Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

Southern Fried Sorcerer, part 2

Started by Tor Erickson, November 15, 2001, 03:04:00 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

Tor Erickson

(this is part 2 of a two part post about a Sorcerer game)
ACTUAL PLAY 1: Scene-framing, railroading, and director and author stance

Throughout the game I exercised hardcore scene-cutting and aggressive scene-framing.  Unless the player told me otherwise, I told them where they were starting, and as soon as I felt like the scene was over I cut to the next one.  There were ten scenes total in the 2.5 hour session, split pretty evenly between each of the three characters.  One scene contained two of the characters.  The players seemed to have no problems with cuts and framing.  The description given to scene-to-scene travel was either limited to a few words or non-existent, and that seemed just fine with everybody ("You drive down to Baton Rouge in your cadillac...").  

The extent to which each scene was planned out varied somewhat, but four of the scenes I had framed during the prep.  By framing I mean that I had a couple of notes on the physical location, some NPC stats when appropriate, and a list of things that I wanted to get accomplished in the scene (reveal info about the relationship map, build up a certain NPC, heighten tone etc).  Sometimes everything on the my list would get checked off, and in at least one scene none of the items were accomplished.  

Two of the scenes were totally improvised with the intention of revealing more of the relationship map and setting up connections, and the rest of the scenes involved locations and NPCs that I had prepared, but the way in which they were approached was unexpected.

Two of the players aggressively got into author-stance, and the third did to a lesser extent.  One of the scenes began with the player saying "I drive down to Baton Rouge to see my sister in the mental hospital" with no prodding or direction from me.  It had occurred to the player that the hallucinations that he had been experiencing were related to the things that his crazy sister saw, and he was going to check it out.  In my actions during this scene involved the most railroading that I did during the game.  Despite the character's obvious desire to have his sister's mental illness connected to his hallucinations I refused to let it go that direction.  I think I acted this way for three reasons: First, I felt like it would be a copout if his sister's mental illness (that had her hospitalized for the past 10 years) were not actually an illness at all, and she were instead haunted by real demons.  The second reason for my hesitation to go along with the player's idea was that it had never occurred to me that her mental problems could be linked to her brother's hallucinations and I was totally unprepared for such an eventuality.  Third, the prep I had done for the sister focused on her passing information about their father to her brother, but didn't get into her mental illness.  Thus, when the moment came, I was focused on how to pass on the info that their father had been having an affair when their mother died, rather than thinking about the connections between their hallucinations.

The players were excellent at pursuing the path of greatest interest (as opposed to the safest path), first asking themselves what would be the most interesting thing to do and then figuring out why their character would do it.  This often meant that a character would do something not necessarily in their best self-interest, but that would lead to something entertaining and interesting (the best example was the big, oafish hill-billy who let his demon talk him into telling the even-bigger, angry mechanic that the mechanic was "awful purty").

There were many examples of director-stance being taken as well, and it was interesting to watch the players get more confidant as the game progressed and they realized I wasn't going to say 'no.'  "Is there a kerosene lamp in the cabin?" asked one of the players, then smiled and said, "What I mean is, I knock the kerosene lamp onto the floor."

ACTUAL PLAY 2:  IC/OOC, Player vs. Character knowledge, Sorcerer system,

In the very first scene the player whose character was involved asked, "Should I speak in the third person or the first about my character?  Can I just tell you what I do or do you want me to act like the character and do it?"  I said it didn't matter, and throughout the rest of the game each of the players moved effortlessly from first-person to third-person dialogue, interjecting third-person description and narration when necessary.  The third-person narration proved especially useful as it gave the players a chance to develop and provide commentary on their characters that they wouldn't have been able to do otherwise.  What I'm getting at here was the usefulness of the player/character disjunction to character development.  The anthropology professor didn't think of himself as arrogant, nor did was he aware that he came off like an asshole, but his player sure did, and let the rest of us know as well.  

This was especially useful as it let all of us make meaningful statements with our characters (NPCs included) without needing to be first-class actors.

