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I Ran Sorcerer And It Was Awful

Started by erithromycin, February 19, 2003, 01:35:15 PM

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Or, rather, it was Simply Ghastly.

I'll start at the beginning, with the players – D, J, K, and W. W lurks here on occasion, and I've just noticed that someone with his nick has registered, so may post in response to this, now that I've gotten around to it. D introduced J to roleplaying, and is, in my opinion, a great roleplayer and GM, but we have a fundamental inability to communicate our ideas about either to each other, J writes professionally and has stated that narrative play is what she'd hoped the hobby would provide, K does a lot of LRP, W plays a wide range of stuff and LARPs too. I think one of the strengths of Sorcerer is the way it works at a systemic level, but parts of it are a little out of left field and do sometimes require rereading – I think I did a poor job of explaining the system, and could have done better with the nature of sorcery and the input I offered at character creation, and, indeed, the way I integrated the core book and the two companion volumes, but I think I know how so that's a step in the right direction.

Sorcery was basically flim flam and balderdash, with extra dice for rituals and mumbo jumbo. Demons themselves were basically ghosts, which was a mistake. Rather than have the souls of those who died violently become trapped on earth, I'm now of the opinion that it'd have been better for demons to have been 'formed' from some etheric 'Not Here' by the energies, for later contact. I'd used the mcguffin of trapping demons in objects that were of personal significance to the deceased, which provided two Kickers, but in retrospect was also not as good as it could have been – had their destruction been an integral part of the Contact then it might have had more weight with the nebulously defined Thematic Creative Agenda, which, after a lot of play, sort of resembled this: "What compromises will someone make for others?" The whole business of demons being in items also lent it a disturbing air of the Pokemon problem, which was dealt with, but not in a way that I'm really that proud of.

As Humanity fell, people became more 'ghostlike', until eventually nobody noticed them. In the end, it ended up closer to the eventual Premise than it might have – the consequences of failing to think of others were that others failed to think of you. I messed up on the Humanity rules, to the extent that I'm not actually sure what I did, but it was possible to lose more than one Humanity point in a single ritual set, and, indeed, in character creation. It certainly provided a lot of tension, but it might have been more effective in a more conventional play setup.

The game was played in a living room, on couches, dice being rolled on the floor [and some distance apart] such that strings of numbers were called out across a low table piled high with delicatessen supplied goodies. I am of the opinion that the relaxed feel contributed positively to the nature of play, but that running it this way made the system clunky, which is, as you might have guessed, something that I hadn't intended to do. It also affected the transparency, and made it a lot easier to keep rolls secret. I, aided by the way the dice fell, went a route that I believe Ron is against, and kept almost all of the details of players' demons secret, except for the consequences of Humanity rolls, which eventually led to almost everything happening where only I could 'see' it, and while I might not do it again I do think that it added to the feel.

I've mentioned it twice now, so I ought to explain – Simply Ghastly was set in the interwar years, in and around the Staeness Estate, in the Highlands of Scotland, near the village of Stonybridge. A number of times decisions were made, by the players and me in my role as GM as part of a conscious effort to reflect the tropes of serialised fiction of the time. That was actually an unqualified success – as a whole, Simply Ghastly was a treat, provided, of course, serialised horror fiction from the era is your thing. So that was a second Creative Agenda, wasn't it? Or is that a whole new Theory post?

The characters were therefor a relatively standard bunch, the Laird, his great-neice Meredith, Staeness' Head Gamekeeper, and a travelling American motor tourist, in alphabetical player order. The Laird had a Demonic Valet, who Needed sex with young women, and Desired a child of his own; Meredith's Demon was her imaginary friend Miranda, who Needed to be fed jewellry and Desired the chance to be reincarnated, because Miranda was in fact Terence Woodbrige, the Laird's dead brother; Niamh, a sheepdog in a walking stick, who Needed to be fed, and Desired typical doggy things; and Clinton Reeves-Harding II, an accidently dead best friend in the shape of a Griffith Challenger touring car.

