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Author Topic: [Polaris] The Grasping Dark over the holidays  (Read 7778 times)
John Kim
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« on: December 31, 2005, 12:31:46 AM »

So shortly before Christmas, we were short on players for the Buffy game due to the holidays, and we decided to try out Polaris.  So this was myself, Bill, Cynthia, Heather, and Liz -- five people and thus has a dummy player in each scene.  I had played before at AmberCon NorthWest (ACNW), but no one else had.  We played on a Friday night -- Bill and Cynthia arrived pretty late on Friday night, and then we all had nice food and exchanged some gifts.  Given all this, we weren't sure that we could get to all that much action given this, but we were all game to learn the game and make characters, and pick up on the action in another session. 

I've got notes on the PCs and what happened in the session on a Polaris Notes Page

My out-of-character reflections would be:  This went well, but not quite as well as my AmberCon NorthWest run.  I don't think it's inexperience exactly -- two of the ACNW players had absolutely no idea what they were getting into ("What?  There's no GM?") but jumped in fine.  I feel I didn't do all that well as a Mistaken to Liz -- Regulus wasn't strongly confronted, but we only had two scenes each and there were startup issues. 

I sensed two tensions.  Liz explicitly is a little uncomfortable with being put on the spot for director-stance input -- feeling it like a command of "Do something creative now?"  It's easier if you can jump in with something if you want (i.e. spend a Plot Point), harder if you have to do it at a specific time on command.  I suspect this is true of Heather and Cynthia as well to a degree.  The other tension was over background.  I was the only one who had read the full book.  As a group, our campaigns have had detailed backgrounds based in the real world.  I intentionally dropped that tendency of mine to play a looser game (i.e. don't stop and look up in the book if there's a question) -- but Liz at least brought it up as an issue. 

Heather had an interesting observation.  She said knowing that her PC was long dead and their cause ultimately failed distanced her from the character, which made her less concerned about winning.  Otherwise, she would feel more pressure to succeed, whereas here she could look on it more as a story.  I think low detail background, known fate, and exotic fantasy setting are all distancing devices -- they lessen close identification between the player and the Protagonist.  I think that's appropriate for the sort of alien, epic feel. 

One thing I'm pondering is how to help out players who are having trouble as Mistaken.  In ACNW, we had somewhat stronger conflicts -- so I've seen it in action, but I'm not sure about how to help improve it in our case.  In the rules, there isn't actually a huge amount of direction for the Mistaken.  Fate aspects are good, but in our case no one took a Fate aspect except for the common one.  All the other aspects seem easier to apply as strengths, and aren't really flags for the Mistaken to hit.  The initial core story seems to be for the Mistaken to attack either your New Moon or Full Moon characters.  We've used that, but I'm considering other techniques. 
« Last Edit: July 09, 2007, 10:10:33 PM by John Kim » Logged

- John
Darren Hill
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« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2005, 05:03:07 AM »

I'm interested to see how my group (1 session so far) handles the issue of what to do as Mistaken. One thing that might catually make it harder for some players (maybe ones used to GMing) than conventional RPGs, is that outside of conflicts, you don't actually control many npcs. It tripped me up in my first scene as Mistaken when  I immediately started describing the actions of certain NPCs before I caught myself and said, "hang on, I can't do that - those aren't my NPCs."
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2006, 12:01:48 AM »

Heather had an interesting observation.  She said knowing that her PC was long dead and their cause ultimately failed distanced her from the character, which made her less concerned about winning.  Otherwise, she would feel more pressure to succeed, whereas here she could look on it more as a story.  I think low detail background, known fate, and exotic fantasy setting are all distancing devices -- they lessen close identification between the player and the Protagonist.  I think that's appropriate for the sort of alien, epic feel. 

At the same time, I do think that part of Polaris is looking for the small victories.  Oddly, it's like Call of Cthulhu.  You can't stop the Old Ones, but you can strike a blow for truth, justice, and the American way.  I think that Polaris is the same.  Maybe you can't save the remnants, but you did save that child from the demons.  Besides, at least in my group, I think that it is these small victories that matter more than the big ones.

