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Author Topic: Sorcerers of Fu Manchu  (Read 2596 times)
clehrich
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Posts: 1557


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« on: October 03, 2004, 11:57:21 AM »

Hi, gang.  I'm working toward a brief Sorcerer campaign and I'm having a little trouble getting it to make sense in the writeup.  In particular, I'm having trouble with rituals.  First, here's the sketch:

The Servants of Fu Manchu

The President, Dr. Fu Manchu, has a number of Lieutenants to whom he delegates his most difficult, dangerous, and important tasks.  You are such a Lieutenant.  You have abilities and knowledge that the hated white Imperialist oppressors cannot understand, and you use this to your advantage, spreading terror in their halls of power.  You will begin in London, the center of the greatest white Imperialist conspiracy on earth, and also the secret hiding-place of The President himself.  For indeed, Dr. Fu Manchu has built a secret base here, or perhaps more than one, and he intends to use this position within the very eye of the storm to begin at last the final assault on the bastion of oppression that is the English Empire.

The Basics

What is a Demon?

A source of superhuman ability and power.

What does a Demon’s power score mean?

The degree to which the demon-provided power is incomprehensible in Western science.

What is Humanity?

Your personal commitment to the plight of the poor and downtrodden, and your willingness to fight for them against the Imperialist oppressors.

When does Humanity matter for resolution?

When you must balance between your hatred of the Imperialist oppressors and your commitment to defending the oppressed.

When is Humanity gained or lost?

When you put defending the oppressed before destroying their hated oppressors, you gain Humanity; when you choose to win the battle at the cost of the war, you lose Humanity.

What is Lore and when does it increase?

Your knowledge of both secrets of the mysterious Orient and wonders of Western science.  It increases when you acquire objects and people with such knowledge and bring them to The President, Dr. Fu Manchu.

What are rituals?

Ritual requires intensive meditation on the Mysteries of the Si Fan.  You must become at one with that great super-organization which binds together all those who fight against the hated white Imperialist oppressors.  You must devote yourself completely to their purposes, and emerge with renewed strength and clarity of purpose.

Demons

A demon is a source of superhuman ability and power, incomprehensible to the white Imperialist oppressors.  It is a weapon you can use to fight for the Si Fan and for all the yellow and brown races.  It is a source of strength and support.  It is also not perfectly controllable.

   Some demons are demons as in straightforward Sorcerer.  Some demons are super-technology, such as Eriksen’s Ray, which disintegrates all it touches into atoms.  Some demons come from mysterious training that provides special powers, like the Shadow’s ability to cloud men’s minds and walk unseen.  Some demons are organizations of shadowy operatives ready and willing to do your bidding.

   The more alien and incomprehensible the demon, the greater its power.  This is because one of the greatest weapons the Si Fan has is the terror of the unknown.  The white Imperialist oppressors think that if they understand something, they have tamed it.  The President, Dr. Fu Manchu, has divined that this makes the use of the incomprehensible exquisitely terrifying to the Imperialists.  Therefore even when there are simple means to effect a result, such as simply shooting someone, it is more effective to use demonic power, i.e. the power of the exotic.

Lieutenants

From the vast organization that is the Si Fan, The President has selected a few Lieutenants who are more worthy, more intelligent, more dedicated.  To these Lieutenants, The President has granted special power, what we call demons.  You are a Lieutenant.  This is a great responsibility, a great privilege, and a great honor.  If you fail the Si Fan, The President may forgive you—but you yourself surely never will.  The President believes in mercy, and extends it to his fallible servants.  You have not his wisdom.

Humanity

As a true Lieutenant of the Si Fan, you are utterly dedicated to its cause: you wish to liberate the oppressed colored races of the world from the hated yoke of the white Imperialists.  You will use any and all means at your disposal to achieve this end.  But there is a terrible danger here, which is that you could end up like the Imperialists yourself.

   Consider the British Imperialist.  In general, he is an honorable man, by his own lights.  He means well.  He thinks that it is his God-given responsibility to liberate the world from ignorance and savagery.  He is willing to do almost anything to defend such liberty and to fight against its enemies.  But he has become so certain of his own rightness of purpose that he has become his own enemy.  

   He fights on behalf of ruthless, destructive corporations that take natural resources and leave a blasted landscape behind.  This he calls “progress,” and he believes it provides jobs and a stable economy to the raped nations.

