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X-Games Thoughts (repeat thread)
Topic: X-Games Thoughts (repeat thread) (Read 1193 times)
X-Games Thoughts (repeat thread)
November 06, 2001, 11:46:00 AM »
Thought I'd repost the thoughts and feedback from our first session of the Pool. The complete thread is in X-Games Update (1) under the Actual Play thread. This is the Forge home for the
, however, so it seems polite to place some content here. Sorry I haven't done it earlier.
1. My Impressions:
First off, let me say I had a blast. The story started slow, in large part because the players began in Kooren’Dar’s residence and went through some low-key roleplaying to settle into their characters. Once they got to the meat of the confrontation, everything moved like greased lightning. I didn’t have to do much; when the players shed their initial timidity, the dice started to fly. I didn’t keep precise count, but I’d guess we made about eighteen to twenty rolls over the course of the evening. And virtually all were Trait rolls.
We heard a lot of Monologues of Defeat. (James asked me to try this rule. It’s the inverse of the MoV; if you roll no ones but any sixes you may choose to take a Monologue of Defeat.) The players seemed to relish the ability to narrate outcomes. In fact, the MoD use resulted in more vicious hosings than I’d have dealt out. When Artus “deep sixed” a Trait roll on his trait of Shadow Mage Apprentice, for instance, he used his MoD to declare that his Shadow-tainted side took over and turned his magics to evil. He tried to regain control, calling for a Trait roll on ‘Hatred of the Shadow,’ but failed again with a six. This time, he used his MoD to describe how his shadow spirits ripped the refugees apart and devoured their souls to feed his dark appetites. Whew.
Dennis used an MoD to save himself, but he timed it perfectly, turning himself to stone at a point where it took him out of events for awhile but kept him from being torn apart by a pack of Dauthi Jackals (I used Magic cards for inspiration).
All in all, the evening turned out to be one of the most fun, unpredictable sessions I’ve ever run.
2. What Worked:
Clearly, the MoV and MoD mechanics work very well to generate and propel story. It felt like strapping the narrative to a jet engine, and I as narrator had long stretches where all I had to do was nudge folks or update small matters in the scene.
Every roll moved the story forward. Every roll was significant. That’s a far different feel from other systems where you may achieve a number of “nothing important happens” or “something incremental happens” results, stuff like one hit point damage in DnD, to use a hackneyed combat example.
Players felt free to kibitz and offer suggestions for each other’s MoV’s and MoD’s. That was nice. Everyone was engaged throughout the session; no one had a long stretch of dead time, and it looked as though everyone was equally excited about the other players’ stories.
Die rolls felt exciting. Whenever someone rolled, everybody perched on the edge of his seat, and I don’t remember ever hearing so many cheers or whoops ‘n hollers at dice results, especially with the MoD’s. Matt took an MoV at one point when he was out of Pool dice, which had a nice story twist.
Jeff adopted Actor stance for the most part, Dennis was mostly in what I’d call Author stance, but with a very character-centered perspective. Matt seemed to flick between Author and Actor stance. I think the Stances impacted the way they used their Director power. This isn’t a critique, merely an observation. The cinematography differed depending on the player. Basically, Jeff’s MoV’s and MoD’s felt very much like critical successes or critical failures, and his descriptions of combat were fairly specific. Dennis carried more emotion with his declarations and included personal backstory asides with some of his narrations. Matt took a more low-key, impressionistic approach. Both he and Dennis fell into the crit success/failure perspective, but to a much lesser extent than Jeff (despite the fact their successes and failures were MUCH more spectacular).
Handling time was next to nil. Players made decisions quickly and reading dice results couldn’t be easier. When faced with an MoV or MoD, some pondering occurred, but given the helpful attitudes that prevailed, this pause didn’t amount to a delay. In no case did a player’s narration take significant time to think up or deliver.
As players, we clearly need to triangulate to a better sense of the middle ground. Though exciting, the story did seem to veer between extremes. Players had few guidelines to help them judge how far to go, and the tendency to see Traits as Skills and Attributes rather than narrative character hooks added a degree of confusion, as did the critical failure/success view of MoD/MoV results. I don’t see this as a problem so much as evidence that The Pool represents a radical shift from most RP system thinking that takes getting used to.
