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Author Topic: [The Pool] Ghosts & guns & bodies  (Read 15763 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: September 06, 2010, 08:45:10 PM »

Hi everyone,

I'm working on a big essay about The Pool, a short game published on-line by James V. West in 2001. He had an active forum here at the Forge for a while (see Random Order Creations) and he maintains his own website and a lot of mutual networking and help among independent comics creators/publishers. Without going into it here, The Pool was a big deal, and I maintain that it's still a big deal.

So, I went to the excellent Dice Dojo / Chicagoland Games here in Chicago for a game night, and played The Pool with Timo ("Motipha" here at the Forge), Mike, and Brandon.

One of the things in the essay concerns what to do before writing the Character Stories, only implied (but there) in the rules: the simple but necessary step of getting on the same page in terms of look and feel, and certain aspects of content. Sometimes we say "genre," but that's not as useful as it may seem. In the essay, I suggest using a single picture as a jumping-off point for character creation, not to make that character, but as a look-and-feel unifying device.

A few weeks ago, with The Pool in mind, I'd scribbled some notes which I now used, summarizing them to the players: Ghosts possessing human bodies, stuck in one until it dies. Some want to die but have unfinished business. Others want to live no matter what. Still others prey upon one another for power. They all have guns, real guns, which can kill ghosts for good. We also agreed that it would be fun to play here and now, no fictional setting, just what we know.

Well, Everway was right: Color-first really works best with pictures. If I'd taken my own advice, I would have provided something like this or this. I was thinking in terms of the ghosts really driven to do something with their "lives," yes, but in very Hollywood terms - sleek action, glamorous or at least photogenically proactive characters, flash and bang.

As for what I got, well ...

Characters
Timo: Agatha was once the nursemaid to the Brickmiltons until she died. Her death was at the hands of General Brickmilton when she found out about his war crimes. She stayed here to care for her child. She could go but she stays for the sake of her children.
General Brickmilton +1, Found out about his war crimes +2, Her child Lucas +2, starting Pool = 3

Brandon: Zoe, a child who died young fearing age more than the dark. She does not remember how she died or why, but her unwillingness to grow old transferred with her to her modern body. The modern day calls her condition Down's Syndrome, it's really her unwillingness to mature.
Fears age +2, Doesn't remember how she died (no bonus), apparent Down's Syndrome +1, Unwillingness to mature +1, starting Pool = 6

Mike: Horatio Lock was a British sea captain during what is now called the Napoleonic Wars. Having died in combat Horatio discovered that ghosts do in fact exist. He has gone from body to body fascinated by his immortality and is always looking for adventures.
Sea captain +1, Combat +2, Gone from body to body +1, Looking for grand adventure +1, starting Pool = 5

Prep and play
Well crap, what was I supposed to do with this? It was all kinds of different from what I thought I was saying in the setup - emphasis on thought, because obviously the players were perfectly consistent with what I really did say, just in their own way. I mean, good, I could cope with what I was seeing, but I was starting all over. Plus, not one of them said anything about their host body, kicking the basics of Situation (where they were, what they were doing) totally into my hands, whereas I'd been looking forward to working with fairly constrained input. I also knew we were probably only playing this one time, so had to walk a line between constraining things enough to be urgent, but leaving them open enough for the players' decisions actually to author the plot as we went along. One side of that balancing act suddenly developed a much stronger gravitational pull than I'd been expecting.

I had at least some back-story, with Brickmilton, clearly a bastard. What would such a person be doing in modern day Chicago? Well, I channeled Erik Prince by way of Bathtub Admirals a little bit, and figured that he was a retired military CEO of a Blackwater-like firm, currently socked in tight & unaccountable with the State Department, probably licking his chops if not outright jerking off in hopes of dealing with domestic dissent tagged as "terror striking at the homeland." But without any host-body information, it was up to me to say "who" all the characters were!

