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.
The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.