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Sorc. Blog: Feudal Japan

Started by Darcy Burgess, August 26, 2005, 12:37:34 PM

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Darcy Burgess

Don't have a catchy name for the Sorc game that's a-brewin' at the Gaming Ranch, but the subject line is pretty indicative...  I'd like to use this space to keep my thoughts organized, and encourage feedback/suggestions as I go.  the game's in development, and I'm interacting with the players via email.

Setting: feudal Japan.  More specifically, a period when the balance between Imperial power and Shogunate power is in flux.

Premise: Is Oppression justifiable in the face of Chaos?

GM Concepts:

  • two parallel universes, "ours" (in which play occurs) and a chaosphere
  • the chaosphere exists for the purpose of subjugating our sphere
  • demons are manifestations of the chaosphere
  • use the chaos inherent in a society in flux as a tool to illustrate the dichotomy between spheres
  • demonic powers look like a Japanese silk-screen painting of a Wuxia flick (yeah, that's right, let's mix cultures up!)
  • Humanity will likely bear some resemblance to "honour", or at very least "belonging to society"

Player Ideas

  • Ancestral spirits as demons.  (GM response: use these benevolent spirits as binding aids.  Much like drugs are in summoning.  The spirit is ripped from their Karmic reward and becomes part and parcel of the demon's manifestation.)

No characters generated as of yet, but I've thrown all sorts of questions regarding the nature of Sorcery, Humanity, and how the culture incorporates/deals with (or is aware of?) Sorcery at the players.
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Ron Edwards

Wow - I like almost everything.

My only advice is to minimize the in-game justification and explanation of the demons. Long play has taught me that a good "look and feel" for the demons is all you need.


Eero Tuovinen

I ran a short Sorcerer game set in feudal Japan last spring. Humanity was interestingly defined as concern for fellow man over ideology, while demons were all wedded to some philosophical or religious dogma. This was chosen as a compromise to get both samurai and religious questions covered under the same roof. In hindsight, it'd have probably been better as a dual definition.

Just saying.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Darcy Burgess

Ron --

Your comment re: in-game justification.  Were you referencing the general idea ("manifestations of chaos") or the bit about ancestral spirits.  And out of interest, what's the experiential background for keeping this stuff to a minimum?  (I'm assuming that it has to do with stifling creativity).

Eero --

Since you've mucked about in the setting, did you run into any pitfalls that I should keep in mind?

Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Eero Tuovinen

No pitfalls, really. It wasn't altogether too deep, though. Mainly inspired by Lone Wolf and Cub, too much Samurai Champloo and some Turtles, of all things.

I don't know if you're looking for that kind of adventure thing, but if you are, here's my advice: make sure that the rules address and have connections with each of the following concepts:
- Ronin, wandering free of rules or morality
- Samurai, bound by his duty
- Ninja, committed to the defence of his immediate clan
- Monk, laying aside societal bounds for selfish enlightenment
- Gaijin, ignorant of societal mores, but wielding great power
- Power, when found readily available, means inhumanity and ogreness
The cool action comes from the interplay of these cultural concepts. It's grab-bag feudal Japan, in other words.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Ron Edwards

Hi Darcy,

I think there's some potential for getting confused, so I'll lay it out very, very carefully.

1. Ancestral spirits and "manifestations of chaos" are fine.

2. Stating what demons want and what they are up to, as if they were schemers from an alien planet or other dimension, is a bad idea. They are demons. Don't treat them like beings who just happen to be a little different.

3. None of this has anything to do with stifling creativity. It is all about avoiding the pitfall of "genre safety," in which the demons are an understood quantity of a known universe. Remember: demons do not exist. Say it again: "in our game-world, the fictional one in which we are making a Sorcerer story, demons do not exist."

I'm serious. They don't. Sorcerer is not about playing a game in a world in which demons exist. They don't exist there.

Now you get the idea, I hope. "But my character has one" should prompt exactly the response you'd expect.


