing, or even breaking the rules to create exciting and memorable moments. This rule prioritises the narrative and the player’s experience rather than strict adherence to technicalities.

Written or Cool: Why Does It Matter?

Every player at the table enjoys different aspects of the game to different degrees. For some players, the best part of sitting at the table is hanging out with friends and having a shared experience. For other players, the game is a puzzle to be solved on the way to ‘winning’ the best outcome. A different player may care about neither, but love the idea of role playing their character and interacting with a creative world. It’s important to recognise that when a group of players sit down together at a table, they may each enjoy a completely different part of the game that is about to unfold. Too much of a good thing may make a game an unbearable slog for a different player. If you spent the last fifteen minutes strategising the best way to win a fight, only to have a different player break the rules and kill the big bad simply because ‘it’s a cool moment’, it can ruin a session for a player.  

Striking a Balance: The Best of Both Worlds

Achieving a balance between rules as written and the rule of cool is crucial for a satisfying gaming experience. While RAW establishes a solid foundation, the rule of cool can inject creativity and spontaneity. As a starting point, it is essential to communicate with your gaming group and find a collective understanding of the game's style and expectations. Discuss with the players what they enjoy and look for in a game, and establish together the level of rule flexibility and how much creative interpretation may be allowed. If necessary, it may become worthwhile to find a new game system that best suits the table’s preferred playstyle. By striking the right balance for your table, you create an environment where both mechanics and storytelling thrive. 

In tabletop games, the interplay between rules as written and the rule of cool is a constant consideration. While RAW provides structure and fairness, the rule of cool ignites creativity and excitement. Striking the right balance between these two approaches allows for a fun and engaging gaming experience. Remember, open communication, clear expectations, and the guidance of the game master are key to creating a harmonious and enjoyable game that combines the best of both worlds. So, embrace the rules, unleash your imagination, and embark on unforgettable adventures!

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