[Sorcerer] The Cold and Bloody Northland

Started by greyorm, January 21, 2009, 04:46:49 AM

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By which I mean the present-day Iron Range of Minnesota, not some lost Viking fantasy land of yore, though you'd expect that from me. This is honestly becoming something of a theme for our group: our first few Cthulhu games were also set locally.

Why Sorcerer? Our gaming group has suffered a lack of players recently, either due school or other commitments or plain old lack of commitment, and the last few game nights we've either tried to play with just the three of us, watched movies, played Munchkin, or otherwise geeked out. Over the weekend, after finally finding my copy of Sorcerer, I figured we should try that, given that it works just fine with only a couple players. So once it was apparent it would be just the three of us again (PL, MJ, and myself), I pitched it to the group (reading the first paragraph of chapter one) and they were go for it.

Tonight was just character creation with me providing sometimes fumbling readings from the book plus occasional commentary over the course of the evening on how the rules worked (to try and give a quick idea/overview of some of the basic mechanical concepts). I decided to stick to the character creation steps as outlined in the book, figuring it would be the easiest way to introduce the other two, who have no prior experience with the game.

And, man, I'd forgotten how powerful that little series of steps is in creating great characters.

We walked through the steps and fairly quickly established two sorcerers, in a coven together--though PL's sorcerer was always going rogue and delving more deeply into the mysteries than is probably be healthy on one's own--who both ended up being teachers at the local high school (the shop teacher and the gym teacher).

There was some talk of making some/all the faculty sorcerers and members of the coven, but we didn't dwell on it or decide anything.

We also decided early on that demons are Enochian spirits and sorcery is all about being more John Dee than John Dee. The question of angels came also up, and if they were "demons" as well, and we talked briefly about how they are handled in the Sorcerer's Soul. This means I might put them into play later on, but for the moment: spirit/angel/demon = demon.

I realized after the game we completely forgot to decide what Humanity entailed -- even though I mentioned at the start it would be a step in setting the stage for play. I'll either grab one of the suggestions from the book or we'll discuss it quickly next time.

Two interesting notes: 1) PL's original Cover was going to be "Recycling Instructor" (someone who comes to your home or school and teaches you about/how to recycle) until he (I quote) "realized how important Cover actually was", so he switched it to shop teacher. I mentioned briefly that I could work with the former and it wasn't quite as crappy as he was thinking, but he stuck with shop teacher (which I think is going to make for a more solid story anyways). 2) PL also decided to play a version of himself.

At the end of running through the creation process, we had a drug-using, verbally abusive shop teacher who cut off two of his fingers and uses that to scare the kids into respecting the machines (actually, he cut them off to summon a possessor demon from a bottle into a crow)--Thomas, played by PL--and a cocky ex-Marine gym teacher with a strange tattoo he received in Vietnam from a witch-doctor in Laos (a demon he Bound himself to protect him)--Doug, played by MJ.

Both demons have three abilities, as both PL and MJ stated they did not want to push it with their first demon. And despite my encouragement that maybe a couple more powers wouldn't be so bad...alas, they didn't bite. But I love the demons they came up with.

PL's demon, Zeller, has Hold, Command, and Cloak: think "The Birds" and you have a good idea of what the demon does. The spirit was trapped in a bottle many years ago by Thomas' old room-mate, having been summoned by some unknown sorcerer to kill his room-mate's cat, and the Thomas promised to release it if it would serve him. It has a Need for the tears of children and likes it most when Thomas picks on kids in his classes, and Desires the construction of an Escher-style staircase. Yes, seriously. So awesome.

MJ's demon, Bukku, is a parasite with Armor, Boost, and Link that lives on the back of Doug's head. We established early on that Doug Bound the demon because he needed something to protect him against the Vietcong, so watching his back is what it does. Note that Link is used for an awareness of what's happening behind Doug's character, since that is the direction the demon is facing. We established it Needs for its host to eat hearts (dog-sized or larger) and it Desires he get into situations actions that cause adrenaline rushes (fights, sex, etc).

Note: I'm wondering now if Link should have been Perception (but it isn't really providing any bonus dice or actual sight/senses, just providing a sort of subconscious knowledge of stuff occurring behind his head). At any rate, it makes him that teacher you all know who you swear had eyes in the back of his head.

I had them do the initial Binding rolls next, just to introduce the system, and I gave them a quick spiel about gaining bonus dice to rolls and how to do it. MJ was a little hesitant to do any descriptive RPing, being mostly reactive to what I was saying, so we just rolled his three dice against the demon's five. I'm not sure if it was me; I thought I was giving openings to react and make some (albeit small) choices, but I might not have been, and I think I screwed it up by not providing enough details to riff on for the ritual or guidance on what to do.

But also, that uncertainty, on either end, might have to do with all of us being fairly rusty at more in-depth RPing: we've been playing with social gamers fond of straight hack-and-slash  (ie: Gamist play heavy on the Pawn stance) and very limited player input (we're used to letting the GM take the lead), and we've just gone with it, so there hasn't been much-to-any RPing or narration involved. I think we'll all loosen up after a bit and it shouldn't be an issue.

