[Sorcerer] Cascadiapunk!

Started by Joel P. Shempert, July 24, 2008, 10:27:56 PM

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Joel P. Shempert

I GMed my first session of a Sorcerer game last week, which a bunch of players all new to Sorcerer as well. It was cool and fun!

The players were:

Jake, who I've played a number of games with, including Panty Explosion, Shock:, Contenders and In a Wicked Age

Willem, with whom I've played Capes, Shadow of Yesterday and Dogs in the Vineyard

Seth, who I've played Capes and Panty Explosion with

and Jana, who I've never played with before, though she sat in on Willem's Dogs game.

A couple weeks back we got together and hashed out the setting and made characters. I'm referring to the setting as Cascadiapunk. We ended up setting the game in the Portland area (our real-life city), and we've got a pretty good cross-section of Portland "types" that should be pretty easy to bring to life. Our Humanity definition is Empathy, Demons are amorphous and undefined, and Sorcerous Lore can be approached from any number of disciplines, from Native American Spiritism to Voodoo to Expanded Consciousness theory.

the PCs:

Jake: Sugarbaker, out of work and down on his luck (Naif)
Demon: his Backyard which he's scared will eat him, but answers questions when he talks to it. (Desire=Power, Need=Fresh Meat)
Kicker: His housemates all vanished in the night, and his rent is due.

Seth: Nobody, crazed street kid and Expanded Consciousness fanatic (Solitary Adept)
Demon: Twitch, the parasite that's granting him speed and awareness and rewiring his brain. (Desire=Mayhem, Need=Drugs)
Kicker: In his hideyhole in the tunnels below Chinatown, Twitch has discovered a passel of his rare and Sorcerous books missing.

Willem: Robin Last ("The Robin Hood of Corpses"), native issues activist stealing and interring museum corpses (Coven)
Demon: Ravengod, a parasite granting totemic powers (Desire=Mischief, Need=to consume animal young)
Kicker: A stolen corpse disappears in transit.

Jana: V Magnolius, punk chick black market broker for weird food and voodoo supplies, furious about the establishment raping natural resources (Naif)
Demon: Quiñones, a set of amorphous keys that open or close anything (Desire=Mischief, Need=To open a new lock)
Kicker: Bizarre highway accident with truckload of live chickens led to her finding Quiñones; she wakes up in the hospital with the dead trucker's foot sewn on to replace her own--and a stiff bill.

We had a few loose ends from the prep session (missing or incomplete kickers, some character facets to tweak, esp. related to Sorcery), so we spent some time sorting those out while kibbitzing at a relaxed pace. Consequently we only played about a scene per character, but that was fine. We weren't bored or antsy or losing momentum or anything; we were just. . .settling into our activity. And we had some scenes that were a lot of fun, with great enthusiasm to pick things up next time.

We went once around the table and got everyone's Kickers rolling, starting with Willem. I had some trepidation beforehand about how it would about how it would go, based on past paralysis issues with GMing. But a swift kick in the butt (thanks, Ron!) prompted me to review my own postings on GMing that was fun and successful.

And by God, it worked! Everything just flowed. jumping into Willem's Kicker, I played Robin's bodysnatching cronies based nothing more than their names; within seconds I had a personality and disposition toward Robin for each, and had tons of fun roleplaying them all reacting badly to the missing body, and reacting even worse to each others' reactions, and Robin's. Then came the phone call, and suddenly Willem has to deal with the museum professor (who Robin slept with to get info on the body) demanding he let her in on this and show her the body, while at the same time as his buddy is screaming in his face to get of the phone and fix this mess. And deal he did, with aplomb--projecting an easy "eh, fuck you, buddy" attitude to the crony while being an absolute smoothie to the professor. It ended with two cohorts flat leaving to let Robin take the fall, while the other takes off with Robin who has to figure out how to find the body and/or cover his ass with the professor, who he's agreed to meet. Aaand we're off!

Next we did Nobody. He pops into his lair and discovers his missing books! (Seth decided that Nobody wasn't sure just what books were missing, leaving it up to me in future sittings.) Nobody's crisis switch goes ON, and he's out on the streets trying to figure out what to do, where to go, how badly he's been compromised. Seth described how he's extremely paranoid on the streets, assuming passers-by are watching or following him. So I was like, sure! This couple of hipsters see how cagey you're acting, and now they ARE following you, like this little "mess with the meth-head" game. So Seth says, "hmm, let's try out the combat system," and has Nobody double back and ambush the guys, attacking them and demanding t know why they're following him and why they took the books. he roughs them up and freaks them the hell out, and ends up taking cuttings of their hair (because they were so concerned for their designer haircuts, which MUST mean something more!) and teleporting away, to use the hair to investigate further through some weird sorcerous means.

