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Author Topic: Prepping for The Pool: Hogwarts Class of ’79 (long)  (Read 4046 times)
Frank Tarcikowski
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« on: July 29, 2008, 02:10:00 AM »

Over in this thread there was a question about prepping for The Pool. As I’m in the middle of prepping for an ambitious game of The Pool which I’ll be running on Saturday, I thought I’d share (and maybe I’ll even get some useful advice).

1) GENERAL IDEA

The general idea was that I wanted to run a game of The Pool set in the Potterverse. I’ll assume that you have read the novels by J.K. Rowlings or at least watched the movies. If you haven’t, it will probably be hard to follow. Anyhow, I did some research and refreshed my memory using the fantastic German Harry Potter Wiki. It was important to me to stay as close to the canon as possible and draw from the rich background provided by the novels.

I decided that the game would be set in 1979: Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters are already pretty active but open war is not yet going on. Thus the mood will be somewhat dark like in “The Order of the Phoenix” but there will be plenty of room for the “school stuff” and “personal stuff” as opposed to “just the war” (obviously the PCs will be Hogwarts students, what else). I checked for canonical characters around and found that most teachers known from the novels will already be there. Slughorn will be teaching potions and be Slytherin house teacher. I get to make up the Defence against Dark Arts teacher (d’oh) and the divination teacher.

As Trelawney becomes divination teacher in 1980, the divination teacher is about to retire. I decide it’s a grumpy but funny old wizard and house teacher of Hufflepuff. For DaDA, I decide on more or less a female version of Snape. I summarize all this and a little more in a little funny teaser I post to the players. Moreover, I request that all characters be from a little wizard village by the name of Nymphsfart (don’t ask), or the neighbouring muggle town. Furthermore, I ask that the characters are all childhood friends and have forged a pact before they went to Hogwarts to always stay friends, no matter what houses they will be in and no matter what happens.

2) PLAYER CHARACTERS

Then character ideas get tossed around and we discuss them as a group. Two players have very similar concepts of an ambigous Slytherin guy in mind, but one of them decides to leave it to the other and go for something else. I suggest that the characters are in their 5th grade (fitting the “Order of the Phoenix” mood), thus they’re already apt wizards and it’s OWL year. In the end, we get:

  • Skip, the rebel/leader type, muggle born ne’er-do-well and Quidditch team captain (Gryffindor).
  • Abigail, the dedicated, a little too earnest auror’s daughter who lost her mother to some dark arts scheme and has nothing on her mind but becoming an auror herself (Gryffindor).
  • Sheamus, the highly ambitious guy who keeps his Squib family a secret (Slytherin).
  • Poppy, a talented daughter of the most ancient and noble house Black and a bitter disappointment to her family for all her nonsense daydreams and lack of ambition (Hufflepuff).
  • Seanán, a little genius whose mother is the Nymph-blooded mayor of Nymphsfart, who appears arrogant for lack of social skills and has a secret love affair with astronomy teacher Professor Sinistra (Ravenclaw).

In addition to the 50 words, I borrowed a little from Dread (the one with the Jenga tower) and asked the players a few leading questions, like “what’s your position on the Quidditch team” or “which is your most hated subject at school” or “whom do you have a crush on”. We’re ending up with some heavy potential teenage romance. Also, the ambiguity of house Slytherin will be a theme, with Sheamus in that house and Abigail who who was almost put there by the Sorting Hat, too.

3) OTHER CHARACTERS

I do have a vague idea of a backstory but I start by prepping the NPCs. I check out the relevant canonical characters, deciding that Barty Crouch jr. will be in 7th grade and that Bellatrix Lestrange and Frank and Alice Longbottom may make an appearance. Then I write a few paragraphs about each of my own NPCs.

