[Sorcerer] Demons as Natural Forces and appropriate stamina scores...

Started by The Dragon Master, November 23, 2008, 01:00:18 AM

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The Dragon Master

I'm working on a one-shot based on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norel with the definition of Demon being natural forces (for example, Venetian Canals or the west wind). I've been creating some sample Sorcerers and Demons so that I can get a feel and spot any weaknesses in the one-sheet I'm working up (which I'll be posting once I've gotten through a few more characters), and I've hit something of a snag. Given that the demons are natural forces (a river, a forest, a canal) I really don't know what I should set the stamina at. How would I determine that?

For instance, the Demon I'm writing up now is the Venetian Canals (bound by the titular Jonathan Strange about halfway through the book). What range would work for the stamina there? Or what If I'm dealing with the "Yorkshire Forest", how would I determine the stamina for that? Is there a template to work off of here? I'm temporarily using 8-10 as the stamina for forces on that scale, and 6-8 as the stamina for somewhat smaller forces (such as a garden path that was bound towards the end of the book by a little girl). How does that sound?
"You get what everone gets. You get a lifetime." -Death of the Endless
The names Tony


I think a lot of that sort of thing can be handled by making the Demon normally with the addition of Big.  That Ability really does shift the creature's position in the imagined space in the way I think you want.  Once it's described as existing on a different scale, players just automatically and internally take all sorts of options off the table (of course I can't wrestle it, it's a flippin' house) and add new ones (it's going to smash the bridge, isn't it?).

This sort of thing ties into the part where the Sorcerer book talks about things which are permissible in the game space, where ordinary men do not even get a roll to try to jump over an elephant, because that would just be obviously stupid.  Well, really big men do get a roll to jump over that elephant, and stupidly big men don't even need a roll to step over the elephant.

Once that's handled, deciding on the actual number is just a matter of deciding how terrifying you want it to be relative to the scores of other characters.  e.g. If you want Venetian Canals to have a decent chance of drowning (say) Conan, then it should have a Stamina similar to Conan (5-6).  It matters less how much frothing water the thing can throw around than how much chance the thing has to actually beat another character.
-My real name is Jules

"Now that we know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, how do we determine how many angels are dancing, at a given time, on the head of a given pin?"
"What if angels from another pin engaged them in melee combat?"

Ron Edwards


Use the demon creation steps in the rules exactly in order, just like the book says to do. You'll find they work perfectly for what you're asking.

The logic is that the demon's presence in the fiction is functionally-driven, in other words, what it is capable of doing. That means you effectively start with its abilities, then work the scores in from there.

In fact, the logic that you're using, starting with "what is it" (a teddy bear, a tank, a monster-bear, a forest) and then asking "how much Stamina is that," is expressly forbidden in the sense that the steps of demon creation (which are fixed in that order) cannot support such logic.

It is entirely appropriate for a whole-forest demon to have a Stamina of 2. It is also entirely appropriate for it to have a Stamina of 12. However, the only way you can know which is appropriate for this demon, in this game, is to use those steps in order.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

I took a look at those rules and I think I might see where you're running into trouble. I'll try to clarify one of the key steps.

It says, set Stamina based on how tough you think the demon is. What I'm getting at in the thread is what "tough" means, and how that can be achieved via all the rules.

Stamina is best understood as a kind of battery for demon abilities, as well as a basic roll for physical actions and defense. OK, so we're looking at a demon who's a forest, and I will work with you in that we really want a physical forest. As in, a protagonist looks around himself, sweating in fear, and says, "How can we fight a whole fucking forest?"

The simplistic view is to think in terms of hit points. Shit, it's huge? OK! We need so many hit points that no player-character could ever hit it hard enough, or enough times, to kill it! Stamina 20! Stamina 30! Stamina 100! Trouble is, that won't work in Sorcerer.

It works much better to start with the abilities, like the list says, and then move to Stamina. OK, for pure and simple abilities to negate or stifle attacks upon it, we'll need Big, Armor, and Vitality. Trust me: play by the rules with these fuckers, and the demon is horrific. Even with a Stamina of 3 or 4, with these, you can put the thing down (which in the case of the forest, means it stops hurting you) but it will in fact keep coming back unless you annihilate it with ultra-heavy demon power of your own.

Now add the abilities that you want it to have in terms of proactive, demonic stuff in play. I dunno what you have in mind, but let's say four more abilities on top of the three I mentioned. That means a Lore of at least 7, which means a Power of at least 8.

OK, with Power 8, that means Stamina of 1 through 7. What the hell, let's say 7. Notice that this is at or just past the border of what any sane player-character might have in a given score. (If a character has 7-2-1 or 8-1-1 in any combination, that character has enough problems without having the forest around in the first place! Which is OK, I'm just saying we're at that line.)

