[Sorcerer] Getting involved in the Carnival Bizarre

Started by Christoph Boeckle, October 27, 2008, 12:39:21 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

Christoph Boeckle

Hello all

At last we got around to meet and give a follow-up to the first session. First thing, we agreed with Thomas that Alice was just a woman that he had seen once or twice at a ball, but never actually met in person. Nevertheless she does look incredibly similar to Alyssia, Arthur's demon. (Fred Garbler, I kept mixing up the names and Thomas made fun of me.)

The fiction and related rules usage

Jérôme's Friedrich Goete met a lot of important people in the lyrical scene and decided, as the new art director of his friend Rémi d'Acremont's opera, to set the season's theme on voyage. He especially got to meet Brian Falcrest, with whom he decided to organize an informal debate on what lay beyond the city after the first representation of the piece in production, in which interested opera-goers could participate in an effort to raise cultural awareness on the topic.
During the session it became clear to the players that Fanny d'Acremont, Rémi's wife, is actually one of the Seneschals Arthur will work with. Her alias is Edvige and she might often be seen dressed up as a ballet dancer.

Thomas's Arthur presented himself to the other Seneschals, who asked him a few questions (Thomas had a few job interviews recently, I had one, so this was quite funny to play) about his motivations to enter service with them.
As soon as he was accepted, he asked Alyssia to give him as much information as possible on the other two Seneschals he had me. Of course, she knew lots about all of them (her Perception ability is just imbalanced!) Arthur also got her to survey the network of Couriers that bring the messages around different members of the organization of the Scarlet Jester. This she found unfortunate, since it meant they would have to work in shifts and hardly have any time to spend together (her Desire is Sensual Gratification). Arthur made her accept anyway (we made a Will against Will roll, where the Binding is in favour by +2 for Arthur), telling her it was necessary for their mutual future that he understand the organization as well as he could and hopefully become its new master. Nevertheless, he decided to visit her two hours earlier at the hiding spot she was, bringing champagne... of course sex was had, but in the midst of the act, Arthur spots a Courier bringing a message. He gets up immediately, and sends Alyssia after him. She was utterly mad, but obeyed anyway. Arthur reads the message as soon as the Courier is out of sight: the Scarlet Jester accepts his application and immediately asks him to go on a first mission. He has to observe the comings and goings of Brian Falcrest.
So there he is, observing Falcrest's manor, when he senses (through the Link he shares with Alyssia) that his demon has actually caught up with the Courier and is talking to him, then seducing him, then finally she fucking him. Arthur doesn't intervene until she's done, at which point he calls her back. The two talk as if nothing particular had happened, Alyssia informs him that she knows who pays the Courier for their work and is sent off again.
Finally, Arthur gets an appointment to meet Falcrest. While in the manor, Arthur and H.P. Locke pass each other in the main corridor, without noticing each other's tell tales (the players rolled two opposed Lore conflicts, but both failed.)

Julien's H.P. Locke is determined to understand where the poison that killed his father and uncle came from, who bought it and especially why. Brian Falcrest, the associate of the late brothers, has no idea as to why somebody would have wanted to assassinate them.
Ewald the alchemist, who lives in the Red-light district (his house is on the same street as a cabaret), is a supplier of cylipine which Locke had started spying on last session already, by replacing the lock to the house with a demon lock. This demon has the ability to spawn little locks. This gave us the opportunity to check out the power of rolls for bonuses. The spawn ability says that when spawning, the demon takes "lethal Special damage (victories = Spawn's power)". I interpreted this as a Stamina vs Stamina roll (both times the demon's score). So Julien decided to describe the process: Locke enters the house at night, takes measurements of the new lock he wants to replace, goes back to his workshop and makes constructs a new one identical on the outside, but much more elaborate on the inside. He then goes back, replaces the lock on the door to the inner courtyard and exchanges the latch with the one from the parent demon. This I ruled allowed for a bonus die and a Cover roll against 3 dice, with victories going to the spawn roll. Finally, the spawned demon ended up with a Power of 3.
Locke then left the house and shortly after nearly bumps into a strong man disguised as a clown (the third Seneschal, Oskar! Again, only the players realize this). The man mumbles an apology and moves on. Locke sees him enter Ewald's house (this scene had been foreshadowed at the end of last session, so Julien knew that his demon's Need would be fulfilled) and tries to spy on him. Apparently, all Oskar does is to wait in a room of the first floor. A bit later, Ewald arrives and immediately goes upstairs. Obviously the two men talk a good while. Later, the clown leaves through the inner courtyard and into the adjacent cabaret where all he does is drink a few beers. Locke is a bit discouraged.

