The Pool San Diego

We’re playing The Pool, with me, Hans, and Christoffer. The setting I’ve offered comes from my presentation materials at Kulturnatten a couple of months ago, using Dust Devils at the time. I was born in San Diego, and although our family soon moved to the Monterey Peninsula, I’ve sought to understand the history of that border and the SoCal/Baja region.

The attached file “Pool San Diego” is what I gave to the players at the outset, specifying 1840, as well as a couple of links to check out. At that point I’d also scribbled the “first notes” file. The players responded with some links of their own and with the two characters you can see attached: Alonso Melero, beleaguered californio rancher; and Jose Maria de Serrano, a dubious fellow from Baja, now at La Misión, who wants to be a priest. From there, I wrote the two other sets of preparation notes which you can see attached as well.

For some context, here are the framing events of the time.

  • 1821: Mexican War of Independence, founding of the Republic of Mexico, emancipation of slaves.
  • 1822: withdrawal of support for Native nations throughout the west; in southern-coastal California, seizure of Native American lands, establishing the californios and marginalizing diegueños; also, secularization of the missions, effectively removing education and assimilation (a mixed issue at best, but in this case, the topic is negative economic impact on the diegueños).
  • 1827, the San Diego region is ravaged by smallpox, in 1832, by malaria, contributing to widespread misery and organized revolt; attacks on ranches from 1836 onward, including near-siege of San Diego; by contrast, significant numbers of diegueños organize the Pascual San Pueblo to protect the californios.
  • 1829: Texas independence flares specifically in defiance of emancipation, and Texas rebels successfully in 1835-36; it doesn’t become a U.S. state until 1845, so at present it’s an independent nation. Significant Mexican political fallout from this conflict concentrates state affairs in the east.
  • Just about at 1840, British and U.S. agents begin offers to purchase or to manage the economics of Yerba Buena (San Francisco), at least, and in some cases the whole coast.
  • We are just six years away from the Mexican-American War which establishes the western continental U.S. Nobody sees it coming

As you can see, we’re playing entirely naturalistic historical drama, with no fantastic elements. I didn’t really intend to showcase the breadth of content possible using The Pool, but it seems to be happening. One of the primary details is my attempt to bring the historical firearms into careful focus, with this list:

  • Baker Rifle, muzzle loading flintlock rifle, British, 1801; standard issue for the Mexican Army, common in North America via Indian Wars and Texas Revolution
  • Deringer Pocket Pistol, flintlock derringer, U.S., 1825
  • Francotte Pinfire, five-shot revolver, Belgian, 1820
  • Harpers Ferry, flintlock muzzle loading rifle 1803, pistol 1805, flintlock rifle types I-III 1816, service carbine 1819, U.S.
  • Henry Model Navy, flintlock pistol, 1813, U.S.
  • Johnson Model, flintlock pistol, 1836, U.S.
  • Le Faucheux, 20 round double-barreled revolver, 1823, French
  • Springfield, muzzle loading, flintlock musket, 1816, flintlock pistol 1817, U.S.

They’re all flintlocks except the Pinfire and the Lefaucheux, which are either the earliest percussion and cartridge designs or among them. Note the mix of rifling vs. musket too. I’ve tried and failed to do this in the past, concerning both Dust Devils and Dogs in the Vineyard, but this time it seems to be working. I think gun tech matters greatly in both history and stories, especially the primary decision about whether it does or doesn’t matter. The latter effectively ‘ports the story straight into fantasy, which is certainly a valid choice, but you should know that you’re doing it. The former imposes immense structure to the risks and decisions.

One common feature which I really hope is apparent to anyone following these posts is that GM preparation for this game is extremely ordinary and familiar: maps, NPCs, tension points, and some incipient events. If you were using this game to play rough-and-tough adventurers delving into a fantasy dungeon, the GM would map a dungeon exactly as if they were using T&T, any brand of D&D, DCC, or whatever game you think is “just right” for such play. I cannot over-stress: this is not a no-prep, improv-what’s-here-next game, and it never was.

Given the characters, I thought a bit about where the Melero ranch might be, and the attached file provided some useful context for how the many ranches of the region were distributed; the video begins with our discussion about it.