Next up was Jake with Sugarbaker. Standing on his porch reading his final eviction notice, Jake decided he was taking his last 20 bucks and buying 20 lottery tickets. So he's sitting on the back porch scratching them off one by one with a little "This is my day, I'm a winner" ritual speech, when his cute neighbor comes over with some beer to cheer him up. He tells her about the lucky lottery ticket ritual, and she decides the luckiest spot would be. . .oh, about dead center of the Demonic Yard. So there she stands, cheerfully chanting and scratching tickets and Sugarbaker wringing his hands while shadows creep toward her feet. He goes in to get some hot dogs and starts tossing them about the lawn (telling her he's feeding raccoons) and the shadows recede--right as she squeals and announces she's got a winner! On inspection he's won exactly. . .20 dollars. Sugarbaker plans on buying 20 more tickets, but the girl says he should treat himself to a nice meal or something. She says bye and leaves.

Last up was Jana. V Magnolius wakes up in the hospital and a patronizing doctor telling her she's lucky to be alive and there are some things that will come as quite a shock but it's the best they could do with the severity of the injury and by the way there's this small matter of the bill. . .he leaves her alone with her thoughts and she calls Pigeon, a street kid gofer for a black market client. He thinks she's high at first, but she cajoles him into meeting her on the hospital roof to escape.

At that point we were comfortable calling it a night. it's amazing how easy and pressure-free the game was. Just everyone sittin' playin' characters and reactin' to playin' characters. Very liberating, and vanquished the last of my GMing butterflies.

*                         *                         *

The method underlying all this, from my end at least, is grounded first and foremost in Chris Chinn's principle of making NPCs that are oriented toward PCs flags, then simply playing the character. Not "making the story happen," not "furthering the plot," not "revealing the GM's secret plan," just making characters and playing them, just like the other players are doing. We've ensured by our prep that the various characters will be aimed at each other in ways that will be engaging and fun and make cool story, so now we just play. Not craft an arc, not story conference, just play. We play with an intentionality regarding our agenda, but we still compose our story of moment to moment actions and decisions. . .and Sorcerer is great for that.

There's a great bit from Vincent Baker's blog some years back that sums up the approach I'm talking about. It's always stuck with me, and it was a great touchstone in preparing for this game:

QuoteImagine Thatcher's London. Imagine a person in Thatcher's London who has everything to lose.

That's a character. That's a whole, playable, complete character. If I ask you to speak in that character's voice, you can; if I present some threat or challenge, you can tell me easily how that character will react; if I describe a morning and ask you what that character will do in it, you'll know. Take ten minutes to think and that character's as real as can be.

[. . .]

(Look, just look: the character has no "character sheet," but he's a whole character, fully realized. I can play him effortlessly.)

That's it, right there. "Playing effortlessly." Not that there's no creativity or craft or energy expended in the process; quite the contrary, we had all of that. But there was no "uh, I dunno what to say, give me a minute" or "well, um, I do this, I guess. . .no, wait. . ." We just had situations, and we played.

It was wonderful.


PS. I've focused a lot on my own breakthrough, but I simply must stress that what I said about nimble, effortless play goes for everyone else at the table, too. Willem, Jake, Jana and Seth were all delightful and creative. It struck me in retrospect that one of the primary purposes of this session was a preliminary revelation of just who these characters are, their manner and methods. And that's exactly what the players gave me, as their characters' words and actions just rolled of their tongues.
Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.

Ron Edwards


And here we thought Nobody was going to be some ripped-off cliche Malkavian stereotype. I freakin' love that character now.

Best, Ron

Editing this in: For those starting with this thread, here's the prep one: Prep for first-time Hellblazer-ish Sorcerer.

Joel P. Shempert

Quote from: Ron Edwards on July 24, 2008, 10:36:15 PM
I freakin' love that character now.

Heh, one of my favorite exchanges of the evening:

Nobody (with victim up against the wall and his buddy doubled over in pain): "Who sent you? Who do you work for?!"

(whiny hipster voice) "I. . .I work at BerBAti's!"

