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Author Topic: Polaris + The Pool = Poolaris!  (Read 1916 times)
Chris Peterson
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Posts: 75


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« on: February 10, 2006, 02:59:06 PM »



"Poolaris" is a game born from just a word, a pun on the the names "Polaris" and "The Pool". But then I started thinking this combination might actually work! The Pool has no setting and, personally, I found Polaris's negotiated narration a little to "mushy". Just for fun, I present here a rough draft of my "mashup" of these two cool games. :-)

thanks,
chris



POOLARIS

Poolaris is a role-playing game that combines the negotiated narration and chilly setting of Ben Lehman's Polaris with the simple rules of James V. West's The Pool (plus bits of Anti-Pool and The Questing Beast). Unlike most role-playing games, Poolaris has no Game Master (GM). The players share the GM responsibilities.

To play, you need a lot of d6s (six-sided dice), including a handful of “bonus dice” that look different from the rest. Before character creation begins, each player needs 20 dice for their starting Pool. The rest of the dice go into a common pool.

SETTING

Poolaris is a game for three to five players set during the final years of the Northernmost People, just before the remnants of their civilization were swallowed up by their own Mistake.

Once upon a time, as far north as north can go, there lived the greatest people that this world will ever see. They are gone now, destroyed just as the world destroys all beautiful things. All that remains are these moments we call memories, moments frozen from the flow of time.

The protagonists of the story are Knights of the Order of the Stars, beholden by ancient oaths to serve the stars and protect their people. The antagonists facing the knights are multitudinous — demons from the mistake, doubters from the people, and even betrayers within the brotherhood of Knights.

Once, there would have been no need for Knights. Once, when the sky was dark and perfect, the starlight pure and cold, and the people without fear or flaw, there would have been no need for war. But that time has passed now, gone like a long winter dream, and so you are called to battle demons beneath the burning sun and its alien blue sky.

This is no longer a history; this is not yet a story. This is all that remains. Whatever else is what you make of it.


CHARACTER CREATION

Making a character is simple: each player has 1 minute to describe his character and their Story. The other players each write down certain details about the character they think are cool. The player then chooses 3 or 4 Traits from those lists. These are Traits that will help you gain narrative control during play. Pretend you’re telling a campfire story and this is the introduction of your main character. You only have 1 minute to play with, so focus on the most important elements of your new character and how the character fits into the Poolaris setting.

Example Story

I’ve created my first Poolaris character: “Damart is a knight trained in elemental magic by the Knights of the Order of the Stars. He was expelled from the Order after falling in love with a young knight who died when he tried to teach her a spell she could not control. Now Damart seeks the means to bring her back to life.”

ASSIGNING TRAITS AND BONUSES

Now pick the most important elements of your Story. These are Traits that will help you gain narrative control during play.

Traits can be anything from friends and enemies to a good horse or a knack for attracting trouble. Whatever is important about your character can be a Trait. Though you can word a Trait any way you wish, make sure it doesn’t contradict or expand your Story. For example, Damart’s Story reads “seeks the means to bring her back to life” so a Trait based on that statement could be called “Searching for a way to bring his love back from the dead” or “Trying to find a way to raise his love from the dead” or something similar. But calling the Trait “Has vast knowledge of death magic and resurrection” would not work because his Story does not relate any special death-related skills or knowledge.

Make sure your Traits are specific enough to avoid game conflicts over vagueness. For example, Damart uses elemental magic, not death magic or shooting stars from his fingers. Avoid listing vague Traits such as “Magic” or “Scholar” — be specific.

You can assign Bonuses to important traits, in the form of dice. Bonuses increase the effectiveness of traits during play. You do not have to assign a Bonus to every Trait. To assign a Bonus, spend dice from your starting Pool. The cost is two times the Bonus. Thus, a +2 bonus would cost 4 dice and a +3 bonus would cost 6 dice and so on. It is very important to leave some dice in your Pool — at least 3 or 4.

Example Traits

After writing Damart’s Story, I choose the Traits I want and assign Bonuses to them. These Bonuses cost a total of 16 dice, leaving 4 dice in my Pool.

