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Author Topic: [Polaris] Captains Courageous - Chargen  (Read 10524 times)
Harlequin
Member

Posts: 284


« on: June 02, 2005, 09:46:15 AM »

We finally got all schedule conflicts resolved, and started our playtest of Polaris last night.  Paricipants include myself (Eric Finley), James Brown ('blankshield' here), my wife Star Newman, and philosophy/law student and local LARP designer Tom Cantine.  Because everyone involved has kids to deal with and then a longish commute, we're limited to shorter sessions than I would like - alas, but this is the reality of my life these days.

First evening covered setting (Tom had not yet read it), rules overview, and chargen.  We then ran one extended scene for one protagonist, to shake the bugs out and familiarize everyone with the system.  Note that I left my notes at home, so I'm doing this on memory; the precise phrasing of Aspects and so forth is probably off.

The characters:

Everyone - Normal starting Virtues (of course), the standard three Aspects (Knight of the Order of the Stars; Starlight Sword; Lore of Demons).  For our common Fate we chose an enigmatic figure, named only "Captain", who may be an outlander from the barbarian South, or may be a demon, or both.  (Star: "Because dark-skinned men are sexy."  Me: "Meaning, not translucent."  She: "Yup.")  For brevity and clarity I'll list only the other Aspects chosen by each of us.

==========================
Sir Deneb (Tom Cantine)
Mistaken - Eric; Full Moon - Star; New Moon - James.
Concept: "Something to do with courtly love."  Sir Deneb is enamoured of a woman he can't legitimately have.  This worked out to be the Lady Alcyone, the strong-willed wife of Viscount Sadalbari (another PC).
(Fate) The love of Lady Alcyone.
(Ability) An ear for lies.  [We established this as mystical/fated in nature, not merely social skill.  Something literally whispers in his ear, when he is faced with lies.]
Cosmos includes:
(Full Moon) Lord Rigel, his liege lord.
(New Moon) Lady Alcyone, his love; Viscount Sadalbari, with whom we established there's mutual respect/friendship.
(Mistaken) Cygnus X-1, Deneb's younger brother, who he isn't even aware exists.

Sir Indus (James Brown)
Mistaken - Star; New Moon - James; Full Moon - Tom.
Concept: A sentinel, one whose destiny and desires are caught up not with demonkind but with the South.
(Fate) Reach The Nightfall Spire - a place which, even in the heart of summer, retains the essence of the night.
(Office) Warden of the Southern Face.  Sir Indus patrols the otherwise-empty breadth of the great south wall of the Remnant of Southwatch.  He is marginalized and condemned by his fellow nights for this odd, useless duty.
Cosmos includes:
(New Moon)  The Warden of the Northern Face [Name I forget, or not specified] - a lover, who he can only meet illicitly... because by definition, when on duty, they ought never meet.
(Full Moon) His father [Name I forget], who disapproves of his post and life.
(Mistaken, placed right near the outer rim) Captain; James sees their antagonism as implicit, but wants it to remain indirect, via the results of each others' actions and presences, rather than through any direct meeting of the characters.

Alshain (Star Newman)
Mistaken - James; New Moon - Tom; Full Moon - Eric.
Concept: A knight who knows her lover to have been possessed by a demon, but who refuses to condemn him or expose him.  Holds a (probably fruitless) hope that he can be redeemed somehow.
(Blessing) Falcon Companion
(Fate) Her demon-torn lover, Keid.
Cosmos includes:
(Mistaken/New Moon edge) Keid, inseparable from Keid's unnamed demon.
(New Moon) Her falcon [name I forget].
(Full Moon) ?? [I forget.  Shouldn't, as it's my own area; tsk.]

Viscount Sadalbari (Eric Finley)
Mistaken - Tom; New Moon - Star; Full Moon - James.
Concept: A minor lordling whose relationship with his wife, and with Sir Deneb, drives him far from home in a kind of self-imposed exile.  An explorer more than a lord, despite the name.
(Fate) Wed to the Lady Alcyone
(Blessing) Loyal Steed Valentine
[An interesting note here that I decided that both of these things were actually more core than his title, despite its presence in his name.  The Office aspect will presumably be added later.]
Cosmos includes:
(Mistaken) Captain; Tarambolus of the Gleam, a demon with whom he has had run-ins in the past.
(New Moon) Sir Deneb; Valentine.
(Full Moon) Lady Alcyone; his steward Celaeno.
============================

We ran only one, fairly extended, scene, with Sir Deneb as protagonist.
Long ago, the people were dying at the end of the world.
But hope was not yet lost, for Sir Deneb still heard the song of the stars.


