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Kickers for Dummies Part 1

Started by Eric J-D, October 27, 2005, 07:16:58 PM

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Eric J-D

Hi folks.  I hope this is kosher Ron; if not I trust you'll tell me.  I wrote up the following thoughts on Kickers to distribute to new Sorcerer players and thought it might be of interest to others.  Here is part 1.

I.   Kickers in Character Creation

As the Sorcerer rules make clear, the creation of the Kicker is one of the most important aspects of character creation and is absolutely fundamental to game play.  So what is the Kicker?  The text of Sorcerer defines it as follows:

The Kicker is an event or realization that your character has experienced just before play begins.  It catalyzes him or her into action of some sort.

Several things should be said here.  First, since the event or realization described in the Kicker is normally roleplayed as the first (or close to the first) scene of play, it is not quite accurate to say that the Kicker is something the character has experienced "before play begins."  Rather, the Kicker is the thing (event or realization) that you as a player imagine will jumpstart your character into action as play begins.  Second, the Kicker in Sorcerer introduces an important shift in the traditional understanding of the player/GM dynamic.  Unlike many traditional approaches to roleplaying where the GM plans and prepares in advance what events the character will be engaged with (and hence what the player ought to care about) and then provides the player with a hook that ties the player's character into the action (as in the bog-standard Call of Cthulhu hook "you're sitting in your study when a servant brings you a letter informing you that your dear friend Caleb Matthers has recently been admitted to a local asylum..."), the Kicker is something the player is primarily responsible for and writes (although sometimes in collaboration with the GM).  Essentially the Kicker is the player's announcement to the GM that "I want play to be about this thing [event, revelation, etc.].  This is what is important to me, so don't try to convince me that we're all going to go off to search for the golden Dingus of Doom."  It should be understood at the outset that the GM is expected to go with the Kicker created by the player.  The GM's job then is not to attempt a bait and switch, but to contribute interesting meat to play in order to facilitate player authorship of the story potential first expressed by the Kicker.  I say "story potential" here (and I will explain this in greater detail later) because the Kicker is not itself a story.  Rather it is an event or revelation that opens up a number of possible stories.  A good Kicker ought to produce a fractal-like explosion that suggests a range of possible directions in which a story might go.  Bad Kickers lay down a single path the character must follow and ought to be revised.  After all, since the player is the primary (and in many cases sole) author of the Kicker why would you want to write a Kicker that hamstrings you almost as badly as the traditional roleplaying approach (i.e. GM determines what play will be about and lays down the hook the players' characters are to follow)?  Third, the Kicker is what sets your character in motion at the moment play begins, and it is the thing around which play revolves.  It is what your character's story will be about.  If you are familiar with Aristotle's Poetics you might recognize this idea.  For Aristotle character is revealed in action and through situation.  Your character's Kicker is the thing that will help you to tell an interesting story that reveals something important about the character's character.  It will do this through the character's action and engagement with his or her situation.

So now that we have discussed why Kickers are so important, we ought to discuss what goes into creating a good Kicker and how and when one creates it.  As has already been mentioned, a good Kicker suggests a number of possible story possibilities rather than laying down a single path for the player to follow.  In addition, a good Kicker requires that the player's character address it in some active way.  Passivity is not an acceptable response to a Kicker since it makes for dull play (or really no play).  A good Kicker is also one that the player has reason to care about, to care enough to move the character into action.

The creation of the Kicker is one of the most important components of play in Sorcerer.  But while creation of the Kicker is the primary responsibility of the player, it need not be a wholly private affair.  Many of the threads at The Forge suggest the rich story potential that often emerges from creation of the Kicker in a group context.  Think about it for a minute.  As the Sorcerer rulebook states, your fellow players ought to have an active interest in the outcome of your character's story so why not draw on their input in the creation of your character's Kicker.  Frequently our creative powers are heightened and concentrated when spurred on by the creativity of others.  Use this when creating your character's Kicker.  Given that Sorcerer encourages players to collaborate with the GM on creating the setting and mood play will take, players ought to remain open to the suggestions of their fellow players and the GM when creating the Kicker.

Exactly when one should create the Kicker is a matter of some dispute.  The official text of Sorcerer suggests that character creation need not proceed in any particular order, giving the impression that one might create a Kicker early in the process.  Many threads at The Forge, however, advise that creation of the Kicker be the last step in the process.  I think this makes the most sense.  Since the players will be playing sorcerers, it is important for the player to first come to grips with the fact that his or her character is an immensely powerful and exciting person before creating the Kicker.  Creating the Kicker before one recognizes this fact risks formulating a weak or inappropriate Kicker.  What must be kept in mind, however, is that while the character is a sorcerer (by definition someone who has summoned and bound a Demon) he or she is also a human being.  The Kicker, therefore, ought not simply be a bizarre event but one that also appeals to the character on a human level.  The characters in Sorcerer are cosmic outlaws who have done outrageous things, but they are fundamentally human beings not amoral sociopaths.  A good Kicker will keep this in mind.     

Ron Edwards


Do not forget to specify that the Kicker is written by the player, not by the GM. The GM never ever writes Kickers. Only the player. Not the GM. Ever.

By the rules, the Kicker may be written at any time during character creation. That is functional and not in any sort of dispute. The order I've advised to various people posting at the Forge was customized to their needs and concerns and is not at all general.

You should edit down your text considerably, removing all unnecessary or repetitive prose.


P.S. My first paragraph in this post happens to be repetitve, but it is definitely necessary.

Eric J-D

Hi Ron,

Thanks for the comments.  I knew the text needed to be edited down, so thanks for affirming that.  Regarding the issue of when Kickers should be created, I wasn't trying to suggest that approaches other than the one I suggested were not functional.  I merely wanted to suggest that players keep in mind that they will be playing sorcerers rather than "ordinary folks" and that construction of the Kicker ought to take that into consideration.  If you think it sounds too prescriptive though, I would want to change that.

On a similar note, the stuff about creating Kickers in the context of the group was again simply intended as advice to this effect: "Since you want the other players to care about your character's story, don't close yourself off to good suggestions that they might make about how to make your Kicker stronger."  Perhaps the stuff about considering GM input wasn't clear enough, but again I had in mind only that the GM might have good suggestions for strengthening a Kicker, not that he or she would propose a different Kicker.

That might blur the line too much though.  I completely agree and understand that the GM never writes the Kicker, and I'll be sure to make that clearer in the revision of this, but I do think that the GM (like other players) ought to be able to say, "Yes and why don't you think about making it even cooler by adding this..."  It should be understood, of course, that the player is ultimately the one who determines whether or not to accept such advice.

Is that kosher, or do you think it still muddies the waters too much?


Ron Edwards

Hi Eric,

The best way to make that point is to say "the other participants" or "the other people," without any reference to "GM" one way or the other.