So ... OK, I basically laid all this down as a given. Horatio was possessing Samson, Brickmilton's weedy and un-martial-looking son, now tasked with running the black-ops merc operation right here in town. Zoe was in a pre-teen boy named Brent, and he and his younger sister were Agatha's grandkids, and their father (her son) is Lucas, a Chicago high school teacher and counselor (the family is still close to the Brickmiltons). Agatha was in a homeless guy, who had spent years quietly observing her family and trying to protect them. My basic, not to say ham-handed approach was that the black-ops hit squad private-security firm was tasked to hit a construction site for a mosque (with fake info that it was a terror front, hence exploiting the current brouhaha in, or rather about, New York), also as a test case to see how much domestic collateral damage could be tolerated, and Brickmilton was also looking forward to wiping out Lucas and Brent as part of said collateral damage so he could adopt Julia.

This kind of play depends very greatly on the players knowing stuff their characters don't, hence maneuvering them a bit into information and crisis through in-fiction coincidences and decisions that are logical but not really the "reason" for making the character go places and do things. So the GM's job is to throw a lot of Crosses and the players usually provide the Weaves. The GM should really, really, 100% not force outcomes into certain planned or even desired plot-outcomes, just roll with it and see where it goes, totally. It's a lot better than railroading it yourself; the players are often much better at hosing their characters than a GM can be and enjoy themselves much more. The plot events if not outcomes are a bit contrived when the setup is this tight, in my opinion, but what the hell - no more so than most movies, really.

Oh, the scenes took off nicely though, especially once the players got a feel for the system. Horatio initially took the assignment seriously, although he disliked his "father's" not-very-veiled contempt, and he successfully established leadership over the nasty band of amoral sadist adrenalin junkies security-firm squad. Brent tried to defy Brickmilton when he started to indoctrinate Julia with fascist awfulness (her "education" began at this point, you see), and Brickmilton ... uh, beat him to death with his belt. Yeah. Down's Syndrome kid (or apparently so). Brandon decided to reinstall Zoe in Julia's body. Agatha was the easiest to GM at this point because she, or rather the stinky homeless guy, was always lurking around Brickmilton and Lucas anyway, and got into the mix by teaming up with Lucas. Lucas turned out to be fun to play, because he really was just a nice honest guy and everyone seemed to like him.

Killing Brent basically borked the planned operation entirely, and Agatha made it worse by creating unpleasant scenes with the goons. Agatha actually killed herself, or rather her homeless guy's body, and took up residence in one of the security guys, which was especially fun because she had no idea (although Timo knew, obviously) that this guy had been the one to threaten and zipcuff Zoe/Julia. Horatio tried to cope with it all going south while Brickmilton went from merely morally unconscionable to outright bonkers, eventually revealing that he intended to "educate" Julia personally until she was 16, then marry her, and have a "real" son (pissing off Horatio). Meanwhile, Zoe, now in Julia, blew the brains out of the back of one of the thug's security-firm specialist's head, all over Brickmilton, and started causing problems of her own.

Wow, they really got into it; they absolutely loved the run-around-consequential mess they could make of one another's situations. For a while we had a grand time while each character drove very hard at their immediate personal goals, but not knowing what was causing utter chaos around them, i.e., the other characters.. Once the players took off like whacked rhesus macaques on acid, plot was no problem; all I had to do was play my NPCs and keep up. The only real challenge to it for me was handling the spotlight to make sure no one was getting lost in the shuffle. The guns came out eventually and much action was had in and around the Brickmilton residence.

As it turned out, the story never got to the operation, as Brickmilton was killed by Agatha (not for lack of Zoe trying), Horatio decided at the eleventh hour that this situation was utterly fucked and "grand adventure" was not served by such things, and our heroes ended up in or on the same van, careening away through Chicago.

Some iffy things
1. As discussed at some length in Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me? (which is really about The Pool), using NPCs as Traits poses some interesting questions. I found the same thing when playing Hero Wars, with Relationships as Abilities. The issue applies to any external person, place, or thing tagged as a "Trait," but it's easiest to discuss if the Trait is a person.

So, for example, Agatha's character included "General Brickmilton" as a Trait. OK, what does that mean? Lots of things to consider. Does Timo have any special authority over Brickmilton as a character, particularly in terms of presence or absence in a scene, or entrances into a scene? Does such authority rely on using the Trait, mechanically speaking, as a bonus to a roll? Or is it the other way around, that Timo can bring Brickmilton in, then that "justifies" his using the Trait? Or, is that wrong, and Timo can only use Brickmilton as a Trait if he's there, and the only way he can get there is if the GM says?

