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Title: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on September 08, 2007, 10:49:00 PM
I GM'd Sorcerer & Sword at Gateway last weekend.  Here's the first in several posts breaking the game down.

Con Conventions & Prep Work

For better or worse, I decided to dump a lot of the conventions and assumptions of what a con game is supposed to be.

I've come to believe that creating characters and situation is a vital part of play for certain RPGs.  I put Sorcerer in this camp.  Letting players invest in the character's creation -- particularly Kickers, but really, all of it -- is part of what makes the games I love the games I love.  To remove that would be to remove part of what makes it a game I love.  Not only does that make no sense to me, but I knew I'd have players who had never played Sorcerer before.  It wouldn't let them see how the game worked worked -- and that was very important to me.

I arrived with no pre-generated characters, no pre-generated Kickers, nothing.

I was up front. I said, "I can't guarantee we're going to reach a cool end of con session climax. I won't be rushing anything to get to the big finish. What we're going to do is play the game. And the game starts -- here..." and I'd distribute the character sheets.

I don't know whether everyone was satisfied. But I was. As far as I was concerned we were playing, and as far as I could tell all the players were engaged from that moment on.

In previous Sorcerer games I'd run I'd always arrived with far too little.  I kept assuming that since the Players would be driving matters with their Kickers, the less I imposed the better. But this always left the Players floundering. 

I knew that if I didn't arrive with pre-generated characters, I'd have to arrive with a really tight group of elements.  In my own head I call these elements "Focus" -- the way an improv game often begins with naming a location and activity or something.  It gives the performers brains something to focus on this.  The effect of this is profound, but not always obvious.  In the creative act the human brain always has too many  options.  By giving ourselves focus we cut that number of options down immeasurably.  We're still going to spin off with countless possibilities off the Focus elements.  But its not all over the map causing chaos and confusion.

It's my contention that Focus handles a lot of things that we sometimes think we need to have handled by mechanics.  If everyone follows the Focus elements, then part of the game becomes picking through the variety of options offered by the unity of the Focus.

Inspired by reading a lot of Howard's Conan stories, I decided to arrive with a very tight set of circumstances for the players to riff off of to create their characters.  There's always an immediate problem in the Conan stories that feels very tight.  There's the sense of a Kicker present, but the circumstances shape Conan's options and it never feels like the plot could spin out in any direction.  (As opposed to, say, a Stephen King short story where you really don't always know where the hell the stories going when you turn the page.)

I was also inspired by an actual play I read around here somewhere where the game (or the system, I can't recall), really did a bang up job of dumping the player into a situation and they were off and running.  Oh!  Just remembered: The Mountain Witch.  And I wanted to do something like that, but loose enough to allow the players to create Kickers.

And, of course, Ron already beat me to all of this (the bastard).  When I was re-reading Sorcerer & Sword I came across this on page 42 under the Kickers section in character creation:

"Functionally, they [the Kicker] are the same as in the basic rules -- a circumstance that propels the character into making decisions... the Kicker needs to be built very locally. That is, it applies to a specific adventure, in a specific time and place for the character."

So, I knew I was on track.

Ron had also suggested to someone running a Sorcerer game at a con to keep the Relationship Map small.  So I knew I'd do that, too.


Humanity: Living by your own code of Honor
Sorcerer: Sacrificing something you value

  • I created two kingdoms -- one civilized, one savage -- on the brink of war
  • I created an ancient artifact that members of both sides wanted that could turn the tide of battle, which was rumored to be lost out in the desert wastes where the Old Ones once ruled
  • I created internal strife within each kingdom -- some people wanted war, some did not
  • I created a romance between the teenage prince of one kingdom and the teenage princess of the other kingdom

I was inspired to create the two kingdoms because of World of Warcraft.  The very first thing you do in that game is choose to be Horde or Alliance -- either the creatures that are considered outcasts or the normal heroic-pretty types.  I think that's brilliant.  It gives everyone an investment in a fairly grabby choice right off the bat (even if most people might not recognize it as such.)

I figured, a white-columns-of-marble civilization with gleaming metal and feathered helmets on the one hand, and Germanic-like barbarians living in fortresses of wood in deep forests on the other would give everyone a quick brushstroke with which to pick some color for their character.

When I was writing up the material, I didn't mean to recreate the essential situation of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  But when I reviewed it -- two nations, on the brink of war, looking for an artifact in the desert that could tip the balance, with all the characters having to make choices about how to respond to this search... but, um, I did.

The Relationship Map: Seven characters, four from the civilized kingdom, three from the savage.

The Civilized Nation of Jaltan
King Voirff
Queen Janil
Torrin, King Voirff's Oracle and Advisor
Princess Eloinese, daughter of Voirff and Janil

The Barbaric Nation of The Vanx
King Grourse
Queen Berian [Deceased]
Prince Dorouse, son of Grourse and Berian

More details to come on the NPCs.

Demons: I created five Demons in prep.
1) the artifact, known as The Eye of Kor
2) Magoth, an Old One living in the caves of the desert wastes who could help anyone find The Eye
3) Torrin's demon Besk, who helped him with his oracular duties
4) and two demonic swords.  My thinking here was that not everyone was going to want a demon, so two prepped demons would be enough.  HA!  This was the one place where my prep and the players melted on contact, and I'll discuss it more below.

I'll give details on the Demons below, but the important part of the demon creation for me was this: Given my set up -- no rushing, starting with character creation, not driving to the big finish -- I was pretty sure we'd never get to The Eye of Kor or Magoth.  BUT!  I knew that in no way did I want to dodge the issue of introducing the demons if the Players somehow just got there in ways I didnít anticipate.  In other words, I didn't want to accidentally do that that thing where we go, "Well, this scene can't happen till about hour six or seven of play," and then somehow cheat the Players of getting there faster simply because it didn't occur to me that you could get there by hour two.  So I had Magoth and The Eye of Kor statted and ready to play as personalities -- because who the hell really knew what was going to happen?

