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Author Topic: [Sorcerer] Also spielte Zarathustra, thoughts  (Read 4785 times)
Jaakko Koivula
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« on: July 12, 2011, 05:17:56 AM »

Hi, I got an idea for a Sorcerer and would like to showcase it a bit.

Basically, I read Nietzsche and Sorcerer at the same time and realized, that Nietzsche's ideas of overman could be easily used as Sorcerer's humanity. What I'm suggesting is this:

Humanity: Will to life.
Humanity is gained when affirming will to life: creating stuff, defining your own values and morals, overcoming obstacles by being awesome, and loving yourself and everything else, because the world is as it should be.
Humanity is lost when will to life is diminished: subjugating under someone else, following someone else's rules, leaving stuff undone or coddling and not challenging yourself or others.

Normal god-fearing duty-driven guy would have humanity of 2-3. Strong willful anarchist would be maybe 5, supposing he likes his life. Humanity 10 or something would represent total Übermensch: a practically demigod, rejoicing in his existence, creating and destroying in equal measure. Humanity 0 would mean total apathy or complete loss of ego. A character would turn into a bitter puppet, without even enough energy to die.

Demons are: the impossible proof that this world is not enough. God is dead and the natural world is all there is, but there's still these supernatural creatures running around. Humanity is paramount, except demons are gnawing at the very core of that idea. If you summon demons, you blatantly announce that you are not good enough and the world is not enough.

Demons are like: timid, conniving, subtle, backstabbing, fear-mongering, doubt-casting bastards. Nothing grandiose. Humans are great, demons are sad, little and dangerous as hell.
Demons look like: hunchbacks, cripples, toads, spiders, oozy-swampy-things, colourless murky things, bleak and dull.

Sorcerers: Player characters are pure Übermensch-material. Independent, strong, willful, etc. (Come on, look at the stats!) Still for some reason they summon demons and diminish everything they could be and could become. What is so important to these guys that they risk their greatness by summoning demons to get it? How and why are these people so broken, that they jeopardize the world by bringing stuff into it, that shouldn't have any reason being here?

Concrete setting could be anything after 1900s or so. Up to the group really. I'm not yet completely sure what kind of stories I would go for with this kind of setting, but luckily that's really not my problem, is it? If we get bunch of really cool PCs on the table and their NPCs and kickers, stuff should propably start to happen pretty naturally.

Trying to pitch this to people to get a group together and see what we can think up. Any opinions or suggestions?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2011, 05:57:47 AM »

I like this, but that is specifically because I have sympathy for Nietzschean philosophy. Even I, however, would balk at playing this as presented for one simple reason: Sorcerer requires as a matter of procedure that the entire group buys into the definition of Humanity. Playing this as is would basically move the issue of whether Nietzsche is right off the table, into a paradigm that cannot be challenged within the purview of the game. This is a problem when I might argue pretty well that what Nietzche offers us is basically inhuman or superhuman. The Sorcerer Humanity needs to be a measure of protagonism, and it fails in this role if the group playing the game doesn't viscerally accept that this superman here is the protagonist because he's the biggest jerk on the block. (I know that you don't need to paint the Nietzchean superman this way, but it is possible.)

To fix this, consider using a dual Humanity definition: maybe what you describe is Humanity, but perhaps there is some other thing that is Humanity as well: the obvious choice would be Christian, pro-society values of caring and societal compromise. Dehumanizing in this regard would be antisocial and solipsistic action. The challenge for the truly Human in this suggested setting of mine would then be to retain your will to life without losing your capability for sympathy towards your fellow man. The most human, statistically speaking, would be the person who manages to combine these virtues without getting into conflicts between them.

(Dual Humanity definition is in... Sorcerer's Soul, I think. Basically you just run each action through both checks, so that a given action might garner one or two checks for gain or loss, all depending on whether it accords with one, both or neither of the Humanity definitions. Up to the dice to show us which type of action concretely loses you Humanity, then.)

