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[Actual Play] Sorcerer: The Tenure Game (game prep)

Started by Andrew Norris, March 14, 2005, 02:28:00 AM

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Andrew Norris

Hello all,

Our first session of Sorcerer was last week. I explained the setting and Premise, talked a bit about Narrativist play, and we hashed out ideas for characters over pizza.  The overall mood was excitement, and some of the players can't stop talking about their characters.

(I'll take an aside here to say that while I'd injected Premise into a previous campaign in another system, this time I wanted to do things by the book, and actively encourage the group to engage theme from the beginning. The fact that it resulted in the most enjoyable character creation session was a bonus. Going through the process was a whole lot more fun than reading the rulebook, which is the opposite of my typical gaming experience.)

I'll list the characters now, and I'd like to come back to this thread tomorrow to talk about the game prep I've done (and ask for advice).


Setting: Behind-the-scenes power struggle in the academic world. Modern day, in our local college town.

Premise:"What will you pay to get your heart's desire?" Each character has an overwhelming desire (peace, freedom, fame, or knowledge), and their initial demon is an embodiment of that need.

Humanity is defined as empathy, more specifically as being able to relate to other people as something other than tools. At Humanity 0, nothing matters to the character but their one true desire.

Players: Four, one of which is my girlfriend. We have two men and two women. This is the women's first roleplaying experience, apart from one having bad experiences with online collaborative fiction. The guys have played traditional roleplaying games for years, and are in various ongoing D&D campaigns. Everyone started off a little shy, and I made a point to encourage input from everyone and not reject any contributions out of hand. By the end everyone was providing input all around the table.

Where information is missing below, I forgot to nail it down during the session. Our excitement level was high enough that I forgot to double-check character sheets.)

Characters: The Server (Marie ), The Scholar (Dr. Maximillian ), The Patient (Pauline Franko), The Wrestler ("Mofo" McGee)


The Server (Marie)
Stamina: 4 (Clean living)
Will:4 (Focused)
Lore: 2 (Disconnected)
Cover: 4 (bartender, early 30s)
Humanity: 4
Price:Emotionally deadened (-1 in situations where expressing/feeling emotion would help)

Telltale: The shadows of her two dead daughters sometimes replace (or protrude from) her own shadow.

Kicker: Tonight, Marie pulled all the positive emotions from a particularly obnoxious customer, who proceeded to get drunk, drive away, and commit vehicular suicide. A few hours later, as she sat smoking and panicked in her tiny apartment, her dead daughters appeared and thanked her for the meal.

Marie's Demon: The Twins
Type: Inconspicuous
Stamina: 3
Will: 4
Lore: 3
Power: 4
Desire: It's master's love.
Need: To feed on emotions.
Abilities: Cloak (passive), Perceive (Emotions), Psychic Force (draining emotions from the target), Confuse. All are conferred to the master.

Concept: Marie's demon was originally conceived as a Parasite, but the player liked the idea of having it manifest in the image of her twins. Previously to her Kicker, she believed her "power" to steal and transfer emotion was just a delusion.

Kicker: Tonight, Marie pulled all the positive emotions from a particularly obnoxious customer, who proceeded to get drunk, drive away, and commit vehicular suicide. A few hours later, as she sat smoking and panicked in her tiny apartment, her dead daughters appeared and thanked her for the meal.

Marie's Binding of her demon involved an angry, drunken wish that her kids would just stop crying. The aftermath involved her children dying of a rare genetic disorder and her husband leaving town. While she's still coming to terms with sorcery, she definitely feels responsible for "creating" her demon.  She represses all emotion out of fear the demon will kill again if she loses control. Her job as a bartender gives her many opportunities to take happiness from the undeserving and give it to the deserving, as well as to fatten her tip jar (she can barely pay the rent otherwise).


The Patient (Pauline Franko)
Stamina: 1 (Invalid)
Will: 5 (Belief System, Survivor)
Lore: 4 (Intuitive)
Cover: 5 (terminally ill TV actress, early 30's)
Humanity: 5
Price: Cancer (-1 for physically taxing actions)

Telltale: The light in any room Pauline is in is subtly tinged with an indescribable color.

Kicker: The actress who replaced Pauline recently won an Oscar. From her hospital bed, Pauline's vowed to do something to get her name known again.

Pauline's Demon: The Color
Type: Inconspicuous
Stamina: 5
Will: 6
Lore: 4
Power: 6
Abilities: Cloak (passive), Perception (see through the eyes of others), Perception (master's wishes), Link, Transport (teleport)
Desire: Freedom
Need: Pauline must continue to improve and expand upon the painting used to bind it.
Appearance: a peculiar tint to the ambient light in the room.

Concept: Pauline was a successful soap opera actor who was moving into film when she was diagnosed with cancer. (In our game world, her planned role in Million Dollar Baby was taken by Hillary Swank.) Bedridden, she resorted to her childhood love of painting. Her demon was Bound when she created a painting that expressed her need to be free.