Character Sheets: I created my own character sheets.  The main point was to take the info found on The Back of the Character Sheet and move it to the Front of the Character Sheet -- because the damned info is too valuable to be hidden on the back of the character sheet!  I placed the circle from the back of the character sheet smack-dab in the middle of a landscape sheet of 8.5x11 just so no one would get confused about what the game was about.  I just wanted everything right there in front of the players.

Other Hand Outs:  I also created handouts for character creation (with descriptors from S&Sword listed), the Sorcery Chart (with the Pact modifiers from S&Sword), and a truncated Combat chart (since the weapon options are smaller in S&Sword).

Rules: I decided to not use a lot of the additional rules found in S&Sword -- no Victory trading, no special combat modifiers for weapons, no buying down Humanity at character creation.  I wanted to keep it all very straight forward.  I also wanted to avoid any Focus on thinking all combat-min-max like for this session, because I knew I'd be getting new players, and I wanted to dodge any Focus elements that might jerk them toward older habits.

Up next: Meeting the players and laying out the game

Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on September 09, 2007, 07:35:55 AM
Meeting the Players, Introducing the Game

I ran the game during the 3pm slot on Sunday of Gateway.

By this time I had ran a game of Primetime Adventures at 3pm on Friday, played Grey Ranks that night, played Poisoned the next morning, Psi-Run that afternoon, and ran another game of Primetime Adventures on Saturday night.  I took Sunday morning off to sleep in, go over my notes for the Sorcerer & Sword game, and go for a fierce bike ride.  I rolled into the con a little before 3pm to run the game.  (After that, I'd be playing Shock.  I'm pretty sure that if I'd played Shock first that weekend, it would have taken me a while get into the groove of the game.  As it was, I'd pretty much been in an Narrativist/Story Game Boot Camp.  I slid into Shock like it was the kind of game I'd been playing all my life.)

I bring this up because I had purposely scheduled myself with running the two Primetime Adventures games in preparation for the S&Sword game.  I knew I'd get vigorous practice with scene framing, which I wanted for the S&Sword game.  I also knew I'd get a strong work out with being a strong guiding hand in containing tone and feel for a game session.  In the past some of my Sorcerer games when south because my attitude was, "Well, hell!  The Players have Kickers!  Theyíll drive the game."  Um, no.  If the GM in Sorcerer (or Primetime Adventures, for that matter), isn't keeping a grip on the reigns, the tone and feel and be lost, and the Players can start wandering because the GM isn't hammering them with Bangs and thematic content.

This time around, no problem on any of those fronts.  I was prepped and ready from the games I'd run and the games I'd played.

I Meet My Players

At the Strategicon conventions in L.A., you can set the number of players you want to have in your game.  I capped my player limit at three.  We had a fourth player show up, a hopeful "alternate."  But I'd already broken my limit once before during the con in another game (only by one player), and thought it had made it slightly more difficult to keep the reigns on the game.  I apologized, thanked him for his interest, and said we were full up.  I really, really wished he could have played.  But we had three players, and that was the limit I wanted to work with.

My players were Brendon, Vasco, and Selene.

I'd met Brendon on previous occasions, and we had played together in the Grey Ranks game two nights before.

I had introduced myself to Vasco in the lobby shortly before the game when a large group of our mutual friends when Vasco and myself were hanging out between sessions.  I'd heard his name mentioned several times along the lines of, "Good Guy," so I wanted to say hello.  I had no idea he was going to be in the game, but was pleased when he walked in.

I had never met Selene before the con, but had introduced myself to her in the lobby on Friday.  We talked a few more times during the con, but -- again -- it was a happy surprise to find her in the game when she walked in.

I made sure we all introduced ourselves to each other, (though for all I know they had known each other for years).  I found out each one of them owned and/or had read Sorcerer, but had never had the chance to play.  I was pretty excited to give them a test drive. 

The vibe I got was pretty much the lucky vibe I'd gotten from everyone I'd played with in every game all weekend: people who loved the games that had been coming out since 2000, people eager to play the games, and a warm commitment to putting themselves out there and invest in the narrative, characters and the other players.  (Have I said I thought the whole con was great great?)

I did my little speech that I noted in the first post: We were starting with character creation and playing Sorcerer the way you'd play Sorcerer.  I wouldn't rush to get to the big scene, and I made no guarantees of a climactic finish.  They all nodded, and I didnít get any sense of disappointment.

"This is The Relationship Map for the Game"

I took the Relationship Map and put it right in the middle of the table for all to see.

It was kind of a spur of the moment decision -- though I'd been toying with it for a day or two.  Normally, you keep the R-Map out of sight, not revealing the connections and all the characters right off the bat.  You introduce the characters through narration and description, and maybe with pictures.

Also, you don't normally dump the R-Map on the table.  However, I was kind of cheating.  This wasn't the complete R-Map.  A couple of lines were missing (which I'll get to below).  So technically (in the technical sense of an R-Map from Sorcerer), it wasn't an R-Map at all!

But I wanted the Players to Focus on the key elements as quickly and tightly as possible, so I provided this "redacted" R-Map as the first point of Focus for the game.

