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Author Topic: Play by E-mail Sorcerer  (Read 6226 times)
Alex
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Posts: 4


« on: February 27, 2002, 11:46:58 AM »

It strikes me that Sorcerer is the kind of game that would be really great if run through e-mail.  Not only does the GM have more time to put into creating each aspect of the game, but the group can split up much more easily if need be - without players being aware out-of-game about what the other characters are doing.  This not only heightens the paranoia aspect of the game - there is nothing that instills fear in players like their characters having too little information - but it also enables the players to plot against each other, which makes a good deal of sense.  After all, with all the powers at their disposal, the thing which a sorcerer should fear most (besides his own demons) is another sorcerer.  Add to that the fact that sorcerers are the ultimate in arrogance, and vendettas and rivalries will come naturally.  Even if the player characters do not necessarily become at odds with each other, the mutual suspicion and distrust make for a most interesting game.  ("Was that demonic assassin sent by the Black Wheel cult?  Or was it sent by my "good buddy" Joe...?")

    With that said, I am wondering if anybody is currently running or considering running a Sorcerer game through e-mail. If so, I would be very interested in playing.  I can be contacted at drakemallow@hotmail.com.

    Thanks!  :-)
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Seth L. Blumberg
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Posts: 303


« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2002, 02:15:17 PM »

Quote from: Alex
the group can split up much more easily if need be - without players being aware out-of-game about what the other characters are doing.


While this is often useful in Simulationist play, it rather misses the point in Narrativist play--what good is it to tell a story with no audience?
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the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue
Alex
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Posts: 4


« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2002, 06:44:49 PM »

"Narrativist play," as you put it, is overrated.  It assumes that all of the players are mature enough not to metagame in the slightest regarding actions that may harm their character.  This is an incorrect assumption because most "great role-players" immediately drop all pretenses when it seems like their characters are going to die.
    For example: Suppose one player wants to gain the upper hand on another of the PCs and make sure that Sorcerer never threatens him.  He might, say, bind a Parasite demon or a Possessed acid-spitting tapeworm into the other character while he is unconscious in the hospital recovering from his wounds in the last battle, to attack him internally if the first sorcerer commands it.  He could even use Link to always be informed of his rivals whereabouts.  (Since the demon, of course, still owes allegiance to the ORIGINAL sorcerer.)
    Now simulationist practice would have this be done in secret, and it is unlikely that another player would find out.  Narrativists would run this scene right in front of the player, who would of course metagame into somehow "discovering" the demon.  Why?  "Because it makes for an interesting story."  The truth is that Narrativist players usually have no grasp of strategy, but they don't like to admit it, and that is why they take the high handed approach "It's all about storytelling... YOU wouldn't understand."  In my opinion, a good RPG should force a person not only to exercise their acting skill, but also use their MIND.  That involves figuring things out on one's own, without mental crutches.
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J B Bell
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Posts: 267


« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2002, 07:05:00 PM »

I'm going to leave a detailed rebuttal to more seasoned veterans than myself, and cooler heads.  However, just a couple of things:

First, the reaction of puzzlement to your (I assume proudly) Simulationist concerns is a natural one, since Sorcerer is, from the ground up, intended to facilitate Narrativist play.  The stuff you talk about is certainly doable, and of course you're right that a PBeM game allows really strong information control.  I don't think Metal Fatigue is trying to bag on you or on Simulationists generally.

Secondly, the Forge isn't exclusively Narrativist, but that outlook is very well-represented here, and you're not making any friends with your sweeping generalizations.  I suggest you tone down the attack mode.

--TQuid
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Valamir
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« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2002, 07:26:52 PM »

The key point you're missing Alex is that Narrativist play requires players who are willing to cooperate with each other.  If you don't have those sort of players and you want to play a Narrativist game then advice has always been to go out and seek such players.

Also your second post here demonstrates that you're carrying around a fairly large chip on your shoulder.  No doubt somewhere along the line you've come to the conclusion that "Narrativists claim Narrative play is superior" and since you don't prefer narrative play you feel slighted as if your play must then be inferior.