And so it was that Lord Rigel, hearing reports of a disturbance surrounding one of the lesser settlements of the People, called up his riders and bade them arm, armour, and mount (we establish here that Lord Rigel is famed for his stables of mantis steeds, although Star wants to know how you can possibly have fey knights without proper white horses) and rode to seek out the source.

The settlement turned out to be smashed, flinders and ashes, not a living soul in sight.
But only if Sir Deneb, riding into the ruins, finds a child sheltering amongst the ash.  It is the only survivor.
And so it came to pass.

James, portraying the girlchild, worked with us both (including some DemonLore-related conflict statements, largely constructive) to establish that the demons - apparently "windmares" - had stolen away the girl's parents, as the last of the town's People... and that this implied that the parents would be back for her in turn, returning as "that which rides the windmares."  Meanwhile a keening on the wind grew stronger and stronger.

Of the two knights who had come with Lord Rigel and Sir Deneb, one (Sir Ancha) received basically no treatment.  The other, Sir Tarazed, played by myself as Tom's Mistaken rather than by Star as his Full Moon, showed a brash nature and a willingness to be curt and rough with the child, cutting off some of Sir Deneb's attempts to glean further information.

After a while I kicked us up into full conflict; the storm blew in, and on the wings of it the windmares.  In the wake of the storm, the knights will be scattered from one another.
But only if Sir Deneb, taking a stand and slaying many windmares, is able to hand the child off to Sir Tarazed for removal to safety.
But only if Sir Deneb shall arrive back, late and draggled, at Lord Rigel's keep to find that none of the others have come to that safety at all.
But only if he finds that Sir Tarazed and the child have come before.  (No, Tom, that's a contradiction.  Tom tried a couple of variants on this, using ever-more-complex "But only if" statements, before conceding down to but only if Sir Deneb rouses and leads a search for the others.  He finds Sir Tarazed and the child.)
You ask far too much.  Exhaust "Knight of the Order" with permission.  I have plans for that pair.
But only if Sir Deneb leads a search; they find one of those who are lost.
And so it came to pass.

Backing up and filling in the narrative, James adds in shadowy figures, with swords of quite the opposite of starlight, on the backs of some of the windmares (who seem themselves to be kind of like monstrous grey ice-bats with talons).  The shadowy figures themselves do not engage in this scene; we're already busy enough filling in the "it shall be"s from the just-finished conflict.  Sir Deneb slays many of the mares and ultimately the rest disperse, leaving him lost and wounded.  

He returns slowly to Rigel's keep, to be met by Lord Rigel's daughter, Bellatrix, who we establish has something of a crush on the young knight.  She fills him in on the continued absence of the others; he puts together a party and heads back out.

After some days of running a broad search to each side of the mostly likely trails out of the now-abated storm, Sir Deneb and his search party (consisting of Lord Rigel's aged father, Lord Rigel's Master of Horse, and two young squires too raw for knighthood) come upon the gutted body of Sir Ancha, lying under a thin skiff of snow.  The body shows not the traces of teeth and claw, but rather the long straight slashes of a blade.
But only if, after sending the squires back with poor Sir Ancha's bones, the rest of them follow a trail to where the others had been.
And so it came to pass.

Coming to a camp beneath an ice ledge, they find traces of battle.  Not battle back-to-back, as one might expect, but tracks with toes pointed toward one another, and the crystal blood of the People thick upon the ground.
But only if Sir Deneb finds a trail that leads from that place, and follows it to its end.
But only if he is forced to choose between two trails, which diverge there.
But only if just one is marked with glassy blood.
And so it came to pass.
Sir Deneb sends the old grandfather and the horsemaster off along the bloodied trail, himself following the other.  He warns them of demons and the Master of Horse (not being a knight) is dismissive, saying that they have faced storms before.

Sir Deneb comes to the end of the trail and is startled, if not surprised, by Sir Tarazed coming over a rise, above him and too close, blade raised...
And so it was.

I do love those cliffhangers.

=========================

Overall, we're all quite aware that it's going to take a while to get our feet under us with regards to the system and the key phrases.  I haven't even covered the mechanics of the die roll yet, nor of experience and refreshes; I wanted to get some material under our belts.  But we all feel it will come, and everybody seems to be enjoying the system so far.

I did find that Tom (in particular) has a habit of trying to get WAY too much content into a conflict statement.  I had to pause and actually discuss this with him during the raising of the search party.  I think we'll hit on a working compromise without too much trouble, but it's an interesting example of a gamist urge expressing itself in Polaris.

The character sheets need a little work for functionality and a lot for beauty, to go with the game.  I offered to do this earlier, and I'll go on to actually do so before next week.

