[Sorcerer] Q's about perception and helper rolls

Started by Low, December 08, 2011, 09:59:04 PM

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my first post at the forum! So, a little about my experience with roleplaying before I get to the meat of the post. I've played strictly traditional, simulationist games (mostly our gaming group's own game system) for about 10-12 years, but lately it's been next to none due to work and general schedule differences. Now, we feel we gotta break our habits and play some new stuff (for us, anyway).

So, I haven't played Sorcerer yet, but it seems really interesting. My friends want's me to go at it as a gm. This would be my first game with the everybody-state-your-goal(action)-and-roll mechanic. All our games had versions of the traditional initiative rules found in D&D and it's offsprings (although I never played D&D!).

This is what I like most about Sorcerer, just from reading from my friend's book and from the forums:
* The free-and-clear conflict resolution with built in order of actions (initiative).
* The currency mechanic, with roll over bonus and penalties.

I was testing the system to get a grasp on things, and a couple of problems arose. Things that I can't seem to work out myself.

My learning process: I took some conflicts we had in our older games, from memory and from actual notes, and tried to "reenact" them with Sorcerer conflict mechanics and a couple of dice.

What I don't understand and would like help with mainly touches on 2 things:
1) How perception and surprise works.
2) (and this is partly related to the first) what one action per round means, in reality. E.g. is a check to notice something or someone an active action? For clarification, I did assume this in the text below.


This is what I remember from the old game's scene, using a simulationist game system:
So the situation was that the players, Tom and Maria was having their (kid) characters Bruno and Lisa rescue their gang member Simon from the small jail in the sheriff house. It was a medieval/western type of game, and they had a sound plan. This was necessery as they didn't want to be seen at all during the rescue job (the sheriff was a mean old man). It was night, no people at the street and the only person guarding the Jail was the sheriff himself, standing on the front porch as he always did.

Bruno the Burglar climbed the house across the street, and Lisa waited behind a haycart on safe distance from the sheriff and entrance, but close enough to see when the coast was clear. The plan was that Bruno would throw a stone at the sheriffs' right hand side, so he (hopefully) would go and examine the noise. If that went as planned, Lisa would sneak in from the left.


So, I started my test of how all this would play out in Sorcerer:

I was going to make everyone roll in one conflict. Bruno's player Tom rolls for distracting the guard with the throwing of a stone (stamina), Marias player Lisa for sneaking in unseen (stamina), and the Sheriff (gm) for attemting to notice and catch Lisa (will?). And then I hit a couple of mental walls!

Can the Sheriff both notice and catch Lisa, or is that two separate conflicts? If he can't, couldn't everyone always sneak to delay any real threats 'to the next conflict'?

The first time I tried, the gm (sheriff) rolled highest and went first. But... how can he go first? What is there to notice? The stone isn't thrown, and Lisa would wait for the distraction before she even began to sneak.. This wasn't some spontaneous mischief, they had a plan.

Aha! Bruno the Burglar could plunge the stone in a separate, uncontested(?) conflict before Lisa and the Sheriff goes in conflict against each other. Bruno's victories on this helper roll then roll over to Lisa's later sneak attempt, right?

But if so, what if Bruno looses the helper roll and penalties roll over to Lisa's sneak attempt? We can justify that by saying that the stone lands near Lisa. But, nooo! Maria, Lisas player still has the chance to abort the whole thing: "When I see that the stone falls bad, I stay behind the haycart", or "I wait a while till you make a GOOD helper roll, Tom."

Is that how it's supposed to play out? It sure could have gone wrong in a similar way in our traditional games: "Oh, you missed the throw-roll? To bad, the stone lands between the sheriff and Lisa", i.e. totally without mechanical penalties to the player-characters, only gm fiat.

How should I handle this situation? I would be really thankful if someone could help me understand.

Wait! The penalties could roll over as bonus to the sheriff, right? So we could agree that when the stone hits the ground the Sheriff understands that something fishy is going on, and can use that advantage now or later. If that's the case Im all happy and good.

That doesn't answer my question regarding perception, however. If it counts as an active action to attempt to notice something (sense danger), or you could do both that and an attack, for example.

As said, I would be thankful. Im from Sweden by the way.


