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Author Topic: Pokemon: feature or bug? And more  (Read 2955 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: June 11, 2002, 11:46:57 AM »

Hi there,

The thread at RPG.net following the recent review has raised several important issues of play. I thought it would be good to discuss them on their own merits without getting into comments on the reviewers themselves, and attitudes, and all that.

1) Keeping track of it all, as Casey Day puts it in another thread at RPG.net. This is a big issue - Sorcerer does require the GM to roll for a wad o'NPCs, plus usually leave all those little handfuls sitting there for a bit. I have seen upwards of 20d10 on the table at one point or another.

I do recognize the effort necessary, but I tend not to have trouble with it, myself. The very fact of not having to count/total the pips seems like a bonus to this Champions veteran. It doesn't seem any much more difficult than keeping track of the various dice pools in The Riddle of Steel, for instance, with multiple combatants at work. (More about this later, if necessary.)

2) The "Pokemon problem" - which I interpret to mean that the demons are doing all the fightin' and stuff, while the PCs stand on the sideline. I'm not sure about the specific objection involved, whether it's that the player-characters are not at risk, or whether it's that the GM is "rolling against himself," or what.

It does strike me that the issue would arise mainly in a scenario in which the climax is defined by a (more or less) pre-determined fight scene, or in which "the big group combat" is the Moment of Truth during play. That doesn't apply well to a game like Tor's Southern Comfort, or to Josh's Hellfire, to my Demon Cops, or to my recent demo which is inches away from being ready for you guys to read.

Thoughts, anyone? Again, I'm not interested in bashin' on a reviewer or anything like that. I'd like to discuss these issues of play, in terms of seeing whether they're problems or how they can be prevented from being so, or what.

Best,
Ron
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Balbinus
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« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2002, 12:02:59 PM »

The Pokemon issue as I understand it works like this:

The PCs have demons which are capable of independent action, that is to say not object or parasite demons (I'm aware ojbect and parasite demons are also capable of independent action, but not in the same way as most other types).

PCs get into a climactic battle.  Each PC sends his demon to fight the bad guys.  The Players then sit around while the GM rolls dice for the demons and the bad guys until an outcome is determined.

Thus, the PCs are deprotagonised, the demons do everything.

I think it is a potential issue, but only if you play Sorceror in particular ways.  Firstly, there is an assumption that a climactic battle is going to be part of the game.  Secondly, there is an assumption that the PCs' demons are entities which go out under their own steam and do things at the PCs' bidding (a highly traditional view of demons, well evidenced in the Elric! rpg).  Thirdly, that in such a situation the GM will dice through the entire exchange.

Assumption one is playstyle related.  For some groups sessions should have climactic battle scenes.  Sorceror is probably not the best game for that approach.

Assumption two misses the diversity of demon types and ways of defining demons.  If everyone has passing traditional style demons then combats may be a case of PCs hanging back while demons kick ass.  This is only a problem, however, if combat resolution is key to the game (see above).

Assumption three I find a little odd.  In any game system where I have two sets of NPCs duking it out I never really dice through the whole thing, what would be the point?  I take a view or make a general roll.

Anyway, that's my understanding of the problem, such as it is.  Thoughts?
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2002, 12:10:45 PM »

I don't really get the nature of the problem. I see exactly what the reviewer talked about, but it's easily solved: have players roll the dice for their demons.

Whether or not their PC is in the fray, a player's going to feel there - by virtue of having something at stake - when he's rolling a set of dice to see the outcome. It's stupid, but it's true.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2002, 12:19:44 PM »

Hi Max,

My thought is that the central issue is really a relationship one. Isn't it ... well, pre-supposing a lot already, by saying that the demons leap into the combat in the first place?

Let's say I have a big-ass demon whose Desire is Mayhem and whose Need is human flesh. There's the bad guy, so I order it to go kill and eat him ...