   He brutally crushes the poor and needy of his own country, and locks them in prison when they have become paupers.  This he calls “utilitarianism,” and he believes it will “teach them to be responsible for themselves instead of taking charity.”

   He fights against uprisings and revolts by those he oppresses, using guns against spears and cannon against knives.  This he calls “keeping the peace,” and he believes it supports the “rule of law” against “savagery and anarchy.”

   You can see through these facile self-delusions, but it would be very easy to slip into similar delusions yourself.  When you wish to destroy agents of the Imperialists, why not simply blow them up, as the Irish and the Anarchists do?  Because you will kill innocents, and they are precisely whom you should be defending.  You must be precise.

   The most obvious of the Imperialist oppressors here in England, of course, are the police.  Why not simply kill them?  Because the ordinary poor believe that the police are their friends, and they will see attacks on them as attacks on common decency; this galvanizes the poor into supporting their government, right or wrong, and makes the oppressed into our enemies.  You must understand the effects of your actions.

   When you decide not to commit an action that would hurt the Imperialists but also hurt the oppressed and downtrodden, you gain Humanity.  When you decide to commit that action, you lose Humanity.

Relationships and Maps

Of course, you’re all on the same side, but there are rivalries and conflicts even within the Si Fan.  There is also love.

   Rakesh’s demon is a team of Burmese dacoit stranglers and wall-climbers who obey his every command.  Angelique’s demon is a bunch of ultra-venomous centipedes specially bred in a basement laboratory under Limehouse.  Rakesh and Angelique have been tasked with the assassination of the Imperialist oppressor General Sir Arthur Windreach.  One way to do this would be to have the dacoits climb up the walls, carrying a box with a centipede tied to a very long silk thread.  The dacoits let the centipede down the chimney into the bedroom, let it go bite the General (who of course must be sent an unsigned note perfumed with the orchid that attracts the centipede), then reel it in on the thread and put it back in the box.  That’s fine, of course, except that Rakesh’s lover Zimurrah was assassinated by Angelique some time ago, owing to an unfortunate confusion of identities, so Rakesh doesn’t want to cooperate; he wants to have his stranglers do the whole job themselves.

   Basically the only point about relationship maps that’s in any way different here is that everyone automatically works for the Si Fan, which means that this doesn’t count as a relationship at all.  It’s just a given.  In a normal game, it’s sort of like saying that everyone is human and a sorcerer.

What can be added are deep ties of national or racial loyalty and hatred.  So if one character is a southern African, and another character is a Boer, the fact that they both hate the Imperialist oppressors doesn’t help the fact that the African sees the Boer as himself an Imperialist oppressor, and this isn’t going to go away.  Just so, if one character is a Japanese ninja assassin and another is a Korean scientist, they may both be Si Fan but the Japanese looks down on the Korean and the Korean hates the Japanese.

Bonds of race and nation are really important here, because they’re at base what the Si Fan is about.  The Imperialists want to enslave all the yellow, brown, and black races because they think they’re inferior.  The Si Fan wants all those races to unite against the white races.  But both sides, if we step outside the frame here for a sec, have a bad habit of thinking in racial terms rather than national or personal ones.  The Imperialists tend to think all yellow, slanty-eyed people are the same, can talk to each other, and are out to get whites.  The Si Fan tends to think all these people should be united and they tend to use “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” as a reason for everything, even when it doesn’t make any personal sense.

---------------------
Okay, so what I'm struggling with here is rituals, and I think if I can't get that to make sense the whole thing is going to come apart.  Basically the problem I have is that I'm not sure exactly how to hit hard on the point that these special powers and toys aren't something that you just have; they're demons that you've made pacts with.

Suppose your demon is a team of Burmese dacoit stranglers.  Their Need might be regular opportunities to worship their dread goddess Kali, including at least monthly the chance to strangle someone in Her name.  Their Desire might be the liberation of some corner of Burma from the hated oppressors, or maybe it's the death of every soldier who destroyed their home temple in Burma, or whatever.  This I get.

But the whole thing seems to me to get wonky when you bring in new demons through summoning and contact, and when you start having to work together in a team.  Somehow I'm just not quite seeing how this can work, though I really feel it can.

Thanks for any suggestions!
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Chris Lehrich
Old_Scratch
Member

Posts: 128


« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2004, 01:32:20 PM »

Don't take this personally, but I feel that this Sorcerer write up is really lacking in the dynamism of Sorcerer.

