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Author Topic: [Sorcerer] Function of power durations?  (Read 5922 times)
Filip Luszczyk
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« on: October 22, 2007, 12:17:43 PM »

This might have been discussed before, but I've never delved into this sub-forum before and I have neither time nor energy to dig through 40 pages of threads.

What is the function of power durations in the system? It's difficult for me to figure out how to approach them.

We've created our first characters yesterday, and if the GM grokked and explained things right, it works like this:

1. My character can order his demon to change him into a fox (Shapeshift power), and it works for 8 minutes (demon's power).
2. The GM plays the demon, so it's up to him whether the demon listens or not.
3. If the demon listens, the power works for 8 minutes, or until it changes its mind. I'm not sure whether I can do anything if the demon doesn't listen - for example, could I force it to do what I want through conflict or the like?
4. Once the duration ends, the character can command the demon to change him into a fox for another 8 minutes.
5. Again, it's up to the GM whether my character changes into a fox or not.
6. Rince and repeat.

So, it seems it boils down to this: my character can change into a fox for as long as the GM feels is appropriate.

Regardless, it doesn't seem like the specific duration of power has any impact on play in the first place. One, eight or eighty minutes, the flow of time seems to be in the GM's hands either way. There are the rules for duration, but no rules for how much can be done in this particular span of time - not even the length of combat round is specified. It seems like in practice the GM has complete control over the moment when the demon's power stops working.

Consequently, as I understand it, in practice it boils down to GM's dramatic timing, and power duration is just a misleading number.

What I'm interested in:

What was the reason behind the design decision about including the rules that specify the duration of powers in the first place? It seems redundant.

(Note that not having physical access to the book I rely on the GM's explanation of rules, so it's possible I'm missing something important. I've checked out Apprentice edition, but I find it's clarity rather lacking.)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: October 22, 2007, 01:18:52 PM »

Hi Filip,

The first thing you need to do is to throw away the Apprentice version. Its rules are obsolete and the file is only available on the internet for archival purposes.

Your interpretation of the rules is flawed, because you're not familiar with all of the rules that apply to playing the game. Here are the linking features among the rules you're talking about.

1. Demons are limited by their Stamina. Every unit of an ability's use counts against their Stamina. Therefore a demon with higher Power can not only have longer-lasting units of Shapeshift, it gets more units. There are further rules for what happens to a demon when it starts to exceed its Power limits.

2. #1 above does not function so much as an "endurance battery" during play (although it can), but rather as a psychology indicator for playing the demon. This is one of the many factors that affects how a demon regards its master: how much risk it is subjected to, how much its Need is met, how or whether its Desire is catered to, and similar.

3. A sorcerer may command any demon in his or her presence to do anything at any time. If, for whatever reason, the demon did not want to permit the Shapeshift, or to renew it, then the sorcerer may indeed command it to do so. If he or she wins that conflict, then the demon must obey anyway. As you can imagine, this also factors into #2 in the long run. The related rules from the GM's perspective concern how the GM plays the demon, meaning how fractious or rebellious the demon is at any given time. You may be interested in reading the rules for that carefully.

4. The specific limit (8 minutes in this case) may or may not have to be renewed each time, based on #3. If the demon found the initial call for Shapeshifting reasonable, and if the situation after 8 minutes still called for the Shapeshift to be maintained, it will simply renew it. If, on the other hand, it was forced into obeying, it will utilize the time limit as an opportunity to challenge the command. (Yes, this means lower-Power demons are often more troublesome than big ones, when it comes to achieving a specific goal with a specific ability.)

The rules are built to achieve the opposite effect from the fiat you're perceiving. The GM is continually playing the demons in light of your character's current relationship with them. The time-limits and effects of the abilities put the demon at risk if they are pushed too hard, and that factors into that relationship. The relationship is quantified through the Binding strength, and it is also expressed by the demon's reactions and behaviors, including refusing to obey, or complaining before obeying.

The GM is constrained by these rules quite severely - he or she has no authority or power to play the demon except as dictated by these factors of the relationship.

Best, Ron
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Ian Christiansen
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« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2007, 01:29:36 PM »


1. My character can order his demon to change him into a fox (Shapeshift power), and it works for 8 minutes (demon's power).
2. The GM plays the demon, so it's up to him whether the demon listens or not.
3. If the demon listens, the power works for 8 minutes, or until it changes its mind.

Yep, sounds right so far...

Quote
I'm not sure whether I can do anything if the demon doesn't listen - for example, could I force it to do what I want through conflict or the like?

