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Author Topic: [Sorcerer] Got My Mojo Workin'  (Read 3817 times)
James_Nostack
Member

Posts: 726


« on: September 08, 2011, 06:20:43 AM »

Got together with some friends to play Sorcerer for the first time since 2007.  Didn't go as planned, but I'm digging it anyway.

The Players
I know these guys from the New York Red Box, which is predominantly an "OSR" D&D gang but we do indie stuff too sometimes.

Josh had heard about Sorcerer sometime, borrowed the rules a few months ago, and was eager to play.  Josh and I had done some crazy-good Marvel Comics action a few years ago, and we get along.

Dave, I don't know as well.  But in our regular D&D shenanigans he totally plays a Sorcerer dude, and I wanted to play a game with him.  It turns out that he writes horror novels for a living.  Fortuitous!

We're all white middle-class dudes in our mid-30's.  I invited my man Chris, who is 17 who plays with a devil-may-care style that doesn't always prevail in a large group of risk-averse middle-aged D&D wimps, but we couldn't coordinate a schedule.

The Setting[/u]
The players were politely disinterested in my ideas for a modern-day, atomic horror, Russian novel, or anime-influenced game.  Instead, they suggested:

The early days of rock 'n roll, deep swampy South, early 1950's, rockabilly and bluegrass, the Klan, Tennessee Williams & the tail end of Faulkner, Jim Crow, chain gangs, and holy-roller preachers.  Fried chicken, cicadas, and some of the best music you'll ever hear.

Demons are more-or-less straight from Southern folklore (which none of us know too well).  We're going with mysterious, sinister mythological beings, borrowing trappings from the Bible and transplanted African folk-stories.

I explained to the players that given this setting (the segregated South, specifically looking at rock 'n roll as cultural theft) then racial injustice was going to be major part of play.  We all gave each other a look, winced in anticipation, and pushed forward.  (I should point out that we typically play in public at a cafe in New York City.  We got a lot of weird looks just during start-up.)

Dave's Character & Demon[/u]
Dave plays Zachariah Cosgrove, a white, lamed faith healer and revivalist.   Scores 1 (crippled), 6 (Belief System + Manipulative), Lore 3 (Coven).  Telltale is an insectile foot.

To test whether his righteousness can resist the Devil, he has summoned Melchidezek, an inconspicuous tempter-demon.  Among other things, the demon can perceive others' desires, and grants good health (vitality as faith healing).  Melchidezek desires corruption and needs Communion wine and wafers.  Cosgrove and his flock are either Baptist or Pentecostal, so he's got to break into Catholic churches to meet the demon's need.

Zachariah's kicker is that he has integrated his revivalist meetings, to the scandal of the town.  A day or two later, he is cornered and about to be savagely beaten by the local Klansmen.  (This will need spiking.)

Josh's Character & Demon[/u]
Josh plays Tommy Joe Jackson, a struggling young musician (price: unsoulful), and a descendant of Stonewall Jackson.  Scores 3 (Vigorous), 6 (Zest for Life + High Self-Esteem), 1 (Naive). 

Tommy Joe has summoned, with help from Delilah the Root Doctor, the Mojo Hand in order to make a hit rock 'n roll record and live the high life.  The Mojo Hand can Boosts Cover for short bursts and Taints the listeners.  ("Everything people are worried about rock 'n roll, it's really doing!")  Its desire is Mayhem, and its need is adulation. 

Tommy Joe's kicker: while performing at a state fair, his bandstand is mobbed by religious prudes led by his Aunt Sally, and in the melee the Mojo Hand punches a pregnant woman on camera, almost certainly ending Tommy Joe's career.

Next Up
In addition to doing all the usual first session prep - bangs, sketching out some NPC's, maybe some demonic backstory - I want to do some fast research on race, rock music, and religion in the South circa 1950.  Anybody know any quick references?

I also just received a $25 iTunes gift card.  Any suggestions on putting together a soundtrack?
Logged

--Stack
happysmellyfish
Member

Posts: 49


« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2011, 12:10:50 AM »

My grasp of the American South is a little hazy (living in Australia and all) but some tunes I like...

Hard Travelin' by Woody Guthrie (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfq5b1bppJQ)
Where Did You Sleep Last Night? by Leadbelly (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blI2dXHyBj0)
Going Down the Road Feeling Bad by Elizabeth Cotten (incredible) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwdFhWNL0_M)
Southbound by Doc and Merle Watson

As far as I can tell, these are too old to fit exactly with your timeframe. But they sound pretty damn "southern" to me, and could be useful.
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Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


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« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2011, 01:57:33 PM »

Quote
We all gave each other a look, winced in anticipation, and pushed forward.  (I should point out that we typically play in public at a cafe in New York City. We got a lot of weird looks just during start-up.)
There's a thing about roleplay that in some expressions of it it does end up as a kind of impromptu street theatre and actually touching on issues, like racism, in a public space that might touch not just the like minded. Whereas that space would generally have people sticking to the status quo, or ranting against the status quo just to their like minded peers. There's a capacity for roleplay to be, culturally, a little dangerous there. Much like protest marches are in a way.
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Tor Erickson
Member

Posts: 138


« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2011, 08:08:36 PM »

Hey James,

Sounds like a cool game, I think the the preacher character is perfect, though you be right about the kicker needing a little more zest.