However, PL got into it straight out, drew out on graph paper the Enochian circle used, stated he had caged a crow, and so forth. I gave him a Lore roll against three dice to make the circle (I think I screwed that up?), and he managed one bonus die out of it; he also described the chant that let him bind the demon and promise to meet its needs and desires, plus Thomas cutting off his own two fingers(!) (which we knew already, but he incorporated it, and it made me wince), so he gained another four bonus dice on the Will roll to Bind the demon. The final roll was his eight against the demon's four.

Interestingly, and likely because we were using six-siders given their distribution-probabilities, despite the discrepancy between the numbers of dice, MJ came out with one die in his character's favor, while PL came out with one die in the demon's favor. We plan to switch to ten-siders next time we play.

Finally, we did Kickers, and PL grasped them right off, "The kid my demon has been singling out this year for abuse is found dead between my garage and my neighbors". MJ presented one that initially didn't work--"neighborhood punks are trying to act like they're a gang in the metro, but they haven't bothered me yet"--until he had an A-HA! moment and added "they smashed in the windows on my classic Barracuda and are taunting me to come after them". (Yes, those of you who are classic car fans may weep and demand unholy vengeance at this juncture.) BOOM! Awesome Kicker.

We ended at that point, with my instructing them to (and how to) populate the Relationship Map during the week and e-mail/call me with the details. There's clearly some stuff in their current write-ups that should go on there, like the school faculty, the coven, the gang, the Laos witch-doctor, and etc. But I'll see if they come up with anything else to add in to the setting fiction before we start.

All in all, I'm impressed at how organically the characters, and even the setting details, came together. Each piece flowed from the others, with mutual input and discussion, and it was cool as hell to participate in. It wasn't work at all to move from one thing to another, fleshing things out as we went, it was very much like just sitting down and chatting. Very different from, IMO, the last three characters I created (two CoC investigators and a D&D character), and even from the character creation in an aborted Sorcerer game I'd tried to set up some years past.

And we clearly have a very interesting situation developing, as well, with gang violence, murders, and secret cults all wrapped around a dysfunctional, small town high school environment.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards

Hi Raven,

I am really liking this. Not that my approval or enjoyment has anything to add, but rather, it's great to see one of the game's first supporter's have such a good time with it.

QuoteWe also decided early on that demons are Enochian spirits and sorcery is all about being more John Dee than John Dee.
I realized after the game we completely forgot to decide what Humanity entailed ...

Seems to me as if you're 85% of the way to articulating Humanity already. I confess I didn't even know what "Enochian" meant until recently, but now that I do, hey, Humanity agony seems built right in.

Those are some fucked-up awesome characters!! I'm thinking about my discussion of protagonism in [Sorcerer] Berkeley 1968, and the cool thing is that I have no idea where these two guys might go with that. Which is perfect.

I'd love to know more about how the game is going.

Best, Ron


Thanks Ron. We actually haven't played since the above (our group plays three different games and switches off each time we get together). Next week is looking like a good possibility for picking back up.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio


Due to various issues, like my recent stay in the hospital, we haven't gamed much lately. Tonight, though, we managed to get together and play. MJ pulled out his Sorcerer character sheet when we sat down, which caught me by surprise, and sadly a bit unprepared. I hadn't had the time or energy to reprep before the game and hadn't looked at my notes in a couple weeks either, so there were a number of details I'd forgotten, both mechanically and narratively. I think we got through the narrative ones alright.

I'm not so certain I pulled off the mechanical ones properly.

As such, this post will be about a couple of the mechanical issues I slammed into; I'll do a more complete AP of the night down the line, because it still ended up being fairly decent, fun session.

Still, things weren't helped by my still feeling at about 50% from the hospital stay and the drugs they still have me on, so at least part of the trouble was from the fact I wasn't able to give 100% mentally. In fact, I felt for the first half of the game like I was babbling incoherently about the rules when they came up.

For example, I absolutely savaged the description of Temporary/Lasting penalties because I became mush-mouth--wickedly embarrassing (seriously, HOW simple IS Temp/Last? And I had to start over three times to describe it because I kept tripping over my own tongue. Bleh!). I thought MJ's head was going to explode from confusion, but finally (I think) managed to explain it so it made sense.

I'm also thinking of maybe tossing people glass beads for roll-over successes, so we don't forget about them when actually rolling (something I completely forgot about a number of times throughout the evening). Then again, I may not need to once things start running more smoothly and we're all more comfortable with the system and we all know what we're doing. PL did catch me on a few things, which I'm thankful for: like the Armor power converting lasting to temporary when Doug was chain-whipped (I'd spot-ruled the chain did X lasting, X temporary...maybe a bit overpowered now that I think about it).

