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[Sorc] Feudal Japan gets off the ground

Started by Darcy Burgess, October 03, 2005, 08:59:45 PM

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Darcy Burgess

The Preamble
Thanks in part to Ron's really helpful feedback in my blog thread, and in a very great part to an understanding group of players, our group's first try at Sorc hit the table last wednesday evening.  I'd like to say that it was a rocking evening, but that would be a lie.  I'm still distilling my feelings about the whole thing, but I know this: it was good.  Really good -- everything about the session was satisfying.  There weren't any emotional "highs", but I think that may be part and parcel when there are 4 players (incl. me) who are still feeling their way around this narrativism thing.  We've been bitten in the past by a couple of botched attempts (mostly due to inadequate or inappropriate prep), so everyone was a little bit tentative.

That's not entirely true.  One of us wasn't in the least little bit tentative.  We recently added a new member to our group, and Ty jumped in with both feet and never looked back.  I guess it might be seen as evidence to the "once bitten" theory.

The Setup
So, let's rewind a bit, and revisit those moments of understanding on the part of my players.  As alluded to in the blog thread, chargen was rewarding, but rocky.  We set aside about 3 hours of face-to-face time to do it, and got about 50% of the way there.  We'd previously chatted a bit about the setting, the humanity definition, and the nature of sorcery.  Ty showed up with his character basically finished (in his mind!), and the spectrum went from there to "I have no Idea".

That's fine, says I.  I've handled stuff like this before.  Not so.  It was harder than other games -- because I knew (believed?) that if the characters bit, the game was super-fucked.  We dodged a bullet on a "serial killer" concept (that ended up not being a serial killer, but a misunderstanding!), and hammered and peened the characters into fighting shape over the course of a few weeks of email correspondence, and some phone calls.

At the end of chargen, I was facing 3 characters who, on the surface, didn't have a lot of connections to each other.  So, I started pulling them together through their Rmpas, and mine.  Throughout that stage, I kept in mind some of the cool NPCs I wanted to use, but was always trying to bend with the wind, and was willing to chuck 'em if need be.

The Result -- The opening session
My big goal in the opening session was twofold:

  • get the players to realize that yes, they really do control this game too
  • set events in motion that would "point" the characters in each others' direction, and make the setup meaty enough that the players would want to bite

Based primarily on the fact that one character's kicker was a little vague (or at least included a vague reference to a key event within the kicker), I decided that if I was going to "nudge" the players, I should probably do it with the stuff they had come up with.  I decided to make session 1 a 3-scene event, one focusing on each of the characters and the events directly revolving around their respective kickers.  I made sure to point this out to the players -- that these scenes were theirs -- they had written the concepts.  I had merely fleshed out the NPCs involved, and charged them a bit, and (also made plain) weighted them a bit to set the characters on roads that could lead to a group scene some time down the road.  I also made plain the fact that all 3 scenes had a specific (in-game) chronological order, but that as my own bit of metagame "revelation", I wasn't going to make clear what the order was -- all the players knew is that we were playing them in sequence (but reverse or forward, they didn't know).

Next, I gave the choice to the guys who's scene (Kenji or Kyuzu) we'd start with.  Ty volunteered, so we waded in to Kyuzu's kicker.

1.i  A dishonourable choice
We all knew that this scene was going to involve Kyuzu being driven between a rock and a hard place.  The character had slain his former daimyo (through a battlefield "accident") and had survived with his (external) honour intact through force of character and quick wits.  His new daimyo made use of his martial talents.  But here's the rub: the Daimyo's son was about to ask Kyuzu to kill his father.

We played the scene out in a more-or less traditional mode: I framed the scenes, Ty described Kyuzu's actions.  NPCs entered and exited.  As a group, we were "easing" into things.  For the most part, I was using a Director stance, and Ty was adopting an Actor stance.  However, Ty slid into Author here and there -- mostly to do with letting everyone at the table in on the internal justifications for Kyuzu's action (or, as it appeared, inaction).  Through the whole scene, not a die was touched.  There were a few moments where things could have been rolled for, but I chose to handle them (internally -- I don't think that the players were aware of my choice) through drama resolution.  The scene was really good.  At the end of the evening, Ty pointed out that he really enjoyed it -- he said that although nothing "seemed" to have happened, he felt like Kyuzu had been really well established, and loved the fact that he was getting to play out this impossible choice.

The scene closed with a NPC samurai bursting in with an obvious "hook" -- a potential spy was in the fief, and it was the Shogun's greatest general.  (BTW, the fief we're playing in is ruled by a canny Daimyo, who never commits to a political cause or battle until he is sure of the victor).

1.ii  Fleshing out the Vague Kicker
The one thing I wasn't super-enthused about coming out of Kyuzu's scene was that the other two players were strictly spectators.  Based on the way I needed to play the scene, there wasn't a lot of choice in the matter, but I wanted to switch things up for the next scene.  Nobutaka's (a poor peasant farmer) kicker was good, but included a really vague element: his older brother had died at the hands of a samurai during "some sort of prank", involving his brother, himself, and a friend.

I really felt that we needed to find out exactly how Hoshi (the brother) had died, as Nobutaka's kicker was: avenge his brother's death.

