[ Underkoffler's Overviews Archive ]
Polaris, Chivalric Tragedy at the Utmost North
Written by Ben Lehman/benlehman
Website: [ http://www.tao-games.com/games_pola
Reviews: [ None as yet, but there are Actual Play reports on the website ]
(Very few, here, and these are highly nitpicky and possibly counter to the game design.)
- How Many Players? Polaris is built to be played by 4 people. While rules mods are included for 3 and 5 players, I frankly would have liked to see a bit of discussion about playing it with 2 people and 6 or more people. I can see where that could get unwieldy given the system, but it's possible and worthwhile.
- Hidden Special Rules. Some of the Example Aspects in Appendix 2 have special rules. While the straightforward usages (how an aspect can "aid" or "hinder" you) are obvious I would have liked an "under the hood" bit of advice for coming up with special rules for player-generated Aspects, since DIY Aspects are a core part of the game. (A bigger example list wouldn't have hurt, but that's an infintesimal nitpick.)
- One Thing I Felt Was Missing. While the stories generated in Polaris are intended to stem totally from the individual character sheets, I would have liked a page or two of one-liner story seeds (like those found in Baron Munchausen) to help jumpstart sessions.
- Intriguing Setting. Unabashed fairy tale with chivalric and faerie overtones, which mix in an extremely interesting manner. Post-apocalyptic beauty on the downward slope to a final apocalypse.
- Evocative Art. While I wasn't fond of the artwork when I first cracked open the book, by the time I hit chapter 3, I quite enjoyed it. I'm still not sure it really and truly captures how I see the Polaris setting in my head, but it's definitely bleeding into it.
- Engagingly Written. The writing kept my attention, and kept sending my brain off on interesting tangents as I read. This is a damned good thing. A decent amount of examples, and a good avoidance of theoretical terms junking up the text.
- Distributed GMing Each player in Polaris essentially takes over certain elements of the traditional GM's duties for the other players; there is no single GM. This is a fantastic idea, for groups that can wrap their minds around it (and, I think that shouldn't be too hard, provided the entire group isn't made up of completely casual players or "player-observers" simply along for the ride).
- Innovative Mechanics. The prose-/story-based Key Phrases ("And So It Was...", "But Only If...", and "It Shall Not Come To Pass..." are examples) are the mechanics of the game, and either work directly on the game in progress, or activate a "subroutine" or subsystem (like conflict). I really, really want to try this out. There's something almost Nomic-like in the use of phrases to modify other phrases.
- If you're into the storytelling and roleplaying aspects of RPGs as a player or GM (more than the game aspects), buy this book. It's $23.00 for 135 (6" x 9") pages at Indie Press Revolution. This might be a trace pricey for the browsers and impulse buyers, but seriously -- I didn't feel cheated. If you dug Hogshead's Baron Munchausen RPG, Half-Meme Press' My Life With Master, and/or Atlas Games' Once Upon a Time card game, you'll groove on Polaris.
Check it out.