[Sorcerer] Berkeley 1968

Started by xenopulse, January 06, 2009, 03:46:04 AM

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I ran Sorcerer for the first time last night with my mostly-regular group consisting of Colin, David, and Matt. This comes on the heels of a whole season of Primetime Adventures and four sessions of In A Wicked Age (IAWA). The change in approach to running these games made me a bit nervous, so I called Judd to elicit some much-appreciated input. In return, he asked me to write about how it turned out, so here goes that.

In short, it went quite well! I felt like we all enjoyed the game, even with some stumbling over parts of the rules (i.e., learning curve).


First, the fictional setup. Our game is set in 1968 in Berkeley (and other parts nearby), California, at and around the university. Humanity is defined as concern and relationships with other human beings, and demons are summoned through achieving a state of extreme isolation.

We've got three Sorcerer PCs, and I decided to start with the scenes where the kickers came into play.

Frank Holloway (Colin), a fringe scientist who works for the university, just summoned his first demon in his isolation tank. As the raven-haired stunner of a passer demon, Lillith, is taking a shower in his apartment, the professor receives a call from the dean's office that his funding has been cut and his lab will be turned into a gym extension. Lillith desires competition and has a need for fistfights.

Dick Atkins (David), an ex-astronaut, found his demon on his space walk, all alone among the stars. It's a parasite living in his blood, driving him to seek sensual pleasure and requiring him to radiate himself with x-rays on a regular basis. He's in the middle of running for Senator on the Republican ticket, getting dressed to go out to a gala, when he receives a blackmail package containing tapes of him going temporarily insane in his space capsule.

Devin Love (Matt) is a young black Vietnam veteran whose mother is his mentor in all things sorcery. Thanks to her education, he was able to bind an inconspicuous, ancient Egyptian demon taken from a Sorcerer that Devin killed in the middle of a godforsaken patch of Vietnamese jungle. His demon desires mayhem and has a need for Devin to kill small animals and drink their blood as sacrifice to him. Devin is a Black Panther, his brother is a crook, and his girlfriend is a pacifistic peace activist. His kicker: his brother storms in, telling him that Feds, without a warrant, took their mom away.


We went around the table taking turns for scenes, but I'll group them by character for ease of following the developments. Frank was shocked at the news about his lab, but first had to find clothes for his demon. He managed to find out where his lab assistant, Anita, buys her clothes. He's got a big crush on Anita, and that was fun to see play out. After shopping for clothes, he and Lillith marched into the dean's office, finding only the assistant there.

Frank gave in to Lillith's urging to feed her need, unleashed his fury over the impending lab closing by wrestling ineptly with the assistant, and chased him out into the hall where he beat him down with the office phone (he then lost his humanity roll for this callous action). He tried to bully the assistant into staying quiet, realizing what he'd done. But when he went to see the dean the next day, security was right there. Thanks to Lillith discreetly psychic-forcing the guards into the wall, he managed to coerce the name of the company responsible for the lab closure out of the dean.

Dick's night and following day went much more quietly. He called his campaign manager to get him to investigate how the tapes got out. At the gala, he got a call from his mistress, Anita (the very same). She was upset about the lab closure and asked him to help. He, driven by his demon's urging, decided to meet her at their favorite seedy nightclub. He ended up spending the night at her place, despite not telling his wife or manager that he'd be gone, which might be trouble down the road. In the end, he told Anita to set up a meeting with Frank so he could figure out how to help her.

And Dick's campaign manager told him that he found a list of a handful of people who'd had access to his NASA files. This will work as the springboard for continuing his investigation into who's blackmailing him.

Now, Devin had a rough night. His brother told him he had a source who knew where the FBI safehouse was where their mother was being held, and persuaded him to round up a couple of Black Panthers, shotguns, and ski masks, and get mom back. It was interesting to me to see how willing Devin was to resort to violence; his service in Vietnam apparently made him more callous rather than opposed to fighting. He was supposed to meet his girlfriend Tamira at a peaceful sit-in that night and promised he'd show up later.

