Modifying Binding strength, revisited

Started by lachek, August 07, 2009, 04:25:49 PM

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Over here Ron is saying that Binding strength can improve in the demon's favour (i.e. either weaken towards 0 if the Sorcerer has the upper hand, or strengthen away from 0 if the demon has the upper hand) if its Need is not met. The explanation as to why it might strengthen in the latter case seemed counter-intuitive at first but is sufficient to convince me of how the mechanical and story logics mesh.

Now, my situation: we've started character creation and prep for the post-apocalyptic game I'm describing here. The one-sheet is found here for those who might be interested, adapted from the excellent Afterglow which did almost everything I needed out of the box.

So the characters are essentially technomancers of varying traditions, and the demons are pre-apocalypse technology which, unbeknownst to the characters but fully known to the players, were the very things that caused the apocalypse to occur. The PCs all suffered terribly on their Binding rolls for their starting demons (1, 4, 4 and 5 in the demons' favour respectively) and as such I suspect that the stories that come out of this will in frequently involve the characters trying to either banish or dominate their own demons. Improving one's Binding situation seems to be one thing the players might attempt.

How would this work mechanically? Is the reverse true - if the Sorcerer is really kind and sweet and fulfills the demon's Need a lot, the Binding strength will decrease due to the demon being fulfilled and content? This seems to go against the premise of the setting, where the demons are mostly concerned with bringing about human misery eventually culminating in another apocalypse. Helping the demons fulfill their Needs and Desires "should" not only cause the Sorcerer to lose a truckload's worth of Humanity, but also make them complicit with the demons and thereby more strongly Bound to them, no?

Or, given the nature of demons as mechanical devices and sorcery as pseudo-mystical technological acts like repairing, programming, disabling and so on, should there be a way for the Sorcerers in this setting to do-over their original Binding roll at some point (with the demon getting bonus dice equal to their Binding strength)? At what points in the fiction would it be reasonable to allow this?

On a related note, is it assumed that the original Binding roll is subject to bonus dice, and that this scene should be played out almost like the initiation in DitV? Because if so, I totally hosed the players.

Ron Edwards


I'll start with the easy questions first.

You managed the initial Bindings correctly. Typically this is not role-played, although it should be at least described, and so bonuses do not apply. It is not like initiation in Dogs in the Vineyard.

Regarding the Binding strengths and your specific characters' situation, try to think of it like this. Let's pick just one of them because they are all in essentially the same position, having Bound a demon with the Binding strength in the demon's favor.

All right, the sorcerer fulfills the demon's Need a lot. The Binding strength changes in the sorcerer's favor. We might go, 2 (demon), 1 (demon), 1 (sorcerer), 2 (sorcerer), 3 (sorcerer). It seems reasonable to skip the 0 step because Binding is never neutral.

What you are rightly pointing out is that the Binding is weak in the middle. However, you are reacting to that weakness of the Binding as if it were a greatly significant thing in terms of theme. It's not, really. For one thing, the demon is fat with its Need and is therefore not particularly interested in breaking the Binding, and for another, your description also assumes that at that moment, the sorcerer is not particularly interested in Banishing the demon.

Therefore there is no "problem" to solve. The Binding relationship is present throughout the process.

I do need to explain, however, the dip in strength, from greater than 1, to 1, and then back up again. Why does it do that? The answer is important: it is all about power.

Imagine the demon as a prostitute and the sorcerer as the regular customer. The Need is what the prostitute is paid. The Binding is the fact that they meet regularly with payment being assumed and expected. In the beginning of this process, in the situation you are describing, the prostitute is emotionally and psychologically dominant over the customer. As time goes by, this relationship becomes reversed (for whatever reasons).

Do you see that in such a situation, as such a reversal proceeds bit by bit, there comes a crucial time when the relationship itself is necessarily more at risk than at either end? At either end (i.e. start and finish), the relationship is very strong in the sense that one of the partners is extremely dependent and subordinate, emotionally and psychologically. But there is no possible way that the power imbalance can simply "switch" roles between them. The relationship must undergo a gradual change, and right in the middle, the relationship might be broken more easily than usual.

Does any of that help, or make sense?

Best, Ron


Ah, yes - the prostitute example sorted me out, I think.

When the sorcerer is dominant:
- the Binding is strengthened (in the sorcerer's favour) when the Sorcerer supplies the demon's Need, due to the properties of addiction.
- the Binding is weakened when the Sorcerer refuses to supply the demon's Need, interpreted as the demon gearing up for rebellion.

When the demon is dominant:
- the Binding is strengthened (in the demon's favour) when the Sorcerer does not supply the demon's Need, due to the self-punitive properties of dysfunctional relationships.
- the Binding is weakened when the Sorcerer supplies the demon's Need, due to the demon being momentarily satisfied and being temporarily less dependent on the Sorcerer.

I'm tempted to say that given specific settings, the reverse arrangement when demon-dominant could also be true - that is, the matrix would be identical to the sorcerer-dominant setup. For example, if I have a flamethrower demon whose Need is "napalm", then the Binding is strengthened (in whoever's favour) when the Sorcerer supplies it, interpreted as either Sorcerer or demon being more in control of the situation and the demon less likely to "fail" (i.e. withhold powers). If the Sorcerer fails to secure enough fuel for the flamethrower, the demon is more likely to falter and eventually cease to work entirely. Does that make sense, too?


Um, hold on. I got it backwards, didn't I.

When the sorcerer is dominant:
- the Binding is weakened (+1 for the demon) when the Sorcerer does not supply the demon's Need, interpreted as the demon gearing up for rebellion.
- the Binding is strengthened (+1 for the Sorcerer) when the Sorcerer fulfills the demon's Need, as the Sorcerer acts as the demon's "pusher".

When the demon is dominant:
- the Binding is strengthened (+1 for the demon) when the Sorcerer does not supply the demon's Need, due to the self-punitive properties of dysfunctional relationships.
- the Binding is weakened (+1 for the Sorcerer) when the Sorcerer supplies the demon's Need, due to the demon being momentarily satisfied and being temporarily less dependent on the Sorcerer.

Did I get it right this time?


Oh wow, am I ever confusing myself. Those two are the same thing, aren't they?

One interesting side effect of my confusion: I've realized that the Binding is essentially a "relationship score", but that the mechanics around that relationship score purposely never allow for a functional relationship. Initially I was thinking "well, what is the Sorcerer also had a Need?", and of course they do - compare the prostitute and the customer analogy, where the customer obviously also has a Need to fulfill. In the game, the Sorcerer's Need is never articulated in a way that's as straightforward as the demon's, but the Need is there - it is what caused the Sorcerer to summon the demon in the first place, and what now keeps him from banishing it. The difference is, the Sorcerer's Need is not mechanized - it is up to the player to define that Need and its "strength" as they play. On the other hand, demonic Needs are simple 2-dimensional affairs grounded in the very nature of demonic existence.

So you cannot mechanically model a two-sided Need relationship (compare The Sims, for example, where both parties have a relationship score and the intersection of that score determines the exact nature of the relationship) because then you could model a functional relationship where both parties are equally invested. In Sorcerer, one side is always the abused, and the other is always the abuser. This isn't necessarily hard to model in the fiction if you discard the notion of a having a functional relationship with your demon.

Ron Edwards

I am pretty sure that you have nailed it. You kind of went around and around to get there, but it was an interesting journey to read.

I'd be interested in your views of Trollbabe relationships, which are a very different mechanic based on a very different kind of interaction.

Best, Ron