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Author Topic: [The Pool] First Experience (long)  (Read 7109 times)
Halzebier
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« on: August 09, 2005, 02:02:43 AM »

Hi there!

I GMed The Pool for the first time yesterday night. It was all I had hoped for, though I did make some mistakes. Also, I can't wait to see what the players will come up with next.

(The first two parts of the following record were recorded before the game, the last two parts I've written just now, on the morning after. If this report is too long for your tastes, maybe you can skip ahead.)

Except for the beginning of the game and some scenes with multiple PCs in them, I am going to describe the action neither chronologically nor exhaustively, but by player.

Part 1: Our Group

The Group: We have been playing together for several years and have almost exclusively played DSA, a 'low-fantasy' German FRPG. We have rotating GMs. We're friends and share activities outside of the game (e.g. going on camping trips together).

Carl: Carl has played in other groups with me and participated in many of my experimental games. We are often on exactly the same wavelength, whether he GMs or I. Carl's character is a grim hunter of beasts and men. (He originally wanted to play an artiste, but got carried away with character creation and made a whole roster of characters, chosing this one in the end.)

Gary: Gary is a bit peculiar and, friendships notwithstanding, seen as something of a problem player. He often insists on doing his own thing even if it means he'll be out of the action for hours. Gary's character is a druid/witch-doctor. (I think that The Pool will work very well in Gary's case because he could break it with trivial ease, but it would be painfully obvious if he did. I think he won't and I'm looking forward to see how this plays out.)

Hank: Hank usually falls asleep by ten o'clock, but can hold everybody's attention when he goes off on one of his solo missions. Hank's character is a bureaucrat-turned-scoundrel.

Rick: Rick knows relatively little of DSA's rules and game world even after all these years. He misses many games due to other commitments and is usually late. Rick's character is a pre-generated Mowgli-turned-freebooter.

Vicky: Vicky is Hank's wife and a casual player. She knows very little of DSA's rules and game world even after all these years. She often has everybody rolling their eyes when her character tries to do something which nobody can seem to fathom. She has recently GMed a ghost story in a setting of her own (and diceless). (I'm crossing my fingers and hoping this game will fit her better than our usual campaign.)

I, the GM: I've never GMed for this group because I find the accumulated lore of DSA's game world intimidating (I have mastered the rules, though). I've run just about every big RPG under the sun in other groups, plus lots of homebrew and experimental stuff, but only one Indie game (Inspectres). I used to read rec.games.frp.advocacy and have found the Forge about two years ago.

Place & Time: We play at Hank's and Vicky's place and the latter usually takes care of the couple's two little kids. We play Monday nights.

Part 2: Setup & Prep

Rules: The Pool, as written (though with traits limited to +2)

Setting: DSA's game world (medieval 'low fantasy' with Elves & stuff)

Occasion: The current story arc's GM, Kevin, is on vacation and I offered to do a mini-adventure (three evenings). I e-mailed everybody my own translation of the character generation rules and asked for characters four days in advance (and got all except Carl's one day in advance). The characters were supposed to be independent, adventurous (no reluctant heroes) and equivalent to 10th-level characters (in D&D terms this would roughly mean 5th-level in a world where 10th level is the maximum).

I've been itching to run The Pool for a couple of weeks now and have read up on and asked questions about it at the Forge.

Starting Situation: An old wizard has hired the characters and an entire pirate ship and crew to sail into the waters of a kingdom of demon worshippers. In the uncharted jungles there, he hopes to plunder the hoard of one of the last remaining giants. The game picks up on the high seas, several days before the ship will reach its destination.

Trouble Brewing: There are four major NPCs: The old wizard (who is also a bon vivant and wants to seduce just about everyone), his illegitimate daughter (a healer and wizard in her own right who wants to prove and reveal herself to her father), the female pirate captain (a drunkard who holds onto maintaining control of the expedition for dear life) and an elderly male priest of the goddess of sex and pleasure (a demon-worshipping spy who wants to sabotage the expedition so the wizard will be forced to call upon demons).

[Note: This is far more sex-ladden than I had planned it to be. I started out with an illegitimate son and then changed his sex. That's when things snowballed.]

Approach: I wrote up the NPCs and their goals before having any player characters to work with. I also made a list of likely NPC requests for the PCs (spy on this one, seduce that one etc.). Other than that, I made a long, rough list of possible encounters and problems (from savages to a poisoning plot the usual stuff). I researched the game's extensive material on the region where I set the adventure. Also, I've intentionally left the ending pretty open (i.e., what the wizard is looking for within the hoard and what it does).

[Note: Pretty standard stuff, plus the characters are not tied into the whole thing very well. Part of this is due to the character sheets arriving very late, part of it is the desire to run a traditional adventure with The Pool, albeit one spiced up by interesting NPCs.]

Part 3: Actual Play

Conditions: Vicky had prepared an excellent dinner, even more elaborate than usual. Victor, one of the kids, suffers from asthma and had to use a new inhalator device which made a lot of noise for the first two hours. Rick arrived on time for the first time in my memory (no kidding). I guess he realized I'd have to explain the new rules twice if he hadn't.

Introduction: As dinner was winding down, I explained the rules. The players were intrigued and there were many (teasing) jokes about abusing the rules.