The game makes me think of the Sorcerer game I ran back in 2001 (part 1, part 2, and part 3). Like yours, race played a heavy part in the game, though for us the main reason for that was that one of the player's was black, and playing a black character. Being the (white) GM, I had a few jitters, but it worked out great in the end. There were a number of black NPCs as well, and I just played them as very active, powerful characters -- only living in a society that saw them as something less than fully human. I will say that I didn't get too deep into how racism gets internalized by those being oppressed, which is a big deal, but that wasn't something I fully understood at the time anyway, so it was probably for the best that I didn't try and go down that path.

You ask for sources, and I've got two.

First, for an incredible perspective on Christianity, slavery and racism, read Frederick Douglass' essay on Christianity. I think this usually is included in his autobiography as an appendix, so you should be able to get it pretty much anywhere. Talk about a scathing indictment of an institution.... Try this line:

Quote
The man who wields the blood clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus

Yikes. Or this:

Quote
Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other --devils dressed in angels' robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.

Okay. So, for my second suggestion, you absolutely need to check out "American Pictures," by a Jacob Holdt. I cannot exaggerate the power of this book of pictures and text in describing the perseverance of the institution of slavery in the United States. Jacob spent years as a homeless wanderer, living with the poorest of the poor across America, taking pictures, and making human connections. I think in order to flesh out a set of NPCs for a game like you're describing, all you would have to do is sit down with "American Pictures" and a notepad and within 20 minutes you'd have enough highly charged material for a complete story arc.  Here's a link to his website (interestingly enough, I see that he's done some stuff on the KKK-- might be useful for Zachariah's kicker-- Jacob manages to find the humanity in every person, even those we initially find detestable).

Keep us posted!

Tor


Got together with some friends to play Sorcerer for the first time since 2007.  Didn't go as planned, but I'm digging it anyway.

The Players
I know these guys from the New York Red Box, which is predominantly an "OSR" D&D gang but we do indie stuff too sometimes.

Josh had heard about Sorcerer sometime, borrowed the rules a few months ago, and was eager to play.  Josh and I had done some crazy-good Marvel Comics action a few years ago, and we get along.

Dave, I don't know as well.  But in our regular D&D shenanigans he totally plays a Sorcerer dude, and I wanted to play a game with him.  It turns out that he writes horror novels for a living.  Fortuitous!

We're all white middle-class dudes in our mid-30's.  I invited my man Chris, who is 17 who plays with a devil-may-care style that doesn't always prevail in a large group of risk-averse middle-aged D&D wimps, but we couldn't coordinate a schedule.

The Setting[/u]
The players were politely disinterested in my ideas for a modern-day, atomic horror, Russian novel, or anime-influenced game.  Instead, they suggested:

The early days of rock 'n roll, deep swampy South, early 1950's, rockabilly and bluegrass, the Klan, Tennessee Williams & the tail end of Faulkner, Jim Crow, chain gangs, and holy-roller preachers.  Fried chicken, cicadas, and some of the best music you'll ever hear.

Demons are more-or-less straight from Southern folklore (which none of us know too well).  We're going with mysterious, sinister mythological beings, borrowing trappings from the Bible and transplanted African folk-stories.

I explained to the players that given this setting (the segregated South, specifically looking at rock 'n roll as cultural theft) then racial injustice was going to be major part of play.  We all gave each other a look, winced in anticipation, and pushed forward.  (I should point out that we typically play in public at a cafe in New York City.  We got a lot of weird looks just during start-up.)

Dave's Character & Demon[/u]
Dave plays Zachariah Cosgrove, a white, lamed faith healer and revivalist.   Scores 1 (crippled), 6 (Belief System + Manipulative), Lore 3 (Coven).  Telltale is an insectile foot.

To test whether his righteousness can resist the Devil, he has summoned Melchidezek, an inconspicuous tempter-demon.  Among other things, the demon can perceive others' desires, and grants good health (vitality as faith healing).  Melchidezek desires corruption and needs Communion wine and wafers.  Cosgrove and his flock are either Baptist or Pentecostal, so he's got to break into Catholic churches to meet the demon's need.

Zachariah's kicker is that he has integrated his revivalist meetings, to the scandal of the town.  A day or two later, he is cornered and about to be savagely beaten by the local Klansmen.  (This will need spiking.)

Josh's Character & Demon[/u]
Josh plays Tommy Joe Jackson, a struggling young musician (price: unsoulful), and a descendant of Stonewall Jackson.  Scores 3 (Vigorous), 6 (Zest for Life + High Self-Esteem), 1 (Naive). 

Tommy Joe has summoned, with help from Delilah the Root Doctor, the Mojo Hand in order to make a hit rock 'n roll record and live the high life.  The Mojo Hand can Boosts Cover for short bursts and Taints the listeners.  ("Everything people are worried about rock 'n roll, it's really doing!")  Its desire is Mayhem, and its need is adulation. 

Tommy Joe's kicker: while performing at a state fair, his bandstand is mobbed by religious prudes led by his Aunt Sally, and in the melee the Mojo Hand punches a pregnant woman on camera, almost certainly ending Tommy Joe's career.

Next Up
In addition to doing all the usual first session prep - bangs, sketching out some NPC's, maybe some demonic backstory - I want to do some fast research on race, rock music, and religion in the South circa 1950.  Anybody know any quick references?