The Civilized Nation of Jaltan
King Voirff
Queen Janil
Torrin, King Voirff's Oracle and Advisor
Princess Eloinese, daughter of Voirff and Janil

The Barbaric Nation of The Vanx
King Grourse
Queen Berian [Deceased]
Prince Dorouse, son of Grourse and Berian

So, basically, you've got two groupings of the royal family (King, Queen, child), with the basic "family tree" T-intersection.  And then there's a dotted line from King Voirff to his advisor Torrin, and a line connecting the two teenagers (the Prince and Princess), because they've been having a clandestine romance that began at a negotiations summit and has carried on in secret for the last year.  So even though the two families are separated, they linked, and all the characters on the map are connected in some way.

I said anyone who wanted to play the Prince or Princess could, but that the adults were off limits.  I did this because I wanted to start making it clear quickly that how they plugged characters into the map was what mattered, not the NPCs I controlled.  I also made it clear to the Players they could add to the royal families -- another child, a brother, whatever.  These weren't some "out of their league" GM pets.  They were Focus points for the Players to plug themselves into the game.

I did a quick sketch of the land: Barbarian Forests of the Vanx to the North, the Civilized Nation of the Jaltan along the coast to the West, and Desert Wastes full of Nomads and the ruins of the Old Ones bordering both lands, south of the Forests and west of Jaltan.

I explained that tension had been high between the Jaltan and the Vanx because of both cultural differences and because of strained resources -- the Jaltan were beginning to make forays in the The Barbarian Forests, and the Vanx were both threatened by this and a little excited -- the liked a good fight.

The Relationship Map contained only boxes with names, and lines connecting boxes.  No details about the characters, their ambitions and so on was on the map in front of them.

I pointed to one box after another, introducing the characters on the Relationship Map, starting with the dead queen...

Berian, the Barbarian Queen, had gone off with loyal warriors to the Desert Wastes in search of The Eye of Kor.  She feared what might happen to her husband and her son if the armies of Vanx and Jaltan met on equal footing, and, secretly and against her husband's wishes, set off to bring magic back to turn the tide if there was to be war.

She and her retinue were found dead in the wastes by scouts her husband sent after her.  She might have been killed by nomads, but no one is sure.  Her body has been brought back to the capital fortress of the Vanx -- a large settlement made of tree trunks lashed together.

Her husband, King Grourse, kind of the Vanx, is in deep and wild grieving.  He has declared seven days of mourning.  He is determined to wage war on the Jaltan, convinced they killed his wife.  He does not wish to waste time looking for The Eye, for it only allows more time for the Jaltan King to find it first.  He plans on attacking as soon as the seven days and seven nights of grieving are over.

King Voirff of the Jaltan is determined to go to war, and he is determined to go to war with The Eye in his hand, laying waste to his people's savage enemies.  He is determined to go down this path because his Oracle has spoken to him of the war.  It is coming, there will be rivers of blood, but the outcome is still uncertain.  He has made up his mind, and most members of the court no longer try to convince him of any counter-course of action.

Torrin is King Voirff's oracle.  He possesses a pet of the Old One's that has survived centuries, that provides Torrin with details of going-ons across the land.  He is filled with lust for the young Princess Eloinese, and uses his creature to spy on her.  When not performing official duties for the court, he is locked in his chamber, ostensibly performing Oracular rituals, but more often than not obsessing on the Princess.  On my copy of the R-Map there was a dotted line with an arrow at one end running from Torrin to Eloinese. 

Voirff's wife, Queen Janil, beautiful but pensive and worried about the rising threat of war, tries her best to cajole and argue her husband out of his plans -- all to no avail.  She fears the war and the bloodshed it would bring. 

She is the daughter of a lord with lands on the border of the Great Forest.  When younger, she too had an affair with Vanx royalty -- no less than with Grourse, who was a prince and heir to the Vanx throne at the time.  Her mother caught wind of it and made it clear that she had obligations greater than her own desires.  She betrayed her plans to run away to the Vanx kingdom and married Voirff as arranged.  Had she married Grourse, the marriage might have served as a bridge to stave off the coming conflict.  But no one will ever know.  So there was also a line connecting Janil and Grourse

She knows nothing of the affair between her daughter and Prince Dorouse.  I had no idea how she would react when or if she found out about it, and decided to wait to see what the situation was at that time before deciding how she reacted.  I also knew that depending on the PC's Kickers and the actual play, the secret affair of the teenagers might not even surface.

Demons and Other Situation Material

I told them nothing of any demons, except to tell them about The Eye.

I told them there was once of the race of the Old Ones, who made man and enslaved man.  And that countless years ago the humans rose up in revolt and banished the Old Ones.  It is rumored that some Old Ones and the gifts they made for their most loyal human slaves remain.  I told them that the Desert Wastes are rumored to contain old remains of cities, temples, and perhaps a surviving Old One.

You'll notw I wasnít striving for a kind of Gene Wolf overwhelmingly fresh invention of a fantasy world here.  This was a specific choice: I wanted clear brushstrokes that the players could grasp right away without having to ask, "So, what was the ritual knife that the T'para use at birth of the third son called again?"  I wanted the focus to be the Kickers and the Relationships between the characters, so I made the setting details blunt and straightforward.

Next up: Making the Characters.

Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 11, 2007, 07:12:50 AM
Hi Christopher,

I'm mainly waiting for the completion of the report, but here's one question: did the players get the idea that they had to play one of the characters in the relationship map or at least someone quite close to it? Because it's perfectly all right to invent your character totally into the situation as a kind of rock thrown in the middle. Did they know they could go either way with that?

It may be that the answer is in your posts already but I'm not bright ...

Best, Ron

Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on September 11, 2007, 07:40:05 AM
Hi Ron,

Well, we know you are bright, so clearly I wasn't very clear.  And by that I mean, I don't think I was very clear with the players as well.