How to spice up the sauce?

I have the feeling I'm doing okay with Arthur's storyline (Thomas was the player undertaking most actions in accordance with his character's goal, so that helps a lot), but I believe it fell a bit flat for the other two characters. I'd like to spice it up a good notch for next session.
For this, I'll prepare some bangs. I'm thinking about a commando assault on the opera to take out an important person right in the middle of a representation (somebody doesn't like the idea of leaving the city), so as to wake up Jérôme's Friedrich (Ben's advice for Polaris to kill the Senate members of Seth's advice to have someone come in shooting for no apparent reason in Dirty Secrets have always served me well after all).
I'm also going to have to deal some heavy hits on Locke, so as to get him into a more active stance.

All in all, I felt like I spent too much time positioning various NPCs, although I enjoyed gradually connecting the different PCs scenes with them (Falcrest, the clown and Fanny d'Acremont will probably serve as major pivotal characters sometime very soon).

So next session, I'll make sure that a few heads roll. I wonder which! Any other suggestions?

A quick question about kickers

I've had in mind that kickers play out in a span of, say, half a dozen sessions. However, I'm suspecting that playing a number of two or three session kickers could work just as well, giving the PC opportunities to evolve and adapt to the events in the fiction. Should I open up to that eventuality or should I rather work to give some more meat to a kicker that seems to be coming to a conclusion too quickly (i.e. not in a grand climactic explosion of events and characters)?

Ron Edwards

Hi Christoph,

I'll have to read your summary of the events several times before I talk about them, mainly because I am overwhelmed with all the names and characters at the moment.

However, I can address your question about Kickers. I suggest that you let them take their own course per character, and not maintain any conception of when they might resolve. It's difficult, in some ways, because it deliberately reduces your attention as GM to "how the story is going." Doing this well has two aspects.

First, and most obviously, be sure not to reduce attention or time dedicated to a given player-character because he or she is "too close."  If they have struck at the heart of your material regarding their Kicker, well then, they have, and it's up to you to accept that. On a related point, it's also kind of lame to create another NPC who's beyond the one they're confronting just so the story will last longer.

Second, and completely opposite, be sure not to hurl a Bang or rapid series of Bangs at a character which are so directly and simply "the Kicker" that resolving them automatically resolves the Kicker. That's actually taking it upon yourself to finish the character's story for him or her, rather than letting the player's decisions and play be more central.

Here's a final concept which might help: resolution of the basic raw moments of a Kicker does not necessarily mean a sudden and full stop of all the story implications for that character's situation particularly those which occurred in the context of the Kicker. As a simple example, let's say a character's Kicker involves some guy who killed the character's father, coming to kill the character. OK, after various events, the character confronts the guy and kills him. Is the Kicker fully over? Well, that depends on what's happened. Maybe there's an NPC in the picture as well, some woman perhaps, and the character has fallen in love with her and married her during the course of all those events regarding the father-killing guy, and in fact, she's pregnant. All right, as I see it, this character's story might not be over just because he killed the guy who killed his father. Given the whole new context for his life now that the Kicker arose, and given all the things that have happened along the way, what is he going to do about becoming a father himself?

It seems reasonable to me to keep playing, and to say, the immediate impetus of the Kicker's content in the first session has in fact been dealt with, but the implications of what's occurred along the way still demand action, decisions, and resolutions. Granted, this is still resolution and not whole new conflicts, or a new Kicker. But that doesn't mean it has to be boring or that no conflicts are involved either.

Does that help, or make sense?

