The Pool, Powered by the Apocalypse

A have a bit of a hobby of revisiting great old indie games, and occasionally messing with them a bit. This is an idea I had while on vacation. What would that brilliant old classic - perhaps the one that started it all - The Pool look like today, at a table that wants to play and just throws something together at the last minute?

Have a read and tell me what you think:

The Pool, Powered by the Apocalypse

A fresh Pool hack.

It will only fully make sense to someone familiar with both The Pool and Apocalypse World (or other PbtA games), but I bet many people unfamiliar with either could manage to have a good time with these rules, too. Give them a try!

  1. Character creation

Write a 50-word character description.

Start with a Pool of 12 dice (six-sided). This Pool tells us how confident and full of energy or the Force the character is! A character with a large Pool can be unstoppable.

Buy any number of Traits, based on words in your character description:

A +1 Trait costs 2d.

A +2 Trait costs 5d.

A +3 Trait costs 10d.

Be sure to leave at least two dice in your Pool.

  1. Rolling the Dice
  • The player may ask to roll the dice when she wants a guaranteed chance at achieving some concrete character action in the fiction.

  • The GM may ask the player to roll the dice when he thinks the character is trying to do something that has an element of risk or uncertainty.

The player picks up a number of dice from her Pool. She must roll at least two, but there is no upper limit.

  1. Reading the Roll

The player adds together the two best dice, and adds a single Trait (if appropriate).

  • A “hit” is a 7 or higher.

On a 10+, the character’s action comes with great success.

On a 7-9, the character’s action succeeds, but there is also a complication or a hard choice. (If the player is narrating, the GM can supply the complication.)

  • A “miss” is a 6 or lower.

On a miss, the GM makes a move against the character, usually putting them in a hard spot or inflicting negative consequences.

  1. Resolution

Any dice that rolled a 5 or a 6 are lost. The remainder of the dice are returned to the player’s Pool.

However, you may never have fewer than 2 dice in your Pool; the last two dice may never be lost.

On a miss, the GM narrates what happens, and adds two new dice to the player’s Pool.

On a hit, the player chooses one:

  • The player narrates the outcome of the action (this is called a Monologue of Victory in the original rules for the Pool).

  • The GM narrates the outcome, and the player adds one die to their Pool.

  1. Character Change

At any time, the player may spend dice from her Pool to add a new Trait or to improve an existing Trait.

This is more expensive than at character creation:

A Trait may only by improved by one point at a time (so a new Trait begins at +1). This costs the same amount as in character creation, PLUS the value of every other Trait with the same rating.

For example:

The player wishes to add a +3 Trait, and does not currently have any. She must first have a Trait rated at +2. She can improve it to +3 by spending 10d (as listed in Character Creation).

Note: This means that getting a Trait from 0 (nonexistent) to +3 takes three steps, and costs at least 17d in total (2d + 5d + 10d).

Later, she has three Traits rated +1, and wishes to add a new one. This will cost her 5d (2d for the Trait, plus 1d for each existing Trait at the same level).

Traits can be “cashed in” at any time, erasing the Trait and immediately adding its value to the player’s Pool.

  1. Moves

This hack is based on World of Dungeons, which does not have any specific moves.

However, take the opportunity to bring in any moves that you like from your library of PbtA games!

If it has some kind of currency, you may start tracking that from now on (use your judgement!). Most moves shouldn’t cause any trouble at all, however.

You should mostly use Basic Moves. However, more character-specific moves may be brought in, too. If a move seems unusually powerful or useful, you may agree (as a group) to give it a cost in dice, using the same scale as the Traits (2d for a personal, unusual move, 5d for a really notable move which sets your character apart from everyone else, and 10d for a move which is truly unique and intensely impactful.)

Over time, your selection of moves (especially the ones the get used and reused) will create a fairly specific and unique genre and feel for your game. Enjoy it! It’s a sort of artist’s palette.

  1. Interactions Between Characters

A PC may try to help another character by giving them any number of their dice, so long as they still have two left over in their own Pool. (The last two dice cannot he used to help anyone!)

For each 5 or 6 rolled, you will receive one fewer dice in return. For instance, if you gave your friend three dice and your friend rolled two 6’s, you will only get one die back. If the same friend rolled three or more 5’s or 6’s, you won’t get any dice back at all.

Typically, you will share any repercussions of the roll, at the discretion of the narrating player.

A PC may also oppose another PC. Have both roll.

When ties are possible:

If one hits and the other misses, the outcome is clear. If both miss, the GM narrates the outcome (likely a dramatic interruption of some sort!).

However, if both hit, they are locked in a stalemate. Each player may choose to fold or to push on.

5’s or 6’s rolled are lost, as usual, but no new dice are gained and no narration is made until the conflict is finally resolved.

Folding means that you give up the contest, (collecting two dice, as usual). [Edit for clarification: you collect two dice from the GM for having missed/failed, as on any other roll.]

Pushing on means both players roll again, adding more dice from their Pool, if they wish.

Each roll will likely cost one or both players dice, until one fails or decides to fold.

If ties are not possible, the higher roll wins (regardless of whether it’s a hit or a miss). (In the case of a true tie - both players rolled exactly the same outcome - the GM may intercede by asking for a reroll or by narrating a dramatic interruption. No dice are awarded in either case.)

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For those unfamiliar with The Pool, it’s a very interesting bit of modern RPG history. You can read the rules, and some insightful commentary, here:

http://www.1km1kt.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/thepoolrpg.pdf

http://adept-press.com/wordpress/wp-content/media/Understanding_The_Pool.pdf

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For people who are reading along and would like to get involved, or have some thoughts, there are two things I’m not entirely happy with:

  1. Taking a die in exchange for giving up on the MoV is a little too potent, and tends to undo the dice loss (one die for a typical roll). In the regular Pool, one die isn’t as big a deal, so it’s not as large an opportunity cost to give it up. It would be nice to have a less impactful option, but I’m not sure what it would be in this context. (It could be that you only have that option on a 10+, for example.)

  2. Overall, because of the existence of 7-9 outcomes, this feels far more forgiving that the Pool, and it might be nice to make it a bit harsher.

I had two ideas for this:

  • Your “basic” die is a d4, which you always roll. You also have your Pool of d6s, but now it’s only the very last one that you can never lose (you could even represent it by a different colour, if you have that option).

This feels pretty good, but requires an additional die type, which could be annoying for some people.

  • Change the scale a bit. Perhaps from 7-9/10+ to 8-10/11+, for instance.

This would play nicely with the rules, but it feels a bit wrong, to someone used to playing PbtA games, so it’s not ideal.

Another alternative is changing how the results are read/generated, of course. (Like using the original Pool mechanic, and having one success map to a 7-9, and two successes or more to a 10+.)

Your thoughts, opinions, and suggestions are welcome!

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Well yes, I have missed something and don’t understand why it’s usual to pick 2D

To me, 2D is the minimum I pick, but I can pick more (in fact, all but the 5s and 6s).

Ah, perhaps that bit could use some clarification. It refers to taking two new dice when you fail:

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“Collecting 2 new dice, as if it was a miss” okay, I get it.

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A clarification is needed to make explicit something that we think as implicit. 5 and 6 dice are retired AFTER you count them for the current roll.

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An excellent catch! Thank you.

It’s implied by the order of operations in the rules (adding together the dice comes before Resolution and adjusting the Pool), but clarifying it certainly doesn’t hurt!