  • Professor Nicodemus Noggle is the old Hufflepuff guy. He is a pretty generic queer old wizard which is just fine, I’ll be using him for some comic relief. He is also from Nymphsfart and will play a major role in the Death Eaters’ scheme, but I’ll figure that out later. (Of course there will be a Death Eaters’ scheme, what did you expect?)
  • Professor Cynthia Mantis-Black is the new DaDA teacher (yep, the job is already cursed). For story purposes, she is going take the Snape role, so she’ll be a female Snape, but less bitter and more self complacent. She’s very proud of her own achievement, which is why she did not take on the name Black. She runs a business with her husband specialising on magical security, I’ll be emphasising how she is still running the business from her Hogwarts office. Like Snape, she is not a villain but will seem like one.
  • Xenobus Black, who just happened into existence while I made up Cynthia, is kind of a weak man who does everything Cynthia says. He adores Cynthia, to his family’s chagrin. One should not underestimate him, though, for he is a capable wizard. The other woman in his life is his dear sister Bellatrix Lestrange. Bellatrix has convinced him to join the Death Eaters and manipulated him into accepting that it would be to Cynthia’s best to put her under an Imperius curse so she will do the Dark Lord’s bidding.
  • The Nymph Theladris is inhabiting a stream in the forbidden forest and the characters have helped her in previous years (I’ll leave the “how” up to the players).

Now I have a bunch of easy-to-grasp NPCs that I’ll much enjoy playing. I also jot down a few more names with a few prompts, like the Quidditch team captains and some other notable students.

4) TIME LINE

Of course we will be playing through a whole year, like a Harry Potter novel. We have all Saturday, I hope that’ll be sufficient. The novels, at least up to the 5th one, always follow a certain pattern of how events evolve. I cannot and will not railroad events to fit that pattern, but there are a lot of things that are still GM-driven, like the Quidditch schedule, the Christmas Ball and holidays, Slug Club meetings, OWL exams, and stuff the Death Eaters do. I jot that down in a table with two columns, one of them “school stuff” and one of them “Death Eater stuff”. This is a bit like the “what would happen if the Dogs never came” part in Dogs in the Vineyard.

There will be some hints to the Death Eater scheme at some points, there will be some new magical creature introduced and some magical plant, too. Also, a formerly unknown defensive spell. The time line gets more detailed as I proceed with the prep, so the steps 4-6 are really happening at the same time.

5) BACK STORY

I write up some stuff about Nymphs and Nymphsfart (like the Nymph’s Dance Inn with the table Quidditch game in one corner). I decide early on there will be some McGuffin given to Prof. Noggle by the Nymphs, but what it actually is gets decided pretty late (it happens to be about the Nymph’s version of the floo network, called the vortex network, which is below the radar for most wizards and which the Death Eaters want to use for their strike at the Ministry of Magic. The control center of this network is located at Nymphsfart and well protected, but Prof. Noggle has a port key that takes you there, which he hides at Hogwarts).

In the novels there is always some stuff the protagonists learn in their lessons that gets important later. As I’m not railroading, I cannot plan this ahead, but I can give the players some ammo, like a new defensive spell or the Wolpertingers they’ll be taking care of which are capable of a threatening squeal that will send anyone running head over heels. I’m sure that the players know their Potter well enough to look out for an opportunity to use this, and they will find it. I mean, this is a safe bet. The Wolpertinger will save the day.

I also want to prepare a vision that one of the PCs has in divination class that will give some clues to the Death Eaters’ plans and the role the PCs may play. Note that as I’m not railroading, I’m trusting the players to make that vision come true (so kind of a self-fulfulling prophecy). I’m still working on the vision, though. I also have to figure out how that vision gets transformed into a little crystal ball stored away at the Department of Mysteries because the novels do not explain that.

6) BANGS

This will not be a very bang-driven scenario. There will be time dedicated to e.g. just acting out some lesson at Hogwarts, or a Quidditch match. Knowing my players, I’m also expecting them to drive play with their own goals and actions, so I won’t be needing a whole lot of bangs. Still, I’ll try to have a few at hand in case of need. Like:

  • Skip has to pick a new seeker for Gryffindor. The only moderately talented applicants are (a) a Skip groupie and (b) a mean bully. Abigail would be a better seeker, of course, but she doesn’t have time for Quidditch because she has to prepare for her OWL exams (note that this last bit came from the player, not from me).
  • Sheamus is approached my some fellow Slytherins and asked to join a wannabe Death Eater meeting in the forbidden forest.
  • Seanán receives an anonymous letter by someone who knows about him and Prof. Sinistra.
  • Poppy learns that her parents are Death Eaters.
  • Abigail must choose between her friends and her grades as one of the teachers keeps picking on her friends.

I probably won’t even need these. I especially like the first one, though, so it’s pretty much set.

