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Author Topic: [Sorcerer] Training run: London, June 1966  (Read 4222 times)
John S
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« on: September 05, 2010, 07:54:25 AM »

After my wife's brother saw us playing Tunnels & Trolls with my daughter and nephew, he started frequently expressing interest in joining the game. He's been playing Dragon Age on the Playstation, and wanted to jump into tabletop role-playing, which he had experienced only once or twice some twenty years ago. He created his T&T Rogue, and after playing several sessions with him, I began to think he was interested in darker themes than what we were exploring with T&T. He also expressed some affinity toward the priorities of Story Now, without knowing that there are games that do that. In our last T&T session, his character descended into the tomb of the ancient Dwarven Wight Lord, and instead of fighting the entombed boss, he decided to free him from his iron-maiden armor and ask him for favors of wealth and power. As I processed that experience, I began to think he might be keen to play Sorcerer.

On Friday, I shared with him a one-sheet I've been working on, and he created a character. Initially I thought the story would be set in the 1890s, but he invented a bunch of details related to his character's cover and relationships that were both rich with bang-delivery hooks and anachronistic, so we moved it to 1966. While mulling over his kicker, I realized it was a perfect kicker for the "training run" scenario in the book, if I made some changes to fit what lore, demons, and sorcerer are in this setting. We played our first session last night, and he really liked the faster pace of conflict resolution and scene framing.

I may report more about the actual play later, but first I have a two rule questions related to Spawn:
  • The rule says that a spawn may not be bound-- does that mean a spawn is bound to no one, or that it's automatically bound to the same sorcerer who bound its "parent"?
  • If a spawning demon has the ability "link" can it be "linked" with its spawn (as defined when the demon is created), or only with its master?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2010, 04:17:29 PM »

Hiya,

A spawn isn't bound to anyone. A sorcerer can tell it what to do, but there are no bonuses standing there for one side or the other as modifiers.

That's an interesting question about Link. I may review the rules in a legalistic fashion, but until I do that, I think the best way to do it is to say that if the Spawn has Link, then the parent demon may be considered the linked party. However, the parent demon has Link as strictly described in the rules.

Best, Ron
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John S
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« Reply #2 on: September 07, 2010, 09:53:12 AM »

Thanks for the rules clarification on Spawn! I'm using the Training Run scenario to work out the kinks in a onesheet I've been working on for the world of Bram Stoker's Dracula. I've drawn my inspiration mostly from the novel, supplemented by the Francis Ford Coppola film, with global color from the Hellboy comics by Mike Mignola. I'm also keen to convey some atmosphere from the Castlevania series of video games, especially Symphony of the Night.

In order to establish the Lore and Sorcery of this setting in concrete terms, I'm following advice I saw recently here on the forum: create a demon, and frame Sorcerous rituals in terms of the demon's desires and needs. Using the novel, I've written up Dracula as a kind of ultimate demon of the setting-- in Bram Stoker's fiction Dracula is not a species: he is described a sorcerer who became something like the Antichrist or the Beast of the Apocalypse. But even without apocalyptic assumptions, his powers alone make him bigger than any demon I've ever seen in Sorcerer supplements before, and I wonder if I'm doing something wrong-- here's what I have:

Count Dracula

Dracula has many forms, but his primal form is a foul cloud of darkness that emanates from the corpse of a Transylvanian noble.

Type: Inconspicuous
Telltale: Eyes flash with the the fires of hell, no reflection (all forms); Numerous flaming red eyes (primal form)
Desire: Power
Need: To rest with his corpse in the unholy earth of his homeland

"Inconspicuous" may seem like an odd choice, but I note that in the novel, Dracula only appears to his victims, who become identified with him, and later to those who are hunting him (sorcerers). Otherwise he is "hard to perceive": Jonathan Harker sees only his own face in the mirror when the Count enters his room, and the mother of a child devoured by the vampire recognizes Harker as the monster!