Quote
One thing I'm pondering is how to help out players who are having trouble as Mistaken.  In ACNW, we had somewhat stronger conflicts -- so I've seen it in action, but I'm not sure about how to help improve it in our case.  In the rules, there isn't actually a huge amount of direction for the Mistaken.  Fate aspects are good, but in our case no one took a Fate aspect except for the common one.  All the other aspects seem easier to apply as strengths, and aren't really flags for the Mistaken to hit.  The initial core story seems to be for the Mistaken to attack either your New Moon or Full Moon characters.  We've used that, but I'm considering other techniques.

Again, I appeal to my basic principle of being the Mistaken:  "Be a jerk".  Never let the Heart get anything of value without paying for it.  A funny example:  I started listening to Paul Tevis's recordings of his group's game of Polaris, and I found myself yelling from the sidelines, rooting for the Mistaken.  "Don't let him get away with that!" I'd yell.  "Make him pay!"  Sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn't, but it is certainly illustrative of my mindset as the Mistaken.  "Make the Heart pay."  No mercy.  As a result, the Heart soon figures out that he needs to be all out in favor of his character.  Squeeze every advantage that the Mistaken will let you get.  But, because the system works, what ends up occuring in the Fiction is the result of various compromises and negotiations that ends up being a pretty good story.

It's weird but true.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
John Kim
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Posts: 1805


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« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2006, 10:30:29 AM »


Again, I appeal to my basic principle of being the Mistaken:  "Be a jerk".  Never let the Heart get anything of value without paying for it.  A funny example:  I started listening to Paul Tevis's recordings of his group's game of Polaris, and I found myself yelling from the sidelines, rooting for the Mistaken.  "Don't let him get away with that!" I'd yell.  "Make him pay!"

Actually, I think everyone in our group understands this as a basic principle.  The problem is being an interesting jerk -- i.e. how do you go from this general principle to concrete ideas of what to do?  To take an example:  After the first round of scenes, we knew that Heather's Protagonist Vega was riding south away from the remnant.  Her Mistaken Cynthia decided to declare that Vega's fine horse (a Blessing) stumbled on treacherous ground and went lame.  Now, that's being a jerk -- and it's directly attacking what Heather has declared important via her character sheet.  However, it's not very interesting for the storyline. 

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- John
Kesher
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« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2006, 10:49:19 AM »

Quote from: John Kim
Actually, I think everyone in our group understands this as a basic principle.  The problem is being an interesting jerk -- i.e. how do you go from this general principle to concrete ideas of what to do?  To take an example:  After the first round of scenes, we knew that Heather's Protagonist Vega was riding south away from the remnant.  Her Mistaken Cynthia decided to declare that Vega's fine horse (a Blessing) stumbled on treacherous ground and went lame.  Now, that's being a jerk -- and it's directly attacking what Heather has declared important via her character sheet.  However, it's not very interesting for the storyline.

I completely agree with this.  When we played, my Mistaken (my friend Duck) continually kicked my frozen ass in all sorts of interesting ways.  I was  able to be a jerk to him, too, but like you say (at least in my eyes), in a very much less interesting way.  I'd like to think that at first I was still clinging to some old task-resolution habits, and that I got better as time went on.  It also helped Duck, I think, that he's had a lot of experience doing improv theater.  We actually talked about this at one point, about how being a good Mistaken is almost the opposite of good improv, in that you need to interestingly negate or derail what the Heart is stating.

Anyhow, my point here is that it takes a bit of time to get it, especially for gamers not used to this kind of thing.  If I remember correctly, too, there's some text in the rules about "good" conflict statements and refutations.  If  my memory is wrong (I'm in North Dakota at the moment, far away from the rules...), it'd certainly be interesting to see an example document.  That being said, it seems that our group started firing, by noting the good stuff and trying to imitate it, and even discussing it during play and making suggestions on how to better phrase something.

Aaron
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Kesher
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« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2006, 03:10:34 PM »

Um, in re-reading this thread I think, John, that I didn't really address your basic concerns in my last post.  Sorry.  I'll try again...

