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Author Topic: The necromancy game continued  (Read 9768 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: September 22, 2003, 10:03:18 AM »

Hello,

I'm starting a new thread from My current Sorcerer game - modern necromancy, just to break things up a little. I'll start by making all the remaining material available:
relationship map
third handout
fourth handout
fifth handout (which goes with our just-completed Sunday session)

If these links aren't active yet, don't fret - they should go up sometime in the next day or so.

Reminder: the relationship map was derived from hooking the back-stories of two novels together: The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper, and A Purple Place for Dying, both by John D. MacDonald. The place of juncture is the connection between Vaughn Bachner and Kevin Lazaros; in "The Girl," there's a doctor who dopes up Lori, and in "Purple Place," there's a guy who's fooled about the murder of his wife. Making them the same character gives you the expanded map.

All right, so now what? I want to separate the content of play into three separate categories.

1. The back-story, and what NPCs have done what to whom. (see the relationship map)

Melanie and Lori are sisters; Richard Pike is their stepfather. Kevin Lazaros is currently having an affair with Martha Widdoes; he is using her for access to the coven Martha belongs to (and which relies on Victoria for its sole sorcery). Kevin also murdered his wife, Lori, and is now married to Melanie, her sister. Knightsbridge is a mover-and-shaker in the same political circles as Victoria and Roger, and his assassin-assistant Nava switched his allegiances to Kevin; Kevin is assisted as well by his semi-psycho secretary Jamie, and pursued by undercover cop Vega. Kevin uses a photograph of Lori as a necromantic Token; he is not really a sorcerer, just advised by Liz Snopes (see below).

To kill Lori and make it look like a suicide, Kevin relied on the help of Dr. Vaughn Bachner, a philanthropist with some troubles. His story is that he had a daughter long before he was married to Margaret (herself the daughter of his best friend, Aaron), and that daughter , Liz, returned with her half-brothers, the Snopes boys, to seize his estate after arranging a cunning murder of his wife and her lover, Vladimir. Liz’s story is pretty nasty – she is actually a lich, whose death was her own abortion. Margaret was a member of the same coven as Martha and Victoria, by the way.

A bit more that arose from character creation includes Victoria Carson and the Widdoes, who are good friends. Notably, she and Roger had an affair long ago. This is what added Victoria into the map, via Beth's Kicker for her. I usually don't include player-characters in relationship maps by default, in playing Sorcerer, but in this case Beth essentially shoehorned her character right on in there.

Why the double-map? It's important to know that I went into the first session with just (a) and (c). The Kevin-based material is essentially nothing more than a find-the-psycho puzzle, based on sympathy for Lori and Melanie. Since I wanted all-done murders, not impending ones, and since Melanie had not apparently captured the players' interest in the first session, I decided to add more depth (i.e. problems, people, and hassles) into the prep at that point. Since the other relationship map was sitting there in my notes, I hooked it up without any trouble.

By contrast, in my Hero Wars game a couple-three years ago, I introduced a young woman named Aething in the first session who immediately grabbed all three players emotionally, and as such, the relationship-map and local conflicts that included her became central to the characters' decision-making. As I say, "Never argue with the word of God," which in the case of this Sorcerer game means, "Don't make Melanie your [GM's] expected touchpoint of character decisions."

2. The in-play events, including both PC and NPC perceptions and decisions.

What happened!

Session 1 - As described in the other thread, the Kickers got played out and small inroads made among some NPCs, with the big surprise being that Urma befriended the fellow who (Possessed) had tried to kill him. It also featured one extraordinary decision made by Victoria, which led to exposing huge heaping sections of the relationship map, notably Kevin's affair with and emotional control over Martha Widdoes. Notice that Veniamin's extraordinary effectiveness as a demon makes any attempt to "keep stuff secret" pretty absurd; it's all about which questions Beth decided were important, not what answers I chose to conceal.

Session 2 - Roger Widdoes has been abducted by Michael Nava at Kevin's orders and slated for (although the players don't know this) one of Kevin's many shallow graves at his vacation cabin in the boonies. This led to some fun stuff in which Veniamin, directed by Victoria, rescues Roger and returns to Victoria in his body, bearing the very battered and rather compliant Michael Nava, which then turns into kind of a romantic triangle confrontation between Victoria, Martha, and Roger, compounded by Veniamin. Meanwhile, starting with the death of Kim Vega (killed by Jamie, at Kevin's orders), Urma and Craig more-or-less team up via Stone. They encounter the demon Bach'uh (the remains of Vaughn Bachner) on the River, even as Liz is trying to Summon it, and disrupt her ritual; this is where I brought in the first connections with the second, added-on map. The insight about Veniamin, by the way, applies in full as well to Urma's stunning Lore rolls (Frank never failed to get two or three bonus dice for them, on top of a Lore of 4).

Session 3 - Urma and Craig, operating on Stone's information, find Jamie Walz and co-opt her from Kevin, assisted as well by Veniamin (here's where all the player-characters' paths finally crossed). This scene involved a lot of gunfire, as Jamie is a paranoid gun-nut. Also, Victoria co-opts the assassin Nava from Kevin. Basically, what they did was start taking positions of mastery over the secondary characters. Victoria made an absolutely key decision, choosing Veniamin (the dead) over Martha and Roger (the living); in fact, she let the demon Possess Martha. This led to a squicky bit where the demon (in Martha's body) kisses Victoria, and that's when Veniamin sprang into action strictly for Victoria's benefit, to which it stayed faithful until the final scene of Session 5. Also, Frank role-played Urma confronting Craig about what he wanted from his demon (as opposed simply to being emotionally entangled with it), and the difference between the wizened adept and the young-punk rage-ful naive sorcerer was highlighted very sharply. This proved important when Craig learned, through a Hint from his demon, that his mother was not dead after all, but alive and safe, somewhere (not involved with this story).