So, Stamina 7 with Big, Armor, and Vitality. Does anyone who's played savage-combat Sorcerer feel a little scared yet? Frank?

In this context, Stamina is kind of a baseline for the application of those abilities. Big pops a lot of dice that operate for defense; Armor means it takes only temporary damage from at least one kind of attack (and you can give it multiple Armors); Vitality means it recovers from horrible amounts of lasting damage too. All at once means that your "measly" 7 is way hard to kill.

And nothing's saying that you can't move Stamina upwards, say to 9 or 10 if you want. Of course, that means a commensurate Will and Power, and so that demon would be so horrible as to require only the very best strategizing, preparation, teamwork, and combination of cooperative demons to bring it down.

What might those other abilities be, too? It's not like the thing is just sitting there taking punishment. As long as we're talking about a scary forest, Psychic Blow comes to mind. So does Taint. Shadow, which is very effective if you think in terms of penalizing perceptions. And if you consider Fast, Special Damage (lethal), or Hold, well, that's just mean, which is to say perfect ...

Best, Ron


Sorcerer combat veteran here: Stamina 7 is actually pretty impressive even without demonic powers

Most PC's will probably be pushing Stamina 3-4, with a few outliers at 5 or even 6 (who, as Ron noted, have their own set of problems).  The way the Sorcerer dice mechanic works, let's say you have X dice and I have Y dice.  Your odds of winning a simple context are X over (X + Y).  So if you've got 3 dice and I have 7, I'm pretty much taking the offensive in combat 70% of the time--you're going to be lucky to even defend against me in a protracted combat, let alone defeat me.

Also, keep in mind that using Armor around Power 5-6 or higher means the user is almost untouchable, as it converts virtually all impacts into the most minimal damae: the only way to overcome Armor this thick is to use some serious Boost or Special Damage.

The Dragon Master

Thank you for the help, I actually did start with the powers (seemed easiest that way since I had a fair notion of what powers I wanted it to have). But then, as you suspected Ron, I hit the part where it says "based on how tough you think the Demon is", but I haven't dealt with combat in the game, and as such don't have a feel for how tough each increment is. I hadn't though thought of using Armor, or Vitality, or Big. I had it in my head that those apply to the sorcerer rather than the Demon (in contradiction to the text a few pages earlier that talks about who the user is). I'll work on it some more and probably post what I come up with here for review.

Angelfromanotherpin: Thank you for your post, reading over it (again) it reminds me that there is an example of a large, location type demon in the book (from the demo scenario in there) that I can look to for a sort of baseline.

James_Nostack: Thanks for the advice. I hadn't thought of combat in that way (again, haven't run more than one combat) and that is a good way to look at it.

Again, I'll modify my Demons and see how they work out, and probably post them here.
"You get what everone gets. You get a lifetime." -Death of the Endless
The names Tony

Ron Edwards

I'll look forward to discussing the demons.

Hey James, what you're saying is true for a straight-up fight, and it's definitely a helpful point to the immediate concern. I'd also like to encourage people to think in terms of preparation, knowing their enemy (and who the enemy is), and tactics that strike from different angles at once. Only rarely does "mine is bigger" work in the game, and in fact, never reliably. The game suits "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" very well, in that the two new "friends" can work together in unexpected ways. Not so much standing shoulder to shoulder against (say) the forest, but more in terms of Will rolls, Banish rolls, fighting/damage of particular kinds, and even more importantly, dealing with the Binding context for that demon.

I've never known how to describe it, but sorcerers in the game really are just people, and demons aren't super-powers; it's not about bulking up in terms of power or range of abilities. A lot of the game design is based on the idea that the fiction-in-progress offers its own solutions, or windows of opportunity, to use the particular assortment of capabilities one has at the moment. Ahhh, I don't know if I'm saying it even now.

Best, Ron


Right: what I'm describing is a bog-standard type of "you whale on me, now I whale on you" type of deal, which I find boring to the point of suicide in most RPG's, which isn't rewarded at all in Sorcerer.  Fights in Sorcerer are a little bit like fights in real life in one respect: people get into fights for a reason (not necessarily a good one), and there's a ton of "positioning" that goes on beforehand.  In any serious conflict of interests, serious people are going to bring serious resources to bear, not just in terms of sheer force, but in terms of emotional & moral commitment, preparation, and so forth. 

In Sorcerer, if you're in a fight, you've got to be angling for every source of bonus dice you can get: tactical bonuses, the clever quip bonus, preferably the "make life difficult for others" bonus, but especially rollover bonuses.  It can be difficult to do this on the fly, but if things get to the point that people are trying to maim you, you don't want to take any chances.

Still: as a general rule, Power 4-8 is probably enough for just about every demon, unless there's some special case where you absolutely have to have something bigger.  It pays to think out exaclty what you want this thing to do, and then build the demon accordingly.