Even more obvious would be to use Nietzsche, but flip your Humanity definition around and say that zero Humanity is where the true overman resides. This setting would be critical of Nietzche, but not necessarily completely condemning: what it says is basically that once your character has made up his mind to be a superman and nothing else, his story is essentially over: we do not need to play a session upon session of the adventures of the übermensch once we've established that that's what this particular character is. Would there even be anything to play in the Sorcerer framework for a character like that, one who has transcended the human weaknesses that are usually the source of drama? Remember that dropping to zero Humanity is not equivalent to moral condemnation: Sorcerer very much revolves around the idea that Humanity is just a thing - a valuable thing, but a thing you sometimes need to risk or lose to do the right thing. If becoming a superman is what a given character's situation takes the resolve, then surely it was a good thing.

And yes, I would play this in a fin de siècle setting. Or perhaps modern Wall Street, that seems to be the new home of übermensch drama.
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Jaakko Koivula
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Posts: 61

Postmodern man-thing


« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2011, 09:15:21 AM »

I'm right there with you about the group having to buy the same definition of Sorcerer. Though this wouldn't be a problem, if I find players who would be interested in playing supermen-wannabes. Nietzschean morals can easily be seen in many ways inhuman or superhuman, but that's why I want to try it in RPG and not real life. I haven't played Sorcerer before though, so I don't have a clue if some definitions of humanity are more fertile protagony-wise or completely unsuitable. I personally think that a sorcerer locked between being the superman and the complete opposite of superman would make an interesting protagonist.

I don't think you would actually need a second humanity to make this work. I sort of think that there would naturally be tons of differing views about humanity in the world, but the one important to the player characters would be the will to life -humanity. I'm not sure if the chosen humanity in Sorcerer is supposed to be the only right answer to humanity in that particular world, but I think there would be room for different kinds of humanities also. Some views of humanity just suit different kinds of people. If a peasant tries to larp superman, he'll just end up dead or insane. If a sorcerer PC tries to live by peasant morals, he'd end up wasting his potential and feeling unfulfilled. Both styles of humanity would objectively be equally right, but on subjective level either would be completely wrong for the wrong people. Everyone playing would just have to be on board that we are playing the people, who were made from superman-stuff.

I can easily see dual humanity as being a really interesting and usable concept (Haven't got Sorcerer's Soul), but don't think you really would need it to make this idea work. Flipping the humanity would most propably work too, but that too isn't what I had in mind. Have to see what the potential players say though.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2011, 10:58:06 AM »

These ideas have a lot of potential.

The first issue that jumps out at me is the fact that the characters are not wholly ideal in Nietzschean terms, exactly as you point out. If they were, they wouldn't be screwing around with these piddly/awful demons in the first place. So right there, the idea for the game can't quite be said to be fully supportive of the themes found in, say, Also Sprach Zarathustra, but rather throwing some sand into the gears of those themes. Support for the themes would be found in only one of the Four Outcomes, getting what you want through denying your sorcery.

Perhaps it's good to raise the question of whether Nietzsche is right, instead of using his ideas as a fixed platform. Therefore conceiving of the characters as potential overmen is the way to go.

The second issue for me is that as presented and currently conceived, this material is so intellectualized as to be practically bloodless. I think you'd do well instantly to leave all philosophical notions exactly as they stand, with no further elaboration, and switch fully to Color and incipient Setting. Doing so will permit some of the questions that concern you, like Humanity, to be answered, and not doing so will leave you wriggling on the hook.

Best, Ron
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Jaakko Koivula
Member

Posts: 61

Postmodern man-thing


« Reply #4 on: July 22, 2011, 12:42:57 PM »

Ron: I'm totally with you on the too intellectualized -bit. Proved to be rather impossible to find players for this one really, so I either have to redefine it a lot, explain it tons of better, or stumble on 3-4 nietzsche-freaks. I'm guessing my problem is, that I've recently gone through lots of Nietzsche's work and got really really excited about it (like people get excited over alcohol of football), so it doesn't really seem that intellectual to me anymore. Should remember that not exactly everyone is where I'm at at this exact moment.

The thing you say about the four outcomes is also true. It seems sort of lame how you could "win" by only one way, even though failing in many other ways could also create nice stories. I guess it would be rather constraining and somehow bumming, if the humanity definition would leave only one correct answer to all the hard questions. I think it could still be interesting if the PCs would still choose some other answers, but I think I'm getting now why Eero and you are saying that Nietzsche being absolutely right from the start would be a problem. "In this game you are these cool sorcerers who summon demons! Now your mission it to give it all up or you suck."

