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[Polaris] ... and now there are none who remember it

Started by Christoph Boeckle, May 31, 2006, 07:23:14 PM

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Christoph Boeckle


I finally got around to playing Polaris with 3 close friends, who have been gaming with me since quite a few years.
We know each other really well, but I wasn't sure they'd grok the tragic and poetic style of Polaris. They showed me how wrong I was.

At first, I had them read the Moments frozen in time. Varied reactions: "what's that supposed to mean?", "this doesn't make sense", etc. But I think they actually liked it.


We then proceeded to create the characters. We are seated like this, anti-clockwise: Lionel (Sagittarius), Jérôme (Celaneo), Julien (Tsih) and myself (Cassiopeia).
We decided upon the Knight Arcturus, involved in treachery, as our common fate.
Roughly, our characters are like this:

    - Sagittarius is a bit like the classical knight, complete with squire and steed. Except that he has a bow and is in service of Virgo, the great priestess of Southwatch.
    - Celaneo is captain of the guard at Southkeep, destined to betray the people from his birth on.
    - Tsih is a sculptor and curator of a fragile museum. Al Nyat, he who provokes earthquakes, is a Mistaken.
    - Cassiopeia is a receiver of the last wills under the orders of Virgo, is lover to Arcturus and destined to be the future's mother. Alsataraz the lurker in the dark is an as yet unknown demon.

We where still chitchatting a lot and making stupid jokes all through this process. We only started the game with the keyphrase and the lighting of a square candle (which proved perfect to symbolize the four remnants (edges) and the mistake (flame) at this point.


Long ago, the people were dying at the end of the world.

I framed a scene, with Cassiopeia under way to receive Lord Taurus's last will (we decided that the People died of old age in these troubled times). Just at he was going to reveal an important secret the demon Alsataraz drank his expiring soul!
Cassiopeia demanded that he appear and repent for his crime. This is what he did, and his appearance was so frightful that the Knight would be insane  for seven days and seven knights, yet she struck at his left eye, liberating two souls who now inhabit her head alongside her. One of them is Taurus, yet she cannot ever communicate with the other souls.

Jérôme, the Mistaken, had no difficulties in grasping how to play, even though he has never GMed a game. I thought that was pretty encouraging.

Then Lionel framed a scene where Sagittarius was called by Virgo to go on a quest to liberate the raving Cassiopeia. As the two were talking, a storm had been creeping up. It then unleashed its fury in a shower of hail, bursting all the windows in the chapel. At the same time, Arcturus rushes in to embrace Cassiopeia and demands of Sagittarius that he follow him to Southkeep. The bowman accepts.

Lionel was already thinking that this was just a trap set up by Julien to ambush Sagittarius. We thought that was an excellent idea for the second scene!

Jérôme surprised me with an in media res framing of his scene, where Celaneo was fighting off the third assault of Spring. The demonic ghosts of mist and smoke were killing his men off one by one, but he preferred to strike at the heart of this foul army rather than to organize the defense. He succeeded in dispersing the blackest of the clouds with the light of his sword, but all his comrades were already dead. On the floor, he found the key to the City that dazzles the stars...

We should have rolled experience here, but I forgot about that. We did update the cosmos and aspects though (which really should have rung a bell...)

Julien framed Tsih being alerted by the mechanical seismograph of massive shockwaves being unleashed in one of the museum's rooms. There he tried to save the precious items from the stomping Al Nyat, a great statue of stone,at no avail. Things only became worse, as an even more powerful demon was liberated from one of the smashed statues and escaped. In his anger and sorrow, Tsih destroyed Al Nyat, but could only weep in the ruins of the wrecked hall.

Up to now, we had only used but only if... and and furthermore.... Julien preferred you ask far too much to the latter (as a Heart, he will use it again in the second scene).

We decided we had enough time to play another series of scenes (we needed a bit over an hour for each of our two cycles). My friends and I were extremely enthusiastic about the game and what had already happened in play. Stupid jokes and puns still arose frequently, but now they were linked to the events and characters. I reckon this is a way to release the pressure. One thing is certain, we had rarely played with such intensity. The drama and the poetry was also something new to our play experience (one player actually was reluctant to use the "But hope was not yet lost..." key phrase! "Do I have to? Come on..." We showed no pity.)


In her second scene, Cassiopeia wakes up alone in a lonely chapel. Alsataraz awaits her, invisible in the darkness, and whispers to her ears that he will continue to track each of goings, drinking all the people of whom she was supposed to receive the last wills, making them suffer ever more. The lady swore that each time, she would injure the demon a bit more, till she eventually destroy him for good. The demon was not afraid, for he told her that all the souls he will have stolen up to that day would enter her mind at the hour of his death, driving her mad for the rest of her life.
"But only if my descendant can finish what I have undertaken!"
"And that is how it will happen..."

Again, I forgot to check Experience, but updated the Cosmos and Themes. Next time Experience will rain like hell, I can guarantee that...