There are answers to these questions, many of them functional. But which ones apply for The Pool is up to the group, I suppose.

2. I got a reality check on my own use of Gift dice. I'd written in the essay that I never used Gift dice to try to influence plot outcomes, or because I sympathized with a given character. Apparently I lied, because I did those things at least once each during this session. Had to fix the essay.

3. I mentioned to the players that we should treat ghost powers and abilities a little loosely, in some cases merely establish them through play and rolls. The main elements were the freaky guns, and the body-switching. I'll tell you what I'd thought, prior to character creation: that the characters (meaning bodies + ghosts combined) were the type of people to be packing guns anyway; and that a given ghost was pretty committed to a given body because it suited the ghost's larger plans and needs very well. Neither of these were cemented by the characters as created, so they were much more open to interpretation and rolling than I thought.

One thing was easy: when Timo had Agatha try to exit her body and take over someone else, which was exactly the kind of thing (an off-brand application) I'd had in mind when saying certain ghost actions would be left up to rolls, rather than "you can" or "you can't" from the start. Other things were a lot less easy, such as deciding exactly how a ghost got into a new body - which as it happens, I just asked the player "whose eyes would open" when their character opened their eyes, and didn't call for a roll. Or whether the inhabited host was killed, as a person and personality, when the ghost possessed the body. Damn good question.

The gun thing was more awkward, because two of the characters were definitely not gun-toting types, and we really rushed it on the fly to decree that the ghosts could manifest their guns out of nothing. This was probably established after one or more characters would have behaved differently had we known it earlier, particularly both Zoe/Brent and Zoe/Julia. We also found that this was pretty much the way characters realized that one another were ghosts, when they pulled their guns, and that was a little crude or uninteresting as I see it.

4. Brutal failures are a key part of playing The Pool, sometimes. I'm talking about the times when a character is doing that one thing which at last, he or she really needed to do, and how cool would it be when it ... and it doesn't. A big part of expertise with this game, for everyone not just the GM, is to learn how to make this a feature. In our case, Julia/Zoe manifested her ghost-gun and shot at Brickmilton point-blank, and boy would it have been satisfying in all kinds of ways, both concerning her character and his, for it to work. Brandon had something like seven or eight dice rolling for it ... and not one fucking 1 came up. At this point, I think it's incumbent on the GM to use the failure well, both in narration and in consequence. In this case, I narrated that one of the spooks hurled himself at her, taking the bullet instead of Brickmilton, which sprayed Brickmilton with his brains. In terms of consequence, it was a big deal - effectively, at this point, Brickmilton had seen all his plans come crashing down and totally became a loose cannon, which had everything to do with Horatio deciding he was much better off getting away from this loon.

5. I was talking about the game with Nathan, who recalled some of the discussion points he'd batted around in the past.

i) Why care who narrates? A lot of modern groups are accustomed to distributed narration, and trust one another to narrate interestingly and appropriately, and look forward to whatever nuances or implications might be contributed by anyone. My take on this is that the Pool GM should narrate both successes and failures in a very meat-and-potatoes, non-nuanced way, using only the fiction established so far. Therefore the player's Monologue of Victory is unique in its potential to make specific successes more consequential, in addition to the fun of Color.

ii) Although the "stuck in the hole" phenomenon is more common, another thing that can happen is the golden player session, in which one or more players never miss. This may have happened for Mike's character, Horatio. If he missed, I don't remember it. As I see it, this is a feature. Sometimes, a given story can turn out to be kind of a showcase for a given character's competence and drive. The Pool mechanics have a way of upsetting that applecart, and if it doesn't happen in a given session, well, it's also fun to bask in a solid successful run of events to see what the player makes of that when he or she adds the Character Story. The apples will get dashed out soon enough, next time.

The ending
I handled a bit abruptly and upon realizing that I was about to do that, brought it up as table-talk. It turned out that everyone was OK with simply finishing with Zoe/Julia, Lucas, and Agatha/security-creep in the getaway van, with Horatio/Samson clinging to its hind end. I suggested that the next scene, somewhat crudely-cut, would be all of them sitting together in a diner figuring out what's what.

