Alternate rules for the game by James V. West

Some people at The Forge  have suggested new ways of playing this game. Here are a few examples of their variations.

by Mike Holmes

Mike first proposed this variation in his Flipping The Pool thread at The Forge. Anti-Pool is an easy variant because there is only one change:

When you win a roll, you lose gambled dice. When you lose a roll, you gain a die for your Pool.

Mike's intent was to add stability and avoid spiralling, crashing Pools that had no positive effects. In his words: What if you lost dice when you succeeded instead? And gained a die when you failed. A simple but radical change, what would the effects be? Well, firstly players would be encouraged to use as few dice as they thought necessary to acomplish the task, leading to more failures as players gamble with just how many dice might work. In fact they might frequently use little or no dice and accept failures just to get the extra dice when low. In cases of extreme need like a climactic battle they could still just unload on the contest. This would all work to keep the currency of protagonism in the player's control.

by Nathan Banks

Nathan's tweak is pretty simple too.

Anytime dice are given out by the GM, wether for a reward or gift dice to add to a roll, the GM chooses either 1, 2, or 3 dice to give.

The purpose of this idea was also to help prevent Pools from crashing downward to nothing. If a player has only a die or two left in his Pool, the GM can choose to give him 2 or 3 dice for a successfull roll instead of just one. Several people seem to like this idea.

by Ron Edwards

This was taken directly from the Pool Party thread at The Forge. Ron's kind of a Pool-Purist -;). I like.

Character creation is based on 50-word paragraphs, strictly enforced.

Either the GM or player can call for a roll, at any time. The GM provides 1 to 3 dice, although on very rare occasions he may provide none (I would not permit this if none of the players has a current Pool). One trait may be enlisted into the roll, for however many dice are associated with it (usually just one die). The player may gamble up to 9 dice from his or her Pool. Whether a given trait is "suitable" or not is left up to group dialogue.

A successful roll gets either an MoV or a single new Pool die, regardless of whether any dice were gambled from the Pool or not. A failed roll loses all gambled dice.

Other points: any player may simply give away dice from their Pool to any other player's Pool at any time, with no limits and no formal "debt." Failed rolls mean failed conflicts and the severity of the event, for the player-character, is entirely customized by whoever is doing the narrating.

At the end of a session, a new sentence or phrase is added to the character's paragraph, and Pool points may be spent to assign dice to any new traits in that new text, or spent to increase an existing trait. (Note that this latter tactic may be taken at any time during play).

I think that's pretty much it for "me and the Pool." One of the most important features of this mode of play is that when a player is out of dice in his or her Pool, it's quite simple to regain them: get your character into a conflict which is both easy and involves one of your traits, call for a roll, and use the trait; you'll have at least 3 or 4 dice. If you fail, big deal, do it again. When you do get a success (very high chance), then add a die to your Pool. Rinse, repeat.

Add to that the possibility of the "rich guys" donating dice once in a while, and I think the "thrashing at the bottom" phenomenon is ... gone.

by Mark Whithers

This variant was posted by Mark here.

Your Character

Write a story about the character that you’re going to play. The level of detail is entirely up to you, whether it’s a paragraph or a novel doesn’t matter, only that it provides a starting point for play.

Living in the City can be hard; loving, fighting and dying in this boiling pot of a society. Titus has grown up on stories and epic poems, and as well as being a talented creative poet in his own right, he harbours a deep lust for adventure and only truly feels alive with a sword in his hand and a verse on his lips. He wants to be a Hero, which his rather older and wiser friend Carris has always told him, means the same as wishing to be Dead. Titus says he would sooner be dead than boring.

From your story, you will generate a list of 3 or 4 traits, which give you more opportunity to describe your character and influence the direction of the story by taking over the narrative during play.

Titus is a talented poet
He wants to be a Hero
Enthusiastic and talented amateur swordsman

Titus’s player can add an extra dice to any conflict roll that is connected to one of these traits.

Finally, take six normal dice. These are referred to as your dice pool.

The Referee

One player will be the referee; he doesn’t get to play one of the games main characters, but his job is a very important one.

He has two roles; the first is to provide the cast of characters that the players will meet, and the other is to narrate what happens when a player fails a conflict roll. The referee is NOT the final authority on everything. The gravest sin in roleplaying is the referee taking over the game and favouring his image of the story above everyone else’s. The game is a collaborative effort. Everyone works together.