Also, just a note: we didn't have enough d10's to play, but we used that size anyways because I wasn't happy with the success spreads on the d6. That shouldn't be a problem after next week as we ordered a bunch of dice; for this session we just rolled some d20's (drop the 10's place on 11 and up) and d12's (reroll on 11 or 12) to get 1-10 number spreads along with what d10's we had.

The first thing we ran was a combat, which tripped me up, and there were a number of times I wasn't sure I was doing it right. I was (trying and mostly did) running it like this:

1) Declare actions until everyone is satisfied.
    1a) Award bonus dice for role-playing etc.
2) Roll dice to see whose action happens first (if necessary).
    2a) Continue action or change action to Total Defense.
    2b) Roll for TD/1-die defense.
3) Determine success/damage, rollover dice etc.
    3b) If lost Init and action continued (if still possible), opposition rolls defense (with bonus dice).

I am worried maybe eXpendable got mixed into Sorcerer, as I've been working on that much more recently than I've played Sorcerer, so correct me if I screwed that up. I need to reread the combat section again tomorrow; I'm also thinking branching flow-charts are going to be my friend for a bit.

Here are some concrete examples from the game:

MJ's character, Doug, was facing off against the four young (14-15) punks who just smashed up his car, all of whom are in his classes at school and are talking shit to him now. Bored with taunting, their defacto leader comes at Doug with a whirling chain. MJ states he wants Buku, his demon, to activate the Armor ability. I have them roll to see which happens first: the punk's Stamina + 1d (for the weapon) vs. Doug's Will + Cover(?, I actually forget. Probably should have been Lore, whatever I did choose). Doug wins. So the Armor is in effect before he gets snapped with the chain.

Then I wasn't sure what to do. Doug won. So...does he even get HIT with the chain? I said "no, misses" based on Doug's success and started a new round of actions. I did that wrong. I should have had MJ roll for Total Defense against the swing at that point, then moved into another round of actions.

There was also one other bit in combat that slipped me up and that I'm not sure I handled right (that I recall in detail). Doug had dived between two parked cars so he didn't have to face three punks at once, and MJ decided his next action was to look for a loose piece of concrete or blacktop he could grab (our city sidewalks and our streets are pretty crappy, so that wasn't much of a stretch). I had MJ roll a Perception check (using Will), and declared the lead punk was trying to chain-whip him as his action (Stamina + Chain - injuries).

MJ won the roll with one success...and then I wasn't sure where to go with it from there. MJ sees a piece of concrete he could grab and tear out. What next? It should have been a Total Defense roll from MJ against being whipped, right?, since he won the roll. Which I think is what I had him do, but had to think about it for a moment because I was trying to put the sequence together in my head.

If he had lost the roll, he could have 1) still tried to find a chunk and rolled 1-die for defense against the chain 2) or negated his action and gone Total Defense instead, not finding the concrete chunk. Correct?

Anyways, despite the issues I was having recalling how everything worked, it was a cool combat, with MJ's character facing two-on-one and three-on-one attacks, Doug flipping around like a fucking monkey, kicking and punching and dodging like some crazy ninja-marine, and even (after head-butting him into unconsciousness) using one of the kids as a human shield/nunchuck against the others. He would put one punk down (with, say, 6 temporary), but then two others would be on top of him. He'd put one down next round, and the recovered one would come at him. It was wild.

After the first couple rounds, we put minis on the table, and used little household office items as stand-ins for the parked cars and such. It really helped add to the atmosphere and solidify descriptions and tactics.

One sweet moment was when MJ manged to get the punk's leader to chain whip one of the others when both went at Doug at once. MJ described Doug timing his ducking out of the way when one of the punks tried to leap down on him from a car hood, leaving that kid standing right where his buddy was lashing with the chain. SMACK!

I simply compared the rolls between the punk kids to see if the chain-guy hit his buddy; which I'm pretty sure was the right way to handle it.

That helped, since by then Doug had started to rack up a couple lasting penalties and the three-on-one was causing him problems. But the fight ended almost right after that, with the kids stumble-running off and calling back threats as the neighbors rushed out to see what the hell was happening on the street, and the punks realized the cops were on their way.

Couple other notes: I played the gang leader as a wild-man who wanted to put down Doug at any cost, and who almost didn't run at the end, despite prodding from his friends. I was trying to hint there was more going on than just some wanna-be gangster trying to be all tough, though I made that more clear later when I brought things together later at the police station.

Also, I thought about making three of the punks one-hit mooks, but I statted them out anyways to give everyone a good feeling for multiple-opponent combat and to showcase how the system worked. Based on how it ran, it gave me a good idea of how to scale things: even just using three little nothings rolling 2-to-4 dice each, a big guy rolling 9 or more dice can be taken down pretty quick. But there was still quite a bit of nice back-and-forth "who-the-fuck-is-going-to-win-this" happening from action to action, and I'm not sure which way it would have gone if it had played out to the bitter end.

That was about the first third of the session, the rest went more smoothly. I'll post about that stuff another day, I just wanted some feedback on the above first.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio


We almost played again this past week, but I wasn't prepped, so we did some CoC instead, followed by a rousing round of Munchkin. That's OK, gives me some more time to get my act together and post about the rest of the last game we had.

