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Title: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on March 02, 2008, 06:49:53 AM
I just returned from another one of those German forum meet-ups. Yesterday’s Polaris game was a blast (what people call a homerun these days). Here are some highlights and a lesson.

  • All of the six players came up with incredibly great ideas. The best was a demon called the bee eater, who brought the sweet scent of flowers and honey and who used honey as the vessel of his power and made the people taste its sweetness.
  • A very dense web of crosses and weaves between the protagonists, keeping players on the edges of their seats even when they weren’t moons.
  • Three of the six protagonists just naturally emerging as the main characters, two as sidekicks and one not at all, with all players totally jazzed about it.
  • Random stuff people had written down as aspects or in the cosmos being picked up and making sense.
  • The fate aspects, both initial and acquired in conflicts, mostly being fulfilled in the end.
  • Real, consequential character development and growth.
  • A very dense and consistent atmosphere of beauty, decadence and tragedy.

I used to think that bloody hard adversity by the mistaken is key to making Polaris rock, and sure did we have conflicts in most scenes, but as opposed to previous games I’ve been in, we did not press too hard, and apart from a few times “YOU ASK FAR TOO MUCH”, most things got accepted. The game was much more amicable, and also, in some scenes the moons (usually full moon) started providing adversity and the mistaken just sat back, waiting for the moment for “WE SHALL SEE WHAT COMES OF IT” but it never came. As we played, ownership of the story shifted, everybody contributed at all times by making suggestions even though we stayed with the rules on “where the buck stops”. Fewer key phrases got used as the story had taken on so much momentum, and the contributions were adding so well to it, that we rarely felt need for it.

We had ripped the experience rules badly in order to be able to make veterans in one session, but with the last round of scenes, we stopped to even make experience rolls as one protagonist joined the mistake and the two “sidekick” protagonists’ deaths were simply narrated, without conflict, in the main protagonists’ scenes with the sidekicks’ players nodding enthusiastically (one of the sidekicks accidentally killed, Elric style, by another protagonist who loved him).

The lesson here is to go with the flow and let the transcendence happen. Ben has written a fantastic game and his rules and source material took us to that place, but we went on from there and brought the game to a breathtaking final which we could not have done quite that way had we not transcended the rules.

Questions and comments are welcome.

- Frank


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: oliof on March 03, 2008, 08:18:12 PM
You are aware how much your report fits the blog post about respecting the fiction (http://www.lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=350) over at anyway?


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on March 04, 2008, 12:58:14 AM
Moin Harald,

Well, I like Vincent’s article (it kinda reminds me of this (http://blog.wildelande.de/index.php?/archives/109-Glaubwuerdigkeit-und-ihre-Quellen.html)), but I do think that my "transcendence" is more than just “the fiction leading”. Because even when the fiction leads, the rules normally follow (like with the rules on character death in Sorcerer). To stay with the “dancing couple” metaphor, in our Polaris game the fiction let go of her partner (the rules) entirely and startet spinning in wild circles all on her own.

- Frank


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Ben Lehman on March 04, 2008, 01:07:21 AM
Hey! This is really cool.

Yay on Polaris rules-breakers. Actually, given your end state, you proably broke the rules less than many previous players have (including me!) For instance: all the stuff about the protagonists shuffling off during someone else's scenes (with the player's nodding along) is there, in the rules. In fact, it's the only way a protagonist can die before hitting Veteran. All the stuff about everyone contributing to different characters: also there.

But there's definitely some absences.

So I had a metaphor talking about the rules in Polaris the other day. Particularly about "it shall not come to pass." What I said is "It's like a gun in a bank robbery. Ideally, it never goes off. But it still matters that you have it."

When I read you talking about people waiting for the phrases, but then moving on when they didn't receive them, it makes me think of that. The rules are there, absolutely. But they're not being used actively, simply there.

Check me on that. Do you think that that's a correct description?

There's some other interesting stuff here, too. Worth getting into. But I want to get a sense of this, first.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on March 04, 2008, 01:30:40 AM
Hi Ben,

Quote
When I read you talking about people waiting for the phrases, but then moving on when they didn't receive them, it makes me think of that. The rules are there, absolutely. But they're not being used actively, simply there.

True for the conflict key phrases! The rules were like the net or rope in a high wire performance. They would have been there to catch us had we slipped. Also true for guidance.