The group met at a bar, flirted with a lady there (Devin is paranoid and wanted to make sure she wasn't spying on them), then went to room 213 of an apartment complex with Delin (the brother), Isaac (Delin's partner-in-crime), and Michael and Tyler (two ready-to-rumble Black Panthers). Isaac stayed in the car (stoned as he was), Delin and Tyler watched the front and back entrance, and Michael and Devin went upstairs. They decided to kick down the door to room 211, where loud music was playing, to get on the fire escape there and surprise the Feds next door that way.

When they kicked in the door, they found that a camera had been set up to film what's going on in 213. A fight ensued with the man handling the equipment. Devin tackled him, Michael tried to shoot him, the man tried to pull his gun, and the demon (with prior orders from Devin) tried to take out Michael to avoid deaths. They struggled and ended up with Devin and the guy on the floor, before the demon took him out by order of Devin. People ran past the doorway from room 213; Michael shot someone in the thigh, but they made it downstairs, shot Delin in the shoulder, and escaped. There was no sign of mom--only lines of coke on the table. Now Devin is pissed, thinking that Delin set him up to take out a bunch of rival drug dealers. Still, mom's apartment is empty.

And Tamira waited in vain for him that night.

The next morning, Devin then went out to the middle of nowhere, where his mother had told him ley lines lay, and summoned himself another demon: one with Perception and Hint, who could tell him the truth and help find his mother. When you can't trust your family and friends anymore, you turn to demons, right?


Alright, on to the rules. The first time we had a fight, I forgot that combat works a bit differently than simple opposed rolls. Basically, Sorcerer's combat is the precursor to IAWA. The initial rolls are made to determine initiative, and then characters can decide whether to abandon their action for a full defense with all dice or only use one die and keep their action roll on the table. Characters who've already acted get to use all dice for defense later that turn. So after we'd determined the result with a simple opposed roll, I realized my mistake and we went back to redo the exchange. Interestingly, the result was exactly the same (the PC's action succeeded by 1 victory, the opponent failed).

I really like it that both sides can get what they want and that you can prioritize how important your own action is as opposed to your defense. That's a choice you can't make in IAWA. But it makes the whole exchange that much more complicated (e.g., you have to deal with the impact of damage on already-made rolls). Still, the shootout at Room 213 felt quite intense to me because of all of the potential outcomes. As a GM, that uncertainty was entertaining and challenging to me, and the situation changed in ways we couldn't have predicted. That's great stuff. I think that, even though it's not easy keeping track of everything, multi-character conflict is where Sorcerer's die system really shines.

I think having played IAWA allowed us to grasp this system very quickly. Combat turned out to be quite deadly; characters get down to 0 dice in no time. Especially when demons are involved. Mental conflicts are just like IAWA as well: they are always backed up by the threat of violence, because in the end, your rollover dice are good for doing extra damage.

The contacting, summoning, and binding of Devin's new demon turned out to be the most difficult thing, rules-wise. That's probably to be expected the first time around. One thing that was confusing was the number of Humanity rolls required, which I couldn't find in the rules text but inferred from the examples given. Devin lost half his humanity, going from four to two, just by acquiring a new demon. I wasn't sure how successes in the ritual rolls worked regarding the Humanity rolls, for example. I'll take a look at the Sorcerer wiki with fresh eyes now and will probably figure most things out from that.


As a closing note, it's interesting that all three characters had different moods going on, I felt. Frank's scenes were often humorous. Devin's were intense in more ways than one and felt very gritty to me. And I couldn't quite get a handle on Dick yet--it felt more like we were setting him up, trying to figure out who he is first before we throw him into the midst of trouble. His scenes felt more introspective, especially in contrast with the others. I'm not sure whether I should have pushed him more this time, but I definitely will the next time we're playing. I still felt that his decisions, which were based on more low-key bangs (stick with your supportive wife or go see your mistress, for example), worked out well for revealing his personality.

