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New players, new game, new characters

Started by nuanarpoq, May 30, 2007, 03:22:10 AM

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About a month ago a colleague came to visit from Ottawa, and in her bag she had brought me the fours Sorceror books which I opened with an impish glee usually reserved for six year olds on Christmas morning. It's hard to get role-playing stuff in Egypt, and I've wanted to try Sorceror for ages.

It's also hard to find players. I've been playing with a few guys who are long-time AD&D gamers, which is the first time I've played D&D in about 20 years. I noticed that they disregard at least half the rules and have a whole bunch of house rules to get around what they perceive as the inadequacies of that system. They still had a bit of resistance to trying Sorceror as an alternative, but last night we sat down and generated three characters. There's still one more to go, and if there's interest I'll post that when we're done.

My plan
Having had a prior chat with them I've already decided to go for a Sword & Sorcery background in which Humanity is defined as Agency. When your Humanity reaches 0 you are enslaved, either literally (perhaps to a Demon) or to an addiction, an obsessive disorder, or are unable to control your actions (you flip out like a ninja. All the time.)

I've also decided that slavery and agency are a key theme in the social and political history of the world. Demons, Old Ones and the like have constrained behaviours that they are doomed to repeat unchangingly. Humans and another race, the Jirelli, were once the slaves of the Old Ones, then as the Old Ones' domination fell apart Humans developed greater agency and inherited the world. Now the Jirelli are their slaves.

As far as the adventure plan goes, I have a series of relationship maps and a rough timeline. If they like the first adventure the next will drop back a century, the third will take the original characters forward five years, the fourth will go back two centuries from the time of the first scenario, and the fifth will go forward ten years. And so on until we finish the story arc or we get bored.

The Process
Having discussed the game conceptually with a couple of the players, I started with another outline of the game and world concepts. We had a discussion about that for about an hour, dwelling particularly on Humanity and thinking about how that might work in play. We rolled some dice to get an abstract feel for the mechanics as well, as that was something they felt a little lost with.

I then asked them, on the basis of our discussion, about their ideas, and we discussed those for another half hour or so, refining them slightly as we went along. Then we started going through the character creation list in the main book, pausing at each stage to reflect on how the latest changes informed what had been done before. Several times this resulted in changes to earlier decisions, such as when the player of Character 3 suddenly realised that he should be half demon, and the creation of Character 2.

The players of characters 2 and 3 then decided to combine their kickers and histories, and to be co-authors of a character based sub-plot modelled on the Frankenstein story that will unravel during the first adventure. This is going to be a new kind of role-playing for them, and a bit of a stretch for me too.

Another spin off of this decision was that Player 3, who had initially expressed a desire for a changeable, uneven, warped and mishappen character found a explanation - his half-human, half-demon nature, never settled due to the failure of Character 2's experiment. This instability is expressed in game mechanics as a split score for Stamina & Will. Both have a rating of 2 / 7. Whenever he acts he must roll a die to see where the high number is - on evens the Stamina is 7 and the Will is 2, on an odd number Stamina is 2 and Will is 7. We decided that this will be determined after the player declares the character's action. Both Will and Stamina have 2 descriptors, one which is always 'on' (Savage Raised & Vow) and one, in square brackets, which is only 'on' when the relevant attribute is at 7 (Strong & Fast, & Aristocrat). So sometimes the character is strong and fast but craven, brutish and seeks the approval of others, and sometimes he is weak and crippled but possessed of great inner strength and flashes of insight. Past was put at 4 dice, a straight split of 2 & 6 (original scores before humanity trading).

The characters are presented in detail below.

The three players got a big kick out of the character creation process, commenting on how it was designed to build character rather than stats. One player in particular, who loves playing sleazy, irredeemable characters, loved the freedom it gave him. I was happy by how all players got involved in identifying storylines for their characters and were interested in taking responsibility in collaborating to tell those stories. I was also happy by how they all considered the desired lifespan of their characters, and deliberately selected weaknesses for me to exploit. Taking a couple of hours to talk things through before anything got written down was definately worthwhile.

I've got strong links for two of the characters into the first relationship map, and the third character may be chasing the others around.

Any feedback on all this would be welcome, particularly on the mechanics for Character 3.