Isn't that a bunch of story-stuff right there? I mean, there's the basic notion of Will rolls if it decides to disobey, and so on, but there's more too - like if the demon says, "Sure, after you get me a hunk of his flesh." I say, "But Grogg, I'm fulfilling your Need, there he is! Eat him!" "Scuse me, Mr. Binder Thinks-he's-Cosmic-Outlaw, but I believe you are to fulfill my Need. One hunk, pronto, or I'll get some mayhem somewhere else."

And even more on top of that. Back in my Champions days, such play would have been a disaster - the point is to fight the bad guy, and therefore anything like a "power" refusing to obey or negotiating the terms to do so would be a barrier to the point of play. It'd be frankly stalling the game. But now, conflicts and stories in my play of Sorcerer, most especially modern-day settings, are far more about relationships and awful rituals, with violence being a shocking, shatter-preconceptions type of event. The climactic actions are always player-character decisions.

(Tim and Mike, that's what I was going for with the recent demo, so let me know whether I'm making sense.)

In that case, Pokemon-style combat (if it happens) seems OK by me. The story would be more about what the PC was doing on the sidelines, or more accurately, the demon-fight would be the sidelines and the PC would still be center-stage.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2002, 12:31:39 PM »

C'mon, this is a total smokescreen from a guy who I doubt has even played, and sounds like he has an agenda. All you'll get here is sympathy. If you want to find out if there's a real problem, you'll have to ask the person making the claim.

As far as the demons being proxies or something, the reviewer isn't seeing the deomns as characters, but rather as powers. He'd probably have no problem with a player having a bunch of henchmen and having the GM roll for them. Which is how most games read. If it does become particularly onerous mechanically, one can always invoke Clinton's idea which is what every beleagured GM does in that situation in any game. Who cares who actually rolls the dice and counts them up? It's the character decision making that's the important part. Heck, being the pervert I am, I love rolling lots of dice. I see the handling time thing completely as a non-issue.

Ooops, there's that biased sympathy. Like I said, you're unlikely to find debate here, Ron.

Mike
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jburneko
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« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2002, 12:34:56 PM »

Hello,

I think the Pokemon "Problem" results from several things that are just plain incompatible with Sorcerer's design philosophy.

1) Treating demons as Utilities.  That is, treating the demon as an overly complex "spell list" manager and not much else.

2) Playing the game with a traditional "party" mentality.  I mean 6 players traveling around with a menagerie of demons just isn't going to cut it in Sorcerer.

3) As has been mentioned before assuming that everything must culimate in a climactic battle of some kind.  This is why I was particularly glad to see Sorcerer & Sword's advice for supporting NON-Sorcerous characters in a genre that is far more likely to end in a climactic battle of some sort.

4) Just plain not paying attention to things in the rulebook that are in fact "rules" but that people have gotten used to passing over as "just fluff" in other games such as being specific about what Humanity means and making Kickers central to play.

Otherwise, I think the too many dice problem might be legit as I tend to treat my dice rather mindlessly.  When I finally get around to running a table top version of Sorcerer I'm highly anticipating making this mistake:

Roll dice for Ninja attacker 1.
By Force of habit pick up same dice and roll for Ninja attacker 2... DOH!

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2002, 12:49:43 PM »

Hi Mike,

I'm not looking for sympathy or defense against the reviewer's comments. Mike Zebrowski did play the game, and he has his take on it, and that's fine. I'm interested in looking for means to alert people to the ways Sorcerer is most enjoyably played.

So it's not "debate based on disagreement" that I'm after, in this case - it's critical thinking.

Best,
Ron
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Eric.Brennan
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« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2002, 12:55:35 PM »

I had a response to Mike Holme's post that was far too defensive/offensive.  I'm removing it.

The review is the review, Mike Z.'s thoughts are his thoughts, I stand by them.  At the RPG.net forum I'm trying to discuss it constructively.

--Eric
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Bailywolf
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« Reply #8 on: June 11, 2002, 12:57:00 PM »

In the two VERY successful one-offs I've run, I dealt with this issue like so:

1) Players roll the dice for their demons.

