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Author Topic: [Sorcerer] The Live Tattoo  (Read 5676 times)
Frank Tarcikowski
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« on: May 08, 2008, 05:45:30 AM »

Ron Edwards asked me to post about a Sorcerer game we played when he visited me in Germany last December. I didn’t post about it yet because I didn’t feel a need to discuss it, and have resolved to keep more of the good role-playing experiences to myself. However, I think Ron has a point to make about the game and I’d like to hear it, so here goes.

Ron and I had been talking about intensity in role-playing and he had committed to a “real” game of Sorcerer, on which I took him up. Trouble was finding suitable players with sufficient knowledge of the English language (Ron is doing pretty well with his German lessons but he’s not quite there… yet!)

From my regular “girls” gaming group which was then playing TSoY, I asked one player called Mandy who speaks good English. We met at her place. Furthermore, I pm’ed Sven Seeland, whom I remembered from this thread about a Shadowrun game, and he joined us. He had been working all day and was dead tired, but he didn’t want to pass on that opportunity. He handled himself bravely. Also, his English was pretty damn near native speaker level.

Ron started out by explaining some basic stuff. We used a contemporary setting and I must say that it proved to be more intense than the Swords’n’Sorcery I normally prefer. It was, like, more close to home. Also, Ron came up with a cool twist: The demons have some human feature about them and they are the only ones who understand. It was creepy.

Mandy was like, no please, I don’t want some almost human looking demon, I’ll e having trouble sleeping! Then Ron prompted her a little to make up this demon that was like a twin of herself. As Mandy’s tattoo artist character had a telltale that was a little cut that never stops bleeding, she said: “Yeah, like me but without the cut.” And Ron: “Or… covered in them?” And Mandy: “Oh coool.” And so she, who hadn’t wanted a creepy demon first, ended up with the creepiest by far.

Ron also seized on Mandy’s kicker, which was about her trying to create a living tattoo. She emphatically didn’t want to do it by sorcery: She wanted to do it by herself. So the story started with Mandy’s character finding her partner/mentor tattoo artist dead and his torn-off skin spread all over the studio wall. Mandy rolled Humanity gain as she burried the corpse in the back yard, sobbing. (I think Humanity was pretty much the empathy thing from The Sorcerer’s Soul.)

Later on we learned that the dead tattoo artist had made that tattoo as a gift for her, a live tattoo that then had to come of, a crazy cabalistic winged thing that came into existence as, well, an angel. I was the first to understand, as I had read the respective chapter in The Sorcerer’s Soul (you thought demons were scary?) So that mysterious woman was hassling all of our characters, pointing out their failings and saying crazy things like, “I don’t want anything from you.”

My character who was initially laid out as a principally nice guy driven by his dead parents’ expectations turned out to be the only one who turned down the angel. It just, I dunno, worked out that way (“the outlaw prevails”). My parents, whose photograph was my object demon, approved. I like how Sorcerer is unpredictable that way: The fiction leads, as Vincent recently put it, and the fiction may go anywhere. Humanity is the judgement you submit on the fiction afterwards.

My character was more of a sidekick which was totally fine with me, as I enjoyed watching the others play. There was a very cool scene where Sven’s and Mandy’s characters met, and their demons, too. Ron really did a great job at playing those demons, in a way that made you actually like the demon but that was really pretty eerie and also, mean.

Sven’s demon got defiant and Sven’s character, the shy guy, stepped up to behave like a real master, commanding the demon to his will. Mandy’s contained Sven’s demon in her sterilizer (she rolled lucky on that one). In the end they parted without a fight.

So, Ron promised intensity and he kept that promise. The group around Mandy and me is now playing a campaign of Sorcerer & Sword.

- Frank
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2008, 09:42:15 AM »

I really, really enjoyed this game. It was surprisingly intimate and close-feeling among us, I think.

Given the time constraints, specifically going straight from character creation into play, certain GM responsibilities became compromised. I've had problems with this in the past, but in this case, I hit several stumbling blocks or made several poor choices that did not end up causing trouble. It made for a rather vague or, in places inexplicable back-story, but not in a way that let anyone down, I think.

Quite a while ago, the Prairie Home Companion movie surprised me by including a character who was, practically down to the point-build, an Angel going by the rules in Chapter 3 of The Sorcerer's Soul. I found myself drawing upon that about halfway through play, and as usual, it was a risky move. Angels are serious business in Sorcerer and have a way of diverting the whole story onto themselves. Given the story-power they put into the GM's hands, that can diminish the intensity of player authorship. So I went back and forth in my mind, during play itself, in a way which is usually reserved for private prep time.

