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What We Played: The Library of Tallstar (Polaris)

Jamie Fristrom
user 12636925
Bellevue, WA
Post #: 67
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Adrienne played Orion of Octans, chief librarian of Tallstar, antagonized by Jess.
Jess played Vela, mysterious child-of-the-south and up-and-coming Knight of the Order, and I earned my antagonism merit badge antagonizing her.

Even though demons consume the world, one still has to eat, pay taxes, and otherwise go on with life. Orion was taken with Alya and wooed her but (only if) Orion's mother was not pleased that Orion was planning on marrying someone of the lower class. (Some priceless looks by Jess.) The marriage went on but (only if) seemed troubled because Orion's family was in debt, so Orion traveled out of Tallstar and returned with The Goblet of the Sun, and sold it to keep his family solvent. But (only if) it was cursed, and he was tainted with the curse - he no longer cast a shadow. Alya was creeped out by this and they endured a cold marriage, until the Frost Maiden appeared to Orion and seduced him. Orion had his shadow back - but now it was an animated shadow that did not behave as natural. Despite this, Orion managed to convince Alya to bear him an heir - he and Alya may have come under the sway of corruption but a child would give them another chance. But (only if) the child turned out creepy, and was also corrupted by Orion's living shadow. So Orion took his own life because he could not bring himself to slay his kin.

Vela's mother was one of the few foolhardy souls who traveled to the south and returned - in her case, with a child and an indecipherable book known as the 'Book of Truths'. Overcompensating for her outcast heritage, Vela tried hard to prove herself as a good knight, but in a tournament, during one of the trials lost her partner (and rival in the order), Mizar, through a crack in the ice. She still managed to save the body and do well in the tournament but (only if) she was haunted by Mizar. Mizar's ghost gave her no end of shit "You could have saved me, you didn't save me because you didn't like me" but Vela never bought into the ghost's story and mostly managed to tune Mizar out. Hunting demons outside Tallstar Vela killed a demon but (only if) was nearly lost in the wild and Mizar saved her, extracting a promise that Vela would let Mizar help her read the Book of Truths. Reading the Book of Truths revealed that there was a way to undo the Mistake, and after a struggle managed to convince the Order to send a cordon of knights to the heart of the Mistake to perform a demon-sacrifice. To catch the demon, Vela's crazed mother - against Vela's wishes - took matters into her own hands and seduced one, leading it into a mirror-trap and making sweet love to it. The captured demon turned out to be none other than the Solaris Knight, giving Vela visions of the library at Tallstar burning because the head of the Order had betrayed them all. They took the Solaris Knight to the Heart of the Mistake, snuck into the strangely unguarded demon-fortress, and prepared to sacrifice him on the altar. But what did the glyphs in the room mean? (Here I got stuck as adversary, and Adrienne had some good ideas:) Mizar offered to tell Vela, but only if Vela admitted that she could have saved Mizar. So Vela finally admitted it - lying - and Mizar gave up the ghost, revealing what the words said (again, props to Adrienne): "Untruths in this room break its power" Vela realized she had botched her quest - she and her mother futilely sacrificed the demon anyway - and Vela's downward spiral towards corruption and eventual demonhood had begun.

Polaris is hard. About halfway through as antagonist I realized - hey, I guess I should be pushing for things that count as experience to move the story along, but Vela kept earning experience at about the same rate. We had a fair bit of trouble deciding what counted as experience and what didn't.

It occurs to me that a good metaphor for Polaris conflict might be theatrical swordfight. Although the players are acting as if they're in conflict, really they're purposely leaving openings, attacking in ways that they expect to be parried.

We started fudging die rolls and doing a 'forced march' to earn experience quicker. I'm thinking for a one-shot we should dispose of the die roll altogether - every experience point moves you along the track.
Adrienne
user 13146674
Belmont, CA
Post #: 19
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I think I was still in the mind-set to fight hard for my protagonist's goals. So, in this game I insisted the antagaonist 'asked far too much' in response to some really cool narrative elements just because I wanted to minimize the damage to my character. Since he was disposable, I probably should have let it slide for the sake of the story (and expedience). On the other hand, I did accrue experience at a pretty good rate, because Orion was just a non-aggressive, self-doubting kind of guy. He was weak, and now, reconsidering that weakness, I think he should have had a different ending. He committed suicide because I was worried we were running out of time, but it would have been more appropriate for him to be blind to his son's 'demon-ness' (as he tried to be blind to his wife's unhappiness) and eventually become a demon himself.

Unlike Orion, who had an easy time getting experience because he started out as an already flawed knight, Vela behaved wisely and honorably pretty much all throughout. It makes it very hard to suggest a character has been acting callously, apathetic or despairing if they are doing all they have done with the best of intentions. And, like Jess pointed out, most of the situations that would really hit the knights hard (and cause them to despair or doubt) occur during conflict, in which case they move by too quickly to allow much character introspection. Ways to amend this? Query the protagonist about their feelings frequently? Try really hard to narrow the scope of conflicts? I'm not sure.

The forced march is something we tried out in a multi-session and I like it. I think advancing one for every experience trigger might be a bit too fast. We tried one per round in addition to any you happen to roll (after Zeal hits 1). It seems good to have the additional 'threat' of extra experience being added.


Also, I have to say I thought our demons were wonderful in this game. I loved the drops of sunlight they left in their wake (like oil or dew or something), as well as the tracks of melted snow. I also loved the cage of mirrors for trapping a demon of sunlight, that gained no additional weight when they lifted it after he was caught.

I also like the fact that we never really resolved what was going on with the Book of Truths. Maybe it wasn't a demonic artifact. Maybe the mother didn't sleep with a demon, or if she did she wasn't tainted. Maybe the ritual really could have negated the mistake. If it weren't for one knight's momentary loss of faith....


Thanks very much for the write-up, Jamie. There was some awesome antagonism and role-playing (Mizar! Nekkar!) going on around the table, and I had a great time playing with you guys.
sev (Cheryl)
sevoo
Seattle, WA
Post #: 23
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I started enjoying Polaris a lot more once I stopped looking at the Zeal/Weariness track as a goal.

my very first Polaris game, I had a stubborn last point of Zeal that just wouldn't go away, roll after roll after roll -- lots of experience, but the die just wasn't cooperating. When we finally ran out of time we just narrated how the desperate character clung to his dignity as everything fell apart around him (since the corruption is inevitable, after all). And that was a satisfying & memorable story, even though technically he wasn't "done". Nowadays I look at Polaris as having three potential interesting endings for a character: death, giving in to the Mistake, or futility.

I love the uncertainty of the die roll, but I totally recognize the pacing problems that can arise because random is random. It might be interesting to drop the die roll & experiment with different xp/point ratios. 3/1 approximates the die roll, but 2/1 might be a more reasonable speed for a one-shot (unless you're me; I get caught up in the inexorable tragedy of it all and by mid-game I'm regularly ending scenes with 5+ xp).
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