Her demon can be described as "Lovecraft's Colour Out of Space, embodied in "Christina's World".) It's biding its time to further its agenda; right now it's extremely helpful, acting as her eyes and ears in the outside world. (It typically lurks around town as an imperceptible tint to the light, showing Pauline what people on the street see.) Her demon's angling to fulfill its Desire by replacing her. (One way this might happen is if Pauline is reduced to Humanity 0; in our campaign, this results in your original demon becoming a Possessor and taking over your body.) The longer she lies in bed and lets it act as her only point of view on the world, the more leverage it will have.

I recognize her Kicker doesn't force her into action, but the player has assured me that it's very meaningful to her character. I'll spike it if it doesn't go anywhere.


The Wrestler ("Mofo" McGee)
Stamina: 6 ("Ripped", Athletic)
Will: 3 (Desperate)
Lore: 1 (Naive)
Cover: 6 (wannabe professional wrestler, late 20's)
Humanity: 6
Price: Emotionally vulnerable (-1 in situations where he could be emotionally hurt)

Telltale: Hungry, needy eyes.

Kicker: He's finally got a match on TV with the WWE tonight.

McGee's Demon (The Luchadore Mask)
Type: Object
Stamina: 3
Will: 4
Lore: 3
Power: 4
Desire: Fame (for the persona represented by the mask)
Need: McGee must wear the mask, and act in character.

Abilities: Boost Will, Cover (Professional Wrestling Star – compare with McGee's Cover), Vitality.

Kicker: He's finally got a fight on TV with the WWE tonight.

Concept: McGee found the luchadore mask after a failed audition for the WWE; it turned up in the locker room so that he could Bind it (poorly) with his ambition. The demon would like nothing more for its master to become more and more reliant on the mask until he is subsumed entirely by the wrestler persona he has created.

I thought the character concept was proposed for laughs, to be honest. But I was determined not to veto any ideas unless absolutely necessary, and as we talked about the idea we quickly realized it was a great fit. A man running around "acting crazy" and pretending to be a professional wrestler is silly, yes, but a man who's forced to take on a false persona to become the person he wants to be has pathos. The player also suggested that McGee be confronted with the temptations that befall many professional athletes, which I thought opened up a lot of opportunities.

The player focused on the fact that McGee has the physical ability to be a wrestling star, but not the skills and charisma. (We've agreed that the "big match" will involve lots of Will and Cover rolls to make a fake fight look convincing and entertaining.) He has to choose between using his own Cover (which doesn't match his dream job) and stage presence, or the mask's (in which case he'll be famous as his masked persona, but no one will know his face).


The Scholar (Dr. Maximillian)
Stamina: 1 (Bookish)
Will: 5 (Arrogance, Hunger for Knowledge)
Lore: 4 ("Classically trained")
Cover: 5 (Junior professor, early 30's)
Price: Hubris (-1 in situations where he'd rather be right than successful)

Kicker: Maximillian teaches in one department, and is a doctoral candidate in another. He's also a budding sorcerer. (No, he doesn't have much free time.) Within the last few days, Max has received: (a) indications that he's about to be approved for tenure, (b) a substantial grant in his other department, and (3) new information (sent from an old friend) about a historical occult ritual that actually works. He has to deal with all three, but he really needs something to help him deal with his demon...

Max's Demon: Enkil
Stamina: 6
Will: 7
Lore: 6
Power: 7
Desire: Corruption
Need: Periodic occult rituals.

Abilities: Cloak (as a black cat that no one seems to notice), Shapechange, Daze (to conceal its true form), Special Damage (claws/fangs), Taint, Armor.

Appearance: Typically a black cat or a black-haired young woman with a "gothic librarian" look. She appears in numerous other forms, any of which can be found somewhere in Max's occult collection. (If this was Champions, each of her abilities would have the SFX of a different form.)

Concept: Maximillian has a solid training in the classical occult arts of many civilizations; it's a shame that most of those writings weren't done by sorcerers. (They work for him because of the emotional state they put him in when they fail, essentially.) After finally Binding a demon, his extensive research indicated it was a kind of succubus. He was partially right.

Instead of embodying physical lust, the demon Enkil represents the lust for knowledge. (She's a succubus-cum-muse.) She's snowed Max into thinking she is many demons in one body, through use of Cloak and Daze. For instance, if pressed into attacking someone she might appear to be a mythical beast, or a swarm of flies, but it's just for show. (Other sorcerers will probably figure this out before Max does.) In the course of getting her Need met she's nudging Max towards his doom, either by encouraging him to summon more demons or to inadvertently convert her into a Possessor.


More to follow. Notable places I "cheated":

- I showed players the list of descriptors but let them phrase them in their own words.

- Marie's player, my girlfriend, came up with her character concept weeks ago during a discussion of Sorcerer. She still had input from the other players, but we used her idea as an example of how character creation worked.