The Dragon Master

So here's the Venetian Canals demon

Type: Passer Desire: Mischief Need: (still deciding)
Telltale: seems to take note of those passing by it
Powers: Confuse, Hold, Link, Special Damage (drowning, relatively lethal), Transport*, Big, Armor, Vitality
Lore: 8 Stamina: 4 Will: 9 Power: 9

This means that to resist damage it will have 13 dice (wow, hadn't realized how potent Big was till I did this) to resist damage. Lasting damage will be reduced by 9 after combat, and damage will be done on th fists collumn (for normal damage). Actually, he seems a little more potent than I'd though he'd be. Do I seem to have it right? This feels right to my mind, but if I'm not applying something right, this would be the point to find out.

And thank you all for your help, and a Happy Thanksgiving.

*Does this one seem necesary or do we just say that since it's a river, of course people can sail on it?
"You get what everone gets. You get a lifetime." -Death of the Endless
The names Tony

Ron Edwards


That's a really tough demon, that's for sure. If I'm not mistaken, it isn't really hostile-looking. That in itself is no big deal ... but I want to understand why it's a demon in the first place. Is it because the canals no longer exist, and as such this demon is the memory of the canals? That's how it works on Marr'd, if I recall correctly. If so, then I get it, and that's pretty cool.

If it were really a canal, then you wouldn't need Transport, but since the canal is "not really there," I guess it ought to have it. You should consider these four options very carefully, though:

Transport (confer to other) = a person on the canal can take a bunch of people to destinations of his or her own choosing
Transport (confer to self) = the canal can take a bunch of people to destinations of its own choosing
Travel (confer to other) = people can use the canal to go to destinations of their own choosing
Travel (confer to self) = the canal can itself go places, to appear in different locations on Marr'd as it sees fit

It strikes me that having more than one of these might be along the lines you're thinking. Also, unless you want the drowning potential to be absolutely savage, then you can treat the drowning as the simple Fists attack that all demons have by default, and not waste a Lore slot on it. Combined with Hold, a 9-Stamina Fists attack is quite deadly on its own.

Why bother with Link? Link is one of those sexy abilities that people always take, but I suggest looking it over carefully and deciding whether you really need it.

Best, Ron


Dragon Master, if you're trying to do Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel more or less by-the-book, most of what those two magicians do isn't sorcery as the Sorcerer game defines the term in the core rules.  Other than Norrell's relationship with the Fairy Prince, a lot of the magic is consequence-free stuff, very much fire-and-forget, usually performed with the aid of local spirits / genii.  In baseline Sorcerer play, demons are sort of like unreliable henchmen who have enduring relationships with their masters.

I'd probably run most magic in that setting as a Pact.  Pacts are described in Sorcerer & Sword, but the idea is: instead of a formal, long-term binding, you make very specific agreement.  The sorcerer doesn't have to provide for the demon's Need at all: that's strictly the demon's responsibility; on the other hand, the demon only serves for the duration of the Pact.  The Pact can serve instead of a Binding, where the difficulty increases based on both the open-endedness of  the task and the likely duration.  ("Guard me against Ron Edwards as long as we both shall live" might be about as hard as "Guard me against everyone for the next two days".)  If the sorcerer fails the Pact roll, the results are up to the GM, but may include allowing the demon to twist the instructions around.

I'd also spend a little bit of time thinking about how "demons" in this world are related to "humanity" in the game, and how both of these concepts connect to "lore."  They don't have to be strongly connected, but it often makes the game feel a little bit more unified thematically.

Ron Edwards

OK, my mistake, the whole "canals" imagery threw me, and I failed to understand that (a) you're not using the Dictionary of Mu and (b) you're not even talking about friggin' Mars.

So ignore all that stuff about memory. Yes, if you're basically defining the physicality of the demon as a canal, then people can row along it without the demon having any corresponding ability. However, do examine those four ability breakdowns to see whether you want to allow some volitional elements - the concept of the destination "of someone's choosing" is quite important. If you don't choose any of those abilities, then you'd have a basic place for the demon which would be much like the same place any normal canal would be ... and yet, even then, it could use its Stamina to try to herd or force travelers upon it to somewhere it preferred.

I am beginning to wonder whether this thread should also include some discussion of "natural" in Sorcerer. It's pretty fundamental to the game concept (and to the way a number of its rules intersect in application) that demons are never actually natural. Have you read Sorcerer & Sword? It goes pretty deeply into how you can have a magic setting and still have horrific demons that aren't "right," and also how you can have demonic animals (easily extended to geographic features) without them becoming merely more magic. Let me know if this hasn't arisen as an issue.

Also, I have zero familiarity with the source material you're talking about, so you'll have to catch me up on the basics.

