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Author Topic: Test Drive  (Read 5471 times)
Catalyst
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Posts: 25


« on: May 09, 2003, 08:26:28 AM »

Hello, all, I ran a game using genericized Sorcerer mechanics a couple weekends ago and wanted to gab about it.

It was a one-shot, a game where the players were part of the crew of a starship using a new kind of drive engine. They were on a test drive, so to speak, so I named the event, "Test Drive". The setting was simple, a freighter that had taken a trip parallel to the ecliptic of our solar system using this new drive to go further out into space faster than mankind had before. The freighter had be refitted with the new drive and had its "old" drives intact and suspended animation pods in it "just in case".

Of course, there was a "case". You see, the new drive used a special kind of material, a superconductive mixture built from a carbon base that was crated up so as to be practically invulnerable. The crates were cubes about 10' per side built out of some hyper-alloy we never named, but basically they were really tough until they were dropped into an opening in the new drive. Each morning, a robotic arm would grab one of these cubes and drop it into the drive to disintegrate slowly in the quantum chaos whatever field in there. Without doing this once a day, power to the new drive would diminish to nothing in about 12 hours. Since the new drive was moving the ship along at a dozen or more times as quickly as the regular old drive, keeping the drive running was important to finish the mission rapidly. Total mission time was 2 weeks, one week out and one week back with a full turn in the middle of the trip. On the old regular drive, it would have been years. The physics were a little botched, but that was ok.

Well, all this just describes the stuff and the drive. The fun part is that the mixture gathers up static electricity like mad, molecules align randomly and .. well .. the mess becomes sentient. Hee hee!

The fuel spends plenty of its time and energy trying to communicate, to find out why each day part of its collective being gets destroyed, but hey, it's new at this interfacing with a human nervous system and kind of botches things a few times. Well, in the game we had one suicide, one permanent religious bliss, one exploded skull... You get the picture. Only NPCs were harmed in the filming of this picture, but the potential was there for the PCs to have attempts made for the "fuel" to communicate with them also.

So, you have the basic setting and my plot ideas in a nutshell. How did I use Sorcerer for this?

First, I built a relationship map with some fun entanglements for the crew. Players were allowed to pick any of the crew to play but the security liason. I had him pegged as the first to be incapacitated in the game, part of the first Bang. Characters were therefore pregen characters. The players didn't quite know what to expect other than they were going to be part of the crew on a starship.

Next, I built the characters using Sorcerer's basic system with a couple of tweaks. Lore became Knowledge. I meant it as more of an inner self knowledge than anything else, maybe a technological expertise if needed and Cover didn't .. ahem .. cover an issue. Humanity was normal Humanity, leaning more toward sanity and degree of connection with humanity. It was pretty vague, but I didn't worry about it. Might have been better to add another attribute called Sanity that the fuel's Taint would affect and have Humanity just be a measure of empathy. Sanity dropping to zero would hand the character over to me. I dunno. This worked out fine. Cover became Job. Same thing, different name. I tweaked Descriptors to match a "low tech" sci-fi setting as needed. No ray guns, more of an "Alien" type of technology level. Price became Flaw. Gave 'em all social issues, pretty much. Heh.

I figured that the fuel would be kind of like a demon in the regular game, but very powerful with abilities that it was the user of. No conferring. with a Taint ability that was usable at range. I didn't quantify it, just decided to make it stronger as time went by. Each Taint attempt knocked out some of the target's sanity/Humanity. I also gave it a Special Damage: Lethal attack using electrical arcs.

Eight characters to play, and a tangled web of relation issues between them. A big bad that the characters had to discover and deal with, subplots to explore, and boom, we were ready. I've had the idea for this one-shot for many years now, but didn't have a system that I felt I could run it with well or some of the plot/roleplaying tools that I have now. Sorcerer did the trick on both counts. I think I actually physically worked on the relationship map and the crew character sheets for about an hour and a half. All the rest was in my head. That was it. Oh, Kickers were all related to the relationship map with a couple additional "something's up with the drive" sub-Kickers as well.

How did the game go? It was mighty excellent. One player found out that their sensors, normally used to monitor the drive, could pick up "mental" or "energy" activity from the fuel, though they didn't know what the source was through most of the game. When an EKG-like bunch of activity started to mount, the player knew that something was happening somewhere on the ship, and finding out who had what happen was part of the fun. The players played well and we all had an excellent time working toward an ending to the story. I let go of a need to have the story go in any particular direction and they came up with jettisoning the fuel out into space. It was tense and very cool. The fuel was shot out into space to orbit, land, evolve, whatever, and the PCs ended up spending a few years in hibernation.

Dice rolling was held to a minimum. I think there were a total of three rolls, two were Humanity checks for one of the players whose character had a Flaw that he liked machines more than humans, so he was playing it well. The last roll was a resistance roll between the Will of the player pulling the handle to open the doors that would jettison the fuel and the fuel's Will at the time. I just made it an even contest with the fuel having one more die and the player won by one success. Another PC was ordered to stop the door opening process, looked at the situation, thought about the ramifications, and said they were just too far away to have an effect, though they were well within range. Good stuff.

So, I've rambled on about the plot, the stat shifting I did... Why did it work so well for me? Well, I think most of it was the pre-plotting I did. I had ideas about different characters before creating them and then took their flaws and personalities and tried to figure out how they'd react if their nervous systems were overloaded. The religious guy who liked to build houses of cards manifested a kind of telekinesis in the mess hall, and thought God was telling him to create a big sculpture out of anything he could find. The sculpture was being held together by no normal physics. The security guy who knew secrets about everyone heard the screams of the dying fuel in the drive and blew his brains out. Above and beyond this, the players provided extra tension by playing their characters, Flaws and all, very well. All of us rose to the occasion, so to speak.

I've read about this happening with other groups and didn't think it was quite correct, or a fluke, or something. Nope, it happens, folks. Just give good explanations, admit that the players' collective creative ability is probably better than yours, and discuss anything that comes up that's iffy, and you'll probably have a winning combo.

I had plenty of potential Bangs to throw in, the players reactions were good, more Bangs cropped up from their actions... We did the Dance, as I think I've read Ron talk about it. It was probably the easiest GMing I've ever had to do because there was no set script, no locations the players had to visit in order, just a starting plot and a bunch of creative people following basic rules of engagement to create this story together. I removed my need for a given plot line, a given result, and let the game flow as it would.

The last piece that made this successful is probably the most important, in my opinion. I used a game system that created this kind of experience extremely well. Sorcerer just does this amazingly effectively. This basic glue allowed for the speedy creation of interesting enmeshed characters that I don't think other systems would have created as effectively. It allowed not only for a basic framework, but it allowed me to be pretty relaxed about it as well, to pull away from dice-mongering and just play, but stay within the rules system. The rules were there if I needed them, but I didn't have to if I didn't want to. Sure, this is implicit in any roleplaying game, but I haven't seen another game system that allows as simple a shift between using the rules and not using the rules, or one that as explicitly stated that die rolling isn't a focus of the game without leaving things way TOO open.

Ron and I have been corresponding about this a touch via email and something he mentioned hit home for me this morning about Sorcerer while working on this post. The Currency, the 1 point = 1 success = 1 die, etc., is so simple, yet so powerful with this system, you can slip between story vs. dice modes with hardly a thought. This gives a bunch of freedom to Sorcerer GMs because there aren't a bunch of rules sitting around about attacks of opportunity or spell levels or difficulty factors, the GM can just think up new Bangs while the players play. The rules stay out of the way of the story. It's pretty amazing to experience.

I probably missed a bunch of interesting details, I know I rambled a lot, so any questions or comments, lay 'em on me. I'll be checking here every few days to see what's new, so I'll be around :) Thank you very much to Ron and all of the other people who have contributed here and elsewhere to Sorcerer for a FINE bunch of work. Without your recipes, my Test Drive game wouldn't have been nearly as interesting.

-Brant
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2003, 08:35:28 AM »

Yay!

'Course, the way I tend to put it is that the system facilitates the role-playing rather than "stays out of the way."

Are you planning to continue play? My impression from your writeup is that the story's over, but I could be wrong. If it does continue, or if you use the Sorcerer rules again for a continuing game, I'll be interested to see whether your ratio of rolls-to-real-time goes up. I suspect that it will, and that the role-playing and shared-authorship will be further facilitated thereby rather than reduced.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #2 on: May 09, 2003, 09:12:35 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

'Course, the way I tend to put it is that the system facilitates the role-playing rather than "stays out of the way."