I'm just not completely sure how I would fix that. Dual humanities as Eero suggested could naturally be one way. One idea would be to tone down the humanity from the zarathustrian full-blown overman -type to sort of "High rank in this humanity is a prerequisite of becoming an overman, but you can also just leave it at this and be quite a cool and normal person" -type of humanity. Then a high level humanity wouldn't be that much of a predetermined Goal for all the PCs, but something they could go for if they wanted. Hmm. Maybe that could work. Though it also seems like it could be just a totally detached extra intellectual layer again, if it isn't done well. Oh well.

I also think this is the place where it shows, that I haven't got to play the game yet at all.

In that vein, Ron, how much do you think GM should have ready before the play-group is even formed? Is there a correct answer, or is it just up to how much GM wants to produce his nifty vision and sell it to potential players? Or if he just wants to get to play and is cool with everything, tries to find some cool guys and see what everyone can cook up together?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: July 22, 2011, 11:06:50 PM »

It might interest you to know that Sorcerer is written explicitly from a particular slant on existential philosophy. That slant is best understood not through technical philosophy itself but through literature and film, which as I see it have been as solid a medium for that philosophy as any treatise, or perhaps more so. To the extent that any technical philosophical writings were involved, the only ones I'd point to would be Schopenhauer and Camus.

The slant I'm talking about has two parts: first, the experience of alienation, and I want to stress the experience, as opposed to analysis or especially as opposed to any conclusive analysis; and second, the experience (ditto) of doubt and frustration that even free will itself, upon inspection, is subject to the same disappointments and "cosmic silence" as rational/cosmic guidance.

I'm not sure whether any philosophical writings and treatises ever dared step far into that latter topic, aside from the religious context of predestination. Most existential philosophy that I've read is very firmly rooted in the Romantics and would not dream of violating the sacred (and I do mean that term) Self as a concept. I think Nietzsche's work displays this feature quite prominently. The two I mentioned came the closest, again, in my reading-experience anyway. But literature and later film, on the other hand, has a long tradition all the way back in our oldest still-recorded legendry of questioning whether the self, whether in action or even at the very heart of the concept of personhood, exists, or if it exists in a technical sense, really matters. The Epic of Gilgamesh is about nothing else but, as far as I'm concerned, and it sure as hell offers no comfort about it.

So certain older works, but especially literature and film of a certain edgy, romantic-but-bitter, heroic-but-grim, tragic-but-struggle-on quality all feed into Sorcerer quite directly. It so happens that I outlined it just the other day to add to the annotations for the anniversary edition, and the major elements include:
- pre-modern literature such as Medea and Doctor Faustus
- early twentieth-century pulp-intellectual stories, including Howard, C.A. Smith, and the best of Lovecraft (and the material for The Sorcerer's Soul fits square here as well)
- the sixties' revival of such things in a more acid-drenched, countercultural sense, for example Moorcock and Wagner
- the eighties' retro- and relatively punky revival of such things as found in the diverse work of Salmonson, Vachss, Jeter, Garton, and others; and especially in comics like Grimjack and the early Hellblazer
- and in parallel to the above, a trip through slightly marginal U.S. film such as Exorcist III and Twin Peaks, and in non-U.S. film through directors like Argento and Almodovar, Hong Kong films like The Bride with White Hair and A Better Tomorrow, and some older Japanese films like Onibaba.

It makes a little more sense in my diagram with circles and arrows, but I hope that the list conveys my point regarding the experiences of alienation both from the cosmos and from the self. Perhaps it's also worth pointing out that I have little interest in and consulted no sources from the occult traditions or fashions.

All this is to say that referencing Nietzsche, particularly based on a solid reading and not the stupid caricature of the man and his work that persisted in English-speaking circles until Kaufmann's translations, poses interesting problems. Given all that I wrote above, I think that I'd turn more toward the experiential, responsive, and above all simultaneously enraged-plus-humorous aspects of the work, and less toward developed models of either society or humanity.

