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Why Should the Narrativist Premise be Pre-Set in Sorcerer?

Started by marcus, December 09, 2003, 06:40:34 AM

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Clinton R. Nixon


I think some of the confusion here comes not from the game text, but social expectations of players. I see this often online - "gamers," whatever that might be, are praised for being more creative, smart, and funny than other people, but when cooperation actually playing a game is mentioned, people say, "But gamers - you know them. This guy'll want to do X, and this one will want to do Y, and this guy will disrupt everything, but, shucks, that's gamers, and you have to deal with it."

Here's an alternate view, which changes the outcome of multiple player-written Kickers significantly. Adam, Bob, and Carl are in my group, and we're going to play Sorcerer, and we've talked about it some. We don't have an entire setting sketched out - and don't plan to - but we've got some notes, and some themes are emerging. Now, we make up characters as a group. When Adam mentions something cool, Bob says, "And my character can tie in here..." and Carl presents his character as a sort of foil to the coolness. Point being, these three work together to create characters and Kickers that can't help but work together: even if the characters don't have previous relationships between them - and usually, they don't - they've got thematic direction which will bring them barreling towards each other.

I just don't believe players will actively make characters that will strain or damage a focused game.
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games

Ron Edwards

Hi Marcus,

All I can say is that you seem to have a concept of "single Premise" in your mind that doesn't correspond to any practical reality that I can think of, in actual play terms.

1. Starting Premise = very general (e.g., Humanity = letting go of one's dead; sorcery = necromancy)

2. Character creation + demon creation + general social creative interactions, culminating in Kickers (whole ton of versions of not-letting-go, based on ignorance, embracing of helplessness, guilt, or anger)

Result = several individual and highly localized takes on the Premise, all "linked" simply because they're each consistent with the general one. Note: if at any point, any of these seem inconsistent with the starting Premise, then tweak whatever seems most fruitful in order to resolve it.

3. GM goes to town with prep with NPCs and whatnot all built to provide adversity suited to addressing the Premise(s).

4. Actual play; through about two sessions, everyone's appreciation of one another's localized Premises becomes a shared and excited appreciation (and desire to resolve) the general Premise.

I don't see any sign of the kind of "single Premise" you are concerned about, which apparently is supposed to contradict any or all of the character-specific ones. I see points of intersection and reinforcement among all of the characters (even if it's purely thematic and the characters have nothing to do with one another in in-game causal terms, to take the most extreme possibility).

In fact, what you're describing is almost unfathomable. It strikes me as the common fear-response I get in discussing Sorcerer - "But, but but, what if ..." statements, such as "What if the Kicker doesn't hook the character into the back-story?" or "What if the characters never meet up?" or similar. Not only do these things not happen, but the GM doesn't have to take steps to make sure they don't happen. They're non-issues.




I agree in full both with Clinton and Ron.  I also know where you're coming from because I did the same thing when I first started playing Sorcerer.  And Ron's right, they're non-issues.  It just doesn't happen.

But I'm kind of a learn-by-example kind of guy so I thought I'd revisit the concrete examples I posted earlier and show you what a "typical" Sorcerer PC "group" looks like in full.

Okay, so for the Gothic Fantasy I brought this to the table: Humanity = Emotional Sanity.  Demons = Ghosts and Goblins.

The three PCs I got were:

Karl, the nobel with the never aging golden haired boy whom only Karl could see.  His Kicker was that his real son has returned home after leaving against Karl's wishes so long ago.

Levant, a wealthy merchant whose wife was murdered.  His demon was his wife whom he brought back from the dead.  His Kicker was that he'd finally come to his senses and realized the artificiality of his "marriage" and indeed he has fallen in love with another woman, herself, also married.

Finally, the third character was a bandit slave (the character's name eludes me).  I was allowing characters to start without Demons in this game and he opted for that.  His Kicker was that he'd been captured in a raid by the local militia and imprisoned.  However, a local peasent uprising has just set him free for the first time in his life.

Note: That third Kicker MAY at first glace seem a bit disjoint from the other two but in fact it's not because within the first session the PLAYER turned it into a revenge story against the bandit king who enslaved him in the first place.

In the Space-Western Game the setup was: Humanity = Being Civilized (respecting the rule of law), Demons = This, admittedly was a little vague for this game.  I don't think we ever really arrived at a definition which I think hampered the game slightly but it was none the less.

The three PCs I got were:

The Sheriff, I mentioned in the other post with his tin cup demon.  Again, the Kicker was that his outlaw father had been spotted on the station.