I also just received a $25 iTunes gift card.  Any suggestions on putting together a soundtrack?
Logged
James_Nostack
Member

Posts: 726


« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2011, 09:15:56 AM »

Thanks for the recommendations, Tor.  I was thinking about your old game when the guys proposed the setting.  Some of the photos on his site are pretty harrowing!

HappySmelly, thanks for those links as well.  I agree the Elizabeth Cotten one is amazing.
Logged

--Stack
James_Nostack
Member

Posts: 726


« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2011, 02:15:50 PM »

Man, I hate this phase of Sorcerer: the phase where I sit around with my thumb up my ass saying, "Jeez, what does the R-Map look like?" 

Rather than adapt a single novel, I'm basically trying to see how far I can go with the NPC's from the players' crosshairs.  This is because the previous times I've run Sorcerer there are just oodles and oodles of NPC's, and I really want to keep this lean.

Kickers:
* Tommy Joe, the aspiring rock 'n roller, gets protested by the Church Ladies' Auxiliary, and it erupts into a riot in which he punches a pregnant woman
* Zachariah is confronted by the Klan, who is ready to lynch him for leading a mixed-race church meeting

Central characters include:
* Smokin' Joe Tate, a Mississippi bluesman who taught Tommy Joe all he knows about the guitar
* Mavis Belle, a 17 year old black girl who apparently can see the future.  Zachariah invited her to testify at his tent revival, and the mixed-race service sent the local bigots into overdrive, leading to attempting to lynch Zachariah as part of his kicker.

Sorcerers include:
* Delilah, a midwife & scavenger living at the edges of the swamp, known to the superstitious as a witch.  I'm thinking that Delilah's self-appointed task is to act as helper, guardian, and avenger to the poorest of the black underclass.  She's doing this because she sees the need for it, but she's also accumulating lots of social capital and favors to call in.

* Old Saul, a repentant sorcerer who was once part of Delilah's coven and who gave it up to come to Jesus.  When Zachariah became an orphan, Old Saul pretty much raised him.  (Zachariah's family and Saul's were both so desperately poor that race wasn't a huge obstacle in their surrogate parent/child relationship.)

I'm thinking for demons, that Mavis Belle has some kind of demon with Hint--the hallucinations on a failure work for speaking in tongues, and special damage for an epileptic fit.  I'm guessing that Delilah is its master, but I don't know that for sure.

There is also a possessor demon, likely Delilah's, with the power to Daze people's perceptions, permitting the host to pass as white (or black as necessary).....
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Roger
Member

Posts: 228


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« Reply #6 on: September 19, 2011, 04:56:51 PM »

Heck, I'll take a stab at it.  Let's see where we end up.



Vertically this is stratified, roughly, into generations.  Just sort of turned out that way.

Cheers,
Roger
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James_Nostack
Member

Posts: 726


« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2011, 06:41:20 AM »

Roger, thank you for the chart!  Unfortunately some other parts of character creation don't let it work exactly as you've drawn it, but I'll save it for later use.

FINISHING PREP
I'm trying to do this as close as possible to the core book.

The Sorcerous Technicality
How badly could a rebellious demon screw its master?  I mean, if it really, really wanted to?  The players' crosshairs included two black sorcerers (Saul and Delilah) in the Jim Crow South.  So what about a Possessor demon that lets its host "pass" for white? 

The Backstory
Saul Phelps was a sorcerer who had bound Prince John the Conqueror, a Possessor demon dedicated to freedom and evading oppressors.  Saul used the demon to build a double-life as a white man.  As the Klan became more active in the mid-1920's, "Saul" obtained a favorable bank loan and bought up farmland to be administered by disaffected blacks.  But when the Depression hit, the proto-commune failed. 

Saul then shared Prince John with his daughter Delilah so she could attend a white school. 

At some point Saul + Prince John try to arrange better medical care for the black residents of Methehatchee by getting charitable donations from white church groups.  This ends up leading to an affair with a very pretty Christian nursing student named Sally.  Prince John's child is a weird half-vegetable thing, and Sally and Saul kill it.

Prince John is incensed.  At some point, Prince John possesses Delilah, and lures her into incest with Saul.  Horrified when he realizes what's happened, Saul banishes Prince John and abandons his family.  Delilah gives birth to Mavis (a demon) 9 months later, but her aunt raises the demon-child.

In the 1950's, when the Klan becomes active again, Delilah summons Prince John and begins a one-woman quest to break the Klan in Methehatchee, regardless of who gets in the way.

Tying This Together
* Saul's proto-commune was on land belonging to Zachariah Cosgrove's family.  He later becomes Zachariah's unwilling mentor in sorcery.
* Sally, the girl he had an affair with, would go on to become Tommy Joe's misanthropic aunt
* Mavis, the demon-child, grows up to become a prophecy-spouting teenager in Zachariah's revival meetings
* Delilah is the swamp witch who helped Tommy Joe bind the Mojo Hand

Endings
Delilah is trying to ascertain who's in the Klan, and then she's going to begin by destroying their loved ones.  She's also aware that her dad is back in town, and is keen to reveal what he did.  (Delilah also tries to help people when she can, but the mission comes first.)

Saul is old now, and hoping to repent.  When he realizes what Delilah is up to, he will try to stop her however he can.

Mavis is young and full of zeal--she wants to see just how far she can stretch her wings.  She'll try to coopt the revival meeting and force its congregants to serve her utterly. 

