[Sorcerer] First annotations available

Started by Ron Edwards, December 06, 2011, 09:38:31 PM

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Ron Edwards

Hey everyone,

I thought you might like a sneak peek of the annotations I'll be publishing with the new print version of Sorcerer. It turns out I didn't make it for 2011, but I don't mind. It is indeed my big publication for next year.

If you didn't know about it, see Hard core Sorcerer talk and Adept Press thoughts and projects for Sorcerer.

Currently, chapters 1 and 2 are available at the Learn about Sorcerer page, with 3 and 7 coming tomorrow. I'll tart up the page over the next few days. I recommend that you read them in order, because the first one explains the system of diagrams which links the book together. They're all still drafts, so questions and comments are greatly appreciated.

Best, Ron

Moreno R.

Finally! Christmas is early this year!

First question: the feedback: by e-mal or in this thread?  Or in another thread?

For example,  I don't think that the problem of the Bonus Dice on page 19 is satisfying resolved (the annotations maybe make it even more problematic).  I mean that, of these three things...:

1) Be the supreme judge of "good quality role-playing" at the table
2) be the supreme judge of how much the other players are enjoying any single action
3) Be the supreme judge of what I (myself) like.

...The second one is even more problematic than the first, because it turns an aesthetic judgment into a  social (but hidden) one: You don't judge what is explicitly said at the table, but the facial and verbal reactions of your friends, to the point of trying to understand if someone liked something that maybe you did not like. And decide if that enjoyment is enough. (it depends probably on the loudness of the friend, the quiet, calm one will cause a lot less bonus dice than the one who laugh loudly...)

The first statement is instead the same of the third, but with a lot of Hubris added. But these two statements should give the exact same dice during the game. Both are about something you feel yourself, something you know, not something you have to notice in other. You don't have to solve the puzzle of people's behavior.

What i the right place to discuss this? This thread o another one? And what about typos?


(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)

Ron Edwards


All comments and questions should be in this thread so I don't have to hunt for them later.

Don't report typos. The whole thing will be subject to copy-editing later, and there's no point to doing that until the substantive text is finalized.

I don't see the problem with the bonus dice. This is a task the GM simply takes into his or her hands, that's all. It's quite easy, and I don't see any hubris in acknowledging that I like something at the table, or see others liking it. Doing it right merely means staying honest about it, which actually makes the whole thing far simpler.

Based on this and previous comments, I do need to re-write it. But the problem seems to be something like this, in layers:

i) Enjoying stuff at the table.
ii) Ignoring, withdrawing, isolating oneself from that stuff.
iii) Then trying to perceive and communicate about that stuff on top of that isolation.

If I'm at (i) and only (i), then what you're saying makes no sense to me. I have to find a way to write it so that only (i) is communicated.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

Chapters 3 and 7 are now available.

Best, Ron


I've got more to say overall, but I wanted to get this out here sooner rather than later.

I put together some diagrams which, I think, show how the dice mechanic works.  They're illustrations of the examples given in the Chapter 1 annotations.

The diagrams are currently at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/33232616@N07/sets/72157628324541863/

Would these be useful in the rulebook?  Would diagram_0 be a useful play aid around the table?  Maybe, if people are running into problems with this sort of thing.

This sort of thing might also be useful in wild threeway (or more) action, although I haven't tried throwing together one of those yet.

Moreno R.

This is the way I explain it, in the notes in Italian I give the the players:

1) Who win?
The one who roll the highest die.

2) By how much?
Look at the highest die rolled by the loser. Count how many dice of the winner are above that value. This is the degree of success

3) What if there is a tie?
Each one discard the highest die they rolled, and they look again.  If they are still tied, repeat until there is winner.

I have found useful to separate the 3 questions for clarity.

