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Author Topic: Sorcerer and Steam  (Read 2567 times)
Erik Weissengruber
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Posts: 601

Designing "In this Sign, Conquer:


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« on: July 01, 2010, 05:08:15 AM »

I am setting up the basics for a Sorcerer session at an upcoming convention.  It will be a 2-parter: Part 1 will be the set-up of a 1 sheet and characters, Part 2 will set the players loose in what they created.

Ray Bradbury's Introduction to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea contains an image of the mad scientist as a blasphemer which is the springboard for my thinking:

"n sum, Nemo skins together and rivets tight the very symbol most feared and whispered of by Ahab's mind and Ahab's crew.  Casting aside any doubts, precluding any inhibitions, Nemo intrudes to the monster's marrow, disinhabits mysticism, evicts terrors like so much trash, and proceeds to police the universe beneath, setting it to rights, harvesting its strange crops, be they animal, vegetable, or mineral-gold from sunken fool's ships to be distributed to the world's needy." (7)

Which requires him, I might add, to drag his crew to their doom, terrorize the sea lanes, kidnap, murder, etc.  So his mad science comes at a cost to himself and the people around him.  Sounds like a sorcerer with Humanity problems to me.

Premise: ------ still needs defining

Sorcery:
- If the 19th century's watchwords are Order & Progress & Reason, then the sorcerer must blaspheme against one or more of them.  To blaspheme is to transgress publicly.  The sorcery need not be public but the blasphemy must be.

Humanity:
- Self-sacrifice: putting others' needs before your own comfort, safety, survival, or prestige.  So, yes, some Victorian paragons are also paragons of Humanity, including some missionaries, soldiers, entrepreneurs, administrators, scientists.  But is every religious fanatic, Colonel Blimp/Mister Kurtz, robber baron, imperial bureaucrat, steam savant high on Humanity.  Far from it. 

Inspiration:
Difference Engine
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The City o' Gloom setting for Deadlands (for colour)

Two Things To Remember:
- Not everything Inhuman is Sorcerous
- Not everything Blasphemous is Sorcerous

More later.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: July 01, 2010, 12:31:32 PM »

Hi!

My thinking on that issue goes as follows ...

1. If you have a WMD, especially one which may strike a target of your choosing effectively at will, then you are an international power.

2. An international power will eventually gather to it one or more political parties and certainly a number of potential allies, probably unofficial ones. Much of this has to do with whom you threaten with the power and whom you use it on, if anyone, and why.

3. If enough people support these parties and alliances, and if various trade or military contracts are established, then you are now a nation.

Best, Ron
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Erik Weissengruber
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Posts: 601

Designing "In this Sign, Conquer:


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« Reply #2 on: July 01, 2010, 01:46:13 PM »

I was uncertain as to who the characters would be.  There could have been low-level scramblers and tinkerers like the protagonists of Difference Engine (and also the kinds of figures about whom the folks at Steampunk magazine weave their fantasies).  But it might be fun to have folks who in addition to real temporal power have real sorcerous power.

Perhaps the protagonists are like Canada's Gerard Bull: spurned by his nation at home, he develops high powered canon and shops them around to dictators like Saddam Hussein until Mossad does away with him.  Not a very powerful man but a very dangerous one.

The mashup I'd like to see is the rigid class society of Victorian England face to face with the problems of the twentieth century: the spectre of total war (via blimps, land leviathans, submarines), the administrative/control/surveillance technologies facilitated by advanced computing (Difference Engines), environmental degradation (via the new superfuel, which still has to be mined with human labour).

I'm thinking around 1866: the liberal nationalist revolts of Europe are effectively crushed but assassins are all about, Prussia is on the move towards liberalization, the French are intervening in Mexico, slavery abolished in the USA, re-united USA turning west.

I was thinking of a dark, ultra-dense conurbation for the setting.  What I may do now his have sweeping international intrigue, which goes along with Verne's adventure tales.  Perhaps the rituals have to take place during some sort of exploration -- foreign lands, enemy territory, new fields of science, the depths of the oceans, the peaks of mountains, etc.  The people clearing territory for empire may get public acclaim or get scolded for their reckless ambition.  But there real aim is not order and progress but something "other."  So it would be Verne/Conan Doyle/Harry Flashman with phantasmagoric echoes of Poe and Shelly and Byron.

Blasphemers could include Anarchists & Rebels (Blasphemers against Order), Mystics/Religious Fanatics/Conspirators/Occultists (Blasphemers against Progress), Visionaries/Lunatics/Monomaniacs (Blasphemers against Reason-as -science) or Atheists/Daredevils/Decadents (Blasphemers against Reason-as-Religion [the state-sanctioned religion of England]).