I believe my opening words for the scene were: "We're going to do this differently.  I'd like to involve everyone, and have Brendan (Nobutaka's player) take on the role of vetting our ideas.  By the end of this scene, we'll know exactly how Hoshi died, and anything goes.  Within these limits: Hoshi must die.  At the hands of a samurai.  As a result of some sort of prank he was pulling, or having pulled on him.  Someone involved (preferably Nobutaka) has to make a tough choice.  After Hoshi dies, Nobutaka must re-bind Hoshi's demon doll, Biwa.  So, how do we do this?"  I'd like to point out that the limits weren't mine -- they were right there in Nobutaka's kicker, although I refined them a bit.

At which point, everyone dived in.  It was good.  We massaged and prodded.  We even tweaked the limits -- in the end, it was no longer a prank per se that led to Hoshi's death, but rather a "pushing game" that put Nobutaka in the path of a samurai as he rode down a country lane.  The sammy is about to swat Nobu aside with his sheathed sword when Hoshi impetuously tries to stop him, and fails.  For which he lost his head.

It was wonderful.  We then crafted a great sequence where Nobutaka comes 'round and sees Biwa "staring" back at him -- and we made it explicit to each other that it is in this intense non-verbal moment that the demon becomes bound to Nobu.

Brendan added in a great bit where the remaining NPCs (the friend and younger sister) misinterpret Nobu's "hugging" of Hoshi's corpse as grief, when in reality, Nobu (fueled by rage) is merely taking what is now rightfully his away from his brother's corpse.

The whole thing played out in Director stance, and not a word of dialogue was uttered.  Everything was 3rd person description of "this is what happens", with tons of interjections and suggestions.  At the end of scene, the players basically asked who the samurai was, and whether he was the same one who ended the first scene.  "Ayup!" said I.  And the players all went "yes!" as they put 2 and 2 together -- Nobutaka's brother died because of a message the samurai had to carry to his lord.

1.iii  Finally, some mechanics
Glenn and I had decided during prep that Kenji would be "released" from service as a lead-up to his kicker, which revolves around making the hard choice of what to do with this demon he's summoned -- it embodies everything he hates about himself, as his character is essentially "Junkie for Sorcery who's fallen off the wagon".

There wasn't a whole lot of "heavy" dramatic stuff to do in this scene.  My little goal here was to definitely incorporate the mechanics and the currency of the game, and to tie Kenji into the big picture.  We moved quickly from his "dismissal" scenelet with the Shogun to a scene on the road (travelling with his Demon).  They've made camp.  A girl comes running out of the woods, screaming that she's being attacked by bandits.

Classic ol' fight scene ensues -- and to keep everyone busy, I hand the control of the bandits over to Ty and Brendan.  Unsurprisingly, Kenji made really short work of them.  But the main point was achieved -- connect Kenji with the girl, and get the players to roll some dice.  I also shoehorned in the currency by pointin out to Kenji that he could carry over the victories on "slaying Bandit #2" as bonus dice for "convincing Bandits 3-6 that it's not worth coming out of the woods".

Here's my favourite part of the scene: as it concludes, Glenn points out that we forgot to use his Price (-1 to stuff that he could tackle with sorcery, but chooses not to).  It was a legitimate oversight, but I took it as a really good sign that the player(s) were paying attention to this stuff.

The scene ends with the players a little unsure over whether the girl is a demon or a sorcerer.  But she's going to "the city" (aka where the other characters are), and she's looking for her sister, Aiko.

At this point, both Brendan and Ty perk up -- Nobu has a younger sister, Aiko, and Ty's demon is (supposedly) the embodiement of his sister's spirit, and she's called...Aiko.

The Wrap-Up
That's where we left things.  More or less.  I let the guys in on what I thought some of the unanswered stuff was -- Aiko was a demon, and her existence was a direct result of Ty's use of sorcery for "stuff it ain't meant for" (like resurrection).  The other thing we talked about was what we all wanted to see as the next scene, and we all decided that it had to be Kenji's arrival in "the city".

Again, there were no "holy shit" moments, but I think that everyone left with a really good feeling.  I know I did.
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.


Thanks for the report; I especially appreciate the honest evaluation "but I know this: it was good."

It sounds like a very interesting setting and setup.  Did everyone have a handle on the dice by the end of the first conflict, or do you think you're still working through it?

Hey, I'm Scott Martin. I sometimes scribble over on my blog, llamafodder. Some good threads are here: RPG styles.

Darcy Burgess

Scott --

I'm glad that you found something useful in that big ol' mess of text.\

Regarding the dice question, I believe that everyone had a good handle on things by the end.  Combat is (in my estimation) the most fiddly part of Sorc. resolution, so things should be smooth sailing from here on in.

Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Ron Edwards


Said it before, I'll say it again. The first session of a Sorcerer game is always deeper than it looks, especially to the GM.

Remember, the players really do not believe that they are playing protagonists in this sense. They've never done it, and all rhetoric they've heard or read about "story" in role-playing argues against it. It's going to take at least a session, and most especially a repeated session, for them to believe it. The big task right now is for you to avoid the desire to "wrap it up" and "make X happen" in the second session.

My advice for the second session is to play the demons. Play them hard, have them say stuff, do stuff, and cause stuff. You'll see plenty of "holy shit" soon enough.

One last comment: stop worrying about the players' approval of the game and of your decision to play it. Such a concern seems evident to me in lots of your comments, throughout your posts. See, all of you are in it, now. There's no way out. Get into it and seize them, rather than remain in the asking-permission stage. Be demonic. Don't hold back. Push your play of the NPCs farther than you'd ever go in another game.