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Author Topic: Sneak preview: Sex & Sorcery excerpt  (Read 16002 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: October 22, 2002, 10:36:01 AM »

Hello,

Here's the first fifth (or so) of the complete short story that I'll be presenting as part of one of the chapters in Sex & Sorcery. Its purpose is to illustrate one of the "gender-heavy" story types outlined in a previous chapter, specifically a "male" type that concerns conflicting responsibilities (self, society, honor).

My questions for you are:

1) Is it well-written enough such that you could stand to read the rest of the story?

2) Can you see Sorcerer "speaking" through it, thematically?

3) Do you think a substantial, complete short story (in direct contrast to 99% of most "fiction" in game texts) is an effective way to present these issues? (It's followed by rules & game stuff pertaining to the sorcery and the setting.)

PARAGON

The monastery consisted of seven small buildings nested in a green valley, sometimes foggy but usually bright with sunshine and flowers. The central building was a pretty pagoda trimmed with ornate curlicues and railings, much-loved and reverently tended.

Within the central temple, in the place made most holy by the regard of the ancestors, the elders of the Golden Road sat in a stern row. A young man clad in the robe of a student monk kneeled before them. They regarded him silently for a moment.

“Xin Ha,” began the one in the center. “Never have we seen a more devoted student of the Way. Your unswerving obedience of the tenets of the Golden Road exceeds all expectations.

“Your answer to the Mirror Koan was unprecedented for a student of your rank, and it has prompted a wholly new direction of enlightened discussion in the Emperor’s Academy.

“You display mastery of the Many-Eyed Dragon fighting form beyond our ability to teach you further, and the sparring masters refuse to continue to lose face in class.”

The Chief Elder paused. Then he snapped, “It’s intolerable!”

The student’s serene and humble expression altered to one of bewilderment. “Y-yes sir!” he stammered. “I abase myself!” He did so, with his brows wrinkled and his gaze darting to one side.

“We have received the Imperial Decree of the Emperor’s Temple,” continued the Elder, and his voice rang like an iron bell. “You must leave the temple and journey from village to village. You must drink wine, and touch of the flesh of women, and taste the meat of fish, fowl, and beast. It is decreed: you are to walk the road to Hell.”

Young Xin Ha had listened with more and more astonishment, and finally he found his voice. “Exile? The flesh of women? Revered masters, I cannot believe my ears! Not once, in my whole life, have I broken a single tenet! Even one such act is enough to condemn me to everlasting torment. How can you ask me to shame myself and the Order this way?”

His protests went unheeded. They took him to a secret room, where a wizened old man in chains conjured up a nasty bundle of hissing thing, and they loosed it upon him. It determined to drag him straight to Hell, and marked him with its blood, naming him as its prey!

They told him that he must Bind the thing in Hell Speech, accepting responsibility for the things it Needed. The elder said, “You must choose: obey us and Bind this thing, or disobey the Imperial Decree and be named outlaw.” Xin Ha wept and protested again, but, in the end, he obeyed.

The next day, he set out upon the road, with the demon set in a basket that he carried at the end of a staff. He wore travelling clothes, a conical straw hat, and a woeful expression.

Weeks later, Xin Ha sat glumly against a wooden wall inside an inn of bad repute in a notorious border town. Men who called themselves soldiers, but whose primary activity consisted of intimidating and robbing peasants, roistered all around him, as bruised-looking girls moved to inexpert music. Smoke filled the air and the floor was sticky with long-dried spills of rice wine.

Two nasty little eyes in glowed in the basket beside him, visible as its lid was tipped up on one side. “Sssst!” hissed the demon. Xin Ha shifted his eyes to look at it without changing expression.

It asked, “Have you drunk of the wine, and eaten of the beef?” He answered in the affirmative, curtly. “Did you touch the flesh of women?” He glared briefly at the demon, then looked away and nodded once. The demon grinned like a little furnace. “Better than wine and beef, isn’t it?”


Thanks!
Ron
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GB Steve
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« Reply #1 on: October 22, 2002, 11:13:06 AM »

I would say:
1) Is it well-written enough such that you could stand to read the rest of the story?
Yes
2) Can you see Sorcerer "speaking" through it, thematically?
Yes
3) Do you think a substantial, complete short story (in direct contrast to 99% of most "fiction" in game texts) is an effective way to present these issues? (It's followed by rules & game stuff pertaining to the sorcery and the setting.)
I'm not sure. I mean WW did it all the time and I never read them beyond the first one. But I like this better so maybe

With my editor's hat I might say more about the story but I'm not sure that's what you want.

In any case, I enjoyed it. I particularly like the image of the demon sitting in the basket and the naive student wondering what the hell was going to happen.

Cheers,
Steve
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greyorm
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« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2002, 02:55:34 PM »

One question: does it add to the understanding of the game?

