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Author Topic: [Sorcerer and more] A whole lot about setting  (Read 1708 times)
C Luke Mula
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« on: August 20, 2011, 03:35:31 PM »

Ron, just for clarification...

Quote
Those connotations concern setting as skin, i.e., a completely trivial aspect of scribbling perhaps-elaborate but ultimately inconsequential Color onto a totally-consistent System which has its own features that really drive exactly what play is like no matter what setting is concerned. Whereas for Sorcerer, the Color is supposed to integrate with Setting in such a way that the Character-centric concepts are highlighted even further.

Would you consider Dogs in the Vineyard to be like Sorcerer in its setting ambiguity? I want to say yes, since it seems that no matter what Color is involved, it still is a game about authority and faith.

- Luke
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: August 20, 2011, 06:47:41 PM »

Hi Luke,

Depends on what's being compared.

1. Sorcerer as starting text compared with Dogs as starting text: they aren't the same. The textual Sorcerer content is about setting up for something for which Dogs might be an example.

2. A group using Sorcerer, once past the two key phrases and a certain amount of character creation, compared to Dogs as starting text: quite similar.

That's pretty much my answer, but now you have me thinking ...

Dogs is a lot more than merely a Sorcerer application, and it has certain philosophical roots which are very different in kind, not just degree. For instance, the concept of "demons" regardless of special effects. But along with its unique features, it does share common features with Sorcerer in action. In particular that the setting starts pretty sketchy (and even, arguably naively since it's through the lens of the naive characters), and it should gain weight and content at a needed, rather than pre-set or even pre-understood desirable rate, depending solely on the dramatic tension implicit in the characters.

Now that I'm thinking about it, Dogs in action is probably best compared with Sorcerer + The Sorcerer's Soul, not with the core book alone. That's worth a thread one day.

Best, Ron
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C Luke Mula
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« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2011, 09:45:57 AM »

Hey Ron,

I was actually asking whether or not you considered Dogs to be more like Sorcerer instead of GURPS in how it treats its setting. In other words, though DitV says you can adapt the faith and world to anything you'd like, can you really use any setting (read: skin)? Or do they always need to be focused in a particular direction?

Now that I'm thinking about it, this is more of an issue of situation than it is setting. In Sorcerer or Dogs, any setting really can be used, as long as that setting has specific types of elements that stand in particular relationships with the character(s). So yes, any setting, as long as it's the same general situation. I see that from your statement I quoted in my previous post.

GURPS, on the other hand, is any situation (or, more accurately, no situation).

Your answers bring up something I hadn't considered, though: the amount of setting exploration by both GM and players. In DitV, the town is generated by the GM, even though the overall situation moves without pre-planning. In core Sorcerer, however, the actual setting is fully explored by everyone at the table at the same time, with situations flowing completely out of character creation, specifically the diagrams for each character. Fascinating.

I see this potentially developing into another thread as well, but I'd definitely be interested in seeing a comparison of Dogs with Sorcerer's Soul one day.

- Luke
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wholeridge
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« Reply #3 on: August 21, 2011, 10:44:24 AM »

I'm glad to see this discussion of setting, as I've found myself thinking that setting matters very much. "System matters," of course, but over the past dozen or so years a huge amount of progress has been made in systems. If similar progress has been made in settings, I don't think I've seen it.

It seems to me that setting (in one sense of that word) is the main determinant of what the characters do. In a dungeon crawl characters kill monsters for treasure; in a war setting characters battle the enemy; in a law enforcement setting characters investigate and confront wrong-doers, etc. These encounters can't be more than black and white unless there is moral ambiguity built into the setting. Perhaps more importantly, stronger and more urgent setting goals (eg, "kill the enemy") make other goals (relationships, etc.) weaker and less urgent by comparison.

In another sense of "setting," episodic play does less to encourage relationships than campaign (or "story arc") play. Being on a different planet every week seriously reduces the need to live with the results of one's actions.

Thirdly, setting greatly influences the expectations of the players. A good setting should encourage players to expect interesting relationships and conflicts for their characters, which means taking into account commonly-held stereotypes about the kind of stories that happen in a particular setting.