I explained the starting situation (see above) and also added that the old wizard had pulled a fast one, having lied about the real destination (albeit after hiring everyone for a similar one). Carl and Hank pointed out that their characters would be pissed about that. I felt a little defensive here and put a plea to the players to accept the quest for the giant's hoard as the adventure's premise. I pointed out that with the power at their disposal thanks to The Pool, they could easily kill the wizard, stop the expedition etc. However, I need not have worried: Both Carl and Hank good-naturedly told me that they were planning nothing of the sort for their characters.

Next, I asked everyone "Why are you here?" All except Rick were content to have been hired by the wizard. Rick added a twist by suggesting that his freebooter was the old wizard's inside man within the pirate crew and the pirate captain's right-hand man to boot. Good stuff!

The Beginning: Once the situation had been established, I asked the players whether any of them had any pressing concerns as I had had the impression that Carl and Hank wanted to begin acting upon their characters' frustration or portray it a bit more. They didn't, but Vicky contemplated something and Hank urged her on, pointing out she'd be the first to try out the rules. Vicky postponed whatever she had been thinking about.

Next, I had a bunch of fish-people attack the ship to showcase the rules in action. The players stated multiple intents and I asked them to focus, so we ended up with "maintain the crew's discipline", "set an example by charging", "see whether they have a weakness", "see whether the fish-people are susceptible to magic". Vicky seemed to have the most trouble and ended up with "keep in the background and ready my bow to assist anyone in serious trouble". Gary stated that rolling maximum dice and not taking MOVs was the best strategy and went ahead. Everybody followed suit and everybody succeeded and took a die (except Hank). I feared that this would establish taking a die as the default, an impression I had tried to avoid. Hank, however, took the MOV and made me smile and secretly pump my fist (Yesss!) right away. He narrated how his character found a weakness (the gills) and then stunned everyone by describing how his character communicated this to some of the pirates and how they began to form a team, sweeping the ship. He began detailing how his character built a small following among them. I cut him short, but not before enthusiastically approving of him establishing 'Hank's Guys' as a faction on board.

Carl: Carl turned out to be the first for whom "roll maximum dice" didn't work. He crashed his pool and later, when he found it difficult to gain it back, grumbled a bit about Gary's advice. Once his pool was low, he failed most rolls and crashed again and again, even though I granted him mostly three-dicers. I let his character cut a fine figure anyway, but at a price. His character has earned a reputation as fearless, but now owes his life to the captain, is sorely wounded and has made the wizard wary of him. Also, he has earned a reputation as cruel (which Carl seemed to welcome dunno if I let him off too easily).

Carl took maybe two MOVs, concentrating on the evocative description of his stated intent.

Gary: Gary rolled maximum dice, collected dice for his pool, and stayed lucky throughout the evening. In one situation, the ship was inspected by an evil templar and his team. Gary's witch-doctor character instructed the crew to feign a certain disease. I did not ask for a roll here and instead blindsided him by having the ship's NPC healer trying to expand on his story and getting carried away. Gary rolled to shut her up and convince the templar that she had a lapse regarding a mental disease and was hallucinating. Gary had defused the situation, but I immediately went for a follow-up and had the templar declare that if the pretty NPC healer was mentally damaged, he still had some use for her (in bed). Carl intervened with his character and a cool and tense scene and much bloodshed ensued. I fear I may have stolen some of Gary's thunder, not to mention call for rolls until I got what I wanted (bloodshed). Then again, a single MOV could have resolved the situation.

Also, I may have stifled some player creativity during this part, when Carl declared his intent to "kill the berserking half-demon templar" (after his other ruse failed catastrophically). That seemed a far stretch, as the templars are second to none in combat, and I pointed out that I didn't think his character could take him. Carl immediately suggested "remain his primary target and take most of the punishment while everybody attacks him", but in retrospect, I should have shut my mouth. If he wants to narrate a critical hit, so be it spectacular events are cool and maybe he had something else entirely in mind. The scene in question was the only one which I found difficult to run because the entire party was fighting the templar and everybody wanted a piece of him. The other players settled for "strike one telling blow", "make myself useful", "minimize casualties among the crew" and "blow him away". I described the scene checking with the players all the time - and found out only towards the end, when getting to Gary, that he had taken an MOV (his only one all evening). I told him it would have been his privilege to go around the table, but he waved that away, and used his MOV to describe the gruesome manner in which the templar was ultimately dispatched (blown away) by his character.

Gary got an obvious kick out of accumulating dice and seemed to content to watch except for that one time.

Hank: Hank crashed early when gathering information in a hostile port. I let him get the info, but also had him recognized by an old enemy. He killed him before he could squeal (his success, my narration), but was then accosted by a demon-worshipping-sergeant. He failed the roll to make up a cover story, but I let him get away with it, but not without having the sergeant force him to drink some wine spiced with his blood. Who knows what's in it? This was one of the tensest and best scenes, in my opinion.

Hank tried to get MOVs even when low on dice, but only got two of them. He used them to build a following on the ship and I played into his hands even when he failed: Apart from 'Hank's Guys', he tried to insinuate himself with a second group. I let him get away with that, but added that he had fallen in with the ships' malcontents. His overall standing has fallen, but he has quite a powerbase now.