I quite liked Mike's moral turnaround with the character of Horatio, when he finally hit his moral limit. Brandon did a great job of Julia finally deciding to be proactive, too.

Timo added to Agatha's story: ... and his family, sacrificing her happiness to keep them safe; she would do anything, taking "She could go" as a Trait and spending Pool to raise Lucas to +2 and the new trait to +2. Brandon added to Zoe's story: Zoe prefers children's bodies in order to preserve their youth and purity, taking "Children's bodies," "youth," and "purity" as Traits. Mike added to Horatio's story: He could never stand for unjustified evil but legitimate evil just maybe. He didn't indicate Traits but I assume that two are in there.

Timo pointed out that if your Pool was under 9 at the end of a session, you should spend down to boost Traits, because you were going to get 9 to start the next session anyway. Perfectly reasonable.

Originally I wasn't a fan of restoring Pool size to 9 at the beginning of a session, but now that I think of it, people may well be inclined to spend from it right at the start for Trait improvement, which I think is a good thing.

So there we go! Anyone wanna talk about The Pool, or the game, or anything?

Best, Ron

P.S. For download & play: The Pool. When I finish the essay, I'll post it at the Adept Press site and link here.

edited to fix an italics format error
« Last Edit: September 07, 2010, 07:29:37 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Christoph Boeckle
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« Reply #1 on: September 07, 2010, 04:00:47 AM »

Hello Ron

I was really happy to see a new Pool AP coming to the Forge today! This game is certainly a big deal to me. I'm very excited about your upcoming essay.

I've a question regarding the NPCs-as-traits topic. Why should the questions you pose in point 1 be settled by group discussion rather than being diced out like the ghost powers in point 3 (which sounds to me as being relevant for any discussion about the in-fiction scope of traits)?
One specific aspect which I wonder about is why establishing the NPC's presence should not necessarily be part of the "power" of the trait (like materializing a gun)? In this way, the functioning of relationship traits would work out in a similar fashion as the establishing of the ghost powers.
Of course, there's a fundamental difference in that an NPC can be played by the GM (especially in this case with Brickmilton), but even ghost powers can be used by the GM to colour in some descriptions: for example some momentary out-of-body experience when perceiving a hidden threat, or any "failure" outcome where it was stated that the character was using one of the powers in the conflict (maybe even without?) Did you ever use the ghost powers in your GM descriptions or is that already outside the meat-and-potato scope?

Bonus question: to what extent do you think that the Pool can use the Trollbabe rules for playing relationship NPCs (which I've only read, not played with)?
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Regards,
Christoph
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 07, 2010, 07:05:41 AM »

Hi Christoph,

Last question first: I wrote Trollbabe after multiple games of Hero Wars, The Pool, and the early versions of Dust Devils. I definitely constructed the Relationship rules, as well as the scene framing and conflict-calling rules, based on those experiences. In those games, I discovered what range of non-textual techniques permitted the textual rules to function, and then built new rules for Trollbabe from within that range.

Therefore, when playing The Pool, the Trollbabe rules for Relationships will function very well. However, that would only represent one option within the functional range for what you might use for The Pool.

Regarding your more difficult questions, all I can say is that I experience authority and plausibility differently when the Traits are NPCs (or places or things) than when they are "psychic powers" or "skilled with a sword" or "driven by love." That difference in sensation or aesthetic standards may simply be my own psychology in action, and/or some aspect of RPG-history based habits. Or, perhaps, there is some kind of genuine issue concerning the agency or presence of such things that doesn't apply to the others.

As a possibly related point, one of the interesting and mathematically significant issues of playing Champions back in the 80s and early 90s (I don't know about today) concerned the difference between a power with the Observable Inaccessible Focus, which cost 2/3 of its base point value, and one with the Observable Accessible Focus Limitation, which cost 1/2 of its base point value. Both could, textually, be taken away ... but how often, and exactly how, was a point of some verbal contention. If you paid the 2/3 cost, which was quite substantially different from 1/2 most of the time, then you expected the GM to keep his paws off your item ... at least more than he messed with the other guy's OAF, which he had bought so cheaply.

Dicing out certain details of abilities and powers as you go along, rather than specifying them to start, is an undeveloped technique in role-playing until pretty recently. The game that does it quite well in my experience is In a Wicked Age, in which if you'd like to know if your Particular Strength called Sorcery "can" raise someone from the dead, well, roll and find out. There isn't a whole lot of "can" in the game except for what gets established this way.

