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Author Topic: [Sorcerer] Three things I need to understand  (Read 2221 times)
Jonas Ferry
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« on: August 02, 2006, 02:34:23 PM »

Hello,

First a short introduction, then my future plans for playing and last some questions.

I wanted to buy Sorcerer for a long time, but for different reasons didn't. This spring I played in Peter Nordstrand's version of the scenario Day of Dupes (game wiki), and enjoyed it a lot. My financial situation didn't allow spending a lot of money, so I decided to use Sorcerer and its supplements as a carrot to pass an exam in asynchronous circuit design. If I passed I would get them, and in June I bought Sorcerer. That should make the teacher in Ron happy.

I'm going back to Linköping Institute of Technology for my two last exams in late August, and am planning to play with two old-time roleplayers and one new. The old-timers I've played a lot with before (both traditional and Forge games) and the new guy is a good friend who hasn't roleplayed before. I'm including him because I think he'll like the game and the activity, and as a bonus shake up the old group a bit.

We will have one character generation session followed by two evenings of gaming. I want to have some time between creating characters and playing to be able to ponder their characters, flesh out the NPCs and setting and prepare bangs. I want two evenings of play to be able to correct stuff midway if necessary, and because one-evening games usually feel a bit rushed. I don't want to rush through this, but have time to explore the characters and their choices. I've emailed three suggested "settings" to the players and will follow up with phone calls to get their views of what sounds the most interesting. Then I will do the preparations steps (decide Humanity, decide what a sorcerer is and so on) up to character generation before the character generation session.

My questions are probably a mix of false impressions from the game with Peter and inexperience with playing Sorcerer, but perhaps only a result of sloppy reading. Anyway...

Sorcery and Humanity
The book says a sorcerer "by any moral system ... is taking a grave risk by using his or her knowledge". Some rituals require a Humanity check to perform. My question is if sorcery by necessity should require Humanity checks or not. If our Humanity definition is "Kindness to others" for example, should sorcery require the sorcerer to perform unkind actions? That will have a great impact on what sorcery is in the game. Are sorcerers what they are precisely because they go against the accepted notion of what's good? Is that the reason you want a Humanity definition early on, so you know what sorcerers have to do to get their power?

Also, I would like it if the players describe why they have to check Humanity for the specific ritual, and not just have the roll dice and record any changes. Is this how it's commonly handled, or am I being to hard if I want the ritual-Humanity rolls to have an in-game meaning?

Demons' Desire and Need
In my game with Peter the players decided the demon's Need and Peter secretly decided the Desire, which was unknown both to the character and the player. On page 96 of the book it says that the player should provide the demon's abilities, Type and Desire, with the GM deciding the Need. It also says the Desire shouldn't be known to the sorcerer, but it will obviously be known to the player.

I'm not trying to say Peter did anything wrong in our game, I kind of liked the uncertainty as a player as to the deeper motives of my demon's activity. After the game I asked Peter and he told me the Desire was "Truth", which explained a lot of the weird plots the little imp set in motion. But is the reason the GM usually decides the Need a way to ensure that each demon has a drawback that's not decided by the player?

Score Descriptors
I've spent time figuring these out, and I've read old threads here in the forum. I just want to make sure I got it. Score Descriptors decide an area of the score where it's applicable in full, but doesn't provide any extra dice to rolls. If I have "Stamina (Drug addict): 4" I get to use 4 dice if I'm high, or if I'm desperately looking for my next fix, but I don't get bonus dice if I include the Descriptor when I describe an action. I think we did the latter with Peter, but perhaps I'm wrong. Outside the scope of drug-addiction related actions I would get one or more penalty dice depending on how far from the area it is, right?

Well, I think that's it. I'm especially interested in comments from Ron and Peter, but if anyone else could say how you handled things in your game and what happened it would also be really helpful.

- Jonas
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Karl
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« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2006, 04:29:24 PM »

Hi Jonas

Probably Ron and others will have better things to say. But here's what I think.