Rest assured you won't be needing your defensive mechanisms here.  You may dispose of that chip in peace and continue to browse and enjoy the site.  No one at the Forge is going to tell you any style of play is superior to any other.  The entirety of the work that has gone on here is dedicated to identifying 3 things:  1) what type of play you enjoy,  2) what type of play your fellow players enjoy, and 3) what type of play the game your playing encourages.   As long as these three things mesh you will have an enjoyable and rewarding roleplaying experience whatever style you prefer.  If they don't mesh this site offers many suggestions on why that might be and how to achieve a better match.

Many people continue for years to play games in environments where these things are out of synch and eventually become disillusioned with the hobby.  As Paul is fond of saying thats like using a hammer to cut with and then complaining it doesn't do as good a job as your saw.

Now it does so happen that the narrativist style of play is represented in greater quantity that other styles, but that is more by confluence of events than by design.  

Sorcerer happens to be a fairly transitional design.  I happen to think it would work well for email play because it would allow individual stories to be explored in greater depth with finer control.  This has little to do with "keeping secrets" from the other players however.
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Christopher Kubasik
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Posts: 1153


« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2002, 09:04:13 PM »

Also, around here, players aren't usually viewed as being "Simulationist Players," or "Narrativist Players."  Players are players, and it's assumed people will want to play different kinds of games depending on what they're looking for that night.

Yes, I'm looking for people who want to play Narrativist games, but that because I need someone who *likes* those games if I'm going to get a chance to play. But sit me down in front of Axis and Allies or Diplomacy and I'm the happiest kid on the block.  And I often win.

I can confidently say, however, as a well trained Simulationist I'm all for letting my character die if it's appropriate for the story.  If I'm playing CoC, my guy's dead or insane by the time the story ends; if I'm playing Pendragon and I crit my passion, I'm fighting till I drop.
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Alex
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Posts: 4


« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2002, 11:15:45 PM »

You guys make a good point.  Although making friends has never been the highest concern of mine, I concede that I may have gone a bit too much on "attack mode" when dealing with Metal Forge, and I apologize if my remarks seemed too aggressive.
    My point is simply that what I have seen described as "Narrativist play" seems to depend mostly on the naive optimism that ALL players will cooperate with each other, and this is rarely the case.  Furthermore, isn't the expectation that players should cooperate itself a constraint?  Some of the most amazing roleplaying I have seen came from a 1910 Vampire game where two PCs who loathed each other (one a Ventrue, the other a Brujah) kept on enacting intricate plots to undercut the other character's standing in court.  If we constrain players with the expectation that they should cooperate, I think that a lot of the potential of Sorcerer is lost.  Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful game with an amazing concept, but it could be so much more.
     Anyway... still hoping to see a Play By E-Mail game sometime.  If anybody hears of one running, please let me know.  :-)
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Ferry Bazelmans
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« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2002, 03:50:24 AM »

Quote from: Alex

    My point is simply that what I have seen described as "Narrativist play" seems to depend mostly on the naive optimism that ALL players will cooperate with each other, and this is rarely the case.  Furthermore, isn't the expectation that players should cooperate itself a constraint?  Some of the most amazing roleplaying I have seen came from a 1910 Vampire game where two PCs who loathed each other (one a Ventrue, the other a Brujah) kept on enacting intricate plots to undercut the other character's standing in court.  If we constrain players with the expectation that they should cooperate, I think that a lot of the potential of Sorcerer is lost.  Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful game with an amazing concept, but it could be so much more.


Ah, the problem revealed. There is distinct difference between Player cooperation to produce a story/good game/whatever and Character cooperation. In your example of the 1910 game it seems that, while the two characters hate eachother, the two players are working together to keep the story interesting.

Crayne
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Valamir
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« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2002, 06:35:17 AM »

Exactly so Crayne.  The idea is NOT that the characters have to be buddy buddy.  But rather the players have to agree to play the game in such a way as not to deprotagonize each other.  In fact, Narrativist play opens all kinds of doors for character vs character rivalry that are difficult in more "party" oriented games.

And its not a naive assumption that players are going to be willing to cooperate, because you determine that willingness to participate in advance as part of the "social contract" established with your group.

