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Author Topic: [The Pool]  (Read 5033 times)
Latreya Sena
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Posts: 26


« on: July 26, 2008, 06:38:09 PM »

Hi all,

I'm thinking of running the Pool (first time) with a small group, however, because of the nature of the game, I'm a little baffled about prep. It probably doesn't help that I am thinking of a "Brotherhood of the Wolf" scenario either.

I want a horror/fantasy/noir investigation tone; you know, the good old beast hunts man thing. The characters enter a village that is being stalked by some unknown monster, everyday villagers go missing, despite the curfew.

So, I think it’s pretty cool that the Pool’s not good for railroading plots but instead takes a “throw toys in the sandbox” approach and lets the players develop the story.

How is this exactly accomplished though? Do I make a page of relationship maps and a list of ambiguous clues? (e.g. the mayor had blood on his shoes).

Do you think going by a heap of “random objects/people” the players will make a good story out of it and solve the mystery?

How have you prepped for a game like the Pool?



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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2008, 07:50:33 AM »

Hello,

My first and most straightforward answer is that you should prepare a simple but exciting situation for player-characters to encounter. The key is not to improvise the back-story, but to prepare it. If there's been a murder, then you, the GM, know who did it. If there was a war with goblins 100 years ago, you say so; if there wasn't, then you say so. The Pool is actually much more traditional in its preparation requirements than many people initially thought. It's easy to get distracted by the player-narration of conflicts' outcomes and become wrongly fearful that they might interfere with back-story content.

Anyway, my point is that preparing for the Pool requires some solid work from you in terms of immediate setting, your non-player characters who are currently embroiled in something tense and colorful, and opportunities for the player-characters to take action. In other words, what's going on. I recommend that you not prepare in terms of ordered scenes and a planned climax, because they don't work well with this game - in other words, don't prepare what's going to happen after the first couple of scenes of play.

Here some threads which might help. Although a lot of the discussion is more concerned with conflicts and dice, there's a fair amount of stuff about preparation as well.

[The Pool] Dragons and Jasmine (this one contains a number of older links too)
[The Pool] A very satisfying first attempt
[The Pool] Stagefright and questions (a lot like your questions)
Silent railroading and the intersection of scenario prep and player authorship (a big thread, but there's some Pool-specific talk that's relevant to your questions)

I know that's a lot of reading for what is, when all's said, a pretty simple question and answer. There are some really good points in there, though, so I recommend it.

Best, Ron
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Latreya Sena
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Posts: 26


« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2008, 01:24:44 PM »

Thanks for the reply,

I’ve got some reading to do; thanks for the links. Perhaps I should read them first but a few initial responses:

Quote
If there's been a murder, then you, the GM, know who did it.

Well, I was wondering, given the player control of the story, if I could not know who do it. It could be interesting, but on second thoughts it might end up being a lot more work in-game than actually prepping as we all try to keep track of a coherent plotline.

And what if a player gets a MOV and says “I pressure NPC X to confess to the murders”, when I had NPC Y in mind for the murderer?

I think your approach may be best but I would have to make it clear to the players beforehand that there are a number of definite clues and there is a specific murderer/s behind it all.

I’ll go check out those threads now.

Cheers,
Latreya.

P.S. I forget to fill out my subject title properly, it should be:

[The Pool] How to prepare a scenario
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2008, 05:26:38 PM »

Hi Latreya,

I think you'll find the "Silent railroading" thread most relevant to your questions. This is what I was talking about for the difference between what's going on (who killed the guy) vs. what happens (what we do about it). I guess the best way to put it is that authority over how he tells me the truth is not the same thing as authority over what the truth is.

A lot of people think The Pool is like InSpectres, in which players make suggestions about what's going on via the actions and investigations of their characters, and if successful, they actually invent "the mystery" and its solution into existence through play. To repeat: The Pool is not like InSpectres in this way. "Player power" in The Pool does not include co-GMing regarding what is happening external to the characters, in terms of the larger scale of prep. It does have a lot of potential to make things move and change, but it doesn't have any power to alter where things start.

I was thinking about this thread some more and decided to change the way I would approach this conversation.

Latreya, please describe for me exactly how you prepared for the last game you GMed. It'd be good to know what game it was, how well it went, or anything like that, but I'd really like to focus on exactly what information and what planning went into it.

