[Sorcerer] In Sorcery's Shadow - London, England 2009

Started by The Magus, March 15, 2009, 11:47:37 PM

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The Magus

This is an actual play report for a game of Sorcerer. My friend Justin and I have been playing Sorcerer for two sessions now and have established a campaign that we intend to run throughout the year. It is our first time playing the game and we have some limited experience of playing narrative role-playing games, such as Cold City. We are the only two people playing - the rest of our gaming group focuses on board games and has a limited amount of time to play due to family and other commitments.

The members of our gaming group are in their late 30s and early 40s. The majority of us have experience with role-playing games most noticeably Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Runequest and Call of Cthulhu. One of the appeals of narrative role-playing games is that they require little preparation time, although a willingness to actively participate seems to make sessions run far more smoothly.

Justin and I met at university 20 years ago and did some gaming there. However, we lost touch and only re-established our gaming relationship a couple of years ago after meeting at a convention. After some attempts to recruit members of our gaming group we decided to go it alone and start role-playing together our arrangement is that we alternate GM and player, with the GM hosting. We are trying to spend one Saturday a month playing. Usually these sessions last for between six and eight hours.

We had one initial meeting to discuss ideas for campaign and decided a setting of modern day London England, where we both reside. However, the setting differed in that we wanted it to feel more like the England of the 1970s where fuel shortages, strikes and political incorrectness were more prevalent. One notable example that occurred in our most recent session was that an NPC was able to smoke in the pub, something that has not been possible for the last two years due to changes in legislation.

After discussing the world player characters would inhabit we created our characters. Justin's character was David Stanford, a business consultant with an object Demon that resided in a ring he had inherited. My character was Luca Esposito, an Italian former Catholic priest who had attempted to exorcise a Demon but ended up binding her. We both invested a great deal of time fleshing out their personal histories which I won't repeat here.

In our first session I played Luca. This was our first concerted attempt to play in a narrative style. One of the problems that we did not appreciate initially was moving from scene to scene. Often we would spend time discussing how the scenes were linked to such an extent that the links would often lasts a long time. I would be interested to hear the experience of other players. How long do scenes last? When a scene stops how explicit are the links made between scenes. For example, how much time should be spent explaining how did we get from A to B? In our second session we found a more healthy balance: Justin as the PC would state what he wanted from a scene. I would question it I felt further clarification was required. This seemed to work much better. We also experimented with the narrative style, using dream sequences and flashbacks on occasion.

I felt we did well in setting stakes in every scene with a dice roll determining narrative outcome. However, we did not focus on humanity rolls to a great extent and I'm curious to know from other players when they employed them? There was one scene in which Justin's PC humiliated an NPC. I was left unsure whether this was to do with the character's arrogance solely or whether a humanity roll should have been used as the bound Demon's desire was to humiliate people in positions of power.

We both put in a good deal of preparation when each of us took the role of GM. Some of this paid off very well and some of it we felt we could use for future sessions. However, some very good ideas and play came out of spontaneous scene framing with a view to setting up future conflicts. We also spent some time discussing how we could communicate better with one another in terms of getting what we wanted out of the game. We emphasised the need for the GM to be in the service of the players experience. I found myself is GM saying "he is your character, if you want that to happen then that's fine." That felt good for both of us and felt different from a minority of gaming sessions I have been involved in where petty arguments about rules and the physical placement of the character would occur. Nothing particularly contentious arose and the game felt good to play.

One problem I encountered was our setting. Setting something in a modern day version of your hometown is very practical on one level but required looking up certain things for a degree of consistency. For example, I found myself on Wikipedia looking for information on the pre-Buddhist Tibetan religion, Bon. I thought that the advantage of setting up in fantasy or alternate worlds would be that the players could invent all these things themselves and this would be potentially more exciting. In summing up at the end of our most recent session we thought that this campaign was an experiment with the system in order to gain a familiarity with it.

In summary I'm glad I've started role-playing again after nearly a 20 year break. Using a character's story as the central driving mechanism in the game is liberating for a player like me with little spare time. There is no endless pouring over supplements. Rather one can create the world one so wishes. I would be interested to hear how other people resolve situations with dice - how often in a scene are they used and how often in a play session are they used? Also how many scenes to people find themselves playing in, say a three hour session? And how much time is spent in the setup for the next scene and post-scene?

I wasn't sure whether to include what actually happened in our games if people want to read it.  However, I'd like some responses to my questions.  Many thanks.

Trevis Martin

Hi Magus,

For me the dice come out pretty often.  Whenever there is a conflict of interest between characters in the game the dice come out, which in my experience is a lot.  Want to persuade somone to do something they're not inclined to do?  Bam, dice. 

