polaris

April 6, 2007 at 12:04 pm (gaming, nonfiction)

Polaris by Ben Lehman is really damn cool. as someone described it (Paul Tevis of HGWT, i think, but i might be wrong) it’s a “fairy tale apocalypse at the north pole” and as the author himself describes it it’s “Chivalric Tragedy at the Utmost North.”

the entire book has a very mythic, legendary quality to it. reading the setting and background information it is difficult to tell what is supposed to be taken literally and what is supposed to be metaphorical, allegorical, symbolic, or legendary. or if there is even supposed to be any difference. to put it as simply as i can manage, it is about a civilization of fairy-like creatures who lived at the north pole before the rise of mankind. but also, apparently, before the sun (like i said, it gets kind of weird). at the time the game takes place, their civilization is crumbling, demons are attacking, the people are succumbing to corruption and demonic influence, and everything is basically going to hell. the game is, as the author makes quite clear, a tragedy. things will not end well for the characters and their world, and everyone knows that from the beginning.

this game is especially interesting to me because it has no GM. it is meant to be played with exactly 4 players. each one is in charge of one protagonist and a variety of secondary characters. essentially play rotates around the group, with each protagonist being in the spotlight for a scene at a time. while one protagonist is in the spotlight, the other players take on duties based on seating position. the person across from the one in charge of the current protagonist takes on the role of the Mistaken (the game’s term for demons, essentially) and it is his or her job to cause problems for the protagonist. the players to either side of the protagonist and Mistaken essentially serve to help arbitrate disputes and to take on the rolls of other characters connected to the protagonist.

as with The Mountain Witch, this game is seldom concerned with what a character is capable of and is more concerned with what player gets narration rights. in this game that is primarily determined through an interesting set of rules involving ritual phrases. this allows the protagonist and antagonist to both argue and push for what they would like to see happen in a scene but in a structured format. sometimes such negotiations for narrative power will end with the verbal consent of one of the parties, sometimes they come down to a simple die roll compared to one of the protagonists traits.

one of the things i think is really cool about this game is the way that it spreads the normal duties of a GM out among the players and the really cool way it deals with determining narrative power. i really, really want to try this game out sometime, and the only reason i haven’t pushed my friends to play it with me before now is because it is really meant to be done with exactly 4 players, and i only have 2 friends that i normally game with. the game can be done with three without too much trouble, but i’m hoping sometime to find a 4th. plus, i think i might want to try some other things with my friends first, before we try something as completely different from traditional games as this is.

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