- As I discussed in a previous thread, Enkil is built a little... funky. She originally was going to be "many demons in one body", but now she's just faking it. This was the only spot where I wasn't sure how to use the system to model what the player wanted.

I'd appreciate it if anyone would point out any weak spots or issues I might have missed. For our first time with the system, it went very smoothly. Our only dice rolls in this session were for the Binding rituals, and I'll admit that I forgot that the results should be secret. (They did resonate with the group, though -- Marie's the only character with a binding in her favor, and she's the only character who doesn't want her demon.) We'll do Humanity checks next session.

Ron Edwards


I'll respond in more detail later, but for now, I thought I'd help you get a better verbal handle on the whole group's extremely clear, basic Premise: "What good are feelings, anyway?"


Andrew Norris

Thanks, Ron. I was scratching my head over the ramifications of that Premise, but I see it now.

I'd like to talk a bit about game prep (hopefully more as I continue to finalize things). It's no lie that Sorcerer is a prep-intensive game. At first I thought, no worry, a R-Map and some bangs and we're set, but I keep spiraling around the scenario making modifications all over the place. I've probably spent about ten hours on prep so far (or more, counting nights in front of the TV where I couldn't stop jotting things down in my notebook).

I adapted the Relationship Map from Chuck Pahlanuik's book Lullaby, with some gender pairs reversed. The protagonist is removed, although Marie plays a similar role (children and spouse killed or missing as a result of discovering sorcery). There's a Forbidden Tome-type mcguffin that's being sought by the small cabal of NPC sorcerers based out of the college, and Max (the one academically-based PC) will obviously get involved in this search early on. The other PCs all have reasons to seek further mastery over their demons (two of them have specified this in their backstory), and they have relationships which connect into the R-Map elsewhere.

I'm still working on Bangs for the situation, as I noticed my first effort looked a lot like linear plot points, and I know I can do better. I'm going to take another pass over my notes tonight, then post what I've got tomorrow.

Ron Edwards

Hi Andrew,

When making Bangs, your best bet is simply to check out the circle diagrams on the back of everyone's character sheets.

... which are all filled out, right? By the players?

Michael S. Miller rightly calls these diagrams "story bullseyes," and then your next task is merely to hit the center of each bullseye with your own NPCs' agendas. (The Kicker is already a component of the diagram; make sure it's well-represented there.)

With the proviso that the goal is not to enlist the PCs into those NPCs agendas, but rather to bring the Kickers to life, and provide a door for the players to rev their characters into "confront my Kicker" mode.

The fictional NPCs think they're enlisting the PCs into their agendas (or dealing with the PCs as threats), but they're wrong. These are sorcerers ...


Andrew Norris


I've been meaning to come back to this thread for a while now, but I think I have a good excuse. One of my players recently metamorphosed from "my girlfriend" to "my fiancee". As a result, there's a lot of prep of other sorts going on in our household. :)

Our second play session is tonight. Last week's session consisted primarily of playing out the Kickers. (From reading actual play reports it seems this is a common experience, which is reassuring, as I was worried I was dragging them out.) Apart from some minor issues I'll address later, everyone was strongly engaged from the onset, and we accomplished the goal of making everyone at the table care about the player characters.

Prep, and what I'd have done differently

Ron, I am going to admit that despite the players volunteering all sorts of things like writing up their Kickers as short-short fiction or Photoshopping images of characters and supporting cast, the one damn thing I didn't get around to was the diagram on the back of the sheet. And you're right, you need that filled out to find where the focus is going to be. I know from discussing with the players what the back of their sheet should look like, but it would have saved me a couple of hours of effort if I'd done this from the start. Trust me: tonight, before the pizza shows up, everyone's filling them out.

Another thing I'm going to hammer home next time I start a Sorcerer game is "You know you're a sorcerer." Everyone except for my fiancee created characters who aren't initially aware they have demons. (Her character, Marie, accepts she's haunted by her dead daughters, she just thinks it means she's losing her mind.) So the Kickers got pretty crazy when they had "I have a demon" folded into them. (I don't think this is a lasting problem, as they were confronted pretty strongly with the truth.)

The First Session

Max found out that his summoning ritual was a success when Enkil made herself known to him in the likeness of one of his students (who's out of town on "personal matters" for a while). Enkil indicated that Max's main rival for tenure, Dr. Dubois, was out of the picture, with the details left unclear. (We had a nice Cross here with a scene in Marie's country-western bar of Dr. Dubois as a drunken, utterly broken woman, her suit rumpled, one heel missing, singing "Desperado" in a deep contralto at karaoke.)

The rival professor later showed up at Max's office while he was translating the book of rituals he recieved in the mail, and one of the players portrayed her wonderfully as they both talked around "the secret" that had ruined her, without anyone in the game knowing what it was.

