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Recent Pool Play - Insights and Thoughts

Started by Cassidy, May 09, 2003, 08:52:21 PM

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Hi all,

Currently running my second Pool (Puddle actually) game and thus far it's went quite well.

It's a simple enough game; modern day secret agent stuff. Players are all agents of a secret branch of MI6 called Department 23. The characters each have some parahuman/metahuman ability that sets them apart from the norm. Nothing too fantastical mind. We have a Telepath, a Telekinetic, an Empath, and a nanite augmented bod with enhanced strength/speed/stamina.

As play progresses I have become aware of a number of things that have made me think about how we actually play the Pool. These are just observations, some pretty obvious, some less so.

1. Trait descriptions help focus players attention on the important aspects of a character. They really help players get a handle on their characters.

2. Players on occasion work more than one of their traits into the narrative when guiding an event. Very often this just seems to happen automatically and without any real effort on the part of the players. They don't necessarily rely just on the trait that the roll was initially made against.

3. Trait descriptions help legitimize the actions of characters during narrative effectively acting as a guide to determine the plausibility of the narrative.

4. Trait bonuses only provide a means to make the probability of success reasonably attainable for the players. Admittedly this is primarilly a Puddle thing since traits range from +1 to +5 and there are no GM dice in the Puddle.

5. Some players (maybe understandably) have a tendency employ traits with the bigger bonuses where possible. If there is an event that can legitimately employ 2 or more traits then some players will more likely than not opt for the trait with the bigger bonus. Traits with smaller bonuses have a tendency to fade into the background and end up being under used. Again, this type of behaviour is exacerbated in the Puddle since traits range from +1 to +5 and there is more disparity among trait bonuses.

6. At the outset of a conflict a decision has to be made on what trait to base the roll off. This causes a pause in the action as the player has to decide what trait fits the bill. I find this very distracting, even annoying at times.

7. Sometimes at the outset of an event it may not be immediately obvious to the player or the GM what trait (or traits) will become part of the narrative. Only when the narrative actually occurs is it obvious what traits come into play, as in point 2.

None of this is earth shattering stuff, in fact you'll probably be saying 'ok, what?'. Bottom line for me is that I'm inclined to think that dispensing with trait bonuses altogether may work better with us as a group.

This isn't any thing new. Mark Whithers Anti-Pool Variant already ditches trait bonuses. Upon reading Mark's variant a while back I didn't quite like the idea of not quantifying each trait. However I can see how it would have merits especially given our groups style of play and my experiences above.

I can feel another variant in the works so at it's simplest how about this...

Character Creation:
Brief story, list half a dozen pertinent traits, no bonuses necessary.

* Take 3 red dice (always take 3 red dice).
* Add to that as many black dice from your dice pool that you want to gamble.
* Roll the dice.
* Roll a 1 and you choose who narrates. You keep any gambled dice.
* If you don't roll a 1 then the GM chooses who narrates and you lose any gambled dice.
* If you don't gamble any pool dice then the GM will give you a die for your dice pool regardless of the rolled outcome. The GM chooses who narrates.
* When you narrate you can use any traits you wish to colour the narrative. You can use more than one trait, or none at all, all that matters is that the ensuing narrative is consistent and plausible.

Upshot is that...

1. Players are not required to determine which trait to use prior to rolling dice.
2. Players (and GM) use traits purely as an aid for creating a consistent and plausible narrative.
3. The probability of "who narrates" is wholly dependent on the number of pool dice rolled.

Comments and feedback appreciated.


I always knew I'd find a use for my funky fudge dice one day :)

Spurred on by my current game and input from the players I decided to try a anti-pool tweak in this weeks game. Helps to have an understanding group of players who realise that the game is a 'work in progress' as it were.


Traits were qualified but not quantified. Although the players had previously quantified their traits (i.e. +1, +2, etc) they seemed OK with ditching numbers entirely.

Players started with 5 dice. There are no trait dice.

When rolling for an event if the character has a trait that is applicable I give them a single die to roll. I found it pretty instinctive handing out dice in this way. Based broadly on the characters traits and the perception of their characters abilities/niches during play I found it easy to know when to give a die and when not to. I reckon I probably handed out a die 75% of the time.

Players can gamble as many of their pool die as they want.

Fudge dice have 2 plus (+) sides, 2 (-) minus sides, and 2 blank sides. The + and - signs fit in well with the concept of qualiflying the outcome of an event as being either positive or negative.

If the player rolled one of more +'s then the outcome was a positive outcome. Any -'s they rolled were returned to the GM. Players could choose who guided the event if they rolled 3 or more +'s.

If the player didn't roll any +'s but rolled one or more -'s then the outcome of the event was negative. Again, any -'s that they rolled were returned to the GM and the GM chose who guided the event.

If the player didn't roll any +'s and didn't roll any -'s then the outcome of the event was 'uncertain' and the GM chose who guided the event.

Play went very smoothly and quicker. Players didn't spend time figuring out what trait to use and how many trait dice to roll. I found that I was asking for players to make far more rolls then usual. It was just so easy to hand a die (or not) to the players and say 'gimme a roll'.

Players needed to gamble more which is one of the things I wanted to see happening.  I liked the fact that gambling wasn't an all or nothing affair any more. Any dice roll could see the player lose all, some or none of their dice. A player could roll 5 dice, get a + and 4 -'s thereby getting a positive outcome but losing 4 dice in the process. A hard won victory. By the same token they could roll 5 +'s and achieve the same result but not lose a single dice. A fortitiously easy victory.

Also the more dice the players risked the greater their chance of success but also the greater the chance that they would lose some dice in the process. It definitely made them a lot more considered and edgy about how many dice they chose to gamble.

Dice pools fluctuated a lot, but never reached zero. Max die pool I saw was 7 dice. I'd say the typical roll was 2-4 dice. I figure that dice pools will carry over to next session and I'll give players a bonus die for turning up.

I'll carry it over to next weeks game also. Keep you posted.

James V. West


I'd like to feature your version of The Pool in an issue of Random Order. I might have mentioned it before?

Cool stuff.


That would be great James, cheers.

Anyone interested in our groups current take on The Pool can download it from here. Hefty tip of the hat the anti-pool pioneers. I guess you could call our version "semi-anti-pool".