Best, Ron

Christoph Boeckle

Hi Ron

Thanks for the explanation regarding Kickers, it makes perfect sense to me. For some reason I still need to nail down, I'm very anxious running Sorcerer, whereas Dogs for example has never been a problem (otherwise I rather tend to play GM-full games like Polaris, Dirty Secrets and Zombie Cinema). Session after session, post after post, I grow more confident that all will be perfectly okay and that my anxiousness was never grounded in any serious problem.

I realized this morning that I hadn't been playing on Goete's and Locke's demons Desires, which in both cases is "causing mischief". This should inspire me a nice situation or two.

Would it be helpful to you if I made a graphical representation of all the characters involved up to now and linked to it? I've got all the notes and they need updating anyway, so I might as well do that on a computer.

Ron Edwards

Hi Christoph,

Such a graphic would be very helpful. This is an ambitious, fascinating Sorcerer game and I'd like to be able to follow it throughout.

I think if you concentrate on the demons' Desires and Needs, focusing on how you'll go into scenes rather than how the scenes will turn out, then all will be well. I'll be interested in your thoughts on anxiety after a session or two of playing that way.

Best, Ron

Christoph Boeckle


Here is the organigram of all the NPCs up to now. Black lines denote business ties, with arrows indicating who gives orders to who (i.e. the Scarlet Jester is Altar's boss), red lines indicate romantic or family ties. Boxes with dashed lines are dead NPCs.

Rois means Kings, these guys are the Scarlet Jester's (Bouffon Ecarlate) assassins. They have only been evoked by name.
Courriers means Couriers, these are the people that bring the information around in such a way that separate units are effectively cut off from direct contact: the Scarlet Jester never meets the Seneschals and the Assassins personally, nor do these two interact directly.
The Seneschals have a pseudonym (Altar, Edvige, Oskar and Pénélope (dead, replaced by Arthur)), a favourite costume (respectively: Pierrot the clown, ballet-dancer and clown) and a real name, listed in that order (for the three NPCs still alive).

There are still some relations that I have yet to reveal amongst the given NPCs. Some NPCs are deliberately thrown in without any definite purpose (Alice, Gianluca and Alfredo) for the while being, they will allow me to cross the PCs story lines in some way or another or to serve as enemies and allies when the pressure goes up. Or perhaps they will just have served for purposes of colour.

Quick reminder:
- The Locke brothers and Falcrest were organizing an expedition outside the city.
- Falcrest supplies d'Acremont's opera with beverages and food.
- Ewald is an alchemist who prepares the poison that killed the Locke brothers (H.P.'s father and uncle).
- Gianluca Toricelli operates another opera in the city.

Now, a rules question I forgot to ask earlier: can I as the GM decide that the Perception ability does not work on certain characters at all, at least such as it has been defined and established for Alyssia (basically: yellow pages plus gossip)? There are some characters for which this simply wouldn't make any sense based on my content preparation for various reasons (i.e: does not exist as such, is in fact a demon, has an appropriate hide-out, etc.) and I'm wondering if the best solution would be to tell Thomas, if the situation occurred: "You don't need to roll any dice, Alyssia has never seen or heard of that person".

And a final thought: I've been telling the players that they should roll Lore vs. Lore to have their characters identify sorcerer's or demon's Telltales. I don't seem to find where in the book it says to do so, and if this isn't a figment of my imagination, why there actually is such a roll at all (or: what is it's purpose in the overarching construction of Sorcerer). Now, whether this is an invention or not, it begs a question: how obvious should I be in revealing who is a sorcerer and what is a demon or not? Is it okay if in one scene, a PC meets a passer demon, I describe him as human, somewhat bizarre (lots of people are bizarre in that carnival) and then only in the next scene start seriously doing demonic stuff with them? What about the Telltale, do I just describe it if the player says they have a good look at the guy (leaving it vague whether this is a peculiarity of the character of a real capital T Telltale)?
Dogs in the Vineyard puts me in great confidence, because I know I should by default reveal the town actively. I'm not quite sure how I have to put the SIS up to date in Sorcerer. Especially if I want to leave the open option for some of the "loose" NPCs mentioned before to become sorcerers or passer demons.
My confusion might arise from this: Sorcerer isn't a mystery game where I expect the players to be tracking down valuable information to identify the culprits, but there definitely are characters who have hidden agendas. It's way too easy for me as a GM to be vague about details, then suddenly reveal the stuff in a way which could feel very "gotcha sucker!" to the concerned player. Then again, so what? PC are quite tough in this game, at least if they accept to use their sorcerous advantages.
So here I am, pulling my punches regarding what I put into the SIS or not and this has always been a major issue for me since I started RPGs. Some people might remember some of my early Pool AP where I was raving over how cool it was that any player could change any fact which hadn't obviously been stated before (which I acknowledge is very different to the Pool play you talk about Ron). This even gave rise to a sketchy investigation game, which is all about contributing to the SIS and crafting interpretations of it. The point is, I detest arbitrary content editing and retention, because it feels like abusing my friends' good will, but I also like playing full bore adversity. DitV tells me how to go about that. What does Sorcerer do, if that was a design concern at all? For some reason, I can't quite grasp it, even though I'm becoming more confident that the tools are there, somewhere (is this why you are interested in seeing how play pans out over the next two sessions with me essentially playing the demons without any afterthoughts?)