Play brought a couple of shifts or, perhaps, established points of focus: specifically that I didn’t play some content which is pretty important, concerning the Mexican Army and the mission, so we’ll have to find out about it next time; and that I decided to take Hans’ lead regarding where Elvio (Serrano’s son) was. I’ll talk more about this in the comments: when and how backstory and situation operate during play.


17 responses to “The Pool San Diego”

  1. Session 2!

    You can cite this as the shortest elapsed time between the start of a session and my response to a player – albeit suppressed – "… … you do what?!"

    Here's the link into the playlist.

    I guess it's only to be expected that if we make characters embedded in an impossibly harsh and, as we know it, historically doomed tangle, that said characters are going to choose to die on their feet rather than their knees. So far, with 100% success rate for their rolls (and we roll pretty often), neither José nor Alonso has suffered terribly yet. But given what they've chosen to do, and given that we as players can certainly see how their so-far separate situations are affecting one another, well, I think the Peckinpah is strong in this one.

    One of the sections is mostly just chatting about the system. I needed a situational pause due to the events at that point and I'm finding new phrasings and concepts to include in my upcoming course about The Pool. Unless you're wise enough to skip this part, you'll see an important detail from the first session and how it plays out here.

    I had purposely left it open just who was riding pell-mell into the Melero ranch territory. It could have been Elvio, Crístobal, or even someone else. Since we were simultaneously playing the violent events from earlier that day which began that horseman's ride, I realized that leaving that detail to narration was perfectly sound by the system. I did consider settling it in my mind as the proprietor of backstory, in which case it would have been Elvio. However, given that Hans was taking the monologue upon seeking Elvio, I thought to myself, well, it's up to whatever he says.

    In preparing for this session, therefore, I had some thinking to do about what on earth Crístobal would say or do, having been effectively captured (if also saved) by one of the very ranchers he'd have been happy to run out of the whole country or shoot as an example to the others. You can see it in my preparation notes: at first I considered some elaborate fib he'd make up, pretending to be a Pueblo member or claiming he was saving the money from the militants, or whatever … then I accuse myself in writing of being too precious and, on the third section of scribbles, reject it as bullshit. I'm glad I did that because I was able to play Crístobal a lot more honestly and perhaps braver than he really wanted be.

    • I have noticed across the

      I have noticed across the Pool games at the site that the declared intentions before rolls are a bit vague from time to time, and at one or two moments the narrations isn’t exactly describing the outcome that I thought the roll was about or could lead to. But when you (anyone of you) begin the narration it often becomes apparent that the initial understanding about the intents and the whole context and procedure (including traits) did put up enough constraints for the person narrating. I think it requires a certain degree of solidity and fixedness in prep, but it’s not game breaking to have one or two labilities, like the fleeing, up to then unidentified man. One important thing seems to be to paint the picture of what everyone does in the moments leading up to the roll, like you said in the Fantasy Pool videos. That’s probably more important than clearly stated intentions.

      I like the concept of (a possibility of) extended effect or “wiggle room” when taking the monologue of victory. It seems similar to special effects in Champion Now or Sorcerer, or I think it’s unproblematically constrained in a similar way, by the immediate situation, backstory and “traits.” But here in The Pool it’s “just a little wiggle room” for the body of outcome. 

      Thinking about the necessary context, going into the roll, for Hans post-roll narration “I find Elsio” in the first session here. First, the context and reason of the scene, the riding out into this territory, was about finding Elsio to begin with, so it’s besides the point that the declared intention going into the roll wasn’t exactly, precisely “I try to find Elsio” (It was “I want to ride in to help them flee” or something similar)? Especially since there were some confusion regarding the political situation right before the roll. Secondly, it was the non-fixedness of Elsio’s whereabouts in the GM’s prep that made it possible for the narration to “extend a little” into backstory-territory? Have I missed something else important?

    • at one or two moments the

      at one or two moments the narrations isn’t exactly describing the outcome that I thought the roll was about or could lead to

      Here I was thinking of the first roll in the first session of the SF pool game, and I maybe have some questions about that in that game's post soon, if those questions isn't answered in this discussion by happenstance.

    • Let’s examine this “intent”

      Let's examine this "intent" word carefully. Much like "narrate," it is generally badly conceived and causes untold trouble.

