"Long Ago, The People Were Dying At The End Of The World"
Now at this point, you're probably noticing some nonstandard terms being thrown around, namely the reference to a player as a "Heart." This is part of Polaris's particularly novel character creation and conflict resolution systems. Although the game is designed to play with four people each controlling one of four protagonist characters, each player also participates in some way with every other player's characters. The player who controls a character's actions, as mentioned earlier, is the protagonist's "Heart," and it is his or her job to negotiate in the character's favor during conflicts. The Heart is responsible for naming the protagonist, and describing the themes and aspects which will guide her conflicts and personality. The player who sits directly across from that protagonist's Heart is the "Mistaken," and he or she initiates conflicts with that protagonists, controlling the demons that besiege her and negotiating against her interests during the conflict discussions. Conflict resolution is adjudicated by the players sitting to the left and the right of the Heart, referred to as the "New Moon" and the "Full Moon," respectively. The New Moon is in charge of refereeing the protagonist's emotional and interpersonal conflicts, and controls minor female NPCs, while the Full Moon referees societal conflicts and controls minor male NPCs. Neither Moon player can directly determine the outcome of a conflict, but instead mediates and makes suggestions to the Heart and Mistaken players to foster an agreement about the way the story will proceed.
Rather than a full blown, detailed combat system, Polaris makes use of various "key phrases" to facilitate conflicts. Each scene begins with a player stating "And So It Was," followed by a scene description. That player's opponent (his or her Mistaken, if the initiating player is the Heart, or the reverse) can then modify the scene with phrases like "But Only If" (describing a terrible cost) or "And Furthermore" (describing a complication), which the initiating player can either accept ("And That Was How It Happened"), request a different circumstance ("You Ask Far Too Much"), force a die roll ("It Shall Not Come To Pass") or scrap the entire scene ("It Was Not Meant To Be"). The Moon players may offer suggestions for the conflicting players to agree upon, which can either be accepted (both players state "We Shall See What Comes Of It") or rejected (one player states "It Was No Matter"). The entire process becomes oddly ritualized, and I am not entirely convinced that I could play through this with a straight face.
Despite the weird, half-ritualized, almost Jack Chick-like gameplay, (the rules even suggest lighting and extinguishing candles to mark the beginning and end of play), there's something about the milieu of heartbreakingly beautiful people marching inevitably to their doom in a soul-shattering, starlit tundra, their breath condensing into snowflakes as their blood turns to ice, that I find oddly appealing.
"But All That Happened Long Ago, And Now There Are None Who Remember It."
*No character sheet this week, since it requires three other people to write one.
All artwork taken from Polaris: Chivalric Tragedy at the Utmost North, Starlight Starbright Edition, which is available either as an e-book from These Are Our Games, or in print from Indie Press Revolution. A Spanish-language eBook is also available from RPGNow.