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UniPool -- Its Universalis! It's The Pool! It's both!

Started by John Harper, January 31, 2004, 01:33:10 AM

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John Harper

Universalis meets The Pool

Each player gets a stack of 10 coins at the start of each session. Any coins left over from a previous session are lost. These coins represent your "author power" in the session.

The GM gets a stack of 20 coins. You'll see why in a bit.

The GM frames all scenes. The GM says when a scene begins and ends. Players can request scenes by pitching an idea to the GM. "I want to have a scene where Dakota goes looking for the entrance to the old mine." Scene ideas should introduce situations, not resolve them.

When a scene is framed, the GM establishes the location and who is present in the scene when it begins. Players can ask to have their characters included in a scene (or they can enter a scene in progress if that player pays a coin to do so).

Once a scene is underway, the GM has narration power. The players in the scene can say how their characters talk, think, and act. Any player can establish facts about a scene by spending a coin for each fact. Like Universalis, you can challenge facts that are introduced and then have a bid-off in coins to see if the fact stays or goes.

Facts include scene details ("The bar is called the 49er," or "It's raining,"), NPC qualities and attitudes ("McGraw is a huge sumbitch and mean as a junkyard dog," – 2 facts) or plot elements ("Johnson doesn't know he has the real key.")

Scene Resolution
Many scenes will involve situations with uncertain outcomes. Will Buffy dust all the vamps in time to keep the cultists from throwing Dawn into a dimensional portal? Can the Prince of Thieves sneak into the tower of Ysnth and steal the Ruby of Youth? How will the USS Navigator make it through the Shadow nebula with space pirates on her tail?

By default, the GM narrates the resolutions of all scenes and the outcomes of actions. The action of a scene is an extended "free and clear" phase where everyone involved in the scene gets to say how parts of it go. The players say what their characters do, and the GM says what happens, and what everyone else is doing.

Players can spend coins to establish facts about action results, if they don't like the GM's narration.

Player: "The Prince of Thieves quickly scales the outer gates and moves silently across the grounds to the base of the tower of Ysnth."

GM: "As you cross the open ground, a guard spots you and raises the alarm!"

Player (spends a coin):  "No way! He's the Prince of Thieves. He gets to the tower without being detected."


Player: "I draw my .45 and blaze away at the nearest mummy!"

GM: "The bullets tear through the mummy's dessicated body without effect until one of them strikes it right between the eyes. The mummy collapses in a heap of dust."

Player: "Whoah. Cool." (no coins spent)

The free and clear phase is still underway. No one has rolled dice yet and the resolution of the "mummy fight scene" has yet to be narrated. If the scene was about the character facing a single mummy, then the outcome (whether or not the mummy is defeated) would have to wait until after the dice roll. In this case, the destruction of a single mummy is just color that adds to the set-up of the conflict.

The "free and clear" phase goes along until the GM judges that the scene has come to its point of resolution. Things could turn out one way or another (or another, or another). That's when we roll the dice to find out who gets to narrate the resolution of the scene.

The GM rolls 3 dice. He can roll a bonus die for each coin he spends.

Each player in the scene rolls 1 die. They can add a bonus die for every character trait they have that applies to the scene. They can also add a bonus die for each coin they spend.

Dice are Fudge dice. The player (including the GM) who rolls the most +'s wins the right to narrate the outcome of the scene. Each player that didn't win can add a fact to the narration for each + they rolled, or trade the + in for a coin. Every die that comes up – or blank earns the player a coin back (whether they won narration or not).

Most of the Universalis tricks are available to players. They can interrupt a scene (pay one coin) and insert a little cut-away to action happening elsewhere. Any facts established in the cut-away cost coins. Like this:

Player: (pays one coin) "We cut away to a shot of McGraw, carefully cleaning his prized Walker Colt. 'It's gonna be a good day, Bessie,' says McGraw." (pays another coin for the bit about McGraw and his beloved gun)

Flashbacks, NPC creation, location creation, and the other Universalis director-stance stuff is kosher, too. As long as you pay for it, of course.

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."]

You can take a trait more than once, if you think it's a really big deal for your character. So, you could take "Slayer x2" for Buffy, if you wanted, giving you two free dice to roll when her Slayer quality applies. This would use up two of your six available traits, though.