I dunno. I think that Brant's statement may be telling. I think that to quite an extent that he did just avoid the system. Three rolls? Not to mention the twisting he did to the game the system before hand? How was the result Sorcerer? Brant, the system in Sorcerer is supposed to get quite a bit of use. It's supposed to be a spingboard for play, not something that just "allows" other play to occur.

What I'm saying is that it seems to me that Brant may have just been spurred on past the point of Sorcerer by it's indications. He may just be a Freeformer who needed something like Sorcerer to be a guidepost to get him out of classic TT play.

Sorry to rain, but that's how it reads to me.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2003, 10:17:20 AM »

Hi Mike,

That works for me too, but the jury's still out on which way it would go if play continued.

Best,
Ron
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Catalyst
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Posts: 25


« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2003, 10:35:39 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Yay!

'Course, the way I tend to put it is that the system facilitates the role-playing rather than "stays out of the way."

Are you planning to continue play? My impression from your writeup is that the story's over, but I could be wrong. If it does continue, or if you use the Sorcerer rules again for a continuing game, I'll be interested to see whether your ratio of rolls-to-real-time goes up. I suspect that it will, and that the role-playing and shared-authorship will be further facilitated thereby rather than reduced.


I like that terminology. I used the rules extensively, with tweaks, to facilitate a great roleplaying experience. Character creation was the main use of them here, but I was confident that if I needed them later, the rules were there, ready to use.

Sorcerer's main rule-heavy interactions are between characters and demons, and there really weren't any demons per se in this. The facility for interaction was there, but I hit the NPCs first, with results that I worked out on the fly, sometimes with the players' opinions included. The players didn't want to be picked for interaction by the time the session was done, for some reason. Heheh!

I think this one's closed. We came to a satisfactory group conclusion on it and while questions lingered about what happened to the survivors, this story is done.

There just wasn't much in the way of issues occurring that required elements of chance to be involved in Test Drive. That's a call on my part, of course, but there wasn't real combat (I figure a suicide with a gun to the head isn't combat), no "wrangling" with demons, no use of a Job skill that was ambiguous. For example, the lead engineer should be able to generally diagnose a damaged part of the ship without a roll, it's just a matter of how much time it takes to figure out that a hole in a part existed and that behind it there was melted slag, disabling the part in question pretty much for the duration of the trip. The guy blowing his brains out was much more of a punch without any die rolls, just with me describing, in detail, with pauses for players to act or react, what was going on. Players were mainly wide-eyed, horrified, and confused. It was great, and I felt that dice would have mangled the moment, since I wanted a good Bang to burst open the horror aspect of the story.

Rapid plot exposition was important so I figured that if characters should be able to perceive or do something, they should be able to perceive or do it without shifting gears by asking for rolls. The fuel didn't try to communicate with any of the PCs, either, just with NPCs. That and physical conflict would have been the most likely sources of more die rolling.

We were all surprised that there were so few rolls when it was over, but we all agreed that there just wasn't a need for them for this game. It worked very well without them this time.
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Catalyst
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Posts: 25


« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2003, 11:12:05 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Quote from: Ron Edwards

'Course, the way I tend to put it is that the system facilitates the role-playing rather than "stays out of the way."


I dunno. I think that Brant's statement may be telling. I think that to quite an extent that he did just avoid the system. Three rolls? Not to mention the twisting he did to the game the system before hand? How was the result Sorcerer? Brant, the system in Sorcerer is supposed to get quite a bit of use. It's supposed to be a spingboard for play, not something that just "allows" other play to occur.

What I'm saying is that it seems to me that Brant may have just been spurred on past the point of Sorcerer by it's indications. He may just be a Freeformer who needed something like Sorcerer to be a guidepost to get him out of classic TT play.

Sorry to rain, but that's how it reads to me.


I'm not sure what you mean by TT play, but I definitely did avoid most of the Sorcerer system because of the lack of much demon interaction in this story. I may be die-shy right now. See later in this post for details on that.