      Arrow #1, specifically the arrowhead: the group has, no question, that "something is happening here" fictionally which by our rules means we'll be turning to some procedure. For simplicity, and in reference to The Pool, we know we're going to need to roll some dice.

      Let's stay in this position for a moment. Let's keep it extremely free of any directly stated outcomes or explicit actions – such things may be found here, and when they are, they certainly contribute to knowing "we better roll dice then," but they do not have to be. Since they don't, what then must be found here in order to know – unequivocally, without negotiation – that "we better roll dice?"

      This is what Lorenzo was talking about when he described himself as lost in the arrows. He didn't feel right not knowing what the character was doing in terms of animated muscle movements, and more than that, all the way up to point of a completed attempt at something specific. He is used to the dice hitting between II and EE, or, as I see it, even between IIE and E. Rolling the dice before that seems vague and foggy – what are the dice saying, what are they confirming or denying,

      I'm saying that "intent" is badly conceived and referenced when people apply it to arrow #3 as well as – as many do as much as they can get away with – arrow #4. Not just in playing The Pool, but always, trying to get as ahead of the upcoming fiction as they can. In the various badly-designed so-called indie titles of today, I see people "stating intent" by describing arrow #4, meaning, how they want to change the fiction as such as a high-impact shift on the situation, the effect of the effect of the current outcome. "Roll the dice to guide the story," which you can see as phrasing all the way back to 20 years ago, but now enshrined as some kind of subculture of RPG design. The whole Stakes design fiasco is rooted in this problem. They aren't describing intent at all; they're describing outcome, effect, and, at a larger scale, the fictional shift into a new now.

      Consider intent instead as how I've constructed it: what you know about the character's orientation and activity as they launch into the momentary situation, this moment of fiction. As I said, it may or may not include specific action statements, depending on the system – if that's required, then it's II+EE; if it's a bit wiggly between the two I's, that's OK, it just means we know that the character is certainly going to do something.

      I ask again: if we are dealing with a system in which only the first I is required, then how did we know we needed to roll in the first place? It's easy if you go back to that first arrow, and think about play occurring in the absence of the need to roll, then we find ourselves in that arrowhead, when the need is present. I'll tell you the answer: the fiction is in such a state that the content of arrow #4, right at its start, will have to be different from how the fiction looks now. "What is happening" includes uncertainty, instability, danger, or any combination – therefore something must change, right now. It may or may not be clear what that change is likely to be unless you do something, but the existence of the change-state is flatly and clearly known.

      Even in systems which do require II prior to a resolution mechanic, which historically is most of them, pay attention as you play. You will see that this knowledge occurs before we "roll for initiative" or "everyone say what you're doing," or anything of the sort. When it does not, play hits the Murk immediately, regarding dozens of fictional and procedural variables.

      Even in systems which operate quite differently, e.g., Dialect, you will see that knowledge of this moment (in this case, pertaining to the use of a word rather than something like a gunshot or discovery) is either already established as a scene begins or is necessary to establish quite soon, or play wanders and wambles, and the people get frustrated and tired.

      Staying with The Pool specifically: it must be understood, I think, that if you do say something about the character's specific muscle actions, or their directly/deeply-desired outcome, or both, it is still encapsulated as primarily Intent, which is to say, provisional. Not merely in terms of whether it works, but in terms of whether it happens that way at all.

      I think this is not at all clear or codified in the design, so it is very much in the sphere of using The Pool as a text, which is to say not designed in the sense that I recognize the term, but merely raised as a topic. In my case, I am discovering just how much of the second I (initiation) is required prior to the roll, and how general, not vague, the stated first I (intent) may be.

      [Editing: Let's try that paragraph again: "The Pool as a text is not going to help us much, as it was never developed in play. You're seeing my in-play reality of one of its components."]

      Regarding the first roll in the SF game, let's discuss it in that post, not here.

    • Thanks for this explanation,

      Thanks for this explanation, and for focusing on clearing up the one most fundamental thing in response to a comment that flailed badly.

      I can see that I have been wrestling with the concept of Intent in the IIEE model, and I think my hazy understanding of it is a bigger problem than I first thought. It’s not useful to talk about post-roll constraints without a fundamental understanding of “the shift” into the head of Arrow #1 and Intent.