Given that, I know I can help make prepping for The Pool coherent for you.

Best, Ron
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #4 on: July 28, 2008, 03:56:09 AM »

Quote
And what if a player gets a MOV and says “I pressure NPC X to confess to the murders”, when I had NPC Y in mind for the murderer?

Hipshot answer: NPC X confesses. NPC Y is still the murderer, though, so you've got the interesting case emerging where X has confessed under duress, but the murders are still going on. The players then have to react to both your content and the consequences of their own actions.
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~Lance Allen
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2008, 02:11:14 AM »

I wrote a bit about my own prep for The Pool. As it's a large bit, I posted in in a seperate thread. Here it is.

- Frank
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Latreya Sena
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« Reply #6 on: July 30, 2008, 07:57:29 PM »

Hi all,

Sorry about the belated reply – I’ve got no internet at the moment and am relying on works (yay!)

I’m only half way through one of the links you gave me Ron, and haven’t got to yours yet Frank. Bare with me, I’m going to be slow.

Wolfen, I get your gist, but I probably gave a poor analogy. I meant to say; what if the players really do find the “real” (to them anyway) murderer when I have done all this prep. It’s still o.k. I guess but what’s the use in elaborate prepping then?

Anyway, about prep. I haven’t gamed all that much, last time was a few years back when I ran a few sessions of Heroquest. I prep like so; Firstly I look at the character sheets and mix and match a few abilities – I find a scenario can virtually write itself this way. Then I think of genre/tone; romance, intrigue, swashbuckler etc. (usually based on players character types), then I steal, steal, steal plots from other published adventures/tv shows/film etc. I think up 2 or 3 scenarios for the characters. I try to connect them, though sometimes they remain isolated. I make sure they have a “hook” that involves the characters. Sometimes I do a Boolean storyline eg. If/then (this is probably what you, Ron, are telling me not to do for the Pool), other times not. Then it’s a matter of presenting the players with these various scenarios/potential plots that are going on around their current locale and see what they want to do.

We were all adults and had a lot of fun in the few sessions we played, but I think if I am going to peak their interest again I will have to move away from the mythical Glorantha and the HQ fairly crunchy rules system. Flavour-wise my crew will prefer a little more darkness, mystery, perhaps even erotica (I’m thinking femme fatales). And system-wise I think the Pool could be easier, lighter, and hopefully more fun.

I’ve got some time now, so I’m going back to your threads.

- Latreya.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: August 05, 2008, 01:03:37 AM »

Hi Latreya,

I’ve been a terrible correspondent for you, and I apologize. This topic is important to me and I hope the slow pace of the discussion hasn’t killed it for you.

I’d like to jump in on your question to Lance (Wolfen), although that doesn’t mean I don’t want Lance to answer too. You wrote,

Quote
I meant to say; what if the players really do find the “real” (to them anyway) murderer when I have done all this prep. It’s still o.k. I guess but what’s the use in elaborate prepping then?

I think you might be missing the point that Lance and I are trying to make. Let me try a hypothetical example.

1. You have prepared a back-story in which an insane clown has killed somebody, let’s say, an ice-cream vendor. The clown is still free and seems to be innocent.

2. The player-characters question someone, let’s say a police officer, and given a winning roll, a player chooses to narrate the outcome. He says, “The officer tells me that a local homeless man murdered the guy!”

3. Nothing is changed by this narration. The homeless guy did not do it. The clown did. The player’s narration does not affect the back-story. It only affects what the police officer says! You continue to play the session based on these points.

4. In these circumstances, you may have to enrich your preparation. For instance, you might decide that the police officer was merely confused or had too much faith in an investigation that has gone poorly. Or, if this clown has terrible powers in your game, perhaps he hypnotized the officer.

My point is that the player’s narration cannot affect what you have prepared. It does not “create truth” in the game. It only describes what the officer says. It is important for everyone playing The Pool to understand this – a Monologue of Victory does not make the player into a temporary collaborator in preparing the back-story.

It is often hard to describe the impact that a good Monologue of Victory can have on a session. If we are talking about what happens next, then the Monologue can be very important. In a game I played a long time ago, after a winning roll in a social conflict situation, a player narrated that a villain fell in love with her character. That is excellent. It means that I get to play the villain much more complex and fun way from that point on. Note that the player did not narrate that the villain was actually a good guy who was merely misunderstood.

