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Galactic peace Pool

Into another game of The Pool, this time with Jerry, Renee, and Helma. I've been prepared for this one for a long time, with a lot of accumulated images. You'll spot the particular sort of pop science fiction right away: tons of implausible aliens as stand-ins for human concerns or outlooks, a completely transparent political moment, and an attempt to be one step beyond what current TV/film tech can currently do, visually.

I began by passing out the attached file, which includes the instruction to make up "whatever" along the lines of the images in there. You can see the wonderful characters they made in the attached file of that name. Renee, I think, wins the "here comes trouble" award by describing her character as a fungal Timothy Leary.

Jerry's character, Hiver, raises an issue that I only just realized and intend to resolve before our second session tonight: that traits work best when they are literally right there in the paragraph ("story"), not derived from it in new phrases or terms. As I see it, it would even be best not to list traits separately at all, but to identify them only by underlining in the paragraph, and to put the bonuses right in there via parentheses.

During play, I also shared the little graphic I've been using for The Pool, slightly improved through use and re-drawing:

You'll see a couple of places where I refer to it directly. My job for myself was to focus on the strength of arrow #4, regardless of the roll's success or failure, and regardless of who narrated. In other words, whether it succeeded or failed mattered as such, and what was stated during narration does occur, but the fact that we rolled dice at all means that arrow #4 is different - a change - from arrow #1. Here and there you'll see different people experience the learning curve for the system, specifically not to backtrack from arrow #2 to #1, and not to leap ahead into #3 while still in the arrowhead of #1.

As I've written elsewhere, I'm not interested in faithfulness to any specific text for The Pool, which existed/exists as a series of posts and files across a couple of years. What you're seeing here is simply what I'm doing with it at the moment. The main difference from the attached text is that we won't use the harsh restrictions on the "save vs. death" roll, which I think are simply poor design, and we'll start each session by adding one die to each character's Pool.

Other things you can see me working on, more generally, is not to talk over people, which unfortunately does happen at one point.

Also generally, our first session served as a nice recovery moment for me, given stressful or at least somewhat draining play on-and-off for the past year. It's not just an easier time with The Pool or the specific people, but evident in the third and fourth sessions of Vampire: the Requiem as well; something seems to have relaxed or recovered lately.

Actual Play
The Pool


Sean_RDP's picture

I enjoyed the listen and the aesthetics and idioms of this fill my bucket for good SF in an rpg session. Love that there are no humans and how different these people feel. 

Absent any personal experience with The Pool, other than reading it, I have a question about GM dice. What are your ground rules for how many GM dice to hand out? And, the example in the rules text confused me a bit. Is the trait die a GM "hands" to the player counted in those 1-3 GM dice or not? It seems like the answer would be no and I will listen again to the die rolls in the game to see if that answers my question. Thanks.

Ron Edwards's picture

It should be pretty clear from play, but the algorithm for rolling dice goes like this:

  • GM says one, two, or three.
  • The player names a trait (long ago I decided it's best to limit traits to one per roll), which typically adds more dice.
  • The player decides whether to use Pool dice, and how many.

Those are three different things. So if you weren't including a trait (or arguably, using a trait with +0 bonus) and included no Pool dice, you'd be rolling 1-3 dice. Let's say the GM says "two." Then let's say you used a trait with a +1 bonus, and chose not to use any Pool dice. You'd roll three dice.

As for the number stated by the GM, we should start by saying that the system only addresses conflicts in which the character could conceivably succeed in some fashion, or at least make it through better off in some way. In other words, we're proceeding from the fact that you have an actual chance. From there, my criteria are pretty boring and accessible: given any degree of advantage or opportunity, it's three dice; if it's "up against the dragon," it's one die; two dice are for almost everything or any mixed bag of good or bad details in the circumstances.

If I had to specify something procedurally delimited or important for this judgment, the main thing is not to confound it with whatever bonuses the character has. In other words, the GM dice aren't looking at whether you're especially good with a sword in bonus terms; they're looking at what you're up against and what sort of immediate circumstances applied to you during the first grey arrow.

Sean_RDP's picture

Okay that makes sense. I am going to watch those particular parts of play again and likely go back to some of the other example threads as well. Thank you. 

There is some kind of relationship between the overall gestalt of a whole "statement" like a paragraph or narrative and individual items. At least what I have observed in the classroom.

I've observed students bunch sentences together that, on their own, are solid. But they are just arbitrarily heaped together.