    * Delves in elemental magic +2
    * Outcast of the Knights of the Order of the Stars +1
    * He is driven by love +3
    * Searching for the means to raise his love from the dead +2


NEMESES

To create a more serial adventure feel, characters may have recurring enemies, tracked on their character sheet as Nemeses, each of which has an accompanying Nemesis Bonus. The Bonus should start at +1.

Example Nemeses

    * Those Annoying Raiders From The South +3
    * Mitzsch the angry Black Demon +5
    * The Vindictive Archbishop Steven +7


Any time you want some more Pool dice, you or another player may narrate in one of your Nemeses. The party receives the Nemesis Bonus in Pool dice, divided among the players who may share the same Nemesis. No more than two Nemeses can team up in a single encounter. You should pay extra attention to ensure that the setup and resolution for this special cross-over is suitably elaborate and exciting in order to justify the large amount of Pool dice won from two Nemesis Bonuses.

When a nemesis is defeated, they are not killed. They are typically "vanquished" or "foiled again" to seek revenge at a later time. Each time a Nemesis is defeated, their Nemesis Bonus increases by +1, reflecting their more elaborate revenge schemes and extra reinforcements.

To cross off a Nemesis permanently, which will often but not always mean that the party has killed them once and for all, the players can pool their Pool dice to pay the Nemesis Bonus. To maintain the feel of an action serial, when a Nemesis is defeated, two new Nemeses can be written down, and the old Nemesis value divided however wished among these two new foes. For example, the Vindictive Archbishop Steven +7 is finally locked away in prison. The party now has to deal with his partner in crime, The Sadistic Baron Thomas +4. The destructive battle in the Archbishop's underground lair also earned the wrath of The Lunatic Forest Druid +3.

CASTING THE DICE

Dice are cast to determine the general outcome of conflicts. This is not the same as rolling when you simply want to take an action. The swing of a sword can be achieved through simple dialogue with the other players, without throwing dice. The effect of a die roll in Poolaris is much broader than the swing of a sword.

Anyone can call for a die roll whenever a conflict is apparent or when someone wants to introduce a new conflict. Just broadly state your intention:

   1. What you want to happen on a successful roll,
   2. What you don’t want to happen on a failed roll,
   3. And what Trait, if any, you’re using as a bonus.

To win a die roll, roll a 1 on any of the dice you cast. Ignore any other results. If you don’t roll a 1, you fail the roll. If you can show an obvious connection between your intention and one of your character’s Traits, you can add Bonus dice to your roll if that Trait has a Bonus.

Before you roll, the other players can attempt to influence your intention. Each player may:

   1. Attempt to veto your roll,
   2. Lend you 1 "Story die" to add to your throw,
   3. Or accept your intention, but not lend you a Story die.

If any players think your intention asks too much, they may attempt to veto your roll. If two or more players veto, you must abandon your roll or renegotiate your intention. Your roll did not fail; it just didn't happen.

If the other players do not veto your roll, each may lend 0 or 1 Story dice. Force is the technique of control over characters' thematically-significant decisions by anyone who is not the character's player. These Story dice let the other players "vote" for or against your successful intention.

You are strongly encouraged to negotiate your intention with the other players to encourage them to lend you Story dice! For example, maybe one player will give you his Story die if you reduce the benefits of a successful roll. Maybe another player will give you his Story die if you also increase the consequences of a failed roll. And maybe the last player just wants you to fail and refuses to give you his Story die.

In addition, you can gamble up to 9 dice from your Pool. Adding dice to your roll greatly increases your chances of getting a 1. But if you win a roll, you lose all the dice you gambled. A big gamble can instantly reduce your Pool to nothing.

Example Die Roll

Damart is in an ancient library. I want him to find a piece of knowledge that will help him on his quest, so I ask for a roll based on the Trait “searching for the means to bring his love from the dead +2”. I add 2 Bonus dice (for my +2 Trait) and two other players decide to give me Story dice to roll as well. I still have 4 dice in my Pool, so I add 2 of them to the roll as a gamble to increase my chances. I cast all 6 dice and, luckily, I get a 1. I win the roll, but I lose the 2 gambled dice from my Pool, leaving me with only 2. If I had not rolled a 1, I could keep the 2 gambled dice and add an extra die to my Pool, leaving me with 5.

