Friday, December 09, 2005

Another Polaris session

(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.) Okay, no procrastinating this time. Our group played on Wednesday, and I’m going to get the actual play written up quickly this time. (Not like last time.) So, let’s get into it, shall we? Long ago, the people were dying at the end of the world. Quotable: "Our funerals tend to be interrupted by demons." Pregame Discussion Even though there’s no GM in Polaris, the social dynamics of the group still push certain people to the fore. I’m usually the GM, and I own the game, so I still tend to have the role of “rules-monger” and “whip-cracker” in our group. So, before beginning play, I convened the group to discuss various issues. I discussed how I had discovered that we had been shorting the Moons of their Guidance of certain characters. Gabrielle asked how precisely we would end the game. And, finally, we spent some time providing Crystal with some “look-and-feel” for the setting. That was an interesting chunk of the discussion, actually. I didn’t want to make a list of setting items that would then need to be enforced during play. Instead, I suggested that we all discuss the mental images that we had and try to get them synchronized. Raquel said that she didn’t have any ideas on what the setting looked like, aside from some fuzzy notions, but it hadn’t mattered, since she understood her character. So Gabrielle and I waxed eloquent about how we saw the setting. Here are some selected excerpts, drawn from memory: “There is more city than is needed by the people. There is this sense of emptiness everywhere. Certainly there are many inhabitants in the remnants, but they always seem to be somewhere other than where the action of the story is occurring.” “The remnants are always quiet. The falling snow muffles the sounds, of course, but just in general, everything is quiet.” “The people are living in the shadow of ancient greatness.” “It’s like Minas Tirith and Mordor. Once the men of Gondor were great, but now their strength is waning, and their Enemy is growing strong.” “Everything is in shades of white and ice-blue.” “The demons are red and orange. Bold colors are demonic.” “The people only die from violence or a broken heart.” “Knights are capable of wuxia-like feats in combat.” All in all, it worked. Crystal asked some questions, which we answered, and I think that it made all the difference. She seemed much more engaged in the game this session, although I still don’t think that it is nearly as gripping for her as for the rest of us. An aside regarding ritual space: we sat in the family room (our living room) to discuss these matters and then moved into the quiet room for gameplay itself. It seemed important to me to keep the spaces distinct. Talking about the game is not the same as playing the game, and I wanted to maintain that distinction by keeping the area set aside for gameplay “sacred”. The discussion was quite helpful, but it did not belong in that specific space. Once the preliminaries were complete, we moved into the quiet room and began play. Overview We had two of the protagonists achieve Veteran status in this game. Bellatrix had (somehow) been told that Mintaka had murdered Arcturus and proceeded to confront him in the street. She was prepared to execute him, when Captain Sargas (the commander of these knights) walked around the corner and saw Bellatrix knock Mintaka sprawling. Both Bellatrix and Mintaka assured the Captain that it was merely a training exercise, which he then insisted on observing. Bellatrix again threw Mintaka to the ground and put her blade to his throat. Mintaka then pushed the blade away with his hand and punched her in the stomach. Then he stood and walked away. However, the attack on another knight required an Experience check from Bellatrix, which pushed her to Veteran status. Mintaka then went to Heka’s house. It had already been established that Heka had given birth to a demonic creature which burst through the window and escaped. In this scene, Gabrielle established that Mintaka had been standing outside, hearing Heka in pain, yet he did nothing to help her. The Experience check that Mintaka earned pushed him into Veteran status as well. This, of course, necessitated that the knights meet either the Solaris Knight or the Frost Maiden. I took advantage of being next in turn order to narrate Bellatrix’s encounter with the Solaris Knight. Gabrielle was able to narrate Mintaka’s encounter with the Frost Maiden. The two scenes were very different. I narrated Bellatrix walking down the street, when an unnatural blizzard springs up. As she walks down the street, another knight meets her, coming from the other direction. His eyes blaze with fire, and she knows that it is the Solaris Knight. He draws his sword and salutes her, nodding his respect. Then he passes by, taking the blizzard with him. On the other hand, when Mintaka returned to his quarters, he found a fire cheerily burning in a hearth, the table set with food, and the Frost Maiden standing before the open window, strumming a lute. She turns to him and smiles. Then everything vanishes before his eyes. Bellatrix confronted Heka, demanding that Heka tell her what is in her