Do you see the difference? To narrate that the villain falls in love, is to move forwards. To narrate that he was never a villain is to move backwards. The former is what the Monologue mechanics in The Pool are for, but not the latter.

To answer my question, you wrote,

Quote
Anyway, about prep. I haven’t gamed all that much, last time was a few years back when I ran a few sessions of Heroquest. I prep like so; Firstly I look at the character sheets and mix and match a few abilities – I find a scenario can virtually write itself this way. Then I think of genre/tone; romance, intrigue, swashbuckler etc. (usually based on players character types), then I steal, steal, steal plots from other published adventures/tv shows/film etc. I think up 2 or 3 scenarios for the characters. I try to connect them, though sometimes they remain isolated. I make sure they have a “hook” that involves the characters. Sometimes I do a Boolean storyline eg. If/then (this is probably what you, Ron, are telling me not to do for the Pool), other times not. Then it’s a matter of presenting the players with these various scenarios/potential plots that are going on around their current locale and see what they want to do.

That helps me a little bit. It reminds me very much of how I prepared for Champions play. I even mapped out five-session plans for a given villain or scheme, what today would be called story arcs. I have several suggestions. I think we should talk about them one at a time.

My first suggestion concerns setting, which HeroQuest provides and The Pool does not. Your “firstly” step is only possible with some context provided by setting, or more generally, what have been called genre conventions. (They may or may not actually correspond to an existing genre in film or fiction.) I am referring not only to the visual and imagined physical qualities of a setting, but also to the seeds of engaging conflicts found in the circumstances there.

In HeroQuest, the setting is literally built to provide such circumstances. Put your finger onto any spot in Glorantha and you will encounter not only the scars of past metaphysical and military events, but the presence of powerfully-motivated persons and creatures who are still fighting one another in some way about those events.

As I’m sure you know, a group cannot play effectively when only one person, the GM, knows about and cares about those features of the setting. When you say “firstly,” you are already working with those features in mind. Therefore you need a new “firstly,” based specifically on setting.

You mentioned a Brotherhood of the Wolf type of scenario. That tells me a lot about the situation faced by player-characters, but not very much about the setting. Were you thinking of modeling the setting on the film as well?

Best, Ron
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #8 on: August 05, 2008, 02:04:40 AM »

I’ll add that The Pool and its children are not particularly well-suited for very investigative adventures. In my experience, they work much more smoothly when you give the players a lot of informations early on and without conflict, so the interesting part isn’t “what happened” but “what do we do about it”.

- Frank
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Arturo G.
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« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2008, 04:07:23 AM »

I’ll add that The Pool and its children are not particularly well-suited for very investigative adventures. In my experience, they work much more smoothly when you give the players a lot of informations early on and without conflict, so the interesting part isn’t “what happened” but “what do we do about it”.

This really surprise me. I have tried The Pool with things similar to investigative scenarios. In terms of preparation it was very similar to any other kind of adventure. But you are mainly talking about the pace used to show the facts of the back-story. I would say the The Pool allows you as much control of it as any other game.

The only thing which is different is that the players will be adding behavior, fleshing the NPCs, even killing them before they really know the facts. But the back-story will be still there. You need to mix-up your preparation details with the new information introduced by the players to know what the NPCs could be thinking or doing now in the game, which is part of the fun for the master. But what they did, is not changing, and it will be revealed when it becomes appropriate. Following the player characters in their investigation is easy, linking their proposals and clues to the real facts dynamically.

The only thing that could not work is to include an assumption about what is good or bad, or an already preset morality choice in the back-story, expecting the players to react in a given way when they know what was going on.

Interestingly, with The Pool it is very easy that the players develop unexpected relationships with the NPCs, which may introduce really interesting possibilities and weird decisions when the players discover the facts and who were really those NPCs.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #10 on: August 05, 2008, 04:23:17 AM »

Well, then maybe it's just me because I tend to find investigation boring anyway.