Not true for experience. The way we messed around with experience, we might have as well just changed the scores around at whim, and in the end we quit paying attention to them entirely. We did have one cool Solaris Knight scene, though.

That part about protagonist death is interesting, I had not been aware that we were actually within the rules with that.

Looking forward to getting into the other stuff.

- Frank


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Ben Lehman on March 04, 2008, 12:20:03 PM
Yeah it is in the rules! I think you're the first group (at least, that I've heard of) to ever use the rule in that way. It's on page 76.

Quote
If you are using a protagonist as part if a scene (or even if you aren't), either active player can include that protagonist in their statements, but only with permission of that protagonist's Heart.

Oh, and since we're probably going to be laying out different sorts of relationships with the rules soon (what with the talk here and on anyway), I'm going to name this sort of play (where the rules are present and important but not actually used) as "bank heist play."

I think it's really telling that the experience rules were the primary rules system that got totally ejected. I'm trying to think about why that is, and why it isn't. Here's some thoughts:
* Some rules of the game are inherently passive: They're not there if you don't use them. This is, like, the conflict key phrases. The aspects and such also figure into this.
* Some rules of the game are eminently bypassable. For instance, with the exception of the Heart's guidance of the protagonist, any player can loan any other player a character for a scene or more, so ultimately "who controls what" can be negotiated directly at the table, with the Cosmos divisions as a fallback.
* Some rules of the game are basically non bypassable. These include the general key phrases, the experience rules, the initial aspects, and the initial cosmos rules.

So, what was your relationship with the general key phrases? ("And so it was" being the primary one in a single session sort of game.) My hunch is that you probably still used them, although I couldn't say why.

I'm also really interested in your relationships with the themes and the cosmos. Were the Cosmos active during play (as in: crossing off names, moving names, adding names)? How about the themes (as in: crossing off aspects, moving aspects, adding aspects?) How did you go about these procedures (presumably pretty ad-hoc)?

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: oliof on March 04, 2008, 03:20:38 PM
I'm  not going on a tangent with Frank here unless I hear what he and Ben have to say on this.


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Ben Lehman on March 04, 2008, 03:29:14 PM
I'm  not going on a tangent with Frank here unless I hear what he and Ben have to say on this.

On what? I'm happy talk, at length, on any of the topics we've touched on but I'm not sure what you're referring to.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on March 05, 2008, 01:18:15 AM
Hi Ben,

Let’s see. Your hunch about the general key phrases is correct, we kept using them. However, at one point a lot of content got established outside the key phrase framed scenes. After 11 scenes of 18 (if I’m counting correctly), we cut from early spring to late summer and discussed what had happened in between, including some major developments for the protagonists. Basically, I just had a flash and suggested what had happened in a “GM narration” kind of style, and the others just nodded along. This was also the point where I turned my own protagonist into a sidekick.

As for themes, we did use them when we used the corresponding key phrases, but as I said, that happened less and less as the game continued. We did add some fate aspects that were established in conflicts earlier in the game. Also, when my protagonist gave the higher starlight weapon of his family to his little sister because she was the one that really ought to be wielding it, I erased it from my protagonist sheet and the player of my little sister added it to hers.

The cosmos was kept up to date for most of the game though I think we did not update it any more in the last couple scenes when it was pretty clear already where the story was going.

So well, we did not abandon the rules entirely, we were just kind of rushing ahead of the rules. I think the reason why we particularly hacked, and later ignored, the experience rules was that they were getting in the way of our pacing.

- Frank


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on March 05, 2008, 01:29:49 AM
Hi Harald,

Actually, I'd like to save talk about Vincent's article and how that relates to what we are talking about here for later, because it would require me talking about Sorcerer and Poison'd and all kinds of stuff.

- Frank


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: oliof on March 05, 2008, 07:58:27 AM
That's why I wouldn't want to conflate this AP report, which is very interesting. Please go on discussing particulars. How did he experience rules get in the way of your pacing? I've never played Polaris besides a demo, but I always found the experience rules to be very low-key in handling time and only perceived them as a secondary pacing element; i.e. I thought they'd help people to find the denouement after an intense decision for their protagonist before everone moved on to the next big thing. After reading the report I'm convinced that If you (as a group) have your own (working) idea of pacing, this process can be bypassed without problems.

RIght?