In my own case, all this is greatly complicated by my desire to have character development occur during play, rather than before play begins. I want characters to begin as near as possible to a tabula rasa, and then to be shaped by their in-game decisions. This means that the equivalent of Kickers have to be built into the setting, since starting characters have no individual backgrounds.

Dan (Wholeridge)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: August 24, 2011, 12:28:32 PM »

Hi Dan,

I think a lot of progress has been made on setting as a productive feature of play in the past decade. But to talk about that, I think we should work on clarifying the term.

Looking over your points, it seems to me as if you are using "setting" for too many things. It's useful to break out the concept of Situation, which is to say, these characters in some particular part of the setting, right at that time when something specific happens. As I see it, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is a setting, or rather, the Federation and its starships are, as conceived for that show. Situation is this particular crew in this particular ship at this particular planet right when the thing that's happened to the people there is close to critical mass, or what's going to happen to it is about to happen to it.

I agree with you regarding the moral ambiguity, but I think the term applies to situations by definition, and to say that setting is morally ambiguous is only short-hand for describing frequent situations in it. One can have a setting which isn't especially morally ambiguous, overall, but here and now, the situation is. Or vice versa.

Your distinction between episodic vs. campaign play strikes me much more of a situation issue too, in terms of situations' closure. Episodic means they close out and are done, "campaign" that they continue to evolve through play-driven changes.

But all of this is quibbling, really, because unless I'm very mistaken, you're working from the idea of a setting which does in fact, without qualm, raise intense conflicts for pretty much anyone in it. So I'll carry on with that as the assumption.

And in that light, your final point, about tabula rasa characters in conflict-rich settings, is a damned good one and a perfectly reasonable design strategy. One of many, yes, but a very good one. One of the best games to work with this concept is HeroQuest, in which one of the character creation options is to start with a blank character sheet, with the exception of a name and a home culture. But even if you use the more standard character creation option, starting player-characters in that game tend to be pretty ordinary (if interesting) members of their home cultures, who develop into highly distinct individuals with heroic-level consequences through their contact with the setting's famously charged conflicts found in any location.

Now, in relation to Sorcerer, it's all backwards: Sorcerer is a game in which situational conflict is deeply, deeply character-centric, with setting being present almost exclusively to frame that conflict and (occasionally, as I mentioned about the outlaws riding into town) to supercharge it. So it's quite the opposite of what you're talking about. In Sorcerer, you don't really have a setting until after you've played.

Best, Ron
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wholeridge
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« Reply #5 on: August 27, 2011, 08:06:18 AM »

Hi Dan,

I think a lot of progress has been made on setting as a productive feature of play in the past decade. But to talk about that, I think we should work on clarifying the term.

Looking over your points, it seems to me as if you are using "setting" for too many things. It's useful to break out the concept of Situation, which is to say, these characters in some particular part of the setting, right at that time when something specific happens. As I see it, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is a setting, or rather, the Federation and its starships are, as conceived for that show. Situation is this particular crew in this particular ship at this particular planet right when the thing that's happened to the people there is close to critical mass, or what's going to happen to it is about to happen to it.

I agree with you regarding the moral ambiguity, but I think the term applies to situations by definition, and to say that setting is morally ambiguous is only short-hand for describing frequent situations in it. One can have a setting which isn't especially morally ambiguous, overall, but here and now, the situation is. Or vice versa.

Your distinction between episodic vs. campaign play strikes me much more of a situation issue too, in terms of situations' closure. Episodic means they close out and are done, "campaign" that they continue to evolve through play-driven changes.

But all of this is quibbling, really, because unless I'm very mistaken, you're working from the idea of a setting which does in fact, without qualm, raise intense conflicts for pretty much anyone in it. So I'll carry on with that as the assumption.

And in that light, your final point, about tabula rasa characters in conflict-rich settings, is a damned good one and a perfectly reasonable design strategy. One of many, yes, but a very good one. One of the best games to work with this concept is HeroQuest, in which one of the character creation options is to start with a blank character sheet, with the exception of a name and a home culture. But even if you use the more standard character creation option, starting player-characters in that game tend to be pretty ordinary (if interesting) members of their home cultures, who develop into highly distinct individuals with heroic-level consequences through their contact with the setting's famously charged conflicts found in any location.

