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Author Topic: Hard core Sorcerer talk  (Read 4515 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: July 21, 2011, 12:55:09 PM »

Hi everyone,

As I talked about a while ago, I'm preparing to publish an anniversary edition of Sorcerer. It's composed of exactly the same internal text as the existing core book, but accompanied by extensive annotations. It'll have the original illustrations but probably some new ones with the annotations-text, and it'll have a new cover image, and at last, the cover color scheme that I'd orginally wanted.

I was fortunately able to settle on a voice and a point for the project, which is different from both Jesse's and Christopher's priorities for their projects. As I see it, Jesse's Sorcerer Unbound helps people coming from certain gaming backgrounds to read the rules more effectively, and Christopher's Play Sorcerer explains how the different rules throughout the book have emergent properties when combined in use. Those are great aims, and part of my hope for the annotations was not to try to repeat them. Like I say, I did find a pretty good goal of my own, which I can best describe as identifying and reinforcing how each chapter is supposed to affect how people talk to one another at the table, and in what roles. Ask any questions about what I mean by that if it doesn't seem clear to you; I'm typing fast at the moment.

I've finally put together all the material for the annotations, based on my own line-by-line rereading of the core book. I've also lifted some of my text from various discussions in this forum, when it seemed useful. As far as my own judgment is concerned, I think I've covered the material the book needs.

But it also strikes me I might benefit a little from the people who frequent this forum. I am notoriously uninterested in anyone telling me what they think is wrong with the core book. But I am interested in what anyone would like to learn more about, whether historically or procedurally, from that core book. So let fly!

Best, Ron
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Moreno R.
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« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2011, 07:56:03 PM »

Ron, I don't know if it really isn't in the manual or I simply didn't notice it (that book notoriously change content between readings), but one thing I noticed you did when we played at Internoscon, and I didn't when I tried previusly to play Sorcerer, was to have the players not only fill the back of the character sheet, but to have things near the center of the diagram. And others little things.

More in general, I think I got the sense of how a PC in Sorcerer has to be "right" for the game (and how to make it so) more playing in that game than in reading the manual. I think you should add something that explain this to the character creations chapters.

And examples, a lot of examples, of how the demon's powers can be used in the game.

Something that should be explained, in some way, for people who will buy Sorcerer's Soul too: that it's not necessary to design a relationship map for basic Sorcerer.

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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: July 22, 2011, 06:51:22 AM »

Hi Moreno,

Good call, all of it. Those issues are definitely in my text already.

The text in the core book about the diagram says:

Quote
The real use of the diagram, however, lies in placing the written items near to one another insofar as they are related in story terms. For instance, a sorcerous mentor would certainly be listed in Lore, but it might also be placed up against the boundary with the Kicker section, in which, right across from it, is written "first mission with deliberate murder."

Since I can't imagine how to write the rule more clearly than that, I have decided to reinforce it with an example. One of my annotations is to provide the diagram for Harry Scarborough, the most detailed example character, showing how it starts with four lists of persons, places, and things, and becomes a "story bullseye" when they are placed on the diagram simply by following that simple rule for putting things near to one another based on intrinsic content. In other words, you don't put things near one another or near the center arbitrarily.

I seem to remember at our session that your initial diagram's terms were scattered all around without much of a center. When I demanded that you change that, the only logic that I used came straight out of the terms as they already existed, not by putting them toward the center without reference to their content.

How would you characterize way a player-character is right for the game, aside from the text on pages 15-16 and 33-34? I am finding that I'm treating the topic at two levels, first in whether the player, the real person, is right for the game, and only then considering the character.

It is difficult to write about the uses of Demon abilities, singly and in combination, without reference to a specific game and its "look and feel." I'll provide some, especially for the more mechanically interesting abilities like Fast.

Best, Ron

edited to fix minor format - RE
« Last Edit: July 22, 2011, 07:05:07 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Moreno R.
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« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2011, 12:02:20 PM »

Hi Ron!

The real use of the diagram, however, lies in placing the written items near to one another insofar as they are related in story terms. For instance, a sorcerous mentor would certainly be listed in Lore, but it might also be placed up against the boundary with the Kicker section, in which, right across from it, is written "first mission with deliberate murder."

