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Title: Souther Fried Sorcerer, part 1
Post by: Tor Erickson on November 14, 2001, 07:02:00 PM
Hello All,

On Saturday I met with my three players and an observer to play our first session of Sorcerer.  This was a particularly exciting moment because we were finally going to put into practice the narrativist principles that get thrown around here on the Forge.  We were doing a by-the-book, Sorcerer and Soul game, following closely in the steps laid-out in Sorcerer, Sorcerer and Soul, the Art-Deco Melodrama threads in the Sorcerer forum, and other on-line discussions on narrativism.  Iím breaking this up into two threads, because itís so freaking large.  The first one includes the INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND, and PRE-PLAY sections, and the part two includes ACTUAL PLAY 1, ACTUAL PLAY 2, and the CONCLUSION.

INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

Let me start by saying that Iím pretty new to narrativism.  And as far as I know all of the players are as well.  This game was a big jump for me, in terms of the massive amount of unfamiliar narrativist stuff that we tried out (none of the players frequent the Forge or are into GNS issues).  

An incomplete listing of the things that were included in the game which none of us had ever tried out before includes:

o A relationship map drawn from a novel (though in this case it wasnít detective fiction, but Stephen Kingís BAG OF BONES)
o A bandolier of bangs to be used in conjunction with the relationship map
o Kickers that determined the starting scenes and tied into the relationship map
o A setting and background that grew for the most part out of discussion, character back stories and actual play (this includes many of the NPCs, many of the physical locations in the game, and the definition of sorcery itself)
o An explicitly stated premise, established in our very first meeting (How far will you go to conceal a secret?  Or, At what point will you reveal your secrets?)
o Explicit use of author-stance by all the players involved
o A fortune-in-the-middle game mechanic
o The extensive use of out-of-character knowledge to heighten the overall impact of in-game events

To repeat: To the best of my knowledge, no one in the group, including myself, had ever attempted any of these things before (with the exception of author-stance and OOC knowledge: but I guarantee you that the way we used it on Saturday was unlike anything we had ever done previously).

PRE-PLAY

A lot of time went into establishing a group of the right size and composition.  Based on Ronís recommendations I kept the group size small (three players, one GM) and chose the players carefully.  Rather than looking at their past role-playing experience I approached potential players that I thought would be interested in an intense, narrativist game.  I based this knowledge partially on playing with some of them before, but mostly on conversations that we had regarding role-playing and their general interests and frustrations in the hobby.  All of my first three player choices were interested.

Prior to our session on Saturday we met twice, the first time to establish setting, premise, and discuss Sorcerer in general, and the second to make up characters.  In the interim we talked on the phone, via email, and person-to-person regarding our interests and desires for the game.

The prep that went into the game included filling out the relationship map to accommodate the group, working the kickers into the map, working additional back-story info into the map, and preparing a set of bangs (which included their kickers).  The prep time was pretty massive, I probably spent over 20 hours the week prior to the game, and at least another 20 hours prior to that working on characters, setting, definitions of lore and sorcery, and puzzling out how to best the game.  The time spent paid off, though, and almost all of the finalized, pre-play prep was utilized during the course of our 2.5 hour session (with the major exception of some chunks of the Relationship Map that remained unrevealed).  

While I was prepping I was able to identify several areas where I was getting hung up.  The biggest one was the Map itself.  It terms of family, sex, marriage etc, the Map I had chosen was great.  But it differed from the MacDonald/Chandler style Maps in one, major way: it was much smaller.  As it stands in the book, the map contains 6 NPCs, two of which are only tangentially related to the story at hand.  This wasnít a problem until I started trying to tie the characters into the Map.  With only 4-6 nodes on the Map, and three different Kickers, I had two options: I could create a back-story that read like a bad soap-opera (Ron mentions a Cyberpunk game that he played once where this happened: everybody is everybody elseís father, or lover, or uncle or some combination of all three) or I could greatly expand on the Map as presented.  I was worried that the former would cheapen the level of believability of the game, so I chose the latter.  Unfortunately, adding new, good material wasnít easy for me and I spent hours playing around with the Map trying to figure where I could add stuff, or what could work and what couldnít.  If there had been only one player, I wouldnít have had this problem at all.  If there had been five: I would have shot myself sometime around Thursday night to end the misery (seriously, though, it would have been really difficult to incorporate five kickers into the game).