But overall, despite the different moods, the game still felt like it held together just fine as a whole. If this was a TV series, I'd be interested in all three characters, though I wouldn't be sure at this point if all (or any!) of them are protagonists :)

Ron Edwards

Hi Christian,

I love the setting. It's actually quite close to home for me, geographically, politically, in actual history, and culturally. Have you read much about the era, the Free Speech Movement, the SDS-CIA scandal, the origins of campus protest vs. the Vietnam War (not what most Americans think!), or the Panthers? I have some references for you if you're interested.

I'm glad you enjoyed the combat rules! Regarding the impact of damage on already-made rolls, it's not that tricky ... Take the number of dice corresponding to the penalty (i.e. how badly the attacking character is injured) and add them to the defending roll. Did you try it some other way, or did you know that and still find it cumbersome?

Quote... Combat turned out to be quite deadly; characters get down to 0 dice in no time. Especially when demons are involved. Mental conflicts are just like IAWA as well: they are always backed up by the threat of violence, because in the end, your rollover dice are good for doing extra damage.

Don't forget the halving rule at the end of combat. When it's all over, and it seems as if your character is facing six long-term penalties ... it's only three after all.

QuoteThe contacting, summoning, and binding of Devin's new demon turned out to be the most difficult thing, rules-wise.

Sounds like you did it right. Contacting, Summoning, and Binding a new demon usually requires a fair amount of consideration, preparation, and a good look at one's current Humanity score beforehand.

The Humanity rolls aren't intended to be modified by any results of successful ritual rolls. They should be rolled exactly as Humanity vs. Power without penalties or bonuses. However, successful ritual victories can be carried over as bonuses to the next ritual if that's the next roll and if the in-game sequence of stated actions makes sense.

I really like your comment about the different moods yet a single story. Looking back, I wonder why it took so long for this idea, and related "no party" ones, to become even considered in role-playing design culture.

Quote... If this was a TV series, I'd be interested in all three characters, though I wouldn't be sure at this point if all (or any!) of them are protagonists :)

Excellent point. It's kind of complicated because Sorcerer was at the center of our 1999-2002 discussions of "protagonist first" play, which I think is today most powerfully stated as a given in Primetime Adventures and Polaris ... but actually, one of the key points of Sorcerer is that your character may not, in fact, be a protagonist. That's pretty much what you play to discover, especially in light of the four possible outcomes described in the book. All that's guaranteed is that he or she is not furniture. I guess the best term would be Joshua's, from Shock: *Tagonist.

Best, Ron

Christopher Kubasik

Hi Ron and Christian (and anyone),

Could you all explain more what you mean by protagonist.  (I wasn't around for the debates!)

And, Ron, you seem to be suggesting that a character's "protagonism" is partially defined by the conclusion of the tale.  Is this what you're saying?  If so, could you unpack that a bit?

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


For me, protagonists are main characters that I root for. :)  Mostly because I identify with their struggles in some way and because, even if they're anti-heroes, they're not so evil that they lose all of my sympathy.

So, figuring out who's a protagonist isn't always easy.  Not all of them are Luke Skywalkers.  Many of them are Han Solos and Rorschachs, and some of them are Riddicks or the likes (in Pitch Black, not that godawful sequel).

But there are some that writers, filmmakers, or whatever, try to make protagonists but fail (for me)--like the Spartans in 300.  They're just too evil to carry my sympathy.

So, in our game, I'm not quite sure yet that I'm rooting for these Sorcerers.  They haven't necessarily earned my sympathy and shown me that they care enough, have enough relatable qualities, that their quest for power keeps them within Protagonist territory most of the time.

Christopher Kubasik

Hi Christian thanks!

I'm about to lay in some ground-work about my question to Ron about how the ending of a story informs "protagonism."


