I’ve seen some discussion regarding the doom pool regarding using it for all contests and tests, and figured it would be useful to share different ways it can be done. Using the doom pool this way can streamline running Cortex quite a bit, but it’s not quite as simple as, “Just roll the doom pool for everything”. It takes a tweak or two to how the doom pool is used, and a bit more of a drastic change to GMCs, to make it happen.
I’ll start with the drastic change – don’t have any GMC traits at all. If you’ve run games like Blades in the Dark you’re likely very familiar with using GMCs in this manner. Because you’re using the doom pool for all opposition, you’re effectively replacing GMC traits with it. It means a lot of freedom from having to assign traits to GMCs and build GMC pools, but it leaves you at the mercy of hitches to grow the pool. You might find you have to manage the doom pool a little more closely, and be flexible with how you portray events within the game. When the doom pool is smaller or doesn’t have large dice, things are relatively rosy. When it grows, opposition to the PCs becomes more menacing or competent. This doesn’t mean not having have any GMC information – it’s actually even more important that you have something that stands out about them, and develop the personalities and motives of recurring or important GMCs.
This method does have a pitfall, in that from a game perspective it can feel like rolls are just an amorphous blob of the same dice over and over. Evocative character portrayals and drama sometimes only go so far. To mix things up a bit, instead of having no traits at all you can differentiate GMCs by using the standard option of spending a die out of the doom pool to represent the GMC. It gives the players the satisfaction of being able to take out singular GMCs in contests. You can even apply a similar method to creating bosses. You spend dice out of the doom pool to create a boss trait, any additional traits they might have, and hold the remainder (likely d6s) in reserve to spend in place of plot points. Any complications that players roll after that rehydrate the doom pool, but otherwise for the duration of the scene boss pool is used for their rolls. Mobs and crisis pools can be created the same way. If you want to add SFX to them, that might be an additional spend out of the doom pool or you could just apply the SFX as you see fit.
The Doom Pool Itself
Since the doom pool’s design doesn’t account for an effect die, it sucks really bad when for one reason or another you only have two dice (such as player buying opportunity dice, which we’ll get to next). It’s tempting to put a floor on the doom pool to prevent this from happening – say a minimum of three dice. I’ve done that in the past, and it works okay. But if you’re not using any GMC traits at all, the easiest thing is that if the doom pool gets down to one or two dice, call it that the players have triumphed over that challenge. Most likely, this will have come at the end of some climactic event where you’ve thrown everything you have at them anyway (why else would the doom pool be so empty?). There’s no more active opposition to worry about, so just wrap things up and transition play to others types of scenes.
On the other hand, the doom pool only shrinks when you spend dice out of it, and if you’re not using GMC traits players may not feel like they’re directly overcoming challenges. The fix for this is relatively easy – allow the players to pay a plot point to remove doom pool dice that roll opportunities. This does a pretty good job of mimicking taking out or giving complications to GMCs in the absence of GMC traits. If you’re giving GMCs traits, or wanting to use bosses, mobs, or crisis pools, you can still do this. In that case, you might want to consider establishing a doom pool bank. This is a seperate pool that you can place dice from the doom pool into. These dice can’t be removed through opportunities…but you also can’t roll them. They can only be spent to introduce elements to the scene – complications, assets, distinctions, GMCs, bosses, crisis pools, mobs, etc. This lets you squirrel away dice for a big reveal without players removing them, at the added expense of having to juggle two pools.
In the end, it’s not too complicated to start using the doom pool for pretty much every roll – just a few things need to be adjusted. The bigger adjustment is in how you frame the fiction and the resulting narrative. It likely won’t work nearly so well if you or your players enjoy getting down into gritty details, using action order and having GMC stat blocks – but it definitely works if you’re interested in going the other direction, letting challenges flow out of how things happen within the game.