This player/character disjunction was even more useful and successful to me in passing information to the players, and keeping the players involved, when their characters didn't have a clue what the fuck was going on.  For example, we were nearing a good stopping point but I was still looking for that Big Bang.  In my bandolier I had "Donald Castle II is murdered in his hospital bed," which would only have meant something to one of the characters, but the realization of which would have reverberated through all three players.  Unfortunately, my original plan of having a character show up at the hospital, pulling back the curtain around the bed and revealing the horribly mutilated body wasn't going to happen because not one of the characters was anywhere near the hospital or going there soon.  So instead, the last scene of the session was one of the characters (who could have cared less if Donald Castle II kicked the bucket) getting his morning paper on Monday and reading about the murder in the headlines.  As I hoped, everybody at the table felt the shock, even though their characters were none the wiser.  The realization was made all the sweeter by the scene just prior to that which involved a different character witnessing a strange young boy washing blood off of his hands in the moonlight: if the boy were involved in the murder it would have implicated the observing character's grandmother.  Of course, that character didn't know about the murder, and the character who read the paper didn't know about the boy, but both players were able to put the two together and enjoy the sweetness of the moment.

I used this technique again and again throughout the game.  Sometimes I revealed things that none of the characters would have known, speaking directly to the players.  Sometimes  I provided outside commentary on an event that the character would not have been privy to.

A brief note on the system itself.  It ran totally smoothly.  There were two brief combats and they were quick and exciting.  The players seemed to get the concept of "state your intentions, roll, state the results" pretty quickly.  They were a little lazy about pushing the role-playing to get bonuses, but on the flipside they were never in a situation were they were on the verge of total desperation, either, they never had to roll that extra die or get their ass kicked.  Also, and I'm not sure what this means, but I know that we rolled dice in pretty much every scene but for some reason I don't really remember doing it.

One thing I made a deliberate effort to work on stems from Scott Knipe's post on "How I learned to love the hose" in Actual Play.  In other words, I tried to make all of the dice results protagonizing.  None of that "You swing and miss" stuff.  Instead, I'd look for ways in which the failure could advance the plot.  For example, in a particularly harrowing scene one of the characters is out behind the stables beating the crap out of the son of his boss.  He tries to hit him with a crowbar, but fails.  Instead of just whiffing it I have the SOB (son of a boss) cry out in terror, thus alerting his sister in the house that something is going on.  The surprising thing for me was that I could actually pull this technique off on the fly; from the examples I've read it always seemed pretty difficult.


So how did it go?  I can honestly say it was one of my best role-playing experiences ever.  The players felt the same way.  I think they came into it with some skepticism that their authoring power would make a difference, and they left stunned at the extent to which it had.  For me, it was a total pleasure to push things as hard as I could and watch the players respond.  One of the surprising things for me was the number of times during play that genuinely comedic moments arose without breaking the mood or interrupting the flow at all.  If anything, these moments served to heighten the more serious parts, make the game overall more believable, and provide for breaks in the tension.

The biggest improvement I'm looking for in the future is more of a spontaneous feel.  You know when you're role-playing and everybody  is calling out things, regardless of whether it's their character taking action and people are leaning over the table to see what the dice came up with and climbing around on chairs because they're so excited.  The game on Saturday was so focused that I think some of that got edged out.  I suspect, however, that as we all relax into the new roles we're filling, that will come naturally.

Well, I hope these threads prove useful to somebody: I'd love to hear all of your comments,

joshua neff


I'm going to be running Sorcerer after Thanksgiving (finally!), & your two posts are extremely valuable to me. Thanks for posting them. They'll be loads of help when I start prepping for my own run.

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes


this complements the Art Deco threads very nicely, thanks for sharing Tor!

what degree of previous roleplaying experience/exposure did the other players have? any comments about Sorcerer relative to other games? (does Sorc. simply do narratavism particularly well? can you see techniques being extended to other non-narrativist-focussed games?)

man, if I don't start up a game next year I'll go mad!


Mike Holmes

Did you find the need to "railroad" and push the players hard at points because you just wanted too, or because the players needed a push? My point is that I'm wondering just how far along the spectrum of player power you were. For one thing, asserting that the sisters nightmares were not what the player wanted them to be. Why was that necessary? It sounds like you were worried about some pre-plotting. Also, the predesigned scenes in which you had goals planned. These elements seem to be a bit counter to Narrativism. Was it just your comfort level that made you keep these things, or did you feel that they were somehow necessary.

I don't want to give the impression that I think that you did anything but a great job. Sounds like it was a blast (I'd like to hear the plot). But what I'm wondering is just how Narrativist you want to be and just how far you feel that you got. Do you feel that there are good reasons to be less Narrativist?