This was a story I'd wanted to tell for a long time, and tweaked Sorcerer rules worked for it. I could have used many other systems for it, but would have had to tweak more. I chose Sorcerer because of the built-in character interaction aspects that I could infuse the base story with and the concept of using the demon rules to describe the fuel appealed to me. It all fell nicely into place after I decided that I'd use Sorcerer as a base. I'm not saying that my tweaks are necessary to enjoyment of the game by any means, just that it provided a fine framework for this particular story. It might work for other similar stories, I guess. Sorcerer provided a nice base stock for me to cook this up with. That's about it

Label me all you like, the players and I had a great time. I could be a Freeformer, I could be a lot of things, I dunno. I'm not hip to the terminology here, I guess.

This was my first face to face GMing experience in 3-4 years. That experience was also a one-shot and it was preceded by a similar roleplaying "desert". I have been trying to figure out what I like and don't like in roleplaying and think I hit one type of game that I like with this one-shot. I'm recovering from a long bout with GMs that could have just written stories themselves rather than railroading players through game sessions, so maybe I'm compensating, I dunno.

I do know that I had a damn good time and wanted to share my recipe like others have done here. Want to dissect my gaming likes/dislikes/style? Ask away, but be ready for some dumb newbie questions and I also have a tendency to misunderstand long conversations that I'm not directly involved in :D

-Brant
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2003, 12:28:49 PM »

I'm not judging you in any way, Brant. I'm just trying to determine if, in fact, it was Sorcerer, or something else that led to your success. I'm not bashing Sorcerer, either (I'm in three games right now, and writing a supplement for it). I think there may be more going on here. As Ron points out, hard to say now that the game's at an end. And we wouldn't want you to push on either. Just saying that one tool is gone now.

I'm having trouble with:
Quote
I chose Sorcerer because of the built-in character interaction aspects that I could infuse the base story with ... appealed to me.
What aspects were those, particularly?

BTW, TT just stands for Table-Top, as in RPGS like face to face D&D, and not Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) or Computer RPGs (CARP), etc.

Freeform is just play with the minimum of rules. Often the only rules are something like "Players can describe whatever they like happening as long as it doesn't mess with other player's stories."

A somewhat Freeform system that might appeal to you might be:

Players describe characters including their relationships to each other, and then in play decide what the characters do.
The GM describes the world, and decides what the results of declared actions are. In case of uncertainty he flips a coin.

Would that be enough system for you? If not, what's missing?

Mike
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Catalyst
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« Reply #7 on: May 09, 2003, 03:24:10 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
I'm just trying to determine if, in fact, it was Sorcerer, or something else that led to your success. I'm not bashing Sorcerer, either (I'm in three games right now, and writing a supplement for it). I think there may be more going on here. As Ron points out, hard to say now that the game's at an end. And we wouldn't want you to push on either. Just saying that one tool is gone now.


Hmm. There was more going on. I don't mean to bash Sorcerer either, but a great game system doesn't make a great game, so there had to be other factors involved. Seems axiomatic to me. A great game system can HELP make a great game, but it's not everything. In this case, I feel that Sorcerer laid a great foundation. I tweaked it until I had something that worked well for what I wanted.

I'm not sure what tool you mean. Maybe I'm starting to lose track of conversations I *am* in, too... hahah.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
I'm having trouble with:
Quote
I chose Sorcerer because of the built-in character interaction aspects that I could infuse the base story with ... appealed to me.
What aspects were those, particularly?


Good question, it made me think some more. It wasn't the game itself forcing interaction now that I think about it, it's a mixture of Sorcerer-related techniques and usage of Sorcerer's Kickers. Let me lay it out as best I can.

Sorcerer's Kickers are great for drawing players into a story or creating new ones. Given in the main book.

Add in the idea given in Sorcerer's Soul for a relationship map for the NPCs, which is not strictly a Sorcerer mechanic, but I hadn't seen the idea elsewhere. I built up one for the entire crew on the ship in Test Drive, not knowing beforehand exactly which characters would be PCs and which would be NPCs.

I read on here something where Ron was helping a GM out to get the PCs' demons involved in a Sorcerer game through the PCs' Kickers. Ron felt that involving PC demons was nearly a necessity when drawing up Kickers, opening up another aspect of possible Kicker usage in my mind: Framing inter-character relationships between PCs. It's not a new idea to people here, I imagine, but it was new to me.

I used Kickers to give character interaction/relationship map information on the character sheets that wasn't as explicit as what I had in my master map and to get the soap opera aspects of the game off to a good start.

