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Dungeon Crawling with the Pool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Department: 
Actual Play
Games: 
The Pool

Comments

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

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

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

 

 

Dreamofpeace's picture

What you say about when to roll makes perfect sense.

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

Dreamofpeace's picture

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

Dreamofpeace's picture

I love the reference to Quixote also!

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

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

Karaburan's picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dreamofpeace's picture

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

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

Hans's picture

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

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

Hans's picture

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

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

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

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

Dreamofpeace's picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hans's picture

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

Pool dice: 8

Bandages - d4

Rations - d6

Misc - d6

GOLD - 173

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

Johann's picture

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

Dreamofpeace's picture

No problem! Here's his website: 

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

 

LordPersi's picture

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

Judore the Apprentice

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

  • Pool dice: 3

  • Bandages: d8

  • Rations: d4

  • Miscellaneous: d6 (Elven Magical Arrow)

  • GOLD: 136

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

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

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

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

Dreamofpeace's picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hans's picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dreamofpeace's picture

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

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

Dreamofpeace's picture

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dreamofpeace's picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hans's picture

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

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

Greg's picture

About conflicting intents betwen PC, consider this situation, inspired by Trollbabe’s resolution (p.82-83):

  1. Is it a conflict? I mean, do you have to roll? It could be a normal roll, and the PC playing the “opposition” may just be considered a narrative constrains for whatever the outcome is.
  2. You think the opposing player really needs to roll. This procedure could work:
    1. The player who stated his action is the first conflict. But he doesn’t roll. This first conflict act as a constrain for the situation. Vanya steps forward and points her sword to the goblins. Why Vanya and not Esquella? Because Vanya told it first. It’s arbitrary but it’s ok.
    2. The opposing player states his action. The opposing player starts to roll. We resolve the procedure: looking at outcomes and describing them. If he succeeds, maybe he takes the monologue of victory and describes what happens. Maybe he doesn’t, and you describe what happens. Esquella oppose Vanya. If she succeeds, she can describe. The only constrain is that the first player (Vanya) has at least a chance to succeed, so this conflict doesn’t deny the existence of the first.
    3. If Judore opposes too, look at 1. Does he need to roll, or is it ok to take it as a narrative constraint without a roll? If he wants to roll, proceed as step "b".
    4. Now we roll to know the outcome of the first stated actions. Everything said in the previous roll acts as a fictional constraint for this specific conflict. Circumstances may change Vanya’s intent, or she can still try to push herself through the adversity – sucking up the consequence if the opposing rolls had succeeded.

 

Dreamofpeace's picture

Hi Greg! Thanks for throwing your hat into the ring. It’s a surprisingly tough issue to figure out. People are set on not adding any new procedure to the Pool, which imho is a mistake and makes things confusing. 

The player who stated his action is the first conflict. But he doesn’t roll. This first conflict act as a constrain for the situation. Vanya steps forward and points her sword to the goblins. Why Vanya and not Esquella? Because Vanya told it first. It’s arbitrary but it’s ok.

The first player doesn’t roll? That’s confusing. The way I did it, and I think Jon suggested, is the “first” player does roll. The reasons this can be unsatisfactory I already mentioned above. 

The opposing player states his action. The opposing player starts to roll. We resolve the procedure: looking at outcomes and describing them. If he succeeds, maybe he takes the monologue of victory and describes what happens. Maybe he doesn’t, and you describe what happens. Esquella oppose Vanya. If she succeeds, she can describe. The only constrain is that the first player (Vanya) has at least a chance to succeed, so this conflict doesn’t deny the existence of the first.

I honestly don’t understand what you mean. Is it that the “second” player, the one who first states their opposition, rolls? This has the same problems as the first option - a player’s stated intent has no (or might have no, depending on the circumstances) influence on the game mechanics. I’m not sure there’s anything inherently wrong with this from a game design point of view - the conflict does get resolved, after all - but for me personally this just doesn’t feel right. Whether my character succeeds or not, I’d want them to have some tangible effect on their chance of success. YMMV, of course. 

One nitpick: Vanya is a male character :)

 

Greg's picture

This may not go well by writte medium.

 

Hi Greg! Thanks for throwing your hat into the ring. It’s a surprisingly tough issue to figure out. People are set on not adding any new procedure to the Pool, which imho is a mistake and makes things confusing. 