Maybe  the problem, at least in the example you gave, is a player who chose an Aspect that she wasn't all that interested in, or at least it wasn't all that obvious why it was important to her.  I think it's important for the various Mistakens to pay attention to not only what Aspects their various Hearts are using, but also to see if they can suss out why they're using them.  Or, conversely, the group could just go around and give a bit of background on their Heart's take on each Aspect they possess, even the common ones like Knight of the Order of the Stars or Starlight Sword; each Heart is going to have a different, personal connection to these things.

Actually, In our game, my Office, "Builder of the Falling Wall" and my (I can't remember the term exactly) Ability(?) "Architect" were both used against me.  I hadn't quite decided what direction I was going to go with them, but my Mistaken decided in his own demonic way that they were related to my own sense of pride and to the loss of a sister to demons whose name I had simply jotted down in the Half Moon side of the sheet.  Sort of a double-whammy, hitting me in a relational and Aspected sense at the same time.  It turned out to be interesting enough that I went with it, and then the flags flew thick, as it were.  In a different session the Wall itself became  the center of a convoluted struggle over pride and responsibility.

We also had successful attacks on Hearts through the two above-mentioned Aspects, actually, with someone being stripped of their Office and someone else's sword being melted away, though again those conflicts might have been more powerful if it had been outlined within the group exactly why those things were valuable.

Aaron






 
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #6 on: January 01, 2006, 09:36:04 PM »

Actually, I think everyone in our group understands this as a basic principle.  The problem is being an interesting jerk -- i.e. how do you go from this general principle to concrete ideas of what to do?  To take an example:  After the first round of scenes, we knew that Heather's Protagonist Vega was riding south away from the remnant.  Her Mistaken Cynthia decided to declare that Vega's fine horse (a Blessing) stumbled on treacherous ground and went lame.  Now, that's being a jerk -- and it's directly attacking what Heather has declared important via her character sheet.  However, it's not very interesting for the storyline. 

Ah, I see what you're saying.  From where I'm sitting (with my Mistaken hat on), I'm thinking, "Now that the horse is lame, Vega obviously needs to be attacked by demons while trying to return to the remnants on foot.  Or maybe Vega has a vision of the Frost Maiden while wandering delirious in the blizzard."  Attacking the horse is just a setup to a larger conflict.  I see from your notes that this is exactly what happened.

I'd also be thinking "What is the character trying to accomplish in this scene?  How can I thwart it?"  So, an example.  In our game, Bellatrix is pregnant with a demon child.  Upon confirming this, she drew her sword and stabbed herself in the stomach, trying to kill the child.  Immediately, I jumped on this.  "And furthermore, the child survives."  Now, are there ways around this?  Of course there are.  However, now the Heart will need to pay more to pull it off.

Of course, all of this is balanced by my aesthetic sense.  After all, this isn't a boardgame, and I do want an interesting story at the end of it all.  So, I don't feel the need to contest everything.  But I wonder if, sometimes, it can be a good idea just to start a conflict and see what happens.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
John Kim
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Posts: 1805


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« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2006, 11:23:05 PM »

Maybe  the problem, at least in the example you gave, is a player who chose an Aspect that she wasn't all that interested in, or at least it wasn't all that obvious why it was important to her.  I think it's important for the various Mistakens to pay attention to not only what Aspects their various Hearts are using, but also to see if they can suss out why they're using them.  Or, conversely, the group could just go around and give a bit of background on their Heart's take on each Aspect they possess, even the common ones like Knight of the Order of the Stars or Starlight Sword; each Heart is going to have a different, personal connection to these things.

I don't see a problem with Heather's choice.  She picked "World's Fastest Horse" as her Blessing.  It fits fairly well with the picture of her as a wanderer and tracker in the wastes.  It's a creature she loves.  I think it's just as clear as most of the other traits.  I think her character overall works pretty well.  Maybe there should be a phase of character creation where we name each Aspect and say how that is important to us -- but that's not part of the game as written currently.  I may try that as a review/reminder of the Protagonists next time.   

Let me describe a bit what happened at this point in the game.  So Vega (Heather's Protagonist) is riding South.  Cynthia frames the scene of her riding and then says that her horse steps in treacherous ground and goes lame.  Heather immediately says there's no way she's going to allow that, so we move into Conflict.  (I think she started back with "You ask far too much".)  So we're having a conflict over whether her horse trips. 

