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Author Topic: Contemporary Sorcerer: Darker Angels Game  (Read 4817 times)

Posts: 62

« on: October 02, 2003, 01:16:04 AM »

Okay – we’ve now run two full stories (?) of Sorcerer through to completion. The first game was completed some time ago – so please consider this a truly retrospective post.

First off I read some great Sorcerer threads on the Forge and sought some good old advice without which the game might not have got off the ground.

Players and Characters as follows…….

GM:  Me (Alan)

Player: Gary
Character: Stan – failed cop, corporate PI
Demon: ‘Tomy – a scaled anatomist’s model. He needs candy and desires to be a real boy. He’s fantastic at finding stuff.

Player: Fintan
Character:   Max:Down and out tabloid journalist
Demon: Leonard – an invisible giant rat in the Harvey tradition. Needs human milk and desires knowledge.  Leonard is great at watching and finding stuff out.

Player: Cathy
Alexandra: Merchant banker’s daughter
Demon: Alix – possessor demon up-loaded from her mobile. Needs sadistic sexual encounters, desires control over humans. Alix can analyse the stockmarket and predict the future.

Player: Paul
Character: Arthur Bladestun : Shady, socially incompetent, accountant
Demon: Mr. Dunstable – passer demon – Bladestun’s twin that cloaks in his shadow. Needs – human hand fetish, desires mayhem. There’s very little Bladestun can’t rip apart. Dunstable is bound to a satanically graffitied lunch box that must be opened for Dunstable to appear.

Premise: What are you prepared to do for power?
Humanity defined as: Compassion for others.

The Relationship Map and Background
I got the idea from a TV whodunit. Bloke discovers wife is having an affair with his best friend. Bloke ensures excellent alibi, murders friend and dumps murder weapon in trash just before it’s collected.

Dr. Anthony Bernstein was betrayed by his own shape-shifting guardian demon, Cornelius.  Bernstein was having an affair with his secretary, Maggie. Cornelius told Maggie’s husband Jeff about the affair and incited him to stab Bernstein to death. Cornelius’ betrayal was complete when he failed to materialise to protect Bernstein, instead waiting until the deed was done and bundling the Doctor into his car and dumping the body in a nearby reservoir. Cornelius then took up a new life as an underworld mover and shaker.

Kickers then started to play a role in subtlety guiding the back story……..

The relationship map was a series of links between Cornelius, Maggie, Jeff and “the Seven Darks” a relatively undefined sorcerous group to which Bernstein belonged.

Character and Demon Creation
Character creation started with a single email to each of the players:

“Why are you seeing the psychiatrist?”

Players were asked to define their characters’ “helper” and flesh out abilities, needs and desires for their demons, whose nature was pseudo-disguised by labelling them “Darker Angels” (DAs). I stated up and recorded binding strength after receiving players’ responses to some Q&A.

Stan & ‘Tomy
Gary had Stan falling off the rails – a cop and a thief, Stan was finally caught and disgraced. He had been seeing the Dr. because of his kleptomania. Stan planned to transfer and blame for his deed onto the Dr’s anatomist dummy.

Kicker: Things went wrong. ‘Tomy called round at Stan’s house and announced that he wanted to become a real boy.

Max & Leonard
Fintan decided Max was a peeping-tom – forced by the courts to visit the Dr, Max blamed Leonard for all his misdeeds. Fintan decided that a friend, Sam Rosenberg, had been framed for murder. This set up a good premise conflict. Max would have a good friend in trouble but would also have the opportunity to do some sensational reporting on Sam and the murder

Kicker: Fintan wanted a call from Sam at the police station announcing he’d be charged with a murder. I saw an opportunity and decided to introduce a complication to the back story. Sam Rosenberg had been seeing the Dr. and Cornelius used the opportunity to frame him, phoning Max on the night of the murder from the Dr’s mobile and announcing in Sam’s voice – “I killed him – I killed the Dr.”

Alexandra & Alix
Cathy and Paul got some pre-game player knowledge that a murder would feature in the game and wove that into their backgrounds without prompting…..

