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Rick Jones, Sorcerer

Started by James_Nostack, May 13, 2011, 11:59:04 PM

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For anyone who doesn't know who Rick Jones is, fie and for shame. 

In the very earliest issues of The Incredible Hulk, which lasted for all of 6 issues in 1962, the Hulk is a rampaging atomic monster hell-bent on conquering the Earth, enslaving the human race, and sexually assaulting Betty Ross (not necessarily in that order).  The only thing holding him in check (just barely) is teenage delinquent and high school drop-out Rick Jones.  These early Hulk comics are really the story of an incredibly quick-witted and resourceful boy trying desperately to save the world from a monster he feels responsible for creating.

It's a Sorcerer story, at least in its better moments. 

This write-up isn't meant to replicate Hulk comics precisely, but rather to play on the desperation, Cold War paranoia, atomic monster fiction of the time.  Rick and the Hulk are just one data point in there.

"Humanity" is loyalty, whether owed to a particular person or a cause.  (We could do this as a double definition.)  You can roll Loyalty vs. Will to compel someone to cleave to you. 

"Demons" are monstrous creatures and unearthly technologies brought forth by the atomic age.  Unprecedented outlanders, these oddities either do not respect or simply fail to understand the reciprocal bonds that make us human.  The monster's Power score represents the scope or intensity of its loathing.

"Sorcery" is super science, the relentless pursuit of atomic energies and Space Age revelations that mankind was never meant to know.  Pursuit of knowledge in the abstract, with no regard how it will impact the rest of humanity, marks someone as beyond petty concepts like "loyalty" or "friendship."

"Lore" is basically comic-book super science, doing stuff like contacting aliens on other planets, developing biological weapons that turn into blob-monsters, building robots, implanting wasp DNA into teenage girls, and so on.  This isn't just science, but 1950's "mad" science, things that just cannot possibly work.

I'd have to flesh out what rituals look like, and I'd like to create a couple of different "traditions" of mad science because that kind of thing is always fun to putter around with.

Ron Edwards

I love it. My only quibble concerns Humanity. The kind of loyalty represented by ideology and patriotism would be flat out of the picture; that's a means to Lore and a serious feature of many of the demons. The loyalty which matters is that which binds people in a straightforward, empathic sense: Betty's feelings for Bruce, Rick's feelings for pretty much everybody, even the squares. So I'd keep Humanity very simple and call it "human decency," particularly that which crosses national, class, and subcultural lines.

Best, Ron


Yeah, that was what I was thinking a day later.  I wanted to have the option of a serious, committed, idealistic Communist-type as a potentially high-Humanity character, but it muddies things too much.  Even the "good" Communists end up repudiating the political system usually in order to uphold more normal, wholesome stuff like family, love, honor, etc.

Note how classically conservative or elegaic it is to define Humanity = Human Decency.  The idea of the totalitarianism and the Atomic Age in general as immensely corrosive to Humanity.  Very Spy Who Came In from the Cold and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf - the idea being that all these old-fashioned virtues are inefficient, out-moded, and evolutionarily disadvantageous.

I love the idea that you gain Lore by replacing your loyalty from people to abstractions.


Here's a stab at a Relationship Map that I've wanted to muck about with for a while.  Like the original inspiration, it's derived from old-timey Marvel comic books, in this case late-1960's Avengers comics.

Step 1: Read the Source Material and Draw Lines of Sex and Death
The source material, in this case, is more or less the saga of Hank Pym as told through the first five years of Avengers comics, running from 1963-1968, scripted by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, illustrated by Jack Kirby, Don Heck, and John Buscema. 
  • Hank is a mad scientist (he's invented a machine to talk to ants).  He has a massive inferiority complex.
  • Janet, his wife, a generation younger.  Fabulously rich, spoiled nymphomaniac.  She's "supportive" in a belittling way.  Hank mutated her slightly.
  • Ultron is Hank's creation: an indestructible, brilliant, genocidal robot with an Oedipus complex.