So, I guess it wasn't an explicit Sorcerer rules-usage so much as an interpretation of possible Sorcerer rules-usage. It's something I could have done with another system, too, with more tweaks but it's a mechanic I saw first in Sorcerer that was expanded on here.

That leaves my comment about character interaction in Sorcerer in limbo a bit. Sorry about that, thanks for asking me to detail a bit more about it, I enjoyed thinking further on it.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
BTW, TT just stands for Table-Top, as in RPGS like face to face D&D, and not Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) or Computer RPGs (CARP), etc.


Thanks for clarifying. I understand TT and have a long history with the things, but was there a distinction drawn between TT games and Sorcerer or Freeform games that I've missed?

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Freeform is just play with the minimum of rules. Often the only rules are something like "Players can describe whatever they like happening as long as it doesn't mess with other player's stories."

A somewhat Freeform system that might appeal to you might be:

Players describe characters including their relationships to each other, and then in play decide what the characters do.
The GM describes the world, and decides what the results of declared actions are. In case of uncertainty he flips a coin.

Would that be enough system for you? If not, what's missing?


I like rules light systems, but haven't done anything that light. I think I might be thoroughly a-feared of it, especially with the players I'm working with! Heheh! I was reading about how Sorcerer is and isn't light on rules in another thread here this morning, so I don't want to get into that. I think that this freeform example would be too rules-light for me, but can't quantify why beyond not having enough detail for conflict resolution and not enough anti-abuse rules. With the right group, I could see the above example working well, but I'd be nervous about running it.

I have been undergoing a big fundamental shift in how I view RPGs in the past few years more toward freeform games, but I'm not sure I'd like them because of a huge history with rulesy games. We'll see as I run more games in the future.

Umm... How about I try an examples approach to my favored rules levels. D&D3E is too much. 5-point FUDGE, Talislanta in any of its incarnations, or the generic D6 rules (the ones the original Star Wars game were based on) are about right. TRoS has light and heavy bits and I'm up in the air on that one, though I really like almost all of the concepts and implementations. GURPS is a little toward the heavy end of about right after character generation, heavy during character generation, though I used to love it dearly. I can't think of any games offhand that are too light that I've played, maybe Mage has too slushy a magic system.

Does that give a better idea? Maybe I'm rulesy with freeformistic tendencies? Heheh!

Whew, long post.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #8 on: May 09, 2003, 04:09:15 PM »

Hi Catalyst,

Have you read the comic series Heavy Liquid?  It was rather interesting in that it invovled a mysterious liquid substance that was procured from a meteorite, which could either be used to make an insanely powerful non-nuclear high explosive...or, be used as a mind altering drug.  The liquid itself wasn't sentient, but rather the "vehicle" used by a sentient force which was made up of some form of radio waves.  

Cool ideas, and glad to hear you've had a good time.  Were you using Sorcerer alone, or Soul along with it?

Chris
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Catalyst
Member

Posts: 25


« Reply #9 on: May 09, 2003, 09:01:18 PM »

Quote from: Bankuei
Have you read the comic series Heavy Liquid?  It was rather interesting in that it invovled a mysterious liquid substance that was procured from a meteorite, which could either be used to make an insanely powerful non-nuclear high explosive...or, be used as a mind altering drug.  The liquid itself wasn't sentient, but rather the "vehicle" used by a sentient force which was made up of some form of radio waves.  

Cool ideas, and glad to hear you've had a good time.  Were you using Sorcerer alone, or Soul along with it?


Hi, Bankuei, good to "meet" you.

No, I haven't read Heavy Liquid. It sounds interesting and very close to what I was working with for this one-shot.

In Test Drive, the idea was to create a moral conflict where this life form was being exterminated, but if it weren't, there were going to be complications for the crew. I didn't play that up as much as I could have, but there was one NPC who did give an earful to most of the PCs about the sanctity of life during the session, so the concept got some airtime.

I was mostly using Sorcerer concepts, but I used ideas from Soul concerning relationship maps and extra information on Humanity. The relationship map information in Soul is amazing for creating plots, subplots, and sub-subplots. If you haven't seen that or tried it in a game, I highly recommend Soul just for that information. Humanity in Test Drive was pretty straightforward, but the expanded Humanity data in Soul was good to have in the back of my head.
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