Play Sorcerer: Narrative Tools and Techniques for Social Storytelling

Started by Christopher Kubasik, July 24, 2008, 04:15:42 AM

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Christopher Kubasik

Hi All,

After some discussions with Ron, I've decided to write a compliment guide to Ron Edwards' Sorcerer.

The tools and techniques within Sorcerer do a bang up job of moving the narrative through twists, turns, moral tension and emotional payoff worthy of a good story. I loved the game since I first encountered it, and after tooling around with it for about seven years, I love it even more.

However, the rules are sometimes obscure. Some items have been left unclear. Little explanation has been offered as to how all the pieces fit together. And a great deal of thought has gone into the game since it was published almost a decade ago.

Play Sorcerer will take all the thinking and playing I've done with the game and break out all the rules in a clear and easy to use manner. The book will explain both procedures and the reasons for the procedures (for example, Kickers, Bangs, Bonus Dice and others), how they all work together to a greater effect.

Moreover, the text will be a large essay on the act of social storytelling using roleplaying games in general.

The book will be approximately 150+ pages in a 6×9 format, released at first as a PDF.

I have established a collection for $1500 at to make sure there is interest for the project before I begin.

Anyone donating to this fund will automatically receive a PDF copy of the book upon its completion. (Email addresses are automatically stored when donations are made at Fundable, and I will simply go down the list and mail out the PDFs).

Thank you for your time and interest on this project.

I've set up a blog where I'll be writing about how the project is going at

Donations to the fund can be made at Fundable.

If anyone has any questions about the book or items they want discussed, I'd love to talk about them here.
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Ben Lehman


What will you do if the $1500 is not collected?
Do you anticipate any sales or distribution after the Fundable collection?
If you are unable to complete the project (for whatever reason) what happens to the money?


Christopher Kubasik

Hi Ben,

The way Fundable works is that if the goal is not reached within the established time period (in this case 25 days) the money is returned directly to those who donated to the fund.  It's an all or nothing thing.  Fundable only pays out with a single payment once the goal is reached.

If the $1500 is not collected it means, to me at least, that there's not enough interest to generate a book.  What I will do if there's not enough interest is get back to work writing other projects.  As the Joker says, "If you're good at something, you don't do it unless you get paid."

I'm not sure about the last one.  Short of death, if I get the money, the project will be finished.  As for the death part, I honestly haven't thought that through.  But I'm sure I can leave a note to disburse the money back to the folks who paid. I'll have the emails on file.

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Christopher Kubasik

Okay. I've been collecting suggestions from various sites, and am adding this to the mix. (It's a new publishing model and we're all feeling our way forward!)

Anyone who contributes to the fund will get access to Print on Demand at Lulu. This means printing the book in whatever format you want at cost.

I really like this as a set up.

I've also decided not to set up a tier system where bigger donations get more prizes. I've thought it through and it just seems to complicate things. I'm trying to keep the focus on the book itself.

In other news, we're 30% funded... which both amazes me and really excites me.

Everyone -- thanks for the support for the book so far!

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield


Chris, is Jesse Burneko involved with this project at all? (I know he's been slowly pursuing the same sort of "clearly explaining Sorcerer and tying it all together" concept.) And damn, I wish I had more to toss your way to make this project go.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Christopher Kubasik

Hey man, Thanks!

And Jesse and I have exchanged emails about this.

We both had the idea years ago to do such a book. He announced first. I chose to remain silent and shelve mine, so it wouldn't be a competition.

Time has passed.  I've decided to go for it.  Jesse's response was, "I'm sure Christopher will get his book out long before I do."

The other thing to keep in mind is that Jesse and my book would ultimately be very different, for lots of different reasons.  I look forward to Jesse's book whenever his brain can focus on it.  (He apparently has several projects about RPGs that keep pushing each other around on his plate!)

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield


Quote from: greyorm on July 29, 2008, 04:48:05 AM
Chris, is Jesse Burneko involved with this project at all? (I know he's been slowly pursuing the same sort of "clearly explaining Sorcerer and tying it all together" concept.) And damn, I wish I had more to toss your way to make this project go.

I just want to back up what Christopher said.  Christopher and I know each other out here in the real world.  Christopher being an actual writer is much more project oriented than I am.  I work on things as the whim suits me and have a very it's done when it's done attitude.  So, yes, I suspect Christopher will be done sooner.

I also suspect that Christopher's approach and my approach are VASTLY different.  In some sense Christopher's book will be doing me a favor as part of my problem with completing Sorcerer Unbound has been in nailing down a true target audience.  I keep trying to speak to anyone and everyone who might ever stumble across Sorcerer and as such write the same thing five different ways four of which will just confuse anyone who understands the fifth.

I have a suspicion (I have no more information about Christopher's project than what's been released on the internet) about the general direction Christopher is going with his project. If I'm right then I can settle down some of my anxiety in my own writing about who I'm directing the text towards because I know the other people will be taken care of by Christopher's project.