You can try to Command the demon (or any demon, for that matter). I can't find it in the freakin' rulebook at the moment, but I'm pretty sure it's your Will vs. the demon's Power, modified by the Binding strength and any other bonuses/penalties that apply.

Quote
4. Once the duration ends, the character can command the demon to change him into a fox for another 8 minutes.
5. Again, it's up to the GM whether my character changes into a fox or not.
6. Rinse and repeat.

Yep, yep... and yep.

Quote

So, it seems it boils down to this: my character can change into a fox for as long as the GM feels is appropriate.

Regardless, it doesn't seem like the specific duration of power has any impact on play in the first place. One, eight or eighty minutes, the flow of time seems to be in the GM's hands either way. There are the rules for duration, but no rules for how much can be done in this particular span of time - not even the length of combat round is specified. It seems like in practice the GM has complete control over the moment when the demon's power stops working.

Consequently, as I understand it, in practice it boils down to GM's dramatic timing, and power duration is just a misleading number.

What I'm interested in:

What was the reason behind the design decision about including the rules that specify the duration of powers in the first place? It seems redundant.

(Note that not having physical access to the book I rely on the GM's explanation of rules, so it's possible I'm missing something important. I've checked out Apprentice edition, but I find it's clarity rather lacking.)

The Apprentice version has been declared an official artifact by Ron I believe... it's not really very helpful. You should get a copy of the core book if you like the game. I bought one at GenCon 35 or something for $20, and it's been one of my favorites since... loads of goodness in there!

I can't say for sure, but I think part of the (duration=Power multiplied by X) was to encourage people to write up stronger (and therefore, more dangerous) demons. It's also probably there to eliminate any raping of the Demon Abilities... e.g. turning into a fox for days or weeks at a time for whatever reason. There is an ultimate limit based on scenes though, as a demon can only use so many Abilities (equal to its Power) in a single scene without incurring cumulative penalties. In the mentioned case, every 8 minutes it would have to use the ability again... and it could do so (as long as it doesn't use any other Abilities) 8 times in a scene, or for 64 minutes. A scene may not even last that long, depending on what is going on in your story.
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #3 on: October 22, 2007, 03:36:11 PM »

Ron,

Ok, the Stamina limit concerns scenes and not combats as I thought after reading Apprentice. But other than that, I don't really see differences between my initial interpretation and your points 2-4. Either way, the GM says when the power stops working, guided by the relevant in-game stuff.

But that's not really the root of the problem I perceive.

Let's say I'm lost in the forest and I want to change into the fox to sniff my way to the nearest settlement. Depending on GM's decision based on all those in-game factors I can remain in the fox form for so and so many minutes. However, as a group we have no hard rules for determining how long it will take me to reach the settlement. It seems the GM decides whether it's possible in the span of time available to me or not. The specific span of time seems largely irrelevant, though - basically, it seems the GM could just as well simply decide directly how many abstract units (Stamina points in this case) are needed.

Now, most probably the above situation would call for a conflict, in which case the power's effect matters only as much as the bonus dice I can grab and it's duration in minutes is just as irrelevant. What's at stake is whether I reach the settlement on time, or before the demon has enough of keeping me in the fox form, or whatever we happen to have the conflict about. I fail to see how the quantification of in-game time figures in this.

This is, actually, a stumbling block for me. It's been a while since I last played a game in which there was a need to pay attention to the passage of in-game time and keep track of how long things take, in terms of concrete units. Now, in every such game I played in the past, outside of combat, it all boiled down to the GM deciding whether there was or wasn't enough time. This was making durations basically empty numbers.

Only one game that requires tracking "real" units of time as opposed to dramatic time and provides (nearly) complete tools for doing it comes to my mind, and it's D&D 3.0/3.5. Never mind how practical it is there. However, in D&D it's a matter of strategic choices. I don't know other games that make tracking time with similar precision possible without resorting to fiat all the time, though I wouldn't be surprised if they existed.

So, I'm not sure how this issue should be approached in Sorcerer. I have trouble figuring out the possible importance of quantified durations here, and the way we should handle them. Even if they are supposed to work as a constraint, it seems to be a constraint under full GM's control.

(I think it could be useful if you could point at the relevant sections of the book, if there are such, so that we knew what parts we need to examine carefully. The GM is running the game for the first time, and is already complaining about the text's accessibility. And since we play via Skype and only the GM has the book, I can't check things up on my own.)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: October 22, 2007, 09:09:14 PM »

Hi Filip,

The nuances of Sorcerer rules cannot easily be discussed outside of a specific scene's context. The rules work extremely well given a scene in progress, because that is what they are built to resolve. They are not built to resolve thought-experiments. I will do my best to help you understand. I apologize in advance because some of what I'm going to write, you clearly understand already. I'm writing it in this fashion so that others reading it can follow along, and also so that the argument doesn't skip any steps and maintains its integrity.