2)GM INTERPRETS the results as apropriate.


If the demon rolls only a single Victory on an attack, as the GM I can manifest that demon's personality through how I describe and interpret the demon's actions.  

Some examples:

Marvos (an inconspicuous boogy-man and former monster-under-the-bed...he reaches out from cracks, cravices, and dark corners with long talloned claws and eye-stalks).

Pnuma (a demonic whind living in the sorcerer's lungs)


Pumpkin Head Jack (an animated scarecrow and bodyguard)




The player rolls a single victory for his demon's attack... and as the GM I interpret as follows:


"Marvos casualy reaches out, taping the guman with its bony knuckles, barley hurting the thug, but working his nerves, making him afraid..."

"The Pnuema comes loose from you lungs, tearing up past your vocal cords like a scream, but wild and unfocused, it tosses a table over, shatters the windows, and slams the gunman back against the walls, but most of its fury is vented in mindless rage- you've kept it bottled up too long, and now its working its frenzy loose on the room..."

"Jack lunges in front of you, swinging its lethal twiggy fingers at the gunman's face, but its Desire to stay close to you at all times brings it up short, and the blow that would have split the man's skull instead grazes his face, tearing gouts in his left cheek."




The players stay involved in the PHYSICAL action of rolling the dice, feeling them leave their hands, and of moving out the high ones... but the GM still manages the action.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: June 11, 2002, 01:35:08 PM »

Thanks Eric - as I've tried to make clear, this entire discussion has nothing to do with any particular person or review. I'm raising the issues to see what can be reviewed about them or done with them.

Best,
Ron
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rabidchyld
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« Reply #10 on: June 11, 2002, 01:37:35 PM »

The one time I played Sorcerer this issue did not come up for me, but I did see the potential for it if I didn't play the demons as individuals with needs and desires.  After reading the review and the posts, I thought about what I would do in that situation and here's what I came up with:

I'd play the demons according to their needs and desires and keep the players on their toes at all times.  Just like Ron said earlier, the demons don't have to do what the PC's want them to.  

If the PC's sent out their demons to fight other demons, then I'd have them roll for their own demons, as several have suggested, and keep control of the action myself.  

I could also bring in other players to control the demons and have the players actually play in teams with their demons (someone suggested that in another thread...somewhere).  The only issue would be that the players controlling the demons would have to be prepared to actually play a demon's needs and desires and not be the "hero" as it were.  

My group has discussed experimenting with that, as a matter of fact, when we were discussing the problems we had with our game.  

Well, just my 2 cents.  Do with it what you will.

melodie
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Valamir
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« Reply #11 on: June 11, 2002, 04:10:23 PM »

Well, buried back in that thread about my first Sorcerer game...you know the one that got recently resurected, was the idea of Sorcerer as Pokemon.  That was one of the problems that my group had with it.

I'm not sure if its a problem with the game itself so much as a problem with new players not grasping how the game is supposed to be played (my thoughts on my belief that the rules needed more of that are on file elsewhere).  If you come to Sorcerer without understanding Sorcerer...it is Pokemon.  If you understand Sorcerer and what the game is actually about, then that analogy doesn't even make sense...Pokemon?!...what the hell are you talking about?

Even now, however, I have to say that understanding what the game is about, I'm not thrilled by the Pokemon-esque traits...namely that most Sorcerers have 1 demon (maybe two) that have kick ass powers...usually are inconspicuous in some way until they burst forth in fury...and have to be tended and cared for like really bizarre and sick pets.  Now those are all very very superficial, and completely irrelevant once you delve into what Sorcerer is really about, but IMO its not my preferred model.

