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[Sorcerer] Action-packed first session

Started by matthijs, April 18, 2006, 04:51:15 AM

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So I finally did a proper run of Sorcerer the other night. Three friends came to my house at around 3 o'clock. I'd figured we'd define the setting in one hour, make characters for another hour, have some pizza and play until 9, since the last train was leaving at 9:30. We took about an hour more for prep, and played until 2 in the morning instead - luckily, they could all stay over. First time in years I've played for such a long time.

It was fun, and different than I'd thought. When we were defining humanity etc, I could sense the players getting restless; it all seemed a bit abstract, and since I hadn't run it properly before, I wasn't sure just how important it would be for the game. I decided to do it by the book; the list in Sorcerer's Soul was very useful as a checklist to make sure we covered all the relevant issues - what is Lore, how do sorcerers perform rituals, etc. However, I just assumed that they wouldn't be doing any Banishing, so we didn't define how that worked. They banished two demons during the game, and while it worked okay, it would've been better if the banishment rituals felt more relevant to our Humanity definition.

Humanity was defined as Empathy. Demons were ghosts that were called back by the Sorcerers, who promised them a mix of strong interpersonal emotions and negation of those. Contacting was done on chat rooms on the internet (where the emotion-hungry and emotional prostitutes hang out), where ghosts were nurtured to life. Summoning was a matter of setting up a date with the ghost in a public place, and getting someone else emotionally involved while the ghost could watch. Binding was getting into a strongly emotional thing with someone, then suddenly cold-fronting them with no further explanation.

The Binding scenes were very memorable. The divorce lawyer who encountered his ex-wife in the capital's main street, got her into a heated discussion over papers, promised her visiting rights to their daughter - then said "forget it" and walked away. The history professor who slept with one of his students, promising her a recommendation for her article, then afterwards said "I changed my mind - your article's not good enough; please go home now, I need to get up early". The cop who set up a semi-romantic date with a co-worker who fancied him, got her talking about her ambitions, then told her he knew about how she'd covered for her drunk-driving father - and that he'd told his superiors.

The plot involved two rival sorcerers - one, an aging real estate guy, another, an anti-social young woman. The older sorcerer kidnapped the divorce lawyer's daughter, leaving fake evidence suggesting that the kidnapper was the same person who'd killed the cop's daughter years ago. The trail led to the younger sorcerer. The characters went in and banished both her demons, without knowing one of them was the child-killer. She led them to the other sorcerer - who was more powerful, had three demons, and a house guarded by a host of dogs. They smashed in a window, entered through the front door; one character was immediately knocked out by a demon with Cloak & Special Damage hiding in the dark. The others found the sorcerer, who was holding the history professor's daughter hostage (yes, each character had a daughter). She was, of course, possessed, which they didn't find out until it was way too late - she'd been knocking out the PC's demons with Psychic Force.

The characters died. One may have survived; he was dragged away from the scene by his demon. We don't know, though.

The game probably suffered a bit toward the end from the fact that it was a one-shot, and the players wanted to end on a note of high action, so they just stormed the house instead of staking it out or using other tactics. Still, this way, we got to test the system a fair bit.

I was evil. I didn't give the players any slack. When they did smart things, they got bonuses; when they did stupid things, their characters suffered. I played their opponents as crafty, experienced and cynical. And it felt good to finally be able to do that again, after a long period of low-adversity play!

Now for the question: What should I expect from future play? I realize that's an almost-impossible question to answer; but in the experience of others here, does this session seem representative? This session, I was surprised at the amount of sheer action. Player-induced, of course. The only humanity checks we had were during Binding. The players treated their demons very nicely, so I didn't get any openings for rebellion.

The one thing I really, really liked about the system is the way it brings together the best from the old & new schools. Yes, it's about player power. Yes, the players will get punished if they don't think on their feet. Yes, it's all about their personal choices. Yes, there's cool combat and magic shit going on.

Ron Edwards


Well, cool. It seems to me that you already have some of the answers to your questions right there in your own session.