I wanted to dwell on Sven's character a little bit, because his demon was so heinous that playing it really brought out the adversity of being a sorcerer. Effectively, the demon was a "best friend," who looked like an older buddy-type guy, especially a little rough and tough. (I imagined him looking a bit like Eddie Campbell's Bacchus, actually.) He was the kind of buddy who always belittled the lesser-status friend, so that the friendship became a method of destroying a person's ego and relying entirely on dependency - Sven really grasped my brief vision of what demons were in this game and produced a perfect archetype of the concept. Since I've suffered from such relationships in real life a couple of times, I felt like I could play this demon all day, session after session.

After the game, Sven mentioned that he was inclined to have his character give up being a sorcerer entirely, which made sense considering his experience with the angel (did Frank mention her shower scene? look, no he didn't - well, she had a shower scene). I thought to myself at the time, well, that's a perfect cue for me to consider adversity that would make this demon entirely desirable again after all, even with its awful, horrible ways. I was so intrigued with this idea/challenge as a creative opportunity, especially since no immediate inspiration struck, that I really regret that the three of us probably won't get to play together again.

The game was set in Hamburg, the city we were in, and I drew upon tons and tons of anything I knew - Turkish honor killings, hidden rooms where friends had been kept secret during WWII, and others. I thought it was interesting that Frank's character was Jewish, and instead of making that a big obvious symbolic deal, I tried to place very stereotypical, loud-aggressive German characters into his scenes as a subtle contrast issue to see what happened. This issue means a lot to me because I have strong political views about Germany and Israel. It also made the nature of the character's demon, a family photograph, resonant for me. Playing that photograph as a selfish and brutal demon rather than as a treasured memory was very, very easy.

I hadn't thought about it in those terms until just now.

Mandy is a natural Sorcerer player, the kind of role-player for whom this game was written in the first place. Everything she did, every nuance of the positive-negative elements of a sorcerer's relationship with her demon, every aspect of the character's overwhelming creative idealism - it was perfect. My own GM choices about how to frame the next scene or who appears in a given scene were made effortless, in that context. There was no language barrier whatsoever: multiple times, Mandy would produce a comment as a player or a sentence in-character which made everyone laugh or cry out, and then what happened next with her characer would inspire me to do the same.

Overall, it was one of the best game experiences I had all year.

Best, Ron
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2008, 01:23:27 PM »

I really, really enjoyed this game. It was surprisingly intimate and close-feeling among us, I think. (...)

Overall, it was one of the best game experiences I had all year.

Yes, that's true for me as well.

I'll have to ponder that bit about my character being Jewish a bit. I decided he was Jewish when I made up his name, the character concept had been made up before and it kind of told me that it would make sense for this character to be Jewish. Maybe that was because I've known some Jews who were struggling with their parents' expectations.

- Frank
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2008, 01:51:12 AM »

I wanted to get back to this.

Quote
The game was set in Hamburg, the city we were in, and I drew upon tons and tons of anything I knew - Turkish honor killings, hidden rooms where friends had been kept secret during WWII, and others.

Know how you never actually go to see the tourist attractions of your home town unless you have visitors from abroad? This was similar: Normally when we do contemporary settings, we either go for exotic places far from home, or if we set them in our home town, we’ll rather make some more personal references to places we actually visit a lot in our real lives. This was kinda like seeing our home town through the eyes of an educated visitor. Which was cool!

Regarding the back story, yeah, there were some inexplicable things like why my ex-girlfriend was also murdered and her skin spread across my wall. But hey, it led to a cool scene and I didn’t mind even though I’m usually a sucker for consistency.

This game was also proof of how real, meaningful character development doesn’t need a long campaign. Sven’s character had two really formative scenes, one with his demon (where he showed him who was master) and one with the angel (where the seed of doubt was planted and, yeah, she had a shower). My character also had two formative scenes, one with his dead ex-girlfriend and one with the angel. Let me tell you a bit about my character.

His parents were upper class. Dad was a successful business man, an industrial I think. My guy really didn’t care much about the business and wasn’t interested in taking his father’s place. He was a talented amateur boxer and wanted to pursue that career. Then his parents died and he had to take over the business. His demon was the photograph of his parents sitting on his desk. One of its powers was to boost cover (businessman, not boxer, I had two). My kicker was some trouble with a tax inspection.