Rick: I had the male priest of the sex goddess try to seduce Rick's character. Rick was obviously not thrilled and I suggested the conflict be "resist his seduction". Seeing how Rick was uncomfortable, I declared that some things were inviolate and that he could veto the whole thing, making the conflict "graciously rebuff him without hurting his feelings". Rick was relieved and opted for this. Hank suggested out loud that on a failure, the priest ought to be rebuffed, but go away with the impression that Rick's character was playing at "hard to get". Everybody had a good laugh at his notion and I wanted to implement it, but alas! Rick succeeded.

Towards the end of the evening, I had the wizard ask Rick's character to make the pirate captain look bad (because the wizard would like to be in command of the landing party). Nothing has come of that as yet, but Rick has mused on the problem out loud, and unselfconsciously. An interesting, short discussion about the problems of double agents ensued.

He never took an MOV and crashed somewhere in the middle of the evening.

Vicky: Vicky had trouble stating clear goals and opted for things like "make myself useful in combat". On the way home, Carl remarked that she hadn't grasped how much power was in her hands. Vicky had some fun heating up things with the male priest and I also had the NPC healer partially confide in her. Vicky's character has found out that the healer looks up to the wizard and wants to make a good impression. She has also asked Vicky's character to find out what the wizard thinks about her, but she has not revealed that she is his daughter.

Vicky took no MOVs.

Part 4: Post-Play Musings

Atmosphere: Lots of animated talking, everybody agitated (though Rick took a couple of smoke breaks), everybody talking at once all the time. I'd say it was more lively than usual, but maybe that's just my imagination or impression due to being in the GM's seat.

Reactions: Judging from post-game chatter (levels of excitement, to be precise), I'd say that everybody seems to have liked the evening. Only Vicky was perhaps a bit more silent than usual.

On the way home, Carl called the rules "really excellent". He also said that they'd probably be perfect for introducing virgin players to the hobby, provided one can find a setting everybody knows (regarding genre expectations and so on). He also wondered whether the Pool could sustain a long campaign.

My take: The session was everything I had hoped for and I'm really looking forward to more MOVs and to the gently developing relationships (one might say 'slowly developing', but I think more speed would have seemed rushed) coming to a boiling point. During the post-game chatter, I mentioned the concept of idea rolls to complicate things for another player or add cool elements. The adventure is pretty much playing out as I thought it might (and I hope I'll be open to unexpected turns) and also I feel that my extensive prep has paid off (and the conflicts haven't even come to the boiling point yet).

I could go on and on, but I'm exhausted, happy and exhausted. The Pool has mesmerized me since I've read it and I'm ecstatic that it is as good as it looks (and as they say around here). Many, many thanks must go to James (and also to Ron for some good advice). The Pool rocks so hard I'm still reeling.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2005, 07:19:20 AM »

Hooray!!

Vicky is the player who captures my attention in your writeup. Her historical tendency to do weird, unfathomable stuff rings a bell from my experience ... although she might be doing something very different from what I'll suggest, I'm speaking from observing similar things across many instances, so maybe there's some correspondence. Anyway, I've seen this in two contexts.

1. The player is unwilling, usually out of shyness or fear of disapproval, to do anything to change what's going on. They'll play support characters or weirdos so that whatever they do (and they often do nothing, or "look at the pretty birds"), they won't get called on it or have to account for themselves to others. This is often the result of having endured critical whiffs and having seen a character humiliated by the GM's narration, which always seems to happen to the SO in her first try at role-playing.

2. The player is simply not engaged by what's going on and will do weird stuff very much in the same way that a CRPG player will wander around poking objects in the room on the screen, to see if they'll do anything. In some ways, it's as if the player is wondering whether the GM has anything interesting in mind, and is more-or-less desperately, more-or-less casually throwing out prompts.

So when we take the possibility of both or either of these into account, and look at your actual play, then maybe a conclusion might emerge. Perhaps Vicky is simply a little stunned. To either of these outlooks, the whole narrational environment of playing The Pool is alien. For one thing, your input is there for God & everyone to see, as input - kind of like suggesting, "Hey, let's dance around naked." For another, some of the SIS, and potentially important parts, is not just what's waiting in your head for her to discover.

What will happen when she recovers from the stun is way up in the air. She might bag the whole thing as just too weird, and check-out entirely during play. Or maybe this is the first step of a slow, probably exponential series of attempts to do things in this different way.

All of the above should be considered in the proper light, that I am practicing atrocious armchair psychology in this post, and anything I suggest needs to be cross-referenced with and automatically trumped by your actual knowledge of the person and experience of play.

Best,
Ron
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Halzebier
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Posts: 216


« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2005, 11:00:51 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
1. The player is unwilling, usually out of shyness or fear of disapproval, to do anything to change what's going on. They'll play support characters or weirdos so that whatever they do (and they often do nothing, or "look at the pretty birds"), they won't get called on it or have to account for themselves to others. This is often the result of having endured critical whiffs and having seen a character humiliated by the GM's narration, which always seems to happen to the SO in her first try at role-playing.