Best, Ron


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a pretty well done historical fantasy tome in the Gaiman mode.  Plot centers on the rivalry between two magicians contending for status in Georgian England.  One of them cuts a bad bargain with a Fairy Prince, and in this respect the book has some Sorcerer in it, but easily 90% of the magic in the book is incidental color--you might as well treat "magician" as a rare-to-the-point-of-uniqueness Cover, which, come to think of it, is pretty much how the novel treats it.

Actually, I wouldn't mind a digression on "weird" natural settings.  Comparisons and contrasts between Azk'arn, Marr'd, and the "weird tech" and drugs stuff from Sorcerer & Sword might be helpful.


The Dragon Master

Ron: Transport (confer to self) sound like exactly what I was looking for, and I'll be bookmarking that post as I figure it may well come up again later.

The scene in the book I was envisioning as I pulled this up was one in which after being tossed into the (let's reword it to reduce confusion) Canals of Venice, a character is carried by said canals to a location in a distant part of the city of venice, to be tossed at the feet of Jonathan Strange. That is why I felt it needed Transport. It is also why I felt it needed Link (to know where Jonathan Strange was at the time), though thinking on it since he was near the canal anyway it may well not be necessary.

To answer the question, I don't have Sorcerer and Sword, just the main Sorcerer book (of which I bought several more copies recently from the sorcerer-rpg.com site for my play group), so things referencing it will likely fly past me without me being the wiser.

When I selected this as the setting I was looking at characters like "The Man with the Thistle Down Hair" (the above mentioned fae), and The Raven King. Both of them are spoken of having treaties (don't quite recall the word used) with the spirits of natural forces, the west wind being mentioned, as well as some forest whose name I don't quite recall.  I

Hmm.. Looks like this book doesn't quite work for source material. Looking now over the three settings I was planning on, it appears that I am without applicable source material for any of them. This wouldn't be a problem if I was just running them for my group, but as the intention would be to run them at a convention, for people I don't know, I'm... hesitant to run a demo that has no real source material for potential players to draw on. Guess I'll scratch the idea of running it then. I'd hate to get someone else mixed up about how the game works based on a miscomunication, and if my source material is flawed that is almost certain to happen.

Well, thank you for your help. I'm going to bow out of the discussion now as I doubt I'll have anything more of value to add, but don't stop on my account, I'm sure someone out there will find it of use.
"You get what everone gets. You get a lifetime." -Death of the Endless
The names Tony


Dragon Master - do you have a real name? - I actually think this could be the basis for a great Sorcerer setting, but I'd probably range a little bit further afield to flesh it out a little bit.  How familiar are you with the Romantic Era generally?  Throw in some Byronic sorcerers (including Doctor Frankenstein!), guys like William Blake, Goethe's Faust, and you've got a bunch of sorcerous themes running around. 

Look and Feel - Europe during the Romantic Era.  Napoleon's armies, Mad King George, the French Revolution is working its way into despotism, the Greek War of Independence, Beethoven, etc.

Inspirations - Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel, Frankenstein, Blake's mythology, Goethe's Faust, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, various Gothic novels.

Humanity - This is a dual definition.  Humanity is (a) following one's passions regardless of where it leads, particularly against established ecclesiastical or secular authorities in the name of some Great Cause like Beauty, Reason, or the People, and (b) empathy for other people.  (The way a dual Humanity definition works is that a single action might merit a loss-roll in one category, and a gain-roll in another.  So, for example, Dr. Frankenstein's creation of the monster is a victory for Reason, but his disgust and revulsion at his "child" merits a loss-roll.  Love - particularly a love that shatters all social conventions - would merit two gain-rolls.)  I'd also include a rule that spending a week or so brooding in a scene of transcendent natural beauty allows a Humanity gain-roll, just to mirror some of the conventions in the fiction.

Demons - demons in this setting are best left kind of undefined, but with the implication that most of them are things cast off, damned, or overlooked by the Creator - Mephistopheles, the Vampyr, the Fairy Prince, etc. etc.  These are creatures whose very existence is contrary to the natural order of things.  They're not necessarily Evil-with-a-capital-E, but their existence is a sort of instability or dis-equilibrium state.

Lore - hmm, still thinking about this.  It's clearly related to passion, but there's also a technical expertise side to this too: Faust, Frankenstein, and Norrel were all masters of pretty esoteric knowledge.  (These might be two different "descriptors" pointing toward the same quality, but if so I'm not sure what it is.)

Sample Demon - Adam (a/k/a Frankenstein's Monster)
Type - Passer
Telltale - translucent yellowish skin that "barely disguised the workings of the vessels and muscles underneath"

* Big
* Perception: Master's Whereabouts
* Vitality
* Possibly something else, it's been a long time since I read it

Stamina 6
Will 7
Lore 3
Power 7

Desire - Knowledge
Need - Affection (once the demon goes deep into Need, its Desire changes to Mayhem)