As far as scenes go, I tend to think very much like TV and movies. You know how the movies don't usually track much how people get from here to there, unless something dramatic happens along the way.   Next interesting thing, we're there.  It sounds like your second session is getting there.  Six to eight hours is a whopping long time to play in my experience, I don't have that kind of stamina (no real joke intended.)  If you guys are able to, awesome.

But I think your account is pretty interesting and I'd like to hear more about it.  So do you each have a backstory and NPC's all prepped out for the other?  Do the two characters stories 'touch' in any way, through NPC's or events, other than being in the same city and thematically?  Did you guys fill out the little grid on the back of the character sheet?  What is your humanity definition?  Are they different for each game?  What does Sorcery look like?  What were the kickers?

The Magus

Play Session 1 - 31st January 2009

Justin GM, Piers as PC Luca Esposito

Setting:  Soho, central London 2009

Luca and Angelica/Malchosia have settled in London with Luca working in a homeless outreach service offering counselling and support to local rough sleepers.  Angelica had found work in a nearby café.  Luca has a Link to Angelica/Malchosia but on one fateful night he was aware of the link disappearing temporarily, something that had not happened since he Bound her.  He ran to the café where she worked but was told by the owner that she had left five minutes previously.

The link did re-establish itself although Luca now had a sense that Malchosia was in some peril and had been drawn  to South Alley, a narrow dead end place in Soho.  Luca's attempt to link to her in this place led to a deep awareness that Malchosia was being drawn towards some sort of void.  Luca  felt a complete absence of God and that all there was was a never-ending void in its place.  (Lore check and Humanity check)

At the end of South Alley he found a woman, evidently a prostitute who had had her throat cut and was in her death throes (This was the Kicker). Luca gave the woman the Last Rites and as he did so he noticed inscribed in red chalk on the wall above her head a stick figure drawing of a man with a moon-shaped crown.  Luca thought this was some sort of mark of the beast although he was also aware that there was a sorcerous hue to it.

As he continued to take in this horrifying scene, he heard footsteps behind him.  He turned to see a man with a sorcerous aura accompanied by two figures clad rather like special ops personnel (black balaclavas and automatic machine guns).  The man spoke.  "We know what kind of person you are and we can pin this murder on you, should we chose.  However, we have need of you and have located your companion.  Will you come with us?" 
"It looks like I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't.  May God forgive me for saying 'Yes.'"
One of the special ops personnel walked towards Luca and pressed a gauze saturated with chloroform over his face.

Luca awoke in a bare cell with three blank walls.  The fourth wall consisted of bars through which Luca could see a corridor.  A CCTV camera watched in from outside.  On recovering his senses Luca realised that he was again linked to Malchosia and that she was relatively well.  After fifteen or so minutes a masked special ops person opened the cell and escorted Luca to a lift.  He was taken to an interrogation room where he was met by the man who kidnapped him last night along with two of his special ops henchmen.  The man's demon was not in evidence.

"So what's your name?" asked Luca
"You can call me Smith."
"I have brought you here to make a proposition to you.  I work for the government.  Your friend Angelica has aroused the interest of an ex-employee of ours."  Smith pulled a photograph from a manilla envelope on the table.  "This man is Richard Vaughn.  We know that the woman he killed last night had had some contact with Angelica." 
Luca felt a heavy ball of dread in his stomach. 
"We want to use you and Angelica to trap Vaughn and return him to our custody."
Reaching back into the manilla envelope Smith pulled out a slightly dated mobile phone. 
"We'll use this to contact you.  The plan is that you and Angelica walk the streets every night between 8:00 and 10:30.  Keep an eye out for Vaughn.  If you see him then call us.  If not then check in at 10:45."
Luca examined the phone.  An unfashionable black brick with an LCD screen.  He pushed some numbers but only the number 00000000000 appeared.
"I feel I don't have much of a choice, but how am I going to manage things?  I have a job, I can't just leave it.  I'll need some money also."
Smith reached into his inside jacket pocket and handed over a number of £20 notes. 
"There's roughly £300 there – that should keep you for the next few days.  Well?"
"God will be the judge of you, and of Mr Vaughn," said Luca.
"I don't think God will be able to help you, Mr Esposito."
Smith gestured to his men and they ushered Luca to a van.

Luca was unable to ascertain his whereabouts and was eventually deposited around the corner from his flat.  Luca entered to find Angelica waiting
"Oh, I'm so glad you're here," she said
"What happened to you last night?"
"I can't remember."
"None of it?"
"None of it."