In retrospect, the Laird ought to have had a Cover and a Past, rather than a Cover of "Wealth Landed Industrialist Who Spent Time In India", the Gamekeeper ought not to have been in the game [and his player left as much because of Sorcerer didn't work for him as changes to schedules], I shouldn't have followed through on my initial notion of separate 'schools' of Sorcery, and I ought to have used the Relationship Map that I spent hours researching.

One of Britain's longest running soap operas, 'Eastenders', has a website which lists the ways every character is inter-related. I turned this into an R-Map of "downstairs", as I was fresh from 'Gosford Park'. This was tied in with "upstairs" [the Laird, his relatives, their guests], and "outside" [the gamekeeper]. Then the gamekeeper left the game, I threw the R-Map away, and the game became about the Sorcerers, their Demons, and their struggles with each other. Everyone else became mere colour, which worked quite well in the context.

So, you ask, what happened?

I'll start with the Kickers. Meredith's imaginary friend became less imaginary, and the Gamekeeper's son's personal effects arrived at the house, six years after he was shot for cowardice in the trenches. The Laird noticed that the package had Demonic potential, but was more distracted by the fact that his Valet [a demon, remember?] had gotten one of the scullery maids pregnant, and it was all go from there. To briefly explain, Meredith's Demon, Miranda, was actually two – Terence, the Laird's brother, had been killed in India, and became a Demon. Miranda, who'd been one of his Demons, ate the ring he was bound into, and was subverted. The Laird told his Valet to "keep everything quiet", and left him to it. The Gamekeeper was unsure about what to do with his son, and, after an another session of play, would cease to be a Player Character.

Enter the American Motor Tourist, who, whilst driving through Stonybridge saw a young woman run from a cottage and get knocked over, an incident that nobody else noticed. He then saw the Valet appear from nowhere, pick her up, and place her on the back of a van, which then drove off. The difference between 0 Humanity and Cloak, you see. His Kicker set in motion, he set off in pursuit, arriving at the Staeness Estate in time for dinner. If memory serves, everyone failed to identify anyone else as a Sorcerer, with the possible exception of the Laird finding out about the Motor Tourist, or at least his Demon car.

That night, the Gamekeeper passed away in his sleep, though the symptoms were terribly similar to a Phosgene attack. The Laird, meanwhile, was busy in his study, shooting cats. All part of modern necromancy, you see. This was part of an effort to talk to a Demon who might have known something about the circumstances of the Gamekeeper's son's death. Thinking, grandiosely, of nothing with relevance, I span a tale of priests taking arms against an evil green cloud, which prompted more investigation, and more Summoning, and Demons dispatched to North Africa to find possible relics, as well as the French Officer being bound into a pistol.

The next day, with the Gamekeeper dead, his son was Summoned and Contained that he might be asked what he wanted to do with himself, now that he was dead. Funnily enough, no Humanity was lost there. Another veteran, Andrew Styles, died in a car crash, and the event was reported in the papers. Meredith, meanwhile, was downstairs, comforting the Gamekeeper's granddaughter, and discovered that a scullery maid had left the house, because she was "in a way". Putting one and the Valet together, Meredith tried to find out what the noise that had kept her awake the previous night had been. Miranda found out about the pregnancy, and persuaded Meredith to Summon another Demon [a librarian by the name of Percy], ostensibly to teach her interesting things, but really to help him find the things he needed to take over the Demon-child, if it had solid form. Meredith spent some time asking the Laird and the Motor Tourist about ghosts and such, and again they failed to realise she had sorcerous potential.

That night, she Banished, Contacted, and Summoned Miranda again, and Miranda became a Possessor when she had previously been Inconspicous. Chaos was to ensue.

The Motor Tourist, it transpired, was planning to enter a race in Edinburgh later that week, and it was decided that they would all travel down to watch the race. Andrew Styles, a dead fighter pilot, was Pacted to enter with a Demonically rebuilt car. He travelled down on the train with the Laird, his niece, and his wife, and was recognised by Meredith as someone interesting. Left behind, the Gamekeeper's son was Pacted by the Laird to look for hidden passages, after a number of suspicious noises made by Meredith's nocturnal Sorcery.