  • Clint is Hank's jackass friend.  Naturally Hank supplies him with an addictive steroid in the interests of national security.  He is sweet on Natasha and Wanda.
  • Natasha is an alluring Soviet spy who's got Clint wrapped around her pinky finger.  Her ultimate loyalties are extremely murky.

  • Simon: a businessman who embezzled from his own company.  He gets blackmailed by the Enemy into becoming a double-agent.  He dies, heroically, as a triple-agent.
  • Eric is Simon's brother.  He's not wrapped too tight.
  • Vision is Simon's brain ripped out and stuck in the body of a ghost-like robot.

  • Wanda is a ex-terrorist mutant who falls in love with the Vision.
  • Pietro is an ex-terrorist mutant who is rabidly possessive of his sister Wanda.
  • Magnus is a terrorist mutant who emotionally dominated Wanda and Pietro.  Later revealed to be their father.

Step 2: Identify Moral Crimes
  • Hank, at Ultron's urgings, tries to scoop out Janet's brain and plant it into a robotic body.  Because he loves her.
  • Ultron (Hank's darker side) scoops out Simon's brain and places it into a robotic body.
  • Hank and Janet are locked into an extremely toxic marriage filled with physical (and emotional) abuse and a constant struggle for dominance, mainly fueled by Hank's raging insecurity, which Janet exploits when it suits her.
  • Magnus emotionally abused his children into joining his holy vendetta against the human race.  When the kids have second thoughts about it, he arranges to shoot Wanda so that Pietro goes berserk and rejoins Magnus's team.
  • Clint is wild for Natasha, but she exploits him in service of the Reds.
  • Eric goes crazy when Simon dies, and swears revenge against a whole bunch of innocent people.  (Oddly, he's kind of okay with the idea that someone scooped out his brother's brain and put it in a robot.)  (Eric is a pretty lame character.)

Step 3: Adjust the Map, including changes to time & space[/u]
To any middle-aged Marvel zombie, the relationship map listed in Step One, no matter how disguised, is painfully easy to recognize.  But flipping gender makes it a little less obvious.
  • Hank = Henrietta
  • Janet = Jack
  • Simon = Simone
  • Eric = Enid
  • Clint = Cass
  • Natasha = Nikola
  • Wanda = Walker
  • Pietro = Petunia
  • Magnus = Magda

I'm trying to leave this as an Atomic Age science-fiction situation, rather than superhero stuff.  Nobody's a costumed vigilante.

It's the United States in the late 1950's. 

Magda, Walker and Petunia aren't mutants: they're black.  Magda is an extremely dangerous escaped convict or wanted criminal, perpetrating a reign of terror on the white establishment, sort of a one-woman answer to the Klan.  (Yeeesh, this would be so easy to fuck up.)

During the Depression, young & idealistic Simone went against her social class by sympathizing with the various industrial workers' movements, and joined the Communist Party.  As she grew older, her enthusiasm waned and she became an establishment figure.  But at some point during the post-war years the OSS/CIA recruited her to go to Russia/Communist Bloc, using her family business as a cover.  Exactly what happened here is extremely murky to all involved.

Simone marries Walker, which infuriates Magda (for political reasons) and Petunia (for family loyalty's sake).

Jack is having an affair with Simone.  Jack might be blackmailing Simone, threatening to reveal the affair and mess up Simone's marriage unless Simone embezzles money to fund Henrietta's research.

Henrietta is subconsciously complicit, or even enabling, of Jack's affair with Simone.  Maybe the affair is brought to Henrietta's conscious attention and she freaks out and kills Simone, or Petunia snaps for some reason and kills Simone.  Either way, Henrietta performs sorcery (maybe with the help of an extremely dangerous Necromantic Token) to reanimate Simone's body.  Simone's resurrection is immensely upsetting to Walker and Enid. 

Enid is a John Birch Society/D.A.R. type and Klan sympathizer.  Part of her guilt over Simone's death is that they had extremely bitter feuds over Simone's sex life and attendant political issues.

