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Title: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: dikaiosunh (Daniel) on August 30, 2007, 08:20:23 PM
Last Saturday, we (finally, it seems!) had our first session of my Electric Ghosts (Sorcerer) game. The characters were:

John (Kirt): A socially awkward NASA programmer in love with Cheryl (his Ghost), a woman who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11 (Desire: Security/Need: emotional conversation). Kicker - he's fired for sexual harassment, and doesn't know why because he's never even spoken to his female co-workers.

Alistair (Eric): A vet who lost his arm in Iraq, and has now (with the help of Lester Wachlowski, a more experienced sorcerer), created a Ghost-tech arm named Vector (who claims to be the warrior spirit that Alistair now represses; Desire: Carnage/Need: upgrades). He works as a HS guidance counselor. Kicker - there's a bomb at the school, and his friend Lester's kid goes missing.

Raine (Adam): Charismatic leader of an internet cult, the Dead Metal Universe. His Ghost is Belladonna, a risk-loving hacker who may or may not be the ghost of his first love, Allie, who accidentally killed herself while they were tripping on LSD (Desire: risk/Need: relationship reaffirmation). Kicker - one of his cult members makes a power play by trying to gather the members of DMU for a con, but Raine is afraid he'll be killed if he goes.

What happened: (with my apologies if any of this is out of order, and this is somewhat more chronological in game-time than in play-time)

Raine manages to put off the con, to be held by a rival for control of DMU (Carol), but Carol then starts peeling members off to a rival cult, which will hold a con, in DC. Ultimately, Belladonna convinces Raine to go and confront Carol and crash their party.

Alistair started out giving the business (quite physically, thanks to Vector) to a snot-nosed punk (sporting a T-shirt with the image from Anti-Flag's "New Kind of Army" to maximally piss off the vet) when there was an explosion. Turns out it was part of a Columbine-style invasion. At Vector's prodding, Alistair massacres the shotgun and bomb-wielding students, but later learns that his friend Lester's son has gone missing.

Meanwhile, John gets a call on the way to work telling him he's fired because NASA doesn't want to deal with another harassment case. Cheryl demands to know who he's flirting with, and he has to deal with her suspicions for the rest of the game (though she seems to be coming around by the end). He tries to call his co-worker, Lester, but it turns out that Lester is pissed because the woman John has (apparently? allegedly?) been harassing is Janice, Lester's wife.

Alistair returns home after things calm down at the school to find the police at his house. Apparently, his basement is full of weaponry. He manages to run before Vector can kill the cops.

John heads toward home and (in a suspicious coincidence) gets into a car crash... with Janice. Distraught over her son, she asks John to drive her to the school. Once there, she goes inside to look for Andrew, but when John (who has waited for a while) goes to look for her, she has vanished and the police don't recall seeing her. Later, she reappears and they go for an awkward drink and coffee before John takes her home.

A distraught Lester (who is also a member of DMU) picks Raine up at the airport, having been unable to call him to cancel. Lester, Raine, and Belladonna look for Lester's wife and son for a while, but are unable to find them, and Raine (IIRC) decides that the DMU-rival group (Contact) may have something to do with the disappearance. In a bit of business that I thought would go somewhere at the time but didn't, they initially go to the wrong hotel (Contact had given false info... this was intended to drive home the groups' paranoia, but it seemed to fizzle in play). The group ultimately goes to the actual gathering, where they confront Carol who professes ignorance about Andrew. Raine manages to convince a good number of the Contact members to rejoin DMU and leave (got to remember to bring them back in next session!).

However, one of the Contact members does know one of the school shooters, and so everyone heads off to his house. Alistair is also arriving there, believing he has been framed by someone connected with the shooting (and having found out about the house through means we haven't played yet - we couldn't think of a good scene for finding out, but thought it would be cool to have him show up too, so we're going to do it as a flashback next session). In the basement, they find the remains of a summoning, with the kid's parents dead and a Ghost still trapped in the computer. The kids had apparently Established it and promised to Bind it if it helped them remotely break a Contain and teach them about bomb-making, but they reneged. Raine shares Raja Hafez' hatred of the U.S. government, and so Binds him. Raja heard the kids who Established him talk about another location, and everyone runs off there.

Meanwhile, for reasons I cannot currently remember (and unfortunately neglected to put in my notes - I think Cheryl traced the emails John supposedly sent to Janice to the IP), John heads to a home in Cathedral Heights and finds what appears to be a busted Contain. A freaked-out Cheryl tells him there is a dangerous Ghost in the house's electrical system - indeed, "Kaius the Sorcerer" claims to have eaten the previous inhabitants. Nonetheless, John Binds him (with a phenomenally lucky success on both the Binding and Humanity rolls, given Kaius' Power), and seems ready to help him seek his desired Vengeance (Need: Consume human flesh). Kaius creates itself a body of copper wire, and they drive off toward the spot from where the Contain was broken.

Everyone else arrives at a farmhouse in NoVA. Alistair tries to sneak up, but is noticed, and Vector eliminates the witnesses with extreme prejudice. When they get to the basement, they find Andrew, and Lester is greeted warmly by the people holding him hostage (I was tired of him being the put-upon schlub and decided, since he was a Sorcerer, to make him have been pulling many strings all along). He invites Alistair and Raine to join him in his as-yet-unspecified plan (that requires the emotional oomph of offing his kid) and reveals that Vector collected the weapons (hey, he helped build it, and the backstory is that he's way more experienced than Alistair), but not as a conscious frame-up. We end with everyone poised at the choice.


