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Independent Game Forums => Adept Press => Topic started by: Simon C on June 13, 2010, 02:02:59 PM

Title: [Sorcerer] Failed States and Demons as a metaphor
Post by: Simon C on June 13, 2010, 02:02:59 PM
A friend of mine and I have been talking about a game of Sorcerer where the Demons are factions (or faction leaders) in a failed state, and Sorcerers are CIA agents, politicians, warlords, and UN workers trying to establish a stable state (or gain personal power) within that state. He's been reading a lot of history and political commentary about failed states and unconventional militaries, and we're both keen to explore those ideas in a roleplaying game.

What I was thinking is that the Demons would be the leaders of various factions (or at least powerful individuals within them), so for example, if your Sorcerer was a CIA agent, you'd write up their handler as a Demon, and their powers would be representations of the CIA's power in the area. They'd have like, Boost Lore (representing intelligence from other spies), Hint, and some other things.

Rituals would be things like paying huge bribes, cutting deals, spreading propaganda. Humanity would be something about whether you're actually making life better for any people, so the real struggle in the game is between power for its own sake, and actually achieving something good for others.

Sorcerers could summon other demons, like for example the leader of the local Islamic funtamentalists, who'd have powers representing an armed militia, maybe sway over some of the civilian population and such, maybe "Travel" representing control of an airport or something.

But that's where things get tricky. I'm not sure how to represent the militias, and the Demons' control over them, in the Sorcerer system. I guess you could just call it "Boost Strength", which has the cool effect that the Demon is always the user of the power. The militia only support you as long as the Demon wants them to.  What if the militia all get killed, or the fundamentalists lose control of their airport? Do they lose the power? It's tricky.

Title: Re: [Sorcerer] Failed States and Demons as a metaphor
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 14, 2010, 06:55:18 AM
Hi Simon,

It seems to me like a good fit without any ambiguities. Militias, or militaries for that matter, seem to me like the simple descriptive content of the various demon abilities. I'm not sure what you're seeing as tricky, as long as the points about the scale of play, as you described in your post, are understood by everyone playing.

Can you describe what you currently anticipate as a conflict that might be resolved during play, in terms of dice? Let's say I'm playing ... h'm, a Hezbollah politician in Lebanon, one of the reps in the Parliament. Say you're the GM. We'll assume I have a good meaty Kicker, and for the obvious (perhaps too obvious) choice of demon, some access/authority to an armed wing of Hezbollah.

You know, that raises a good point. Instead of going right to a conflict, let's talk about Kickers. What do you see, or better, what might you choose yourself, for a player-character's Kicker? We can get back to the conflict stuff after I have a clearer view for Kickers.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: [Sorcerer] Failed States and Demons as a metaphor
Post by: Simon C on June 14, 2010, 01:55:52 PM
Hi Ron,

That's a good question. As an aside, I'd imagined that the Demons would be largely represented by a single person, for the most part, through whom the Sorcerer has access to the militia or other organisation. That's for the simple reason that it lets me give the Demons more personality and makes the relationships more tangible. It also avoids the difficulty of the Sorcerer fracturing the organisation - having good relationships with some members and bad with others, which seems like it would be mighty complicated.  So your Hezbollah politician would have access to, and the personal loyalty (or not) of the leader of an armed wing of Hezbollah.


It's kind of tricky because the characters are already in a pretty unstable position. But, for your Hezbollah dude, maybe something like "The phone rings. It's one of the guys who works for you in the militia. They've captured someone they think is an Israeli spy."

To be honest, I'd imagined using a fictional Eastern European county, or setting the game in the near future, to avoid having to dance around actual events and history. One of the players is really familiar with a lot of the politics of the Middle East, but I'm pretty ignorant.

For a CIA agent, maybe a kicker could be something like "The American embassy has just been bombed, and a previously unknown militant organisation is claiming responsibility. They say they're going to drive all the foriegners out of the country."

Does that help?

Title: Re: [Sorcerer] Failed States and Demons as a metaphor
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 14, 2010, 07:40:27 PM
Hi Simon,

From my perspective, those are not very effective or interesting Kickers. Those are things I'd expect to be seeing these kinds of characters deal with every day, and generally they'd already have, as characters, a pretty good idea of what they might do or how they might want to pursue it. That's not to say they'd be one-dimensional and totally predictable; I'm saying they wouldn't find such a situation utterly destabilizing, especially not as sorcerers.

Christopher Kubasik put it pretty well a while ago: first you have a person, then you have this person as a sorcerer, and now you have this sorcerer who faces a Kicker. Of the three, the Kicker should be the real game-changer of the bunch. Even if it's not immediately obvious how, we know going in that this Kicker has totally altered the playing-field, whether internally to start or externally, eventually both.

The Israeli spy they caught is my deep-cover double agent, and unknown to anyone else, my best friend.

The CIA station has been bombed. I did it, and I should know - I am, or was, the chief of station.

I do not mean to talk down to you and I hope it doesn't look that way. I'm speaking only of what I'm reading here. It seems to me as what you're calling Kickers are merely scene-framing, not bad by any means on that level, but not the gut-chiller or sit-up-in-your-seat attention-getter that a Kicker should be.

To tie this to the point of your thread, I'm saying, if you're going to use Sorcerer for this, then certain features of the game are very well suited to it, and should themselves be brought forward.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: [Sorcerer] Failed States and Demons as a metaphor
Post by: Simon C on June 14, 2010, 08:28:57 PM
Hi Ron,

Yeah, I actually found writing those Kickers pretty hard, because, as you say, it's hard to throw things at these characters that they don't face every day.

The way you've twisted those, making them personal, is pretty cool. It does tie into what I see as the tricky part of this setup though. Given that the interesting part of the game is the personal issues of the characters - the politician's relationship with his best friend, the CIA agent's relationship to the CIA, I find it kind of hard to see how the Demons, which operate on the scale of national politics, are going to be directly relevant to that.

Title: Re: [Sorcerer] Failed States and Demons as a metaphor
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 21, 2010, 05:56:09 AM
Hi Simon,

Sorry about taking so long to reply, especially with such a minor response, as you'll see. The trickiness you're talking about ... I guess I don't see it. Large-scale crisis and resolution, personal consequences and vice versa ... they go together like peanut butter and jelly, to me.

My suggestion is merely to get together with the other guy, specify the setting and context of play a little bit more tightly, and then go into the character and demon creation process. I think that right now, peering into the mist to see what might lie beyond that step isn't going to yield anything. Sorcerer play is notoriously resistant to predicting how it might go, or what might or might not be possible or difficult, at the pre-play reading and speculating stage.

Best, Ron
edited to add important phrase in italics

Title: Re: [Sorcerer] Failed States and Demons as a metaphor
Post by: Simon C on June 21, 2010, 05:09:39 PM
Ron, fair enough!

I'll get back to you.

Thanks for your help.