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Ben Lehman on March 05, 2008, 11:26:26 AM
Hi Ben,

Let’s see. Your hunch about the general key phrases is correct, we kept using them. However, at one point a lot of content got established outside the key phrase framed scenes. After 11 scenes of 18 (if I’m counting correctly), we cut from early spring to late summer and discussed what had happened in between, including some major developments for the protagonists. Basically, I just had a flash and suggested what had happened in a “GM narration” kind of style, and the others just nodded along. This was also the point where I turned my own protagonist into a sidekick.

Oh, neat. Yeah, that's the sort of thing that happens from time to time in the game (there was a rule -- I'm not sure if it made it into the final version -- about pacing such bits.) I really like it!

Quote
As for themes, we did use them when we used the corresponding key phrases, but as I said, that happened less and less as the game continued. We did add some fate aspects that were established in conflicts earlier in the game. Also, when my protagonist gave the higher starlight weapon of his family to his little sister because she was the one that really ought to be wielding it, I erased it from my protagonist sheet and the player of my little sister added it to hers.

The cosmos was kept up to date for most of the game though I think we did not update it any more in the last couple scenes when it was pretty clear already where the story was going.

*nod* So you didn't do a lot of manipulating of aspects, etc? But you did keep the Cosmos up-to-date? That's interesting. Often I see players do the exact opposite (adding and subtracting lots of aspects) but generally ignoring the Cosmos.

I'm trying to think about what, in particular, the experience rules are doing which makes them so objectionable to this sort of play (while realizing that they are objectionable to it.) It seems intuitively obvious to me that they would be, but I can't seem to articulate why. I think a chunk of it has to do with pacing, yes, particularly the limits on what can happen when, and what can be asked for when.

It's really cool for me to hear about this. What it sounds like, to me, is that you shifted the rules emphasis from (conflict key phrases + aspects + experience) to (cosmos + inspirational material). Which is something that I've not seen before, but is definitely part and parcel of the game design (more about that later). I wouldn't classify it as transcending the rules and thus imply that people playing with more focus on the conflict key phrases are mired in them, but rather as shifting the focus to a different chunk of the rules.

I know that this sort of thing is out-of-fashion these days, but Polaris was really written with a large number of different possible player types in mind, with the idea that each one of them would seize on different parts of the rules and utilize them in different ways, including the nigh-freeformers that I played with through college: in fact, a lot of it is about breaking the broken free-form negotiation that some of those games used. (This is why I get frustrated when people say that Polaris's conflict system is "just negotiation" because the structure is important: even when you're not using it.) It's really cool for me to hear about the game used in that way, since it's been more rare than I hoped.

Any thoughts about how the experience mechanics could change to integrate more freely into this sort of play? Or at least step aside more gracefully?

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Dirk Ackermann on March 06, 2008, 02:42:21 AM
Hi there,

I was in that beautiful session and I have never experienced a Polaris session like this before. The other ones were emotionaly draining and ever so hard-pressing that afterwards you felt exhausted. Not this time though. It all emerged just perfectly organic (?) and smooth. Some players, including me, stated before the play that they were very tired and I did not like the idea to get even more tired because of Polaris! But then this perfect, deep well of play, imagination and shakespearean drama! Ben, this game is just a jewel!

I think the group was our first line in success, the "rest" was getting away from the phrases, but alway having in mind that they allowed us to get to this point and to have them if needed.

This was the second time -of maybe 7 or 8 sessions- that I saw the "endgame", only because of our mending with the XP-rules. I am inclined to say that, played as an oneshot Polaris need this kind of mending... otherwise, the XP-rules are a little bit too slow and that is even true for a campaign.

If there will ever be a revised edition or so than some pacing advices or equal stuff should go into the book.

Frank, cool that you have written it down here! It was a true homerun.

MfG
Dirk


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on March 06, 2008, 02:51:30 AM
Hi Ben,

Quote
I know that this sort of thing is out-of-fashion these days, but Polaris was really written with a large number of different possible player types in mind, with the idea that each one of them would seize on different parts of the rules and utilize them in different ways

Out-of-fashion? I guess it depends on whom you ask. Not to resurrect the agony that has been the Bricolage discussion, but for what it’s worth, I much prefer that approach. I guess this is why Polaris has been about the only Forge game yet to appeal to those German gamers who play, y’know, with candles on the table and strings on the stereo and roll dice like once a session. Who write short stories about their character and stuff. We have a lot of them here. I used to be one of them, too.