Max ended the evening by ingesting a "tribal herbal supplement" (hallucinogens) and summoning another demon, Babel. It's a chunk of a cuneiform tablet that has Boost Will, Hint, and Perceive (body language). Its Need is Secrets. The player was practically pumping his fist when he realized if he wanted to find something out, he could summon a demon to help him. (Of course, Enkil's going to be jealous.)

McGee's wrestling career got off to a poor start when he lost his match, not on a technical level, but in terms of not being able to get the crowd on his side. His player decided that night at his most vulnerable was when Kayfabe (the luchadore mask) let itself be found on a peg in the locker room. The rest of his evening was spent with Tucker, a NPC who serves as his manager, in the bar where Marie works. The player made this character someone you can relate to, which we all thought might be a problem with a professional wrestler.

Marie's player authored a lot of content, and essentially rewrote her Kicker to tie in with what was going on that evening. (The important thing she wanted to have happen was that someone died as an indirect result of her feeding her demon's Need, snapping her out of denial.) She came up with an annoying frat boy whose mood got sourer as the evening went on (as she was "feeding" on his positive emotions), and progressed from giving Marie a pinch on her ass, to trying to feel her up on the back patio, to drawing a gun on her at the end of the night.

Yes, she used Director stance to have an NPC draw a gun on Marie while she was at McGee and Tucker's table. It took me completely by surprise, and I had forgotten how much I like that feeling as a GM. We played out the combat (over in one round), and her demon's Daze and McGee's steel chair to the head combined to take him out. Rather too well, as the frat boy fell on his gun and shot himself in the stomach. We also learned, later, that McGee was shot as well, but to no effect. (Kayfabe's Armor ability means he's essentially immune to any weapon that wouldn't be used in the ring. A steel chair could hurt him, but not a bullet.)

Marie had a chilling scene just afterwards where on her way home her dead twins thanked her for "the nice meal". The result was the one time so far that someone's actually exerted control over their demons -- she snapped into that "Mommy" voice we all were scared of when we were five years old.

"No, darlings, Mommy loves you very much, but you're dead. You have to go away now." They faded away into her subconscious, sated.

Then there's Pauline. New player, had some bad experiences with D&D and online forum "roleplaying", and a bit of a perfectionist anyway. She started off slow to engage, so her night was more of a series of cool images and some character dialog. She was engaged, don't get me wrong, but it was a little detached.

Part of this was my fault, in that Pauline is practically bedridden and will rely on her demon to act for her outside her hospital room, but I didn't realize she wanted to discover that she had a demon in play. That, and I approved a Kicker that was kind of flat. It was a promising start but not as grabby as the other stories. The player and I talked via email during the past week and we now have a handle on things. Pauline's sorcery is her art, and her paintings are her occult library. Now that she realizes what's actually happening, she can make sense of it. After all, even if demons ignore the laws of physics, they can be analyzed asthetically.

Tonight's Session

I'll list my updated Bangs soon. The important thing is that I have a clear handle on what each character's "deal" is.

Max wants to Figure Everything Out, both in terms of how sorcery operates and what the backstory is. He's playing this as an obsessive need to be in control, not as a cluehound, so it's like revealing the backstory is his focus, not the GM's. His Bangs will revolve around the chaos that happens when he starts to dig too deep and makes those on the faculty with real secrets nervous.

McGee thinks he wants to be on TV and make lots of money, but what he really wants is respect and admiration. I'm going to be offering him several chances to get involved with things that can fill this need, so he can choose his path. Particularly, the woman he went home with last night needs money or she's in immediate danger, money that was earmarked for him to invest (and eventually run) the only wrestling school in the state.

Marie wants to move on -- either get her family back, or move on with her life. Her Bangs involve the girls' Need (and their ability to let her Perceive emotions of "bad people" whose emotions really should be muted), and her unresolved issues towards her husband (who is definately going to show up, one way or another).

Pauline wants to be well, she wants to be working on big important films, and she wants her ex-husband back. She's also befriended an old woman who's also in the oncology ward. Her Bangs involve her demon paying a visit on her ex-husband (who's off filming on location), and some revelations that the old woman has had a rather checkered past of her own. (I know, still needs work. I'm confident we're going to see strong action from this character tonight, so I'll work with that for now.)

Andrew Norris

We had our second session tonight. It was good, although all the players were exhausted (even a three hour session of Sorcerer is a long one). The fact that we ended with a complex combat didn't help, but we added on a coda (half framing future scenes, half kibitzing about ideas for next session) that left us in a good mindset. Overall feedback was very positive; they're glad we're playing.

I started the session by cracking down and making everyone finally fill out the back of their character sheet. They kept asking if they were doing it right, and I said I didn't know, but explained how items that cross quadrants should go on the lines between them. Well, it turned out the things they put in the middle third of the diagram were the same things I'd spent hours divinging from mining their backstory and second-guessing from their character's decisions in play. Next time, the diagrams get done before the character creation session is over.