The Telltale for his inconspicuous form is the only bit I've taken from a source other than the novel-- the "numerous flaming red eyes" emerging from the shadow is visually ripped off from the Dracula character in Hellsing manga.

Stamina: 15 Unnatural Means
Will: 15 Aristocrat, Lover
Lore: 15 Inhuman
Power: 16

Because Dracula has the Cover ability, I've given him descriptors that apply to his human form.

Abilities
  • Miasma of Darkness: Includes passive Cloak and Shadow
  • Ravening Tooth & Claw: Lethal Special Damage
  • Soul of the Night: Dracula can transform into a wolf, bat, rat swarm, or mist, traversing darkness with great speed in the manner of these animals. He cannot cross vast bodies of water. (Travel) [The impact of these forms on the novel struck me as color for the Count's Travel ability rather than Shapeshifting.]
  • Predatory Senses: Dracula can see in darkness, hear heartbeats, and smell living blood (Perception)
  • Carnal Dominance: Daze (applied to Social rolls to resist the demon's seduction or terror, not perception)
  • Feed on Living Blood: Dracula drinks the blood of his prey, restoring his youth and vigor; the victim looses a point of Humanity, triggering the demon's healing. (Includes Taint and Vitality)
  • Devil's Contagion: Embrace a victim, drinking each other's blood; the victim is Tainted and becomes the host of a Possessor-type Spawn Linked to its sire. (Includes Taint, Spawn, and Link)
  • Power of Sire: Command vermin and beasts of prey
  • Invulnerable to unconsecrated weapons: Includes Armor, and Big
  • Soul of Prince: When sated on human blood, the Count can take on the form of a young, vital human male with the skills of a highly cultured foreign noble. (Includes Shapeshift and Cover)

Dracula's spawn: the Un-Dead

The vampire's spawn is powerless during the day, but its host may be weakened by the Count's feeding. The spawn makes a new Power vs. Stamina roll to take over the host every night. If the host dies or reaches 0 Humanity while the Count lives, the spawn becomes a Passer.

Type: Possessor while its host lives, becoming a Passing demon when the host dies or reaches 0 Humanity
Telltale: Severe anemia and a bite wound while the host lives, becoming pallor and fangs if the host dies

Stamina: 6
Will: 7
Lore: 6
Power: 7

Abilities
  • Ravening Tooth & Claw: Lethal Special Damage
  • Predatory Senses: The Un-Dead can see in darkness, hear heartbeats, and smell living blood (Perception)
  • Devil's Trance: The vampire's spawn is Linked to its sire.
  • Carnal Dominance: Daze (applied to Social rolls to resist the demon's seduction or terror, not perception)
  • Feed on Living Blood: The Un-Dead drinks the blood of her prey, restoring her youth and vigor; the victim looses a point of Humanity, triggering the demon's healing. (Includes Taint and Vitality)

Banishing the Count & his Un-Dead spawn

Dracula can only be banished by decapitation or incineration. The following ceremony offers several "helper rolls" which may add their victories to the Banish ritual:
  • A sorcerer drives a wooden stake through the vampire's heart. [If the stake is made of white oak, add rollover victories from the Lore roll of locating the wood.]
  • A sorcerer stuffs the vampire's mouth with garlic and holy water or relics.
  • The vampire's body is drawn and quartered.
  • The vampire's remains are burned and a sorcerer spreads its ashes to the four winds.
  • A sorcerer buries the vampire's head in hallowed ground.

Banishing the vampire or its spawn must usually include staking, decapitation, and garlic in the mouth.

Containing & Punishing the Vampire

The vampire can be punished or contained by the liturgy of the Latin Rite or Eastern Rite. Punish or Contain rituals must usually include garlic, communion bread, or holy relics.

Binding the Count

To bind Count Dracula, a sorcerer must drink the Count's blood and offer her own blood for the count to drink, as in the "Devil's Contagion" ability, and then the demon's Link ability confers to her instead of its Spawn.


