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

For background and context, read the first three in this series:

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

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

The Pedogogy of Play: Bite-sized Pieces, Part III

I went to the Indie Hurrican at Gamestorm 11 this weekend, a game convention. I playtested my fluency strategy (“bite-sized pieces”) for Polaris, and had some great results. This has helped me improve it. Thanks to Zach, Jim, Mark, Jennifer, and Gilbert; I hope that your passion for Polaris inspires you to play it with people you care about! Read on for the changes and clarifications in my method. I’ve left out a lot of details and page number references, as you can find them in previous versions.

0. One-paragraph summary of the Polaris setting.
1. Give brief Road Map of how we will acquire fluency in Polaris: Warm-Ups, Character Creation, Scene Framing skills, and the Ritual Phrases.

1. name story
2. firing line
3. yes, and
4. color, advance
5. counting

1. Choose a name, one aspect, write on character sheet (using ben lehman’s polaris name/aspect handouts).

2. Character Circle/”I don’t see it”: semi-collaborative character creation. One person gets 30 seconds (or so) to describe their character; then, randomly (popcorn-style), everyone in the circle gets to add one piece of “what they see”, keeping a hold of the initial description, staying true as possible to it. The formula for adding a piece: “[character name] has [braids/big sword with runes/constant pain from leg wound, etc.]”, “I see [character name] [chasing jehovah’s witness/filing her nails compulsively/painting a masterpiece]”, “[character name] [dislikes/likes/loves/hates]”, etc. You get the idea. The group goes for about 3-5 minutes, then switches, unless someone pops the bubble by saying something that anyone else just can’t see fitting. The poppee must then say to the popper, “I don’t see it!”. They then move to the next player, who in 30 seconds also describes their character,etc. etc.. The goal: don’t pop the bubble, or put it off for as long as possible. Also, to get everyone repeating each other’s character’s names, so that we know them by heart.

CARD HANDLING: For each of the following categories, I slap down an index card with the ritual phrases on them. Between each card, as facilitator, I have picked out one paragraph or so of setting text for a player to read, rotating the reader of course. For each card, we go around the table giving everyone a chance to practice, resulting in 4 scenes per card (except for the session card and player intros, of course].

1. SESSION CARD: “Long Ago, The People Were Dying at the End of the World…”/”But All That Happened Long Ago, And There Are None Now Who Remember It.”

[SETTING: you might now read “moments frozen in time”, from the beginning of the book]

2. CHARACTER CARD: “But Hope Was Not Yet Lost, for [name] Still Heard the Song of the Stars…”

3. SCENE CARD: /”And So It Was…”/”…And So It Was.”

[SETTING: another paragraph or two, etc. etc. continue to do this between the rest of the cards]

4. NEGOTIATE CARD: “But Only If…”/”…It Was Not Meant To Be”/”…And That Was How It Happened.”

5. MOONS CARD: “…But It Was No Matter.”/”…We Shall See What Comes of It.” (moon vetos I)

6. ESCALATE CARD: “…You Ask Far Too Much!”/”And Furthermore…” (exhausting themes) (moon vetos II)

7. DICE CARD: “…It Shall Not Come to Pass!” (assign ice, light, zeal) (start to check experience)


However far we got in slowly adding and mastering each ritual phrase in order, when the session ends, we always discuss how it went, talk about high points, look for improvements we can make, etc. I know that most groups will need a “cool down”, just like they had a “warm up”, and I haven’t quite wrapped my head around where I want to go with that yet.

For next session, I recommend starting at the beginning (keep the same characters if you want, of course), and adding in phrases as people demonstrate fluency, building them back up to where you left off. Don’t simply go “ok, we all mastered all those phrases last time”, DOUBLE CHECK, methodically. You’ll have fun reliving the process, and you won’t regret the chance to go over it again, I wager. Don’t think “we already did that prep stuff last time”; think “this counts as part of the game; when you play polaris, you start with this part”. Enjoying the step-by-step nature will become part of the fun of playing Polaris. And when you teach it to new folks, you won’t have to change how you play; just play as you always play, starting at the beginning.

Written by Willem