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[Sorcerer] The Mangling

Started by Rustin, March 30, 2006, 02:17:03 AM

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I finally managed to run and then promptly mangle this Sorcerer game .  I'm afraid I may have turned my regular group off to Indie RPGs entirely.

Looking back now, I think the problem was, even with all the mechanics, all the talking about humanity, lore and kickers, for some reason we still did not produce protagonists.  I feel that, as the game progressed, the players began playing archtypes, not active characters capable of meaningful narrative choices.

During play, I could feel that the players interpret my bangs as just annoying obstacles.  Puzzled and panicked, I increased the intensity of the bangs; bringing more NPC's into the fray, trying to get the players to realize that it was their story not mine-- but it still didn't enable the players to roleplay a  protagonist.

I ran Dogs twice (with a different group of players), and when I hit those players with townsfolk I could see that gleam in their eyes as they discovered the power to direct the story.  Not so with this gaming session.  (Not that I was looking to duplicate Dogs with Sorcerer, but I did want that same energy...)

What I did wrong, I'm not sure. I feel I need to mitigate the disappointment somehow or I'll never get this group to step outside d20 again. 

I'm going to lobby hard to try PTA. Until then I would really appreciate any suggestions.


Hello There,

Don't feel too bad.  I've played Sorcerer a lot and I mangle it all the time.  Hell, I'm writing a mini-supplement that's all about NOT mangling Sorcerer and every time I go back and read what I've written, I beat myself and say, "Dang, I'm really mangling this."

Something else to keep in mind, is that you really shouldn't take on a crusader role.  I've been there.  If your current players don't have the inclination, then they don't have the inclination.  I don't think there are many here who love these games who didn't already have something in them that was reaching out for games like this all along. 

I know what you mean when you say they don't know how to be protagonists.  It's kind of scary, especially when you play with someone who normally you respect creatively but all of a sudden it's like they don't know what a conflict is and they don't know how to put their character into motion.  Some players can only describe their characters in terms of poses and portraits, but motion, what's that?

But, you might also want to take a look at yourself.  Were you really presenting adversity?  Really and truely?  I suffer from the GM version of the poser problem.  Too many years of thinking that adversity had to be an illusion, to succeed and fail on cue, to only meneace from the shadows so that the problem couldn't be solved too soon.  It was a cold shower the day I realized that Story Now is served by feircer, really dangerous, really threatening adversity that might actually succeed.  Dogs is really helping me with this problem because you don't end up creating a true Villain (i.e. a Sorcerer) until like step four of the backstory prep process and by that time he's well rooted in actual problems so that he's more than just an obstacle or a bag of tricks with a hollow laugh.

To go to Ron's band analogy these games require practice.  Sorcerer especially because it wasn't written with the helping-hand mentality of, say, Dogs in the Vineyard.  Practicing with people who don't want to make music is not a good idea.  Find a person or two who want to make music and recognize that the first time they play Sorcerer it's probably going to suck because their skills aren't refined enough.  Then practice, practice, practice.

Hope that helps.



What were their kickers?

What kind of setting did you have, which leads to, what was the Humanity definition?


Quote from: Paka on March 30, 2006, 03:57:10 AM
What were their kickers?

What kind of setting did you have, which leads to, what was the Humanity definition?

Player #1 Cop. Kicker is the evidence that went missing from his father's murder has just been delivered to him.
Player #2  Boxer. Kicker: he is being blackmailed by someone who saw him murder a man.

Humanity is Empathy.  I toyed with the idea of Injustice, but I did not want to get too abstract my first time out.
Setting, 1950's L.A, the underbelly of city. 


Sounds good, Rustin.  I've been thinking about using Sorcerer quite a bit lately, after watching Miller's Crossing and then a season's worth of Veronica Mars.  I got a bunch of Dashiell Hammet novels and Chandler short stories from the library where I work.

::tips his fedora back::

Two more questions for ya:

What were their demons?

What kind of stuff did they put on the back of the character sheet?


We had two types of demons; more sophisticated types and more feral types.

