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Story games Tabletop RPGs

The Pool looks like a simple, versatile gem

Just four pages long, The Pool is a free RPG designed by James V. West. It comes at “short and sweet” from a different place than, say, Risus (which I love), but occupies a similar space.

The Pool features clever character creation, suitable for any setting or genre:

Making a character is simple: just write a 50 word Story. Pretend you’re writing a book and this is the introduction of your main character

Once you’ve got a Story, you extract Traits from it and assign bonuses to them. (This feels a lot like Risus to me.) The core mechanic is brilliant in its simplicity:

Anyone can call for a die roll whenever a conflict is apparent or when someone wants to introduce a new conflict. Just broadly state your intention and roll.

To win a die roll, roll a 1 on any of the dice you cast. Ignore any other results. If you don’t roll a 1, you fail the roll.

Want better odds? Gamble dice from your Pool; they go away after you’ve used them, and don’t automatically refresh until next session.

If you succeed, you can either add a die to your Pool, in which case the GM narrates how you succeeded and you may not get exactly what you want (“Yes, but”), or make a Monologue of Victory. The MOV is where The Pool kicks into high gear for me:

Giving an MOV is like taking control of the game for a few moments. You can describe your character’s actions, the actions of those around him, and the outcome of those actions. You can even focus on less direct elements of the conflict such as what’s happening in the next room or who’s entering the scene.

This is a deeply collaborative, improvisational game, with narrative control passing back and forth through MOVs, and a great deal of control and agency in the hands of the players. I love all of those things.

James also designed a second game based on The Pool, The Questing Beast, about talking animals during the time of King Arthur.

The Pool isn’t new — it came out in 2001 — but it crossed my G+ stream the other day, and that got me thinking about it again. I haven’t played it, but it’s been recommended to me more than once, and it looks like it would be right up my alley.

Categories
Free RPGs Story games Tabletop RPGs

Eaten Away, a 24-hour RPG

I created my first complete RPG, Eaten Away, for the 2012 RPG Geek 24-Hour RPG Contest. It’s a pickup game of zombie horror, no prep required.

I designed Eaten Away on October 15, 2012. After waking up at 4:00 a.m. with a splitting headache, I got the idea for what became the Attrition System at 7:00 a.m. while I was drinking my morning coffee. My first thought was, “Hey, this is pretty neat.” My second thought was, “Shit, my 24 hours just started . . .”

I fleshed it out, decided it was perfect for a zombie horror game — which would also save me some time by sidestepping the need for setting material — and did most of the conceptualization in the car that morning. From idea to playable game, Eaten Away took me about 13 hours to create.

Its inspirations include the countdown clock in John Wick’s Shotgun Diaries, the core mechanic in James V. West’s free RPG The Pool, the toolkit approach to setting creation in Eden Studios’ All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and the construction of free-form dice pools in Margaret Weis Productions’ Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, as well as the safe house concept and narrative arc in the video game Left 4 Dead. The setting and theme were inspired by a range of zombie movies and fiction, but especially by The Walking Dead — both the comic and the TV show, in slightly different ways.

If that sounds appealing, you can download it as a free PDF.