The Forge Forums

Independent Game Forums => Adept Press => Topic started by: Ron Edwards on February 17, 2010, 09:06:11 AM



Title: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 17, 2010, 09:06:11 AM
Hello,

Here's an old thread to check out: Sex and Sorcery -- this book rocks! (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=6821.0). Pride aside, restricted only to looking at the responses to the text, higher praise for a role-playing book is hard to find, especially from the range of people posting in the thread. Sex & Sorcery: re-reading it (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19431.0) and Hooray (Sex & Sorcery) (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=11747.0) are similar. Yet today, Sex & Sorcery is frequently referred to as a lesser member of the Sorcerer library. A lot of those references use "I heard" phrasing, as well as status-oriented, non-specific reaction phrases like "Meh." I see this reflected in orders: tons of Sword, tons of Soul (which itself had its two-year "meh" reaction phase until people started actually reading it), but not enough Sex.

Concept 1: the Sorcerer supplements are intended to deepen and broaden the core game. Therefore their audience is a person who already knows and enjoys that game. If you're not "Sorcerized," then Sword is basically a genre-appreciation tract and Soul is a little baffling but perhaps appreciated as the genesis of techniques explicitly employed in Dogs in the Vineyard and other games. Sex, on the other hand, was written not only for those who appreciated play based on the book, but for those who'd gone through the further gates of enjoying play using the other two supplements. I can see how it'd be quite abstract and disorganized-looking for at least some people who came to it entirely cold.

Concept 2: once you've processed the stuff in Sex & Sorcery, the material and concepts may seem so natural and obvious that they demand little comment, and indeed may even be remembered as obvious, even though one's play-history is chock-full of the very problems the book describes. So representing for the book may not arise as a personal priority.

Concept 3: the book's impact on game design and content since it was published is profound. I think if we were to draw a little graph of gender/sex content (with players acknowledged as such) vs. time, then there'd be a flat line with only a few little blips until Sex & Sorcery was published, then about a year after that, a big leap to a current new plateau. Most if not all of those authors would be people who'd directly interacted with the Sorcerer supplement and engaged in dialogue about it, too. I'm not claiming sole personal responsibility, but I do think I've helped bring a more positively sexualized voice into the hobby, for at least some sectors of gaming to become simultaneously more explicit and less fetishized, and even for certain brands of fetishism to become more self-referential and thus critically solid (e.g. Poison'd, Barbaren, Tales of the Fisherman's Wife).

Anyway, all that said, I'm sayin', if you think the book is good, or can see how the issues have arisen in your past, or even better, have seen some pretty powerful stuff of this kind appear in functional forms in your gaming since you read it, or if you can see the book's impact on your own design (or designs of games you've played), then I'd like to see some public speaking up about it. This isn't about praising me or giving me attention - so for instance, there's no need to reassure me or anything like that in this thread - but about our discourse-culture and promotional-culture. "I heard" and "Meh" aren't what any of us should be accepting as meaningful contributions in the first place, I think.

All thoughts are welcome to help round out the issue and to point out things I might not be understanding.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: Ben Lehman on February 17, 2010, 09:47:52 AM
I think a big chunk of this is that Sex and Sorcery rivals only the original book in terms of inspiring new game design (this is related to your last point.) Instead of talking up Sex and Sorcery on the internet, I wrote games (Bliss Stage, and more recently HGMO and ... no I actually don't have the guts to namecheck that one in public.) I'll try to namecheck more publicly, although lately my "product of Ron's that I love" is S/lay w/Me, which honestly pushes many of the same buttons but with the benefit of several years of design and cultural development.

One interesting thing to me is that Sex and Sorcery is at the base of a *lot* of the short games work (http://benlehman.livejournal.com/200740.html) that's been done over the last half-decade (I'll note that, in addition to Sex, I've also overlooked Jonathan W's seminal work with KKKKKK and Waiting for the Queen /Tea at Midnight. And probably overlooked other stuff too.) This despite that the book's content is no "shorter" in play than any other RPG. * Huh.

yrs--
--Ben

* Insert premature ejaculation "joke" of your choice here.


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on February 17, 2010, 02:10:07 PM
I loved the examples on p. 12/13. The male and female story archetypes have been an invaluable tools to me, actually, I thing they have been the single most valuable thing I've taken from all the Sorcerer books. So, yeah. It's highly recommended. I still would like to run In Utero some day, too. I remember this guy whose collection of RPGs took up an entire wall (and not a small one), a good portion of which were quite obscure titles, flipping through "Sex" and reading the In Utero characters, then admiringly exclaiming: "How sick is this?!"

