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So, Mud Planet 2 Sorcerer?

Started by Frank Tarcikowski, August 03, 2007, 10:32:56 AM

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Frank Tarcikowski

I wrote this contribution to the Ronnies, Mud Planet. In his feedback thread, Ron suggested that the game would work well as a Sorcerer mini-supplement. Meanwhile I've had the chance to check the game out and play it a few times, once (briefly) with Ron himself. I really do like it.

There's some stuff I like about the Mud Planet rules as they are, and as I have some time at hand today, I'd like to muse a bit about how these go along with Sorcerer rules. The basic stats work out easily:

Body becomes Stamina.
Mind and Soul combine to Will.
Gift replaces Lore.
Might replaces Power (for the dragon).

Price and Cover have no equivalent, but that's okay. Well, Cover doesn't really work as all player characters are lancers, trained as such from early childhood. So strike that.

Dragons all have the powers "big", "travel", "transport", "special damage (lethal)", and "ranged". I don't have the book with me, but that should be it. Their Need would be feeding and mating, Desires would be about leadership and reproduction. Lancers could buy extra powers that are transferred to themselves, to represent their "gift". But I think that simply rolling the Gift stat for some wicked psychic effects would suit the setting better.

This means any dragon will have a Might of at least 6, up to as much as the player thinks he can handle. This seems fine. In the original Mud Planet rules, you have to buy your dragon's Might from the same points you buy your own stats from, so the more powerful your dragon is, the less powerful are you. But come to think about it, there is no real point in that and probably the way it's handled in Sorcerer is better anyway.

Then, Savageness. I've been thinking long and hard about Ron's comment:

QuoteSelf-Control, Commitment, Savageness; Impulse, Revolt, Hunger ... well, I know you've worked out how these cross-reference with one another for different situations, but to my poor tired brain, a lot of those situations look pretty much the same to me.

Fuck yes, I'm pretty attached to the subtleties of how all of these are different and blows go into different monitors and if you are at zero self-control you freak out while if you are at zero commitment you just stop caring... But, um, well, grumble, you are right. This distinction can be deducted from fictional events and applied by the players without mechanics telling them to. It'll probably make for more interesting interpretations as well.

So, I'd use a reverse Humanity score called Savageness. It starts at 1. You make a Savageness gain roll whenever you let the dragon take control, or your Stamina is reduced to zero through damage. You can also roll your Savageness in a conflict, like described for Humanity in the Sorcerer's Soul. Fits perfectly! Especially, roll Savageness to control your dragon. Neat!

So far, so good, looks perfect. Now for the two aspects of the Mud Planet rules that aren't mirrored so easily in Sorcerer.

1) In Mud Planet, characters can get into a place where they are not yet gone savage, but have lost their commitment or self-control. I think self-control can be tossed out, as losing your self-control is essentially going savage. But the aspect of commitment as something distinct seems important to me. Especially since it can also happen the other way round: If you go savage, but have some commitment left, you can still be redeemed. So, I would be inclined to keep the commitment score as a "2nd Humanity". One other possibility would be to make it a "double Humanity definition" as detailed in Sorcerer's Soul. Also interesting, but differently so. Either way, one would need to figure out how redemption works.

2) In Mud Planet, there is a telepathic link between lancer and dragon that causes the dragon to stir in some situations where its instincts are roused, especially when the lancer gets involved in a conflict. Then the lancer needs to keep back some cards to hold the dragon at bay, but can release the dragon, and then even use the dragon's cards as well, if he succumbs to instinct. How heavily the dragon stirs depends on how strong its hunger/impulse are at the moment. How to do that in Sorcerer?

So, one could include a stat called "Hunger" for the dragon, that is reduced by meeting the dragon's Needs and goes up if these Needs aren't met properly, to the maximum of the dragon's Might. Or the dragon just stirs with its full Might every time. That makes things even tougher. It would then be up to the GM to decide when it stirs, depending also on how well it has been fed. On the other hand, I really liked my "the dragon stirs in any case it a jake, queen or king is drawn" rule...