This doesn't really fit, though you couldn't possibly have known that. Vicky isn't shy at all (though my account makes one wonder) and often defies criticism of her play. Also, she and Hank discovered RPGs as a couple in their twenties and I doubt they have seen abusive play. (I have - and have my share of blame - but I started as a teenager, a geek among geeks, with all the ill social grace that implies.) They've both GMed a couple of times, though they are not among the roster of regular GMs.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
2. The player is simply not engaged by what's going on and will do weird stuff very much in the same way that a CRPG player will wander around poking objects in the room on the screen, to see if they'll do anything. In some ways, it's as if the player is wondering whether the GM has anything interesting in mind, and is more-or-less desperately, more-or-less casually throwing out prompts.

That's partly on target, I suspect. Vicky definitely enjoys the banter and company, writes elaborate backstories and draws everybody's characters (she's a writer and illustrator of children's books in real life, among other things), but I described her as a casual player because she is not a fanatic, like the rest of us (with the exception of Rick).

Carl, Gary and I are rules specialists, Carl and Kevin (who wasn't present) are setting loremasters, and Carl, Hank and Kevin read huge amounts of SF&F novels. In play, Vicky often seems not to 'get it', though I can't quite put a finger on it. She will often try to get NPCs to do things which are just not in keeping with the rules, the world or what's been established. I do get the impression that this is "casually throwing out prompts", not desperately or bored, but ... I dunno. Maybe she has sudden wild inspirations and thinks "wouldn't it be cool if", say, "this story were about a kind king, not an evil one, and he'd help us" and acts on that. The Pool has the potential to work well for her, because for once, she can go ahead. (Okay, it's not quite as easy as that. There will be peer pressure not to break everybody's SOD. I just pray we'll be more open than usual.)

Quote from: Ron Edwards
All of the above should be considered in the proper light, that I am practicing atrocious armchair psychology in this post, and anything I suggest needs to be cross-referenced with and automatically trumped by your actual knowledge of the person and experience of play.

Yeah, that's understood. Your second point partially rings true, though, even though I still can't get a handle on Vicky's play.

Anyway, I'd like to have more MOVs, and not just from her. Carl e-mailed everyone with musings about the Pool and suggested that +3 traits would be great to replenish one's pool, so I expect the others to upgrade as well (I've given up on my +2 limit, as everything went well).

I've been wondering whether I should goad the players to take MOVs - "Hey Rick, if you take the MOV, I'm gonna grant you a three-dicer. How's that?"

Is this a ploy anybody's been using? Do you cut deals, ask for idea rolls ("Hank, I'll grant you a three-dicer if you want to complicate life for Carl's character."), teasingly withhold the die ("C'mon, tell it yourself, Vicky.") or even refuse to give it out ("So you have successfully rolled to find out who killed the settlers, Gary. Well, YOU tell me.")

Regards

Hal
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Darren Hill
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« Reply #3 on: August 10, 2005, 01:03:40 AM »

If you really, really want to get people to take more MOVs, you could use the Anti-Pool approach. Give everyone a die when they fail a roll, and when they succeed, let them take a MOV or not - but they get no bonus for not taking one.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: August 10, 2005, 04:29:05 AM »

Hiya,

So, a minor hit with the Vicky possibilities. Not bad for internet dialogue.

Again with the proviso that this is one man's view, I have a fairly definite response to:

Quote
I've been wondering whether I should goad the players to take MOVs - "Hey Rick, if you take the MOV, I'm gonna grant you a three-dicer. How's that?"

Is this a ploy anybody's been using? Do you cut deals, ask for idea rolls ("Hank, I'll grant you a three-dicer if you want to complicate life for Carl's character."), teasingly withhold the die ("C'mon, tell it yourself, Vicky.") or even refuse to give it out ("So you have successfully rolled to find out who killed the settlers, Gary. Well, YOU tell me.")

My response is to discourage this approach. Thinking especially in terms of the "ill social grace" you mentioned from your teenage years, consider what sort of Social Contract includes these kinds of phrases. It's a Social Contract in which you are trying to make them do something, with the book o'rules on your side.

As I see it, games like The Pool afford novel opportunities, and part of the Social Contract that they work well in includes, instead, "Each person will find his or her comfort level within the options of these very simple, but very global rules." If a person just takes the one-die bonus, forever and amen, then that's how it is for that person, and there is no built-in agenda to "make sure everyone uses MoVs, eventually."

It also takes time - clearly on the order of two to three sessions, minimum, for a full group to arrive at these comfort levels. People who are used to thinking in short-term, i.e. action/scene based success as the largest possible unit of role-playing will have a hard time with The Pool - as your friends may be finding when they look at their empty Pool and realize that this is an investment, over time, across many scenes. Shifting one's gratification scale isn't something that happens in one evening, and then finding where you stand regarding the few but definition options will only happen from that overview.

In my experience, many people take to The Pool like ducks to water, but not because the GM teases or withholds or cajoles, with dice as a reward. In fact, if there's one GM task which wins respect for and interest in the game, it's a solid reliability regarding 1, 2, or 3 dice as the base roll, letting everyone take it from there in terms of Pool management.

