You are here

Dungeon Crawling with the Pool

So I wanted to try a dungeon crawl with the Pool, for a couple of reasons. One is that in general, I want to see how simple a rules system you can get to “do the job”, in a satisfying way; another is I just wanted to play around with the Pool and see what I could get it to do. 

You might say a dungeon crawl is a dungeon crawl, it’s the same painting regardless of what type of brush you use. But the type of brush you use can significantly affect your experience of the painting: to paint a landscape, one artist might like using painstakingly detailed micro-strokes with a small brush (like Pathfinder, ahem), while another might prefer large, quick sweeps with a large brush. Even if the landscape looks much the same in the end, the experience of how you get there is different. I wanted to see what the dungeon crawling experience would be like, painting with the brush that is the Pool. 

To that end, I wanted to add a resource mechanic in. The Pool of course already has a resource mechanic, namely the pool of dice, so you could argue this addition is unnecessary. But the pool doesn’t represent anything fictional, and I wanted something representational that would have clear fictional consequences, such as running out of torches or rations. To that end, I added the resources of bandages, rations, and miscellaneous, tracked by die type a la the Black Hack. Players can replenish these resources by “discovering” more of them (like how a car thief discovers your car? Or Europeans discovered America? Like that), or by buying them with gold when in town. 

Speaking of gold, I decided to tweak the Pool’s advancement rules. As written, fictional events do not affect whether, or to what extent, player characters improve or change between sessions; you get the same number of words to add to your story, and your pool replenishes by the same amount, regardless of what you did in the game or what happened. So instead, I made these things depend on how much gold you got, and how many items you found. I figured this might help increase motivation to explore deeper into the dungeon. The drive to get more treasure, balanced by concern over dwindling resources, seems to be the main feature of dungeon crawls. 

Other than those two things, I added a rule about armor/shield saves - you can avoid being hurt by a failure by reducing the bonus of a shield or armor trait, destroying it if it has no bonus. 

I didn’t change anything else. Now I did plan to make liberal use of the GM’s power over the scope of the roll, as I described in my previous posts on action gaming with the Pool. 

For a fight against an average goblin, which I’d consider an easy encounter, one success from a player would be enough to decide the conflict; fighting the massive gelatinous cube, on the other hand, should be much more difficult. Rather than deciding it takes some number of N successes to defeat the cube, I thought  I’d approach it by keeping the scope of rolls narrow - to the success or failure of just an attack or two - and declare the cube defeated when it just “made sense”: based on what happens, there should come a point when it’s simply implausible that the cube could still be in fighting shape. 

Now in the back of my mind I was a little concerned whether this approach would give me too much power as GM, but I thought I’d try it and see how it went. 

But what about failures in combat for the PCs? There’s no hit points in the Pool, or anything like a wound track. So what consequences could the PCs have other than death? 

Suppose a PC is fighting a goblin, a much weaker creature in my fantasy world. Well, I figured that from a goblin’s point of view, fighting a PC is exactly analogous to a PC fighting the gelatinous cube: one successful attack is not enough to kill them. It may hurt the PC, but won’t kill them or take them out of action. A failed roll in combat from the player against a goblin, then, means their PC takes a wound or similar result, which will then have consequences in future actions. For example, a wounded shoulder can mean I’ll give them fewer gift dice if they’re trying to climb a wall. 

So, analogous to fighting the gelatinous cube, once a PC has taken “enough” wounds, there will come a point where in my judgment as GM a failed roll is potentially deadly, and the player will have to make a death roll if they fail. 

Is the fact that this “enough” is not quantified or formalized problematic? I don’t think so, but my intention was and is to play to find out. Am happy to hear other opinions and thoughts on this. 

Now what about when the PCs are fighting the cube, as opposed to goblins? Because it’s a more powerful opponent, one failed  roll from a PC should result in serious consequences, much more serious than when fighting a goblin. So a failed roll should be enough for them to get sucked up by the cube and start to get digested, and they’d have to make a death roll quite soon after. 

So that was my thinking on how to adjudicate combat. I wondered about having a FUDGE-type wound track, for PCs, NPCs, or both, but thought I’d try this more “organic” way first. 

