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A concern I have in running Polaris is that the group I intend to run the game with possesses RPGers of vastly mixed ability with regards to the skills used in the game. Three of us are veteran role-players but of those one of us tends to do very poorly in exactly the kind of verbal exchanges that Polaris's conflict system is based on and the fourth player is still very much a novice with regards to RPGs in general and often has trouble coming up with ideas rather than choosing from a set of options. All of us are on board with a character-focused low-plot catharsis-driven RPG, but I am worried that a massive difference in rhetorical ability between the Heart and the Mistaken will cause two of us to break tragedy into its opposite, the epic, while the other two break tragedy into its flanderization, the grimdark. This is particularly undesirable because it will result in two of the characters dying long before the other two do, though that may be less of a problem in Polaris than I expect. How can I prevent this discrepancy in ability from unbalancing the game and creating a disjointed narrative?

I could deliberately hold back as both the Mistaken and the Heart and discretely ask that the other skilled player do so as well, but I think that would make the game much less fun for both of us because it breaks immersion.

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Characters dying unevenly isn't a problem in Polaris, but players feeling steamrollered or unable to contribute to the game is definitely a problem.

I realize this is probably too late for this particular game, but my advice in general is to either.

  • Let the two not-as-confident players sit across from each other. That way, they can play conflicts at their own pace and not feel overwhelmed by the more skilled players.

  • If that's not possible, another thing is to simply have the more skilled players take it easy on the new players, making sure that they have time to think about their responses and not being too aggressive about the various narrative tricks of Polaris. Similar to how you might play Chess against a new player, more of a teaching game than a cut-throat competition.

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Polaris is definitely a game that works best on creative thinking, and not everyone can improvise quickly. That said, be willing to slow down the process, especially for the first few sessions - everyone is going to be getting their heads wrapped around what the key phrases are and how they work (here's a flowchart, which helps)

New roleplayers aren't necessarily at a disadvantage - non-gamers pick up improvisation actually quicker than most long term roleplayers because "What if?" kind of story creation is something people do a lot already. Just be willing to go slower for players who need it and if you need, take a short break in your session.

Definitely don't hold back - pushing the story in good ways also serves as an example to the other players and can give them ideas of how to push things on their side.

Finally, don't worry about hardship and conflict leading to character death - the fact is that the things which trigger Experience have just as much to do with the character you choose to play as the dice rolls.

Players who play characters who do all the Experience gaining things either turn into tragic heroes (usually sympathy for demons, hatred of the jerks in charge of their society) or into terrible people who are fun to watch crash and burn as well (without empathy and hatred of people in general). Play with your heart to what feels right for your characters and a good story will come out.

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