My suggestion is to remind people that they can Color to their heart's content or contribute dramatically to "what's happening" through MoVs, but also to remember that the choice is theirs. Demonstrating your respect for that indicates a very different Social Contract in action, in terms of you and the group and your collective effort (if that is the right word) with this game.

Best,
Ron
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JamesDJIII
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Posts: 201


« Reply #5 on: August 10, 2005, 01:31:06 PM »

I've been reading posts about the Pool. I've read the rules before, may times, and I am interested in how it Actually Plays.

One of my many questions is how to do handle group conflicts, like a multi-participant combat? Is the procedure and mechanics for it up to each group and GM? How about some concrete examples?
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Halzebier
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« Reply #6 on: August 10, 2005, 11:46:22 PM »

Quote from: Darren Hill
If you really, really want to get people to take more MOVs, you could use the Anti-Pool approach. Give everyone a die when they fail a roll, and when they succeed, let them take a MOV or not - but they get no bonus for not taking one.

The Anti-Pool is definitely a variation I plan to try out at some point, but not quite yet. Speaking of which: Doesn't the basic approach of the Anti-Pool (without your proposed modification) mean that players only ever have the choice between a die and a Monologue of Defeat? That seems wrong somehow.

(I don't doubt that players would do a fine job of hosing their own characters, though.)

Quote from: Ron Edwards
- "Each person will find his or her comfort level within the options of these very simple, but very global rules."
- It also takes time [...] for a full group to arrive at these comfort levels.
- In fact, if there's one GM task which wins respect for and interest in the game, it's a solid reliability regarding 1, 2, or 3 dice as the base roll, letting everyone take it from there in terms of Pool management.

Very sensible advice, as usual.

I've been thinking about that last point and felt tempted to create extra rules before our first game, along the lines of "1 die as the default, 3 if your pool is empty." I didn't, but I'm still not entirely comfortable with assigning bonus dice. I declared 1 die the default and only granted more for those with a low pool. I guess I'll stick with that, but if I do, I might as well codify it. (Okay, okay, I'll play it as written for now.)

One of my many questions is how to do handle group conflicts, like a multi-participant combat? Is the procedure and mechanics for it up to each group and GM? How about some concrete examples?

I've GMed one session, so take my comments with more than a grain of salt.

I found it easy when the players' intent did not overlap directly, as in the example with the fish-people.

Also, Ron's suggested technique of cutting between players does not only work really well, it also comes naturally (though I certainly haven't mastered it - there's plenty of room for improvement).

I'd heat up the action for one player and would then cut away to the next. During the multi-participant scenes, I cut away at the same point with every player (just before the roll, but after hashing out the intent), but in parallel scenes, I sometimes cut away at different points: before the player stated his intent (to give him time to think about it), before the roll (to maximize tension) and after the roll (to give *me* time to think, but also to heighten tension).

I found it difficult when the players' intent overlapped, as when everybody wanted a piece of the demonic templar. I went around the table for the players' intent and, for the most part, they took care to state non-conflicting intents (also, and perhaps unfortunately so, I discouraged some stuff). I guess we should have discussed the intents with more of an eye to how they would impact each other, e.g. "I feint, you go for the throat". The dice would then dictate the price (i.e., if the feint failed, the true attacker might still kill the target, but probably take a nasty wound) and there'd be more interaction, developing debts and so on.

But that's just guess work and I'm a total Pool newbie.

Regards,

Hal
--
P.S.: The two battles (with the fish people and the templar) were the only multi-participant scenes, so I have no other examples to offer. There were a few more with multiple PCs standing around, but I structured them differently. For instance, Gary hadn't had a scene in a while, so I let him handle the initial conflict with the templar coming on board to inspect the ship. Carl immediately wanted to do something, but I waved him off, and he perfectly understood. He got his chance a few moments later.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: August 11, 2005, 04:32:12 AM »

Hello,

Rather than hunt down all the posts about multi-participant contests, I'll explain it again here.

The issue that haunts people, evidently, is "what if players want different things?" The answer is so easy that it's painful to explain.

OK, Bob is playing Bartholemew and Sam is playing Sebastian. They're very different characters - Bartholemew is a kindly priest who's decided to guard the crown from agents of the dastardly Baron Hawk. But Sebastian is a sneak-thief who's been paid by the court chancellor to steal the crown, as another means of protecting it from the Baron.

(Or hell, we could be simple and say that Bartholemew is trying to protect it from being stolen and Sebastian is trying to steal it, without all the motivational window dressing. But that's direct opposition, rather than being simply mildly contradictory. Doesn't really matter.)

Anyway, how do you do it? They roll! And now the fear arises, the one that haunts people who haven't played The Pool and leads them to type bewildered posts here, where I find them. What if both players get a 1? What if they both take a Monologue of Victory? They want different things! The system will break! Oh my God!!

The answer, as I say, is simple. They work out a single MoV together. Their only constraints are that the players agree fully in making it, and that both characters succeeded in their goals - the crown is guarded, and the crown is stolen. ... (waits) ...

Come on, guys! Don't you see that this is exactly what GMs are forever trying to engineer in ham-handed, railroady ways? And when they do engineer it successfully once in a blue moon, the players see it coming a mile away and are bored? But now, you can bet that the players will simply and easily arrive at a fun and twisted conclusion based on misperceptions among the characters.