Thomacina Quinn, the owner and opperator of Quinn Station, a center for trade out in the further most reaches of space.  Her Demon was the Space Station itself.  Her Kicker was that an envoy from the Terran Government had arrived requesting that she have a criminal who operates out of her station arrested.  The key was that this particular criminal was operating with her sanction as a sort of Privateer.

Takash Kirit, a space smuggler with a possessor demon that was currently hosting inside some kind of giant space slug.  His Kicker was that an interstellar repo-man from one of the "fringe" governments had shown up and was threatening to take his space craft unless he agrees to assassinate the envoy mentioned in Quinn's Kicker.

Notice that PC3 went out of his way to tie his Kicker in with PC2.  That's always a nice touch when it happens but it is by no means necessary.

Hope this was useful.



Quote from: Ron EdwardsThe quibbly part is this: "tied into what's going on ..." I look at it the other way 'round entirely. The Kickers are what's going on. The GM must treat his own back-story and prep (to this point) as subordinate to the Kickers, in order to provide them with as much meat as possible.

Yes, it may appear that the Kicker hooks the player-character into the GM's prepped material, but that is a mis-perception based on habit - the cognitive process involved is precisely the reverse. It hooks the GM's prep into the player's material.
I admit I'm floored by this.
Not in the way you may be dreading, but in the opposite way -- that this even had to be said. I guess I didn't realize how much a hurdle this was to overcome for some folks (particularly given Ralph's note about the RPGNet thread...).

When I said my part about the Kickers playing into everything above, I assumed this would just be obvious: the Kickers are the story, by creating them, the players have just told you what gameplay is going to be about.

That's why developing Premise after the game has begun works: you find out what the game focuses on based on what players submit to the GM as Kickers, and how they act and what they do during play.

The GM is like a writer-by-dictation, with the player doing the dictating, "Ok, I need one-thousand words on this subject, and here's what I want it to focus on, and make these points."

He's not at the helm of creative control, he's subordinate to the players in this regard; like a navigator and captain, the GM is the navigator and it's the captain (the players) who tells him where to go. The navigator just keeps the group on course and out of the rocks, though he has no final say on what that course actually is.

In regards to the one Premise issue, I don't necessarily agree that it doesn't or can't occur. My 3E game keeps hitting on the Premise "What is the importance of family?" in various ways -- in a fashion akin to having multiple sub-Premises underneath this one ("How far would you go to save your family?" "What would you do for your family?" "What do you do to family that gets in your way?" "What is the importance of a family?" and even "What is a family?").

A couple other Premises have cropped up in play as well, such as "What would you do, how far would you go, to gain power and respect?" (assorted questions about deserving those items appear as well) and "What would you do for love?" but they all keep tying back into the family issues in the game.

So what I keep seeing something like a hierarchy of Premises, all of which keep returning to the central one in the end. Such an occurence would also occur in Sorcerer, particularly given the Humanity/Demon conflict and its intersection with Kickers.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio


Although I think I am getting a good feel for this now on a practical level, some of the things being said seem to me to conflict with the distinction that was pointed out near the start of this thread that Premise is what you start with and Theme what emerges during play.

Raven wrote:
QuoteA couple other Premises have cropped up in play

Surely whatever crops up in play cannot be Premise (which is pre-determined) but presumably is Theme. All sorts of issues might emerge in actual play by way of Theme, some of which will presumably hark back to the Premise, and some which will not.

Through the starting definitions of Humanity and Sorcery (and through such the Kickers to the extent that they may reflect a spoken or unspoken consensus as to what the game is to be about on a Narrative level) Premise (even if loosely defined) is created, which points the game in the right general direction. From that starting point, Theme may emerge through play, developing the question raised in the Premise and/or raising new questions. Is this what is supposed to be happening, from the point of view of the theory?


Ron Edwards

Hi Marcus,

Arrrghh ... now it's "starting with" that you're turning into a monster.

Starting with does not equal pre-determined. Just lose that notion. Starting with only means "comes before theme."

So it could take several sessions of play before Premise gets really meaty. That is fine.

With that in mind, your final paragraph reads just fine. When you say "is created," just substitute "gets underway to whatever extent floats everyone's boat."



OK then, I consider that my questions on Premise have now been answered in full. Thanks everyone!


Ron Edwards

Yay! Group hug, everybody.

And Marcus, thank you. This will be be a valuable go-to thread for newcomers from now on.