Luca went to work and managed to negotiate with his boss, Lynn to put him on night outreach.  That evening Luca and Malchosia walked the streets of Soho as bait for Vaughn.  It was a quiet evening, Luca tended to the homeless and at 10:45 he used the phone to call Smith.

"I've not seen him."
"Can you tell me..."
The phone had gone dead.  Luca felt a wave of frustration. 
He finished his outreach and then returned to the flat with Malchosia.  His curiosity in the symbol above the dead woman's head remained and the following afternoon after he and Malchosia had slept he went to a nearby occult bookshop.  He left Malchosia in the flat as he was concerned about her safety.  He tried intuitively looking for sorcerous books (Lore roll) but ended up speaking to the bookseller.  He described the symbol and she said it sounded like something written by John Dee.  She found a book called the Monas Hieroglyphica.  On the cover was the same symbol that Luca had found at the scene of the murder.

The bookseller informed Luca that the symbol on the front was central to Dee's magical works, that apparently it was a symbol vial to his work.  Dee was known to summon Angels and Devils with Kelley, an associate of his

Luca was interested in this lead and asked the bookseller if she knew any more.  She said she knew of someone whom knew much more on this subject but would be reluctant to talk on the subject.  Luca left his phone number and asked that the bookseller's contact get in touch with him as soon as possible.

After 48 hours Luca was contacted by phone. The caller suggested meeting on the steps of the British Museum behind the third pillar from the left. Luca and Malchosia arrived at the appointed time to meet a slight, unkempt and shifty man who carried a plastic bag with him. Immediately he said to Luca, "I know what she is mate. She can leave." Luca told Malchosia to wait in the grounds of the museum while he spoke with the gentleman.

The men introduced himself as Yaxley and after some haggling about payments he proceeded to tell Luca what he wanted to know. Yaxley knew a great deal about Vaughn. Vaughan had been a member of two organisations but now worked for just one. He was a member of the Tsalal, an ancient order who believed that the world is broken. Their aim is to convert it to a pure state. The symbol inscribed above the murdered woman's head is known as the Alcahest or philosopher's Stone. This is the universal solvent that can dissolve the fabric of reality but need something or someone in this world to aid this process. Yaxley said that further papers can be found in the British library written by a scientist from the 60s called Stephen Darwell.

In due course Luca went to the library and spoke to a Clarke who appointed him to a special collection upstairs. The librarian there showed him and archives box with papers and a leather bound journal within. There are a great deal of Latin names and chemical substances written together, a mixture of Occult and alchemical symbols combined with modern chemistry. There were references to the manipulation of brain chemistry through pharmacological means.

Additionally there were personal notes, the author suggesting that he was close to some sort of "breakthrough." Darwell also thought that his work had a wider significance and that a great deal of the knowledge within the Journal was "Known to the Ancients." Darwell hinted at some knowledge of the Demon world. Luca noticed another word in the journal as well as a great deal of exposition. The Hexacanthalethos or 60 stone was an artefact found in Samaria. It was last documented in the work of Heroditus approximately 1900 years ago. The artefact has the power of transmutation. Darwell hinted that he was close to a final breakthrough but the university would not fund his research. Therefore he endeavoured to fund it privately. The final words in the journal were "failure or success will be charged by what happens in Paul Street." September 1979.

Luca returned home with Malchosia to rest and then proceed with their routine to trap Vaughn. As they walked in Soho Square Malchosia was taken over by some sort of force. Luca followed her towards the School of Oriental and African studies. She walked down a narrow road that led to a set of garages. Luca realised something was seriously wrong and use his phone to call Smith. The signal began to break up and finally behind them Vaughn appeared.

He chuckled and giggled in a disturbing manner completely unrelated to the situation they were all in. Immediately Luca and Malchosia attacked Vaughn (stacks of rolls from here on in). Malchosia was drawn by the inexorable force to Vaughn. Luca's only option was to punish Malchosia. She appeared to be torn between two powerful yet diametrically opposed forces but managed to temporary free herself and launch an attack. Their combined efforts began to subdue Vaughn and at that moment Smith and his team arrived in two range Rovers. Smith was apprehended and taken into custody. Luca looked at Smith contemptuously, knowing the risk that he and Malchosia had been exposed to. Smith said he was pleased with Luca's work. Luca responded that is Smith wanted him to continue he would have to pay him considerably more. Smith smiled and said that he would see what he could do.