Hey Low,

They key is never, ever treat surprise or perception as separate from other actions, unless that is all that is at stake.

For example the absolutely simplest way to resolve what you describe is as two separate things.  Look at the declared actions of ALL parties resolved.

Bruno: I throw a rock to distract the sherif.
Sheriff: I'm looking around suspiciously.
Lisa: I'm waiting to see the outcome of  the rock throw.

So it's clear that Bruno and the Sheriff are in simple direct opposition.  So it's just a straight roll.  Let's assume Bruno succeeds.

So what's the next set of actions.

Bruno: I'm waiting to see what happens to Lisa.
Sheriff: I'm still just looking around wondering what that noise was.
Lisa: I sneak by the Sheriff.

So again, it's clear that Lisa and the Sheriff are in simple direct opposition.  So, again it's just a straight roll with Lisa gaining Bruno's previous successes as a bonus.

That's the simplest way to do it assuming you as the GM feel the Sheriff is that cautious and conservative.  However!  And this is where things get interesting.  It would be completely valid for you to declare an more directed action for the Sheriff even though he hasn't "spotted" Lisa yet strictly according to in-fiction linear in fiction timing.  Here's how that works.

Let's assume the first part works as above.  Since Lisa has stated she's waiting to observe the outcome of the rock throw then there's no reason to roll everything at once.  Just resolve that as a single action.

But then we get to the second part.

Bruno: I wait to see what happens to Lisa.
Lisa: I sneak past the Sheriff
Sheriff: I whirl around and shoot the girl!

Yes, this is absolutely legal.  So how does this work?  Okay, so Lisa and the Sheriff roll (Lisa with victories from Bruno's rock toss).  LOTS OF POSSIBILITIES.

A) Lisa Goes First

Sheriff has options: Roll 1 die or abort shooting and roll full dice.

I) Sheriff rolls 1 die.

a) Success: He spots Lisa and shoots!  Lisa defends with full dice!  She's spotted and either is or isn't shot.
b) Failure: He fires into darkness.  Lisa defends with full dice and rolls over her victories from the successful sneak.  Sheriff is left feeling like he just shot at his own shadow, and Lisa may or may not be bleeding in the darkness.

II) Sheriff aborts and rolls full dice

a) Success: He spots Lisa but doesn't shoot her.
b) Failure: He doesn't spot Lisa and is waving his gun around kind of menacing.

B) Sheriff Goes First

Lisa has options: Roll 1 die or abort sneaking and roll full dice.

I) Lisa rolls 1 die.

a) Success: She dodges the bullet and now the Sheriff rolls full dice to see if he's left feeling like he shot at his own shadow or if he spots her in the flash of his gun.
b) Failure: Lisa is hit.  Sheriff rolls full dice (with the penalties Lisa took in damage as bonus dice) to see if he's left feeling like he shot at his own shadow or if he see's he just shot a girl.

II) Lisa aborts and rolls full dice.

a) Success: Lisa dodges but the Sheriff has seen her.
b) Failure: Lisa is hit and the Sheriff has seen her.

Do you see how the issue of who is surprised and who isn't is wrapped up in the resolution of the actions themselves?  See how dynamic this becomes?

Hope that was useful.



Bruno: I wait to see what happens to Lisa.
Lisa: I sneak past the Sheriff
Sheriff: I whirl around and shoot the girl!

Yes, this is absolutely legal.

This opened a couple of doors in my brain. Thanks!

That possibility didn't even enter my mind. Could the sheriff actually make that shot even if Bruno hadn't been there to throw the rock; even if Lisa wore a ring of invisibility and magically silenced sneakers? What im getting at is: mustn't the stated goal or action comply with the character's viewpoint of reality?

"I whirl around and shoot!" We could say he just got the feeling, you know, that something was wrong with the darkness, the shadows or whatever. But we don't have to, per the rules?

The thing is, I think my ≈ten years of traditional task based, initiative roll, simulationist gaming has created expectations that act's as a kind of barrier between my brain and sorcerer-like rules. Just after reading your post I seemed to understand the system enough to go at it. That feeling of certainty fade very quick! I'll print your post and put it on the table when we play. That should do it.

Can I ask one more question?

They key is never, ever treat surprise or perception as separate from other actions, unless that is all that is at stake.

