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Author Topic: Sorcerer without "demons"?  (Read 5542 times)
Stephen
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« on: January 22, 2003, 05:10:53 PM »

I'll be honest: one reason I've always avoided Sorcerer is that I have a ridiculous, irrational, personal-faith-based objection to the idea of roleplaying summoning demons.

Understand:  I don't know if I believe in demons or not, let alone whether it's possible to summon them in reality.  What I believe in is not taking chances with your immortal soul -- and thus the notion of doing so in a literal way, using Sorcerer's original terminology, just turns me off on a basic level.  Understand also this is in no way a criticism of the game itself, merely an explanation of my reaction to it.

So here's the question.  How would you -- or could you -- define the "demons" of Sorcerer in such a way that they were essentially impersonal and amoral forces, and their danger came from their power and unpredictability?  The idea being that the sorcerer conjures "forces" rather than beings, and wrestles with a Power Man Was Not Meant To Wield in a Cthulhic sense of magic.

I realize that essentially the moral quandaries are the same, but like I said, it's an irrational reaction -- I just don't like the "summoning demons" terminology, and I've seen some truly original "respins" on the game here.  So I was curious as to what else was available.
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Trevis Martin
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« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2003, 11:37:11 PM »

My understanding of the game is that you as the GM decide what demons really are, its part of your prep.  And the definition that you mention is perfectly adequate.

cheers

Trevis
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Roy
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Posts: 153


« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2003, 11:53:58 PM »

Trevis is right on the mark.  Part of preparing to play a game of Sorcerer is defining what a demon is in your setting.  

I see demons as metaphors for dysfunctional relationships.  So far, we've defined them as actual demons, capricious nature spirits, and a part of the character's own spirit.  

I'm tempted to play a game of Sorcerer where the characters are vampires and the demons represent the Hunger within them.  Gotta feed that need ... literally!

Roy
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2003, 01:02:44 AM »

A long time ago I proposed completely stripping demons of their allegory. This can take one of two forms as I see it. The first is to consider demons to be the people that you're in dysfunctional relationships with. The second is to think of demons as addictions or other simlar problems. I gave the example of the workaholic father.

In this sort of game demons don't give you superpowers or anything. But they do give the character something which makes the relationship attractive. For an SO demon, it might be the sex. For a job demon it might be the prestige, or just the pay. Whatever. This could be handled mechanically, still. It just takes stretching the meanings of the powers quite a bit. The job becomes a Boost to the Cover stat, maybe. That sort of thing.

Mike
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Tony Irwin
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« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2003, 03:25:19 AM »

Quote from: Stephen
I'll be honest: one reason I've always avoided Sorcerer is that I have a ridiculous, irrational, personal-faith-based objection to the idea of roleplaying summoning demons.


Heh - something inside me squirms every time someone tries to lend me a WW book and I bought Sorceror with the justification "It will be really interesting for the rpg mechanics, whether I play it or not".

I've only read Sorceror through twice, but my understanding is that the setting is completely open. For example (IIRC) the demons can be aeroplanes with artificial intelligence flight computers if you want that.

My current understanding is that its not a game about demons (which would make me also feel a bit uncomfortable) its a game about personal demons. The players get to construct their own kind of parable - "Here's a story about a guy who didn't know when to stop" rather than "Here's a story about demonic possession and how kewl it is"

Truth be told Im not really qualified to answer your post, as I haven't even played the game yet, but I admired your frankness, and like you I've searched this forum and found some really interesting re-spins as you put it.

Tony
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2003, 08:13:31 AM »

Hi there,

Stephen, as you've probably inferred already, Sorcerer is not an occultist game, nor possibly even a horror game, necessarily. People's replies so far have already presented my standard response to your question (which I've been periodically answering since the game was first made available in 1996). I'm especially sorry that the Gaming Outpost forums are not available, as our own estimable M. J. Young once asked me this very question, leading to an excellent couple of threads which I used to reference routinely. For example, the existence of a "soul" in Sorcerer is strictly a matter of among-group customization and interpretation as well as the interpretation of the term "demon."

So the answer to your basic question, about making the demons more impersonal and "raw power" like, is emphatically Yes. No problem at all.

But given that "define demons as you see fit" is part of the game's design, let's move past that point and go deeper. I really want to focus on this sentence in your post:

"I don't know if I believe in demons or not,"

... and to combine it with one of my observations, which is that everyone has an emotional reaction to the word "demon" regardless of religious orientation. This is important - we aren't talking about "beliefs" at all, but about a concept that is apparently universal to the human mind and emotional profile.