Thanks for bringing this up. It's interesting.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: July 22, 2011, 11:24:30 PM »

And back to the practicalities of the game itself:

Quote
how much do you think GM should have ready before the play-group is even formed? Is there a correct answer, or is it just up to how much GM wants to produce his nifty vision and sell it to potential players? Or if he just wants to get to play and is cool with everything, tries to find some cool guys and see what everyone can cook up together?

That's definitely something I'm already working on articulating for the annotations. The answer is actually present in the core book but only through example and inference. It shows up a little bit more in the supplements, but unfortunately only in the context of advanced techniques like the scenario/adventures for Sorcerer & Sword, the relationship maps for The Sorcerer's Soul, and the applied player-gender rules in Sex & Sorcery.

The answer is that the organizer of the game, who usually turns out to be the GM in play,  in practice, but is not theoretically necessarily so, should provide a leading vision as a working, jumping-off point for everyone else. The extent of detail involved can't be pre-set but I do think that the distinction between an inspirational starting-point and a finished portrait of "what we're here to do" is very important - in other words, the former is necessary and the latter is a disaster. As I've been trying to demonstrate here for years, I think a document in the form of physical handouts is the best medium. When dealing with people who don't know the game, such a handout may well summarize some of the rules procedures, like the sorcerous rituals or the Humanity checks and gains. But with or without such things, the document must definitely provide the look-and-feel for play and especially sorcery which provokes the jolt or basis for the shudder which inspired it in the organizer, in hopes that it will be felt in some way by the others who read it. I tend to do it partly through references and quotes, but imagery is often crucial as well, in the sense of the Color-first concepts I've been working out for the past year or two. Also, I think the Humanity definition for the upcoming game lies in practice more in the response to these precise features, and less in a bloodless and legalistic verbal paragraph.

I'll post an example when I have access to the relevant documents, on Monday.

This material undergoes a profound development through the medium of character and demon creation, and then takes on its first practical fictional shape in the form of the player-character diagrams. I can't stress enough that all GM work prior to the diagrams is preliminary and developmental and inspirational, and should be presented in that way, as well as being open to feedback and modification. However, regarding that last point, I have found that a fully consensual committee approach isn't as functional as one person taking the lead, at least in terms of opening the dialogue and arriving at an emotional grounding for the conversation.

Let me know if that helps!

Best, Ron
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Jaakko Koivula
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Posts: 61

Postmodern man-thing


« Reply #7 on: July 23, 2011, 02:23:18 AM »

It might interest you to know that Sorcerer is written explicitly from a particular slant on existential philosophy. That slant is best understood not through technical philosophy itself but through literature and film, which as I see it have been as solid a medium for that philosophy as any treatise, or perhaps more so. To the extent that any technical philosophical writings were involved, the only ones I'd point to would be Schopenhauer and Camus.

The slant I'm talking about has two parts: first, the experience of alienation, and I want to stress the experience, as opposed to analysis or especially as opposed to any conclusive analysis; and second, the experience (ditto) of doubt and frustration that even free will itself, upon inspection, is subject to the same disappointments and "cosmic silence" as rational/cosmic guidance.

That is interesting and also makes complete sense. Also, it reminds me of the thread here earlier about horror, role-playing and Sorcerer. I had a hunch from the beginning that Sorcerer could be utterly horrible for some reason and after discussion ended up with: "Sorcerer played correctly might be described as an existential moral horror game, maybe?".

Let me rephrase your first post for myself to make sure: Philosophy is all nice and posh, but you practically need something else (film, literature, RPG) to really experience that feeling about emptiness, alienation and meaningless. Nietzsche/Sartre/etc. might write about looking into the abyss, but nothing in their work is yet making you look into it yet.

In light of this, using Sorcerer to simulate some heavy philosophical system would be like using it backwards. Like backing towards the emptiness and being analytical about it, when you could be staring ahead and trying to experience it first-hand.  I'm not sure if I can explain this very well, but I think you'll get what I'm aiming for.

That also means, that the more bombastic and outrageous (i.e. fun) Nietzsche could well be used as great material for a game, but doing a philosophical nietzsche-pastiche isn't what Sorcerer was written for.

I can't stress enough that all GM work prior to the diagrams is preliminary and developmental and inspirational, and should be presented in that way, as well as being open to feedback and modification. However, regarding that last point, I have found that a fully consensual committee approach isn't as functional as one person taking the lead, at least in terms of opening the dialogue and arriving at an emotional grounding for the conversation.

