Learnin’ Polaris – Part 1: Setting the Scene

Started reading Through The Breach and naturally looked towards the industry to see what else has happened in RPGs in the last few years. Found this game called Polaris that sounds promising, crunchy rules and underwater setting. While browsing Drivethrurpg.com I noticed both Polaris Core book 1 and 2 pdf for five bucks each. I own them now and I’m looking forward to dissect the book and giving it a proper Voracious Gamer break down. I think I’m going to try actually running this game a bit but we’ll see how the things and stuff go during reviews. The company behind this game is Black Book Editions and I believe a successful kickstart really got the ball rolling for them. I’m going to take this book from cover to cover rather than skip around from section to section like the Through the Breach review. Rumor has it that this system is particularity difficult to wrap your head around, I’m rather excited to give it a read. Let’s get down to it. The first core book is 288 pages and has three chapters, one on the world, one for character creation and one for game mechanics. We haven’t gotten too fluffy here on the Voracious Gamer since I tend to focus on rules but when I’m toying with the idea of running an RPG I do read the setting as it’s inspiration for game ideas in the system. This will be a long series so sit tight and enjoy.
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Starting off with a preface after the table of contents we learn that Polaris is an RPG originally created in 1996, interesting. The underwater element was supposed to be ancillary to a land game with power armored characters. The sub-marine universe idea was too appealing and the project took off.  Black book editions is a French publisher, sounds like the original game did survive to a 2nd edition but had a small following due to the complexity of the system (music to my voracious gamer ears). The complexity was a direct result of the setting and related to being underwater like pressure and communications and more. They had some scientist cats look through the fluff to try and make things more plausible and to make the game more realistic. They redid the rules and updated the tech to be speculative based on today’s ideas of scifi. There are plans for supplements and novels in the game’s universe. Sounds exciting, a little send off from the creator and still major contributor of the world and system Philippe Tessier.
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Next we’ve got a little blurb of intro fiction which I won’t summarize but will read real quick. It’s written to a relatively high degree for RPGs. As an avid reader and amateur writer I’m a harsh critic of fiction. You could tell the story was designed to show the possibilities of the system and the universe, it introduced several factions and shows an idea of a characters situation as well as some mystery with some organization represented by an eye. The protagonist is falling downward through the sea after being shot down and things do get a bit technical with using pressure to slow or try to stop his descent and some other diving\underwater patois. I can dig it so far, Chapter 1.1 History opens with a quote from Vulrick the Mad “Humankind was born in the seas and is now coming back here to die.” Ominous indeed.
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In a nutshell everyone lives in the ocean because some bad shit made the surface uninhabitable. Humans are having a hard time underwater as they are still fighting among each other and dealing with monstrous creatures, mysteries of the deep and breathing. Sounds like there are pirates and mercenaries that work for themselves as well as city states and empires with varying types of ideological regimes to support or dethrone. The biggest mystery in this universe is the Polaris Flux (aka Flux or Polaris Effect).
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Story time folks let’s understand this universe further. Current society really has no clue what happened on the surface or how life was for folks on earth before the catastrophe. They also don’t know about the catastrophe or what caused it only that it was fucking bad, ruined the atmosphere and such, killed so may things. The surface is still plagued by creepy creatures and unreal weather patterns. What people do know are the Geneticians an ancient race appeared towards the end of the cataclysm with tech and knowledge showing humans how to live under seas and building grand temples as well as spreading alien tech through society. The Geneticians ruled for some time and sent missions to the moon and to mars? (no idea where they came from or what they are, alien I guess) The Geneticians are remembered as the empire of evil now, nobody really remembers their tech and their actual story because it’s so long ago (I think). There was a crazy war between the Evil Empire (Geneticians) and the Azure Alliance and the Azure Alliance came out on top. Folks say the Azure Alliance used or were aided by the mysterious Polaris Flux, but nobody knows how or why.
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The Azure Alliance took near a century to rebuild as they had to re-engineer the tech the geneticians used. They eventually visited the moon to find there were no survivors from the first expedition. The population doubled and prospered. Eventually though the good times ended and the people were attacked by some creatures called burrowers that really wrecked things for the whole planets population. Coupled with that humanity was becoming increasing infertile, a program was made for genetic selection to make geniuses. It ended up accelerating infertility among the people, systems slowly strained and collapsed under lack of children and ultimately hope when the Azure Alliance fell apart. Anarchy reigned a bit and pirates, mercenaries and bad guys had their way with the world and war.
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Things went south again and nearly half the population died by the year 351 (considering 0 as the year the catastrophe happened). Ten years later a group called the Hatteras found a stockpile of ancient Genetician gear and tech. They fiercely defended it while conquering its tech eventually they did just that and used some techno-hybrid troops on hyperalloy vessels. They took over and were known as the hegemony. The hegemony did this fertilization process where fertile folks were taken to a special place and babies were genetically altered to make them smarter. Not everyone was happy about this new hegemony spreading its ways especially established cities and such that were originally under no rule. In 375 Admiral Devrac of the coral republic proposed this great meeting of all world leaders in a city called Equinox. Equinox the city’s main influence was the cult of the trident who have some kind of connection with ocean creatures. They backed this Admirals request and challenged any who didn’t come to the meeting. I guess peace was the goal. The Hegemony and the Red League were not having it and actually teamed up to go destroy Equinox. When they go there the city was practically encased in marine animals.