When I say "undeveloped," what I mean is that the more traditional technique, knowing what the ability can and cannot do, is also valid. There's an interesting cognitive boundary there which remains unexplored. It's worth considering, for instance, that certain Particular Strength features are established prior to the rolls, e.g. Far Reaching; if you don't have it, then your PS isn't far-reaching and has to be used in your character's sensory range.

Best, Ron
« Last Edit: September 07, 2010, 07:07:25 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #3 on: September 07, 2010, 08:14:49 AM »

Hi Ron,

The “post-a-picture” approach sounds like a good idea. I for one tend to go with a bit more introductory prose (2-3 paragraphs usually), too, not so much an abstract but rather a teaser scene to provide some color and tone. If game prep is done online (which I’ve found useful), it tends to lead to a lot of thoughts and ideas being tossed around and then boiled back down to the 50 words. I think this kind of “group pitch” works very well with The Pool. Furthermore, I have found it beneficial to provide a strong lead as GM on fictional content initially, and then tune down once the players get a hang on it.

So, for example, Agatha's character included "General Brickmilton" as a Trait. OK, what does that mean? Lots of things to consider. Does Timo have any special authority over Brickmilton as a character, particularly in terms of presence or absence in a scene, or entrances into a scene? Does such authority rely on using the Trait, mechanically speaking, as a bonus to a roll? Or is it the other way around, that Timo can bring Brickmilton in, then that "justifies" his using the Trait? Or, is that wrong, and Timo can only use Brickmilton as a Trait if he's there, and the only way he can get there is if the GM says?

There are answers to these questions, many of them functional. But which ones apply for The Pool is up to the group, I suppose.

I do like how some of the wording in James’ text leaves room for interpretation and some instructions are just totally absent. In my best games of The Pool, these questions have been handled by the group in a very intuitive and non-dogmatic way. I think this is part of the reason why The Pool has permitted us to successfully live up to some very ambitious fictional set-ups indeed.

Me personally, I would have found “General Brickmilton” a little too vague as a trait, and would have asked the player to specify the characters’ relationship with the General.

Looking forward to reading your article.

- Frank
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Roger
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« Reply #4 on: September 07, 2010, 01:38:21 PM »

Still others prey upon one another for power.

Did this show up in the play at all?  As far as I can tell it didn't, which makes me a bit sad but I'm just a spectator.

Quote
The issue applies to any external person, place, or thing tagged as a "Trait," but it's easiest to discuss if the Trait is a person.

Hmmm.  The text requires only an "obvious connection", so as a GM I don't think I'd require the NPC to be present or alive or anything like that.

I see it as a flag, like "+2 versus kobolds."  It signals that the player would like to see at least some of the play place some focus on the object of the Trait.  So I'd suggest the bulk of the onus is placed on the GM to ensure that happens or can happen.

Of course, the GM can get a little clever with Offers, too.  There's a hostage with a sack over his head and a PC decides he wants to do something about that.  I'd let the player tag in an NPC trait here if they wanted to.  That might be a bit more Directorial than some players want to get, but it might not.

Quote
I'd written in the essay that I never used Gift dice to try to influence plot outcomes, or because I sympathized with a given character.

Not to shift the focus from your AP to your essay, but what else would you suggest Gift dice be used for?  Just curious now.



Cheers,
Roger
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Motipha
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« Reply #5 on: September 07, 2010, 03:04:18 PM »

This was a fun fun fun little game, even given the very limited timeframe (one session of maybe a couple hours).  It was really interesting seeing the Pool at work, having seen it referenced here and elsewhere but not having any familiarity with it.

A couple quick corrections about AP:  My character Agatha had the trait "She could go" as one of her starting traits at 2.  The rest were correct, save that her son Lucas was at +1 during the session, I only bumped it up to 2 as part of my end-of-session point spending.  Other than that, spot on.

it was interesting that none of us made any claims about our host, as I assumed at least one of us would make some sort of claim.  I think that what happened was the limited length of the character blurb meant we were more interested in describing our ghost characters than we were our hosts and so gave up that decision.  it put Ron in something of a tight spot because there were no immediate triggers/descriptors for setting.