Now, in relation to Sorcerer, it's all backwards: Sorcerer is a game in which situational conflict is deeply, deeply character-centric, with setting being present almost exclusively to frame that conflict and (occasionally, as I mentioned about the outlaws riding into town) to supercharge it. So it's quite the opposite of what you're talking about. In Sorcerer, you don't really have a setting until after you've played.

Best, Ron


Hi Ron,

I would look at "setting" in Sorcerer differently. The nature of humanity and the nature of demons are part of how the world works, and thus part of setting. Not only are these aspects of setting defined before play begins, but the moral ambiguity that they create is essential. Suppose one took the moral ambiguity out of the setting by making demons friendly, helpful, cost-free, and humanity-enhancing. You could still role play a struggle between sorcerers in white hats and inquisitors in black hats. You could even set up small moral ambiguities by giving this inquisitor sincere good intentions or making that one a relative. But you could do all that just as well in D&D. It's the moral ambiguity in the setting that defines Sorcerer.

Your distinction between "setting" and "situation" is a good one, but I think that it describes two ends of a spectrum. My tabula rasa characters can't begin with true situations as you define situation, but they need something just slightly above that -- perhaps we could call it "local setting" -- to quickly stimulate situations during play. As you say, the Sorcerer approach won't work for my characters; global level setting alone isn't enough for them, even one rich in moral ambiguity.

I'll look into HeroQuest. I played RuneQuest a couple decades ago and was not favorably impressed -- ducks and pumpkin-heads too silly, game mechanics too slow (and too lethal, but that's not really fair, D&D was lethal for low level characters, but I had given more slack to my first roleplaying game than I gave to later encounters). I'll try not to let that interfere with my look at HeroQuest.

Best, Dan (Wholeridge, since I don't always remember to add "Dan" at the bottom)

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2011, 10:27:51 AM »

All of the above posts were split from [Sorcerer] At the GenCon booth. I promised I'd split out the setting inquiries into their own thread, and I finally have, because I finally finished the unexpectedly big backup essay I was writing that I figured would be helpful. You can find it here: Setting and emergent stories.

My immediate point based on the posts so far, and assuming that you have at least looked over the essay, is that although Dogs and Sorcerer differ in how the setting is itself generated (both as such and in the immediate location), they are both pretty good examples of character-centric Story Now, with setting acting to facilitate the matter of primary interest, characters who transform under fire.

Luke asked about how that (the two together, acknowledged as similar) would compare with setting in playing GURPS, which he then described as "no situation." This puzzles me a little, because my pretty extensive play of GURPS was quite situation-heavy, and so I'm asking for clarification of the GURPS reference, preferably a given instance of play we can take as a given and as the real topic rather than a blanket description of that game. If possible, it would be handy to use the terms and ideas I presented in the essay, if they are useful enough to serve that purpose.

Any and all discussion of setting's relationship to Sorcerer; the claims and point of the essay, which is actually about a different kind of game; comparing that kind of game to games like Sorcerer; and so on and on ... basically, anything about the essay is open season.

Best, Ron

Phooey, I found there's one sentence I forgot to finalize; it's highlighted in yellow. I'll get to it later.
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jburneko
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« Reply #7 on: October 19, 2011, 01:31:25 PM »

Hello Ron,

Your essay really illuminates for me where in the past I've really floundered with settings.  I have a long history with being too inclusive and too all encompassing when it comes to RPG rules and content.  As such I used to stress and fret when reading a giant setting book as I wondered just how I was going to get ALL of it into play.  I more or less took on the responsibility of being the groups tour-guide.  What order should I visit all these places in?  How much time should I spend at each point?  How do I transition from one point of interest to the next?

Even when I got around to adopting your first point, "pick a location", I totally floundered on the second point, "fuck adventurers".  Distinctly I remember running a 7th Sea game in which I had settled on a particular city in Montaigne but I still allowed the players to create characters from anywhere, the Vodacce fate witch on the run from her family, the Eisen outsider who served as body guard to the scholar from Avalon who was in town doing research.