If your players aren't the sort of players who desire to play this sort of game then you play something else with them, and find a different group to play narrative games with.  But I think assumeing that a current group of players "wouldn't want to" or "wouldn't be willing" or "couldn't handle it" is probably doing them a disservice.  There are many people here who started out as full bore simulationists or gamists (myself included) who now find they enjoy periodic forays into narrativism.  This forum is rampant with "oh my, I thought I was the only one who felt disatisfied in my current game play" stories.

So, don't knock it till you've tried it.  And if you try it and it doesn't seem to work there are plenty of people here would be happy to give you some advice on what might of went wrong so you can try it again.  But if in the end you find its just not your cup of tea, no one here is going to hold you down and force feed it to you.  

Ron's been pleading for awhile to get some more simulationist threads going.  So if you have something to share in that regard, I'm sure there are people who'd love to talk about it.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2002, 07:10:32 AM »

Hi,

Thanks to everyone for being willing to talk to one another. And you know, I read that last line in Ralph's last post and decided to turn it around - why not go with Alex's first suggestion, which I shall now re-phrase [and forgive me Alex for putting words in your mouth]:

"Hi there! I think Sorcerer would be a great PBEM in a strongly traditional, closed-information Simulationist approach."

I'm sufficiently comfortable with Sorcerer's Narrativist chops not to be threatened by this idea. In fact, I say, why not? It's Drift, but what's wrong with a li'l Drift among friends?

So, let's get Simulationist for thought-purposes, and contribute some ideas to Alex about how it might be done, or what might be considered, or learn more from him about what he specifically had in mind. Certain elements of the system, for instance, would have to be eliminated or toned-down - what might they be?

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2002, 07:56:05 AM »

Good idea Ron.

I know my first reaction to Sorcerer was that it wasn't nearly Sim enough.  I think I remember an early thread that went something along the lines of "how could you possibly roll all physical traits into Stamina, what about the difference between strength and agility."

So if I were going to do Sim Sorcerer, the first thing I'd do is take a look at what kind of Sorcerer game it was going to be.  If it was going to be a sort of rough and tumble physical game of sorcerously enhanced combatants (like the one sample group from the rules whose name I forget) I'd be tempted to break out the Stamina stat into a more combat oriented triad of toughness, agility, strength.

If it was going to be a game of political maneuverings and high level conspiracies between sorcerous power brokers I might break out Will into seperate stats for charm or presence.

I'd start here just to give a bit more granularity in those aspects likely to be prevelent in the game.

I'd also be tempted if I were really trying to ramp up the sim value to expand Cover in a similiar way.


But if the goal is not so much to modify the core rules to enhance sim play more but just to play the game in a more simulative fashion, I don't know that a whole lot would really need to be changed.  Sorcerer isn't really a bleeding edge game that would have to be "reigned in" for for more traditional use.

The biggest change that would be required is really shifting the shared power back to the GM.  The die rolls wouldn't necessarily change, but who decides what is rolled and when, and who interprets the results would likely be much more GM-centric
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Alex
Member

Posts: 4


« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2002, 06:00:05 PM »

