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Author Topic: How about some love for Sex?  (Read 2324 times)
James_Nostack
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« Reply #15 on: April 05, 2010, 03:12:09 PM »

Man, I tried writing this a couple times and it just felt too stilted.  I'm gonna jump right in.

Sex & Sorcery demolishes the other Sorcerer supplements.  It's about something beyond gaming; or rather, it's about how dragging in stuff from the real world can make gaming more interesting and satisfying.  Sorcerer and all "Story Now!" games are doing this already--you can't ask interesting thematic questions until you give a damn about the issues.  But here Edwards really gets his hands dirty in describing how this works, what's so good about it, and what the pitfalls may be.  Specifically, Sex & Sorcery is focusing on issues related to gender roles and sexuality, because these topics are (ahem) pregnant with meaning for almost everyone, but the principles apply to any other topic people are passionate about.

There is some kick-ass, fall-down-awesome stuff in Sex & Sorcery.  An expansion and explication of the modern-day setting from the Sorcerer rule book that absolutely sizzles with blasphemy, sex, and sadism.  There's also the breathtakingly weird and evocative Azk'Arn setting, developed in full, with extensive play-by-play notes--a woolly 1970's science-fantasy heavy metal setting that practically demands to be played immediately.  Plus a wickedly tight little one-shot scenario.  Plus these crazy martial arts rules, which presumably were inserted while the editor was taking a nap but are easily adapted to fencing or any other formalized mode of conflict (parliamentary procedure?).

But all of that is surface stuff, the end product of the thoughts and techniques in the book itself.  Sorcerer & Sword was about designing a setting.  Sorcerer's Soul was about designing scenarios.  Sex & Sorcery is about play, and very specifically, the weird, crazy feedback loops between reality and fiction that can only exist in role-playing games, in which author, actor, and audience are the same people. 

Sometimes these feedback loops can be problematic, especially when taboo topics arise; Sex & Sorcery introduces methods to cordon off discomforting content if and when necessary.

Sometimes these feedback loops can be inspirational.  At the level of scenario and setting design, the book discusses several narrative structures based off of archetypal gender concerns, especially exploiting value systems in conflict.  (In rules terms, this is implemented as competing definitions of Humanity.)

And sometimes, these feedback loops can even be written into the rules of play, as in the Azk'Arn example where interactions people real people have fictional consequences.

One of the pleasures of Sex & Sorcery is watching how these dry abstractions and techniques come together like orchestral instruments to create wackadoo genius stuff like Azk'Arn and the Blackest Magic setting.  Passionate ideas leads to a desire to play passionately, leads to creating a setting focused on those same passionate ideas, with techniques designed to rip this stuff wide open.  You want frenzied, juicy, fully committed, disquieting play?  This book shows you how to get there.

Couple of personal points:

1.  The idea of cordoning off specific material as a little too close to comfort struck me as a good idea in the abstract, but recent play has shown me that maybe having some explicit lines and veils is a good idea.  We're edging closer to that in our D&D group.

2.  What was the Humanity definition in the modern-day setting in Chapter One?

3.  IME Humanity pretty much always can be twisted around into some version of Love/Empathy/Kindness, at least if you stretch it a little bit.  I'm wondering, in games with dual Humanity definitions, is one of the definitions effectively subordinated because it just doesn't click as deeply?  As in, "Yeah, we all know you fulfilled your Loyalty to the State definition of humanity, but at the table none of us really think you're a better person for having done so." 

4.  I think there needs to be more work (not necessarily by Ron) about more of the story structures.  They're good stuff!

5.  The rules for player-to-player interaction in Azk'Arn remind me a little bit of "spin the bottle."  Interesting, but not very subtle.  I'd really like to see more games explore the loops between fiction-reality-fiction, and reality-fiction-reality.  I think it's one of the defining, and certainly the most interesting, features of role-playing games as a medium.