The referee can point out when player’s actions are not in the best interests of other people’s enjoyment, or don’t conform to the themes of the game. Then again, any player can and should point out when this is happening.

Conflict Rolls

The majority of game play consists of acting out what your character says and describing what he does.

However, if everything went your character’s way, the story would quickly stagnate. Therefore, we use a system of dice rolling to add a little random chance to your character’s life. We call these moments of fate conflict rolls and they take place, appropriately enough, when a character wants to initiate or resolve some kind of conflict, action, or drama to forward plot and characterisation.

Players have a pool of dice that represents their ability to influence events. The more they have, the more chance they have of contributing with their ideas for how the story should progress.


You can risk as many dice as you choose from your pool on a conflict roll. Remember, you get an extra dice to roll if you intend to narrate you characters success as happening because of the positive influence of one of their traits.

If any of the dice rolled come up as a 5 or a 6, then you get to narrate what happens, and the dice you risked are removed from your pool.

When you narrate; you can describe what your character does, as well as the actions of others, and any additions of colour, atmosphere etc… that you desire.

This narrative power comes with responsibility. It is important that you stick to the established tone and theme of the genre and setting, and do not make any irreversible changes to another one of the main characters. (The referee’s characters are fair game!) Keep your narrative reasonably short. Don’t stray too far beyond resolving the conflict at hand. As for your prose, don’t go over the top, your narration is a chance to have fun and entertain the other players, not to bore them!


If you get no 5’s or 6’s then all has not gone as planned. Your character has either been beaten outright, or has only succeeded at a cost. Maybe some additional complications have come up. The referee narrates the exact outcome of your failure.

On the positive side, you get any dice you risked back, and an extra one for your troubles.

Between Games

If you wish to continue playing with the same characters, it's important that they change and grow. At the end the session, you may add a few sentences to your characters ongoing story, and, if you wish, one additional trait. Any traits that no longer apply may also be removed, and replaced on a one for one basis with new ones.

At the start of each session, your pool is replenished (or reduced!) to six dice.

Mark's story of the variant:

One week I forgot my dice. I wasn’t alone. We managed to scrounge two dice from a monopoly set and found another in Dave's pencil case, but that was it.

We sat in shocked silence for a few minutes...

After about quarter of an hour spent in heated debate (squabbling like children), we decided on this variant, which increases the chance of success and reduces the number of dice rolled.

And you know what, it works. Really well.

These are some things I've learned from playing the pool over the last few months.

1) Anti-pool is much harder to cheat - No rolling 11 or 12 dice for a 99.99% success rate. You pay for your success.

2) The GM must let go! Being too precious about their vision of the story ruins games and loses players. Learned that one the hard way.

3) Having quantified traits is meaningless, and only confuses new players.

4) Giving out those 1-3 GM dice is tedious, pointless and too subjective. It's the most house ruled part of the game and I think it's a relic of older gaming styles. The less the GM interferes with the mechanical parts of the game, the better.

This version is the culmination of these hard-won wisdoms.

(note: I made a small change to the last section of Mark's variant per his request-jw)

by Nathan E. Banks

This wasn't really intended to be a variation of The Pool, but, rather, it was one step in the evolution of Nathan's game Cornerstone, which has some roots with The Pool. The original thread is here, and you can read more about Cornerstone at The Forge.

Play Conventions

The mechanics are used to resolve conflicts that involve a character. All such conflicts should be initiated with statements of intent rather than result. The mechanics determine the result of the conflict, as well as the right to narrate.

For example, "Jim Bob blows the Zombie away with his shotgun!" is not the way to do it. Instead say "Jim Bob jerks his shotgun up and pulls the trigger!"

Once the statement of intent has been made the mechanics may be invoked by either the GM or the player. If the mechanics are not invoked the right to narrate stays with the GM. When the mechanics are invoked there are three potential outcomes:

Success + Narration - If the player wins the roll he may narrate the character's success as if he were the GM.

Success + Karma - Allternatively, the player may opt to add a point to his Karma pool, forfeiting the right to narrate. In this case the GM narrates the character's success, but may add additional complications to the character's situation if he chooses.