I see there have been a lot of responses to my last post... so I hope you'll bear with me if I answer them all in one reply.  ::smile::
    First of all, I'm not going to get into comparing the relative merits of Narrativist and Simulationist play since every time I suggest that I have already TRIED Narrativist play and thought it fell rather short people say "Oh, that couldn't possibly have been narrativist play" or "you must have been playing with a lousy group."  So I'm just going to leave that alone unless people want to offer specific *examples* to debate.
     As a background on me so you know where my preferences lie... my favorite roleplaying games are Over The Edge, Ars Magica variants, and Vampire: the Masquerade (played as a Live-Action game, not tabletop).  I am also a big fan of Diplomacy and chess (some of my chess matches can go on for weeks if the opponent is good).  I love games where you can primarily compete and match your wits against other players.  Why?  Because whenever I play, either the GMs are not smart enough to foresee my strategy to easily get around the obstacles that they have set (disappointing), or they get upset that they were outsmarted and create some heavy-handed NPCs to "get the game back on the right track" (even MORE disappointing).  In over a decade of gaming I have met only two GMs who were capable enough to be fair and outsmart me at the same time, and one of them no longer games.  So I usually turn to other players to offer me the challenge that I need.
    Naturally, in a competitive game, it is very important to have rules that are fair and establish play balance, and this is why I may be perceived by many of you at a "simulationist."  The truth is simply that narrativist rules seem designed to facilitate storytelling rather than fairness or play balance, so in a competitive game which uses Narrativist rules the character most likely to win is simply the one who most entertains the GM.  Simulationist games, on the other hand, tend to be very equitable in terms of game balance.  Of course, I'm not a masochist - I don't like simulationist games where it takes an hour to compute the trajectory of a slingstone.  I simply want a streamlined system which is fair, maintains game balance, and allows characters to compete with each other on an equal footing.
    In regards to Ron's post, concerning suggestions about converting Sorcerer to this style of play, I would most likely leave the game exactly the way it is for the most part.  The system is very well balanced so that the more power you have, the more problems you have as well.  Summon hordes of weak demons and you have to satisfy all their Needs and conflicting Desires.  Summon one very powerful demon and you will not be able to bind it very well, which means a high likelihood of it breaking free and eating you if you displease it (leading to the natural question of who's in control of whom ;-).
    The only trouble is the cover background.  Surely it is obvious that some types of covers offer much more advantages than others.  For example, which character is likely to have more advantage in a game, somebody with the cover "third-grade prodigy" or "FBI agent?"  Hmmm... the FBI agent can investigate, see when people are nervous, shoot well, etc.  The third-grader can... draw well?  Obviously this needs some changes.  It penalizes players for choosing concepts that enhance roleplay and rewards those who take concepts solely to get bonus dice from their covers.
     Furthermore, even in an ordinary Sorcerer game, using cover as a catch-all hinders character development by effectively limiting them to the "skill list" that they began play with.  The doctor will NEVER learn how to shoot a gun, the artist will never learn to bandage wounds.  Is this realistic?  Regardless of how peaceful I might be, if *I* were a person who had suddenly learned that I could summon demons - and other people were sending demons after me - I would learn how to use SOME weapon pretty damn fast!!
    Anyway, I don't want to be a complainer and offer problems without solutions.  My recommendation is to split cover up into three areas of interest (one primary, two secondary) as Over The Edge does.  Characters may spend experience to either improve one of these or to buy a new area of interest at the starting value.  This achieves the following:

1) It prevents characters from being defined solely by their professions,

2) It enables characters to grow in different directions than they started out from.

3) It allows a fairer assessment of what the character is or isn't capable of (which is crucial for competitive games).

     Anyway, those are my thoughts. Comments?
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Ben Morgan
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« Reply #12 on: February 28, 2002, 06:57:43 PM »

Quote
Naturally, in a competitive game, it is very important to have rules that are fair and establish play balance, and this is why I may be perceived by many of you at a "simulationist." The truth is simply that narrativist rules seem designed to facilitate storytelling rather than fairness or play balance, so in a competitive game which uses Narrativist rules the character most likely to win is simply the one who most entertains the GM. Simulationist games, on the other hand, tend to be very equitable in terms of game balance. Of course, I'm not a masochist - I don't like simulationist games where it takes an hour to compute the trajectory of a slingstone. I simply want a streamlined system which is fair, maintains game balance, and allows characters to compete with each other on an equal footing.


What you're describing here sounds to me like Gamism rather than Simulationism. Ron's essay has become required reading here, as he defines quite explicitly the terms that we use here on a daily basis.

Simulationists (and I use the term not to make sweeping generalizations, merely that the person or persons indicated are using Simulationism as the primary "mode" for their RPing) are much more concerned with accurately modelling *something*, whether that be the game world, particular characters' psyches, or even a particular genre. In fact, one of the first things that goes out the window in hard-core Sim is game balance, for the simple fact that everyone in "Real Life" is not built with the same amount of "points".