Cass and Nikola are totally peripheral!  If this were a real game, I would probably cut them loose and replace them with a PC's supporting cast.  But for now, Cass is Henrietta's dogsbody.  Nikola is a Soviet spy, sent by the Reds to keep an eye on "their" agent Simone.  As a crime of opportunity, Nikola's decided to steal Henrietta's research through seducing Cass.

Ron Edwards

I like it!

Except that our Marvel zombie loyalties differ, in that Clint is 100% awesome hero in my book. Let's please not debate it but merely acknowledge that interpretations can be influential here.

The names need some adjusting for the final step, clearly, although I see your point at present, for working-notes purposes, for making them correspond phonetically.

Whoops, hit "post" too quick: editing this in. My take is that your analysis is still a little too rooted in what happened in the Marvel plot, which is no different from my own stumbling-points in presenting the example scenarios in The Sorcerer's Soul, so I sympathize. My advice is first to scrub off some of the later plot-steps you've described, particularly those concerning Simone's death - start it all before that happens. Second, think of the characters in terms of flexibility, not fixed paths. For instance, Henrietta may be at a crux point, perfectly capable of not doing the funky ritual as well as doing it, depending on how things work out emotionally regarding the affair. And/or, Cass and Nikola may be involved and the big question is which way Nikola's loyalties will swing (presupposing that one sees Cass as heroic, as I do).

And finally - and here I think this is really preserving the functional strength of the Marvel source material - despite all rhetoric to the contrary in any particular character's mouth, the problems and plot potential of this whole thing do not actually correspond to "Americans good, Russians bad." I think you've nailed the whole issue of black Americans as perceived commie sympathizers and foils right on the head, just as Thomas did. Sticking with that functional ambiguity is important to this idea being more than merely pastiche.

Best, Ron


QuoteClint is 100% awesome hero in my book. Let's please not debate it but merely acknowledge that interpretations can be influential here.

<bites down hard on the wooden dowel so as not to swallow own tongue> 

QuoteI see your point at present, for working-notes purposes, for making them correspond phonetically

Yeah, right?  Somewhere in the Modern Necromancy threads, you're like, "Here's this book you haven't read!  Here are half a dozen characters!  Got their names straight?  Great, let's change all those names!"  I understand why this step must occur, and why it must occur at that point in the process, but it always disorients me (because it's supposed to). 

QuoteMy take is that your analysis is still a little too rooted in what happened in the Marvel plot, which is no different from my own stumbling-points in presenting the example scenarios in The Sorcerer's Soul, so I sympathize.

So, that's interesting.  If this were a PC kicker type of thing, I'd definitely understand that it's too much pre-played.  As general-purpose scenario backstory, though, I want to test my understanding a little--please indulge me!

My understanding of R-Map type scenarios is that it's . . . geez, like, World War II in Casablanca.  The protagonists are doing their own thing, passionately.  And their own thing is, somehow, tied up in this broader scenario, which they don't necessarily have to care about or "solve" except to the extent that it's complicating the resolution of their own problems.  (Maybe Casablanca isn't the perfect example of this, but hopefully it's apparent what I'm gesturing at.)

So the R-Map here is a "duplex of cards" (like a house of cards but, y'know, two).  You've got Hank/Henrietta in a failed marriage with Janet/Jack, and the affair with Simon/Simone is either putting pressure on that marriage or repairing it, and probably both.  Meanwhile Simon/Simone's own marriage to Wanda/Walker is immensely charged due to, well, more-or-less psychotic in-laws.

In the middle of both of these, Simon/Simone is actually pretty stable: ain't his fault everybody around him is crazy.  But there's this shadowy figure from the past, Natasha/Nikola, who might upset Simon/Simone's precarious balance.

To me, all of that is, like, putting the water in the cooking pot and turning the burner on high.  It's the bare minimum for this to work at all.

