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Sorcerer & Sword: Queensland*

Started by deadpanbob, June 20, 2005, 10:08:13 PM

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We played a marathon session of Sorcerer & Sword this last Saturday, and it was a blast!

The original game prep started">here, and was continued">here.

Feel free to comment, or post questions, at my">blog, or here.

So, the characters were: Owen, the Will heavy tech-head/trader; Ratkiller Frank, the badarse exterminator; and Nils, the badarse Mongol Raider/nascent leader of a new human society.

We added one thing to the prep right before starting, which ended up being the back-drop of much of the evening's play: Gas City.  A mid-sized settlement in the Forbidden Zone that bartered fossil fules and other chemicals from their refinery to the main powers already developed in the game prep.

The Bad
Humanity loss rolls didn't come enough into play.  I don't know if this is a failing of mine as GM, or a failing of mine (again) in defining Humanity.  We're using a plural definition of Humanity, which may have also been the problem.

Essentially, when I presented situations where a humanity roll might have arisen, the players' choices seemed to make sense, and not 'test' the definitions we laid out.  Essentially, the humanity 'Bangs' fell a little flat.

I'm thinking of trying to revise the definitions of Humanity we're using to tighten the focus - but I don't know if tinkering at this level will spoil the game.  Any thoughts?

The Bangs - toward the end of the session, I was off the map in terms of pre-planned Bangs, and I worry that the Bangs that came to me off the cuff smacked of railroading.  I don't think they stretched to that level - but the final Bang I sprung, where the folks that Nils wanted to save turned out to be followers of one of the 'Big Bads', probably drew closest to this line.  Mr J. assured me that it didn't cross it, but it felt a little like it did.

This problem should 'fix' itself, because our subsequent sessions won't last nearly as long.  We played for 9 hours, with 7 to 7.5 hours of that devoted to actual play.

I didn't run out of planned Bangs until the final two hours or so.  And no, I wasn't trying to spring all my pre-planned Bangs, it just worked out that I was able to spring all but two.

Demons & Their Needs: Since all the players traded humanity (per the & Sword rules), I didn't stress meeting Demons' needs nearly enough.  This is the core 'limitation' on character power, and I need to hit this harder in subsequent sessions.  This relates to the Humanity check thing above.

The Good
Well, the whole evening was a blast, from my perspective, so that's really, really good.

The players came up with ultimately cool characters, and they played them to the hilt.  Even though two of the players hadn't played the system before, the rules were easy to implement, and IMO didn't get in the way of the game, they enhanced the game.

The pacing was excellent, I thought, with good alterations between 'free-play' interactions, and more tension filled scenes where the dice helped to heighten the tension.

Lots and lots of excellent combat, which is appropriate to the setting, but the combats didn't dominate our playing time, so again, following the rules really helped.  And man, Special Damage: Lethal is wicked, wicked, wicked.  It can be a real fight stopper (in a good way).

Over-The-Top-Player-Creativity - I thought Mr. B, Mr. J and Mr. L brought a lot of creativity to the table, and didn't leave anything behind.  Without this, the night would've been pretty boring, I think.

My Favorite Scenes
When Owen was convinced by a former compatriot he thought long dead that it was in Owen's interests to stand down from a fight, Mr. B. played balls-to-wall (literally, at one point) in favor of this.  He fought with folks who he was trying to help to try and make this happen.

When Nils seduced Thera, the wife of a Gas City leader, upstairs, while that leader and Owen were downstairs in the same house playing pool.  He used Congac, which the woman had never experienced, and his 'smooth operator/dangerous man' style to get her in the mood.  She turned out to be a Sorcerer (Necromancer) in her own right, using her bound demon(s) to threaten the stability of Gas City.  She'd bound a possessor into her son, of all things.  In any case, this scene set up a good moment between Nils and his main-squeeze at the end of the session that was funny and well played.

When Ratkiller Frank blew a gas-tank at Gas City, surprising the other players (and their characters and the NPCs) to cover his flight.  This explosion caused Thera to 'wake up' (Owen had her under Hypnosis) - Owen maintained control, but then Nils slapped Thera and she really woke up.  Anyway, this was a surprising bit of play that moved things along, and pointed to Mr. L's creativity.