The second stumbling block that I came across lay in the playerís kickers and back-stories.  To begin with, I found that it was deceptively difficult to tie Kickers into the Map (Ron makes it look so easy and obvious: and sometimes it was, but other times it took quite awhile).  But the larger problem was that the Kickers themselves were somewhat of the "bonk on the head" variety (yes, I am misusing the term, sorry).  In other words, they presented situations where something just happened to the character (the character had nothing to do with it).  This issue is addressed in the text of Sorcerer, where it states that a Kicker should present an issue that allows several courses of action, and not be just "and then these mysterious bad-guys started coming after me but I have no idea why!"  Two of the characters had Kickers of this variety, and they proved very difficult to incorporate (though now Iím not sure why that was the case).  Why didnít we simply change the Kickers before actual play?  This issue was addressed in the Art Deco part 2 thread over at the Sorcerer forum, but to sum up, we were spending too much time on char-gen and any further changes to the Kickers would have been encroaching on player authorship.

These two items alone probably doubled the prep time.


Title: Souther Fried Sorcerer, part 1
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 15, 2001, 08:11:00 AM
Hey

Almost two months ago, Tor began this thread in the Sorcerer forum.

Historically, when a person thinks of GM-prep, they think in terms of literal world-creation - who's under what rock, basically. When this proves cumbersome, they exert effort to canalize the possibilities of play, so that when X happens, they know who's under what rock at X.

For Sorcerer play, it's a tad different. The preparation is intensive, but it's not about mapping EITHER the world OR the sequence of planned events. It's about creating a reactive web of interacting humans (and demons).

So at first glance, I think that Tor said, "Oooh, sketchy setting creation? Cool, less work."

I tried to warn him. The payoff comes during play, as the traditional methods tend NOT to save effort & time during play, and this one does. But prep is still a monster.

Best,
Ron


Title: Souther Fried Sorcerer, part 1
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 15, 2001, 08:16:00 AM
Now for the specifics.

HOOKING TO THE MAP
It is not entirely necessary to hook each Kicker solidly to the relationship map. I have found it functional to run at least one Kicker as a subplot, rather than as an element of the main plot. This works best when the sorcerer characters are already interested in one another's lives (which is why Demon Cops is a very easy and quick form of Sorcerer; they're all cops in the same department).

If the characters begin utterly disconnected, then yes, the relationship map is all you've got. You can still run one character's Kicker as a subplot, just establish the character as KNOWING someone in the map and thus he keeps being AFFECTED by this other stuff going on, in addition to dealing with the Kicker.

RELATIVELY BORING KICKERS
The way I look at this, we have a choice. Either we have NO Kickers, which puts the player floating in space and gazing expectantly at the GM to situate the character (by which I mean "situation" in all its meanings, not just location); or we have Kickers that only bump the character a LITTLE into action. My call is that a little is better than nothing, and at least the GM can use what little is there to connect up to as many relevant NPCs and as much wild-demonic-hoo-ha as possible.

The prize in the box is when a player gives you a Kicker like "After returning from a painful scene at my ex-wife's funeral, I find that she's sitting at my kitchen table, looking perfectly hale and hearty, smoking one of those damn cigs and gazing at me coolly."

But if it's something like, "A guy tried to kill me with a hatchet on the bus today," and if you (rightly) do not want to spend time making it more explicitly full of content ... then the solution is clear, although it's work-from-the-ground-up for you. Just come up with a good reason for that to have happened, AND "spike it" during the first run. In other words, have the written Kicker simply be the opening scene for an in-play Kicker that blows the player's socks off. Like, "You then come home to find all your stuff hacked up with hatchets, and your neighbors, smiling very widely, invite you to stay with them tonight for ... um, for safety. Yeah, safety. What do you do?"

Best,
Ron


Title: Souther Fried Sorcerer, part 1
Post by: Paul Czege on November 15, 2001, 08:50:00 PM
Hey Tor,

o A relationship map...
o Kickers...
o An explicitly stated premise...
o Explicit use of author-stance by all the players involved
o A fortune-in-the-middle game mechanic
o The extensive use of out-of-character knowledge to heighten the overall impact of in-game events


You're really cooking with gas. These, plus the explicit scene framing and non-traditionally fluid attitude about time and distance that you've described are really going to have you searing the narrative meat. Congratulations on your game!