- Frank


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: greyorm on February 17, 2010, 04:13:09 PM
This just recently came up in another thread here, but the big thing for me in Sex& has nothing to do with sex and gender, and everything to do with starting me along the path to figuring out the idea that results in the fiction don't have to have a mechanical component/result/modifier to matter.

Some years back, I started a thread about trying to make all the different martial arts styles in Sex& mechanically inter-related (ie: this move/style has this much bonus/penalty against that move/style, etc.) and Ron pointed out that doing so was completely unnecessary. That if you choose Throw as opposed to Grab, the results in the fiction are (or can be) game-changing, more so than a mechanical modifier.

Which is a pretty big deal for someone who comes from a design background and style that perceives the the-mechanics-as-the-fiction (or as the most important part thereof from which all events and consequences should flow and flows best from), because it is 180 to that conceptualization.


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: jburneko on February 18, 2010, 12:53:12 PM
I will admit that Sex & Sorcery is the only Sorcerer supplement I've read cover-to-cover only once.  I've revisited parts of it but I've never it it a sold second read through like I have the others.  I agree that it kind of has an "Well, that's obvious" feel to it.  However, I think there's a more subtle point under that comment.  Sex & Sorcery raises an awareness about something rather provide a process.  I go to Sorcerer's Soul when I want to refresh myself on the creation application of Relationship Maps.  That's a considered process I return to and execute over and over again.  But the material in Sex & Sorcery is now just something I'm attuned to.  I don't really *do* specific even though it's probably altered my gaming habits on several levels.

That all said my personal favorite thing in the book is "The Scary Diagram."  I really, really want to play a Sorcerer game with that diagram explicitly on the table as the Humanity definition.  I call it Sorcerer, "Sex, Death and Madness style".

This may be tangent but also the material in Sex & Sorcery is right at the heart of my thinking of the Houses of the Blooded LARP that is rapidly becoming all the rage in my local convention.  I can't tell if the principles behind the LARP leverage the ideas laid out in Sex & Sorcery so brilliantly that, that is what everyone is digging on so much or if the design is so painfully ignorant of those ideas as to be morally irresponsible.  I can't tell if  everyone sees what I see and I'm the only one looking on with horror (which makes me wonder why I'm the only one horrified) or if I'm the ONLY one who sees what's going on (which makes me want to raise awareness of it).

Jesse


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: hix on February 18, 2010, 03:10:14 PM
Sex and Sorcery introduces the concepts of Lines and Veils, right? I use those constantly - in fact, I brought them up at our Bliss Stage planning session last night. My regular Tuesday night group has been much improved by applying lines and veils, and I've had some great one-off and convention game experiences where the group has used them to introduce unpleasant stuff into the fiction - points where it felt absolutely necessary that the story needed to go somewhere dark. The idea of introducing that stuff but not showing it actually gave the story a lot of weight.

I also think the Lines and Veils concepts are great for building trust and helping people communicate. All in all, I think they are freaking essential.


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: The Dragon Master on February 20, 2010, 07:44:15 AM
Jesse: I could be mistaken but from what I know of John Wick, and his opinion of The Forge (or for that matter anyone who thinks about the question of what makes gaming fun), I'd say it is highly unlikely that he has even touched a copy of Sex and Sorcery. What is it about the LARP that makes you think of that diagram?


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 20, 2010, 01:44:19 PM
Some history seems necessary here.

Tony, John Wick was one of the primary interacting members of the community that birthed the Forge, nearly a co-founder of some important parts. He participated in the discussions at the Gaming Outpost, RPG.net, and then here when we started the forum; he exemplified the success of independent publishing with Orkworld, including his publisher forum here which you can see in the inactive forums section; he is a fan of Sorcerer, and participated at the first Sorcerer booth in 2001; his dialogues with me helped shape the GenCon Forge booth for 2002; and on and on.

Whatever identity politics you're perceiving or mis-perceiving clearly don't indicate anything conceptually important in terms of game preferences or design of their parts. I'm interested in the LARP question too, but I don't think that there's much point to positing some kind of deep divide or feud, then positing a further implication about what games should or shouldn't share affinities or illustrate possible influences. That's two steps of fantasy away from talking about things as they are.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: The Dragon Master on February 20, 2010, 02:49:59 PM
I never would have guessed any of that based on my interactions with him at our game over the last year. But that entire issue is in fact a side point to the main thread here, and I'm sorry for the possible derail of the thread.