Christopher Kubasik

If I can settle some of Jesse's anxieties, then the whole thing is worth it.
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield


Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Christopher Kubasik

Hey, no problem.  Jesse's tenacity on Sorcerer has always been an inspiration for me.  (And the game he ran at a local game store game day a few months ago has been one of my most enjoyable games as a Player in a long time!)

In other news:

I have made some changes to what Funders to the book get in return for their cash.

Anyone who contributes will get:

  • Their name (if desired) in a list of the books original Funders
  • A free PDF copy of the book email to them
  • A free PDF copy of the book designed to be read on a computer (The page size will take into account that computer screens are horizontal, and that PDF page numbers usually bear no resemblance to the content's page numbers in a typical PDF. This second version will be paginated so that the PDF page numbers actually match the text pages so page references actually work properly.)
  • Access to Print on Demand at Lulu -- which means the ability to print copies of the book at cost, in any format the Funder desires.

There is no difference in what a person gets in exchange for the Funding the book with different dollar amounts.  A $10 donation gets the same as a $40 donation.  This is to keep things simple more than anything else: the focus of the project to be the book, not organizing different reward tiers for Funders.  We've had contributions from $10 to $50.  I see the difference only as a matter of interest on the part of consumers.  I'm grateful for all of them. 

And finally...

We just hit 50%!
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Christopher Kubasik

So, I sat down to start working on the chapter outlines from my notes... and found that Jesse (who is behind the project) asked a question on the Play Sorcerer blog.

So I thought I'd kick off the editorial discussion with my answer.

Jesse asked:


I'm curious about whether you're intending to more or less preserve the progression of the supplements. On The Forge Ron recently reminded someone that a Relationship Map as defined in the Sorcerer's Soul is an advanced technique with a very specific purpose that is not at all a requirement of *basic* Sorcerer play.

Do you plan on breaking those layers out and addressing how each layer builds on the previous one? Or is it going to be more a comprehensive approach assuming the reader is at least passingly familiar with the concepts across ALL supplements and understands where those devisions already exist?


Here was my reply:

This is will be one of those spots where Ron and I disagree. (If there was no disagreement of any kind between us then I suppose I'd never have had the inspiration to write the book!)

I don't believe the Relationship Map is advanced.  In fact, once I translated into my own way of looking at it, it's very simple.  It takes work, but in execution it is simple.

More importantly, if you don't give Players the tool of the Relationship Map, what are they left with?  How do they prep?  Many methods of play prep are simply at odds with what Sorcerer requires to play.  They simply will not function

And if not those, what?  Draw from Primetime Adventures?  Dogs in the Vineyard?  Without giving a clue to someone picking up the game as to how to get ready to play the players are thrown back on their own devices.  Some will hit, some will miss.  But why not give them a technique that works wonderfully well for the game right off the bat?

Is the Relationship Map the only prep one could use for a Sorcerer game?  Of course not.  Not by a long shot.  But it is so smart and so useful that it is is an excellent choice. 

The Game Master is going to have to prep somehow.  In my view he might as well be handed the best tool available.

So, that's my specific response to your specific example.  In general, Play Sorcerer will be use a similar methodology for what goes into the book and what doesn't.  Is there something in the book or supplements that serves as a (in my view) a baseline for playing the game?   Then I'm discussing it in Play Sorcerer

That means pulling nuggets out of Sorcerer & Sword and Sorcerer & Soul and explicating.  I mentioned this in passing to Ron, but I think most of the material in Sex & Sorcerer won't be touched on in Player Sorcerer.  This, I think, is the advanced stuff.  It will certainly inform the game, but it adds a great do the thematic layers of the content.  It isn't part of what I consider "the bedrock" of game play. 

And here's what I mean by the "bedrock":

You know "The Anatomy of Authored Roleplaying" essay in Sorcerer & Sword?  As far as I'm concerned almost every rule and tool and technique found in the books is in service to Authored Roleplaying.  That is the activity of the game -- just as every game (Football, Risus, Go) has a specific activity.  Play Sorcerer is all about explicating how the rules, tools and techniques of the game work, how they work together, and how they bring this activity about.

So, no... no sequence through the supplements at all.  I see it more like each section will be about gears that interlock with each other as they turn: Bonus Dice, Relationship Maps, Demon Needs, and all of it.  Some are gears within gears, others are very big and move many other gears.  But its how these gears all work in concert to make the game do the thing it does.

Making sure the text actually does what I'm claiming it is going to do, that is, explains how different rules and tools and techniques influence each other, I think will be one of the greatest challenges of the book.  But it's very exciting to know I'll be giving it a try.
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Christopher Kubasik

So, I tried to organize my notes into something really clean and slick.... and failed. I've learned over the years that there's outlining, and then there's the words hitting the page. Only in the latter does the clarity really arrive.

Having said that, I did want to dump out the items I'll be addressing. So what I'm giving you is a bunch of outline notes gathered from across pages in my notebook. It's pretty sparse... but, again, I haven't started writing the book yet.