More importantly, the game desperately needs a key phrases and mechanics cheatsheet.  I'll assemble this, as well.  The key phrases are also covered in IMO the wrong order.  "It shall not come to pass" is the most complex and requires understanding the others before it can make any sense at all.  I covered them as "But only if..." and "And furthermore..." first (adding events to the narration), then "You ask far too much...", then the triple set of "And so it came to pass," "But it was not meant to be," and "It shall not come to pass," in that order.  Next time I might reverse those last two, I'm not sure.  Everybody grasped them readily enough but I'm sure they didn't altogether 'stick' after one reading.

A list of the star names by raw alphabetical order would also have been useful.

Character creation left a LOT of undefined loose ends hanging.  The alienness of the setting implies this, but this group isn't used to a lot of HeroWars-style "we'll fill this in later" stuff, and I think it'll take a little work to actually get these promises to become fulfillment.  It's like we're comfortable with the concept of framework-first, details-in-play, but have little practice with implementation.  This may be a good thing, or a problem, or neither.

Shrinking the complexity of both scenes and of conflict statements will come with practice.

And a very good time was had by all.

One question, Ben: I remember seeing in the other playtest thread that the intent is to exhaust full Themes (Offices, Blessings, etc) rather than Aspects (Knight of the Order of Stars, Loyal Steed, etc) when paying for key phrases that need it.  Is that correct?  It seems odd, and my gut reading would have it the other way.

- Eric
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2005, 11:48:49 AM »

Wow, that's great stuff.

We just played Polaris last night, as well.  I should write that up, probably.

To answer your question: Yes, you exhaust whole themes.  Clearly, I need to be more explicity about this in the text, 'cause that's 2-in-2 groups that have gotten it wrong.

yrs--
--Ben
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Harlequin
Member

Posts: 284


« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2005, 11:58:54 AM »

Hmm.  To be honest I don't like "whole Themes."  That makes Aspects pretty much mechanically meaningless, doesn't it?  Basically they become "Cosmos with emphasis."  In order to exhaust the Theme you need to find some Aspect under it which is relevant, sure... but multiple Aspects become redundant for this role awfully fast.

To me it hits harder if I invoke an Aspect, which is concrete, rather than a Theme, which is a category.

Hopefully there's a way to get the mechanical balance you want, while still using Aspects for this role.

- Eric
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Christopher Weeks
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Posts: 683


« Reply #3 on: June 02, 2005, 12:40:24 PM »

Eric, I had the same reaction to the Theme/Aspect hitch.  I've changed my mind.  Three Aspects of one Theme really does increase the flexibility of that Theme for exhaution circumstances (unless they're redundant).  Also, you'll find, I think, that you don't want more than about four chances for exhaustion between refreshes.  It's an important, if subtle, mechanical limitation on conflict proliferation.  

I'll email you the key phrase chart that I made, in case it's useful. (EDIT: Actually, I just sent it to James once I realized that clicking on the email link on a Forge page doesn't use my browser and allow attachments.)
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Harlequin
Member

Posts: 284


« Reply #4 on: June 02, 2005, 12:46:59 PM »

Hmm.  I believe you, on the quantity issue; it's just still the use of the category rather than the object that bugs me.

I suppose one option (mechanically identical) would be to say that only one Aspect per Theme can be exhausted by that side, until a refresh.  So I still exhaust "Knight of the Order of Stars" as the Heart, but this blocks me from exhausting "Viscount of Horsehead Valley" until I clear the checkmark.

- Eric
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #5 on: June 02, 2005, 12:59:21 PM »

Quote from: Harlequin
Hmm.  I believe you, on the quantity issue; it's just still the use of the category rather than the object that bugs me.

I suppose one option (mechanically identical) would be to say that only one Aspect per Theme can be exhausted by that side, until a refresh.  So I still exhaust "Knight of the Order of Stars" as the Heart, but this blocks me from exhausting "Viscount of Horsehead Valley" until I clear the checkmark.

- Eric


BL>  How is that mechanically different from the rule as it stands right now?

For what it is worth, the intention is supposed to be that the Aspects describe how and when a Theme can be expended.  As the player to my left in last night's game discovered, they can still be plenty toothy.

What Chris says is true.  Further, they are a means of subtlely encouraging Knights to do bad things for the greater good.

yrs--
--Ben
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Larry L.
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Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #6 on: June 02, 2005, 01:04:32 PM »

Cool stuff. It sounds like you're going with a more aggresively science-fantasy flavor than I've seen done, which is something we had noticed the potential for but didn't pursue.
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Harlequin
Member

Posts: 284


« Reply #7 on: June 02, 2005, 01:07:43 PM »

It's not mechanically different; hence my saying that it's mechanically identical. (Phbbt.)