I actually talked about this to Ron Edwards when he visited me last December. What I said was that these people embrace the “beautiful horror” atmosphere and the genre conventions of classic tragedy and totally dig this unavoidable downward spiral. They’re drifting the game toward High Concept Sim. I don’t think it’s what we did in our game because we had very strong thematic stuff going on as well and I guess that was primary. But whatever, both were strong and both were crucial.

With regard to the experience mechanics, I think the point was really that we were ahead of them both as a pacing mechanic and as a judgement. Personally, I would probably just forget about the roll entirely, to lose Zeal / gain Weariness and refresh aspects each time (or have the player choose), but that’s just my personal preference. Also, I don’t know how the fact that we were six players affected timing.

Ultimately, the rules can only do so much. This is why I emphasized the transcendence thing even though, yeah, it really only was the experience rules we kicked. I sometimes get the impression that there is some conception among the Forge participants that it’s bad to kick the rules that way: That if you need to kick ‘em in order to get the best out of play, either the rules are broken or you picked the wrong game for what you want to do. None of which is true for our Polaris game. We could not have picked a better game, and the rules are of course not broken.

The point is that this group as a whole was playing at the highest level of creativity, empathy and skill that I have ever seen in role-playing. We were really in a flow, and when that happens, only a fool would follow the game’s rules against his own gut feeling. That should go without saying. The problem is the ballast of the whole evil “rule zero” discussion, which is about something else entirely, but which still casts a shadow on what we are talking about here.

Wow. This is me, waiting for the controversy to begin.

- Frank


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: oliof on March 06, 2008, 09:42:11 AM
I don't see how this relates to Rule Zero at all.

Tangency: In my first PtA session ever (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=15544.msg167225#msg167225), we had a similar experience. All the rules were in place and honored except we transcenced the conflict rules to a point where the producer was desperately clutching at straws to find something to conflict over. In other words, we outpaced one of PtA's core mechanisms. It's funny that that was the weekend we first met, Frank.


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on March 06, 2008, 09:44:31 AM
Isn't Rule Zero "ignore the rules if they get in the way"?


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Dirk Ackermann on March 06, 2008, 11:24:04 AM
I thought that was the "golden rule"!?

MfG
Dirk


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Moreno R. on March 06, 2008, 04:16:08 PM
Rule zero = the Golden rule = one of the players, and only one ("the GM") can change any rule on-the-fly, or ignore the results obtained by the use of any rule, without having to tell the other players that she/he is doing this, if he/she thinks that this "will be more fun" than following the rules.  (many, many players believe it's impossible to play a rpg without this "rule")

Reading the description of the game session, I think that Frank's group didn't use the golden rule at all, but simply reached an implicit agreement to change some of the procedures of the game ("the system"), something that every group of players can always do about any game (from D&D to soccer to Chess) without invoking any "golden rule".


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on March 07, 2008, 01:38:17 AM
Hi Moreno,

Yes, that is what the evil "Rule Zero" discussion is about. I guess I don't have to count the ways. The actual phrasing you will find in RPG books, however, more often than not will be: "If the rules get in the way, ignore them." I was expecting confusion and controversy to arise from this, but if it doesn't, I'm the last one to complain.

I guess my point is: Yes, if the rules get in the way, absolutely do ignore them. Just make sure you know what you're doing. And also: It's not necessarily a lack of quality in the games design if you feel a need to ignore the rules at some point.

- Frank


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Dirk Ackermann on March 07, 2008, 01:59:36 AM
Hi,

I am a fan of playing by the rules. At least since my arriving here at the forge. And I know a lot of my kind too. AND I thought that this is the consensus here on the board??! AANNDD I thought Frank would reak havoc with his statement...

But then this!

No complains, no anger and no heated discussion!

Maybe it is a sign the something happend here or I that I had some wrong impressions.

Maybe it is so because of the way we played, more the way how we played. What I mean with this is that if EVERYONE in the group understands the rules completely ther is no problem win changing them from time to time!

MfG
Dirk


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Troels on March 07, 2008, 10:21:22 AM
OK, I'll bite, controversically.