Scene Two (Scene One was the above post):

After Doug's street-fight with the punks, Thomas was awoken by the cops knocking on his door, asking him if he heard anything last night, eventually revealing a body had been found next to his garage, gutted like a fish. They went out into his backyard and found the window on the door to Thomas' garage had been smashed in, leaving bloody shards of glass strewn across the garage floor. A quick inspection revealed nothing inside the garage appeared disturbed or missing.

This is where having the back of the character sheets filled in would have come in handy, as I could have checked it and noticed Thomas' was building his Escher staircase in there, undoubtedly all marked up with weird Enochian symbols and writing--something the cops might have been very interested in--but I didn't recall that off-hand.

On that note, anyone have any advice on helping the players to get those filled in? I'd asked them to write down some details there, but from their looks when I did so, I'm thinking they aren't quite sure exactly what to do with that space and so casually avoided it.

PL decides Tom is going to palm one of those pieces of bloodied glass, and forgot that only demons have magic. PL did this thing with his hands, and starting saying he was talking low to the detective. I was scratching my head until he explained he was trying to hypontize the detective. I asked "What are you, a Jedi?"

Then we discussed quickly that only demons have "magic powers", but that he could summon some kind of demon with the Daze power and have it pull that trick on the detective. PL didn't look too thrilled about summoning another demon, but then one of us suggested he have his Zeller possess the detective, and we made all the rolls, completely forgetting we had removed Hop from Zeller's list of abilities.

Once we recalled that, we backed it up, unpossessing the detective, and PL had Tom motion for Zeller to fly down, Cloaked, and grab a piece of the bloody glass. Which he did, without the detective noticing at all.

I was having trouble thinking of a rich conflict for the scene, so I ended it and we jumped to the police station, where Doug was filing paperwork about the assault. Tom was there to file paperwork about the break-in and give a statement.

Scene Three:

The punks, bloodied and roughed up, came through in handcuffs on their way to the holding cell. There was a short confrontation as the gang leader yelled and made threats to Doug AND a surprised Tom, dropping the name of the Vietnamese sorcerer who summoned the parasite into Doug during the war, hinting that he was coming to town and Doug would pay. One of the other punks cried that the gang leader was the one who forced them to do all of it.

Then the parents of the slain teenager in Tom's yard came in, the father accusing Tom of having murdered him because of the harsh time he had given the kid in school. Tom denied it, called the kid names (IIRC), and fists flew. Doug and the other officers had to grab them and drag them apart while the wife wept and begged her husband to stop. Thinking about it, I should have done a much more involved series of conflict rolls for that, with Will rolls and roll-over bonuses. But I didn't; I was just trying to establish some larger conflicts. So that's something to remember for next time.

Scene Four & Five:

The police ended up questioning both Doug and Tom seperately in the interogation rooms, about their seperate situations. Doug was asked who "Kim" was, why the kid was threatening him with that name (he claimed: an ex girlfriend he hadn't seen or heard from in years). Grilled over the fight, who swung first, why he attacked the kids. And eventually, after an opposed Humanity roll to see if the officer opened up to him as a person rather than deciding he was guilty, lying, or hiding something that needed to be exposed, the officer confided that Doug had better get himself a good lawyer because the parents of the kids were talking about a lawsuit (he was an adult, these were all 14-15 year olds...and parents are often stupid and blind when it comes to their kids behaving criminally).

Given Tom's record of discipline and verbal abuse of the kids at school, and the accusations and demands of the parents, Tom was grilled by three seperate officers about the dead kid, his relationship to the kid, why the kid was in his yard, etc. etc. Three times. Finally told not to leave town, then released after being made to sit and wait forever while the cops played games with his head.

Scene Six:

The next morning, the head of the local Teacher's Association--and fellow coven member, who has no love for Tom and his "dangerous, lone-wolf sorcery"--called both and smugly, if not gleefully, stated that due to the recent situations they had been involved in, they were both on paid administrative leave until the matters could be fully investigated. Both had expected this.

But they sensed something else was going on, too, met up and decided to do some investigation on their own. They met at Tom's house, and while there, an officer showed up for some more paperwork to sign. After he left, Tom produced the bloody shard glass for Doug, who Boosted his senses and allowed him to bloodhound. I set the difficulty fairly high, given the nature of the task, but MJ managed to pull off four successes and tracked the scent to the highway leading out the south-western end of town.

I'm waffling on that call; still, if you make a Stamina check to try and perceive things with your senses, then Boosting your Stamina gives you more Stamina dice for your senses as well, plus given the parasite's nature as a defending spirit meant to "watch Doug's back" and keep him safe, the Boost likely would affect and heighten his physical senses in addition to his physique. I'm supposing I could always add Perception as an ability Doug doesn't realize the demon has.