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 21, 2010, 02:22:26 PM
Hi Tony,

It's no big deal. Whatever people say about one another, or me specifically, they can say. My concern is only that the actual history not be lost.

Your question does interest me, not in an oh-mi-god way but out of simple design curiosity - so Jesse, what are the specific features of the LARP which resonate with the text?

Looking over my first post, I'm not sure if I quite managed to get the purpose of the thread articulated. The idea was not to state or testify one's love for Sex here (although discussion about it is welcome; the stuff is interesting), but rather to keep in mind that it's good to speak up in favor of the text's strengths elsewhere when it's relevant.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: Roger on February 22, 2010, 02:35:08 PM
I might suggest that the people who most fully embrace Sex & Sorcery are also the least likely to publicly dissect their experiences with it.  It's a personal thing by design, and the better it's working the more personal it is.


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: jburneko on February 22, 2010, 02:39:49 PM
I wanted to acknowledge the call for my further thoughts.  I've been really busy and my thoughts are lengthy so I haven't had the chance to do the full write up.  When I do, I'll start another thread so as not to completely hijack this one.

Jesse


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: James_Nostack on February 22, 2010, 04:58:15 PM
I actually re-read Sex & Sorcery as a result of this thread.  I have a bit to say about it, but I've been ill and work-busy and haven't had time to write stuff up.  It's probably my favorite of the supplements - certainly the richest in terms of ideas.


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 22, 2010, 06:16:49 PM
Hello,

Roger, that's probably true. But it's all the more reason to engage in interesting dialogue in terms of actual play discussions, as I see it. If you get A from the text and I get B (or beta, or 7, or pi), then I think both of our experiences and reflections are enhanced if you and I happen to talk about our games together, later. My hope is that this thread might spur such discussions.

James and Jesse, I'll look forward to your posts when you get the time.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: Calithena on March 19, 2010, 08:16:32 AM
Well, this is a more superficial response, but Azk'arn is totally metal and I love it. Also one of the great short-form fantasy world descriptions in all of RPGs. Something I'd like to see more people exposed to, actually.


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: James_Nostack on April 05, 2010, 03:12:09 PM
Man, I tried writing this a couple times and it just felt too stilted.  I'm gonna jump right in.

Sex & Sorcery demolishes the other Sorcerer supplements.  It's about something beyond gaming; or rather, it's about how dragging in stuff from the real world can make gaming more interesting and satisfying.  Sorcerer and all "Story Now!" games are doing this already--you can't ask interesting thematic questions until you give a damn about the issues.  But here Edwards really gets his hands dirty in describing how this works, what's so good about it, and what the pitfalls may be.  Specifically, Sex & Sorcery is focusing on issues related to gender roles and sexuality, because these topics are (ahem) pregnant with meaning for almost everyone, but the principles apply to any other topic people are passionate about.

There is some kick-ass, fall-down-awesome stuff in Sex & Sorcery.  An expansion and explication of the modern-day setting from the Sorcerer rule book that absolutely sizzles with blasphemy, sex, and sadism.  There's also the breathtakingly weird and evocative Azk'Arn setting, developed in full, with extensive play-by-play notes--a woolly 1970's science-fantasy heavy metal setting that practically demands to be played immediately.  Plus a wickedly tight little one-shot scenario.  Plus these crazy martial arts rules, which presumably were inserted while the editor was taking a nap but are easily adapted to fencing or any other formalized mode of conflict (parliamentary procedure?).

But all of that is surface stuff, the end product of the thoughts and techniques in the book itself.  Sorcerer & Sword was about designing a setting.  Sorcerer's Soul was about designing scenarios.  Sex & Sorcery is about play, and very specifically, the weird, crazy feedback loops between reality and fiction that can only exist in role-playing games, in which author, actor, and audience are the same people. 

Sometimes these feedback loops can be problematic, especially when taboo topics arise; Sex & Sorcery introduces methods to cordon off discomforting content if and when necessary.

Sometimes these feedback loops can be inspirational.  At the level of scenario and setting design, the book discusses several narrative structures based off of archetypal gender concerns, especially exploiting value systems in conflict.  (In rules terms, this is implemented as competing definitions of Humanity.)

And sometimes, these feedback loops can even be written into the rules of play, as in the Azk'Arn example where interactions people real people have fictional consequences.

One of the pleasures of Sex & Sorcery is watching how these dry abstractions and techniques come together like orchestral instruments to create wackadoo genius stuff like Azk'Arn and the Blackest Magic setting.  Passionate ideas leads to a desire to play passionately, leads to creating a setting focused on those same passionate ideas, with techniques designed to rip this stuff wide open.  You want frenzied, juicy, fully committed, disquieting play?  This book shows you how to get there.