The description of Monicus (in the core rules) indicates that a Lore 9 demon is one of the "bigger demonic heavies". That would certainly be true of Dracula, but I'm wondering if I've made him too powerful. Do you use demons this powerful in your games? Do you see anything above that jumps out as a red flag?

I have a couple other rules-related questions that came out of actual play, but I'll post those another time.
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John S
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« Reply #3 on: September 07, 2010, 10:17:19 AM »

Oops, I found a typo: the Count's Will should be 16, not 15,
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Marshall Burns
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« Reply #4 on: September 07, 2010, 10:34:22 AM »

The description of Monicus (in the core rules) indicates that a Lore 9 demon is one of the "bigger demonic heavies". That would certainly be true of Dracula, but I'm wondering if I've made him too powerful. Do you use demons this powerful in your games? Do you see anything above that jumps out as a red flag?

I'm also interested in this issue. A while ago I statted up Howl and Calcifer from the film version of Howl's Moving Castle, and Calcifer had like 15 Lore too. (And Howl had the vigor + self-esteem + adept descriptor combo that the book suggests is weak, but I think his Price (heartless: -1 in any situation requiring courage, especially in an emotional arena) makes it work). So, yeah, I'm wondering how playable that sort of thing is.
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John S
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« Reply #5 on: September 07, 2010, 08:15:18 PM »

Here are some questions that came out of the actual play:

Let me set the scene: Steve is playing a sorcerous FBI agent named Nitro, whose kicker is that he arrived in London to visit his girlfriend Annalisa, and she was kidnapped just before he got to her flat. Inside there was a note, inviting him specifically to the party if he wants to see Annalisa again-- "and bring your demon."

I'll skip over a lot of the action to the point where we had a problem. Nitro is in Yzor's library questioning one of the demon's spawn at gunpoint, who is sitting in a high-backed chair, swirling wine around in a goblet. The spawn betrays his Telltale (tongue darting in and out, lizard-like), and throws the glass down saying "Enough talk. Have at you!" Time for action.

This was the first combat or complex conflict. We started with intentions: Nitro is going to shoot at the spawned demon, and the demon is coming at him with claws out.

Then we had rolls for order. Nitro rolls four dice for his Stamina, and the demon rolls six dice, gaining two victories.

It was hard for Steve to suspend disbelief-- he had his gun trained on the thing, and he expected to kick ass, and now the demon got the jump on him. How did that happen?

At first I thought the problem was "my character isn't as cool as I wanted him to be", but now I'm thinking that the problem was that the fiction wasn't being fairly represented by the dice. A trained FBI agent with a gun aimed and ready to fire isn't going to miss unless the thing is seriously fast (and Fast isn't one of the spawn's abilities), especially when dodging or knocking the weapon away weren't declared as actions. Should I have given him a free shot before the demon could declare an action, giving the spawn one die for defense? Or should I have given Nitro an arbitrary amount of bonus dice for the attack roll?

Just now I realized how I should have done it the Sorcerer way: When he declared that he was aiming before the fight, I should have had him roll Cover vs. X dice as a helper roll. Since the target was sitting and the range was point blank, the opposing roll should have been one die. Then he could have applied any victories as a bonus to his attack roll when the action began. Am I on the right track there?

As it happened, we went ahead with the dice as they fell, without applying any bonuses for aim or readiness. I described his options: Nitro can suck it up, rolling one die for defense, or abort his action this round to roll full Stamina for defense. He had a handout with the roleplaying modifiers from page 19, and I reminded him that he could narrate richer fiction for bonuses either way.

He chose to duck and roll across the room, then reestablish aim, narrating a bit more colorfully than I am. He was trying for the "especially clever version of the action", so I gave him two dice which he added to his full Stamina for a full defense. Rolling six dice against the demon's original roll on six, the demon still had one victory.

Rather than dictate a fumble, I asked Steve if he could think of anything that interfered with the duck-and-roll defense, and how he got injured. He was in disbelief about the outcome, and he suggested that the thing could have clawed his heal, but that didn't match up with the amount of Lethal Special Damage he was taking-- 9 penalties on the next action, then 7 lasting.