The race, with The Motor Tourist's car Needful of Competition and Desirous of his death, was fraught, eventually ending in a tense showdown, and the only non-sorcerous Humanity check, when someone was run off a winding hillside road. After the race, Styles and the Motor Tourist had a tense confrontation, where Styles demanded to be freed from the Pact and Bound to the Motor Tourist, that he might continue to survive. The Motor Tourist Banished him by driving a cross-shaped tire iron through his heart. Meredith, meanwhile, was shopping with Miranda, occupying her dreaded Auntie, in a number of Occult bookshops and other such places. When they returned to the hotel her Aunt fainted, and Miranda went elsewhere wearing someone else. The Laird discovered, when buying Occult tomes later, that someone closely resembling his brother had been seen.

Returning to Stonybridge, the Gamekeeper's son was found to be missing, and Meredith and the Motor Tourist investigated the cottage, discovering Percy and an Occult library. They learned of the Demonic child, and Summoned Andrew Styles to aid them. They confronted the Laird, and he Banished Miranda and his Valet. Relationships amongst the characters started to deteriorate.

The Staeness Estate was surrounded with a huge general Contain, a chain of rolls producing 23 dice for keeping Demons inside the grounds around the house. I'm not convinced I followed the rules entirely correctly, but it was cool, so I'll leave it. They discovered that Miranda had purchased silver weaponry and religious artifacts, presumably to deal with the Demonic child if things went awry, which they could be argued to have done, as it attacked, killing large numbers of the staff before it was driven off. The players fled to the cottage, and the Laird convinced the police that this was the result of an attack by anarchists or bolsheviks, while Meredith and the Motor Tourist Punished the unBound Demon child until they were able to Banish it.

That was it, really. I've almost certainly got some things in the wrong order, and left some important things out,  but all the big things I can remember are in there. I've left out fascinating little bits of nonmechanical play, like the dinner party with an MP from the Ministry of Defence, a White Russian diplomat, and the Laird of neighbouring Stouryvain, the Member of Parliament for the region, a Professor from the University to translate, and a Kirk Minister to make up numbers where the Laird agreed to supply arms to the British Government under the table to aid her Cszarist allies; the difficulties that a Laird has keeping his Household in order without his wifet the mischief a 15 year old Heiress can get up to with a Demonic companion; the villainy which you can abet with Sorcerer in a motor race; the innate freakiness of a revolver decorated with Christ on the cross, with a Jesus on the trigger guard that moves as a body would if one were to jog the crucifix it was nailed to; NPCs called Kelvin Wostlethorne; oh, and the joy of being able to say "the boar pate tastes like this one" when asked about what had been prepared for an in-character picnic.

- drew

[edit: "Creative Agenda" is better than "Premise"]
my name is drew

"I wouldn't be satisfied with a roleplaying  session if I wasn't turned into a turkey or something" - A

Ron Edwards

Hi Drew,

I'm confused - what was awful? Was that a joke?

What sort of feedback are you interested in?


Michael S. Miller

Quote from: erithromycindice being rolled on the floor [and some distance apart] such that strings of numbers were called out across a low table [snip] that running it this way made the system clunky, which is, as you might have guessed, something that I hadn't intended to do.

"Strings of numbers"? Sheesh! I've seen this practice in a number of posts and reviews about Sorcerer/Donjon and I've had to reprimand several of my players about it as well. I think it's a leftover from WoD/Storyteller when the player doesn't know the target number. This is a very inefficient way of reading Sorcerer dice. Here's how I do it:

[Player and GM roll dice and glance at them.]

GM: What's your highest?

Player: um, 8

GM: Dagnabbit! My highest is a 6. How many do you have that beat a 6?

Player: 4. Cool.