But it supports what I wanted, which is that it's the Aspect itself which is tagged... I find that much more satisfying, somehow, than the Aspect "giving permission" to tag the category.  Yes, it's just a question of where you put the checkmark... but it still helps my intuition.  

Sort of like the distinction between checking out Accounts of the Napoleonic Era and not being allowed to check out any further history books, vs. somehow "checking out" the 900-999 stretch of the Dewey Decimal system.  Type mismatch in the action.

- Eric
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #8 on: June 02, 2005, 01:19:21 PM »

Eric --

If it helps you to think about it that way, please do it that way.

I'm curious -- you only played one scene.  Did the Moon players feel marginalized at all?

yrs--
--Ben
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Christopher Weeks
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Posts: 683


« Reply #9 on: June 02, 2005, 01:32:16 PM »

Ben, I don't know if this is what you're thinking about with that last question, but I'm wondering how you'll be doing quick demos.  Is it important to get everyone into each role?  Or at least to get them in place as a moon and a conflictee?
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #10 on: June 02, 2005, 01:49:29 PM »

Chris --

Good question.  Let's talk about it http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=15581">in a new thread and let Eric keep this one for his game report and discussion thereof.

yrs--
--Ben
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Harlequin
Member

Posts: 284


« Reply #11 on: June 02, 2005, 02:37:58 PM »

Shooor.

As for the Moons - I think so, a little bit, but at least one and possibly both of the Moons' players were also feeling pretty exhausted for other reasons, so they didn't seem to mind too much.  James chipped in stuff which would technically have been Mistaken turf (shadowy figures atop the windmares), but he obviously had a clear and cool vision of it and planned to extend the use of it to his stint as Star's Mistaken.  

I had explained the Heart's and Mistaken's option to veto (It shall not come to pass) this sort of stuff from the Moons where required, but not only was it not invoked, it wasn't even considered.

One thing we did find, in connection with the participation of the Moons, was how stilted the language we ended up using was.  Heavy use of past tense and detached third-person voice.  Tom and I both tried a little to shake it off but it formed a curious verbal rut that was hard for us to get out of, and hard for the Moons to break into.  One of our objectives for next time is a little more direct first- and second-person voice, and more use of present tense.

And to a preceding comment, yeah, the use of what might be a "real person" for the Captain is giving an interesting tone to the whole thing, even though he's still not actually present in the story yet.  I don't know that I'd call it science fantasy, exactly, but something close to that.  Like a little dabble of mythic realism, maybe, seen from the other side.  I'm looking forward to seeing this particular motif develop.

- Eric
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Larry L.
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Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #12 on: June 03, 2005, 05:39:52 AM »

Well, "Captain Courageous" has sort of a Flash Gordon ring to it.

I think it's cool how there is just enough flavor text in the manuscript to get the reader's imagination going, but there's so much that's not defined that each group is forced to invent the "real" Polaris for themselves.

Regarding Themes: the way I understand it, not only is it mechanically identical to the way you describe it, I think it's understood to be conceptually identical as well. You don't say "I'll exhaust an Office," at any point, you have to say "I'll use Knight of the Order of the Stars," thereby exhausting your Office. Because the Moons need to decide if the Aspect is appropriate to the situation.

Mechanically, it just means that you can only do four of certain statements until you refresh, no matter how advanced the character. Note how the And furthermore... statement effectively escalates the conflict to higher stakes. It's a sharp design.
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #13 on: June 03, 2005, 07:15:31 AM »

Quote from: Miskatonic
Well, "Captain Courageous" has sort of a Flash Gordon ring to it.


BL> I think its a reference to Rudyard Kipling.  Right, Eric?

Quote

Regarding Themes: the way I understand it, not only is it mechanically identical to the way you describe it, I think it's understood to be conceptually identical as well. You don't say "I'll exhaust an Office," at any point, you have to say "I'll use Knight of the Order of the Stars," thereby exhausting your Office. Because the Moons need to decide if the Aspect is appropriate to the situation.


This is just me wanting to say that Larry is right.
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Harlequin
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Posts: 284


« Reply #14 on: June 03, 2005, 07:20:57 AM »

"Captains courageous" is Kipling, actually.  (Edit: Crossposted with Ben.)  And it's not a title we used during the session, just a post title I came up with when writing it up.

I think we're basically all on the same page with the themes thing.  It basically depends on the phrasing Ben uses and how well it clarifies that up.  I totally agree about the numerical limit and the escalation thing, I always have, it is indeed sharp; it's just how the mechanical act meshes with the SIS, it's all about the connotations of the act.

Next session is next Wednesday.

- Eric
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