I’ll be aiming to strike a balance between the more personal stuff (what would be “character scenes” in Primetime Adventures) and the more global stuff (what would be “plot scenes”). But when push comes to shove, the character stuff is much more important. I mean, it’s pretty much a given that the characters will thwart the Death Eaters’ plan (though it’s not impossible for one of them to die, if they want to). But romance isn’t a given and I expect the Christmas Ball to be the real climax of the story. However, these things cannot really be planned and I’ll be relying on my NPCs and backstory to see me through.

Questions and comments are welcome. I’ll let you know how it goes.

- Frank
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charles ferguson
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« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2008, 11:13:23 PM »

Frank, very cool. Thanks for posting this in such depth, it gives valuable insights.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing how the gameplay goes!

Much appreciated.

Charles
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Frédéric (Demiurge)
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« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2008, 07:44:57 AM »

Hi, Frank !
I would like to know how you'd use magic mechanics with The Pool system.

I'm slowly working on a dedicated system to play Harry Potter RPG and I think The Pool is an excellent basis.
While reading your post, I was really surprised, because my reflections about an adaptation of these books are the same as yours.

It would be cool if we could pool our work together, if you're interested, you can mail me or discuss it here.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2008, 09:55:31 AM »

Hi Frédéric,

We did not use any magic mechanic. We had a list with spell names and descriptions to give us some guidance. Be sure we were shouting “Stupor” and “Protego” and “Expelliarmus” all the time, but the only mechanics we needed were Traits, Dice Pool, Rolls and MoVs.

The game was huge, we played 13 hours. The players did some fantastic in-character play and my NPCs clicked pretty well (Noggle better than Mantis-Black; Skip’s groupie Amanda Watkins and evil-badass Slytherin captain Redgy Bane emerging as other feature NPCs in play). Loads of drama and comedy evolved from the personal relationships alone, but you could be sure that the sense of danger and being terrified would instantly kick in when the plot came knocking in the guise of masked Death Eaters, Bellatrix Lestrange or an image of the Dark Lord Himself.

As I expected, the players really embraced all the conventions of the novels, all the while joking OOC about “Potter logic”, and thus followed the plot hooks I introduced effortlessly. I could just run down my time line of events and the players’ reactions wove into them to create a story that was almost ominously alike to a Harry Potter novel. At some point I decided to leave out the prophecy, but everything else worked out smoothly, including Abigail’s player choking when I told her about the two Aurors who were staying with her family for Christmas and to keep watch over Nymphsfart, who were introduced as Frank and Alice. Gryffindor won the Quidditch cup, Slytherin won the House cup, the Death Eaters’ scheme was thwarted and the brave Wolpertinger was killed by an Avada Kedavra in the final battle. All this was wonderful and well deserves mention, but the really important player choices and role-playing were all about family, friendship and romance, which took up at least 75% of net game time.

The game was a blast and The Pool was a perfect choice for a system. Sometimes we’d play for hours without a single roll, but when we reached for the dice, it always felt right and it always provided for good suspense. We had three failed rolls as well. At two points I called for Pool refreshment because I felt that 13 hours of play deserved to be treated as three sessions…

- Frank
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #4 on: August 04, 2008, 12:08:06 AM »

(...) Abigail’s player choking when I told her about the two Aurors who were staying with her family for Christmas and to keep watch over Nymphsfart, who were introduced as Frank and Alice.

Um, actually that should read "Abigails player getting choked up", not "choking", in case you were wondering...

- Frank
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Frédéric (Demiurge)
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« Reply #5 on: August 04, 2008, 09:22:45 AM »

I'm glad to see how it worked, especially about the 75% of Characters scenes (potential intimate and school scenes), it's exactly what I'm looking for !


Ok, so I would like to know, in regard to your HP/The pool experience, if one or more of these potential additional rules would have positive impact on the game :


- What would you think about mechanics that would evaluate character's popularity which would be useful during conflicts ? (Because it's an important theme in the books, but we can merely let players chose if it's important for their characters in letting them write a trait about it).

- What do you think about Stats that would increase differences between characters (like « emotion », « body », « studiousness », « acuity »)... It sure would modify the body of the system.

- Do you think it would be interesting to make adults or older students harder to beat (in fight as in any other kind of conflict, of course) ? Maybe in demanding more than one 1 to win conflict... graduating with the difference between enemy's and PC's level.