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It’s at this point that humanity discovered or experienced rather the polaris effect. It destroyed the armada and all the great empires cooperated seeing the destruction. At the meeting dubbed the ‘Admiral’s Counsel’ many laws were put in place that are still in effect today. The laws mostly govern underwater warfare and are aimed at keeping humanity alive. A genetic high council was created with highest authorities from each state. All genetic advances were handed over to their location at the now neutral city of Equinox. The Hegemony will share hyperalloy tech now. No combat is allowed to threaten ‘hydroculture’. All states must encourage independent societies. All states contribute to space stuff, the launch site too. Space stations are declared neutral areas. Underwater pollution is banned. Marine life is protected. The cult of the trident has people in every city and base. Anyone who has power of the polaris flux should be delivered to the trident. each state donates a fertile man and woman every month to the cult of the trident. They are not prisoners but volunteers. As a trade the cult provides some fluid (which is some kind of tech but I don’t know what) and geno-hybrids. The cult has mastered these two lost sciences. The Fellowship of the watchers was created to enforce all these laws, the cult chooses who works for the Fellowship and the organization is paid for by every state.
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Due to this historical moment Equinox became the largest underwater city, wars became less frequent for a few decades as the cult of the trident worked to keep things peaceful. Since states were encouraged not to fight the started to branch out into the ocean to conquer and build more. This led to small colonies that inevitability declared their independence (as small colonies tend to do), this kind of internal tension kept the state busy and semi-peaceful enough to get th moon base back online by 498.
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The main players on the planet now are the hegemony whose military is the red league now, the coral republic and it’s sentient coral fields (lol what?!) and the polar alliance (rose to power quickly off a gentetician discovery).  There’s some kind of viral infection causing the sterility among the people but humans haven’t figured it out hide and exploit the fertile populations. Pirates are always attacking looking for gear, tech and fertile folk. The burrowers are still attacking and are the main reason humanity stays off the surface. The black sun fellowship is a fringe group folks from the cult of the trident that have a totalitarian view using the polaris flux to back it.  The fellowship of the deep are nihilists bent on destroying whats left of civilization. The Leviathan community is a threat too, people using giant sea monsters to do things and stuff (cool!).
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In the last few years the hegemony has really grown and seen exploring all over the world. They held the city Fuego Liberdad hostage for some time while they stole their tech and genetician depot stuff. This challenged the authority of the SMSO or Sub Marine States Organization. The Hegemonians main ship outside of fuego liberdad was acalled the atlantis, it ahd an epic fight with the Argonaut piloted by Telkran Raljik. The Atlantis crashed but not before the Hegemony took over the depot. There is a conspiracy that the hegemonians found some new weapon tech there that’s why they took it over.  They built another Atlantis-class ship called Artemis and deployed troops all over. One of the hegomony ambassadors was murdered in Equinox setting off a tense spy war. There are some rumors about a thing called the Exeter Directive and also that the Hegemony is perparing to fight the red league and the coral republic. The Polar Alliance may or may not be supporting the Hegemony now. The red league triggered some operation minos thing that involved the polar alliance fighting a bunch of united pirates. On top of all that there have been odd sitings of Azure Alliance ships and a community called Phaleon in the northern Hegemony country has been completely destroyed and folks don’t know how. Some deep living race called the Ternasets are being spoken about. A new disease out fo the coral republic is aging people at an accelerated rate, like real quick until they die, so that’s bad. Life is a little hectic an the struggle is real if you can’t tell.
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In 569 two new nations joined the fray, Amazonia and Rodhia, this year (570) the Mediterranean Union has emerged as a major player with supposed tech superior to even the hegemonies. Rumors are spreading and people are starting to get anxious as the genetic degeneration is getting worse, some talk of peace with the burrowers and a mysterious project being worked on by the coral republic and this big company called Cortex. To top it all off there is a name out in the darkness of the ocean being spoken by ancient entities and powers unknown. That name is “Conscience!”. On the brighter side hings in space are apparently a little better, colonies have reached Mars, and the first missions to Jupiter’s major moon Europa have landed. Humanity is getting closer to finding a new home but 99% of them are stuck under the sea in political, social, existential, psychological, physical turmoil.
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Well.. I like it. I like everything about it so far. I’m reminded of the lore in Eclipse Phase and Mutant Year Zero. The whole underwater aspect is interesting, there are so many fantasy and space games it’s unique perhaps that and I want to fight and or ride\own a whale. I’m excited to dive deeper into the world this brief intro to the world has gotten me very intrigued to complete this book and move to the second. Check Polaris out folks and find me on twitter @vorgames. Looking ahead we’re going to be discussing fluff ad Polaris tech\lore\gear\life for some time. Before getting to character creation and ultimately the game mechanics themselves. In the next post of the series we’ll begin chapter 1.2 and look at the details of the different civilizations within the game.
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