In retrospect, once I do the write-up (just was working hard yesterday), you'll see that the Players attached themselves to the map in one form or another: one created the half-breed brother of the barbarian king, one created an adviser at the civilized nation's court, and one created the personal bodyguard of Princess Eloinese.

So, they created characters that were pretty tight on the map.  I believe I encouraged this by dumping the "fake" relationship map on the table.  Because that's what they were given to focus on.  Which is the thesis, basically, of this AP: that we can guide games by what we turn our heads and look at, which is why games with Kickers or games like Primetime Adventures don't spin out of control even thought there's no strong narrative pre-planned by the GM.

Now, I didn't mean for the players to attach themselves so clearly.  But I also didn't mean for it not to happen.  And I think in many subtle ways I might have led the players to do this, what with the focus on the NPC map and all.  I never said, "Attach yourself to this map," but they did.

It wasn't till I was doing the write up this weekend that I thought, "Hey, that wasn't very Conan-like.  They're weren't outsiders coming into a situation.  It was more like a PtA set-up."  Again, pistons were probably firing to encourage that -- but it wasn't really intended.

Finally, I think (again, with the what I did with the NPC map and all), I was pushing for this kind of tightness specifically for this Con event, because I wanted to get things going right away.  I didn't want the PCs wandering around looking for their way in.  And by sharing the "Raiders of the Lost Ark"-like situation and the NPC Map, they all just jumped on board and dove in as close to the matters at hand as possible (one family member bond, one professionally bonded to an NPC, one professionally jealous of an NPC.)

While I think this worked great for the purposes of the Con event, I wasn't clear how this could be looser.  In fact, in my head right now, I'm not seeing how it would be --- 'cause I'm so wrapped up this story right now.

The truth is we weren't making "one story in the midst of many stories for these characters" but rather something more like Tanith Lee's "Companions on the Road" where things would come to a head and we'd have alliances formed or deaths at each other hands by the time all was said and done.

So, the short answer to, "Did the players get the idea that they had to play one of the characters in the relationship map or at least someone quite close to it?" is Maybe

If I work backward and figure out why they got that idea, I can only say it was a series of cues on my part that I was pushing without realizing I was pushing. 

On the other hand, they might simply have been drawn to hooking into the map on their own desires.

I'm going to be emailing all the players to make sure they know about this thread and can participate.  I'd like to clear this point up. 


Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: greyorm on September 11, 2007, 10:18:10 AM
Christopher, as a point of data, when I read through the posts above and thought about what I would have done in this situation as a player, my immediate and only reaction was, "Attach myself to that Relationship Map!" by creating a character bound up with it. The thought of an outsider not on/tied directly to that map didn't occur to me. This was before Ron's or your post today.

I did that, I think, because I saw it as the easiest and most meaningful way to get into the heart of the action, for jumping into the story/situation running. Going looser -- pulling a Conan, or let's face it, any character from any given game of D&D (ie: "You wander into town and this situation presents itself...") -- did not occur to me because it would have divorced me from the juicy bits on the table or at least put an obstacle between myself and its heart. In fact, I would say the "wandering mercenary entering the picture for either money or his own reasons" thing is almost cliche and has lost a lot of power because of it.

I think going looser works for later adventures and sessions after a wandering character has been established, but initial games where the situation is tightly tied to the character's immediate, personal, or familial circumstances works better for the player by providing a strong investment in the story about to happen -- that is, "this is the situation, who are you within it" provides a better anchor to hold to at that time than does "this is your character, what is his place here". In contrast, by later adventures, the player has a strong investment in/understanding of the character and then that is capable of providing the anchor in play.

I suggest the character doesn't (or even can't) act as this sort of anchor at first because the character is a new thing, just being felt out, and the player investment/connection/understanding is tenuous in that respect -- as a player, we don't know how such a character would really intersect with events. What you allowed in this game is for the players to tie the character strongly to the events in order to discover who the character is. You gave them something -- a situation, or set of situations -- to grab onto right away that they could invest in and form a strong opinion about the outcome personally, which then they could base and play a character around.

If this were an on-going campaign, later, the players would know "who the character is" and would do the opposite, being able tie events to the character in various fashions, having a much firmer foundation from which to do so.

Tangentially, this may be why some/many groups have inter-party conflicts and little character soap operas going on in the midst of whatever adventure the GM has put them in this week. They're looking for the power of that connection to personally meaningful situations, and the adventure is just this thing that's happening around them (again) while the important stuff is whether or not they'll finally haul off and punch the party's snotty thief in the jaw or make a move on the party's shy, demure sorceress. Which is also why I say the "wandering mercenary adventurer" cliche, in gaming, has lost power.

This is just my perception of why I would have jumped for a tight tie to the R-map and not gone for an outsider character, given some consideration of my reaction; I could be completely mistaken in any of the above for anyone but myself.

Anyways, I'm looking forward to hearing the rest!

Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on September 11, 2007, 11:01:16 AM
See... you snooze, you loose!  I was half-way through the next post on Sunday that talked all about the stuff Ron and Greyorm are talking about.  I didn't get to finish it, but it's really what this AP is about.


I absolutely get what you're saying about the second and third and forth adventures and so on.  And, specifically, this Con game was about a specific, tightly wound situation just to get things moving.  It's not how I would have set up a game for a group of regulars.

But Ron and you intuited what I went to the con to pay attention to -- how do we not go spinning off the rails when we don't have mechanics to guide us.  "Juicy bits," makes sense to me, you and Ron -- but for a lot of people the notion is a lot of mystical, hopeful mumbo-jumbo. I specifically got to see it work in action with some ideas I brought to the table for this game.  I also helped enforce it during the PtA game the night before.  And I saw an incredible SF world blossom with just this agency of the human imagination in a Shock game after the Sorcerer & Sword game.