6.  Ron, once upon a time you hinted that you would talk about your second Azk'Arn game someday.  You were probably hoping no one would remember.  Spill!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #16 on: April 06, 2010, 07:23:58 AM »

Hi James,

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1. The idea of cordoning off specific material as a little too close to comfort struck me as a good idea in the abstract, but recent play has shown me that maybe having some explicit lines and veils is a good idea. We're edging closer to that in our D&D group.

Your phrasing is confusing me a little. The first part of your sentence looks synonymous to me with the second part, but they're linked by a "but" as if they were supposed to be contrasted.

I don't think I've ever managed to say exactly what I wanted to say about Lines and Veils, in terms of actual practice at the table. I'm willing to do that here, or try, but I need to understand what you're saying first.

Quote
2. What was the Humanity definition in the modern-day setting in Chapter One?

Empathy. I think I mentioned this in Chapter 7 of the core book, but didn't follow up on that in Sex & Sorcery. I was thinking pretty deeply in terms of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye (novel, not the film), The Crow (very definitely James O'Barr's original three-issue comic, not the film or any other extensions), and the comic Hard Looks (adapted from short stories by Andrew Vachss, including a great O'Barr cover and opening story in the one of the early issues).

i) In the The Long Goodbye, although I might be a little spotty on the details, there's a bit where Marlowe bundles a very drunk novelist into a car at the request of the novelist's wife. He has every opportunity to run the fellow down to her, as she's clearly irritated with him and lonely for non-drunk, non-selfish company, but Marlowe is decent about the whole thing. In the long run this turns out to have been a very good decision on his part, not to get involved with her, but he doesn't know that at the time. This also reminds me of an excellent scene in the movie Wolf, when the protagonist is depressed and cranky, has just met a very beautiful woman in unexpectedly private circumstances, and she expects him to give her all kinds of lame come-on lines, but he does not. Neither of these scenes mean that the characters, respectively, are neutered or uninterested - it means they treat the injured, lonely people around them as people, and when they themselves are injured and lonely, do not seek artificial solace.

ii) In The Crow, there's a weird little sequence as the protagonist is ascending stairs in a crappy apartment building, and the captions include a short verse which in my copy is uncredited, that goes something like "It's a Raymond Chandler evening of a Raymond Chandler day / And I'm standing in my pocket and I'm slowly turning grey," and some more cool lines too, which to me invokes the alienated detective genre really well - and either in that scene or somewhere just before or after it, he hangs out with a little girl, obviously suffering from a recent beating, and when she says, "Sometimes I think I'm in hell," he says, "This isn't hell, but you can see it from here." Again, all quoting is probably a little off, this is my mind-space memory rather than citation. For me, all of this also invoked Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus - something about how the detective protagonist has every reason and experience to be as alienated and even hateful as the people he pursues (or more accurately discovers while traversing an environment of lies) - but not only is he not hateful, he turns his drive for vengeance into something as constructive as he possibly can, finding touchpoints for understanding, if nothing else. The character in The Crow goes up the stairs to do something, just as the hero of The Plague tends to the sick without illusions either about his chances for success, or about any cosmic justification or approval for his behavior.

iii) In Hard Looks, most of the stories dramatize the internalized dehumanization of a character, in response to his or her treatment as a child either specifically by a parent or institutionally, or both. They'd be an exercise in plain violence-porn if that's all they were (and sadly, the way they are portrayed on the internet revels too much in this aspect, mainly by presenting only those stories and bits which support that interpretation when extracted and grouped in this fashion; there's apparently a cult surrounding Vachss' toughness which annoys me). But as I see them, what makes the stories great are the moments of pure and sometimes overwhelming empathy one feels toward some of the characters - and not restricted to heart-of-gold moments, which would be cheap and easy. As I quoted in Sorcerer from Gerald Kersh, and again here from memory and not guaranteed accurate, "There are men whom one despises until one glimpses, through a chink in the armor, something nailed down and writhing in torment." And significantly, not any or all of the characters. Some yes, some no.