I'd rather see Sorcerers summoning demons on an as needed basis, (possibly a different demon each time) with each deal being centered on fulfilling Need and Desire in return for a specific act (Pacting is the right concept, but wrong-for me-mechanic).  When the deal is done, the demon is dismissed.  Sorcerers who find themselves in a jam needing help right away, would likely get stuck making colossally 1 sided deals, because they don't have time to "negotiate" a better one.  Other times Demons could be "bound" in a way closer to Elric's relationship with some of the powers he is owed favors by by reason of his blood.  That's the model I'd prefer, and if I were to run a Sorcerer campaign, I'd probably tweak the mechanics to make this possible (it isn't possible now, because characters would hit 0 humanity almost immediately).  

But again this is all just superficial detail.  To see this as the heart of Sorcerer is to have missed most of the point of the game.
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Eric.Brennan
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« Reply #12 on: June 11, 2002, 07:02:40 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Thanks Eric - as I've tried to make clear, this entire discussion has nothing to do with any particular person or review. I'm raising the issues to see what can be reviewed about them or done with them.


I'm a little cooler now, and so I think I'll take one stab at this.  FWIW, I don't think either of us (Mike Z or I) has any particular agenda--I'm certainly not trying to bash Sorcerer, as my review shows.  With that said:

As near as I can tell, Mike Z's problem isn't just that the PCs are using the demons as "pokemon," but that the burden for so much of combat resolution lies with the GM.  He gives an example of what he's talking about later in the thread, involving a young summoner, his hellhound demon, and a number of gangsters (let's say a dozen, for purposes of this post.)

If the young boy is smart enough to avoid direct fighting, the entire combat lies with the GM--leading to the combat equivalent of the "two NPCs having a conversation" problem.  Mike's example seems to be drawing so much flack, so let me tweak it...

If the young boy /is/ involved, then the GM still bears the responsibility for all of those combatants, plus he has one more involved; if the GM plays the demon as surly, individualistic, driven by Desires, or upset at his master (all of which is as it should be in Sorcerer) then, in addition to the combatants, he's added a further layer of complexity.  Add in multiple players, multiple demons, and it continues to bog down.  Yes, there are demon types that will lessen these problems--but I don't think it improper to suggest that many new players (as the one in my game) /or old ones/ will seek Passing, Possessor, or Inconspicuous entities to work for them, which might lead to the problems above.

My interest in Mike's point extends so far as my problem with the "everybody rolls at once" initiative and resolution phase--even if the GM is playing everything the way even the most ardent Sorcerer fan says he should be--it's a heck of a lot of dice pools laying around at once for the GM to keep track of, and detracting from elements he should be attending to, like demonic independence or Desires.

I have, of course, suggested my own solutions to the problem on the RPG.net thread, and also have just pondered adding an initiative roll.

--Eric
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #13 on: June 11, 2002, 10:14:35 PM »

Hey Ron,
Quote from: Ron Edwards
My thought is that the central issue is really a relationship one. Isn't it ... well, pre-supposing a lot already, by saying that the demons leap into the combat in the first place?
[Snip.]
In that case, Pokemon-style combat (if it happens) seems OK by me. The story would be more about what the PC was doing on the sidelines, or more accurately, the demon-fight would be the sidelines and the PC would still be center-stage.

Right off I think any talk about 'climactic battles' is missing the point.  I live with a certifiable Pokémaniac (heck, we just ordered her a crystal cartridge Japanese version for her tonight).  We talk about the game, the cartoon, the comics, and the subject all the time.  Despite my other interests, I have come to understand a lot of the whole thing.  I don't think what the 'older review' reviewer said is 'coming through.'

The ironic thing is Pokémon itself doesn't suffer from this problem.  How do I sum it up?  It's like this; the game is called Pokémon, it's about Pokémon and their use.  Especially in the cartoon, but notably most everywhere else, Pokémon are used to solve every problem.  There is no problem with that; it's Pokémon after all.

Now, you can also assume that everything is suffused with battle; the cartridge is a 'battle game,' after all.  This is not about 'climactic battles' with Pokémon; every battle, every encounter, is a battle with Pokémon.  But that's not the Pokémon problem at issue here.