Do you consider Shakespeare's Macbeth a protagonist? 
Do you consider Oedipus from Sophocles' Oedipus Res to be a protagonist?

On a related note, what made the guys from 300 evil?

I'm thinking a lot about this because my views on the PCs from Sorcerer have changed a lot over the years.  I used to see them as people troubled by demons, and the whole point was to finally dump the demons. 

But, over time, I've come to ask, "Why did they summon their first demon anyway?  What was the crux of their life that made them go that far?"  It seems to me that in that gap of "Why summon a demon?" we have the easy access to empathy -- something in the PC's life that we understand, "Yeah, if my back was up against the wall, I might go there, too."

Interestingly, just last night I was fishing around for an example from literature or pop culture that would be a VERY sympathetic version of a sorcerer.  (This is the game you play where there are in fact NO demons in the source material, but you can easily see them being there.)

In a flash I thought of Showtime's DEXTER.  Dexter is one of my favorite shows right now.  But I hadn't thought about him in terms of Sorcerer before.  But the minute I did, it was all clear....

I'll give away no spoilers below....

Dexter is a sociopath and serial killer.  He suffered a horrific trauma at the age of four and was adopted by a local sheriff, who recognized the signs of a sociopath in the boy, and trained him to learn the skills of police work to a) never get caught after he's killed someone, and b) chase down and murder OTHER serial killers.

Dexter was taught to fit in and not be that lonely guy who attracts attention.  So he has a good job as a forensic tech at a Miami police station.  He has a girlfriend (a single moth with two kids) and behaves like a great boyfriend and doting father figure.  He's a loyal brother to his step-sister (also on the Miami force).  And, sometimes he goes out and kills people.

Dig it:

Dexter refers to his other half, the half that needs to kill as his Dark Passenger (!).  (Possessor Demons?  I think so.)

When he goes and kills he wears a ritual set of cloths -- nothing fancy, just a specific pair of pants, shirt and gloves. 

When he kills he has a specific ritual involving -- well, lots of plastic sheets and other things.  But there are other specific ritual elements as well.

Dexter has almost preternatural strength, agility and the ability to sneak around and not be noticed when he's in "hunt mode."

I hammered out some of the details for translating Dexter's setting into a Sorcerer game. But that's not important here.

What is important is that Dexter summoned a demon so he would never be hurt again.  He saw something horrific and by summoning it he has a leg up on anyone who means to do harm to others.  Always.  (This same demon, however, keeps him at a remove from other characters on the show.  The show really is about dropping the masks we wear and connecting to people.  The above sound all dark, and maybe a little too sly.  But strange, DEXTER is one of the sweetest shows I've ever seen.  I mean that.  The relationships between Dexter and Rita, his girlfriend, is the heartbeat of the show and is what makes it tick and you WANT them to somehow be a couple.)

My question to you, Christian (aside from those above), is how did the PCs acquire their Lore?  What was the chasm in their lives that required they bend the fabric of reality to try to fill it?  Or was there any such thing? 

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

Ron Edwards

Hi Christopher,

I always dread talking about this stuff. I even considered saying "never mind, not for the internet, call me," until your second post, specifically this bit:

Quotemy views on the PCs from Sorcerer have changed a lot over the years.  I used to see them as people troubled by demons, and the whole point was to finally dump the demons.

But, over time, I've come to ask, "Why did they summon their first demon anyway?  What was the crux of their life that made them go that far?"  It seems to me that in that gap of "Why summon a demon?" we have the easy access to empathy -- something in the PC's life that we understand, "Yeah, if my back was up against the wall, I might go there, too."

I should start by saying to the general readership that I'm not interested in debating what follows. You'll find any number of grey areas, nits to pick, places where I contradict your dear English 101 prof Mrs. McGillicuddy, and opportunities to shout "what about (fill-in-the-blank)?" Please feel free to consider yourself right and myself wrong; but also please, don't tell me about it in this topic.