So my guy had this private meeting with the tax inspector scheduled and then all this other stuff happened, like him finding his ex-girlfriend’s corpse in his house and this angel stalking him. I played this in actor stance, and it just felt like he couldn’t let his parents down, he had to save the family business and that was the most important thing. So he burned the corpse and bribed the tax inspector and told the angel he did not believe her.

I can perfectly see how this could have continued: Always wanting to get to the “other stuff”, the stuff from his life as an amateur boxer and a nice person, but never getting around to it, being consumed by running the business and representing the family at important high society happenings, but sacrificing all objects of private luxury to the demon’s need, slowly reaching a boiling point where he can’t stand it any longer.

Still, we did reach a sense of closure after that single session. We didn’t finish the whole story, but we did finish a chapter.

- Frank
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Arturo G.
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« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2008, 03:04:22 AM »

It is a very nice report. Very encouraging.

This reminds me again that playing the demons to the hilt is key.

I have been reading the "Art, Deco, Melodrama" threads and all the preparation process of a good Sorcerer session looks delicate. How do you manage to come up with consistent characters, demons, kickers and situation so quickly? Is it a matter of experience?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2008, 09:37:29 AM »

Hi Arturo,

Looking back at the Art-Deco Melodrama threads, I found that the techniques I described were vastly more complicated and clunky than I now think they should be.

Although the relationship map was suitable, I found that the back-story had too many complicated steps in it, and that I went to crazy-complicated effort to put the player-characters into specific situations. In real play, given an interesting relationship map, all you have to do is put the dynamic time-bomb that is a Sorcerer player-character into the situation at all, in any way that's relevant to that character (i.e. using the Kicker as the guide). Things will happen from there.

It is worth mentioning that the relationship map has to be genuinely interesting, and that means making a number of NPCs who have strong (and in this case, murderous) feelings about things. Therefore I simply play them fighting through their own desires and interactions as if I were merely a player myself. But it doesn't mean as much pre-planning about how the player-characters will fit into it - they will fit in, in the sense of carving out their own place through their interactions with NPCs, rather than fitting into a prepared socket.

Nowadays, I prep far fewer Bangs, and the ones I prep (a) affect player-characters directly and (b) do not depend on anything specific happening before they hit. I also no longer care whether a player-character is present when something important happens to an NPC, and let that be determined by whoever the player-character wants to be near through his or her own actions.

That also means that my efforts during play itself generally concern scene-framing, in the moment, and less about setting up specific conflicts. I get to use already-existing elements in the situation to help with that framing: for instance, in the Hamburg game, two of the player-characters were running after the mysterious woman, and I had them each turn a corner from different directions and run into one another - and the woman had disappeared. I wouldn't have done that unless each player had already stated that they wanted to pursue that woman ... and those decisions had each been (a) independent of one another and (b) non-obligatory. So nowadays, my scene-framing is very opportunistic and not at all aimed toward getting somewhere, so much as combining things that are already happening.

In many cases, that's really rock-solid already too, because the player has said something like, "I visit all the leather bars to hunt that guy down," or whatever. (H'mmm ... now that I think about it, I'm quite annoyed that I framed no scenes at der Rieperbahn.) So in that case, I am merely a humble servant and go to the leather bars with the player-character.

The only thing that the mix needs, after that, is to play the NPCs very very vividly. That's easy with the demons. In the case of the woman/angel character, I had her do sensual but non-manipulative things. In the dinner scene with Frank's character, in which she was obviously attending with his opponent, she squeezed his knee under the table in a reassuring way, and then there was that shower scene, which I'm proud of because she was very beautiful and naked and towelling herself off and all (and besides, every shower in the story so far had a skinned body in it, so this was a big contrast), but she was also not trying to make the player-character do anything either, which was a big new thing for that guy. As far as the regular human characters were concerned, they tended to be pretty extreme - the auditor guy was going to bust Frank's character's ass, and when Frank won the conflict with him, they entered into a highly criminal relationship. So you see, he never did "nothing." Then there was the dead artist guy, who obviously did something really extreme already and paid for it with his life, to give the woman he loved an angel, and the honor-killing brother who hated the woman.

It's fun and easy! I play the demons, I play the NPCs, I frame high-potential scenes (i.e. character combinations) based on what's happening, and along with the players, I cause conflicts. Resolutions always allow a tighter and more consequential set of further scenes to emerge.

