Yesterday I went out to Northampton to play Polaris. I got lost, I got found, I detoured to Amherst to give T her jacket back, but I got there, eventually.
We had garlic, olive and anchovy pizza. It rocked.
Then we started playing. We were all a little fuzzy on the rules, except maybe E, because she rocks on toast. Character creation came first (doesn’t it always?). Emily explained how the character sheet worked. We all got a Starlight Sword, and were Knights of the Order of the Stars, and we all had a common destiny — the claimant to the empty throne. We also all had Lore of Demons. We could all then pick two additional benefits — I took “paramount defender” under abilities, and “herald of General Aires.” E took “badass” under abilities, and something else which I don’t recall. Tom () took an icewing, sort of a primitive aeroplane made of ice, and something else. J took “Prince Rigel’s advisor” and “Machiavellian”.
All that forms the edges of the character sheet. In the middle is the Cosmos, a big round area divided into three sectors. The one directly opposite you, facing away from you, is the Mistaken. In here, we wrote down the names of the antagonists of our personal viewpoints. Some of these were demons; others were persons within the People. Here I put in one of J’s NPCs, the herald of Prince Rigel named “The White River”, and a character I came up with, Harper Sheliak. To the right was section labeled Full Moons, and these represented people in a hierarchical relationship. I put General Aries here, and I should have put some more characters here, too. The lefthand section was for New Moons, the section devoted to people and places in emotional relationships. Here I put down a lover, a niece, an uncle, and other characters with whom I might have an emotional relationship. I also put down Lady Artemis.
The game’s mechanic works something like this. Each player in turn pushes her character sheet to the center of the table. E did this first. E always played Shardas when it was her turn; but Tom across from her became the Mistaken from her character sheet; I became her Full Moon characters; and J became her New Moon characters. When it was E’s turn, Tom was her GM; when it was my turn, J was my GM; when it was J’s turn, I was his GM, and when it was Tom’s turn, E was his GM. In this way, the duties of the knights, demons, and other characters are shared among everyone at the table.
The game builds to a climax through a mechanic called Zeal and Weariness. When you begin, you have a Zeal of 4. As the game progresses, however, your Zeal drops and your Weariness eventually increases from 1 to 5. As it rises, your character approaches becoming a demon. J called this the “spiraling doom mechanic” since it guarantees your character will eventually die or be forever ruined.
We began, clearly enough, with a rescue. E arranged to rescue a person — a Southerner — from the clutches of the demons. This proved to be the sun-tainted priestess of the Moon, Lady Artemis. E and I became smitten with Lady Artemis, and took her back to the Kaleidoscope, the palace-city where Rigel was attempting to sway the Senate into confirming him as the new king. Play passed to J. As his Mistaken, I set against him the Princess Heze, daughter of Senator Libra, whom he had been courting for a year and a day. Heze informed him that someone had made an offer to her father, proposing marriage, and that he would have to act fast if he intended to wed her. J’s character was forced to approach Libra in public, swelling the rumor mill with all kinds of questions. Since J was one of Rigel’s men, Libra’s voting block would come over to Rigel, and Rigel would be king. J persuaded Rigel to have the conversation in private, but the city became full of intrigue again.
Hmm. Play then passed to Tom. Tom wanted to have an air duel with Red Thunderbolt. Said duel went well, but his wingman, Cygnus, became fatally poisoned by RT’s poison claws, which would soon transform him to a demon. Play then passed to me. I met with the White River, and he presented me with a dangerous offer from Rigel, that Aries should stay out of politics in exchange for a reassignment from the Shield Wall to a different location. This offer was amended by Meister Gygax, who offered Southern troops to Aries in a bid to keep J and Rigel occupied, so he could complete his wedding preparations with Senator Libra’s daughter, Princess Heze. (Are you following this?) I recommended to Aries that he accept Meister Gygax’s offer, which he did, in order to return to the Kaleidoscope to vote with the Senate against Rigel’s confirmation as king.
Play then passed to E. Tom, as her Mistaken, declared that Prince Rigel had decreed that Lady Artemis was Sun-tainted, and would have to be subjected to examination, and possibly torture. E arranged to move her to the Tower of the Western Guard, where she would be safe with Aries’s followers. However, her force was waylaid by Rigel’s men, and Shardas was forced to kill all of the assassins. Upon unmasking them, Shardas discovered one of them was her lover, the bardic knight Lyta.
Play then passed to J. J decided he wanted to have the private meeting with Senator Libra, and figure out how to get the girl, get Rigel on the throne, and keep the Kingdom safe. He got the girl, but betrayed Rigel and basically betrayed the kingdom in the process. Play passed to Tom.
Somewhere around here, we finally figured out how to use the Key Phrases, and the conflict resolution die. We’d been under a lot of confusion, because the game involves the use of a series of key phrases. When the players begin the game, there’s a series of key phrases which introduce the game, the protagonists, and the situation. Other phrases transition between scenes, and still others operate the conflict resolution system. One of these key phrases is “but only if….” This means, that I can demand something specific like, “Lady Artemis gets free of the machine in time” during play, but the Mistaken can respond with “But only if she betrays the people.” I can counter that in a variety of ways. What I can’t counter is if the Mistaken says, “and Furthermore Lady Artemis betrays the people.” And Furthermore is another key phrase, one which prevents more “but only if” statements.
So now we started trading “AND FURTHERMORE” phrases, and spending our attributes, in order to achieve great things, and bring our colleagues in the Order of the Stars to ruin. 🙂
We knew we had limited time. Tom had to be at work and both he and I had long drives home. The next few rounds passed in a blur, and I’m not sure who did what. Tom got to bring down the Moon. I fought a demon from the Shield Wall, all the way to the gates of the Kaleidoscope, and cut his club in half before I was defeated, in an epic three-day battle. E took on the powers and aspect of the Solaris Knight (and eternal suffering with it) in order to defeat the demon Huku within the very throne room. J got to be the power behind the restored throne, but it brought him no joy; Tom orbits the world forever as floating star. I get trotted out on state occasions, my mind and body shattered but nonetheless a hero to my people.
It was tragic. It was awesome. And the cheese fries were delicious. Especially when wearing Groucho Marx glasses and noses.