Please critique my one sheet

Started by The Magus, May 01, 2010, 10:51:54 PM

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The Magus

One sheet: Victorian Steampunk setting

Influences and inspirations
KW Jeter's Infernal Devices, Nemesis the Warlock (the Gothic Empire in particular), Phillip Pullman's His Dark Material's trilogy, more for the flavour than his notion of daemons.  A Victorian version of Charles Stross' Atrocity Archives.

How far would you go in the pursuit of technological excellence?

What is Humanity?
Victorian morality, the lack of expression of emotion and sexuality, justice, freedom, the empire bringing order and protecting British interests.  Middle class values of progress, laissez-faire politics, sportsmanship, business competition, religious piety, hope, honesty, decency, charity, domesticity, materialism, class consciousness, self-respect and deferential conformity to reasonable traditions.

What are Demons?
Object Demons created by brilliant engineers, intricate cogs and glowing lights.  Their aim is to take over the empire, running it on far more mechanical lines in a Borg/Forbin project sort of way, thereby undermining great British values.

What are Sorcerers and thus what is Lore?
Brilliant but eccentric engineers or those working with access to the latest equipment.  Lore is a form of advanced engineering knowledge (see descriptors) that completely baffles.

What are Binding, Summoning, Contacting, Punishing?
Contacting - an obsessive desire to work, chewing cocoa leaves will give bonuses, drawing a schematic in an almost trance-like state, tinkering, building.
Summoning – involves a blood offering of the sorcerer to the device, driving a screwdriver through one's hand, extreme displays of emotion (e.g. primal screaming)
Binding – the application of heat, electricity, cold, involving the device and the sorcerer
Punishing – placing the demon in a Faraday cage.

Stamina - drop 'Chemically Heightened', otherwise as they are.
Will – Change 'Rageful' to 'Cold' (Cold and Vengeful)
Lore – Apprentice, as is
Solitary adept
Engineering genius

I'm thinking of running this at a con, with one slot for chargen and another for actual play.  I'm planning on doing a couple of others also, to offer some scope.  I'll post these in the next couple of days.

Ron Edwards

Would you consider reversing the definition of Humanity? With everything you just described for it being, instead, grounds for losing Humanity?

Speaking only for myself, it seems to me that only in those circumstances would I be interested in playing. However, I may not be in your target audience.

Best, Ron

Graham W

Historically, Piers' definition of Humanity is perfect. That's how Victorian society was: if you didn't believe in God, keep disciplined and abstain from impure influences, you'd descend into debauchery and criminality.

Not that I'm trying to talk you into enjoying it, Ron, but Piers' definition could, I think, do some very interesting things within the Sorcerer rules. The pleasure would be in playing people as they slide down that spiral of debauchery.


Eero Tuovinen

That is so, Graham, but look at the inspirations Piers lists: not one of those works actually presupposes Victorian morality, and they all in fact reverse it just like Ron suggests. Interesting, ain't it?

I could just, barely imagine playing that setting straight - I'm enough of a white European to do it. But I don't know if I could get together a group that could fulfill the Sorcerer rules requirement of actually appreciating that Humanity requirement on a personal level. The nature of demons doesn't seem very antithetical to this Humanity, either.

In fact, I could see a double-definition here: reverse the first sentence and keep the second sentence as is, but make them separate Humanities as per Sorcerer's Soul. The first Humanity would become the issue of personal freedom of emotion, sexuality and thought against the benefits of the imperium, while the second definition would be as above, about the middle-class values of progress, sportsmanship, honesty, etc. I could get behind both of those and it'd be interesting how the two are contrary as regards the political sphere while often being concordant in being anathema to the demonkind who exemplify the worst parts of the empire. Probably too complex for a convention game, but otherwise that seems picture-perfect.
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Ron Edwards

Hi Graham,

I'm at least as well informed about Victorian morality, both British and American, as any non-expert in the field. I appreciate that Alan's summary is accurate.

However, regarding Sorcerer, the prevailing mores of a given setting are not the touchstone for Humanity during play, as I most recently discussed in Humanity and society. In order to use Alan's description as posted above, I would as a person have to buy into some feature of that ethos that I really, personally, think is right. I was careful to speak only for myself in saying that doing so is impossible for me; what others may make of that or find inspiring in it is their business.