The Pool makes for an amazingly dynamic system.  you're constantly winning and losing dice from the pool, and with time/experience we would have had larger pools to spend on expanding our list of traits.  That you can choose anything from the blurb as a trait is pretty amazing, it means a great deal of flexibility in responding to situations:  Just find a phrase in your description that might help, pop a die in to it (since that first die is basically a free one:  one squared cost for one permanent trait die) and you're ready to roll.

I think the single biggest confusion I had was the one Ron mentioned, of how to use a person as a trait.  I was attempting to narrate in a situation where my traits might help, and the only one who worked was the General Brickmilton (who in my blurb is mentioned as having murdered me for finding out about his war crimes, so there's the link Frank).  I was confused as to how much authority I had for introducing him, and we debated it a little table side, to see if we could find a way that was not only fictionally satisfying but still within the bounds/limits of my narrative powers PRIOR to the roll.  After all, the rules explicitly state who has what authority as an outcome of the dice roll, but prior to that the relationship seems pretty traditional: the GM running the world, the players playing their characters.  But in this case, I was unsure as to whether I could only use those traits when the GM explicitly created the situation in which those NPC's were present?  I think we came to a satisfying point with that in the end, but it was an odd little discussion.

Stopping there for now, I'm a little scatterbrained due to work right now.  But all in all a great time, I'm disappointed I won't be able to make it to the store tonight to meet up with Ron again.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2010, 04:54:35 AM »

Hi Timo, I think it‘s a feature of The Pool that the group needs to figure out on their own how they want to handle these things. I always encourage to go with the gut feeling and not over-analyze. In particular, The Pool does not ask you to unlearn the way you are used to negotiating fictional content in other RPGs (outside of game mechanics). This can be a good or a bad thing, but I have found it to be great for the most part. It has only ever caused trouble with players who were used (trained?) to looking for strong guidance by the rules / the game designer. Such guidance is completely absent in The Pool, and therefore a group playing The Pool will be establishing its own conventions as they play.

A perfect example is the roll itself. The rules are perfectly clear on who can call for a roll, and under what circumstances. But there is nothing in the rules about mandatory rolls. A roll is strictly something a participants calls for because they want to roll. Different groups will build very different conventions of how often they roll, in what kinds of fictional situations they roll, how large the scope of what a single roll resolves is, how far (if at all) the MoV usually touches on things outside the immediate stakes, how bad the GM will twist it when a roll fails, based on what the GM awards GM dice, and so forth. But I’m sure you will notice, in a group that plays for some time, that a certain pattern evolves of how they handle these things, and odds are this will be the way that suits them best. Had James undertaken to provide super-precise guidelines on all these questions, it’s likely that his solutions would have been different, and less fitting for that group.

- Frank
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2010, 04:35:28 PM »

Hi,

Quote
In our case, Julia/Zoe manifested her ghost-gun and shot at Brickmilton point-blank, and boy would it have been satisfying in all kinds of ways, both concerning her character and his, for it to work. Brandon had something like seven or eight dice rolling for it ... and not one fucking 1 came up. At this point, I think it's incumbent on the GM to use the failure well, both in narration and in consequence. In this case, I narrated that one of the spooks hurled himself at her, taking the bullet instead of Brickmilton, which sprayed Brickmilton with his brains. In terms of consequence, it was a big deal - effectively, at this point, Brickmilton had seen all his plans come crashing down and totally became a loose cannon, which had everything to do with Horatio deciding he was much better off getting away from this loon.
What comes to my mind as a critical method is to compare what might have happened with a control group who didn't use, have or refer to the pools or it's texts at all. Of course we don't have that, but in terms of estimating. Brickmilton would have, I imagine, been shot at this point with a group that's not using the pool (lets call them group b). But he was shot latter with your group, regardless. How much difference would there be in the end result between the this group and the hypothetical control group?

Also this raises the question to my mind, which applies to many RPG's as well, of whether the initiation of useage of the mechanic was related to the game text in question. It's like if a painter takes a brush and canvas and paints a fruitbowl, did the brush and canvas somehow guide him to do that? No. So did the game text have anything to do with the start of using the game mechanic? In many RPG's such mechanics seem as detached as the paintbrush and canvas are from the painting - certainly involved in the making, but not actually a guiding factor.