But the real issue is: If the dragon stirs, what happens in Sorcerer's mechanical context? I think the build-up to the point where the lancer must either let the dragon take over, and thus win the conflict, or keep the dragon at bay and accept losing, is a core mechanic of Mud Planet.

How about this: Dragon rolls Might against a number of dice determined by the GM. Successes are deducted from all the lancer's scores as long as he tries to keep control. You could even say that if that reduces Will to zero, the lancer freaks out. Or maybe you shouldn't? Either way, if the lancer gives up control, he gets his full dice instead, but must act on instinct. If he even lets the dragon take over, he gets the successes the dragon rolled as bonus dice into all rolls. The latter means Savageness goes up by 1 instantly, no check required.

Hm. Not as elegant as my original rule, but it seems workable.

What do you say?

- Frank
If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.

Frank Tarcikowski

Quick clarifier:

QuoteMeanwhile I've had the chance to check the game out and play it a few times, once (briefly) with Ron himself. I really do like it.

"The game" being Sorcerer, not Mud Planet. Curse the absence of the edit function!

- Frank
If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.

Ron Edwards

Hi Frank,

I'm glad to see this going back into development! I'd also like to stress that your own visions are more important than Sorcerer, so to me, I'd favor that you use my game/ideas however you'd like ... but I hope you're making Mud Planet into the best game it can be, rather than converting it to Sorcerer.

Here are my current thoughts ...

1. Commitment strikes me as a difficult internal feature. If the character's Commitment goes to 0, so what? How does that actually change the way the character is played? That question can't be answered unless there is some way to play correctly when the score is not 0. With that in mind, I see three possibilities:

a) Commitment of 1 or higher means the character can do whatever he or she wants, but Commitment of 0 means the character cannot do certain things (i.e. cannot be committed in specific ways).

b) Commitment of 1 or higher means the character must do certain things (i.e. must be committed in specific ways), but Commitment of 0 means the character can do whatever he or she wants.

c) Commitment of 1 or higher means the character must do certain things (i.e. must be committed in specific ways), but Commitment of 0 means the character must do (other) certain things (i.e. cannot be committed in specific ways).

The issue is this: in Sorcerer, no score or any game element at all describes a character's "feelings." The dice and numbers only concern actions. Furthermore, no score or any game element circumscribes character behavior, as in what they wouldn't or cannot do. Therefore there are no rules like (a, b, c) in that game.

That's just a feature of Sorcerer, though, and doesn't have to be a feature of your game. If you want Commitment, as an internal-state score, to be a feature of Mud Planet, then I suggest that one of (a, b, c) must exist in order to provide a framework for it to be meaningful.

2. In thinking about the dragon effects on Savagery, that's an interesting question. If I'm reading and remembering correctly, the whole point is that the lancer has a choice: either diminish personal effectiveness and hold back the dragon, or release the dragon and get huge bonuses, but basically conforming to the dragon's most savage priorities.

If (and that's a big if) we're talking about applying Sorcerer logic, then the action of holding back the dragon already diminishes effectiveness, as it deprives the lancer of a crucial action-round announcement in a conflict. Taking away cards as well seems like a significant, unnecessary penalty. In other words, if the rules force a lancer both to lose an action and to lose cards if they try to restrain their dragon, then they probably aren't going to succeed in carrying out whatever they originally planned to do anyway.

So by the rules, it seems to me as if we're talking about a standard conflict between lancer's Will and dragon's Will (or Might if you are combining Lore and Power for dragons, which is probably a good idea).

Also (still using Sorcerer logic), all notions of lost or constrained control over one's character apply only in one circumstance: Humanity going to 0. If you have the supplement The Sorcerer's Soul, you can find a section which describes lots of ways that this can happen during play and allow the player to retain the character. The simplest way, mechanically, would be a Taint ability on the dragon's part.

That actually makes the rules-use very easy: the dragon attacks the lancer with Taint, and if the victories are high enough, drives the lancer to Humanity 0 temporarily. One can even roll those victories into a bonus for the lancer's next action, as well.

Let me know what you think!

