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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 134 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [June Retreat 2007 Sorcerer I] Victorian London - Disconnects and game death  (Read 4591 times)
JMendes
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« on: July 21, 2007, 10:56:27 AM »

Hello, all, Smiley

This is the second of my long series of posts on the games we played during our eleven-day RPG retreat.

(The first one was on PTA and lives here. And in case you care, a full list of accounts, with links, will surface here.)

We actually played two different games of Sorcerer during those eleven days. In this post, I want to talk about the first one, which died a horrible, horrible death, at a point where virtually everybody at the table was disconnected from the game.

Fortunately, we're all hardy folks, and the second game went much more smoothly, but that's the subject for another thread.

On to the setup:

Even though we were all relative newbies at Sorcerer, we decided to construct a setting. We did this because we had a setting preparation session for other games we were going to take to the retreat, namely PtA and Mortal Coil, and we had a vague notion, from reading the book one too few times, that Sorcerer was a game that required this of the players.

We decided to set our game in Victorian London, with all its high society and propriety rules and its penchant for intrigue and behind-the-scenes manipulation, which really seemed ideal for the concept of the game. (How wrong we were, how naive...)

As we discussed possible definitions for Humanity, an "anti-vanilla" sentiment arose around the table (and I'm using "vanilla" in its prosaic meaning of "standard", rather than the forge technical meaning of "high points of contact"), and so we quickly discarded the usual concept of empathy and soul and whatnot. In figuring out what makes a person human in Victorian society, we arrived at the concept of Humanity as Social Integration, which includes public face, as well as a sense of belonging, and it seemed to fit well.

From there, the definition of Sorcery as consisting of highly impure and dirty rituals, involving various bodily fluids, was natural and immediate.

At a loss as to the true nature of Demons, we settled on half-baked angry spirits from ancient civilizations.

Right off the bat, we were going against advice in the book, in two important ways. One, as relative newcomers to the game, we really should hae stuck to the default modern setting. Two, the definitions of Humanity and Sorcery and the nature of Demons really ought to be considered as part of the situation, or in other words, as part of prep, meaning although I, as GM, may take input from the other players, ultimately, these decisions are my responsibility, as I am the one faced with the obligation of banging the players within the framework that these definitions create.

The characters:<The game:<Death of a session:<Sources of disconnect:<Aftermath:

After the discussion subsided, we adjourned from the table to the couch, for a more subdued conversation about what we wanted from a game of Sorcerer and what we expected from it. We all had enough interest in the game that we wanted to continue at it, but I no longer had a real connection to the prepped material to feel comfortable continuing to run that particular game. Plus, in order to remove from the situation any and all feelings of guilt and hurtfulness, I immediately withdrew the option to continue the game. I wanted to try again, but with a different game, a different set of assumptions, and different definitions of sorcery and humanity.

At first, Ana protested. Because she was the first to actually externalize her disconnect, she felt personally responsible for the demise of the game. But as soon as she understood why it was that I was killing it outright, and especially, as soon as she understood that basically, everybody was disconnected from everybody else, she was ok with this.

So, the rest of the night was spent reading excerpts from the book, discussing the implications of those excerpts, and basically, engaging in a sort of cathartic healing of the emotional flesh wounds that were caused by that scene and its subsequent arguments.

In conclusion:

Sorcerer is an altogether non-trivial game. The game author has said time and again that the game was written for people who already know how to play, and that is immediately apparent to anyone who reads it. Unfortunately, we, as a group, do not have access to people who already know how to play.

We're a stubborn bunch, however, willing to suffer through a few bad sessions in order to play the game right and experience the game in the way that the designer intended. If we were not, we would never have played PtA at this retreat, for instance, as our very first experiences with that particular game were exremely frustrating. But, we stuck with it, and now, the game is a consistent source of great fun for us.

So, and hopefully my post on our second Sorcerer game will demonstrate this, we're willing to learn. Smiley

Questions?

Cheers,
J.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2007, 11:16:57 AM »

Wow.

I have often been astonished at what the game teaches me, as I play it again and again. But I can also say now, with ten years' feedback of how the "map" of the game constantly re-encounters the "real world" of players, that I'm fortunate to have people like you and your friends be involved in the process.

One thing did stand out about the first part of preparation. I actually don't think that the full group-creation of the setting was a source of trouble, or at least not a major one ... but my concern lies with defining the demons and sorcery. My perception is that you and the rest of the group defined demons and sorcery as the way they are for that particular setting, as opposed only to defining their look and feel. The difference is subtle but important. Defining their look and feel, as well as a strong sense of what sorcery is like in terms of rituals and Color, permits an enormous amount of creativity and material for Story Now. But defining what they "really are" in the setting has an opposite effect - one of shutting creativity down and of associating "material" with GM prep to be funneled to the others during play.

However, all my perceptions about that may simply be a function of mis-reading your post or perhaps of a slight subtlety in phrasing that hasn't crossed the language boundary. Let me know if my point is relevant.

Best, Ron
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JMendes
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« Reply #2 on: July 22, 2007, 02:27:15 PM »

Hey, Ron, Smiley

First off, thanks for chiming in.

In all honesty, I'm not sure if the point is relevant or not. Yes, your assessment of what it is we did is correct. However, the fact is that sorcery itself never really came up in that particular game. That fight scene was the first 'bang' I had for the players. The one assumption we all shared at the table is that summoning demons has a very high cost and you only go to it when you know exactly what it is you need the new demon for. Thus, the game simply died too soon for sorcery to become a factor.

