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Sorcerer ponderings

Started by Tim Denee, October 28, 2002, 11:42:41 PM

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Tim Denee

Hey all,

Just got Sorcerer (and Soul, and Sword) a couple of weeks ago. Totally awesome.

Anyway, I've been thinking about Sorcerer (as you do) and I need to vent some ideas before they fester.

Sorcerer set in modern day Japan. Humanity is the ability to change, adapt, and grow (emotionally, mentally, and even physically). The rituals are based on tradition; a martials arts kata, a tea ceremony, traditional flower arranging, calligraphy on the nude body of a geisha... that sort of thing. At low humanity, a sorcerer becomes timeless; they can't forget past love, they stop growing physically, they cling to tradition and forget how to operate in the modern world. Demons are likewise based on concepts of tradition and nostalgia. Some thoughts that I like:
- a sorcerer who reached zero humanity as a child; physically a child but with an ancient, twisted mind.
- the old cliche of a demonic object katana
- oni bodyguard demon in samurai armour
- the other cliche of a demon geisha
- inconspicuous demon ninja
- a family ancestor as a demon
- conflicting interests; people using sorcerery to survive in the competitive modern world, but at the same time finding themselves alienated from it by that same sorcerery.
- the third cliche of demonic yakuza tattoos (but all these cliches are so appropriate to this setting!).

As for literary inspiration, the 80s katana-thrillers spring to mind (Eric Lustbader's Zero, for instance). Old japan vs. new japan, everyone seems to know how to use a katana, fighting isn't flashy kung-fu but rather quick and brutal, lots of stereotypical oriental imagery combined with gritty urban imagery.

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

If you put this idea on crystal meth, you get Violence Future.

But Tim, I like it. I think I'd like it even more if it were grounded mainly in post-millenium Japan-as-reality and less in the American Japan-ophilia of the 80s. For example, I'd leave the katana out entirely given my druthers.

Any notions on what sort of conflicts ... or better yet, descriptors, would be most appropriate?


Tim Denee

Speaking of Violence Future, any word on when one can acquire that sick puppy?

I'll talk more about it in a while, but right now I should be doing my philosophy study... sigh

Ron Edwards

Hi Tim,

Bug Dav Harnish about Violence Future; in fact, everyone should bug Dav about Violence Future. It's totally finished, just not available, which is maddening.

But back to your ideas. One of the best things about this mode of play is that it's instantly accessible to American players who remember the whole Japanese-craze of the 80s, as well as to most younger folks who've internalized the details of that craze as bits and pieces of pop culture. I'm interested in the degree to which you'd permit the individual players to contribute to the setting itself, during pre-play discussion.

What would your one-sheet, as presented to the players at the first get-together, look like?


Henry Fitch

You've read Thousand Cranes, right? I couldn't think of anything but that when I read your post. Although, I don't think a single person in that book ever went above 3 or 4 humanity.

Extremely cool ideas, something that wouldn't have occured to me.
formerly known as Winged Coyote

Tim Denee

Thousand Cranes eh? Nope, never heard of it. Sure as hell gonna read it now, though.

First, the literary influence was the closest I could think of, but it is not a parody or even a homage to that material. It's just somewhere in the same vein. Certainly, I'd like it to be a lot more "real world" and less pulpy.

I was about to write up a one-sheet, but then I started thinking about my definition of humanity. It's not very strong, is it? It's debilitating for the sorcerer, sure, but one wouldn't loathe a zero humanity person, you'd simply pity them. Will this weaken the conflict? Any thoughts here?

And to answer you first questions... The conflicts... Well, orginally the seeds of this came from reading an anthropological paper on the "new middle class" of Japan. One of the key parts was that the new, large middle class is highly nostalgic for the rural ways of Japan a hundred years ago (or however long ago it was). And yet this nostalgia is dangerous because it misrepresents the past and the present. So I'm trying to capture something of that danger; getting so caught up in the past you lose the present. I think that's a pretty universal trap, one we all fall into occasionally.

Descriptors. You mean score descriptors, right? OK.
    Well, the Stamina descriptors would be more or less standard, with maybe a few different Martial Arts descriptors to choose from.
    Will, again, would be standard (maybe throw in "zen-like calm" or something like that)
    But I suspect Lore is what you were really asking about. Firstly, lore should be defined at character creation; is it a specific set of rituals (karate kata, for example) or something broad (one day he's performing a tea ceremony to contact a demon, the next it's flower-arranging, and the day after that it's archery). This has no mechanical impact; knowing only one specific ritual is not a penalty or a bonus, it simply helps define the character further.
The ritual acts require not only mastery, but also intent. Note that "mastery" in this case does not mean literally being a master, but rather performing the act in question (calligraphy, painting, haiku...) to perfection during the ritual. Intent can be subconscious as well as conscious. This allows for both the fact that not every master of martial arts is a demon-summoner, and that not every demon-summoner need be a master of a Way (they might have fluked the act that one time). Some descriptors:
Naif (standard)
Solitary Adept (standard)
Student - you have a sensei who guides you not only in the ancient arts but also gives you general guidance. Whether they truly care for you or are simply interested in you as a pawn is questionable (think Kozo Shiina from Zero, if you've read it. Or even Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid, as a completely inappropriate example)
Clan member - you acquired the right to learn your skills through either lineage, membership, or both. Example clans include an ancient, powerful family or a sprawling yakuza network.