Overall, I think it went well, though I think it could have been better (reading some of these AP has given me high standards!). There were moments where I wasn't sure where to take things next (in part since I didn't have time to prep, having only finished chargen on the spot), but I simultaneously often felt like I was still "driving" too much.

I just tried to be open about when I didn't have good ideas, and started out by encouraging everyone to take a very aggressive Author stance and chime in with metagame. For instance, Lester ended up just being a lightning rod for character connections after being a fairly empty name on Raine's sheet, and so we all decided to make him a fairly powerful Sorcerer and one of the lynchpins of the plot. And the bit about John and Janice's car wreck was a player suggestion that it would be neat if technological failure brought them together.

In the next session, I'd like to try to mine the characters more, as I feel like I got too much into "plot" mode (though we can't have *no* plot). Some of *my* favorite moments were the conversations Cheryl and John had (though I think I need to make Cheryl a bit less whiny and more sympathetic). Mostly, I need to develop some Bangs, and would welcome suggestions.

I also don't feel like I have a great handle on the bonus dice yet (when they are appropriate to grant). But I hope that some more play will help me get a better "feel" for them.

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 31, 2007, 07:15:23 AM
Hi Daniel,

Fantastic! I think some things are happening, good things, that you might not be noticing.

First, Sorcerer is driven primarily by player-characters driving toward things. As play progresses, you'll find that your percentage of scene-framing drops sharply, and you may even have to roll NPCs' dice to see whether they get into a scene or not (you'll see what I mean). That looks as if it's beginning to happen already. I strongly suggest checking around the table to see whether anyone is chomping at the bit to do something, and simply framing to that. If no one wants to, then pick the NPC that you think is chomping at the bit, and frame to that. It's really easy and fun.

Second, you have tapped deeply into current events which are not neutral and which demand individual judgment. Sorcerer is built precisely for that; the Today setting that I like to play in most is not the same thing as "modern-day." All you have to do is push that stuff just as hard as the players are; bring in things that matter to you, for instance, the Columbine-type situation. I recommend trying to make the guns in the basement similar. It's a cool image, sure, but do your best to have it pay off in terms of today-driven, visceral content.

How about Humanity checks? It seems to me that Alistair ought to have rolled one after the information about Lester's son was stated.

How do you enjoy playing the demons? Remember, in Sorcerer, there's no need to be light and gentle with this aspect of play.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: dikaiosunh (Daniel) on September 01, 2007, 10:10:59 AM

Thanks for the comments.  First, yes, I'm really enjoying playing the demons (er, "Ghosts") and have tried to make them as pushy as possible.  Cheryl has really been hounding John about his "affair," and Belladonna/Allie's Desire for risk has let me have push Raine into things (though I feel like she's protagonizing too much sometimes).  Actually, the most effective so far has been Vector, I think.  Despite being a part of Alistair's body, the player and I agreed that Vector was the User of all its powers (pretty basic - Boost: Stamina plus two kinds of SD) - and Vector's Will is *much* higher than the character's, so... there's been a lot of Alistair wanting to deal with things quietly and Vector turning the dial to 11 (my favorite was a failed Will-Will contest when trying to get help against the school shooters that led to Vector grabbing the doorframe into the cafeteria and hauling Alistair around to face the shooters).  My only concern is that I'm playing Vector as sort of borderline-brat - so far, I've been justifying it as Vector knowing he can get away with it (but Alistair just Punished him, so that may change the dynamic).

Re: the current events.  Yeah, we sorta ended up with a Columbine/VA-tech style shooting, Iraq, 9/11, a Palestinian terrorist Ghost, etc. without much advance planning.  I've been thinking a lot about where we left things last session - I remember feeling like we were already getting close to "the end," but then realized that that was a vestigial sense from playing other games (in which, OK, Lester's got some BIG EVIL PLAN and we fight him, yay, the end).  But I've realized/decided that this is really just where things can get interesting, and there are lots of personal loose ends - what will the fallout to a guidance counselor at the school be for not identifying the shooters earlier?  How did Lester motivate the kids (in general, they've been treated far too much as "mooks" so far)?  Why is Lester doing what he's doing?  Why did the kids break Kaius' Contain?  How will Alistair and Cheryl react to the terrorist Ghost once everyone stops long enough for them to think about it?  What about all those paranoid alienated computer folks that Raine brought back into the fold?  I do need to push a lot more on these things, and I'm trying to work them all into (at least potential) bangs.

I think some of the feeling that things occasionally got aimless or too "solve the mystery" came from my lack of prep.  I was operating on the fly, so a lot of it was, "let's have something happen and I'll figure out why the NPCs did that later."  Combined with players not yet being fully into their characters yet, that left us with some mushy bits.  By next time, I think everyone will have much more of their own agenda, and I'm working on clarifying the NPCs in my own mind so I can use them to drive conflicts better/more easily than I have so far.

