Gamers have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to choosing a post apocalyptic tabletop setting, it just depends on how shiny or how dark one wants to get. However, one markedly absent setting revolves around mankind’s journey across and beneath the seas to eke out what meager existence is left. And that is exactly where Polaris takes us.
One of the most popular home-grown RPG’s in Europe, Polaris has been through three editions since 1997. Stewarded by game designer Philippe Tessier and his company Black Book Editions, the game has seen its rules and product line expanded, and thanks to a very successful Kickstarter campaign, is finally coming to our shores in an English language version.
As you might have gathered from above, the world of Polaris is a dark, cold place. Mankind has rendered the surface of the earth uninhabitable, and even with the help of some mysterious benefactors known as The Geneticians, they flee beneath the waves of Earth’s swollen oceans to survive in any way possible. Mankind’s base nature gets the best of them, and before long, new grudges emerge and the water becomes spotted with the blood of the innocent and guilty. Decades of squabbling ensue over increasingly diminishing resources, and it seems the end is nigh until a phenomenon known as The Polaris Effect instills myriad individuals with powers that science cannot adequately explain. The default game setting takes place after all of this has transpired.
Players can take the role of the usual post-apocalyptic types: mercenaries, soldiers, doctors, pirates (because hey, you’re under the sea), as well as devotees of The Cult of Trident, whose members tend to be proficient in the manipulation of The Polaris Effect. There are a number of enclaves settled about the globe, and groups can either align themselves with one of the several geographically locked factions or travel The Seven Seas in search of adventure. But man isn’t the only thing that lurks beneath the surface, and mysterious monsters and allies await the adventurous and foolhardy.
The game uses a modified version of the familiar d20 resolution mechanic: roll a d20, add a number, and hope that you hit a target number. However, unlike other d20 based games, you want to roll low to succeed here. Good modifiers raise a difficulty number so rolling under it is easy, and bad mods lower it to make rolling less than your target almost impossible. There are also the usual critical successes and failures, and Polaris offers a fun chart to see just how badly/well you failed/succeeded.
Combat follows the same basic model, and the amount of damage a player or target can take is annotated on a character sheet by a number of boxes. The more boxes are checked, the worse it gets for you, affecting dice rolls and crippling limbs. It should be noted that weapons do quite a bit of damage, too. The Polaris Effect is also available to certain classes, and works much like magic/superpowers/The Force works in other games. Players can heal, harm, and rend reality with the mysterious power of The Flux.
Also: thanks to the aforementioned Kickstarter, there will be a version coming out for Savage Worlds as well, for those who prefer the popular universal rule set!
There is zero question that Polaris is gorgeous. The layout and art are a testament to the care and craftsmanship the good people at Black Box Editions bring to the table. One chief complaint, especially among those gamers who build their libraries via PDF, is that the core rules are split up in to two very large rulebooks. Another is the somewhat steep price of entry for the core set. While these concerns are not without merit, they are hardly unique to Polaris. In fact, the designers have made it clear that they are aware of the issues of their consumers, and assure them that no malice is intended, and having two large books is easier for most physical purchasers to handle and store than one truly gargantuan one.
There are already plans to translate some of the supplemental material in to English, and you can even pick up a robust quickstart/adventure on Drive Thru RPG. Physical copies will be made available shortly to backers and can be ordered on Paizo.com.
This game has a ton of worthy buzz surrounding it, and is definitely a must-have for fans SeaQuest, Mad Max, and Metal Hurlant (that’s Heavy Metal to you and me). The combination of a slick package, solid and time-tested system, and unique setting make it a refreshing entry in the American RPG market.
What are your thoughts on Polaris? Notice we didn’t once mention Waterworld? Did we miss another underwater apocalypse setting? Let us know in the comments!
Photo Credit: Black Book Editions