See,  my reading of this text was that IF two items are related in story terms, THEN you put them near one another. A description of how to draw the diagram, after you have a (already created) backstory for the characters.

But I saw you use the diagram "in the opposite direction": you said "these items are too separate in the diagram, change the fictional content to put them near one another". Not a description of how to write the diagram, but a prescription of how it should be at the end of character creation.

Quote
Since I can't imagine how to write the rule more clearly than that, I have decided to reinforce it with an example. One of my annotations is to provide the diagram for Harry Scarborough, the most detailed example character, showing how it starts with four lists of persons, places, and things, and becomes a "story bullseye" when they are placed on the diagram simply by following that simple rule for putting things near to one another based on intrinsic content. In other words, you don't put things near one another or near the center arbitrarily.

I seem to remember at our session that your initial diagram's terms were scattered all around without much of a center. When I demanded that you change that, the only logic that I used came straight out of the terms as they already existed, not by putting them toward the center without reference to their content.

The first version of the character had the items on the diagram divided in 3 "groups", overlapping in some point the lines between the four sections. One was the family, one was work (as an hit-man), one was the cult.

In the first version, they were tied, but only by the "sorcery / presence of the demon" effects on the fiction. The cult gave him the means to evoke his "sister" and she helped him on his "job"

I don't remember what you said exactly, it was about the items in the diagram being too scattered, and moving them closer to the center, but it was clear, in the contest of the conversation, that this was to be associated with fictional changes.  It was clear that the problem wasn't the diagram that was badly drawn, but the fiction it represented.

So I tied together "work" and the cult, by adding that my boss was a cultist in the same cult, too (and moving the name of the boss near the cult in the diagram), and tied family and work by saying that the death of my sister was caused by "work problems"

I don't know if it's simple like that, "tie them together with something that is not your demon", or if it something more complex to explain, but it should be in the added notes, because my initial character (from my reading of the rules) was legal.

Quote
How would you characterize way a player-character is right for the game, aside from the text on pages 15-16 and 33-34? I am finding that I'm treating the topic at two levels, first in whether the player, the real person, is right for the game, and only then considering the character.

The text on page 15-16 is clear... if you give the words you used the meaning they have in a literary work. But in rpg-land, people are accustomed to find "madness" used to mean some character flaw in GURPS, "Price" is the fact that you can't use armor or two-handed swords if you want to use magic, "Demon" is a mid-level baddie, until you are strong enough to go against the big stuff, , and so on. Worst of all, it resemble the presentation of a lot of "edgy and cool" rpgs that followed Vampire or Kult. GMs are trained by habit to glance lazily at these pages without even reading them

Now, Sorcerer's reputation should lessen this problem a lot,but I think that adding some text about the difference between I Will Not Abandon You play and Nobody Gets Hurt play (and sincerity at the gaming table) would be very useful to help the readers get in the right frame of reference to read that chapter.

Other things I remembered after I posted yesterday (some are a sort of FAQ so probably you already thought of them, but just to be sure...)

- Explaining Conflict Resolution, and that Sorcerer use it

- signal all the modifiers you don't use anymore

- Something like what you wrote in the 2nd edition of Trollbabe, explaining the flow of the game, from scene to scene, and inside a scene.  There is already something on the subject in the book, but not so clear and detailed.

- Something about "what the GM can do and what he shouldn't do". I remember this being a source of many doubts when I tried to play Sorcerer after playing a lot of games where there were clearer limits on what the GM should do or what he can do.  For example, if a particular string of events create a difficult situation for the characters, events that I fully control...  how much should I "screw" the characters?
(example from a Sorcerer and Sword: fantasy game: the PC's village was to be attacked by a rival tribe, so he convinced his mother to flee on the mountains to seek refuge. I had already decided that the village was already surrounded, in case some PC had tried leave the village. But if a PC had tried to flee, his success or failure would have been decided by in-game conflicts. With npcs trying to escape from npcs, it was a decision to be made by GM's fiat.  The most interesting option was to capture his mother, so I opted for that, but it disturbed me the way this was "forced" by me. And still to this day I don't know if that was "good Sorcerer GMing" or "abuse of GM's fiat by a pushing railroader"...)

- Something about the history of the game (obviously)  both pre-publication (more than the two pages already dedicated to it) and post-publication
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Roger
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« Reply #4 on: July 25, 2011, 11:13:26 AM »

This is one of my (few) standard rants about Sorcerer.  As such, I'm not sure if it can be made to fit your purposes here.  But I'll throw it out there.

I'm seeing it as a sidebar, perhaps with the title "Therein Lies Madness".

So you're putting together your Sorcerer game and you find yourself grasping for a concept of Humanity.  Perhaps through exposure to Call of Cthulhu, you decide that "sanity" would be a good place to start, with zero Humanity implying total madness.

It's important that all the players understand what this means.  This means that you, as the real people sitting around playing this game, really believe that out in the real world, those people who are suffering from mental illnesses are literally less human than those who are not.  There's no weaseling out of it -- this is how Humanity works, and this is how it will work in your game.  This is what your game will be about.

If everyone is completely on board with that, then great -- there's no problem here.  If, however, some of the players are reluctant to fully endorse that point of view, then you'll need to go back to the drawing board, or replace the players.  No good comes from just plowing on ahead.



Cheers,
Roger
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: July 25, 2011, 11:48:49 AM »

Hi Moreno,

I appreciate all your points, but I think I need to clarify something about our game in Bertinoro.

Given that time was short and I was not feeling too well all week, I explained to you that ordinarily, I'd look at a character diagram like yours (scattered a bit, no centering of elements) and address it through play itself. I'd play the demons and NPCs as much as I could, and see what you'd do with the character. This usually serves to concentrate at least a couple of elements toward one another, as they acquire "story relatedness" through events. However, as I put it that night, that would be functional only if we planned to play that session for the next six hours or so, i.e., the equivalent of two ordinary Sorcerer sessions. So asking you to alter or deepen the content of various features of your character so that a more bullseye-type pattern was available was a specific tactic for us and that particular night, not what I would ordinarily do in the more relaxed context of non-convention play. Your reading of the text is correct and the "prescriptive" approach was a desperation move, not what I'd want to consider a rule.

However, that doesn't mean that the diagram in development isn't subject to some dialogue. In many ways, the diagram is straightforward gift or prescription for the GM, and it's only fair for him or her to ask the player "is there more" regarding any features on it, or "are these connected," or to point out that certain things must be connected and need to be moved given what's already known or obvious about them. Some of my annotations concern how to do that, from both ends of that conversation. It's tricky because there is no ideal level of content for a beginning Sorcerer character - some people will prefer to have "a guy with a snake tattoo saved my life" present in the kicker with no other explanation, not even of the life-threatening situation; and others will be far more specific about the circumstances and the guy's identity. For the first, it's an invitation to the GM to make something up, which is part of his or her job when such an invitation arrives.

I definitely appreciate your description of the RPG-land reader's interpretation of my text on pp. 15-16. I confess I will never, ever be sympathetic to such a reading (which isn't yours), as my presumption is that I wrote a book using the English language and expect the reader to behave accordingly. Jesse Burneko's Sorcerer Unbound is a key text for such a reader, as well as more generally his larger points about Play Passionately, but I simply can't write for that mind-set.

Hi Roger,

I may quote you on that.

Best, Ron
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Finarvyn
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« Reply #6 on: July 27, 2011, 12:58:02 PM »

Maybe this is for one of the other projects, like Sorcerer Unbound, but I noticed some things in this thread that I think would be good in a book about the game.

It's hard to put my finger on it, but I often see people make statements like "Hey, Ron, when you ran the game I was in you did this..." and it makes me wish I had been able to witness the event so that I could get a better feel for what is being discussed. I'm not sure if there is a better way for you to throw in some "the way I do it" anticdotes more specific than some of the examples, but anything from your personal GM toolbox would be wonderful.

An example of this for me is that I owned and read a copy of Amber Diceless for a few years before I got to play with Erick Wujcik. Just watching him at work made things just click in my brain and provided so many "so that's how it goes" moments.

Sorcerer is a lot like that for me. I can read the rules and run something that seems to follow the philosphy of what I have read, but I'm sure that I'm missing those "aha" moments and simply don't have any idea that they are missing. This makes the difference between an excellent RPG session and a so-so one, and it would be great to glean a few nuggests from your own games.