Re: the Humanity checks.  There have been a couple, but mostly Sorcery-related.  Alistair killed some folks, but all plausibly in self-defence, so I didn't think that warranted Humanity checking.  And so far the other two haven't done anything particularly non-empathetic or manipulative (which is how I understand the EG Humanity definition).  I'm not sure I follow why Alistair should have gotten a check when he found out that Lester had somehow arranged his own son's kidnap, though - would you mind explaining?

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 01, 2007, 08:40:40 PM

I think I misunderstood the account about the massacre of the students - I had the impression that Alistair learned that the missing son might have been among those killed by Vector.

By next time, I think everyone will have much more of their own agenda, and I'm working on clarifying the NPCs in my own mind so I can use them to drive conflicts better/more easily than I have so far.

I agree! You and the others are well on the road.

If I have any advice at all, it's pretty generic: use your judgment as deeply and personally as you can about Humanity checks and gain rolls. I had to overcome a personal tendency to cut player-characters a break and "see it from their point of view," in my early GMing. It was important to remember that I was judging them, me, Ron, and to use my own actual standards rather than those of a movie spectator.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: greyorm on September 02, 2007, 07:26:34 AM
Sorry for the late reply, Daniel. I wanted to make sure I had the time to sit down and read the whole thing and write a decent reply.

I have to say, the characters and demons grabbed me right off: they're perfect. I wasn't sure how everything was going to come together with them, but what your group has done is incredible. You are rocking the concept hard and I can't wait to see where it goes.

I also suggest not worrying too much about how the game is going or will go, as from what I'm seeing above your group has things well under control. You have all the tools to tie things together and answer the question about who these other folks are and why they were summoning demons: you have internet cults and gullible teenagers and mysterious demons who may have motives of their own.

And plenty of good fodder for bangs: rebellious demons are always a good one, the ending of the last game is definitely a bang, the police looking for the hero/murderer of the school shootings, and I might suggest the CIA or FBI have been keeping tabs on this cult (and either approach one of the characters afterwards or stage a raid during the ritual), and there's definitely something to the idea that this cult (looking like a doomsday/terrorist cult) tried to get another sorcerer fired from NASA (wonder why? evil possibilities present themselves).

Keep us updated on the game!

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: Adam Dray on September 04, 2007, 01:29:03 PM
I am the Adam in the game. I'm having a good time but I'm still getting my bearings on my character, the setting, the other players (whom, other than Daniel, I met the day of the game), and the rules. I didn't feel like I brought my A-game to the table.

My concern when I created Raine was that his schizophrenic paranoia would make him a no-play character. I didn't want to make him so crazy that he couldn't function. In play, my fears came true. When I remembered his paranoia and played it to the hilt, I felt like I was stomping all over interesting story. Raine was paralyzed. Sometimes I swung the other direction, playing him as aggressive and fearless. Several times I forgot entirely about the -2 modifier to all interactions outside the Internet that I took as his Price. I need to find a middle ground for Raine's paranoia. It's a core part of his character, but I don't want to hobble the interaction between Raine and the other PCs and NPCs that we players are craving.

I suspect I need to play up this tension more when Belladonna is egging Raine to do stuff. Daniel can have her push Raine even harder. The risks she wanted him to take didn't seem that risky or really push him in areas that tweaked his paranoia, which I'm feeling is more of an agoraphobia or fear of crowds and the government.

I'm totally into Kirt's and Eric's characters. I don't know if Eric is getting what he envisioned with Vector, but I think it's awesome.

We play again this Sunday.

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: greyorm on September 07, 2007, 09:07:25 AM
I am the Adam in the game. I'm having a good time but I'm still getting my bearings on my character, the setting, the other players (whom, other than Daniel, I met the day of the game), and the rules. I didn't feel like I brought my A-game to the table.

Ah, so you're the Adam!

I can't offer much advice, but it occurs to me that perhaps the best way to handle the problems you are having with playing the character's paranoia and mental problems without stumbling over them in play is to stop treating them as core character behaviors (ie: asking yourself "how would he react here given his disability?"), and instead only bring them to the fore when it is thematically relevant or would have an interesting impact on immediate events, but to otherwise ignore it.

This would also help make the disability seem more real by highlighting it appropriately -- contrasting the broken behavior with otherwise normal behavior -- instead of pushing it constantly as a point.

I suggest that as it is what I would do if I were writing the character in a piece of fiction: he's a perfectly normal person...except when he's totally crazy and it causes complications. That method also helps make the character's behavior seem more like something abnormal and not-quite-understandable, as an actual non-normal-human behavior pattern, than the "blase predictable crazy" you can get when folks try too hard to depict mental disabilities or eccentricity.

Let us know how it goes!

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: Adam Dray on September 07, 2007, 05:11:39 PM
Great advice. I'll try it on Sunday!

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: dikaiosunh (Daniel) on September 12, 2007, 05:50:04 AM
So, this past Sunday we played our second session of Sorcerer/EG:

What Happened

We began the session with the confrontation between Lester, Alistair, and Raine. Lester revealed that he was not a Sorcerer but rather, in fact, a Ghost ("But you have a son!" "I wasn't *always* dead."). He had, however, been a Sorcerer in life. The great magic that he needed to kill his son to work was a ritual he had discovered that he believed would allow him to use his Sorcerous powers in death.