The next stage, with the water hissing but not quite boiling, is when some fool kills Simon/Simone.  At which point, everyone one "link" away (Eric/Enid, Wanda/Walker, Janet/Jack) starts freaking out, and everyone two "links" away (Hank/Henrietta, Pietro/Petunia, Magnus/Magda) realizes it's game-fuckin'-on

The final stage--water is vigorously boiling--is when Simon/Simone comes back as a demon, which sets everyone at everybody else's throats. 

If we had to follow this through in lockstep all the way, whatever's filling the role of Ultron would end up manipulating Hank/Henrietta to perform an abominable act which, you'd think, would destroy his marketability forever.  That's pretty much pouring the water into the colander.

The question is, when do you put in the PC's, and why? 

My instinct would be to insert the PC's into the situation maybe 2 days before Simon/Simone's murder.  Enough time to appreciate what's going on, enough time for the NPC's to try to influence each other one last time while there's still some hope, but close enough that the water will boil very shortly.  (This assumes that the PC's Kickers don't have their own timing cues, of course.)

Ron Edwards

It depends. It depends on a lot of things.

When I was writing The Sorcerer's Soul, my thinking ran along the lines you're describing. It also reflected my experiences and play-groups  at the time which led me to place characters in crisis relatively quickly.

However, my preference for play, especially with Sorcerer, are running a little differently lately. I'm letting Bangs be more Kicker-centric, letting back-story be more background-like. The relationship map material is much more on my side of the table as GM, performing its role for me as I play the characters, being less like a terrain or (worse) a puzzle for the players.

I'm not saying the earlier way is worse, and it's true that if one is very concerned about gotta have things happen, then it's probably the more reliable way to go.

Best, Ron



Recasting a Few Names

Familiar NameNew Name
Hank PymMaude Zez

Step 4: Demonize It!
So, Maud is definitely a sorceress: Lone Adept + Mad.  Walker is probably a sorcerer too (Mad), probably living in fear of his brutal father Hugo.  Hugo isn't a sorcerer, but has very impressive scores for Stamina and Cover, and an insanely high Will score.  Conceivably Walker may have installed a possessor or parasite demon inside Hugo, permitting him to wage a one-man battle against pretty much all of society for many, many years.

I was gonna say that Chloe ends up resurrected as some sort of Undead Passing demon, but as indicated in the posts above maybe that's too far along into the situation at the start of play, and maybe Chloe doesn't get resurrected at all.  If Chloe comes back, this might require figuring out what Necromancy looks like in this setting.  Any thoughts?  From Sorcerer & Sword I kind of want to make Necromancy extra-transgressive, but in a mad-science type of setting, simply animating a dead body goes back to Frankenstein, there's nothing shocking about it.

The main thing I'm wondering about here is how to translate Ultron.  If Necromancy is involved, I could see Ultron as a token.  But Ultron has so much agency in the comics, I think it would be a shame to lose him. 

Oh.  Oh man.  Just as Hank Pym creates Ultron due to sublimated rage and impotence, maybe Maud creates Ultron as some horrible rejection of, or bitter commentary on, her own fertility?  Necromancy becomes a perversion of birth.

Oh man, again!  What if Chloe ends up dying, and then Maud resurrects Chloe as Maud's baby, so that Roger will finally get attached to the family unit?  And then Walker ends up making a bid to bind the resurrected Chloe-baby, robbing Maud of everything?

Ultron definitely has Taint, probably directed squarely at . . . hmm, either Maud or Roger.  Ultron might work as an Inconspicuous alien-type consciousness that Maud made contact with, and now Ultron is trying to guide Maud into mating with it so it can assume a greater reality in this dimension?  Ultron would have Hint and possibly Psychic Force.  Desire is Ruin.

If Hugo is host to a Parasite demon (bound to Walker), it was probably an attempt to keep him alive while meting out vigilante justice.  Maybe Vitality + Boost Will + Mark + Special Ranged Lethal (keyed to those Marked) + a couple of handy Covers?  Desire is Power.