According to the rules, gaining dice depends on Action rolls, not Trait rolls. Since most of this session revolved around Trait rolls called for by the characters, following the rules strictly would have meant no opportunity to gain dice, leaving the players in perpetually dire circumstances. Moreover, once out of dice, the players would no longer be able to call for Trait rolls in the first place, leaving the onus on the narrator to provide plenty of Action Rolls if we want to use the Fortune mechanic. As it happens, we’d forgotten these points, so players took dice on successful Trait rolls, and this outcome worked fine. I’d suggest this rule be modified to allow dice gain as well as MoV’s – if you want to shoot pool in your game, that is.
We used Trait rolls like rounds/exchanges, which I think is a relic of experience in other systems. I'm the only one who has played in purely or mostly Drama based games, so I think there was a certain ingrained reluctance NOT to take Trait rolls.
The dice gain ratio seemed fine. Two dice felt like a good reward without being too large. However, the potentially quick loss of dice compared to a slow gain made players reluctant to gamble large numbers of dice. Jeff points out that the mechanic reinforces a strategy of gambling one die at a time, in hopes of gaining more than you risk. Once you build up enough dice, it’s worth it according to his reasoning to invest Traits so they eventually play a significant role in rolls. One or two dice, he says, don’t represent enough of a factor in terms of player characteristics affecting the outcome. My feeling is that these observations probably stem from confusing Traits as Skills/Attributes, but I wasn’t participating from a PC’s point of view. Jeff adds – and I agree wholeheartedly on this point – that The Pool would make an excellent superhero game with true four-color rollercoaster potential.
Jeff made another observation I agree with, though I dispute the conclusion he drew from it. During play I told him the Black Knight antagonist could not be killed on the first pass if he took an MoV. Fine. Jeff notes that it felt as though he couldn’t achieve anything significant if he took an MoV in that situation. MoV’s then become analogous to hit points. How many MoV’s do I need to kill the Black Knight? he asks. To him, it feels limiting not to have the potential to succeed right away. I agree with his point that NPC plot immunity can be measured by the number of MoV’s required to overcome a particular NPC. However, I don’t see it as disempowering to require several MoV’s for the defeat of a major villain, since most other games confer various types of resilience on significant adversaries. DnD uses Hit Points. Hero Wars uses Action Points. WW and Story Engine use the “damage ladder.” (By the way, I use these physical combat/damage examples because they’re the simplest. The same principle could equally well apply to a significant NPC’s defeat in a courtroom drama or political intrigue.) Nevertheless, what Jeff is really addressing appears to be the degree of arbitrariness in The Pool with respect to NPC abilities. It’s certainly true that outright telling the player that “you can’t kill the Black Knight in this scene” may come across as restrictive to players who at least want the illusion of being able to achieve a quick victory via daring action and luck of the dice. In other words, the statement acts as an intrusion into the story, almost as if you outright told a DnD party, “This red dragon has 350 hit points. You’re going to be here awhile. Roll initiative….”
Possible solutions for this intrusion might be to have the narrator start play with 1d6 tokens. On an MoV, the narrator can only set limits by spending tokens, perhaps equal to the number of ones rolled by the victorious player. Instead of tokens, the narrator might have to give a die to all players if she seeks to limit an MoV.
I’m curious to see how The Pool works in a long-term game. It seems to offer a lot of potential for character development and its open-ended improvement methodology seems quite promising. Players used to the traditional “start as wimp, build up to demigod” paradigm may find themselves without objective standards to demonstrate their character’s progress. The long-term significance of MoD’s and MoV’s depends utterly on players and narrators remembering the particular events and working them into the story. The reason this isn’t a self-evident observation is that the system offers no objective consequences in terms of character stats and numbers. I’m not bothered by this, but I can see how other players might be. One suggestion might be to offer an on-the-spot pool die or even an improvement point (dedicated to the Trait in use) to players who undergo emotionally significant successes or failures. By “emotionally significant,” I mean the kind of emotional hit that goes to the core of the character concept.
1. Everyone had fun.
2. From a Narrator standpoint, The Pool was easy to set up and terribly easy to run. Not much to keep track of in terms of objective numbers and rules, though you still have to conceive of your NPCs enough to know their motivations and capabilities. The lack of rules and hard numbers means you have to develop your own best method for sketching out your NPC material.