Let's start from the very beginning, in your example.

The first question is, is there a conflict at all?

If there is no conflict, then no roll is necessary. That is a specific and explicit rule which I think is often missed, because people are so accustomed to task resolution.

Is anyone chasing your character at that moment? Is the forest itself sort of like a character "trying" to kill your character, through its dangers? Is the demon inclined to let you suffer out here in the cold because it's annoyed with you?

If the answers to these questions, or anything like them (note the time factor in the first), is "no," then there is no roll. Your character changes into a fox and sniffs his way to the nearest settlement, or discovers that there are no settlements (whichever is the case). There is no roll.

The second question is, if there is a conflict, what is it?

What are you really rolling against? This will determine the score(s) being chosen as well, for you to use, and for the other character (if any) to use.

If the conflict is not with the demon, then the Shapeshift may be taken for granted - i.e., the demon is complicit with the use of the ability and there need not even be any role-playing involved with getting the demon's permission unless the GM feels like providing some for Color.

This question also concerns how complex the rolling-situation might be. The most complex conflict would be with something external (say, a blizzard, as an "act" of the forest's), and with the demon if it objects to permitting use of the ability. It would call upon all the resolution rules if the conflict also required a series of actions, i.e., using the combat rules.

So I hope you can see that saying "sniff my way to a settlement" is not just a Tracking roll or any other task-based action. It must be re-cast in the form of a conflict of interest between your character and someone or something else, or else it requires no roll and is either a "yes you did it" or "no it doesn't work." Conversely, if there is a conflict of interest, the GM cannot rely on yes/no and must take the situation to a roll. (Sorcerer does not "say yes or roll the dice." Sorcerer always rolls in the presence of conflicts of interest and never rolls in their absence.) If it requires a roll, then all of the above questions must be understood and answered - whom is the conflict with, what are the relevant scores, and whether a single roll or series of rounds is required.

Continuing the second, is the Shapeshift's Power the thing most logically being posed against the threat?

The Shapeshift in action allows sniffing, and arguably a certain fox-ness wilderness perspective for your character. In doing so, the character may now make a roll. On the reflection, the answer to this question could well be "yes." In which case, the entire conflict is best understood as a way to get eight dice to beat (for example) the forest's attempt to kill you.



Third, and this is the real answer to your question, is whether all those features of the conflict include a time factor.

They may not. If they don't, then the time-limits on the ability usage are irrelevant, or nearly so (with a Power of 8, the demon can keep you in fox-form for a good long time). In which case, all that matters is whether you can become a fox at all. And if that's not a conflict, then it's not a conflict, and requires no roll or other mechanics issues - you simply turn into a fox, roll the Power of 8 against the opposing score (whatever it might be), and you succeed or fail. Given what you've stated in your example, this is how to apply the rules to that situation. What you've stated isn't time-dependent, it's just whether one can find a settlement given that one is now a fox rather than a person, and thus has eight dice to work with. Therefore we are agreeing about the time-limits is, "that's not relevant to the conflict, so it does not matter as a feature of the mechanics."

This is crucial to your objection, which is based on the D&D-like model of continuously tracking in-game time. That objection does not apply because in Sorcerer, the reasoning is reversed - if time is a factor, based on already-established in-game features, then (and only then) the rules provide the necessary information to fold time into the situation. If it's not, then you don't need to use those features of the rules.

That's my real answer to your concern. You seem to be assuming that time must be tracked and continuously and always taken into account as a factor in conflicts. I am saying the opposite: that the rules are there for the using if they are needed (i.e. if time matters), and that's all.

Now - what if the situation does involve a time factor? That means that the character must be pushing the time in fox form to its limit in order to succeed at all. If that were the case, I could tell you exactly how you'd use the demon's Power and the attendant time-limits ... if you could provide me with a situation to work with, in which (a) a valid conflict of interest is occurring, (b) the relevant score for your character is the Shapeshift's Power, and (c) the passage of time in several-minute units is crucially relevant to that conflict a priori, in the actual nuts and bolts of the imagined situation. You'd have to describe play that produced that situation.