FIRST SESSION
Recognizing that we'd been pretty tired by the time of Tommy Joe's binding scene last time, we replayed it with additional detail.  Notably, the Mojo Hand came from one of Tommy's high school friends, who had died in a car wreck.

Scene 1 (Tommy Joe's kicker)
As Tommy Joe & the Rhythm begin to play their hit single “Fast Charlene” at the Methehatchee County Fair, the Baptist Ladies' Auxiliary, led by Charlene's mom, storms the stage and starts a riot.  In the fracas, Tommy Joe accidentally punches his manager's pregnant girlfriend in the stomach in front of a reporter.  Tommy Joe slinks out in the confusion, leaving his bandmates to fend for themselves.

Scene 2 (Zachariah's kicker)
Driving home from the hospital (the pregnant girl is Zachariah's estranged cousin), Zachariah comes to a roadblock, and is ambushed by Klansmen infuriated by his leading integrated church services.  Unable to talk his way out of trouble, and about to get tarred and feathered, Zachariah called on his demon, Melchidezek, to fly him out of trouble in front of a horrified crowd.  Melchidezek is wounded in the escape.

Scene 3
Tommy Joe staggers home to his Aunt and Uncle's house the next morning.  His uptight Aunt Sally is giving him grief, but he persuades her to give him one more month to see if he can make it in the music business. 

Scene 4
Later that morning, Zachariah meets Lafayette Whittaker, an NAACP field lawyer, who tries to enlist Zachariah to help end Jim Crow in Methehatchee.  Zachariah is open to the idea, but mainly focused on visiting a Catholic church to steal communion wafers to pay off his demon Melchidezek. 

SESSION TWO
Scene 5
Immediately following, Whittaker and Zachariah drive to his revival camp, to discover night riders knocked down most of the tents, burned some of the goods, and scattered everything to hell and gone. 

Zachariah and his flock confer.  One of them, a young black woman named Mavis who supposedly is given to visions, is incensed and hopes to lead the black congregants in a general strike against the white businesses of Methehatchee.  This unsettles some of the white parishoners.  Zachariah tries to talk her out of it, but she overwhelms him with Hint, and he's left with the hallucination that these are the End Times.  (Also: Zachariah's mentor, Saul, identifies Mavis as a demon, though not necessarily as his child.)

Scene 6
Tommy Joe is desperate for money to get out of Aunt Sally's house.  He tries to hit up his manager, Wild Bill Acres, for money, and after a brief scuffle, they get plastered at Smokey's Vinegar Shack.  Tommy Joe auditions for Smokey (a song composed by the Mojo Hand about drowning one's father) and wins the prospect of a paying gig and Wild Bill promises a record deal though he's vague about terms.

Scene 7
Tommy Joe goes to the hospital to apologize to the girl he punched, Mehitibel Cosgrove.  His Uncle Asa, a doctor, has managed to save the girl's baby, but warns Tommy Joe that he's out of control and the district attorney is gonna try to crack down.  Tommy Joe laughs this off.

He meets Zachariah, who is there to visit with his “slutty” cousin Mehitibel and call her to repentance.  Instead, Mehitibel gets the moral upper hand, and they reconcile.  Zachariah discovers that Tommy has a demonic hand grafted onto his arm, but doesn't do anything yet.

Later, Uncle Asa confronts Zachariah about this faith-healing nonsense, which he sees as harming the public health.  Zachariah challenges him, Faith versus Science—and humiliates Asa completely by practically resurrecting a guy.  Zachariah dominates Asa (leader of the White Citizens Council) to come to the revival meetings and help treat poor black folks.

Scene 8
Tommy Joe doesn't want to stay with his Aunt and Uncle, so he arrives at the apartment of his bandmates.  They're bitter that he left them to hang during the riot.  (One of the bandmates is raving about needing to save his own soul because he saw the Devil last night, revealing to the audience that he was one of the KKK guys trying to lynch Zachariah.)  Tommy Joe physically beats his "friends" into submission, and tells them he's moving in; they can sleep on the floor because he's taking the couch.

Logged

--Stack
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2011, 06:50:49 AM »

Important technical point for Roger: relationship map lines are kinship and sexual contact, not marriage. So the "fucking" line should be solid.

Best, Ron
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James_Nostack
Member

Posts: 726


« Reply #9 on: December 17, 2011, 08:33:28 AM »

Table-Level Update
We've continued the game.  Due to difficulties with scheduling, we play every 3-4 weeks, which is slower than I would like.  I think we're 5 sessions in?

Something weird is going on with my motivation in this game.  I procrastinate on doing any prep for it, am more or less bored with the NPC's, and tend to view the game as a chore I can't wait to finish up.  But at the end of every session, I say to myself, "Gee, this was much more fun than I expected, the players are great, there's some good stuff here."  And then I start feeling apathetic again.  It's a terrible attitude for running Sorcerer.

The players are having a good time.  Dave, playing Zachariah Cosgrove the crippled preacher, is really just ripping into his character, but he's very frustrated by the dice mechanic, which he feels is too inconclusive.  Setting aside that rolling a large number of dice doesn't lead to decisive victory in itself, he's rolled really well several times in argument-type conflicts, only to have people either abandon their actions to resist him, or else just push on through despite a few penalties.  I understand why the rules work this way, but I agree I've been repetitive about this, so I'm trying to adopt a more "one-roll and done" approach.