Ok, next came time to design the dungeon. The only difference between designing a dungeon and any other GM prep for me, is that the dungeon is basically all in one location - or perhaps that the available locations are all closely connected. Also, the dungeon is usually not related to or influenced by any of the PC backgrounds. Anyway, I do what I usually do, which is start asking questions: 

Where is the dungeon? In a cave in the mountains. 

Why is it there? Because goblins want to hoard treasure there. But wait a minute, that’s too boring, let’s put a bit of a twist on it. Yes, the goblins want to store treasure there, but it’s not because they’re greedy. They’re doing it for a specific purpose, one that at least some people will find understandable. I note down what this purpose is. 

Ok, given the answers above, how would the goblins design the place to discourage intruders and keep their treasure safe? Well, they’d put at least one trap in the entrance. And what about a grisly warning in the entrance? That sounds fun. Probably a bit of misdirection here and there, too, and maybe even a grudging “mini-treasure” that might satisfy any pesky adventurers, so they leave without finding the vault of goodies further in. 

And so on. I’m not giving more details now, because as of last session the players weren’t done with the dungeon, and wanted another session to finish it.

Ok, so my prep was done. The players came up with some imaginative characters:

Esquella DeMar, a necromancer and blood-bender who wants vengeance on men;

Judore, alchemist and wind mage, who wants to complete his dissertation;

Vanya the tough dwarf, so tired of shoveling shit in the dwarven slums he’s ready to risk death to make his fortune. 

As usual with this method of prepping situation, players added to the backstory during character creation. I didn’t know necromancy, blood magic, wind magic, or dwarven slums existed until the players created them. This was cool. 

Ok, I started the game with the PCs at the entrance to the cave, each having arrived there individually. I mention that one of them heard a goblin saying something about getting the gold into the vault “in time”; another PC noticed tell-tale signs that the goblins had recently raided a village. After a brief discussion among them, they decide to go in together as allies, at least temporarily, and share treasure equally.

They enter the cave, Esquella proceeding quickly down the stone stairs. I have her roll to see if she successfully detects the trap in front of her, and she does, alerting the PCs behind her. They enter a large cavern, and find three humans tied to stalagmites and stalactites, a sign painted above them saying “Keep Out”. Two of the humans are dead, one is barely alive. They untie her, and she whispers about the nameless horror that burned her alive before the goblins got her. Esquella casts a healing spell using blood-bending, successfully healing the woman. 

Somebody (Judore, I think) tried to do something stealthy and failed, alerting nearby goblins who proceed to rush into the cavern and attack. Vanya quickly beheads one.  Esquella uses necromancy, trying to raise the dead humans as zombie soldiers for her. Unfortunately, she fails. Rather than having the spell fizzle out, I decide on having it go out of control. The dead do rise, but as ravenous zombies out to eat the PCs. The dead goblin also rises, the body fumbling around for its severed head. 

Vanya slays a pair of goblins, Esquella manages to de-zombify the two ones attacking her, and Judore uses wind magic to smash the headless zombie goblin into the one remaining goblin, crushing them into the cave wall and pulping them both. 

The PCs search the bodies for gold, and then search the guardroom they came from. They find a chest, which Esquella flicks open. I have the player roll to avoid the poison dart the chest shoots at her; the roll is a success, but he takes the MoV to say the dart does hit her - but by using her blood-bending magic, Esquella neutralizes it. I found this a really interesting moment, one that could not easily occur with many other systems. 

They find a bunch of gold within the chest, and a potion, which Judore tries to identify. He fails his roll. Once again, I decide the appropriate consequence is to have the magic go out of control. So I say he tried to ID the potion by tasting a few drops, but accidentally drinks the whole thing and magnifies its effect. The potion was one of boosting strength, to enable a goblin to fight as strongly as a human (a “potion of human strength”, as it were). So when it went out of control, it caused Judore to grow several feet and bulk out, in other words to become a small giant/incredible hulk, his clothing reduced to rags. This would make it difficult for him to do things like be stealthy, and there might even be areas of the cave where he couldn’t go because of his size. I figured the potion would last about an hour.

Next, they proceed down a branch of the cave, hearing the sounds of moving water coming from it. They discover a pool of water with a small waterfall pouring into it. Shining the light of his torch into the water, Vanya sees a trail of gold coins in the pool. He decides to wade into the water. Judore steps forward, casting a spell with wind magic to part the water like Moses. His roll is successful, and the water parts. 

