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Sneak preview: Sex & Sorcery excerpt

Started by Ron Edwards, October 22, 2002, 07:36:01 PM

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Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Back in August, I presented the chapter outline for Sex & Sorcerer. I'll reproduce it here:

Ch 1: getting social dynamics among the real role-players out of the closet, then defining Lines & Veils, and finished by a very graphic revelation regarding Ch 7 in the main book in order to illustrate Lines & Veils

Ch 2: "Male" and "Female" story models/topics explanation - this is supposed to be much like Ch 2 in Sorcerer & Sword, which gets people all fired up about playing this kind of stuff, as well as about the source/inspirational literature and film.

Ch 3: In Utero, exemplifying a "Female" story topic - additional rules bit = lots of sexuality in rituals (not what you might think, either)

Ch 4: Paragon, exemplifying a "Male" story topic - additional rules bit = martial arts to colorize combat, Shaw Bros style

Ch 5: Azk'Arn, a sword & sorcery setting which combines the "male" and "female" story concepts - solid setting material (and it's a hell of a setting, too), examples of how the hero concepts create in-play and prep-to-play events

Ch 6: Very scary rules, going way past the edge - specific to male and female characters, specific to male and female players, not for the timid; followed up with how they would apply to Azk'Arn.

The "testimonials" are intended to go between the chapters.

As you can see, the story (which will be complete in a single place) is part of Chapter 4. Lon, you're 'way off the mark with your pregnancy notions; the Paragon story is all about what I've tagged as a Male story. Therefore your "in sum" statement (it's a Male) is completely on-target and on purpose.

Side note for the hair-triggered among you: Male stories can have female protagonists, and vice versa - what happens is an "edge" or nuance that gets added in doing so. Good examples include The Prince of Tides (the novel, not the crappy movie) for a male hero in a female-type story. However, note that many "women in guy flick" movies are actually Female stories after all, as in The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Other story notes:

1) The concrete conflict of the story is not present in the excerpt you've read. The very next paragraph after the excerpt introduces (a) the girl and (b) the villain, and the situation rapidly becomes such that the hero's prowess (fu, etc) is totally irrelevant. The question is whom to kill/fight, not how well to kill/fight.

2) All the edits/structure comments are very helpful and I will make free with some of them. Yeah, "consist" blows - thanks especially for that one.

3) Scott and by extension Paul are absolutely right about the role of the story - it's Color, not exemplar of play-result. Part of my goal is to use Color well to help convey what I mean, because frankly, the technical part of this chapter (and the section in Chapter 2 which introduces the basics) is really dry.

Here's an excerpt from a later portion of the chapter, when I'm deconstructing the story (I'm still editing this stuff to friendly it up a little).

In the culture of Paragon, a student monk is forced to "empty" the inner two rings, in order to establish his obligations to the outer rings. They are separated from family and access to potential sexual partners, and they are encouraged to devote all their time and energy to their immediate community and to abstract principles. Ultimately the goal is to reconcile these efforts with the inner two circles, such that the person is able to address conflicts among the rings with a clear mind. This training is generally very difficult as those inner rings are hard to ignore.

However, rarely, a person ignores the inner two rings easily and therefore quickly masters the rules for prioritizing the outer two. This is a disaster, for if only the forms of those rules are met, and the emptiness in the middle is only accentuated, a terrible non-human is created, a social parasite. He has no true understanding of the human condition and will not be able to judge conflicts among the rings either for himself or others, despite his apparent mastery of the formal training.

Therefore Xin Ha was already losing tons of Humanity, even before he Bound the demon, and his elders were acting to save him from his own self or, failing that, saving society from him. Either he learns to cope with the inner-ring issues such as anger and sexuality, or he'll be taken by the demon.

Another issue that's central to the supplement is defining Humanity plurally. In Paragon, Humanity is gained/lost by both (a) helping/hurting others directly and (b) according/not according with community mores. The hero is trapped in a situation in which he must risk a Humanity loss in order to achieve a Humanity gain. (This plurality applies to the Female story archetype too, by the way, although with different variables.)

Oh, and just for you, Ben, nifty martial-arts rules are presented as an add-on in this chapter, admittedly because "I couldn't help it," as part of the notes about the Paragon setting.


Tim C Koppang


Without reading all of the I'm sure insightful comments of my fellow Forgites, I would like to present a few quick crituques before going into detail.  Consider these first impressions.

Why the hell did the guy get exhiled?  I'm thinking the old masters either want him to learn how the real world works, or because they just can't stand to lose to the guy.  Maybe you want this ambiguity in the beginning of the story, but I would caution against leaving it unresovled.  The heart of the story, from what little I read, seems focused on Xin Ha's great skill and the trouble that it gets him into.  It's his great natural power and the opposition of both the elder council and his newly awarded demon that drove my interest, and that drives the conflict of the story.  I know that you are pushing sexual themes in the upcoming supplement, and to be honest the attention paid to sex in the above snippit seemed cursory at best--more of sex=sin=baddness type of mood.  Again, I'm expecting this all to recieve more attention in the remainder of the story.