Gotta go do the Halloween thing. Mo' later.


Quote from: Ron EdwardsHi there,
But Tim, I like it. I think I'd like it even more if it were grounded mainly in post-millenium Japan-as-reality and less in the American Japan-ophilia of the 80s. For example, I'd leave the katana out entirely given my druthers.

What's the problem with Katanas?  Tokyo has an entire museum dedicated to Katanas, the vast majority of the visitors to which are Japanese.  It's still a symbol there, it's not just an American cod-Japanese thing.

Personally though I'd want somehow to make an object demon in the form of a Zen Garden, not sure what powers would fit but it would certainly not be the typical kind of Object Demon as tool that I think can be assumed.
AKA max

Ron Edwards

Hi Max,

Your query "What's wrong with ..." is automatically misperceiving my position. I'm not objecting to something, but rather calling it into question so that Tim can make some decisions about it. That something is the tendency for pop-Western audiences to fantasize about modern Asian peoples, especially the Japanese, as follows:

- They have more appreciation and direct, continuous contact with their historical culture than we do, especially in terms of the transfer of value-systems down the ages.
- They have a generally more spiritual outlook, and a calmer spiritual outlook, than we do.
- They do more martial arts (and better) than we do, as a part of ordinary life.
- They feel the conflict between "traditional" and modern ways of life as a constant, fully-philosophical issue.

To my understanding, none of these things are true. They're not even partly true. But as an image, or a fantasy, it's a very pervasive outlook toward Japanese people here in Da West. Cue image of two Japanese guys with longish hair, wearing suits, wrinkling their brows as they try to reconcile samurai codes of ethics with gangland Yakuza assassinations. Cue much babble of "giri" and "ancestors."

Good example: that flick starring Christopher Lambert, what was it, The Hunted or something; as well as the Crichton one, Rising Sun. All of it - pure western fantasy about Japanese folks, in terms of their alleged obsession with and practice of "traditional" concerns.

Violence Future actually parodies this perception in a semi-contemptuous, semi-wallowing-in-it way. Tim, I'm wondering what your thoughts are. You refer both to real/actual modern Japan as well as to this Western-hip perception of modern Japan. Any mix of the two is of course valid, as an RPG setting; my question is what your particular mix will (or might) be.

Max, nothing is wrong with katanas, nor with Japanese musems full of them, just as nothing could imaginably be wrong with the museums full of English armor and swords I visited in London. What I'm ... again, not objecting to, but calling to attention, is the perception that modern Japanese people characteristically know how to fight with them, or for that matter, characteristically study martial arts at all.


Tim Denee

OK, I've been trying to get my head around what I'm thinking, exactly ("The Forge: it makes you think"). I'll give it a stab:

- Modern japan is modern japan. Normal folks doing normal things. My character might be Ken Ichimada, a low level worker at an accounting firm who goes home to his apartment every night and eats macaroni and cheese while watching the news.
- The player characters (the sorcerers) have the same romantic notions about Japan (i.e. themselves) as the western asian fantasy Ron was talking about above. My character Ken Ichimada goes to kendo classes regularly. He's not very good, but he thinks he is. He keeps an "authentic" katana at home, his prized possesssion.
- Somehow, they've encountered real sorcerery, real tradition, real power. They start to live the fantasy. Do they see what they are losing? Can they give up the life they've always wanted in order to keep the crappy, mundane present? My character Ken Ichimada learns zen calmness over a lifetime of sitting through commerical breaks. He uses it to summon an object demon, which "becomes" his existing katana.
- Now that they can live the fantasy, they go out an embrace it. They look for trouble, look for adventure, get into their role. Will they forget that's it's just a role? Ken Ichimada starts to carry his katana with im everywhere, which demands that he engage in duels. Suffice it to say, his constant dueling gets him into a lot of trouble. He has to quit his job, he gets kicked out of his apartment. He lives on the road, his demon with him, the wandering ronin.

So, to summarize: to most people, the setting is normal, mundane Japan. To the sorcerers, it is the fantastic Japan.


My god, its a sorcerous version of the TV addiction in Requiem for a Dream!  Its taking a loser and giving them lots of power.  So in this case, would humanity 0 be losing yourself completely in a catatonic divorce from reality?


Tim Denee

Exactly. Except maybe not a catatonic divorce, but a violent and twisted divorce from reality.

Ron Edwards


Holy shit. This is brilliant. Write, man, write!!


Christopher Kubasik


And: "The Forge: It Makes You Think."  If that's been around for awhile I hadn't heard it yet and I think It Is this Site's perfect Brand Phrase.  Great work.

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Christopher Kubasik

Oh yeah... Don't forget about Humanity Checks...  I suggest not only the ability to percieve mundane reality, but to value it with active care and attention.

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield



Thanks for the elucidation, I see where you're coming from now and agree.
AKA max