Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More Polaris actual play

(The previous report is here.) (This account was also posted on The Forge. You might find the responses from the folks there to be interesting.) My Polaris group has actually managed to squeeze in a couple more sessions of play since I last wrote here So, naturally, I’m being nagged to write it up for Actual Play. So, here I am. There’s a lot of territory to cover, so I should probably get started. Long ago, the people were dying at the end of the world. Overview Quotable: “Or maybe it’s Marfik; he’s the one who’s been dying lately.” I don’t want to descend into “and this happened, and this happened”, but context is helpful, after all. So I’ll give a basic summary of the events that during these two sessions. (I don’t have the notes with me, so hopefully I’m getting this correct.) At the end of last session, Bellatrix was brought up on charges of desertion. She wasn’t at the wall when the demons attacked our remnant; instead, she was talking with Marfik, a fop with apparent demonic connections. So, following my dictum from last post (“Be a Jerk”), I pushed this hard. As a result, Bellatrix was branded “Deserter” on her forehead, which makes her a social outcast. However, she does retain her membership in the Order. An important exchange occurred when Raquel (Bellatrix’s Heart) wanted to incorporate the testimony of Arcturus, a great knight with whom Bellatrix is secretly in love. My initial response was “But only if Arcturus will never love you”. Apparently I was asking far too much, so I offered “But only if Arcturus loses all respect for you”. Love or respect? Raquel chose respect, so it has been established that Arcturus will never love Bellatrix. This has led to a couple of interesting effects, which I will discuss later. Heka’s life got weirder as she was attacked on the walls of the remnant by Arcturus (who may or may not have been possessed), causing her to fall outside the remnant. This struggle blinds her, but it opens her inner sight so that she can see the true nature of things. This will only get her into more trouble, no doubt. Na’ir is desperate to impress his father, and he managed to do quite well in this session. He even foiled an assassination attempt aimed at his father, which was the result of plotting by Marfik. On the way, he actually killed Marfik, but apparently this wasn’t enough, since Marfik appeared elsewhere later in the story. (Obviously, there is more here than meets the eye.) And, although Marfik shattered his starlight sword, we established that Na’ir would inherit his father’s sword, but only after his father was dead. However, Na’ir suffered loss. He idolizes Arcturus as being the ultimate knight, but he discovered that Arcturus was willing to lie to him. Later, he discovered that Arcturus was involved in the assassination attempt. Mintaka Starsinger continues to pursue Heka, which culminates with a desperate rescue of Heka from demonic forces that take her captive. As the demon bodies rot around them, Mintaka reads her a sonnet that he has composed in her honor. We left the scene without determining Heka’s response. After her initial scene, Bellatrix did not appear again until I (as Mistaken) narrated her leaving the remnant, walking out the Mistake, and (with Raquel’s consent), leaping in. As this was the last scene of the night, it made for an effective ending point. When we reconvened, Raquel had considered what she wanted to get out of this situation, so she established that, at the Mistake, she had discovered the Deadly Secret. I was ready for her, however, and managed to get my own particular desire out of the negotiation: Bellatrix was pregnant with Marfik’s child. How this happened is beyond us. There are a couple of possibilities, but we have not established any of them yet. As the session proceeded, Raquel revealed the Deadly Secret, to wit, that Heka had secretly married Arcturus and was pregnant with his child. Yep, all sorts of pregnancies going on around here. Crystal was cool with it, so it was established. (Why yes, Arcturus *did* try to kill Heka….) I was determined to get a little more violence into the game, so I narrated a demonic assault on the remnant. Bellatrix took her stand against the general of the horde (Azrakralizec), killing his steed, when Marfik stepped from the shadows and waved him off. Bellatrix then whirled and stabbed Marfik through the heart. He kissed her on the lips as he died. Mintaka heard the news about the secret marriage of Arcturus and Heka and was filled with a cold fury. He waited until nightfall, went up onto the walls where Arcturus was standing watch, and stabbed him in the back. Na’ir al-Saif went to visit his father and found him dead. The Wail of the Wilderness (a demonic force of some kind) had killed him. But Na’ir knew that his brother was involved somehow. So, he belted on his father’s sword and went off to kill his brother. Potential issues with negotiating future effects We’ve been doing a lot of negotiating for future effects. Things like “Arcturus will never love you” or “You will not be the one to kill Marfik” and suchlike. The system allows for this sort of negotiation; indeed, it explicitly permits it. This is a powerful