- Did you miss sometimes articulated conflicts like in Dogs in the vineyard, or did you find the fact that one roll ends conflicts better ? Why ?

- Would it be good to present some lists of traits for example, that would help the (newbie) player to stay in the fiction model of Harry Potter ?

- Maybe we could make magic more powerful but harder or more risky to use than any other action.


Now some questions :

- Did the players totally respect the effects of their powers while telling their monologues of victory ? (Is it so important ?)

- How did you rule the spells learning ?

- How did you (the group) decide which house won which price ?

- Did the PC suffer ? I think it's quite important if we want to approach the books' dramatic intensity.

- Do you think you could play chronicles the way you played ?


As you can see, I'm wondering if The Pool is totally adequate to play Harry Potter, or if it would be fun or useful to customize it.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #6 on: August 05, 2008, 01:53:49 AM »

Hi Frédéric!

I think the dichotomy lies between two very different approaches. Our approach was that we already knew the canon pretty well and did not need anything in terms of System to help us out with it. This includes not only the setting but also the structure of the story. Thus, The Pool was very well suited for us.

If on the other hand you wanted to write a game system that enabled players without such profound Harry Potter knowledge to create a “true” Harry Potter story, you would have to provide a LOT more guidance by the System. I don’t think The Pool will be of much help with that. Also, I think that it’s BLOODY HARD.

I’ll tackle your questions one by one.

Quote
- What would you think about mechanics that would evaluate character's popularity which would be useful during conflicts ? (Because it's an important theme in the books, but we can merely let players chose if it's important for their characters in letting them write a trait about it).

That sounds like a very neat idea, if you want to take the second approach mentioned above.

Quote
- What do you think about Stats that would increase differences between characters (like « emotion », « body », « studiousness », « acuity »)... It sure would modify the body of the system.

I would say: Reasonably few. Maybe only the ones that are particularly good or bad, for each character.

Quote
- Do you think it would be interesting to make adults or older students harder to beat (in fight as in any other kind of conflict, of course) ? Maybe in demanding more than one 1 to win conflict... graduating with the difference between enemy's and PC's level.

I think that requiring more than one 1 seriously messes up probabilities in The Pool, so I would not recommend it with that system. In the context of The Pool, it’s the players’ job to keep their MoVs reasonable. In our game, when Death Eaters attacked the Nymphs on New Year’s Eve, the players never even thought of narrating how their characters wiped the floor with them. They narrated how they managed to somehow hold their ground until Abigail’s dad and the Longbottoms came racing in on their broomsticks to save them.

Quote
- Did you miss sometimes articulated conflicts like in Dogs in the vineyard, or did you find the fact that one roll ends conflicts better ? Why ?

I did not miss them a stitch. Our Shared Imagined Space was so rich and our narration so detailed that no such thing was required at all. It would only have annoyed us. I have to say that these players are the crème de la crème of the German scene. It does not get any better than this.

Quote
- Would it be good to present some lists of traits for example, that would help the (newbie) player to stay in the fiction model of Harry Potter ?

I found the list of spells very helpful, but would not recommend example traits. I think especially if you have a source material you adore and want to celebrate, an important part of the fun is to find your own interpretation and/or addition to the source material.

Quote
- Maybe we could make magic more powerful but harder or more risky to use than any other action.

As wizards use magic all the time and for everything, I tend to find this counter-intuitive.

Quote
- Did the players totally respect the effects of their powers while telling their monologues of victory ? (Is it so important ?)

Yes, and yes. It’s the key.

Quote
- How did you rule the spells learning ?

I totally left that to the players to decide, with one exception: When Prof. Mantis taught them the Anti-Intruder-Jinx, a very difficult spell, I announced that whoever wanted to master it would need to roll some dice.

Quote
- How did you (the group) decide which house won which price ?

The Quidditch matches were all played out and decided by one or several rolls (except the ones against Ravenclaw, as no PC was on that team, so I just narrated them briefly). These games also carried a lot of thematic weight because Sheamus, the Slytherin guy, was a beater who went by the nickname of “Killer”, so it was always interesting to see whom of his friends he would aim at or not… in one game, he actually aimed at one of them in the crowd!

