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The best roleplaying I've ever done [sorcerer]

Started by joepub, February 07, 2007, 06:55:24 AM

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So, I'd like to talk a bit about the session where I felt that I did my best roleplaying to date (a very subjective statement, I know). There was one session that felt dead on for me, as a player and for my character.

It was the second session of a Sorcerer game that is set in a middle-class, suburban/semi-urban high school. Our humanity stat was a sense of belonging and acceptance.

I was playing Jordan, a senior arts student who has just realized he's gay. He's just broken up with his girlfriend, who's using this whole sexuality discovery as a blackmail token, out of spite for being dumped. His other bag o' issue is that his lawyer father is forcing him to join (and manage to stay on) the track team, at the threat of not paying Jordan's college tuition next year.

His demon is his "game face", a parasite in him that lets him win races but Needs constant practice and Desires sex.

In the previous session, he'd gotten into a fight with another team member, in the locker room, and ended up almost breaking the guy's knee.

In this session, I had two scenes:

SCENE ONE: In the Gym
Jordan's coach enters the gym, while Jordan is running laps around it. He enters nervously, almost, like he's not sure what to expect from this surprise-star rookie. When the coach (played by JB, the GM) says, "we need to talk, Jordan", without a beat I spit "so talk". And I add that Jordan doesn't look at the coach or stop running. He just spits "so talk".

And as a player, I'm totally immersed. I'm wearing my game face, just as I'm sure Jordan is.

The coach starts to talk about team values, and I keep giving him cleverly worded replies, that are technically admissible but seem to carry an undercurrent of disregard and even spite.

Aside from narrating Jordan's body language, everything I say is in character in this scene.

The highlight of this scene is when the coach says, "Jordan, I feel like you have the potential to carry this team, and I don't want you putting your ego before your teammates."

And I narrate Jordan stopping, putting his hands on his hips, and staring at the coach, out of breath. I coldly say, "Coach, I think we're basically saying the same thing." I narrate Jordan picking his run back up. The coach, confused and slightly awed, leaves.

SCENE TWO: hallway, after class

Jordan's ex-girlfriend approaches him, wanting to know if, well, y'see... there's this boy, and he's in drama, and so is she, and, like, she might like him. But he might be gay. Because he's in drama. So, could, like, Jordan find out for her?

And although the scene is a surprise, I immediately formulate a scene goal for myself: Humiliate my ex, and make her feel like this is all her fault.

And petty, hostile words are shared between the two. And she finally comes forward and asks, "So, do you think he's, y'know... gay?"

I am unsure how to respond, so I call for a time-out.

Normally the group is very collaborative (to a fault) and does a lot of discussing during the scenes. But, in my two scenes, this had not been the case. Dialogue had been punchy and delivered without missing a beat. Immersion had been really high.

The thing was, with my two scenes, I had entered into each of them with a single, clear goal and had focused on delivering upon those goals. Both of my scenes were short and pointed, and they both rocked.

And I think this is what seperated that play session from others, for me.

...Anyways, I took a time out on my scene. And I basically ignored the collaborative suggestions that the other players were throwing out, because I was searching for that perfect line. I knew this was the last scene of the evening, and that this would be the last line of the scene, and I really wanted it to hammer home.

After a moment, I recollected myself and "resumed play" by simply re-arranging my body language so that I was "in character".

The reply, delivered with a venemous spite, "I don't know if he's gay. Have you dated him yet?" I narrated Jordan walking away,and only looking back after he knew that she'd have looked away.

The session actually ended with high fives.

So, here are things I noticed about my scenes:
a.) I didn't touch dice. The system only informed my narration in so much as it made me think of demons and humanity in a particular framework.
b.) I was heavy on the immersion. Most of what I said was character narration, and since I could empathize with the character (oh, the joys of being queer in an oppressed rural high school) the dialogue and retorts came very quickly and naturally.
c.) I captured an audience, instead of... just sitting around trading narrative rights. I was definitely putting on a performance.
d.) When I wanted a line to hammer home, I actually called for a time out, to get the wording just right. (I only did this once).
e.) I entered both scenes with very simple, very direct goals. Having one goal per scene meant that the scene ended quickly, but with a punch.

I had decided, going into the session, that I wanted to play a little more immersive-ly. I was, to an extent, trying the new play style on for size.
It worked wonderfully.