Paul


Title: Souther Fried Sorcerer, part 1
Post by: Tor Erickson on November 16, 2001, 08:28:00 AM
Quoth Ron:
Quote

Historically, when a person thinks of GM-prep, they think in terms of literal world-creation - who's under what rock, basically. When this proves cumbersome, they exert effort to canalize the possibilities of play, so that when X happens, they know who's under what rock at X.


This is exactly how I've almost always run games in the past, the guiding philosophy being that preparedness=detailed physical descriptions and lists of props and NPCs to believably flesh out a scene.

This sprung from the idea that the game world had to be as detailed as possible in order for the players to have suspension of disbelief.

Quote

For Sorcerer play, it's a tad different. The preparation is intensive, but it's not about mapping EITHER the world OR the sequence of planned events. It's about creating a reactive web of interacting humans (and demons).


Which isn't easy or quick.  On the other hand, I'm in the process of prepping for Southern Fried Sorcerer session two and it looks like I'll be able to get all of the pre-game prep done within a couple of hours this week (hopefully).

In other words, I'm looking at lots of initial prep, with significantly less "maintenance" work.
 
-Tor



Title: Souther Fried Sorcerer, part 1
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 16, 2001, 08:38:00 AM
Tor,

Exactly right. You'll find that between-run effort is spent on FUN stuff, like:

- more or less playing NPCs' reactions to various things that happened in the last run, to set up Bangs for the next

- rearranging or sharpening up elements that had been iffy or "left open" previously

- thinking about "path-crossing" (a technique I have not described previously) such that stories WITHOUT conceptual connectors STILL contribute to one another

- prepping to play particular NPCs - finding their voices, clarifying their outlooks, and otherwise coming up with ways for them to bring the player-characters more into the light

Best,
Ron


Title: Souther Fried Sorcerer, part 1
Post by: Tor Erickson on November 16, 2001, 08:48:00 AM
Quote

On 2001-11-15 11:16, Ron Edwards wrote:
Now for the specifics.


All right! Specifics.  Let's do it...

Quote

HOOKING TO THE MAP
It is not entirely necessary to hook each Kicker solidly to the relationship map. I have found it functional to run at least one Kicker as a subplot, rather than as an element of the main plot. This works best when the sorcerer characters are already interested in one another's lives (which is why Demon Cops is a very easy and quick form of Sorcerer; they're all cops in the same department).


The interesting thing is that this occurred to me while I was connecting Kickers to backstory.  And after this first session, I really wish that I had just set up one of the Kickers as a subplot.  In fact, I'm trying to figure out if it's not too late to do so.

The reason I ended with intimate connections to the Map for every Kicker is that I was worried that the characters wouldn't have enough emotional investment to get involved in the backstory unless they were really tied in to it.  In retrospect, I think I was worrying too much, and perhaps not giving the players enough author credit to keep their characters involved in interesting ways.

Quote

If the characters begin utterly disconnected, then yes, the relationship map is all you've got. You can still run one character's Kicker as a subplot, just establish the character as KNOWING someone in the map and thus he keeps being AFFECTED by this other stuff going on, in addition to dealing with the Kicker.


A part of character creation was establishing character connections prior to play.  Charles Scrump knew Cole Zion Summers' grandmother, and Marvin Harris' father was a client of Charles Scrump.  This proved immediately effective, as Charles' first action was to flee to the grandmother for help and Cole did the same.  So already in the first session the characters have established connections in a believable, interesting way, and are already starting to share scenes (though I suspect they will break up quickly in our next session).

Quote

RELATIVELY BORING KICKERS

SNIP SNIP

But if it's something like, "A guy tried to kill me with a hatchet on the bus today," and if you (rightly) do not want to spend time making it more explicitly full of content ... then the solution is clear, although it's work-from-the-ground-up for you. Just come up with a good reason for that to have happened, AND "spike it" during the first run. In other words, have the written Kicker simply be the opening scene for an in-play Kicker that blows the player's socks off.