The player who stated his action is the first conflict. But he doesn’t roll. This first conflict act as a constrain for the situation. Vanya steps forward and points her sword to the goblins. Why Vanya and not Esquella? Because Vanya told it first. It’s arbitrary but it’s ok.

The first player doesn’t roll? That’s confusing. The way I did it, and I think Jon suggested, is the “first” player does roll. The reasons this can be unsatisfactory I already mentioned above. 

 

The first player doesn't roll first. He will roll, but after the opposing rolls, at step "d". 

So this is what happens, chronologically:

1. The first player to declare an intent sets that there is a conflict. Let's call him the initating player.

2. The opposing player declares an intent. He rolls. We narrates the outcomes. The only constraint to his narration is that the initiating player has to be given a chance to roll. So the narration of the opposing player can't cancel the conditions of the initiating conflict. It adds opposition. The effect is a fictional constrains of those new narrated outcomes to the first player conflict. No "mechanical" effect in terms of adding dice or penalties or whatever.

3. The initiating players now rolls for his intent that he declared at step 1. Whatever the outcome, it has to taken into account the narrative outcome from the the opposing player roll.

Everybody rolls, but we apply an ordering procedure here to know which narrative constrains act at each step.

 

Dreamofpeace's picture

Hi Greg, the problem only arises if player characters have directly opposing intents, so that if A's intent happens then B's intent can't happen, and vice versa, and they both succeed on their rolls. So if Vanya's intent is that the goblins get intimidated and give him the information, and Esquella's intent is that the goblins not be intimidated and don't give Vanya any information, they can't both happen. So if both roll and both succeed, what to do?

I'm puzzled how the order in which they roll solves this issue. So on your suggestion Vanya states his intent, Esquella rolls and narrates her success, the goblins are not intimidated. Then Vanya rolls and gets a success, and narrates that the goblins are intimidated. How does Esquella's roll matter at all?

Right now I'm thinking the simplest solution is both players roll; if both succeed, whoever gets more ones is the winner; if both succeed and have the same number of ones, subtract a die from each side and roll again, if necessary repeat until there's a winner. 

Love D's picture

Hi! I love the discussions and ideas in this post!

There’s a situation in session 13, part 2, of the SF Pool game that could be helpful when thinking about how to handle opposed rolls, if you find that you want to use gift dice after all. In that session, several rolls with narrations are made in sequence by different players, one roll feeding into the next as a modification of its gift dice. All rolls change the situation, and the last roll’s outcome resolves the entire situation if I remember correctly.

So it’s very similar to what you did with the gift dice, but with everyone rolling. Also, in that SF Pool session the narration of the first successful roll’s outcome is unproblematically constrained to not include or decide a final outcome to the final player’s situation/roll. 

If I use this method in a situation like the one with Vanya and the goblins, I guess that I as the GM, judging the situation, must be okay with deciding the sequence or ordering of the players’ actions prior to the rolls, because the intents and outcomes will be resolved as two or more separate events. But this sort of stuff is the GM's job anyway.

Not actually having any play under my belt, I only think it would look like this:

The outcomes and narrated effects of the interfering players’ rolls feeds into the active player’s pre-roll situation as real change and an obstacle to his or her actions, mechanically represented by reduced gift dice. 

I probably, maybe, would want to add a rule that says that the gift dice of the active player typically are reduced by 1 die per opposing/interfering success, and that this is the only way gift dice can be reduced to 0 or become penalty dice (if reduced to a negative number).

The narration of the interfering, first players’ outcomes are constrained: it cannot include or decide the final outcome of the final “active” player’s actions. They can however narrate how they successfully have put up an opposition, including cool stuff like the goblins immediate reactions to that. All narrations in the game work under the constraints of the established situation and intents, so I don’t think this particular constraint is problematic (but I don’t know).

If I don’t want to decide the ordering of the players’ actions prior to the roll, and instead leave the issue of timing to be answered in narration, I could postpone all narrations until after the final roll. I guess this goes against the rules as text, but well there, it can be fun to have multiple players narrating under the combined constraints of the outcomes (given that someone takes a MoV). However, I'm not sure, it could also prove hard to narrate. It could be better to just make opposed rolls if I'm not confortable with deciding ordering.