And that's it. Everything else could be 1s and it wouldn't matter. This is amazingly quick and it kinda irks me that people intentionally slow down an elegant process by paying attention to low-rolling dice that mean nothing. [/rant off]

2/19/03 10:22 edited for spelling of "reprimand"
Serial Homicide Unit Hunt down a killer!
Incarnadine Press--The Redder, the Better!

Ron Edwards

Hi Michael,

Good point. Also, I sometimes try to get everyone rolling at once even if they're in different scenes, such that the complex conflict resolution system can shine. That is to say, if three different player-characters are in three different scenes, we play cross-cutting until everyone's poised to roll, then everyone rolls and we take in order as determined by the dice. Obviously, no one is directly affecting any scene but their own, but it creates a great montage-approach and makes the dice part of everyone's role-playing experience in a creative, constructive way.

Doing this in Sorcerer led me to encourage it greatly in the text of Trollbabe, which - due to the possible range and flexibility of relationship-driven actions - does allow a lot of inter-character effects across scenes.

Drew, is any of this discussion addressing the "awfulness"? Or is it irrelevant to your goals in the thread? I'm still confused.



Hey Ron,

If I am following this correctly, Simply Ghastly was the title of the first game, and It Was Awful is the title of this second game.



It was a joke. The game, as a whole, was called Simply Ghastly, and I was trying to reflect that in the title, only I clearly botched my subtle humour roll.

Having already talked to one of the players since I posted, I did forget a couple of things. Meredith reSummoned Miranda, losing Humanity in the process, which was an interesting statement, not least because it was a strange period piece, and said a lot about how close the relationship between the two was.

As for the strings of dice thing, yes Mike, you're right, it is quicker to do it that way, but I forgot. Well, that and I soon fell into 'secret rolling', which does hide the elegance of Sorcerer. A bad call on my part in retrospect.

I'm not entirely sure what kind of feedback I'm interested in, in fact in some ways I was just trying to formulate what I thought about the game. I think I'd be interested in discussing the ways in which looking back on a campaign like Simply Ghastly can point out ways in which a GM can improve the way they run games, and perhaps some help in trying to figure out where to take the next campaign I run using Sorcerer. [1]

I'd had ideas about doing something with espionage and the early 1950s, perhaps keeping the game in the North of Scotland again, though I was also interested in maintaining the feel of fiction from the period. So there's a few places I'd like to go with this thread, but some of them might become new ones. Does that make sense?

- drew

[1] Which I'll probably call "It Was Awful", just to make my own life difficult.
my name is drew

"I wouldn't be satisfied with a roleplaying  session if I wasn't turned into a turkey or something" - A

Ron Edwards

Oh! I get it.

Hi Drew - so what worked out well during play? Did any "group spoo" moments occur, such that everyone was all excited and having fun with what was happening? Did anyone get invested in another player's character?



What worked well?

Race day was a high point - the race itself was quite impressive, not least because the Motor Tourist's car [a Demon] was trying to kill him, and his primary competitor [another Demon] had a Desire for Mayhem.

If memory serves, I ran it 'simultaneously' with the various shopping expeditions around the Town, such that the approaches to dramatic overtaking around perilous hillside roads cut to Meredith having fun while shopping with her Possessed Aunt. The whole thing was further complicated by the fact that the Motor Tourist had a low Stamina score, which the Demon car Boosted, and this Boost was withdrawn at particularly inopportune moments.

The final confrontation with the Demon Child [which resembled a cloud of Phosgene, some sort of Future Of War Dead Thing], was great too, though I can't remember who actually Banished it. It was, however, a group Sorcery effort. However, the way it ended up the Laird was in a position where it was more important to stay in the village of Stonybridge and keep everything secret than fight the demon. At least, that's how I remember it, which means I'm almost certainly forgetting the other, more valid justifications. The game was a while ago, it finished several months ago, but I didn't get around to writing it up properly until last night.

