*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
November 23, 2014, 05:17:34 PM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 38 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
Pages: [1]
Print
Author Topic: [Sorcerer] GM stumbling blocks  (Read 3634 times)
Marshall Burns
Member

Posts: 573

American Wizard


WWW
« on: February 04, 2008, 02:22:59 PM »

Ron,

I bought a copy of Sorcerer about a month ago, because I like magic-with-consequences in fiction & games, and also because I'm interested in trying out and analyzing games that do that Story Now thing intentionally.  I've read the text a couple of times, and, I gotta say, it's exciting.  I like the elegance of the design; I like the currency, especially as it applies to the momentum effect of linked-task success; I like the Score Descriptions concept; I like the "free & clear" concept; I like the demon Needs & Desires; I like the fact that "humanity" and "demon" are open concepts; I love the Cover component.  So, needless to say, I'm very much interested in actually playing the thing.

Now, it quickly became clear that running the game requires a great deal of forethought, which isn't really my strong suit; I'm a "um, ok, there's this, and this, and this, now let's wing it" kind of guy.  I tried getting my pal Stephen to GM it, because he's got a lot more experience with planning, but his experience has been with Story Before, and he's a tad intimidated by the responsibilities for a GM in the "new mode".  So I figure I'm just gonna have to bite the bullet and give it a go.

But there's a thing that confuses me, and that's the degree of power the GM has in certain areas.  Now, I understand why the GM roleplays all the demons -- because if a single player has to run both sides of a conflict, the conflict isn't likely to be interesting -- that doesn't bug me.  Here's some specific things that I'm flummoxed by:

1.  Why should I keep demon sheets secret from the players?   I guess theoretically they could exploit that information to the character's advantage, but I don't see what that would avail them in the long run; while on the other hand, I can see the player using that information to set up the character in tense situations through use of dramatic irony, to the story's benefit.  I can imagine instances where, with demon sheets secret, a player sees one after the story is over and says, "Aw, man, if I had known that, I would have set up (insert awesome thing here) to happen!"  I suppose I could, as GM, (insert awesome thing here) myself--but it might never occur to me.

2.  I can modify a PC's starting demon without letting the player know.  Why would I do that?  That just seems mean.

3.  Why can't a player continue to control their character when Humanity hits zero?  Couldn't they be trusted to accurately roleplay the character as inhuman (however "inhuman" is defined for the game)?

4.  Related to 3: Humanity loss as punishment?  I don't get it.  Either humanity loss would make the story more exciting, which would be a reward, or it wouldn't, in which case I can't imagine why the action causing the loss would even be performed.

Perhaps the purpose behind this stuff is clear once the game is played, and I should just shut up and run it as written, but, man, these things are really sticking in my craw, as it were.  If I wasn't going to run the game myself, I wouldn't worry about it; I'd just worry about my character and roll with it. But since I am going to run the game myself, I'm inclined to throw these particular rules out.  Then I thought, wait a minute, there's a place I can go and ask the author about this directly, so here I am.  If there's some reasoning here that's not making it through my thick skull, please clue me in!

-Marshall
Logged

Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 17707


WWW
« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2008, 07:22:12 PM »

Hi Marshall!

Thanks for buying the game and for the kind words. You might be interested to know that "there's this, this, and that, so let's go," is actually a fine way to GM Sorcerer. But you have to pick the right this-es. We can talk more about this once we deal with the explicit stumbling blocks, all of which are very reasonable points to request clarification about.

Quote
1.  Why should I keep demon sheets secret from the players?   I guess theoretically they could exploit that information to the character's advantage, but I don't see what that would avail them in the long run; while on the other hand, I can see the player using that information to set up the character in tense situations through use of dramatic irony, to the story's benefit.  I can imagine instances where, with demon sheets secret, a player sees one after the story is over and says, "Aw, man, if I had known that, I would have set up (insert awesome thing here) to happen!"  I suppose I could, as GM, (insert awesome thing here) myself--but it might never occur to me.

You're right that exploiting to one's advantage is not the issue. And in general, as I write about in detail in Sorcerer & Sword, I agree that playing someone ignorant of a secret that I, the player, know all about, is often much better than trying to have my surprise as a player dovetail perfectly with the character's revelation.