womb. Heka tells her that she sees evil. All the while, the demon within her is taunting her. So, Bellatrix drew her sword and stabbed herself in the belly, trying to kill the demon. But she failed. The demon crawled out of her, smiles and says, “Mother” before running off. However, Bellatrix is able to pull herself together, stagger off, and rescue Heka’s son. After exorcising him, he is completely fine. So she returns to Heka’s home with the child and places him in the house. Then the demon child of Marfik beckons to her from an alleyway. “Come with me, Mommy,” he says. So she takes his hand. “Daddy is waiting,” it says. So they walk out into the wilderness. In the meantime, Na’ir confronted his brother and killed him, revenging his father’s murder. Before he died, though, Na’ir’s brother claimed that they were not really brothers. Along the way, Na’ir earned the Fate that he would be accused of both his father and brother’s deaths. As Na’ir dragged his brother’s body out into the wasteland to hide it, he found Arcturus’s body lying by the wall. So, he brought it into the city. Heka came to see the body of her dead husband. While she stood by the cold slab, she spoke to the demon that constantly tormented her, “You win.” Mintaka awoke to find a scroll, ordering him to the funeral of Arcturus. Instead, he packed his things and left the city, questing into the South to find the Flame of the South. Bellatrix once again came to the Mistake. Her child led her deeper into its bowels, and, as the light faded, memories of the torment that she endured the first time began to return to her. Finally they came to a door which opened on a room of flame. “Enter,” boomed a voice, and they compelled her to enter. And that’s where we wrapped up for the night. Thoughts on Veterans I had a couple insights of Veteran status that I thought were quite interesting. First, I found that the scene where a character gained Veteran status seemed to grow in importance, relative to other events in the game. Technically speaking, Bellatrix gained Veteran status when she struck Mintaka in the face. That act seemed to take on additional resonance, because that was her turning point. There has been plenty of other Knight vs. Knight conflict going on, including an out-and-out murder. Yet, this one strike had added resonance and weight, simply because this one pushed her over the edge. I felt the same about Mintaka’s scene. In some senses, he didn’t do anything. But, that was the point of the scene. Here, Mintaka has essentially turned his back on his love for Heka. The rest of the session bore this out, as Mintaka decided to run away from everything at the end of the session. The scenes with the Solaris Knight and Frost Maiden bore this out. The Solaris Knight salutes Bellatrix as a fellow warrior against the people, and the Frost Maiden offers a counterfeit of the happy home life that Mintaka wanted. Each is a corruption of the essential nature of each character, and I thought that both were quite powerful. I also gained some insight on game strategy, especially being the Mistaken. Now that Bellatrix is a Veteran, she can die, but this can only be the result of a “But Only If…” statement. So, when Bellatrix stabbed herself with her sword, I immediately grabbed for “And Furthermore…” specifically to remove the possibility of allowing Bellatrix a noble death at that point. At that point, I realized that, as Mistaken, I can make the Heart’s pursuit of a tragic death very, very hard. Evil laughter ensued. A Couple of Random Observations Both Raquel and I have noted that we are looking forward to this particular run of Polaris to wrap up, in part because we would like to try it again, from the beginning, applying all the various insights that we have learned up to this point. I’m finding that there are more depths in this game than are immediately apparent. This is a Very Cool Thing. I’ve also noticed that each play session has been quite good, even though I don’t think that we have really been “in the zone” for any of them. I credit at least a portion of this with the solid game design. It seems like it would require a lot of work to have a bad Polaris experience. This is also a Very Cool Thing. I still maintain that the candle is not optional. Actually, if we start a new “campaign”, even if it’s with the same people, we are going to get a different candle. It would be sacrilegious somehow to use the same candle. I’m also planning on finding a crystal clear d6 to use as the official “game die”. I’m such a geek for props. As always, this is a great game, and we are all greatly enjoying it. But that was long ago, and there are now none who remember it. (The next report is here.)


Blogger Gabrielle said...

Face, Seth, Mintaka punched Bellatrix in the face. The symbolism is very different from a punch to the stomach especially as Bellatrix was pregnant at the time. Come now, if you are going to record these things you could at least get it right.

12/09/2005 04:40:00 PM  
Blogger Seth Ben-Ezra said...


You're right, though. The target does matter. My initial recollection was the face, but then it didn't seem right....

Oh well.

12/09/2005 04:43:00 PM  

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