      I knew that I didn’t want the Intent to wander into and arrow #3 and #4, but I still didn’t have a clear grasp of what intent was in its purest and required form. Therefore Intent and the head of the first arrow became a hazy mist in my mind. It probably would have continued to transform before my eyes to mean different things depending on what questions I raised about The Pool. When thinking about post-roll constraints on outcome, Intent went from small to big, incorporating the second I (II) and probably an E too when I wasn’t looking. Your formulation, that the intent is provisional “[not] merely in terms of whether it works, but in terms of whether it happens that way at all.” was helpful here. 

      I don’t remember much of what I read of the infamous Stakes discussions, but I can believe that a similar confusion about Intent must have been part of it, in addition to a belief in story control (or “making sure”) as defense against years of GM-control/abuse. 

      I can see my confusion about the term in the first paragraph of my comment, where I write that “the painted picture” (or the immediate context and orientation/activity of characters) probably is more important than “clearly stated intents”, not realizing that the former is Intent in your functional construction of Intent in its purest, required form. Intent in the IIEE construction isn’t the same thing as the game-specific “Statement of intent” in for example Runequest 2nd edition either, but I more or less gave it that meaning.

      Thinking of Dialect, about differences between games and your explanation of the moment of knowledge of the change-state, where we shift into the head of Arrow #1, knowing that the content of Arrow #4 will have to be a different, changed situation. I guess that this moment occurs automatically because “What is happening” is meaningfully uncertain, and what is deemed meaningfully uncertain depends on the specific game's inspiration and re-inspiration cycle, i.e. “This is what our play are changing, and we want to see more of that.”? 

      I realize that my interest while writing and my questions were prompted by watching the discovery process you mention in the last paragraph of your comment:

      In my case, I am discovering just how much of the second I (initiation) is required prior to the roll, and how general, not vague, the stated first I (intent) may be.

      So I appreciate that answer too, making sense in light of the other explanations. 

    • Given that it’s been about

      Given that it's been about twenty years since I presented IIEE (the terms wiggled a bit at first), I think I can identify a core problem in the dialogue from the start: that the concept is strictly and only about the fiction. For most role-playing games, that means what a character intends, initiates, executes, and accomplishes. Not the player in any other sense than directing and stating those things. Intent, in particular, doesn't include what you intend outside of that character-centric, in-the-moment fictional content.

      Before I go on, here are a few points of refinement:

      • It is definitely true that the characters do not exist and the players/people do, but we, these people, are in fact making fiction and concerning ourselves with enjoying it. The term IIEE is concerned with that fictional content insofar as anyone cares about it, which I, at least, do.
      • In some games, the specific touchpoint of "character" doesn't apply, but I maintain that the same concept of intent is applicable in those as well, for different entities or effects. Let's set that aside for later if necessary.
      • Whether the character is self-aware about this intent is not relevant. Most of the time they are, and if they aren't, it's no big deal (my game Elfs' Dumb Luck mechanic is all about that). The fact that intent is necessarily provisional and must always bump up against something else in order for the rest of IEE to happen, means that it can be quite squishy in terms of what the character would say at that moment.

      I just deleted a few paragraphs about I+I vs. II which strayed into the content of my new course design, Action in the Action, and I'll stay instead with the work I'm putting into the upcoming course in January, Playing with The Pool.

      The issue of authorities is obviously involved in this discussion, but it does not overlap with the IIEE topic. They are completely different topics. Authority (-ies) is about the humans playing the game, regarding who says things or holds "yes"-ness over what is said. IIEE is only possible to discuss when and if we know how the authorities are organized/used at this table for this game.

      Twenty years ago, the authorities at every single role-playing table I encountered or saw discussed, were a complete mess. People very much needed to talk about their own hopes for what would happen, specifically arrow #4, and had no idea how any such thing was established in play aside from being told by a story nanny. They saw "intent" and they said, Ah! This is where I say what's going to happen afterwards. This is where all the blither about "guiding the story" entered the discussion, lifted straight from the railroading and intuitive continuity "master GMing" playbook. During the 1990s, the discussion of in-fiction content had been irrevocably cast as concerns with "would have" and "realism," and we all know what had become of the discussion of dice and numbers – there was no way to turn to those procedures as a topic of fiction-making. I was in the difficult position of trying to address two issues (IIEE and Authorities) which were both distorted and indeed broken, so neither could be held steady to address the other.