aspect of the game which should not be overlooked. The ability to create a Destiny for a character which cannot be denied (e.g. a geas or a doom of some kind) can be quite potent in a tragedy like this. However, one potential pitfall is simply forgetting what has been negotiated for the future. Several times Raquel (the recorder for the group) had to remind us of things that we had previously negotiated that contradicted current facts or negotiations. Certainly, having a “scribe” for the group helps deal with this problem, but it is something to remember. Also, there is the potential of negotiating away so much future freedom that the rest of the story becomes locked into stone before it is even told. This hasn’t happened to us yet, but it’s worth pointing out. Heart/Mistaken rivalry The rivalry between Heart and Mistaken drives the game, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I noticed, as game play proceeded, that Raquel removed the gloves and began to come at me viciously. Part of this was fed directly by the cruelty that I was visiting upon Bellatrix. So, as I ramped up my assaults on her character, it only fed her desire to increase the intensity of her assault on mine. I see this as a good thing; the competition has improved the quality of the game for me. However, it is a feature that should probably be pointed out to players of the game. To do this right, you’re going to have to get in someone’s face. Some folks might not like that. I know that Crystal and Gabrielle have both admitted that they have felt uncomfortable being responsible for bringing adversity on someone else. However, it is the engine that drives the game, and it should not be ignored. Immersion issues In the comments section in this blog post, Ben Lehman mentions mixed responses to Polaris from an immersive perspective. What I’m *not* wanting to do here is go over the immersive issue in detail. Rather, I want to offer Ben some feedback, based on a conversation that I had with my wife about the issue. So, Ben, here goes! Crystal likes to get into her characters’ heads. She wants to know her character well enough that she can decide how her character responds to a given situation. So, we talked about this the other night, and, along the way, we discussed Polaris. Here is what she struggles with. First, it is hard for her to jump from character to character. The constant switching of roles is challenging for her, since she doesn’t feel like she can settle into character before it’s time to move on. This is something that might be overcome with practice. As she mentioned, we’ve only played Polaris a few times, and this has been a time of Real Life stress (recovering from giving birth; lack of sleep from newborn; extended period of sickness in the family, including said newborn). As a result, it has been a hard time to pick up the nuances of a new RPG. However, I can easily see how provision needs to be made to allow a player who seeks the “immersive” experience to settle into his character. It is possible that the nested ritual space (the opening and closing of scenes) could assist in this regard. Next time we play, we will discuss this and see if we can’t come up with any good ideas. Second, she doesn’t feel like she has enough setting to hang her character on. I refer you to a similar thread in the Alyria forum. Notice the sorts of questions that Ron is asking. These are the kinds of questions that Crystal wants answered. Now, I admit that she has not read the book, which does affect things. However, when she asks me things like, “What do normal people do in the remnants?”, I can’t provide her with a canon response. It would go a long way to help the “immersives” to answer some of these questions. To that end, here are some questions: --What does the average person in the remnants do? --What does commerce look like? --How are the remnants governed? --What distinguishes a given remnant from the others? --What structures belonging to the people exist in the wasteland? --What do the people eat? --What do the people wear? --What kinds of animals are available to the people? To illustrate what I mean, check out some of the final text describing the Citadel: Citadel Commoners Merchants Noble Houses High Lords Keepers Restored I grant that I am biased, but I think that there is enough information here for an immersive to hang a character upon, without sacrificing a certain flexibility of setting which is important in games like this. Now, certainly, an easy answer is simply, “Make it up yourselves!” Personally, I’m comfortable with this. I come at Polaris as providing a certain mood, and setting details exist merely to support that mood. That’s how I tend to approach Legends of Alyria. However, based on my experience with designing Legends of Alyria, I know that this is not enough for some folks. The added detail will not harm the game experience for someone like me, but it will probably enhance the game experience for someone like my wife. Summation This is still a great game, which we are enjoying greatly. I’m hoping to be able to sit down and play the next session soon. But that was long ago, and there are now none who remember it. (The next report is here.)

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