I think this might all be symptom of buying too much into the, "You can be anything" rallying cry that was so pervasive for a period of  time.

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: October 20, 2011, 08:42:02 AM »

Fixed the unfinished sentence, tightened up the prose throughout, added some useful bits to the DeGenesis example. The link is the same.

Jesse, I'm interested by your description of feeling obliged to go to all the places depicted on an RPG-setting map. It reminds me of all those fantasy novels in the 1980s, in which you could look at the map inevitably provided at the beginning and be confident that once you finished the series (never just a single novel), that you will have been to every damn place depicted on it. (Sudden flashback: my God did the Belgariad suck horse cock.)

Whereas not only was I influenced primarily by older pulp and retro-pulp fantasy in which the map was either absent or a decided afterthought, but also by the early Glorantha texts which were quite clear that although the world map was available, hardly anything in it was filled in, and that all the material for play concerned quite specific points on that map. So I could be working from a different set of starting points, to explain why your account startles me a little.

I agree that the pitch that "you can be anything!," as well as the related attempt to "be anything with our awesome Color!," e.g., 20 races and 100 professions, is definitely counter-productive.

Best, Ron

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jburneko
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« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2011, 11:14:00 AM »

Hey Ron,

I did not read those giant multi-volume fantasy series either.  And I didn't discover the pulp/retro-pulp stuff until I read Sorcerer & Sword.  In terms of actual fantasy fiction as a kid I had only read some Greek Mythology and The Hobbit which really excited me but then could not make it past The Council of Rivendell sequence in Lord of the Rings.  To this day I have only ever finished Fellowship of the Ring.  A few fantasy movies were in there like Ladyhawk and Willow but that's about it.

That means that my young D&D play was less informed by the "Fantasy" part and more by the "Gaming" part.  I viewed that map as kind of being like the game's "board".  NOT to use it in full was kind of like walking up and down only one side of the monopoly board.

That's why when I personally made the jump from more adventure based gaming to more story/character/literature/whatever based gaming I also jumped genres.  I went from fantasy to horror with Mayfair's Chill being my personal game of choice for a significant period of time.  That's because my ACTUAL formative literature exposure consisted of Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, a huge chunk of early and mid-period Stephen King, as well as a smattering of my mother's Agatha Christie and Dorthy L. Sayers collection.  Add just a dash of Michael Crichton techno-thriller for good measure.

So hopefully that adds some light to that thinking.

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2011, 03:46:37 PM »

Hi Jesse,

I was trying to understand your reply without success until I read my post again. It was unclear about one thing: I wasn't trying to guess at your influences. I was comparing my own reading of the 1980s fantasy with my own prior experience, but I can see how it looked like a me-and-you statement. So my apologies for that.

To switch to your other point, I totally understand why so many people grapple with (1) we're going to play at this one spot on the map which is very cool, plus (2) why am I looking at a disconnected mob of characters who all come from somewhere else, have mercenary jobs, and don't give a shit? The character creation rules simply don't have anything to do with the single most important step of prep, which is to specify location. You can pick from "any" race, "any" profession, et cetera.

I have been wanting to play Reign for quite some time, and I find its setting very intriguing. Weird, yes, but that is up my alley, not off-putting at all. But the book's procedure knocks me between the eyes each time I try - how in the world do you reconcile the character creation process, especially the one-roll kind which everyone likes to do, with the constraints and potential found in choosing a location? The characters always wind up being a bunch of generic adventurers. It's exactly like the old days with a cool adventure module using some interesting implied setting, and the AD&D Player Manual. I kept squinting at one and the other, wondering what the hell to do.

Hey, another topic switch ... speaking of Story Before especially, I was combing the archives for threads to cite elsewhere, and I ran into Going Against The Party Mentality from 2001, which fits nicely in here. The decade-old phrase from one of your posts which most bowls me over today is, "I've always thought of Londo and G'kar not as PCs but Major NPCs.  They are plot movers but their interactions are too complex and important to be actual PCs." Holy cow ...

Best, Ron
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