Cathy decided that Alexandra was scared of crowds and had been visiting the Dr. to sort this problem out. Alix was how she dealt with this – downloading this “fake” personality from her mobile to give her courage when dealing with people. She introduced a fine twist  by wanted to be with the murder victim after he was thought to be dead. Again I tweaked the back story – presuming that a shape shifted Cornelius rather than the Dr. had been with Alix/Alexandra

Kicker: The police show up to interview Alexandra about the murder of Bernstein. She had been “entertaining” him last night, long after the police say he had been killed!

Bladestun & Dunstable
Paul went straight for the throat and decided that Bladestun and Dunstable had always been together – one or other of them had committed a terrible set of murders when then were young. Paul decided that Bladestun and Dunstable only communicate tangentially through messages and third parties– giving rise to his selected kicker which again saw player knowledge being used……….

Kicker: “Arthur woke up this morning to see his mirror covered in a blood scrawled message: I didn’t kill the Dr.”

I made a bad mistake with Bladestun and Dunstable. The way things had turned out, each of DA’s fitted well into a “psychological” box – created perhaps at the instigation of Dr. Bernstein, I thought. Paul had a fantastic idea: the DA Dunstable would be the more reasonable of the partnership and Bladestun, the accountant, would be the murdering nut-job. I vetoed that in typical “me GM- you player” fashion. Paul took the decision in good grace and settled on the normal human-nasty demon relationship.

I arbitrarily set the game in present day Manchester, England. Street maps, a couple of city guides and demonic looking A5 character sheets were provided for play. Everything, including my notes fitted into a mysterious wooden box that took centre stage on the table. Props took the form of Darker Angel representations (a plastic rat for Leonard, a lunch box for Dunstable (Bladestun activated him by opening the box), a toy cellular for Alix and a small painter’s dummy for ‘Tomy).


Posts: 62

« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2003, 01:18:21 AM »

Session 1 – I Can Do What?
Simulationist prioritisation had been our default gaming mode. I had explained that we were going for a more “story now” approach with this game. It’s one thing telling people that, it’s was  getting everyone to buy into it.

I framed the first few mini scenes, replaying the kickers and jumping between follow up actions.  Paul piped up and framed a scene where a group of shady thugs appeared at his office, demanding money he didn’t have. Later I had them try to burgle his house. Bladestun let Dunstable out of the lunch box to dispatch the intruders, the scene cutting when the first screams began.

The other opening scenes also seemed to prioritise exploration of character (both DA and PC). Max was involved in a local “milk run” at the maternity unit of the local hospital where he met Stan who was investigating some corporate misconduct.

The players were a bit reticent to take the initiative with anything meaty so I rolled out a funeral scene for the Dr. where the characters could interact with the major NPCs cluedo style.

The first session ended with Alexandra undertaking to buy the dead Dr’s office building and she suggested that she would find something untoward there.

During the week that followed we berated and congratulated ourselves on our sick and convoluted imaginations, but I was pretty dissatisfied with the progression of story. On the plus side, the players described how each of their characters were using their DAs to “get ahead”. Max failed a humanity roll when we stole a milk bottle from a feeding child. The premise was being addressed! Oh, and I was having a field day playing the DAs.

Session 2 – Watch Me Go!
Session two and the players took their first tentative steps in story development. Could they really influence the story? Would I let them? Cathy had Alexandra bought the Dr.’s office building and she wanted to discover something bad. Where, I asked? Beneath his interview room. The scene unfolded with each of the players added an embellishing detail as Alexandra discovered satanic pentagram above the suspended ceiling, the remnants of a sacrificed rat and the faint whiff of brimstone. Play seemed to take off then.

The players framed a scene at the offices where they all met for the first time. Then there were a series of cthulhu style investigative scenes, mostly framed by the players….

“I’m at the Doc’s house.”

“I’m interviewing Sam”

I threw in a couple of hooks as well. ‘Tomy brought Stan a glowing crystal. “This can make me into a real boy”. This hook didn’t even start to pan out until the second story. I think I got caught up in the excitement and starting throwing superfluous ingredients into the pot. But, like we found in universalis, if there are too many strands, weaving them together can be very complex and time consuming!