This gave us a chance to learn about the sorcerous unmodified Will roll to hold your guts in and keep going, which he used to great advantage. Trouble is, we forgot to round up when halving the lasting damage, and we also forgot to turn the lasting damage into narrative effects. Oops.

Playing Trollbabe has got me asking this about every game now: Who narrates what happens in complex conflicts, apart from announcing actions? Do the consequences fall squarely on the GM, or do all the players contribute to interpreting the dice?

Oh, another question: Twice in the combat, Steve announced that Nitro would "empty his entire clip" in the demon. My ruling at the moment was that you get one "shot" off per round, but the only rule I can find about this is that "the rules are bound to be disappointing" (111). Are there any pointers I'm overlooking?

That's all I can think of right now. The other questions I had were clearly explained in the text and just not yet second nature for me.
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The Dragon Master
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« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2010, 06:34:00 AM »

As far as the rolls go, like you discovered, the cover as helping dice and narrating bonus dice is definitely the way to go. And even on the duck and roll he probably should have gone for more than just two bonus dice (there's an entire list there, and it sounds like the two just brought him even with the number of dice the Spawn had).

It's my understanding that the consequences fall on the GM, but we'll let someone with more experience tell how they have found works best.

As to the gun's, I'd probably just have "empty his entire clip" translate to a bonus die or two, but others may have better (or more satisfying) suggestions. I would tend not to use guns overly much in combat against a Demon, since each time you aim you have to take a full turn to do so (though I imagine a helping roll of Cover, added to a will roll to aim, could turn up some nice bonuses for firing in the next round).
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"You get what everone gets. You get a lifetime." -Death of the Endless
The names Tony
John S
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« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2010, 11:07:38 AM »

Thanks, Tony! I appreciate your feedback. The idea of translating "emptying the clip" into bonus dice seems consistent with the combat advice on page 112: "...most details in combat are best handled simply by giving bonus dice. [...] The GM should play it fast and loose, combining the above guidelines to assign quick bonuses and penalties."

Another question that is on my mind is about about perception. When and how do you roll for noticing things related to the sorcerer's descriptors? Take the Fenster example from page 102-- to notice the Telltale we roll Lore, and to notice suspicious inappropriate behavior we roll Cover (in this case). Sorcerer doesn't strike me as a game where the GM rolls "behind the screen" for anything, so how exactly do you play it?

GM: "There's something fishy here. Roll your Lore, and I'll roll these dice. You got no victories? Maybe it's just your imagination. Want to try rolling your Cover?"

From my experience so far, when the dice hit the table in Sorcerer, something happens and the situation changes. But I haven't figured out how to bring that to bear in perception rolls. "You don't notice anything" is kind of lifeless. Most games counsel the GM to roll "perception checks" in secret, but that seems counter to the style of Sorcerer. Any advice on that?

Thanks again!
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The Dragon Master
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« Reply #8 on: September 08, 2010, 11:36:52 AM »

I'd stick with the basic "roll when something's going to happen" model. If he fails the roll, then he doesn't see the big slobbery toothed Demon with an axe sneaking up on him. If he does, then he notices it and can act accordingly, but then I've never played (any system) any other way.

What instances are you thinking of these perception rolls coming up in? What would happen if he were to succeed on them?
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"You get what everone gets. You get a lifetime." -Death of the Endless
The names Tony
jburneko
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« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2010, 11:38:13 AM »

John

I took me a while to master the Perception thing.  Here's how I think about.

Telltales completely change the dynamics of a scene.  A to characters meet and interact if Telltales are spotted the scene is "charged" very differently than if they aren't.  Notice I'm talking about real interaction that was going to happen anyway.  Not something like do you spot the woman casually passing you on the street has a telltale.

So think of things in those terms.  If you find yourself in a does he spot something and if the No answer results in "nothing happens" then the answer is an automatic Yes.

