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Author Topic: [Pool variant] The Poodle  (Read 4755 times)
John Harper
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« on: January 12, 2004, 03:53:42 PM »

We just started a new game series (set in Joss Whedon's Firefly universe) and we're using a Pool variant that I developed. It's working pretty well, so I thought I would share it with you.

This variant was inspired by the Anti-Pool, the Puddle, and The Questing Beast, so I'm calling it the Poodle.

Character Creation
1. Write a 100 word blurb about your character.

Cyrus Vance fought for the Alliance during the war, as a marine corps medevac pilot. He was at the battle of Serenity Valley, and saw the horrors there up close and personal. After the Independents surrendered, Alliance command left them in the valley for two weeks. Many died from their wounds and from starvation. Vance smuggled food across the lines, but was eventually caught. He was sentenced to 4 years in military prison, and 4 years of indentured service after that. Since he was a capable pilot, Vance was assigned a surveyor position for his service, and given a ship.

2. Create 6 traits for the character, based on the blurb. At least one of these traits should be a passion, belief, philosophy, or drive. For each trait, write down a "tell" -- an outward sign of the trait that others might notice.

- Marine Corps Medic [unit tattoo on forearm]
- Combat Pilot [flyboy lingo]
- Ex-Con [hardened physique]
- Voracious Reader [magazines scattered all over the ship]
- Had a Bellyfull of Killin' [dangerous look]
- Loyalty ["You take care of the man next to you."]


Play
Default play is standard RPG style. The players say what their characters do and say, and the GM describes what they see and the results of their actions. At any time, any player (or the GM) can call for a dice roll. A dice roll can be a Conflict roll or an Idea roll (as in The Questing Beast).

Rollin' the Dice
Each player starts with a pool of 6 d6. When you make a roll, you get one bonus die from the GM if one of your traits applies to the situation at hand. If two traits apply, you get two bonus dice (2 is the max). You may then gamble extra dice from your pool (as many as you like).

Before you roll, you state your Intent (as in The Questing Beast). If you roll at least one 5 or 6, you get to narrate the outcome. Any dice you gambled (and the bonus dice) are lost. If you don't roll any 5s or 6s, the GM narrates the outcome, and you get to add one die to your pool (bonus dice are lost). In addition, the player (or GM) that doesn't get to narrate can insert a single "fact" into the narration.

Results
For every conflict, you either get to narrate or you get a die for your pool and may state a fact. So you're always either exercising your narrative power, or building it back up (which is the whole idea of the anti-pool). Idea rolls let you drop plot into the game whenever you want, but you have to back it up with a dice gamble.

In play, the game feels a little bit like Universalis, but with a traditional GM/Player relationship.

Variations
I'm considering dropping Idea rolls, and letting players simply narrate an Idea for the cost of one Pool die. This will eliminate the temptation to call for trivial Idea rolls just to fail and build up your pool.
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2004, 11:31:16 AM »

First full game session with this system starts on Sunday. I'll be posting about it in Actual Play.
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Cassidy
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Posts: 165


« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2004, 02:12:58 PM »

Great post, love the character writeups, just realised that you and Matt are in the same game.

Quote from: Feng
1. Write a 100 word blurb about your character.


Cool. No need to write War & Peace.

Quote from: Feng
2. Create 6 traits for the character, based on the blurb. At least one of these traits should be a passion, belief, philosophy, or drive. For each trait, write down a "tell" -- an outward sign of the trait that others might notice.


I like the idea of Tags. Nice touch; might even pinch it.

Quote from: Feng
Play
Default play is standard RPG style. The players say what their characters do and say, and the GM describes what they see and the results of their actions. At any time, any player (or the GM) can call for a dice roll. A dice roll can be a Conflict roll or an Idea roll (as in The Questing Beast).


Nice and simple. Not sure what an Idea roll is though, I don't have TQB; maybe I should send James some bucks.

Quote from: Feng
Rollin' the Dice
Each player starts with a pool of 6 d6. When you make a roll, you get one bonus die from the GM if one of your traits applies to the situation at hand. If two traits apply, you get two bonus dice (2 is the max). You may then gamble extra dice from your pool (as many as you like).


In The Puddle traits act as a means of focusing the narrative of an event on a particular aspect of the character; I'm assuming that The Poodle uses traits in the same way. Invoking 2 traits would mean that there are 2 things for the narrative to focus on which wouldn't quite make sense if traits are used to provide a focus; it's easier for players to focus on one aspect of their character and make that key to their narrative.

Another reason for the 1 die rule in The Puddle was that handing out more than 1 die really weakened the gambling aspect of the game; I suspect that using up to 2 bonus dice might do the same to The Poodle.

For example, if a player is aiming for narration rights then it makes sense for them to call upon 2 traits if possible rather than 1. Traits are usually quite broad in their scope and players being an inventive bunch will more often than not find a couple of applicable traits to link to an event; thats what my players would do anyways. With 2 bonus dice the players have a 55% chance of narrating without having to gamble any pool dice at all. This appears to be an unduly high chance of gaining narrative rights without risking any pool dice. Even if the player just rolls 2 bonus dice and fails their roll they still get a dice back from the GM. It all seems a little too easy on the players somehow.

Quote from: Feng
...the player (or GM) that doesn't get to narrate can insert a single "fact" into the narration.


