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The Pool: the creator's first session

Started by James V. West, September 09, 2001, 01:10:00 PM

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James V. West

Hey all:

Finally, at long last, I have played my own game.

I knew when I wrote it I would enjoy playing it, but that's usually the case with designers, right? So I won't bore you with how much friggin fun I had.

These are some random thoughts that are spinning through my head (just finished the session about an hour ago):

1) The players. I had two of them (hope to increase to 3 for tomorrow night's game). One of them is a gaming vet and the other is a novice.

The vet is what I call a G/N/S chameleon. He usually starts a new game as a pure gamist, then, when he figures out how to get the most from the rules, he switches to a narrativist/gamist. The novice's only rp experience is with a highly simulationist, rules-intense DnD campaign.

Both players genuinely loved the game and had a blast.

2) The MoV. I was worried about how this would work. I explained it to them several times, and once they used it a few times I think they started to realize the potential it had. At first, the new player avoided MoVs totally, then he witnessed the vet player tweaking things into his character's favor and adding flavor to the story, so he started to give more MoVs himself.

The monologues worked well. The biggest concern I have for them is the same as always: the hard rules. Where does an MoV stop? How much power should the GM have over an MoV?

I played it by ear, letting them feel the process out. Each MoV was more elaborate than the last, but with some subtle indications from me about how far they were allowed to go, they kept their narratives both flavorful and in context.

As the game progressed I noticed that most of their MoVs dealt only with the immediate actions of the characters. They weren't strectching their imaginations enough. I let them know that in a monologue you can go beyond your character's skills or abilities. You can go as far as to *invent* ideas that weren't there before, like introducing an new NPC or expounding upon the nature of an existing NPC. I told them to be free with their narratives and that I would stop them if they went too far or did something that I wanted to avoid.

By the end of the game they were getting bolder. I suspect that tomorrow night the MoVs will be cranked up a notch or two, which is what I want.

3) Die rolls. At first, no one was gambling their Pool dice therefore there were no MoVs. Once I explained the concept again, they started to make decisions about when they wanted to gamble some dice.

No one ever went busted. No one ever gambled more than 3 or 4 dice at a time. The Pools started at 5 dice, swelled to as much as 9, and shrank to as few as 2. The players seemed to really enjoy the gambling aspect once they got the knack of it.

4) Traits. At first, I dont' think they understood the nature of Traits in this game. They were probably thinking in terms of skills/abilities only, so I explained it a little more. Traits are *important* things about a character, derived from the character's Story. They can be anything at all and any Trait can be positive or negative depending on the situation in which it is used.

Once that concept got through, they started getting more creative with their use of Traits, but mostly stuck to simple skill/ability types of uses.

At the end of the game, I gave them this example of a way in which they could use the Trait "sellsword +1". I said the player could be in a bar or other public place and request a die roll to call on that Trait. If successful, he could make an MoV and declare that another mercenary is sitting in the bar, one that he knows. He could go over and garner some information or add another blade to his ranks.

5) When to roll. This was something that bugged me. Even as the game's designer, I wasn't sure when a roll was required. I found myself unable to explain it to the players.

I never rolled for NPCs. I don't even make Traits for them. There's no need. In this game, its the PCs that make things happen. If an NPC attacks a PC, its up to that player to die roll his way out of getting killed. That's kind of the idea I was favoring in today's game, and it worked well.

So, it seems to me at this point that a die roll is made whenever a player calls for one or when the GM calls for one. Now you're going "duh, no crap.". But it makes sense to me. Technically, in this way, you could play a whole session without any die rolls, just pure narrative play. But it would be mostly one-sided. The only way the players can get in there and make their MoVs is through gambling dice.

So my take is that if the player does not ask for a die roll, and the GM does not make him roll, no roll is made. The GM simply narrates the outcome in pure diceless fashion. But, if a player requests a roll, it is their right to do so.

Perhaps the GM is not obligated to give any base dice to a player if the roll was requested. Perhaps the GM is only obligated to give any dice if he is the one saying the roll is needed.

To sum it up, the game went remarkably well. It was totally shotgun, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants roleplaying--which is what I like anyway.

The positive things: I liked the unpredictability of the game. I liked the way the MoVs could literally change everything you assumed about where the game was going. I liked the way the players hung on every die roll and how they sweated over gambles and wether or not to make an MoV.

The negative things: I was uncertain about many of my own rules, such when to roll. I felt like MoVs needed more solid guidelines.

More later.

