Embrace the Crazy


It’s been a year already?

Greetings readers, and welcome to the one-year anniversary of Rogue Warden. I started this blog one year ago, and it’s nice to look back and see how it has gone. How did I do? I wrote 41 posts in one year, which is 11 posts short of one per week (my original goal). Room for growth next year! Still, I feel that Rogue Warden had a great start; I interviewed some great figures in the industry, wrote some fun posts about games and gaming, and reviewed some of my favorite games of all time.

What do you have to look forward to in year 2 of the Warden? Well, I plan on doing more interviews, more game reviews, more thoughts on professionalism in gaming, more discussion of gaming tropes, more how-tos, and more of my thoughts on gaming in general.
Enough about the past and the future, let’s stick to the present – today’s blog post revolves around a concept I like to call “Embrace the Crazy.”
Back in my discussion of Mohawks vs. Mirrorshades I touched briefly on the style of game that exemplifies “crazy awesome;” that is to say, over-the-top, unrealistic, action-packed stories where the rule of cool is paramount.
Jut to be clear, there is a paramount difference between something that is plan crazy – i.e., silly, nonsensical, and unengaging – and something that is crazy /awesome/ — i.e., exciting, action-packed, and memorable.
And just recently, I watched a film that really made me think about the idea of crazy awesome and the rule of cool, and how embracing those concepts can lead to a certain wild entertainment.

Spoilers Ahead

Just in case you haven’t watched the movie yet, this blog has some spoilers – and basically, a small review – for GI JOE Retaliation.
This is my childhood…

It should be noted that I hold the hate of a thousand suns for GI JOE: Rise of Cobra. I felt (and still feel) it was a terrible, terrible, completely unfulfilling film. So I was understandably quite skeptical about going to see the sequel. And at first, I felt the same – sneering at the cliché’d dialogue and setups, laughing at the ridiculous settings. But slowly, my attitude changed. There’s a scene with ninjas fighting each other on grappling hooks and ziplines on a mountaintop, and it /should/ be stupidly bad. But it wasn’t – there was an undeniable sense of commitment to that scene from everyone involved. You could just tell that the guys making the movie believed in this scene, in the movie as a whole. And I started to get into it.

After about fifteen minutes, I was actually laughing with delight rather than derision, because the film knew it was nuts and was actually embracing that. In turn, I began to embrace the ridiculous use of exposition, the unashamedly over-the-top action, the crazy vehicles that came right out of the cartoon – this movie actually grabbed me by the lapels and made me like it. There are RPGs out that that do the same thing.

How to Embrace the Crazy in an RPG

I’d like to say a few words here about how to bring the rule of cool and crazy-go-nuts into your RPGs. As always, these bits of advice are from my own personal experience, and all groups are different… so remember, YMMV.

Get the Players on Board

Yeah. It’s kind of like that.

Embracing the crazy is not for everyone – I happen to know several groups who love the opportunity to cut loose with some insane moves, and I know several groups who would definitely prefer other styles of play. The key is to find players who will find crazy awesome/rule of cool gaming enjoyable. I find that most fans of Hong Kong action cinema are a fertile ground for gamers who like this approach!

Set The Tone

Tone is super-important when you’re running or participating in an embrace-the-crazy RPG. While cutting loose can be great fun, taking things too far or in the wrong direction can be a mood-killer. So my advice is to take a strong stand at the beginning and set the tone of your game – get everyone on board with the feel you’re trying to evoke and the style you want to showcase, and the game will run much smoother.

Go for the Gold

Don’t hold back! Losing restraint is a process that takes a while, so let it be organic – I would even recommend starting out with something normal and then letting the crazy ramp up over time. This is not to say that starting the game out totally batshit insane can’t work – it can – but that’s not my personal style.

Nothing is Sacred

Aside from the “setting the tone” advice above, a big part of embrace-the-crazy roleplay is to just let go of the part of your brain that demands things make sense. My own brain was shouted down during the ninjas-on-the-mountain scene in GI JOE: Retaliation, and that’s the feeling this style of play needs to recapture; it’s okay for things to not make sense, it’s okay to celebrate style over substance, it’s totally okay to try and pull of stunts that would never, ever work in any other style of gaming.