The problem with the way the rule is written in the book, is that it's written in the middle of the text, with nothing to make it stand out when you are in the middle of your first session and you are unsure and you frantically skim the book searching for it. You don't find it, so you try to remember it and that half-memory become "how the dice are read in Sorcerer" for your group. (this is a problem shared by a lot of important parts of the book. It's a book made to be read, not to be consulted or memorized. So when you finish reading it everything seem very clear... and when you encounter problems you did not foresee during the game, the specific rule you need seems to have disappeared from the book. See how many GMs ask for rules clarification about things that are right there in the book... if you know where to look inside a long text paragraph)

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)

Ron Edwards

Hi everyone,

Thanks to all for checking these out. Roger, I'm thinking that the best solution is to include access to these diagrams at the website. And in line with your points, Moreno, perhaps a self-help guide of some kind, or self-organized reference, could become available there. I'll have to think a bit about what I'd like to do. There is literally no way to provide the kind of look-it-up granular information you're talking about in the book itself.

It still shocks me how different the dice are. So much goes against habits at the table, not only in reading them (and seeking complexity when there is very little), but also in physically handling them. I've learned to say, for orthogonal conflicts, "Roll, and don't pick them up." And then, thirty seconds later, I've learned to be prepared to say again, "Don't pick them up."

I'm starting to get a little defensive. I ask that instead of debating about details of phrasing, please look at the larger structure of explanation that I'm utilizing for the annotations, based on the diagram that gets refined chapter by chapter. That's what I need feedback about. I'm also convinced that when it's understood, many of the smaller-scale concerns will actually evaporate.

Best, Ron


Notes on the Annotations (and the Source Text) So Far...

The Diagram:

It's great.  That's about all I have to say about it. 

The *really* great thing about it is that I suspect it provides a very good way to debug a game that has gone awry for some reason.  In addition to its educational value.

The scope of actions and effects

I suspect one of the reasons this tends to work itself out is the overall effect of the rollover mechanic.  It encourages a certain middle ground where the actions are small enough to provide significant rollover when it gets important, and large enough so that all that rollover can be spent on something meaningful.

The Three-Part Player Character

Wow, this is excellent stuff.  It makes me wonder if the timeline typically doesn't work a bit more like:

1. Person.
2. Person encounters Backstory-Kicker.
3. Person summons Demon to handle Backstory-Kicker, becoming a full-fledged Sorcerer.
4. Sorcerer encounters Current-Kicker; play begins.

It makes it explicit, to my mind, why step #3 can't be accidental or any of that weak crap.

Out on an increasingly speculative limb, I wonder if maybe this is related to that common "first session of Sorcerer seemed a bit flat" phenomenon.  Are players tending to, by default, deal with their current Kicker as "just people" and not actually as sorcerers?  That might explain it.

Example Characters

Okay, that bit in the source text about Harry that says something like "the GM considers forcing me to base Harry's Cover on Will instead of Stamina" is pretty stinky.  It contradicts the explicit rules and seems to imply all that terrible old "but the GM of course can break whatever rules he feels like" feeling that is terrible.  I think it can be removed with no loss and much gain.

A bit more pedantically, if somehow this hasn't been pointed out in the last ten years, Harry's character sheet has his second descriptor for Stamina missing.  So yeah, fix that.

When it comes to Armand, I find myself a bit suspicious of the demon Need of "sincere affection".  It just seems problematic to me.

Demons: Abilities

I find most of my confusion here comes from using the term "user" as synonymous with "target", except when it's not.  I can't think of any good reason to do this.

What I'd really prefer is these section to be laid out more like the spell list from D&D, with explicitly bullet-pointed user, target, ranged?, etc, entries.  But I'm not holding my breath.


These changes make Hint a lot more useful and interesting in every way, so that's good.

With respect to the "first clarification", the "communicative ability" bit, I find myself wondering what the power actually does.  I mean, I can just communicate normally and ask the demon whatever it is I want to know, right?  So is this power simply a way of guaranteeing that the demon is not lying to me?

It also makes me wonder how introspective the demon can be when it comes to Hinting.  Is it kosher to ask, say, whether the Binding favours me or the demon?  Or is this the sort of thing that must be worked out for every setting?


"What matters is that it [...] cannot satisfy it without help."

Does this mean we can finally get away from the (in my opinion) complete nonsense about demons being even theoretically able to somehow fulfill their own Need, in any way, without the help of the Bound master?  Because that's always bugged me.