The players were fully signed on to scene framing, but we hadn’t nailed resolution yet. In fact, my decision to veto Paul’s vision for the Bladestun-Dunstable relationship, probably created a lot of doubt as to whether I would allow this or not. The session ended on a strange note. Fintan had Max discover that Leonard had been summoned supernaturally. The sleazy tabloid journalist was using the rat to spy on the shenanigans of the great and the good for a tabloid newspaper. Realising that his new success could be at the expense of his mortal soul, Max travelled to a nearby church, determined to conduct an ad hoc exorcism. I was getting worried that the premise was not being addressed and that a character was going to be sans one DA!

Session Three – McGuffin Revealed

I read Ron’s Lincoln High Sorcerer Demo and was quite taken with the method for creating flashbacks. Cathy and Gary were pretty keen to find out what had gone on in the Dr’s interview room when their DAs had been summoned, so we used flashbacks. Cathy decided on some x-rated summoning scene details for Alix’s creation and Gary had some suitable animal sacrifice in the basement for ‘Tomy.

Then I introduced the McGuffin – a recorded answering machine message from Maggie to the Dr., where the true nature of their relationship was revealed.  Moreover, Bladestun and Max ransacked the Dr’s house and discovered some arcane scribbling eluding to Cornelius and his demonic nature.

Then we had some demonic stuff going on.  Alexandra wanted Alix to use her prescience power and find out where Cornelius was. Alix demanded a night on the town and some hot action! She got her way. Ron had given some good advice on how to keep Alexandra protaganized while Alix possessed her (using Will and Lore to represent conflict between the demon and host) and we had a comedic scene where Alexandra’s limbs resisted Alix’s excesses! Alexandra made more than one humanity roll as she successful managed to painfully “exploit” Alix’s victims to meet the DA’s need.

We had a good fight scene – Paul asked for it between games and I provided some thugs who Cornelius incited to scare of the group. We could all see the dilemma on Paul’s face as he battled with himself over whether or not to open up his lunch box and let Dunstable out. The thugs got the upper hand and, in the end, he did. Mayhem ensued, the scene ending with munching on some of the assailants’ hands……..

The session ended when the characters caught up with poor old Jeff. Currently being teasingly blackmailed by Cornelius, he revealed that his wife had run off and left him and he had started a grade A drug habit. Humanity checks ensued as Max collected every headline grabbing quote he could for the next day’s copy and Alix demanded her fun with the unfortunate murderer. The session ended with the door closing to Jeff’s apartment while inside, Alix confidently smashed a beer bottle.

Session Four – Come on Down
The final session began with a discussion about how to defeat Cornelius. The players somehow just “got it” in the final week. Between them they decided that they would need the object that summoned Cornelius, the knife that killed the Dr. and a ceremony involving fire.

After a dead end, GM driven scene with Dr. Timocrates, an associate of Dr. Bernstein who wanted the characters to join the Seven Darks, we  embarked on the final few, player driven scenes.

We all decided that the Dr. had summoned Cornelius with a pentagram pendant that he still wore in his grave. So a grave-robbing they did go. More thugs appeared, and this time Bladestun had armed himself with a .38. It a tricky fight, Leonard revealed a new power by giving Stamina to Max after biting him. The character were injured but triumphed.

Next up the characters went for the murder weapon that ‘Tomy said he had tracked down to the city dump. Obviously on something Fraggle Rock related and still obsessed with the Seven Darks, I introduced Quis Quillae – a demon passing as a trash mountain, summoned by the Seven Darks to act as an oracle. After giving Quis a dog or two to eat (and a humanity check as poor young Jonnie discovered his pet was missing) the party were ready for the final scene.

The session itself ended with the characters jointly summoning Cornelius in an occult graveyard ceremony only to narrowly fail their dismissal role. “Cornelius is about to break the circle” interjects Paul, “use some gas from my vespa to draw a new flaming one” suggests Fintan……….

Adios Cornelius. Humanity gain rolls for all involved.  

Summary All of the players thoroughly enjoyed the game.  Getting into the whacky scene framing / resolution frame of mind only fully came to pass in the final session. I think this came down to our “not the right way to game” paradigm, trust between players, and more importantly, between players and GM. Our patience paid off though. Three of four kickers were resolved as they were deeply ingrained with the story – Alexandra was with Cornelius the night of the murder, not the Dr, Dunstable didn’t kill the Dr. and Sam wasn’t guilty either. Gary’s kicker for Stan nearly reached an awful – humanity checking – conclusion. He found a real boy in a coma and wanted to use that as a vessel for ‘Tomy to control. But that’s for another story.

