Connor, a friend of mine is visiting from San Francisco; he's in school out there, studying drama therapy. He's played WoW and other video games in the past, but I've never been able to persuade him to try a role-playing game before (and I hadn't tried asking in years...). Tonight, we couldn't find anything to do, and he didn't want to drive back to his parents' house just yet (around 7pm), so I suggested a board game.
He asked, "Is the board game going to involve a lot of thinking and strategy?" At which point, I doubled back from the game closet, sheepishly. I suggested playing an RPG instead, and, surprisingly, he assented!
I had been thinking of downloading a PDF of S/Lay w/Me, only to discover at the unstore that, hey, there is no PDF for sale yet! Oh, well - I'd bought a copy of Polaris this week, so I showed it to Connor and had him read that "As It Was" section about the king, queen, knights, etc., while I went and got dice, paper, pens, etc.
When I returned, he picked a name from the star-names list, and then we just kind of sat for a bit, while I asked him if, in all the ice and splendor and horror and demonic invasions going on, if he had any ideas for a character. Somewhere in there, I mentioned that Polaris is a tragedy, and all star-knights inevitably die, go mad, or join the demons. He scowled, conjectured on Ben Lehman's upbringing and emotional well-being, and then reminded me of his hesitation about playing. But, eventually, we extracted the following:
[all normal Aspects, plus...]
Blessing: Shield of Black Shiny Goodness (his name for it; he described a shield made of glittery obsidian)
Fate: Mensa - a character. No idea who this is, yet!
Ability: Attribute - Big (Cetus is an enormous individual - alternately described as being like a "huge ice-statue" and "big and hairy, like Thor")
New Moon character: Equuleus - a relative of Cetus's, a young boy. "The Chosen One"
Mistake character: High Priest Octans - a trouble-making prophet who declared Equuleus the "Chosen One", and who wants Sir Cetus to guard Equuleus on his way into the Mistake(!), where he claims the boy will somehow end the Mistaken demon-army altogether
Play: Connor was really nervous, but also interested in the game, so I tried to keep things as low-key as possible. Partly because he'd never RP'd before, and partly because there were only two of us playing, we divvied up the responsibilities of the Moons - anyone moving against the Heart would be played by me; anyone standing up for the Heart would be played by Connor; and anyone standing on the sidelines would be played by me (as generously and fairly as possible - no ruthlessness from such characters allowed!)
We cleared up how the Moon characters would be played (in truth, I didn't really explain the Moons, just those responsibilities), and then began.
And so it was...
Equuleus and Cetus were walking together on a rampart atop the Remnant, and Equuleus reveals that it was the High Priest who declared him the Chosen One (Connor had a good grumble about this - "How can he do that to a little boy?"), and that, as the One, he could pick anybody he liked to accompany him into the Mistake, to save the world. He naturally chooses Cetus ("You're the bravest, strongest warrior in the world!") and this led to our first conflict.
[Connor has done a lot of improv, so we started out just using the phrases "But Only If..." and "And Furthermore" to start. He quibbled a bit about using the exact phrases, but I told him it was important to keep the proper mood and tone, which was a good enough reason for him.]
Angry, Cetus sends the child to his room. [and furthermore! I add...] On the way to his room, Equuleus sneaks off instead and goes to tell the High Priest that Sir Cetus is a coward, and won't go with him to fulfill the High Priest's prophecy. [and furthermore! Connor adds...] The High Council calls Cetus in to explain himself. [Connor double-checked a couple of times if he could introduce new characters or not, but he took to "just say your intent; don't hedge" without me having to ever bring it up directly!] I agreed - And that was how it happened! Then we ended the scene, and took a break.
I told Connor that a break was just that - a solid break from the game completely, to talk about whatever. He went on a bit about feeling really resistant to being creative, how he felt like he was on the receiving end of the very techniques he's learning in school, and on three separate occasions tonight, he pantomimed feeling stuck in a box by the prospect of being creative for the game. He told me he was enjoying it, though, and he just had a lot of baggage to get over about performance and getting things right - I told him that whatever he comes up with will be totally cool as-is, and he resolved to keep that in mind.
We started up a second scene.
And so it was...
Sir Cetus stands before the High Council, accused of cowardice and thwarting the Chosen One's wishes. They beg an explanation, and he tells them that he's been to the Mistake before, as they know [I write this down, whispering "awesome!"], and it is no place for a boy, not even a Chosen One. They consider this, but High Priest Octans loses it and screams "This traitor should be thrown in prison!" [Connor replies, "What, like you threw my parents in prison?" He then explains that Cetus's parents went demon-mad and were locked away at the bottom of the Remnant for their own safety. Rad!]
[We start a conflict at this point:
Connor says: but only if... the High Priest has been wrong before about his prophecies.
I say, in turn: but only if... the High Council trusts him anyway.
Connor says: you ask far too much!... then continues to narrate]
Equuleus comes out of hiding and tells the Council they have no right to do this to his chosen guardian! [Connor exhausts his Theme of Fate, and I amend my statement] The High Priest demands, instead of arresting Sir Cetus that Sir Cetus show Equuleus his mad parents, in their cell - "The better to show the boy what he is protected from by the prophecy, from which others are not..." [Burn! Connor asks me if Cetus is now required to do this thing, if he has to, and I say no, but now the Council expects him to do so. He agrees.]
We ended the scene there. I'm noticing, looking back, that there was a slight rule-thing that we missed - "You ask far too much" applies to the previous statement made by one's opponent, whereas we used it for the statement that caused the conflict - i.e. Cetus is arrested. Since retroactively changing that would have meant erasing some cool stuff established about Octans and the Council, I'm okay with this.
At this point, we end the scene. We talk for a bit about things, Connor says he's really enjoying himself, though still nervous about performing well (he's a nervous guy by nature), and then I ask if he wants to play out the scene where his parents, Al Niyat and Alya, are introduced. Screaming, mad, padded-room parents? Fun! He says he's not up for another scene tonight, but he does have an idea about what happened to Cetus's parents - when Cetus went to the Mistake (the circumstances of which are unclear), he nearly died, and some kind of Council of Demons (he said it was a sort of counterpart to the High Council of the People) agreed to trade "one life for two minds" - his parents were driven insane by demon sorcery, and in exchange, the demon councilors spared Cetus and sent him home. Connor honed in on this a bit more - Cetus is not one for bravado or foolhardiness, because he's seen horrible things first-hand and doesn't care to inflict that on anyone else. AND! the High Priest had once told *Cetus* that he, too, could not be harmed by the Mistake, which we then concluded together made it possible that, should Equuleus enter the Mistake, some kind of price would be paid to see the boy safely out of there again, and Cetus did NOT want that to happen!
We chatted a bit about drama therapy, RPGs, improv, etc.; I mentioned that I'd heard a rumor that Polaris is a metaphorical examination of the strain of doing social work for a living, he guffawed and clucked his tongue at that, and then we agreed to play again! Yay! We will probably play again while he's still here in Virginia, if possible, and then figure out from there when we'll play once we're on the opposite ends of the country from one another. I'm very excited that he gave this a shot, and that he connected to it on a couple of levels (improv, therapy..)
So! More to follow, with any luck.
[Cross-posted at the Forge and story-games]