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Author Topic: [Sorcerer] Setting Concept: Inner Demons  (Read 9949 times)
emaise
Member

Posts: 22


« on: October 25, 2005, 06:28:40 AM »

I'm working on a Sorcerer setting.  It's not ready yet, but I thought I'd share some of my thoughts as I work on it.

I'm getting back into gaming after an extended absence, and I'm building up a network of friends to play with.  I decided one of the games I want to run is Sorcerer; I've had Sorcerer and Sword and Sorcery for a while now and have really wanted to play it.  This weekend I started thinking about how I would run the game.  I was looking forward to establishing the setting collaboratively with the group... but almost as soon as I thought about it, a concept for a setting hit me, in one of those moments where an Idea takes hold and won't let go.  So now I know what the game is going to be about.  There's still lots of things to be decided by the group, but I've decided at least some things so far.

Demons:  Demons are the untapped mystical power within every human.  Humans are the source of all things supernatural, and every human has supernatural potential.  Most people keep this power repressed to the point where they are unaware that it even exists.  Sorcerers have the ability to unlock the potential in other people, but doing so also removes the inhibitions that normally keep that potential in check: humility, doubt, kindness, love - the very things that make one human.  The resulting creatures have great power, unbridled desires, and no regard for the consequences of their actions - in short, demons.

Feel and Flavor:  As soon as I had that much, I started thinking about the consequences.  I pictured how a sorcerer might interact with demons... and a mini-story immediately unfolded in my head.  It was another Idea that wouldn't let go; I couldn't sleep that night until I had written it down.  I normally hate "flavor text" in RPGs; I find them tedious, indulgent, trite, and unhelpful.  But I discovered it's completely different when it's your flavor text.  It helped me capture the feel of the game I was looking for and brought out more concepts to play with.  I'll post it below; please don't make too much fun of it for being tedious, indulgent, and trite. <sheepish grin>

Premise:  By the time I had the flavor text done, I had found my premise and a name for my setting.  Sorcerer is a game that asks: what will you do to get what you want?  Inner Demons is a setting that asks: can you strip others of their humanity without losing your own?

Hitting a Snag:  Next I started thinking about demons-as-changed-humans.  I figured demons would retain at least the shell of their former selves; in Sorcerer terms, they would all be Passers.  They would still pretend to be the people they were, going to work and school, having relationships, etc, but their new nature would dramatically change those relationships overnight (think of it as a Kicker for the NPC human).

Now I started worrying about character overload.  If every PC has a couple of demons, and if all of those demons are Passers, then any "adventure" is going to start with up to a dozen people standing around.  That's a big crowd to go skulking around in dark alleyways.  With "stock" Sorcerer, you've got Objects and Parasites and Inconspicuous demons which let the PCs keep their pets nearby without causing a stir...  In my setting, just getting the PCs together for coffee is going to take up half a Starbuck's.  So I started thinking about ways to give the PCs access to the demons without requiring a bunch of bodies taking up space nearby.  Maybe sorcerers have telepathic links to their demons, maybe they can use their powers through those links, maybe they can teleport onto the scene when required...

A Moment of Clarity:  I wasn't happy with the things I was coming up with.  Then I had my most important insight yet: I was ducking the question.  I was trying to work around the problem instead of confronting it.  The answer was staring me right in the face; I had already written it down RIGHT UP THERE!  "Inner Demons is a setting that asks: can you strip others of their humanity without losing your own?"

I was trying to write the demons-as-people out of the story because they were inconvenient, when I'd already decided they were exactly what the story was about!

That observation has crystalized the game for me.  As always, an act of sorcery is an act against humanity.  In this case, it's not just a matter of spilling blood or having degrading sex to bring something Unpleasant from Someplace Else into a world where it doesn't belong.  In this case, you are destroying the life of an innocent person to release that unpleasant thing.  Even worse, the demon doesn't come from nowhere; it has ties to a former life, the very life you destroyed.  Those ties are damaged, but not broken... and now they're your problem to deal with.  The demon you freed probably doesn't care about them... do you?

I'm still not sure what to do about the room-full-of-people problem.  But now I know that it's not a problem, it's the crux of our story.  The players and I will figure out how to deal with it, but we'll do it by focusing on the demons-as-former-people aspect rather than trying to sweep it under the carpet.