So there are important stakes here that Heather is fighting for, and Cynthia is correctly attacking what Heather has said is important.  However, I think that it's not a very interesting threat.  As it turned out, Heather negotiated it down to Vega being thrown and knocked unconcscious.  After that conflict, the others kibbitzed about what should happen next and someone (I think me) suggested the demon Algol arriving.  But I at least had a feeling at the start of the scene that it was, well, kind of weak in terms of drama. 

I've had good experiences with the game in general -- I'm just looking for ways to help out players who get a little stuck over what to do as Mistaken. 
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- John
Ben Lehman
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« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2006, 02:01:39 AM »

Hey, John.

There's a ton of advice for helping make strong conflicts in the "Advice for the Mistaken" section under "Playing the Game" chapter.

Now, if people don't read the book, this does not make that easier.  But, you know...

yrs--
--Ben
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John Kim
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« Reply #9 on: January 02, 2006, 10:32:51 AM »


Well, thanks for the thought, I guess. 

In this case, Cynthia hasn't read the book, but we did explain and demonstrate it to her.  I think she absorbed the advice of that particular section fine -- she went for the throat and she knew when it was over.  She tried to cripple the world's fastest horse, which was a beloved Aspect of Heather's character. 

Anyone have further observations or suggestions?  If not, I'm satisfied to call this thread. 

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- John
Ben Lehman
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« Reply #10 on: January 02, 2006, 12:58:30 PM »

Give me a moment, please.  I want to comment on the rest of the game, but I'm swamp-ed.

The section isn't titled "Advice for the Mistaken," btw, it's in 58-59 and called "Advice for Starting Scenes."  The advice isn't "go for the throat," it's "rely on on the other players and the Cosmos to make some sizzling conflict for you."

yrs--
--Ben
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John Kim
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« Reply #11 on: January 02, 2006, 10:34:11 PM »


Give me a moment, please.  I want to comment on the rest of the game, but I'm swamp-ed.

The section isn't titled "Advice for the Mistaken," btw, it's in 58-59 and called "Advice for Starting Scenes."  The advice isn't "go for the throat," it's "rely on on the other players and the Cosmos to make some sizzling conflict for you."

Aha!  Crossed signals -- from the title, I thought you were referring to "Some Advice for the Heart and Mistaken" on page 77.  I hadn't explicitly gone over the Advice for Starting Scenes to those who hadn't read it, and I'll try doing that next time.  Mostly, I think we're just new to it and will get better with practice. 

Just continuing with the example, though, I think it's tricky to directly apply the suggestions here.  Vega had just gone to her her patron Mensa (Full Moon) and was then riding out south on a quest by herself.  That sort of sets her up to run into things in the wastes -- making it tricky to frame in Mensa or her brother Castor.  Also, during character creation, Heather did worry that it would be a problem to define her Mistaken as a slow-moving but inexorable and powerful demon.  At the time, I assured her that it was fine -- because I thought that the creeping doom was a neat idea, and I wanted to encourage Heather's creativity.  However, maybe there was a point in her worry -- that it's especially useful within the structure to have a Mistaken who can show up unexpectedly at any time.  Just thinking out loud here, mostly...

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- John
Darren Hill
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« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2006, 04:19:04 AM »

Also, during character creation, Heather did worry that it would be a problem to define her Mistaken as a slow-moving but inexorable and powerful demon. 

It could be a demon with power over the environment - as it moves inexorably towards her, obstacles appear in her path, time seems to slow down, etc.
Or it could have faster moving minions, agents grabbing people she loves and taking them to the demon. It might be worshipped in someones cellar, where dark deeds are being done and Heather's character has to go there to stop them (if she wants to).

All that aside, I believe that the Mistaken (player) can create new demons and threats - the ones people put in the cosmos to start off with are just a starting point. If this demon is a character that Heather really wants to see come up to threaten her again and again, I think (proviso: no expert here!) the best way would be for her to look for an opportunity to take a new Aspect (probably Fate) relating to that demon, which the Heart and Mistaken will then be able to call on. That increases the likelihood that when the Mistaken causes bad things happen, he'll use the demon as the reason.
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