The Characters
1. Ardemus

Sta: 1 (Anaemic Vampire), Will: 4 (Twisted Love for His Mother), Lore: 6 (Half-Breed (Undead); Adept), Past: 4 ( Advisor to the Princess Hallal, Adept of the Order of Many to One), Humanity: 2 (Max 4), Price: Paranoid (-1 to all rolls unless in open combat),  Chill (-1 to all social interactions), Telltale: TBC

Kicker:   Ardemus recently fought off a minor demon with a Desire for mischief, who told him that his mother is still alive and living in the city of Lerlyetaing.

Destiny:    Ardemus will kill Risyrus, the Bright Emperor of Baysh, and stand as midwife to the birth of a new Age.

Backstory: Ardemus was raised by the Order of Many to One in the Thief Bone Citadel. In the Night of the Falling Stars, when Ardemus was nine, the Order was attacked by the Bright Emperor's agents. His mother was amongst the fallen, dragged to Hell by a vengeful demon. Ardemus raised himself through competition to the level of Adept, but became suspicious that the Order had been betrayed from within. Fleeing the Citadel, he vowed to free Iaughe from Hell and complete the Order's mission himself. Since then he has taken refuge in the City of Yeden, serving the Princess Hallal as sorcerer and advisor.

Kazak, Passing Demon (looks like Ardemus).
Telltale: Fangs
Desire: Sensual gratification: wallowing in orgies of sexual abandon, fine foods, etc
Need: Sex
Stamina: 5, Will: 7, Lore: 5, Power: 7
Abilities: Fists, Armour, Fast, Special Damage (Claws & Fangs), Special Damage (Poison)
1 Die Bonus against Kazak

2. Unnamed
Sta: 2 (Just Healthy), Wil: 4 (Brush With the Unknown), Lor: 5 (Solitary Adept), Humanity: 3 , Past:   4 (Civilised – Grand Artificer of Lerleytaing), Price: Casual disregard for welfare and interests of others (-1 to Humanity, and Will (for social interaction) in appropriate circumstances).

Kicker:   Yesterday you were walking down the street and you saw a mishappen figure lumbering along in the other direction. Not just from its stench, but also from the thrill of horror that ran up your spine, you recognised this as an early failed experiment that you abandoned on a hillside in disgust. If anyone finds out this abomination has anything to do with you, you'll not only lose your job, you'll probably get strung up from the nearest tree.

Backstory: An artificer obsessed with the technology of the Old Ones, who has spent his life pursuing arcane knowledge. In his younger days he attempted to animate a human child's corpse with a demon, with the intention of raising it to be his assistant, but the attempt failed miserably. Since then he has become an advisor to the Generals of Lerleytaing in their quest for super weapons to use against the armies of Baysh.

Unnamed Parasite Demon, replacement eyes. Grants hints into the order of the universe, a hypnotic ability that confuses people, and can be pulled out and left behind to observe an area using Link.
Telltale:  ?
Desire: Mischief
Need: to Gamble, particularly to place bets
Stamina: 1, Will: 4, Lore: 3, Power: 4, Abilities: Hint, Confuse, Link
1 Die penalty against Demon

3. Also Unnamed
Sta: 7 / 2 (Savage Raised, [Strong and Fast]), Wil: 2 / 7 (Vow, [Aristocrat]), Lor: 2 (Half-Breed (Demon)), Humanity: 6 (Max 6), Past: 4 (Barbarian Hunter, Pro-Jirelli Rebel), Price: Demonic Need (TBC), Chill (-1 to all social interactions), Telltale: Stench

Kicker:   A Jirelli-sympathiser human sorcerer who recently visited the rebels told you that he smelt your stench once before in Lerlyetaing, and that it might be a clue to your origins.

Backstory: Hoo-Niik, a chief of the Jirelli rebels of the Black Sands Plain found you abandoned as a child, and raised you as part of his own family. It has been a simple life, and the Jirelli were good to you. Now the time has come to leave the tribe and seek the answers to your origins. The tribe also believe that you will play a vital role in bringing freedom to all Jirelli at last. Before you left home Hoo-Niik raised a demon and bound it into the body of one of his willing warriors to aid you in your quest.

Unnamed Possessor Demon, bound into the host body of a willing Jirelli.
Telltale:  ?
Desire: Competition
Need: To humiliate others after victory
Stamina: 4, Will: 5, Lore: 3, Power: 5
Abilities: Fists, Armour, Big, Special Damage (Claws & Fangs)
1 Die advantage over Demon

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

I apologize for not getting to this sooner! I hope I can still provide some helpful advice.