In either case: If everyone succeeds, the narration of the active player’s successful threatening of the goblins probably will look a lot different than if the opposing players failed. Maybe the opposing players now have friends amongst the frightened goblins, maybe Vanya threatened his friends too, etc. That, I think, is the power of several possible combinations of outcomes.

...

However, yeah this method probably is a lot slower than just making an opposed roll, breaking ties if both sides succeeds, like in Manu's last proposed solution.

(Manu Wrote) Right now I'm thinking the simplest solution is both players roll; if both succeed, whoever gets more ones is the winner; if both succeed and have the same number of ones, subtract a die from each side and roll again, if necessary repeat until there's a winner. 

If you test it, it would be fun to read about how it worked! A couple of questions:

If both players succeed, does the loser of the tie-break keep his or her gambled pool dice? Does he or she get to choose to take a die or narrate some measure of success (not including winning over or negating the opposing player's success)? If not, is the winner's or GM's narration constrained in some way by the initial dice result of the losing opposition?

Dreamofpeace's picture

 

Hi Love! Thanks for your comment!

There’s a situation in session 13, part 2, of the SF Pool game that could be helpful when thinking about how to handle opposed rolls, if you find that you want to use gift dice after all. In that session, several rolls with narrations are made in sequence by different players, one roll feeding into the next as a modification of its gift dice. All rolls change the situation, and the last roll’s outcome resolves the entire situation if I remember correctly.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find the section you referred to. But if I understand you correctly, you’re describing a scene where several PCs had rolls that affected each other’s chances of success, and contributed to the ultimate outcome. It’s also the case that people were following a rule that no one could directly contradict the final roller’s intent. 

If I’ve got that right, then it’s not really the scenario I’m concerned with. It sounds like a nice way to deal with a complicated situation involving overlapping intents, but not where they’re directly contradicting each other. I’m talking about a case where the intents of the PCs are such that they cannot both occur. You could, I suppose, have a rule that says whenever a player states an intent, no one can state an intent that would completely nullify theirs, at least for that scene or action. That might be functional, although it would give whoever first speaks more power over the scene. 

If you test it, it would be fun to read about how it worked! A couple of questions: If both players succeed, does the loser of the tie-break keep his or her gambled pool dice? Does he or she get to choose to take a die or narrate some measure of success (not including winning over or negating the opposing player's success)? If not, is the winner's or GM's narration constrained in some way by the initial dice result of the losing opposition?

Ok let me rephrase my suggestion so we don’t get too caught up on the word “success”: the simplest solution is both players roll; if both roll one or more 1s, whoever gets more 1s succeeds, and the other fails. If both rolled the same number of 1s, subtract a die from each side and roll again; if necessary repeat until there's a winner, i.e., one player rolls more 1s than the other. 

So the loser fails, and their roll is treated just like any other failure, so they lose their gambled dice and the GM narrates the result for them (being respectful of the winning player’s right to a MoV). Whoever narrates the winner’s success should of course take this into account. 

A couple of variations come to mind:

First, you can treat a tie as just a game mechanic with no direct tie-in to the fiction, so the players simply subtract a die and roll again, with no further need for discussion. Or, you could choose to interpret it as some kind of actual stalemate in the scene, and give the players an opportunity to change their approach - they could try something different with a different trait, gamble a different amount of pool dice, or perhaps even change their intent. 

Also, if sticking with a tie as a pure game mechanic, you could give the players an opportunity to change the amount of pool dice they’re gambling at that point, which, now that I think of it, seems like a great idea...

Dreamofpeace's picture

So I've been thinking about how the use of the Black Hack's resource system worked for us. I think that, given the amount of time we played and the way we played, this rule didn't really do anything for us. It might work if we stayed in a dungeon twice as long, perhaps. There just wasn't enough resource attrition for it to play a substantial role in player decisions, it seems to me.

I think a simple system of: you start with 2 torches, a day's worth of rations, one set of bandages, and they run low or get used up when it makes sense in the fiction, would serve better. 

I'd like to hear opinions from the participants, of course. 

Hans's picture

My opinion - 

I agree that the Black Hack resource-management system hasn't added much to our play. From my perspective I'm not sure we need anything other than what the Pool already provides. We can assume based on who our characters are and what they are doing that they are bringing some measure of basic supplies with them, and as fictionally appropriate they can be used. We don't have to track torch-by-torch or even use the middle-abstract system of the Black Hack--if we go into a dungeon for a few hours, no problem: we have torches. Are you down there for a whole day, or more, or whatever seems reasonable to the GM and group? Make a roll as normal, and its outcome will tell us whether we've exhausted our torches or not, or if we succeeed: we have just enough to press on a bit (at which point another roll will be made) or to leave the dungeon, our choice.