    • I thought about addressing

      I thought about addressing the fact that IIEE references only the fictional activity of one character while writing my comment, as it pertained to a maybe somewhat confused paragraph I cut out about the similarities and differences between singular character Intent (I) and zoomed out “situation activities and orientation” in the shift to the head of Arrow #1. I decided to not go into it at all because we are talking about a listening medium and (I thought) it’s our, the real players, understanding about the characters’ intent, initiation of action, etc. that matters (i.e. ”What do we need to know about the characters’ Intent or current activity to engage the resolution procedures”). 

      But now I actually think that my watching and writing would have been more giving for me if I’d begun with a careful analysis of the separation in time of IIEE and player knowledge of IIEE. One thing as regards to this in your recent answer to Jesse’s topic/thread (below) cought my eye:

      […] how we ultimately know the IIEE is wide open for design in terms of our operations (procedures, rules, techniques, mechanics, whatever terms you like)

      So even if there of course is a bridge between the very in-fiction IIEE and us as players (through our understanding), its not useful at all to think about it as a stable connection. That is were the freeze-frame “whole IIEE on your turn” designs came from. 

      I have not thought so much about the surely many possible problems that can creep up by confounding authorities with IIEE, but yeah, it can easily transform into "but I have authority and my intent was to guide the story like this". Yes, authorities must be in place before we can even talk about other rules/constraints, functional play and fictive activity in role-playing.

  2. The content of intent

    The whole Stakes design fiasco is rooted in this problem. They aren't describing intent at all; they're describing outcome, effect, and, at a larger scale, the fictional shift into a new now.

    I want talk a bit more about this. I'm going to try to avoid the words Intent and Effect because after reading this post I realize that maybe those words were muddling the previous conversation about pool.

    I guess my question is: Where is the line between stating the character's agenda, purpose, or goal behind their actions and describing "the effect of the effect of the current outcome."

    It seems to me that without knoweldge of the character's agenda, purpose, of goal you can't satisfactorily describe "success" especially if you're the GM and the player doesn't take a Monologue of Victory.  Events which resolve favorably to the character but aren't what they were hoping to achieve is just failure with no unpleasent side-effects.

    It's as if I walked into a meeting with the goal of being put in charge of specific project of value to me and I walked out with a decent raise and an important supervisory role on different project.  Like, sure, that's great but uh… I failed.

    • Jesse, I think you are making

      Jesse, I think you are making things up in order to be afraid of them. No one said anything about going into a roll knowing nothing about what the relevant character is concerned with. Nor about making up a "fine thing for you!!" as a narrator out of nothing.

      Where is the line between stating the character's agenda, purpose, or goal behind their actions and describing "the effect of the effect of the current outcome."

      There is no "line" between them at all. They are not related or adjacent. They are two completely different things.

      If you don't see it, or if they do look like overlapping things, then I hardly know what to tell you. Provisional is provisional; locked-down in advance is locked-down in advance. Blue is blue. Orange is orange.

      I will try a little bit more: as I wrote above, we are talking about an immediate situation which must change due to its intrinsic content. Maybe you aren't chewing over the implication enough. In order to know that this is the case for the fiction-in-play, then that fiction must already be full of specifics. Look at arrow #1 and consider its content before we're in its arrowhead, and think of all the characters' actions and dialogue, the local setting details, and everything going on. We don't get into the arrowhead because the GM looks at his watch and says, "Well, I feel like a good conflict now." We get there because that fiction, already in play, has hit a degree of uncertainty which is now full of consequence and changed circumstances. That is the fiction I'm talking about.

      Maybe I'm wasting my time trying to guess where your head's at with this, and I am getting that same sense of people speaking into individual voids that I got when you and Simon tried to discuss intent. What can possibly be so difficult about knowing what a player says their character is trying to do? With precisely the quantum and type of information as required by that particular system and no other?

      I don't know if it helps to direct you to the SF Galactic Peace game, where in a couple of cases Jerry has begun to deliver the fine speech Hiver wants to say, before the roll, and (after the first time) I stop him and say, we're rolling to see if you get to say that, not saying it and then rolling to see what effect it has. If you succeed, then you get to say it and it has the effect you're looking for, in some solid way, no matter who narrates. If you don't, then it's up to me to say whether, for example, (i) you don't get to say it because someone puts a plasma bolt into you or (ii) you get to say it and they all scoff. All we need to know before the roll is that you're trying to speak to them toward some basic goal ("inspire," "terrify," etc).