Now that our fourth player is fully engaged, I'm struck with how obvious the split in styles is across the room. We've got the women (no previous RPG experience) on the left side, men (with 10+ years of RPGing) on the right. If I'm facing right, I'm in character as an NPC half the time, describing the results of small-scale actions the left. If I'm facing left, I can sit for five minutes and actually breathe, occasionally interjecting opposed rolls. I'm going to make sure I alternate left scenes and right scenes, because going around the room clockwise gave me a noticeable ebb and flow in my energy levels.

I recognize that the way the male players are interacting with me as GM is the way Sorcerer is written, don't get me wrong. I'm just still working on getting them past the whole "must negotiate with the GM every time I add  something to the SIS" bit.

It's funny -- the more Sorcerer I play, the more I end up thinking about the players as people and as a social group than I do the characters. The characters are really interesting tools that we use to explore premise. I'm starting to understand why there aren't many Actual Play threads here that are transcripts; the character's decisions are the turning points of the story, and all the elaborate notes I make are just color.

The other thing about running Sorcerer: I've noticed traditional RPG transcript threads, which I used to love to mine for ideas, painful to read. I've put down the stacks of RPG sourcebooks and returned to novels, TV, and film. I've realized the last campaign I ran was 20% premise and 80% Illusionism. Of all the game prep I've actually used, the most valuable comes from conversations with my fiancee about actual and fictional human problems. I know you know the game works, Ron, but mark me down as another datapoint.

Ron Edwards

Hi Andrew,

I've been waiting for that post! Thanks very much for it. I'd like to give little red-pen stars next to your points which merely ("merely") nail important points about both you and the game so well, but isolating them and saying "yes, exactly" in this medium is too cumbersome. Suffice to say there are at least five, and assume that if I didn't comment on it, then I agree wholeheartedly.

I'm glad to see that the diagrams are under way at last, and that you can now probably see why my little nose twitched a few posts into Steve's (hix's) thread. It's good that more people are benefiting from that discussion. I hope very much that you can see that Sorcerer requires far less GM-prep than you thought.

I hope you can look over my Bangs comments to him in that thread and apply them to your Bangs, which in my view are also a bit lightweight or vague, but perhaps that's just a matter of what you presented rather than the Bangs themselves. They seem to have worked all right in play, but I'm not yet getting the sense, from your post, that the GM/player/Bang dynamic is producing that characteristic Sorcerer Story-Now-Motherfucker runaway horses feel.

Don't forget to let players know that they have all kinds of power over what goes into that diagram and how it's positioned during play ... or conversely, that you have all kinds of power over information which might radically rearrange stuff on the diagrams, over time. It's always fun to see an item scoot from the edge to the center after a key revelation.

I'm not at all surprised at the difference between your two sets of players. I've observed the same distinction dozens and dozens of times. You might consider getting the men off the GM-nipple by changing your interactions with them a bit.

You wrote,

QuoteI recognize that the way the male players are interacting with me as GM is the way Sorcerer is written, don't get me wrong.

Please clarify that a bit. I'm not sure what you mean, or whether there's a typo in there, or what.

Your last two paragraphs are pure gold. What I'd really like to know, now, is what your new reactions will be upon re-reading the supplements. A lot of people find them a little baffling, except for the genre stuff in Sorcerer & Sword, because they have not yet played Sorcerer and don't yet understand the author/social issues that the game is founded on.

Last thing: the second session of a Sorcerer game tends to be the most important - it's the point when the players (without realizing it) get crucial feedback as to whether their characters really are or are not protagonists, in the distinct author-audience medium of role-playing. I.e., whether you really are Sorcerer GMing or have sold them a pig in a poke.

My question to you is whether the Premise as I stated it above seems to have become a driving issue for them, judging by player comments and body language as well as by their directions and dialogue for the characters.


Andrew Norris

Thanks for the feedback, Ron. I wrote my last post late at night when my mind was going at a fever pitch, and I was glad that after sleeping on it, I still "got it". I've got a lot of thoughts, but I'm going to just address the easy things first, and return to the larger ones after a few more hours of letting my thoughts percolate.

On Bangs, most so far have been eclipsed by a slow revelation of the true import of everybody's Kickers. The first session was about experiencing the Kickers, and the second one was where they really sunk in and the characters reacted not so much to the immediate event as to the fact that their lives are never going to be the same. Now that everyone has a strong sense of what their characters want and where they're going, I'm going to throw much stronger ones at them next session.

Short version of the relationship map and backstory:

I used Lullaby as a basis for the R-Map. Marie replaces the protagonist: A flashback last session revealed that her husband's total withdrawl from the family was a result of his learning sorcery to protect them. He failed, Marie was possessed, and her demon drank every bit of her children's emotions and vitality and gave them to her. The result was Marie standing over her comatose children, laughing with total glee. She thinks he left because he couldn't live with what happened, but he actually left town to draw away any other demons pursuing him.