Your current example doesn't fill this bill, so I'll stop at this point. If you're interested, I can show you how to use the Sorcerer rules for time-limits on demonic abilities. But we must start with an example which calls for those rules, and I've found that it works best if you provide it, not me. If I'm reading your post correctly, however, this is not your main concern.

Fourth, and I think this is your main concern, is it all just GM fiat anyway?

I have learned that if someone is convinced of this, then there is no way to change their minds. Not even by playing without such fiat. They'll just continue to believe that I somehow controlled the setup for each roll in the ways that they've seen other GMs do, even though the Sorcerer rules are built to "out" such behavior by a GM.

The simple fact is this: Sorcerer conflicts always emerge from multiple people's input during play itself. It is not possible for the GM, or any one person, to control when and how conflicts of interest arise during play, and how they will be shaped given all the concerns outlined above. Even if the GM has a horrible snarling creature appear in the middle of a dinner party, trying to kill a character, the actual roll(s), and for what, will be determined by player-character actions in response to the event. And years and years of Sorcerer have taught me, to my pleasure as a designer, that those actions can be very surprising.

What I am saying is that the time-factor, if present, will emerge as a necessary feature of the resolution mechanics, rather than be shoehorned (i.e. forced) into the situation by the GM specifically. The key phrase in your post is this:

Quote
Depending on GM's decision based on all those in-game factors I can remain in the fox form for so and so many minutes. However, as a group we have no hard rules for determining how long it will take me to reach the settlement. It seems the GM decides whether it's possible in the span of time available to me or not. The specific span of time seems largely irrelevant, though - basically, it seems the GM could just as well simply decide directly how many abstract units (Stamina points in this case) are needed.

What I am saying is that in this passage, and throughout your posts, you keep referring to the GM's decisions in a way that doesn't really match well to what the GM can do in playing Sorcerer. A conflict isn't handed to players like a carefully constructed Swiss watch. It's more like a Lego creature that has been built rapidly by many people at once. Sometimes the GM might say regarding a player's statement, "Hey, that will require a time consideration," or just as often, someone else will say that about the GM's statement.

This isn't based on a soft agreement not to railroad or not to grant the GM sole power. This is based on how the rules work and how their parts interrelate.

Fifth, I prefer to let groups discover these features on their own, as Sorcerer is intended to be like a musical instrument.

I've seen, too many times, people pick up the instrument and try to play it, producing rudimentary sounds or perhaps a simple song. They have a little bit of fun and think they "know" the instrument now, when in fact they haven't entered into the barest first steps of actually learning it, practicing it, and discovering the unique joy of producing something absolutely individualized and yet meaningful beyond the individual with it. My advice to you is to begin by accepting that the instrument works, but also that you will not produce an amazing and wonderful song by hitting a "start" button. You'll have to get to know it, through use, and open yourself up to

So there's not much else to tell you except that over time, if they want to, the group can discover how the kind of GM control you're describing is not necessary and interferes with powerful Sorcerer play. That doesn't mean someone won't try to apply it; it does mean that it won't work well and will be extremely obvious to everyone. People who want to learn Sorcerer will move past this step onto something else, which is vastly more enjoyable. There is no way to walk you through that process here, before play, any more than the maker of a guitar can tell someone who buys it that the guitar will make them a master musician. All I can do is tell you, this is a good guitar with many unique qualities - and in fact, with no safety net to protect those who do not respect it and refuse to try to learn from it. They will have a terrible time and hate the game.

Best, Ron
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #5 on: October 23, 2007, 01:14:41 PM »

Ron,

First, continuing your guitar metaphor, one of the reasons I'm playing in this Sorcerer game is that I want to learn how this particular guitar produces sounds - and this is because I'm making my own guitars. The quality of the song or whether I'll be able to perform it at all is not as important to me in this case as examining what sounds does it produce and how. This means that I can't just take it for granted that it makes the sounds and proceed to playing the song - I need to analyse the acoustic process. Even if we manage to produce only cacophony, I want to use this opportunity to learn something about guitars and sounds.

Now, if I'm not already able to move past the cacophony, or fail to learn how to perform any songs in this first attempt, I'll probably move to another guitar that's more accessible to me as far as examining its full spectrum of sounds goes. But that's another matter, and I still want to learn from whatever sounds I get.

Second, indeed, it is hard to work on hypothethical situations in this case.

Specifically, if my current hypothetical example doesn't involve a time factor, I have a difficulty thinking up a setup that would involve it. At this point, my mind is automatically slipping into "no actual time factors" mode.

Now, this is a roadblock for me.

I can think in terms of D&D model, which gives me functional, if bothersome, means of dealing with time factors.