Same with rations. I don't know that I've played a traditional dungeon-crawling RPG where the lack of food really matters at any given point; usually there's something that can be scrounged in the dungeon, or we exit to rest before we run out, etc. If you feel the PCs have been in the dungeon long enough to perhaps run through a couple days' rations, make someone roll. 

I guess my point is that the dice system of the Pool already does resource management, and since whether or not we have torches or food or anything else is consequential in a dungeon environment, checking whether we've run out is a totally logical use of the "when to roll" procedure in the Pool.

Dreamofpeace's picture

I guess my point is that the dice system of the Pool already does resource management, and since whether or not we have torches or food or anything else is consequential in a dungeon environment, checking whether we've run out is a totally logical use of the "when to roll" procedure in the Pool.

Great point! I didn't even think of that. And someone can always add in a trait of "torches +2" or whatever if they wanted to help make that resource last longer. Brilliant. I'll definitely have to try this. 

Dreamofpeace's picture

One thing has been bothering me a little bit. Specifically, it’s that there are no clear hit points for monsters or NPCs. It reminds me of a situation I used to run into in D&D. Basically, when I prepped an encounter I assigned a certain number of HP to the monster or whatever the opposition was, but then during play I adjusted it on the fly - were the players having too easy a time of it? Let me add 50 hp to the creature. Did it look like a TPK was imminent? Better reduce the hp.

But this was bogus, right? The initial assignment of hp didn’t really matter. I was making sure the outcome would happen in accordance with what I wanted, rather than what the player actions and the dice rolls determined. I wasn’t motivated by malice, far from it, but still - wasn’t that just another form of intuitive continuity?

So my question is, what’s to prevent me from doing the same here, when there's not even any hp to assign? Or more to the point, how do I know I’m not doing it? What can help keep me from that habit?

Looking over the battle with the gelatinous cube, did I give up on it too soon because I was worried about the player characters? After all, one of them almost got eaten. 

I don’t think so, but I’m honestly not sure. I think my main thought at the time was, “ok, given this amount of damage, is it reasonable that the cube is still capable of moving, and still combat effective?” That seems legit. Is it as simple as focusing on questions like that, and ignoring what it means for the PCs? Would love to hear opinions on this. 

Ron Edwards's picture

I'd like to make some time for a screen conversation. Let's get in touch by Discord. (no need to reply here)

Love D's picture

I'm very eager to hear more about this game and its conclusion! And about how the system of the Pool and/or your changes to it mattered in any way!

 

One session was too short to really test some of the things I wanted to see in action, like the “concern over resources vs. desire for more gold” dynamic, I think that just requires more time. 

After a couple of sessions, do you have any more thoughts about the gold = words mechanic? I know that you dropped the resourse mechanic, realising that The Pool kinda has such a thing already. Was "concern over resourses vs desire for more gold" part of your play up to the conclusion, i.e. did the mechanics (for gold etc) change your play in any way? 

Dreamofpeace's picture

 

Hi Love, thanks for your interest!

Well, this is what happened. The goblins were sufficiently intimidated that they led the PCs to their chief, a wizard. The chief saw them as a considerable threat, so offered to lead the party to a chest full of treasure if they promised to leave the dungeon after that. After some negotiation, the group got the chief to lead them past the trap that awaited them on the way, too. The trap turned out to be a nest of giant spiders on the ceiling, so the chief cast a spell to paralyze them for a few minutes. He told them to remember their promise, and left. 

The PCs grabbed the treasure chest and promptly broke their promise, searching for a secret door to get to the hidden vault they knew was around somewhere. Finding it, they come to a room of goblins and slaughter them. A cave troll comes for them, but Esquella animates the corpses of past adventurers eaten by the spiders to form a barrier to keep the troll out. The troll, Peachy, complains for a bit but then gives up in frustration (players rolled successfully). Judore tries to open the chest but gets blasted by poison gas and passes out. Esquella successfully heals him, and Judore avoids a death roll. 