Scene Seven:

The officer who stopped by the house earlier drives and stops to talk to them, ask them what they're up to, clearly following them. They BS about just going out for a walk since they've been suspended for the moment, and Tom heads back to his house to get the car so they can continue following the scent down the highway, while Doug ducks into the Dairy Queen to wait for him. The police sit outside waiting. Eventually, they drive off and Doug and Tom head back to the car and start off again.

Tom notices the tail, again, and tries to lose them. Four successes, and he drives down the narrow and confusing streets of West Virginia. Tom needs to try and find the scent again, Boosts again, and does so just barely (one success this time). A couple hours slow ride down the highway as Doug tries to suss out where the scent is leading him and they eventually pull up onto a dirt road leading to a graying, abandoned barn out in Iron Junction.

That's where we ended for the evening.

Also, I should note Buku, Doug's demon, was happy to comply with all his commands. Doug eats hearts regularly, bought from the butcher (and did bring up that he went to the butcher shop to get a fresh one between scenes five and six, as I recall), so the Demon's Need has been regularly and recently satisfied. And kicking the asses of a bunch of young punks? Then grappling with an angry parent? Shit! That's what his demon LIVES for! Adrenaline! Combat! Fighting! He's a happy demon right now.

Also, I realize "eating hearts" seems like such a tame Need, given the ease with which Doug can fulfill the Need (you just go to the butcher shop or take the leftovers from hunting season at the local supermarkets and you're fine). But with both of them under investigation, the "eats hearts" thing is going to be a problem, especially in court (or out of court). It won't be hard for either the police or the lawyers to investigate Doug and make a story up about the crazy war vet who eats hearts attacking a bunch of kids.

I didn't use Zeller, Tom's possessed crow demon, nearly as much as I should have, nor did PL, and I'm hoping my prep for the next game will let me spring some richer and more complex conflicts and situations on the players, including some significant interplay with demons. And also the fact that I'm not feeling like a bag of crap anymore. I'm going to throw in some more situations involving Lore use as well, so we can start getting the in-game feel for sorcery down.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio


We played Sorcerer again for our last game night, session ran for around an hour and a half or so. I whipped up some sorcerer and demon character sheets for the game, which the players really liked and I received some nice comments over the design of, and we also filled out the back of the sheets, which they started using right away: marking down notes and using the names there to push on the story.

For example, one issue I was mulling over earlier is that the characters don't really want anything, but now PL's character is definitely out-to-get Patricia--the leader of the coven, the head of the Teacher's Association, and apparently the person who set him up with the dead kid in his alleyway. He already knew she hates him, and now he wants her dead, and he's using a demon they believe she summoned to do it...a possessor they fought, then bound, and stuck into the detective assigned to investigating the kid's murder...killing him.

Given how much I bumbled around with some of the mechanics, though, I've decided I need to sit down and read through the book once a day to get some of the damn rules straight. MJ is also going to give me some of his sticky tabs to mark important sections in the book for easier rules referencing (I swear...I know where all the things I'm looking for ARE in the book, but then I can't seem to find the section they're in! "The demon abilities are in the demon section! Where is it?! ARGH!").

I also definitely need to print out some aides for during play for both the players and myself (hrm, didn't someone around these parts write up a short rules summary handout some time back?). Play should also prove easier once I have a second core book I can loan out to the players between sessions and have on hand for them to reference themselves during play.

For this session, they ended up facing off against a big, nasty possessor demon--a 6 Power, incorporeal thing with Daze, Confuse, and Hop (and maybe more)--trapped in a Contain someone had worked around a long-abandoned barn (1 success on a Lore check, I only told them it was a Contain, I didn't say how strong it was or what it had been made to hold). So they successfully figured out the barn was a Contain, but went inside anyways. After a few moments, the demon coalesced as a red miasma with a devil's face and started trying to Confuse Thomas to make the possession attempt easier (no action, no squirming away).

Keller, Thomas' demon, chose that moment to act up and start rebelling--Thomas hasn't made any kids cry the whole time we've been playing, and Keller isn't too happy about it. Buku has been in love with his master, though, and didn't need to be ordered around. It knew what was expected of it once bad things started happening, and was happy to oblige.

They managed to fight the thing off and escape the barn, after Thomas demanded Keller use his ability to get a bunch of birds to help attack and distract the possessor (I used its Stamina to deal with physical attacks as temporary damage). Unfortunately, in escaping, the Boosted Doug accidentally ruined the the Contain when he shut the barn door a little too hard and took it off its hinges (allowing the demon another chance to escape from the already weak Contain). He literally brought down the barn, and the possessor rose from the dust and attacked.

They didn't do at all well after that. Six dice against what they had (2-3, sometimes just 1 for some snapshots they attempted) meant most things did not end in their favor. They weren't using roll-over tricks or really pouring on the role-playing juice to ramp up the bonus dice, and it hurt them. I'm going to need to mention that when we discuss the game later.