My favorite Bang was sprung when the group found out that Jared (Thera's son) let out that he'd been talking with the Big Bad all along.  It was priceless, and didn't feel to me like railroading at all.  The players choose to take Jared along, and they chose not to deal with the Demon inside him after they left Gas City, so it seemed good.

All in all, a most excellent time.

Issues for next session:

I assume that Ratkiller Frank will have to do some Sorcery to keep moving toward achieving his Destiny.

I also assume that since Owen achieved his Destiny in session one, that we need to talk about a potential character re-write and what the secret he re-gained is.

Finally, Nils will have to deal with his new worshippers.  Turning into a big-fucking Centipede and breaking the hold that the evil Turing had on his followers caused them to transfer their awe to Nils.  Now what?  This is in line with Nils' Destiny, so it's going to be an important issue.

Killing Turing (which happened in the last scene), and saving the information that's daming to Queen Ethel will have repercussions as well, but I have to give those some thought.

Comments?  Questions?  Suggestions?

To those playing along at home, what I'm really interested in is:
1) how to provide truly impactful, natural (i.e. not forced) opportunities to test Humanity?
2) when does a spontaneous Bang step over the line and become either illusionism or particpationism?



*Queensland was added as a bit of color at the very end of the session.  So this is what this region of the sand-blasted post apocalyptic alter-Earth is going to be called going forward.  Assume it refers to the Breeder Queen of Pontifex.
"Oh, it's you...


Here's the one sheet for the game, so you don't have to slog through all the posts in the prep threads:

The One Sheet
Ancients, the – the humanity that existed before the Fall.  They are widely seen as evil gods who unleashed a ravenous plague upon the world.  By legend, their hubris about their ability to control technology led to their downfall.

Fall, the – the event that destroyed the world.  Legend says it was a monolithic event that occurred simultaneously around the world.  It changed humanity, and the physical geography of the planet.

Forbidden Zone, the – Area where the gleaming glass and steel skeletons of massive metroplexes reside.  Filled with SIBE, roaming genetically engineered beasts and the like.  Also home to the various Hordes.

SIBE – Significantly Intelligent Biological Entities.  These purposeful things are bio-engineered viral technology.  They are viewed with ultimate suspicion, and regarded as the cause of the Fall.  These are the Demons.  Their Desires are to Evolve.  First Generations are either Object or Parasite.  Second Generation is Possessor.  Third Generation is Inconspicuous.  Fourth Generation is Passer.  Fifth Generation is Imanent.  Demons need to 'mate' to bump up from one Generation to the Next.

Vulcan's – Tech wizards that keep the remnants Ancients technology alive for the remaining humanity.  These are the Sorcerers.

Hordes, the – Roaming gangs of semi-nomadic raiders.  The least of them ride mutant beasts into battle.  The most successful ride recovered motorcycles and dune buggies.  The most successful are the Mongols, led by King Locust.

King Locust – The most dynamic Hordemaster in an age.  Over the course of his life, he's grown the Mongol's into the most feared Horde along the Forbidden Zone.  He founded Dorado, a permanent settlement inside the Forbidden Zone (barely) where many of the Mongol's hangers on and families reside.

Pontifex – the nearest Citadel to the Forbidden Zone.  Perhaps the most powerful settlement in existence today.  It's power stems from it's closeness to the Forbidden Zone.  Protected by a bevy of Vulcan's managing a staggering amount of recovered tech.  Matriarchal Society led by the Breeder Queen Ethel.

Queen Ethel – the current ruler of Pontifex.  Her breeding days are numbered, and she's thinking about her legacy.  She wants to strike a peace deal with King Locust.

Turing – An oracle that arose out of a small settlement along the Forbidden Zone.  He is a preacher and an activist, and many hundreds have flocked to his cause – including Landers, Hordesmen and Rats.

Landers – normal folk who live in small towns that dot the landscape.

Citizens – residents of Pontifex.  They are tattooed with the words CIVIS PONTIFEX on their forearms in block script.  When such a person is killed, Pontifex will send out war-parties to decimate the killer, their family, and their community.

Hordesmen – member of a Horde.  Typically referred to by name, so that a Hordesman of the Mongols is called, simply, a Mongol.

Rats – small bands of human/SIBE cross-breeds that roam the deepest parts of the Desolate, the Desert that surrounds Pontifex and the Forbidden Zone.  They are inhuman at best, and for unknown reasons they wander from the desert from time to time and raid unsuspecting settlements.

Desolate, the – the scorching desert that surrounds this area of the world.  Believed to be entirely inhospitable to normal men.

DeathRace2k – the most popular game played among Landers and Hordesmen.  It's a chess like game that often incorporates betting.

Death-Rights – Many settlements use the rule of battle to settle legal disputes.  As long as the town authorities are involved, one participant is allowed to call another out.  As long as ambush isn't used, the one called out can't refuse to fight, and the law assumes that the victor was right.

Lore, and what it means:

Lore 1 - these character know enough to deal with hard tech up to about late 20th century technology. They have knowledge of basic scientific, engineering, mechanical, and biological sciences. Enough that, in a pinch, they could build an internal combustion engine (or repair one). They know enough about SIBE to do the rituals, of course, but they don't really understand them terribly well. They understand computer technology enough to identify computers and networks, and manipulate them as a user.

Lore 2 to 3 - These Vulcans have a solid understanding of SIBE - they know that the term itself stands for Significantly Intelligent Biological Entities. They know that these bio-genetically engineered nano-organizims arose out of emergent behavior, and they were largely responsible for the Fall. They've got college level understanding of newtonian physics, of biology and genetics. They also have a good understanding of micro-electronics and computers - enough to hack systems. They can attempt to design 'weird tech', pulp mad science gizmo stuff that combines their bound SIBE with hard tech.

Lore 4 to 5 - These Vulcans have gone beyond the basic principals, and given the right materials, could build SIBE themselves. They can also direct the way in which SIBE transform/evolve, though this also takes a sufficently high will. They understand the principals of quantum mechanics, chaos math, bio-genetic engineering, stem-cells, genomes and the like. They are excellent system hackers. They can do 'wierd tech' easier than Lore 2 to 3 Vulcans.

Lore 6+ - These esteemed Vulcans can do stuff with SIBE and hard tech that seems nothing if not magic.
"Oh, it's you...


Can't help with your questions, unfortunately, but I do have one of my own :)

In the comments from that first blog post, you presented 3 situations to your players. I'm just trying to wrap my head around how you used (or intended to use) them in the game. Obviously you weren't trying to force a story on them ... but were you simply trying to create a cool backdrop for each PC's Kicker to play out in? Or put all the PCs in close proximity so their actions affected other characters? Or ... something else?

Great setting, BTW - and love the character writeups.

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs



The situations were intended to be thought starters.  Generally, this group of players has a solid, functional social dynamic when it comes to play.  

Two of the players hadn't ever played Sorcerer before, so I was attempting to provide them with the thought starters in hopes they'd use them as jumping off points for their characters' stories.

We ended up combining them a bit.  I used the combination of elements to inform my initial relationship map.

Glad you like the setting.  It's one of the really cool things about this type of play - you get better content when every player is contributing.


"Oh, it's you...

Mister Six


I enjoyed the Queensland game a lot. Dug the post-apox setting.

Gas City was my favorite; the scenes in that interlude defined the characters. We learned that the insanely badass Ratkiller Frank (a PC) was a softie for kids. I loved the scene where Thera tells Frank that her kid is lost outside the Wire & Frank pauses & mutters "shit" (cos he's gotta go save the little fucker). Cool to see the pulp fantasy hypnotism in action when Owen (another PC) entranced Thera. Also thought it was cool when Owen busted Will vs. Will on Thera's two demon-dogs to make them attack each other while everyone split. I particularly liked the scene where Nils (my PC) seduced Thera. And since she turned out to be a hyper-reproductive bio-queen, may I presume this will come back to haunt him?

I did think having the Doradoans [on whom Nils staked his social status & most of his relationships on saving] turn on him in the end took some of the piss out of his kicker. I felt very frustrated & stymied at that point. But, y'know, for one thing, you did give me a chance to talk them out of it with a Will v. Will, which failed. And, even though I didn't get my way (waah!), the scene at the end with the blood-spattered Doradoans [that Nils was supposed to be leading to a better life] on their knees worshipping an enormous biomechanoid centipede was pretty fucking cool.

