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Author Topic: The First Ever campaign setting  (Read 5043 times)
Finarvyn
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« on: August 29, 2010, 05:41:19 PM »

The threads on the history of Sorcerer got me thinking.

Gary Gygax had Greyhawk. Dave Arneson had Blackmoor. James Ward had the Starship Warden. Throughout gaming history, the "first ever" campaign settings tend to be memorable and famous.

So ... what was the first ever Sorcerer campaign that Ron ran?

One guess that I had was the sample setting in the Sorcerer rulebook.It seems to be fleshed out pretty well and could almost be considered ready to run as-is.

Another guess that I had was Demon Cops, which is Ron's entry in the "early six" mini-supplement group.

Or was it something else?
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Marv (Finarvyn)
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« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2010, 08:40:28 PM »

That's a great topic. It was something else. Actually, it was two games, played over most of 1995, possibly overlapping although one seems definitely "later" in my memory. I'd already played Sorcerer, which is to say, the rules-notions which did become the eventual rules, a couple-three times. These were the first pretty long-term, pretty dedicated games.

For perspective, the house party scenario was built more-or-less throughout this period, but wasn't played in a dedicated fashion until I took the game to local game days at game stores, and local cons in 1996-97. Demon Cops was much later, in 2000, during the publication process for the core book.

ONE

The players were Dan Kazi, Camille Throckmorton and Jonathan Stambaugh. Dan was a young filmmaker who lived in apartment adjoining mine. His character was Nancy, pretty much a direct grab from the character played by Fairuza Balk in the movie The Craft (Dan had kind of a thing about this actress), with Stamina 2, Will 3, and Lore 5, defined as Adept and Mad. Plus her demon was over-the-top horror-awful, with Power 11 or 12, really freaking strong and psycho. It was more or less an occult force with time and space and ... well, it was bad news. Jonathan was his friend and also a student at the Whirling Tiger kung fu school, whose instructor was a friend of mine (and also a talented artist; the ones with the subway and the woman reading the scary book are his). Jonathan's character was, if I recall correctly, less memorable, but kind of a fun guy. I don't remember his demon at all. Camille was a very good friend of mine via a variety of gamer and other connections, whose character Lupa was the heir to a Latino gangster family, with a tattoo demon named Raimondi ... which as it happens, Camille herself later got tattooed on her actual ass. I should mention that all of us were at that time intense fans of both Hong Kong gangster drama and rather embarassingly B-martial arts flicks. Golly, that takes me back.

Anyway, what this game taught me was how well the fictional-framework categories of the game, like demon Types among other stuff, intertwined with the dice. The bit in the core book about how to deal with simultaneous Parasite and Possessor in the same host came from this one.

The other thing that came out of this game was the dice currency itself showing its stuff. We found out how well the roll-over mechanic worked.

In terms of story, it's not too clear in my memory except that it was very violent, with a strong dose of surrealism that kind of slipped it to the players unexpectedly. The big demon pretty much became the villain of the piece ...

... Oh, holy shit! I forgot until just now! This was the game which produced some of the stuff in Chapter 7, specifically the Cult of the Dark Lady. Wow, now I remember, all that sex-transgressive stuff, and the madness stuff ... whew, we actually got sort of philosophically deep among all the apattered body fluids. Some of the story involved revising time, and not merely in the "change the past" way, but revising what time is.

Dan was impressed by my use of contemporary spaces and concepts, for example, having a great deal of a scene occur through the parts of an airport you don't see as a traveler, rendering the familiar utterly unfamiliar without any magical effects at all. Most of the plot came from GM-framing and my own plans getting manifested through play. I hadn't quite learned something about that yet, which the next game was to show me. But the plus side was learning how much fun it was to have a character descend well into the worst depths of Humanity loss, yet not be de-protagonized. Nancy had been essentially set up for disaster by Dan's initial character creation choices, and we all learned that in this game, that disaster was only the start of when you got to play your character, not the ending.

TWO

The players were Ron Stone, Margie Klugermann, and Taer Bluitt, although Taer didn't play past the first couple of sessions. I was living in Gainesville, Florida, about exactly half through my Ph.D. program. I knew them mainly through the game, comics, and bookstore Novel Ideas, where Ron worked. This was the time I figured out - literally in the prep for session three or four - what this game was capable of. The whole idea of "story prep" which I'd wrestled with for a solid decade blew away like smoke.

The game-fiction was set in my home town area, the Monterey Peninsula in central coastal California, the same that I later messed with fictionally in Demon Cops and the Forbidden Tome scenario. This version wasn't dressed up anywhere near as those; the only fictional addition was that I changed the names of the towns and exaggerated their traits slightly.