So anyway. I wanted to run a rules question of sorts by you:

We didn't roll ice much in the session, which isn't necessarily a problem if there's no conflicts of interest actually being resolved, but I just wanna check in with it to make sure I'm making the best use of Sorcerer's mechanics. If there are any spots in the action where a roll would have been fruitful, please point 'em out.

In Robin's segment, we rolled dice twice: A roll (retroactively) for an anointing ritual Willem figures Robin performs to keep corpses from coming to life and walking away (which is what Willem is thinking could've happened to the corpse), which was then rolled over into a perception roll in the present scene to see if Robin can figure out what happened by examining the scene. He ailed both rolls, leaving Robin befuddled.

There was plenty of tension in the scene with the arguing cronies, but I'm pretty sure there was no conflict of interest in the 'bodies in motion" sense of doing something that someone else directly opposes. There were a couple of almost-cases, like Robin's cohort Moss was screaming at him to get off the damn phone, and Alice on the other line demanding he take her to the body. . .but it didn't really feel like there was any concrete opposition. After some weaseling, Robin agreed to meet with Alice, and Moss he blew off nonchalantly.  Should I have had a "roll to resist hanging up the phone" or a "roll to resist letting Alice see you?" I could see the other way 'round, if a PC was demanding something of an NPC, then sure, roll, and apply the rollover bonuses and such to future interactions. But it doesn't feel like that would really fly against a PC. Am I wrong?

In Nobody's scene we had another perception roll I think (in which he noticed that his journals were all present, but stacked out o order), then a series of combat and intimidation rolls as he accosted the scenesters. There wasn't really any human interaction that wasn't accompanied by rolls in this case, I and I think we handled the combat rolls correctly ("damage' penalties, "seeing stars" and so forth).

In Sugarbaker's scene there were no rolls. I can think of one place where i probably should've called for one, when Sugarbaker was trying to talk the neighbor girl out of standing in the middle of the yard. Otherwise there was no conflict whatsoever, except for maybe a potential Command to his Demon to not eat the girl, but that would require overt communication, which he was avoiding). Sugarbaker resisted when the girl insisted on inviting herself over, but he gave in easily.

V's scene likewise contained no rolls. The doctor alluded several times to the bill, but was content to leave her to adjust and pull herself together. I guess Pigeon could have resisted coming to help her escape, but I didn't really feel like he would.

So. . .if all that checks out on good usage (and non-usage) of the dice, then great! If not, i'd love to know what I'm missing.

One other nuts'n'bolts question:  The "free" ability that some Demons have (cloak for inconsp, Cover for passers), does that count toward its Lore score (and thus affecting Will and Power)? If so I've gotta adjust the Yard's score.


Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.

Ron Edwards

Hi Joel,

Inelegantly, the rules give Cloak to Inconspicuous demons for free (i.e. do not count toward the limit set by their Lore), but require Cover for Passing demons (i.e., it does count toward the limit set by their Lore). I am uncertain as to whether that is a design error on my part, because it does somehow resonate well with me in an inarticulate way, and if it is an error, in which direction the fix would go.

Regarding the rolls, with the qualifier that I was not there and cannot be sure, I think you missed a good opportunity with the girl standing in the yard. I imagine you've experienced about 5000 instances of a PC and NPC tussling over "you go there" or "come back here" or stuff like that, with no real system to help you. It is possible that you fell into that habit based on the trained-in notion that a system cannot help you in such a situation. Whereas, you know, Sorcerer does ...

The scene for V is a little harder for me to imagine being there, so I can't say for sure, but I do think you should really prep some Bangs for that player, big-time. I do like the trucker's foot ... does the character know about that yet?

Best, Ron

Joel P. Shempert

Quote from: Ron Edwards on July 25, 2008, 09:07:06 AM
I imagine you've experienced about 5000 instances of a PC and NPC tussling over "you go there" or "come back here" or stuff like that, with no real system to help you. It is possible that you fell into that habit based on the trained-in notion that a system cannot help you in such a situation.

Yes, exactly so. So how would Sorcerer work in this situation? Let me puzzle it out a little.