I don't mean, "Does it provide color, theme or explanation." But more literally, will inclusion of the story be necessary for getting the point of the chapter/surrounding text across?

That is, is it as necessary to read as any other passage in the book -- or is it filler, fluff or whatnot (even very cool and well-written filler/fluff)?

Therein, in the answer, is the answer to the question.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Manu
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« Reply #3 on: October 22, 2002, 03:07:05 PM »

For 1) and 2) I'd say yes; for 3)...What I really appreciate about Sorcerer supplements is the veryabstracted-yet-directly-applicable nature of the writing. The examples are short and to the point, concerning themselves only to the point discussed. I'm a bit afraid that an entire short story would take away valuable space that could be put to better use by varying the setting examples and discussing the new rules and concepts - the excerpts from Forge discussions in Soul were wonderful, I could buy entire books of that.

Don't get me wrong, this story screams Sorcerer at me, but avoiding the WW syndrome will be a daunting task. The usual format of laying down the bare bones in the books, in a way taking as many things for granted as possible (I can see some of you shuddering, but I actually like it-Don't you love to be creative and fill in the blanks?), and fleshing it out on the Forge is perfect for me.

By that I mean that some of the things that Ron has mastered and that didn't seem so obvious to players on first reading actually allowed people to use their interpretations and probably come up with a more personal and committed way to play. I don't imply that's it's confusing, at least not to the point where it's unusable or detracts from the game.

So I'd rather err on the side of less fleshed out details and more abstract, raw concepts. Just my two cents :)
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: October 22, 2002, 06:28:57 PM »

Hey Raven,

One question: does it add to the understanding of the game?...will inclusion of the story be necessary for getting the point of the chapter/surrounding text across?

I think the issue Ron must be confronting is that with the prior two supplements, the literary and film canon supporting the game theory was well established, and he could rely on some level of player familiarity with it, and exploit it for examples in the game text. With this one, a theory that seems to have emerged more from his background in biological sciences and sociological readings than from his interest in a specific genre of fiction, it seems like examples he might try to use from literature and film are going to be, for lack of a better word, opaque, and I think, somewhat lacking in demonstrative punch. So it seems to me the fiction is important.

Paul
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greyorm
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« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2002, 08:41:45 PM »

Paul,

Therein's the problem: I didn't read it.
I didn't read it precisely because it was game fiction and I knew it was game fiction.

Would I buy it and read it as a short story? Yes.
Would I read it as game material? No.
(Yes, I went back and read it now)

I'm asking myself, "What did I learn about the rules of the game from this?" The answer is "nothing." It's an interesting story...but what does it have to do with the game?

That's where my question comes in: I've no doubt Ron is attempting to portray something not easily accessible or within the realm of experience of most gamers with the story -- BUT its "just" color.

Ok, so I'm pushing him to make something more out of gaming fiction than the standard: "Here's some color that expresses what your game would/could feel like if this material is used."

What will I LEARN about the game by reading the story that I wouldn't pick up on otherwise, or in a clear, concise description of what the color is being used to represent/describe? I'm asking about the utility of its inclusion, the question of: does it add more to the material for the player than something non-fiction would?

(Though I'm sure Ron realizes the following, I want to make very certain everyone else understands this as well -- I'm not knocking Ron's fiction or ability to write, or the value of fiction as its own entity, but such is neither here nor there for my purposes above)

Well-written or crappy, what does it add to the book?
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #6 on: October 22, 2002, 09:04:56 PM »

Raven,

What I get from Ron's story, and maybe what Paul is trying to get at, is this:

Narrativism is about telling a story.  That being the case, stories are important to the form as a whole, and by including one (or more) in the text of the game, Ron is giving us a model for the kinds of stories we might hope to produce.  That's not so necessary for something like Sorcerer & Sword, where a huge body of literature exists for us to look at and use, but in this case, where the source material may be less well known to the audience, it's utility should be obvious.

Of course, there is the argument that would say "I'm making my own stories here, I don't need to be told what one looks like."  And to a certain extent I can see that argument.  But the truth is, roleplaying isn't the same as authoring a novel; it's a shared experience, and without a shared understanding of genre, the stories that are produced will likely suffer from incoherence.  This is exactly what we experienced during our playtest of The World, The Flesh, and The Devil.

So that's my take; it's a tutorial on what a story - one possible story, anyway - would look like, utilizing the tropes that Ron mentioned.

- Scott
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Alan
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« Reply #7 on: October 22, 2002, 09:27:29 PM »

Hi Ron,

1) Is it well-written enough such that you could stand to read the rest of the story?