Hmm. More group spoo moments - the flexibility of 'Cover' was a big one, it worked remarkably well, especially when the Laird made rolls against Cover to see if he had useful Demons in his collection of arcane souveneirs. I think I fluffed the Laird's Kicker, however, and it's resolution wasn't as good as it could have been - that said, it did give rise to the eventual overplot, which is a good thing.

In some ways I'm not sure how looking at it again after that kind of time has changed my perceptions of it. I enjoyed it, and was satisfied with it, and so were the players.

As a group, my players were new to explicitly Narrative roleplaying, and, to be honest, so was I. Comments have been made in the past about frustrated HERO players, and I used to be one myself. The system didn't cause any problems, it's sufficiently flexible that things can be worked with rather than through - I did have trouble explaining it, however, and the jump from more familiar game systems [SLA and Runequest] caused some trouble for some players, not least with the fact that Sorcerer isn't nearly as granular as most things. I think we managed to work through that with stricter interpretations of Descriptors, but in future I think I'd like to conjure a setting specific set, rather than use the ones from the book. The Prices were interesting too, Ill-Health and Tubercular for the Laird and Motor Tourist [-1 to strenuous physical activity], and Distracted for Meridith [-1 to threatless Perception rolls]. In retrospect, they hardly ever played a systemic role, instead constraining action before it took place. I do think that that was a good thing.

I do think that I wasn't entirely in command of Sorcerer, however, but that's in comparison to my position now. I've run a campaign in it now, and couple of one-offs, and I think I've got a better handle on it. I've also, I think, overcome my temptation to convert everything to Sorcerer, though the 'Corporate Sorcery' game being discussed in Adept Press at the moment keeps generating ideas.

- drew
my name is drew

"I wouldn't be satisfied with a roleplaying  session if I wasn't turned into a turkey or something" - A


As W, the only awful thing (in the modern sense) I found with the game was the sheer level of distrust between the player characters. It's not that this can't work, but it wasn't really what I was expecting. As a result, the player characters didn't spend all that much time in each others' presence, so for many parts of the game 2/3rds of each player's time was spent listening to descriptions of things happening away from his/her character. I suppose I also personally felt more pressured to think and perform when my character was the only one "in shot" and everyone else was listening to me.

In contrast to other games I've played (recently mostly D&D and a bit of Hawkmoon) this one had more cool things happening, and more of an interesting and mysterious story, but felt more like work at times. This was probably exacerbated by my terrible memory and lack of general knowledge - I don't like playing a game in a setting of which I know substantially less than the other players (part of the reason I keep avoiding Cyberpunk games) and in this case I knew next to nothing.

Just because it was work doesn't mean that it wasn't worth it, but I can't help feeling that there must be an easier way to get all the fun and interesting stuff happening without the mortal terror of not knowing what to do[1] (as a player as much as a character) and the isolation between characters.

I definitely felt I enjoyed things more when my character was more or less working alongside Meredith. Maybe it's fear of the unfamiliar, or just the desire for cooperative social interaction, but I tend to prefer games with some approximation of a "player party".



[1] Maybe that's just me. I do recall actually panicking and coming to a complete brick-wall in some trivial conversation or something, so I think I must have been rather stressed at the time.


Quote from: erithromycin(Race day)
If memory serves, I ran it 'simultaneously' with the various shopping expeditions around the Town, such that the approaches to dramatic overtaking around perilous hillside roads cut to Meredith having fun while shopping with her Possessed Aunt.
Did you? I thought they were on a hotel balcony watching the race.

Quote from: erithromycinThe final confrontation with the Demon Child [which resembled a cloud of Phosgene, some sort of Future Of War Dead Thing], was great too, though I can't remember who actually Banished it. It was, however, a group Sorcery effort.
I recall that we belittled it mercilessly (though the exact insults elude me), set it on fire while it was stunned and then I thrust a sword or something similar through its chest. I very much liked the fact that we ended up confronting it with none of our demons to assist us. I don't remember quite how we managed to get the thing into a form where we could approach it. Afterwards I think we put out the fire and decided to go and eat something. We were left wondering how to get sandwiches when all the servants have fled or died.