So that's a couple of lines of enquirey that might be useful to apply somehow.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: September 08, 2010, 04:59:49 PM »

Hi Callan,

I see a couple of points in your post with which I profoundly disagree.

1. Brickmilton getting shot by Zoe/Julia at that particular moment is not the same as Brickmilton getting killed by Agatha/secuity-guy later. Not thematically (in terms of justice), not narratively (in terms of tension and character psychology), and not in terms of plot (the actual killing was not by ghost-gun, hence Brickmilton might become a ghost, whereas if the first attempt had worked, he could not). The failed roll resulted in a wholly different story.

2. Your point about paint/canvas vs. painting is nonsensical to me. As I see it, the nature of the paint and canvas deeply inform the process, content, experience of creation, and experience of viewing the subject of the picture.

Or to put it differently, for this RPG, and for this group, yes, the initiation of useage of the mechanic was related to the game text in question. More than related - synonymous. We interacted with the game text in the way that (as I see it) the painter, and in fact viewer of the painting too, interact with the paint and canvas. Because, that is actually all they interact with in terms of producing and seeing the picture of the fruit bowl.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2010, 05:31:16 PM »

Hi Roger,

No one worked with the possibility of ghosts preying upon one another. It's certainly something I'd bring in if I played with this setup again, which I think I might, starting with a picture this time. It's pretty clear that my recent brief mention of Ghost Light is having some effect on my inspirations lately.

The essay is near completion, so I'll hold off on the Gift dice topic. I also recently discovered something in the posted version of The Pool which I either never understood or totally forgot, which is relevant to that issue, so I have to process that a little bit as well. It's James' distinction between Action rolls and rolls. The first is basically a Push in Annalise terms, i.e. a GM-called roll, and it's here that James talks about the options of +1 Pool die vs. Monologue of Victory. The second is basically a Seize in Annalise terms, i.e. a player-called roll, and James presumes that doing this (a) automatically calls in a Trait and (b) is synonymous with going for a Monologue of Victory. Gift dice are granted (or not) for either, with no distinction between the two.

All of that is a tad more structured than I recall or than I typically play, so I'm revamping a bit of the essay in that light, and don't want to answer your question based on a premature understanding of what I want to say.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: September 09, 2010, 06:45:11 AM »

Addendum to my reply to Callan.

Assuming that you are implying that the text of RPGs are divorced from the procedures and activities of play, such that in this case the painting as an activity and the materials of painting are in fact divergent ... (and as I see it, in such a way that for real painting, they are not) ...

Then I emphatically agree with you when it comes to the majority of published RPGs and the majority of the ways in which I have participated in and observed people playing them, especially starting around 1985 to the present. But not regarding The Pool.

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #11 on: September 10, 2010, 05:27:10 PM »

Ron,

I think it's unfair to raise thematics or narrative in terms of looking clinically at the games physical properties. These things aren't a property of the game. They aren't even really a property of what was created. They are your own cognitive reactions upon being audience to what was created. If the comparison between a group who uses it and one who doesn't isn't physically much, that can be left up to others to judge what that means, if anything. Some might see a subtle yet signficant difference. Others might not. And they might all discuss that with each other, which they couldn't if the only evaluation on offer was someones reaction. I think both the clinical evaluation and your reactions should be on offer to discuss, not just one or the other.

Quote
Assuming that you are implying that the text of RPGs are divorced from the procedures and activities of play, such that in this case  the painting as an activity and the materials of painting are in fact divergent ... (and as I see it, in such a way that for real painting, they are not) ...

Then I emphatically agree with you when it comes to the majority of published RPGs and the majority of the ways in which I have participated in and observed people playing them, especially starting around 1985 to the present. But not regarding The Pool.
Probably the first thing to say is that I don't consider a brush and canvas as a game. The second is that I see nothing in the mechanics that requires dice to be touched at all. In the same way a brush doesn't require you to pick it up, ever.

I'm trying to anticipate alot of reactions to this from many folk, usually along the lines of "Of course we would!", but there are too many permutations for me to really respond in advance.