Sorcery and Humanity
The book says a sorcerer "by any moral system ... is taking a grave risk by using his or her knowledge". Some rituals require a Humanity check to perform. My question is if sorcery by necessity should require Humanity checks or not. If our Humanity definition is "Kindness to others" for example, should sorcery require the sorcerer to perform unkind actions? That will have a great impact on what sorcery is in the game. Are sorcerers what they are precisely because they go against the accepted notion of what's good? Is that the reason you want a Humanity definition early on, so you know what sorcerers have to do to get their power?

Yes, you have it spot on. A strong conception of Humanity is really essential to driving your Sorcerer game. Sorcerers, by necessity, must perform inhuman actions to conduct sorcery.

The only thing I would be cautious of is your wording 'accepted notion of what's good'. The Humanity definition must absolutely be known and meaningful to the players. Whether or not Humanity is equivalent to the accepted notion of what's good in the game-world is a seperate matter, and might vary from game to game. I would imagine Humanity would often/usually be much narrower and more specific than 'what's good'.

Also, I would like it if the players describe why they have to check Humanity for the specific ritual, and not just have the roll dice and record any changes. Is this how it's commonly handled, or am I being to hard if I want the ritual-Humanity rolls to have an in-game meaning?

Absolutely. You are not being too hard. You are exactly right. Working out with the players the specific feel and content of sorcerous rituals before play will make a huge difference to the game.

Demons' Desire and Need
But is the reason the GM usually decides the Need a way to ensure that each demon has a drawback that's not decided by the player?

Need is not simply a drawback. Generally the way the GM plays the demon will determine whether/how much of a drawback/driving factor the Need is. The specifics of Need to my mind are more about the conception of the demon, it's 'look and feel'. So it doesn't seem to me that big a deal who has final say. I'd expect a collaborative process. Remember that the play associated with the Binding roll, i.e. the negotiation between the PC and the demon, is the in-game determination of Need and how to meet it. Which is partly why the Binding roll for every starting PC should be played out.

Score Descriptors
Score Descriptors decide an area of the score where it's applicable in full, but doesn't provide any extra dice to rolls. ... Outside the scope of [descriptor] related actions I would get one or more penalty dice depending on how far from the area it is, right?

No. Descriptors can give bonus or penalty dice depending on the situation. When events are unrelated to the descriptor, you will get 4 (or whatever the score is) dice, but sometimes "Drug Addict" (or whatever the descriptor is) will be relevant in either a positive or a negative way, and then you will get either bonus or penalty dice accordingly. Setting up situations where your descriptors provide bonus dice is part of the coolness of playing Sorcerer.

Hope that all makes sense

Cheers
Karl
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2006, 05:06:55 PM »

Hi Jonas,

I love Sorcerer questions.

Let's see!

Quote
Sorcery and Humanity
The book says a sorcerer "by any moral system ... is taking a grave risk by using his or her knowledge". Some rituals require a Humanity check to perform. My question is if sorcery by necessity should require Humanity checks or not. If our Humanity definition is "Kindness to others" for example, should sorcery require the sorcerer to perform unkind actions? That will have a great impact on what sorcery is in the game. Are sorcerers what they are precisely because they go against the accepted notion of what's good? Is that the reason you want a Humanity definition early on, so you know what sorcerers have to do to get their power?

Also, I would like it if the players describe why they have to check Humanity for the specific ritual, and not just have the roll dice and record any changes. Is this how it's commonly handled, or am I being to hard if I want the ritual-Humanity rolls to have an in-game meaning?

Well, Karl isn't wrong in his answer, and is in fact hitting the harder buttons of the game as described in The Sorcerer's Soul. And yes, it is perfectly all right to link the Humanity check for a given ritual to an action which clearly entails Humanity risk for this particular game.

However, it is not required and I suggest letting the player decide on a case-by-case basis. This is the sort of thing which really enhances the game when you feel like doing it, but becomes annoying homework and "sing for your dice" when you don't.

Quote
Demons' Desire and Need
In my game with Peter the players decided the demon's Need and Peter secretly decided the Desire, which was unknown both to the character and the player. On page 96 of the book it says that the player should provide the demon's abilities, Type and Desire, with the GM deciding the Need. It also says the Desire shouldn't be known to the sorcerer, but it will obviously be known to the player.