Ricky Donato

Hi, Joe,

Sounds like an awesome session! You've written up a really good AP report, too, describing what happened and why it happened. So I only have one question. You mentioned "a.) I didn't touch dice. The system only informed my narration in so much as it made me think of demons and humanity in a particular framework." How could the system have been better designed to facilitate this type of play more easily?
Ricky Donato

My first game in development, now writing first draft: Machiavelli

Ron Edwards


What I'm looking forward to is when the dice start getting picked up.

Does the GM understand that in Sorcerer, you must roll dice when a conflict is declared? And that anyone, basically, can suggest that the situation demands a conflict at that moment?

How about Humanity rolls of any gain?

Best, Ron



the game group actually died out and this was the last session of Sorcerer that we played.

In my first session, dice hit the table a lot during my scene - which involved a demon-fuelled fight with a teammate.

What I'm saying is that the scenes worked well because they weren't interrupted by conflict declaration. If the gym scene had been a "Does the coach get brushed off" conflict it would have felt much weaker, regardless of how that played out.

The second scene... at the time that I called a "time out" and stepped out of character... we could easily have turned that into a "Does Jordan cut her deeply?" conflict. If I could go back and re-do the session, I might make that change just to see how it played out, to see if it had a different impact. My guess is that Jordan would be forced to "soften up" somewhat, and there'd be this moment of almost-pleaing-for-help, and then he'd regain his angry composure and storm away. Which would have been very cool.

But I was trying a different tactic. This has more to do with that tactic than it does with Sorcerer.

The other players didn't suggest conflicts during my scenes because I was really in the zone and everything was clicking as was. Also, I was avoiding direct conflict with the other characters by doing a lot of petty word twisting - it was the kind of stuff that could be either called or not.

I should have had to roll a Humanity check at the end of the second scene, but for some reason didn't. I'm not sure why, and I even pressed for one if I do recall correctly.


I'm wondering whether it should. I'm wondering if this is something that should pair up with a system or not... Because I can't imagine every scene happening like this, nor can I imagine this working well in times where the character is either risking something or facing inner turmoil (I mean, Jordan was... but at this point he was dead-set on how to handle it).

What Sorcerer's system was doing for me during this session: It was framing my approach. I was like, "Okay, this is how Game Face is affecting me. This is what humanity is, and I have to be careful when I threaten it. I have strong will and need to prove it, but low Lore and it needs to show that I think this demon is me".

And it was doing that part really well.

I wasn't letting dice into the equation, because I wanted to just dive in and go.

The other reason for this is:
My group was in this habit of constantly arguing realism, the best possible route to go, whether something was in character, what the stakes for each side should be... Collaboration and argument and discussion had together brought gameplay to a halt, and made it somewhat painstaking. This was a regular pattern. I approached this session with "Get to the actual play, and don't let up until your scene is over. Show them the kinds of things you want to see more of."

So to answer you, Ricky... I think the system was just fine, but distancing myself from it actually proved really effective for me, because it allowed me to get an unadulterated dose of what I was looking for.

Well, actually, the one thing Sorcerer could do is have a 2nd edition. One that is concise, includes the supplements, provides clearer examples, and has more proofreading. Ron, I believe you've encountered this opinion many times, but the text is another reason I wanted to stay away from "hard system" during my scenes of this second session - there is a heavy amount of decoding that has to go on.

Larry L.


This sounds badass, but could we get some juicy details on what was going on at the table with the actual people you were playing with? Specifically, how they seemed to be handling your in-character verbal anger. I'm variously imagining them either getting really into trading barbs and cutting remarks, or squirming away from it like you're some kinda egotistal meanyhead.


Larry, this is a really good question, and I'm sorry it took so long to formulate an answer. It's hard to turn intuitive sense and things like that into written answers, but I think I have a useful response now.

So, my answer is twofold: it has to do with both social contract and acting technique.

Make sure this is something your group wants, first of all. Doing "heavy in-character acting" is only going to work if you have players who want to play audience to that sort of thing (and obviously vice versa - I really like play where everyone is playing in a focused, in-character way). Part of this is general awareness of the group and situation (don't expect heavy immersion in a lunchtime game amongst coworkers...), and part of this is setting up clear expectations (...unless you've explicitly called for those things, as a group.) Social contract is one part discussion and one part perception in my mind, and you need to make sure you've got a group which is receptive to "heavy immersion".