I've also seen students start a story or to prove some point but then end up stringing statements together indiscriminately.

Underling particular phrase and putting a number next to it seems a way to avoid excesses of "too many trees, no sense of a forest" and "a huge forest but I can't keep a hold on what makes it up.

That would create a prose version of the diagram in Sorcerer where you can take in individual items, their interrelationships, and the constellation of the whole.

But I look at my old Pool character sheets and there's a disjunct between the "story" bit and the "list of traits."

Ron Edwards's picture

This is also another opportunity to mention the scattered nature of The Pool as a text, because it's not really a text so much as a sequence of documents and dialogues. In its earliest discussion, it used the contemporary text of Hero Wars as a direct model: you write a paragraph, underline things, and assign some numbers to some or all of the things you underlined, pretty much verbatim. In the "revised" document which I've been attaching to most of my Pool posts, this isn't explicitly or strictly followed, but it's pretty close: the traits are very close to the paragraph's text and the text warns against straying away from anything which isn't in the paragraph. In other words, if you don't say "swordsman" or something like "trained in the sword by the Red Guards," then don't put "Swordsman" down as a trait. I generally prefer staying with the most literal version, especially since the advancement/change mechanics work directly with the written paragraph, and therefore the appearance of new traits becomes synonymous with adding words.

Ron Edwards's picture

I'm enjoying my weird but all too recognizable aliens! I hope you'll see how we said things and rolled dice in ways which set up new configurations for the various interests. I had prepared at least three potential outbreaks of violence, and you can see how those incipient problems turned out.

Here's the direct link for the session into the playlist, and here's a bit of my preparation so you can see what "notes from me to me" look like.

We need to dissect a couple of topics for viewer understanding and discussion, mostly concerning Hiver. Jerry had written his original paragraph thinking of Hiver as a Hive-less exile, but realized as we started session 1 that everyone was supposed to have an official, i.e., legitimate role in the formal peace conference. He found himself playing in order to adjust or retcon the exile or "lost from my Hive" status he'd envisioned. That's why, during that session, his narration of the outcome concerning the bomb killed the Hive emissary.

Now, rules-wise, in terms of a roll doing something, this narration was perfectly fine, but I want you to notice the attention toward an overly situational outcome that he and I discussed later.. In narrating the outcome, he had the fourth grey arrow in mind ("now Hiver is without a Hive") rather than the first and second arrows. The slope from there past the authorities-boundaries is quite slippery, especially since it also involved backstory to a small extent, i.e., "making sure" of it.

I'm familiar with the past-no-return problems once one has gone down that slope, from a player's perspective. It's the one of two main means of stealth-GMing as a player, when there's a "weak" GM who isn't sure how to move from outcomes into whatever comes next. You just ... take over saying it, and they aren't sure how it happened, or even may be a little relieved that they don't have to do it, or they decide it's OK to have a co-GM, or they get frustrated trying to deal with what is, after all, a coup. (The other main means is obvious: over-narrating outcomes before the resolution procedure, so that no matter what the procedure says, X and Y happen the way you want because "you said.")

Teaching myself not to do these things even when I could, and could get away with it, was a long-term job. If I am paraphrasing what Jerry said to me correctly, he wasn't doing them, but they've been on his mind (I am a terrible player sometimes) and he could see them from where he'd landed during play. I hope you can appreciate the effort and scrutiny involved. [Jerry, please check me on any points of interpretation.]

In this session (2), with this conversation in mind, I experienced a moment of considering a quick "stop" during play to review Hiver's action of flying up to address the assembly. My reason, or potentially so because I didn't do it, was that addressing them this was had been the goal for the roll that Jerry had failed at the end of session 1, resulting in Hiver being thrown off the speaking-dais and menaced by the Krang. I thought, for a second, "Hey, isn't he just getting a try-again re-roll out of this?" ... and then I realized that this conclusion was mine alone, and not undeniably the case after all. The difference was obvious: in the previous situation, Hiver had not been in physical danger from failure, but in this case, hampered by the cordon of Krang, I'd mentioned and with them being more tense and closer to violence as well, failure would mean being riddled with plasma bolts. Of course a new roll was valid although the action was similar - no problem.

So that's another Pool lesson for me as GM: don't make problems when there aren't any, because the system has means of logically proceeding from the circumstances into a differently-nuanced roll.

Ron Edwards's picture

Here's the link into the playlist, and here's what my notes for preparation look like.