After all the years of torment, I decided for myself that "protagonist" means a character whose actions are in some way, actually in any way except as a pure object lesson of "don't do this," morally instructive. By "morally," I don't mean metaphysically in any way, nor associated with any societal mores, I'm speaking at a personal/ethical level that is distinguished only by its overwhelming sense of relevance to me when I read the book or watch the film or play, or play the game.

Please note that "instructive" is a tremendously specific term and can be applied via counter-example as well as example. I definitely do not mean someone to emulate, necessarily.

With that in mind, the category of protagonist expands greatly. Hero by whatever meaning, anti-hero by whatever meaning, et cetera. Also, many villains become protagonists, sort of "protagonist B" for their respective stories. A lot of them are people whose interests simply clash with the A protagonist(s). Others made a wrong turn in life, or born into the wrong tribe (stories are full of wrong tribes), and yet are perfectly understandable in that context. Yet others are entirely fucked-up and evil in some specific way, but again, in such a way that what they do matters to what I, the real person, might do. I'm saying that someone with an antagonistic relationship to "the main guy" is often protagonist-y, to me.

A number of them do not, though. They are plain antagonists. They deliver adversity from the very core of their fictional existence. Their presence inspires terror, contempt, rage, wonder, even respect, but my sense of "man, I get it, that's why and how I might do that" or perhaps, "yeesh, oh my God, but yeah, I can see why and how he'd do that," isn't there. I'm not saying they're morally neutral, either. Nor do they fail to touch me as human characters, necessarily, although I can certainly think of a few who don't.

At the risk of bringing up an example that never fails to become obscured by mindless fan-think, Darth Vader, for me, is the second sort in the first Star Wars film (the real first one, of that name), and he's the first sort in The Empire Strikes Back. I hope people can read that without taking any of the other franchise films or material into account in any way ... faint hope ...

Now, all of these - for present purposes, protagonists and antagonists alike - are main characters, "the ones you watch." A player-character in Sorcerer is supposed to be like that. I also say, in the book, to make your initial player-character someone you could root for in a movie - I say without any ambiguity or failure of memory that this was the most carefully-chosen phrasing in the entire text. You'll note that I did not say "hero" or "good person" or "someone you agree with."

Other characters, as you've written about, can be many things: support, foils, information sources, mirrors, fifth business, and more. Back when we were discussing all of this at the Gaming Outpost and the early Forge and the Sorcerer mailing list, all of us were struggling to get characters out of this category at all, and "protagonist" was the term we used most often. That never sat 100% well with me, because I knew that Sorcerer characters did not begin play with associations of hero or good guy, or even more importantly, they were intended to be played to see whether they became (in my terms above) protagonists or antagonists. But the discourse and my own thoughts never fell into a shape in which I could articulate that.

Shock helped - I really liked its emphasis that you had to have protagonist player-characters and designated antagonists in pure narrative terms. Polaris is the same but there's a kind of looseness to where one's sympathies go, in playing Shock, that I like a lot. It might be there in Polaris too, but I haven't played that game enough to say. In Shock, I'm always totally on board with the jargon term *Tagonist. It doesn't operate as an ambiguous, one-way-or-the-other-as-we-see, but as a starting designator - but if you made it into such a "let's see how it goes" starting-character technique, you'd have Sorcerer.

Christopher, I don't know if the distinction between Pro-tagonist and An-tagonist appears "at the end" or not, for a Sorcerer player-character. Nor can I say whether its appearance in the creative agent's commitment to the character is the same as its appearance in the fiction. I can only say that it appears at some point, and it informs the content of whichever of the four final outcomes eventually arrives, as an integral part of who the character is. In other words, it's only analytically relevant to that outcome in retrospect.

I hope that made sense to someone, somewhere. I promise never ever to use the terms like this outside of discussions of Sorcerer.