1. I like what you wrote as your Plan. It works, it's interesting, and it's open enough to yield some good choices during play.

However, this paragraph contains potential pitfalls:

QuoteAs far as the adventure plan goes, I have a series of relationship maps and a rough timeline. If they like the first adventure the next will drop back a century, the third will take the original characters forward five years, the fourth will go back two centuries from the time of the first scenario, and the fifth will go forward ten years. And so on until we finish the story arc or we get bored.

That is too much planning ahead for GMing Sorcerer. You should choose the time/era shifts as you go, not ahead of time.

2. The players you called 2 and 3 are doing something called "playing before you play," with all their shared Kickers and elaborate back-story and other events. This is not good for Sorcerer. It means they don't have to play their characters, because they've provided them with already-established interactions and now can just "act them out" when their characters meet in play. It is a defensive technique which players develop because they have been trained out of ever expecting actual story choices during play itself.

3. The split scores are a bad idea. When a player tries something like this in Sorcerer, it's because he is avoiding making hard but meaningful choices during character creation. Does he want a Stamina of 2 or 7? He must choose. If he wants to modify it in some kind of supernatural way, then he needs a demon to do it. What you've permitted are super-powers, which is not at all good for playing Sorcerer.

4. Now for the characters!

Ardemus looks great. (Seems like his demon's Telltale would be easy - scary-looking eyes, right?)

The unnamed character's Price isn't a Price, I think. It's a classic "behavior disadvantage" from GURPS style play, in which it's basically a promise to play a certain way. I think it needs to be replaced with a real Price.

The also-unnamed character is a bundle of hassles. I think this one needs a nearly-full rewrite, or at least stripping down.

a) The scores need fixing, as stated earlier. The Sorcerer rules exist precisely as they do for a reason; I'm not merely being strict because it's an ego thing about my own rules. This is a real consideration for functional play in terms of points, dice, and decisions made by one's character.

b) The Kicker might be just fine, as long as the character is really, really interested in his origins. If the player's OK with that, then cool, but if he thinks it's just a trail of bread-crumbs to follow so that his character can fit into your pre-planned adventure, then it's not.

c) His back-story is way too complicated, a good example of play-before-play. Also, as described, his character is not a sorcerer ... some old fucking shaman cannot have bound the demon; he needs to have bound the demon, for reasons of his own.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Best, Ron


Ron - thanks for your advice. I dont know of many other game designers that take the trouble to give this kind of input, and I appreciate it - especially as we may be flailing around a little over here.

Re: the adventure plan, a point well taken. It may well work out differently, and I don't have any scenarios written for any of this, just some ideas about the history of the world and some characters in it that might be relevant to what the players get interested in. The first and most important step is to get a first game done that they enjoy. After that can take care of itself, for the moment.

Re: the character with the split scores. You're point about this being away of the player avoiding choices isn't something I had considered. It made sense to us in terms of his half-demon nature, and he is more than willing to swallow the bad with the good (ie when he declares a physical action only to find out that his Stamina isn't up to the task). With that caveat I'm not sure that they count as super-powers, but given your concerns I'll probably suggest that the player take your suggestions on board for now, and if he really wants to try this he can do so with another character at a later stage when we have a better feel for how the game works.

Re: the play before play, linking of the 2 character's kickers, and so on. Another point well taken. I'm going to talk to them individually about this, and see if we can break this stuff up and strip down character 3, as you suggest I'll post the results up here.



Ron Edwards

Hey Guy,

It's tricky - too much negotiation "backwards" is possibly counter-productive. I suggest not re-doing the back-story issues very much, but also doing your best to avoid the assumptions of party-play during prep and actual play.

You have two characters who are quite good and one which is nothing like, and nowhere near, a Sorcerer character. The real question is whether that particular player is really ready for this game in the first place. What do you think?

Best, Ron


Hi Ron

The player in question is new to the group, and I've only met him twice, so I'm not sure. He's a smart guy, and I probably didn't brief him very well - like the fact that *he* should have been instrumental in summoning the demon. So yeah, I think he should be able to rework the character. We probably need to go over what he expects the game to be like, though, just to make sure...