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.