On a thread on another board, I argued fruitlessly as one guy went on and on about how people at Cons only want games where they're hired in a tavern by a stranger to go kill some orcs.  He kept saying, "Why don't people want to try something new?"  I said, "The New is here! Here's the list!"  but he insisted again and again that he knew what people at Cons want, and it was all about strangers, taverns, hired for gold, killing orcs.*

I went to Gateway with my prep -- but specifically tried to stay out of the way of the character creation -- just to see what people would come up with.  But I also created enough prep to give them, as Greyorm puts it, enough of an "anchor."

I'll reveal how that all went soon.  (Really, soon. I promise!)


* Of course, every one of the seven games I played at Gateway that weekend countered this guys statements, but there you go...

Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: xternal on September 11, 2007, 12:27:29 PM
I'm going to be emailing all the players to make sure they know about this thread and can participate.

I'm already here!

I look forward to the rest of your AP.  I definitely enjoyed the game.  I feel like I had the typical slow startup, but once I started getting it, I wanted to keep going.  As a result, I now hope to get the chance to play Sorcerer and utilize its supplements more.  Since the con, I've ordered the Soul and Sex books (Sword appears out of stock for the moment), which I think speak to the good experience I had with the game.

"Getting it" for me included two things (I think which I brought up at the table when we were done).  First, color was cool and even brought me dice, and secondly, oh yeah...I had a demon!  I seem to recall from the text or a post the latter realization being quite common for players getting to the meat of the game.

As for the r-map, the thought to play a character already defined in it never crossed my mind.   I did get the notion though that I should play a character directly attached to or once removed from someone already on the map.  I don't recall you explicitly instructing this, I think you were more throwing ideas out such as "so maybe you'd be over here somehow" (waving finger at a branch of the r-map).

Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: xternal on September 11, 2007, 12:44:26 PM
BTW, I should clarify something in regards to the r-map.  I didn't take the way we used it that day as "This is how the text says to do it", but rather, "This is how we can use it for this specific game today".  In my mind, even though we weren't going to try and race through to completion, I judged it a better idea for me to connect on or near something in the map, rather than have some less defined association.

Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: contracycle on September 12, 2007, 06:58:48 AM
I absolutely get what you're saying about the second and third and forth adventures and so on.  And, specifically, this Con game was about a specific, tightly wound situation just to get things moving.  It's not how I would have set up a game for a group of regulars.

Why not? More specifically, was there something detrimental in this approach to the way you would normally play?

Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 12, 2007, 07:18:12 AM
Hi there,

The procedure outlined in Sorcerer & Sword goes like this:

1. Establish a look & feel, probably in a few short phrases. This can be a single-person led thing or a group thing.

2. Make up characters. They are, by definition, far more detailed and vivid than the content of #1. They should reach into the player's own fantasy-needs, consistent with #1 but more about the player than about #1 as a concept.

3. Using the character's Kickers, the GM arrives at a locale and scenario prep. Another way to look at this is that the character sheets help generate Situation, and the GM uses Situation to generate a detailed bit of Setting.

4. Play. Situation resolves and vast amount more of Setting is established. The characters also develop and perhaps change.

Christopher's method was, I think, appropriate for the con setting (or represents an appropriate attempt deal with Sorcerer in a con setting), but it isn't the advised sequence above. We've identified the key difference: presenting a diagram which is basically a "what's going on" context for making up characters. So the relationship becomes:

Situation prep > Characters > Kickers, rather than:

Characters > Kickers > Situation prep

The book contains, or in fact is entirely built around, why this sequence works well for pulp sword-and-sorcery play. I don't think it will be possible to summarize it here.

Christopher, you did preserve the key point that Setting is only and ever Situation's bitch, in playing this game. That Situation prep is really rich, though! Five demons? Yeesh.

Primetime Adventures has a way of establishing habits of play, which speaks well of its functional features, but also tends to overshadow and replace people's reading and understanding of other games. I'm not sure whether this happened in this case, but it's worth thinking about ... Sorcerer play does well to avoid defining "the conflict for this scene" upon going into it. Again, whether this point applies at all, I'm not sure.

Don't get me wrong, though - the clear testimony is that you guys enjoyed the game and that you, Christopher, represented it well and even ended up marketing it. So that's great!

Best, Ron

Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: contracycle on September 12, 2007, 07:40:53 AM
Yes I follow that.  But what I wanted to know is if he felt the con game was say less interesting than it would have been if done the normal way?  Was something lost in this process?  Is the fact that he would not normally have done this for a regular group a thing that arises simply because it is had not been tried or because he feels there is some reason to avoid it?

Situation -> characters makes more sense to me.  I agree with Greyorm that this would explicitly leap out at me as a player.  Even the choice of a character divorced from the situation would be made more significant for that fact that it was made in reference to the situation.  That some of the map would be concealed does not concern me either.

Hence I would be interested to know if Chris sees any negative consequences by comparison with the way he normally plays.  Even if he does, some of those things might not be of significant concern to me but it would be worth knowing.

Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on September 12, 2007, 08:33:44 AM
Hi Gareth,

Do I think the prep/presentation at the con was detrimental in any way?  No, I don't think so.  I think we ended up with something different, given the nature of the prep designed specifically for the con.  But I think the characters were fun and the scenes fun.  So, that was enough for me.

I'll be dealing with some of this in the character creation write up (I worked on it more last night!). I noticed something  about the PCs that might have been different had we not gone from situation -> character.

'm not trying to be a tease -- just it'll be easier to explain it in the context of having the characters laid out.

Oh, and to clear something up fast.

Ron brought up something about the scene construction in PtA and looking "the conflict in this scene."  That didn't happen, wasn't even close to happening, wasn't even on the horizon. 

