in Philosophy of Tracking

The Pedagogy of Play: Bite-Sized Pieces, Part II

[this continues a series on learning the game Polaris – please refer to Part I for context]



Skills: Turning off the self-censor, listening to other players, seeing the shared dream, building on other players’ contributions. Many of the activities below come from a handy aid called the ‘Juicers’ deck, made by Creative Advantage. Each activity has its purpose in parentheses after the name, and I usually run them in the order listed. This really marks a starting place for a group of absolute, rank beginners; one can up the level of trust, intuition, and creativity manifold by later choosing more difficult games.

  1. Name Story  (gets people talking, hearing the sound of their own voice)
  2. Firing Line (learning not to censor)
  3. One Word at a Time (upping the challenge of not self-censoring,  building)
  4. Yes, and…! (higher challenge not to self-censor, building)
  5. Character Circle (seeing together, building)
  6. Color, Advance (not censor, more building and interaction, slightly modified from original version by using characters from ‘character circle’, and accenting the ‘scene framing’ skill)
  7. Counting (listening)



Skills: Brainstorming, Consensus decision making. I have shortened this section, which I’d make much longer for other games (like Primetime Adventures), because Polaris has a ready-made setting that inspired you to play the game in the first place. Watch this space in other incarnations for really cool stuff on brainstorming, and skills that will bolster the kind of setting/situation/character creation one sees in games like Shock: Social Science Fiction.

  1. Distribute One-sheet of Names, Themes/Aspects, Demons, and Oracles. (Short and sweet for Quick Play version, shorter than in the various Polaris appendices. Less choices, the better. For a chattier set up, dedicate the whole first game to character and situation creation – the rest of LEVEL TWO will assume Quick Play goals).
  2. Make Three character concepts, Pick One (Timed – 2 minutes to make three concepts, 10 seconds to pick one – facilitator picks one for those who haven’t chosen).
  3. See Me (modified version of ‘Character Circle’ – player announces their character concept/name/themes/description in 30 seconds, starting with the first Polaris ritual phrase “But hope was not yet lost, for … still heard the song of the stars”, and the group says what they see, collaboratively making the character until they reach ‘I don’t see it’).

[continued in Part III]

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  1. Interesting, Willem. My instinctive reaction is that this approach–especially dictates like “list three character concepts in two minutes! Go!”–makes the game out to be Serious Business and Hard Work. But maybe that’s what you’re looking for. It’s definitely hard to achieve focus when you promote a casual atmosphere. The only downside for me is, makes me fee like, “Here’s a game I would love to play, but it’ll be damn hard to find a group to play it with.” Polaris already does provoke that feeling, in fact, but these procedures make it even more so.


  2. I definitely wanted to offer two options, one for Quick Play, and one for more laid back, chatty play. You don’t have to do the Quick Play; think of it as an accomodation for a GoPlayNW type environment, where you wanted to make your own characters not use pregens.

    As described above, yes, the procedures sound pretty godawful to your average indie player. Which explains why it has gotten almost zero reaction (now it has gotten One – thanks Joel!).

    I don’t offer the above as something for Players to look at, but rather as something for a Polaris facilitator to look at. The great mistake, IMHO, of some indie design centers around not clearly delineating a facilitator-GM role, however they apportion out the other traditional elements of the GM role, they don’t seem to mention this.

    So, in order to use this procedure, you need a Polaris champion, a player who will fulfill the role of facilitator, and just lead the players through the fun.

    Of course, what you want from play differs from what I want, but I still suspect that if you actually dove into this experience and gave it a solid road test, you’d enjoy the hell out of it.

    Maybe we should play Polaris sometime soon!

  3. This is really cool, but you don’t describe the seven activities in level one. I have no idea what those things are.

  4. Thanks Hans. I’ve pulled the games from an improv card-game deck called the Juicers deck, at

    Jason Godesky offers a run down at his site:

    * Firing Line. This game has one person on the firing line, and the rest of the group. The group takes turns throwing out random words; the player on the line has to respond with the first word she thinks of. This game breaks down your self-censorship.
    * One Word at a Time. The players tell a story, each player contributing one word at a time. This one helps get the group working together, and further breaks down self-censorship.
    * Yes, and! Each player throws out a declaration. Declarations must all begin with “Yes, and…”, forcing players to build on each other’s ideas without negation. This breaks down self-censorship even further, and trains players to build on each other’s ideas without negation.
    * See Me. After an initial description—perhaps as little as a name—players take turns adding descriptions, until someone says, “I don’t see it.” This game trains shared imagining.
    * Color/Advance. Each player takes a turn telling a story. The player on your left tells you when you can advance the plot by saying, “Advance.” The player on your right tells you when to fill in more color and description by saying, “Color.” This helps each player develop better descriptions, and better pacing.
    * Counting. The group must count to 20, but no one can say two consecutive numbers, and you can’t form any detectable pattern. This trains players to listen to each other—what they say, but also their body language and other non-verbal communication.