It occurs to me that the Rule of Need (pg 59) might be the only one of those three that we really need, if we're strict about this.  An unBound demon cannot get his Needs met in any way, so we don't really need the Rule of Binding.  And I think it's consistent to suggest that parasites and possessors need, in a strict way, a Host in order to have their Need met.  No Host, no way to meet Need, and they starve that way.

There's Something About Stephanie

The new section "Preparing for demon behaviour and actions", bullet point 3:  I'd be inclined to make some mention of Stephanie's Price here, as it seems like it should be relevant to the GM.

Roger's Big Essay About Demons

There's two models I keep in mind when I think about demons.

The first model is machines.  Not just any machine, but that particular sort of machine that is inherently dangerous, with an untamed brutality about it.  Chainsaws, wood chippers, firearms of all sorts -- indeed, the various instruments of war fall into this category without exception -- and so forth.

The main demonic thing to learn from machines is that they have no free will.  It is literally impossible for a gun to care that it's about to shoot your foot or a burglar or your wife.  All it can do is exactly what the user tells it to do.  If that means cutting off your fingers, so be it.

The second model is animals.  Not just any animal, but those of a  particularly alien, wild, and violent sort.  Sharks, alligators and crocodiles, lethal snakes, the blue-ringed octopus, among others.

Like machines, these sorts of animals also have no free will to speak of.  If they do have free will, it is of a sort that is alien enough to be incomprehensible to humanity.  It's not that a snake is mean or vicious or angry or any of those human things.  It's simply that, given a certain set of factors in a certain context, a snake will engage in the activity of attacking.  A human that understands this, and survives, will always blame himself if he is attacked.

Wild animals bring a measure of their fickle, capricious, and treacherous nature to the concept of demons -- although machines of sufficient complexity certainly have their own fair share of this.  The human approximations of their psychology and behaviour is only ever a shaky, incomplete model.

Of course, not all machines and not all animals have this demonic nature.  Some machines are consumer-grade, and some animals are domesticated.

A consumer-grade device is intentionally designed to be more forgiving and less lethal to the incompetent user.  The concept is antithetical to demons.  Imagine Sweeney Todd arming himself with two safety razors.  There is a sad, neutered quality to these machines.

Domesticated animals, such as dogs, have a psychology and measure of free will that is comprehensible to humans.  They are tame in a way that demons never can be.  Cats, although theoretically domesticated, are an interesting case -- they behave a lot more like demons than not.  They're worth observing.

The whole thing about "Demons do not exist" means only and exactly this:  it is strictly impossible for demons to be made consumer-grade or to be domesticated.  There are no "Demon Whisperers" around who can talk them out of their Needs or Desires.  There's no grand catalogue for a sorcerer to reference and summon a demon built-to-order; no way to reverse engineer whatever is inside them.  The whole thing about "There are no utility demons" is just another way to express this.  A demon might, for a while, pretend to be a consumer-grade object or a domesticated pet, but it's just a trick.

It is worth mentioning another machine, another animal, which fits these specifications exactly, and with which we are all intimately familiar.  That machine is the human body.



Hey Ron,

I'm really digging this stuff.  It provides so many conceptual bridges between things as well as draws attention to really important but easily glossed over areas of the text.

That's not really deep or helpful feedback but I wanted to acknowledge that I'd read it and that I was enjoying it.  The little snippets of AP are very inspirational as well.


Paul Czege

If you think Roger's dice diagrams (or something like them) would be useful, you could insert additional pages for them and just number the pages 16a, 16b, 16c, 16d, etc.

"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton

Ron Edwards

Hi Roger,

For your technical questions ...

My call is that the "flat" first session is actually a feature, not a bug. It's a process of learning that you can actually play your character rather than sift a bunch of chaff for clues, or be forced to care about some "mystery," or posture at one another over faction membership, or any of that other ass. It's also a process of learning that the diagram-based information is actually powerful and complex enough to become a foundation for play. I should also point out that the "flat" sensation is always restricted to the GM, based on expectations built from other games, and is usually subverted in practice when the players talk about how much fun they had.