Session 4 - This extremely bloody session mainly featured a hard core combat among Kevin (who's attempting to sacrifice Melanie to add to his Token's Power), Urma and his demon, Craig and his demon, Jamie (on their side), and Veniamin in Martha's body. The latter really showed what a hideous demon can do, but the key to their victory was co-opting the necromancy itself and turning it around against Kevin; the fight ended up in the River itself. I especially liked the Token-knife, thrown by Kevin, impaling Urma in the chest ... but his demon-conferred Armor (mistiness) saved him. Let's see; Kevin was not only killed but sent back through the Ninth Gate, and Lori's "essence" was sent there too ... But the real showcase of the session was Craig deciding to return from the River without his demon, effectively letting his father and his conflicting passions about him go.

Oh yes, and the Snopes featured strongly as well. Thornton basically strode into the game and hooked everyone, confronting Victoria and killing Michael Nava off-stage (I let the dice rule; I had no idea which of these two fearsome NPCs would kill the other). And Silas, who was helping out Kevin, got his redneck ass kilt by Craig. Oh yeah! Jamie was killed too; off-stage, Liz successfully Summoned Bach'uh (as a flood of rats from her vagina, uck!) and confronted by her worst fears, Jamie stuck her gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. One last point concerned Roger - after the confrontation in the previous session, I had him go into investigation-mode and find out all sorts of things, but get grabbed by the Snopeses. I simply kept this to myself in anticipation for later.

Session 5 - Some of this session involved Victoria's first interaction with Liz Snopes, with Roger at her mercy, and I was careful to make it clear that the group did not have to "stop her" from doing anything. Victoria could become her helper ("I'll be your Martha now"), Craig could go back to the streetfights with unlimited demonic help, and Urma was free to get out of town. They chose to do otherwise, and in Urma's case, that was a good idea - his demon was very committed to the notion that Urma lives for something (see the previous thread for the demon's "origin"), and was fully prepared to attack him if he did otherwise.

The stunner-scene partway through was Victoria Summoning the demonic version of Silas Thornton (killled the previous session) as The Eater, a really horrible demon, who debuted by dismembering Thornton and eating him.

This session also ended up on the River, and Craig decided to sacrifice himself - by fighting Bach'uh through each successive Gate, enduring the risks to Humanity entailed by the Otherworld rules, and eventually succeeding in Banishing the demon forever ... and passing himself through the Ninth Gate with a remaining Humanity of 2. Also, for the first time, for instance, Victoria and Urma were face to face, and they were still highly suspicious of one another - and they disagreed about what to do about Liz, once Craig and Bach'uh had passed through the First Gate. On the River, Liz appeared as a glowing fetus suspended over the water - Urma had already rendered it helpless with his nasty Token-knife thing, but Victoria chose not to drown it there, and left the River. Urma finished the job.

Final scenes involved Roger and Victoria affirming themselves to one another (Martha was dead, her body worn out and killed by Veniamin's occupancy) and Urma performing an exorcism-type funeral over all the fallen.

A crucial point: it's not about "stopping" anyone! Yes, Kevin is a prick and they "stopped" him from sacrificing Melanie. But so what? She's not important to them as characters anyway. But that's secondary. The real issue is how they decide to do stuff about and for themselves. What Kevin does is not "what's going on." What Liz does is not "what's going on" (which I reinforce by having her sitting pretty, basically).

Which leads to my second major note to myself for running Sorcerer: Don't resist disclosure. When working with a relationship map that is not a storymap (i.e., probably doesn't include the player-characters, was not generated by the group), the point is not to hide or conceal its contents. The point is for the passions and stresses running throughout the map to seize upon the player-characters in any way possible.

The post-Kicker resolution results:

- Urma increases Will by 1 to a new value of 5, rewrites Lore descriptor from "coven member" to "lone adept," rewrites Cover descriptor from "newspaper vendor" to "secret occult consultant," adds Will descriptor "self esteem" to accompany "belief system," rewrites Price from "forgetful" to "cruel." So he's now kind of setting himself up as Justice-Sorcerer-Man in cahoots with his police friend Walter.

- Victoria increases Will by 1 to a new value of 6, rewrites Lore descriptor from "coven member" to "lone adept," rewrites Price to "against killing" (from "paralyzed"), rewrites Stamina descriptor to "ill health" (from "can only move middle finger and face"). So she's no longer paralyzed, although still very weak (Stamina 1), and now is committed to Roger as her partner. But the bad news is that she still has these two horrible demons Bound to her.

- Craig gets rewritten using the Angel rules to Nev's taste (post it, Nev, if you've got it), and passes out of player control.

3. The among-players interactions, including my decisions as GM and various players' comments during and between sessions.

In the first thread, I forgot to mention some interesting dialogue during our pre-play get-together. Beth asked, at one point, "how do we win?" I took a moment to answer. You see, both Beth and Frank are very competitive people - a card game, a pool game, any kind of performance-based social situation that's formalized in any way, and they are pure sharks. So I knew that the typical "Well, we don't really 'win'" answer would be counter-productive; it would only prompt a socially-constructed context for Step On Up. What I said was, "We win if we produce such a great movie that the studios fall all over themselves to offer us millions of dollars to make a sequel."

Notice my cunning shift of the word "we" - by one interpretation, it means "how does one of us win against the rest of us," and by another, it means "how do we as a group win," which is to say, "succeed."

Let's see, I forgot to expound further about my choices about the physical venue for play: I wanted it to be sunny, social, and to some extent public. For the second session, I actually set up a picnic in my back yard, but we had to go inside 'cause it rained. Run #5 was also in my living room, but sun streamed in through all the windows, and the afternoon included gourmet sandwich stuff and mimosas (that's champagne and orange juice).

The whole point is not to bury the act of role-playing in the basement or rumpus room, and not to closet it from family and romantic partners, or secondarily from passers-by. It's the same as if we were doing anything fun together, but since the grouping of people is not defined by family and romantic partners, doing it this way validates the activity (creative agenda) at hand in terms of the larger social context.