Eventually, Doug managed to grab the Confused Thomas and escape into the woods, but all his Boosting caught up with him then and he stumbled to a stop, Confused himself. At that point, Thomas just let the demon possess him, fought a Will battle for control of his body, and made a pact with the thing, promising it a new host, the chance to kill, and free reign afterwards, so Binding it...though he doesn't know how well.

The host? The detective investigating the murder. Thomas claimed to have found what he thought might be new evidence in his garage, and once they got the detective in there, he put his arm around the guy and let the demon Hop out of his body and into Patrowski, killing the poor guy but giving Thomas' new demon a host.

Both that act and the Binding entailed Humanity checks for PL's character, who lost both rolls and is now down to 1 Humanity. PL asked what happens if he goes below 1, and we talked about what Humanity meant in our game. I'd decided on "sanity" earlier, where 0 means you drift so far into the world of the surreal and of magical correspondences that you lose touch with reality; you can't tell fantasy and reality apart, can't even function because you see connections and magical correspondences everywhere. They compared it to what happened to John Nash, which is pretty apt.

But he was thinking that he could just gain a point back by buying a bunch of teddy bears for the sick kids at the hospital (or similar); I'll let him know next week that Humanity gain can only be achieved by a true, heartfelt act of compassion or meaningful rejection of demonism and magical thinking, something that makes the other people at the table say "DAMN".

Though, hrm, the whole teddy bear thing work, if he ignores Keller's demands to make those kids CRY, allowing the demon to slip further out of his control. Especially with a second very nasty demon in the mix who may demand even worse.

Next week I may be introducing two more players to the game, meaning I'll eventually be running Sorcerer for four players. I think that's around my limit for number of players, so we'll see how it goes.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards

Hi Raven,

When designing that part of the system, or rather, when seeing how the system played out in those circumstances, I found that this effect:

QuoteSix dice against what they had (2-3, sometimes just 1 for some snapshots they attempted) meant most things did not end in their favor. They weren't using roll-over tricks or really pouring on the role-playing juice to ramp up the bonus dice, and it hurt them.

... is best understood as the player-characters basically panicking. Every action becomes a fright-based single thing, not far from flailing, and every individual is operating in isolation even though they are standing next to one another. Given a foe like the one you designed, which is a nasty fucking thing, isn't it, it'll stomp them. I absolutely love the outcome as you've described it - a great example of what sorcerers have to deal with when relying on their powerz and baseline scores, which is to say, coping now with a ramped-up version of the basic sorcerous problems.

If I were advising this group, I'd remind them that I as GM have no, zero responsibility to take care of their characters.

Best, Ron


Quote from: Ron Edwards on May 26, 2009, 12:01:08 PMIf I were advising this group, I'd remind them that I as GM have no, zero responsibility to take care of their characters.

Yep, that's something I'll be mentioning as soon as we play again (various things have delayed our playing again, should be next week now).

But I can't help feeling part of the issue is squarely my own fault. I'm not sure how to explain to them what they can do instead, that is, what they can do that would net them pre-rolls prior to making the conflict roll. I'm wondering if I may be stuck in a task-resolution mindset and not seeing certain actions as pre-rolls serving the actual conflict, nor sure how to explain that idea clearly.

Ok, let's say the player says, "I quickly scratch a circle in the dirt marking it with the demon's secret name and controlling sigils, praying to the four heavenly archangels that I finish before the demon overwhelms me. I'm trying to trap that thing in a Contain!" Cool and ballsy: 2 extra dice. Still 3 dice against 6?

So, roll-overs, like a Lore roll against Will to see if you recall the names under pressure, and then a Lore roll against Stamina to see if you write them correctly while rushed (unless I'm hosing something up, those are legal/valid/appropriate either as requirements from me as GM or suggestions from the player, correct?). And even, " 'Like the red-fanged mouth of hell looming to swallow you whole' ? I'm chemically heightened! I've seen worse on bad trips, so I'm not scared." to try for a Will-based roll-over (though that may be stretching it?). And then the actual snapshot Contain roll.

So you could pump up a snapshot that way, with a basic minimum of 3 dice, and more from other roll-overs (or less if you screw important bits up).

How do I convey things like the above to these players? How do I convey the concept of roll-over dice to the players for things that aren't actions and aren't Cover (ala the examples in the book) for newcomers to this game and its style? Should I push the roll-overs in play myself (ie: "You leapt over the fence, so Stamina..." or "You're a pirate so Cover..."), or should I wait for the players to say, "HEY! I want to do a roll-over for this bit, please! Based on..."
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards

Hi Raven,

I think there's two ways to answer. One is the designer/theory way, and the other is what actually to tell them and what to do as GM. I think I'm going to do the second, although I've painfully found that in talking about Sorcerer, whichever way I go, someone screams pitifully about how they don't understand how that applies to the other.

OK, here's the point: you're starting in the middle. Let's back up to before the action is announced. My advice is to say, contribute to the imagination as you play. The system is there to be that imagined material in terms of game mechanics. You don't say "I scratch a circle" to get dice, you say it because that's your sorcerer and he turns to his Lore in this instance under stress. Is it uncharacteristic of him to do so? Then we know that, and you role-play accordingly. Is it characteristic of him to do so? Then we know that instead, and you role-play accordingly, i.e. differently than the first case.