The result of the house cup was just ruled by the tyrannical GM. I had mentioned several times that Slytherin was in the lead. When the final banquet came, Dumbledore announced some last minute changes (d’oh). Sheamus’ player said something to the effect of, “Yeah, of course now Gryffindor wins again.” So I decided, right there, that Slytherin would win by the points Sheamus gained.

Quote
- Did the PC suffer ? I think it's quite important if we want to approach the books' dramatic intensity.

They suffered and rejoiced like only a 15-year-old can. ;o)

Quote
- Do you think you could play chronicles the way you played ?

With those players? You bet. Unfortunately, I only see them twice a year for a forum meet-up.

- Frank
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Frédéric (Demiurge)
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« Reply #7 on: August 05, 2008, 02:26:00 AM »

Wonderful !
You're analysis of the dichotomy seems pretty right.

Thank you so much for your detailed answer.

I have only one thing to say : let's playtest !

I'll first try a play with the system of The Pool without changing anything, an then, I'll try to modify what deserves it, according to my feeling of course.

Thanks again.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #8 on: August 06, 2008, 12:06:46 AM »

I wanted to add some thoughts on the plot-driven aproach I took with this game (as opposed to the bang-driven approach that I use e.g. in my Sorcerer games). How to run plot-driven adventures is really not a secret; most role-players are much more familiar with it than with the bang-driven approach. If it’s well done, the PCs get involved with the larger events at some point, they figure out what’s going on, and then it’s up to them what to do about it. The trick is to have a strong connection between the PCs and the plot, and a strong back story so the plot makes sense and you can easily tell how the PCs’ actions will change the course of events.

In this game, I was aiming to create a plot to resemble the novels. I had to be flexible as to how to relay the necessary information to the players: Some of it they found out by looking for it, and they drew the right conclusions quicker than I expected. Some of it I basically threw into their face (joking OOC about the bluntness of it).

There was one difficult part, though: In every Harry Potter novel, the heroes get isolated at some point so they have to fight the Evil on their own without help from the grown-up wizards. I used the OWL exams as a springboard because it was pretty unlikely they would not turn up there. The Death Eaters released a bunch of ghost dogs as a distraction and then the Wolpertinger did its magic squeal and sent everybody running (except for the PCs who were blocking their ears). Of course, no silence spell could stop it. This was probably a bit of railroading, but nobody tried to resist it because it was just obviously “the right thing to happen”. (Also, it was already 2:30 a.m. and we were, well, not rushing it, but going straight for the final.)

I found that running this plot-driven scenario worked out very well, especially in the context of a 13 hour convention game. Of course, the majority of play did not have anything to do with the plot. Through the personal relationships and romantic interests they had established between their characters, and through their actions in play, the players kept creating bang-like situations for each other all the time and I could just lean back and sometimes, at the right point, pour some oil into the fire or offer some way out.

I also found that it was extremely helpful to have two players in the group who favor author stance, as a balance to two other players who strongly favor actor stance (the fifth one switches between both, I think). Since I’ve played with all of these people before, I composed the group like that on purpose. In fact, I resisted quite some social pressure in choosing one of the author stance players over another player who would also have been an actor stance guy.

(As an aside, the player I did choose – Poppy’s player – contributed to play fantastically even though she was suffering from a headache that turned into migraine in the evening. She only quit play after vomitting her soul out, around 1:00 a.m., and the rest of us were totally baffled because we hadn’t even noticed up to then. When she quit, she was so disappointed she was close to tears.)

- Frank
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2008, 01:48:21 AM »

One more addition, just in case this isn’t obvious to everyone:

Quote
Of course, no silence spell could stop it. This was probably a bit of railroading, but nobody tried to resist it because it was just obviously “the right thing to happen”. (Also, it was already 2:30 a.m. and we were, well, not rushing it, but going straight for the final.)

Of course they could have easily resisted with a roll. No player has to accept railroading in The Pool.

- Frank
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #10 on: August 11, 2008, 08:38:22 AM »

If you are proficient in the German language, check out the German transcript:

The Nymphsfart Five and the Temple of the Blue Billow[/b]]The Nymphsfart Five and the Temple of the Blue Billow
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #11 on: August 11, 2008, 08:39:48 AM »

Damn, messed up something there. Again:

The Nymphsfart Five and the Temple of the Blue Billow
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