There's been a lot of talk regarding Gamism as a valid style in its own right (and not just a flimsy disguise for Munchkinism, which is simply dysfunctional behavior in the context of the gaming group), and it looks to me like that's what you're looking for. Try Clinton's Donjon Krawl, for a nicely balanced Gamist design (and I'm not just saying that because I'm doing artwork for it), as opposed to, say, D&D, which arguably has elements of all three styles, but satisfies none of them. I'm not sure it has the competitive element you're looking for, or even supports it (Clinton would be the final authority on that), but by its very nature goes a lot further towards supporting it than a hard-core Narr game like The Pool, or The World, The Flesh & The Devil. Rune also has a very noticeable competitive element to it, but I don't know any details as I've never read the full rules.

It's also been debated whether it's even possible to satisfy all three types (Gamism, Narrativism, and Simulationism) at once, or whether one should even try.
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-----[Ben Morgan]-----[ad1066@gmail.com]-----
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furashgf
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Posts: 55


« Reply #13 on: February 28, 2002, 08:29:29 PM »

I'll just chime in with a comment about the "e-mail" part of the "e-mail Sorcerer" discussion.

My first experience with Narritivism/Director/Author-Style play was actually in a White-Wolf-style PBEM!  That is, the GM gave strongly encouraged director/author style play.  For example, my character had all sorts of nifty powers and a decent role (i.e., a protagonist, not just someone who could be someone you'd be interested in some day). As we'd play, I'd just make stuff up that I was intersted in exploring, then GM and the other players would leverage off of that.  It was wonderful, and perfect for e-mail, with the asynchronous delays - it was often easier to narrate than converse over every plot point.  Sort of like musical jamming.
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Gary Furash, furashgf@alumni.bowdoin.edu
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #14 on: February 28, 2002, 09:25:24 PM »

As Ben says, if what you're primarily interested in is competition/challenge, then the label most folks here are going to give to the "stuff you like" is Gamism.

As far as "since every time I suggest that I have already TRIED Narrativist play and thought it fell rather short people say 'Oh, that couldn't possibly have been narrativist play' or 'you must have been playing with a lousy group'", certainly either of those claims are possible, but based on everything in your posts so far, the most important is probably much simpler - you don't LIKE Narrativism.  Which is fine, even here where so many Nar-folks post - it's just good to remember that some folks DO like it, and regardless of whether your previous experiences were "real Nar with a good group" or not, THEIR experiences of Nar that didn't fall short are valid.

Which is a long way of saying "people like different things" - sorry if I was over-professorial in getting to that point.

Now, as far as your Cover solution goes . . . first off, realize that the problem you point to is NOT a problem if you're playing Nar-focused Sorceror, because it doesn't care about "unfair advantage".  The third-grade prodigy and the FBI agent have equivalent story-influence - the prodigy uses his Cover to reveal a contact that already knows everything the agent is investigating to discover.  The doctor adds some details to his background - say, served in the National Guard to pay for Med school - and voila, he can use a firearm.

Now, from a Gamist standpoint, these aren't very satisfactory solutions.  Neither, I submit, is your solution.  Your solution is a superior Simulationist approach, but I think you've identified an interesting situation here, which is kind of a Gamist "El Dorado", whereby we strive for a good, fair challenge by accurately modeling "reality".  Take care of the Sim, and the Game takes care of itself (ASIDE: "El Dorado" is a phrase some folks at the Forge use - best as I can tell - to describe the possibly-unattainable goal of a Simulationist rule set that allows Story to "just happen" because it's such a good Sim).  My guess is that there's also . . .  "Cibola?"  . . . for Gamism - you can approach it, to a certain degree it does help the Game concerns when you've got a good "reality", because it is easier for participants to predict outcomes . . . but ultimately, it's always possible to find things that make sense in the Sim that aren't good in terms of Gamist competition/challenge, and thus the quest may be illusory.

But anyway . . . If what you're really interested in is competitive equity (and interesting challenge), what really matters is making the *use* of Cover a Gamist excersize.  How about this? - provide a pool of points for players (ALL players, regardless of advantaged or disadvantaged Cover description) to spend on Cover bonuses/rolls per game session (or scene or "unit of play" - whatever works), and if they're out of points, they don't get a Cover bonus (just because you HAVE something in your background doesn't mean you can always USE it).

Just one approach - hope you enjoy the input here at the Forge,

Gordon
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