RPGs that Embrace the Crazy

Let’s be clear; all RPGs have the capacity (in the right hands) for crazy awesome things to happen. However, some are more suited to an embrace-the-crazy style than others!

Feng Shui

A representation of Hong Kong action cinema in RPG form, Feng Shui lends itself very well to crazy awesome games. Rule of cool is practically a religion for Feng Shui, and if you’re not trying to make everything as awesome as possible, you’re not doing it right.

Exalted

You totally CAN.

Exalted practically built its reputation as a game where over-the-top awesomeness is built in. The game’s focus on playing as godlike beings, incredible action stunts, and holy-crap-you-can-do-what? abilities earn it a place on this list.

Star Wars

I had a great GM back in my Army days who ran an extremely unusual Star Wars (West End D6) game – it was highly adversarial, but also highly entertaining. This was the game where I first began embracing the crazy and learning to love when a game gets a little out of control in a good way.

Rifts

The gonzo setting of Rifts is another RPG that nearly demands fun, over-the-top action. Now, Rifts is such a wide and varied setting that it can support multiple styles of play—but when I think of Rifts, the most appealing part to me is trying to play it in an embrace-the-crazy style (for more on this approach, see the Rifts sourcebook Juicer Uprising).

Paranoia

Happiness is mandatory, and some craziness nearly always ensues. Paranoia is an RPG that many folks prefer to play in a gonzo, lets-all-be-crazy style, and the game’s artwork and text tend to support that approach.

TORG

Much like Rifts, the kitchen-sink approach of TORG has some applications to crazy awesome games, particularly in the Nile Empire. See my review of TORG for more details.

Shadowrun

For more information on this, see my previous discussion on Mohawks vs. Mirrorshades.

Sidenote: Mohawks adventures

Back in September, I pitched Catalyst Game Labs a series of adventures in the over-the-top, embrace the crazy style. In fact, I wanted to call this line of adventures “Mohawks,” as they would embrace telling stories that you don’t often see in many more mainstream- or mirrorshades-oriented Shadowrun games. My ideas were threefold:

Mohawk 1: All Elves Go to Heaven

In this adventure, the Shadowrunners are hired by a Mafioso to escort his daughter on her metaplanar quest to become an initiate mage. Journeying to the metaplanes has been done in Shadowrun adventures before, but only when there are huge stakes (Harlequin and Harlequin’s Back being examples). So metaplanar quests are fairly uncommon in Shadowrun but a really cool thing to do, because it allows you to bring in distinctly non-shadowrun themes and events to see how your Shadowrunners react. I actually wrote this adventure and used it as a 4-hour convention game at Genghis Con 2013, and it went over really well.

Mohawk 2: Send in the Trolls

Is this ever bad advice?

Mohawk 2 and 3 are mostly just concepts right now, so I’ll put down some of my main ideas – just don’t get the wrong idea, these are very much works in progress! Send in the Trolls features an all-troll party facing some unusual challenges for that particular metatype (social encounters, maybe a journey into a matrix game to rescue a rich corp kid who is trapped there as an e-ghost, more social encounters in high-class environments, plenty of opportunities for hilarity with an all-Troll group).

Mohawk 3: Only a Ninja Can Kill a Ninja

See above for my enjoyment of the ninja scenes from GI JOE – there’s a lot of coolness still present for the concept of supernaturally-skilled shadow warriors from the far East. This adventure would, of course, revolve around a ninja clan seeking revenge against another, and the runners get caught in the middle. I would probably try and fit in as many crazy and ridiculously cool locations for swordfights into this adventure – an under-construction skyscraper, a gondola over a canyon, a planetarium, that kind of thing.

Hmm. Obviously, next week I need to take a look at toning things down a notch, maybe focus on grittier, lower-level campaigns. Sounds like a good idea to me;  see you then!

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