This. If the Sheriff's only goal is to notice the intruder, and Lisas action is to sneak by unseen. That is all that is at stake. (say the sheriff is on registering-duty, recording every break-in, break-out etc. and he takes his job very seriously.)

Wouldn't the Sheriff have a much stronger chance to notice the girl? First the main action roll (to notice her), then the defense roll (to negate her sneaking and notice her)?

Thank you for helping me out, it means a lot!

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

I greatly appreciate your interest in the game! Jesse's doing a good job answering your questions so I won't interfere much.

My advice is actually to ignore any and all instances of noticing and perception at least for a while. Play without that concept in mind.

This may strike you as bizarre, as so much play-attention is devoted to these issues in much role-playing, historically. I submit that this attention has become so central, historically, because in the past, no mechanisms existed either for scene-framing or for how to get from non-mechanics play into mechanics play. Sorcerer doesn't have these glaring lacks in the rules, so you don't need tedious and complicated means to get through those parts of play.

For more than 90% of the situations in which one might rely on perception rolls in other games, Sorcerer doesn't need anything like them. The characters are searching through a dark, abandoned house. The demon is stalking them and they don't know it. ... Wait for it ... wait ... Wham! It ambushes them! Ahhh! Eeeek!

So, everyone state what you do, up to and including attacking the demon in some way. But wait! How do we know if they were surprised? Maybe they noticed it, or something that made them wary, before it attacked?

Easy as hell. Look at the rolls. If the demon got there first, they didn't. If they got there first, they did.

If you want to add some spice and relevant character information to that, insert augmenting rolls that are relevant to perception into the stated-action rolls. No big deal. (And a minor point: such rolls never impose penalties due to failure. Sorcerer is forgiving this way.)

Here's my other point of advice, which is related, and quite important. Action statements going into rolls are what the character would be doing at his or her most intense and committed action, particularly if everything going on is at its absolute worst. So "wait and see" is a horrible action. It effectively means the character is sitting there like an idiot, capable only of defending. That character would roll, at most, only Will to see if he or she is caught flatfooted by an incoming attack or not. You cannot change from passive to active once the dice hit the table.

So encourage players to say what their characters are doing, doing, doing for that roll. Remind them that "wait and see" turns their characters into sitting ducks. Remind them as well that all action statements made during the free-and-clear phase are made by players, not characters, and any questions about "would I realize that in time" are handled by the order established by the dice. You will find that sometimes people like to state actions that are consistent with the first micro-seconds of a conflict and sometimes they like to state actions which are contingent upon being a little furrther along in the conflict. The system is very flexible and forgiving about that, in ways that systems you're familiar with have never dreamed.

Finally, keep actions quite singular and unified. "I grab that gun" is an action, not "i grab the gun, change the clip, and shoot him." Think in terms of brutal, non-fantastic fight scenes in some movies, in which the audience really knows that that punch turned the tide of the fight, or the audience really winces when a character is stunned, tries to pull himself to stand and has made it to all fours, and the other guy seizes the opportunity (the lost action) to kick him in the ribs.

Best, Ron

Marshall Burns

To answer a small question you asked in passing: the sheriff should be rolling Cover in that situation rather than Will, since that sort of thing is in his job description.

Spooky Fanboy

Okay, then to make sure I'm getting this right: Once the dice hit the table in a conflict situation, the roller with the most successes "goes first." Then, the other actors can decide to continue with their actions, or go on full defense. Is that about right? Because I was never really sure about that.
Proudly having no idea what he's doing since 1970!


Not quite.

They only have to make that choice if they are the target of an action that comes up before their own in high die order.  And even then they only need to make that choice at the time that targeting action is resolved.  The procedure is:

Announce Actions.
Roll Dice.
Resolve Actions in High Die Order
     As each action is resolved if the target of the current action hasn't gone yet they make the choice, otherwise defend with full dice.


Spooky Fanboy

Okay, so...how does Fast interact with this? What does Fast give you that makes it a tantalizing power?
Proudly having no idea what he's doing since 1970!


It makes it more likely that you will go sooner in the order.  The sooner you go the more likely your action will resolve before some who might be targeting you will resolves which means you won't have to make the choice.  You action will happen and then you'll defend with full dice against any incoming actions.