Note: validates to whom? Not to the other people out there! (I'm talking about validating play to ourselves.

All of our role-playing in this group included a certain hard edge to inter-player interaction. Beth and Frank pushed one another in no uncertain terms - "Don't wimp out, this guy loves you" or "Hey, what, you're supposed to be this awesome shaman," and similar. Since Victoria's demon was so mobile, and so often present in the same scenes as Urma and Craig, that provided a nice way for the characters to know about one another but not be face to face, and that facilitated Frank's and Beth's constant judgment of one another's characters without exactly kibitzing. To a lesser extent, in sessions 2 and 3, they gave Nev a bit of a hard time, regarding Craig's hesitancy about decisions. By contrast, Nev gave a lot of positive reinforcement to the other two, usually in terms of really getting into the interactions their characters had with NPCs. I was happy to see all of this end up being constructive, especially in the final two sessions when Nev got Craig going and started kicking butt.

Speaking of NPCs, it was very easy to see which ones showed a real grab for the players. The key is, when they show up or do stuff, whether players whose characters are not in the scene start providing opinion and commentary. In many cases, they even provided me with major content for the NPC, just free-associating about what they might think or do. When I realized how important this process was for play, that's when I decided to provide the "attitudes about death" profiles in a handout. The best examples were Roger, Jamie Walz, and Silas and Thornton (who were based loosely on Jody and T.C. from the comic The Preacher, but not as cartoony). Of these, interestingly, Jamie received the least prep or careful attention from me during prep, but the players were so interested in her, that following her death in #4, all of them speculated enthusiastically about what sort of demon she'd end up being. If we play more in this setting, she's definitely on tap for re-entering play as such, probably without any particular pushing from me. I'd expect to see her show up in the Kickers.

Nev provided some important thoughts after the third session, about making valid Sorcerer characters. "When I play this again," he said, "I'm going to make up a character who really and truly wants to be a sorcerer, and took all sorts of actions to get there." I took some time out during the final session to ask, completely out of character, what Craig wants to do with his life if he lives through all this ... and Nev said that he didn't see any such thing - that Craig couldn't just go back to streetfighting, but he'd have to start from scratch. That discussion preceded a series of rapid-fire, in-play decisions on Nev's part that resulted in Craig's ultimate fate.

Melanie continued to be a problematic character, especially as Nev referred to her as a "non-entity" during the combat in session 4. Word of God, remember? I made sure simply to exit her from the story at the beginning of session 5, with a parting opportunity for Humanity checks or gains through dialogue (Urma lost one). They were all about Liz and not at all about Melanie.

I was especially happy with some discussion with Nev at the point of Craig going through the Ninth Gate, which was weird, because before play, as he and I were sittin' around waiting for the other two, he was talking about how movies without clear resolutions irritated him. He cited The Ninth Gate and The Cube - it "ends," but you don't really know what happened or where the character went, or what was going on in certain setting-terms. So later, during play, Craig goes through the Ninth Gate with his Humanity intact, and Nev looks at me and openly demands to know what happens - no vague ambiguity, thank you very much! "Don't 'Cube' me, man!"

Well, this was sticky - damn it, I don't want a well-defined afterlife in this setting! And when I try to pass it off on Nev ("You say"), he rightly rejects it as a cop-out. H'mmm ... so I do the right thing, and remember that Sorcerer is a solid game ... and poof! I remember that the author had been clever enough to address this in The Sorcerer's Soul. Ah-ha, I say, write up Craig, or rather what he becomes, as an Angel. And that does the trick; Nev opens the book and starts scribbling, apparently satisfied.

My single favorite conversational bit came at the end of the final session: Beth to Frank: "I can't believe you drowned the poor little baby-fetus thing!" Frank: "That thing had to go."

Nothing like value systems in action, eh?

Input I'm looking for
What about any of this, if any, hits you regarding your own role-playing experience? "Yeah, that worked for us," or, "Never thought of that," or "We did that too, but it tanked" - whatever.

Does anything about my prep decisions require further explaining? It's very hard to tell, from this side of the screen, if I'm conveying any of the process well.

Can you see the difference between GM-decisions during play and "winging it"? Similarly, can you see the difference between Bang prep and railroading?

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2003, 01:52:28 PM »

I'm not sure if this is feedback that you're looking for, but:
Quote
The whole point is not to bury the act of role-playing in the basement or rumpus room, and not to closet it from family and romantic partners, or secondarily from passers-by. It's the same as if we were doing anything fun together, but since the grouping of people is not defined by family and romantic partners, doing it this way validates the activity (creative agenda) at hand in terms of the larger social context.

Note: validates to whom? Not to the other people out there! (I'm talking about validating play to ourselves.


Isn't making an outward choice like a bit like being flaming in order to validate one's homosexuality? Or all that stuff about freaking the mundanes that we discussed in the Big 5 Social threads? If we were really comfortable with play wouldn't we just do it based on some other criteria, like what was most comfortable or best facilitated play?

Doesn't having to go out of our way to prove that we're OK with it mean that we're not OK with it?

Or was this all done covertly by yourself in order to prevent the other players from getting the notion that you might be trying to hide the activity? Isn't that, again, detectable itself? Why not just "act natural"?

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2003, 07:35:35 PM »

Hi Mike,

If we'd been in a restaraunt, rattling our dice loudly and perhaps telling people at other tables what "just happened," or set up a big sign that said "We're gaming here - get over it," then I'd agree with you.

My claim is that "act natural" is exactly what I was shooting for with this game. Eating sammiches in the living room, sunning on the lawn, hanging out by the pool. No flaming, no grand displays, no "in-your-face" to anyone else. But no weird cloistering either.

Best,
Ron
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2003, 02:39:41 PM »

Well, I've printed Ron's post off for some in-depth reading, but as a quick response on one minor point . . . that's a pretty complicated relationship map.  I'm not sure many groups I've played with would keep track of all those personalities very well.