If it's a question of timing, like "Huh.  If he spots the guy then he will have chance to do something but if he fails then X happens before he can react...." Then don't think in terms of perception.  Go straight to the "combat" rules.  Let the hidden thing announce whatever action.  Let the player announce whatever action they'd do in response assuming they spot it in time.   If the player's action goes first then they saw it in time.  If not then they didn't.

The only time I ever roll "Perception" in the classic sense of the word is when it's an active activity by the player.  Like if you have Cloaked guy throwing around Psychic Forces and the player wants to take an action to hone in the source.  Then we roll, and if successful the player then rolls those victories over into his next action now that he has a bead on the target.

Jesse

  
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John S
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« Reply #10 on: September 09, 2010, 05:09:14 AM »

Thanks for the guidance-- I think I'm almost there.

Telltales completely change the dynamics of a scene.  A to characters meet and interact if Telltales are spotted the scene is "charged" very differently than if they aren't.  Notice I'm talking about real interaction that was going to happen anyway.  Not something like do you spot the woman casually passing you on the street has a telltale.

This bit, along with the "roll when something's going to happen model", seems key. I'm not sure I grok the second sentence: What is narrated if Fenster rolls Lore vs. the demon's Cover on p102 and he fails? The context is "negotiating some scummy narcotics deal". Since the text says he has two chances to notice something is amiss, it doesn't seem right to go into complex conflict resolution: "Dude has a forked tongue-- does Fenster notice in time? (In time for what?)"

If you find yourself in a "does he spot something" and if the No answer results in "nothing happens", then the answer is an automatic Yes.

That sounds like a good heuristic, but it also sounds like the Fenster example in the book. No consequences are indicated if the demon's Telltale fails to catch Fenster's attention-- do you apply the demon's victories as a penalty on Fenster for the scene, X for next action and 1 lasting?

I like the "automatic Yes" rule: the GM's job is to give the players relevant information rather than withhold it.

If it's a question of timing, like "Huh.  If he spots the guy then he will have chance to do something but if he fails then X happens before he can react...." Then don't think in terms of perception.  Go straight to the "combat" rules.  Let the hidden thing announce whatever action.  Let the player announce whatever action they'd do in response assuming they spot it in time.   If the player's action goes first then they saw it in time.  If not then they didn't.

Thanks, that's makes a lot of sense.

The only time I ever roll "Perception" in the classic sense of the word is when it's an active activity by the player.  Like if you have Cloaked guy throwing around Psychic Forces and the player wants to take an action to hone in the source.  Then we roll, and if successful the player then rolls those victories over into his next action now that he has a bead on the target.

That's helpful too.

I guess my trouble is thinking about it in terms of task resolution: "If the character succeeds on skill check Y, feed the player information piece Z." It's easy to see how the last two examples fall into narrative conflict resolution: when the dice hit the table something happens in the fiction. I'm just not there yet with spotting Telltales. I'm thinking that some example narration of a failed Lore roll might help me get it.

I'd stick with the basic "roll when something's going to happen" model. If he fails the roll, then he doesn't see the big slobbery toothed Demon with an axe sneaking up on him. If he does, then he notices it and can act accordingly, but then I've never played (any system) any other way.

What instances are you thinking of these perception rolls coming up in? What would happen if he were to succeed on them?

Well, it came up a couple times in the Training Run: I figure a sorcerer has any number of chances to spot Yzor's Telltale, when inside the house. I also asked the player to roll Lore when interacting with "Yvonne" (in my setting, she's called Violet), to spot her Telltale, and later he succeeded in spotting the spawn's Telltale. Each time he failed, I told him eye-catching details about the environment or characters instead of saying "nothing happens", but I had a hunch that the dice should be bringing about starker changes in the situation.
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John S
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« Reply #11 on: September 09, 2010, 11:52:36 AM »

What is narrated if Fenster rolls Lore vs. the demon's Cover on p102 and he fails? The context is "negotiating some scummy narcotics deal".