I can think in terms of how it works in just about any other pre-D&D 3.0 game I had a chance to play (i.e. the whole fiat thing crops up, however I try to think about it).

I can think in terms of games where the in-fiction flow of time units is never a mechanically relevant factor - i.e. games I've been playing almost exclusively lately, and currently feel the most comfortable playing. This is the easiest for me, too, as it simply works around the problem.

However, eliminating the above and asking for this...

Quote
Now - what if the situation does involve a time factor? That means that the character must be pushing the time in fox form to its limit in order to succeed at all. If that were the case, I could tell you exactly how you'd use the demon's Power and the attendant time-limits ... if you could provide me with a situation to work with, in which (a) a valid conflict of interest is occurring, (b) the relevant score for your character is the Shapeshift's Power, and (c) the passage of time in several-minute units is crucially relevant to that conflict a priori, in the actual nuts and bolts of the imagined situation. You'd have to describe play that produced that situation.

...you suggest me that there is a fourth option. But now I'm unable to think up a situation that would not match the pattern that you already identified as "no time factor". Given that my character has those shapeshifting powers, I expect that such a situation might come up in play - however, at this point I doubt I'd be able to recognize it as such in the first place.

Could you (or anyone for that matter) provide me with an example of a situation with (a), (b) and (c), based on actual play of the game? Never mind if it's specifically for the Shapeshift power or not - I think that an example of a valid situation with both durations and time factors in place should give me a sufficient benchmark to look for analogous patterns in my own actual play.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: October 23, 2007, 09:39:11 PM »

Hi Filip,

You'll recognize the time factor very easily when it arrives. It always appears due to in-scene elements which were established earlier through play without necessarily including them in an upcoming conflict.

In a game we played last year, the three player-characters were often not in the same location, but their actions typically affected one another a great deal. We often had to use the complex conflict rules even thought the individual conflicts were quite simple, because it mattered which actions were concluded first, and what way.

If that were all there were to it, then we could simply roll and see who went where first, and who accomplished (or failed to accomplish) what first.

However, the game was set in a big city, and transport and travel times often turned out to be relevant to conflicts. We'd quickly and easily define the conflict between two characters, in terms of who would arrive at (say) a mosque first, because that would play a big roll in what sort of conflicts might arise later. However, again and again, we found ourselves forced to take into consideration (a) where the characters are and thus how long it might take to get from one point to another, and (b) the mode of transport involved, which shifted around crazily from character to character.

Therefore, sometimes, the demon's ability would not be suitable for the conflict unless it were pushed to its limit - using Travel, for example, to cover quite a large distance in the city (and this was a city whose infrastructure had been destroyed by a rather effective set of bombings), when another character was traveling a much shorter distance. I can't remember exactly how powerful the Travel was, but given where the characters were, and how they were moving, the Travel as an ability was placed under stress, in the sense that the demon might not have the juice to make it in time. The demon's Power let us know whether this was the case - if it had been smaller, then the demon's ability would been flatly unable to compete and no roll would be required; if it had been bigger, then the demon's ability would have simply trumped the mundane abilities of hte opponent (who was, I recall, driving a pickup truck). But since the demon's Power was what it was (I think it was in fact Cool, the time-increments and the total distance the demon could travel without running itself into the ground were, clearly and without any decrees on anyone's part, recognized as relevant.

I'm trying to make the point, however, that we (the GM, whoever!) didn't establish those features of the situation that required the time-factor because anyone wanted to see such a conflict. Instead, the current locations of the characters and their options for transport were established features of the SIS based on previous actions and conflicts'  outcomes. We were working with an established SIS in which the time-oriented logistics of the upcoming conflict were established long before that conflict was even possible, or conceived of, let alone under way. So when the conflict did arise, the factor was present - practically screaming out to us, in fact, that it must be involved.

Does that help, or make sense?

Best, Ron
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #7 on: October 24, 2007, 01:29:38 PM »

Let's say it makes some sense. I can see more clearly in what terms I should try to consider situations in the game.

Basically, now I'm considering some past actual play experiences that had a pattern similar to your example situation (i.e. dynamically developing immediate contex, with a high stress on in-fiction causality). I still have a difficulty with identifying the distinguishing points - other than it's probably some subtlety in the level and manner of GM control. Unless there weren't any crucial differences and the main source of the problem were the resolution tools we had at the time, but that would be rather improbable.

So, it seems no further clarification will be possible at this point. I might sort it out in or after actual play, depending how close to your design intentions we manage to play the game (and this is basically hit or miss).

Thanks for your answers.
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