Darcy Burgess

Hi Ron.

Or, should I say, you have blown my fragile little mind -- stop that!

I'm wrestling with what you wrote so hard, it hurts.

The only thing that's leaking out of my left ear is that you meant to say,

"Make sure the PCs are still fucking reality where it hurts, not cashing in on interdimensional shipping & receiving."
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.


Hello Darcy,

The non-existence of demons is one of those things I occasionally shake my fist at Ron for not including explicitly in anywhere in the books.  It's a vital and key concept to the game.  I once came up with a mathematics analogy to explain it.  Yeah, the concept is so mind-blowing a MATH example is easier to understand.

Here's the analogy in full:

I hope you find it useful.


Darcy Burgess

Well, I've sort of recovered from Ron's Postmodern Glock to the back of the head -- I'm still processing what it means to me, so in the meantime I've got to move onwards.

In keeping with my desire to incorporate a Wuxia aesthetic, I think that I'll borrow a page from House of Flying Daggers, rip it out, spit on it, and trample it in the dust.

Ikebana (flower arranging)
A movement to overthrow the Shogunate, but to simultaneously suppress the return of Imperial power.  The devotees of the movement are essentially terrorists, with widely varying personal motivations.  They're lead by a charismatic leader who binds small object demons for them to use.

maybe too trite, but it could be fun.
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Ron Edwards

Post-modern, my ass. That's hard core mythological and dramatic baseline thinking. Nothing to do with PM.

I like the flower-arranging. GM prep for Sorcerer should be simple. Make sure to set up a little relationship map that penetrates, but does not wholly encompass this group, and you're all set.



Quote from: Darcy Burgess on August 27, 2005, 09:41:38 AM
Well, I've sort of recovered from Ron's Postmodern Glock to the back of the head -- I'm still processing what it means to me, so in the meantime I've got to move onwards

Ron's right.  It's not a post-modern concept; rather, it's a cornerstone of good horror.  Jesse's analogy is good; here's another take on it.

Think about your average ghost story.  Normally, the setting is "the real world".  Not "the real world plus ghosts".  That would be Wraith or Orpheus or Ghostbusters.  Just the normal world, where people get up in the morning and go to work, just like every day.  There are no such things as ghosts...except that you have just seen a ghost.  There is a sense of wrongness that pervades this appearance.  Ghosts don't exist.  Everyone knows that.  But you are looking at one.  Its entire existence is a violation of reality, which makes it horrifying.

Now, take this to the next level.  Ghosts don't exist, but you went looking for one...and were successful.  Ghosts don't exist, but your need for something has forced you to bind one to your needs.  If ghosts were a normal part of the world (even an evil part), then this would "merely" be technology manipulating the "natural" world.  But ghosts aren't a natural part of the world.  This is what makes them transgressive, and that's what makes ghost stories horror stories (i.e. stories about violation).

As an aside, this is exactly what Lovecraft was shooting for (with varying levels of success).  His default setting was "the real world", not "the real world plus the Mythos", and his cultists understood full well that they were transgressing reality to achieve their aims.

Just another way of thinking about this.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown

Darcy Burgess

Hi Ron, Seth --

It's all about perceptions!  I'm the one who got the 9mil 'o truth shoved in the back of his head...If I say it's po-mo, it is goddammit!  :)  I've wrapped my head around it now (and in fact, I had already done so when I posted that pithy bit about doing reality where the sun don't shine -- I just didn't know it yet).

And oddly enough, that's where I'd been all along -- demons can't be "safe", they can't be "hey look, there's demon bob -- let's ask him out to the movies".

However, I can see where Ron was leading -- familiarity breeds contempt.  Or in this case, comfort.  Try and justify their existence too much, and you open up the possibility of stripping them of their utter alien-ness, the stuff that makes them wrong.  Stop asking why.  Just GO.