Sagittarius traveled with Arcturus to Southkeep, and lo!, they were ambushed. Julien and Lionel negotiated the combat using the conflict key phrases: the squire was paralyzed for life by a bad wound, Arcturus gained Sagittarius trust for fighting along him (and this was really wicked of Julien: we all know that Arcturus is involved in some treachery and that this is all an instigation) and Sagittarius made Legolas look like a beginner.
The interesting thing was that Lionel, quite an immersion fan, used the negotiation as some sort of script to "roleplay" his character afterwards. I had never seen him so excited while playing a character, he unleashed himself utterly and by the time he had finished his descriptions, we were all rolling on the floor laughing, of good will, because it was so impressive. Probably this was the coolest fight we played in a long long time!

Jérôme framed his second scene very nicely, by saying in character, "and so it was", just as Celaneo finished his account of the battle.
Arcturus, his superior, had Celaneo tried before court for his bad leadership. Even though it was quite plain that he had not had much choice, Arcturus obtained that he be sent to roam the ruins between the remnants and the Mistake for seven days and seven nights, so that he might stop the next assault single handed as well, without putting his men at risk...
What a dick! And we all knew it was unjust, but heck, Celaneo still had to go...

Tsih was called to Southkeep on Arcturus's command to expertise an ancient scepter. He learned that Arcturus's soul was kept in the scepter and that he was now possessed.

This scene fizzled a bit, as we were quite tired, but it has the seeds for some nice scenes to come.

But that all happened long ago, and now there are none who remember it.

Conclusion and questions

This ranks as one of my best roleplaying experiences ever (I seem to say this a lot after playing indie games, but this is even better than most of those). The other players were really thrilled as well and I'm confident we will get to play to the end of our character's stories.

These questions and observations are what I'd like to talk about more specifically (although I'm interested in other topics I might have overseen).

Two questions on character creation:
- Using the example aspects, I noticed that there were a few that say "replaces (default aspect)". Are these aspects free or do they cost an aspect, ending up with a character with one aspect less on the sheet?
- Jérôme wanted to include the Lady of Snow and Star in his cosmos. We thought that this could ruin the effect of the special scene when moving from Novice to Veteran, so we decided that this entry in the cosmos represented the ideals that she upheld, rather than the character herself. What do the seasoned polarians have to say about this?

Observations in my group:
- The key phrases are quite intuitive to use, but no one used either It shall not come to pass nor But it was not meant to be yet.
- At first, the Moons were a bit passive and got But it was not mattered a few times. We played the Moons more aggressively as play moved on.
- Hearts love to defend the cool vision they have of their character, while the Mistaken just continues to wreak havoc all around. Not only is the Mistaken probably the most powerful role because he has guidance over so many things and has nothing to loose, but the Hearts gladly let things spiral downward just for style and tragedy! This is so beautiful it makes me cry! At last a game were having your character loose is outright fun for the player (of course, there are those systems who grant you some compensation from losses or handicaps, but in Polaris, there is no such calculating, just the pure and honest will to have the character fall!)
- "NPCs" are played by different players depending on what part of the cosmos and what scene they appear in, which I think makes for really rich characters. Each player follows a different agenda for that charcater, so there aren't as many difficulties to maintain coherence as one might think at first.
- The structured play induced by the key phrases provided for some nice twists (Jérôme's scene framing for example). I'll be looking for other original uses in future play.

Ben, I'm preparing an AP in french as well, with a few detailed conflicts, which I will post on my personal forum, to which you'll be able to link from your website for extra multilingual marketing mojo.

title edited by me at the author's request, to provide the thread with a more complete title - RE

Christoph Boeckle

Drat, I forgot to title the post...
If a moderator thinks it's appropriate, they can edit it to read: "[Polaris] ...and now there are none who remember it!"
Sorry about that.


- At first, the Moons were a bit passive and got But it was not mattered a few times. We played the Moons more aggressively as play moved on.

This is the current revelation in our group.  The first time through, the Moons were often passive observers of the Heart-Mistaken cage match.  This time through, though, we've been learning how to press your agenda as a Moon.  As I've said elsewhere, the key is to push as far as you think you can go and still have either the Heart or Mistaken support your statement in a showdown.

At the same time, I've also found that effective Moon management is an important segment of the game as Heart or Mistaken.  The ability to slap down narration that doesn't fit your vision can be vital at certain points in the game.
Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown

Christoph Boeckle

Thanks Ron for editing the title.

Thanks Seth, your remarks here make great sense to me! I actually got prepared to this issue by reading your AP reports, we now need to wrap our minds around it.

To all, if you've already tackled the issue of including the important NPCs (Lady of Snow and Stars and Knight Solaris especially) in one's cosmos, I'd like to hear from you. I'm worried that this might render the transition scene from Novice to Veteran less important.
Especially, I'm seeing these more as metaphors or symbols of the constant falling the knights are confronted to, so considering them as NPCs would be awkward in the first place (I do realize that one can include ideas in the cosmos). Nevertheless, I'm a bit leery to push this point of view through without any experience of the matter.