In a game of Polaris, I let my knight, Algol, fail and be corrupted a bit sooner than the system would have forced me to, because it seemed approriate story-wise. Concretely, he hesitated and let his adulterous lady love jump to her death instead of making a conflict out of trying to save her. From outside, in story terms, I'm told it was cool. But it's bugged me ever since because it diminished Algol's tragedy that he didn't fail in spite of struggling with all his will and virtue, as he would have a bit later, he failed on purpose, or perhaps because this evil otherworldly possessor spirit named Troels (that would be yours truly) made him.

I really wish I'd played him by the book, doing my best to be a big damn hero, going down in a blaze of glory and human frailty. Not by choice. Next time, I'll be true to my protagonist. And at least to me, the resulting story will feel better and more tragic.

Yours, Troels


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on March 07, 2008, 01:45:18 PM
Hi Troels, okay, I'll let that pass as controversial. I knew it! ;-)

Please note though that "playing by the book" does not mean "try best to win conflicts" (as a player). That's totally up to each player to decide. I take it you did feel that not only did your protagonist have to put up a good fight, but you as well? You do realize that very different things would have happened if you had, don't you? Polaris is absolutely unpredictable once you really go into the conflicts full force. Which I like a lot, by the way. It was just, in this game here, not what clicked with us. As Dirk said, we played it smoothly.

- Frank


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Ben Lehman on March 07, 2008, 11:26:34 PM
But it's bugged me ever since because it diminished Algol's tragedy that he didn't fail in spite of struggling with all his will and virtue, as he would have a bit later, he failed on purpose, or perhaps because this evil otherworldly possessor spirit named Troels (that would be yours truly) made him.

Oh, Troels. How excellent is that. That really deserves a thread of its own. Or even a book.

This is the "make Ben rejoice in people finally getting his creative vision" thread, isn't it?

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Troels on March 08, 2008, 05:00:14 AM
Please note though that "playing by the book" does not mean "try best to win conflicts" (as a player). That's totally up to each player to decide. I take it you did feel that not only did your protagonist have to put up a good fight, but you as well? You do realize that very different things would have happened if you had, don't you? Polaris is absolutely unpredictable once you really go into the conflicts full force.

The protagonist had no motive force other than me. If I don't fight for him, who will? My mistaken will corrupt, crush, defeat and humiliate him. OK, so what if the Mistaken isn't doing his worst, but instead we have an idea of where we are going together and cooperate in telling a story? First, without serious adversity, my knight has no challenge to rise to, he can't be a hero, only look like one from the outside. Second, the story creeps towards predictability. You don't get story NOW, you get story later, when re-told.

Also, Algol was going down, it was just a question of time. The end point of a Polaris story is predictable, even if the way there is not. Algol would (IIRC) have had odds two to one agains him if I had rolled, and even if he made it he would still be a knight with a talent for winning fights in sneaky ways who was sleeping with his dying father's young wife under his father's roof while his fellow knights were out in the field dying like heroes. Exactly how things would have gone south (an expression that makes so much more sense in Polaris) could have changed, and thereby could have hung a story (now).

Mind you, I'm not trying to get you, just providing some adversity for your argument... :-)

Yours, Troels


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on March 15, 2008, 04:19:18 AM
Hi Troels,

Quote
You don't get story NOW, you get story later, when re-told.

Oh, that’s neat! I’ll borrow that some time. It’s not what happened in our game, though. Only the last couple of scenes were predictable, for we were just bringing the story to its well-deserved bitter-sweet ending. The stuff that happened in the middle of it was quite surprising and no one could have fortold.

It was just that we didn’t play as adversarial as you suggest. It was more like, the Mistaken comes up with something and it’s bitter, it’s tragic, it’s not right-out crippling, it’s just cool and fitting, and you go: “Hey, I could fight this, but really, I like it far too much!” Ever seen how Narrativist-inclined players in traditional games deliberately plunge their characters head first into trouble, or make them fail to realize stuff that’s pretty obvious? Same thing.

One example that illustrates very well how this particular game worked has been floating in my mind for days. The protagonist is Capella, played by Tanja. Capella was the little girl who had the ambition to become the greatest knight. (I really want to tell the whole story because it’s all so cool, but to the point.) It had been established via conflict key phrases that Capella would fall in love with Dirk’s protagonist but Dirk’s protagonist would break her heart by falling in love with Sabine’s protagonist. My protagonist, Capella’s brother, had just died tragically in her arms. (You still following?)