They finally come to the vault entrance, and see the goblin chief waiting for them. “Negotiation and promises did not work, so it seems violence is the only answer,” he says, launching a fireball at them. Judore counters the fireball with a blast of wind, so the fire splashes harmlessly onto the roof of the corridor. Esquella activates her ring, causing multiple illusions of herself to appear, and she and Vanya attack. The wizard strikes out, and Vanya hits the ground hard, taking a bad head injury. Esquella successfully hits the goblin, who staggers back, disoriented. Judore uses his magic arrow attack again, and skewers the wizard through the throat, finishing him. As the goblin slumps to the floor, he manages to gasp, “please… whatever you do… don’t let her out,” before expiring. 

The party tries to figure out how to get through the vault. A voice from within the vault starts talking to them, claiming to be Queen Aletheia of the elves. Judore knows there was a brutal Queen by that name a few hundred years ago, before the collapse of the elven empire, and asks her questions to establish her identity. He also knows that gold can sometimes be used to imprison beings of powerful magical capabilities. The PCs talk among themselves, and decide they are willing to let her out if she promises to reward them. They come to terms, and Esquella successfully reanimates the goblin wizard. The zombie wizard uses its body memory to press the secret panel in the door, and the doors of pure gold open. Inside, their torchlight reveals a pile of humanoid-shaped gold, wherein Aletheia is imprisoned. Gold rots or corrodes where it touches her, which is why the goblins had to continually search for more gold to keep her locked up. 

Vanya starts shoveling the gold off of her, and into his backpack. The gold thread entrapping the Queen falls away, and she stands up. Judore asks her if she intends to keep her promise, and she says she always does, inviting him to take her hand. He wants knowledge, he tells her, and she laughs with glee as she touches his forehead, imbuing him with first-hand memories of the elven empire. Judore gasps in agony as he tries to absorb this knowledge without his mind tearing apart (a potentially lethal roll here). He successfully integrates the new information, but has to face the terrible truth that as beautiful as elven architecture, art, and magical creations were, they were twisted and evil at heart - their empire was built on slavery, and humans were routinely killed and tortured for sport. 

Next, it’s Esquella’s turn. She demands power of Aletheia, who once again laugh with glee. As Esquella takes her hand, a glow proceeds from the Queen's body into Esquella. She gasps as she tries to absorb an overwhelming amount of power (another potentially lethal roll), and fails - she collapses to the ground, writhing in pain as the glow suffuses her body. A death roll is called for, and I say she feels herself dissolving into the flow of magical power. The roll is successful, and the player takes a monologue, eloquently describing how a part of her essential self stops the disintegration from happening. She’s absorbed some power without dying, but not as much as hoped. 

The Queen turns to Vanya, who has been urgently shoving gold into his backpack. He nervously says he doesn’t need anything, but Aletheia says, “but I promised, and I always keep my promises.” She strides towards him, and he flees. This called for a roll, I gave only one die but he gambled his entire remaining pool, and managed to succeed. He takes the monologue, and flees out of the dungeon completely. 

Behind the scenes, I figured it would be more difficult than that to escape from the evil Queen, but as I was about to call for another roll I thought for a moment of what the situation looked like from her position. In my mind, I saw her smiling secretly - “let him believe he escaped,” she thinks, “now that I’m free, there will be plenty of time to find him again. I’ll relish his look of surprise and terror!” And so, I didn’t call for another roll. 

Aletheia turns back and finds Esquella, still recovering from her ordeal. “You are not worthy to be my right hand,” she says, “but I will still accept you into my Queen’s guard. I saw in your mind the resentment you bear towards men. Join me, and together we will re-establish my empire; all will be as it once was - but now, all men will grovel before you, and before all women, as our servants and slaves. All that you have dreamed will come to pass. What is your answer?”

This was an interesting moment for the player. He chose to have Esquella transform, to have a change of heart, due to her experiences with Judore and Vanya. She declines the offer. 

The Queen turns to Judore, saying that she will need someone to lead her new research institution. She tells him that the professors who frustrated him and denied him the opportunity to defend his dissertation will becomes his slaves. He will quickly become the world’s greatest academic expert on elves. “Where do I sign up,” Judore says. They walk out of the room together, and with a spine-chilling laugh of joyous evil, the Queen teleports the two of them away, to prepare their campaign of conquest. 