Best, Ron

Frank Tarcikowski

Hi Ron,

Thanks for your comments! I think this is a useful exercise, even if I don't end up turning Mud Planet into a mini-supplement. It helps me understand both Mud Planet and Sorcerer better. The good thing about a mini-supplement would be making the game really well accessible for people who know Sorcerer. I for my part find it rather tiresome to learn and keep apart all these indie games that I'll probably only play a few sessions. On the other hand, if it turns out that important features don't work in a Sorcerer conversion, it will stay a thought experiment and I'll see how I can improve my original rules to serve the game better.

Regarding commitment: The original rule was that at commitment zero, you just cannot enter conflicts on behalf of the community, period (your a)). I like that rule.

I do think that this tapping thing with controlling the dragon is really crucial to my vision of the game. I want it to be the player's choice to let the dragon take over, and I want it to be really, really powerful.

- Frank
If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.

Ron Edwards

Hi Frank,

You wrote,

QuoteI do think that this tapping thing with controlling the dragon is really crucial to my vision of the game. I want it to be the player's choice to let the dragon take over, and I want it to be really, really powerful.

All right! Let's start there, then. If I am understanding correctly, the key difference from the (hypothetical) Sorcerer version is that the choice to "connect" with the dragon is a player and lancer choice, not an action by the dragon. But it's not quite the same as using a demon ability, or commanding a demon, with the typical Sorcerer rules, because the dragon may or may not be ready or inclined to be totally savage at any given moment. I may be a little bit confused about this issue. Is this action supposed to be available to the player-character at all or any times, or does it depend on a given state of mind for the dragon as well?

Once I understand that better, then we can talk about making this the center of the game. For reference, I suggest that we consult Clinton's mini-supplement for Sorcerer, called Urge, which is based on this entire notion of merging psychologically with the demon, such that its anger and the character's anger are the same things.

Best, Ron

P.S. Fritz sagt, Deutsch ist einfach, Deutsch ist kuhl, Deutsch macht spaβ! Lerne Deutsch mit Redaktion-D! I will explain this when we meet again.

Frank Tarcikowski

I'll take the easy way and quote from the original Ronnies entry. Here is the fluff text:

QuoteOf what I tell you now, you must keep absolute privacy. The system does not work
just the way it is supposed to. Whoever is all devoted and disciplined, all of the time?
Who can be expected to not live and feel and love? Especially when you can sense
that enormous heart of your Dragon companion beating in heat.

Ferocity and I have linked our minds for years. She is closer to me than any other
living being in the universe. She considers me a part of her. To her, we are one
person. And I have come to feel much the same way. I know I must be careful lest I
become a monster. But honestly: Sometimes she is right. I have urges, too. There is
more to life than just reason. Why should my desires not be satisfied sometimes?

And there is one thing more. I can channel the power of her Gift. If we join forces, if I
let her have her way, she enhances my psychic capability by a square. I can do
amazing things using her. Depending on the situation, it can be sweet temptation or
desperate measure. I have used it. I will use it again.

People say I am not acting quite human any more. There is something predatory
about me. That happens a lot with Lancers. The Code is very strict on this, but the
Code is only enforced by people. They cannot possibly accuse two out of three
Lancers. And it is not like I was on the verge of turning Savage. I control it. There is
no need to worry about me.

And here is the relevant rules text:

QuoteLet's go back to your Character Sheet now. You see Self-Control and Impulse
standing opposed, and Hunger opposing Commitment. Between those two, there
stand your Relationships. Now, in the back of his mind, the Dragon is always aware
of what happens to the Lancer. And once its animal instincts are roused, they will
rage through the bond over to the Lancer's mind and batter it.

Any time one of the Relationships, or something else that equally poses a threat or
rouses a desire, is at Stake in a conflict, the Dragon may stir. Check the relevant
scores: Is his Hunger higher than your Commitment? Is his Impulse higher than your
Self-Control? If so, he stirs. If not, he is still dozing. But beware: If you draw a
persona card (jake, queen, or king) in the conflict, he will stir.

If the Dragon stirs, draw a number of cards equal to his Impulse or Hunger
(whichever is concerned). Discard all red cards. For each black card remaining, the
player must tap one of his red cards and not use them in the conflict. This represents
the effort it takes to control the Dragon. On the other hand, this allows the player to
bring in traits that aid him against the Dragon.