Technology that complicates the world but is not sorcerous:
- Analytic Engines
- Koshuth's Crystal: polluting superfuel extracted by human labour under difficult conditions (like Deadlands' Ghost Rock)
- Pilatrium: like helium, only moreso and less explosive, enabling lighter than air flight
- Faraday Process: enabling tough but light steel alloys to provide the body for steam machinery
- Swedenbourg Coils: storage, transmission, projection of electric energy

Technology that could be introduced by the right mad scientist with the help of sorcery;
- mesmerism
- instant communication (that's right: no radio without some demons!)
- Babsonium or some other anti-gravity shielding
- summoning ectoplasm
- spirit photography
[last 2 are more late-19th, early 20th c.]
- artificial intelligence
- resurrecting the dead
- transferring minds
- traveling to other dimensions
- space travel

Anyway, a few more starting points will be recorded here.  Then I will do a con report in Actual Play.
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Erik Weissengruber
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« Reply #3 on: July 02, 2010, 07:24:12 AM »

Last few pieces:

I will pitch for these but allow player input.

Premise: What would you do to become the most prestigious technoscientific genius of the age?
(focus squarely on mad scientists, explorers, tinkerers)

Lore: Blasphemous insights
- speculations that contravene accepted canons of Order, Progress, or Reason (religious or secular)
- questionable, controversial, forgotten, discredited, scandalous, paranormal, radical theories NOT the steamtech that is already transforming the world
- importing post-1850's concepts (quantum mechanics, non-Euclidian geometry, genetics, game theory, evolutionary psychology, whatever) requires sorcery
(allowing some play between alternative history and players' engagement with more recent ways of thinking -- productive anachronism)
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Erik Weissengruber
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Designing "In this Sign, Conquer:


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« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2010, 07:26:02 AM »

Something to remember from Story Games

http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=12422&page=1#Item_0

"It was identifying this sense of alienation that really helped me get over an obstacle that I had been working on - how to get people to cook up a good character without getting wrapped up in boring Victoriana. The whole point of Victorian-era heroes is that they broke molds and didn't, couldn't, or refused to fit in and play by the rules."
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Erik Weissengruber
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« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2010, 03:59:11 PM »

I will be using a collage exercise I have used when getting theatre productions off of the ground to get us on the same creative page for the creation of a 1-sheet.

There will be a large piece of bristol board, a pile of cut out quotes, and a pile of images.  Participants will select an image and a quotation inspired by our "steampunk and sorcery" starting place.  We provisionally place them, add more images and create a large collage.  We then refer to it when working on colour, the rituals, PCs and NPC, etc.  I don't think we need to refer to it during play, but who knows.

The images are from a variety of sources (history books, RPGs, Google).

The quotations are all taken from Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Here are some of my faves:

"He was no longer an ordinary man like me, but the Man of the Sea, the Spirit of the Waters" (367)

"May the contemplation of so many wonders extinguish in him the spirit of revenge!  May the judge disappear and the scientist continue his peaceful exploration of the seas!  However strange his destiny may be, it is also sublime!"  (371)

" 'I am the law and justice!  I am the oppressed, and there is the oppressor!  It is through him I lost everything I ever loved, cherished or worshiped -- my country, wife, children, father, mother!  I saw them all perish!  Everything I hate is there!  Now shut your mouth!' " (360)

"When we get back on land ... after seeing such wonders of nature, what will we think of those miserable continents and the tiny things produced by the hand of man?  No, civilization is no longer worthy of us!"  (310)

"It's magnificient, even though it makes me furious to have to admit it!  I've never seen anything like it.  But this sight could cost us our necks.  And to be frank, I feel as if we're looking at things God didn't intend for the eyes of man!"  (310)

"   '[E]ven though it's impossible, let's say that Captain Nemo offered you your freedom today.  Would you accept it?'
   'I don't know,' I replied.
   'And if he added that the offer wound never be renewed, would you accept then?'
   I did not answer.  " (225)

"He still felt that the commander of the Nautilus was merely one of those unrecognized scientists full of contempt for a world which has treated them with such indifference.  He still thought of him as a misunderstood genius who had been deceived by life on earth and therefore taken refuge in an inaccessible region where his instincts could have free play.  But to my way of thinking, this theory only explained one side of Captain Nemo."  (178)







http://www.archive.org/details/CollageImagesForSorcererDemo
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Erik Weissengruber
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Posts: 601

Designing "In this Sign, Conquer:


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« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2010, 05:50:36 AM »

The internet archive doesn't take photos.