Let's say, for sake of discussion, that you and I agree that "demons" in the common superstition/religion sense of the word do not exist in real life. That they are pure metaphor for something that is itself very real, very troubling, and instantly mentally-accessible to nearly any human being. So when I say "my game is about summoning and commanding demons," two reactions can ensue. The trivial one is to pop the whole issue into denial and turn it into some adolescent, bogus thing like what White Wolf games do (and do, and do, most recently and most literally in Hunter: the Reckoning). The meaty one is to shudder. Just to shudder.

The person who shudders is the one who can play Sorcerer. My question, embodied in the game as a whole, asked in all seriousness and with great personal empathy, is, What are you shuddering about? Answer (to yourself, not here) in terms of real people, real behavior, real events in the actual world. And this answer is supposed to be the core of defining "demon," defining the game term Humanity, setting parameters for sorcerous rituals, and defining the descriptors for character-creation during play.

The really scary point is that whatever it is you're reacting to, there are people who see no way out except to embrace it. This person must want something, and consider it justified in the eyes of God and man (speaking loosely; "God" is yet another issue Sorcerer leaves up to you). And the scary point under that is that there exists, infinitesmally, the chance for heroism arising from that state, with a very, very high price to pay for the more-common result of failure. We are talking about existential trauma and deep-psychology horror in the context of an emotionally-engaging, utterly unavoidable conflict.

Now, I spill the beans on my answer to this question in the thread Navel gazing on the nature of demons. But that's not your answer, necessarily, and I highly encourage you to examine what your answer might be - again, without referring to specific/codified religious beliefs - and to consider how that might be the core of an effective and powerful story premise.

Here are some references, back from the old Sorcerer mailing list (1997-1999), which show you some of the influences that went into the seminal demon/morality supplement, The Sorcerer's Soul. (To clarify: the word "soul" is still to be customized, which the supplement develops very deeply.)

What is a demon?
Demon motives
Demon motives 2

As a general rule, I encourage everyone to browse the Archives page on the website. Some of them are obsolete, and some of them managed to work their way into the actual supplement texts, and some of them are still as full of untapped-potential as ever.

Best,
Ron
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Stephen
Member

Posts: 172


« Reply #6 on: January 23, 2003, 09:52:42 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Let's say, for sake of discussion, that you and I agree that "demons" in the common superstition/religion sense of the word do not exist in real life. That they are pure metaphor for something that is itself very real, very troubling, and instantly mentally-accessible to nearly any human being. So when I say "my game is about summoning and commanding demons," two reactions can ensue. ... The meaty one is to shudder. Just to shudder.

The person who shudders is the one who can play Sorcerer. My question, embodied in the game as a whole, asked in all seriousness and with great personal empathy, is, What are you shuddering about? Answer (to yourself, not here) in terms of real people, real behavior, real events in the actual world.


Hmm.

I think my faith must be more mystical/supernatural in bent than I realized, because thinking hard about this question, I could initially only come up with one answer, which is the straight up reality: demons as monsters from the afterlife of Hell, who basically just want to eat your soul.

I did come up with a "real-world" analogue after some more thought, which is demons as drug addiction, but having nursed a friend through rehab this analogy is far too painful to ever consider making a game out of.  (I can't even laugh about the "Juicer" class in RIFTS the way I used to -- although a "juicer-"type superman PC might make a very good theme for Sorcerer, as we're discussing it here.)

I guess my problem is that anything that makes me shudder at all in the context of this model makes me shudder too much to enjoy the idea of "playing" with it.  Which I suppose is the spiritual equivalent of staying away from spicy food for fear of ruining one's digestion.

Ah, well.  I still intend to pick up Sorcerer & Sword fairly soon, as it sounds like an invaluable resource for pulp-fantasy games.
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Balbinus
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« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2003, 10:13:19 AM »

Quote from: Stephen
Ah, well.  I still intend to pick up Sorcerer & Sword fairly soon, as it sounds like an invaluable resource for pulp-fantasy games.


I'd just like to comment that I used Sorceror and Sword material in my Elric! game with great effect.  It is a tremendous resource and well worth the buying, even if you don't actually play Sorceror.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: January 23, 2003, 10:26:19 AM »

Hi Stephen,

You wrote,
Quote
I guess my problem is that anything that makes me shudder at all in the context of this model makes me shudder too much to enjoy the idea of "playing" with it.