This bit and the whole second post is very helpful. For some reason I was fumbling between "I build this game and find the right players to play it." and "I need to find players and then we collectively put together the right game for everyone of us" -methods and this helps. Both of course could theoretically be done, but the middle-road propably makes it much easier to actually get to play one day! The hand-outs etc. are also a great idea. It's great to be excited about your idea, but even better if you have something concrete to prove it to others and for them to get excited over also it. Thank you!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: July 24, 2011, 04:05:26 AM »

Hi,

Your re-phrasings go further than what I wrote, which was more about literary inspiration with the aim of playing a role-playing game and less about philosophical anthems or directives outside that aim. I have no idea, at broadest level, whether  reading a novel or playing Sorcerer is more jarring or effective than reading, say, Nietzsche's The Genealogy of Morals (one of my favorite titles by him). I'm not saying this to object or to tell you you're wrong, but merely to distinguish what I wrote from what you wrote. You're taking it farther down a certain road, that's all.

It may also help to consider that although I'm always telling people to define Humanity prior to play, it is perhaps better to say, provisionally label it prior to play, with only a couple of examples of what seems to you, as upcoming GM, as situations meriting a gain roll or a check. The full, developed definition or application for that particular game really takes its shape through the crucible of play, as you (as GM) find your feet regarding what strikes you as heinous or its opposite (I hesitate to use the word "virtuous" in modern speech). That crucible sometimes includes false starts and omissions, especially the latter, that is, simply forgetting to call for a Humanity roll of some kind in the moment. That's correctable by doing it later. My point is that your standards for Humanity rolls of either kind are going to be your standards, and not those of either group consensus or some kind of pre-game legal contract. So you can open the door to them during preparation (and communication with others), but not know them in full.

Best, Ron
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Jaakko Koivula
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Posts: 61

Postmodern man-thing


« Reply #9 on: July 24, 2011, 11:12:38 AM »

Fair enough! I see that I took it rather far, true. I guess the whole philosophy vs. art -debate could be quite a big thing to just solve in a couple of forum posts, heh. Heavily interesting questions though, might have to look into these at some point, out of academic curiosity.

The humanity suggestion also sounds reasonable and usable. I think I now have three interested players together, so I'll be kicking some sort of Sorcerer campaign going soon. Your answers and this forum in general are awesome help and great inspiration for prepping a game. Cheers!

-Jaakko
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: July 27, 2011, 07:37:13 AM »

Hi Jaakko,

Here's an example of a handout I used a few years ago to open the discussion of a game The Dead Are Too Much With Us. The PDF is 6 pages, but I only used the first four for the initial handout.

I chose this one for you because it's quite detailed, designed for people who didn't know much about the game and did not own the rulebook. You'll see that the Humanity definition is very clear, but also very brief, and is open to a fair amount of discovered application as I tried to explain above.

Best, Ron
edited to fix a mis-typed number
« Last Edit: July 27, 2011, 07:40:02 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Jaakko Koivula
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Posts: 61

Postmodern man-thing


« Reply #11 on: August 04, 2011, 11:16:29 AM »

Thanks, inspiring stuff! I got a group together and we're meeting in some weeks to kick up a campaign. We're going into sort of Paranoia (without all the slapstick) and Fallout -direction. Contaminated surface, people living in tunnels, etc. Have pretty solid idea about the visuals, humanity and types of demons, so I think I'll actually make a handout for this. I usually can't be bothered really, but I can see how a detailed handout with some rule-pointers and the basic stuff about the game and some material for everyone to start riffing, could be pretty vital for this game.

I'll maybe post the handout here on the Forge once it's done. Thanks again!
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wholeridge
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« Reply #12 on: August 13, 2011, 07:21:42 AM »

It might interest you to know that Sorcerer is written explicitly from a particular slant on existential philosophy. That slant is best understood not through technical philosophy itself but through literature and film, which as I see it have been as solid a medium for that philosophy as any treatise, or perhaps more so. To the extent that any technical philosophical writings were involved, the only ones I'd point to would be Schopenhauer and Camus.