Vanya heads in, collecting gold coins as he goes. Just beyond where Judore’s spell effect reaches, he notices a golden chest. As he steps forward to grab it, a tentacle shoots forward, grabbing him and pulling him into the water. A fight against the underwater monstrosity ensues; they roll well, and escape from the area with the golden chest.

In the chest they find more gold, and a couple of magic items: one ornate arrow covered with elven runes, and a silver scepter. They had just divided up the gold among themselves when they heard a rasping, slithering sound coming from one of the corridors. Stealthily observing the situation, they notice a figure in armor moving towards them. One of them notices something odd and disturbing about the way it moves.

Behind the scenes: I was checking in with what the other dungeon denizens were aware of, and no one was really close enough to hear the big goblin fight, and the fight in the pool of water didn’t make much noise. However, I figured based on the cube’s location it would have heard something when the group exited the watery corridor, so I decided it headed that way in search of fresh meat. 

The group decides to hide. Vanya and Esquella hide behind some stalagmites, but I tell them Judore cannot because of his new size. At this point, his player came up with a cool idea. He cast wind magic on himself, to fly up to the ceiling so he could grab onto a stalactite and hide that way, flat against the roof of the cave. I thought this was really clever, and his roll was successful.

The group waits for the figure in armor to pass by. As it does, they notice the figure is not moving its arms or legs as it travels. The creature passes under Judore, not noticing him or anyone else. At that point, Judore casts wind magic on himself again, trying to gently float down to the ground so as not to alert the mysterious figure. He fails the roll! Keeping with the theme of failed magic rolls result in the magic going out of control, I say that the wind slams him forcefully into the roof of the cave, then abruptly cuts off so that he falls, smashing hard into the cave floor. Because he’s still in his giant form, I figure he doesn’t take as much damage as he would otherwise, and tell him he has a wounded leg. 

The figure in armor turns towards the sound. Vanya jumps out from hiding and attacks it, his sword sinking into a jelly-like substance. Now, I had a bit of a hard time adjudicating this: the roll here was successful, but in my mind I had it that my gelatinous cube wouldn’t take damage from normal weapons. But that put me in the position of saying a successful roll did nothing, which seems anathema to the aesthetics of the Pool, and incompatible with rolling at all, really. So, on the fly I adjusted my conception of the cube, so that it would take partial damage from normal weapons. 

In hindsight, maybe I just shouldn’t have asked for a roll - “your sword goes in and out, but the creature seems unhurt”. Would love to hear opinions on this. 

Anyway, Esquella attacked next, if memory serves, using necromancy to try to animate the skeleton inside the cube - another cool idea. Unfortunately the roll fails. Why mess with a good thing? Once again, I say her necromancy goes out of control, causing the awakened and enraged skeleton to wade out of the cube and move to attack her. 

Although hurt from his fall, Judore crawls forward and casts a spell, using wind magic to thrust the magic arrow through the skeleton, successfully crippling it. Esquella tries to attack the cube and fails, so it engulfs her. She screams silently, in terrible pain as its digestive juices begin eating away at her skin. Vanya desperately attacks the cube, trying to cut his way through it to free Esquella, and succeeds. Judore casts another spell, creating a kind of prismatic spray that tears through the cube. At that point, given how much damage the cube took, I declare it dead. And that’s where we quit for the night. 

Overall, it seemed like most of the players had a good time, and wanted to continue the adventure. I didn’t bother mentioning it, but the players did make some resource rolls, a few of them ran low on some, and sacked torches from the goblin guard room. One session was too short to really test some of the things I wanted to see in action, like the “concern over resources vs. desire for more gold” dynamic, I think that just requires more time. 

As always I look forward to any comments, insights, questions, or suggestions on anything I mentioned, especially prep or GMing. How would you have done it differently?

Also, those of you who played please feel free to share your perspective, and to fill in anything I forgot or got wrong.

 

Department: 
Actual Play
Games: 
The Pool

Comments

This all sounds great! I'm glad you guys got a chance to play this. And thanks for writing it up (I'm working on my own Pool/Dungeon Crawl hybrid and am very interested to see how you've been handling things).