The player may untap the cards that hold the Dragon at bay and use it in the conflict.
If he does so, however, he allows the Dragon to take over. He can use all his tapped
cards and the cards from the Dragon in his conflict, but he must act by pure instinct
and urge. His Savageness goes up by 1 if he only uses his own cards, by 2 if he uses
the Dragon's cards as well.

If you strike the monitor subtleties, the remaining core is: If the conflict at hand is about or a relationship or poses some other threat / rouses some other desire, the dragon may get in. The less its Need has been met (in Sorcerer terms), the more likely it is to get in.

Come to think about it, in such a conflict (desire or thread), there could also be an option to call upon the dragon. That would certainly be a very savage thing to do.

- Frank
If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.

Frank Tarcikowski

A little more mind stretching. Two different things need to be addressed by the rules:

1) Keeping the dragon at bay. I guess in Sorcerer terms, the GM would decide by fiat at what moment the dragon becomes aware of a conflict and urges the lancer to act on instinct. Just like how in other games of Sorcerer the GM decides by fiat at what moment the demon refuses to obey the master. However, there are some guidelines. In vanilla Sorcerer, it's Need and Desire. That would apply to Mud Planet as well. Need is easy, it's whether the dragon has hunted and mated recently or not. And now here's something that just jumped to my mind:

In Mud Planet, relevant conflicts are about threats and desires. The lancer is in danger, or the lancer wants something. So, that is the Desire, in Sorcerer terms. The dragon wants to defend itself and it's other half, the lancer, from danger. The dragon wants to satiate its wants and those of its other half, the lancer. There you go.

Now you know at what moment the dragon will start firing raw instinctive impulses at the lancer via the bond. How to handle that, rules-wise? I think as long as the lancer tries to resist, it's best understood as a supportive action in favor of the lancer's adversary. So, the GM rolls the dragon's Might against, say, two dice. Any successes are bonus dice to the adversary. How's that sound?

2) Using the dragon. I only just grabbed the hint in your post re-reading it. You suggest that the enhancement of the lancer's abilities by the dragon could be a demon ability by Sorcerer terms, right? So yes, given my idea for 1), that could work. It means the power being available at all times (subject to the limitations of Need and Desire, but never a question in a conflict about a relationship). That's different from the original Mud Planet rule, where the power is only available if the dragon is already in the conflict. But, as I said above, calling upon the dragon just like that is a cool option, and a very savage thing to do, I just didn't think of it when I wrote the Ronnies entry.

So, it's a power, transferred to the sorcerer, that makes you... yeah, what? Use the dragon's Might instead of your own score? Add the dragon's Might to your own score? Have the dragon roll for a supportive action as above, only this time it's in your favor? The last one feels most true to my image of the setting, but has the drawback of requiring one more roll. Then again, if you handle it the way we did in Berlin, with loads of dice and little slips of paper on the table for everyone to see, then one more dice roll isn't the problem.

Hey, that sounds pretty good to go!

- Frank
If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.

Ron Edwards

Hi Frank,

I think all your thoughts on the game rules and designs make sense. However, I disagree strongly with a term you're using, at the conceptual level, and it's important enough to be clarified.

The term is "fiat." This term is causing enormous confusion among independent game players and the sub-group of designers. The way you've used in it in that post illustrates the confusion.

The only way I can attempt to repair the confusion is to ask a question, for anyone reading this: When you are role-playing and you say, "I [meaning your character] stride forward and hold up my sword! 'You will not pass!'", is this fiat? To repeat the question another way, when you announce, "I'm going to slice his head off!" and reach for your dice, is this fiat? And to repeat it one more time, when someone asks, "So what's your character doing this morning," and you say, "Taking a shower," is this fiat?

I'll answer for you. No. Of course not. None of that is fiat, "player fiat," or whatever you want to call it. That is called "playing your character."

For reasons that I can understand, a lot of people have got the idea that any such statement from the person labeled the GM is somehow, automatically, called "fiat." Add to it other actions and tasks that have to be done in order to role-play at all, and which traditionally are centered (all too vaguely) in the GM's hands, like scene framing and adjudication of misunderstandings and filling in system-gaps in IIEE.