Yes.  However, the opening is a bit slow.  You'd have a better hook if you started at:

Quote from: Ron Edwards

“We have received the Imperial Decree of the Emperor’s Temple,” said the Elder, and his voice rang like an iron bell. “You must leave the temple and journey from village to village. You must drink wine, and touch of the flesh of women, and taste the meat of fish, fowl, and beast. It is decreed: you are to walk the road to Hell.”


The background can be introduced later.


2) Can you see Sorcerer "speaking" through it, thematically?

Yup.  Demon in a basket.  Needs.  Human conflict.  Yup.


3) Do you think a substantial, complete short story (in direct contrast to 99% of most "fiction" in game texts) is an effective way to present these issues? (It's followed by rules & game stuff pertaining to the sorcery and the setting.)

Yes, I think it's a great way to emphasize how premise and theme interact with characer story.  Sorcerer has the advantage of having something deeper to drive a piece of game fiction, than many RPGs.

- Alan
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
Paul Czege
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« Reply #8 on: October 22, 2002, 09:55:40 PM »

Hey Scott,

From the whole of your comments, I think we're on the same page. I just want to respond to this:

Ron is giving us a model for the kinds of stories we might hope to produce.

I think the model of effective text derived from narrativist play has to be Peter Adkison's http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=29625#29625">post about having played Sorcerer at GenCon. It reads more like author's notes than anything else, exposing both the in-game and metagame conflicts of the play experience. It captures the feel of play better than any example of play I've seen in a published game. Contrast it with the http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3939">log of the online group's game of Shadows from last Monday. It reads more like story, but you can't tell what the conflicts were, and don't much get a feel for what it was like to play.

Our playtesting of My Life with Master is great fun, great Premise-answering collaborative creation of narrative with interesting protagonists. But the product of gameplay wouldn't map very well to short fiction. What I read you to be saying, other than the one potentially misleading sentence, is that Ron is using story as a vehicle for delivering genre expectations, not as a textual representation of the output of the play experience. And that I agree with.

Paul
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #9 on: October 22, 2002, 10:16:05 PM »

Paul,

You read me correctly.  How game play maps to fiction isn't my concern, and moreover, I don't think that Ron is trying to show us how to write a piece of fiction based upon the in-game events of an actual Sorcerer session (this, however, is interesting to me...I seem to remember Ron, or maybe it was someone else, once ask 'what's the point in having these stories if we don't share them with others', and wasn't there going to be a place for people's game-stories at the Sorcerer website at one time?).

I regard the story fragment above as a piece of Color.  However, I'm reluctant to quickly dismiss Color as being less valuable than say Setting, System, Situation, or even Premise.  Color gets a capital "C" just like the other elements of game design because it's absolutely invaluable in conveying genre appropriateness - it may be more valuable in this regard than Setting or Situation - and a shared understanding of genre is necessary to create a coherent "story" among multiple participants.

- Scott
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Uncle Dark
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« Reply #10 on: October 23, 2002, 08:51:11 AM »

Ron,

It's an interesting story, and I'd love to read more.  Still, it doesn't seem to say anything about gender-specific themes in fiction.  It imparts no information that I don't already have about Sorcerer from the main rule book.

What might work is if you wove two stories together, one "male" and the other "female," in such a way that the differences in theme were contrasted and showcased.

What you've shown us is the intro of a fairly standard "male"-themed story.  Maybe if the next section was a female character with a "female"-themed story (with the two characters eventually encountering each other), that would work better.

I guess what I'm getting at is that since the "male" themes have been standard for most fantasy/adventure fiction in any media, we really don't need to be shown what they look like for their own sakes.  It's the "female" themes that are going to seem odd, and which will benefit more from explicit illustration.

Lon

PS
Upon further reflection, I see where the "demon in a basket" is a pregnancy metaphor.  From what you've given us, there is no indication whether or not the demon ever leaves the basket.  It could just be a funky way of making it Inconspicuous, and it'll leap out and do stuff at Master's command, or it may never leave the basket, forcing the guy to do all kind of stuff to protect it.

This makes a difference.  If the demon leaps out to do stuff, then the basket is an odd looking utility belt, which weakens (to some extent) the pregnancy metaphor.  If it doesn't, then that strengthen's the metaphor.

Does it, I wonder, stay in the basket for nine months and then burst out, changing the metaphor from pregnancy to parenthood?  After a while, does it begin to seriously challenge its master (adolescence)?  Maybe I'm extendign the metaphor too far...

Lon
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #11 on: October 23, 2002, 09:04:12 AM »

...since the "male" themes have been standard for most fantasy/adventure fiction in any media, we really don't need to be shown what they look like for their own sakes. It's the "female" themes that are going to seem odd, and which will benefit more from explicit illustration.

Excellent comments, Lon.