Again, this may be a bit afield from the focus of your current project, but it's the kind of thing that I'm dying to get exposure to.
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Marv (Finarvyn)
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Steve Hickey


« Reply #7 on: July 27, 2011, 04:19:35 PM »

Slightly related to what Finarvyn has said: when I read the rules and run the game, I get the sense that there are 3 or 4 principles underlying the whole system. These principles seem most obviously expressed in the way currency flows between bonuses and stats and dice.

Anything you can do to articulate the absolute core of Sorceror's system as you see it would be fantastic.
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Cheers,
Steve

Find out more about Left Coast (a game about writers, inspired by the life of Philip K. Dick) on Twitter: @leftcoastrpg
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: July 27, 2011, 08:46:31 PM »

Hi Marv and Steve (that sounds like a comedy duo),

I hope what I'm doing hits what you're talking about on the nose. I finally decided to base the whole project of annotations on the idea that people have to talk about the rules before they make decisions about play, whether during prep, during play itself, or between sessions. And each chapter represents a different sort of talking with one another, placed in a rather reasonable order relative to the process of getting a game into action.

Chapter 1 is me the author talking to anyone who's interested in playing, but is also intended for the organizer of a game to know what to say to others at the outset of prep. It is a lot more Color-first than I realized, which is good, because that was the thing I was anticipating having to explain.

Chapter 2 is how the GM learns what's important about the player-characters, and it's directly concerned with how he or she asks questions so the players end up with characters they really want to play. It is ultimately aimed at how he or she gets those diagrams out of the players.

Chapter 3 is a bit reversed: how the players provide starting information which turns into workable characters for the GM to play.

Chapter 4 is actually mostly about prep, and would be a lot clearer if I'd worked off player-character diagrams from the outset. But it's definitely about how GM and players are talking with one another as creative equals, whether simply as people ("how we play") and as authors going into the fiction ("what we play"). It includes a neat transition from prep issues into play issues, although some of the former looks like play although it's really information about play you need in order to prep.

Chapters 5 and 6 are like subsets of Chapter 4: they are the direct mechanics of making stuff happen during play. It's also apparent to me that the entire book is concerned with System, as organized by what you need to know for any of these steps. Chapter 2 requires what you learned in Chapter 1, Chapter 3 requires what you learned in Chapter 2, and so on. Chapter 4 effectively concludes the material you need to know going into play; Chapters 5 and 6 are what you need to know on top of that while you play.

Chapter 7 is about looking back upon play preferably over multiple sessions.

(This is why people are always complaining about the organization of the book. They're trying to find one little contained section about system and there simply isn't any - it's all system, organized through the process of actually playing. This annotation project has really cemented my confidence in the text as a single readable object, and confirmed my suspicion that standard complaints about the text have a lot to do with expectations, and in my opinion rather entitled and infantile ones that begin with "I don't actually have to read this." Granted, the text does have problems, and I've tried to be as up-front as possible in admitting to them and correcting them in the annotations as well. But not that problem.)

The reason I'm doing all this is exactly what you asked about, Marvin - it brings forward what I say as a person to a bunch of other people at any one of these steps, and what I really need them to say to me, whether I'm GM or a player. And it has to be about talking - no book will ever replace the need for and the necessary features of people's dialogue as they go through these steps, for any role-playing game. I'm using examples as often as possible. And Steve, that brings up the principles you're talking about, because I've found that as a practitioner, I do find myself relying on a few core principles in that kind of dialogue. They are definitely already singled out as key features of the annotations.

Some of them are in fact in the book already, but as Moreno says, positioned and phrased in such a way that many readers simply cannot see it. I've observed this myself - complaints that "the book never said that, how was I supposed to know that," despite the exact thing being prominently placed in Chapter 1 under the heading, "For the player." Others aren't as clear, especially the interesting proposition that not only is every character given no more than enough rope to hang himself or herself, but the whole group is treated exactly the same way relative to the emergent story. Sorcerer as a play-experience isn't concerned with your character as an accepted protagonist of value; nor is it concerned with the group's or the GM's status as gosh-really real-life good authors of a story. To both, it asks, "Oh really? Let's find out."