Both players liked the idea of parasite demons.
Player 1's demon:  Need was drugs, desire was mischief.
Player 2's demon:  Need was violent acts, desire i think was more tame.. but I can't seem to remember it right now.

Lore was for Player 1, discovering old texts and papers about demons in his father's stuff.
Lore for Player 2 was getting intouch with his feral nature. 

Prices, were: Player 1 cop didn't get along well within the criminal justice system (-1 to all cover checks if it involved dealing with other cops or attorneys etc..)

Player 2: arrogance, right from the book.

Ron Edwards

What I think I'm seeing is some kind of freeze-up during actual play, after the first scene is established, after an action or two has been taken.

I'm also cross-referencing it with my own Sorcerer experiences and have found a match. Based on that example, here's my question:

Did, at any time, any of the players say something like, "He [the character] just doesn't care about that," in response to a Bang, especially a socially-oriented one? Was a similar phrase ever used more generally, such as "He doesn't really care about any of that," or "about things like that."

I know a bunch of readers are going to misunderstand me and start asking me about how I've talked about "always listen to the word of God" regarding players's priorities, and so on. If you are such a reader, just bug off. This question is highly tuned to the description in this thread and has nothing to do with you.



QuoteDid, at any time, any of the players say something like, "He [the character] just doesn't care about that," in response to a Bang, especially a socially-oriented one? Was a similar phrase ever used more generally, such as "He doesn't really care about any of that," or "about things like that."

Not that I recall.

I'm thinking back to any similar type statements made by the players.  One player said, or implied after being confronted with bangs, "I don't really have a choice here."  Not that they as players didn't care, nor that their characters didn't care.  Where I saw a bang, they saw trouble they couldn't get away from.  It was almost like they sensed if they jumped in proactively they would make a big splash, and they just wanted to take care of those kickers with as little water ripple as possible.

On an up note, everyone is interested in trying PTA.  I even get the feeling they would be willing to try Sorcerer again.

Andrew Cooper

I'd be interested in hearing what some of the Bangs were, if you don't mind divulging.

Ron Edwards

Damn, I forgot about this thread, which is no credit to me. Sorry for not following up on my question.

Well, given your answer, the issue you faced doesn't match to the one I was thinking of, so that's OK. It seems to me as if you've diagnosed the outlook pretty well, and why it doesn't work for playing Sorcerer. My paraphrase might be something like, they couldn't distinguish between the inevitability of Bangs vs. lack-of-choice in dealing with them.

That's kind of interesting, because a constructive version of the same perception does exist. Many times I've encountered post-play discussions in which people described their characters as having no choice ... and then being surprised when I stated about a dozen things they could have done instead, but clearly didn't want to. This is, as I see it, a very positive and fruitful situation, in which playing-the-character, authoring-the-fiction, whatever you want to call it, was occurring at a visceral and highly-engaged level. It's no-choice in a good way, in the same way that an author declares, "oh dude, he's gotta do that" when scribbling furiously.

(It is not the same as "My Guy," rather the opposite in fact. If you, whoever's reading this, don't understand that, please don't post and contact me privately.)

So now my question becomes, what distinguishes this positive and wonderful form of "no choice" from what the one guy was objecting to?



Just as a general update, because of Sorcerer (even with the mangled experience), we have opened a dialogue within my group about roleplaying in general.    Since we tried the game we've had two or three real good sit downs discussing what gaming is and what we want.  I feel almost as though an old useless band-aid was pulled off, and now there is this wound starting to breathe and heal-- but it sort of stings.

As for your observations about the choice being on a visceral level, I agree.  I think that is exactly what happened the more I reflect on it from that perspective.  In each bang I threw at them where I saw five or six options, they immediately saw one.

So now my question becomes, what distinguishes this positive and wonderful form of "no choice" from what the one guy was objecting to?