Which is weird - they can track, for e.g., a good number of the various "nations" and races of Talislanta just fine.  And of course, part of the strength of an r-map is the players don't actually have to "figure out" the whole thing, just the bits that actual play shows to be important/relevant.

But I as GM might also have problems tracking it all - I've never particularly cared for the intricate who-did-what-to-who-when (and was it in bed) style murder mystery.

Like I said, quick thoughts - I'll have something more later,

Gordon
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: September 23, 2003, 02:48:42 PM »

Hi Gordon,

Since we often went three or four weeks between sessions, a re-cap about NPC relationships often preceded play. And as I like to stress, play is not about uncovering the map or all the past events through investigation (which is why the "murder mystery" is the wrong model to reference) - the map exists so that the NPCs can do stuff that offers emotional meat to the players.

Don't fear disclosure is the watchword. My relationship maps are not concealed; they are veritably hurled at the players as the NPCs refer to one another. It helps to remember that real people often "reveal" their personal relationship maps to one another through constant references to other people, and that better-written stories often mimic this behavior rather than have the characters engage in expository dialogue about past events.

In past games, players often scribbled relationship maps as notes without any discussion of them previously, or knowledge that I'm using one of my own.

Best,
Ron
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2003, 03:03:03 PM »

Okay.  So I’ve printed out all the material, read it.  And now I’m about to delve into Ron’s questions and I feel like a jackass, ‘cause – well, I’ve tried running Sorcerer a few times but it hasn’t gone very well, I assumed I was a Nar player but I’m only beginning to understand how much I didn’t understand….

So.  Here we go:

What about any of this, if any, hits you regarding your own role-playing experience?

· The conversation you had with Beth and Frank really hit home.  This, combined with your recent essays about G and N made it clear to me how much I’ve been a Step On Up boy when it comes to playing roles.  (In years past; not lately.)  I wasn’t about the “story” (and certainly not a them) in times past.  I’d said I’ve been the Improv Monster for the Id someone mentioned on another thread recently, the Improviser who is there to dominate because he can.

· The idea about letting the beginning of the story take its sweet time really struck a chord – as well as the contrast with the desire to get things “going” as quickly as possible.  I’m sure like the latter.  (Or, I have been.)  I thought back top conversations you and I had about movies, where there’s the “maneuvering” of getting the main character hooked up with the “demon” (say, Ripley and Newt in “Aliens.”)  I spun my wheels for a while thinking, “How do you get it all going faster?”  But you don’t have to.  As long as interesting things are happening, hooked into concerns about theme, you’re fine.  I feel relaxed about this all over.

· Relationship Maps.  You mentioned several times how they’re not to be hidden; that one in fact should “fling” them at the players.  I’ve been doing just the opposite.  I didn’t quite make it a “story map” in my Sorcerer games.  But sure did use it as, “Well, I’ve got this, you don’t, so don’t you want it!” It’s sort of a way for me to protect myself as a GM.  It gives me some coins at the table the other players don’t have, which I feel I need since everybody’s looking at me for answers all the time.

· Along these lines, your repeated warning about letting NPCs go, even if you thought they were the new take on sliced bread… I understood the concept of that that.  But I could review my previous attempts at Sorcerer at realize that I really wasn’t playing that way.  I had all the agendas of my NPCs and I wanted the players to be interested in that.

· And from this, it suddenly occurs to me what I don’t get: this faith in these “stress” lines between the NPCs somehow working in tandem with the PC’s ambitions.  I gotta admit, I’m confused on how the PC’s goals interact with the NPC’s agendas.  Where is the line drawn between the GM “making story” and the PCs driving the game?  I mean, what at the NPCs doing when the PCs aren’t in the scene.

· I’ve come to realize I’m not that good as a GM on encouraging the players to have their PCs running around with their own goals.  I suspect this is because I’ve been rushing the opening session.

· Finally, could you peel out examples of the Bangs in the game.  I’m assuming some where planned out ahead of time, some not.  Could you lay these out on the table?

There you go.

Christopher
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2003, 07:01:25 PM »

Yay! I want more posts in this thread. Thanks, Christopher.

Quote
... it suddenly occurs to me what I don’t get: this faith in these “stress” lines between the NPCs somehow working in tandem with the PC’s ambitions. I gotta admit, I’m confused on how the PC’s goals interact with the NPC’s agendas. Where is the line drawn between the GM “making story” and the PCs driving the game? I mean, what at the NPCs doing when the PCs aren’t in the scene.


This is exactly the concern Jesse brought to the Art-Deco Melodrama exercise. Let's take your word "somehow" in the above quote. Can you see that it's precisely the player-knowledge and player-actions to set up the story (rather than enact it), which you habitually shy away from, that provide the "somehow"?

People (barring "experienced role-players," and if you imagine a curled lip and a frustrated contempt in my delivery of that term, you won't be far wrong) are good at doing this. I will venture to say that, given the right social reinforcement and the relaxed but pointed cues of my role-playing NPCs who are embedded in a relationship map, people are great at doing it.

It's not "faith" that fuels my convictions. It's routinely affirmed experiences, up to and including my game of Haven last night with some first-timers at the campus club meeting. But that's another thread, for later.

The way I see it, the GM is a player too. So my role as GM is to provide stuff for make-story, and the players' role is to do stuff that makes-story from it (and isn't just repeating it). Take any event in the game, and you can see its input from me (the GM), the players of the principal character or characters in the scene, and the generalized out-of-character interaction among everyone at the table as well.

It's not a matter of who gets to make story and who doesn't. We all do, with specific roles regarding how.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2003, 07:27:46 PM »

Whoops, forgot the request for Bangs.

All of the following is transcribed from my scribbled ball-point-pen notes in my carry-around notebook (very serial-killer like, all full of tiny writing with idiosyncratic shorthand; I disturb myself when periodically I realize I do this). From some of my prep notes for session #5:

So, Bangs!