I see what I need to clarify about Hint. The point of that ability is that the demon is actually ignored as a character. Don't think of it  as talking to the demon, but rather as going through a door the demon opens. The Yes/No answer is actually delivered by the GM. The demon's knowledge, personality, and priorities have nothing to do with the answer at all. If the character wants to know X, and the Hint succeeds, then he or she now knows it, do not pass Go, no $200. Depending on the special effects, the demon might not even know it after using the ability.

I'd prefer not to get sidetracked by hypotheticals, but I was thinking in terms of concrete information, not "is there a God" or anything like that.

Regarding the three Rules, my thinking is that they are cumulative, not merely expressing the same thing twice. Therefore an un-Hosted, un-Bound, too-long-Need Parasite or Possessor is losing three at a time, not just one.

Some of your statements look like they might be questions, but I am not sure. Let me know if there's something in your post that you wanted me to address beyond what I've said here.

Best, Ron


Hi Ron,

You've stated that you're doing this as annotations and not revisions to the core text, so feel free to take my comments about seeing certain things earlier or later with a grain of salt.  I'm mostly noting them from a point of ease-of-understanding for a new Sorcerer player, and that some ideas serve as critical context for other ideas. 

Numbered for my own sanity, hopefully easier for you as well:

I really like the Chapter Layout/Process of Play chart, and how you keep coming back to it and highlighting each step and how the procedures fit into that.   I can really see how a lot of threads here at the Forge over the years have been around trying to communicate both the process and the "why" and this seems to do a great job of breaking it down.

Chris Kubasik's comment about the division between a person vs. a sorcerer vs. a sorcerer under a kicker is a great point - and my most recent Sorcerer game really highlighted that issue for us.

The contrast and compare of the way gamer issues or gamer traditions serve to avoid engagement is pretty useful and critical for a lot of gamers to transition into play.

Descriptors as OTE traits is very illuminating.  I really do wish that was part of the core text this whole time.

The extra diagram procedures are very nice and useful for thinking about how this prep tool works.

Your comments about the example characters, demons and power adjustments are the only points where I would seriously prefer to see the revised versions in the core book from get-go rather than annotated after the fact.

"Don't drop the ball on me" etc. from that thread a while back- that's still gold and might do well earlier in the text.  Or maybe not.  It just seems very critical and serves as a fucking banner to wave about what this game is about.  Putting it (or some version of) up front might give people better context as they go through the book.

Desire & Need.  This is an excellent explanation and I feel like it's a critical half to understanding demons as dysfunctional relationships.  I'd also want to see some version of this earlier in the bo

"Demons don't exist".  I've personally found it easiest to describe this by pointing to horror movies: "Freddy Krueger.  Jason. Candyman.  See how they break they rules?  It's not like there's a world full of these guys, or even totally clear rules on how they work.  They shouldn't exist in the first place, but they do, and they're not going to stop.  You?  You got a demon that breaks the rules.  It shouldn't be, and no one has a fucking clue how it really works.  You just got the best guesses that seem to work."

10. James quote starting Chapter 7 is gold.


Ron Edwards

Hi everyone,

Everything posted so far is being taken to the text and incorporated in some way. I'm not going into much discussion here because I need to concentrate on the writing, which I imagine is probably OK by you. But keep posting! And if there's something you'd like to see me respond to here (either posted already or after this one) then let me know.

I'm currently enjoying the work very much. Chapter 4 (the hardest) is now up to speed, although I haven't posted it, and I'm almost done with 5 and 6. You can probably imagine why they're the last, being most deeply embedded in the diagram.

Best, Ron

Per Fischer

Nothing much to add apart from I'm loving this. I'm only in Ch. 2 because I went back a re-read the first part. It's golden for not only understanding the intentions behind Sorcerer's design, but also helps getting it and, I hope, helping one's co-players getting.

Personal favorites so far:
Ch 1: "To the player:  nothing will take care of you. This game is not intended to preserve your character's life, to make him or her look good all the time, or to make him or her the hero in some guaranteed way. The only thing the character can rely upon is you."

Ch 2: Replacing stat names with descriptors - thinking of them as traits, and the way they have to be focused as a defined list.


Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


QuoteI'll deal with the single most problematic aspect of the demon ability rules right this moment. Take all mention of
distances and weights and cross'em off. Make them gone.

Laughing.  So.  Hard.

Thank you for that.