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Author Topic: [Sorceror] Storm Watch - character and world creation  (Read 3051 times)

Posts: 13

« on: September 11, 2006, 12:45:59 PM »

In another post I talked a bit about botching up a game with my wife, then working through coming up with another game that looks like it will rock.  This is an overview of what we came up with, I just wanted to share cause I really jazzed about this game however if you have any questions or comments please share them cause I'd love to know what you think.

Storm Watch

Every year televisions breathlessly report evacuations, threats, and the devastations of massive hurricanes, brutal tornados, out of control wildfires, and crushing tsunamis.  The public pays little attention, these things happen all the time and while it is tragic, there is no outpouring of support or intense scrutiny.  Those far away carry on with their lives, and the survivors mourn what was lost and struggle to rebuild what can be saved. 

A rare few recognize what is happening beneath the surface.  These sorcerers are aware of the demonic forces pressing against the world, trying to get in.  None are strong enough to pierce the veils.  However their efforts agitate nature and imbue it with a malevolent and furious intelligence.  Storms, earthquakes, and fires actively strike at humanity sowing as much suffering and death as possible. 

These elemental forces, imprinted with a demons mind, despise the human energy that pushes them away and sorcerers, like pillars of light in the night, are the most obvious targets to aim at.  Some sorcerers fight against this elemental hatred by enslaving djinn to strenghthen their powers to a level where they stand a chance.  The reasons vary: some feel an obligation to protect their communities, others protect only themselves worrying little about collateral damage, and all of them use this power as a weapon and a tool to further their own desires and goals.

Storm Watch is inspired by thoughts of what the world would be like if events like Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 tsunami, major wildfires, LA quakes, Pakistani landslides or the Dustbowl were common place.  After thinking about this for a while someone suggested I read Rachel Carie's Weather Warden series which provides much of the flavour and color, though it has been heavily Sorcerer-ized.

Demons fall into three categories.

Awakened Power. 
These parasite demons are possessed by each and every sorcerer, in fact the act of summoning this demon is what makes an individual a sorcerer.  These demons are summoned not through study or ritual, but through sheer desperation, a need for power, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get it.  While few are aware of precisely what they are doing, it is a deliberate act and the sorcerer is aware at some level of what the consequences of this act will be.  The majority of potential sorcerers when faced with this choice balk at the cost and their oppurtunity slips away. 

These demons are the essence of a sorcerers power.  Their need is Rest, setting up a loss of control over their power as exhaustion and rebellion sets in, and their Desire is a darker aspect of their hosts personality (violence, domination, humiliation, etc).  The universal powers possessed by these demons are the ability to see elemental forces (Perceive) and to manipulate them (Warp).  Other powers can be anything that can be explained as the use of an elemental force with Special Damage being the most common.  Most often these powers are thematically linked to a single elemental force, but having a couple is not unheard of. 

Though these lend themselves to a feel of superpowers or demon buddy-itis, these are much more analagous to Shadows from Wraith.  Rebellion may occur when the sorcerer is pushed to the point of exhaustion with the first two stages being the failure to draw on the power, though still able to overcome with will.  In lieu of stage three, the demon can contest its Will vs it Hosts Will with the strength of the binding as a modifier to shift the user of all its powers to itself and will generally begin manifesting them as all the nasty things we think about and wish we could do, but don't.

These demons exist in two distinct states: bound and unbound.  Unbound is the 'natural' state for these demons, while unbound they are Inconspicous, lose almost all of their power, but do not lose Power for failing to meet need or being unbound.  When bound they become Passers with a portion of their essence invested in an object.  So long as this object remains intact they are completely enslaved to the will of their binder.  Despite being compelled to obey their binders commands, they retain independent thought, feelings, and personality.  These demons are very human, though also strangely inscrutable.  This is very intentionally done to add a moral quality to binding these demons and really help play up our humanity definition. 

Djinn are truly enslaved and compelled to obey commands regardless of how morally repugnant they are.  Rebellion consists of temporary refusals of requests, filibustering requests for more specific detail, and twisting of words.  Djinn can only break their binding if their master is dead, as long as he lives the worst they can do is render themselves more frustration than worth and suffer the consequential punishments.

Their need when bound is a recital of the binding words and a drop of their masters blood pressed to their imbued object on the nights of the full moon, half moon, and no moon.  The defining power of Djinn is to enhance the ability of their master to face off against Demon Storms (Boost: Lore and increasing the range of Warp substantially), most also have the ability to conceal themselves (Cloak), and other powers vary wildly based on the individual Djinn in question.  While Summoning remains a possibility it is largely unknown and a specific djinn's identity must be researched and a custom ritual created.  Most Djinn are bound by stealing another Sorcerers or by binding one that the Sorcerer has come across in the past.  This generally means binding an ally, and irrevocably damaging that relationship, or binding an enemy, and risking the rebellion and resentment of that past.

