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I choose you, Sorcerer

Started by Graham W, August 31, 2010, 06:11:27 PM

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Graham W

On the way to GenCon, I talked to some guy called Vincent about Sorcerer. He suggested that Sorcerer often gets seen as an excessively serious game: a gut-wrenching emotional fest, full of tough decisions.

However, he suggested Sorcerer worked better when played lighter. For example, he said it would work excellently as a Pokemon game. We talked, too, about the possibility of a His Dark Materials Sorcerer. There was an idea of the demon as mischievous, which appealed to me. More generally, it seemed to be Sorcerer seen through the lens of children's fiction: light on the surface, but with dark things lurking in the fiction beneath.

If so, that's a version of Sorcerer that would appeal to me. Does that ring true: that Sorcerer plays better with a light touch?

Ron Edwards

Hi Graham,

I don't think better is the right question, and I am skeptical that Vincent said specifically better in an absolute sense. I know it's worked well for him.

I have always recommended kid-Sorcerer or more generally, lighter-touch Sorcerer. My Demon Cops supplement is an excellent example. Vincent's Pokemon-ish game, Christopher's game for kids, and many others ... discussions of comics sources like Leave it to Chance and Courtly Crumrin and the Night Things ... if you do a little searching in this forum, you'll find a long history of the topic. In short, yes, it works, it requires no rules tweaking at all, and it's fun as hell.

I've also played some really sabre-toothed, savage Sorcerer, especially stripped-down core book foundational style, with results I have never experienced or observed for any other game.

Do you want to lock horns about which is better, or do you want to talk about why and how the lighter touch works at all?

Best, Ron



It also depends on what you mean by "lighter."  Given what you said about mischievous demons what comes to mind is the setup I have lying around for doing Children Sorcerer with Fairies as demons.  As Ron pointed out, it requires no rule changes.  I haven't had a chance to play it yet but it does generally get people excited when I describe it to them.

One comment I'd like to make along the lines of "better" is that Sorcerer DOES get better when you remember to actually play with, have fun and generally indulge in the game's fantastical elements.  One thing newbies tend to do (myself included) is get all hung up on the idea that Sorcerer is about "morals and ethics" and twist themselves into these really bleak situations because they're afraid that should, you know, an honest to god MONSTER show up then everyone will just focus on killing the monster and all the moral content will fall by the wayside.  You seem the same kind of angsting among Dogs in the Vineyard players who are afraid to take their Towns up to Sorcery.

This isn't simply true.  In fact the game gets a lot my dynamic, emotionally deep and easier to play if you go ahead and indulge in all the weirdness.  My best games have all included some horrible awful THING murdering, ruining lives and generally causing problems.  So "lighter" can also be about remembering to indulge in the pure imaginary fun of some monstrous horror.

In fact, I suspect that indulgence is a bit *easier* to do in tonally lighter game like Vincent's Pokemon example.


Graham W

Ron, I'm probably paraphrasing Vincent badly. I'd like to talk about how Sorcerer works when played with a lighter touch.

Thanks, Jesse, that is very useful.

Ron Edwards

"Light on the surface, but with dark things lurking underneath."

Sounds to me like you already have the right idea.

My only thought to contribute concerns one thing I like about the kids' lit which I incompletely referenced above is that the core issues are alienation and different sorts of valid childhood fears, but neither, or rarely, going into wholly fantastically-derived problems (i.e. irrelevancy) or real but less general dangers to children (e.g. physical and/or sexual abuse). The problems are real-world and chronic rather than acute. Courtney's parents are emotionally absent; Chance's mother is dead. In each case, the father figure or father, respectively, loves his child but is himself in frequent danger, and not entirely skilled at parenting. Other issues which show up in their stories, and obviously in lots of similar material, is cruelty among children.

I'm not saying this is the only way to go, but I think it would be quite powerful using the Sorcerer rules. Perhaps more so than a major emphasis on demonology and "how magic works," or an acute overriding danger like a kidnapper and/or abusive context. Although for the latter, The Maxxx doesn't flinch from its material, and I think that's a whole lotta good Sorcerer-style thinking too (Wikipedia entry, Unofficial fan site.

Vincent's game is described in We're playing Pokemon Sorcerer. Christopher's is described in Sorcerer + Kids = "YAAAAY!". Some prep of this type is discussed in Sorcerer] Linda Meier. See also Disturbing thought for the day which includes multiple useful older links, including the 2003 one that I couldn't remember in the above thread, and a 2006 thread which painstakingly re-invents the wheel.

Links: Leave it to Chance Wikipedia entry; Oni Press page for Courtney Crumrin. There are lots more, classic ideas to mine too, including The Phantom Tollbooth, Where the Wild Things Are (the book, period), or even Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Finally, and as mentioned a couple of times, in terms of "how Sorcerer plays" when you do this, as far as I can tell from all the play reports, the answer is perfectly well, with no rules tweaks.

Best, Ron


What I said was, Sorcerer is better than overwrought beret-wearing clove-smoking Sorcerer, with our Pokemon Sorcerer game in particular, and kid lit Sorcerer in general, as an example of the former.

Sebastian's 13. He's like, "so dad. Batman, the roleplaying game. What would you use?"

"Sorcerer. All possessor demons, I think. Batman's the demon, Bruce Wayne is the sorcerer."

"Oh! So... Bruce Wayne has to negotiate and compromise with Batman all the time. Just like he does."

"Yep. With two humanity definitions: 1) doing civic good like fighting crime, 2) having normal relationships with people."

"Oh that's cool. So if Bruce Wayne blows off a date to fight crime..."

"He makes a humanity gain roll and a humanity loss roll, yep. Or if he takes the night off even though he knows there's crime, to go on a date. Is Bruce Wayne / Batman a heroic or a tragic figure? Can he strike that balance, or will it destroy him? We play to find out."

"Yeah! Cool. So then, the Joker is a demon, and ..."

"Right, the Joker is a demon and whomever is his sorcerer. The difference between Batman and the Joker is that the Joker's sorcerer gives the Joker free rein full time."

"So a super villain is when the demon overwhelms the sorcerer and takes over?"

"Well, no, it's always the sorcerer's choice. That's what matters. A super villain is when the sorcerer chooses, every time, to let the demon do whatever it wants."

Sebastian and me together, imagining how this would go in play: "Oh. Oh." [shudder]


P.S. No offense to berets and clove cigarettes! I'm sorry for typecasting you.

The Dragon Master


I was talking about how to handle supers in the Sorcerer system with some friends a while ago (and also on another forum about the same time), and the way you've described it here is what I was trying to bring out. I hadn't thought of using multiple definitions of humanity though, and thinking on it now it seems like it would almost be a prerequisite for running a game with a character like Batman. Thank you.

Graham, Jesse, Ron,

I'm going to be running a (4-6 session) sorcerer campaign in a few weeks here, and I've been stressing out over trying to bring humanity to the forefront, till I saw this thread. I know I was on my way down a dark and angsty path, that wouldn't do the system justice. Thank you for the reality check.
"You get what everone gets. You get a lifetime." -Death of the Endless
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