I liked seeing the Past + Stamina mechanic in play. In one scene, my character was using Past [Road Mongol] to build up speed, making a Past roll for motorcycle driving to gain some bonuses, & then machette down mooks with a Stamina roll. I'm definitely going to encourage more Cover rolls for bonuses in my Sorcerer game as a result.

The social dynamic of this game was a bit odd. We were all friends in college, even all lived in the same house for a year & gamed lots, but haven't stayed in touch. I hadn't seen one of the players in five years! Honestly, I was a little nervous about the whole reunion aspect. But it was a blast! Hope we play again. Thanks, bud.



Mister Six (sweet handle, by the way!):

We'll definitely play again.  I greatly appreciate your take on the events in the game - that helps alot.

I knew when I had the Doradans turn on Nils that it crossed the line.  That's one of the dangers, I think, of riffing off the cuff bangs.  That one wasn't planned, but put in there in service to my desires.

I should've known to avoid that, but by then we'd been playing 8 hours or so, and I think my filters (the one's telling me not to touch a topic or flip a particular bang lest I de-protagonize the players) were failing.

The social dynamic wasn't so odd for me - I've been more in touch with the others than with you, of course, but I was on more solid ground I think than you.

But I can totally see how the dynamic wouldn't feel quite right, under the circumstances.

And I really liked Nils closing scene too, so all-in-all I think you made a fine recovery from my railroad-y mistake.


"Oh, it's you...


Jason, I think I've figured out the heart of my previous question:

"How'd you ensure that the Situation didn't overpower the characters' Kickers?"

I'll even be interested if this wasn't even a concern for you. Hopefully though, you'll have some thoughts on keeping the players' interests foregrounded.

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs



Really, as a GM, the way to do this is not to think about what's going to happen, or likely to happen, or even, really, what might happen.

The initial relationship map contains a bunch of imbeded conflict.  The way I try to keep the players desires front and center, is rather than thinking of all the NPCs on the r-map as people the characters have to stop from doing something, all the NPCs recognize the PCs as potential allies in their struggles.  Therefore, the NPCs approach the players' characters, and try to involve them, not the other way around.

Have the NPCs approach the PCs with this in mind, from the perspective of the NPCs "What do I have to do to get this powerful person to see my side of it?  What can I convince or bribe them with, or how can I entangle them in my affairs?"

Then, let the PCs respond to that question, and think about how the other characters involved in the r-map will react to that.

It really is just as simple as taking a reactionary approach rather than an action approach.  Encourage the players to act, to make meaningful decisions, and then have the NPCs react in appropriate ways.

I don't think I've nailed that advice myself in practice, but I'm getting better at it.

The other thing that helps is to talk about what you're doing as you play along with the other players.  Ask them, "Do you think that this NPC might resond in that way to what your character just did?"  If you can get all the player kibitizing on what the NPCs should or should't do, then you're on the right track.  Then, as long as you listen to the desires they express with that kind of talk, you're golden.

Also, I think inviting players directly to suggest next scenes - i.e. encouraging them to take up some of the task of framing scenes, can work too.

That's a hodge-podge of advice, so I hope you find at least some if it useful.


"Oh, it's you...
"Oh, it's you...

Uncle Vlad

Hey all,

Being one of the new players to the game, I was not EXACTLY clear on all the mechanics. Working premise of "more dice=GOOD, less dice=BAAD" seemed to work for the first 3 or 4 hours. Add more pool with narrative descriptors, apropos quips and overall "kewlness". Made sense. But after watching Nils make mook mincemeat with motorcycle manuevers I got the concept of PAST +<ATTR>. Makes perfect sense. And, yes, Mister Six, it was a little odd at first (hadn't realized it was FIVE years!), but I kinda felt like we stepped into the wayback machine. Could've sworn I saw the big $#$% oak table we used to play on in the living room. : )

It was just good catching up with you and finding out what's new. Tell "BEWARE OF ME!" I said hi. And ekb as well.