Regarding your question about how to handle attacking the gelatinous cube: I think it's definitely within the GM's responsibilities to decide how part of the backstory might act to constrain outcomes, though I don't think there's one right way to handle all the possible situations that could come up. 

In the games I've played, we've definitely had cases where those kind of constraints came into play. In the Napoleonic Fantasy game I ran, for example, an important NPC (the Colonial Governor) had been enchanted by an evil sorcerer into believing something that the player wanted to change his mind about. From my point of view, there was no way simply talking to him was going to change his mind given the enchantment: the player would have to bring in some other kind of leverage in order to do so (i.e., threats, intmidation, magical mind control, etc.). In this particular instance, we didn't roll, but I think it would have worked just as well to roll but stipulate that whoever was going to narrate the success would have to take into account the extra leverage needed.

 

 

Dreamofpeace's picture

What you say about when to roll makes perfect sense.

And I'll be very interested to see your version of the Dungeon Crawl Pool, when you're ready. 

Dreamofpeace's picture

I just realized I forgot to upload the PDF of my Dungeon Crawl Pool document; here it is: Dungeon Crawl Pool

Dreamofpeace's picture

I love the reference to Quixote also!

Regarding Gift dice, to the best of my knowledge there's no universally agreed-upon criteria for how to assign them. Adriano correctly identified the two ways I do it, namely, (1) degree of difficulty: based on everything I know about what's going on, how hard would it be for the character to accomplish their intention? The easier it seems, the more dice; and (2) the Rule of Cool: when someone is doing something unusually cool or otherwise awesome, to hell with assessments of difficulty, just give 'em dice! This is not something I carefully think about and apply, in those kinds of circumstances I kind of just can't help it - if I didn't give them 3 dice, I'd feel deflated or stupid. 

Now as to whether this is legit or not, or intellectually consistent, I don't think is really the interesting question - the better question IMHO is does a particular way of assigning gift dice support or not support the kind of play we want? 

Karaburan's picture

Playing the Pool for the first time, after hearing about it for so long, was an experience with a vaguely mystical flavor, almost like an initiation rite. Not secondary, it's been a long time since I've worn the shoes of the player at the table - in this case, of the bloodthirsty witch Esqella DeMar. This is to say that I approached the game with a certain gusto, boldness, and curiosity; I am pleased with how it has gone so far, not least because it left room for some small reflections:

- first, the constraints exerted on character advancement by the economy of words in play. These are, no joke, brutal. I can't speak directly for the base system, but the changes Manu has inserted prompt one to consider those words as a treasure to be carefully hoarded. I'm not sure how much, in the long run, this will affect my ability to produce stable pg advancement, but we'll see. As a concrete example, let me show you my character sheet and first recorded advancement:

Esquella DeMar is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter; rejected by the Konolin Academy of Magic, she has sworn vengeance against the male gender (+1), training herself in necromancy (+2) and haemokinesis (+2). She wants to prove to her peers she’s more than a red-haired babe (+1); hence, the dungeoneering! 

Advancement I : 5 words + 2 words (sceptre/ring) + 3 (150 g.p.); +1 Pool Dice (150 g.p.).

Spent the Pool Die for the ring; remaining words: 2

New phrase: her first delve reward is a mysterious ring (+1)

I haven't had a chance to record the silver scepter I scavenged or some interesting changes in Esqella's mood toward her teammates, Vanya in particular. It occurs to me that if I really want to give weight to these changes in terms of bonuses, I will have to start tightening my belt as of now. 

- What exactly Gift dice are, and by what criteria they should be assigned, is an interesting point. Our session saw the intersection of two positions, explicitly acknowledged at the end of the first part of the adventure: calculating the number of gift dice by assigning an intrinsic difficulty to the situation - in short, trying to justify this criterion through fiction - ; or, conversely, giving them up on the wave of pure enthusiasm for a given action - not very dissimilar to that +1 you can receive in certain actions in Champions Now, or even better the same Fan Mail mechanism of Primetime Adventures. Can these two criteria coexist at the same time? I will take some time to look at this more closely. 

- A final word, finally, about our characters: as I see it, we are dealing with a bunch of buffoons. A scholar who completes his thesis by going digging holes in dungeons? A witch against gender bias? A dwarf muckraker recycled adventurer? I wouldn't bet a single penny on them.