1. Liz to Victoria now [might include the rats] <- & evidence that the 3 demons were involved - plus Roger!


[translation: start with Victoria meeting Liz at her trailer park and delivering an ultimatum to her. (The ultimatum is on the preceding page of notes. See if we can integrate Liz birthing Bach'uh with the already-existing player knowledge that Jamie is killed by Bach'uh (the rats), which will establish this scene as simultaneous or just preceding certain scenes played last time. And don't forget that Roger is a prisoner at the trailer park too, as Liz's trump card.]

2. Melanie's got the info re: Liz - saw her, saw Silas. But she'll put it on the line: who's doing what? She won't be ruled by the dead. She'll drive a hard, hard bargain -

[translation: begin the other characters with Melanie and try to give her some "entity" status, if possible. Note that this Bang trailed off in my notes, because the "bargain" didn't occur to me, and I left it for happy improv during play. Which, incidentally, didn't materialize, so I simply exited her stage left.]

3. Silas' return (very open how)

[translation: I had several ideas about Silas, killed in session #4, as a demon and had made him up as such, provisionally. If he'd made no showing by the time that all the characters were at the trailer park (and I was pretty confident that would happen), then I would have him enter, having been Summoned by Liz (or getting that into play somehow). But as it worked out, Beth had her character Victoria Summon Silas anyway, before that point. So my anticipation was well-warranted and I didn't have to do any NPC-ing to see this demon in action.]

4. Martha's fate - Stam vs. Power to see if she makes it. Veniamin really wants Roger next (if you see what I mean).

[translation: Martha may die when Veniamin leaves her body, as the demon used its Stamina of 7 and lots of abilities at Power 8 quite a lot while Possessing her, and Martha had a Stamina of 3. And Veniamin very much wants to use Roger as its host; that's key to the original Kicker and it's all the more rock-solid if Martha, Roger's wife, is either seriously injured or dead.]

5. Liz to all of them -> & Marca's inevitable response.

[translation: this refers to a bunch of notes on the previous page, when I was reminding myself that Liz is emphatically not "up to anything," unlike Kevin, and wants to establish a power structure among her and these other sorcerers. I'd outlined some choices she might offer to them. Urma demands special note: I could not imagine that she could tolerate a sorcerer of Urma's ability to operate in her sphere, and he'd screwed up her rituals once already by interfering on the River, so she basically would be telling him to get out of town. And if he complied (a not-so-bad option, after all), his demon Marca would be inclined to attack and kill him. Oh, and this applies to Craig as well - Liz plans to offer him a return to the fights, armed with a bigger demon (Silas, perhaps; that didn't turn out to be consistent with events, so I jettisoned that idea), which would resolve his Kicker nicely, under her thumb.]

#1-2 corresponded with my first two scenes in this session. The others were not fixed in time, and as you can see, although all of them were used, some of them contained options or nuances that were not realized in play at all.

I also added a Bang in play - after Liz birthed Bach'uh, she ordered it to kill Kevin and everyone nearby, except for the three sorcerers, and to bring them to the trailer park. I'd already had the constraint to work with that it did go and kill Jamie, but now I decided it was time to throw everyone into the fire at once, so did a kind of "big demon ex machina" to get them there. Subject, of course, to rolls - they had a chance to defy it, but as it turned out, made choices that got them engulfed and brought to Liz.

(On reflection, I suspect that Frank and Nev were complicit with getting their characters over to Liz's and Victoria's scene and made choices for their actions that would not defeat Bach'uh.)

Often, Bangs are less reliably brought into play than this set. Since this was the final session (or looked to be), it's not surprising that all of us were firing on the same cylinders about what needed to happen in terms of conflicts and confrontations. But for earlier sessions, I typically have a whole bunch of Bangs that don't make it into play that time, or ever, and sometimes some unplanned Bangs make all the difference (see my discussion of the two Possessor demons in love, in my Azk'Arn game, in Sex & Sorcery).

Oh yeah, and on more than one occasion, a bandolier of Bangs very much like the ones above, mustered for what I expected to be the final session of play, get put on the shelf for the next one when the first Bang blossoms into a whole session's worth of conflict and outcomes. That didn't happen this time, but it's not uncommon.

Best,
Ron
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« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2003, 05:27:06 AM »

Whoops again,

It occurs to me that the lip-curling contempt might be misconstrued ... that was by no means directed toward you, Christopher, or to anyone else who's putting attention toward the issues.

Best,
Ron
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Christopher Weeks
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« Reply #9 on: September 25, 2003, 06:14:10 AM »

What about any of this hits you regarding your own role-playing experience?

Your note on explaining how to win resonated with me.  My nine year old son and I are teaching each other how to role-play.  I have much more sophisticated notions of formalized story telling (and I like to write stuff down), and he's more enthusiastic, creative, and fresh.  But one way that I've really helped him, I think, is to realize that we win or lose together based on how much fun we all have.  He is very competitive by nature (I think) and started out wanting to win.

Also, I have been sometimes surprised by which NPCs "grab" the PCs, whether as villains or potential allies.  Because of my experiences with this, letting go of a NPC is no problem for me.  But do you really just exit them when they seem to be not engaging the players, or do you have them continue on with their agenda and let the players ignore it or not as they see fit.  I don't think I've ever changed the backstory of who's doing what and why based on player interest. I have only let them supercede some or all of it with their own motivations and continued to provide the backdrop as I'd imagined it.  It seems like patching the hole in the backstory would be sometimes problematic.

I like the physical venue stuff.  Some of the best games that I've played have had purposeful venues.  That sometimes meant theme venues like the creepy basement  of a book store with large brown recluses scurying around the corners or the middle of the woods at a mountaintop clearing that took four hours of hiking to reach, and sometimes very normal places like the atrium cafeteria at a gas station or (coincidentally enough) a backyard in Chicagoland.

Does anything about my prep decisions require further explaining?

This is a more general question at this point since you've shared some of your bang notes as an example, but how general-specific are the bangs in your bandolier usually?  Do they neccessarily relate to the PCs, NPCs and story events?  Or do they take the form of "it would be cool sometime if x did y" and then sit, applicable to many settings?