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Ron Edwards


I strongly disagree that Tor's play-strategy with the dream content was railroading.

Again, people are prone to think that ANY GM-based (and in this case, GM-enforced) setting or situation material "must be" railroading, according to Narrativism.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Tor did not exercise any control over a CHARACTER'S decisions (which is what defines railroading). He had setting prepped, and his own reasons as co-author to enforce that prep.

I shudder to think that, according to someone's view of Narrativism, players would expect to "dream into existence" any and every aspect of the setting and situation, WITHOUT any negotiatory elements involved.

In Universalis, these negotiatory elements are all up-front because EVERYONE'S a GM. But in more traditional GM + group play, that negotiatory element may simply be expressed as, "Nope, good guess, but it ain't correct."

That's what Balance of Power is about. In classic Sorcerer play (vanilla Narrativism, all the way), the Balance favors the GM when it comes to Situation and Setting elements.


Tor Erickson

On 2001-11-15 02:10, kwill wrote:
this complements the Art Deco threads very nicely, thanks for sharing Tor!

Yr welcome! My pleasure.

what degree of previous roleplaying experience/exposure did the other players have?

Well, let's see.  I think two of them have only played DnD in the past, and probably done no role-playing for several years (except for a game of SOAP that one of them played in).  The other plays quite a bit more: a lot of DnD and several GURPS campaigns.  Again, for some reason their past role-playing experience didn't seem as important to me as the tendencies I identified in them via conversations.  They all seemed interested in co-authoring, they all seemed capable of it, and they all seemed (forgive me for saying this) mature enough to deal with a game that dealt with mature issues (am I about to get crucified for saying that?).

Quoteany comments about Sorcerer relative to other games? (does Sorc. simply do narratavism particularly well? can you see techniques being extended to other non-narrativist-focussed games?)

Well, let's see.  When I'm talking Sorcerer I'm talking about a lot more than just "roll dice in a pool and take the highest number" (the game mechanic).  I'd include Kickers, the Relationship Map, stat descriptors (you need to choose a descriptor for each of your stats that reveals something about your character), the Desires and Needs of the demons, and many other things.  I think all of those things are VERY useful for a narrativist game.  The mechanic on its own also seemed to encourage player authorship, but I think I'd like to wait for a really rigorous combat or an intense summoning and binding ritual before I comment on that.

As far as techniques being extended to non-narrativist-focused games, I'm not sure exactly what you mean.  Do you mean could aggressive scene-framing be applied successfully to a Setting Simulationist game, to enhance the exploration?  Or do you mean could a non-narrativist game be given some narrativist drive by applying some of Sorcerer's techniques?  To be completely honest, I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer either of the questions other than to comment that a lot of the techniques we used (especially the character/player disjunction in terms of disseminating information) could have been pretty disruptive to a lot of sim games.

man, if I don't start up a game next year I'll go mad!

That's exactly what I was saying over the summer.  :smile:


Tor Erickson

Hello Mike,

Really excellent questions.  I think I can probably respond best to your post as a whole, rather than breaking it up into quotes.  While reading this I was reminded of the discussion that was happening over in the Art-Deco threads between Jesse, Paul, Ron, and others (yourself included?).  Basically, Jesse expressed concern that the techniques that Ron was advocating were getting pretty close to railroading: aggressive scene-framing, setting the scene, pushing certain things in certain scenes.  

Interestingly, it never really occurred to me to think of those things as railroading.  As Ron pointed out, he was drawing a lot of the scenes from the character's Kickers and backstories, and he never pushed the characters in directions that the players didn't want.

In my pre-fab scenes, the goals were just possibilities: they were useful to me to keep the scene focused and from wandering off-topic.  As I mentioned, there was at least one scene where not a single one of the goals was accomplished.  This isn't to say that nothing happened in the scene, just that nothing on my list took place.  That was fine.  There were also a couple of scenes where everything got ticked off.  That seemed to work as well.  For the most part, though, we'd usually get through about half of the items.

Now, what I think would have been railroading would have been if it looked like the end of the scene was coming up (the drama had peaked or was dying down) and I looked down at my list and said, "Oh shit! Marvin's demon didn't go into need as I had planned," and then proceeded to twist and change the scene to ensure that it happened.