To answer your direct question, Arturo, the good news is that the players have already done the bulk of the work, and all they need is some validation of the urgency of their Kickers in order to launch into furious action. The player-characters and demons are already ready to go, and nothing about making them has to be tuned or altered to "fit my plot" (because there isn't any). The principles for scenario creation outlined across all four books can be applied to taste: the three points in Chapter 4 of the core book, the Bang-driven and character-centric concepts in Sword Chapter 7, the relationship map stuff in Chapters 4 and 5 in Soul, and the conflict diagrams in Chapter 6 of Sex. Another such principle which is implied rather than explicit, in all four books, is the enthusiasm the GM must bring to the demons themselves. The important thing to remember is that even a little bit of effort along those lines, for only part of those principles rather than all of them, is all you need as a Sorcerer GM.

Best, Ron
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Arturo G.
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« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2008, 01:06:00 PM »

Sounds really nice!

Advice and examples are great (along the whole thread).
I still need to train and learn to do all these things more naturally. Thus, I should play and try, more and more.

Thanks a lot for this thread,
Arturo
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Per Fischer
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« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2008, 06:19:31 AM »

The principles for scenario creation outlined across all four books can be applied to taste: the three points in Chapter 4 of the core book, the Bang-driven and character-centric concepts in Sword Chapter 7, the relationship map stuff in Chapters 4 and 5 in Soul, and the conflict diagrams in Chapter 6 of Sex. Another such principle which is implied rather than explicit, in all four books, is the enthusiasm the GM must bring to the demons themselves.

Thanks for this summary, Ron. The only thing I'm not sure about is the "three points in Chapter 4 of the core book" - what exactly are they? Do you mean the personal tweaks on Humanity, Sorcerers and Demons?
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Per
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« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2008, 08:20:05 AM »

Hi Per,

They seem pretty archaic now, but with some allowance for the time of writing, they still apply: the sorcery, the back-story, and the ending. (I may be missing the phrasing a little.)

I think I've developed the "sorcery" point pretty thoroughly over the past eight years in the Adept forum, and the "back-story" development begins with the Art-Deco threads and has been continued here and in many previous Actual Play threads.

Today, I'd refer to the "ending" differently. I'd emphasize that it was emergent rather than planned, and that it had nothing to do with solving a pre-planned problem or stopping a pre-planned villain. The aesthetic points I make in that section, though, still hold up well.

Best, Ron
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Sven Seeland
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« Reply #9 on: May 19, 2008, 06:22:10 AM »

Wow!

After what must be about half a year of absence from the Forge I come in here totally at random because I was seeking some distraction, not expecting much at all and now I find our Sorcerer game from some time last winter at the top of the Actual Play forum!

Unfortunately I'm joining the discussion a little late and the thread has already strayed a little but I'd still like to express my views of the game.

First of all I have to say that I really enjoyed the game and I do regret that I wasn't more awake at the time (though there's nothing to regret, really - it's not as if I had a choice). I was really happy to meet the three of you and I would love to repeat this so if you should ever come toamburg again, Ron, be sure to let me know! But enough of the nostalgia...

First of all I have to say that was by far the most intense and emotionaly involving game I ever had the honor to participate in.

I think this has a few reasons. The more simple ones are the facts that the setting was "close to home" (if I remember correctly we decided not to use Hamburg. Was it Berlin? Or just an anonymous German city?), that the demons were human-looking and that Ron is simply a very experienced GM and author of the game.

However I also did something I don't usually do: I poured a lot of myself into the character. This character wasn't carefully constructed using certain criteria such as story potential or tactical fitness but it was dreamt up, so to speak. This character came from the heart, not the brain. My reasons for doing so were threefold, I think.

First of all: I didn't know any of you guys and it seemed highly unlikely that we'd ever meet again, so there was very little risk involved for me. I wouldn't have much to fear should you judge me by your character and I don't think you could make the distinction of where my character ends and my personality starts nearly as easily as my friends could. That way I wasn't really exposing a lot of myself.

Secondly, I was dead tired which mak my rational consciousnes take a backseat and let my intuition take over. Many of the "but"s and objections that usually pop up in my head just didn't appear.

And thirdly, Ron applied a good deal of pressure on us during character creation (and rightly so) which forced me to go with my gut feelings before being able to think them through.

This resulted in a character that meant a lot to me. Now, in hindsight, what I poured into that character and his demon was an interesting mixture of my own personality, things that I have experienced, hopes, fears, things that I have seen in other, read in books or watched in movies. Sometimes it was also the exact opposite ofthose, sometimes it was only an association that was triggered by a spontaneous emotion. Some of those sources become apoarent to me just now, as I'm writing this! This was a terrific experience and it sadens me that I would never dare to do this with my current group.

The result of all this was that I was very involved in the scenes my character was participating in. Some ofgthe scenes upset, frightened or challenged me so much on personal level that I almost couldn't continue playing because I'm struggeling with those issues in real life as well and sometimes I even did have to take break during play.