So you don't have to do anything to get the Kickers to hook and tangle with the backstory?  Is it just weave and cross and let the players interact as desired?  How long does it usually take for them pan their lens away from a focus solely on their kicker and toward the larger story?

How much do you imagine the story would have been hurt by maintaining a simpler relationship map?  Frankly, I'm afraid of having to monitor so many NPCs at all times, trying to figure out their interlocking motives, and keep the game running smoothly in a face to face game -- even with reasonable prep time.  That kind of organization is not my strong suit.

Do your relationship maps always come from novels as discussed in 'Soul and various posts here?  I've been thinking about basing a game on the core crew at a 7-11 where I worked when I was nineteen and twenty or with either of the two groups of college friends that I was a core member of.  There was enough crossed sexual relations (and even love) in each case to qualify for interconnections, but I'm not sure what the result would be.  I'd have to establish agendas for everyone as extreme versions of their real selves.  Have you done stuff like that at all?  If you think it's a doomed idea, can you elaborate?

What goes into group assembly when you're starting a game?  Do you purposely assemble mixed-sex groups so you can do &Sex kinds of stuff or just because it's more interesting?  Do you consider other factors about the players?  What?

Can you see the difference between GM-decisions during play and "winging it"?

No.  I actually misread this question until I was typing up a response to what I thought you were asking (about prep v. winging).  So now I'm not really sure what you mean.

Any other questions or comments?

How much were the PCs together?  I mean either of: participating in the same scene or aligned in their goals.

Given the player driven nature of the Sorcer story, how many other basic story types (major variations, archetypes, whatever) could have sprung from your backstory combined with the PCs?  Do you think it's nearly infinite, or do you have in mind that there are four or ten basic tales that could have been spun?

Have you ever had a group of Sorcerer players just leave the venue where your backstory is set?  What do you do if the players are unengaged by your initial offering?  Is that considerably less likely here than in a prototypical D&D game because of the authorial powers that the players have?

Maybe this is too much work, but it would be easier if you/we developed a style of writing about these things that included player and character name like "Nev(Craig)" or something so that it was transparent to the dummies like me who was who without having to draw up a reference.

Chris
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2003, 07:57:49 AM »

Hi Christopher W,

Quote
... I have been sometimes surprised by which NPCs "grab" the PCs, whether as villains or potential allies. Because of my experiences with this, letting go of a NPC is no problem for me. But do you really just exit them when they seem to be not engaging the players, or do you have them continue on with their agenda and let the players ignore it or not as they see fit. I don't think I've ever changed the backstory of who's doing what and why based on player interest. I have only let them supercede some or all of it with their own motivations and continued to provide the backdrop as I'd imagined it. It seems like patching the hole in the backstory would be sometimes problematic.


In the case of Melanie, she was "exited" in terms of completing her commitment to what was going on with the player-characters. I didn't change any back-story or alter particular details in any way in having her walk away. Your phrase "I have only let them supercede some or all of it with their own motivations and continued to provide the backdrop as I'd imagined it" accurately describes what I did with her.

In some games, though, more critical re-adjustments have been made or been necessary. I suppose one might consider adding to the back-story like I did between sessions 1 and 2 to qualify, although that doesn't create the "hole" problem that you're thinking of.

In the instances when I've decided to subtract from a prepared back-story, though, the same aesthetic constraint applies: to make sense based on what's been played already. Your reluctance to do so is well-stated as a personal preference, but I suggest that it represents a restraint (rather than a constraint) that might cause trouble given a strongly Narrativist group of players, especially if the material you're talking about hasn't been expressed or realized through previous play.

GM: [following repeated attempts to present Tony the chauffeur] "Go see Tony the chauffeur! You get an over-riding urge to talk to Tony the chauffeur!"

Player: "Fuck Tony the chauffeur. He's a goob." [emphatic confirmation from all the other players]

GM: [weeps, feels bad]

Quote
I like the physical venue stuff. Some of the best games that I've played have had purposeful venues. That sometimes meant theme venues like the creepy basement of a book store with large brown recluses scurying around the corners or the middle of the woods at a mountaintop clearing that took four hours of hiking to reach, and sometimes very normal places like the atrium cafeteria at a gas station or (coincidentally enough) a backyard in Chicagoland.


One thing that I'm considering now is that I'm avoiding "atmospheric" venues - you know, creepy places for creepy games, etc. I'm focusing instead on social validation as I described to Mike (intra-group, not group-to-others).

Quote
how general-specific are the bangs in your bandolier usually? Do they neccessarily relate to the PCs, NPCs and story events? Or do they take the form of "it would be cool sometime if x did y" and then sit, applicable to many settings?


Speaking for myself, all my Bang prep is specific to particular players, particular characters, particular prep, and particular sessions. Unlike relationship maps, I don't consider or prepare Bangs in isolation from applied role-playing.

Quote
So you don't have to do anything to get the Kickers to hook and tangle with the backstory? Is it just weave and cross and let the players interact as desired? How long does it usually take for them pan their lens away from a focus solely on their kicker and toward the larger story?


Ah-ha! Your use of the term "the larger story" means the tiger leaps from the brush and drags away one of your hired native bearers. I was going to say, "Yes, it's just weave and cross and let the players interact as desired." But now I'm going to say, Story Now is not "Story As Anticipated or Even Hoped-For." There is no "larger story" as implied by your post. The relationship map is not the story, nor is discovering it the story. All that exists simply to provide players with the meat for decisions that they care about and want to punch home through role-playing their characters, whatever those decisions may be. The extent to which that jazzes everyone else, in thematic terms, is the extent to which the role-playing group creates Story. [Important clarification: "Now" in Story Now refers to the process of role-playing.]

Quote
How much do you imagine the story would have been hurt by maintaining a simpler relationship map? Frankly, I'm afraid of having to monitor so many NPCs at all times, trying to figure out their interlocking motives, and keep the game running smoothly in a face to face game -- even with reasonable prep time. That kind of organization is not my strong suit.