As with the thread I linked to, I'll clarify some points about the Day of Dupes scenario in The Sorcerer's Soul, which outlines quite a bit of the literary presence of "honor" in the several relevant books by Alexandre Dumas. I see a substantial amount of tension in those stories between official duties to one's court and military on the one hand, and what might be thought of as emotional and financial ambition, or passion, or even entrepeneurship on the other. The very back-story fact that D'Artagnan is a Gascon means a great deal, and ties directly into the plot fact that nearly everything he does undermines the state rather than supports it. The "code" by which he and his friends live puts them into constant confusion, in which the right thing to do emerges usually out of immediate, rather grubby if understandable urges. In other words, I focused not on honor as 17th-century musketeers may have experienced it or bought into it, but rather as a 19th-century novel dramatized it and made use of it in ways which I think resonate with us, the modern readers. *

Alan, one aspect of this issue to consider is what the word "steampunk" means, to you, outside of its colorful trappings, in rather blunt political and ethical terms.

Quick correction for Eero's post: the doubled-Humanity rules he mentions are found in Sex & Sorcery.

Best, Ron

* By which I draw no particular distinction between us and the original 19th-century audience; that's not my point. Also, I don't think a reader has to verbalize or understand what I'm talking about in order to attend to it and to enjoy it. To illustrate: I find myself inclined to think that Milady DeWinter was not a low-Humanity character.


I like this version of Humanity and would personally be happy to play in it.  It's not entirely mainstream, but I think, depending on the con, you'll get sufficient players.

I know enough people who would move today to the planet Vulcan, if it were possible.  I think that's the closest model out there in the generic geek mindset that covers what you're after, but I am paraphrasing you a bit with that, so I could be wrong.  Some versions of Sherlock Holmes cover similar ground, but I think there's enough variation in interpretations there that it might just confuse the issue.

There's also some finite chance that you might be able to swing some Buddhists in.  I mean, "All desire leads to suffering" fits right in to what you've set up here, it seems to me.

As a suggestion, there's a cliche that I usually hate to see come up in these things, but I think it would fit right in here:  The Freemasons.  Here's a bit of ritual from a random corner of the Web:  "Geometry, the first and the noblest of sciences, is the basis on which the superstructure of Masonry is erected. By geometry, we may curiously trace Nature, through her various windings, to her most concealed recesses. By it we discover the power, the wisdom and the goodness of the Grand Artificer of the Universe, and view with delight the proportions which connect this vast machine."  But you might not share my peculiar interest in them, so that's fine too.

I'm not sure I get a good feeling for Situation out of this one-sheet (which might be okay; I'm not sure if that's one of your goals.)  A quick overview of a sample character, especially his Demon (and its Need) and his Kicker, would make me feel more confident that I knew what I was getting into, if you see what I mean.



Quote from: Eero Tuovinen on May 03, 2010, 10:04:57 AM
The nature of demons doesn't seem very antithetical to this Humanity, either.

This was the one thing that came to mind for me immediately as well.  Suppression of emotion and sexuality versus the mechanization of life just doesn't seem like an either/or sort of things to me.  Seeing humanity as "living up to Victorian principles" versus "efficiency above all" might work.  Maybe "reserved but strongly principled morality" vs "vulgar utilitarianism?"  I know I'm drifting off in to  more romanticized ideas of what Victorian society was about, but I'm just throwing out ideas.
My real name is Timo.

The Magus

Dear all

Many thanks for all your helpful input so far.  I think that Graham has captured what I'm trying to achieve although I really have gained an appreciation of how the game holds together and how important it is to really think this through.  In retrospect I think some of my previous games of Sorcerer have been a bit blasé.  I now get an appreciation of what Jesse Burneko was saying on the Canon Puncture podcast about how tight and constraining (and thereby intense) the game has the potential to be.

Ron - I'm keen to keep the humanity definition and would like to think that I want to have the players walking the tightrope of creating more brilliant inventions but in doing so descending into debauchery and overt expression of emotion

Eero - I think I was trying to use the influences as colour rather than a literal reference.  However, I think what some of those things capture is an established order that the protagonist are either determined to change or forced into changing by various means.  I'm actually think of keeping the first sentence in my definition and diminishing the second somewhat.

Ron again - I rather regret the use of steampunk now.  I feel it is lazy on my part.  I'm now thinking Kind Hearts and Coronets, transgression as a means of climbing the social order.

Roger - I am in agreement about creating a demon.  I'm not going to here but feel that I should clarify Demons' needs.  These will be demands of the Sorcerers to be overt in emotion, either constantly and subtley, or infrequently and violently.  I could see a Sorcerer either speaking of their affections to persons who are the object of this or kissing/groping in public, bursting into tears, having tantrums.  Would those around them put up with this if it yields technological progress?  To the Demon this is just confirmaion of the utility and pathos of human existence.  Their aim is to find a way of existence in the human world without the reliance on human (too wide and out of the remit of the game but I thought that having that 'drive' their might be helpful to hold in mind).

Motipha - I agree with you highlighting the nature of demons.  I want to emphasis the suppression of emotion.  The tech stuff is much less relevant.

This all shows what can happen when you rip your Humanity definition from Wikipedia.