The Magus

Character:  Luca Esposito - Back story

Luca was born and brought up the youngest of five children in a small village in the Parco Nazionale di Cilento to the South East of Naples.  His family were devout Catholics and he grew up loving his surroundings and having a deep appreciation of nature as gods wonder work was hard to come by and so he joined the priesthood with a measure of ambivalence. His eldest brother, Paolo was also a priest. Luca was a devoted Catholic; he yearned to explore the wider world  but chose a life in the priesthood more out of duty to his family than through choice. 

He was a capable theology student and on completing his training at the seminary he was given his first post about 40 km from where he grew up he fitted into this way of life, its slow pace with its rhythms of the seasons: the occasional christening, marriage or funeral to perform as well as regular Mass at the church.

Things changed when he turned 30. An old man, Bruno Feruzzi, who lived in a few villages away died. He was known to be something of an eccentric recluse who rarely attended church and had little to do with his fellow villagers. He was visited by a young woman, Angelica, who took him local produce as he was not always able to care for himself. Angelica was recently married to Giulio Di Francesco but on death of Bruno a month later Angelica started to behave seriously out of character. She would demand sexual favours from Giulio with a regularity that shocked him and when this did not appease her she sought with other men. Giulio became enraged and  locked Angelica in a barn. Giulio asked Luca to help - Luca went in and saw Angelica and thought there might be a need for an exorcism. Previous medical intervention by the local doctor had proved fruitless.

Luca travelled overnight to see the Archbishop at Naples. The archbishop gave him permission to carry out an exorcism and pointed in the direction of some texts in the cathedral's collection. He found a book that seemed relevant although there was little in it referring to God. On meeting with Angelica he carried out a ritual that could loosely be translated as 'The Subjugation of the Devil through the Psyche-Soma-Ecstasis.' After reasing this he realised that this was a reference to sexual intercourse of an animalistic, abandoned nature. Luca was deeply shocked. He was torn between his desire to help Angelica and his vow of chastity as a priest. Angelica had been a childhood sweetheart and they had shared a kiss together.

He returned to her village to perform the ritual is described. He was left undisturbed in the barn and followed the ritual to the letter. He and Angelica passed out at the end of the ritual. Dawn came and Giulio entered the barn to find Luca and Angelica entwined naked.  Giulio became enraged and attacked Angelica. Luca woke to the sound of commotion and saw Giulio about to swing at Angelica with an axe. Angelica launched some sort of unnatural attack on him. Giulio was flung to the ground, seriously injured. Angelica and Luca dressed and fled the scene together. Luca knew that word would spread quickly about what had happened and knew he could not stay in the area. He gathered what few possessions he had from his church and fled with Angelica to Naples. They stayed in a very cheap hotel overnight which gave him a chance to talk with Angelica stop he quickly realised that he was not dealing with a woman or a creature of this world. He realised that she was a Demon from another realm although neither his theological studies nor the time he had taken from the cathedral's library gave any information that shed light on this.

He had gleaned from her that Demons took different forms and yet he was unsure what kind she was. She might have been a Demon who could pass as a human, replacing the real Angelica, whose whereabouts was unknown. Alternatively she might have been a Demon who had possessed Angelica's body. The Demon, Malchosia, gave no indication as to what was the case. However, it hinted that if it was banished Angelica would die. Luca was terrified of this outcome. He vowed to return her to her home and try and reconcile things with Giulio. As a priest he would be willing to do whatever it took in the name of the Lord to right these terrible circumstances.

The Magus

Quote from: Trevis Martin on March 16, 2009, 07:32:31 AM

But I think your account is pretty interesting and I'd like to hear more about it.  So do you each have a backstory and NPC's all prepped out for the other?  Do the two characters stories 'touch' in any way, through NPC's or events, other than being in the same city and thematically?  Did you guys fill out the little grid on the back of the character sheet?  What is your humanity definition?  Are they different for each game?  What does Sorcery look like?  What were the kickers?

Thanks for you interest, Trevis.  I've posted the first play session and my character's backstory for you.  I'll post the stuff I prepared as GM for Justin character, David Stanford after this post.

We are hoping that the two characters will meet up in some way.  The Tsalal seem to be important in some way and we are hoping to get them to meet up in some way.  We wanted a Lovecraftian feel to the proceedings and for it to be a bit like Hellblazer.  We were a bit slack about filling in the grid.

Our definition of humanity is a combination of empathy and sanity, to be connected to relationships in the world. 0 humanity may be like a psychopathic state, with relationships being seen purely in terms of their use.  I would like to write more about this definition at a later date.  We also wanted a strong psychological element woven in, possibly with one character being admitted to a psychiatric ward.  Are the voices of Demons an indicator of psychosis? What if there are dissident elements of psychiatry that know of Sorcery?