True Demon.
While Djinn and Awakened Power are treated as natural aspects of the world True Demons are considered decidely unnatural.  In theory they are of the Inconspicuous type but it is hard to call a tornado, forest fire, or earthquake 'Inconspicuous', mostly it just refers to the fact that their nature as an intelligent willful force is not apparent to most observers.  These demons universally have high Power, 7 is probably the lowest I would ever go with 10-16 being more typical.  Their need is destruction and their desire usually some varient thereof (suffering, death, etc) - these are remarkably straightforward demons with little depth.  From a game perspective they are an adversary, a vehicle to introduce various situations to explore, and a set of reins for pacing.

Their abilities fit their nature with Special Damage being virtually universal.  Generally they can use their Stamina 'at range' representing winds, ground shaking, etc.  Trying to stop one of these is nearly impossible outright, so most Sorcerers rely of reducing their power so that their impact is less severe.  Their mental coherence, and power is linked to the strength of their physcial manifestation thus the typical target of a sorcerer combating one.  This is usually done through a form of mystic combat where the sorcerer diminishes and redirects the Demons power (using warp to affect its phsyical form) that pits the Sorcerers Will + Lore against the Demons Power .  Success' diminishes the Demons Power and reduce all traits equivelantly (modelled off of punish).  This can be repeated, further reducing the Demons Power but since it takes a substantial amount of time the situation often doesn't allow for it.  When the storm or event hits, the demon gets to reek merry havok with whatever level of power it has left, often this will deplete the Demon's Power dissipating it but sometimes it retains enough coherence to keep going for awhile.

True Demons can also exist as a possessor demon.  This is a voluntary possessor with control being swapped back and forth between the demon and the sorceror.  They are generally quite powerful and will always possess the ability to use taint on the sorceror.  They drive the sorceror towards zero humanity at which point they take full control as an amalgam of the two personalities, destroying the original completely.  We haven't worked out much detail for these yet just established that it does exist and some rough conceptual guidelines.

In general Sorcerer's in this game have a lot less idea of what the heck they are doing compared to standard sorcerer.  All the rituals listed in the book still exist but many Sorcerer's don't know some or potentially any.  These skills and techniques are traded between Sorcerer's often in exchange or in payment for various favors.

Contact and Summoning: are intuitive for Awakened Power, must specifically be learned for each individual Djinn and just plain stupid for True Demons.  Binding: Awakened Power is an intuitive act of will, binding Djinn is darn straightforward and almost universally know, and binding True Demons is just plain stupid.  Punishing:  Awakened Power is counter productive because for all intents and purposes it is you (take temporary penalties equal to success'), punishing Djinn is pretty intuitive and learned by anyone who has bound a djinn, punishing a True Demon is integrated into their metaphysical combat.  Banishing:  Awakened Power is a closely held secret of a few individuals who are treated a boogeymen by most sorcerers (it also has rather nasty side effects on the binder), banishing Djinn to their natural state is easy though true banishing is esoteric knowledge, banishing a True Demon might be possible but whoever knows isn't telling.  Containing: Awakened Power is already effectively contained in its binder - try using rope, containing djinn is a generic technique that most mentors teach, containing True Demons is possible in theory but no one's talking if they have.

While virtually all Sorcerers start out on their own most end up in a mentor-student relationship.  The main reason for that is that untrained sorcerers are bloody dangerous and also disrupt attempts to face down True Demons by leaving stray forces and energy around (generally a -1 penalty for each untrained individual within a radius equal to their demon's power in miles).  Some form long term bonds, while others teach them enough to stop screwing things up before sending them on their way.  Territorial sorcerers have been known to chase off or even kill other sorcerers rather than training.

Compared to the default expectations of Sorcerer there are probably around 5000 sorcerers worldwide at a given time.  However their life expectancy is quite low given Demonstorms hunting them, uncontrolled powers, and vengeful Djinn.  During the first year of being a Sorcerer over half die, after that between 10-30% of the Sorcerers perish each year due to these causes.  As such any Sorcerer who has survived a decade is highly respected, there are less than 200 who can claim this distinction.

The definition of humanity that we worked out is a very specific take on empathy which I'm sure has a specific word but since I don't know what it is I will do my best to explain.
The specific direction we chose to approach empathy as Humanity from is that of self determination.  The willingness and choice to recognize that other people can make choices without being forced or manipulated into doing so.  It is the quality of accepting that they may be doing something stupid or wrong but that it is their choice to make.  It also ties in to things like bullying and blackmail which limit free choice.  We also decided that allowing other people to do such things to you is also damaging to humanity, though I do have some concerns about the passivity of this.

