Lasers and Feelings: Commentary

Over in our Discord, the topic of rules light RPGs came up, and I made the claim that “lasers and feelings is a solid framework for rules light rpgs imo. you can build a game, and play whatever you want in minutes. and its mechanically better than a lot of games“. A request to elaborate in blog format was made, and here we are. This is less a review, and more of an essay based around my above claim than anything else. If you’ve found this small-time indie RPG review site, I’ll take for granted you’ve heard of L&F or can follow this link to a one-page RPG and get the gist on your own. Instead, I’ll elaborate, in probably more words than L&F took to write their game, on the two main points above.

Cropped from the PDF

A Commentary on Lasers and Feelings

Lasers and Feelings is one of the best RPGs on the market. It is easy to play and carries out its mechanical goals with a single page of rules, it has high quality layout and art that further its narrative theme, and its lore is evocative without being restrictive. This may seem like high praise, and frankly it is, but it is not undeserving. Lasers and Feelings is a great example of a purposeful RPG experience that does not give in to designer vanity with things like extraneous subsystems, or clunky mechanics that don’t really deliver the desired result but had to ship because of a due date.

Mechanically Lasers and Feelings is simple. You have two stats decided by a single number. Lasers and Feelings. If you pick a big number, you are good at Lasers, and if you pick a low one, you are good at Feelings. You roll 1, 2 or 3 die based on circumstance. If you are trying to Laser a problem, you need to roll under your number for success. If you are trying to Feelings it, you roll over your number. The more successes you roll, they better your results. You are now prepared to run your own Lasers and Feelings game and can walk any players you need through the general flow of a game. Your character will pick a style, like Alien or Hot-Shot This doesn’t tie into the mechanics, but you could use it to allow narrative function, EX: I’m a robot, can I plug into the ship and control it even though the panels are broken? Sure, make a Lasers check. You also select a role for your character, like Doctor or Pilot, which works much the same way. We now have mechanical hooks for our RP, and you have some insight into the sort of game we are playing. A crew of space explorers, potentially with robots and aliens, who solve problems with Lasers and Feelings. It sounds a lot like Star Trek, doesn’t it? Well to round it out, you also build a ship. Your ship has two good things, and one problem, but it’s all narrative and roleplay focused. It might have powerful shields, a cloaking device, and horrible circuit breakers.

Lasers and Feelings embraces the rules-light narrative structure that groups want when playing a rules light game. Lasers and Feelings gets out of the way when it’s time for the GM to make a call, and in fact, relies on GM calls quite often. But instead of making a traditional RPG, and leaving gaps, like many other rules light games, Lasers and Feelings plays to its strengths and tells the GM when and why to make calls, and then leaves it to them to do on the fly.

The best part about Lasers and Feelings is the framework it provides. Because of its simplicity, you can slam any two words together and get something workable. Or if you have a game in mind, and can boil it down to two concepts, you can design a L&F hack within minutes. In fact, its spawned pages and pages of spin offs on Itch thanks to its generous licensing (CC BY 4.0). Don’t believe me? Let’s do a cyberpunk RPG. We will call it Cybers and Punks. Your stats are Cyber and Punk. Cyber governs all your high-tech science, but punk governs your ability to stick it to the man, and rally folks to your cause. Cybers and Punks is set in a cyberpunk future where The Man has won, and everyone is a corporate wage slave, but not you. You’re a part of a punk collective fighting the power. You take on styles like Grunge, Crust, or Riot Grrl with roles like In a Band, Anarchist, and Zine Editor. Assemble your crew and stick it to the man. But that’s an easy one. Cyberpunk is a known genre, and its two words are in the title. It is not like you could make a Lasers and Feelings game out of something silly, like say, a Carlie Ray Jespen album right?

It might seem silly to talk about art and layout in a one-page RPG, but it is especially important. Its exceedingly easy to skimp on this, to make room for rules, and its common to see one-page RPGs without any art, in a tri-column layout of just text. Lasers and feelings is roughly 25% art, including the title, and it sells the theme. A picture is worth a thousand words, and there is no guessing about authorial intent when you go to play this game. There is a shot of a ship that is legally distinct from the Enterprise, and the logo has an old retro sci-fi feel to it. Yes, it’s a single page, but plenty of players will glaze over even at that. People do judge books by their covers, and you have an immediate setting conveyed to players just by flashing the page to them, even if they don’t read a word.

Included in the page is a random space adventure table, which does a lot of the lifting for the setting and world building as well. It’s a 4d6 table, and technically supplies 1,296 random adventures. Thats a lot of content, and by reading it in table form like this, the reader can pick up all sorts of hints about the things going on in the larger world, which might even hook into a quest.

Form a lore perspective, the game is great. Lasers and Feelings makes superb use of the player decision making process to not only tell players what they can play, but also inform them of what else is out there. Every decision a player makes during character generation highlights what else is out there. And Lasers and Feelings goes big. You could pick to play a Heroic Soldier, but you are also informed that the setting has Alien Doctors in it.

Tricky Zoidberg meme

As for the setting, the aforementioned chart does a lot of the building, and it goes big. Lasers and Feelings knows folks can tone it down, but it also knows people want something exciting. Especially out of a game with Lasers in the title. Grim and gritty won’t cut it here, and they include sample quests like…

  • Zorgon the Conqueror wants to Destroy the Space Queen, destabilizing the region, leading to the ultimate destruction of the solar system.
  • The Hive Armada wants to capture Void Crystals so they can reverse time.
  • Alien Brain Worms want to synthesize a quantum tunnel so they can rip a hole in reality.

There is no “smuggle some di-lithium ore off the moon” scale stuff here. Its universe spanning, high concept sci-fi of the best sort.

Lasers and Feelings is one of the best RPGs on the market right now. That its 8 years old and free is even better. If you ask me to play Lasers and Feelings or D&D 5e, I’m going to have a lot more questions to know whether I’m interested in a 5e game, than I would for Lasers and Feelings, and I’m a lot less likely to join the game. More importantly though, as the guy who comes up with games for my group to play that aren’t D&D, and usually GMs most games regardless, the buy in for my group for Lasers and Feelings is minimal effort, and the less engaged players immediately get it, if I offer a Cybers and Punks game, or whatever hack I’ve got in mind.

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