Gosh, I connected to the Forge to post the organigram, then found myself expanding on that anxiousness I mentioned in my previous post and now I'm unearthing my whole roleplaying history and finding a common red line in all my stuff! This is quite marvellous in itself. Food for thought and stuff.

Ron Edwards

Hi Christoph,

My apologies for delaying my reply for so long.

Perception should be handled with a keen eye toward whether such a roll is a conflict. In the cases you're describing, it seems as if no conflict is possible, as nothing would be "pushing back" against Alyssia's ability. So you are on the right track with your interpretation. It's very similar to a player-character trying to jump over an elephant - there's no roll. However, keep that keen eye handy, because as play progresses, the characters may well become legitimate targets.

Identifying sorcerers' and demons' Telltales through rolls is actually a big deal. I agree that it's not an intuitive part of play, and I've seen some groups turn it into a power-trip (I know yoooooou're a sorcerer, and you don't know that IIIIII am!) simply because they didn't know what else to do with it. I'll try to outline my thinking about why I put it in there.

First, the mechanics: to identify another character as a sorcerer, the player rolls Lore vs. the other character's Lore. To identify a demon as a demon, roll Lore against a single opposing die, regardless of any scores. These rules were actually garbled in the first printing of the book, but were corrected for later printings. You can see the old Errata entry at the Sorcerer website, if your copy is from that first printing (I doubt it, actually, that was seven years and a lot of printings ago).

Second, and a bit out of order, why would such a thing be a roll? Well, the default notion is that a sorcerer and a demon are not advertising themselves as what they are. There's a default "don't spot me as such" built into the concepts. Therefore, the Lore rolls are handled as a GM-directed roll, just as a defensive roll againt a sudden attack would be, rather than based on what a player says the character is trying to do. In other words, when the characters are in one another's presence for the first time, include the Telltales in the fiction and roll Lore for everyone as above.

The exception to that point is that if the characters are obviously doing sorcery and being demons, or perhaps walking up and saying "Hi, I'm a sorcerer," or anything equivalent, then the default "don't spot what I am" assumption no longer applies. No roll is necessary and the relevant information (I am a sorcerer / I am a demon) are already part of the fiction.

Third, and finally, the reason. This is something I only learned through direct application and did not have the vocabulary to explain until recently. When you use those rolls, even though they have no necessary direct impact in the fiction at the moment, all the characters are now "situated" in a particular matrix of knowledge and its absence. No matter who knows what about whom, and who doesn't, we as players now have a very powerful basis to help inform our choices about what our character will and won't do.

Given what you posted, all of which I agree with, this technique should actually be welcomed by you because it absolves the GM of arbitrary knowledge parameters. You no longer have to front-load certain game events and relationships by saying what characters automatically know about one another at first sight - the mechanics handle that and preserve the positive, interesting, situation-shifting element of such knowledge without anyone giving that element a particular shape.

I found myself getting abstract for a moment there. Am I making sense? Let me know.

