You are the crew of the interstellar scout ship Raptor. Your mission is to explore uncharted regions of space, deal with aliens both friendly and deadly, and defend the Consortium worlds against space dangers. Captain Darcy has been overcome by the strange psychic entity known as Something Else, leaving you to fend for yourselves while he recovers in a medical pod.
That is the introduction to Lasers & Feelings, a nifty one-page RPG written by John Harper. It’s free and it’s online, so you have no excuse not to try out this Star Trek-style space opera. The rules are simple and straightforward, so there’s no learning curve on it.
During the game, players create a cast of characters drawn from the tropes of the genre, including android explorers, alien envoys, hot-shot pilots, and plenty more. They’ll also select individual goals for their characters, which might include Shoot Bad Guys or Meet Sexy Aliens. Once you’ve done that, you give your character a number. Rather than a muddled mess of ability scores and modifiers like in some other RPGs, Lasers & Feelings assigns characters a single (unnamed) number, 2-5, which affects any dice you roll.
Lasers & Feelings derives its name from the two kinds of rolls players will be making throughout the game. Lasers is your brain, your knowledge and rationality and all those STEM subjects. Its counterpart, feelings, is also your brain, but it encompasses emotions, intuition, smooth-talking, and so on. When you do something covered by lasers, you want to roll under the number. When you want to do something covered by feelings, you want to roll over the number. For those not tracking, that means that characters who are very good with machines are not so good with people (and vice-versa).
Task resolution is a simple dice pool mechanic. Declare what you want to do, the GM will tell you whether you’re rolling lasers or feelings, and you pick up a handful of dice. 1d6 for trying, 1d6 for being prepared, 1d6 if you’re an expert, and 1d6 if you have a helper. Roll ‘em and compare to that unnamed number from earlier. Every die below or above gives you a success, depending on the task at hand. You want lots of successes or else the GM will make your life difficult in some way.
Interestingly, if you roll your number exactly, you have “LASER FEELINGS,” which I suppose is akin to a brain blast from those of us old enough to know what Jimmy Neutron is. When you have LASER FEELINGS, you can ask the GM a question, and he’ll answer, at which point you can opt to change your course of action.
Fitting onto a single sheet of paper, Lasers & Feelings is a simple game. It has no leveling or advancement mechanics. There are only a handful of procedurally-generated space adventures to choose from (such as “Zorgon the Conquer wants to Corrupt the Quantum Space Tunnel, which will Enslave a Planet”). In a campaign longer than a session, you will probably find Lasers & Feelings lackluster. However, it shines as a light and fast one-shot game, heavy on improvisation and zany antics. Providing the tools for quick character creation, Lasers & Feelings encourages GMs and players to cooperate in creating a strange-yet-familiar setting and story.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Lasers & Feelings is improvisation. The rules come out and say:
Play to find out how they defeat the threat… Don’t pre-plan outcomes—let the chips fall where they may. Use failures to push the action forward. The situation always changes after a roll, for good or ill.
The purpose of Lasers & Feelings is to offer players agency in defeating the threat, not push the GM to preplan an adventure. Never preplan beyond what the rules provide. There’s no need to. The players and dice will shape the story in unique and interesting ways.
If you’re looking to kill a few hours, I’d recommend giving Lasers & Feelings a try.
Have you played Lasers & Feelings before? What are your thoughts? Give a shout out in the comments below.
I’ve run this a couple times, and the general player consensus was very positive. Looking back, I realize I wasn’t very true to the spirit, and in a way reverted to turn-based combat that took too long. I’ve improv(e)d since then, and keep a few copies of L&F in my kit, as well as a fantasy variant, “Swords and Scrolls”. I would happily run or play either at the drop of a hat.
Like Microscope, it serves well as a tool to both introduce RPGs and build worlds quickly! Definitely a good thing to have in your gaming repertoire.