Ben Lehman

Hey, man.  Sorry I didn't respond to this earlier.

All I can say is: Good stuff!  I had a blast reading the play report and look forward to hearing the rest.  Let me see if I can give some authoritative answers to your questions.

1) The intention for "replaces normal aspect" is that it does take one of your initial choices.  That said, starting with an extra aspect is not really a big deal -- aspects tend to come and go pretty quicky in play anyway (if I had a nickel for every starlight sword that shattered -- I'd have a lot of nickels.)

2) It's totally cool to put the Solaris Knight or the Frost Maiden in your Cosmos.  Keep in mind that they are demons, so they must go into the Mistaken section.  While this does change the mid-point scene, I find that it doesn't lessen it and can actually enhance it a great deal.

I think that, like other "big bad-ass NPC" types in Polaris, having such powerful characters in your Cosmos requires the Mistaken and the Heart to express a bit of tact in their key phrases.  They must be protected by virtue of their own inherent coolness, because the system will do nothing to protect them.  Does that make any sense?


Christoph Boeckle

Thanks Ben for your help!

Both points make sense to me.
I found that we all really got into the feel of the setting, so I'm confident we can have the Lady make a decent appearance or two, even if the rules don't enforce that.
Good thing you reminded me that the Lady was a demon, I tend to think of her as King Polaris's soft and beautiful wife, forgetting that this isn't necessarily the "truth" for a given game and that she appears in order to bring doom to the protagonist.

Or could the Lady, if she appears in the New Moon for example, reflect an omen of a dark future and trigger an experience roll for showing sympathy to the demon?

This basically asks the question of what are the best criterion to place NPCs in the cosmos. It says in the book the player should do it as they see fit, but what is your experience? Should we take the stance of the authors and if we know that the NPC is ultimately an enemy, it must go into the Mistaken section, or does it work better if we take the protagonist's point of view, changing sections to reflect the evolution in the nature of the relationship?



Quote from: Artanis on June 11, 2006, 04:17:54 PM
This basically asks the question of what are the best criterion to place NPCs in the cosmos. It says in the book the player should do it as they see fit, but what is your experience? Should we take the stance of the authors and if we know that the NPC is ultimately an enemy, it must go into the Mistaken section, or does it work better if we take the protagonist's point of view, changing sections to reflect the evolution in the nature of the relationship?

Oh definitely from the protagonist's point of view.  There are a couple of reasons for this, but for some reason I'm having a hard time putting them into words.  So, here goes anyways.

First, this gives the Moons more to do.  Otherwise, most of the interesting characters end up in the Mistaken section of the Cosmos, and the Moons become effectively bystanders.  So, pragmatically, the game works better this way.

Also, the Cosmos is a record of the protagonist's world.  When an NPC is a known enemy but is still in a Moon section of the Cosmos, it says something about this character.  In our current game, for instance, the Big Bad (the corrupt Chancellor) is in everyone's Mistaken...except one.  For Maia, the Chancellor is actually a close friend of the family's.  (Well, until very recently.)  The presence of Chancellor Almech in her New Moon spoke volumes about Maia...mostly about how blind she was to the Chancellor's evil, to be honest.

Also, I would urge care with too much use of the Solaris Knight and Frost Maiden.  They are both potent symbols which (IMHO) shouldn't be brought down to the level of "mere" demon NPCs.  As it stands, my personal aesthetic would tend to leave them out of the game until someone crosses the Novice/Veteran line, although I could possibly see their use in foreshadowing and whatnot.  Believe me, this magnifies the power of the "new Veteran" scenes.  When, for example, you meet the Solaris Knight who salutes you as a brother-in-arms, you know that something has gone horribly wrong.  At the very least, I'd suggest that you keep them sacrosanct for your first game.  Once you've experienced the punch of meeting them for the first time, you will probably be in a better position to be experimental in the future.

This is, of course, purely my opinion.  But I say this as one who thinks that the Solaris Knight is quite possibly the coolest part of the game.  Well, except for all the other parts....

Sigh.  It's a pity that life has been too hectic to continue our game.  Soon, precious, soon....
Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown

Christoph Boeckle

Thanks again for your great insights, Seth!

Your advice for placing NPCs makes great sense to me. This is actually how we had started, but the following case made me doubt.
The player who would have the Lady in his protagonist's Cosmos wanted her in the New Moon section at first. Fine, his protagonist's view prevails (although the rules clearly say that demons go into the Mistaken section, what has practice shown to be the better solution?)
Now, showing sympathy for a demon surely screams for an experience check (so basically, each time that the Lady appears and remains in the New Moon). Regardless whether the protagonist knows she's a demon or not.

Moon placement: protagonist's POV
Experience checks: players' POV (especially the mistaken)

Both can be linked in certain cases, which muddled the issue for me.
This might be a technique for hurrying the fall of a knight. We'll see what happens in play.

I will present both Ben's advice and yours to the players and we shall see how we proceed from there.