Why? If a player chooses not to gamble and subsequently fails then why would you want to reward them by allowing them to insert a 'fact' into the GM's narrative? Players gamble dice solely to see if they win narrative rights. If players can insert narrative 'facts' even if they fail their dice rolls then wouldn't that lessen the consequences of failing a narrative roll and therefore lessen the players perceived need to gamble pool dice?

I am guessing that The Poodle, like The Puddle, doesn't use Monologues. If this is the case then even when a player is not in charge of the narrative the GM can (and should) engage the player in narrative. If the GM is in charge then they take the 'active' role in the narrative and the player takes a 'passive' role. If the player is in charge of the narrative then the roles are reversed. It's all about who has the GM 'hat' as it were. This is how The Puddle works. Does The Poodle work the same way?

When do players amend their characters traits? Is there a mechanism for this? It's important for lots of reasons and it's one of the reasons why players gamble bigtime in The Puddle because they need three or more 5's or 6's to amend their traits.

I think the anti-pool mechanic you have is pretty cool, and I'm eager to hear how actual play goes. The only quibble I have is that I think treating some dice as 'bonus dice' and some dice as 'pool dice' is unnecessary. A simpler version of the same mechanic (admittedly without the two trait thingie) might go something like...

1. A conflict or event occurs during play that needs to be resolved.
2. If your character has a trait that is applicable to the event at hand, or if you have no dice in your dice pool, then the GM will give you a die to add to your dice pool before you roll.
3. Choose how many dice you want to roll from your dice pool; you must roll at least one dice.
4. If you roll one of more 5's or 6's then you get to narrate the outcome of the event and all dice you rolled are returned to the GM.
5. If you fail to roll any 5's or 6's then the GM will narrate the outcome of the event and all dice you rolled are returned to your dice pool.

Quick Tip: When you play put a bowl of dice in the middle of the table. If the player has an applicable trait then they take a die from the bowl, add it to their dice pool, and then choose how many dice they want to roll. If they get a 5 or 6 then they pop all the dice they rolled back in the bowl. If they did not roll a 5 or 6 then they keep all the dice they rolled in their dice pool. Nice and simple, plus it saves the GM having to hand out dice all the time.

Good luck with the game; keep us posted.
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John Harper
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« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2004, 11:29:10 PM »

Hey Cassidy. First: Thanks for The Puddle. It's shiny.

I agree about using Traits to focus the narrative on a character aspect. And yes, giving two bonus dice does heavily favor the player's odds to narrate. The main reason for this is I like the idea that a character can use both "Loyalty" and "Marksmanship" in a conflict, if they apply. And if a player manages to be in a conflict that somehow touches on two of their character's traits (out of only six) then it's probably pretty important to them. A significant boost in their chance to narrate is exactly what I want to happen there.

It won't be necessary to police the group in terms of them always trying to pick two traits to apply. I told them that using two traits should be a "special thing" and that will take care of it.

The gambling aspect isn't all that important to me. I like the Pool because it's a simple way to do the bookkeeping on how much story power each player has. It's self-regulating and intuitive. I don't think of rolls as a gamble, but more as "how much do you care about telling this part of the story right now?"

About facts. We seem to have different ideas about how Pool-style games should go, and that's fine. When I play a Pool game, it's all about the group telling a story together. The system helps this cooperative telling happen in a manageable way. The ebb and flow of Pools handles how much spotlight each player gets. Allowing facts makes it possible for the players to always be involved in the narrative. They're either totally in the driver's seat, or they're pointing out a detail on the side of the road, so to speak.

When you talk about gambling and failing and "rewarding" with a fact... that's just not the vibe we have at all. It's not really about failure and reward and "winning rights". We're telling a story together, in a relaxed and fun way. System serves our goals, not the other way around.

Hmmm. It sounds like I'm bashing the approach that you're talking about, and that's not my intent at all. Your points are totally valid and I get where you're coming from. But those issues just simply aren't problems for this group.

We're not interested in "advancement" either, so there's no amending of traits in the system. I think the trait addition rules from The Puddle are super-cool, though. We just don't need them for this series. If a player really wanted to add something to her character I imagine that Matt (the GM) would let her.
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James V. West
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« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2004, 12:41:42 AM »

Nice. I like the way you've handled Traits.

And I also think having the "one fact" rule is interesting. Makes the game more win/win, which helps eliminate risk. I was interesting in actually heightening risk in the original Pool, but that's not your concern with The Poodle.
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Matt Wilson
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2004, 08:09:49 AM »

Quote
In play, the game feels a little bit like Universalis, but with a traditional GM/Player relationship.


I should mention that we have two players in the group who are rabid writers, and who love the potential of Universalis to accomodate their writing cravings. But it has carried over somewhat aggressively into the other games we've played. They get to speculatin' on what might be cool to have happen in the game rather than actually playing the game.

The idea roll coupled with the anti-pool looks like it might regulate their speculatin' a bit.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2004, 01:38:23 PM »

Quote from: Matt Wilson
The idea roll coupled with the anti-pool looks like it might regulate their speculatin' a bit.
Hmm. That's pretty neat. Intentional, or just a random side-effect? Was it designed specifically for these guys?

Mike
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John Harper
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flip you for real


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« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2004, 01:44:57 PM »

It was designed with these players in mind, yes. We just finished a Primetime Adventures series in which this speculation-tendency first cropped up.  Like Universalis, the Anti-Pool offers a means for players to put their money where their mouth is. Speculate all you want, but unless you pay for it with a dice roll, it isn't on screen.
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