From a GM's point of view:
* Tommy Joe, the early rock 'n roller, had a really weak kicker.  Neither the player nor I really knew what to do with him, but I think we've got some material now (see below).

* Sorcerers with Will 6 suck.  They're going to dominate the hell out of any social interaction.  Constantly throwing them into physical peril begins to get ridiculous, and without a backstory swarming with demons or NPC sorcerers, Lore isn't going to get invoked very often.  So unless these guys are constantly running into Will 7 or Will 8 opposition, they just run roughshod over everything.  Setting up bangs in which a lot of social pressure gets brought to bear takes a lot of fictional maneuvering and then the players just crush it without a second thought.  (Also, they have very high Humanity scores.)

Fiction-Level Update
Tommy Joe, the rock 'n roller, recruited his musical mentor Smokin' Joe Tate to write songs for him.  During the negotations, Tate's guitar comes to life and offers to help Tommy Joe put his band together if he rapes the daughter of the District Attorney.  (This is a demonic trick courtesy of the sorceress Delilah, who is trying to smash the corrupt white power structure in the town.)

Tommy Joe later harasses the District Attorney's daughter, who was the girlfriend of the Mojo Hand when it was a human, but she runs away.

He then decides he's going to fulfill the Mojo Hand's need by killing its father (gotta have the Mojo Hand on your side if you're going to be giving a break-out performance).  So he heads on over to the family's run-down home, dresses up in the father's Klan robe, and murders him with an axe.  And sets fire to the house.  But not before the Mojo Hand's 8 year old brother sees his face.

Meanwhile, Zachariah Cosgrove, the holy-roller, humiliates the Sheriff (and realizes that he's the leader of the Klan). 

Zachariah tries to rally his followers in advance of a general strike and religious demonstration.  Then it turns out that his ex-sorcerer lieutenant has abducted the beautiful protege (Mavis the passer demon) and has tied her up, stripped her, and is trying to banish her when Mavis's adopted parents walk in and start shrieking. 

This nearly becomes mob justice, except Zachariah browbeats the crowd, and momentarily defuses the scene by getting into a private meeting with Mavis. 

So Now What?
The District Attorney and the District Attorney's Wife (the religious zealot leading the riot at the carnival performance) are both gunning for Tommy Joe.  The Sheriff's men will investigate the murder of their klan-brother and eventually find the child who escaped and who can identify Tommy Joe.  Tommy Joe's uncle is friends with the Sheriff and might intercede - except Tommy Joe's been acting like a snot to his family, so that might not work.

Zachariah is heading into a private conference with a passing demon, a teenage girl whose desire is power and whose need is affection, and whose looking to break her binding to Delilah.  (And Zachariah's regular demon, who constantly seeks to corrupt his church, is going to be strongly in favor of bringing this girl on board.)  All she wants is to drive out Old Saul, the one sorcerer who knows what's going on and who acts as Zachariah's conscience.
Logged

--Stack
James_Nostack
Member

Posts: 726


« Reply #10 on: December 19, 2011, 07:21:34 PM »

Yay!  Finally I'm sufficiently excited about the game.  The trick was realizing that Tommy Joe's story had finally kicked into high gear and was just barreling along.

Fiction Update
Zachariah Cosgrove, the preacher, confronts the beautiful, black teenage Passing demon Mavis in the woods.  Mavis is sketchy on this whole "you're really a demon" thing, but really into the idea of people obeying her because they esteem and love her.  Zachariah and Mavis lose their virginity to each other in the act of shattering her binding to her master, "Tommy Joe Jackson" and Zachariah binds her as his spiritual wife. 

During all of this fooling around, Old Saul--locked in the pantry by an irate mob--ends up banishing Zachariah's starter demon, the imp Melchidezek.  Zachariah's first act as Mavis's new master is to blame her for Melchidezek's disappearance and then inflict Punishment on her when he thinks she's lying.  Then, when Saul crows that he did it, Zachariah forces Mavis to say she'd attempted to seduce Saul, it all went wrong, and he should be held blameless. 

(So Mavis, the new demon with a Desire for Power, has gone from being delightfully bound, to being chastised, punished, and then humiliated.  I see a bad moon a-rising.)

Several hours in the future, Tommy Joe has murdered the Mojo Hand's father, a local klansman.  He then sets to work trying to kill the District Attorney.  (All of this is setting up his big break-out concert performance, by satisfying his own demon and Delilah the Swamp-Witch.)  He leaves with his uncle an occult book he stole from Delilah.

Along the way, he finds one of his band-mates, who's been possessed by one of Delilah's demons sent to recover the book.  They get into a fight inside a speeding car, and get into a hellacious accident.  Fast-talking his way past on-lookers, Tommy Joe takes his friend out to Hangman's Point and is about to murder his best friend, when the demon tries to possess him instead, and fails.  Tommy Joe spares his friend's life, backs his car over the now-unhosted Possessor, and heads back into town . . . where he is arrested for murder by the Sheriff (who is also Grand Dragon of the Klan).

Mechanical Stuff
It frustrates me that these guys are still merrily tromping around Humanity 6, more or less.  There's been a 1-3 Humanity rolls each session, but hasn't made a big difference so far.

I'm not clear on what you roll to see how much damage you take when your '39 Ford plows into a garbage truck at 65 miles per hour but you bail out at the last minute.  On the spur of the moment I was like, "Uh... 5 dice versus your Stamina?  And maybe that's like getting shot with a rifle?" but I'm pretty sure this isn't the right way to handle it. 