      I will speak about myself: this is what comes of GMing too much. When I don't play characters regularly, without GMing, then I forget what it's like to go into a known event of play with a strong and stated sense of purpose, with or without specific details of the activity depending on the system, also knowing that how it turns out will be subject to a roll and to what some other person says. It is not a position of helplessness. It does not engender a desperate need to control the unknown ahead of time. It is a desirable state of play.

    • I don’t know if it helps to

      I don't know if it helps to direct you to the SF Galactic Peace game, where in a couple of cases Jerry has begun to deliver the fine speech Hiver wants to say, before the roll, and (after the first time) I stop him and say, we're rolling to see if you get to say that, not saying it and then rolling to see what effect it has.

      Yeah, pointing to this at least clarifies to me a lot more where you're coming from.  I admit that the couple of times I have run The Pool in the past I've run it a lot closer to IIE+E.  You state what you do, in full, then we roll to see if has the desired effect or not.  You give your speech to calm the crowd.  You succed they're calm.  You fail they riot or something.

      These tends to be my default process of any game where everything hinges on a single mechanical point of reslution.  I'm trying to think if this is how I do Primetime Adventures or not but it's been a while. I don't do the work shopping thing but I do tend to let players play through their core action then deal cards to see if it has the impact they wanted.

    • I’m not convinced that we’ve

      I'm not convinced that we've achieved clarity on this. I'm not talking about preference, but about design and play, as operations. A few things are making this very difficult.

      The first thing is that IIEE doesn't have to be four fixed and separate mechanical steps, and probably never has been or will be. Rules of play necessarily combine them in all sorts of ways, and furthermore, nothing says they have to be mechanically established in that order. When I say IIEE is about the fiction, I really mean it – therefore, how we ultimately know the IIEE is wide open for design in terms of our operations (procedures, rules, techniques, mechanics, whatever terms you like).

      The second thing is that lots of good design includes wiggle room, or as I called it in the Introduction class, the soft touch. Applying this to the "special talking" part of The Pool, it turns out that the only obligatory IIEE part of that talking is Execution and the bare bones of Effect, as constrained by the dice (success or failure). Therefore it is perfectly all right to know a lot about Initiation, plural for all the characters involved in this roll, if that's the way we talked about it this time. A lot of the shaft of the second arrow is concerned with that; we have to know a lot about what's going on in reference to the roll that's about to be made. Conversely, it's also OK to keep this to a necessary minimum if that's how the group is inclined, either at this moment or for play in general, leaving most of Initiation to be filled in by the post-roll talking.

      Do you really see this? For my present purposes, in these games of The Pool, I am inclined to enforce the necessary minimum as a ceiling … but this is not preference. This is about keeping people out their habits of leaping into Execution in full, let alone barrelling into Effect as some are wont to do, before the roll.

      Especially theatrical and entertaining role-players tend to combine Initiation and Execution, loudly. Ask me how I know this. Assuming you do, the answer is that I am personally one of those players. I am also aware of how brutally it can override the procedures for many games and others' enjoyment.

      I expect and hope that as we recognize what is required during the post-roll narration (Execution), we can learn to adjust how much we describe Initiation and mention provisional Effect before the roll, so that it's a lot of fun and helpful to play without screwing up the procedures. So after that point, preferences can be discovered, which I think is valuable to conceive as wiggle room rather than The Way.

      That's why I'm not even letting play glance toward IIE+E as you've described it. I played this game a lot twenty years ago, and I'm wincing at your description. That construction is not only likely, it is almost guaranteed to rob the post-roll speaker of their authorities, because so much of "what can happen" is locked in for them already. The entire diagram of The Pool's mechanics (Traits, adding words, bonus values) is suddenly reduced to half its content and most of its vibrancy when that happens.