3. I’m curious to see how it stands up to a more complex storyline, not just fast-paced action. From an action perspective, though, it handles very well. The Pool is like an unexpectedly fast sports car which can be tricky on corners. The speed and power take some adjustment, but the driving experience is amazingly cool.
James V. West
X-Games Thoughts (repeat thread)
Reply #1 on:
November 06, 2001, 04:13:00 PM »
Responding to Blake's stuff:
"Thought I'd repost the thoughts and feedback from our first session of the Pool. The complete thread is in X-Games Update (1) under the Actual Play thread. This is the Forge home for the
, however, so it seems polite to place some content here. Sorry I haven't done it earlier."
I've been so damn busy lately I barely have time to check email. If you posted about The Pool and I didn't respond, I'm sorry! I try to keep up with everything but lately I've been stretched thin.
Your comments are both heartening and appreciated. The experiences you are relating are EXACTLY what I was thinking when I wrote the rules. Fast, fun, easy, unpredictable, and cool.
It's great to hear that you had relatively few dice flow problems. I hoped that making the reward two instead of one would be a big improvement on the system's balance.
I'm glad you used the MoD rule. I'm still not sure I'll add it to the official The Pool rules, but it is a sure thing in The Questing Beast.
"Dennis used an MoD to save himself, but he timed it perfectly, turning himself to stone at a point where it took him out of events for awhile but kept him from being torn apart by a pack of Dauthi Jackals (I used Magic cards for inspiration)."
Precisely. MoVs and MoDs are about the pos and neg aspects of an outcome or direction and not really about success or failure. You can actually use a MoD to accomplish cool things while still making sure the aspects that pertain to the nature of the conflict that promted the die roll in the first place are sufficiently negative. This is something I'm really working to establish in the new game.
"All in all, the evening turned out to be one of the most fun, unpredictable sessions I’ve ever run."
"Clearly, the MoV and MoD mechanics work very well to generate and propel story. It felt like strapping the narrative to a jet engine, and I as narrator had long stretches where all I had to do was nudge folks or update small matters in the scene."
"Every roll moved the story forward. Every roll was significant. That’s a far different feel from other systems where you may achieve a number of “nothing important happens” or “something incremental happens” results, stuff like one hit point damage in DnD, to use a hackneyed combat example."
This is what I mean when I say that rolls are important. Thanks Blake.
"According to the rules, gaining dice depends on Action rolls, not Trait rolls."
That's one of those iffy areas where to be fully honest I'm just not sure what to do. Do I need to differentiate between rolls? Is there a point? In the current TQB writing, I eliminate this idea. The only point at which it seems confusing to ME is when you call on a Trait and get a bad result. Say you just wanted to have something cool happen. YOu weren't really *attempting* to do anything. How do you approach MoDs or general "failures"?
Seems to me that if you make a roll and you get a MoD result, something negative needs to happen or else there was no risk in the roll beyond dice. I'm thinking out loud right now so just ignore me.
"I agree with his point that NPC plot immunity can be measured by the number of MoV’s required to overcome a particular NPC. However, I don’t see it as disempowering to require several MoV’s for the defeat of a major villain, since most other games confer various types of resilience on significant adversaries."
Here's another muddy area. NPCs. My thought is that they need not be constrained to rules. After all, the only dice rolling that goes on is always from the PC standpoint and never the NPCs. But what if you have a particularly important NPC? Do I follow my own advice and just be prepared to let him bite the dust in the first game encounter? How do I keep him going without railroading?
Have a veritable stash of replacement NPCs?
I must say I simply don't like the idea of any rules for using tokens, dice, or numbers of MoVs for this sort of thing. I'm dealing with this issue right now in writing TQB and its a tough one. It boils down to how to maintain a framework for a scenario while still letting players employ full MoV power. You need clear and stable structures without railroading. Hooboy.
(In TQB I'm using a concept called "Hallows" to deal with things like this. Its not too hard in that game since its heavy derived from fairy tale and legend--I mean, surely no self-repecting player would dream of killing Merlin in a MoV!?)
Thanks again Blake. You've been added to the list of immortal playtesters!
James V. West
James V. West
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