So, that's the gist of it. More of a sketch, really. Folks that are familiar with Universalis and the Pool can probably make sense of all that. I may write up a more comprehensive version at some point, but I wanted to get this down so we could try it out at the next game.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!


It's nice to know that someone else has also had this idea. I hope it's because great minds think alike.


Hi John,

That's a pretty complete sketch (assuming one has the Uni rules).   I'd like to try it some time.

What about changing or adding PC traits?  Can you buy improvement with coins?  At what scale?

A suggestion: the GM gets a base number of dice equal to the number PCs in the scene (or maybe the PCs+1).

Finally, I am always looking for ways to work the Trollbabe multiple roll system into narrativist play.  Your description of an extended free and clear phase where players can pay coins to adjust things leads me to think that in TB, when one makes multiple rolls for a single conflict, the first rolls are actually negotiating details leading up the resolution.

Just some reflections.
- Alan

A Writer's Blog:

James V. West

This is way cool.

I like the way you limit the GM's dice but let him pump it up by spending coins. Shared power is fascinating.

Bob McNamee

Ahh...combining two of my favorite games!

Good stuff!

I like the gamble combinations between the extra dicerolling coin loss...and the coin gain in the roll!

Looks like a good variation could easily be made for an all-Player, constantly rotating GM system.
Bob McNamee
Indie-netgaming- Out of the ordinary on-line gaming!

John Harper

Thanks guys. Glad you like it.

I'm not sure about changing or adding PC traits. Certainly not in the usual Universalis style (1 coin per trait). Hmmm. "Advancement" just isn't a feature of games we play regularly, so I don't consider it a real concern for the group. I would prefer to leave that aspect up to the players. If someone wants to change a trait or add one at some point, then why not? Whatever works best for that player's enjoyment of the game.

About the GM's number of dice. This is the tricky part. The GM never gets to use traits to add bonus dice, so he needs a little extra to compete with the PCs. But he does have more coins to spend. Alan's idea of (GM dice) = (no. of players) is interesting. It has the odd side-effect of making it more likely for the GM to narrate when there are more players involved in a scene. That doesn't seem quite right somehow.

Still, the default number of GM dice and the starting number of coins are crucial numbers. They'll probably take some fine-tuning in playtests to figure out.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!


Quote from: Feng... About the GM's number of dice. This is the tricky part. The GM never gets to use traits to add bonus dice, so he needs a little extra to compete with the PCs. But he does have more coins to spend. Alan's idea of (GM dice) = (no. of players) is interesting. It has the odd side-effect of making it more likely for the GM to narrate when there are more players involved in a scene. That doesn't seem quite right somehow ...

How so? It seems to me that this balance depends heavily on how often the GM is by himself on one side of conflicts in actual play. Consider what happens in the extreme where the GM is alone on one side of each and every conflict. In the original system, before coins are expended, the GM is less likely to narrate the more PCs are involved in the scene. With the proposed adjustment, this chance is a flat 50%. Furthermore, if there are more than two players, then the GM would typically have fewer coins to spend than the other players.

My experience with these games is very limited. But, I would think it would be better in practice for the GM to build NPCs, or even locations, iin much the same way characters are built, assigning them traits and a budget some of his coins based on their importance. Of course this would be tricky since an NPC's importance depends in part upon player narration and coin expenditure. I might even assign scenes a coin budget based on their importance. [Here my opinion has been infuenced by discussion on the FATE Yahoo Group, especially the (fairly) recent thread entitled " Balancing aspects between PCs and NPCs".]  If this were the case, the GM would also have traits to draw upon.

John Harper

We playtested this system today for our Firefly-inspired game, Horizon. It worked very well. The players are familiar with Universalis and the Pool, so they took to it with no trouble.

Two changes:

1. As the GM, Matt found that he had way to many coins. The GM now starts with 10 coins, just like everyone else.

2. After a conflict roll, everyone gets coins back equal to the number of [-] that they rolled. The losers can state a fact about the outcome for each [+] that they roll. The losers can get back a coin for each [+] they don't spend on a fact. In short, blanks no longer generate coins.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!