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Author Topic: Fleshing out setting details  (Read 4943 times)
Frank T
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« on: October 01, 2005, 07:57:39 AM »

So, I've finally read it. And wanna play it. Obviously, a lot of setting stuff has been deliberately left open for the players to flesh out. A little too much for my taste. Here's why: This setting is not as close to our own world as Dogs in the Vineyard or even your standard fantasy setting. It's really alien. I find myself posing questions like:

What are the interiors of the Remnants like? Are they made all of ice and crystal, or are there cushions, blankets, tapestries, that kind of stuff? What do the people eat and drink, and where does that come from? How much magic is there in the everyday life of the people? How is this magic performed? What's this thing with binding demons, hinted at twice in the book?

Of course I can, and maybe must, find my own answers. But I feel that I don't have a real grip on the whole imagery of Polaris as yet, so I don't have anything to build upon when fleshing out the setting. I really like all this stuff about ruins rising up in the wastes in winter, of people prefering living out there from life in the Remnants, of people secretly still dancing to the Song of the Stars, but... The image doesn't come to me. The illustrations in the book are beautiful, but don't help on that either. I cannot seem to conjure up a vivid image of a Polaris scenery.

Anybody (not just Ben) got some inspiration on that?

- Frank
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2005, 12:26:30 PM »

I found that it sort of all cracked together in actual play; as soon as we got moving, I had really clear mental images of ice-and-stone architecture and blue-silk banners hanging from the halls of state; the characters all moved with the exaggerated grace of ballet.

I don't know if the people eat, or if they drink, every day. We don't have time for that. They do feast! They might drink ice wine on special occasions.

I don' really think of the "life" of the people the way that I think of life of real people, at all. It's more like dance theatre; the only things that actually occur are things that are dramatic, beautiful, or terrible.

It seems like you're asking two things here:

* Help me visualise the world.
* Help me understand how the world works.

I don't really know whether the second of those requests is possible!
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Frank T
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« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2005, 01:31:09 PM »

What I'm about is get a feel for the setting. I think I have a pretty good feel for themes and conflicts in Polaris, but not for the setting. Or rather, in Big Model terms, the Color. I like Color. And I like it to be sort of consistent. If I go into a GM-less game where everyone contributes their own vision, I want to at least have a firm grip on my own vision. Not down to every little detail, but... well, I can't name it better than this. It's mostly about the sensual stuff, images, sounds, that kind of thing.

(Plus, since I don't always find myself coming up with cool details on the fly, I like to prepare a little. I like to make up some neat Color stuff which will add to the atmosphere of the game and also support its theme.)

But moreover, even in a game like Polaris, I still pose some questions about "how does it work". I don't think that's inapropriate or impossible to answer, either. It's not even that I can't come up with answers. It's that I have different answers and can't really decide which I like best, which fit best together, and which lead to what. Take, for example, the question about food. Possible answers:
1) By magic chants, the people craft food out of ice and wine out ot the darkness.
2) They don't need food (contradictory to one of the examples in the rules, though, the Breathsuit).
3) They drill holes into the ice and catch fish.
And that has consequences, too. If I go with 1), I'd assume that many other things are done by magic, too. Does this mean "my" protagonist can do magic as well? And why would the People build the Calendar if they are such carfty wizards? (See what I mean by "I don't have a grip on it"?)

Now you might tell me I don't get the game. It's not about realism. It's not Sim. Etc. I have long loathed this line of argument, and I like to respond to it with a quote from Ralph Mazza:

Quote
Consistency, verisimilitude, in-game causality, these are all aspects of Exploration that are held in common in all three Agendas.† What constitutes an acceptable level of consistency, verisimilitude, or in-game causality for any given set of Setting, Character, and Situation is determined by Color (as agreed to by System).

Consistency is a prerequisite to me when I imagine things. Any kind of things. Probably more so than most roleplayers. Can't help it.

- Frank
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2005, 04:06:37 PM »

Frank --

Your concerns are valid.  However, trust me that I have included exactly as much content as you need to play.  As long as all players are on board with the basic color, you can extrapolate from there.