Ron made up a guy who'd just been released from prison, a mild accountant sort with the somewhat off-stereotype scores of Stamina 6, Will 3, Lore 1. His demon was a family heirloom ring with a very interesting personality and Boost Stamina. He liked the idea of this kind of nebbishy guy who could throw a truck if he had to. Margie made up a nun with Stamina 4, Will 4, Lore 2, who was dedicated to saving demons' souls, and her current demon was a sort of zesty, mischievous wind-spirit. I got the idea that the nun liked the demons a bit more than she let herself know. Taer made up a private investigator with a demon pal, a childhood friend named "JIm," with a sinister side. I don't recall his character's scores ... maybe a mirror of Ron's, at 3-6-1. I just flashed on his name, though: Grey.

My initial prep was fully based on my own back-story and my notions of clues that the characters might discover about that. Here were the components.

1. A demon based almost entirely on a brilliant demon concept from ... I believe it was Blood Shadows, an entirely unsuccessful RPG conceptually speaking, from WEG. The idea was the demon skinned someone, wore its skin, and only figured out that it was a demon when the skin started to slough off, then did it over and over again, attempting entirely sincerely each time to live a normal life as whoever it thought it was at the time. I loved this and ripped it right off. Uhhhh ... poor choice of words. Anyway, I worked out a whole history of who it had killed and the lives it had lived over the last couple of decades. I believe I named it "Scatch."

2. A back-story concerning a sorcerer who'd died, the same one who'd summoned Scatch, and ... hard to recall this now ... I also made up a young woman who had been a little girl mixed up in the death of the sorcerer, now grown up. She had a demon buddy too, a nice guy who protected her, and she didn't really realize that she was a sorceress.

Putting these together yielded a bunch of different groups, well, not organizations in the RPG sense of the time, but concentrations of people in the community. One was a sort of horrific child-abuse clique, influenced by my reading lots of stuff by Andrew Vachss. There was a really fucked-up bunch who thought they were occultists. Oh yeah! And how could I forget ... I'd just seen the movie version of Legion ("Exorcist III") on Ron's advice and so as it turned out, included a very fine asylum. Still proud of that one.

All of these things were the flotsam and wreckage left over from the initial badness of the sorcerer, who had a great name which I might remember if I think about it some more, as well as the horrors inflicted by Scatch over the past decade or two.

Well, as you can see, I had a bit too much going on. I also didn't respect the Kickers well enough, and they weren't all that strong anyway. Ron's character was "just out of prison." Margie's, I don't remember. To be fair to the three of us, although I'd written the rule, none of us really knew what to do with it relative to prep. Also, Taer had a terrible time coming up with any Kicker and eventually accepted a suggestion that he'd himself found the discarded skin of a former Scatch victim under his patio. But this was definitely him holding out until the GM provided a standard hook; I didn't realize until much later what was up with him as a player. I was to see it many times later, with Sorcerer and other games.

The first couple of sessions were good in their way, for three of us. Margie and Ron really got into the setting and found their feet with these characters, kind of grooving on the bad-yet-gratifying relationships with the demons. Both of their characters were pretty nice people who thought of themselves as empowered to do a little good if they got the chance. As I recall, nearly all the conflicts and action scenes in the first two sessions were canned, meaning, I'd prepped them, shoved the characters into them during play, and ran them with a strong idea of what the scene was for and what they should know. You know ... "good GMing."

Taer dropped out rather abruptly, and it was clear he had decided that he wasn't enjoying himself. It was a little mysterious at the time in some ways because the rest of us had really liked his character and the fucked-up friend, "mad bad and dangerous to know." We missed out on the fact that Taer had different ideas on why and how to play, and although it's a guess, I think he was expecting more of a dedicated effort on my part to make his character cool and effective, and for his demon to be more of an asset by default. Whereas Margie and Ron were really pumped by the fact that they, and only they, could play their characters, and that the demons were problematic as well as effective. To be fair to Taer, a Passing demon is a whole double-handful of Too Much Trouble.

The NPC play was working pretty well. The young woman had clicked well with the remaining players, so they were invested in her situation and concerned that her demon ("Jake?" not sure) was itself set to go out of control if she didn't figure out a few things. A woman named Sally had sort of blossomed from a throwaway character into a lot of fun. The two active player-characters were quite invested in finding out my back-story, and so, in terms of standard "good GMing," everything seemed to be going hunky dory. Story, right? Story role-playing, right? Good story?

