[Sorcerer] emergent climax

Started by David Berg, August 19, 2011, 12:32:40 PM

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David Berg

This account is going to come through in bits and pieces across several posts, so in the interest of not burying the lead, let me start by saying that my group took a great deal of "trad game" satisfaction out of Sorcerer.  The way the mechanics relate to the fiction and the way that story arc is determined by momentary choices of players and GM (rather than any sort of predetermined structure) felt like welcoming back old friends (we've played a lot of indie games lately).

At the same time, Sorcerer gave us some good tools to avoid some of the troubles we've had with "trad games" -- lack of focus, and super important stuff being left entirely up to judgment calls.  Don't get me wrong, we made a lot of judgment calls in play, but for a few very important moments of resolution, the system took over.  Ron Edwards has his take on what it's like to interact with a demon, and that was absolutely felt in our game.  Whether anyone agrees or disagrees with Ron's take, it certainly goes a long way toward making the game unique.  Personally, I found it rather compelling!  The more badass shit your demon can do for you, the more badass it is overall, and thus the harder it is for you to bend it to your will.  The demon will pursue its own desires, and the extent to which those dovetail with what your character wants to do will go a long way toward determining the character of the interaction.

Poor Brandon Murdoch.  As a rebellious teen going nowhere, he thought the monstrous parasitic tongue living in his rottweiler, which could grant him super-speed or kill with a bark, was about the coolest thing ever.  He didn't even have to face up to the demon itself, calling the dog by its name (Cybrus) rather than the demon's (Typhon).

But as Typhon got Brandon into more and more trouble, Brandon became less content with his drug-den existence.  His heartless plan to frame local dweeb Shawn for his misdeeds went awry when Shawn showed some sorcerous ability... and declared that he wanted to be a super-hero!  Brandon's cynicism cracked.  He wanted to see if Shawn could actually do it.  He helped him find the right demon, and warned him of the price.  Shawn seemed up to the task.

At the end of it all, Brandon had to consider letting himself be dragged off to rehab (his Kicker).  He wasn't sure.  But he was sure that he had to get rid of Typhon.  As Brandon's player, I got a giant stack of bonus dice for cleverness, engaging roleplaying, extreme importance to the story, etc.  My adept little sister even helped me.  Alas, Typhon's stack of dice to resist banishment, being the sum of his incredible Power plus another stat based on it, was even larger.

The demonic tongue stabbed Brandon's hand, causing him to release it, and the "dog" casually curled up in the living room.  It ignored Brandon's ranting, until he mentioned finding someone to shoot it.  Then it simply opened an eye and looked at him.  The end.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

David Berg

Group breakdown:

Me - Playing Brandon Murdoch, described above.

Betsy - Playing Emily Murdoch, Brandon's 14-yer-old sister.  Naive, loyal, and adept in sorcery (Lore 5)

Marsha - Playing Dr. Kimball, apathetic high school psychologist.

Abel - GM.  Playing various key NPCs:

  • Jordan Bradshaw, authorized kidnapper for juvenile rehab camp; Principal Strickland, caring hardass who hates Kimball; Scott Gaylord, father of a kid (Matt) who killed himself under Kimball's care; Shawn, nerdy classmate of Emily's with a crush on her; Little Pete, highschool drug dealer whose stash Emily stole and gave to her demon; Marco, creepy drug-dealing sorcerer gang leader; Dr. Eisen, shady private psychiatrist who also treated Matt Gaylord.

Matt - Played the PCs' demons.  (Note: having a designated demon player is not by-the-book Sorcerer.)

  • For Brandon: Typhon.  Need: company of other sorcerers and demons.  Want: competition.  Power: 8.  Abilities: Boost Lore, Confuse, Big, Special Damage (ranged, bark causes hallucinations and brain damage), Travel, one more.  Disobediently controls a bit rottweiler as its spikey tongue (I called Typhon a Parasite; Possessor might be more accurate; I dunno, didn't seem to matter).
  • For Emily: Albus Snow.  Need: heroin.  Want: to be seen as a good parent.  Passing demon -- coolest dad in the world, secret agent, raising Emily, who worships him.  I can't remember his powers, but he did lots of secret agenty stuff, and made Emily invisible once.  I should mention that the Murdoch kids' parents were sorcerers who died years ago.
  • For Dr. Kimball: Rain.  Need: consume human emotions.  Want: misery.  Possessor demon, typically of the kids Dr. Kimball sees as patients.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


Hey Dave, it's funny you say that Sorcerer gave you lots of traditional-gamer stuff without an indie super-structure.  After playing boatloads of old-timey D&D lately, I'm looking to run some Sorcerer precisely because of the . . . "infra-structure" (?) the game provides.  In terms of authority and play-style, Sorcerer isn't all that different than a lot of traditional games, just that all that stuff is carefully aimed at a particular style of play and a particular set of issues.