I hope you can see that it's full of Bangs, but no "plot," i.e., no presumption as to what any Bang'd scene may be about, and especially no anticipation of outcomes. The best way I can explain it is in another person's words, specifically and fortituously, much as Adriano has just written regarding our The Whispering Vault game.

I call attention to Renee discovering the Monologue option upon a successful roll, and I leave it to you to appreciate the gleam in her eye as Dukun Tuned In and Turned On the Hive.

Despite its simplicity, The Pool does include a primary learning curve regarding the interrelation among adding to character stories, identifying traits, and Pool dice. Everyone has picked it up after a little practice added to explanations, so all the characters' stories are pretty solid-looking now, at or just under 95 words. I'll add the latest versions here when I get the chance.

I became a little unstuck in time and space toward the very end, when Hiver and Dukun went to explore the underground region, because I wanted to introduce the Luka's proposal. We didn't have any trouble with slightly out-of-sequence play, but I realized I will have to clarify a bit and perhaps do some hard scene-cutting in order to reconcile who was exactly where, when the announcement landed.

We won't be playing for a couple of weeks, due to holidays, but we'll be back to it just before the end of the year. With any luck you'll lay down some comments and questions here in the interim - there's plenty of material for it, I think.


Ron Edwards's picture

Check out our fourth session which concludes the peace conference. You'll see some strongly-felt decision-making on everyone's part, including me as a couple of my NPCs insisted on having views of their own, or so I experienced it.

I've noted over the past months that the number of rolls made varies a lot from session to session when playing The Pool, or at least, that's what's happened in the games I've been involved with. One session may be rife with conflicts and rolls and rapid alterations, and another might have only a couple of rolls in total. This one didn't feature many.

That leads me to think about characters' interactions which do lead to a lot of change in a scene, and perhaps for the overall situation, but which did not require rolls. That distinction isn't immediately easy to articulate, so (computer noise) "working."

The final video includes some thoughts about play from Jerry and Renee, and also some thoughts about continuing.

Here's what my preparation notes looked like:

Love D's picture

Hi! This was a fantastic trip from beginning to end! 

Seeing your discussion about possible continuation by the end, I’m thinking about the lack of rules or hand-holding when moving from situation to situation in games like Legendary Lives and The Pool. These games have solid procedures for creating or prepping the first situation of play, but if play in that initial situation comes to a conclusion and end, the rules leaves you standing if you want to continue. 

I think I'm beginning to realize that playing the Pool for an extended time involves game design almost by necessity, or at least creatively playful play. So, staying with The Pool specifically, my thinking is that a new situation obviously can be informed by or created from the story-outcomes in play and the Words that has been added to the characters Stories during play. But that can’t be the end of it: I would want the characters to “get into” the new situation by writing something new, because those “steps of exchange” of inspiratory gifts between gm and player is foundational for the first part of play. By that I mean that the situation isn’t exactly created by the gm: he or she gives the players a picture or a "sketchy thing", the players then give the gm their cool stories inspired by that, the gm takes that and creates or at least finalizes the starting situation (depending on how much of it was decided beforehand).

Do you have any experiences with moving to new situations in play with the same characters? How did you do it (anyone here, I know that more people here plays The Pool)? Did the players write new stories for their characters, leaving their old stories as archived “histories”, obviously still relevant but not the “current and changing material of play”? Or did you begin the new situation at a point sufficiently near the end point of the last situation, causally speaking, to be able to say that their stories evolve alongside the evolving Now of play?

Ron Edwards's picture

In asking whether I have experience in moving from situation to situation, particularly with characters who have considerable "internal" content, I'm pretty sure you mean with The Pool, not in general. Regarding The Pool, I haven't, but I'm doing it right now with this game, which you couldn't see since we cross-posted, but now it's visible in the next comment stream.

Generally, what you described as a viable method matches what I presented in Sorcerer & Sword, and it's the same as what I'm using for this game: a new very-brief content statement which is now juxtaposed with what the characters have become. It's more than merely starting over, because now anything that's written or stated is automatically and probably non-verbally contextualized in the web of everything we've done, said, or thought so far, by each person playing.

Ron Edwards's picture

We convened to talk about continuing with the game, now that intra-galactic peace is assured. I wasn't too sure about forcing further play onto a conclusion, but then I got an idea and brought it for discussion. It met approval and we shall continue. Here's the short discussion (now part of the playlist) to see what we're going to do. The sound got a little weird toward the end, unfortunately.

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