Hendrik, Capella’s Mistaken, frames the scene. So Hendrik is the Mistaken, Tanja is the Heart and plays Capella. Sabine is the New Moon and also plays her own protagonist, who is not in the Cosmos. Dirk is not a moon (six players, remember), but still plays his protagonist who is of course in the Full Moon section of the Cosmos. Hendrik frames the scene and gives an introductory narration, also desribing Capella’s feelings. Tanja adds some bits into it. Then Hendrik describes how she goes to see her love, Dirk’s protagonist, for she needs a shoulder to cry on. But as she enters, Dirk’s and Sabine’s protagonists are fucking on the floor like animals.

And Sabine says, no, no way. That’s not good enough. Here’s what’s going on: He is holding her hands and looking at her, in an incredibly intimate and caring way. That’s all. And the rest of us are all like, HELL YES! And Hendrik is a little sceptical but says, okay, if you like that better… And I (not a Moon either) add that upon seeing this, Capella’s heart breaks (everybody nodds to this). Then Tanja has her protagonist get all choked up and try to be strong and walk away and Dirk has his protagonist be a real asshole and yell some really mean things at her that question the very core of her self-image.

I don’t think any conflict key phrases were used in that scene.

- Frank


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Troels on March 16, 2008, 07:01:05 AM
Frank,

I do not doubt that you had a blast. I have been there, sort of, in that cooperative storytelling mode you are describing, when people get creative, riff off each other, and a sort of consensus emerges on where the story is to go, and it wasn't what *you* had planned before those other people started coming up with stuff. It feels good, it can be memorable and really fun, as much fun as any freeform ever is (which is saying something!).

But what I think you give up with this style is the struggle. "Polaris" helps us tell beautiful, poetic stories of desperate, doomed struggle. And the stories of struggle have the potential to cut much deeper if they are brought out by an actual (friendly, of course) struggle at the table. That is what the dice are for, and most importantly in Polaris, the conflict phrases. With them, you negotiate, which is in itself a struggle, to keep the story just on the bleeding edge of bearable, with "but only if...", "you ask far too much" etcetera. The shagging, and reducing it to handholding implying further and forbidden intimacy, would have been just the thing that "you ask far too much" is there for IMO.

As I said, I have no doubt that you had a good time, and really in the spirit of Polaris. But when you leave the rules behind, rules that have such amazing ability to focus the game, you risk losing the focus. Imagine a freeform-ish evening of "My Life With Master". Could it be done? Sure. But if everyone isn't at the top of their game, so to speak, and you don't hit that collective storytelling synergy thing, it could end up sucking rocks much more easily than a game played by the rules. To me, that seems to be the risk of transcending the rules, losing focus.

Also, on a bit of a tangent, you say that Hendrik, as Mistaken, framed the scene describing the feelings of Capella, Tanja's protagonist? That would be a major no-no for me. I've done that to PCs, as GM, a number of times, and it's a great way to reduce players' emotional investment in their characters. I can sort of see it not sucking in that group storytelling mode, but generally, yipe!

Yours, Troels


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: cydmab on March 17, 2008, 09:00:15 PM
IIRC (and it's the way we play) the rule for the mistaken is first and foremost, use the conflict mechanics to introduce or support elements you think are fun/cool/whatever-standard-you-want-to-use. Then, as a SECONDARY consideration the mistaken should oppose/complicate whatever the heart is doing. For example, if the heart is driving the protagonist headlong speeding into tragedy and doom, the mistaken should NOT double down the speed of descent (unless he wants to), but should slow/complicate the Heart's attempt to corrupt the protagonist. In a way, the mistaken mindlessly pushing tragedy and corruption is _violating_ the rules.

Similarly, the heart is not obligated to be nice to the protagonist. He IS obligated to drive the protagonists story forward, but he can take in any direction he wants to.

---------------------------------------------

My group has also been tending to misuse the advancement mechanics in Polaris, but we have the opposite problem of under using them and dragging out campaigns and stories too long. I have been thinking of proposing we scrap the advancement mechanics altogether to my group. (I've also been thinking of changing the big question from "How does your knight finally become corrupted" to "<insert a question here>" that is, make up a Big Question (Will they find true love, will they be redeemed (for a fallen knight being redeemed story), etc.) for each protagonist, which can not be answered until the knight has hit veteran status.