So I'd just suggest this to illustrate what I mean better than talking - make a pool hack where after X number of minutes, a randomly determined player has to roll on a trait (randomly roll up three traits, he has to pick one within a minute).

It might seem rude and crude (I didn't try to make something that asserts itself and is beutiful). The point is, as much as you might say you would and want to roll, when your forced to either roll or quit playing, it's subtle yet powerfully different. There's a qualitive difference as much as you say thematically and narratively it was an qualative difference for the Brickmilton death change. For your experience, I believe you. For my suggestion, I think it's worth trying in some way.

Writing this with the frame of mind of a long, long process of design. If your writing about the pool as if it's cut and dried and to be talked about as a done project, I guess my TL;DR version is that I don't agree. But that doesn't matter - if it's being treated as done here, then I've found I'm off topic even as I write this so I'll wrap up in that case.
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greyorm
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« Reply #12 on: September 12, 2010, 08:37:38 PM »

Well, Everway was right: Color-first really works best with pictures. If I'd taken my own advice, I would have provided something like this or this. I was thinking in terms of the ghosts really driven to do something with their "lives," yes, but in very Hollywood terms - sleek action, glamorous or at least photogenically proactive characters, flash and bang.

This is the most interesting part of all this to me, but (correct me if I'm wrong) it mostly seems to have been ignored in discussion so far. I mean, I read your write-up and thought immediately "oo, oh, ooo ooo, yeah" and then read the characters and thought "oh, er, oh, uhhhh" (no offense to the players). I am pretty sure I get what you were shooting for (*ahem*) given our generally parallel cultural touchpoints, and the characters came off as coming from somewhere else completely different than that. So, yeah, total disconnection conceptually, though not literally.

It reminds me of a series of internet memes that read: "What I Made" "What the GM Saw" "What I Played" and show a different, though related, picture for each. For example.

And it certainly parallels problems I've run into in running games before. I'll describe a setting and an idea to folks, and they'll come back with something that conceptually just doesn't mesh, at least to me. I've had this happen in a Sorcerer Middle-Ages Cthulhu game--which helped kill the game before it went anywhere--and in one of my longer-running D&D games as well. In that case, I ended up stumbling around in the dark for a long time trying to get my bearings on what exactly to do with the characters, and indeed the game itself.

In fact, I think this ties back to one of the "big problems" in gaming for me: DMs not giving you enough information to make appropriate characters, or failing to use the characters you do make when they say "just do whatever, I'll fit it in." Those games always feel hokey and unfulfilling to me in play. And then there's this issue: trying, but just not being on the same page.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #13 on: September 13, 2010, 06:05:56 AM »

Hey Raven, absolutely, that was what I was trying to address in the first paragraph of my first post. I've found it very productive to have someone (usually but not necessarily the GM) rush ahead with an idea and provide something for the others to hold on to. And sometimes it's better to tear everything down and start from scratch if it's not geling. Sounds like in Ron's example the group managed to work with what they had, but I've seen more than one game failing on that account.

- Frank
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greyorm
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« Reply #14 on: September 13, 2010, 09:39:31 AM »

Ooops, you're right, Frank. I'd forgotten you'd posted about that earlier.

Here's a thing: It's great when everyone's on board. I ran a short-lived but awesome Donjon game where we used the Dark Sun setting as our touchpoint. Since we were all long-time fans of the setting, we all started off on the same page regarding what characters would "look like" in play and what the whole experience should "feel" like.

So your mention of setting creation by the group--not full-blown, perhaps, but everyone's involved in deciding what makes it all go--that gets everyone on the same page, and you can do that by group-creation, or by having a shared, common understanding of what it is it is all about. I can see how that works well.

My interest, I guess, lies in the other direction: what about when the group isn't involved, at least no further than developing their characters from whatever the GM has provided? I've been in a lot of groups where the players don't want to do heavy lifting like that, or don't believe it is their place, or it just doesn't happen for whatever reason (they trust the GM to do his thing), but you still run into this situation in those groups. Like in Ron's example above.

Obviously, they recovered from it in play, but what solid, proven methods are there for those situations so that the envisioned game doesn't have to be refitted into something else post-character creation? Are there? We're talking about communication and clarity here, obviously. I'm just curious what folks have found to work.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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