Except that when prepping for a session, I suddenly realized something. I had my various NPCs. I had my back-story. I had the locations. And ... there was no point whatsoever in planning a God damned thing. What would they do next? Whatever they announced. What would the demons do next, individually? Whatever I thought/felt was what they'd do, in the moment. What would happen in any given location or scene or combination of characters at the moment? Whatever would happen when we played it.

My prep evaporated. I had the materials. I had a strong sense of personal judgment, investment in characters, and simple passion about the topics. The player-characters were solid engines of internal conflict and externally-directed attention to what was happening around them. Wow, I said. I don't need to prep events at all!

I mean, zero. No events. I had the stuff, and all we needed to do was keep playing. Holy fucking shit. I took a deep breath, drew a few circles-and-arrows diagrams to remind myself who was who, and went into the next session without a safety net.

I swear to God you would never believe how much fun the next few sessions were, up to and including the climax of our story and of the Kickers. Did the young woman undergo memory-therapy with a hard-nosed hippy counselor ... which resulted in resurrecting the dead sorcerer? Did Scatch actually become a sympathetic character, for a demon anyway? Did Sally give birth to Jim in a horrific re-summoning ritual after Jim was banished, after having killed Grey? Did both sorcerer player-characters utterly transform into bad-asses on the knife-edge between moral judgment and mortal arrogance? Did they go into that asylum, to give us all (the real people) nightmares for years to come? Yes, yes, and yes.

I had no idea it was going to get that good. All I had to do was play my characters and trust my own aesthetic judgments about where/when to open and close scenes. The more I cared about what was going on right then, and the less I cared about how it was going to turn out, the better it got. Ron and Margie felt as if their characters were, basically for the first time ever, freed from any kind of expectation or pre-established role they must fit into to be "played right," and instead, were those two characters in their own right, who would take whatever was thrown at them and damned well say and do whatever they would. It was exhilarating, scary, and ultimately liberating.

Well, I hope that was interesting. All questions and comments are welcome. I found myself remembering lots of details as I went along, so I bet if you ask stuff, it'll jog my memory even more.

Best, Ron
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Finarvyn
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« Reply #2 on: August 30, 2010, 02:24:42 PM »

That's a great topic. It was something else. Actually, it was two games, played over most of 1995, possibly overlapping although one seems definitely "later" in my memory. I'd already played Sorcerer, which is to say, the rules-notions which did become the eventual rules, a couple-three times. These were the first pretty long-term, pretty dedicated games.

<major snip>

Well, I hope that was interesting. All questions and comments are welcome. I found myself remembering lots of details as I went along, so I bet if you ask stuff, it'll jog my memory even more.
More than just "interesting", those sound like amazing sessions!

Getting into your head like this ... to "see" something of the early days and how the game evolved from one phase to another ... this is great stuff.

I'm kind of bummed in a way, however, to realize that there isn't a "Ron's World" that I could run my players through in the same way they could run through Blackmoor. Part of me was hoping for something like this....  :-D
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Marv (Finarvyn)
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greyorm
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« Reply #3 on: August 30, 2010, 09:08:11 PM »

I'm kind of bummed in a way, however, to realize that there isn't a "Ron's World" that I could run my players through in the same way they could run through Blackmoor. Part of me was hoping for something like this....

I think, Marv, if you consider it for a bit, you'll realize why there can't be a "Ron's World" or "original campaign setting" to run around in with Sorcerer. Not in the way of a D&D setting or similar. (Though the Psyche Junkies and Cult of the Dark Lady stuff is pretty fantastic and kind of qualifies, even if it isn't "fleshed out" in the "and htis is a setting" manner.)

Actually, now I'm thinking a discussion of the culture of setting fetish in gaming might be an interesting one, especially as to how Sorcerer is (subconsciously?) written as a reaction towards it, or is quietly subversive of it via settings like "Dictionary of Mu" and similar.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #4 on: September 08, 2010, 09:19:43 AM »

That's a great topic.  <etc.>

Where's the "Like" button?

That was awesome.  As an inveterate planner, I aspire to that kind of in-the-moment story-gaming.  Thanks,

-John

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Calithena
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« Reply #5 on: October 27, 2010, 05:09:27 PM »

I'm kind of bummed in a way, however, to realize that there isn't a "Ron's World" that I could run my players through in the same way they could run through Blackmoor. Part of me was hoping for something like this....  :-D

I've been hoping Ron would give us more of this for years. Ron is good at making weird shit up. I am in this first and foremost for the weird shit. I also enjoy Ron's games and theorizing, but for some reason he seems to do almost all his publishing on this end, whereas what a lot of us are still clamoring for out here is Ron's Big Book of Weird Shit.