I don't think "problem" is really the right term, maybe "preference" or something like that.

But yes - that's the point. I am not kidding when I say that Sorcerer is intense, or that it's the role-playing equivalent of hard liquor. There's a place you have to choose to go in order to see what it's most deeply about, and there's no just "visiting" that head-space. You come back changed.

(pause)

OK, sepulchral-voice mode /off. It's not that honkin' profound, at least not always. I'm very fond of playing Demon Cops, for instance, which became a whole mini-supplement, and which has a much less Awful approach to the demons/sorcery and has proven itself in play many times. Its Humanity stuff is based on plain old Cop-Show issues like where the law, social stability, and ethics interact uneasily, but not even in a very high-pressure sense.

Best,
Ron
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Bankuei
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« Reply #9 on: January 23, 2003, 12:00:58 PM »

Quote
But yes - that's the point. I am not kidding when I say that Sorcerer is intense, or that it's the role-playing equivalent of hard liquor. There's a place you have to choose to go in order to see what it's most deeply about, and there's no just "visiting" that head-space. You come back changed.


I tend to think of Sorcerer as watching an Aron Aronofski(sp?) film, such as Pi or Requiem for a Dream.   It's not easy, it's not light, but its designed to make you think about things.

Chris
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #10 on: January 24, 2003, 11:25:14 PM »

I want to thank Ron for calling my attention to this thread. I kept up on every thread on the Sorcerer forum at Gaming Outpost, but having only lately started trying to get through The Forge forums as part of my daily routine I have been hesitant to jump into any of the game-specific ones for the sheer volume. However, this is an interesting thread, certainly, and I hope I can contribute something meaningful to it.

Quote from: Stephen
I'll be honest: one reason I've always avoided Sorcerer is that I have a ridiculous, irrational, personal-faith-based objection to the idea of roleplaying summoning demons.

Understand: I don't know if I believe in demons or not, let alone whether it's possible to summon them in reality. What I believe in is not taking chances with your immortal soul -- and thus the notion of doing so in a literal way, using Sorcerer's original terminology, just turns me off on a basic level. Understand also this is in no way a criticism of the game itself, merely an explanation of my reaction to it.


Stephen, first let me introduce myself. My association with Adept games is that Ron Edwards and I have had a lot of great discussions in which we sometimes agreed and sometimes disagreed about game theory, and I've found Sorcerer a fascinating idea I've not yet had the opportunity to try despite knowing about it perhaps since before it was available (very nearly, at least). Currently, I'm the chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild, and among the most visible Christian defenders of role playing games. I've got two degrees in Bible/Theology (plus a doctorate in Law), and ministry experience in broadcasting, teaching, and writing. Unlike you, I quite certainly do believe in demons, and I believe they are every bit as big and bad as most of the legends suggest (although, as Christian doctrine teaches, I believe they are defeated and I'm not afraid of them). I certainly understand the hesitancy to be involved in such a thing, and if we were talking about doing it for real, I would tell you to stay away from it entirely. However, we're talking about doing it in a game, in an imaginary way.

There are a lot of excellent ideas about how to make the demons of the game less like demons, and I don't want to minimize these, because in truth Sorcerer isn't about that kind of summoning of that kind of demon specifically. But what I want to ask is, what if it were?

Let us suppose that we're going to get involved in a role playing game in which our characters are going to actually summon in-game demons, and make real in-game deals with them, trying to trade favors for power, promises for success, payment for magic. In this game, these demons are not toys. It's not as if you can just draw the magic symbol on the ground, pronounce a few words, and conquer these powerful beings such that they are your willing and obedient slaves. There is a real struggle going on here, and you're going to have to give to get. You are playing a dangerous game. If you don't quit before you've gone too far, you're going to lose--but this is the only practical path you've got to reach your dreams. So you're walking the edge, dealing with the devil and trying to get the better of someone who is far smarter, far more powerful, and far more experienced than you will ever be--and who will probably cheat you if you slip.

I've just written Faust. Well, maybe not exactly--but that's the core idea. I have no problem at all with playing a game in which my character loses his soul because he dabbles with the devil. The idea of losing my soul should terrify me. That I can actually see how it could happen to me, through my own choices, is a fabulous lesson to explore. It's a great idea for a game. Do you think playing that would make you more or less likely to make such a deal with the devil in reality?