Howevet, thanks to the preassure Ron applied I was able to live through all those challenges, which felt great, almost cathartic! It probably even influenced my daily life a tiny bit, I believe.

Another thing I found interesting to observe was that first formative moment that Frank mentioned. I created my character as a really weak master to his deamon. When he punished his daemon and showed him who's boss I did this really reluctantly feeling it was bad roleplaying, but it was the only acceptable way out of the situation I saw.
Why did I see this as bad roleplaying? Because I have learned that it is considered to be "breaking out of character" if you portrait your character in any way that is not the same as what's written down on the character sheet. This made me realize that characters aren't allowed to change in the games I've been playing with my group so far! Even thoufh the changing of the main characters is what all good fiction is about, in my oppinion!

Right. That was a lot longer than I had planned but maybe someone might find it useful or at least interesting and maybe it'll spark some more discussion.

By the way I ask you to excuse any typos in this post a  I asm writing this on my mobile phone which only has a really crappy touchscreen keyboard.

Greets,
Sven
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- Sven

Mr. Sandman bring me a dream...
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: May 19, 2008, 06:50:37 AM »

Hi Sven!

My recollection is that we did set the game in Hamburg, but now that you mention it, I may be mistaken. Could it have been Berlin after all? I'm pretty sure that it was not unnamed or generic.

I know about the pressure you mentioned during character creation. I developed it during my long-time experiences with Champions. The idea is not really pressure so much as saying "yes" to ideas that a player has which are so interesting to him or her, that the player rejects them. This is a weird trend in role-playing: when you come up with something that really grabs your own self, then you throw it away as quickly as possible because it might make trouble of some kind. It's as if we have been trained to apply only the comfortable imagination to play, which usually means a genre cliche, rejecting the visceral.

A related tactic is to ask questions when someone clearly falls into the cliche trap, typically that the character has amnesia or starts looking too much like a given actor's persona (say, Bruce Willis as "action guy") or a given fan-favorite character motif (say, Willow in Buffy). I don't really challenge it or say "are you suuuure" in a leading way, so much as ask questions about what does make the character more dynamic, and that usually results in the cliche being abandoned or being transformed into something better.

Your character was about friendships based on bullying. It was a brutal, painful topic, probably for all of us. I think the essential question (and ultimately, decision) built into the character concerned whether he was such a self-made victim that he would be destined to succumb to the worst excesses of sorcery, or whether he would find a "hero" in himself eventually. That's an important question and given the characteristic dice-results and dice-usage in Sorcerer, a risky one.

I especially appreciate your comments about catharsis, because that was a primary creative goal for designing the game: catharsis without self-indulgence.

You wrote,

Quote
When he punished his daemon and showed him who's boss I did this really reluctantly feeling it was bad roleplaying, but it was the only acceptable way out of the situation I saw.
Why did I see this as bad roleplaying? Because I have learned that it is considered to be "breaking out of character" if you portrait your character in any way that is not the same as what's written down on the character sheet.


I think this is a serious issue. I've discovered that this is a primary reason that Sorcerer plays poorly in a convention context. People look at the sheet and commit to depicting what they see there, instead of using the sheet as a set of starting points or habits that characterize this individual until the Kicker hits, i.e., before play only. It's thespianism as opposed to authorship.

I am definitely going to return to Hamburg, and to visit all the great people I met there.

Best, Ron
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Christoph Boeckle
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« Reply #11 on: May 19, 2008, 07:18:21 AM »

This is a beautiful thread! Thanks to all for sharing.
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Regards,
Christoph
Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2008, 01:52:41 AM »

Yes, now that you mention it, it was Berlin. The “eyes of an educated visitor” thing still applies, though.

Apart from that, Sven: Wow. Just… wow. I did notice that you were very “in it” but I didn’t realize it was that personal. I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to cross those lines with us. And for what it’s worth, in my book that was excellent role-playing.

- Frank
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #13 on: May 29, 2008, 04:11:19 AM »

I just recalled a neat rules twist we made. My demon did not boost cover. My demon had a cover of its own, equal to its Will of 7 or 8, that was transferred to the sorcerer. This is only one example of how demon abilities are very flexible and can represent almost any effect if you’re a little creative.

- Frank
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: May 29, 2008, 01:37:44 PM »

Hi Frank,

That's not a rules twist, though. There is indeed a demon ability called Cover, and like nearly all the abilities, its user can be defined as the demon or as someone else.

Best, Ron
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