We thought that this version of humanity would play out nicely with power/dominance relationships like family, romantic, student/mentor, enslaving djinn, and workplace.  As well it gives a real moral quality to the decisions when interacting with other people where the character has a grossly disproportionate amount of power.  Hitting zero humanity means you become a user, you can't relate to people anymore and often treat them a objects or possessions.  A sociopath is probably the most accurate description of what someone with zero humanity is - though they may show it to a greater or lesser degree.  Personally I imagine that a sizable minority of the world is at zero humanity (even though we only care about it for player characters) and probably around half of the world's sorcerers.

This version of humanity was largely inspired by our discussion about whether it was morally justified to force people to evacuate New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina (or morally justified to let them stay).  As well being domineering is a personal issue that I stuggle with (as anyone who read other post about how this game came about can see) and it provides an interesting way for us to explore this.

The character that my wife created is a heavily fictionalized (and posibly idolized) version of herself as a teen (which is substantially different from her now).  We spent quite a lot of time detailing her family, friends, personality, and interests which was neat because the level we went to really sets it up well for her to do character exploration and this level is further than my games have ever done.  The thing that struck me the most is that it served as a reminder that my wife is female (shocking!) and that many woman think quite a lot more about their characters relationships rather than their characters abilities when mentally constructing them.

Here is a quick overview of her and her demon's sheets

Name:  Nicole Ash
Stamina:  4 - Farm Girl
Will:  5 - Charismatic, Spirited
Lore: 1 - Newly Awakened
Cover: 5 - Student
Price:  Temper (-1 in any situation where anger would be inappropriate or when someone is frustrating you)
Telltale:  Magnetism (Has an unusual effect on metallic and electronic items.  Watches don't work right, static shock, etc)

Name:  Demon
Type:  Parasite
Telltale:  Breeze (Light breeze will often flutter hair and clothes even when there is no wind or it is in a different direction)
Need: Rest
Desire: Violence
Stamina: 4 (Matched to Nicole's)
Will:  7 - Rage, Self Interested
Lore: 6 - Beacon of Power
Power: 7
Abilities: Perceive, Warp (fire and weather), Special Damage (ranged, blast of fire), Hold (ranged, headlong buffeting wind)

We set up that Nicole is on summer break having just graduated from high school in littletown Saskatchewan.  She has had some past run ins with school authority figures and peers but still has been accepted to University.  She is working on her fathers farm over the summer and tying up her personal projects.  We chose to set up just immediately prior to her discovery of sorcery, since she was interested in exploring that change.  Even though we set up there, we prepped a mentor and some stuff for 'where things are going' that we will most likely use.  I was somewhat concerned that Nicole was a touch bland for Sorcerer and really wanted to propel her to action.  I talked a bit about this with my wife and suggested a strong kicker to help compensate.  I still expected that I would have to spike the kicker a bit (based on our previous sorcerer experience) but she totally blew me away. 

She gives me a little bit about wanting her kicker to have to do with her awakening to her power as her little brother is trapped in a brutal storm.  I give her the go ahead to start narrating the scene and she starts describing her driving across the farm and struggling with the mud to where her brother is.  Then she tells about finding him stuck in his treehouse where the ladder has blown away and the tree swaying heavily.  She starts narrating how her character feels, the desperation rising, and the unfolding realization that the storm hates her - personally.  After a little bit of describing the experience of awakening to this power running through her, Nicole begins to take on the storm.  Here is the part that totally won me over as close to her actual words as I remember "But unlike a bully who might be taken back by a bloodied lip, Nicole is so small and insigificant against this raging force that it has little more effect than an ant bite.  Enough to draw attention, but nothing more.  There was a momentary pause, a sense of anticipation as the storm drew together its force and then struck out.  There was a blast of wind stinging with the rain and cutting through it a crack.  Then bouncing towards her was a shattered tree.  Though the trunk missed her, the branches lashed her like a thousand stinging whips and when she could finally open her eyes all she saw was the jagged pale spike where the trunk had been sheared".  She finished up describing the scene for me but I was too pumped to really remember. 

She had spent probably an hour detailing her families various internal relationships and then she threw a spanner into the works.  She fucking killed her brother!!  Too cool! That is a real kicker and completely sets the scene for all sorts of changes and possibilities.  I was sitting there expecting her to use her new powers to try and save him, but she doesn't even give herself the chance - drama all the way!  Ultimately I ended up letting her narrate the scene completely without any checks cause I was too caught up with it, but it seemed to work out ok.  After that we tested for the strength of her binding with me giving her a three card roleplaying bonus (giving her 8 vs 7) because I was genuinely emotionally moved by her narration.  The result is that she wins with 3 Kings over my high Queen, getting a Binding strength of 3 in her favor - for the moment her powers are tightly controlled. 

After that we basically stopped things for the night.  We talked a bit more about the game but I wanted to let things end on that dramatic high note, since the next few scenes are likely to be a touch less intense.