Failure - The GM narrates the character's failure.


The mechanics of the game are quite simple. Each character is defined by several traits. Each trait costs a number of points equal to its rating. Characters are created with 15 points. Any leftover points go into the player's Karma pool.

Whenever the mechanics are invoked the GM will set a target number for the conflict ranging from 1 to 3. The higher the number, the easier the conflict is to win. The player may add any one trait to the target number, as long as he can offer a reasonable explanation for doing so.

The player may also add up to three points from his Karma pool to the target number. These points are returned to the Karma pool if the roll is a success, but are lost if the roll fails.

Once the target number is finalized roll 1d10. A result equal to or lower than the target number indicates success.

Example: Rebar the Barbarian has Thews of Goodly Strength (3). His player calls for a roll and says: "Rebar desires to fell the massive oak tree here, forming a bridge so that he might cross this trecherous body of water!"

The GM thinks that this is pretty tricky (the tree is quite large) sets the target number at 1. Rebar's player really wants the tree to fall, so he stakes 3 Karma points (the most possible) on the conflict. The final target number is 7 (Rebar's Goodly Strength, the 3 Karma points, and the GM's single point).

If the player rolls a 7 or less, he has the choice of narrating the scene, or of adding to his Karma pool (letting the GM narrate and possibly add complications).

If the player rolls an 8 or more, the GM narrates the scene.

by Cassidy

Cassidy's take on The Pool is pretty thourough. Here it is in pdf format...enjoy:

The Puddle

by Joe Jeskiewicz

Joe has created a really great game using the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac. It uses The Pool and Anti-Pool elements as well as some of The Questing Beast. Cool stuff!

Check it out here.


Kenway at The Forge suggested this variation.

For character creation, each player has 60 seconds to describe his character. Then the other players each write down certain details about the character they think are cool. The player then chooses Traits from those lists.

MOVs last 60 seconds flat.



Another Kenway variation.

These rules help The Pool have a more serial adventure feel with recurring enemies.

Forge discussion has suggested:
-Serials like Hercules the Legendary Journeys. "In these the "code" of the hero means that the enemy is rarely killed when defeated. After a few season a regular cast of recycled villains and fallen warlords would make reappearances."
-"To enforce the metagame, you could design a setting in which people cannot kill each other, but can only "vanquish". For example, this would totally make sense in Cyberspace or in a fantasy world where the Bad Guys could be ressurected by their dark magic."

The PC's keeps track of a new addition to their character sheet: NEMESES, each of which has an accompanying NEMESIS VALUE. The value should start at 1.
eg. Those Annoying Hill Goblin Raiders, 3
Mitzsch the angry Black Dragon, 5
The Vindictive Archbishop Steven, 7
They can be removed permanently (see below).

Any time PC's want some more Pool Dice, a PC or GM narrates in one of their Nemeses and the party receives the Nemesis Value in Pool Dice.

When a nemesis is defeated, they are not killed. They are typically "foiled again" to seek revenge at a later time.
Each time a Nemesis is defeated, their Value increases, reflecting their more elaborate revenge schemes, their calling in of extra reinforcements, etc.
*A GM may allow for two NEMESES to team up in a single encounter, like in various superhero comics or cartoons. The players should pay extra attention to ensure that the setup and resolution for this special cross-over is suitably elaborate and exciting in order to justify the large amount of Pool Dice won.

To cross off a Nemesis permanently, which will often but not always mean that the party has killed them once and for all, the party pays the Nemesis Value in Pool Dice.
To maintain the feel of an action serial, when a Nemesis is defeated, 2 new Nemeses can be written down, and the old Nemesis value divided however wished among these 2 new foes.
eg. The Vindictive Archbishop Steven (7) is finally locked away in prison. The party now has to deal with his partner in crime, The Sadistic Baron Thomas (4). The destructive battle in the Archbishop's underground lair also earned the wrath of The Lunatic Forest Druid (3).

Each time a Nemesis increases in value, or a new Nemesis is created, the GM may award one or more Pool Dice for good role-playing. These Dice are used towards advancement as described in "The Continuing Story" rules.


by Alexander Cherry

Snowball is like The Pool rolling down a hill and gathering steam. I hear it's a real blast to play.

PDF download


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