Best, Ron



For what it's worth that makes total sense.  More importantly what you're describing was in full effect with the recent Shock series I played.  We played three sessions.  At least TWICE someone choose to play an antagonist from the previous session as their protagonist the current session.  It was the most natural thing in the world to do.  No struggling with how to suddenly make this guy a hero or sympathetic or anything like that.  Hell, we picked them up and kept playing them because they were sympathetic and we wanted to know more about them.  In play it was obvious that "antagonist" just meant "dude causing problems for this guy" and a few times that lead to us saying, "man, I wonder what THAT guy struggles with."

It also matches a lot of my In A Wicked Age... play.  I didn't realize it was supposed to apply to Sorcerer though.  I have to think on that.


Christopher Kubasik

This is really cool.

Before I checked in and found Ron and Jesse's posts, I'd been thinking of a Sorcerer game I GM'd last year.

It was called The Brotherhood. The Demons were the stuff of prisons (razor blades, shivs, tattoos, pin-ups and so on). Lore was rituals of submission and domination of prison culture. Humanity was playing by your own rules and treating others as equals.

(Imagine HBO's old prison series Oz mixed with Stephen King or Clive Barker, and you've have the game.)

Each of the Players had to be a Sorcerer who had learned the Prison Lore. They could have been prison guards, prisoners, ex-cons, whatever....

* One Player created a guy, David King, who's daughter had been killed on the orders of a cult leader who lived hidden in a prison. He killed the cult leader's lawyer to get into the prison system and get his vengeance.

* One Player created a guy, Visili, who had been in the prison for decades. He decided his demon was Cell Block C and kept him safe and never wanted to leave.

* The last player created a convicted cop, Roman, who had killed his partner and learned the lore to protect himself from the criminals he had once put away.

What I discovered when thinking about them is that while David is the only one of the bunch most people would consider a "protagonist" -- each of them served the story as protagonists exactly as Ron defined the term (this, again, before I read Ron's post.)

David is out to avenge not only his daughter's death, but to get a man who the law has effectively hidden away from retribution.  David knows of the Lore now, and knows that Carver, the cult leader, must be put down before he kills others.  We're with him.

Roman, meanwhile, is not only a cop who went to jail, but a cop killer who went to jail.  He's a bully, interested only in his own survival.  In the show he's be cast as one mean-looking-muther-fucker, always angry, always on the edge of losing his temper or doing something violent.

But here's the thing: about two-thirds the way through the sessions, David and Roman end up together during a prison riot.  Each of them has business with prisoners in another cell block (David is after Carver, Roman is after Stubbs, a petty drug dealer he had killed who, um, turned out not to be dead and was the guy behind the betrayal in Roman's crew. 

So, they manage to get across the yard during the riot and into the cell block, working together.  And during two sessions of Play, David basically gets the emotional shit kicked out of him when he discovers that the cult leader is really the father of the little girl he's been trying to avenge.  (The cult leader had been fathering children for the expressed purpose of using them in sacrificial rituals later on). 

And, the most amazing thing happens -- Roman steps up to comfort David.  It was really quite extraordinary.  This character that had been defined by his brutality and selfishness was looking at this father trying to set things right, he got sucked into David's orbit of morality.  There was one moment that was really quite moving, actually.  (Humanity gain check!)

Anyway, I never would have considered Roman a protagonist in the "hero" sense of the word.  And more than that, if this was a TV show, for the first half of the run he would have been kind of in the background.  You'd think he was there to provide a kind of random menace.  But, in fact, there's this moment when you realize they cast an actor who has chops, and he steps up and takes his place alongside our lead and the who show shift -- because of the choices the character made.  He was "morally instructive" in the sense Ron wrote about, because shifted the moral dynamics of the story.  Suddenly, redemption was possible.  If Roman could pull it off anyone could!  More importantly, it breathed new hope into David's character.  It was like a second wind he received when things were at his darkest -- all because, really --  a convicted cop / cop-killer -- put his hand on his shoulder and said, "You're going to get through this."