What I'm saying is that it's not about whether a given description is worth enough or is good enough or appropriate enough, it's about whether that description is getting into everyone's heads and (either way, off-type or on-type) working to generate a feeling of this is this guy, here, acting in a particular way. It's anything that makes the imagined situation not be a bunch of talking heads taking turns making desultory motions.

(You've been in those role-playing situations. Although the characters are allegedly a bunch of colorful fantastical guys and although they are allegedly fighting a heinous and mystical monster, for all that's actually said and imagined, they, the fictional entities, might as well be standing around silently until their turns come around, then raising one arm and bringing a weapon down in a falling motion, or saying "I dodge" or something like that.)

It's not about earning dice. I can say that until I'm blue in the face and no one believes me. The point is that if you do it, the dice are there for you. And since "do it" is nothing more nor less than what we came to do in the first place (play fictional characters in fictional crises), then it's not like I'm asking anything. Instead of thinking of the Sorcerer bonus dice rules as bonuses, extras, add-ons, special things, we should be thinking of playing in such a way that you don't use them as being ... well, pretty limp and un-imagined and halting play. If play isn't limp and un-imagined and halting, then the dice should be piling on routinely.

Now for fiddly details, none of which should be read in isolation, but only as aspects of what I wrote above.

QuoteOk, let's say the player says, "I quickly scratch a circle in the dirt marking it with the demon's secret name and controlling sigils, praying to the four heavenly archangels that I finish before the demon overwhelms me. I'm trying to trap that thing in a Contain!" Cool and ballsy: 2 extra dice. Still 3 dice against 6?

Better than 1 against 6.

QuoteSo, roll-overs, like a Lore roll against Will to see if you recall the names under pressure, and then a Lore roll against Stamina to see if you write them correctly while rushed (unless I'm hosing something up, those are legal/valid/appropriate either as requirements from me as GM or suggestions from the player, correct?).

Sure, with no time constraint involved (i.e. in cinematic time the 10-seconds-left allows room for a one-minute conversation and kiss).

Regarding your parenthesis, the GM shouldn't require stuff like this in a "you can't do this unless you do this first" way. But suggesting it, yeah, especially not "do you want to" so much as in a "can you" way. The degree and method of how you do this is a matter of social contract; in some groups, it's OK for the GM literally to say "So you try to remember the names" and simply carry on without need for confirmation, and in others, that'd be dirty pool. Depends on the emotions and histories involved.

QuoteAnd even, " 'Like the red-fanged mouth of hell looming to swallow you whole' ? I'm chemically heightened! I've seen worse on bad trips, so I'm not scared." to try for a Will-based roll-over (though that may be stretching it?).

Whoa. Too much justification. You're depicting a player whoring for dice. Imagine instead the player bringing his hand to his nose in a snorting notion and sneering at you, then saying, "I step up to it." He probably isn't even thinking about extra dice, although if he is, that's OK too. The point is that you go, "Yeah, that is so you, baby" without even thinking about the dice either - so the goal is for you to recognize it when it happens and pound a couple onto the table for him.

Indiana Jones gets a bonus die for body-languaging "oh come on" and just shooting the guy running at him twirling the sword. The guy gets nothing for whirling and posturing with his sword.

QuoteAnd then the actual snapshot Contain roll.

So you could pump up a snapshot that way, with a basic minimum of 3 dice, and more from other roll-overs (or less if you screw important bits up).


What I'm saying is that if you focus on "if you do this you get a die, if you do that you get two dice," then all you're doing is telling them to whore for you with windy descriptions and that contributes nothing to the imagined situation and action. In fact, it's boring, stupid, and tiring.

But if you say, look, you are playing a sorcerer who is absolutely nothing like anyone on this Earth either before or since, and you are in a situation where he or she is either suddenly able or suddenly unable to get What He Wants. And this "thing" right here in the room with you is why. Play him accordingly at all, by saying what he actually does and says, and I'll get it. My job is enjoy that, and in this game, I enjoy it by putting more dice down for you.

The only alternative to getting bonus dice is to play your character absolutely against concept, and I don't mean descriptors, I mean the baseline concept of being a sorcerer in crisis - lacking in drive, lacking in color, lacking in decision, lacking in imagination, lacking in raw imagined presence. Practically not even there. I would say that this is a silly thing to expect except that for decades a lot of people have been trained to play in exactly this horrifically nasty-nothing way, covering for it by using stupid accents and gestures and postures.

Let them know that you are jazzed about their characters and want to see them in all their driving, colorful, decisive, imaginative presence.

When and if that happens, then all you have to do is remember to whap those dice out. When it comes to the roll-over pre-action actions, then you'll discover that they're doing that already - you simply say "that's a pre-roll" and basically turn it into a free action. (Remember that such rolls carry no penalty for failing, too.)