I know I mentioned PtA first, but really, I drew on the influence of The Mountain Witch (situation that drives character creation) in my agenda for creating this con scenario and presentation.  PtA had very little influence on the game or presentation.


Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: Selene Tan on September 12, 2007, 03:58:20 PM
I'm going to be emailing all the players to make sure they know about this thread and can participate.  I'd like to clear this point up.

I'm here too! I can't wait for the rest of the AP post.

I really enjoyed the game, though I was often stumped for ideas when it was my turn to do something.

With respect to character creation and the R/situation map, I made up a character closely connected because I figured that was where the action was, and I wanted to get in on it.

I'd tried starting up a Sorcerer game once but didn't provide any focus for the players, so character creation wound up being setting+situation+character creation. It really bogged down, and the players weren't interested enough to continue, so nothing came of it. It was really interesting coming to this game, which had a specific set of NPCs to focus on. There was definitely a lot less drifting between character concepts than there had been with my players, which was great for the con setting.

Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on September 12, 2007, 06:19:41 PM
First, Selene is strangely modest.  All of her suggestions were great.

Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on September 12, 2007, 06:21:06 PM
Making Characters at the Con

But first an Interlude...

The focus of this Actual Play, for me at any rate, is this notion I'm calling "Focus."  It's not a new theory, nor an over-arching idea of anything that explains anything.  It's simply something about how things get made -- whether it be a painting, a screenplay or a story-game.  When we talk about how "constraints" are required for creativity, that's what I'm talking about. 

When we pre-select imaginative elements to focus on before we begin play, we're constraining our imagination.  Our imaginations are going to go off in lots of directions all the time.  So when we Focus on something it "tethers" our imagination, gives it something to orbit.

This tethering provides Unity and Variety for any creative act.  We have something we are tied to, that we keep going back to for our ideas, but, being human beings, we keep coming up with new twists.  Unity provides a bedrock for creative act; when something has unity it feel of a whole.  We enjoy that in a painting or story.  If a painter just throws a million colors on a canvass, our eyes get confused and we turn away from the painting.  If a story is jam-packed with one relentlessly different scene after another, after a while we're going to get bored and leave.

A quick check to see what the Focus of a game is going to be is to flip through the book and find the Character Sheet.  These days, that's always what I look at first.  Because during the game, that's what I'm going to be paying attention to.

Now, these days, not everything that's vital to the character sheet is tied to a mechanical effect.  A character's Issue in Primetime Adventures for example, is right there on the character sheet.  It REALLY matters to the game.  And yet, there is no mechanical effect.  All the game says it to play toward it: to make sure scenes are about it, to drive conflicts toward it, to build episodes that feature it.  It's wholly upon the Producer and Players simply to keep this in mind with the promise of fun coming if they do.  The Shocks and Issues of Shock offer the same fun if we focus on them.

Where does this fun come from if we do focus  on these things?  From a lot of places, of course, but one of them is this notion of Unity and Variety.  We are pattern-making creatures.  And when we see a consistent notion woven through a story in a variety of ways, we delight in that.  As far as I can tell our brains are hard-wired to a) make and play with these kinds of patterns and b) delight in them.

This kind of play is sort of a mirror image of the pattern making found in games.  In Chess, or a solid session of D&D where the players are allowed to rock the rules, we find our Unity and Variety in a) the rules and the b) application of the rules at a specific circumstance in the game.

In games like Grey Ranks, Shock, Sorcerer, Primetime Adventures, and others we're not playing with the mechanical rules, but the patterns of color, narrative and signals and illustration of drama and emotion.  We create bits for our characters that get established and then come back in new and revealing ways, for example.  Or we create a group of characters, and the players create scenes, and over time a pattern is observed by one of the players and the group plays to that pattern.  I offer that the pleasure derived from this is no different than the joy in playing chess.  It is, however, a different set of skills.

Kickers in Sorcerer are part of this kind of play.  The Kicker is right there on the character sheet.  It gets narrative going, and, when the Kicker is resolved, it draws the narrative to a close. 

But it is "soft" in the eyes of many people because it's not tied to a numeric based mechanic.  For this reason many people want to tack on mechanics to lots and lots of bits of stuff that human beings are already ready to do.  For me -- and maybe just me -- this is a mistake.  It takes the "sport" away from the activity.  It isn't doing this stuff -- finding the most interesting patterns, coming up with interesting variations.   It requires the same kind of elastic awareness that you find in a game of chess or Monopoly, but the pieces are words on the page and notions in our head rather than brightly colored pieces.

For this reason I have a knee-jerk reaction when people start trying to attach a mechanic to everything that could be handled by the Players imagining, talking and getting better at finding their own creative patterns in the moment.  It takes the danger of sucking out of the game.  I like that risk.  I'd hate to see it leave.

The Focus Elements of Our Game

I arrived at the game with the materials described in earlier posts and laid it all out to the players (all but the secret bits, which I've also identified above).   I laid out the situation of the nations on the verge of war, the lost artifact that could tip the balance, a brushstroke of history about the Old Ones and humans, and the NPC map with descriptions of each NPC and how they stood in relation to each other.  I had no pre-planned plot or agenda of what was to happen.

By the logic of some people, all hell should have started breaking out, because I was about to give the players a free hand in creating their characters.  Some folks say that if there's too much freedom, players are boggled by the choices and freeze up.  Other folks say if there's too much freedom the players will be seized by some sort of crazed malevolence and start creating characters that have no place in the setting or the situation.

I think the trick is to be open and honest with the players, giving them enough information so the aren't boggled, but with enough freedom so they aren't going bat-shit on their own agenda in order to get some ownership of the next few hours of play.  If you give them interesting material to pick through they'll be able to find something concrete to attach their PCs to, while also getting a chance to put their own stamp on what they are creating.