Meanwhile, Visili's Player, Colin, had created a guy who had a Cell Block for a demon.  I hadn't thought of this as a possibility before we gathered for character creation.  ("Can I have a cell block for a demon?" "Ummmm...  Sure!")

Within the character creation session, Colin declared that Visilli had no desire or intention of even leaving jail.  He was living inside his demon -- who kept him safe -- why would he leave?  He had been the jail for decades.  Managed to blow every parole hearing on purpose. 

It was an amazing revelation to me, and informed the rest of my prep work:  The sorcerer's at Landsfield State Penitentiary did not want to leave.  They were safe in jail from those outside it's walls who would do them harm, but because of their Lore, they could go manipulate the outside world at their will.

Colin did something that I'll always be grateful for: he represented the culture of the prison every time he was on-camera.  He was like all the mobsters around Tony in THE SOPRANOS.  Sure the show was really about Tony and focused on his family.  But there were all those guys -- a little bit dingier than Tony, a little bit stupider, a little bit pettier... and every time they were on you were forced to realize, "These are the guys Tony hangs out with.  Sure, Tony is Our Guy and he's tough and all.  But you know what.  This is his world."

So, even though Visili, again, might not have been a protagonist, he was VITALLY morally instructive to our game.  He defined the darkest boundary of The Brotherhood as a Sorcerer game.  David had made a deal with the Devil to get vengeance.  Roman had made a deal with the Devil to stay alive.  But Visili had made a deal with the Devil because he wanted to make a Deal with the Devil.

And, Visili, too, had a big moral imperative turn at one point.  He was locked in a fight with the lich sorcerer (Landsfield, who had built the penitentiary a hundred and fifty years ago on the backs of slave labor he had murdered) and Colin is losing Stam die rolls even with the help of his Demon, so he tries to bring his strong Will into play, and says, "If you let me help you, I can get you out of here."

And this hollowed out husk of a corpse, only inches from Visilli's face, says, "Why would I want to leave?"

And BAM Colin freaked out and goes, "Oh, my god! HE'S ME IF I STAY!" 

And, again, was Visili a protagonist in the "hero" sense?  Not at all.  But in that moment and others he was certainly morally instructive in the context of the story.

My own view of protagonism in Sorcerer up until this evening is that if the camera is on you and you're doing interesting things, you're a protagonist.  (Certainly this is a close approximation of the characters I see on the cable shows I watch!)

But, for me, Ron's definition added the last vital component:  if the camera is on you and you're doing interesting things and are  "morally instructive" then you are a protagonist.

You don't have to "earn" your PC's protagonism outside this definition nor fight for it. It's kind of a given in fact, since if you're playing Sorcerer with all the pieces, your PC will embody these qualities. 
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield


Alright, first some replies to Ron, then to Christopher :)


I found the solution to the penalties in the middle of a combat round on the Sorcerer wiki.  It makes perfect sense, and I'm sure I've read it before.  But it didn't stick until after our session.  Often, I need some actual play context to really remember and understand rules applications like that.  Also, bringing someone up to 1 die by adding bonus dice to the opposition solves my problem of not knowing what to do with enemies whose penalties exactly match their stamina.

Thanks for the clarification on the humanity rolls.

As for the setting, I'll admit that my knowledge isn't very deep.  I've read some things, lots of wikipedia articles, and I've got a general idea just from living in this country for 9 years and having had an advisor in graduate school (poli sci) who was a student at the time and had some opinions and stories to share.  If you've got good references, I'd love for you to share them. :)  I do know the basics about the Panthers (who were mainly feeding hungry kids at the time), COINTELPRO and its methods, and so on.  If I get the chance, I'll use more private means to talk to you about the way I tied sorcery and background events into all that.


I'm not remembering enough of MacBeth, I admit.  But Othello might be somewhat similar, right?  A tragic hero who does something bad in the end.  I'm not sure I'd consider him a protagonist, and maybe that is because in the end, he chooses the wrong path.  Sure, I've got sympathy for him for most of the piece, but murdering his love, a defenseless innocent--even if she were betraying him--crosses a line that I just can't support.  Though apparently, in Ron's view, that might still make him a protagonist, given that his actions and fate certainly have strong moral dimensions.