- Frank
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Latreya Sena
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Posts: 26


« Reply #11 on: August 08, 2008, 10:27:28 PM »

Hi all,

Late again, sorry…

So there are lots of things here. I think first it would be better to define what a MOV means before thinking about prep – which is what we are doing. Going through those threads (man, what a head trip!) I get two distinct impressions:

  • The GM has precepts before the game about players narration powers; “Don’t make up clues”, “you can’t kill this guy” etc.

and the more usual method:

  • In the words of Ron: “the player’s narration cannot affect what you have prepared. It does not “create truth” in the game… It is important for everyone playing The Pool to understand this – a Monologue of Victory does not make the player into a temporary collaborator in preparing the back-story.

I’m starting to get a grip on number 2 and think perhaps I am needlessly worrying. I think I really need to just dive in and play the game, and see what happens.

Quote
Interestingly, with The Pool it is very easy that the players develop unexpected relationships with the NPCs, which may introduce really interesting possibilities and weird decisions when the players discover the facts and who were really those NPCs.

You see, I like that.

Regarding your setting question Ron, it’s a very good point. I haven’t given it a lot of thought thus far, but you’re right, players can’t be expected to flesh out characters without a basic setting.

So do you always use settings that already exists?

And another question on the side: Are there any good books/resources that really help you develop stories for RPG’s? As I said I use my own method, a bit like this: Genre/tone -> Basic plot themes -> PC’s Traits -> Scenario.

But I’m sure someone out there has thought of a more methodical and effective approach. Most RPG’s have a brief part about creating your own adventures but I wonder is there a book entirely dedicated to it? I guess the themes and tones of a particular setting lead to different types of stories but there does seem to be recurring genres and plot themes in storytelling so an overall view of it wouldn’t be out of the question.

- Latreya
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Latreya Sena
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« Reply #12 on: August 08, 2008, 10:31:15 PM »

P.S. Frank:

Well, then maybe it's just me because I tend to find investigation boring anyway.

Aren't you running a game in the Potterverse? Fair bit of investigation going on in that thar setting! :-)

- Latreya
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #13 on: August 09, 2008, 02:47:17 AM »

I think Harry Potter stories contain a bit of investigation, but they are not about investigtion. Therefore, in a role-playing adaption, investigation is pretty unimportant, at least when I'm running it. It's just a device to make sure the characters get the information they need, and then comes the interesting part: What do they do about it? But I don't want to derail.

- Frank
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: August 09, 2008, 07:07:53 AM »

Hi Latreya,

First, your easy question. You wrote,

Quote
So do you always use settings that already exists?

For me personally, regarding The Pool, almost never. My Dragons & Jasmine game used a fantasy setting, but it was not a fixed and known setting in terms of sources. I was inspired mainly by the works of Lord Dunsany, but did not make any attempt to present or frame it in his terms. The role of dragons in the setting was as far as I know original on my part.

Others have used canonical settings with great success. My favorite example is Paul Czege's game of The Pool, which used the setting from a game that we both liked but had not played, called Sun & Storm. That thread can be found in the early discussions here.

The author of The Pool also wrote The Questing Beast, which uses a fairly drastic modification of the rules with an Arthurian setting, using anthropomorphic animal characters. It's very, very good, but I do think the rules differences are so important that a person should not try to learn the two systems at the same time.

Now for your hard question. I have dedicated perhaps twenty years to an active project to understand how stories may be created via role-playing. It began with an admission on my part that creating a story through play cannot be done by preparing the story first and "running the players through it." That's like making a cake together by presenting everyone with an already-finished or almost-finished cake. Relatively recently, I've used the terms Story Before vs. Story Now to distinguish the two concepts.

I wrote a series of essays to deal with this, and the topic necessarily expanded to cover all the various goals in role-playing, based on some great work done by others. You can find them in the Articles section linked at the top right of this webpage. However, you should understand that these essays are not a textbook for newcomers; they're milestones during the course of a multi-person dialogue and were addressed to the people who were already involved. Regardless, as far as I know, they represent the most developed discussion of "story" in role-playing to date.

If you want to check them out, then the best plan is to start at the end, with the essay called The Provisional Glossary, and reading only the first two pages with the diagram. There are only seven jargon terms to learn. The rest of that essay is not really important in comparison.

There are some other very good, recent works on role-playing, but as far as I can tell they are devoted mainly to the medium in general, and do not address story-creation so much as (to use my terms) SIS-creation.

Best, Ron
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