Martin (her husband) was involved with Dr. Strauss (Max's department head, and a sorcerer) and Tucker (an expert manipulator, drug dealer, and McGee's wrestling promoter, but not a sorcerer). About a year before play started, the three of them murdered the one sorcerer in town, Anton, and either Banished, Contained, or Bound his demons (resulting in Martin and Dr. Strauss becoming full-fledged sorcerers).

McGee's mask and Pauline's Colour Out of Space are re-Summoned demons that originally belonged to Anton. (He used those demons for social competence and reconnaisance, respectively. They're highly changed by being re-Bound through the filter of their new master's desires.) Max's original demon is a Passer (portrayed as Parker Posey in Party Girl without any sense of morality). She's mimicking the host of Dr. Strauss's Possessor demon.

That's the setup -- I'll post about the Bangs that were actually used later.

Now to the male-female style issue:

Quote from: Ron Edwards
You wrote,

QuoteI recognize that the way the male players are interacting with me as GM is the way Sorcerer is written, don't get me wrong.

Please clarify that a bit. I'm not sure what you mean, or whether there's a typo in there, or what.

That wasn't clear at all, sorry. A Sorcerer GM plays the demons and supporting cast, with some NPCs handed over to players not in the current scene. That's the dynamic of the male players. (The fact that they rely heavily on me as GM to tell them "what happens next" is a holdover from a previous campaign of mine, and they're willing to ease up on "Player proposes, GM disposes".)

With the women, we had two extensive flashback scenes in which they authored almost all the content. I played a few NPCs, but I was handling dialog and color -- they told the group what happened. I then added to events after their narration, almost as if they were GMing the scene and I was a player. It felt a little like Universalis or The Pool. Once or twice during their scenes I had thoughts like "This is a tense moment, we should cut away and return later" or "I feel like this is a conflict we should be rolling for." They're comfortable with me interjecting more, so I don't think we're breaking the game; it just reminded me a little of posts in this forum where you reminded a poster that there is a GM in Sorcerer and it's not "player proposes, player disposes".

I think there's a happy medium between the two styles -- I want both groups to do more "GM proposes, player disposes." Obviously getting my Bangs in order is going to help with that.

Finally: "What good are feelings, anyway?" Last week I didn't grok this, even after discussing it with my fiancee in terms of in-game events. This session was all about that, and looking back I see it in the first session as well. Max interrogated Dr. Dubois, the rival professor, who was already ruined and no longer in the running for tenure, because his new information demon wanted its Need (secrets) met. It was heart-wrenching for her, totally inconsequential to him, and everyone nodded when I called for a Humanity check. Most telling, Marie's decided that she Bound the demon that killed her children by not letting herself feel anything. When she feels, people get hurt. She's actively avoiding figuring out what's going on from a sorcerous context because it involves letting go and losing control. She wants to grieve, but can't let herself. She's building towards a flashpoint where she goes one way or the other, and I'll want to write her Bangs to push that. (The player's discussed that when she does finally commit, she'll perform a seance to find out if Martin is dead -- and either contact his spirit, or his Banished Possessor, which is just itching to finally be Martin as a Passer. Either way, if Bound, it'd be the one entity in the world to whom she could let go, because it'll be immune to her emotion-draining ability.)

Andrew Norris

I've ruminated enough now, so I'm back. I dislike going point-by-point, but given that I've been responding to your points out of order, I needed the organization.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I hope you can look over my Bangs comments to him in that thread and apply them to your Bangs, which in my view are also a bit lightweight or vague, but perhaps that's just a matter of what you presented rather than the Bangs themselves. They seem to have worked all right in play, but I'm not yet getting the sense, from your post, that the GM/player/Bang dynamic is producing that characteristic Sorcerer Story-Now-Motherfucker runaway horses feel.

For this I need to insert names: Jeremy = McGee's player, Daniel = Max's, Erin = Marie's, Xanne = Pauline's.

Here are the Bangs that I used last session. If I seem self-effacing in my analysis, it's with good humor.

1) McGee spent well beyond his means to take a woman back to a nice hotel. The next morning she rolls over in bed, and casually asks for five thousand dollars "or they'll kill me." (Oh God, I hear you groaning.)

McGee replies that he has $7.41 in his checking account (Jeremy's body language indicated this mattered to him). He's trying to save enough money to buy out the owner of the only wrestling school in the state. (Again, delivered with the clear subtext of "McGee is a loser; he wishes he wasn't.") Of course Tucker can help -- hell, he can get him $8k so he can have his cake and eat it too. He's just going to need him to do some extra work on the side.