Some older threads:
On Telltales
Really stupid Telltale question (possibly the winner of the most misleadingly named thread contest; I'm not sure if I answered this excellent question well at all)
Trying to find out if an object is demonic?
However, I just spent ages trying to find this absolutely appropriate thread about a warrior-woman demon and whether she'd be (a) noticed and (b) identified as a demon, and when. But I can't find it yet, and so will add it when I do.

I hope all that helps!

Best, Ron

Christoph Boeckle

Hi Ron, thanks for the detailed reply! It makes perfect sense as usual and the links were useful.

Don't worry about the delays, I understand the Forge rhythm and recently there's been tons of things to read.

I hadn't realized how powerful that "identify the sorcerous" roll was, because for now, the only sorcerers and demons were those the players created and were anyway aware of. It is going to help me take off my gloves. It's all about "subtext", like accompanying a narration with a specific raise in Dogs in the Vineyard for example, a thing which I'm very fond of. Subtext for presenting adversity and letting the players a chance to position their characters accordingly.

Now, how about going back and deciding, hey, Altar was a sorcerer all along! I can think of a number of ways how this is credible in the fiction as seen from the point of view of an audience, but the players have not rolled against him and so are supposed to know that he isn't a sorcerer. How backstabby is that going to be? I make a whole fuss over such things, the players probably couldn't care less (so you forgot/changed your mind/etc., so what?)
As a matter of fact, I was hoping to let the relations between all the characters take form before choosing one or two of those already revealed to be sorcerers (not more, others will come in later) but since no roll has been made, I'd betray the subtext quality of that "identify the sorcerous" mechanic.

Ron, I'll be writing up an AP of my last Dust Devil one-shot session shortly. I think there's something similar to that anxiousness (which has just gone down a step thanks to your explanation). I'll be talking about authorities and adversity and asking you specifically to help me out if you agree to. I'm suspecting there's a bigger picture behind all of this.


Ron Edwards

Hi Christoph,

Cool - I'm glad I actually made sense!

You wrote,

QuoteNow, how about going back and deciding, hey, Altar was a sorcerer all along! ... I make a whole fuss over such things, the players probably couldn't care less (so you forgot/changed your mind/etc., so what?)

After all these years of playing the game, I don't find myself asking this question any more. Mainly because I've found that however I've prepped it, the players are choosing their preferred conflicts and eventual goals for their characters anyway, so there's no need to revise. But it's true, some years ago, I found myself revising certain NPCs into sorcerers or demoting them, as it were, into non-sorcerers. What I found in doing that was that non-sorcerer characters are sometimes really tough and significant, particularly when they have high Cover scores. A different sort of "rules presence," but an effective one nonetheless. Once I figured that out, I stopped worrying about the issue and typically prepped little or even no other sorcerers into play besides the player-characters.

So my advice is to go with the revision if you'd like, because maybe it's a learning stage. And I sadly have to agree with you about the players, although in practical terms it's good news; in my experience, I'd devote hours to tuning certain aspects of in-game cause for an upcoming session, and they'd go "ah, whatever" when I tried to show it off in play. (Favorite example: time-travel involving multiple jumps at different times in various characters' lives, all rendered lovely and consistent, and they couldn't have cared less - "Oh, the Pleistocene? Cool!")

Best, Ron

Christoph Boeckle

Good stuff, I buy that easily about the non-sorcerers. Although they will be eaten the day the PCs bring their demons along, and that's how it should be in my vision for the Carnival Bizarre.

Also, the prep. I made a sketchy map of the city, of which I'm actually quite proud of despite it's ugliness. One guy (don't remember which one): "oh, did you have a good time drawing the map?" Gahh! This city is beautiful! I sigh, I laugh. It has already proved useful for establishing colour.

By the way, any comment on the character map? I'm perfectly okay with it just being a handy reference and never directly mentioned.


Just to fill in the other Telltale thread Ron mentioned, I think the one he was talking about was

Telltale and Cloak

which involves a Valkyrie demon with a Cover of Warrior-Woman.

- Jay

Ron Edwards

Thanks, Jay! That's the one. Here I just posted in another thread extolling the virtues of Forge searching, and that one plain eluded me.
Best, Ron

Christoph Boeckle