The final scene is of Esquella meeting Vanya, who waited at the cave entrance for everyone. She tells him what happened, and how her goals have changed. She appears happier and more relaxed than ever, her resentment towards the male gender now gone. Vanya is pleased to have so much gold he’ll never have to shovel shit again for the rest of his life. 

Overall this was a very enjoyable game for me, that concluded with that sense of inevitable completion that Ron talks about. As I described in the original post, I created the dungeon before the players made their characters, and my concept was all around this evil Queen being imprisoned by a tribe of goblins over centuries, as a kind of tribal semi-religious tradition. And yet, somehow the central issues the PCs had were brought to the fore and directly confronted, even though this was completely unplanned, and I had no intention to do so - I simply played the various NPCs and adjudicated rolls in a way that made sense at the time. The players took the opportunity to make those things happen, when they wished. 

I’ll have to ponder things more, and play more too before I come to any firm conclusions on things like gold for words, and resources. Overall resources did not play any significant role in the game, but perhaps the players can comment on their experience. 

Dreamofpeace's picture

We did have a brief discussion afterwards. On the subject of resources, most people felt they didn't really play a role in this game. I think Hans' suggestion on this is the way to go. 

My impression was most of the players felt the gold-for-words rule was too harsh. This balance can be addressed by either being more generous with gold, or reducing the gold requirement; playtesting can answer how best to tweak that, I guess. I'm not sure anyone thought the rule was just bad, but y'all can speak up. 

Finally, when it came to the subject of how to deal with monsters and other NPCs in combat, the players had strong opinions. I asked how they felt I'd adjudicated things, if I was being either too nice or too unfair. The consensus was that they felt things were fair. But the consensus also was that if they were to run it, they would assign a set number of successes required to defeat each opponent.

My current opinion is that if the players' experience was that everything was fair, and that my experience as GM was one of enjoying the moment-to-moment suspense and analyzing what was happening, there's no fundamental problem with doing it the way I did it. So it's mostly a matter of style. But my mind is open on the subject. 

Dreamofpeace's picture

So I’ve been reflecting on this game after playing several sessions of Tunnels & Trolls. I had great fun with this Pool game, as a fantasy adventure. One element this Pool game missed, though, was the sense of “pushing your luck” characteristic of the classic dungeon crawl. One reason is that I didn’t ask for enough supply rolls, but the larger reason I think is the lack of hit points. In the T&T game, the players are constantly concerned about their resources, supplies to some extent but mostly how much CON (functionally HP) or Strength (for the wizards) they have left. If these get too low, they’re likely to leave the dungeon. 

With the Pool, this dynamic is very different. In one way the Pool can be quite deadly - one failed combat roll and you could be facing a death roll immediately, depending on context. But there’s no sense of things getting more desperate over time - after you’ve gotten a few injuries and are getting tired, yes you’ll get fewer gift dice, but your death roll is still a death roll. This doesn’t have the same psychological impact as having only 3 or 4 CON left out of your original 12 or 15 or  whatever. 

So I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that to do a classic “push your luck” dungeon crawl, the Pool needs some kind of a Health track, or other means of showing that a fundamental resource is diminishing. Some people are sure to object, insisting that if you do that, the game is no longer a pure, clean Pool but now some kind of a filthy Pond instead. But I’m ok with that. No one ever said dungeon crawling was clean!

I might do it something like this. You start with a basic Health track of Normal - Bruised - Hurt - Critically Injured; each failed combat roll means you have to make an armor/toughness roll, and go down a step if you fail. If you’re at Critically Injured and fail a combat roll, you’ll have to make a death roll. Some weapons or monster attacks might cause you to go down two steps, or ignore armor, and have various other special effects. I would severely limit healing while in the dungeon itself, too. Also, for every point of bonus you have in your Con or similar attribute, you get one extra step in your Health track above normal; this gives you another way to improve your character effectiveness in combat with experience. 

Anyone try anything like this? If so, what was your experience? Anyone have any other suggestions about bringing the “push your luck” element into this? I’d love to hear your thoughts (except for any insistence on keeping the Pool “pure”).

Dreamofpeace's picture

An addendum: the thought occured to me that you could also increase the feeling of resource depletion by limiting how character Pools get replenished. For example, you can choose the "get a Pool die" option when you get a successful roll, but you don't actually get to use  the die until you've had a rest, or eaten some rations, or left the dungeon, etc.

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