On other topics, I've had some more ideas (and some questions)

QuoteMake sure to set up a little relationship map that penetrates, but does not wholly encompass this group, and you're all set

Ron -- I'm assuming that you mean a little RM for Ikebana, as a subset of the big RM for the PCs?  That way, on the big map, I just have a box marked "Ikebana", and then if I need to see whats going on internally with that group, I can cascade down to the Ikebana map.  Or am I getting way too complex?

The Nature of Sorcery
One of my players pointed out that martial arts were typically established through a Master/Apprentice relationship, and that it would really make sense to do this with Sorcery as well.  I'm not sure how I feel about this.  I like the idea of that relationship, but I worry that it makes it a little too safe.  The danger would have to come from somewhere.  Obviously the process (sorcery) isn't safe, but I don't want Sorcery to be "martial arts, but with magic".

Demons as masters?

No.  Masters, but ridden by really powerful possessor demons.

Some Guy's Name
Former monk, Lore=1, dug up "secrets no man was meant to know", and realizes what all this weirdness is about.  Knows enough to be a pain in the ass demon-killer, but mostly tries to convince those in power about what's really going on.  Sort of a kung-fu-fightin' private dick with a conscience.
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Darcy Burgess

Humanity -- What the Fuck!
One of the original things that made me want to do this setting was the concept of Humanity as Honour.  But Honour doesn't riff a whole lot with the premise that I've since developed.  And I'm much more interested in the premise.  Taking a page from Jake's plan over in his Soldiers Thread, I'll probably work out something that has Humanity clashing with the Nature of Sorcery.

Decency?  Compassion?  Simplicity?

That has the potential to really set up the cost of power, which does relate to the premise.  What concerns me there, is that with that sort of loaded Humanity definition, isn't the Premise question answered?  At least in part?

Question of the Day #1
This one's taregeted at all you Sorcerer GMs out there.  Would you play your first game immediately after chargen, or wait two weeks?  The reason I'm asking is this: our group is coming from a Sim-based background (but approaching Sorc with eyes open in terms of the Narr goals we have), and I know I'm going to have a hard time not "pre-planning" the adventure.  I was thinking that if we got right into it, I wouldn't have the chance to slip into old habits.  On the other hand, there's the potential for insufficient prep.

I'm thinking that the quality of the players' kickers will help make the decision...

Question of the Day #2
How many NPCs do you stat up for your Sorc games?  Obviously, the demons.  But what about villains?  Just the "big bad"?  Some minors?  What works well?

Paging Ron Edwards...
<best Jabba voice>Ron, me boogie</best Jabba voice>.  What about those Rmap questions, hunh?  It's in the last post, eh?
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Darcy Burgess

Running on ... nearly empty
Languishing in "8 days 'til chargen" hell sucks.  The big one.  Must fight urge to tie down everything about the game!

Real Ultimate Power (sad injoke.  search thru the Driftwood pages to get in on the deal)
Gotta have ninjas.  Maybe some link between a ninja clan and Ikebana.  Clan as parent, Ikebana as fractious entity?  Ninjas as good guys?  Then they can get mowed down for pathos.  1 dead ninja = 1 gold pathos.  cool.
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Ron Edwards

Darcy, dunk your head in the horse trough.

1. Fuck ninjas. Ninjas are stupid, and they take over every aspect of any game they're in. Yes, I realize the native-language plural of "ninja" is "ninja." I do not care.

I'm totally serious; you'll put a big poker up the ass of your game if you include ninjas. They are absent from The Mountain Witch for a very very good reason.

2. You've committed a hideous error by thinking "organization first, relationship map second (i.e. within organizations)." Stop that right now. Think of the relationship map as the biggest thing, arching over and branching into all other aspects of society. Some of its members may be in some societal organizations; just color them appropriately with a pen or something like that. (I tend to make dotted-line boxes around them, but it is messy.)

And stop "nailing down" anything except the look and feel. Check out my necromancy game for examples of a one-sheet and handouts (do a search in this forum for the threads, using "necromancy" and me as author).