I think I have to clarify that the map(s) I used for this game was so complex because I was dealing with three exceptionally well-made Sorcerer characters. Furthermore, I'm working toward one of my strengths as a GM, which is to play NPCs who provoke strong reactions (with emphasis on "action") based on their position in relationship maps.
But that's merely one option.

The map I used for a recent game of Haven, by contrast, was very, very simple. Furthermore, three of its ten members were the player-characters, and three of the eight connector-lines were not kin or sex based. There's nothing wrong with a simple map. Die Hard, which I consider to be an exceptional example of the "grab" of a relationship map, presents a stunningly simple one, for instance. The story consists of protagonists' decisions and their consequences (especially in terms of Humanity); if the map helps that to happen, then it cannot, by definition, "hurt" the story.

Quote
Do your relationship maps always come from novels as discussed in 'Soul and various posts here? I've been thinking about basing a game on the core crew at a 7-11 where I worked when I was nineteen and twenty or with either of the two groups of college friends that I was a core member of. There was enough crossed sexual relations (and even love) in each case to qualify for interconnections, but I'm not sure what the result would be. I'd have to establish agendas for everyone as extreme versions of their real selves. Have you done stuff like that at all? If you think it's a doomed idea, can you elaborate?


I often make relationship maps from stories I re-read (not from first-reads). Since I re-read so much, a lot of maps get scribbled in the scary notebook. The advantage to using them from books is that real life often provides complicated situations but not [/i]story-material[/i], because life doesn't have a Humanity definition (or synonymously, an author's aesthetic moral judgment) accompanying it. So you might be looking at a bunch of people screwin' each other, or whatever, but not get a "grab" based on a larger ethical/moral issue. Of course, if you do get such a thing from your own or others' real-life experiences, then great - use that map.

Oh, and I should also emphasize that relationship maps rarely survive intact from their book-origins to play. Both of the ones I used for this game, for instance, lost and gained characters as well as re-arranged a couple of who's-screwing-whom relationships, even before the character creation stage.

Quote
What goes into group assembly when you're starting a game? Do you purposely assemble mixed-sex groups so you can do &Sex kinds of stuff or just because it's more interesting? Do you consider other factors about the players? What?


Part of the answer to this one is that I "purposely" assemble mixed-sex groups for just about any socializing I have any input about. I venture to say that this is typical for most social activities for most people, except maybe sometimes for those highly focused on a particular gender for whatever reason (based on observations: poker night? but bowling nights and pool nights are aggressively mixed-sex these days).

The campus club meeting happened to be all guys this past time, which isn't always the case. So we had two games going, both with all guys. But that's not "assembled" by me, it's luck of the draw modified by a gender bias in those who respond to campus club offerings.

For the more general answer, "what goes into group assembly," that's a very big question and is hard to boil into general principles. The only ones I can think of are, "Be ready for oppportunity" (e.g. including Nev) and "Take an organizing role toward those who've previously expressed interest" (e.g. Frank and Beth). Aside from making sure that one of these ideas doesn't accidentally undermine the other, I'm not sure what to say. Perhaps it would make more sense if I clarify that this particular group assembled solely for purposes of playing this Sorcerer game, not to become a group that meets as such indefinitely (like my other group, the currently-T&T one).

Quote
Can you see the difference between GM-decisions during play and "winging it"?

No. I actually misread this question until I was typing up a response to what I thought you were asking (about prep v. winging). So now I'm not really sure what you mean.


Well, let's take a look at my decision to have Melanie separate herself from the player-characters. Is that "winging it" in the sense often used in role-playing, meaning, change what's going on in a kind wave-front way? Think of making up the dungeon a corridor and a room ahead of the player-characters, or building the relationship map one step ahead of their activity. Or more constructively, the wonderful mechanisms found in InSpectres. All of these are "winging it."

So my answer is, No, I didn't wing it. I merely played the NPC. That was a decision, but it wasn't a "new room."

Quote
How much were the PCs together? I mean either of: participating in the same scene or aligned in their goals.


All right, that's two very different questions.

1. Physically together? All three were separate for session 1; Urma and Craig met in session 2 and stayed together throughout; Victoria stayed separate from the others until halfway through session 5. It's a little tricky, though, because Victoria had Link and some long-distance communication with Veniamin, and Veniamin joined Craig and Urma in session 3, staying with them (with occasional flits back to Victoria) throughout.

In contrast with both the Azk'Arn and Demon Cops games I've run, though, these characters were physically together quite a bit more.

2. Aligned in their goals? Quite a mixed bag. Craig pretty much aligned with Urma regarding Vega's death and regarding disposing of Kevin, whom they really hated. Victoria aligned with them regarding Kevin as well. But in terms of Liz, that's a big split. Craig focused on her brothers and Bach'uh as his primary conflict; Urma basically entered into the "I'm not going anywhere" conflict with Liz and killed her; and Victoria wanted to remove Liz's power base (and was perhaps ready to compromise with her? hard to tell) but not to kill her.

Quote
Given the player driven nature of the Sorcer story, how many other basic story types (major variations, archetypes, whatever) could have sprung from your backstory combined with the PCs? Do you think it's nearly infinite, or do you have in mind that there are four or ten basic tales that could have been spun?


Um. It's really hard to answer this without knowing what you mean by "basic story types." I suggest that this topic is in such disarray (confusions with genre, confusions with Bang pacing, confusions with outcomes, confusions with settings) that it probably should be shelved. In terms of Sorcerer, I'd say that it depends on how much you think the Four Outcomes can be subdivided, but even that has nothing to do with the multifarious processes of arriving at them.

Quote
Have you ever had a group of Sorcerer players just leave the venue where your backstory is set? What do you do if the players are unengaged by your initial offering? Is that considerably less likely here than in a prototypical D&D game because of the authorial powers that the players have?


