Pool variant: [Teh Pool]

edited February 2007 in Actual Play
The other night I and one other player began playing The Pool, but we skipped over the 50-word char gen part, and we did absolutely no game prep-- no setting in mind, no themes, no characters, nada.

I suggested that the player could buy traits with her Pool dice, like regular Pool. But the traits need not
apply to a PC. They could apply to the whole game, or any part of the gameworld; like Universalis components. So, she could have bought "Bollywood +3" with 9 dice. (But she didn't.)

She could also roll-for "anything", from her Pool. So she could have declared "Let's play in the Bollywood genre" and then rolled, say, 5 dice/ hoping for 1's. As gm, I could contribute 0 to 3 dice, depending on how much I wanted to encourage that choice to succeed. Then the dice would decide whether we were doing that or not, and she'd decide whether to Monologue the result, or defer the monolgue to me and get paid a die. Normal Pool.

Confronted with such a blank slate, she drew a blank. So I suggested we switch positions: I took her player dice, and gave her the gm dice.

I bought 2 traits:
"A story about small comforts in a harsh environment +2" and
"A brain damage epidemic left everyone behaving in exagerated, cartoonish ways +2"

We got into a long discussion about the specifics of the latter trait. And whenever we disagreed on what would be the best incarnation of the broad idea; we'd roll to decide. As the Pool-holding player; I was going to get my way alot, until my pool crashed.

Thus I prevailed in each character having their own trademark exaggeration; over her preference for everyone suffering the same symptom.

But when I gave her the Monologue, she got to specify that President Bush has Tourettes and shouts "I'm lying!" and "Bullshit!" during his speeches.

There were long stretches of conversation where we both agreed on everything, so no dice were rolled. The classic drift to Freeform. At one point she asked "Are we playing the game, yet?"

But the dice were there if we needed them, and they were handy to quickly sort-out certain decisions which we didn't feel strongly enough about to discuss at length: just pick a side, roll, and narrate. As well as sort-out decisions where we were strongly opposed.

Eventually, we reached a point where the gameworld was well established, and yet we had no PCs invented, or even any story parameters: at what scale would we be dealing with the gameworld? From within the POV of one helpless epidemic victim? Or from the viewpoint of an ensemble of active characters who have a chance of curing the epidemic? Or would we not follow the story of any individuals at-all; and just continue to describe the effects of the epidemic on society as a whole.

We stopped playing before we answered that, but it was nice to have so may choices supported by simply un-tethering The Pool from the standard-rpg constraint of a player having "my guy" to be in charge of.


  • This is interesting. Good title.

    My only worry is that, if I've got this right, you could both agree you'd like something in the game but the dice could tell you no. So...
    Me: Let's play in the Bollywood genre!
    You: Great! Yes! And we'll keep having big musical numbers - we won't sing them, obviously - but they'll be there.
    Me: Cool. Let's roll.
    [Rolls dice. Failure.]
    Me: Oh. Um...sci-fi?
    You know what I mean?

  • edited February 2007
    Basicially, I agree with your worry, Graham.

    Even so, let's get the standard replies out of the way:

    1. In a situation where everyone agrees, there's no need to roll. Just let the-thing-everybody-agrees-on be stipulated as true.

    2. Spend the dice to buy Bollywood as a trait, instead of rolling for it. That removes the element of chance.

    3. Getting veteod by the dice isn't a bug, it's a feature! Just learn to live with letting the dice veto a hot idea.

    4. Be careful when crafting and declaring Stakes, to consider what the failure-condition will be; and if the players can tolerate it occurring.

    I don't quite buy any of those replies, tho.

    #1 sidesteps The Pool's elegant system for determining who will narrate outcomes.

    #2 could be more of a problem than a cure. There's a good reason The Pool specifies that traits shouldn't be overly broad. And yet genre-wide traits are very broad. "Bollywood +3" might be too easy to endlessly invoke. So players would have an automatic 50% chance of success on -anything- Bollywood. Arguably, it's better to have to pass on occasional good ideas, than to make bad ideas so easy to institute.

    #3 is actually closest to my tastes. I like how an unlucky roll can put everyone out of their comfort zone. But I can't claim #3 repairs the problem.

    #4 can degenerate into "heads I win, tails I also win" stakes.

    I have more faith in...

    5. With more than two players, there's a greater chance that Somebody Else will be fired-up to suggest Something Else (other than Bollywood, in this case) AND that they'll have the dice-luck to make it happen. So viable alternatives will pop-up, instead of drawing a blank (writer's block).

    6. Since everyone starts with a large pool at the beginning of the game, it's less likely that catastrophic rolls will occur early on; which is when players become invested in the game.

    But neither of those actually assures the Big Whiff -can't- occur.
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