Sorcery looks like lots of lights and smoke and peoples eyeballs turning white - that sort of stuff.  When it kicks off, it really kicks off.  See the above posts and subsequent ones for kickers.

Piers (The Magus - after the John Fowles book, not because I'm a brilliant wizard or anything)

The Magus

David Stanford

Stanford is someone who is very confident, socially adept and self-serving. A cool, distinguished, sharp-dressing 30-something, he is an accountant by training and has built up a substantial network of contacts in the world of finance and business. Working variously as a freelance 'business consultant', his clients span a wide spectrum from the legitimate to downright criminal. As a consequence, Standford has his sticky fingures in a number of pies (both savoury and unsavoury). No one is really sure what Stanford does in his capacity as 'business consultant'(perhaps least of all  himself); nonetheless he seems to come up  with sage advice just when needed; sometimes it just seems to be the case that his very presence around the boardroom table brings about the desired result for whoever is currently purchasing his services. What his clients value most, though, is Stanford's ability to provide them with some useful (and often salacious) secret about their competitors' personal lives or business practices. This makes for all sorts of complications  - occasionally of the life-threatening variety  -  in Stanford's life. Despite his apparent success, Standford's world is built on a house of cards as he plays clients off against one another.

Importantly, Stanford's work has brought him into contact with some of the more unusual aspects of London's financial and criminal underbelly  -  the world of sorcery and demons. This was prefaced by Stanford being the beneficiary of the will of a distant relative, from who he received a small annual stipend, along with a strange old ring.

Motivations: knowledge is power  -  much of Stanford's world revolves around barely restrained chaos; Standford seeks absolute control of things through knowledge. Stanford has an almost pathological fear of uncertainty and of losing control of situations. There are secrets about Stanford's past and his family that he is seeking to uncover  - what price is he willing to pay (perhaps in terms of his humanity) to learn those secrets? How might this be linked to his fear of losing control? How is this connected to the legacy of the ring? Perhaps Stanford inherited some kind of encrypted manuscript with the ring which he has yet been unable to decipher?

Sorcery/Demons: this is connected to the ring, but perhaps some sort of intuitive, innate or inherited sorcerous power. The demon is probably an object (the ring) and is in part behind Stanford's financial success. It may not be something that manifests in any personifed or anthropomorphic way.

The Magus

These are the notes I wrote as GM prior to our most recent play session:


David receives the Demon ring from the estate of his great uncle. He attends a business meeting and strange things happen.

David attends the reading of his father's will. This is the first time in many years that the Stanford family have met up.

David is approached by a representative of the large financial group. He is asked to design sophisticated stock market modelling software for this organisation. The share portfolio represented consists of nanotechnology companies and pharmacological companies. He has subsequently approached by other organisations offering him large sums of money for inside information.

David hires a private detective to investigate his business partners. After gathering some initial information the detective disappears.

David works late one night on his mathematical model. He passes out and has a vision that leads him to believe there is some sort of link between his market model, his Demon ring and his great uncle's interests.


David is believed to be psychotic and is taken to an acute psychiatric ward.

David is tested by the rings needs and desires.


David's family – Catherine, his mother – cold and distant
Robert, his brother – someone whom David is estranged from and whenever they are in contact a great deal of sibling rivalry occurs.
Susan, David's older sister – quiet and conventional she is now a home maker in Berkshire.
Phoebe, the youngest sister – something of a wild child, she takes drugs and lives a bohemian lifestyle on a modest stipend.

Arkady Adalian – head of a group of foreign investors whom David has helped with London property investments. They have an especial interest in the most historic areas of London.

Marcus Tate  - a representative of the Portcullis group, who have an interest in nanotechnology and pharmacology

Sheila Hughes – a corporate lawyer from silver, Cuthbert and Whitlock. She has asked for David's help in maximising solicitors fees from corporate consultancy.

Colin Bostock – a businessman with large sums of money invested in the building trade. He seeks David's help in making his sources of income appear more legitimate.

Michael Bridgeman – a private detective, whom David has employed intermittently for the last five years.

Dr. Ashok Kumar – a psychiatrist on an acute ward in central London. While adopting a biomedical model he is also a devout Hindu with an interest in spirituality.

Dr. Jennifer Collins  - a more conventional psychiatrist she has recently developed a habit of taking drugs from the medicine cabinet on the ward.

Leroy Wilson – an inpatient, deeply psychotic 90% of the time his utterances are confusing or meaningless to other people, although he may think in a far more intuitive way than appreciated by others. He also exhibits some lucidity and has penetrating insights into other people.


Portcullis group – a large organisation whose motives are unclear. They are shrewd investors and plough significant percentage of their profits into ephemeral research and new technologies.