Anyways thats how my game went.  If anyone has any questions or comments please feel free, otherwise consider this me enthusing to the ether.

Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2006, 05:23:56 PM »

Hi there,

One thing to consider is that once play starts, during or just after the Kicker in this case, the "narrate" dynamic is probably going to change. I especially caution you, specifically, to reach for those cards* in every single instance of fictional conflict. Don't just pair-narrate your way through stuff; the game is built to rely on very heavy Fortune and on the willingness to get crushed under fortune's wheel. That's the only place from which defiance, determination, ethics, and Humanity triumph/loss can emerge.

Best, Ron

* Cards. Interesting. Well, they do work, and as I recall I even mentioned them as a possibility in the 1998 PDF. Make sure you shuffle'em back in after every draw; no discard pile.

Posts: 13

« Reply #2 on: September 12, 2006, 08:22:45 AM »

The 'narrate' dynamic was something we went with in this case as we are treating everything up until the end of introducing the kicker as 'historical', in this case I let her narrate the situation rather than just saying 'this is what happened' for the increased emotional investment it netted us.  As we carry on in the 'present' we will be using Fortune heavily, I doubt that it will be in every single instance of fictional conflict as I'm still a bit new at this and I still sometimes have trouble identifying conflict particularly when there is no 'physical' aspect to the conflict.

Yup, shuffled after every test.  In terms of cards has anyone talked about using them and whether it impacted how the game?  I actually have only ever seen the good old paper version of Sorcerer so I didn't know it had ever been mentioned, it just seemed like a good idea because we often roleplay in places and situations where rolling a handful of dice isn't convenient.  Since the die size doesn't matter I figured it would act more or less as a thirteen sided die with a hint of unusual behaviour.   

The thing I liked most about having used cards is the aesthetic feel of dealing out bonus cards during the description of an action.  It had a nice 'fan mail-ish' feel of immediate feedback even though it only flows one way.  Thats something I don't see getting with using dice, since we typically have our own sets.  Another neat side effect of cards is that there is an enforced pause before you can make another test so you may as well give a sweet description of your action since you have to wait anyway.  Not something that is likely to be a problem for a veteran of the game, but for someone new to the game it provides some help for breaking that habit of "I roll to hit, I roll to hit again" that the bonus dice mechanic discourages.

I was also wondering how does the amount of detail we put into setting creation - Is that typical, high, or low and should that vary based on what Creative Agenda you are aiming for?  I'm thinking that since one of her interest is exploration of the setting that I might want to develop some potential 'secrets' particularly regarding the nature of Demons and Sorcery since at the moment she knows as much as me about the setting and it seems to preclude the sense of discovery.
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2006, 05:19:37 AM »

Hi there,

I recognize that the heavy narration was a feature of prep, and my point to suggest as strong a transition as you can, in your own head, between prep and play. The conflict issues are key - to take the worst-case, if you only use the cards during physical conflict, then resolution will be split into two kinds, risky and safe. Which is not how the game is built.

I'll quote from The Mountain Witch: All conflict is a form of combat. It looks backwards at first glance, but it's not. See if you can get the concepts of combat about anything and use the cards into the exact same box.

Well, I figure I've beaten that into the ground about as far as it can go. I appreciate that you're thinking about these things.

Regarding cards, the only other issue that comes up is consistent probability. In Sorcerer, a die is a die, and a single die's independence from every other die on the table is an important feature of the system. Whereas with cards, whatever you draw alters the probability of whatever gets drawn next. If you draw a Queen, that changes the chance of whether you or another person will draw a Queen.

This has two effects depending on how you guys are doing it.

1. If each person has a deck of cards to himself or herself, this "subtraction" effect is real but probably minimal.

2. If both people are drawing from the same deck, then this effect is not only real, but will most likely affect the probabilities in some way. This is why I decided not to include card rules. That, and I was a bit annoyed with the fetish of redundant "card mechanics!" being pasted into dice-based games, which was very big in the mid-late 1990s.

Still, it's possible that none of this will affect play at all. The good news is that with only one GM and one player, I'm not sure at all whether it will matter. Also, regardless of how many people, at least this effect I'm talking about won't favor one person consistently. So I'm interested to find out.

Regarding the density of the material so far, I had already debated posting that you guys were going a little overboard. Then I realized two things: (1) this was a dynamic, organic situation between the two of you, rather than a single would-be GM talking to his own keyboard; and (2) the enthusiasm seemed to be mounting rather than fading under the weight of the material.

I do suggest focusing on relationships in your own prep and play, rather than adding content. You asked whether you should come up with more secrets and setting-stuff, and I recommend, not. Do some scribbling in terms of NPCs wanting things and doing things, in Bang terms. Really consider every demon in the current material and adopt them as major NPCs, in your mind. If you focus on these things, then play itself will be a joy and yield dramatic, unexpected outcomes.

Best, Ron
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