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Speaking personally, the conflict statement that bothers me the most is "you ask far too much." It puts the other player on the spot, having to come up with a new statement. About 75% of the time the other player says something like "err, nm. nothing happens." I think it has something to do with "flow" or "stream of consciousness" - we are throwing ideas out one right after another in a constant flow, but you ask far too much causes a rewind without bringing the conflict to an end, breaking the flow. We are considering altering the rule to you ask far too much costing two theme uses, but it negates the last person's statement and ends the conflict.

When we changed the setting to a custom one, we also decided to abandon the 4 themes, and simply allow 4 aspect uses between refresh (because the new setting did not seem appropriate for blessings or offices, and we couldn't come up with replacements)

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We also have been "drifting toward freeform" in the sense of not using the conflict mechanics unless someone wants to. Scenes with zero use of the conflict statements, or only but only ifs + and that was how it happened are pretty standard for us. But I also agree their presence is very important (compared to true freeform) as a safety net. Our group strongly disagrees with any notion that we should use the conflict mechanics merely for the sake of inputting conflict. "What you say is awesome as is, but I guess I should object to it and add a complication for the sake of it" is anathema.

(This is probably a bit off topic, but I have been thinking of Polaris as a "sim" game. E.g. thinking the primary function of conflict statements is to help impose genre conventions, or resolve conflicting visions over setting or character)

-William


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Troels on March 18, 2008, 12:33:04 PM
I find myself handicapped in this discussion by not actually owning the book. I just played it and got an impression. So I wonder if you could help me (somebody with the actual book).

How does Polaris specifically and concretely define the roles of the Heart, Mistaken and Moons?

Yours, Troels

PS Don' expect any response from me in the next week. I'm not rude, just busy and mostly offline. Busy playing roleplaying games, I might add :-)


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Hendrik D. on March 19, 2008, 08:10:27 AM
Also, on a bit of a tangent, you say that Hendrik, as Mistaken, framed the scene describing the feelings of Capella, Tanja's protagonist? That would be a major no-no for me. I've done that to PCs, as GM, a number of times, and it's a great way to reduce players' emotional investment in their characters. I can sort of see it not sucking in that group storytelling mode, but generally, yipe!

As the player in question, I'd like to put in my own 2 cents:

You are right, Troels. Usually, it is a no-no for me too and be assured, that in any other game i would not have done such a thing. As you might guess, there is a "but". Actually, there are four:

First:
I was not just framing a scene - I was narrating. I was trying to reach some kind of, i don't know, "poetic" style as in - for example - Hesse's Siddartha. Not that I could ever hope to reach that level; just to give you a hint of the direction I was aiming to. And it simply isn't enough, just saying "she went to her boyfriend". It should be more like "Alone she tumbled across the streets, her heart bursting with pain for her dead brother. Despite her eyes being almost blind from the tears she struggled to hold back, her feet found their way by their own...". Something like that.

Second:
I think, that I had gained a feeling for the protagonist during play, since I was her mistaken at every scene, Tanja or I framed. And Also I don't think, that she would have been very happy, after her brother just died in her arms.

Third:
If at any point Tanja would have said "no, that is not right, Capella does not feel this way", I of course would have agreed with whatever she said. Capella was her protagonist after all.

Fourth and most important:
Tanja and I talked about the scene in advance, even before me framing it. We talked about where the scene should lead, what should happen and what kind of mood should be transported in the scene. So I had some pretty good hints about how the protagonist felt ;-)

While writing this Post I just realized, that my english has gotten rather rusty, due to a lack of practice. I apologize for that and promise: It will get better.


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: cydmab on March 19, 2008, 11:46:18 AM
The extreme authority Polaris gives to scene setters is a bit unsettling in theory, but in practice there are a few things to remember:

1. As said above, scene setting comes immediately after between-scene chatting. Everyone has a chance to propose suggestions for the next scene.

2. My group has developed a norm of letting hearts have first crack at setting scenes. (Also to clarify, I'd recommend the heart go ahead and put as much (or as little) opposition in the scene to start off with.) Furthermore, a heart can ask his mistaken NOT to do a scene (because the heart wants to take a break and play a moon/dummy). I'd say 80% of our scenes are started by hearts.