But there is one thing these characters are not: clowns. I like to see that, in their own way, they care about the things they do, and they may stumble or come across as ridiculous, but they are not doing it for an audience. No pre-recorded laughter here; it's the kind of humor I've always seen and appreciated in Don Quixote, and that doesn't make the main character any less profound in certain situations. Looking at these dungeon delvers makes me think that the role-playing world can heal from the purulent plague that leads us to consider that because we are playing a """"fun game"""", we must play hopeless jerks, and row against them for the sake of making them fail. I like Esqella; she's definitely a little weird, but that shouldn't take away from her ability to succeed, and maybe, just maybe, set aside the idea of setting Konolin and the macho pigs who inhabit it on fire.

Dreamofpeace's picture

Excellent points! I like Esquella a lot too, even though I thought I wouldn't when I first read her description. 
 

With regard to advancement, it looks like I didn't make something clear: the pool dice increase is independent of the increase in new words. So from what you wrote above, you both get +1 pool die and 10 new words to use. Does that make sense?

Hans's picture

Oh my god, the reference to the Quixote when it comes to the humor that cropped up in our game is spot-on, and quite fresh in my mind, as I read it twice in the last year. When you think about it, diving into holes in the ground in search of your fortune is really quite a quixotic venture, no? And I agree about our characters: they are all ridiculous in their own way, but with a lovable bent rather than a clownish one.

Regarding the different criteria for awarding gift dice, at least in this session, it was perfectly functional as far as I was concerned, and I think that's because it was clearly telegraphed by Manu, or by the situation as described by him: it was clear when something was difficult or easy, and also it was clear when he was elated at a proposed action and was giving 3 gift dice for that reason.
 

Hans's picture

...and I think you should have had my sword strokes do nothing against the cube (with no roll needed/allowed)! When I GM I have a bad habit of wiggling my prep during play to make things easier on the players, or in fear that I won't be giving a player an "out" or "something to do", so when I see another GM do something that looks like this, I shout: Don't! But I'm really shouting at myself. Try holding firmly to your prep next time and see how that feels.

You mentioned the scope of rolls -- when Vanya was facing down three or four goblins the second time, after one of them had been accidentally resurrected, and then attacked, I won the roll and said I wanted a Monologue of Victory. We had to negotiate this a bit in play as I recall; I in fact even asked you how many I could kill. This felt a bit weird in comparison to my other recent experience of playing the Pool, but in retrospect I don't think it's an issue, and in fact if I had been paying close attention to the fictional moment and my invoked trait ("my cruelly-hooked sword"), it should have been fairly clear to me that, 1) I'm not whirlwind-wiping-out four goblins just using my sword; this ain't a wuxia film, and 2) since it's the MoV I have a little more leeway to do something big with my sword than what you had already established as a clear, GM-narrated victory: killing one.

So your answer of "two or three" was not only spot-on, but should have been clear to me by taking the fiction and procedures of the game seriously.

I will also note that in this game, whether because of the nature of the dungeon-crawling fiction or just because of the make of the group and how we were feeling that day, it seemed that we went into rolls most of the time in the juncture between Initiation & Effect (II+EE), with Execution (IIE+E) bleeding in at points. I was shocked and surprised by how effective moving into rolls with just Intent (I+IEE) was in the San Diego Pool game, so I'd be curious to see how disciplined we could do that in a dungeon crawl Pool game; whether anyone else is interested in that is up to them -- I'll give that a shot if/when I GM this (which is getting likelier).

Dreamofpeace's picture

Oops, looks like I replied to the wrong thing with my last comment, I meant it to be a reply to you and Adriano. 

...and I think you should have had my sword strokes do nothing against the cube (with no roll needed/allowed)! When I GM I have a bad habit of wiggling my prep during play to make things easier on the players, or in fear that I won't be giving a player an "out" or "something to do", so when I see another GM do something that looks like this, I shout: Don't! But I'm really shouting at myself. Try holding firmly to your prep next time and see how that feels.

Thanks for that! You know, it occurs to me this is an interesting question: in general, when is it ok to change an aspect of your prep once play has started? The answer could be: never… but I’m not sure. 

Suppose in one particular situation, you prepped a couple of interesting NPCs, but it turns out you nerfed them by accident: the game will be mostly underwater, and you didn’t give them any ability to breathe or stay underwater for any length of time. Is it ok to add in a magic ring of water breathing for them? I don’t know how to answer. 