Relatedly, it is frustratingly hard to seriously fuck up major characters in this game, both PC and NPC.  Most margins of victory in my experience are 1-2 dice, which means that if you want to really hammer someone important with life-threatening injury, you probably need to lay down 6-8 lasting penalties.  Which basically is going to involve mowing them down with a heavy machine gun multiple times, or with a demon with Special Lethal Damage.  Tommy Joe ended up walking away from the crash with 1 lasting penalty. 

How do you handle PC (or NPC) trying to convince a pissed-off mob?  One demagogue versus another, I can understand.  But what about one guy against a whole passle of furious parents about you having your way with a young girl?  (Same thing applies, I guess, to one man fighting a whole big mob of guys.)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: December 27, 2011, 08:44:10 PM »

Hi James,

I'm lovin' that fiction. I don't have much to say about it as such ...

... but a lot to say about mechanics and about GMing. My take is that you are playing too much softball.

The Humanity checks are actually not what I'm criticizing. You're doing fine with that. 1-3 rolls per session, most of them being Checks I assume, is a fine record. Keep it going. If "the universe" in your game is so inclined that the stuff the characters do isn't going to hurt them at that level, then embrace it. Accept being at the indulgent end of the Tarantino scale. It's just "more room," actually. I'll explain what I mean by that if you want, but it's not relevant to your stated concerns so I won't go into it here.

What I'm criticizing is that you're using dice for too broad a range. Remember that this isn't a simulative mechanic. The dice only occupy the middle part of a certain spectrum whose ends are deterministic, with "Yes" at one end and "No" at the other.

Quote
I'm not clear on what you roll to see how much damage you take when your '39 Ford plows into a garbage truck at 65 miles per hour but you bail out at the last minute. On the spur of the moment I was like, "Uh... 5 dice versus your Stamina? And maybe that's like getting shot with a rifle?" but I'm pretty sure this isn't the right way to handle it.

Right. OK, first thing is to check your own shared standards as established long ago:

Quote
The early days of rock 'n roll, deep swampy South, early 1950's, rockabilly and bluegrass, the Klan, Tennessee Williams & the tail end of Faulkner, Jim Crow, chain gangs, and holy-roller preachers. Fried chicken, cicadas, and some of the best music you'll ever hear.

I'll tell you what I don't see in there: Indiana Jones, Jerry Bruckheimer, blue-screen stunts, and escaping such physical effects as momentum by jumping.

I'm making that point to set up my main answer, which is that you don't roll. Not in this setting/environment, not in those circumstances. You kill the character or, in this case given the circumstances as I understand them, put him in the hospital in critical condition. The only exception would be if a demon's ability were involved, in which case I could talk a bit more about the mechanics but which isn't germaine to my current point. If this seems harsh, consider the clear task of the GM when a player says, "I put the .45 muzzle into my open mouth, press into all the way into the soft palate as it can go, and pull the trigger." It is to kill the character.

Now, given that you hadn't really played with those two ends of the spectrum as firmly in place as I suspect you should have been, doing such a thing out of the blue at that moment in this game would have been a breach, I think. My point is that you should have "tightened up" those ends throughout play up until that point, such that the player would either have known that such an announcement would have such a result, or upon being reminded, would have instantly recognized it. I suggest it's time to chat a little about that with everyone.

Quote
Relatedly, it is frustratingly hard to seriously fuck up major characters in this game, both PC and NPC. Most margins of victory in my experience are 1-2 dice, which means that if you want to really hammer someone important with life-threatening injury, you probably need to lay down 6-8 lasting penalties. Which basically is going to involve mowing them down with a heavy machine gun multiple times, or with a demon with Special Lethal Damage. Tommy Joe ended up walking away from the crash with 1 lasting penalty.

I think at least some of my earlier point takes some of the edge off. For what remains, I consider it a feature. Yet again, just last week, I enjoyed the look on a player's face when his first shot incapacitated his target but didn't quite kill him, and then had to make his character go in, stand there, and empty a round into the face of his friend. No roll necessary, at that point. But if he wanted to accomplish the goal of killing that guy, he had to kill him, not buffered behind the safety of a role-playing mechanic.

Yeah, in Sorcerer, when you have the utter drop on someone utterly unable to defend themselves, they die. No dice needed. But in all other circumstances, every quirky thing that keeps bullets from making clean kills is in full operation. That's what the dice are for, actually, when it comes to Sorcerer violence. If you do manage to demolish someone into temporarily lost actions (uhhh, you are using the during-combat penalties table, aren't you?), then killing them is something you must decide to do.

Quote
How do you handle PC (or NPC) trying to convince a pissed-off mob? One demagogue versus another, I can understand. But what about one guy against a whole passle of furious parents about you having your way with a young girl? (Same thing applies, I guess, to one man fighting a whole big mob of guys.)

This one's easy! Think in terms of what the NPCs are doing if your guy's rhetoric ain't working. And have them do that, dice and all. What you've got now, effectively, is a guy trying to solve being beat to dogshit by talking. The only way that will work is if (i) he rolls higher than every one of them and (ii) every one of them fails his or her defense roll and badly enough that you as GM don't see any point to have anyone bull through the penalties anyway.

I wouldn't even recommend that except that in this case, rhetoric and mobs do fit with the content I quoted above. If it didn't, I'd've treated the situation just as I did your first point.