Lester's overall plan was, once he'd regained his powers, to set about causing serious havoc in DC - for reasons that would be revealed later, Lester had initially made contact with Raine because of their shared antipathy for the US government, and Lester had originally intended for Eric (one of the last standing school shooters, and his protege) to Bind Raja (the terrorist Ghost now bound to Raine), a task that Eric had failed in. Alistair had a lot of questions, which led to Lester requesting that Vector teach him a lesson. Vector obliged, choking Alistair nearly to death before Alistair could command him not to listen to Lester (N.B. I know that Ghosts can't Command Ghosts - Vector was going along with the request because it was pissed off at Alistair's repeated Punishments and just plain liked the idea). Raine sent Belladonna off to try to find out more about Lester, importantly including who his Sorcerer was. Raine also correctly guessed that Lester needed a non-Ghost to kill Andrew to perform the ritual.

Raine convinced Lester that he was willing to go along with the plan but that the farmhouse was an unsafe place to do it. Somewhere in here (sorry, it's hard for me to take notes while running, and even making them right after the game I sometimes lose bits of the plot) someone (Alistair?) managed to call Janice and tell her that Lester had her son and was planning to kill him. Raine correctly surmised that she hung up and called the police. Meanwhile, Belladonna had been digging through the Grid looking for information on Lester - she failed to find out who his Sorcerer was, but discovered that in life he had been named Goran Dziedzic, a minor Serbian paramilitary presumed killed in NATO bombings in 1999.

Raine, Lester, Eric, another shooter, Raja (ghost), Belladonna (ghost), and the bound Andrew left, leaving Alistair broken on the floor. On the way out, the other shooter freaked out at his two friends that Vector/Alistair had killed, but Eric told him that it was an honor to die in the service of Project Mayhem (side note that never came out explicitly in play: I didn't just lift the name from Fight Club, Eric did b/c he thought it was badass... mostly missing the point of the movie/book, of course...).

In the car on the way to the nearest Radio Shack to complete the ritual, with Raine, his ghosts, and the two shooters (to keep an eye on them) in one car and Lester in the other with Andrew, Raine started to try to work on the other shooter, Tom, and turn him against Eric. Tom was still pretty cowed by Eric... so Raine surprised him by shoving him out of the car at the next light and having Belladonna (Desire: risk!) drive hell bent for leather for the hotel where the rest of Dead Metal Universe were waiting on Raine.

Meanwhile, Kaius revealed that he had hacked into John's account and sent the incriminationg emails to Janice from his (leaky) Contain. Kaius claimed to have been an associate of "Lester's" in Brcko ("It's in Bosnia. Buy an atlas... uh... Master."). Kaius'd left when things got hot in Bosnia, since he'd been more into the black market, while Goran was the true believer. "Lester" had found him, killed him, and had Janice (his former apprentice, now his Sorcerer) Contain his Ghost upon arriving in the US. Kaius' plan was to leave enough trail for Janice and Lester (I'm going to drop the quotes, since no one called him Goran all game) to know that Kaius had compromised his Contain and, meanwhile, put pressure on their relationship, in an effort to get Lester to get careless and let Kaius out of the Contain (whew). Eric was supposed to use the computer (and Raja's help) to destroy Kaius, but just succeeded in wrecking the Contain. John was deeply skeptical of this plan, but Kaius pointed out that, so far, it was working. Cheryl called to apologize for being so nagging to John earlier, but to implore him to get away from the probably very dangerous Kaius.

Following the trail one step behind the other PCs, Kaius and John arrived at the farmhouse to find it surrounded by police, with news crews on the way. The police had busted in, found the dead kids with claw marks, found the guy with claws bleeding in the basement and, unsurprisingly, were skeptical of Alistair's croaked insistence that "his arm did it." They threw him in the back of a SWAT van.

Kaius, making use of the underground wires nearby, discovered that there was another Sorcerer nearby, in police custody. John sent him to bust the Sorcerer out. Rather than have me sit around and run a protracted combat between Kaius the mega-ghost and a bunch of SWAT, we agreed to resolve the whole incident as one opposed roll of Kaius' Power vs. a bunch of dice that represented how tough the police were. Several trashed squad cars and the *whoomp* of a rocket fired from the helicopter (there was some table debate about what the heaviest armament even a SWAT helicopter was likely to pack was...), Kaius was toast. Instead, John had Cheryl teleport herself into Alistair's pocket and call him, discovering that yes, he was a Sorcerer, and that he didn't know exactly where the others had gone, but they'd mentioned something about finding a Radio Shack. John left Alistair to his fate and sped to the Radio Shack.

The Radio Shack empty (the plan was aborted after Lester saw Raine's car speed off), John's next idea was to head for Janice's.

At the hotel, Raine reconnected with his somewhat shell-shocked and out of place cultists. Back in the room, over objections, he Commanded Raja to dematerialize, proving that he was a Ghost (Raine does not believe that Belladonna is a Ghost). This cemented his authority and he gathered up the troops to go to Janice's, to get her help against Lester, who he suspected was well off the leash. Before leaving, they snapped on the TV to wall-to-wall coverage of the school shootings, and the guidance counselor's (Alistair) presumed involvement, given that lots and lots of guns had been found in his home, and it turned out that (thanks to Vector - who was probably way brattier than he should have been, but we were all grooving on hating Vector) the VA farmhouse was also registered in his name. It was pointed out that questions had arisen earlier about why he hadn't done something about these troubled teens earlier anyway (cut to tearful mother of one of the deceased).