I'm not trying to say Peter did anything wrong in our game, I kind of liked the uncertainty as a player as to the deeper motives of my demon's activity. After the game I asked Peter and he told me the Desire was "Truth", which explained a lot of the weird plots the little imp set in motion. But is the reason the GM usually decides the Need a way to ensure that each demon has a drawback that's not decided by the player?

We have to distinguish between the demon each character begins the game with, and the demons that get summoned by player-characters later, during play. The rules treat them slightly differently.

The starting demon is conceived by the player, with the GM having the rubber-stamp final authority. This is, I'm afraid, baggage at the time of writing which assumes the GM is the person who owns the book and is most familiar with the rules. I'd amend it now to say that whoever that person is should have the rubber-stamp authority. Also, in practice, usually the whole group is involved in actually figuring out the thing's sheet.

However, for the present discussion, none of that alters the present point: that the player knows everything about the starting demon: Desire, Need, abilities, et cetera.

Looking at the beginning of Chapter 3, I realize that the line "written by the GM" is not well chosen at all. That is a general statement that, at the time of writing, I was thinking about in terms of various demons dropped into the story for various reasons. The advice about group work and dialogue in Chapter 4 is a better guide to how starting demons should be made, along with everything else.

Demons summoned later are primarily written by the player, but with some shared authority of the GM in specific places. This is what the material on page 96 is about, but that is just example text. The rules, which outline two specific options for this process, are on page 92.

In these cases, the reason the Need is set by the GM is to establish as much adversity or Color as possible into the new demon. At this late date, I'd amend the text slightly to say that if the player can come up with an idea for the Need which makes the GM go "great!!" then the GM shouldn't feel it necessary to disagree and come up with something else, because the rules say the Need should be his doing.

Quote
Score Descriptors
I've spent time figuring these out, and I've read old threads here in the forum. I just want to make sure I got it. Score Descriptors decide an area of the score where it's applicable in full, but doesn't provide any extra dice to rolls. If I have "Stamina (Drug addict): 4" I get to use 4 dice if I'm high, or if I'm desperately looking for my next fix, but I don't get bonus dice if I include the Descriptor when I describe an action. I think we did the latter with Peter, but perhaps I'm wrong. Outside the scope of drug-addiction related actions I would get one or more penalty dice depending on how far from the area it is, right?

You're partly right. Let's use this character you described.

1. When he is on drugs, he uses four dice.

2. When he is not on drugs, he also uses four dice. There is no penalty for using scores outside of their descriptors. This is a common interpretation that people think is a logical corollary to #1, but it is not, in fact, the way the rules work.

3. When a given action description makes everyone go "cool," then he gets a bonus die. It doesn't matter whether it involves drugs or not. This is important, because the bonus die is not due to in-game imaginary logistics, but rather due to the dramatic reaction of the folks around you.

4. Finally, if you want the character to suffer and do less well when he's off drugs, then take a Price that indicates this effect.

What Karl says about this point also makes sense, from a slightly different explanatory angle.

How's all that, Jonas? Making sense?

Best, Ron
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Old_Scratch
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« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2006, 02:26:40 PM »

Quote
2. When he is not on drugs, he also uses four dice. There is no penalty for using scores outside of their descriptors. This is a common interpretation that people think is a logical corollary to #1, but it is not, in fact, the way the rules work.

Now I'm confused. Sorcerer states on page 26 that descriptors can be used as penalties if it is out of their "niche"... or so I thought: "The Score Description not only adds some depth to the character, it allows the GM to decree whether a character's attempt at a task should get penalty or bonus dice".

Which is what I thought Karl stated. But you stated the above. And then you also agreed with Karl, sort of. So I'm a bit confused... If I pick Stamina: Strong as an Ox and then try to do something dainty or relying upon speed, is it acceptable for the GM to give that character a penalty because it is so far beyond (or even contradicted) by their descriptor?

Because that's how I've been doing it... Maybe I missed something...
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: August 03, 2006, 02:45:24 PM »

Hiya,

The standards for penalty dice are given in the relevant places (Chapter 1 and Chapter 5, the lists). Neither of those lists say "an action which violates or contradicts a descriptor."