Let me know if I made sense, and if there's anything else I can tell you.

Also, we're all glad to be a part of the process as well. Smiley

Cheers,
J.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2007, 05:06:01 PM »

Hello,

No sorcery? I think I understand now. A quick fight scene for, effectively, no reason except to watch the characters' mechanics strut a little, is a common staple in certain forms of role-playing. It's a really bad idea in Sorcerer. Check out the older thread Running survivalist scenes in a Sorcerer "N" game. If you substitute "fight" for "sandstorm," I think you'll see what I mean.

Best, Ron
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JMendes
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« Reply #4 on: July 23, 2007, 09:35:12 AM »

Hey, Ron, Smiley

I understand what you're shooting at, but I think you're way off the mark. This wasn't a quick fight scene, and I had no intention of watching the mechanics strut.

For starters, it didn't even begin as a fight scene at all, although it certainly had a very high potential to escalate into one. The way I saw it, from the very start of the scene, the players had several options: flee, submit, attempt to negotiate, fight, or some other option I hadn't considered at all. Now, whether they realized they had options, depends on whether I communicated the situation effectively or not. In retrospect, that bit may well have been on me. But the scene was emphatically not, "let's just have a fight scene to see what happens", nor was it a "four weak guards pick a fight with you" flavor scene.

However, the "no sorcery" part seems to be significant, so I'll attempt to expand on it further. Before the scene in question, there were several scenes, about five or six, I think, where the characters were looking up several NPCs, trying to figure out what the relationship was, if any, between all of them, and between the PCs' various kickers. To me, the fact that they weren't using sorcery yet was no big deal. After all, they had yet to formulate a game plan as to how they were going to address their kickers, and none of us see sorcery as something you do just so you have two demons instead of one.

So, when the time felt right to me, I hit them with my first big bang, which was the scene in question. My thinking is, win or lose, if the opposition is significant enough, it will at least prompt (one of) them into seriously considering going to sorcery. Note also that it was never my intention to force them into sorcery, only to put them in the position to seriously consider it.

Cheers,
J.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: July 23, 2007, 12:49:14 PM »

Hold on, hold on. I wasn't referring to that thread in reference to what you were expecting or doing during play. I am referring instead to the players' habits and their interpretation of those same events during play.

Furthermore, even if you all had discussed it in any way beforehand, these habits are very strong and automatic, in my experience. Does that make my point clearer?

Best, Ron
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JMendes
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« Reply #6 on: July 23, 2007, 06:20:23 PM »

Ahoy, Smiley

Maybe. Knowing the players, I have a strong suspicion that you're still off the mark, but I certainly can't be adamant about it.

I'm totally open to debating this point further, if you think it will be useful. However, I have a feeling the discussion might be more productive if I took your point at face value and asked you where you're going with it.

(Argh! In reading the above two paragraphs, there doesn't seem to be any way around the fact that I seem to be saying "you're wrong, and even if you're right, so what". Let me assure you that that's exactly what I mean, but in a totally really asking, non-defensive way. Also, I'm very thick-skinned, so don't feel that you have to hold back in any way.)

Also, I wanted to ask why the no sorcery bit was significant at all. No, the fight scene wasn't the very first scene, but still, it was relatively early in the game. In your experience, how early do you expect the typical knowledgeable Sorcerer player to turn to sorcery?

Cheers,
J.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: July 24, 2007, 05:22:34 AM »

There's no way for me to debate what is or isn't happening with members of your group. I'm not there. The only thing I'm doing is directing your attention to threads or issues that look like what you're describing with your group. If they fit, that's great; if they don't fit, that's great too. Please do not try to cast my posts into the form of a debate topic with you. I'm not posting in that fashion.

That also means that there is nowhere that I am going with these points, either. I'm not angling toward a particular conversational goal. If one or another point fits well for your group, then we can arrive at a meaningful goal together, but if they don't, then they don't. You can say "that doesn't fit" without having to defend yourself. It is not a matter of disagreement, defiance, or debate.

Regarding sorcery, I'm using the term very loosely: employing Lore in any way, commanding demons to do something interesting, spotting Telltales, and anything like that. It includes the rituals but is not confined to them. When a sorcerer game features extensive, full-group conflicts without any of that activity, I become a little bit interested - it's almost necessary to shy away from those features of the game in order not to include them.

Again, I am not stating or claiming that anyone in your group was shying away from sorcery (defined broadly) in that game. I am saying that, given the rules and the process of character creation, it's what I've observed to happen in games I've been in, and may or may not fit your situation. I'm offering it as an idea.

Best, Ron
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JMendes
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« Reply #8 on: July 24, 2007, 05:55:13 PM »

Ahey, Smiley

Gotcha.

Also,

Regarding sorcery, I'm using the term very loosely: employing Lore in any way, commanding demons to do something interesting, spotting Telltales, and anything like that. It includes the rituals but is not confined to them.

Ah! Well... hmm... that... <blush and backtrack> ... yeah, there was some of that, especially the Lore and Telltale parts. As for commanding demons, not so much, because they all chose objects and parasites, which is something that struck me as odd and limitative at the time, so much so that I outright disallowed it in our second attempt.

So, back to your original point. I said earlier that your assessment of what we did was correct, and so, under this broader definition of sorcery, yes, your original point is relevant.

I have to confess, though, I have no idea what a definition of what they look and feel reads like. The various examples I've read, in the book or the forum, all sound a lot more definitional than descriptive, at least to my mind.

I also have no idea how (or even if) our definitions had any effect at all on what play looked like for those first few scenes.

Cheers,
J.
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