Alistair awoke in a hospital in police custody, and decided to get a Ghost that could help protect him against the occupational hazards of being welded to Vector. He managed to Establish and Bind Logan Marcus, the possessor Ghost of a soldier who'd died of wounds after returning from WWII, and, really, the first "nice" Ghost in this game (well, aside from his Need to drink blood...). Alistair also used some of the electronic equipment in his room to upgrade Vector in an attempt to placate him. With Logan in the body of Officer Randall, who had been guarding the room, Alistair made his escape and - with everyone else - made a beeline for Lester's house.

At Lester's, Raine's lieutenant initially tried to distract John (who arrived at the same time), but ultimately decided that getting to Janice and getting her aid in taking care of Lester was more important. Inside, they found a locked door to the basement, which they failed to break down, and which Belladonna could not pick (in part because it was shielded against Ghosts).

Raine decided to enter the Grid to reach Janice, which required a bit of business with a toaster (in the meantime, he had Raja Spawn a possessor who also had Cover: terrorist and sent them out to try to make some explosives. "I think there are chemicals in the garage." "You Americans watch too much TV."). Given Raine's paranoia about the government, the Grid manifested to him as endless white institutional corridors, filled with mysterious men in dark suits and sunglasses who inspected him as he walked past. Belladonna manifested with him, but as a woman in a dark suit whose name read "Bella Vartok," with the rest in Cyrillic. Despite this, Raine decided to trust her, and followed her straight into a prepared Contain Janice had built to catch the Sorcerer sneaking around in her local Grid. Janice revealed (unsurprisingly) that, after the news that Lester was trying to kill their son and trying some wacky ritual to get his powers back, she was in the process of Banishing him. She tried to trap Raine with a snapshot Contain ritual (works against Sorcerers in the Grid), but failed, and enlisted him to help instead. About that time, John managed to force the door, and everyone poured downstairs.

The ritual continued, but we all decided that it made sense that, when you were trying to Banish a Ghost, it knew, so Lester showed up. Moments later, so did Alistair, with a slightly better behaved Vector and a serviceman's pistol. The confrontation got a little chaotic from there. Basically, Lester tried to fry Janice before she could do the ritual, most everyone else tried to fry Lester. At one point, Belladonna convinced Lester to try to break his binding instead, and be Bound by Raine, which shuffled the sides around a bit. Raine's mooks piled on Eric, taking him out of the fight early. Things looked tense, with Lester narrowly missing slaughtering a few folks on several occasions, and then Janice's other Ghost - a Remote made of scrap with steel teeth, who had been rolling so poorly as to be an afterthought up to this point - scored a solid hit with his Special Damage that did enough lasting damage to annihilate Lester.

That left the issue of the ritual. After some wrangling, and another standoff (in which Raja lit a molotov cocktail to throw at Alistair), Alistair convinced Janice to put the only copy of the ritual on a flash drive and let him destroy it. Unfortunately, this left Raja holding a lit molotov, so he tossed it and everyone ran as the basement caught fire. Just in case, Raine had Belladonna sneak back and quickly grab the bits of the drive...

In the aftermath:

Alistair finally Banished Vector, with a three-die bonus since, much as we all loved to hate It, we all agreed that it was time for Vector to go. He then sliced off the useless hunk of fused metal that had been his arm (healing the stump with the help of Logan's Vitality power). Alistair considered turning himself in to the police, knowing that he'd never be able to prove that he wasn't involved with the shootings or responsible for the deaths Vector had caused... but instead decided to take the Foreign Legion option. He called an old friend with contacts in the private military industry, and found himself headed back to Iraq.

John had convinced Janice to destroy the incriminating emails (she knew that Kaius had really sent them - "He always did have a thing for me, back when he and Goran were friends" - but was keeping them for leverage over a possibly rival Sorcerer), but she made one last ditch to frame him for something by calling in a tip on the house in which Kaius' Contain had been broken (to the fatal misfortune of its current occupants). Fortunately for John, he'd made sure not to touch anything while there, and the police didn't recover any stray DNA, so he couldn't be held.

Raine returned to LA, the demonstration with Raja and stories of the events at Janice and Lester's having re-cemented his control over Dead Metal Universe. Tom, the shooter that Raine wooed away from Eric's influence, went with. However, he *had* promised Raja the opportunity to cause lots of mayhem, and the Ghost was already peeved at having his powers revealed, so that promise will probably have to come due...


We decided that, even though we'd only run two of our planned four sessions, that this was a good resolution to the various Kickers. Alistair, in particular, had a nicely symmetric but terribly depressing story arc - having left the military after having faced the prospect of killing kids in Iraq, he returned to Iraq to flee the consequences from kids that he'd failed in his responsibility to protect (at least to some degree, as a school counselor who didn't see the crisis coming). And he decided to never take that responsibility on himself - instead, continuing to blame the Ghosts to anyone who would listen. Raine and John both have thematic loose ends, so we did advancement and re-writes, an will continue with their stories in the last two scheduled sessions.