We brought a gamist “solve the mystery” style of play to the table for a bit, but when the players realised the power that they ahd and I fully bought into my narrative “contractual obligations” we created some great scene. We were also a bit lax in addressing the premise at times. There were some personal gain vs helping people scenes – Sam in the slammer and the intrusion into people’s lives that the DAs demanded, filled that role to a certain extent.

We’ve played Universalis since doing the game and it will be interesting to see whether, when the next Darker Angel game comes round, we’re more confident in calling for and executing scenes.

I also want to see if I can make amends for stamping on Paul’s characterisation of Dunstable as the restraining force in the Demon-Human relationship.

Any advice in good practice, techniques or the psychology of scene framing will be very well received!

Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 10459

« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2003, 09:40:29 AM »

Sounds like a great game.

I'm wondering why the predilection with the radical scene framing. Ron does promote it, but I don't think that it's a requirement. More importantly, did you as GM frame any scenes?


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Posts: 62

« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2003, 12:29:42 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Sounds like a great game.

I'm wondering why the predilection with the radical scene framing. Ron does promote it, but I don't think that it's a requirement. More importantly, did you as GM frame any scenes?


Thanks Mike.

I had a few ideas prep'ed, such as the funeral scene, but I wanted the players to have, an equal input - at least in theory - old habits die hard and all.

Later, in the last couple of sessions when the players were throwing ingredients into the pot, I did the same. I think my ingredients should have been more focused on the story though and, although I wasn't obsessed with tying up all the loose ends we left more than a little hanging. Good for the next outting though.

As for the predilection with the radical scene framing (!), I wanted to get away from our usual prioritisation of setting/character toward a "story now" game. The scene framing tool seemed to accomodate this.

Interestingly, I had taken heed about not wrapping kickers up too tightly in the backstory, but a couple of the players had a whiff off that backstory and tied their characters in autonomously. Didn't seem to harm the game (though made the GM work harder between games keeping his notes up to date).

As I mentioned my biggest regret was not letting Paul run with his DA is my conscience idea. I'd like to turn that around somehow, maybe retrospectively the accountant could be the demon or something.....

Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2003, 07:09:29 AM »

Hi Alan,

I'm stilling mulling over larger-scale feedback for your first two posts, but here are a couple of points from your last one.

had taken heed about not wrapping kickers up too tightly in the backstory, but a couple of the players had a whiff off that backstory and tied their characters in autonomously. Didn't seem to harm the game (though made the GM work harder between games keeping his notes up to date).

That's the whole point of the GM keeping his grubby "make it all work together" paws out of the mix, or at least keeping that behavior from being the default. A given Kicker will often force its way into the back-story (e.g. Beth's character Victoria in my necromancy game), as the GM sees it. Or, a player will often do that very same thing and force the GM to respond and/or alter the prep. If this happens with even one of the player-characters, then the "connections" button is pressed for everyone, sufficient unto the purpose of "unification." It's a reliable phenomenon as long as the GM doesn't jump the gun on it in early prep; if he does, whammo - the players will never form the connections themselves.

As I mentioned my biggest regret was not letting Paul run with his DA is my conscience idea. I'd like to turn that around somehow, maybe retrospectively the accountant could be the demon or something.....

I think you're tossing a bit too much dust and ashes on yourself about this. Remember, you're a player and fellow artist too; if your self-assessed "can I handle it" alarm goes off, maybe you should listen.

Can you know for sure? No. Maybe you stepped on a great potential story-thing. But conversely, maybe you provided a necessary constraint. No one can tell. But whichever, it's time to move on.


Posts: 62

« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2003, 11:57:19 PM »

Thanks Ron!

I ended on a couple of negatives in the epilogue - but the game was an absolute blast! I am pretty sure that 'demon as conscience' was a pretty good idea, I just had a "this is how I want the game to go" approach. I don't think it would have been too difficult to put this inside a dysfunctional relationship envelope.

As far as the kickers go  - yeah they seem to have worked because they were owned entirely by the players - irregardless of whether or not they were embedded in the back story.

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