In short -- play the game, and don't be shy about making stuff up as you imagine it while you're playing.  Come back and tell me if there's a problem after a session or so.

yrs--
--Ben
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #4 on: October 01, 2005, 04:08:21 PM »

P.S.  As far as I am concerned, the only "canon" for the game is the section labeled "moments frozen from the flow of time".  The example aspects, especially, you may disregard, as they are suggestions for how your game might go, rather than how it necessarily must.
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Valamir
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« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2005, 08:39:15 PM »

It may help to think about Polaris like medieval artists depicting ancient events.  They didn't know any of the actual color or day to day details of ancient times any more than we know them about the Remnants.  So they inserted their own details from their own lives into the scenes.  That's why you have guys in chain and platemail in paintings about events from long before there was chain and platemail.

If you think of a game of Polaris as ancient story tellers retelling even more ancient tales then it becomes much easier to do what those ancient story tellers did to fill in the blanks...make it up...after all there are "none who remember it now" to say otherwise anyway.
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2005, 08:59:49 AM »

Frank,

My wife asked similar questions.  "Can I read?  Can the average person in the Remnants read?"  Stuff like that.

In reply, I appealed to text from my own RPG, Legends of Alyria.

Quote
In addition, as you go about tweaking and adjusting the setting, you should remember that style and symbolism are more important than internal consistency. The canon setting of Alyria was designed primarily for aesthetic impact, not logical extrapolation of a particular situation. So donít worry about trying to explain all the science of your new addition. Instead, concentrate on the symbolic or narrative possibilities of your new creation...An Alyria setting element isn't required to make sense on a rational level, but it is supposed to make sense on an emotional level.

This is also true of Polaris.  A prerequisite to play is making sure that you get the "vibe" of the setting.  Then, when you come across a question like "How do the people eat?", make sure that your answer fits with the vibe of the game.  So, for my money, ice fishing is far too prosaic for the setting.  If I were asked to make something up, I'd say that the people eat food and drink wine distilled from pure starlight as it dances upon the frozen snow.  Of course, now that the sun has risen, the food is poorer in quality, but the people's tastes are jaded so that they no longer notice.  Of course, I'd first backtrack and ask the question, "Why do I care what the people eat?", but sometimes it's important.

Regarding consistency:  I agree with your concern that consistency is important.  However, I ask, "Consistent with what?"  The first touchstone for consistency in Polaris is "Is this consistent with the emotional tenor of the game?".  After this can be answered in the affirmative, you can then move onto "Is this consistent with the rest of the setting details that we've established so far?"  Both questions need to be answered, certainly, but remember that the first one is the important one.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
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Frank T
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« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2005, 11:26:31 PM »

Thanks all of you for the replies. You understand my concerns, and that's good. What you tell me is basically: Just make it up as you play, according to what feels right. Only that I'm just trying to figure out what feels right to me. You might say I'm worrying too much in advance. Please bear with me for the desire to be prepared for the game. I'll be the one introducing it to the other players, none of them will have read the book, and none of them are much familiar with Forge games.

Maybe we can slightly alter the topic of this thread into: Please tell me your setting details. What did your Remnants look like from the inside? How did your knights pass their time? Was there magic? What did it look and feel like? Were their artifacts? Animals? Artwork? What did they look like? I'd be greatly interested in that, just for the sake of inspiration.

- Frank
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #8 on: October 07, 2005, 05:52:56 AM »

Let's see.  We have a couple of sessions under our belts, although we're currently on hiatus until one of the group members completed a move.  (She will be moving closer to the rest of us, so that's a good thing.)  So, here are some random Color details from our game, as well as personal musings.

Ice sculpture seems to be quite the rage.  One of the protagonists was given a rose carved from ice as a gift from a suitor.  She crushed it in her hand to show her disdain, so I guess that they are fragile.

Large walls surround the Remnants, wide enough for several to walk abreast.  Personally, I imagine all buildings as being carved or otherwise formed from ice.

There is a bardic order known as the Starsingers.  We have not yet established if their music is "magic" or not, but I'm guessing that it can be, under the right circumstances.  If I had my druthers, this would be the "look-and-feel" of magic in Polaris.

There is a well-established judicial system with similar evidentary requirements to ours.  The word of a Knight has weight, but it is insufficient as evidence by itself.

The Order of the Knights of the Stars is primarily a military organization, with formal ranks and the ability to court-martial its members.  In other words, it is not primarily an aristocratic organization.  One of the forms of punishment is branding, writing the offense on the forehead.