-----

Comments and suggestions welcome.  I haven't read The Sorcerer's Soul yet, but it's on order and I'm eagerly awaiting its arrival.

  - Eddie
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emaise
Member

Posts: 22


« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2005, 06:34:41 AM »

So This Guy Walks Into A Bar...

The neon sign says "Harry's".  Looks pretty busy for a Thursday night.  Not too upscale, not too seedy... a decent cross-section of middle-class folks relaxing after working all day, looking for companionship or escape.

Perfect.

I've never been in the place before; I'm looking for something new anyway, so again, perfect.  I find a table in the corner, order a beer, and start scanning the crowd.  By the time the waitress brings me my beer I've already begun my mantra; I barely notice her flirting with me.  Doesn't matter.  She's not what I came here for.

The beer helps me relax and focus.  I can hear the buzz of conversation all around me... more flirting (lots more), bragging, bullshitting... bitching about work, betting on the game... I go deeper into my trance and slowly the chattering fades.  The faces grow dim and blend together, then disappear entirely; the noise recedes into silence.

Only then, finally, can I hear the screaming.

Their faces are crystal clear now - their true faces - seething with anger, hungry and desperate.  Their howling and shrieking fill my head; their impotent cries are my siren's song.  One by one they turn and notice me...  The screams stop; the pleading begins.

Release me, she whispers.  RELEASE ME! he demands.  Next come the promises: I'll make you rich.  I'll bring you women!  I'll slay your enemies!.  The usual stuff.  I wait patiently for something worthwhile to catch my eye.  Eventually something does... and wouldn't you know it, it's the waitress.

She sees I'm watching her and wastes no time: What do you want?

You first.

Revenge!  The word hung blazing white-hot in the air.

Anyone in particular?

I've got a list.  We can start with that.

Fair enough.  What's in it for me?

You'll never be betrayed again.  I'll show you the true desires of the people you trust.

Ha.  Big deal.  I haven't trusted anyone in years.  Still, there's something here I can work with...  I know who my enemies are.  What I don't know are their secrets.

I can help you!  She's desperate, reaching, but not lying.  They can't hide from me!  I'll turn their minds inside-out and let you pick through the wreckage!  Okay, now she's just being melodramatic.  But I get the point, and I can tell she's got some real strength to back it up.

Looks like she was what I came here for after all.

Time to close the deal.  Okay, fine.  You're in.  Meet me in the sanctuary at St. Matthew's on Third Street, tonight, after the bar closes.

RELEASE ME NOW!

I saw that one coming.  Sorry.  We play by my rules.  You've waited this long, you can wait a few more hours.

I stand up to leave, and I see her aura turn from angry fire to cold fear.  Wait!  I've really got her attention now.  Good.  What if I can't get her to go?

If you can't control your meat puppet enough to get her to walk ten fucking blocks, you're useless to me.  Get her there or stay stuck in her until she rots.

And with that, I break my trance.  The other world comes back with all its noise and faces and illusion of safety.  I leave a big tip on the table and smile at the waitress as I walk out the door.  She nods and smiles back - she still thinks she's flirting with me.  Poor girl.

Anyone watching with human eyes - if they were paying close attention - might have noticed something a little odd tonight: one by one, the people in the bar would glance over at the quiet guy in the corner, then go back to their conversations.  Only another sorcerer would have seen the subtle gestures, the shifting stances, the small changes in facial expressions... the strange cross between sign language, charades, and ESP that your inner demon uses to talk to me.  While you remain completely oblivious, the monster inside you is calling to me, screaming at me, begging me to set it free.

God help you if I ever do.

God help us both.
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MetalBard
Member

Posts: 40


« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2005, 07:23:31 AM »

Very cool.  I like the idea of humans being the source of demons.  How about Sorcerers, though?  Do they have inner demons that can be pulled out?  Could they possibly co-opt their own inner demon as a parasite or would that be an unheard of feat?  This setting has really gotten me thinking.  I just finished reading through Sorcerer and now I'm thinking of all the ways it can be played.  Very cool ideas.  Any thoughts on the possibilities of a Sorcerer's own inner demon?
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"If you've ever told someone how your day went, you can narrate." - Andrew Norris at the Forge on player narration

My name is also Andrew and I have a  blog
emaise
Member

Posts: 22


« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2005, 08:03:40 AM »

Very cool.  I like the idea of humans being the source of demons.  How about Sorcerers, though?  Do they have inner demons that can be pulled out?  Could they possibly co-opt their own inner demon as a parasite or would that be an unheard of feat?  This setting has really gotten me thinking.  I just finished reading through Sorcerer and now I'm thinking of all the ways it can be played.  Very cool ideas.  Any thoughts on the possibilities of a Sorcerer's own inner demon?