At that time in my life, I was pretty engaged with aspects of human weakness and meanness, whether of my own, of people I knew well, and of people around and about, whether visible on the sidewalk or featured in the local news. There's a little bit of prose in J. D. Salinger story "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" talking about either his mother or someone's mother, a relentlessly cheery woman who - as she was described - drove me, the reader, insane with loathing for what I do indeed consider criminal obliviousness on her part, and then he ends the story or the section about her with an effective, even wrenching outpouring of love for her instead. So when do you condemn a person who does do things or approach life in a way you despise (for reasons!), and when do you not? That was on my mind daily in the key phases of playtesting early Sorcerer.

Quote
3. IME Humanity pretty much always can be twisted around into some version of Love/Empathy/Kindness, at least if you stretch it a little bit. I'm wondering, in games with dual Humanity definitions, is one of the definitions effectively subordinated because it just doesn't click as deeply? As in, "Yeah, we all know you fulfilled your Loyalty to the State definition of humanity, but at the table none of us really think you're a better person for having done so."

When this happens, it's a clear signal that the core mechanic of the game is not being utilized honestly. The dual-Humanity rules should only ever be used when the two definitions are fully compelling. What you're describing is a Humanity definition which doesn't fly, period, and it's just as invalid in your example as it would be if it were the only definition of Humanity. I'm trying to say that your concern here doesn't have anything to do with the dual-Humanity issue, but rather with the core Humanity rules, from the ground up.

I'm not sure about this, but it may be that you chose "Loyalty to the State" as an example because it's easy to see that it's a weak descriptor in the first place. I think such a Humanity definition is a poster-child for mistaking Humanity for some kind of ideal the in-fiction character holds, rather than a real-person, real-group authorial variable.

I'm not sure about this either, but you also used the description "your definition" in your brief example. It may be merely a phrasing blip. But if you're implying that only this single player is including "Loyalty to the State" as a Humanity definition, then that's a rules error.

To finish by addressing your first sentence, if Humanity translates consistency into Love/Empathy/Kindness for you, then you should stay with that sincerely and fully when you play, and not get sucked in by someone saying, "But Loyalty to the State coulllllld be Humanity!" or something like that.

And the take-home from that is that if you want to use the dual-Humanity rules, then be sure that the two definitions are in fact independent, and can be combined in yes-yes, yes-no, no-yes, and no-no ways. If each one is merely an application of the same principle of, for instance, kindness, then you have a single definition for your game, and should stick with that.

Quote
4. I think there needs to be more work (not necessarily by Ron) about more of the story structures. They're good stuff!

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by story structures. Do you mean the content of the female-centric and male-centric conflicts? Or do you mean something about how conflicts, following rising action, et cetera, get established in role-playing?

Quote
5. The rules for player-to-player interaction in Azk'Arn remind me a little bit of "spin the bottle." Interesting, but not very subtle. I'd really like to see more games explore the loops between fiction-reality-fiction, and reality-fiction-reality. I think it's one of the defining, and certainly the most interesting, features of role-playing games as a medium.

I think we have some now: Breaking the Ice, It Was a Mutual Decision, Bliss Stage (more than I thought upon reading it), Escape from Tentacle City (no lie), and a number of others. With hindsight, I think My Life with Master opened this door.

Quote
6. Ron, once upon a time you hinted that you would talk about your second Azk'Arn game someday. You were probably hoping no one would remember. Spill!

A lot of material from that game did make it into the text, actually. The angel stuff, for example. The story itself was fun but I don't have time to recount it now. I remember it took place significantly later than our first story, and Tod's character had founded a religion, and the area was being attacked by two mercenary armies.

Best, Ron
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ejh
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #17 on: April 06, 2010, 01:41:14 PM »

Raymond Chandler Evening is by Robyn Hitchcock.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TY8rm8kMHiM

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