I felt a bit more comfortable with the game this time, though I still didn't feel that I had a great handle on hammering home the thematic issues of the character. Both John and Raine's relationships with their Ghost girlfriends are still woefully underdeveloped, for instance.

And I think I missed an opportunity for a big emotional showdown between Lester and Janice over Andrew, in the chaos of trying to run the big, multicornered fight scene. Though, that may just have led to a scene where I dialogued with myself, which is unsatisfying. In retrospect, it probably would have been more effective had I located that sort of family conflict with one of the characters on one end, rather than making it an NPC conflict to which they were, in some sense, bystanders.

In general, it was still very easy to get sucked into the big problem-plot rather than exploring character nuances. With a Ghost-who-can-maybe-become-a-Sorcerer-again on the loose, and even the anti-government Raine not down with either that powerful a Ghost running around or his overall plan of systems disruption and Ruin, possible side trails tended to get brushed aside. I liked the interaction between Raine and Eric over Tom but, for instance, I think I let more "Oprah-style" conversations between John and Cheryl get steamrolled by the plot, and the issue of Alistair's responsibilities to the school came up in after-game discussion but only as a snippet on the TV news in play.

I like to think that I don't suffer from *severe* "brain damage," but I definitely have a long ingrained history as an Illusionist GM, where I considered coming up with a cool plot to be my prime goal. Breaking those habits is hard. I wonder what would have happened had we had less extreme Kickers, and I spent less energy early on trying to make sure that I tied them together - there was space for some "slice of life" storyline that wasn't taken up, I think. Or maybe that would just have been boring... I think perhaps when the Sorcerer game is over I'll try something that really *enforces* character issues more explicitly and strongly, like Shadow of Yesterday (which I've read) or Burning Wheel (which I'll be reading as soon as my copy arrives, but which sounds like it does). I know, of course, that there's lots of potential for that in Sorcerer, but I think maybe I need more "training wheels" at the moment. And, while I love the Electric Ghosts setting, I think there may be advantages in terms of my concerns to sitting down with the group and homebrewing a Humanity definition, etc. Now I just wish I had a group that could find time to meet more than about 1/month...

I'm realizing now that I never mentioned who the players were, and it's actually relevant to some of my concerns.  I'm a professor of public policy, specializing in civil conflict issues, which is how you end up with Serbian militants in my games, and usually gravitate toward the GM role in my gaming groups; I'd also come off a six-year gaming dry spell to run a D&D game before this one.  Eric is an old friend from HS, with whom I've mostly played D&D, but into indie game design long before I was.  Kirt and Adam I both know from looking for fellow gamers online, and both are pretty heavily involved in indie game design.  Both Kirt and Eric played in my long-running but now fizzled D&D 3.5 game.  I hope that's not giving away too much personal info... In any event, I feel a bit intimidated running this since, while I'm supposed to be "in charge," I'm also the newest to non-mainstream gaming (though I realize in retrospect that I was playing some seriously Drifted versions of the more mainstream games I was running - an issue that caused some problems in the D&D game).  So, I don't feel like it's a bunch of folks all muddling through a new paradigm together, but rather that I'm trying to be on my best behavior and impress folks that I would like to play with in the future.  Of course, no one has ever done anything in particular to make me feel like I had to "wow" them - so this is more a statement of my own paranoia of anything else.

Closing mechanical questions

Two things came up with regard to the mechanics of Ghosts/demons. 

First, as the rules are written, since a Sorcerer can automatically punish her own demons, this seems to moot the penalties for snap-shot rituals.  Is the intent to allow characters to punish their own demons at will, on the fly?  It seemed odd to me, but it does appear to be the rule (and I'm the only one it rubbed the wrong way at the table).

Second, there was some question about the interaction between punishing demons and the humanity gain from Banishment.  Before attempting to Banish Vector, Alistair punished it down to 0 Power.  Since the Humanity roll for a Banishment gain is usually vs. the demon's power, but this made the Banishment so much easier, I ruled that the Humanity roll was vs. Vector's current 0 Power, not against his full 7 Power.  It's sort of a moot point, since Alistair is being retired anyway, but was this the correct ruling?

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: Adam Dray on September 12, 2007, 10:51:39 AM
I thought the second game was much better than the first. I was rocking on my character (Raine) and the other characters. I was eager to see how our story resolved. I enjoyed hating Lester and Janice.

I felt that I got to make a statement or three about loyalty. Cecilia betrayed Raine in the Kicker. Tom remained loyal to Raine after he turned him away from Eric and I even gave Tom a chance to betray Raine. Raine's cult followers became more loyal after seeing proof. Raine remained loyal to the other PC sorcerers even when they thought he was being disloyal, though Raine did want that thumb drive and the rituals on it. In the end, Raine's actions pulled his cult back together.

Belladonna was more of a tool that Raine used than a girlfriend character, though much of Raine's motivation to get the thumb drive were driven by his subconscious need to give her sorcerer-like powers so that his delusions (that she's not a ghost) would have more power. I agree that our ability to have any kind of meaningful relationship scenes was hampered by the Action! Action! Action! pace of the game. Part of that was driven by us. I could have asked for an aside scene between Raine and Bella and I trust that you wouldn't have "punished" me by forcing action on me or making me miss opportunities because of it. However, if the GM is the bass player, Daniel was playing speed metal.