Paul
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Uncle Dark
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« Reply #12 on: October 23, 2002, 09:13:16 AM »

Further comment:

Despite the recognitions in my postscript, I still feel that the male theme of the story (dishonor, expulsion, so on) seem to outweigh the femal theme (being bound to and responsible for care of another being) because the male theme is the one our POV character is concerned with.

Lon
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Valamir
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« Reply #13 on: October 23, 2002, 10:53:33 AM »

Here's my thoughts on game fiction in general.  

1) I have absolutely no bias at all against story fragments vs. complete short stories.  Having a complete short story vs a fragment of one is thus not a selling point for me.  The only time I have a problem with fragments is when they are so interesting I REALLY want to read the rest but there isn't any.

2) Fiction in game books serve 1 purpose and 1 purpose only to me.  Pure color.  The Fiction says "THIS is what the game is supposed to feel like.  THIS is what the world is supposed to look like.  THIS is how characters are supposed to act.  THESE are the kinds of things characters are supposed to be doing / concerned with".

Thus, game fiction is a two edged sword.  If the rest of the game doesn't live up to the promise of the fiction, I feel cheated...as if the old "bait and switch" tactic was used on me.  If the game mechanics don't lead directly to scenes and adventures that look and feel like the game fiction...then don't have the game fiction.


In answer to your specific 3 questions Ron.

1) Yes.  Although I think it could be reworked to have more impact.  As an example the use of the word "consisted" in the first sentence is a real downer to me.  Hard to think of a more boring verb than consisted.  

2) Almost.  By concentrating hard I can see the whole: recently kicked out of the monastery, saddled with a demon, and ordered to break his vows thing as the characters Kicker...but only really because I was looking for it.  As someone else mentioned this might be because there is too much build-up.  The "you are the best that's ever been" part seems to detract from the point.  Beyond that I see where the continuation of the story has ample room to explore more thematic issues also.

3) I've answered part of this above.  To get more specific, I think this supplement will be enough of a departure mentally/philosophically that having an example of the kind of issues that can/should be featured in such a game is very important.  That said, as long as the rest of the text succeeds at showing me how to get through play to something resembling that story it works...complete story or fragment of one.  If not...if one can't see how to get there from the text...then from my perspective the story is pointless regardless of how good it is.
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #14 on: October 23, 2002, 11:16:45 AM »

Ron - tricky to answer this kind of thing.  But what the hell - I'll give my Inner Critic a bit of a free rein, and while I'm probably not giving it all the time, attention and consideration it deserves, these seem to me like maybe-useful insights.  Still, consider all of this a partial and provisional opinion.

Well written enough?  On the whole, very much yes - I'm very interested in why the temple and/or emperor have done such a thing to our protagonist, probably as a result of the fact that (to answer the next question a bit) the themes do come through, and are compelling.  I found a few spots a bit awkward - the flow in and around "a wizened old man in chains conjured up a nasty bundle of hissing thing, and they loosed it upon him" bothers me, and I think the "woeful expression" bit in "He wore travelling clothes, a conical straw hat, and a woeful expression" is either over-written (on it's own) or under-written.  What do I mean by that?  Er - let's see, something like "He wore a travelling clothes upon his back, a conical straw hat on his head, and a woeful expression upon his face" matches up the language from "woeful expression" to the other bits more effectively for me.  Or drop "woeful expression" and have him walk slump-shouldered down the road.  Or something.

Sorcerer speaking?  Yup.  I'm definitely interested in seeing how the story develops that speaking, and can imagine (knowing Ron, not likely - but *imagine*) that if it failed to do so, I'd be left a bit confused.  Again, the themes of Sorcerer DO speak in this bit, but at this point that speech is a hard-to-hear whisper.  Which is NOT a bad thing for the first fifth of a story, but I'd hope the volume would go up as the story progresses.

Substantial, complete story as an effective way to present these issues?  I think it could be.  I agree with the comments here about what needs to happen in order for that to occur (add something to understanding the game, probably not "just" Color), but I would add - some people get things more effectively when they are explained in plain text, other's get 'em better when they see/"experience" it through fiction.  There's nothing wrong (and maybe a lot good) with communicating about the same thing (themes of male and female stories) in different ways.

A couple other comments - I'm hoping that by "complete short story," you mean complete in one place in the game text.  If not - make it easy to find the next "part" of the story in the book.  If fiction in a game book grabs me enough to interest me at all (and sometimes, even the fragmentary bits that are most common in RPGs will grab me), I want to read it all, and I'll flip through the book looking for that next part.  When/if that next part turns out to be an unconnected fragment . . . I stop reading the fiction.

And I was wondering if "Paragon" (which you once mentioned as a possible supplement title) was connected with Sex & Sorcery - now I see it is, and I think I see how/why.  Cool stuff.

Thanks for the excerpt,

Gordon
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