Perhaps they decide that a fake crown is involved. Sebastian the thief sneaks off triumphantly with the fake, and then Bartholemew opens the cabinet to reveal the real crown. Or maybe the reverse! It's up to the players, who get all the possible imaginative charge out of "mixed up understanding" scenes that you ever dreamed of, and it sets you up for framing the next scene full of rich possibilities. Furthermore, they aren't going to bitch and moan, because they had to agree.

It works wonderfully. It's easy. And it's not based on the traditional approach of playing out the situation action by action, skill check by skill check, perception roll by perception roll - which contains multiple opportunities for one participant (player, GM, doesn't matter) to finesse things to come out how he uniquely wants.

Best,
Ron
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JamesDJIII
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« Reply #8 on: August 11, 2005, 08:34:04 AM »


It works wonderfully. It's easy. And it's not based on the traditional approach of playing out the situation action by action, skill check by skill check, perception roll by perception roll - which contains multiple opportunities for one participant (player, GM, doesn't matter) to finesse things to come out how he uniquely wants.


I get this. And it's one of the reasons why the Pool looks like a hoot.

Let me refine my question. I'm making one of those assumptions about how it's decicded that the roll is about that conflict. But is it really like the traditional way? Does the GM assume the task of deciding how and which conflicts are being rolled for? How much do the players contribute to this?

I'm also assuming that the decision to give 1-3 dice from the GM is based on more than just "hey that's really difficult, here's 1 die" versus "that's an easy conflict to win, here's 3". Comments?

Again, thanks for taking time to help me out with these concepts.
Viva el Forge!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: August 11, 2005, 08:40:20 AM »

Hi there,

Good questions! Now we're onto the real issues of The Pool, which is to say, potential problem issues, rather than the perceived problem issues (which aren't).

Quote
Does the GM assume the task of deciding how and which conflicts are being rolled for? How much do the players contribute to this?

Unpleasant fact: the game text is silent. You gotta work this out as a group. That's why, in my game Trollbabe, there are very specific rules about when a roll-for-it conflict is established. You and the team will have to make such rules for yourselves.

Quote
I'm also assuming that the decision to give 1-3 dice from the GM is based on more than just "hey that's really difficult, here's 1 die" versus "that's an easy conflict to win, here's 3". Comments?

In the text, no, it's not. Another thing you have to work out. Some people go with "task difficulty," and others go with "cool I like that conflict," and still others just go with "which levers are pulled by the rabbit in my head." Again, a whole-group issue. My call is that you need to establish a nice, solid-gold, social/creative standard to operate by and stick with it.

You also might want to check out James' derived-Pool game The Questing Beast, which uses a slightly different dice system and in which most of these issues are resolved by the game text.

Best,
Ron
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JamesDJIII
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Posts: 201


« Reply #10 on: August 11, 2005, 04:56:30 PM »

Ok!

Good start. I sent an email to James West asking about The Questing Beast, as I can't seem to find a link to buy it.

I can certainly see where people will all caught up on stuff like the apparent lack GM generated "danger". I could see a player who wants a conflict about, say, attacking some orcs to kill them. I can see them balking at the idea that if they roll a 1, the achieve the goal of the conflict, ie, slaying orcs, without a lot of hoo-hah about what kind of armor they have, weapon skills, orc toughness, etc. But, for myself, I just don't see this kind of thing as a real problem.

For me the real problem is figuring out, ok, what the role of the GM looks like in the Pool. I have these notions from other games (even Sorcerer) - but I wonder how much it changes in the Pool.

I see things as a spectrum of games that define how the What-Is-Happening and What-Is-The-Conflict-At-The-Moment specifics are decided, for me it looks like the Pool is over here near the end labelled "Not Defined - You Figure it Out" and something like Capes is on the other end, labelled "The Text is Very Clear on This".

At least that's what I see based on reading the texts - but I'd rather see how it works out in actual play.

Hal, getting back to what you experienced, how much of the DSA background showed up in the MOVs? Did players obey any sort of restrictions on the MOVs? Also, when you cut off Hank and his MOV about the fishmen combat, why did you stop him at that point?
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Halzebier
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« Reply #11 on: August 12, 2005, 12:47:08 AM »

Quote from: James DJ III
For me the real problem is figuring out, ok, what the role of the GM looks like in the Pool. I have these notions from other games (even Sorcerer) - but I wonder how much it changes in the Pool.

The following account is a transcript of the biggest scene, though it's from memory, abridged regarding flavor text and background chatter (of which there was a lot, but of which I remember little), and no doubt not 100% accurate.

The Situation: The characters, their NPC employers and their crew are on ship in a hostile port. Only trusted crewmembers have been allowed to go ashore. The official reason is that the rest suffers from a minor, but catching disease which would surely spread if you set the sailors loose in the port. However, a half-demonic templar of the local authorities and a few henchmen come on board to inspect the ship.

[Long discussion among the players regarding whether they should slay the inspectors out of hand or try to hold up their act under scrutiny. They opt for the latter, with the proviso that they're ready to attack.]