The slant I'm talking about has two parts: first, the experience of alienation, and I want to stress the experience, as opposed to analysis or especially as opposed to any conclusive analysis; and second, the experience (ditto) of doubt and frustration that even free will itself, upon inspection, is subject to the same disappointments and "cosmic silence" as rational/cosmic guidance.

I'm not sure whether any philosophical writings and treatises ever dared step far into that latter topic, aside from the religious context of predestination. Most existential philosophy that I've read is very firmly rooted in the Romantics and would not dream of violating the sacred (and I do mean that term) Self as a concept. I think Nietzsche's work displays this feature quite prominently. The two I mentioned came the closest, again, in my reading-experience anyway. But literature and later film, on the other hand, has a long tradition all the way back in our oldest still-recorded legendry of questioning whether the self, whether in action or even at the very heart of the concept of personhood, exists, or if it exists in a technical sense, really matters. The Epic of Gilgamesh is about nothing else but, as far as I'm concerned, and it sure as hell offers no comfort about it.

So certain older works, but especially literature and film of a certain edgy, romantic-but-bitter, heroic-but-grim, tragic-but-struggle-on quality all feed into Sorcerer quite directly. It so happens that I outlined it just the other day to add to the annotations for the anniversary edition, and the major elements include:
- pre-modern literature such as Medea and Doctor Faustus
- early twentieth-century pulp-intellectual stories, including Howard, C.A. Smith, and the best of Lovecraft (and the material for The Sorcerer's Soul fits square here as well)
- the sixties' revival of such things in a more acid-drenched, countercultural sense, for example Moorcock and Wagner
- the eighties' retro- and relatively punky revival of such things as found in the diverse work of Salmonson, Vachss, Jeter, Garton, and others; and especially in comics like Grimjack and the early Hellblazer
- and in parallel to the above, a trip through slightly marginal U.S. film such as Exorcist III and Twin Peaks, and in non-U.S. film through directors like Argento and Almodovar, Hong Kong films like The Bride with White Hair and A Better Tomorrow, and some older Japanese films like Onibaba.

It makes a little more sense in my diagram with circles and arrows, but I hope that the list conveys my point regarding the experiences of alienation both from the cosmos and from the self. Perhaps it's also worth pointing out that I have little interest in and consulted no sources from the occult traditions or fashions.

All this is to say that referencing Nietzsche, particularly based on a solid reading and not the stupid caricature of the man and his work that persisted in English-speaking circles until Kaufmann's translations, poses interesting problems. Given all that I wrote above, I think that I'd turn more toward the experiential, responsive, and above all simultaneously enraged-plus-humorous aspects of the work, and less toward developed models of either society or humanity.

Thanks for bringing this up. It's interesting.

Best, Ron

At the risk of being off-topic, I'd like to say that I found this a very illuminating post. I have experienced -- do experience -- both the alienation and the "doubt and frustration" that you describe. I find them very unpleasant experiences. While it is necessary to face them and deal with them in real life, I find no pleasure in wallowing in them through literature and film. This, I suspect, it why my reaction to Conan, Elric, etc. is so radically different reaction from yours. I don't find this a barrier to enjoying Sorcerer itself, but it may explain why I have not been attracted by what I've seen of the supplements written for Sorcery and Sword.

Sincere thanks for the bloodless intellectual stimulation,
Dan (Wholeridge)



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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: August 13, 2011, 10:37:41 AM »

Hi Dan,

You're welcome! I enjoy comparing personal experiences of the issues without confrontation. I'm also curious to see what take you'd bring to the Sorcerer rules, as it's hard to see them from outside my own philosophical perspectives. Or at least those which informed my creativity at that time.

Best, Ron
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The Dragon Master
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« Reply #14 on: August 15, 2011, 01:11:34 PM »

Jaakko,
Thanks for posting this. It's probably been 10 years since I last read Nietzsche or Sartre (or for that matter, anything more philosophical than Hitchhikers Guide), but I always got a kick out of Nietzsche's work and was drawn to his idea of the Overman. I'd definitely like to see what you get worked up for the handout, and I'd love to see an AP if you get the chance.

Incidentally, if you need a 4th player and don't mind running it through Skype, I'd love to get in :-)
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