    • I get what you’re saying.  In

      I get what you're saying.  In fact, I personally, would probably be pretty comfortable with that because I'm actually a pretty quiet player until I'm really sure of what I want to do and then I state it as succintly as possible.  So if you asked me to keep it provisional, I would be okay with, "I think I'm going to give a speech and try to keep this from getting out of hand."  That makes a lot of sense to me.  I can imagine that being very frustrating and even anxiety inducing to many.  I'm going to get back to that in a minute.

      That's why I'm not even letting play glance toward IIE+E as you've described it. I played this game a lot twenty years ago, and I'm wincing at your description. That construction is not only likely, it is almost guaranteed to rob the post-roll speaker of their authorities, because so much of "what can happen" is locked in for them already.

      This also makes a lot of sense to me.  It was probably 20 years ago when I ran The Pool, too.  I do remember being a little confused as to what a MoV was for and this explains why.  As much as I dislike the way improv terms have been used in games, the conclusion I came to back then was a that a "MoV" was a "Yes, And" mechanic.  You succeed in calming the crowd AND with a MoV you can add somethign like, "And the captain of the guard persoanlly swears loyalty to me." or whatever.

      Especially theatrical and entertaining role-players tend to combine Initiation and Execution, loudly.

      Now THIS is completely familiar to me.  In fact, I just ran a game this past weekend where this exact behavior was a serious problem.  The game included a player I've been talking to a lot lately in a social context for the past year but had never been able to play with before.  And now that I have, I can say with confidence that I have never seen someone play with that much fear and anxiety about uncertainty and tension in scenes in my life.

      The minute I said, "What do you do?" he would rush head long into all kinds of declaritive babble. Even suggesting that maybe we roll things back and play a little more moment-to-moment with an NPC seemed to be introducing too much risk and uncertainty.  And that was BEFORE we got to any die rolls which flat out seeemed to be a source of pain.

      To bring it back around, what you're saying here about provisional action, would literally be this poor guy's ultimate nightmare.  I can almost hear him saying, "Oh so the dice are now going to decide whether or not I get to play AT ALL."

      Maybe that's too much of a side anecdote, but people's degree of anxiety around real uncertainty and risk in RPGs is of great interest to me.  And what we're talking about here seems like a great diagnostic for bringing that to the forefront.  Which isn't a criticism.  I'm saying if this is an issue at the table, this will highlight it.  Which is a good thing, I think.

    • This discussion of where we

      This discussion of where we roll along the IIEE axis, combined with my experience playing in this game, and Ron's tendency in that game to enforce the necessary minimum of intent as the ceiling of what gets said before a roll, has been hugely clarifying for me in terms of how to approach these resolving moments of play, whatever instrumentation we are using for any given game. I see now that my default is often II+EE or, as Jesse says, even IIE+E, most likely because that feels like giving players control, or taking some control myself as a player. You can see the anxiety underlying that feeling. It was a very fresh experience to play this game of the Pool and come to those moments in the fiction where we feel a charge in the air and all know that the dice have to be rolled, and why, and to see, because of Ron's constraints on keeping intent to the minimum required before the roll, that I don't have to have anxiety about control at all. The constraints of what has been said + the constraint of the dice was perfect bounce with which to say what happens next, or to take what the GM said happens next, and catch or throw the ball as appropriate to the moment.

      It is also a bit of a lightbulb moment to understand the part about wiggle room — we can go with that bare minimum, or we can say a lot about specific intent, as fits the situation and mood of the moment. It's instrumentation, after all, not a sequence of keys to be pressed. I do think it is good practice to wary of how far down that IIEE path we get before we roll the dice, if only because it's all too easy to take the IIEE out of the fiction and have it become a roll over the authority to wrap up this situation and create the next one out of whole cloth.

      I am really looking forward to paying attention to my current play of Worlds Without Number and applying these concepts to it.

  3. Session 3!

    Reconvening after family-heavy holidays, we played the third session, which confirmed my initial impression that things were bound to go very violent – even more so than the first session had done.

    From a GMing perspective, there was a lot going on and a lot to do.

    For about a year, I've been trying to eliminate what I've been calling the "radio voice," which is a smooth GM way of talking which effectively creates the fiction for everyone at all times, and which takes in, interprets, and re-presents whatever anyone else says (with suitable edits). I associate it with performing the fiction for everyone else playing, even if they are contributing to it. By contrast, I have let myself stop, "um," muse, correct myself, or basically display what's really going on in my head rather than releasing a polished stream of verbal product after silent, outwardly-calm, paternal processing.