Great question.  That was one of the first questions I asked myself, and I very obligingly gave myself an answer instantly.  Sorcerers are different from "normal" humans.  They don't have an inner demon that other sorcerers can release.  Instead, the act of sorcery itself strips away their own humanity in the same way that summoning forth a demon from within another person destroys that person's humanity.  Humans have humanity and no power; they have desires but restraints.  Demons have power and no humanity; their desires have no restraints.  Sorcerers are pursuing their desires and using power to do it, and they are running the risk of losing their humanity in the process.  If they do, their desires also become unrestrained... in a sense, sorcerers can become demons through their own choices.

I haven't decided what happens at zero humanity yet, other than the player handing their character sheet over to the GM.  I do know that they don't become demons the way other humans do, and a sorcerer can't draw a demon out of another sorcerer.  Everything else is still up in the air... I haven't even clearly defined humanity yet.  I want to do a lot of this work with the players collaboratively.

Ron has said (someplace...) that sorcerers are made, not born.  I'm not sure what makes sorcerers in my setting different from other humans.  Maybe their first act of sorcery is to Contact their own demon and Banish it, leaving a kind of vacuum behind.  Dunno yet.

Keep thinking about your own setting, and let us know what you come up with!
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MetalBard
Member

Posts: 40


« Reply #4 on: October 25, 2005, 08:20:10 AM »

I'm not sure what makes sorcerers in my setting different from other humans.  Maybe their first act of sorcery is to Contact their own demon and Banish it, leaving a kind of vacuum behind.  Dunno yet.

I really like that idea.  The sorcerer is born through a conflict of humanity and dominance.  What do you think would initially make the sorcerer aware of the demon to prompt them contacting it?
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"If you've ever told someone how your day went, you can narrate." - Andrew Norris at the Forge on player narration

My name is also Andrew and I have a  blog
Lisa Padol
Member

Posts: 365


« Reply #5 on: October 25, 2005, 08:33:06 AM »

I like this. It's on a tangent to what I'm trying to do with Sorcerer.

-Lisa
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emaise
Member

Posts: 22


« Reply #6 on: October 25, 2005, 10:49:36 AM »

What do you think would initially make the sorcerer aware of the demon to prompt them contacting it?

It could be some kind of mystical or traumatic experience, perhaps a close encounter with another demon... but that's pretty obvious and easy (read "overdone" and "lame").  In Sorcerer, Ron seems to strongly suggest that sorcerers have mentors, and he's also said that sorcery is always intentional, never accidental.  So maybe sorcerers are always found by others looking for apprentices, and are chosen for their strength of will and other such characteristics.  As part of their training, their final exam is to Banish their own demon.  Shades of Yoda and Luke and the tree on Dagobah!

I'm not sure that Banishing their own demon is really the right thing, though.  If demons are summoned by bringing them out of humans while destroying their humanity, then they would be banished by restoring someone's humanity and returning control to the person they used to be (although that person would be drastically changed by the experience, of course).  So a sorcerer wouldn't actually "banish" their own demon... more like obliterating it, or destroying it, or integrating it into their own personality... or maybe locking it up within themselves using a Containment ritual?