The Spartans in 300 are evil because of the massive infanticide they commit.  Right at the beginning of the movie, we are shown that they murder their babies--those they consider "unfit"--not simply through euthanasia, but by tossing them over a cliff and letting them lie there, broken and twisted and starving infants crying helplessly, among rotten corpses and piles of bones of thousands of previously-murdered innocent babies, until they die.  That, right there, is the very definition of evil.  There is nothing--NOTHING--that could justify those actions.  Ever.  I absolutely cannot understand how anyone could root for these baby-mass-murdering sons of bitches.

Thanks for the summary of Dexter.  I tried watching it, but couldn't get through the first few minutes, which involve a lineup of corpses of murdered children (see a pattern here? :).  Even though I know the perpetrator was going to be punished in a minute; I just couldn't stomach it.

Now, as to the Sorcerers in our game.  One of them, Devin, learned Lore from his mother.  It was a tradition, if you want, a piece of his particular subculture.  One of them is naive (Lore 1) and doesn't know what he's dealing with.  And one of them is pushing science to its very limits.

So basically, their first bindings weren't planned, in either of the three cases.  The question I'm pushing for in our game is, what needs to happen for them not only to keep their demons but to purposely reach out for more demonic power, now that they know the costs?  Devin's already done that; it was a perfect fit for our definition of Humanity, too, as that's the opposite of isolation.  He lost trust in his family, he feels isolated, and so he reaches for demons to tell him the truth.  Pretty twisted in a way.  The other two, I'll have to push hard and see what they're made of.

Christopher Kubasik

Hi Christian,

Thanks for the answers!

(And, even worse, Desdemona actually never betrayed Othello.  Iago makes Othello think she did, but it's all a trick.)

And this....

Quote from: xenopulse on January 18, 2009, 04:04:04 AMSo basically, their first bindings weren't planned, in either of the three cases.

I was kind of expecting this, actually, from the summary you'd given above.

Now, I'm not saying this as a correction, nor as something you did wrong or need to fix.  Just something to think about:

On page 64 of Sorcerer, Ron writes, "It is not recommended to permit 'natural' sorcery, so that characters start accidently summoning demons...  Sorcery is all about meaning it -- and meaning it for real."

There are all sorts of implications that zoom into play the moment one has a PC who is the sort of person who fucks with the laws of the universe.  You have a PC who actually is that strident, that determined, that focused on agendas.  You have Players who are now responsible for stepping up to the plate and creating PCs worthy of being sorcerers.  It means that you've already created a bit of backstory for the PCs with strong narrative motion -- "My guys summoned a DEMON!  Here's how, here's why..."

If you don't do this you run the risk of having to "ramp up" the PCs into motion.  If they're already, willfully, sorcerers, I've found that Players are pretty much raring to go.  In that case I can do what a Sorcerer GM is supposed to do, which is to react to the motions and circumstances set by the Players, rather than push the Players toward motion and circumstances.

Now Sorcerer hedges by saying "it's not recommended" -- so anything does go.  And it sounds like your game is going great.  But it is something to consider.
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield


I was actually aware of that... this is just how things turned out through character creation.  I made sure to emphasize that even if they came across their demon by accident (for which there are examples in the Sorcerer book: Armand accidentally picked one up at a soiree), what they really meant was the binding--they were fully aware that they were making a contract with a demon.  Interestingly, Devin is the one who's most aware of Lore and who's most purposeful in his use of the demon--leading to his story kicking off with lots of activity and a new summoning in our first session.

Oh, and I know about Desdemona.  I meant that, even if the story was different and she had betrayed him, it still wouldn't justify murder.  So Iago's deceit does not justify Othello's murder of Desdemona.