My bigger point is, either way (dice or yes/no), forget about the whole paradigm that insists on running the "talky conflict" as its own thing first. The talking is the attempted counter-offense against getting beaten up or worse, period.

Best, Ron
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #12 on: December 31, 2011, 04:40:51 PM »

Quote
I'm making that point to set up my main answer, which is that you don't roll. Not in this setting/environment, not in those circumstances. You kill the character or, in this case given the circumstances as I understand them, put him in the hospital in critical condition. The only exception would be if a demon's ability were involved, in which case I could talk a bit more about the mechanics but which isn't germaine to my current point. If this seems harsh, consider the clear task of the GM when a player says, "I put the .45 muzzle into my open mouth, press into all the way into the soft palate as it can go, and pull the trigger." It is to kill the character.

Now, given that you hadn't really played with those two ends of the spectrum as firmly in place as I suspect you should have been, doing such a thing out of the blue at that moment in this game would have been a breach, I think. My point is that you should have "tightened up" those ends throughout play up until that point, such that the player would either have known that such an announcement would have such a result, or upon being reminded, would have instantly recognized it. I suggest it's time to chat a little about that with everyone.

Okay, that's really interesting.  I'm familiar with the core text on this point: without even looking, I know it's the "jump over an elephant" example, which, you know, the minute a player says he wants to vault an elephant, I'm all set to pounce and say, "Hey stupid, no fucking way."  Exactly where this principle shades into more-or-less standard action hero stuff like leaping out of a car is a little murky.  It makes sense that genre would influence that determination: Conan could probably do this, just as Lew Archer probably couldn't.  Might be worth expanding on this a little if the annotations for that chapter haven't been finalized.

Saying, "Hey no I don't think so" strikes me as an under-emphasized but crucial aspect of Sorcerer GM'ing, especially because you've got these PC's who are world-shattering bad-asses whether they realize it or not.  My interpretation has always been to give them a shot in "borderline impossible" situations.

The use of drama resolution here is interesting, since in my limited experience, the dice rarely settle things decisively unless a conflict lasts a very long time.  I like the dice mechanic a lot, it's just that my usual play style in other games is to throw dice for up to 10 minutes and then be like, "Eat it!  I win!" whereas in Sorcerer it's more like: "Um, I now have my thumb on the scale.  Wanna back down?  (rolls some more) Okay, I now have my thumb and two fingers on the scale.  Want some more?"  

Quote
[Regarding the "guy talking his way out of a lynching] Think in terms of what the NPCs are doing if your guy's rhetoric ain't working. And have them do that, dice and all. What you've got now, effectively, is a guy trying to solve being beat to dogshit by talking. The only way that will work is if (i) he rolls higher than every one of them and (ii) every one of them fails his or her defense roll and badly enough that you as GM don't see any point to have anyone bull through the penalties anyway.

I wouldn't even recommend that except that in this case, rhetoric and mobs do fit with the content I quoted above. If it didn't, I'd've treated the situation just as I did your first point.

Hmm, we're on the same page on every point here.  My point was actually much more limited, though: is there an official way to take the individuals in a mob scene and gather them into a singe blob of dice (or as, say, a weapon wielded by the burliest, pushiest guy), so that I'm not tracking 4-5 no-name NPC's acting with somewhere between 2-4 dice each?  

The fictional circumstances were:

Zachariah Cosgrove and his sorcerous mentor, Old Saul Phelps, were about to banish Mavis in a very questionable rite.  Mavis's adoptive mom walks in, rescues Mavis (big conflict scene) and rushes out, shrieking her head off.  The revival camp begins to stir, and eventually Zachariah is confronting a bunch of furious men who want to kill Saul and maim any fool who gets in their way.  Conflict!

Mob, particularly Mavis's adopted father: kill Old Saul
Zachariah: standing in their path, preaching at them about Christian mercy and non-judgmentalness (hoping to interfere with mob's roll, +1 for good dialogue)
Mavis: urging the crowd onward so they won't listen to Zachariah (hoping to interfere with Zach's roll)
Old Saul: ranting about demons and succubi, in a crazed attempt to discredit Mavis (hoping to interfere with Mavis's roll, -2 dice due to dumb approach)
Melchidezek: try to taint Zachariah so bad he just stands aside and lets the mob tear Saul apart

All of this is pretty typical Sorcerer resolution, except for the mob.  In practice, I just said, "Fuck it, I don't feel like rolling for 20 dudes, and only a few could rush forward as an immediate threat anyway.  None of these guys have names, and they've all got piddly dice, so I'm just going to use the biggest, most outraged guy as a stand-in for the whole bunch."  If they had managed to succeed, I probably would have treated the mob as a "rifle" for damage purposes.

In execution, Zachariah just stomped over everyone repeatedly, leading to many aborted actions as the mob hemmed and hawed and tried to work up a fury.  This went on for a rather long time, until we realized we had reached an impasse.  At which point the player proposed a private meeting with Mavis to work this out and we closed out the scene.

But I appreciate the advice.  I'm looking forward to finishing this one up, which my gut tells me is coming soon.

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James_Nostack
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Posts: 726


« Reply #13 on: January 07, 2012, 09:30:02 AM »

Well................  Play emerges from "emergent play."  What a crazy session.

Prep
Over the last couple sessions, the players stomped all over the major NPC's, often without knowing what they were doing. 