Let me take a different approach to this question.  The distinction was that I as GM didn't see them squirm. The objection was as much on my end as theirs.  I didn't see them wrestle with the choice.  I didn't see a narrative choice played out slowly in gruesome detail.  Thus, I felt I wasn't challenging  or helping them with their story.  This is exactly what would happen when I ran my d20 campaigns.  I would press, press, press putting choices and pressure on the characters, and the usual complaints were that they had to keep reacting, they were stressed. I'm not sure if they felt railroaded them.   So maybe this is just some old issues coming out.  (They play the Lawful Good Paladin, and their actions were basically pre-determined by their initial choice of character-- actor stance, not author stance.)  I wanted to see more author stance in action.

Gaerik, you wanted to know the specific bangs-- let me go with the kicker and see if the concrete example can actually show where I was befuddled that the player didn't stop and think it over and balance choices. 

Player #2 kicker involved blackmail. 
Instead of hiding who was doing the blackmail, I hit him hard with information.  I let him know who was blackmailing him, why and what the consequences were if he didn't follow through and that the guy would never let up.  (if you've seen veronica mars it is motorcycle dude using his criminal connections to blackmail a character to beat up and maybe kill the actor's son, who is also in love with the Kane daughter).  At this point the Kane daughter is not dead.

He had, in my mind numerous choices.  Go along with it for now, but look for opportunities to change it up, investigate the blackmailor to see if you could turn the tables...   

He felt his only choice was to go rough up this kid. 

So, I saw complexity and ambiguity in these situations, my players didn't.  I think the issues were more on my end, and I feel much better knowing this. Eventually, a situation would have arisen where choice did not seem intuitively clear.  We just didn't give it time.

Eric J-D

Damn!  Here I was involved in conversation with you, Rustin, way back when about your upcoming Sorcerer game, and yet somehow I managed to overlook your thread about it in Actual Play.  Sorry.

It sounds to me like you are being a bit too hard on yourself and perhaps (just a bit) disappointed in the choices the players made.  If it is true that they couldn't see the way specific Bangs presented multiple options for them, then my suggestion would be to simply interrupt the game for a while and reiterate that you as GM have absolutely nothing at stake in however they decide to address a particular Bang.  In other words, make it very clear to them that all options that involve their active decision-making and consequent shaping of the story's direction are good and right and so forth.  Be a cheerleader for their imaginative input.  Of course some more traditionally-inclined players might get a bit nervous at this point and ask if you are just "winging it."  Reassure them that you have plenty of material prepared in the form of Bangs but that you are prepared to follow their lead totally regarding how they dispose of those Bangs.  Then go back to the game.

If, on the other hand (and this is a big "if"), they already have a sense of the multiple avenues open to them for addressing your Bangs, then it is very important that you not display disappointment with the choices they do make as this will only encourage them to think (wrongly) that you have some sort of "story agenda" of your own that you want to see them pursue and that all this talk of them actively creating the story through play is a crock.

So to make it concrete: in the case of the guy whose Kicker involved being blackmailed you did the right thing IMO to not make all this shit a big secret with the implication being that his goal was to unravel the mystery.  Kudos!  You avoided one of the big temptations that often face new Sorcerer players.  But just because you saw a range of choices that all involved complexity and ambiguity and the player chose a rather obvious route (track blackmailer down ad rough him up) that doesn't mean that it was a failure.  Go back and read that post I referenced in the Kickers for Dummies Part 2 thread--the one involving the GM whose player tracked down his wife's murderer almost immediately--and then read what Ron and others said about how to handle it.  Just because a player addresses a Bang or Kicker more directly or with less appreciation for the ambiguity or complexity that you or I or someone else might see in it doesn't mean that play failed or that the Kicker/Bang wasn't effective.  How the player chooses to dispose of the Bang is up to the player.  Players (especially ones coming from a background of more traditional rpgs) of course need to be encouraged to be imaginative and realize the power and range of options they have available to them.  But if they know this and still act in ways that strike you as "too direct" or whatever, it is crucial that you not express a sense of disappointment.  Remember that it is just one Bang and that a range of new options opens up again after the player makes his/her choice.

Okay, enough of my blather.  Does that help at all or not much?