You mentioned the scope of rolls -- when Vanya was facing down three or four goblins the second time, after one of them had been accidentally resurrected, and then attacked, I won the roll and said I wanted a Monologue of Victory. We had to negotiate this a bit in play as I recall; I in fact even asked you how many I could kill. This felt a bit weird in comparison to my other recent experience of playing the Pool, but in retrospect I don't think it's an issue, and in fact if I had been paying close attention to the fictional moment and my invoked trait ("my cruelly-hooked sword"), it should have been fairly clear to me that, 1) I'm not whirlwind-wiping-out four goblins just using my sword; this ain't a wuxia film, and 2) since it's the MoV I have a little more leeway to do something big with my sword than what you had already established as a clear, GM-narrated victory: killing one. So your answer of "two or three" was not only spot-on, but should have been clear to me by taking the fiction and procedures of the game seriously.

Well, I think it would have been better if I made the scope more clear before the roll; to me this was a bit of sloppy GMing on my part. "Negotiation" shouldn't really be required.

I will also note that in this game, whether because of the nature of the dungeon-crawling fiction or just because of the make of the group and how we were feeling that day, it seemed that we went into rolls most of the time in the juncture between Initiation & Effect (II+EE), with Execution (IIE+E) bleeding in at points. I was shocked and surprised by how effective moving into rolls with just Intent (I+IEE) was in the San Diego Pool game, so I'd be curious to see how disciplined we could do that in a dungeon crawl Pool game; whether anyone else is interested in that is up to them -- I'll give that a shot if/when I GM this (which is getting likelier).

I hadn’t noticed this, and am glad you pointed it out. I think my habit is to see how the character starts trying to accomplish their intent, and to use that as a basis for assigning gift dice. 

Oh and I'd happily play in your game if you run it!

Hans's picture

A generational resident of the dwarf slums undergirding human cities, Vanya Erdssen broke his shovel farming nightsoil, and instead of replacing it, he spent his savings on a cruelly-hooked sword (+1). He smells like feces (+1) and has stone-like skin (+2). Time to delve; after all, it's better to risk death than to shovel shit (+2).

Pool dice: 8

Bandages - d4

Rations - d6

Misc - d6

GOLD - 173

Advancement: +1 Pool die for 150 GP, 8 new words (5 + 1 per 50gp). No new items. Spent 3 Pool dice to add 1 to stone-like skin. Reserved all 8 words for future use.

Johann's picture

Sorry to interrupt but I just have to ask about that piece of art! It's a perfect expression of dungeoncrawlin' activity (moreso than fighting, the usual subject of dungeoncrawling art) and especially tension. Let's have the artist / source, please!

Dreamofpeace's picture

No problem! Here's his website: 

http://www.chachihernandez.com/fantasy.html

 

LordPersi's picture

Hi everybody, I've played Judore the Apprentice in Manu's game. Here my character:
 

Judore the Apprentice

Judore is a young apprentice of the college of magic of Varhold (+1). He has dark skin, long black hair, and a scar on his face. Although he’s the best student of alchemy (+2) and wind manipulation (+2), he prefers archaeology (+1): he explores ruins to complete his dissertation on the origins of elves (+1).

  • Pool dice: 3

  • Bandages: d8

  • Rations: d4

  • Miscellaneous: d6 (Elven Magical Arrow)

  • GOLD: 136

Thank you for sharing yout outlook on the game! As I told you, The Pool has worked really well in this dungeon crawling scenario. It was the first time playing The Pool.

Differently from games like Cairn, OSE or LotFP, establishing facts about equipment o similar details did not steal any of the time: the consumption dices in BlackHack style has handled everything related. This contributed to focusing the whole game on problem-solving: we have observed our character traits and involved them in how we faced opposition. I felt that such character traits were a toolkit and not just buttons on a control panel or a way to determine what you can do. I appreciated that we brought them in fiction without using what was written on the character sheet as the only source for solving difficulties -- a flaw that I notice in more class-driven games where there is a canonical warrior class, wizard, etc. . (This flaw makes me less appealing a lot of games like 4e, 5e, Pathfinder, and so on.) I felt to have true agency in deciding how to solve any particular situation.

