The Economy of Cool - Metrics of Cool: Part 2
Part 2 - Metrics of Cool - of The Economy of Cool
Poets have argued and debated for centuries about two aspects of the human condition: love and the ephemeral nature of cool. For the purpose of this essay, cool is defined as the ability to partake and share in the story of the LARP in such a way that it is fun and interesting for the people involved.
Mind’s Eye Theatre: Vampire The Masquerade provides the Storyteller with an easy means of moderating the Economy of Cool via the merit system. Previous editions of Mind’s Eye Theatre used merits as simple advantages that a player could purchase to add flavor to a character. By limiting players to only 7 points total in merits, MET: VTM leverages the Economy of Cool, forcing players to make fundamental decisions about the nature of their characters.
Let’s imagine that a troupe decides to create a chronicle based on the Knights of the Round Table as Ventrue. Some of the characters might take the following merits:
• Prince Arthur: Paragon (3 point merit) and Regal Bearing (4 point merit)
• Lancelot: Path of Chivalry (3 point merit), Unyielding (4 point merit)
• Percival: Golconda Seeker (5 point merit), Code of Honor (2 point merit)
• Gawain: Ambidextrous (2 point merit), Calm Heart (1 point merit), Daredevil (2 point merit), Lucky (2 point merit)
• Merlin: Loremaster (1 point merit), Oracular Ability (2 point merit), Thaumaturgic Training (4 point merit)
The limitation on merits forces the players to make essential choices about their characters that forge memorable experiences and force them into the Economy of Cool.
Prince Arthur is primed for leadership with his merits, but he will certainly need to lean on Merlin for advice and insight. This partnership will create opportunities for roleplaying and an economy of weaknesses and strengths. If Arthur’s player could simply buy those merits when he had the appropriate amount of XP, why would he need Merlin? By limiting the amount of cool in the game, the importance of both characters increases when the spotlight turns towards their individual strengths.
The differentiation of merits allows characters to explore many different iterations of the same general concept. Many consider Lancelot to be the archetypical knight who eventually fails for daring to endulge in love. Percival seeks to use the framework of being a noble knight to pursue enlightenment, whereas Gawain seeks out adventure to test himself. Each of these knight concepts allow the players a unique means to roleplay together without overstepping onto each other’s concepts.
Jumping the Shark: When the Economy is Broken
The expression “jumping the shark” describes the moment in a story when the original concept has been so diluted that it effectively becomes a parody of itself. The trope’s name was inspired by the ultimate King of Cool from my childhood. Can you guess who? Did you guess the Fonz from Happy Days? Correctamundo!
In the early seasons of the television show “Happy Days,” the Fonz was part of the ensemble cast. This cat was cool. He defined cool. He could start a jukebox by punching it and summon forth hot girls by snapping his fingers. And yet, a good portion of his time was spent helping or being helped by the rest of the cast. Richie and his friends mingled with the cool guy. If this show was a LARP, you could argue that these characters went along on each other’s adventures.
But, alas, the Fonz undermined the show when he jumped the shark. Suddenly, he could do everything all of the other characters could do, but better. He became a mechanic, a businessman, a school teacher, and family man. The other characters shrank away, and the economy of cool died.
Why? The Fonz quit investing his cool. Richie was a nerd who owned his funky pre-hipster geekness. When the Fonz cared about his friend’s adventures, he invested cool points into his friend. This investment was paid back, and the cool factor magnified both of them. The Fonz only became a joke later, when he forgot the first principle of the Economy of Cool: cool shared is cool magnified.
Imagine that Prince Arthur from the previous example was able to keep purchasing merits with XP. He would quickly surpass the need for knights or mystical advisers. The rest of the troupe would eventually sit around and wait for Arthur to resolve every problem without getting involved.
Investing in Cool: A Technique to Prime the Cool Economy
A Storyteller can leverage the existing rules to encourage her players to prime the well for the Economy of Cool. The accumulation of XP sometimes can be a problem when encouraging players to actively participate in the Economy of Cool. Aside from merits, a character can eventually acquire anything she wants via spending XP. Once she has attended a few games, she can spend her points on purchased like a pimped-out G-5, influences that control the police, or mastery of the Computer skill.
If allowed to proceed unchecked, players can buy whatever they need at that moment, killing the Economy of Cool. Encourage your players to trade with other players in ways that acknowledge and share the cool, allowing others to shine.
Imagine that a player wants her character to build and open a hot new nightclub during her downtime. She spends her saved XP on the Haven and Resources backgrounds, expends some influence and downtime actions, and then writes an interesting downtime report. Bam! The player created an instant nightclub, which failed to include anyone else and will likely be ignored by the rest of the troupe, because it isn’t real to them.
How much fun was that?
Now imagine that the Storyteller decided instead to make this alteration to the common sandbox of the city into a challenge for the player. Some of the possibilities include:
• What if the property was owned by the Ventrue primogen?
• What if the local Goodfellas needed to be properly motivated to ensure that there weren’t any “accidents?” What if the local underworld were controlled by the Giovanni?
• You can build a nightclub, but you can’t presume that the mortals will automatically attend it. What if the local Toreador have a lockdown on the hipster crowd within the city, and their blessing is required to build buzz for the club and help book the hip acts?
• Are there musician characters in the troupe? Imagine the synergistic relationship that could develop between the two characters as they form connections that share the spotlight.
• Is there an architect character in the troupe? Imagine how strong of a tie that player would feel to that club if he designed the building.
• What if the club owner hired some of the street- thug characters to make sure that criminals didn’t harass the patrons attending the club?
A simple background story can entertain the entire troupe by encouraging a single player to include her fellow players. These players invest their own cool points into the story of their fellow players, making all of their characters feel more real and connected to the chronicle’s story. These players are going to remember and have an interest in that nightclub, and it will eventually become a common set piece for the chronicle. Slowly, that nightclub becomes a little bit more real as characters have meetings there and start to include it in their history and their roleplaying.
Continue on to Part 3: Selling the Cool
#storyteller #cool Ryan B Roberts