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How do character sheets fit into the game of Polaris and what functionality do they serve? It's not like it's hard to remember your stats; there are only 3. The vast majority of the sheet's info is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Why? What is all of this supposed to accomplish and how?

The function of the character sheet is confusing to me. Clearly (from play experience) the main point is the 'tracking story progression' part. I want to know how that works to further the quality of the game so that I can use that knowledge when designing character sheets for my own systems, and also so I can play Polaris better and use the sheet to support longer-term play.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Wibbs, Miniman, Tritium21, Oblivious Sage, SevenSidedDie Jun 13 '15 at 18:23

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Replacing Polaris for any other system and replacing 3 by it's number of stats and rolls, this seems to be a very generic question. What would you answer if the question came up with D&D/24? For some people, remembering 24 facts is easy as pie. \$\endgroup\$ – nvoigt Jun 13 '15 at 8:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the specific question here is why have a character sheet at all when most of the "stats" are not hard information, but rather "soft" story information. The Polaris character sheet is uniquely designed to track story developments in a way most RPG character sheets aren't. \$\endgroup\$ – Tack Jun 13 '15 at 17:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ What problem is to be solved here? Are you wanting to play without a sheet, perhaps? Hacking the game into something else and considering eliminating/changing the sheet? Something else? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 13 '15 at 18:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nvoigt While it's true some of us can keep all that info in our heads, in D&D the character sheet also serves as a source of authority over what a character's abilities are, in case of player or GM error. The amount of mechanical non-stat information that can be prescribed through character sheet notation is also very large. Furthermore, D&D 3.5 at least, the descriptive parts of the character sheet are generally recognized as much less important than the prescriptive ones. The opposite appears to be the case for Polaris. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jun 14 '15 at 2:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie The function of the character sheet is confusing to me. Clearly (from play experience) the main point is the 'tracking story progression' part of the only current answer. I want to know how that works to further the quality of the game so that I can use that knowledge when designing character sheets for my own systems, and also so I can play Polaris better and use the sheet to support longer-term play. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jun 14 '15 at 2:40
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The character sheet in Polaris works a little differently than other RPG character sheets. It does some of the things a standard character sheet does, like tracking specific stats, but it has two other important functions.

1: Tracking Expended Themes

When a player uses one of the more powerful ritual phrases in Conflict ("And Furthermore ..." or "You Ask Far Too Much ...") They must exhaust one of the four Themes on the character sheet of the current Heart player. The character sheet has a checkbox over each of the four Themes for the Heart, and another checkbox over each for the Mistaken. These don't refresh until the Heart gains experience and rolls above their current Zeal or Weariness. Having a written record of who has exhausted what Themes is extremely useful, especially between sessions.

2: Tracking Story Progression

Most RPGs don't directly reflect story progression on the character sheet. This is because most RPGs either have a GM to keep track of story progression, or are designed to last only one session. Polaris is in a unique position because it is a GMless RPG where players enter into binding negotiations over the fate of their characters. Sometimes the elements introduced in a conflict won't be directly related to what's happening in the scene, and this is what the character sheet is designed to handle.

From the rulebook, page 75-76:

Almost anything can be negotiated in a conflict, not just events which have to do with the struggle at hand. Other events, seemingly unconnected, can be introduced, although if the effects are lasting or removed in time it is good to tie them to a change in the Cosmos or in the Themes. Further, the Heart and the Mistaken can ask for Aspects to be added, removed, or changed; Themes to be exhausted; and the Cosmos to be shifted.

Basically, the character sheet serves as an immediate way to reflect the long-term changes mandated by a Conflict. I've been playing an ongoing game of Polaris for a few months now (once or twice a month) and it's incredibly useful to have this record to keep the story on track.

For example, two players in my game were negotiating a confrontation between the Protagonist and his Mistaken wife. The negotiation moved into the realm of prophecy. The outcome of the negotiation was something like "The Protagonist will be able to banish the wife now, but their half-Mistaken children are destined to return. All but one will die, and the one that does not die will survive by eating the protagonist's father." This basically amounts to a prophecy, something that will need to be played out in future scenes.

It would be very difficult to remember the specifics of this negotiation without noting them in the Cosmos, and so The Heart player reflected the outcome on his character sheet by noting it next to his half-mistaken children in his Cosmos, moving his wife to Mistaken, and adding an aspect under his Fate theme referencing the prophecy. Because of this, the consequences of the negotiation were not immediately mitigated or forgotten after the Conflict ended, and we were easily able to pick up the thread when we reconvened next month.

Since very early in the game, my Protagonist has also had a Fate aspect called "A Doom Only I Can Avert," and subsequent negotiations have altered it, bit by bit, until it has become "A Doom Only My Death Can Avert" and been joined by another aspect referencing the innocents I'll bring down with me, (who have also been added to my Cosmos).

As you can see, the complicated web that naturally grows throughout a game of Polaris would be impossible to keep straight without this particular kind of character sheet.

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