This is a great idea, and something that has been sort of floating around in my head for awhile, but reading this quote really solidified things.  I think I was worried that writing a climactic Kicker with the purpose of escalating the player's initial Kicker would be infringing on player authorship.  But after reading your comments and thinking a little bit about it I realized that the player is REALLY asking for it (and you always give the players what they want, right?).

"A guy tried to kill me with a hatchet on the bus today." For some reason, whenver I think about this I start laughing.  It's so fucking random, such a non sequiter, but so violent and brutal.  Do you ever run black comedy games, Ron?

-Tor


Title: Souther Fried Sorcerer, part 1
Post by: Tor Erickson on November 18, 2001, 04:49:00 PM
Hi all,

A bit of an update on the Sorcerer game.  We met for the second time on Saturday and played out Act 2 of our Southern-style Sorcerer drama.

For some reason the game ran a half an hour longer (to 3 hours) but it seemed like much less happened.  I couldn't figure out what the problem was, why we were dragging our plot-oriented feet so much.  While we were playing I was able to identify several holdovers from how I used to GM, but couldn't figure out how to get around them.

The holdovers were:  
ē a tendency to start scenes from the last point where we left off
ē great attention to inter-scene connections (overall concern for the question  "how do we get from point A to point B?")
ē a tendency to lapse into Actor stance

Overall, the effect was to slow the pace of the game down considerably.  In our first session we had 10 clearly defined scenes, each of which furthered the plot and provided clues to the relationship map.  In Saturday's game a lot of the scenes ran together, and perhaps a quarter of them added nothing to the plot.  

Which leads me to a couple of conclusions.  First, I think my greatest mistake was to slack off on  aggressive scene-framing.  I was getting too concerned with filling in the logical gaps  between scenes that the game was slowing down.  Part of this arose out of habit, part of it arose from a fear on my part that the players would object if I just injected them into a scene without satisfying lengthy logistical requirements of how they got there.  Also, I think that in our first session the use of Kickers really helped  in terms of scene-framing, and the rest of the scenes sort of proceeded from there.  Take home lesson:  Work on really pushing the scene-framing.

Second, discuss with the players that it's okay for them to act on out-of-character knowledge, providing there's     in-game justification.  Perhaps encourage them to be hungry for action, seeking out the areas of conflict and gravitating in those directions.  This might be one of those areas where narrativism could benefit from a little friendly competition, as the players compete to see who can stay in the thick of things and keep the plot fired up.

-Tor


Title: Souther Fried Sorcerer, part 1
Post by: Paul Czege on November 18, 2001, 06:57:00 PM
ē a tendency to start scenes from the last point where we left off
ē great attention to..."how do we get from point A to point B?"....

Which leads me to a couple of conclusions. First, I think my greatest mistake was to slack off on aggressive scene-framing. I was getting too concerned with filling in the logical gaps between scenes...it arose from a fear on my part that the players would object if I just injected them into a scene without satisfying lengthy logistical requirements of how they got there.


Yoda hates you. Your instincts are good. He feels redundant and dies. Time to leave Dagobah.

Paul



Title: Souther Fried Sorcerer, part 1
Post by: Tor Erickson on November 19, 2001, 07:20:00 PM
I sent off an email today to the players in the group touching on some things I'd like us to work on during the next session.  Particularly, I let them know that I'd be pushing the scene-framing and that as players they should gravitate towards interesting plot developments and conflict, and worry less about "but my character wouldn't know that!"  

My hope for the first point was that there would be no surprises when I start the game next week by cutting directly into some action, and proceeding to keep cutting throughout the afternoon, and also to let them know that this sort of technique requires player complicity (if what I said wasn't okay with them, then they should say so and we'll back up).

My hope for the second point was that they'd quit worrying so much about believable character actions and really start exploring the ramifications of the relationship map (including their PCs) and pursuing interesting plot developments.
 
We'll see how it works.

-Tor


Title: Souther Fried Sorcerer, part 1
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 19, 2001, 07:56:00 PM
Well, you're doin' the dance now.

Give direction and guidance
Let'em run the show and you facilitate
Give direction and guidance
Let'em run the show and you facilitate
....

And for your next trick, you'll discover that they are guiding you! As more than one nascent-Narrativist GM has discovered, if the group is into this sort of play, then very quickly, the shoe will be on the other foot.

Best,
Ron