The key point is that the game is not about them being engaged by my offering, but about me being engaged by theirs, specifically the Kickers.

Kickers are pure gold. They are not "merely what we've always done," i.e., character hooks or ways to justify why your character is at the laundromat when the ninjas attack. They are the part of character creation which literally acts as the linchpin for all the GM's prep before character creation (which should not have a linchpin) and all of his subsequent prep prior to the first session. They should inform GM decision-making throughout play and during inter-session prep from that point on.
Many people have posted, like you and Christopher K and Jesse, with surprise that players' Kickers and GM-prep merge so easily. I tried to demonstrate how in the Art-Deco Melodrama threads, with limited success. At this point, and in reference to my reply to Christopher K above in this thread, all I can say are two things. (1) I see this merging as the default creative activity of people gathered to role-play Sorcerer. (2) Stumbling blocks in doing so unilaterally seem to arise from previous training in role-playing, most of it directly traceable to The Impossible Thing and to experiences with railroading, especially people who think that subtle cooperation with the GM's constant cues is the "right" way to play.

Quote
Maybe this is too much work, but it would be easier if you/we developed a style of writing about these things that included player and character name like "Nev(Craig)" or something so that it was transparent to the dummies like me who was who without having to draw up a reference.


Heh. The whole damn hobby needs such a naming convention. As it stands, we limp along with (a) impossible imprecision or (b) precision, but with necessary periodic clarifiers.

Best,
Ron
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #11 on: September 26, 2003, 10:10:55 AM »

Hi Ron,

Thanks for the replies -- both to me and Chris.

I'm going to need to review your responses with the printed threads at hand.  And that's not going to happen till this weekend.

One thought though, Chris really nailed something with his request for the Player/PC name convention.  The use of a Sorcerer map, and the shifting "value" of the NPCs as determined by the players, makes tracking (at least for me), some of the game's tangled web a bit of work.

Does anyone have any sort of ideas for a naming convention?

I'm finding this a fascinating issue while writing documents to explain "what's happening" for the video game I'm working on. Because of my time at the Forge I'm really specific about what the PC is doing and what the player is doing; what "interests" the PC and what we've got in the game to interest the player.  

These things are not at all the same (the Hero is killing zombies, the player is pushing buttons) and I find myself sometimes just freezing in my typing as my thoughts bifurcate and I try to figure out how to phrase, exactly and truly, what the hell is going on when someone is taking the "role" of someone when, in fact, they're not doing at all what the role is doing, and have, actually, a completely different set of interests.  By interests  I mean: the character is a big buff guy with an interest in physical activity and life and death challenges, the player (me) is a guy in a dark, sitting comfortably in a chair with pretzels and a diet coke, pushing little platic buttons.  (Strangely, in my case, I'm a little buff guy with an interest in physical activity, who

In the same way, your summaries of the Sorcerer game contain what the PCs are doing, what the players are doing, what the agendas of the PCs and the NPCs are, and what the agendas of the Players are... and a couple of times while going over the doc I thought: "Wait, is that the Player, the NPCs, or who?  And when you wrote, "*This* person did this," it wasn't the character doing the thing, but the player choosing to do the thing, which made me wonder how it was phrased, because we've got no actual records of the *action* of the decision -- just a summary which smooths all the agendas into one chocalate-vanilla swirl.  (It's sort of like, if someone were describing a movie he'd seen to you, and he laced in what the actor was thinking while making choices in the middle of playing the scene.)

Sorry for going on like this here -- it might deserve its own thread as a topic.  (However, I really can't tease out in my own mind what that topic would be.)  But a sub-topic of this thread seems to be: "How do we talk about games?  Am I being clear?  Do you see the difference between player agendas and character agendas (if the latter even exists)?"  And a lot of that has to do with *how* we talk about these things: what is the noun, what verb goes to what noun and so on.

Anyway, thanks for all the goodies you've offered up already.

Christopher
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: September 26, 2003, 01:40:46 PM »

Hello,

Believe it or not, I was pretty careful with my verbs in the above summaries. When I say the real person's name, I'm talking about what the real person did or said; when I say the character's name, I'm talking strictly within-game. I'm not sayin' I stumbled here and there, but I was definitely mindful of the issue throughout the whole process of writing it.

To review, just for kicks:

Real person = Beth; character = Victoria Carson; demons = Veniamin and later, The Eater

Real person = Dave; character = Craig Liu; demon = Grett

Real person = Frank; character = Urma; demon = Marca

Best,
Ron
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #13 on: September 26, 2003, 01:54:29 PM »

Hi Ron,

I think you've completely missed my point, and I'm sorry if you read my post as some sort of accounting of failure on your part.

The last few sentences invovled nouns and verbs.  Really, not the thrust of what I was talking about -- and I didn't mean it all in the gramatical sense.  In Chris' post he used a kind of graphic notations to seperate which type of entity we're talking about.  That's what I was talking about, too.

In your descriptions, I found myself simply losing the flow of meaning as I had to remind myself who was what (real, character).  We usually write so as to not break up flow.  A notation of sort might keep things moving clearly.

I think the clearest example I laid out of what tripped me up would be the person telling you the story of a movie while going through what the actor was thinking while acting out the character.  The verbs and nouns could be worthy of Strunk and White, but wouldn't change the fact that the verbs and nouns are doubled up per normal volue of narrative, and thus get kind of confusing.

It *may* not be an issue to anyone but Chris and myself, but I was thinking along the same lines as Chris before I even read Chris' post.

Christopher
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« Reply #14 on: September 26, 2003, 02:04:56 PM »

Hi Christopher K,

I understand. And I agree. Add as well the difficulty a musician has in answering the question, "So why did you decide to play that B-flat right then in the solo? It was great! What were you thinking, what were your creative decisions right at that moment?"

My only call is that I tried not to confuse the already-near-impossible issue further with my nouns and verbs.

I'm looking forward to some more discussion about the game itself.

Best,
Ron
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