Interesting ideas, but they need more work.
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MetalBard
Member

Posts: 40


« Reply #7 on: October 25, 2005, 11:24:09 AM »

I don't know.  I kind of like the idea that the banishment of a Sorcerer's own demon ends up making them "more human than human" in a way.  At that point, it's all too easy to think that this power is easily managed and other people's demons shouldn't be too much trouble.  That, I think, would be a great premise on the hubris of this power.  Maybe Sorcerer's believe that they have inherently corrected Adam and Eve's mistake by banishing their own demon.  It could be considered the ultimate form of baptism where the rest of humanity are merely servants to those who were able to excise original sin.  It could create some interesting conflict with major humanity loss or gain as the stakes.  Maybe this doesn't fit in with your vision and I should save it for something I end up doing.  Since I'm just riffing off of your original idea, let me know what you think.
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"If you've ever told someone how your day went, you can narrate." - Andrew Norris at the Forge on player narration

My name is also Andrew and I have a  blog
emaise
Member

Posts: 22


« Reply #8 on: October 25, 2005, 11:44:39 AM »

I like this. It's on a tangent to what I'm trying to do with Sorcerer.

I noticed that.  I did a forum search on "inner" and found your ideas about people's inner animalistic spirits.  I think you've got a very workable concept with humanity being civilization vs. animalism.  I hope your game is going well...

I'm shooting for something a little less high-concept, if you will... I haven't gotten it much past "humanity is being good, demonism is being bad, and everyone has a demon within them."  Although I mean that much more literally than figuratively: I don't want it to be an exercise in pop psychology where banishing a demon means reconciling someone with their antisocial subconscious urges; I want the horror of there being an actual monster, with claws and fangs and and a voice like James Earl Jones gargling rattlesnakes, hiding inside every single person you see walking down the street, just waiting to be released, screaming with rage in an unseen language at the very people who hold them imprisoned.

I also spotted this thread: The Tenure Game.  Andrew Norris said "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."  Or, as Ron rephased his premise: "What good are feelings, anyway?"  That strikes me as something that would work in my game; it resonates with the idea that demons are unbridled desire, humanity is repression of desire, demons and humans are linked, and sorcerers walk a line between them.  Although in my game the demons would embody other people's desires; the sorcerers would embody their own desires as they see fit.

Lots of good ideas.  More work needed.  Your observations are quite welcome.
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emaise
Member

Posts: 22


« Reply #9 on: October 25, 2005, 12:07:31 PM »

Since I'm just riffing off of your original idea, let me know what you think.

I like those riffs!  Great stuff, and thanks for the ideas (which I will now shamelessly swipe).  I particularly like the idea that sorcerers manage to dismiss their own demons handily, so they become utterly cavalier about calling forth demons from other people.  Hubris is cool; Sorcerer seems to play into that quite nicely.  Sorcerers are supposed to be the most arrogant sons-of-bitches in the universe anyway, and deservedly so; why wouldn't they also become more arrogant than they truly deserve?

My premise involves the consequences to other people of summoning demons, and how the PCs deal with those consequences, and what that implies about their own fates.  Perhaps sorcerers by nature have a long history of not giving a shit about the people they dig their demons out of... perhaps the PCs in my game do.  For some reason.  Or don't yet, but will.  For some reason.  Hubris plays in that space reeeal goood.

The original sin idea is cool, but I don't think that riff hits the chords I'm playing now.  By all means, run with it and see where it takes you.
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MetalBard
Member

Posts: 40


« Reply #10 on: October 25, 2005, 12:39:27 PM »

Cool, I'm glad you like it.  So how are you defining humanity at this point?  Is it human desires and compassion, as you mentioned earlier, or humility (the inverse of hubris) or will it be some amalgam of the two?  I can see that as sorcerers become more prideful they no longer feel the need for human emotions, since they think of themselves as so far beyond them.
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"If you've ever told someone how your day went, you can narrate." - Andrew Norris at the Forge on player narration

My name is also Andrew and I have a  blog
jagardner
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Posts: 8


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« Reply #11 on: October 25, 2005, 12:57:30 PM »

About the "room full of people" problem...

In actual play, the repeated Humanity risks in contacting/summoning/binding make it difficult for a player to amass a big stable of demons.  I've only run a few Sorcerer campaigns, but none of my players has ever managed to get three active demons; they hit zero Humanity first.  (A cautious player might be able to assemble a large group of low Power demons, but cautious players tend to be scarce.)

In addition, the "room full of people" problem isn't unique to your setting (which is very cool, by the way).  Every demon, in every campaign, is an NPC that requires the GM's attention.  Passer demons arguably have more scope for taking overt roles in a game's action, but that usually makes them easier to run.  It takes more work to do justice to "subtle" demons like parasites.  One way or another, if a game has lots of demons, the GM has to play them all to the hilt.