And there are more mechanics principles as well, most particularly why more dice confer a real but not an amazing advantage, why starting player-characters aren't dramatically mechanically different from one another, why much of the mechanics feeding into a given function (e.g. protection from damage) cannot truly stack, why every character can do all the rituals and what that means in practice, and why the demon abilities are the way they are. I list these here because they actually all express one or two underlying points which I'm hoping to put out in front of everybody, totally exposed.

I appreciate the interest!

I've mentioned this in the past, but will repeat it here in case anyone's forgotten, that a relatively plain document containing all the annotations will be available at the website, for those who do not want to have a new book.

Best, Ron
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #9 on: August 02, 2011, 07:13:10 PM »

Hi Ron, I think having one or two worked examples of "putting it together," particularly Humanity definitions, and how that plays into concepts of Lore, Demonic Power, and so on, would be helpful.  I know that you did this in Sorcerer's Soul Chapter 1, but they were a little cursory for my taste and I think need more explicit treatment.

I would also make it more clear that Sorcerer's currency system is a lot like Calvinball (in the sense of the original comics) - whatever you wanna do, as long as it's done with this currency system, it'll be okay (with demonic abilities maybe being special cases where the rules are tighter).  And so how one GM might adjudicate a situation, and how another might handle it, are going to be fluid and an expression of each GM's general gnarliness.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: August 03, 2011, 03:52:52 AM »

Hi James,

I think your Calvinball take is not correct, at least not quite as stated. It's true that over 15 years, my responses haven't always been consistent. I've gone over my record pretty carefully since you started bringing this up, and the majority of my inconsistencies have simply been mistakes. That's not the same as the kind of nigh-criminal flexibility that I associate with the term Calvinball.

What your comments show me is that I need to explain how the currency is used consistently with other things in play, for that game and that group. If that's what you meant, then I have no objections to it.

Christopher's Sorcerer Unbound is aimed at that kind of property in play, so I'm not spending much time on that. My goal with this work is to show how to get those properties started through good preparation and understanding the basics of play.

Best, Ron
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Finarvyn
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« Reply #11 on: August 03, 2011, 10:48:19 AM »

Hi Marv and Steve (that sounds like a comedy duo),
At least I get top billing! :-)
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Marv (Finarvyn)
Sorcerer * Dresden Files RPG * Amber Diceless
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Finarvyn
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« Reply #12 on: August 03, 2011, 11:00:46 AM »

Chapter 1 = what to say to others at the outset of prep.
Chapter 2 = what's important about the player-characters
Chapter 3 = how the players provide starting information
Chapter 4 = talking with one another as creative equals
Chapters 5 and 6 = direct mechanics of making stuff happen during play
Chapter 7 = looking back upon play preferably over multiple sessions.
This sounds really impressive. Yes, I think it's what I'm looking for.

This is why people are always complaining about the organization of the book. They're trying to find one little contained section about system and there simply isn't any - it's all system, organized through the process of actually playing.
And just telling me that helps some. I'm one of those "find one little contained section" guys, I think.

This annotation project has really cemented my confidence in the text as a single readable object, and confirmed my suspicion that standard complaints about the text have a lot to do with expectations, and in my opinion rather entitled and infantile ones that begin with "I don't actually have to read this."
Maybe, but for me it's not just a matter of not wanted to read, but more of having to really understand each step before I move to the next. I suspect I'm in too much of a hurry when I read RPG books.

The reason I'm doing all this is exactly what you asked about, Marvin - it brings forward what I say as a person to a bunch of other people at any one of these steps, and what I really need them to say to me, whether I'm GM or a player. And it has to be about talking - no book will ever replace the need for and the necessary features of people's dialogue as they go through these steps, for any role-playing game. I'm using examples as often as possible.
Sounds good, at least until you find a way to clone yourself so that you can come with every book sold.

I've mentioned this in the past, but will repeat it here in case anyone's forgotten, that a relatively plain document containing all the annotations will be available at the website, for those who do not want to have a new book.
I know that Iíll want both! Thanks for taking the time to be more specific.
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Marv (Finarvyn)
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