It seems in fact that the tensions and conflict at the heart of Sorcerer is absent: You want and crave power - will you take the risks (possibly your soul) to seize that agenda.

What I see here is basically a martial arts game with a few powers. The demons and their relationship with the Sorcerers is very lacking, and I find the very premise to be extremely problematic:

The Insidious Dr. Fu Man Chu wants to overthrow an Imperialist World Power. But that's what China was for centuries - an Imperial power that dominated their neighbors.

That's missing from the dynamic of the game - but I think this paradox actually might be the solution to your problem.

In this case, the Demons the Sorcerers are relying upon might be the original ancient Emperors of China, drawn down from the heavens and bound to earth to overthrow the Empire that is systematically destroying their own.

In other words, the Demons are merely overthrowing one Empire to replace one of their own preference: substituting one tyrant for another.

There is another intriguing possiblity with this tact: the once great Emperors so highly revered by these lieutenants are actually being treated as slaves or servants to the will of Fu Manchu - perhaps, he envisions a future court where he is a new Emperor, keeping all the other past emperors enslaved in his spirit court, bound in artifacts and drawing off their divine celestial power to build and maintain his Empire - that Fu Manchu might be much worst than Queen Victoria or whoever it is.

The Demons themselves might be terribly upset to have been pulled from their heavenly Tian to be used as catspaws for a criminal mastermind.

But this is merely an example: once you have a dramatic demon devised with potential conflict - the rituals almost write themselves:

Who can summon an Emperor? Only those with the blood of Emperors or those privy with the secrets that the Eunuchs have known - the Eunuchs who were often the power behind the throne might have themselves sent the Emperors onwards to heaven, exorcising them so that the Eunuchs would  not have to contend with spirit Emperors roaming the halls of the Imperial Palace/Forbidden City and setting the Coutiers' plans awry.

Binding, summoning, and the like entail knowing the name of the Emperor and having some sort of reliquiary related to that Emperor. Exorcising would be fairly conventional Chinese Ghost Hunter/Exorcist rituals seen in movies.

Just a few suggestions and an example. Hope it helps...
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sirogit
Member

Posts: 503


« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2004, 10:44:32 PM »

Old_Scratch,

I'm assuming you're unaware of the fact that clehrich is basing the one-sheet on an existing character/world. One in which I have very little knowledge of.

I guess the tone could be summarized as the Doc Savage + Kill Whitey? I'd say that your Humanity definition is pretty on the spot for the type of pulp you're emulating, but I'd also suspect that it would be problematic to easily apply it in play for the same reason its problematic to apply it in genre: It seems to boil down to a very simple soloution, let the villian get away(In some context) and be Good or go after him and be Bad.

In any case, I think it lacks a real depth of situations that Humanity could be brought out to; I'm assuming that a really relativistic examination of oppression like Old Scratch suggests would crush the pulp-ness under its own weight, and invite being disagreed with.
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Old_Scratch
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Posts: 128


« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2004, 03:03:21 PM »

I'm not familiar with the original source literature, but Fu Manchu is a bit of an icon - just last week I ran across the guy again while reading Kim Newman's Anno-Dracula. But I suppose I am speaking out of true ignorance of the original material.

That said, central to the Sorcerer experience are two things: the price of power and the particular (demonic) relationship that gives you that power. It seems like a lot of the moral uncertainty and ambiguity is brought to the fore in this particular one sheet. Not that you can't run Sorcerer without it, I should note. I just noticed that a lot of the tough choices that often appear in Sorcerer games don't seem as prominent in this setting.

Looking forward to hearing more about it though!

--Garett
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DannyK
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« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2004, 03:31:14 PM »

It seems promising, but a little complicated.  In particular, I think the Humanity definition needs work: right now, it seems that a Sorcerer could have his pet demon kill all the Imperialists he likes, as long as he avoids any collateral damage.  That lacks a certain oomph.

I also think the Demons might be easier to work with if you narrowed them down a bit -- I used to read Fu Manchu novels with great enjoyment, without any knowledge whatsoever of racism or imperialism.  They're great adventure stories, full of fiendish death-traps and colorful assassins.  So it might help to narrow the Demons down to Passers (exotic assassins), Passers (deadly animals), and Objects (exotic weapons), for example.  I also notice that there's no mention of Need or Desire.  

One final suggestion: right now, you seem to be imagining the PC's as agents of the Si Fan, operating under the instructions of the President.  It might be more interesting to have each PC be a little Fu Manchu-like crimelord of his own, each operating his own little station somewhere in London, each with his own Demons and own agenda.  

