Sorcerer & Sweet Soul Music (one sheet)

Started by Justice Platt, June 24, 2008, 10:39:21 PM

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Justice Platt

Okey-my first attempt at a real one-sheet for this idea I've had for too long.  I'm asking the old hands to help me beat this into shape

Premise: What is worth doing for social justice & self-determination?

Setting: The world of '60's Southern Soul, around 1967-1968.  Set somewhere like Memphis, in an atmosphere of racial ferment and tension.  The civil rights movement is in full swing, and winning more every day.  The music is slowly becoming more overtly political.  There's a strong emphasis on black ownership of black music, and that is sundering the traditional industry power structures, especially as it becomes clear that the mainstream eats this stuff up, and that anyone can make a few grand (at least) pretty easily with a four track, some session musicians, and somebody fresh out of a gospel combo.  There are examples of massively successful black artists everywhere, and rock n roll is everywhere acknowledging very deep debts and influence to you & yours, explicitly and publicly.  That's the "good" news.

For the bad news, remember what happened in April 1968.

Inspiration: Boogaloo by Murray Kempton, Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick, Hit Men by Frederick Dannen, The Death of Rhythm & Blues by Nelson George, Motown:Music, Money, Sex, & Power by Gerald Posner for books.  Wattstax and Standing in the Shadows of Motown for movies.  All music recorded by Swamp Dogg, Isaac Hayes, Solomon Burke & Marvin Gaye in this time period and later.  Youtube videos like: this one, this one, this one, and this one.

Humanity: Living without ruthless exploitation of others. Also, and explicitly double humanity, fighting for your own, whether it be rights or art or whatever.

0 Humanity=End of artistic vitality.  The festival circuit.  Dying like David Ruffin.  That scene in What's Love Got To Do With It where Ike tries to get Tina to lend him money at the end.

Demons:  Musicians.  If Ike Turner is a sorcerer, Tina is his demon.  If James Brown was a sorcerer, Fred Wesley is his demon.  If Al Bell is a sorcerer, Isaac Hayes is his demon.  (n.b. the game works well with these relationships reversed as well) The demons are the ones who are too messed up with theor own stuff to actually make the hits theselves.  Their needs are either sensation or overt expressions of love.  Their desires are pretty much chaos in some form or another.  Also, demons could be personal talents, but I don't like that idea as much.  (Oh, and just to make it clear-I mean no disrespect at all to the actual human beings I'm talking about-all metaphor).  They all have boost cover.

Rituals: Summoning & Binding:  Metaphorical & literal emotional & physical abuse.  Or, huge and worthless compromise of self.  Big shows, where the sorcerer blows the doors off the other acts on the bill.  Assertion of self at cost to to others.  All w/extra metaphor.  (Obviously, needs more work-I feel like I know it when I see it, but the examples I have in mind are pretty much long stories about singers & label execs.)

Still to come:descriptors.

So, thoughts?  I apologize for all the linky, but I know a lot of this is not exactly well travelled gamer territory.

Ron Edwards

Whoa! I like it a lot.

I'm sort of tempted to back-date it to the late 1950s, when the whole scene was both more repressed (or invisible to many whites anyway) and more hopeful. But you have the details down so well for the period you've chosen, and since that's where your own vision of play "launched," it's better to trust that.

The musicians as demons, huh? I like that a lot too. I think that's mildly counter-intuitive in a very productive way, more so than the route I thought you'd be taking (the reverse).

Since this operates at the very border of demons-as-demons vs. demons-as-metaphor, it's worth considering just how unusual the demonic version of the mentor/manager-sorcerer + musician-demon is. There'd be a lot of such situations without the sorcery at all, right?

Best, Ron

P.S. Links like that are what the internet is for, as I see it.

Justice Platt

Thanks for the vote of confidence, & I appreciate your forbearance, w/you being a Chicago guy especially, in not pointing out that missing Curtis Mayfield on my list of inspirations was a glaring oversight.

Yeah, you hit my conceptual problem strongly-I thought I was just trying to figure out descriptors, but deciding whether "A&R man" is a lore or cover descriptor is (I think) a less thought through & clear version of the same question.  My instincts go towards defining the demons in terms of those tragic figures of massive talent who just couldn't hack it in the world-James Carr, Florence Ballard, Marvin Gaye, David Porter(sorry, no good link there-his story has some slightly happier turns, but the way he spent the early '70s qualifies), Eddie Floyd (well, not so much him but it still kinda works).  I'm also tempted to call those exceptional relationships, just beacuse I think it offers me more metaphorical distance.  Thinking about David Ruffin as just a guy, a prodigious talent undone by his own ego and the music biz in a particularly cruel & tragic way(apparently, shortly before his death, he was given to buying the cocaine for anyone who'd smoke with him while he ranted about how much money Berry Gordy owed him) strikes me as less hard, in some way, than thinking of him as a supernatural thing who had no other life that could have happened, at least for gaming purposes.  I think I kinda need that to try to play this game, just personally.  I know that's not clear enough, but I'm trying...

Last, re:the late fifties-Ray Charles, Little Willie John, Gene Chandler, Jackie's tempting, but I know my own strong aesthetic commitment to the late '60s really makes the concept pop for me.  Still, I love the Sam Cooke Live at the Copa vs. Sam Cooke Live at The Harlem Square Club element there.  And the story of AFO Records is highly in line with everything-more hopeful indeed.

Ron Edwards

Sam Cooke is the linchpin for me. I can't even isolate any one element of his life; it's all one piece with what you're talking about.

And yes - the "demon" element of the game design is a distancing element, effectively a safety feature, which is weird because the word "demon" is a hot-button for everyone, religion or no religion.

That is strange, isn't it? That a distancing element would be so "dangerous"?

I think there are three comfort zones to consider: (i) near-complete safety, (ii) distancing element that slightly softens profoundly unsafe issues, and (iii) unsafe but perhaps most powerful.

Many of my favorite stories are in (ii), to pick an obscure example, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie - I pick that one because the harsh, hard-hitting human story is enhanced by the zombie element, rather than it being "just a zombie flick, cool." But still, the fantastic or (in non-fantasy/SF) coincidence-driven elements do tend to soften what would be very hard to get across in raw, non-adulterated human emotional terms.

I think films like Almodóvar's Live Flesh are right on the money with (iii). Another example, more commercially but still very strong, might be What's Love Got to Do With It.

You are hitting the border of (ii) and (iii) beautifully, I think, and given the period you're talking about, tapping into stuff that matters greatly. Black Americans. Just two words, not even a sentence since it has no verb, and yet most people reading this just had thousands of words of thought cascade through their minds.

With the exception of Steal Away Jordan (and any others I'd love to know about, if they exist), role-playing games have generally weenied out of that whole thing - sometimes claiming to rise above it just because they include black people in their illustrations, or most especially show black people doing stuff "just like white people," which can often be racism 103 rather than 101.

So here you are, using the game I wrote to dive right in. I'm honored. I often read several books at once; at the moment, I'm reading Fugitive Days by Bill Ayers, and having major flashbacks to all sorts of stuff from my youngest memories. Check it out - although it's more about politics, violence, and activism, what you're talking about goes with it really well.

Best, Ron

P.S. (editing this in) I miss Chris Chinn's participation in these forums.