So, the other part is acting techniques. Here is what worked for me (but every player, and every group, is different):

*Have a clear "in character" and a clear "out of character" mode. This could be posture, or tone, or a funny voice. For me it was largely posture and facial expression. When I sat back and smiled, I was clearly being Joe, the player. When I leaned forward and squinted my eyes a little, I was clearly being Jordan, the character. That way, if anyone felt uncomfortable, I could simply lean back into Joe mode, maybe give an "it's okay, man. I'm in check" look, or a sympathetic "yeah, I know, I think he's a dick too" look, or something. Figure out a way to denote when what you say is YOU talking or HIM/HER talking. Body language is powerful here.

*Constantly watch their posture. If someone leans in, it's often a sign of being intrigued. If someone kind of turns their body way, or slinks back, it's probably a sign of discomfort or boredom or something. Their body language will tell you when to push harder, when to stop, or when you're doing just awesome as is.

*After a scene, it's usually a good idea to check in. "Was that too much? Is that the kind of scene you guys want to keep seeing? Is it cool if I push X a little harder?" I find that after a really immersed, dramatic scene there will usually be a "whew! catch your breath boys(/girls)" kind of moment, and you should use that pause to look for feedback.

*If you're doing immersion heavy stuff, or really intense stuff, or dramatic scene-framing... realize that you're (to an extent) putting on a performance. Know that and play to that fact. Whatever that means to you.

So, yeah. That's the foundation for how I approached this session. Oh, the other thing is that I kept really concrete scene goals. "Act like I have something to prove, and use wit to gloss over any chance for self-reflection" was in my mind throughout the gym scene. As a result of having such concrete goals/approaches, I had really short and focused scenes. I'm not entirely sure that this is like a "you can always do this to great effect" kind of approach, or if it was VERY character/game specific, but it worked in this case.

Now... I think the players all liked the direction I was going. I liked the direction I was going. The GM saw my goals (which were pretty obvious) and geared the scenes to emphasize them. I got a lot of "dude, that was awesome" when the scenes ended, and I again took the opportunity to ask for more specific feedback ("I didn't push too hard? Do you like the character's arc so far?").

For the most part, the scenes were me/GM, but I got the impression that players would have been glad to join my scenes, for the majority.

Does that answer your question?

J B Bell

As the GM for this one, I'll pitch in what this player was doing at the table.

I have to say, at the time, and in retrospect, yes, it was performance, and Joe had a fine handle on posture, use of his face (I can even recall the noticeably different cast to the corners of his eyes and mouth in character as compared to his usual, much more open expression), tone, and other "actorly" aspects.

I didn't see a space for the system to insert itself very well there, and was interested simply to see where Joe would take things. Also his fine acting inspired me to inhabit (especially the coach) my characters a bit more fully. On further reflection, where in Dead Inside I found the verbal conflicts really excellent, I think a lot of "immersion" and "firewalling" and such is more about ease and frequency of switching perspective. That is, my ability to temporarily store my "immersed self" while my ordinary personality handles dice and other non-character priorities, and then switch back, seems to be what produces the "immersion" phenomenon. And the system can provide pretty nice boosts to the energy of the in-character behaviour. If I spend a long time just talking, I can lose the thematic inputs that the system provides. If I have to handle system a lot, especially if I'm experiencing frustration with the system from incomprehension or unwelcome results, that will break the immersion, as they say. I mention all this because I don't really agree that a human can do two things at once very effectively, but one can be better or worse at task-switching.

I was pretty closely engaged with Joe at the time so wasn't watching other players' reactions too closely. The high-fiving was real, though, so while not everyone may have been equally pleased, I think everyone was impressed and entertained by Joe's scenes as such.

I can also confirm what Joe is saying about the system's providing more of a boundary than a flywheel during these scenes--it encourages me as GM to decide "what does the NPC want out of this scene? what's in their way?" The demons have a nice, clean motivational system and it's an obvious step to steal that for all NPCs.

"Have mechanics that focus on what the game is about. Then gloss the rest." --Mike Holmes

Ron Edwards

Fantastic! A boundary is a wonderful thing just as a wheel is, and that post really lets me know what I needed to.

Many thanks, Joe and JB.

Best, Ron