The demon sheet thing is primarily about ownership of a certain part of authorship, specifically demon-driven adversity. Even when I play the game with relatively open demon creation and I just write up the sheets in front of the players, I still keep those sheets in front of me on the table, although not all hidden away. (That's part of the sheet design too; you can see that the demon information on the player sheet is what's obvious, but not everything.) In this game, the player is a co-author, but not a co-director.

H'mmm, maybe this will work. In many games today, the GM and player are like co-drivers in a car, which is great and full of new-game potential and all that. Sorcerer aims to achieve an older game-design concept well, which is to say, each person (GM and player) has his car, and the game is set up to make sure they are headed toward one another, in a variety of ways. So all that stuff is pretty much there to make it clear that the demons are the GM's car.

Quote
2.  I can modify a PC's starting demon without letting the player know.  Why would I do that?  That just seems mean.

Sometimes mean is good. It's worth remembering that the demons are yours, not theirs. The only fair obligation you have is to play the things (and other NPCs) without fucking around with the dice rolls or using fiat. If you want to play a somewhat different demon than the one the player wanted, then that's OK.

To soften this a little, I suggest that this rule is best reserved for future Sorcerer games, after your first one, because then you'll have a better idea of the stuff that you like and can do well with the system, or a better idea of how a slightly different demon will be more effective and likely more fun given the other details of the character.

Quote
3.  Why can't a player continue to control their character when Humanity hits zero?  Couldn't they be trusted to accurately roleplay the character as inhuman (however "inhuman" is defined for the game)?

It's not about trust, actually, and it's not about accuracy in depicting the character. It's about whether the character is a protagonist or not. Humanity hitting zero is that moment in a film when you realize someone has really gone wrong and is now no longer in the "gee I hope this guy gets what he wants" zone.

Removing the character isn't a punishment for the player. It's a whole-group acknowledgment that this character is no longer in the same zone as the others; he or she is finished in producing a theme and has no more "story potential" left. In some other games in which players are pretty much co-GMs, it'd make sense for the person to keep playing the character, but in this game, a player is defined as playing a potential protagonist (or rather, that's my present-day phrasing). The 0-Humanity effect is one of the possible outcomes of that potential.

All that said, the supplement The Sorcerer's Soul includes lots of rules variations and interesting spins on that concept, many of which permit the character to be continued by that player.

Quote
4.  Related to 3: Humanity loss as punishment?  I don't get it.  Either humanity loss would make the story more exciting, which would be a reward, or it wouldn't, in which case I can't imagine why the action causing the loss would even be performed.

I think you're right. If I'm understanding you correctly, then you're referring to some prose that was probably grappling with the relevant issue rather than expressing the rules and aims well. That's my fault, but in my defense, Sorcerer was written primarily 1994-1996, and even for its 2001 release, there wasn't any Big Model, no "GNS and other matters" essay, and little if any Forge to speak of.

Cool questions.

Best, Ron
Logged
Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1159


« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2008, 10:17:02 AM »

Hi,

I'd like to take a stab at 3./4.:

In my experience, the threat of losing the character at Humanity 0 keeps me on my toes.

As a player, I want to find cool, compelling things for the character to do -- most of them centered on actions that produce the chance of Humanity loss or gain.

Now, the game is rigged:  You don't "get" anything for having a high humanity or a low humanity.  But you do usually get more power/influence/efficiency toward your PC's actions when doing things that risk a loss of Humanity.  Demons give you the greatest power in the game, and your relationship with them usually means your Humanity will go down.  And if the GM is fire the pistons correctly, I know sometimes the shit is going to hit the fan and I'm going to want to have some Humanity in the bank just so I know that if things get rough I can do some things that put my Humanity at risk without losing my character.

So, often, PCs do things that drive their Humanity toward 0.  But then the Player knows that if Humanity reaches 0, he loses this character he's invested so much into.  (At least that's my response.)  So, I think, "Well, if I'm going to keep this guy, I better work to do some things and get his Humanity up." 

What this does narratively is make me stretch my character.  Just when I thought this bastard had nothing worth left salvaging in his soul, he does something unexpectedly kind, or just, or tender, or reveals some previously unrevealed soft spot that we never saw coming -- and I, and sometimes the other players, are surprised by this.  And it usually gets a good reaction.