One of the protagonists has gained the ability of second sight (as a result of being blinded by a demon), enabling her to see the spiritual reflections of the physical realm.

Intense passion can make the blood of the people become smouldering hot.

The cold doesn't seem to bother the people.  We had at least one scene with a protagonist sitting in the equivalent of an outdoor cafe, drinking a goblet of wine.

Lots of windows and balconies.  Buildings are airy and soaring.

I imagine that white and pale blue are favorite colors of the people, to be used in clothing and decorations.

Knights all fight ridiculously well.  Even the ones that are bad at it (relatively speaking) are on par with your average wuxia hero.  Of course, there are so many demons that it all balances out.

The starlight sword is a symbol of office which becomes a part of the Knight.  As a result, he cannot normally be disarmed; the sword comes when he calls for it.  This leads me to wonder what will happen to my protagonist, whose starlight sword was shattered in combat with his nemesis (who is either possessed or a demon or something like that).

Although they are a military organization, the Knights do not have a central barracks.  Rather, each lives at home with his family when not on duty.

There is probably a lot of power in starlight, to be summoned by those who know its secrets.

I wonder if demons can harness the light of the sun in a similar way, invoking its wrath.

I can't be sure, but I don't think that the people have fire.  I think that they have light sources that glow, but they are crystals with trapped starlight or some such thing.  Fire is demonic, as is heat, because they come from the sun.  At least, fire is probably a decadent thing.

The wilderness outside is always stormy.  For some reason, I'm thinking of the Arctic equivalent of Dune, especially with the breathsuits.  (Breathsuits are cool.)  The walls keep the majority of the storms outside of the Remnants, however.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that the entire world of Polaris is actually contained on a single snowflake, melting in the sun.  All the thousands of "years" of Polaris history are really just a single winter in the arctic, until the sun finally rose.  Now, of course, the cycle moves on, and soon we will be in the time of the midnight sun, when there is no sunset.

I suppose that I could go on, but hopefully this gives you some ideas.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: October 07, 2005, 06:50:04 AM »

Hello,

One piece of advice: have the whole group read over the suggested descriptions for (what are they called, Aspects?) the things you write in the corners of the sheet.

They contain an astounding amount of setting information, and many situations are implied by the connections among them.

Best,
Ron
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #10 on: October 07, 2005, 06:59:04 AM »

Oh, another thought.

Ben has stated that his target audience was dissatisfied players of games like Amber or Nobilis.  Has your group had exposure to either of these games, or the source material for them?  I'm thinking of the Amber series (of course) or the writings of Neil Gaiman (particularly Sandman and Neverwhere) or other similar material.  Everyone in my group has been exposed to at least a portion of this body of work, which helps us to be on the same page when it comes to the "look-and-feel" of the Remnants and other aspects of Polaris.  You know your fellow players better than I do, but it might be good to find out if they are familiar with any of the supporting material.  If they are, it will go a long way towards creating a unified vision of the land that was.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #11 on: October 07, 2005, 07:05:31 AM »

Hello,

One piece of advice: have the whole group read over the suggested descriptions for (what are they called, Aspects?) the things you write in the corners of the sheet.

They contain an astounding amount of setting information, and many situations are implied by the connections among them.

I'm just seconding Ron, with the consideration that they should probably read Moments Frozen From the Flow of Time before anything else.  It is in the front of the book for a reason.

Essentially, the setting material, including the example aspects, is designed to get the group on the same page about color.  If you're worried about being on the same page about color, have the group read more of that material.

yrs--
--Ben
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Frank T
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« Reply #12 on: October 07, 2005, 07:33:13 AM »

You know, Ben, theres one little problem: The game's in English.

- Frank
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #13 on: October 07, 2005, 07:36:43 AM »

You know, Ben, theres one little problem: The game's in English.

- Frank

This is true.

Polaris is a tough game for foreign-language play.

Hmm... I'd suggest a German version of Moments Frozen From the Flow of Time is in order.  See how they feel after reading that.

yrs--
--Ben
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Frank T
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« Reply #14 on: October 07, 2005, 07:37:49 AM »

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17065.msg180852#msg180852

 ;-)
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