The text on page 26, focusing on the penalties part, concerns whether a given stated action meets the standards for docking dice. I'll repeat those standards from those two lists:

- announcing a task generically (found on both lists)
- repeating a simple task after failing
- especially stupid move
- obstructive, petty action
- difficult tactical action (in ch. 5 list)

I have found that descriptors are often implicated in such penalizable actions. They are often used as a crutch for, for instance, repeating the same thing over and over again. The text on page 26 is saying, "Hey, players should use these descriptors in relevant, affecting ways for bonus dice, but look out, they can also use them for lame-ass, repetitive announcements too. Choose bonuses and penalties accordingly."

I can understand your confusion, especially when combined with the rock-solid habit, from other games, of giving bonuses for using a descriptor and/or penalties for violating it. But that habit is not expressed as a rule in Sorcerer.

Best, Ron
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Jonas Ferry
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« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2006, 10:47:00 PM »

Hello,

The reason I asked about requiring descriptions of the events in the game world for Humanity checks was that I had a feeling that all Humanity rolls should feel important. They shouldn’t be treated as a simple die roll, but have some narrative weight, so to speak. On the other hand it seemed like a chore to have to come up with three different transgressions when performing a three-part ritual. Reading what I said in my first message again, I see that I “would like it if” the players describe the events, and that’s exactly what you’re suggesting, Ron. Maybe I could give bonus dice to the sorcerer side of the ritual for a cool description of how Humanity is challenged by the ritual?

On the players knowing everything about the starting demon; there’s one thing I got the impression from Peter that the player is never supposed to know: the Binding strength. We still decided that it would be a hassle for the GM to try and keep this secret from the player, as it’s used in a lot of rolls, so we let the strength be known to whole group. When I read the book for myself I think I can see where the impression comes from: the text says that “The GM records that the demon now has a +2 dice bonus” and “+1: demon is entered in the GM’s notes”. And experience from other games says that all GM notes should be kept secret from the players! I think we interpreted keeping the Binding strength secret was a way of keeping the player on his or her toes, as they wouldn’t know who had the upper hand in the relationship. But it’s a lot more fun to play the cocky, but ultimately doomed, sorcerer with a really powerful but poorly Bound demon if not just the GM is in on the joke.

Confusion on descriptors comes from the impression of bonus dice as either-or, “You can either get bonus dice for relevant uses of the descriptors or from doing cool stuff”. Now I understand that you get bonus dice from cool descriptions, descriptions that can be inspired by the descriptor in question, but doesn’t have to be. One reason descriptors are powerful is because people love known facts applied to new situations. A player trying to invent completely new and cool things each time has a harder time than the player that does small alterations of “Strong as an ox” in new situations. Previous uses of the descriptors sets up an expected response to the situation that the player can challenge for the character to appear cool.

Thanks Karl and Ron, it makes more sense now. Do you think I got it, or does anything in this post seem off?

- Jonas
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Check out the indie RPG category at Wikipedia.
Peter Nordstrand
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« Reply #6 on: August 04, 2006, 01:35:42 AM »

On the players knowing everything about the starting demon; there’s one thing I got the impression from Peter that the player is never supposed to know: the Binding strength.

See this thread for an earlier discussion. Hm, reading that thread, I see that I never followed up Ron's counter-question regarding my statement. Oh, well.

More later.

All the best,

/Peter
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: August 04, 2006, 05:16:29 AM »

Hi there,

I think your understanding is good, Jonas, but you're letting me off the hook for something that is in the Sorcerer rules and, although I've used it successfully in the past, no longer seems to me to be necessary: the closed (i.e. "only GM knows") Binding strength. The rules do explicitly say it is kept secret, whereas I now say "Keep it secret if it works for that particular group and approach to play."

Regarding Humanity, I think you're trying to strap down your lover. Take the basic ideas into play and assign bonuses and Humanity rolls of both types as you see fit, as you go along. Don't create some kind of rigid bulletted exactly when and when not list before you play.

Best, Ron
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