Which isn't to say that I wouldn't push certain things within a scene if it felt like the players needed a push.  But I just tried to ride the feel of what was going on and insert elements when necessary, and hold back when it seemed like I should hold back. For example, in the first scene of the game (the hill-billy character's Kicker) Charles Scrump (the character) is wandering through the bayou and comes across a sorcerous ritual taking place.  Now, on my checklist I had written down that one of the sorcerers would take off his mask at some point and accidentally reveal his face.  However, as the scene progressed the opportunity never arose.  Finally, at the end, the character is fleeing into the woods fighting off a horrible demon and I looked down and realized that he still hadn't identified the sorcerer.  At that point I could have had the sorcerer call out and Scrump turn around and see him demasked, or have the sorcerers chase after him and capture him and reveal their identity in that way, but for some reason all of those felt like they would have been twisting the plot too much.  So we just ended the scene with Charles disappearing into the dark.

Anyway, to sum up, I didn't feel like these kinds of things were railroading or anti-narrativist.  Maybe next session the players will start taking more initiative and seizing entire scenes start to finish, but I'm still going in with a full bandolier just in case.



Great post.  Just a few thoughts/questions:

1. The impression I got is that you were "done" after your 2.5 hour session?  Was that true?  Had they pretty much traversed the whole map?

2. Ron's / your discussion about GM power was very helpful. It was my understanding that Narritivism meant a complete abdication of GM control over events - apparently, not true.

3. Sort of amusing that you picked Bag of Bones.  In _On_Writing_, Stephen King basically claims to write the way Ron Edwards GM's.  That is, he doesn't plot, he just does a deep backstory, spends some time on character development, then just lets it "play out".  This is why his fatality / bad ending rate is so high for characters.

Gary Furash
Gary Furash,
"Life is what happens to you when you're making other plans"

Ron Edwards


I should like to mention - because this King connection has been invoked before - the following.

1) I have never read King's On Writing.
2) Based on what people have said, though, I think that King, like all authors, musicians, and film folks, is keeping his hole cards hidden.
3) In play, I exert mighty intrusive author-type material into the game throughout its course, from start to finish.


[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-11-16 11:18 ]

Tor Erickson

On 2001-11-16 08:47, furashgf wrote:

1. The impression I got is that you were "done" after your 2.5 hour session?  Was that true?  Had they pretty much traversed the whole map?

Noooooo.... we've got 2-4 more sessions scheduled at this point, with the next one being this Saturday.  Our first session was really just about setting the scene, introducing the characters, and getting familiar with this whole Sorcerer thing.

3. Sort of amusing that you picked Bag of Bones.  In _On_Writing_, Stephen King basically claims to write the way Ron Edwards GM's.  That is, he doesn't plot, he just does a deep backstory, spends some time on character development, then just lets it "play out".  This is why his fatality / bad ending rate is so high for characters.

Have you read the book?  Do you remember the backstory?  As I mentioned in the posts, the backstory as it was proved to be too small to use effectively, so I ended up adding a whole lot of stuff into it.  In other ways the backstory was excellent as certain elements were just screaming to be sorcerized.



I wrote:
can you see techniques being extended to other non-narrativist-focussed games?

and once I finally got back to this thread it took me a second to see what the heck I was saying too ;>

yes, I meant the latter, whether you felt the Narr. techniques presented in Sorcerer could be used in other (non-Narr.) games, and sufficiently promote Narr. goals (eg, run a game based off a relationship map but use the GURPS resolution system)

thinking about it again, I guess I can answer my own question with "it depends"; assuming everyone has Narrativist goals in mind, and you use rolls for conflict-resolution rather than action/task-resolution, I'd guess the Narrativist GURPS example would work

[in case anyone's spotted the trend, I'm interested in Narrativism, but don't have specifically Narrativist games on hand to play/run, hence my mumblings on turning other games in a Narr. direction; of course several web-based Narr. games are available, and I have been looking at those; it's now a matter of finding/making the time]


Ron Edwards


To quote all the outraged foes of GNS over the last years, you can use any system you want. For instance, you can play in a Narrativist fashion using Rifts, GURPS, Tunnels and Trolls, AD&D2, Werewolf, or whatever.

Mind you, I think it's harder to use these games or many others in this fashion (that's what "system does matter" means). But it all comes down to the goals and priorities of the people in the group. I think that many of the techniques can be inserted, as you suggest. I also think you should be ready to edit out portions of the games you're using as needed.