And this makes good story.  Because a bastard who's just a bastard usually isn't very interesting.  Or, another way of looking at it, would be the character who's Humanity is usually very high, but is tempted every once in a while to do the wrong thing.  The point is the variety the mechanic produces.  But without a no-return basement to hit, there is no prod.  And I think the prod is valuable.

So, I don't see this mechanic of losing your character as a punishment.  Nor do I see it as a lack of faith in a player to pull it off.  In practice, it seems to me, it simple prods the imaginations of the players to find new aspects of their characters (and new reflections of Humanity/thematic statement) -- because if a Player doesn't find those variations the PC is soon out the door.

Whether that's good or bad, I don't know, but that's what they do.  The rules, I have found, are a great springwell of good storytelling brainstorming. They force the GM and players to focus on a few key narrative themes, objects and characters, and then begin riffing on them.  One of these things is the variety of actions Players create for their characters to keep their Humanity from bottoming out.

That's been my experience.

CK
Logged

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

Posts: 133


WWW
« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2008, 04:22:08 PM »

My own thought about 3/4:

It's all about risk. If the characters can lose humanity and the player never has to feel like he might lose the character, we lose the risk element of the game. Players have to realize that every action has consequences, and if you continue to mess up you lose your character and have to start over. It's not a punishment per se as much as a consequence.

Am I on the right track?
Logged

Marv (Finarvyn)
Sorcerer * Dresden Files RPG * Amber Diceless
Forge Member since 2004
OD&D Player since 1975
Marshall Burns
Member

Posts: 573

American Wizard


WWW
« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2008, 05:02:59 PM »

Ron,
Regarding no. 1 - Ohhhhhh.  Ok, so it's a structural or organizational thing at heart.  Saying, "okay, we're all creating this thing, but I'M in charge of writing this stuff," but more emphatic and scary.  No. 2 makes more sense in light of this as well.  Although I still can't picture myself doing it without letting the poor guy know.  "Okay, yeah, this is good, but this bit, that's out.  Instead, it's This.  And don't gimme no lip, I gotta be able to work with these things."

And, it seems no. 3 is in the same vein.  Reading Sorcerer, I saw that keeping Humanity above 0 wasn't an objective -- creating a thrilling story that everyone enjoyed was the objective.  But that part about losing the character seemed to contradict this, which confused me.  But, I think I get it now.  The players pull the strings on the protagonists, that's it, that's what they do.  The minute the characters stop being protagonists, they fall under the GM's list of responsibilities, because the GM handles all the adversity, that's it, that's what he does.  Gotcha.

No. 4 was specifically brought up by a specific paragraph in the book.  I don't have the book with me at the moment, but it started off talking something about how Humanity was a "balance" system, used to reinforce certain behaviors and something or other.  I can't remember if the word "punish" was actually used, but that's what I took from it (perhaps unfairly).

And I'm curious to hear more about your thoughts regarding picking the right this-es and wingin' it in Sorcerer.

Christopher, Finarvyn,
I think there was another thing I was stumbling over, now that you mention that stuff.  And that's that I've never really been attached to my characters when I play; I write 'em up, play the hell out of them for usually just one full game/campaign (during which they often die), and file them off in some folder somewhere and I'm done with 'em.  They're just tools to me.  Perhaps this related to the fact that I tend to cook up games where PCs die a lot.  So, that risk, or that being on my toes regarding whether I get to keep playing the character or not, I didn't think of that; losing a character's never been a big deal for me.  But I'm not everyone (which was a hard fact to accept, lemme tell ya).

Thanks,
-Marshall
Logged

Finarvyn
Member

Posts: 133


WWW
« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2008, 05:44:06 PM »

Marshall -

One thing that sets Sorcerer apart from many RPGs on the market is that you really have to develop a love for the character and really resent its loss. Some games seem to instill a disposible character model, but Sorcerer is such that if you don't care you might as well be playing Monopoly. The fact that you care about your character is what motivates you to make the decisions that you make, and when things go badly makes you agonize over them.

- Marv (Finarvyn)
Logged

Marv (Finarvyn)
Sorcerer * Dresden Files RPG * Amber Diceless
Forge Member since 2004
OD&D Player since 1975
Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1159


« Reply #6 on: February 05, 2008, 06:09:28 PM »

Marshall,

It's not about forming an attachment to the character so that you're afraid to lose the character or whatnot.  (In this, Marv and I differ -- I don't think Sorcerer is different than other games in that you need to have special relationship with your character or something.  But that's not to say Marv is wrong with how he plays.)