In answere to your question:

1) Yes: cleary written, and I only saw one typo.  I'd also suggest using some other word beside "thing" in the paragraph where he receives his demon.  I understand you are going for the whole, "what could it be" type of feeling, but it's repetitive and let's face it: we all know what game this is for.

2) Sort of.  See big paragraph above.

3)  I have to go to class . . . more on this later.

Emily Care

Thanks for the preview, Ron. Here are my responses

Quote from: Ron Edwards1) Is it well-written enough such that you could stand to read the rest of the story?
Yes. Though it felt a bit more like an example story-line than a short-story.

Quote2) Can you see Sorcerer "speaking" through it, thematically?
This particular storyline? Certainly.
Quote3) 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.)

By "these issues" do you mean the issues that this supplement is addressing (gender in gaming etc)? If so, it seems possible, but since I'm not sure what exactly you are getting at, it's hard to tell. That much of the short story didn't communicate anything about "Sex and Sorcery" per se to me.

And if you are asking if this particular presentation will be effective as far as reaching readers, I'd have to say  probably not.  A free-standing story is even easier to skip over than example text within mechanics pages.  

But if you mean effective in terms of presenting   Sorcerer's premise, and themes related to the supplement: the short-story as a medium seems quite suited to presenting thematic narrative.  But Paul's post above got me thinking...

Peter Adkison's write-up of his Sorcerer experience described the unique kinds of player decisions that a game with a strong narrative focus like Sorcerer requires and encourages.  This kind of example could be very valuable in terms of opening up players' horizons and introducing them to the very different sort of approach this game takes. This supplement may not be the place such an example belongs, however.

Hope this is constructive and useful for your work.

--Emily Care

edited in:
Ron's last post answered many questions I had.  Sounds really interesting, Ron.  Having these short-stories (male and female themed) in the structure you've outlined sounds very effective--not just a long chapter at the start that people blow through...
Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games

Gordon C. Landis

Quote3) Scott and by extension Paul are absolutely right about the role of the story - it's Color, not exemplar of play-result. Part of my goal is to use Color well to help convey what I mean, because frankly, the technical part of this chapter (and the section in Chapter 2 which introduces the basics) is really dry.
Quote<Clipped "dry" text>

Pardon me for a moment while I say - I want this book, I want it NOW, and everyone should stop distracting Ron and let him finish it.  Those in the greater Chicago area should run his errands, do his laundry, and cook his meals so he can concentrate on finishing this book.  I'm not exactly a hair-trigger purchaser of indie games - I do buy 'em, but I'll often wait a while first.  This one I'll be first in line for - I *love* the way the "dry" text pairs up with the story.  I guess my "not JUST Color" comment should really have been "Color that actually speaks to core issues, rather than just fluffy-Color."  

And the alternate means to convey dry technical stuff is also exactly what I was getting at in my other comments, so I think Ron's on track there.  The "dry" description obviously provides direct answers to the question I (and others) asked about why the order did what it did to our protagonist, and I assume the story itself will also reveal that same info, in a different way.

I think Raven's "what does it add to the book?" is a good question, but I also think "a different angle on, and way to access, the same stuff that clear, concise description also covers" is a good answer.  Another way of saying it - the clear, concise description might leave you thinking "OK, I got it, but what's COOL about that?"  The story helps show what's cool.  I guess I'm with Ralph in that I'm not 100% biased against fragments doing the same thing, but given the themes of this book - a story definitely feels like a better expression.

I'm curious about the "exemplar of play result" issue - seems like there IS an assumption that RPG fiction is about examples of what play's like, or at least, examples of what you can do with the game.  When you (or at least when I) think about it, that's seems like a real mistake.  But that's a side issue - suffice it to say that, specific editorial/structural comments aside, I think this'll work.

Gordon (under construction)


Hey, that deconstruction part made all the difference Ron.  Both in filling in the blanks about why this extreme event happened (I assume there's some exposition that reveals that somewhere in the complete story), and in showing how to link a particular definition of Humanity and how it works into actual story driving elements.


I'm with Gordon on this.  Put me second in line for the book.

At first, I wasn't quite sure what the point of having a short story was, other than Color, but with your further explaination, Ron, I see that you simply needed a model that contained all the examples of the issues you intend to highlight.

Clearly written? Yes.  I'm intrigued by the premise, but the writing could use a little more impact.  Although I'm also thinking about the general melodrama of the old Shaw Bro's movies too.

Sorcerer Themes? Yeah, although I think it's going to be interesting to see the protagonist's answer to "How far would you go?" and more importantly, what is the protagonist seeking to acheive?

Short story good for presentation?  In most other games, I'd just be happy with the fiction bits, because it's about Color.  In this case, you have very explicit themes and subjects you want to explore.  A short story is probably the best way of serving an example to emulate in terms of play, color, and theme all in one fat serving.