Delilah Phelps, the swamp witch, lost both of her demons.  Zachariah the preacher helped Mavis break her binding.  Tommy Joe the rocker managed to trap Prince John the possessor demon in between hosts, and then ran over it.  (Due to circumstances, Delilah likely blames Tommy Joe for both events.)  I decided that Delilah's the type to strike back via sorcery, but only after reloading, so she spends the night summoning and binding the Sweeping Broom.  The dice tell me she hits 0 Humanity in the process.

Mavis, the passer demon, was happily bound to Zachariah--who's first action was to punish her for something she didn't do, then repeatedly humiliated her in front of her followers (her Desire is Power).  That girl is out to cause trouble, and ruin Zachariah as much as hard as she can.  Just biding her time...

Old Saul Phelps, Delilah's father and Zachariah's lieutenant/mentor, managed to banish Melchidezek the Imp, but now Mavis (his incestuous half-demon daughter) is married to Zachariah, his spiritual son.  Now that's a judgment.  Saul's out to find Tommy Joe (who he thinks was Mavis's master) and get his help to banish her.  Failing that: go out in a blaze of shame and glory.

Sheriff Clem Clyburne, (non-sorcerous) head of the KKK, has arrested Tommy Joe for murdering one of his klansmen--but the kid is a friend of the family and can't easily get killed in police custody.  Meanwhile the NAACP organizer has humiliated him several times, and there's a rumor that there's going to be mass demonstration tomorrow.

And Then Play Started
We had a quick talk about some things being impossible regardless of what the dice say.

Zachariah and the NAACP organizer had an interfaith meeting, mainly to give some screen time to the same hysterical NPC who had picketed Tommy Joe's stage performance.  Zachariah insulted her, the meeting broke up, and he tested out Mavis's power of Hint on the people remaining.

Tommy Joe, now in the bullpen at the station house, mouthed off to Clyburne who swatted the kid around pretty good.

Zachariah, believing Tommy Joe had been Mavis's former master, was driving  to the kid's arraignment, hoping to somehow confer, when he heard that the rock-n-roll DJ was having a breakdown after having been jilted by Zachariah's cousin. 

Zach changed plans.  He drove to the station.  Comforted the DJ.  Persuaded him to go home and get some rest.  And put Mavis behind the mic.  And told her to give the town of Methehatchee the Word of God.  When she was reluctant to use her powers in public, Zachariah "ate her sweet potato pie" in the booth. 

Mavis unleashed Hint on the air.

We tried to do the math on this, and figured that if Wild Bill's Rock 'n Riot had a listenership of, say, 1% of a county with a population of about 100,000 people, then one thousand people knew the honest answer to the one question they'd ask God if they could.  Of that group, about 800 were stunned into a daze by the beauty and rapture of Mavis's words.  And of that group, somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 people (give or take) suffered epileptic seizures, conniptions, and somewhere around 8-9 lasting penalties of "special lethal damage."

I briefly paged through my list of NPC's, and for the people we thought were likely to be listening, we diced it out. 

Gruesome.

Hilariously, even at a -5 die penalty, Zachariah did not lose any Humanity for decimating Methehatchee, Tennessee in the name of the rapture.

Hold on a sec, let me just throw my prep notes in the toilet
There were a couple other events that night: Tommy Joe met Saul in prison, they compared notes, and then summoned a demon to bust them out of jail, the police being otherwise distracted.

Mavis, taking a break from prophecy, caught Zachariah by surprise.  Her plan was to soften him up with some Psychic Force and then drop a Hint on him, but Zach was stunned into unconsciousness first.  She stands over him and whispers, as he loses consciousness, "I want a divorce."

Amid a city gone berserk, Saul and Tommy Joe track down the scrapbook of Mavis's childhood and try to banish her.  They fail (due to the strength of Zach's binding as an anchor) but it disrupts Mavis long enough that her attention shifts away from murdering Zachariah right this moment.

Assorted Observations
When Zach's plan became apparent at the station, I had the DJ push back too much, and Mavis push back too little.  (I'm rationalizing this post-hoc because Zachariah was satisfying her Need and her Desire.)

I find the Summoning ritual kind of a drag--you're very likely to fizzle out, and in the middle of a session I'm sometimes too frazzled to improvise a good solution.  So I house-rule by saying a failed Summoning means something came through, just not what you wanted (as per the rules on Page 91).  So Tommy Joe didn't gain superhuman strength, but rather can make shadow-puppets and then Shapeshift into these forms.

The whole backstory with Delilah, Mavis, and Saul has become a bit of an "off-screen super villain soap opera" type of thing, but it's never been anything more than a sub-plot running in the background between two NPC sorcerers.  If Tommy Joe decides to he's had enough, and runs out of town, that's a totally fine resolution to his kicker.  The NPC's are going to pursue their own agendas, but I'm fine if the players want to disregard all of that. 

We've probably got 30 more minutes of play in this.  I was inclined to push through but the others had to break.
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Tor Erickson
Member

Posts: 138


« Reply #14 on: January 07, 2012, 01:06:34 PM »

Hey James,

I'm curious about the 'rapture over the radio' event. How long did this scene take to resolve, both the mechanics and the real life talking including narration? I'm thinking from the point where Zach manages to convince Mavis to go ahead, to the point where you manage to resolve how all of the various parties in the town are affected.

Best,

Tor
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