The issue, as far as I have gleaned, is more about 'speaker time'.  Now if Pokémon had this problem, it would mean that the gamemaster would play up individual personalities for the Pokémon.  These (now non-player) characters require a certain amount of 'spotlight time' in order to be relevant as characters to the game (otherwise they'd just be decoration).  Since the gamemaster is their player, he has to play them; since all the rest of the game is about dealing with parties other than the player characters, the gamemaster has to play them too.  This results in the players spending an unusual amount of time watching the gamemaster 'talk to themself.'  That's the supposed 'Pokémon problem.'

Now the question, really, is whether Sorcerer suffers from this problem.  Well, it is about demons.  The original book (as opposed to the whole line) is described in the review as virtually requiring that all player characters have demons that they have summoned.

Now I can't really say whether the text of the game makes a very good case for not using demons to solve most problems, I haven't seen it.  I think it might be hard to over-generalize the game and not suggest that this is the case.  (The over-generalization necessary for so short a review - as opposed to a full analysis - might actually be the root of the problem.)  So it might look like that most situations require some kind of demonic interaction.

It goes without saying that there will be a fair amount of 'other' non-player characters.  So as you can see, it looks like we're quickly slipping into the 'Pokémon problem.'  A problem with mounting a counter-argument is that the 'System Matters' article is 'in there' too, isn't it?  Thus to say that the game is supposed to be about more than just demons suffers from the idea that the bulk of the system is about demons.  Likewise, if the game is about more than just combat, a reviewer has a right to question why those rules figure as highly as they do.

Wasn't it brought up somewhere that there were no mechanics for losing Humanity for actions not related to demons?  Furthermore, don't the mechanics explicitly state that banishing a demon rewards the character with a return of Humanity?  The reviewer, I think, points out that such banishment might actually represent even darker motives (that would seem like they should cause a loss of Humanity).  This gives the impression (however erroneous) that the core mechanic, Humanity, is primarily about demons, underscoring the impression that demons are also central to the resolution of events in the game.

Some people have mentioned that Sorcerer doesn't work well for groups over five; this has been cited due to the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult to give demons their appropriate personalities (on top of all the other non-player characters).  This colors very much like the 'speaker time' issue that I explained was central to the 'Pokémon problem.'

Does all of this mean that Sorcerer suffers from the 'Pokémon problem?'  Not really, but it sounds like a reviewer might have a hard time saying otherwise.  Could this be a presentation problem?  Possibly.  It seems like an unavoidable problem to me.

If you have a game about how characters make a statement on a Premise, how do you 'package it' to make it worth 'picking up?'  You put in something.  That something, being unusual, will need to be detailed.  There is very little I can think of that would make this detail seem less important than the Premise attention and the characters without underplaying what 'sells' the game.

So the only thing that can really be addressed is whether the 'gamemaster controls the demons' structure undermines the protagonization of the player characters by giving the gamemaster too much 'spotlight time.'  All I can say is that it is too inconclusive for me to judge (which speaks highly about the game from the get go).  This certainly means that no amount of drift, like letting the players roll their demons' dice, will resolve the issue (largely because drift is inherently not the game presented and reviewed).

I actually don't have an opinion here, I just felt that the actual complaint was being missed.  I don't see much substance to this complaint, I just thought you'd like a chance to address it directly (instead of having to scratch your head and go "I don't see what the problem is").  Please don't take this as any kind of attack on Sorcerer or Ron as I have no problem with either.

Fang Langford
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Balbinus
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« Reply #14 on: June 12, 2002, 01:24:42 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Isn't it ... well, pre-supposing a lot already, by saying that the demons leap into the combat in the first place?


Ron,

Perhaps I should have been clearer.  Where I go on to say ", there is an assumption that a climactic battle is going to be part of the game." I am making the same point that I believe you are.  

In my post I am trying firstly to show how I think the issue arises (there is a climactic battle and the demons are the type which leap in), why it is a problem (PC deprotagonisation) and why I think it arises (invalid assumptions about what should happen in play).

Hopefully that helps.
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AKA max
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