Overall, I had a blast. I want to play my character more and would feel cheated out of my reward cycle if I stopped now. I finally understand how the reward cycle in Sorcerer works.

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: Adam Dray on September 12, 2007, 10:57:14 AM
Oh. I forgot to mention...

Raven, your advice worked marvelously.  I gave myself permission to stop worrying about the psychosis and just use it as a literary device. It worked. I think I applied the Price (-2 dice penalty to all "RL" social interactions with people) a few times. I eventually played out Raine's growth. As he comes into his sorcery power, he grows more confident and is less paranoid. I'll rewrite my Price because he's outgrown it.

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: Per Fischer on September 13, 2007, 02:04:34 AM
*nods* to the comment about being a long-time Illusionist GM and how hard it is to break the habit. Do you think Sorcerer (when trying to play it as it's meant to be played) helps you to break that habit as such, or is it still something you have to struggle with and try to remind yourself of while playing?

Did you feel you had to use a lot of energy to communicate "I am not your traditional GM and this is not your usual pre-generateted plot game" before and while playing? Or wasn't that an issue at all?

Also, did you arrive at any Humanity rolls not directly related to rituals in this session?

Thanks for posting. EG is one of the mini-sups I don't own, and I will have to buy it.


Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: Adam Dray on September 13, 2007, 06:06:43 AM
I think at least two of us (Kirt Dankmeyer and I -- I don't know about Eric) are very familiar with a wide variety of play styles. Daniel didn't need to remind us about his role and our roles. There was a large amount of input from every chair.

We had at least one Humanity check unrelated to rituals. Eric's character Alistair decided it was finally time for his demonic prosthetic arm, Vector, to go and we asked him if (suggested that) he hack it off. Eric jumped on this idea and made a big point of getting rid of the arm at much personal cost (and using his other demon to keep him from dying of blood loss). That begged a Humanity check.

We had a question about punishing and banishing. It seems that it's easy to punish one's demons down to minimum strength (automatic success, right?) then easily banish them. Is this a feature or a bug? If it's a feature, why not just make banishing one's own demons automatically successful?

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: Per Fischer on September 15, 2007, 07:42:33 AM
We had a question about punishing and banishing. It seems that it's easy to punish one's demons down to minimum strength (automatic success, right?) then easily banish them. Is this a feature or a bug? If it's a feature, why not just make banishing one's own demons automatically successful?

Maybe Ron can chime in as well, but here's my take: Punish of the Sorcerer's own bound demon is automatic, yes, down to Power 1 (but only up to the Sorcerer's Will). So far so good.

But the demon will resist a Banish with its Power + Will AND the binding strength is a penalty as well, so it's not as easy as it sounds.

It's certainly easier to Contain or Banish a punished demon, but not automatic.


Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 16, 2007, 07:05:58 AM

It's true: Punishing and then Banishing one's own demon is easier than trying these things upon someone else's. This is a feature, and to understand why, let's review some points from the rules.

First, Per is right. The Banish is a complex roll and all sorts of things may play into the dice. So Banishing one's own demon is easier, but not automatic.

Second, the Banish, like all the rituals, must either take several hours at least, or the primary score, Will, will be reduced in dice by the snapshot penalty. One thing that is a bit tricky about the full ritual is that the demon may well not want to stick around, at the very least. Depending on its abilities, it may well even be trying to eat the sorcerer (or kill his beloved child, or anything else like that). So getting to the second step of the plan requires more preparation, more hassles, and more interactions with the demon.

Third, and most importantly, Binding is a relationship, and the action we're discussing is the kind of Sorcerer rule which requires context. Why is one Banishing one's own Bound demons? There are many answers, and I've seen it happen during play, but the answer, in each circumstance, is incredibly important. By definition, a demon Bound by a character is helping that character get something they want, at the start of the relationship. What has gone wrong? Why is the sorcerer getting rid of this thing now?

The demon which is being Punished is certainly going to be asking these questions. It will probably do its utmost to re-cast the relationship into a form more desirable to the sorcerer. And even if this works out well, and therefore seems like a victory for the sorcerer, the demon is probably going to resent having been "smacked" into obedience ... and it might move a step down on the path to rebellion. (All of these "probably" and "might" words have been included because all decisions in Sorcerer are tremendously situational. I'm raising issues for consideration, not dictates for what must happen during a given game.)

If the sorcerer seems determined upon this course of action, then the demon has practically no choice but to use every bit of its abilities and knowledge of the sorcerer to harm him or her as badly as it can, or to escape and seek to break the Binding. Even with a Power of 1, it may have quite a lot of potential to do this.

Here's another interesting point: if the sorcerer has Bound more than one demon, the other demon(s) may well become concerned and distrustful toward the sorcerer, if he or she carries out such an act.

I suggest that as long as the GM plays the demon as an NPC with a mind of its own, then the actions of "reduce it to Power 1, then Banish it" will be far, far less automatic than they seem on paper.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: dikaiosunh (Daniel) on September 16, 2007, 07:33:46 AM
Sorry for not replying to some of this sooner... it's been a busy week.