Tim C Koppang

Quote from: fleetingGlowI have to go to class . . . more on this later.
Ok Ron, I read your second post which appeared only minutes before my own.  Here's what I have to say about the deconstruction of the story that appears further along in the chapter: it's great.  That, and the new thread about what exactly a female and male story exactly is just got me extremely interested in the supplement.

But . . . I just wanted to reiterate that if you set up a conflict between X-- and his elders, which I think you do in the first part of the story, you shouldn't just leave it hanging.  It's hard to make a useful critique without the rest of the story, but generally speaking you'd risk diluting the tension and confusing the reader.  From the sound of your deconstruction, you present an explanation in the story, but I just wanted to make sure that one does get in there.  Even if you weight down the rest of the text with infinitely more interesting conflicts and characters, if you leave things unresolved (and I don't necessarily mean in the tie up all the loose ends happy Spielberg way; ambiguity is equally worthy) then you're putting things in the story that are auxiliary to the main characters and ultimately detract from a more powerful conclusion.  I'm going to leave that alone for now and wait for a reply.  I don't want to rant.

As for question number three now: I like game fiction.  No buts about it.  I will throw your own ideas back at you however.  You have always stated that detailed source material and game fiction tend to detract from the actual roleplaying that a supplement should catalyze.  Now, in no way am I saying that a story has to distract.  That I think is the heart of your question.  I just wanted to let you know that your particular viewpoint on the issue has made me look at game fiction in a whole new light.

Does your story do this: I have no idea.  I don't know what the rest of the chapter let alone book looks like.  But I do like the idea of including a complete and well developed piece of fiction--dare I say serious fiction.  Sure it will be genre fiction, (I'm using the lit term) but it will hopefully include solid character development through interesting conflicts and won't just simply rely on gimmicks or creative settings to carry along a plot.  Because you are presenting fiction for a self-proclaimed narrativist game you have raised the bar of expectations.  Now you need to show how to flex narrativist premise through fiction, and then apply the techniques of the story to the game itself.  Tough to do, but if you just concentrate on writing a good piece of fiction first then I think you will be well on your way.

Long story short: write a solid, well-developed, polished piece of fiction that can stand on its own with themes of sexual roles etc, and only then mesh the fiction with your rules.  That would be my approach.  And then yes, especially in light of how many references you make to existing fiction in S&Soul for example, fiction as a vehicle to explain concepts can work and work well.

You might want to let a few creative writing Profs take a look at the story and see what they think.

Ron Edwards


Thanks to everyone for all the feedback. Tim, I appreciate your taking the time to reply after my second post; I'd figured we were typing pretty much at the same moment. My hope is indeed that the tangible conflict of the story presented in the second fifth and the more ethical/metaphysical conflict presented in the first fifth will be complementary, rather than the second eclipsing the first. We'll see.


Thor Olavsrud

Hi Ron,

As an editor (news, not fiction, for what it's worth), and with the caveat that it's very hard to judge something without seeing the whole, it looks like you have the seed of a good story here. But I'll give you the eternal editor's mantra: "Move it up!"

I know you know this, but it never hurts to hear it again. There's no time to waste when writing a short story. The kicker needs to be in the first line, or at the very least in the first 'graph. Otherwise, the reader is likely to lose interest. Exposition, when it's necessary, can be filled in later.

As for your other questions, I think fiction can be used effectively to add to a game, though it rarely is used to its best effect. The problem, I think, is that it rarely is a complete story, or even a fragment of a story. Instead you get a brief sketch of a situation, and what conflict is introduced into that sketch is rarely injected with any narrative power in terms of giving the reader a reason to care about the outcome.

I think that if you rely on the narrative rules that are reflected in the mechanics of Sorcerer, you will provide your readers with something that is engaging as well as useful in the context of understanding the possible themes of play.


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

I think fiction in gaming books needs to be short and sweet...but more importantly sweet.  It has to grab me fast and keep me giving a shit.

This story did that.

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

Yes, I think it is pretty evident.

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 think it reads well and is a good way to promote the feel you are going for.



Thor hit on my own concerns. I think that the story presents Sorcerer themes very clearly, and I think that the deconstruction is both useful and justifies the use of game fiction.

I do see a problem with the clip that you gave us, and I'd like to address it more specifically than Thor did.  You ended the story exactly where I felt it should have started.  Everything prior could have been revealed in flashback, and a large amount of it could have been cut if necessary.  As Thor said, start with the conflict.  From what I see of the story, the primary conflict is between Xin Ha's monastic beliefs and his need to be part of the profane world.  If that isn't what the story is about, this passage doesn't belong at the start of the story, and may not belong in the story at all.

I am hoping that this story and the associated deconstruction are part of the book, because they seem very useful to me.
Clay Dowling - Online Campaign Planning and Management

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Thor and Clay, thanks for the input. I'm sticking to the current construction for reasons of my own, mainly because I have the whole story, and I like it the way it is.