I hope some of this is helpful -- I'm not sure I understand what type of a game you're trying to create.
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marcus
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2004, 05:58:09 PM »

I hope you don't mind a Sorcerer neophyte like myself venturing suggestions, but I notice that the other postings don't seem to have deal with the subject of conceptualising of rituals, which seem to be the main point of the original post. My apologies in advance if my lack of Sorcerer experience results in me missing the mark in some way.

It seems to me that this difficulty only arises with respect to atypical types of demons, such as sci-fi gadgetry and human accomplices from remote corners of the world- the rituals for the "traditional" type of demon are no different from the basic rules.

Firstly, I might point out that Charnel Gods, dealing as it does only with "Fell Weapon" immanent demons, has a section on reinterpreting rituals in this context. Those rules could presumably be applied to both sci-fi gadgetry and remote tribesmen. I don't have my copy in front of me, but as I recall Contact was interpreted as preliminary research to find the location of the Fell Weapon and Summoning involved the quest to get to that location. I can't remember how the other rituals translated.

Secondly, shouldn't you also look at the definition of Humanity, given that it is supposed to be important that demonic rituals threaten one's Humanity? Correct me if I am wrong, but given that Humanity is defined in the proposed game as willingness to fight against the (Western?) Oppressors, doesn't this mean that Humanity-threatening demonic rituals have to involve some sort of befriending of the Oppressors or becoming like them in some respect?

If I am right about this, then perhaps the gaining of "remote tribesmen" demons is Humanity-threatening as it involves acting like an Oppressor towards these people. After all, the tribesmen in question presumably just want to be left alone to live their own lives, not dragged halfway around the world to kidnap teary-eyed heroines and the like. The rituals used in gaining these people as "demons" involve, in essence, treating these tribesman as mere tools, enslaving them just like their Colonial Oppressors would do, or needing to make temporary, distasteful alliances with Westerners and their society. Contacting remote tribesmen (ie discovering their whereabouts) might involve using Western libraries and sucking up to Colonial officials to obtain access to their records. Summoning them (ie visiting them at their home) would involve transgressing against their sacred tribal taboos against foreigners, and perhaps killing a few who resist.

The same could be said about exotic compounds- black orchid venom, or the like: these items are sacred to the local tribes, so one needs to find and oppress the downtrodden natives to obtain the rare commodity one desires. In this case, Binding might involve the deal between the "sorcerer" and the tribal custodians of the artefact or commodity to gain and retain access to it. As for the "demon" Need, perhaps some sort of regular tribute needs to be sent back to the tribal guardians or they will disempower  the artefact, cease to supply the resource, or physically venture forth from their jungle (or whatever) and repossess it by force.

As for sci-fi gadgetry, doesn't the usual Fu Manchu way for this to occur involve the kidnapping of a brilliant Western scientist, usually with his beautiful daughter or assistant as well? The scientist then has to be kept alive in some remote prison not only to construct the device, but to keep it operational with regular maintenance or refuelling. The scientist and daughter/assistant, of course, are horrid racists who regularly trumpet the superiority of their countrymen over their "fiendish and slanty-eyed" captor, and constantly demand all sorts of expensive special food and luxuries, and even if this is provided they complain that they are "treated like dogs". Having to constantly work with these people is a terrible burden, and risks Humanity through the possibility that their own bigotted opinions will actually start to rub off on their captor. They also have Needs, which if not met will lead to the device being non-functional through lack of maintenance.


Marcus
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clehrich
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« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2004, 08:26:08 PM »

Marcus,

Pretty much everything you just said -- you slick, cunning bastard.  I really, really should have thought of that.  Yes, this is exactly what I was missing: ritual threatens humanity, which is how they are locked together.  And that thing about "remote tribesmen demons" threatening you because it makes you into the oppressors... slick.

One thing about the Western scientist who's kidnaped.  Actually, the weird thing about most of Fu Manchu is that he does this but he doesn't use the daughter or whatever as a bargaining chip.  He doesn't bargain at all.  Actually, he injects them with this drug that makes everyone think they're dead, then he disinters them in the dead of night and injects them with the antidote (waking them from catalepsy), then he uses his super-hypnosis powers to get them to say, "Why yes!  I'd be happy to work for you, Dr. Fu Manchu!"  Very rarely is this basic cycle broken, and usually it only happens when the good guys can prevent Fu from disinterring long enough that they can steal some antidote and revive the guy themselves.  Otherwise, the scientist is usually toast.

