Fort Myers, FL
Polaris is played with four people. As it was explained by Caroline, this is a must due to the game's structure. Players understand and interpret their character relationships via a three cut pie chart on the sheet which double's as the game's character sheet.
Just as in real life, the protagonist of Polaris is a process rather than a fixed point. The assigned positions of characters can change during play.
A few abilities and traits are assigned by the setting, in this case a Starlight Sword, the character’s Office as Knights of the Order of the Stars, and their Lore of Demons. The trait defined by the players themselves was their Fate, which in this playthrough was decided to be Betrayal by the Knights.
From the outset the protagonists decide roughly how their story will end, and the specifics are hammered out in play.
Traditionally the four person game is played with each person taking on the role of protagonist and antagonist - corresponding with the person across the table from them- and thus each player is able to experience their own personal self-destruction.
We applied a house rule to narrow the scope to two protagonists and two companion antagonists, as the four protagonist games run far longer than the four hours we had available.
Another house rule implemented was the elimination of “Light” and “Ice” as purchasable modifiers for rolls. These were taken out because we also omitted the options in the conflict flowchart specifically tagged to random, dice based outcomes.
Free play is continued in Polaris until a conflict arises in the form of an event that the protagonist desires one outcome for and the antagonist desires another. They levy their spendable amendments and use the flowchart to negotiate the final outcome. Each time one of them presses with a, “And further more...” addition, the protagonist or antagonist must use one of their slots above the protagonist record sheet’s character traits (Fate, Ability, Blessing, and Office). This means that in any given conflict the protagonist and antagonist have a maximum of four “And further more...” additions they can make.
These expended slots remain until the protagonist fails the experience rolls that come after scenes, where they find out if the character has degenerated, losing Zeal and perhaps gaining Weariness.
After each pair of scenes we stopped the game, took a short break, and made sure that everyone was still having fun, and that people were comfortable with the game’s progress and what was going on. This was a good chance to breach the water, take a breath, and remember that we were all playing a game for fun. While our play experience was a lot of fun for all involved, I had heard that it can become very emotional and draining for some, and many “rage quit”. Luckily we didn’t have anything like that experience.
Below is a brief explanation of the stories generated from this gameplay.
Joe's "renowned knight", Hamal, had a squire named Maaz. Maaz transitioned from a position as a minor male character (lower right pie slice) to that of a close personal relationship (lower left slice). The squire met his end in the antagonist's slice, having moved to a figure of close association and then one of destruction in Joe's protagonist's life.
Hamal began play as a champion of his order, dispatched regularly to the far Southern Wastes to root out demons. Those demons were not creatures from any hell, but the weaknesses of citizens that took them over and turned them into monsters. The duty of a knight was to eliminate such abominations wherever they appeared.
Hamal, with squire Maaz and scribe Capella in tow, discovered a low class woman screaming in the path. This woman, at first someone that the group sought to help, is struck down by Hamal after she announces that they would not dare to touch her, and yells at the knight. After she is killed, Maaz "learns" from Hamal what a demon truly is, and they are bonded by the murder. Capella the scribe is less impressed, but records a glowing recollection of the events, adding to Hamal's repute. This story is less well received by the lay folk, despite the prestige afforded Hamal by his fellows in the order.
Back home, Hamal has a falling out with his father. He has none of his old man's remorse at the destruction of a demon, even though it means the loss of one of the citizenry. They argue and the father, head of the order, proclaims that he’s ashamed of his son.
Later, Hamal visits his ill mother and blames demons (nurses, doctors, visiting friends, and finally his own father) for cursing her with the wasting sickness that’s befallen her.
Hamal is banished from his house for his accusations, and rides out into the Wastes, and at the first town he arrives (still followed by Maaz and Capella), he begins to slaughter all the demons (villagers) he finds.
In the end Hamal lives, or at least goes on, one hand cut from him by Maaz, his co-conspirator, before the squire is killed by the scribe, and the order turns on itself, the people rallying against their “protectors” because of this one’s acts.
Gemma, Jenn's animal trainer and knight, is given bad news from her associate, Mirzam the animal purchaser. Mirzam says that nobody out beyond the city walls was willing to sell to her, and that she’s come back empty handed. Gemma, with her bunk mate, Zozma, and a more battle hardened knight, Wezn, travel out into the less civilized lands in search of someone to purchase animals from, for the entire capital city’s industry is animal powered.
Out there they find a farmer who needs all three animals he owns, but is so afraid of the knights that he tries to give his animals to the knights just to not risk their ire. Wezn acts as though this is the proper conduct for someone outside the city, and even Zozma says that they do need the animals. In the end they purchase one creature, Wezn falls from his horse and is terribly wounded, left behind in the care of the villagers, while the one purchased animal means that a third of the crops go unharvested and the villagers have to decide whether to trade with the capital and starve, or feed themselves and risk attack by the hungry members of the order.
The animal purchased is frightened by the knights, though the protagonist Gemma is able to pacify the beast. This condition, the armored knights sending animals into a frenzy, persists in the next village, where the farmer, unwilling to sell them any of his creatures, is struck dead by an old blind dire boar that Gemma could not sooth. They buy the rest of the animals from the man’s widow, but find they cannot control any of them when Gemma is not near. Worse yet, this fear spreads from these animals to those already within the walls of the city, upon the return of the protagonist and her company.
It doesn’t take long for the Order to decide Gemma is the cause, for she alone isn’t a source of fear and anger from any of the animals. The madness sweeps the city, all beasts of burden and simple house pets afflicted, and Gemma herself is the eye of the storm. In spite of her friend’s declarations of her innocence, their willingness to lay down their lives to preserve hers, Gemma is banished, cast out of the city and into the Wastes, though this does nothing to solve the knight’s problem with these mad beasts.
Any questions? Message me.
Edited by Ryan on Oct 11, 2012 12:20 PM
This is a great write-up! Thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully explain the game and sum-up our stories Ryan!
I thought it was an ab-fab session of Polaris. I loved the gentle antagonism towards Gemma--it was a great example of finding the soft part in a protagonist's ribs and slowly twisting the knife. I can't believe you didn't even mention the word genocide in Hamal's story!
Thanks for the awesome game! I hope both you and Jenn find your way back to Seattle for more rocking gaming.