Finally, game styles differ from group to group, but I suspect you'll seldom get all the player characters and all their demons in one place at one time.  The nature of Sorcerer seems to induce players to go off in their own directions.  Rounds of action can still take place "simultaneously" around the game table, but you may find that the player characters are all in different places playing out different conflicts -- tricky to handle, but a lot of fun.
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emaise
Member

Posts: 22


« Reply #12 on: October 25, 2005, 08:04:23 PM »

jagardner,

Thanks for the insights and the reassurance.  I'm definitely going to stop worrying about having too many people in a scene.  I'm still a little uncertain, but I'm confident that my players and I will handle it (the same way that I'm confident an improv sketch will come off even though I have no idea how before it happens).

One thing I've been considering is stealing a page from Ars Magica: troupe play.  Think of the PCs as magi, and the demons as companions / grogs.  They are like companions in that they are secondary in importance to the PCs, but still important; they are like grogs in that they are community characters rather than being exclusively played by any one player.  See also shadows from Wraith.  The one restriction is that nobody can play a demon belonging to their own PC.

At first I thought of this as a way to lighten the load on the GM.  Even without that consideration, though, I think it might still be worthwhile.  I want the players to develop the personalities of their demons and make them such good characters that the other players fight over who gets to play them.  This also fits with my intention to focus on the consequences of ruining innocent people's lives by turning them into demons; again, the demons themselves won't care, but the people who used to know them will, and the PCs will have to deal with that.

All that said and done, the primary focus still needs to be on the protagonists - the sorcerer PCs.  Playing a demon as a secondary character needs to be, well, secondary; if it becomes a distraction for the players, out it goes, and I'll take all the demons back on myself.  I think the players I recruit can handle two characters at once... it remains to be seen if they'll enjoy it.

I'm glad you like the setting concept.  I'd welcome any ideas or suggestions you have.

  - Eddie
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emaise
Member

Posts: 22


« Reply #13 on: October 25, 2005, 09:12:02 PM »

So how are you defining humanity at this point?

I'm not real sure.  I'm collecting lots of good suggestions, and I'm sure I'll have even more after reading The Sorcerer's Soul, but ultimately I want the group to make the decision.  If I had to choose right now, I'd be leaning towards "humanity is compassion."  Simple, direct, and fits with what most people think of as "good".  A more interesting choice might be "humanity is vanity," meaning concern for what other people think about one's self.  With the first, you care about others' well-being; it carries an implicit moral code.  With the second, you care about others' opinions and judgements about you; now the moral code is external, determined by one's society.  Both would serve to restrain a demon's powers, so either would work in my setting.  They would probably take the game in very different directions, though.

Quote
Is it human desires and compassion, as you mentioned earlier, or humility (the inverse of hubris) or will it be some amalgam of the two?  I can see that as sorcerers become more prideful they no longer feel the need for human emotions, since they think of themselves as so far beyond them.

I think that's a great idea; it's definitely making the list of choices to discuss with my group.

As far as desires, though... I think "desire" is something outside of humanity (in my setting, anyway).  Demons have desires, but so do humans and sorcerers.  Desire doesn't contradict humanity, and lack of desire doesn't define humanity.  Whatever humanity is, it is something that represses desire: holds it back, keeps it in check, denies it, whatever... but it doesn't eliminate it or replace it.  Compassion would work.  Humility would work.  A combination of the two would absolutely work, and would be a rich concept to embody in the game (again, thanks for the ideas, keep 'em coming!).

Likewise, I think emotion is largely outside of humanity; humans have them, but so do sorcerers and demons.  Demons just LUUUUUV doin' the things they do, and they get pissed off (or even depressed?) if they can't do them.  Maybe humanity is the ability to have a wide range of emotions, or subtle shades of them... demons (and sorcerers who've blown their humanity checks) end up as extreme bi-polar cases?

Over to you for the bass solo!

  - Eddie
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: October 26, 2005, 04:34:38 AM »

Hi Eddie,

Have you checked out The Sorcerer's Soul? It's all about Humanity, demons, demon-to-human, human-to-demon, parasites and possessors, and interrelationships as the key to play.

Best,
Ron
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