GM: Okay, the templar and his henchmen come on board. [description of templar - really, really bad news in a fight] He casually inspects the ship ...
Carl: When he goes by, I'm not casting down my eyes as the crew do. I want to make eye contact and show I'm not afraid. I'm, like, whetting my axe with long, lazy strokes, casually sitting on a barrel.
GM: Okay, roll for it.
Carl: I use my "intimidating presence +1" trait. How many bonus dice?
GM: What's your pool? Still zero?
Carl: Nope, one die.
GM: That's still damn low. Go ahead and take three dice anyway.
Carl: <rolls> Success. Guess I'll take another die. I don't want to insult him, you know, I ...
GM: His gaze sweeps the deck, and men cast down their eyes in fear. This does not arouse his suspicion, he is used to that. He sees you, sizes you up, locks eyes with you. He realizes that you're one tough hombre, not another maggot. He turns away just before this becomes a question of "who looks away first, loses".
Carl: <nods approvingly>
GM: Okay, after casually inspecting the ship, he wants to see the sick bay. Gary?
Gary: <describes the set-up in the sick bay> I'm on hand to handle his questions.
GM: You notice right away that he doesn't know jack about diseases and the subject bores him, anyway. He's got a sergeant with him who knows a bit, but he's out of his depth.
Gary: <describes his cover story and grabs his dice>
GM: Nah, don't bother.* Your story goes down smooth with the sergeant. However, the NPC healer is eager to help out. She corrobates your story, as if that was needed. However, she adds embellishments - how the crew caught the disease on that island you stopped by, bla bla, bla - and is getting in over her head. Suddenly, the templar's listening up. You've got his full attention. No, wait, she's got his full attention. What island?

[* I felt that Gary grabbed the dice out of ingrained habits, not because he wanted a conflict.]

Gary: Fuck.
Hank: You gotta shut her up, man.
Carl: I've got an idea. I want to ...
GM: No, let Gary handle it.
Carl: Oh, alright.
Gary: I, uh, tell the sergeant that she has these hallucination and it's a relapse.
GM: Roll for it.
Gary: <rolls dice> Success. I take a die.
GM: Okay, you convince him. You handle it just right, not making a big fuss over it, but sorta mentioning her condition in an off-hand way, not alarmed at all. They swallow it, hook, line and sinker.
Gary: Hehe.
GM: The templar turns to you and says: "She be wrong in the head, but right in all the places a woman should be. You have no use for her, but I do. In my bed. What's her price?"*

[* Here, I may be stealing Gary's thunder by inventing a follow-up conflict which makes his success mostly void.]

Gary: <speechless>
The other players: <tumultous back and forth>
Carl: Before he can finish that thought, I ram my axe into the wall with a thud to get his attention. I want his attention and my conflict is "get his attention immediately, so he forgets about the girl".*

[* Carl's still trying to avoid combat here and has something in mind, I think.]

GM: Okay. One die.
Carl: Plus "intimidating +1" and my two pool dice. <rolls dice> Fuck. There they go again.
GM: You have his full attention, oh yes. <rubs hands> "I like men who don't bow to others, who'd rather die than grovel. You're one such man and I've already marked you as one. However, there is one even such as we have to bow to. [The demon lord] Belhalhar. Join my cause and bow to Belhalhar ... or die.
All players: I wanna ...
GM: Okay, okay, one after the other, please. Carl?
Carl: I'll attack immediately, quick as lightning, so he'll be surprised. I want to "kill him". That's my conflict. <grabs dice>
GM: Uh, Carl, I dunno. That's a templar of Belhalhar.*

[* I. Should. Have. Kept. My. Mouth. Shut.]

Carl: You mean I couldn't take him, even with surprise?
GM: He's not really surprised, I mean, he's just issued a death threat to a man he respects...
Carl: Um, okay. In that case I want to keep his attention on me. I want to "be his primary target".
GM: Okay. Rick?
Rick: I'll command the crew and lead them in a charge against the templar's henchmen. I want to "minimize casualties for our side".
Hank: I want to "bring him down", no, wait, that's out, I want to get a piece of him, I want to "strike one telling blow".
Vicky: I want to "attack the templar".
GM: Okay, could you specify that a bit?
Vicky: I want to "help the others", but I don't want to get hurt too badly.
GM: Um, so what's your priority here?
Vicky: I want to help Hank's character.
GM: Okay.
Gary: I'll use my magic. I want to "blow him away".*

[*This is just as unlikely as killing him in melee, alone. Under DSA, a concerted effort to deplete his hit points would be necessary. I told the players that one-shot kills were possible, as opposed to DSA, but I wanted power-levels and probabilities intact, i.e. you still need two PCs to take down, say, an ogre, but were allowed to describe the combat as lots of dodging with one spectacular killing blow in the end.]

GM: Uh, okay. Roll for it, everyone.

Carl fails, and I narrate how his character manages to keep the templar's attention anyway, but gets seriously hurt in the process. Carl amends "Not just seriously, critically." Also, I make it so that his character is saved by an NPC, the captain, and now owes her his life. Carl likes it.

Rick fails, and I narrate how he makes a splendid charge, but inspires some of the more inexperienced crewmembers to charge with him. One gets critically wounded.*

[*I should have had one or two crewmembers die here, the better to try and guilt-trip his character later.]