It's important to know that organization of the book is still gelling. Some times that look like they might only be a subhead of half a page in the "outline" below might end up being ten pages in length. But I did want to offer up where my brain was going with all this:

• Creating Socially
• Trusting the Creative Act
• Limiting Infinite Choices: The Chaos Theory of Improvised Storytelling
• Players at the Table as Audience AND Creators
• The Components of Setting: Demons, Lore, etc...; The GM's Role; The Players' Role
• The Components of a Character: Attributes, Descriptors, Price Goals, NPCs, Places, Lore... (The Front of the character sheet; the back of the Character sheet)
• The Kicker: what makes a Kickerl; how to use it; how it defines the game session; Kicker resolutions
• Bangs: What makes a Bang; how to use them; what isn't a Bang; screwing with Players isn't what Bangs are about.
• Conflict – what Conflict is, what conflict isn't; how to spot it, how to use it
• Using the Dice in Conflict: when to use the Dice; how they produce twists and turns; how the wonkiness of the resolution is a metaphor for how the game plays
• Bonus Dice: how they work, what they mean for the game; how to use them effectively; Bonus Dice as social magnet during play
• Demons: How they function with the PCs
• Demons: How the GM uses them
• Demons: Abilities and how to use them for effective play
• Demons: Needs and Desires and why they matter to the game play; Demons as major NPCS because of RELATIONSHIP to PCs, not abilities
• Humanity: how it works, why it matters to play, what it produces
• Lore: How to set up effective Lore; how to bring Lore into Play
• Sorcery from both Sorcerer and Sorcerer & Sword: narrative and game implications of the activity for characters and players
• Sorcerer: An Intense Roleplaying Game – what the heck that's about and why it matters
• The Setting: Lore, Demons, Humanity and more.... ; explain how each works by itself and how they all work together
• Inspirations for setting; digging into the setting
• The Relationship Map: how it works; why it works; a point of focus for play NOT a simulation of social interaction
• NPCs: building them; using them
• Backstory: NPCs, McGuffins; Narrative focus is vital for Players
• The PCs drive the story forward: how this works, why it works, the great effects it produces; GM: learning to toss bangs rather than build plot; Plot is what happened, story is what's happening; the back and forth of PCs and NPCs
• Narrative Context: anything worth doing in Sorcerer only happens within a Sorcerer story
• Notes on notekeeping: how to organize all these characters and story elements!
• The GM's Prep Work: what you do and why you should trust it; Prepping before the first meeting; prepping after the first meeting; prepping before each session
• Playing the Game: kibitzing, laughing, freaking out; stepping back, checking in, retrofitting story elements; taking time to clarify what just happened or what people want; encouraging the Players to go to town in their choices and descriptions
• Knowing when to stop: lines, veils, closing out a session, ending a story

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Ron Edwards

One clarification of the relationship map issue: if you use the backs of the character sheets, then the key aspects of relationship mapping are very nearly guaranteed to be already in play with the player-characters included.

The method described in The Sorcerer's Soul is more specialized, particularly the way that the sorcerer character is typically not part of the map, and particularly the way that much of the map's content is unknown to many of the participants.

I think that these two concepts have become blended in people's minds, such that my comments about The Sorcerer's Soul were taken to apply to any and all back-story that includes kin and sex ties. That is silly. Christopher, if you're interested, I think the method outlined in that supplement is in fact a much more specific technique than the basic concept, and I think that method is in fact aimed at bringing the sorcerer's Humanity into the foreground of play.

This also may be an example of something that has happened a lot, that a point that I make very specifically, and often in a non-nuanced way, to one person whose needs are clear to me, late in a discussion, is often picked up as a kind of generalized blanket concept that everyone is supposed to elevate as some kind of pronouncement for their games, indeed anyone's game, from that point on.

Best, Ron

Christopher Kubasik

Hi Ron,

I take your point completely.  The Relationship Map as outlined in Sorcerer & Soul is a specific technique.  It is a very different activity than listing NPCs on the back of the character sheet.

I also think it is a specific technique that provides the GM with a flexible and workable backstory and world of NPCs that focus Player attention and let the the game play to the fullest extent.

And, as you say, it's aimed at bringing the sorcerer's Humanity to the foreground in play.  So that's a good thing.

I don't know if you're trying to correct misconceptions I might have, but I know I never blended the back of the character sheet with the Relationship Map in my thinking, nor did I ever assume that the technique is supposed to shoe-horn all aspects of back-story that include kin and sex ties.

As for pronoucments -- of any kind -- I hadn't planned on making any, so I think we're safe on that front.  I also don't think anyone will spot me elevating anything.

If somone doesn't want to use the R-Map, they are -- of course -- free not to use it.  My only point is that I think play is improved on many fronts with a Relationship Map.  I think it's a great technique, adds a lot to the game, and I truly believe that without it.  But one can certainly play without it.


"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Christopher Kubasik

I just logged on and saw we're at $1250.  Frankly, I'm awed.  And excited.

I wanted to thank everyone who's funded so far. 

Strangely, so far this week I met with Michael Eisner and pitched a show at SciFi channel -- but this is the project that has my heart! 

As soon as we hit the funding, this moves to the front of my project plate.  I'm pretty sure we'll hit the $1500, and I"m looking forward to it.

Thanks, everyone!

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield