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Author Topic: First Time Play Musings on Sorcerer (Charnel Gods)  (Read 3645 times)
Old_Scratch
Member

Posts: 128


« on: July 12, 2004, 02:43:09 PM »

Well, I’ve just begun my game and I had a bit of feedback after the first session that I thought I’d try and keep separate from my Actual Play description under the “Charnel Gods: As the hands turn thread” over in the Actual Play forum.

The Players

First a little grounding. I was the GM, and I’m the most serious about roleplaying. We only roleplay because I put things together every Sunday. I’m the only one who ever visits rpg websites, only one who buys the books, and in our group, nobody else has GMed in well over five years or so. I’m also the most experimental. In other words, I’m not as casual as the others and perhaps a bit more fanatical.

My oldest player is my most skilled and experienced. Charles has played with me for over ten years now. He’s also one of my most limited. He plays one thing: the dead creepy guy. Don’t get me wrong, he’s very, very, very good at it. Great sense of humor, interesting characters, and many of our greatest stories result from his antics. He’s also the most skillful at the “meta” aspects of the game. His character rarely gets injured or affected, I’ve taken to calling him “Teflon Chuck”, no ill befalls the guy. I think his problem is that this guy hasn’t been challenged, I’m hoping that Sorcerer will shake him out of his lethargy.

My second player is one of the most enthusiastic and least skilled. He really digs gaming, but he’s quiet and his role-playing skills are lacking – when in a crunch, he often stares at his character sheet for a minute or so before answering. He’s gotten better, but I’m hoping that Sorcerer’s minimal character sheet will prevent the latter, while its story-oriented elements will fire up his imagination and encourage him to find his own footing and voice. This guy is also a big fan of Sword & Sorcery and I hope the familiarity will help him get a handle on the setting.

My third player is a woman and it was her first time role-playing. I guess I’m not too surprised that she was the most experimental of them and the most embracing of the more radical Sorcerer approach. The other two have something to relearn I suppose.

How it Went Down - Theory in Practice

Very badly. Or almost, very badly. We had a fifth person present, sitting in watching. But that wasn’t all. Him and Charles spent the first two hours talking quietly amongst themselves and sometimes laughing and passing notes back and forth. NEVER AGAIN! I don’t know how anyone plays this game at a con! It was really distracting and exceedingly frustrating.

However, once that person left, things improved dramatically. Everyone starting paying attention to everyone else’s little episodes. And game play went from potentially disastrous to very successful.

Two other deficiencies – I had written all my bangs down in hand, in writing about the size of 8 point font. What a disaster! My other error was not having on hand a longer list of names to make up on the fly.

Things on my End

I wanted to be challenged, and I got it. I found myself constantly being challenged to keep up with the players – it was like juggling several stories at once. In a couple of incidents, I was startled at the turn of events and had to think exceedingly fast on my feet. I was able to cut away at cliff-hangers to give myself a bit of breather time. I was a little taken aback when one of my players literally dropped one of my favorite and more atmospheric bangs that I was waiting to play – I’m still trying to figure out a way to re-introduce the bang. Another case, a player swung their story in an unanticipated direction resulting in the loss of humanity – the character diverged dramatically from my arranged bangs that I only got to play one of their bangs the entire session, the rest of it was keeping up with the character’s own intended direction. All in all, I felt for me that it was quite successful and a very memorable experience.

Things on their End
Charles, playing a scientist run afoul of his own research, really got into his character. The most descriptive role-playing he has ever done – and he’s my most descriptive player out of my pool of six players or so. I don’t think the player was aware of it, but he really drifted into the narrative aspect of the game, really embracing a number of the concepts – and I suppose I have to chalk that up in part to mechanics and the intention of the game. I used to be one of those people who said mechanics don’t matter, but I’m currently reappraising my thoughts on that matter. This imagery was so vivid, it was like reading a comic book or watching a film – and we definitely played off of each other. He was so into his character, that he forgot about his Fell Weapon! Only halfway through the game did he recall he had it! On the one hand, I’m glad he got so absorbed in his character and was intent on playing it to the fullest, but on the other hand I feel like I should have engaged him a bit more with his demon… suggestions?

Ken, playing Angil, benefited a bit from the game. Normally he lurks in the background, only occasionally throwing something out, but in the forefront he had to be pretty descriptive. There was only one episode of action for the character which went very poorly for the character and the player was upset that their character seemed a wimp in comparison, but he came up with an ingenious way out. I also hit the character with more moral crises than the other players, and the play seemed to be upset that his own people seemed such a cruel and cold-blooded people – I’m not sure whether I should defer to the player in their wants or challenge him a bit more by making his people more complex than the nice folks he’d originally imagined.

The new player, Kelly, really enjoyed herself. She was the most proactive and demanding of all the players. The other two players mostly played in Actor Stance, with Charles sliding into Director stance only to throw props into a scene or something, but Kelly was all over the place – Actor – Author – Director stance. She was quite determined to merge in with other player’s stories and bring up some interaction between them. Sometimes I would turn to start her scene and she’d begin narrating what she was doing and what was going on. I’d have to interrupt her to get my word in! I think we found a good balance between it, but I was really surprised at how empowered she felt at contributing and guiding her own story.

The Complaints
This isn’t Sugar Plum Mountain – the players, after playing, stressed that they had a few issues with the game.

The single most important issue was the lack of interaction between the players. This has always been very important in our games – witty banter and inter-party politics, and this was absent in the game. Everyone felt kind of isolated. They also didn’t care for the downtime. My response: Well, yes that interaction is missing, but it is your story and I’m making an effort to wind the stories together, so over time your stories will move closer. Furthermore, you often split up in smaller groups anyways, so its not all that different from when we usually play. Lastly, your stories are compelling, and it should be interesting to listen to other people’s stories – to see and hear some of the NPCs and locations from your own stories appearing in other peoples’ episodes. However I have misgiving about this as well. I think if there’s anything that’s a problem for the game we’re playing now, its this: the lack of interaction between players. Solutions? I’ve been toying with allowing the NPCs to be played at times by players, or suggesting that the players come up with a Bang for the other players, run it by me before hand, and then have a little mini-turn as GM for the other players. Give me time to go over my notes and keep players engaged with each others stories.

Lack of Party – the players complained about how there was no party – but I pointed out that *every* time we play, they all make up characters that would never make up a coherent party anyways – and although they have a lot of downtime, in truth it seems that each player gets more attention and time than they normally do.

My biggest complaint: The aggressive scene framing. While it was effective, I always found some of my favorite details to be the small ones – the role playing of the inn keepers and a general fleshing out of the world through the small interactions the players have with the players, and Sorcerer seems ill-suited to serve this purpose… Comments? Thoughts?

Conclusion
So we took a vote on it, and everyone decided they would like to go on, but they’d like this primary issue above addressed or mitigated over time through play. Charles didn’t have much to say about the game, he continued to be skeptical, but I think the proof was in the pudding – he was quite dynamic and his story compelling. Ken was quite enamored with the system and theory behind it and thought it was probably the best we’ve seen. Kelly was willing to play again, so I suppose gamerdom has expanded by one player. Overall a successful game.

Resolution
It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out as people become more experienced with the style of play. My major goal for next time is to try and bring the character’s relationships with their weapons to the forefront, but I’m not entirely sure how to pull that off! They seem mired in a whole host of other events – its hard to remember that relationship, oddly enough…
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2004, 05:54:36 AM »

Hi there,

Gotta do this fast, for which I apologize. I'll preface by saying "Thanks!" for putting all this work into documenting your experiences with the game.

1. The "party" issue. I think what your group has failed to process is that the characters may be brought together at any time at the players' whim, through plain old traditional role-playing techniques.

Sally is at the drugstore, you're starting her scene. Another player says, "Hey, I'm [the character Sue] at the drugstore too. Here's why." Easy as pie, happens all the time. I'm really not seeing why players felt they couldn't shoehorn themselves into one another's scenes.

The concept for Sorcerer is not that player-characters cannot be in one another's stories, but rather that they are not dragooned into being so. When it seems like fun for this to happen (as opposed to decreed or assumed), then it happens.

2. The scene-framing issue. Again, I think you might have fallen into the trap of saying, "If the red pill is good, then twenty red pills must be perfect." Why so aggressive? If you want and enjoy scenes with a little colorful downtime, then just do them. Sex isn't orgasm-orgasm-orgasm, at least not for me and most other people. Think in terms of music and sex, and enjoy the Bangs all the more because there are "rests" and buildups.

Yes, both Sorcerer and Sorcerer & Sword do imply a fairly wham-bam-grunt appproach to scenes and play, mainly because I'd rather people erred on that side of the spectrum. However, I provided a lot of new terms in Sex & Sorcery to round things out a little: Bobs, Weaves, Crosses, and Openings. I tossed these into the Forge glossary, if you don't have the book.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2004, 09:08:03 AM »

Your comments seem to be contradictory. First you say it was "almost very bad." Then you describe some really good play by the players. You say it was quite successful and memorable for you. Then they said that they had problems with the pacing. But then they vote to play again.

Very mixed comments. I think you had a good session, but one that could be improved. That makes it a good start for any RPG, no? I mean, in what RPG does everyone have a perfect time the first session played? There's always an adjustment period.

To specifics: as Ron said, if the players want their characters to interact, then they should have them interact. One gets the sense that the "traditional" players have the idea that they are only in Actor mode, and can't ask to be included in other scenes. Well, prompt them. Ask, "So, does anyone else want to be in this scene?" And whatever you do, don't interupt a player already doing so like you seem to have with Kelly. She, not having been canalized by other games, is playing correctly. Follow her lead. Get the other players to play like her, and their objections to the game will dissappear.

Further, you as GM can do things to make interaction more common. When writing up your Bangs, just have them include more than one character at a time when possible. Like, "The next day, you both are at the library, when Reena comes in and demands that you lay down your fell weapons for he good of the land." If you're getting used to agressive framing, just frame folks together for whatever plausible reason.

That said, also ask for scenes. If you're not sure where to go next, ask the players where to frame to. They'll come up with the same sort of ideas that throw them together. Or, if they don't, alter their suggestions to get the PCs together. Soon they'll get the idea, and be doing it themselves to the extent that they want to do so. Share the responsibility and the pressure some.

After a while, they'll start feeling the pressure like you were, and start enjoying the downtime more. :-)


Have you read all of the threads on how to make object demons communicate with thier owners? If so, and that's not the problem, then the next thing to do is to give bangs that make the PCs want to use their fell weapons. That is, if they're mired in all sorts of other plot, it's because you  as GM created the NPCs who they are involved with, and forgot to think about how the demons affect that map (I'm assuming that you have a relationship map or something like it). Take your map, add the PCs and the demons to it, and start drawing lines between all sorts of individuals. Then see what sort of interaction you can create between the ends of the lines. Does somebody want to steal one of the weapons? Does another person need the PC to use one of the abilities of the weapon for something? Etc, etc. Find reasons in the plot for the PCs to feel pressure to employ their fell weapons. Consider that most NPCs will think of the PC as "that guy with the fell weapon."

A primary form of demon interaction is non-response. Nothing more interesting than a PC who goes to swing his mighty thunder hammer, and nothing happens. Are the PCs meeting their demons needs? Are the demon's getting their desires fulfilled? Is the demon just feeling grouchy?

Look at the nature of the demons, and how they relate to the kickers in question. Often in that interaction you can find all sorts of potential trouble.

Quote
I also hit the character with more moral crises than the other players, and the play seemed to be upset that his own people seemed such a cruel and cold-blooded people – I’m not sure whether I should defer to the player in their wants or challenge him a bit more by making his people more complex than the nice folks he’d originally imagined.
Defer, defer, defer. What do you mean by "Challenge" him in this context? Challenge his notion of what the in-game situation is like? Challenge him to accept your version? Challenge him to overcome the tactical obstacle? None of that applies to the mode of play that Sorcerer supports.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't have surprises. Just that everyone needs to have a consistent view of how things are in the game. And that doesn't mean that the GM just says how things are, but that it's formed by a collaborative view. So, if you've pushed these characters in a certain direction for an effect, and the player isn't enjoying that, then change course.

In fact, next game rectify the situation somewhat with another Bang. Maybe the people doing bad things had unseen motives. For instance, let's say that NPC Bob kills NPC Jane, and takes her jewelry. Seems like cold-blooded murder, right? Well, have the PC discover that Bob's daughter was kindnapped, and someone made him perform the robbery to get her back. Only they didn't return her, of course, and now Bob is distraught. Now the players (note, not the character's) trouble with the NPC is rectified, and in fact, his distaste is turned into something that makes the next part enjoyable.

And this doesn't mean that you should stop throwing moral dilemmas at the characters or anything. In fact, you can continue to do so with the PCs being really nice folks. Hard to say more without seeing the kickers. But there's always a way.

Mike
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Old_Scratch
Member

Posts: 128


« Reply #3 on: July 13, 2004, 09:19:37 AM »

Thanks Ron for the response!

I believe your game set out to challenge alot of the assumptions that have grown up around gaming, and it seems like your product was successful in that endeavor.

To respond to your two points:

1) Group Cohesion - Something went awry here during character development I think - I tried to encourage the players to bounce ideas off of one another and the like, but it didn't happen - they ended up working in isolation and when talking about their characters, still harbored secrets about their characters, being mysterious and hoping to keep the other players in the dark. At the beginning of the next session, I'll bring this up again when going over some of their concerns - remind them of the process and suggesting that if they want their stories to be more intertwined, that they should work a bit closer at it. I think using a relationship map would be one means of doing so. Since its Charnel Gods, I think they'll have another char gen session coming up soon... especially with the way that one of the character's humanity looks to be taking a nose dive...

That said, one player did make an effort to weave their story into the other players, but the other player boosted his stamina and tossed her, then fled into the night...

2) Scene Framing - You nailed it on the head. I felt that the pressure was on me to keep the players immersed in challenge and experience after challenge and experience - I felt like George RR Martin on speed or Indiana Jones on Fast Forward - I suppose I expected a bit too much of myself, but all that talk of Balls to the Wall Action and my own recent readings may have pushed me a bit harder than I anticipated. Resolution: When writing up Bangs, write up at least one bang for each of the characters that puts them in touch with elements that I particularly enjoy.

Thanks for feedback, its nice to have a slightly less manic perspective. I'm still learning and developing, so its been useful!
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Bankuei
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« Reply #4 on: July 13, 2004, 09:29:56 AM »

Hi,

One major consideration is that it sounds like you have been playing with these folks for some time now, and probably have a few habitual expectations built up over "how play goes".  For many people, a new game simply means a different set of dice and powers, nothing more in terms of actual techniques.  When encountering games that require new techniques, such as a different stance, they often get thrown for a loop.

The hard part about habitual play is that words don't usually penetrate.  You can explain stance and objectives, they nod, and then go right back to the usual way things work.  That's part of the reason I usually suggest some pretty extreme games, like Inspectres to introduce new techniques and shake people out of habitual play before throwing them the more subtle stuff.

Chris
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Old_Scratch
Member

Posts: 128


« Reply #5 on: July 13, 2004, 09:34:05 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Your comments seem to be contradictory. First you say it was "almost very bad." Then you describe some really good play by the players. You say it was quite successful and memorable for you. Then they said that they had problems with the pacing. But then they vote to play again.

Very mixed comments. I think you had a good session, but one that could be improved. That makes it a good start for any RPG, no? I mean, in what RPG does everyone have a perfect time the first session played? There's always an adjustment period.


Thanks Mike for the response. What almost went wrong was the invasive presence of a non-player. Big mistake. I felt really flustered by someone else talking, I felt troubled that they weren't being respectful to the person whose story it was, and I felt that it was seriously diminishing the atmosphere I was trying to evoke.

Once the non-player left, the situation improved, so the problem really was not with the game, but the context in which it began. As the stories progressed, play improved remarkably and people started paying close attention to other people's stories. So the "bad" element of the game was solely my fault for not intervening sooner concerning the problem.

It was, in my opinion, one of the better gaming sessions we have ever had once things turned around.

Quote

To specifics: as Ron said, if the players want their characters to interact, then they should have them interact. One gets the sense that the "traditional" players have the idea that they are only in Actor mode, and can't ask to be included in other scenes. Well, prompt them. Ask, "So, does anyone else want to be in this scene?" And whatever you do, don't interupt a player already doing so like you seem to have with Kelly. She, not having been canalized by other games, is playing correctly. Follow her lead. Get the other players to play like her, and their objections to the game will dissappear.


Good advice. I've tried to avoid the jargon, but I think I'll begin the game with a brief description of the three stances mentioned in Sorcerer & Sword and then draw some examples from the previous session, to make the players more conscious of what they want. At this point, one of the characters is several days ride away, but their story is slowly wending in with the other stories, I hope.

Quote

Further, you as GM can do things to make interaction more common. When writing up your Bangs, just have them include more than one character at a time when possible. Like, "The next day, you both are at the library, when Reena comes in and demands that you lay down your fell weapons for he good of the land." If you're getting used to agressive framing, just frame folks together for whatever plausible reason.


Again, I hadn't considered this option. I'm not sure if I'll be able to use it right away, but it is a nice tool to have on hand!

Quote

That said, also ask for scenes. If you're not sure where to go next, ask the players where to frame to. They'll come up with the same sort of ideas that throw them together. Or, if they don't, alter their suggestions to get the PCs together. Soon they'll get the idea, and be doing it themselves to the extent that they want to do so. Share the responsibility and the pressure some.


Great advice. I'll mention it to the players before next session. As it is, I was elated by the experience, but I felt drained as well, it was pretty exhausting juggling the stories about.

Quote

Have you read all of the threads on how to make object demons communicate with thier owners? If so, and that's not the problem, then the next thing to do is to give bangs that make the PCs want to use their fell weapons. That is, if they're mired in all sorts of other plot, it's because you  as GM created the NPCs who they are involved with, and forgot to think about how the demons affect that map (I'm assuming that you have a relationship map or something like it). Take your map, add the PCs and the demons to it, and start drawing lines between all sorts of individuals. Then see what sort of interaction you can create between the ends of the lines. Does somebody want to steal one of the weapons? Does another person need the PC to use one of the abilities of the weapon for something? Etc, etc. Find reasons in the plot for the PCs to feel pressure to employ their fell weapons. Consider that most NPCs will think of the PC as "that guy with the fell weapon."


No, I didn't use a map, although I had considered it. I will certainly be shaping my bangs to reflect my renewed focus on the weapons, and I'm going to be taking a more proactive role with the demons. I haven't gotten to that part of my write-up, but one of the characters dives in with their weapon and pays the consequences for it. The other player has forgotten his weapon and doesn't use it, so it seems to me that the weapon itself might have its own opinion on the way its being treated and neglected! Most of my bangs have been with encounters with other people, but I think I'll have to draw up a bang or two specific for each character involving their relationship with the blade.

As for reading the posts on object weapons, none of them visit this or any other gaming site, so I might just take a few notes and have a couple of minutes conversation about their weapons and their relationships.

Quote
Defer, defer, defer. What do you mean by "Challenge" him in this context? Challenge his notion of what the in-game situation is like? Challenge him to accept your version? Challenge him to overcome the tactical obstacle? None of that applies to the mode of play that Sorcerer supports.


Alright, I see what you're saying. I suppose what I'm doing is challenging his perspective on the way the world is - it is after all, a dying world, and his people live on the border of a failing empire and are subject to raids and cruel and savage warfare - maybe I wasn't clear in the kind of situation that they exist in and that therefore they may be somewhat harder and less moral than he may have initially anticipated - it may be simply that we both are working off of different assumptions.

Quote

I'm not saying that you shouldn't have surprises. Just that everyone needs to have a consistent view of how things are in the game. And that doesn't mean that the GM just says how things are, but that it's formed by a collaborative view. So, if you've pushed these characters in a certain direction for an effect, and the player isn't enjoying that, then change course.


I'll talk with the player about that and see what direction they want. And as you noted, the harsh image can be mitigated by different bangs.

Thanks for the great response... loads to mull over.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #6 on: July 13, 2004, 10:53:49 AM »

Quote from: Old_Scratch
Good advice. I've tried to avoid the jargon, but I think I'll begin the game with a brief description of the three stances mentioned in Sorcerer & Sword and then draw some examples from the previous session, to make the players more conscious of what they want. At this point, one of the characters is several days ride away, but their story is slowly wending in with the other stories, I hope.
Your instincts are correct, actually. Continue to avoid the Jargon. Show, don't tell. That is, for instance when I suggest asking the players if they want to be in a scene. This is requiring them to use Author stance, even if they say no. When something happens in a scene, ask them what they think would be cool to happen. Show them that it's OK to act this way, and they will.

Quote
I haven't gotten to that part of my write-up, but one of the characters dives in with their weapon and pays the consequences for it. The other player has forgotten his weapon and doesn't use it, so it seems to me that the weapon itself might have its own opinion on the way its being treated and neglected!
Huh? I'm not reading you here. You're not saying that you're intending to frame somebody past a choice, are you? That is, if there are consequences for "diving in" then you want to frame right up to that choice, and let the player decide one way or another, right? I must be reading something incorrectly here - are these things that have already happened?

Quote
Most of my bangs have been with encounters with other people, but I think I'll have to draw up a bang or two specific for each character involving their relationship with the blade.
Cool. What were you thinking?

Quote
As for reading the posts on object weapons, none of them visit this or any other gaming site, so I might just take a few notes and have a couple of minutes conversation about their weapons and their relationships.
I mean have you read them? Do you understand how to let the player know that his weapon is communicating with him?

Quote
Alright, I see what you're saying. I suppose what I'm doing is challenging his perspective on the way the world is

...

 it may be simply that we both are working off of different assumptions.
Exactly. And who says that you get to decide which is right and which is wrong? If the players think that the harshness that they've seen will tend to make the NPCs actually act more virtuously, then who's to say that they're wrong. If this isn't something that was agreed to up front, then it has to develop organically as part of play - which includes the input of all participants.

Put another way, did you discuss with the players before hand what the people were like? If they didn't buy in to it then, then you don't have any particular right to assume that they'll buy into it after you reveal it as such. That's not to say that you don't have any input, either. Just that you have to work it out as equals. The GM doesn't have a privilege here, IMO. Not for this game.

Mike
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