This erroneous idea is an understandable reaction to many years of having played in a certain way, specifically, when all of the techniques and tasks described above are utilized to run events and outcomes in such a way as to permit players' actions (in any way: announcement, execution, outcomes) to matter, and to override them if the actions are deemed unsuitable. As many of you know, I consider that play founded on this principle, begun in AD&D2, refined in Shadowrun supplements and contemporary games, and brought to the forefront of play by White Wolf in the early 1990s, to be empirically flawed. I also do not consider it well-suited for creating stories, despite its branding success in cornering the term "storytelling."

However, the intensity of my dislike for it is not the present point. The present point is that many folks, having decided that they don't want to do this, are now flailing out into the conceptual mists with one thing in mind: they don't want any more of that "GM stuff" causing any more damned hassle in their lives. What is that stuff? Why, fiat! It's fiat! We shall have no more fiat! Such players are strongly attracted by games like The Shab al-Hiri Roach, Universalis, Polaris, and others in which no such centralization is present.

To be absolutely clear, I think this point is best illustrated by my conversation with Joshua BishopRoby in Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion late last year. I coined a term "murk" in that conversation to refer to the lack of any real procedure for determining where characters are, what they're doing, whether they're in a conflict, what the conflict is about, and how we know when it's over. People can play in the murk, using confused or covert or unspoken methods, but one of those methods that was drilled into too many people's heads for too long was that centralized power over permission and overrides I described above. To my knowledge, the first RPG ever written to be absolutely free of murk was Trollbabe.

The reason the notion is erroneous, however, is that many functional game designs do place any number of necessary techniques in a given person's hands: particularly scene framing, back-story creation, and playing multiple characters, but lots of others too. In a game with a meaningful and clear IIEE principle underlying its resolution system, with a murk-free process of arriving at when conflicts do and do not occur, and with sensible narration rules (meaning any, really, as long as they are not confusing), you may well still have a GM. He won't be a White Wolf (AD&D2, Shadowrun, et cetera) GM, but there will be a person, or series of persons, who do these things. That person will typically play one or more characters, too.

Without any permission or overrides occurring, game-play may still include centralized distribution of certain techniques, centralized knowledge and use of back-story, and centralized play of multiple characters. Sorcerer, for example, centralizes all these things. What it does not have is any means, either overt or somehow hidden in the centralized stuff, of granting permission for another person's character to do anything, or to override what another person's character is doing or has done. That particular power is wholly absent in Sorcerer; the game cannot be played in this fashion without violating a host of other explicit rules.

Yet somehow, when I am GMing Sorcerer and I say, "Your demon grins nastily and says, 'Fuck you, Charley,'" that's supposed to be fiat? It cannot be. It is the same thing as you having said, earlier, "Demon! Go fetch me a cherry poptart!", or "I rip my shirt open at the chest, then seize her in my arms," or, "I shoot the guy!" It is role-playing. Furthermore, when I am GMing Sorcerer and I frame a scene, saying "All right, you're on your motorcycle," and you find that a reasonable statement, then that is not fiat either. That's a task delegated to me, and if it's utilized as a subtle means of controlling your character over your wishes, then you may draw upon the cardinal rule in that game and un-frame the scene - because in Sorcerer, no one but you controls your character, as long as he or she has Humanity 1 or higher. However, in practice, this un-framing happens easily if at all, because you just grunt and say, "Let me do X first," and we move on, with no one noticing that the permission was yours to give, not mine.

Frank, does that make sense? I absolutely disagree with describing a GM role-playing a demon in Sorcerer, whether to obey or rebel or to do anything at all, as "fiat."

In fact, I suggest that "fiat" be recognized as a non-word which is currently holding a whole constellation of specific possible meanings and is subject to the same problems as "realistic" or "balanced." As such, it should just be chucked out.

Best, Ron

Frank Tarcikowski

Ron, I agree. Maybe this is language confusion. I was unaware that the term "fiat" carries such heavy connotation. What I meant was, simply, that there is no hard rule, but instead, the GM has to make up his mind based on what he deems appropriate and interesting.

- Frank
If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.