Hank fails and I narrate how, in his eagerness to find an opening, his character collides with the captain and neither gets to score a good blow.

Vicky succeeds and I narrate how, when Hank's PC is still reeling from the collision, her PC springs to his side and deflects an off-hand blow of the templar.*

[*I don't have Hank's PC owe her's his life, so nought comes of this.]

Gary succeeds and I begin to narrate, but he informs me that he's taking an MOV. I tell him he could have gone around the table and narrated everything, just as I had done just now. He waves me away, telling me that was fine, and narrates how he uses his magic and blows up the injured templar from the inside out.

Quote from: James DJ III
Hal, getting back to what you experienced, how much of the DSA background showed up in the MOVs? Did players obey any sort of restrictions on the MOVs? Also, when you cut off Hank and his MOV about the fishmen combat, why did you stop him at that point?

(1) Gary stayed within the parameters of DSA's spell system, i.e. it was understood he could not summon three djinnis a day, because no DSA character has that many spell points. Also, I had set a power-level for the PCs, telling the players their PCs were "roughly 10th level". (The Pool can handle disparate power levels perfectly well, I know.) We used the setting and its expectations (e.g. a templar of Belhalhar cannot be brought down by any single 10th level PC).

(2) I told them that an MOV had to be (1) plausible (i.e., by DSA standards, though unlikely events, "critical hits" as it were, were okay), interesting (i.e., don't make the expedition turn around and go home) and in keeping with the style (i.e., don't make this into Terry Pratchett).

(3) Hank had described things in quite some detail (how his character had found the fish-people's weakness, how he had gathered some crewmates etc. etc.). I stopped him for two reasons: (1) Sheer length. His monologue was getting longer and longer. (2) A sufficient reward. He had established his characters' new following among the crew, and I thought that was fantastic. However, he seemed kinda breathless and I got the impression that he wanted to add even more consequences. I would not have minded more details on his new followers, but that was not what he was going to say next, I suspected, and I thought "success" + "a detailed monologue" + "one cool new fact" was enough. Even though he would have loved to go on, he seemed very satisfied with what he had got out of that MOV (which included everybody's praise and awe).

Regards,

Hal
Quote
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JamesDJIII
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Posts: 201


« Reply #12 on: August 12, 2005, 09:32:48 AM »


Hank: You gotta shut her up, man.
Carl: I've got an idea. I want to ...
GM: No, let Gary handle it.
Carl: Oh, alright.
Gary: I, uh, tell the sergeant that she has these hallucination and it's a relapse.
GM: Roll for it.
Gary: <rolls dice> Success. I take a die.
GM: Okay, you convince him. You handle it just right, not making a big fuss over it, but sorta mentioning her condition in an off-hand way, not alarmed at all. They swallow it, hook, line and sinker.
Gary: Hehe.
GM: The templar turns to you and says: "She be wrong in the head, but right in all the places a woman should be. You have no use for her, but I do. In my bed. What's her price?"*

[* Here, I may be stealing Gary's thunder by inventing a follow-up conflict which makes his success mostly void.]


Now, as I understand it, the Pool's conflict resolution effect is just as solid as Sorcerer. I mean that if Gary's goal in the conflict is to snow the evil templar, and he wins, the fact that the evil templar has been snowed is a done deal, right?

Is the source of the concern about the follow conflict? If the player then looses the follow up roll, the first conflict outcome still stands, but now it's just colored by the outcome of the second?

Also, thanks for the transcript and playback - I wish more Actual Plays were like yours.
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Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #13 on: August 15, 2005, 06:10:52 AM »

Quote from: JamesDJIII
Now, as I understand it, the Pool's conflict resolution effect is just as solid as Sorcerer. I mean that if Gary's goal in the conflict is to snow the evil templar, and he wins, the fact that the evil templar has been snowed is a done deal, right?

Is the source of the concern about the follow conflict? If the player then looses the follow up roll, the first conflict outcome still stands, but now it's just colored by the outcome of the second?

Exactly, on all counts. I guess introducing follow-up conflicts is okay, after all, but shouldn't be overdone (lest the players feel forced to take MOVs or begin phrasing conflicts with an eye towards preventing follow-up conflicts - but I see neither on the horizon).

I'm glad you liked my report and responded to it.

Regards,

Hal
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JasperN.
Member

Posts: 41


« Reply #14 on: August 16, 2005, 12:25:25 AM »

Hi Hal,

thanks for the fun and informative writeup. I really like how you try to preserve the feeling of the setting while still allowing for The Pool to take full effect. Seems to work out quite nicely. Having been an avid DSA player over here in Germany myself when I was still in school, I'd like to know more about the players' reaction when you suggested The Pool. I found that long - time DSA-heads often hesitate to try anything new, exspecially if its outside the illusionist box. Would you say that some or all of your players "learned" the hobby by playing DSA and tended to view it as "roleplaying as such"? In particular, are any of the persons in your group part of the gamer culture surrounding DSA, i.e. fetishizing the setting, following up on the ongoing history, debating political events and such? Were there any initial concerns regarding The Pool, and if so, do you think they somehow stemmed from that background?

Best,
Jasper
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