I hope that helps. Let me know.

Best, Ron


Quote from: Ron Edwards on May 28, 2009, 05:04:45 PMI hope that helps. Let me know.


QuoteMy advice is to say, contribute to the imagination as you play.

That's perfect. Not as an isolated guideline, but as a guideline in light of the rest of the explanation -- remembering that "contributing" is not equivalent to "earning" or "deserving", and the GM's job being to remember to put those dice on the table for the player (not to act as a judge). If I've not gotten that right, let me know, but it is making sense to me right now.

QuoteRegarding your parenthesis, the GM shouldn't require stuff like this in a "you can't do this unless you do this first" way. But suggesting it, yeah, especially not "do you want to" so much as in a "can you" way.

Right. Exactly.

QuoteWhoa. Too much justification. You're depicting a player whoring for dice.

Ahhh, yes. It felt wrong when I typed it, though I couldn't verbalize why, so I'm glad I left it in there for review.

Quick question:
Quote(Remember that such rolls carry no penalty for failing, too.)
Clarification: do you mean they create no penalty dice? I understand it can't stop the action itself from failing or becoming impossible, etc, but based on the swinging pirate example on page 104, I had thought it could result in penalty dice based on aesthetic discretion.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards

You've got it all just right.

Regarding the pre-roll rolls and the pitching deck situation, I think the text is pretty clear that "no penalty" is the default. It struck me in writing that section that not everyone will agree that no penalty should be applied for missing the first roll, and it also seemed to me to be worth giving a little for someone who didn't see it my way. For you, in this case, with these players, and given all your concerns and the questions you're asking, I strongly recommend ignoring the qualifier and sticking with the basic instruction: no penalties to the second (i.e. main) roll if the augmenting roll fails.

Best, Ron


Quote from: Ron Edwards on May 28, 2009, 09:05:06 PM...it also seemed to me to be worth giving a little for someone who didn't see it my way.

That's really interesting, because I was going to say whenever I've read that section, the whole "and you could end up with penalties" bit always seemed out of place.

I say that because the pre-roll isn't a conflict, so the idea that you might rack up penalties beforehand, on your own dime, seemed out-of-place. Yes, it makes sense from a simulatory point of view ("Oh, you didn't completely clear the fence when you jumped it, your foot snags, so now there's a penalty on your attack") but not narratively--it seems like a very un-Sorcerer-ish whiff-type rule.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards

Hi Raven,

I'm not so sure about that. Both when writing and playtesting, and now after so many games, I think that play benefits from having the option for the world to be effectively inimical around the characters. Sure, you can try to rack it to your advantage, but it doesn't like you (or anyone), and so fences try to trip you, pitching decks try to make you lose, and fancy acrobatics are a good way to get your head bonked.

A certain existential viciousness pervades the thematic elements of Sorcerer, and I couldn't bring myself to excise that from the way 'the world' gets played necessarily. Yes, in practice, I treat the augmenting rolls as win/neutral, but one of these days, I can see myself playing and treating them as win/lose.

My point in posting is to clarify that my writing and design process did not include an attempt to placate readers who might disagree with me in a dichotomous way, but rather to acknowledge that another interpretation of those augmenting rolls at least made sense to me even if it wasn't my first choice.

Best, Ron



I thought I'd weigh in on the pre-rolls discussion with something I've been doing.  So in the Sorcerer & Sword game I'm running now one of the characters a soldier with a demon who gives him a Cover relevant to fighting.  So whenever we go into a fight, I normally roll a few dice against it  which he then rolls the result into his Stamina for his actual attack.  Failure simply results in no dice for that action.

However, sometimes he goes up against another soldier or similarly trained opponent.  At that point I have the two characters roll their Covers against each other as a pre-roll and the winner gets to roll over the dice into their Stamina based action.  I basically narrate this as "which opponent gets the menacing establishing shot before the action goes down."


Callan S.

Hello Ron,

With that Indiana Jones example, it seems like the dice aren't there for what he's actually doing, but for how loud and clear his persona is showing (in what he does)? I don't mean in any "that's roleplaying/that isn't" way. I mean just like if you'd met the guy in RL, how much you can sort of 'get' him just instinctively off the bat? "I get you, man, here's dice to show that" Far off? I'm not really going anywhere with that, it just seems to be the procedure of what your saying but alot of reference to physical actions is being blended in?

Though if that is it, and on the subject of zero dice being neutral, that'd mean that hey, maybe he is showing his persona but it just doesn't click with your own way. This is easiest to see when people with two different human cultures just don't get each others cues (both concious and habitual). But the same can happen even in (supposedly) the same culture. So I'm looking at that 'neutral' result and thinking that's coming right up to the safety barrier - if you were to call it a lose, that's climbing over the barrier I'm percieving, I'd think? I'm asking in terms of asking about what seems to be dangerous ground (but might not be) simply to ponder it (and perhaps a murky fascination with such ground and it's closeness).