The Characters

I gave each of the players a handout I'd made listing the character creation "check list" from Sorcerer.  Under "Choose Descriptions for each of your Scores" I listed each of the Descriptors for each Score, so the players would have that all at hand.

The moment we got to placing the Scores, of course, everyone went blank, and I realized I hadn't yet said anything about how the game works.  So I grabbed some d10s and made some sample rolls, explaining initiative, victories and rolling over victories. 

I described how Bonus Dice worked, making it clear that while I would assign them they were also a function of the group: If someone at the table went, "Ooooh," when a Player described a cool event/thought/action for his or her PC, then Bonus Dice would be probably be coming down the road.  I explained, "This is all of us making this thing together.  What we all care about and are interested in is what's going to make it work, because that will mean we all care about it and are interested in it."

We went back and forth between the Players, leaving someone to brainstorm a character creation question while I focused on another player.  This would of course be the pattern in creating scenes -- cutting back and forth players -- and it seemed a good idea to get that rhythm going now.

Vasco's Character: Vann

Vasco kicked off with the first clear vision of a character:  A seer in the barbarian kingdom of Vanx. 

Now, I think I'm about to contradict something I said upthread, but I'm remembering vaguely that Vann wasn't King Voirff's half-brother upon creation -- and I might have said something to tie him into the bloodline.  I'm pretty sure I said something like, "So, what's your connection to what's going on?"  Which I didn't mean as, "Make yourself part of the family."  But I realize now -- if I'm remembering correctly -- that I did push Vasco in this direction for Vann.  I don't think it broke anything, but I'll assume I'll have to watch myself on that front in the future.  It's my training and temperament to get characters connected.  Again, I didnít make the need for a relationship to the map explicit, but there was something about his phrasing of Vann that made me ask for some sort of tweak, and then he became the half-brother of the king.

(Later that evening, in the game of Shock that Judson Lester facilitated, when we were creating Features Judson pointed at me out of the blue and said, "And CK, Features are relationships with other characters.  Those are Links, and we'll do that next."  And I said, because I was writing down a relationship even as he was telling me not to do it, "How did you know I'd be writing down a Relationship as a feature."  And he said, "I know that's what you do."  So.  That's just a thing about me.)

Vasco made Vann a "half-breed" -- a man with a bit of Old One blood in him.  He and King Voirff shared the same mother, but she had relations with a creature.  Because of his strange look (a bit of the Old One blood coming through), he was an outcast from his people.  He lived out in the woods pursuing the Lore of the Old Ones.  Whereas most Humans celebrated the fall of their old gods, Vann wanted to bring them back.  He saw the current state of human affairs as weak and lost, and wanted to bring back the strength of the old times.

He had several followers, one of them a young girl who also had the mixed features of one with Old One blood.  Betrayed by his brother and his own people, this relationship with the girl, protective and teaching her the old ways, was the most important.

Now, when I said, "In Sorcerer all PCs have demons, but in Sorcerer & Sword you don't have to have one," it seemed at first that everyone was going to pass.  Then Vasco said, "Okay, so I'm a shaman, so I want some sort of demon attached to the Old Ones."

Well, I had two swords I'd built for the players to choose from.  Right?  We'd be cool with that.  But no.  A shaman of the Old Ways is going to want something a bit cooler than that, so Vasco concocted some skull he found in the Great Forests, a skull of a creature from the time of the Old Ones.  He mounted in a staff, carved runes down the staff -- and well, I grabbed the stats and personalities off one of the swords and shifted them over to Vann's cool staff.  It worked out great.  (Demons in the next post).

Now Vasco decided pretty quick that Vann wanted to go after the The Eye for himself and use it to throw his brother from power and then lead an army against the decadent kingdom of Jaltan.  So we fished around for a Kicker for a bit, and came up with this: Vann declared he would lead an expedition into the Great Desert to find the ancient artifact as soon as the Queen's body was returned.  But his brother declares seven days of mourning for his wife and forbids him to go.

His Price: We knew that he'd be Lame, but didn't now yet what happened in the Binding to make this happen.

Brendon's Character: Vorenn

Brendon decided he wanted someone in the court of the Jaltan.  At first he was an arcane advisor who had an obsessive crush on the Princess.  I loved this because it brought him into direct conflict with the Torrin, the King of Jaltan's oracle -- who also had an unhealthy crush on the princess.  It was like getting the villain from Howard's the Black Colossus.  However, when it came time to do the Binding ritual, things got jiggered around a bit (more on that later) and he became a man who wanted Torrin's position and authority. 

He described a man with a scar on part of his face -- large and from a terrible burn.  We decided quickly that would be from his Binding.  His Price was Avoidant.

Now, I had stated that Humanity is living by your own code, and that Lore was giving up what mattered most to you.  Brendon glommed on to this to create a character who was all about his pride.  His professional competition with Torrin, his desire to shine in the eyes of the court... Everything revolved around this. 

His Kicker was: Queen Janil, who has been trying to talk her husband out of going to war despite Torrin's insisting it has to be, approaches him and asks him to find The Eye and destroy it so neither army can have it, hoping this will cause all talk of the war to evaporate.

He, too, decided he wanted a demon.  An inconspicuous thing of fire that normally appeared in an ever-burning fire in a kind of pendant.  When it was released, it would grow into a larger than man-sized beast and do special damage with its fiery fists.  (All Monsters from the Id and all...)  Of course, I stripped the details from the other sword I had built and changed around the color.

I found this character interesting in that he seemed to be fulfilling many of the functions of a Conan-story sorcerer villain.  And yet, by the time he finally started taking action, who know what he would become?  I just knew there were a ton of Bangs waiting to throw at him just for his interactions with the people in the Jaltan court.