Per - Honestly, whether Sorcerer helps with my Illusionist habits depends, I think, on how broadly you're defining what "Sorcerer" is.  For the most part, I feel like the biggest benefit of the brute mechanics is that they largely get out of the way.  One thing that always bogged down other systems I've run that claimed to support story, like Vampire, was the amount of time we'd spend doing things like running through 10 combat rounds of trying to take out the ghouls with assault rifles.  While, of course, that is in principle neither here nor there with respect to illusionism, story, etc. I found that in practice getting tied up in that sort of thing both made it harder to change things on the fly, and sapped a lot of energy at the table that could have gone into player character development, rather than on figuring out how many dice to roll.  Does that make sense?

But, more broadly, things that are in Sorcerer, and in the conversations here, that are part of the system in a broader sense, like Kickers, Ron's discussions on humanity definitions in Sorcerer's Soul, discussions of bangs/crosses, and floaty GM style, help a *lot.*  (for me, at least).  Some of it is stuff that I started using in an untutored form in other games I'd run as I started getting disillusioned with illusionism (and, to give due to one of my players, I had no idea that there were folks out there writing all sorts of cool games that broke with many of the mainstream conventions I took for granted until I met Kirt - but it fed into a longstanding and incohate dissatisfaction), and most of it is stuff that I'll continue to use even in other games I run.  So, if you count that stuff as part of Sorcerer (and I guess one probably should, even though it's not "mechanics"), then yes, it helps.  That was probably way too long-winded.

While all my players in this game were, I think, down with everyone contributing, I just think that trying a game with some things built more into the mechanics might help me, at least with getting a feel for the proper rhythm of things.  So, e.g., TSoY's refreshment scenes and Keys basically say, "players, you MUST demand scenes on matters of personal interest to your characters (and, by extension, you)."  We tried to do that in this game just through talking at the table about what kinds of scenes people wanted, and there's no reason in principle that doesn't work (I'm glad that Adam, e.g., felt free to request more scenes with Belladonna, but just chose not to).  What I think would help about having it more regimented would be with me getting a better feel for how open to be with it, give the players a more explicit channel to give me information about desired pacing, etc.  So I don't at all feel that Sorcerer is "missing something" in that respect and didn't mean to imply that - like the bonus dice issue, I just feel that *I* don't yet have a great feel for an appropriate way to handle it always, and Sorcerer gives you fewer explicit guidelines.  Which I could see being a great feature for GMs with more experience in its play style and groups with deeper experience with each other.

Re: humanity rolls.  We didn't have many, but I don't think it's for lack of attention.  We discussed Alistair getting a gain roll when he was thinking of turning himself in.  In general, the consensus ended up being that Humanity rolls were in order only if someone did something pretty serious either way, and most characters ended up staying within the bounds of not being particularly heroic but not really offending against the definition, either.  One thing Humanity-related I think I need to do is really get more into the details of the rituals, as most of them were a little glossed-over in play.  There was no explicit decision to do that, they just seemed to come in the middle of things, and so I ended up not doing them justice, I think.

At the end of the day, I think the plot issue resides in me, not the players.  I was very concerned to find a way to Weave and bring everyone together.  I think for the second iteration, I'm going to try to relax a lot on that and hopefully bring the bass-playing down from Rex Brown to somewhere around Jay Bentley at least.  Actually, I think I may just artificially impose a "no non-player requested weaves until session 2" rule on myself and see how that goes.  A lot of the pace and focus on A-plot was, in retrospect, the result of me trying too hard to bring everyone's kickers together into an A-plot.

Ron, thanks for the clarifications re: Banishment.  I think I may have forgotten to add the Binding Strength, as well, which I won't forget in the future.  Though, in our defense, whatever we may have munged in the mechanics of Vector's Banishment, it was a long process of the relationship going sour before Vector got iced.  If anything, part of what made me question how "easy" it was, was that after spending so much time wrangling with Vector, once the Punishments had beaten him down to Power 0, the roll to get rid of him seemed sort of anticlimactic.  Again, that might go back to me giving too-short shrift to the "color" of the rituals (and may have been partially a social contract issue - the session was almost over, and I wasn't yet sure if we were just going to wrap up the game, so I didn't want to leave it until a next session that might not happen).

Title: Re: [Sorcerer/Electric Ghosts] Lester Wachlowski's No Good, Very Bad Day
Post by: Per Fischer on September 16, 2007, 02:07:08 PM

Per - Honestly, whether Sorcerer helps with my Illusionist habits depends, I think, on how broadly you're defining what "Sorcerer" is.  For the most part, I feel like the biggest benefit of the brute mechanics is that they largely get out of the way.  One thing that always bogged down other systems I've run that claimed to support story, like Vampire, was the amount of time we'd spend doing things like running through 10 combat rounds of trying to take out the ghouls with assault rifles.  While, of course, that is in principle neither here nor there with respect to illusionism, story, etc. I found that in practice getting tied up in that sort of thing both made it harder to change things on the fly, and sapped a lot of energy at the table that could have gone into player character development, rather than on figuring out how many dice to roll.  Does that make sense?

Totally, yes :) I guess I already knew by reading your AP, but I just wanted to make sure. I have had very similiar experiences, and for me it was Sorcerer (+its supplements, plethora of threads, wikis etc) that helped me understand why my roleplaying was unsatisfactory and, even more importantly, how to do something about it.

I'm glad to say that my own Illusionist habits were only that: habits. I haven't looked back since I threw them away :)