It pains me to admit how much this sounds like your workaday RPG plot hook. (It wasn't; the girl was an impromptu addition to last session's bar scenes by a player.) It even led to a botched exchange of drugs (the special mix of chemicals sorcerers use for Contact bonuses) for money, gunplay, and demon activity. But Jeremy's clear meaning for these scenes was "McGee thinks, 'What's the worst that could happen? If she screws me over, that's par for the course. But if she stays with me, I have arm-candy for my big ring entrance when I make it.'" Big dreams, low expectations. Anybody with a lick of sense would know to walk away, he knows that, but  he goes through with it.

2) Marie returns from her usual morning jog (Erin established the woman's self control borders on masochism). She turns around in the shower to see Martin, her missing husband, standing there in a dark suit, covered in mud, rain streaming down his face. He tells her "I'm sorry I ran. I had to draw them away from you. I promise I'll try to come back."

Erin framed the next scene as an emergency weekend visit with one of Martin's former colleagues, a therapist who no longer practices but wants to help her. This led to an intense player-authored flashback detailing Martin's fall into obsession, Marie's possession, and the girls' death as a result. A few days later, Martin left the funeral and she never saw him again.

Erin depicted the murder as the children growing slowly more listless while Marie smiled, then giggled, then collapsed into paroxyms of innocent, childlike glee. That was the last significant display of emotion Marie had until play started eighteen months later.

3) Pauline's been lying in her hospital bed, trying to call her ex-husband (on location filming "some artsy crap to keep the critics happy) for days. She awakens to find the Rolex she bought him for their first anniversary lying on the bedside table. (Not a Bang, right? She didn't have to do anything. In my defense, Xanne told us the ex was a hot-button issue.)

That was eclipsed by the scene she authored, which I'd have to call the real Kicker. Pauline gets into her wheelchair and calmly begins working on a new painting. The ex is "rehearsing" with his leading lady in a swank downtown loft in Ontario. We see that the abstract swirls of color are resolving into the scene in the loft. Moments after the two step into the kitchen, the Colour hurls the sofa through the picture window and out into the street. The starlet is floored (literally; shooting will be on hold for two weeks), but the ex sighs and calmly picks up the phone. (Clear as day subtext: Pauline's invisible friend is the real reason they got divorced.)

There was an abortive attempt at a Bang later involving her learning that her terminal cancer wasn't actually killing her, to the doctors' bewilderment. This sort of dissolved into color as "What's up with the ex-husband" was still on everyone's mind.

4) Max set out from the start to find out what happened to Dr. Dubois and try out his new information demon, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. No Bang for him this session. Based on the events this session, though, Dr. Strauss will confront him with the fact that (a) he's a sorcerer, and (b) he knows Max is a sorcerer. (This was revealed in a scene in which Max wasn't present, but obviously Daniel was. In a sense, it's half-delivered already.)

My take from this analysis is that the Bangs didn't force a decision, but each time a character was hit with one, they decided that they needed to "do something" rather than stay in their rut. I threw them a softball and they knocked it out of the park. (I know that it wasn't just "grab the GM's plot hook and hang on with all your might" because we talked about just that issue after the session.)

I think this means that good Bangs are really going to work with these players.

Quote from: Ron EdwardsWhat I'd really like to know, now, is what your new reactions will be upon re-reading the supplements. A lot of people find them a little baffling, except for the genre stuff in Sorcerer & Sword, because they have not yet played Sorcerer and don't yet understand the author/social issues that the game is founded on.

Quote from: Ron EdwardsMy question to you is whether the Premise as I stated it above seems to have become a driving issue for them, judging by player comments and body language as well as by their directions and dialogue for the characters.

I'm rereading the supplements now, particularly Sex, which I never saw as relevant. (I imagine I'll find the attention-seeking antics of the one female in my last campaign discussed there.) I read through all four books several times when planning my last campaign, and I used them in service to what I'd call Sim-Exploration of the characters' debauched spiral into the occult underworld.

I introduced heavy Director stance (originally fueled by a metagame resource, later accepted as a natural part of play), used Bangs as "...and then it gets worse!" to drive characters through their subplots, and had a great time with Weaves and Crosses. I started using Robert Altman's Short Cuts (with fight scenes by Tarantino) as an example of our session structure.

As a result, I'm comfortable with a lot of the techniques, but I've never used them in the service of something meaningful. That campaign was about crossing lines and paying a high price for power, but the players didn't engage the premise in a mindful fashion. So I'm comfortable with using those techniques to "be entertaining" as a GM, but I feel like I'm starting from scratch in using them for their intended purposes. I'm curious to see what my response will be to the books now.

Andrew Norris

Hi all,

No game this week, but I wanted to briefly discuss my planned Bangs for next session. I'm keeping "Story Now, Motherfucker" in mind as much as possible. :)

Current game state:

Max is poring over occult lore, finally having actually asked Enkil to help him. (Oh, and there's an utterly broken rival left in his dust, but he doesn't care.) We've established that all he cares about is knowledge and mastery, at any cost.

