Yes, the title is clickbait. It’s merely a pun on the game we’re talking about … or does this topic turn out to address the loaded role-playing hobby term after all? You decide.

Jon and I took some time to share experiences about playing The Pool, based on the games you can read about or see in Intent in The Pool, Frog Pool fantasy, Galactice peace Pool, and The Pool San Diego. His game currently stands at eight sessions, and my current games are only at three and two respectively as the holidays knocked out a couple of weeks for each.

We’d each brought several questions for the other, without reviewing them ahead of time, and traded off asking one another. Each response turned into a mini-conversation as one might expect, so you’ll get a pretty good idea of how we each interpreted, modified, and applied the rules we were using. Perhaps surprisingly neither of us duplicated any of the other’s questions, so the final result is a rather complete look at preparation for play, processes of play, dice dynamics, changes in characters, and other related matters of how the game (or idea for a game) works.

A fair amount of our topic references these diagrams, presented in recent Seminar and Actual Play posts. I really hope they’re not esoteric or weird … but if you have any questions about what they mean, please ask.

As I mention during the conversation, I’m hoping to see lots of other people play The Pool over the next few months, to expand the range of applications and experiences. Also, if you’re interested in my upcoming course “Playing with The Pool,” please check out the Giano Academy link at the top right of the page – it’s five sessions, once per week, beginning January 27. With any luck, about two months from now this relatively limited comparison between us two will turn into a mighty discourse.

2 responses to “Immersion”

  1. Dungeon Thoughts, Questions, & Prep for Annapolis

    I have to say as someone who is very much a late comer to The Pool, I am keen to try my hand at it from all different sides. I do have a few thoughts and questions, based on the text. I realize that actual play can vary from that loose set of instructions at times.

    Dunegon Pool

    About halfway through the episode where a locked door was discussed, I thought about how The Pool might handle a dungeon crawl. After all, there are numerous places for death and dismemberment in the dungeon; any number of discrete frictions that might lead to violence or distraction and require or suggest the system be engaged. 

    But then I thought, "no, a corridor with a door in the north wall is just that." Conflict could be found anywhere or nowhere. The entire scene might be that corridor and that door and the room beyond. Instead of small discrete steps and rolls. Search the door. Unlock the door. Kill The Monster. Search for treasure, etc… Instead I can see a range of dialogue where players explore their options about if or how they go into the room and face the carrion crawler waiting for them.


    This is where I run into some questions about what I have read in the text. The first regards when the GM narrates the positive outcome, BUT

    This means things might not go exactly the way you wanted

    What does that really mean? "Congratulations on that 1. Take your die. Yes you get the chocolate ice cream, but I ain't giving you sprinkles!" The way it is written suggests that the GM should not give the player exactly what they want or is it just, the GM gives the bare bones and the power of the MOV is that player gets to describe a broader degree of success? To me it comes off as slightly adversarial when that could just be my bias.

    My second question is about a Lethal conflict. A lethal conflict is one of the most dramatic moments in a given session, but the player cannot use all of the same tools they have for normal rolls. Again, in my head I am thinking, for instance, a gunfight with another cowboy in a western town, where as the intent might be "You are about to fall off a cliff" kind of situation. Does anyone have any thoughts on that? 

    I am in the process of prepping my Annapolis 1861 game for play. I may well have a few questions more. Thanks!

    • Hi Sean! I have to pass by

      Hi Sean! I have to pass by your Dungeon Pool section because I don't really understand what you're saying, either before or after you change your mind halfway through it. My thinking is that I'd be happy to play a leather-clad thiefly fighter-person in some ghost-haunted, moss-hung ruin, with enough context to be interested in doing something there. But maybe there's some content or point to what you're thinking of as "dungeon play" that isn't obvious to me.

      The other parts are familiar and important points for me, with this game. The first is to say, there is no way to ask "what does this really mean" for any part of any of the texts. For one thing, it was written almost twenty years ago with none of the vocabulary or ideas we've developed about play. For another, James may have written XYZ in some spot but he did not play it and therefore it remains nothing but provisional words, with no real identity or claim to be what he wanted, or even to mean something that he wanted. There simply isn't any point to trying to mind-read or legally parse the texts we're looking at.

      That reminds me: thanks to everyone who sent me different iterations of The Pool from its point of origin, including the very, very first one, which Paul exhumed from his old boxes and scanned. Just as I recalled, some rules and a lot of phrasing shifted all over the place, often in no particular trajectory. I'll compile them so everyone can see what I mean by "these aren't 'versions' and there really isn't a core rules-set." The Pool is a good enough idea to be very, very powerful, even transformative, but it is not actually "a game" in the sense we usually use the term for a text.

      Anyway, as I choose to use the phrase that you quoted, it's related to what Jon and I discussed, specifically, that the stated details of initiation and execution of the character's actions are, beyond the necessary minimum, provisional. The person who states the outcome and describes its effects also decides how much of that initial talking (again, beyond the necessary minimum) actually got to happen, and if anything happened instead, what that was. So you might have said all sorts of things about getting into that combat and mixing it up, and you might even imply or state how the outcome could go in very declarative terms – but still, it's provisional.

      I like this use of phrase best because it doesn't imply anything bad or gotcha or not-as-good being included. I don't actually think his literal phrasing, "not go exactly the way you wanted" even really implies that anyway, but given role-playing culture and history, I do see the strong chance for someone to infer it as you have. And trying to dope out what he "really meant" by it, given the absence of associated play, is meaningless.

      In the past, and in the essay I wrote about a decade ago, I've held to the point that the GM's narrations of success should be rather spare and stick only to the obvious and immediate effects, so that a player's Monologue, should they choose to use it, holds the potential to be distinctively more strong or effective. I don't think I'm holding to this idea as consistently in the Pool games I've been GMing lately; what I think I wanted from saying that is better expressed through the diagrams I included in the post.

      Regarding the death rules, I've simply taken a big fat black Sharpie and X'd them out. The only parts I keep are (1) always knowing whether a given conflict is lethal, absolutely yes or no, and (2) reserving a "save vs. death" roll given a failure.

      Regarding the cowboy on the cliff, that word intent is gumming things up again. In my IIEE terms, I think you're talking about Effect rather than Intent – as if it's one of those Stakes-style rolls where "intent" means "how the whole thing goes after the roll," and you say, "OK, if I fail, I fall off the cliff." Whereas I'm using these rules such that we know these guys are shooting at each other on the edge of a cliff, and the Intent is therefore extremely obvious – to shoot the other guy – and the circumstances are lethal for many reasons, bullets first among them and the cliff too. But whether anyone falls off the cliff, as part of the Effect, is reserved for whoever narrates and really should be left out of talking before the roll.

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