1. Sorcerer isn't "Commando." Playing it that way gets characters killed. Now, if that's what the guys wanted, then that's fine. Once understood, Sorcerer resolution allows for one of the best combinations of pace, plausible actions and outcomes, and player-announcement options in role-playing, tied to drastic consequences. However, I think you can see that having play's payoff reside in the logistics of a fight isn't really tied to the reward system, and thus different play-components will feel a bit disjointed. You know, "Why do I have to check Humanity again?" That sort of thing.

So that doesn't constitute a criticism of your session but merely an answer to your question - unless the players are interested in the dilemma/drama facing a sorcerer, especially this sorcerer, then the human core of the reward system isn't present.

2. I have a bigger issue to discuss as well, and once you understand it, then the above issue will become a minor add-on to it. The bigger issue is that the group moved straight into play following character creation. What that means, effectively, is that you dropped (a) two player-characters that weren't much more than words on a sheet (b) into a scenario that was largely on the way to being concluded all by itself.

None of which is a terrible sin or "playing wrong," but it does lend itself to the effects that you describe - the players act like they're, well, role-playing, which usually means that the point of play is to discover the back-story, to acquire the target you must defeat, and to attack it before your resources are drained.

I find that the post-character preparation is a key phase. It shouldn't last long, but for Sorcerer play to develop that deep, clawing content that I like so much, that phase should be there.

Again, though, this isn't a report card and I'm not grading you. Your goal was to discover how the dice worked and to see what the pace of play is like, and you did that. If you bear in mind that to "see the system" in Sorcerer means accessing the reward system, not just running a fight, then I'll eagerly look forward to your next game.

Best, Ron


I actually did all the prep after the characters were made. I didn't spend much time on it, though; about 15 minutes, I'd guess. The PC's kickers were:

The divorce lawyer's kicker: "My daughter is kidnapped."
The cop's kicker: "My daughter was killed years ago, and now I suddenly find her shoe on the scene of the kidnapping."
The historian's kicker: "My recent plagiarism has been discovered, and I'm having a meeting with the network about it today".

I set up an R-map centering on two NPC sorcerers in conflict, since that'd be an obviously unstable situation, and give everyone (PC's and NPC's) a reason to act. Then, I tied in the kickers, like this:

The young female NPC sorcerer's demon killed the cop's daughter years ago.
The old male NPC sorcerer had a demon kidnap the divorce lawyer's daughter. He tried to make all clues point to the young female, to see what the PC's would do & how powerful they were, and plan accordingly.
The old male NPC sorcerer had manipulated the historian's ex-wife into moving in with him. The historian's daughter invited the historian to dinner at his house, telling the historian that she'd leaked info about his previous plagiarism to the press.

I don't think I told the story for them, entirely... but perhaps I did? The NPC sorcerers were definitely set up as enemies to be overcome, and at one point, where I was setting up stats for the old male NPC sorcerer's demons, the players made jokes that I was "populating the dungeon". So there was a strong feeling that "the point of this scenario is to find the bad guy and kill him". However, I feel that the kickers led up to this - one child-killer & one child-kidnapper were required, after all.

Ron Edwards

I'd like to emphasize that I am not attacking or criticizing your play-experience. I'm responding to your direct question, with concrete answers, about why play seemed to be so fight-y and not as connected to Humanity as you would have liked. I can only say, "Good, Matthjis! Great job with Sorcerer! I'm glad you played my game! Thanks for showing it to people who would not have tried it otherwise!" so many times. Please internalize that and let it be the basis for our discusssion.

Right - when I say prep after the characters are made, I'm talking about days. It's not so much a matter of the GM needing to come up with material (as you discovered, it's easy), but rather for the players to settle into the issues inherent to their characters. Pick points, get powerz, play! is a recipe for the clues + commando experience, based on nearly every role-player's past history.

Yes, you had a child-killer and a child-kidnapper, but that doesn't mean the sole point of play must be to "avenge killer, rescue kidnappee." In a White Wolf or a Cyberpunk adventure module, it is, but not in Sorcerer. However, in order for me to be ready for play-experience to arrive at some other point, I require at least one sleep cycle. I'm suggesting this might work for you too.

Best, Ron


Yep, good call. Sleeping on it will probably work very well for both GM and players.