My point is that you don't want to lose a character until you are done with him. That's all. As far as I can tell from your post you and I are identical in our tastes on this point, so you're not a unique case at all.  (I think you should know that.)

So, for me, it's not a matter of being afraid of losing your character or something...  just a matter of "Are you done with him yet?"  Because if you're not done with him -- in terms of whatever creative agenda you have with playing via this particular character you've created -- you're going to have to pump up some Humanity gain rolls to make sure he's still around.

Again, this has been my experience with playing the game. Players see that Humanity dropping toward zero and they start taking actions to lift their Humanity score a bit.  It's not out of fear, and I've never seen anyone see it as punishment.  (I'm pretty sure that outside of Sorcerers punishing their demons, there's no use of the word punishment in the text -- and certainly not the rules punishing the players.)

And now...  Here's an Actual Play posting (in three parts). In it, I chose to drive my PC's Humanity six-feet-under as quickly as possible.  Then Jesse took my character, doodled on it, and handed it back and said, "Now what?"

Gothic Fantasy Part One:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=2702.0

Gothic Fantasy Part Two: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=2807.msg27442#msg27442

Gothic Fantasy Part Three:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=2908.msg28210#msg28210


I link these so you can see my above posts have nothing to do with being so attached to my character I'm afraid of losing him or something.  I made a choice -- and I knew that choice had consequences creatively -- and those consequences made the choice of value.

And then, because there were consequences, something even cooler came about when Jesse handed my character back to me.

CK
Logged

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

Posts: 133


WWW
« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2008, 07:51:24 PM »

My point is that you don't want to lose a character until you are done with him. That's all.
Christopher -
You've stated it much better than I did. :-)
- Marv (Finarvyn)
Logged

Marv (Finarvyn)
Sorcerer * Dresden Files RPG * Amber Diceless
Forge Member since 2004
OD&D Player since 1975
Marshall Burns
Member

Posts: 573

American Wizard


WWW
« Reply #8 on: February 08, 2008, 12:22:53 PM »

I think I'm getting it.  It's a clever trick to get people to create story without even realizing they're doing it!

I also received Sorcerer & Sword Wednesday.  I bought it because I like Robert E. Howard; I'm completely unfamiliar with the other source material.  Yet I could only nod my head enthusiastically while reading it!  It's cleared up some fuzzy areas for me regarding Sorcerer in general, and I'm getting all kinds of cool ideas.

This, combined with your account, Chris, has given me a great idea for a potential setting.  I actually had a game idea that I abandoned a couple years ago called Bone Orchard:  a Spooky Roleplaying Game with a setting that I can only describe as Americanfairytalegothic, derived from a variety of sources from Washington Irving to Grimm's Fairy Tales to the music of Tom Waits, plus a bunch of songs that I wrote with titles like "Black River Jam" and "Duke's Bones."  I could never figure out how I would go about making it actually deliver that setting, and the sort of experience I saw as built in to it, but I think I can do it much better than I ever anticipated between Sorcerer and Sorcerer & Sword.  Now I just gotta run it by my players and see if it clicks with them as well as it does with me :)
Logged

Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1159


« Reply #9 on: February 09, 2008, 08:18:11 AM »

I think I'm getting it.  It's a clever trick to get people to create story without even realizing they're doing it!

Or a helpful set of tools for those who do!

Either way, it seems to work.

CK
Logged

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

Posts: 364


WWW
« Reply #10 on: February 11, 2008, 04:44:49 AM »

It's not about forming an attachment to the character so that you're afraid to lose the character or whatnot.  (In this, Marv and I differ -- I don't think Sorcerer is different than other games in that you need to have special relationship with your character or something.  But that's not to say Marv is wrong with how he plays.)

Yeah "attachment" might not be the correct term, but you certainly must have an interest in your character and in telling his/her story.

Chris, that post explaining how Humanity works in actual play, is absolutely brilliant!

TTFN,

Yoki
Logged

Pages: [1]
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.16 | SMF © 2011, Simple Machines
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!