Just sayin'.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: October 27, 2010, 06:29:33 PM »

Sean, what do you mean by "do all his publishing on this end"? That phrasing threw me off my horse.

Best, Ron
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Calithena
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« Reply #7 on: October 28, 2010, 01:25:39 AM »

Your publications are mostly self-contained games, gaming theory, and how-to articles. These things often contain snippets of stuff (especially campaign setting details, but also characters, situations, magical imagery, etc.) which are really cool. 'Color' and 'setting' in the Big Model lexicon, perhaps.

I think that for theoretical reasons and as a matter of personal taste you often keep that stuff very minimal and only have it in your books to the degree that it illustrates what you can do with the game, technique, whatever you are discussing. In some cases (Trollbabe) there is definite color and setting provided at the game level, but only an absolute minimum, so that anyone playing the game is rather forced to make their own Trollbabe World (this can of course be done bit by bit in play). In other cases (Sorcerer), there are pieces of dozens of different colors and settings, mostly to illustrate the underlying structure of the game.

Which is all great! But you must know that there are many gamers, myself included, who would love to read/own/use things like "The Az'k'arn Worldbook" or "The Northern Isles: A Trollbabe Mini-Campaign" or even "Ron Edwards' Monstrous Compendium" - even if they were just systemless compilations of setting details and descriptions. In some cases such products could even be helpful sort of 'training wheels' for your games.

I suspect that you have little interest in publishing such things. But the point of my post was that I think you have a real skill at making up weird fantasy content. You mostly only publish that stuff in the context of game-making and theorizing, though, and only to the minimum degree needed to make your game or theoretical point clear. I can see good reasons for this choice on your part, especially 5-10 years back, in the fight to make clear space for clearly different approaches to roleplaying. But, I also wish I had these big books of Ron Edwards Weird Fantasy Stuff on my shelf.

So that's where I was coming from in my original post.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: October 28, 2010, 01:37:22 PM »

Yeah, that's kind of strange to read.

I'm trying to come up with a response that isn't an attack, and isn't readable as an attack. There are some phrasings and assumptions in your post which I find problematic.

I also think that I provide a hell of a lot of this kind of content in my games, and most of the games I've done would be actively hampered by the inclusion of extensive setting material, so the observation seems to be about whether I should be writing and publishing gazetteers instead of games.

I guess I can accept the compliment and leave it there.

Best, Ron
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Calithena
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« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2010, 09:33:01 AM »

I appreciate that. It is intended as a compliment, most definitely.
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Finarvyn
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« Reply #10 on: October 30, 2010, 05:42:10 AM »

I can see both sides of this.
1. I agree that Ron does insert a heck of a lot of this into each book. Sometimes as short examples, other times as more lengthy chapters. (And sometimes freebie info in posts in threads like this one.) That's pretty cool.
2. I also agree that a mini-supplement style publication which would be only about individual campaigns of Ron's would be fantastic as well. I'm sure that's my old-school D&D roots coming out, but I like to look at "modules" and having a Ron's World of Sorcerer or Ron's World of Trollbabe book would be most excellent. I guess I'm thinking something like "I encourage you to make your own world, but this is the one I did that started the whole thing rolling..."

Just my two cents.
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Marv (Finarvyn)
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Finarvyn
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« Reply #11 on: October 30, 2010, 05:55:20 AM »

Actually, it occurs to me that there are a couple of types of writers.
(1) You like it? I can make more of it!
(2) Glad you like it, but it's old news now. I've move on to my newest thing.
(3) You like it? Too bad, because I've made my money and I'm done.

I think a lot about this. George Lucas seems to be in cateory #1 and #3 since we keep begging him for more Star Wars but he refuses to do it, or when he finally does it we find it's the same old thing repackaged. Some of my most favorite authors are #1 (for example, Roger Zelazny and Amber).

I think that Ron is in category #2.Not to put words in his mouth, but when we ask for more Sorcerer stuff he seems to think "but I've already done Sorcerer. Why would I want to do it again? This is what I'm thinking about right now..."

Not a bad thing, but sometimes frustrating to those of us who like #1. :-)
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Marv (Finarvyn)
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« Reply #12 on: November 04, 2010, 02:27:44 PM »

Hey Ron,
Y'know, there's nothing wrong with, like, making a cool, crazy coffee-table book. It's not like you'd have to market (disengenuously, as you've pointed out many times about this sort of thing) it as "gaming material." It could always be just a, y'know, book. "I thought this stuff was cool and nicely diverting to look at. Maybe you will too!"

Just sayin'.
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