SUCCESS AND FAILURE

When you roll successfully, you get to make a Monologue of Victory (MOV), but you also lose any dice you gambled. Thus, you are encouraged to use as few dice as you think necessary to accomplish the task, leading to more failures as you gamble with just how many dice might work. In fact, In cases of extreme need, like a climactic battle, you could still just unload on the contest.

Making an MOV is the only way to ensure that the conflict results in what you want. Giving an MOV is like taking control of the game for a few moments. You can describe your character’s actions, the actions of those around him, and the outcome of those actions. You can even focus on less direct elements of the conflict such as what’s happening in the next room or who’s entering the scene. You can do just about anything. In fact, these are the only real limitations you must observe:

   1. Don’t make alterations to the characters of other players (such as killing them). You can add complications for them and affect the things around them, but don’t intrude on the creation of a fellow player.
   2. Keep your narration in synch with the established facts and tone of the game. If you need to ask the other players for responses during your MOV, do so.
   3. Keep your narration reasonably short.

Observing these rules of courtesy and continuity will help everyone enjoy the game even more. If you ignore these rules, the other players may end your MOV at any time.

If you fail a die roll, two things will happen. First, you get to keep any dice you gambled and add an extra die to your Pool. You might frequently use little or no dice and accept failures just to get the extra dice when low. Second, another player will narrate an outcome that is not what you intended. The details of the outcome are entirely up to him. He may introduce new complications for your character or simply narrate a scene that is opposite of what you wanted.

Example Monologue of Victory

With my successful die roll from the previous example, I get to make an MOV, but I also lose my 2 gambled dice. Everyone listens:

“After a frustrating couple of hours searching through ancient tomes, Damart is ready to give it up. There’s nothing here. But then he notices a very strange thing. In a darkened corner a book is leaning against the wall. But it isn’t just leaning, it's moving! He takes a closer look and the book scurries under a table. It can walk! He crawls under the table and manages to get his hands on it. The book squirms, but isn’t strong enough to break free. On its cover are letters from a very old language he has some familiarity with. They read ‘Land of the Dead’. There are bloodstains on the edges of the pages.”

I decide that’s a good stopping point. Everyone is very curious about this walking book and now narration passes to another player, taking into consideration this new element I have just invented.


THE CONTINUING STORY

If you have 9 dice or more left in your Pool at the end of a session, you start the next session with the same number. If you have less than that, you start the next session with 9 dice in your Pool.

You may add new Traits or increase Bonuses to Traits any time you wish the same way you did when you created your character: the desired Bonus times itself (+2 costs 4 dice, +3 costs 6 dice, etc.). You may decrease a Bonus and add dice to your Pool equal to the subtracted amount (-2 bonus gives 2 dice, -3 bonus gives 3 dice, etc.). If you decrease a Bonus to zero, that Trait must be removed from your list. Increases and decreases in Trait Bonuses should tie in with key developments in your character's story.

AT DEATH'S DOOR

Your character does not have “hit points” or any other measure of life. But he can die.

If your character fails a die roll in a situation the other players deems utterly lethal, you can either accept death and make a final MOV to describe it (no rolling required), or make a final roll to save his life. In this roll you cannot use any Traits and the other players cannot grant you any extra dice. All dice must be gambled. Your fellow players may pitch in up to 9 dice each to help your character survive.

No matter what the outcome of the roll, all the dice you cast are lost — even dice gambled by other players. If you win this roll your character has survived the incident, but you do not get a MOV nor do you get to add any dice to your Pool. Another player will describe how death was cheated. If you fail the roll, your character dies. In this case, you get to make a final MOV in which you describe your character’s death in detail. Make it a good one.
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chris
Christoph Boeckle
Member

Posts: 455

Geneva, Switzerland


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« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2006, 12:16:54 PM »

Hi Chris,

I'm wondering how this has anything to do with Polaris (well yes, the setting, but the game is way more than the setting), but since I'm very interested in GM-less variations of the Pool, I have a few things to ask.