To put the question more concisely:

In a system where rolls force the situation to CHANGE and victories describe the DIRECTION OF CHANGE, how does the situation change if Fenster fails to notice the demon's Telltale? It's easy to see how spotting a Telltale changes the situation, but how do you narrate it when the pendulum swings the other way?

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Paiku
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« Reply #12 on: September 09, 2010, 12:37:45 PM »

Maybe what changes, when the perception roll is failed, is that Fenster decides on his next course of action assuming that he's talking to a harmless/helpless "normal".  And the demon has that many victories to roll into any further deception of Fenster.

Perception rolls have been sticky for my group, too.  Early in our first game, a PC sorcerer met an NPC sorcerer, both had inconspicuous Demons.  We rolled to see if the PC spots the NPC's telltale.  We rolled to see if he spots the NPC's Demon's telltale.  Etc.  Between the two humans and the two demons, we rolled eight perception checks!  It seemed a little excessive.  Were eight rolls really necessary?  Is there a more elegant way to handle this type of situation?

(and again, I don't think we were thinking about every roll forcing the situation to change).

-J
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jburneko
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« Reply #13 on: September 09, 2010, 01:30:47 PM »

John,

Think of telltale spot situation less of a change but an extremely significant branch.  Two Sorcerers meet (or demon, whatever).  Again not in a passing way but for some reason of significance already.  There are four outcomes.

...Neither spot each other's telltale.
...One spots it but the other does not
...vice versa
...they both spot.

Those are four completely different scenes that deeply color and inform the interaction.  You don't need to narrate anything beyond simply playing out the scene with regard to that polarization.

Jesse
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John S
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« Reply #14 on: September 09, 2010, 02:27:51 PM »

Thanks Jesse. I get how the roll impacts the fiction. I guess what I'm curious about is what happens at the table between the real people. Let's say you are the GM and I'm a sorcerer player, and you know that there's a demon present and I don't. Then my character is beginning a serious interaction with the demon. How do call for the Lore vs. Cover roll?

Let's say the situation doesn't call for a complex conflict, and I haven't announced that I'm looking for Telltales.
  • Do you look at my Lore score and say "Roll X dice", where X is my Lore?
  • Or do you just say "Roll your Lore"?
  • Or do you narrate something, like "There's something fishy here, roll your Lore." Or "Your sorcerer-sense is tingling."
  • Or do you keep it as quiet as possible until the roll succeeds, by rolling secretly or something?
  • Is spotting a Telltale entirely passive, or can a player get roleplaying bonuses from p19?

And how do you reverse it, for when a demon or sorcerer is spotting my sorcerer's Telltale?

Here's what I did in the actual play: I told the Steve to roll Nitro's Lore, and I rolled Yvonne's (Violet's) Cover. The dice were out on the table for everyone to see. The player didn't get any victories, so I changed the subject, mentioning some suggestive details about the environment. Later, Nitro was in conversation with the spawn. I told Steve to roll Lore again, and I rolled the spawn's Cover. Everyone could see the dice, and this time Steve got some victories, so I narrated the demon's telltale.

I guess that worked fine-- they were completely different scenes --I just wondered if I was missing something.

We rolled to see if the PC spots the NPC's telltale.  We rolled to see if he spots the NPC's Demon's telltale.  Etc.  Between the two humans and the two demons, we rolled eight perception checks!  It seemed a little excessive.  Were eight rolls really necessary?  Is there a more elegant way to handle this type of situation?

I'm interested in that question too. I didn't roll to check if anyone spotted Nitro's Telltale yet, because the Kicker made it clear that they somehow knew he was a sorcerer-- but when the time comes for a four-way Telltale check, I'd like to know the best practice. It sounds like a lot of rolling for the GM.

Maybe the key is to jump right into "combat" rules when a bunch of sorcerers and demons meet up for some meaningful interaction, everybody rolling Lore, and then making Cover rolls in defense based on the normal initiative order. At least that has some relation to the rules, right?
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