Couple of personal points:

1.  The idea of cordoning off specific material as a little too close to comfort struck me as a good idea in the abstract, but recent play has shown me that maybe having some explicit lines and veils is a good idea.  We're edging closer to that in our D&D group.

2.  What was the Humanity definition in the modern-day setting in Chapter One?

3.  IME Humanity pretty much always can be twisted around into some version of Love/Empathy/Kindness, at least if you stretch it a little bit.  I'm wondering, in games with dual Humanity definitions, is one of the definitions effectively subordinated because it just doesn't click as deeply?  As in, "Yeah, we all know you fulfilled your Loyalty to the State definition of humanity, but at the table none of us really think you're a better person for having done so." 

4.  I think there needs to be more work (not necessarily by Ron) about more of the story structures.  They're good stuff!

5.  The rules for player-to-player interaction in Azk'Arn remind me a little bit of "spin the bottle."  Interesting, but not very subtle.  I'd really like to see more games explore the loops between fiction-reality-fiction, and reality-fiction-reality.  I think it's one of the defining, and certainly the most interesting, features of role-playing games as a medium.

6.  Ron, once upon a time you hinted that you would talk about your second Azk'Arn game someday.  You were probably hoping no one would remember.  Spill!


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 06, 2010, 07:23:58 AM
Hi James,

Quote
1. The idea of cordoning off specific material as a little too close to comfort struck me as a good idea in the abstract, but recent play has shown me that maybe having some explicit lines and veils is a good idea. We're edging closer to that in our D&D group.

Your phrasing is confusing me a little. The first part of your sentence looks synonymous to me with the second part, but they're linked by a "but" as if they were supposed to be contrasted.

I don't think I've ever managed to say exactly what I wanted to say about Lines and Veils, in terms of actual practice at the table. I'm willing to do that here, or try, but I need to understand what you're saying first.

Quote
2. What was the Humanity definition in the modern-day setting in Chapter One?

Empathy. I think I mentioned this in Chapter 7 of the core book, but didn't follow up on that in Sex & Sorcery. I was thinking pretty deeply in terms of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye (novel, not the film), The Crow (very definitely James O'Barr's original three-issue comic, not the film or any other extensions), and the comic Hard Looks (adapted from short stories by Andrew Vachss, including a great O'Barr cover and opening story in the one of the early issues).

i) In the The Long Goodbye, although I might be a little spotty on the details, there's a bit where Marlowe bundles a very drunk novelist into a car at the request of the novelist's wife. He has every opportunity to run the fellow down to her, as she's clearly irritated with him and lonely for non-drunk, non-selfish company, but Marlowe is decent about the whole thing. In the long run this turns out to have been a very good decision on his part, not to get involved with her, but he doesn't know that at the time. This also reminds me of an excellent scene in the movie Wolf, when the protagonist is depressed and cranky, has just met a very beautiful woman in unexpectedly private circumstances, and she expects him to give her all kinds of lame come-on lines, but he does not. Neither of these scenes mean that the characters, respectively, are neutered or uninterested - it means they treat the injured, lonely people around them as people, and when they themselves are injured and lonely, do not seek artificial solace.

ii) In The Crow, there's a weird little sequence as the protagonist is ascending stairs in a crappy apartment building, and the captions include a short verse which in my copy is uncredited, that goes something like "It's a Raymond Chandler evening of a Raymond Chandler day / And I'm standing in my pocket and I'm slowly turning grey," and some more cool lines too, which to me invokes the alienated detective genre really well - and either in that scene or somewhere just before or after it, he hangs out with a little girl, obviously suffering from a recent beating, and when she says, "Sometimes I think I'm in hell," he says, "This isn't hell, but you can see it from here." Again, all quoting is probably a little off, this is my mind-space memory rather than citation. For me, all of this also invoked Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus - something about how the detective protagonist has every reason and experience to be as alienated and even hateful as the people he pursues (or more accurately discovers while traversing an environment of lies) - but not only is he not hateful, he turns his drive for vengeance into something as constructive as he possibly can, finding touchpoints for understanding, if nothing else. The character in The Crow goes up the stairs to do something, just as the hero of The Plague tends to the sick without illusions either about his chances for success, or about any cosmic justification or approval for his behavior.