Moreover, the dice economy of The Pool has helped shake the game and avoid any dead end. When you lose your whole pool, you can't really push foward the fiction according to your expectations: hence, the game takes unexpected directions, makes things interesting, and new opportunities for problem-solving arise.

Also, I join Adriano when he says that it's extremely satysfying playing these characters: they are not anti-heroes nor mere scoundrels, but flawed people trying and succeeding. This makes them real and avoids experiecing to play just a stereotypical role (e.g the devoted paladin, the cunning thief, etc.). It has reminded me indeed Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser: they aren't perfect, sometimes they appear as ridiculous, but they are capable of heroic deeds and smart enterprises.

Dreamofpeace's picture

So we played again, another fun session, and I want to mention a couple of things about it. 

First, I forgot to mention how I use magic items. Some items have an effect that’s purely fictional with no game-mechanical references, e.g., “opens any door that’s not magically locked”. For others, I figured the item would provide an extra bonus in certain specified circumstances, and might come with limited charges (some items can be recharged, either overnight or possibly by spending Pool dice). Normally, in the Pool you only get dice from one trait, plus gift dice and gambled dice; my concept was that if you have, say, a +2 axe of troll slaying, you’d get to add those in also when relevant. Now, when I created these items I just put together a few ideas that I found fun; I didn’t bother to consider whether or how a player would like them, or what impact they’d have on the adventure. The jury’s still out on whether this was a good approach. What are some ways you might treat magic items with the Pool?

Anyway, everything in the session went surprisingly smoothly, and the PCs brought their more rascally side to the fore quite strongly. There was one moment where I got stuck, though: Vanya stepped forward, pointing his sword at a group of goblins and trying to intimidate them into giving up some information. First Esquella and then Judore got involved, directly opposing Vanya and trying to stop him from threatening them. So this was a case where PCs had directly opposing intentions, and the outcome was clearly uncertain, so a roll was definitely needed. The Pool says nothing useful about resolving PC vs. PC conflicts, so I didn’t know what to do. 

What I wound up doing was giving Vanya’s player the roll, since he had been the first to state an intention. If none of the other characters had tried to interfere, I would have given him 3 gift dice, but because of the interference I reduced the gift dice to 1. This worked, but it wasn’t entirely satisfying to me, because the other players got no roll. And suppose I would have only given 1 gift dice to begin with? In that case, the actions of the other players would have had no effect or influence on the die roll at all, since the gift dice was already at the minimum. So I’m looking for help in finding some general ways to adjudicate PC vs. PC conflicts in the Pool.  

Another thing I could have done, I suppose, is to have Vanya’s player make separate rolls for each opposing player, to see if he overcomes their opposition, before rolling his intimidation of the goblins. That might be ok for this situation, but again it feels weird for the opposing players not to get a roll when they’re doing something active. Also, why should Vanya's player get the roll, instead of one or both of the other players? I don't have a good answer.

I’m open to suggestions and other ways of thinking about this…please chip in if you have any thoughts!

Hans's picture

While we were playing, and you were deciding what to do, I almost broke in and said “have us all roll!”, but I didn’t want to make you feel forced into an adjudicating decision you might not have been comfortable with. The Frog Pool game was fresh in my mind, as I had recently watched all the sessions, and at least once in that game there was a situation where multiple people all wanted to do things simultaneously that called for rolls, and you all just rolled at once and your successes or failures were woven into the larger outcome. I think this provides the possibility for outcomes that aren’t simply on the binary of “Vanya got what he wanted, Esquella & Judore didn’t”.

But it is tricky when the goals are clearly directly opposed: what happens when Vanya succeeds at the roll to intimidate the goblins, and Esquella succeeds at the roll to stop him? It’s a scary moment to resolve, to be sure, and I could come up with some abstract options here, but I think we can only really answer this question in that moment of play.

Regarding magic items, I'm not really a fan of them giving bonus pool dice, but I can't precisely say why. If I were designing magic items in the context of the Pool, I'd probably just have them be traits in and of themselves, and when you use the item you can use its trait (per the normal rules for using traits, so magic items don't help you have a better chance of success on a roll, they give you a broader scope of possibilities for action).