What was the most ambitious thing your sorcerer attempted, and how did it turn out?

David Berg

Agreed.  There is enough focus that it can feel like structure.  The game's largely about living with demons, the stats are largely about the relationship between this character and this demon, and the kickers say, "explore that in this situation".  The players and GM still need to bring the focus scene by scene, but there are some good options to help.  A GM can look at the Kickers, look at what Humanity means, look at the four triangles of stuff the players indicated they'd like to see on their sheets, and play the demons going after their Wants and Needs.  It definitely takes practice and skill to turn these into good Bangs and scenes, though!

Abel's Bangs were all over the map.  Dr. Kimball faced a lot of boring and pointless NPCs trying to threaten her with complicity in Matt Gaylord's death.  I think this was supposed to test whether she'd feel guilty over her small role in it, but it fell flat.  Later, though, Abel's introduction to the truly sociopathic Dr. Eisen was fantastic for pushing how far Kimball would really go.  Was there any point at which she'd say, "This is too much?"  (Eisen's cheerful chatter about thinning the herd while sniping from a water tower did it, and Kimball pushed him off.)

As for Brandon's ambitions, he was a very reactive guy.  Big plans were few.  After invoking Typhon's travel power to escape from Bradshaw, he feared being hunted as a sorcerer, and tried to pin sorcery on Shawn.  Setting Shawn up with some books and pentagrams and trying to string him along with "rituals" until Bradshaw or the cops returned -- that was the most ambitious thing Brandon tried.  Or trying to banish Typhon, maybe.  You can see from my first post how those both turned out.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


Jesus Christ, a Lore-5 fourteen-year old.  With a Demon passing as her cool dad.  That is totally messed up in the most wonderful way.


Ron Edwards

Hi Dave,

It may be an artifact of your phrasing, but I'm getting the idea that Brandon's story, at least, was deemed to end inappropriately, without actually ending. We don't know whether he's going into rehab? Isn't that his Kicker? And playing out the actual resolution of the Kicker would require seeing where his life went after that, i.e., after he definitively did or did not go. You're talking about an emergent climax, but I don't see one. It strikes me merely as a resolution of specific, local features of the Kicker, namely all this jockeying around with the geek kid and whether or not to keep his demon. I find myself saying, well, OK, so his initial struggling isn't getting him too far, but he's learned a lot of things about his own values. Cool - good development. Now what about that Kicker?

Do I understand correctly that the game is finished? Or am I jumping the gun and mistakenly confusing your term "climax" with "all done?"

On a non-critical but merely reflective note, although nothing stops people from playing with a zillion sorcerer characters in a given story, I find myself gravitating toward player-characters-only sorcerer, with the only exceptions being mandated strongly by descriptors like Apprentice.

Best, Ron

David Berg

Quite the opposite!  We all thought the end of Brandon's story was quite appropriate.  My phrasing was meant to evoke unfinished business in a good way.

Transforming Brandon's "Fuck no, I ain't getting hauled off to some dipshit military school!" into "Man, maybe I should seriously consider this," was great.  And then, "I'm now considering turning my life around, but I can't do that with Typhon here, so let's give him the boot -- oh fuck, I can't!"  That was a good enough ending for me.  Opting to go to rehab camp / military school wouldn't have meant much with the Get You In Trouble Dog along.

It felt like a very satisfying end to Chapter One.  Chapter Two: Getting Rid of Typhon would have been a whole new multi-session thing.

None of this was the plan!  It's just how it worked out.  We didn't discuss whether my Kicker had been resolved.  Had we had another session ahead of us, that would have been an interesting question.  But we didn't -- I moved from New York to Chapel Hill, NC a few days later.

Re: lotsa sorcerers, I think Marco was a good way for Typhon (via his Need) to get Brandon in trouble (Typhon bulldozed our way into a drug den, mauling bouncers and drawing the ire of cops and dealers alike), and Eisen was a good mirror image of Kimball.  In general, though, your position makes sense to me.

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development