Why the time limit for chargen? I know I would never get anywhere in just 60 seconds, except if I had thought of a character in advance, making the time limit moot.

Where do players take story dice from? Their own Pool, or some infinite pool accessible to all?

How do you determine who narrates the outcome in case of failure?

Why did you take away the opportunity to give the Monologue of Victory to someone else in exchange for some other bonus?


I like the idea of the Nemeses, but I'm not sure I understand how it works.
Do I just say "someone please narrate the Nemeses"? Who is the party that receives the dice?
How does the presence of the Nemeses change the conflict, mechanically? The way it looks now, adding Nemeses to the scene makes it more likely to win the conflict thanks to the extra dice.
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Regards,
Christoph
Chris Peterson
Member

Posts: 75


WWW
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2006, 01:22:23 PM »

hi, Christoph, thanks for your questions! Most of the changes to the classic Pool rules I took from James V. West's Pool Variations web page. I don't claim Poolaris is new or original. <:)

Quote
I'm wondering how this has anything to do with Polaris (well yes, the setting, but the game is way more than the setting), but since I'm very interested in GM-less variations of the Pool, I have a few things to ask.

Yes, there is not a whole lot of Polaris in Poolaris, but I loved the setting. I tried to tweak some Pool rules to create more inter-player influence, like Polaris's Moons and Mistaken.

Quote
Why the time limit for chargen? I know I would never get anywhere in just 60 seconds, except if I had thought of a character in advance, making the time limit moot.

This rule is borrowed from Kenway's "60 Second Pool" variation. I liked how a player's character was "filtered" through the other three players, a simple nod to the way Polaris player's share influence over each other's players.

Quote
Where do players take story dice from? Their own Pool, or some infinite pool accessible to all?

There are only 3 "Story dice" (I almost called them "Force dice" based on "Force" from Ron's Forge Glossary). They do not belong to any one player. They are only used for the current roll! This rule idea is based on Nathan Banks' "Rule of Three" Pool variation. But instead of allowing the "GM" to give out 0-3 GM dice at his discretion, those 3 GM dice are split among the three non-narrating players. The GM discretion has been democratized.

Quote
How do you determine who narrates the outcome in case of failure?

Good point. This is ambiguous. I will probably introduce the Polaris "Mistaken" player to handle these responsibilities.

Quote
Why did you take away the opportunity to give the Monologue of Victory to someone else in exchange for some other bonus?

I borrowed Mike Holmes' "Anti-Pool/Flipping the Pool" variation, which gives a bonus die on failure and takes gambled dice on success. I thought of this variation's  "cost of success" and gain on failure as a nod to Polaris characters' Weariness. I thought it would be strange for a player to win a roll, lose his gambled dice, but then opt for a bonus die (instead of his MOV). If he really wanted to get dice, he could purposely lose rolls and take a bonus die. I guess he could just roll for success without gambling any dice. I'll have to revisit this idea.

Quote
I like the idea of the Nemeses, but I'm not sure I understand how it works. Do I just say "someone please narrate the Nemeses"? Who is the party that receives the dice? How does the presence of the Nemeses change the conflict, mechanically? The way it looks now, adding Nemeses to the scene makes it more likely to win the conflict thanks to the extra dice.

Poolaris Nemeses were borrowed from Kenway's "Nemesis" Pool variation. Nemesis narration should probably go to the to-be-introduced Mistaken player. I'm not completely sure how Kenway intended his Nemesis bonus dice to be split. Do the dice go to just the one player who has that Nemesis? Or are the dice split among all the characters? What if multiple characters have the same Nemesis? I'm not sure.

The extra Nemesis dice could make the conflict easier, but don't forget that a Big Baddie just entered the scene! <:-o


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chris
Christoph Boeckle
Member

Posts: 455

Geneva, Switzerland


WWW
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2006, 07:44:00 AM »

Okay, I see. You definitely need to address those points I think.

So this game has to be played by exactly 4 players? That seems to be the case from what you say about the Story dice.


If you're interested in expanding some more, you may want to take a look at Troy Costisick's Power 19, at least the first three.
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Regards,
Christoph
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