In terms of how we've handled PC vs. PC:

It hasn't come up a lot in the games I've been playing, so this isn't meant as any kind of definitive pronouncement but rather "here's how we've tried to muddle through it."

First, we try to make sure that things really are directly opposed and there isn't some kind of opportunity for each player to roll. But then if it definitely appears that we're in a direct head-to-head situation, we do it more or less how you did it: we'll decide which of the two PCs seems to be the one taking the most active stance; the more active PC will roll, and the GM gift dice will take into account resistance offered by the other PC.

I'm always hesitant to add too many extra procedures or substystems to the Pool, though I agree that this is one of the potentially murkier areas in a game which otherwise provides a lot of clarity.

Dreamofpeace's picture

Regarding magic items, I'm not really a fan of them giving bonus pool dice, but I can't precisely say why. If I were designing magic items in the context of the Pool, I'd probably just have them betraits in and of themselves, and when you use the item you can use its trait (per the normal rules for using traits, so magic items don't help you have a better chance of success on a roll, they give you a broader scope of possibilities for action).

I think some magic items would work well as traits of their own. That's what that silver scepter that Esquella got is, really. However, any trait can be increased by spending Pool dice, or modified by using words earned during sessions - which might be awesome, I can imagine a simple ring evolving into the Ring of Power (Bilbo's player added some words to it after The Hobbit session!) or something similar - but that might not be appropriate for many items.

Dreamofpeace's picture

But it is tricky when the goals are clearly directly opposed: what happens when Vanya succeeds at the roll to intimidate the goblins, and Esquella succeeds at the roll to stop him?

You hit the nail on the head here. Suppose both players roll. If one succeeds and the other fails, no problem in interpreting the results. If both players fail, also no problem: in this particular case, it would mean Esquella fails to stop Vanya, but Vanya also fails to intimidate the goblins. The issue is, as you identified, suppose both players succeed. That means Esquella successfully stops Vanya from intimidating the goblins, and that Vanya successfully intimidates the goblins. This is a clear contradiction. 

Now I could try to finesse it by saying Esquella succeeds in stopping Vanya, but the dwarf somehow unintentionally intimidates them, but that's bogus. If I were the player I'd be heckling, shouting bullshit in protest. 

It’s a scary moment to resolve, to be sure, and I could come up with some abstract options here, but I think we can only really answer this question in that moment of play.

Well, what's available in the moment of play that isn't also available now? Especially for us, when we're talking about this specific situation we were playing? I don't see how saying "you can resolve it in play" helps. 

 

Dreamofpeace's picture

But then if it definitely appears that we're in a direct head-to-head situation, we do it more or less how you did it: we'll decide which of the two PCs seems to be the one taking the most active stance; the more active PC will roll, and the GM gift dice will take into account resistance offered by the other PC.

I think this technique worked well enough in the case I mentioned, but I think identifying the most active character can be problematic at times. 

I'm always hesitant to add too many extra procedures or substystems to the Pool, though I agree that this is one of the potentially murkier areas in a game which otherwise provides a lot of clarity.

I understand. My latest thought is this: if PCs are directly opposed, they both roll; if both succeed, interpret this as a tie, if possible, and ask them what they want to do next (they may give up, or try again with a different trait, or do something entirely different).

So in the case of Esquella vs Vanya, if both succeeded I'd say that Esquella is keeping Vanya away from the goblins, but the goblins are alarmed by the confrontation, so it's not clear whether they'll be intimidated or not; then I'd ask what they do. Vanya might change to trying to dodge around Esquella or even strike her, which would change the actions and call for a new roll or rolls.

Suppose a tie is impossible, then what? I'd ask them how they're changing what they're doing, if at all, have them add an additional die to their hand, and roll again. Repeat until there's a clear victor. 

I'm also wondering whether to say if both succeed, if one player got more ones then they're the victor. 

Does this add another subsystem? Yes, but I think it may be needed. 

Hans's picture

Well, what's available in the moment of play that isn't also available now? Especially for us, when we're talking about this specific situation we were playing? I don't see how saying "you can resolve it in play" helps. 

I guess I'm thinking of all those little contextual moments that don't make it into write-ups, and maybe don't make it even into the broader remembering of what happened--the inflection of exactly how an intent was stated or implied, the demeanor of the goblins at that exact moment, etc. I could be making more of this than is there, of course.

Add new comment