    These led to three effects in this session which are probably neither good nor bad, but important to me and worth reflecting about.

    • Playing the NPCs was very personal and demanding for me, as at least five of them made serious decisions and readjusted strong views during this session. Looking at the video, you'll often see me play them haltingly or with fumbling talk, which may give the impression that I'm trying to think about "what will happen if I do this" in a story sense. Instead, it displays the opposite, that I'm evicting that very thing from my mind and staying with what that person will do right then. It's notable especially with the neighboring rancher who never got a name, but who turned out to be terrifyingly, tragically important at the end of the session (and in retrospect, I imagine him as using the very rifle that Melero had brought him as a gift, earlier).
    • In pure proportionate terms, I talked a lot, as in, a hell of a lot, to the point where I wondered during play and also during editing why the others didn't tell me to shut up, they wanted to get a word in. However, in this session, specifically, something about the long-ish time-frame for the events and the climactic context for both player-characters' decisions seemed to make it "work" during play, or at least, I hope so.
    • Since I was and am generally thinking less about how play/the session looks as a whole, even leaning away from any such priority, I suppose it's lucky that only one scene continued after the fiction starting limping, as it was past the point when I felt "inside" it enough to play. It's after Serrano successfully disposed of Mondragón and I wanted to establish that Crístobal was present at the mission with the stolen money. In a "production" frame of mind, I'd think of that sequence as needing to be edited significantly and partly re-shot.

    Overall, our played content this time took on a rough cut effect which I submit is, or at least for my own learning and development, a good thing. I've never liked or trusted the reassuringly smooth, GM-pivots, gliding effect or feel of many sessions I've been in. When GMing, I'm playing too, inside the fiction of the moment as opposed to leading from a scene or two into the future, and I think it's better for that to be visibly and audibly apparent.

  4. Session 4!

    Luna is now Christoffer's character, written like so. My preparation notes look like this:

    Here's the direct link inside the playlist. You'll see two important pauses for me to re-orient and settle my mind. One of them may be less visible as it includes a shift from part to part in editing; it's when I need to go into "preparation, not improvise in play" mode to arrive at the physical features of Luna's father's ranch, as well as her father's physical and mental identity. The other, near the end of the session, is when play has brought both Luna and José riding toward the ruined Melero ranch, each with a small well-armed cadre, and I realized how easy it would be to stage a scripted scene of encounter among them and with some "spicy" combination of Gutierrez, Obispo, and the U.S. guys they haven't met yet. But I am not a chef, Christoffer and Hans are not my customers, and how spicy and yummy all this will be, to delight and satisfy them, is not my problem. But thinking it is is definitely a problem, so I noted its advent and stopped myself.

    It's good to go slowly with these things. I really enjoyed the events which followed upon each group's arrival at that location, and when/how they did move into viewing the same events from different directions came straight out of what happened, not due to staging and nudging by me. I'm also glad the session ended when it did, because only while editing did I remember that neither Luna nor José, nor Crístobal for that matter, actually know that Alonso Melero is dead. Which is a big deal, and what comes from it, we'll find out next session.

    • We’ve all run some searches

      We've all run some searches and looked up some history as we've played so far, and so pictures of the San Diego Mission are familiar to us:

      But I wasn't prepared for this one, which although obviously at least 70 years later than our setting (Model T's, telephone wires, let alone the outdoor landscape photography as such), demonstrates just how dominant the Mission's physical presence was over the region.

      In our game set in 1840, "urban" San Diego, or rather, the community which did in fact go by a municipal name at the time and did represent distinct commercial interests, must still have been essentially a natural landscape studded with semi-villages rather than neighborhoods, cut by and connected by wagon-track rather than a layout of streets.

  5. Session 5: conclusion

    Guns blazing in all directions over the honor of an unlocated corpse – that's where we found ourselves. Arguably, more remains that could be played, especially in light of the war eight years in the future and the presence of young characters who necessarily would be swept up into it. But for now, this is the end of our San Diego game of The Pool.

    Here's the direct link to session 5 inside the playlist. All thoughts are welcome!

    My preparation notes look like this, although it also bears the marks of use during the session. Talk about a body count …

Leave a Reply