Now, remembering that Sorcerer doesn't define its demons or its souls in such supernatural terms, but rather lets you craft these to your preferences and the nature of the story you want to tell, I find the stories it can tell even more fascinating. Suddenly Faust is dealing with a devil who doesn't appear with horns and tail, but is hidden in the flux of desires and principles, in the deceptions of the world. The game suddenly informs all of these conflicts with a potentially spiritual dimension. Drug use is like dealing with demons; maybe, in some sense, it is dealing with demons, trying to keep your soul while offering it in exchange for some pleasure or peace. Certain dysfunctions in relationships are also very like dealing with demons. There are many, many ways this concept of dealing with demons, of "selling your soul" to have what you want, is like a veiled notion of dealing with demons.

In some ways, I'm far more afraid of people making the kinds of deals with the devil that most Sorcerer games actually portray--the kind in which they're unaware that Satan exists, but they're selling their soul to something for something that's not worth it. Playing Sorcerer in these contexts has the potential to illuminate exactly that aspect of it: that selling your soul is not worth whatever you're going to get for it.

If you walk away from the game feeling like your character was a complete fool to let himself get destroyed by his desires, you got something good out of it. If you walk away thinking that your character was terribly (in both the ancient and modern sense) fortunate to have escaped as little scathed as he was, you got something good out of it.

I think it's a great idea for a game, and I wish I'd thought of it first.

--M. J. Young
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: January 25, 2003, 10:01:57 AM »

Thanks, M. J. Strong words and strong ideas.

Best,
Ron
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #12 on: January 26, 2003, 09:16:59 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Thanks, M. J.


I'm glad for the opportunity to have said that. I've been musing on it for a long time, and think the Faustian parallel quite natural to the game's concepts. Like so many stories that have been essentially a retelling of MacBeth or Romeo & Juliet in another setting, the idea of telling something so Faustian in so many different ways is compelling.

I hope, anyway, that it helped Stephen deal with his demons, as it were.

--M. J. Young
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Stephen
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Posts: 172


« Reply #13 on: January 27, 2003, 09:22:48 AM »

Quote from: M. J. Young
I have no problem at all with playing a game in which my character loses his soul because he dabbles with the devil. The idea of losing my soul should terrify me. That I can actually see how it could happen to me, through my own choices, is a fabulous lesson to explore. It's a great idea for a game. Do you think playing that would make you more or less likely to make such a deal with the devil in reality?


I can't make that call for anybody other than me, but I can tell you that the identification I regularly feel for my game characters definitely would make me very uneasy about playing somebody willing to make this kind of bargain, whatever terms it was couched in.

The level of personal identification that an RPG brings to the table just changes the dynamic for me; I play RPGs primarily as wish-fulfillment fantasies, and maintaining the separation between myself and my character that would allow me to do this sort of thing with a clear conscience would also destroy the identification that is, for me, what makes the game enjoyable in the first place -- it'd turn it from a fun game into an intellectual exercise in psychology or even psychotherapy.

Which is not without merit, and certainly nothing I'd criticize anybody else for; it just ain't what I lay out my $17.50 for, if you get my drift.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #14 on: January 27, 2003, 06:12:58 PM »

Stephen, I can certainly understand character identification and wish fulfillment as issues; I'd recommend you try Multiverser, but that this is not my forum and it would cost you a bit more than $17.50. There is a degree to which character identification and wish fulfillment are part of the Sorcerer experience; the game is about consequences, too, and that is perhaps where the rub lies.

There are gamers for whom "character identification" and "wish-fulfillment" mean "I can do whatever I want and no one will stop me." I have a lot of trouble with that kind of play, as player characters will kill any non-player character who gets in their way, or merely as a target to rob or a means to some other goal. This gets dangerously close, in my assessment, to really selling your soul to the devil: imagining that the world might be so constituted that no one could stop you from taking whatever you wanted.

Sorcerer, by contrast, says, you can take whatever you want, but there's a price to pay for it; are you willing to pay the price? How much will you pay, and will you be satisfied with what you get for that? Some who push the envelope will reach their desires; others will go down in flames. Sometimes stopping, counting the cost and deciding that what you want is not worth it, may be the best move.

At least, that's how I see play unfolding. Others on this forum are much better informed on that sort of thing.

--M. J. Young
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