3. Setting scenes is hard, and requires alot of creativity. I'm very strongly inclined to give other players alot of slack and freedom when setting a scene, especially given points 1 and 2 above. I had plenty of opportunity to give input of scene setting. It's part of a broad theme in Polaris for me. Everyone is responsible for their own fun. You can't sit back and expect other people to entertain you. (at least as heart or mistaken) If you as a heart can't come up with scenes or at least offer suggestions/inputs, then you take your chances.


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Ben Lehman on March 19, 2008, 01:16:53 PM
I've been really enjoying reading this, haven't felt the need to put my oar in right away, though.

I can, however, clear up the official ruling about speak outside of your slice of the Cosmos after "and so it was." Since "and so it was" is a key phrase, you can use it to speak for things outside of your section of the Cosmos. However, these things can be opposed by the regular means of conflict key phrases.

For instance, imagine that I'm playing the knight Betelguese, and Alexis is my mistaken, and Michael is the Moon:

A: And so it was that Betelgeuse awoke in the middle of the night, alone and filled with a crushing despair.
B: You ask far too much! I'm exhausting my ability theme, since I have the "joyful" aspect.
M: That totally works.
A: Uh, Okay. "And so it was the Betelgeuse awoke in the night with the demoness Lyra's claws wrapped around his heart."
B: I'll take the second one. "Lyra! *gurgle* what are you doing?"

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: cydmab on March 19, 2008, 09:31:02 PM
Ooooh, that an official ruling then? We have had debates over whether one can invoke conflict statements on the scene setting. I guess I was on the wrong side of that debate then with my group.

My argument for not using conflict statements there was it called attention to the scene setting narration, making it "important" If someone "undermines" my character concept during scene formation by making my character do something the character would "never do" I can kinda just ignore it, making it less important. If I try to invoke a conflict mechanic, I'll be at a disadvantage if I try to nullify the statement (either I have to use ask far too much and hope I have the theme and aspect (and have to burn the theme), or take a risk, or do a nuclear but only if and hope for a it was not meant to be) have to pay a cost). If it's really truly horrifically bad, I think I would have just stopped the game and ask for the scene framer to try again. So my view was you should either just let it slide, or halt the game. Trying to negotiate just puts you at a disadvantage.  At least one other player disagreed with me.

To be clear, if in normal play, the mistaken tries to do something like:

H: blah blah
M: but only if <the protagonist does something totally unacceptably out of character>
H: It was not meant to be.

It is of course illegal for the mistaken to start in free play with <the protagonist does something totally unacceptably out of character>

But if the mistaken sets the scene with  <the protagonist does something totally unacceptably out of character>, then the Heart has no sure-fire way to negate the unacceptable action.


Title: Re: [Polaris] Transcending the Rules
Post by: Troels on March 26, 2008, 10:48:34 AM
Also, on a bit of a tangent, you say that Hendrik, as Mistaken, framed the scene describing the feelings of Capella, Tanja's protagonist? That would be a major no-no for me. I've done that to PCs, as GM, a number of times, and it's a great way to reduce players' emotional investment in their characters. I can sort of see it not sucking in that group storytelling mode, but generally, yipe!

<Snippetysnipsnip>

Fourth and most important:
Tanja and I talked about the scene in advance, even before me framing it. We talked about where the scene should lead, what should happen and what kind of mood should be transported in the scene. So I had some pretty good hints about how the protagonist felt ;-)

OK, that rather changes it, of course. My gut still tells me to save statements of actual emotion for the Heart, as opposed to physical sensation ( e.g. a lump of lead in her belly, or a soft fluttering or whatever can be used as sensuous metaphors for emotion), but the Heart saying to the Mistaken, in between scenes: "Maybe you could mess with my knight this way?" is cool as the night under the Aurora by me.

Generally, on the roles of the players, I got a peek in a Polaris book during the week, and it said something like: "In conflict, the Mistaken negotiates against the protagonist, the Heart negotiates for, and the moons arbitrate the legality and fairness of their respective moves", and of course everyone can throw bits of fiction in the pot.

I think we also have the answer to extremely aggressive scene-setting here. If the Mistaken sets a scene in which the protagonist is totally screwed and a villain to boot no matter what the Heart says once the scene gets rolling, the Moons are there to say "No fair!" If the Moons buy it and the Heart still isn't having it, we get to the "too much" and the dice. As far as I can call it.

Yours, Troels