McGee, his new "valet", and his manager Tucker are brainstorming how to come up with a large sum of money now that the drug/book trade hasn't gone off. His chances of buying out the wrestling school owner look dismal. The owner, a big bald guy with a handlebar mustache known as "The Walrus", was like the hard-ass uncle McGee never had, but that doesn't mean he'd just hand it over his life's work without a hefty buyout offer.

Marie's in the attic, digging through her missing husband's research notes. She's made the plunge; she'll do whatever she has to in order to find out what the hell happened to him.

Pauline just found out her cancer isn't killing her, and Roe, her ex-husband, has had enough harassment from her demon. He's got Lore 1 (just from hanging around the goddamn thing so long -- it's the reason their marriage broke up), but he doesn't know any rituals.

Proposed Bangs

Max: Dr. Strauss calls. He knows Max is a sorcerer, because he's one as well. He offers to formally mentor Max which involves a ritualistic bond of some kind. However, Dr. Strauss doesn't have as solid a hold over his demon as one would hope. He's got a lot of power, but he's firmly caught up in the lies that Lilith tells him. (We'll see how that "at any cost" view holds up...)

McGee: Tucker's mindset is currently "Screw the drugs and the magic, go with what you know." Plan B: He's got the dirt on The Walrus, something that'd send him to jail for the rest of his life instead of a Florida retirement. If McGee doesn't use the information to take care of business, he will.

Marie: One night at the bar, she flashes back and makes a connection -- Tucker was the man who sold her husband the drugs he used to kick-start his sorcery. Now he's standing right there, with that flirty little grin on his face. There's her lead.

Pauline: The ex shows up at the hospital. He's done pretending nothing was happening, and he has an agenda of his own. He'll take her back -- under the condition that she initiates him into sorcery. Roe's cast as Russell Crowe with an even bigger ego and attitude than real life, so he's not going to play this cool.

Anyone's input is much appreciated. I've been poring over the other Bang-related threads recently, so we'll see how much I've absorbed their content.


i'll admit when it comes to creating "story now, mf'er" bangs, i'm still getting the grasp- all this forgey stuff takes awhile to handle effectively...

however- Max and McGee could just say "No"....bang went looney tunes 'bang flag' out of pistol

Marie's flashback might be better if she outright finds evidence of the drug dealing

as far as Pauline's goes- does her ex really understand what he's asking?  how many people, if they did, would ask for what he's asking for?

i recommend use what you have as a starting point, treat them like the volumes at '3' and crank it to '11'
(looks like you just edited the post a little since i clicked post myself, so some of this might not apply!)

Maybe Dr Strauss demands Max's servitude, or else he'll out him to the faculty

Mcgee gets the dirt and learns it somehow impacts his life as well.  Then, before he can act on it, some other whack job takes care of the Walrus (he owns the school, right?) by sticking his head between the pavement and a city bus wheel (while it's rolling, of course) thus defaulting ownership to some other party that will really screw w/ his head and dreams of being a pro

Pauline- shit, just have the ex show up as a sorcerer and pissed of that their marriage fell apart

Marie- kinda stuck here, not having read up on this thread in the last few days...okay- have marie meet up with this pusher, get chummy with her, maybe try to push some of the same stuff on her as tucker and something or other really freaky comes out of it...still stuck :)

remember- the bang can't be a "nah, i don't wanna do that" kind of choice
"The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us."    — Calvin and Hobbes (Bill Watterson).

Andrew Norris

Thanks, Brian, that's good stuff.

I think subconsciously I've been thinking that they won't "just say no", because of the kinds of things the players have been doing and where they've perked up and shown interest.

But that's not good enough, because what if a player's thinking, "Well, I can't just say no, because then the outcome would be boring"? I think you're right in that if the character has to do something, then the player doesn't feel like there's an out that they're intentionally not using.

I guess what I mean is that a good Bang has any number of interesting responses, and no boring ones. I think having Dr. Strauss and Tucker apply pressure to make sure the answer isn't "just say no" is the way to go.

The other thing I didn't mention is that I've probably been slacking on Marie's Bang, because the player's told me that she plans to try to Summon her ex-husband as a demon. (In our setting, ghosts are demons; if he appears, then she knows he's dead.) That's going to keep her pretty busy as it is.


that's right- the demons are ghosts- i think that works because one the players has dead folk as a big part of her history.  that really keeps the other players' demons' natures on their minds, i would think

i can;t remember if you've seen the Sorcerer Wiki or not, but here it is.  a lot of stuff from the older threads is compiled there- i like to refer to it, esp the band and r-map sections

in a game (not sorcerer) i was running the other night, one of my players said no to a bang i prepared that i thought was sure to spur them into motion.  upon further review, i set the bang up with an out, which is 'old school' GMing- a player must have an out.  but that's not the case with sorcerer- the only outs ideally require a player to push on the humanity accelerator, not duck the issue
"The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us."    — Calvin and Hobbes (Bill Watterson).