Strange, I know, and it didn't play well in the movies, from what I've seen.  But it's nice because it gives a great mission for the PC's: inject the serum into Dr. X, then steal the body and get it intact to Fu's lair.  A good start for a lot of craziness.

---

In general, I think you are all right that this Humanity thing just doesn't have the "edge" of Sorcerer.  I need to up the ante somehow.  I'll think about it.  Until then, remember that Fu is the guy who killed Hitler in Drums of Fu Manchu, but they covered it up with a double.  Yes, if Fu ran the world, WW2 would never have happened.  And that's why we serve him.  :>
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Chris Lehrich
Rob MacDougall
Member

Posts: 160


« Reply #7 on: October 07, 2004, 10:51:52 AM »

Hi Chris:

I don't know how I missed this post before. Nifty!  You know I've been trying to get an Asian themed Sorc & Sword game together for ages, right? (Not Fu Manchu, though. Wuxia, with Humanity="All Under Heaven", that whole deal.)

Anyway, I'm not going to go claim detailed knowledge of Fu Manchu canon, but I always thought he was sort of a guilt-projection figure for imperialists: in other words, many of his methods are mirror images of things the West had done to the Chinese: invading their country with a global network of agents and informers, pushing opium, luring people into vice and depravity.

This fits well with Marcus' idea that ritual threatens Humanity - the tools used to fight the oppressor make one like the oppressor. ANd with Old Scratch's suggestion that there is a paradox at the heart of the Fu Manchu character you can use.

In play, I wonder if the distinction you've made between "helping the oppressed" (Humanity gain) and "fighting the oppressor" (Humanity loss) would be clear enough to adjudicate Humanity rolls. There are so many situations where they will seem to be one and the same.

What if Demons were not alien to the imperialist powers but in fact the very means with which they had enslaved China: opium demons, technology demons, money demons... Then the Sorcerers would have to walk the line of using the oppressor's tools against them without becoming what they oppose. And Humanity would be something like "the extent to which you are not coopted/assimilated by the oppressor."

Are you going to run this some time around our neck of the woods or is this still a thought experiment?

Rob
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #8 on: October 07, 2004, 12:24:19 PM »

Yep, here's the part of the checklist that you missed, Chris. Not only are rituals antithetical to humanity, but so are demons, generally. There's your problem. Once you have the demon, I see no reason why the demon would push towards lower humanity.

Basically, the simplest change you need to have is that demons have to want you to do bad things to good people.

Now that's not a perfect fit for this game, I don't think. You may want to finegle it some.

Second, the overall premise is problematic, in that you've chosen each PCs reason for being a sorcerer. This isn't impossible, but it means that in one important aspect each PC is cookie-cutter.

How about this, each character has a reason to join in Manchu's army, but the player gets to choose why. They come to Fu, because he's the "ritual". He's the medium through which one contacts, summons, and binds demons. Then he asks you to use the powers to further his agenda. Which is inimical to humanity, not supportive of it.

Not sure if that twists your premise out of shape too much or not. But do you see what I'm getting at? Whatever humanity is, summoning demons is against it. So you can't summon demons to do humanity-positive things - you can delude yourself, sure, but it just doesn't work that way.

Again, important to have the reason that the character took the mind warping step to summon a demon. Because that tells us why he'll stay a sorcerer, once things start going wrong. Because, remember, a sorcerer can always quit.

Mike
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clehrich
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« Reply #9 on: October 12, 2004, 07:00:00 PM »

Many thanks, all!

I remain convinced that this can work, but it's clearly going to take some hard thinking.  I think the basic problem here, as several of you have noted in various ways, is that the choice to become a sorcerer, and the issue of humanity in that, is simply not that radical.

I was certainly planning to have character backstories develop why they signed on to Fu's side of things, but that's just not enough.  I need to develop why choosing that side means jeopardizing one's humanity in some sense.

Hmmmm....

I'll let you know when I figure it out.  Thanks again!
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Chris Lehrich
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: October 12, 2004, 07:11:49 PM »

Hello,

I've been letting this thread percolate in my mind, and I think the answer to the general question that's arisen is simple.

Chris, you haven't made any provision for how a given character can be a protagonist. You've provided an outlook and context for sorcery which works just fine for any old minion of Fu Manchu.

Best,
Ron
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