iii) In Hard Looks, most of the stories dramatize the internalized dehumanization of a character, in response to his or her treatment as a child either specifically by a parent or institutionally, or both. They'd be an exercise in plain violence-porn if that's all they were (and sadly, the way they are portrayed on the internet revels too much in this aspect, mainly by presenting only those stories and bits which support that interpretation when extracted and grouped in this fashion; there's apparently a cult surrounding Vachss' toughness which annoys me). But as I see them, what makes the stories great are the moments of pure and sometimes overwhelming empathy one feels toward some of the characters - and not restricted to heart-of-gold moments, which would be cheap and easy. As I quoted in Sorcerer from Gerald Kersh, and again here from memory and not guaranteed accurate, "There are men whom one despises until one glimpses, through a chink in the armor, something nailed down and writhing in torment." And significantly, not any or all of the characters. Some yes, some no.

At that time in my life, I was pretty engaged with aspects of human weakness and meanness, whether of my own, of people I knew well, and of people around and about, whether visible on the sidewalk or featured in the local news. There's a little bit of prose in J. D. Salinger story "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" talking about either his mother or someone's mother, a relentlessly cheery woman who - as she was described - drove me, the reader, insane with loathing for what I do indeed consider criminal obliviousness on her part, and then he ends the story or the section about her with an effective, even wrenching outpouring of love for her instead. So when do you condemn a person who does do things or approach life in a way you despise (for reasons!), and when do you not? That was on my mind daily in the key phases of playtesting early Sorcerer.

Quote
3. IME Humanity pretty much always can be twisted around into some version of Love/Empathy/Kindness, at least if you stretch it a little bit. I'm wondering, in games with dual Humanity definitions, is one of the definitions effectively subordinated because it just doesn't click as deeply? As in, "Yeah, we all know you fulfilled your Loyalty to the State definition of humanity, but at the table none of us really think you're a better person for having done so."

When this happens, it's a clear signal that the core mechanic of the game is not being utilized honestly. The dual-Humanity rules should only ever be used when the two definitions are fully compelling. What you're describing is a Humanity definition which doesn't fly, period, and it's just as invalid in your example as it would be if it were the only definition of Humanity. I'm trying to say that your concern here doesn't have anything to do with the dual-Humanity issue, but rather with the core Humanity rules, from the ground up.

I'm not sure about this, but it may be that you chose "Loyalty to the State" as an example because it's easy to see that it's a weak descriptor in the first place. I think such a Humanity definition is a poster-child for mistaking Humanity for some kind of ideal the in-fiction character holds, rather than a real-person, real-group authorial variable.

I'm not sure about this either, but you also used the description "your definition" in your brief example. It may be merely a phrasing blip. But if you're implying that only this single player is including "Loyalty to the State" as a Humanity definition, then that's a rules error.

To finish by addressing your first sentence, if Humanity translates consistency into Love/Empathy/Kindness for you, then you should stay with that sincerely and fully when you play, and not get sucked in by someone saying, "But Loyalty to the State coulllllld be Humanity!" or something like that.

And the take-home from that is that if you want to use the dual-Humanity rules, then be sure that the two definitions are in fact independent, and can be combined in yes-yes, yes-no, no-yes, and no-no ways. If each one is merely an application of the same principle of, for instance, kindness, then you have a single definition for your game, and should stick with that.

Quote
4. I think there needs to be more work (not necessarily by Ron) about more of the story structures. They're good stuff!

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by story structures. Do you mean the content of the female-centric and male-centric conflicts? Or do you mean something about how conflicts, following rising action, et cetera, get established in role-playing?

Quote
5. The rules for player-to-player interaction in Azk'Arn remind me a little bit of "spin the bottle." Interesting, but not very subtle. I'd really like to see more games explore the loops between fiction-reality-fiction, and reality-fiction-reality. I think it's one of the defining, and certainly the most interesting, features of role-playing games as a medium.

I think we have some now: Breaking the Ice, It Was a Mutual Decision, Bliss Stage (more than I thought upon reading it), Escape from Tentacle City (no lie), and a number of others. With hindsight, I think My Life with Master opened this door.

Quote
6. Ron, once upon a time you hinted that you would talk about your second Azk'Arn game someday. You were probably hoping no one would remember. Spill!

A lot of material from that game did make it into the text, actually. The angel stuff, for example. The story itself was fun but I don't have time to recount it now. I remember it took place significantly later than our first story, and Tod's character had founded a religion, and the area was being attacked by two mercenary armies.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: How about some love for Sex?
Post by: ejh on April 06, 2010, 01:41:14 PM
Raymond Chandler Evening is by Robyn Hitchcock.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TY8rm8kMHiM