Selenes's Character: Althea

Selene created a Body Guard for the Jaltan Princess.  Althea's Price was Avoidant.  And she two wanted a demon -- a sword from the time of the Old Ones -- a prize given to their loyal human heroes!  I didn't have any swords left, so I made a demon up on the fly!  (Not a good idea, I know, but I figured I'd grow out the details as needed.)

Althea is from a family of body guards for the palace, and there was great desire in her family that she follow this tradition.  She grew up with the Princess, and, Selene decided she should have been scrubbed because she really wasn't good enough, but the Princess, because of their friendship, insisted she become her body guard when Althea came of age.

This is one of the reasons she went out to the Great Desert and sought out an artifact to help her in battle -- to make up for skills and prove herself worthy.

Her Kicker -- and I loved this -- was that the Princess comes to her and asks her to escort her to the Great Forest so she can meet up with the Vanx Prince and elope with him.

Her sacrifice of what she valued for the Binding ritual ROCKED, and I can't wait to tell you all about it in the next post.  I can say that she provided me with tons of material What would Mom and Dad do when they found out she ran off with the princess?  What would the Prince say when they reached him?  When the decision came down to love or war, which way would the Prince and Princess run, and what, in turn, would Althea do?  Great stuff.

General Notes

One thing I noticed right away as soon as we finished the characters and got into Binding scenes was that the Big Circle on the front of the character sheet for things about Lore, and People and so on was REALLY BLANK.  I mean, each of the players had built these wonderful backstories that could be mined deeply for elements of Lore, Past, Kicker and so on.... and we had no time left to scratch deeper.  I really wanted to get some dice rolling going.

Now, if there a regular first session without the pressure of a con with a group I knew I'd be playing with for a while, I would have maybe gotten to the Binding scenes.  But this whole session would have been about coming up with the details to add more info onto that section of the character sheet.  And then I would have taken those sheets and looked at them for a week as a drilled for more info about NPCs, locations, relationships and such to provide Bangs.

Of course, there wasn't going to be a "next week," so I was satisfied enough.  But they really looked blank even with some words written on them.  I would have drilled deeper and gotten answers from the players on a bunch of questions.

The characters were interesting.  As Ron has noted, character creation in Sorcerer & Sword is all about the unbridled power fantasies of the Players -- which them bump into the Kicker and situation.  This set up encouraged the players to hook into the prep I had bought.  So they attached themselves to the intrigue at hand. 

I loved these characters, though, and looking at them again now I'm fascinated, wondering what might have come up next for each one of them.

I can look at these characters and know that each of the Players spun off the materials I provided, but found ways to make character each one of them wanted to play and each one of them added characters that would be rich for drama, story and unexpected reversals and revelations. 

Next: Demons and Binding

Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on September 12, 2007, 06:25:32 PM
And Selene, Brendon, and Vasco, if you want to start talking about what character creation was like, or about the Demon Binding scenes, please do.  I was really happy with how all that turned out.

If you want you can focus on what created order for your ideas, what seemed confusing, where the fun was, and if there was too much rope given out for you to make choices. 



Title: Re: [Sorcerer & Sword] Gateway '07
Post by: Vasco Brown on September 13, 2007, 09:21:35 PM
Hey CK!

As I said at the table, that S&S con game at Gateway was my first Sorcerer experience, and I greatly enjoyed it. I own Sorcerer, and that session really convinced that the book deserves a re-read for all the subtleties that were revealed in play.

At first when CK said we weren't going to rush towards any kind of conclusion before the end of the session I was a bit leery. But as things turned out, it allowed us to spend quality time developing the characters and Kickers, as well as really focus in on the character interactions. Both of which ended up being really enjoyable.

While the verbal description could have sufficed, the r-map that was set on the table, really helped me to get the lay of the situation and find a point to latch onto with my character.

That said, the single greatest impression I took away from the game was how interesting the characters we developed were. Not only did I feel emotionally and creatively invested in my character, I also genuinely empathized with the other players characters as well.

The other thing I learned? Don't underestimate the sacrifices made leading up to and resulting from the first Binding! Selene's character shattered a family heirloom sword, passed down through generations, in order to gain the power to live up to her heritage as a fearsome warrior-retainer. Brandon? His character branded his own face with the hand of the flame demon he was binding. This was particularly awesome since his motivation for summoning the demon was to gain revenge on the Oracle for humiliating him in front of the Princess and the entire court. Pride was thing he valued most, and to have it assuaged he was driven to mutilate himself and turn recluse in order to gather the necessary lore to exact retribution. Oh and the mark the burn left? The slave mark Old Ones used to brand their human cattle.


I mean, seriously, the Binding scenes were great. They were definitely the highlight of the session for me. They really drove home the human cost that our character's paid for their ambitions. In particular, during my Binding scene when CK asked me what I'd be sacrificing to summon the demon, I said "Vis, my adopted daughter and apprentice." He looked at me and said, "Ok, all the inhuman features of the Old Ones that made her outcast and identify with you? They're gone. She leaves you, and is soon married and raising a family." I was stunned. All I could say was "damn, you're right." As much as it sucked for my character, it just felt right. I love how the game sets things up for the Gm and players to develop tid-bits like that.

As far as things I had trouble with? Coming up with a good Kicker was tougher than I thought. We had to go back and forth on that a couple time, narrowing things down until the were powerfully immediate. But when we were done, I definitely think it helped to highlight the decision my character was making.

All in all, a really great game. I hope to play again with you all. Who knows, we might even find out what happens to Vann, Vornenn, Althea and the Eye of Kor.