So Sugarbaker and the girl are scratching lottery tickets, and the girl up and walks into the middle of the lawn (since SB told her it was the yard that was lucky) to do the good-luck ritual. Oh shit!" Oh no! goes Sugarbaker. "Hey, uh, you really don't need to do that, why don't you come back here where it's comfy?" (laughing) "No, no, that's fine, I'm sure this is the luckiest spot" (she says, mock-serious, still trying to cheer him up). "Uh. . .Uh. . ." goes SB. The shadows start creeping. Girl recites the ritual and scratches. SB dashes in for some hot dogs and starts scattering them, mumbling about Raccoons. Hot dogs discreetly disappear beneath the grass and the shadows recede, just as Girl squeals, "It's a winner!"

Now, if we ad rolled, it could look something like this, maybe?

"Hey, uh, you really don't need to do that, why don't you come back here where it's comfy?"

(laughing) "No, no, that's fine, I'm sure this is the luckiest spot" (she says, mock-serious, still trying to cheer him up).

Roll Will vs. Will, SB loses, incurs penalty. If he won, then maybe the Girl goes back tothe porch, or maybe she persists, thinking SB's het up over nothing, but has a penalty to the next resist roll.

"Uh. . .Uh. . ." goes SB. The shadows start creeping.

In light of the penalty, SB decides not to pursue convincing the girl, and takes other action. Alternately, maybe he thinks "hey, I've got monster Will, I'll persist," and does so, perhaps becoming rather creepy/overbearing in his insistence.

Girl recites the ritual and scratches. SB dashes in for some hot dogs and starts scattering them, mumbling about Raccoons.

Roll to Command Demon? B wins and it stops threatening Girl. If Demon won, it could escalate, like the Yard tangling her feet in garden hose (Hold) as SB gets more and more frantic, girl unsuspecting her real danger.

Hot dogs discreetly disappear beneath the grass and the shadows recede, just as Girl squeals, "It's a winner!"

Hmm. . .I'm liking it. The scene result we got was one I liked, sure, but there're a lot of other cool possibilities embedded there, and what would've made it particularly fun was the sheer uncertainty of how it would turn out. Sure, maybe it still would've still been a simple introduce the plucky neighbor and taunt SB a bit with the Yard's menace" scene. . .or maybe it would've taken a more siniser or disastrous turn. Or maybe SB and the neighbor's relationship would change in unforseen ways. Or. . .any number of things!

Trust the procedures man, trust the procedures.

Quote from: Ron Edwards on July 25, 2008, 09:07:06 AM
does the character know about that yet?

Yes, she does. She can't walk on it very well yet, being a fresh graft and all, which is the big reason she needs help escaping from the hospital.

Good point about the Bangs.

Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.

Joel P. Shempert

Hey, i just remembered a question I was gonna ask-anyone have any pointers on the assigning of Bonus Dice in play? I found that area of the game kind of uncomfortable, like that old game of "guess what the GM wants" that most "GM assigns bonuses/gives rewards" systems that I've used seem to degenerate to.

We didn't roll a lot of dice in the first session, so it was hard to get a feel for it, but I did assign one bonus die, which was to Seth for such an audacious action as having Nobody jump the clubbers in the alley. I used the occasion to introduce the "roleplaying for bonus dice" rule and explain how it works. Jake asked, "who decides when someone gets a roleplaying bonus?" and I replied, "I do."

And I have to admit, as I gave that answer I felt really, really guilty.

I almost felt like I'd suckered all the players who showed up expecting a nice, "enlightened," player-empowered, Indie gaming experience, and, well, betrayed them with this sneaky little rule that seems to say "the game shall now be about jumping through hoops to impress me and guess what sorts of things I want you to do, and how."

The moment was exacerbated by me overlooking this one bit of rules discomfort and failing to come to terms with it before the game. So I'm gonna try to come to terms now. Can anyone share some experiences where you found the bonus dice assigning to go smoothly or not, in play?

I should not that no one else showed outward signs of being uncomfortable with the rule, they just took in the info, shrugged and moved on. This may just be my issue*. But it still IS my issue, you know? So here we are.


*I think mainly my issue is that giving bonus dice one time 'cause you like a particular statement or action implies that all those other times, you didn't like the statement or action. When the judgment is more distributed, like Gift Dice or Fanmail, but when it's all vested in the GM< then it turns the focus back on ME, as the Performer or Creative Orchestrator.
Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.

Ron Edwards

Joel P. Shempert

Thanks, Ron! That thread sews things up for me nicely. The confident smile has returned to my face.

I particularly like the insight that that the dual roles of antagonizing and affirming are in balance with this authority distribution. That's slick, and rings true. And the point about "advancing the story" = "making things change" is an apt clarification and reminder. Thanks again!

Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.