Here is a link:

http://s197.photobucket.com/albums/aa253/epweissengruber/Hobbies/SorcererCollageImages/
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Erik Weissengruber
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Posts: 601

Designing "In this Sign, Conquer:


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« Reply #7 on: July 13, 2010, 09:09:40 AM »

The "phantasmagorical" seems to be part of the aesthetic of the authors of 19thc. fiction and retro-Steampunk aesthetics.  Some ideas to throw around.

http://www.gla.ac.uk/departments/esharp/issues/14winter2009imaginationandinnovation/abstracts/#d.en.138654

The aim of this article is to examine a particular type of imaginative vision, one that is specifically 'phantasmagorical' and characterised by rapidly transforming collections of imaginary and fantastic forms. The attraction of the monstrous, the grotesque and the strangely beautiful is at the heart of this phantasmagorical imagination and it produces an aesthetic based on collections of oddities and exotica. However, in different periods this aesthetic is viewed in markedly different ways. This article examines two eras with contrasting views of this same imaginative 'taste' - the eighteenth century and the fin-de-siècle. In the eighteenth century the phantasmagorical aesthetic is tied to the contemporary fashionability of curiosity. From fashionable collections of curiosities and 'curious' travel accounts there evolved an aesthetic based on wonder, peculiarity and spectacle. Contemporary accounts, though, show a tendency to criticise this aesthetic, labelling it as superficial and immoral, an attitude that can be seen clearly in satiric descriptions of collectors or curiosi such as Sir Nicholas Gimcrack in Thomas Shadwell's The Virtuoso. By contrast, fin-de-siècle writers such as Lord Dunsany, Oscar Wilde and J. K. Huysmans liberate the phantasmagorical imagination from the moral dubiousness it possessed during the eighteenth century. These writers have a propensity to celebrate their imaginative strangeness and excesses because of its obvious departure from bland normality. The phantasmagorical imagination is often depicted as an imagination that rebels against the common and the everyday and substitutes a more intense and more vital imaginative experience.
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Erik Weissengruber
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Posts: 601

Designing "In this Sign, Conquer:


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« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2010, 01:32:37 PM »

The "phantasmagorical" seems to be part of the aesthetic of the authors of 19thc. fiction and retro-Steampunk aesthetics.  Some ideas to throw around.

http://www.gla.ac.uk/departments/esharp/issues/14winter2009imaginationandinnovation/abstracts/#d.en.138654

The aim of this article is to examine a particular type of imaginative vision, one that is specifically 'phantasmagorical' and characterised by rapidly transforming collections of imaginary and fantastic forms. The attraction of the monstrous, the grotesque and the strangely beautiful is at the heart of this phantasmagorical imagination and it produces an aesthetic based on collections of oddities and exotica. However, in different periods this aesthetic is viewed in markedly different ways. This article examines two eras with contrasting views of this same imaginative 'taste' - the eighteenth century and the fin-de-siècle. In the eighteenth century the phantasmagorical aesthetic is tied to the contemporary fashionability of curiosity. From fashionable collections of curiosities and 'curious' travel accounts there evolved an aesthetic based on wonder, peculiarity and spectacle. Contemporary accounts, though, show a tendency to criticise this aesthetic, labelling it as superficial and immoral, an attitude that can be seen clearly in satiric descriptions of collectors or curiosi such as Sir Nicholas Gimcrack in Thomas Shadwell's The Virtuoso. By contrast, fin-de-siècle writers such as Lord Dunsany, Oscar Wilde and J. K. Huysmans liberate the phantasmagorical imagination from the moral dubiousness it possessed during the eighteenth century. These writers have a propensity to celebrate their imaginative strangeness and excesses because of its obvious departure from bland normality. The phantasmagorical imagination is often depicted as an imagination that rebels against the common and the everyday and substitutes a more intense and more vital imaginative experience.

Lessons learned
1) These things are attractive
- monsters
- the grotesque
- the strangely beautiful
2) The collection of these oddities is key to the aesthetic, not their mere appearance
3) The 20th and the 21st centuries add 2 more takes on the phantasmagoric (and I must not forget that a late-18th century Gothic is at work in later recursions)
4) The rebellion of a morally irresponsible phantasmagoric imagination against a bland normality (a gesture that Alan Moore et. al still make) loses a great deal of it's potency in a cultural environment swimming in phantasmagoria pumped out by T.V.'s, computers, portable gaming units, CGI movies, etc.)
5) Curiosity
- as personality trait
- a cabinet of curios
- curios voyages
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Erik Weissengruber
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Posts: 601

Designing "In this Sign, Conquer:


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« Reply #9 on: August 31, 2010, 08:31:22 AM »

Anyone interested in the results of my little experiment can dig this Wiki

http://sorcererandsteamsetting.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

Initial prep as discussed on these pages got me jazzed.  And the collage elements got the participants going.  But my initial ideas were subjected to some ruthless and the whole project took on a new direction.  But a new direction I am happy with.

Beginning with colour really helps in the decision-making process.  The following questions were all answered by players pointing to images or quotes on the collage:
- "What does sorcery look like?"
- "What's an example of someone losing humanity?"
- "Who is gaining humanity?"
- "What kind of sorcerers do we have?"
- "What kind of demons do we have?"
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