James V. West


damn, I've got a lot of gaming to do when I finally have the time... in the meanwhile, two comments

The Magnitude of the MoV

I think some discussion before a campaign or session is really all that's appropriate; if we the group (users) agree that we're gonna be wandering around investigating Innsmouth and the players have previously played Cthulhu, then everyone has a rough idea of what's going on and the GM can feel safe riffing from the Shadows Over Innsmouth sourcebook or whathaveyou

(I give this as an example of a mix of ye olde preperation/sourcebook method and seat-of-your-pants; don't worry, I understand that player-focussed seat-of-your-pants style is preferred)

on the other hand, dammit, seat-of-your-pants is what it's all about; one MoV I'd love to use would start "Ten years later..."

simply put, I'd say dealing with that kind thing is the POINT of GMing The Pool (feel free to correct me here James :)


No Die Rolls Unless Called For

I think I get you on this one, personally, but I guess the trouble is there's a lot of room for (mis)interpretation, so how about...

1) as you suggested some degree of control or lack thereof should be given to He Who Calls For Dice, I'm not sure in which direction though (I also think it should go both ways, between GM and players)

2) you suggest that when there're no dice rolls things are "freeform"... maybe it's the Cult of Ron indoctrination or something, but my immediate reaction was "Why not at least introduce some kinda Drama mechanic?"

CYRE for making me disbelieve in freeform


James V. West

Here's my situation on the rules: I don't want to introduce any more rules. No more mechanics of any kind. I want what's already there to work, and I believe it does, but it may need a few adjustments.

My thinking on the "freeform" idea is that this is a game with drama and suspense that is driven equally by all players. I feel like, in most cases, a player will certainly want to roll some dice if there is some kind of tension in the situation. In all other situations (i.e., mundane), I don't think players will want to slow the game by stopping for a roll (unless they have a great idea for how they can work a Trait into things).

In essence, there are no freeform rules to the game, its just that as long as no one asks for a roll, there's no roll.

One of the players suggested adding rules for extraordinary die rolls. I have thought of this, and I may have even written something into the current version of The Pool (one that is about to be altered) regarding this. But my thinking is that the simple rolling of a 1 for a success is all you need.

I think that players will assume that when you roll multiple 1s, then its just gotta be a better success. I have no issue with that, and, in fact, I found myself playing it that way. I'm just not sure there needs to be a rule for it.

To make this even simpler, I've taken a bunch of blank dice and made a symbol on only one side of each die. That makes it even simpler: if you see a blank side, that's not a success. If you see a symbol there, it is. If you see more than one symbol, its an even better success (in which case a GM could allow more flexibility in an MoV).

James V. West

Blake Hutchins

I like the idea that a greater number of successes increases the potential scope of the MoV. I agree, however, that a great part of The Pool's coolness is its elegance. My vote is: don't add mechanics. You might consider adding modular guidelines to reflect a spectrum of approaches to MoV's, from totally freeform at one end to more narrowly structured at the other.




May I ask why the Pool isn't in the gaming library?  For a moment, I panicked, then I remembered that it was linked from the review.

If you wanted to add an optional rule to give more of a sense of definition for the MoV's, you could take a cue from Xiombarg's Success and give the GM a rule of "No."  The GM says during the MoV, "No," when he thinks that you're going too far.  You can either accept that and end the MoV or throw in a die from your pool to override the GM.

James V. West

Well, I once tried to add The Pool to the library, but had no luck. I tried several times, always having no luck, so I quit trying. Maybe I should try again...

As far as the "no" rule goes, personally I don't like it. In my first draft of this game, I let the GM veto MoVs that he didn't like. That was a bad idea and was quickly targeted for assassination by several gamers. The MoV is a sacred space in which a player can move and work magic. The GM's job is to be able to integrate and meld and all that. Plus the GM has the power to simply end an MoV after the player has started to take it someplace he doesn't want the game to go (like killing an NPC, summoning Odin, or something zany that doesn't fit).

I think it will be implied that if the MoV ends with something that's a bit much, the GM can quickly negotiate a slight alteration to bring it back into scope. That's how I plan to play it, though so far I haven't had the need to do so. I suppose it will depend on how loose a GM can be.

James V. West


You note the the MoV is a "sacred space," seemingly as a reason for disliking the proposed "rule of no."  I point out that the "rule of no" gives the players more control over the MoV, not less.  It allows them to override the GM's stopping the MoV (just like in Success, you'd probably have to implement also a rule of "Really no, goddammit").

Not to say that you have to like the rule of No -- it doesn't bother me one way or the other, since I realized today that the Pool is exactly the opposite of what I want in a gaming experience (which, I hasten to point out, is not a criticism of the Pool, and it was a valuable insight, for which I thank you -- more to come on this subject).  Just saying that the reasons you give don't seem to match up with the conclusion you make.

[Edit adds this paragraph:]

Oh, and I think that Clinton's fixed the Gaming Library so that it actually accepts new material now.  Could be wrong, though.

[ This Message was edited by: Epoch on 2001-09-09 20:36 ]