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[Charnel Gods] Sarantium Wrap-Up

Started by kalyptein, October 13, 2006, 04:28:19 PM

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Since most of my questions here are about running a Sorcerer game, rather than more general topics about theory or dysfunctionality, I'm putting this here, rather than in Actual Play.  Hope that's the right choice.

My voice-chat gaming group just finished our Charnel Gods game.  The setting was Sarantium, a faux-Christianized Rome tottering on the brink of collapse.  The characters were:

  • The General: patriot and man of action who wants to secure the city before the barbarian hordes lay siege
  • The Inquisitor: elderly head of the enforcement arm of the True Church, bent on restoring faith and virtue to the decadent empire
  • The Leper: head of the Cult of the Wretched, wants to tear down the Church and empire and replace them with a system venerating the Wretched who would feed the Corpse Wall gradually, ending the boom and bust cycle

The previous threads...

[Charnel Gods] Fall of Sarantium, Story Real Soon Now
[Charnel Gods] The Fall of Sarantium

I wouldn't call it an unqualified success, but it was a lot of fun.  One trouble was our sporadic ability to actually get together and play, but I'm trying to ignore that in wrapping my brain around the game.

The Good...

The first thing that struck me is how neat it was to see cool, dramatic moments just condense out of the ether with no planning at all on my part.

We had a fantastic moment when all the major players showed up at the senate at the same time, leveled accusations at each other, and started a riot.  What turned out to be the climax came on the steps of the palace with an enormous and entirely appropriate bloodbath.  I could never have engineered these moments in my greatest moments of illusionist mastery, and it was kind of awing to see them just come about so naturally.  I am left with a bit of a "that was great, but how do I make it happen again?" feeling.  It was also incredible to respond to responses to bangs and see the tension just go up and up.  I was continually afraid of letting things deflate, but the tension held together and kept rising right to the end.

The Not So Good...

The end however was a bit forced.  Due to my inexperience, I didn't hit people with humanity checks as much as I should have in the first half of the game.  We tried to make up for that later, but by the final scene (not that we knew it was the final scene until afterward) the sorcerer with the lowest humanity still had 3 points (the General).

Just prior to the final showdown, the Leper and Inquisitor made a deal to storm the Temple of Divine Wisdom.  They end up slaughtering most of the Church elders and forcing Niraemius (Inquisitor's enemy and Fell-wielder) to flee.  The Inquisitor used his Demagogue power to inspire fanatical loyalty in what was left of the inquisition, and the Leper got his cultists.  Niraemius fled directly to the new emperor and the General with the tale of the desecration of the temple.

All the forces met on the steps of the palace: the emperor and the General with their troops, the Inquisitor and his new followers, and the Leper and his cult.  Accusations flew and the Inquisitor tried to break with the Leper, who tried to kill him in return.  Niraemius hurled himself on the Inquisitor, stabbing him.  The Leper used his Fell to Hold the General, who eventually used his "doomsday" power: a linked big/shapechange, turning him into a huge demon of slaughter and causing blood to flow from the very walls.  He broke free, slaughtered the emperor's brother (one of the Leper's cultists) and tore into the ranks of the cult.  At this point, the General's player pretty much decided to end the game, with agreement from the rest of us.  Although he had 3 humanity left, he decided that he was in the grip of his Fell's bloodlust and his killing spree would not stop until he dropped to zero (well, not then either).  As his Fell's Need was to be bathed in hot blood, there was really nothing that would prevent him from doing this.  We dubbed him the Harbinger and narrated the conclusion of the game.  Each player decided his own fate with suggestions thrown in by everyone else.

The Leper gathered his cult, gave a final sermon and sent them out into the world to carry on the struggle, then faced down the General-Demon and was killed (after a struggle that lives in legend into the next age).  Niraemius fled from the demon and carried out his scheme to take a small band of fanatics into the Carrion Fields, planning to emerge in the next age and rule as a god-king.  He eventually succumbed to the despair of his Fell and killed himself and his followers.  The wounded Inquisitor lay on the steps after everyone had fled and was found by a heretic he had been torturing in very beginning of the game, who strangled him.  The General killed/drove out everyone in the city of Sarantium, and when the barbarian horde arrived, he slew them too.  He guarded the ghost city until the next epoch.  Fun stuff.

The Downright Fugly...

Me playing punchy demons was a total failure.  The character concepts were pregens with suggested Desires for their Fell (which everyone decided to keep).  I tried to set it up so they wouldn't constantly be butting heads with their demons, that each Desire would be about the demon perverting the goals of the sorcerer, but not just flatly opposing it.  Good in theory, but maybe I should have made them more oppositional.  As it was, the game was more about people with magical artifacts tearing the empire apart in a tug-of-war.  Which was cool, but not terribly sorcerous.  It might have been a mistake for me to get my feet wet as a sorcerer GM with nothing but Object demons to play.

There were also some of specific moments where I kind of lost my grip on the rules.

  • In the senate, everyone started slinging 9+ dice of Doomsayer, Demagogue, General, etc around.  On the one hand, I loved it.  On the other hand, I my brain crashed trying to process the barrage of interactions, agreements, splits, etc.  I picked up some dice, rolled them once and kind of stared at them, unsure of whose dice they actually were.  Eventually I said "screw it, there's a riot."  Not my finest GMing moment, but it was the best I could muster.
  • The other was trying to handle large but not exactly mass combats.  When the General went to depose the emperor, he fought the praetorian guard.  We'd all been wanting to see his terrifying Fell in action.  Unfortunately the ensuing 16-on-1 combat was kind of clunky.  I decided only to allow 4 people to attack him per turn, which actually gave him some trouble, even though he was rolling 10 dice and they had only 5 each.  Definitely should have given more thought to handling the group as a single mook unit or something.
  • I had a similar moment at the final showdown.  There they had dozens, maybe hundreds of followers each.  I rolled the three armies as if single individuals of each were fighting each other and then rolled the successes over to their leader.  That worked fairly well.

Overall: Fun!

I'd love to get some critiques so the next time I get to run sorcerer it'll be even better.


Chris Peterson

Wow! That is quite a finale. Was this your first Sorcerer game? Would you run Charnel Gods again or use a different setting?


Yep, this was my first game of sorcerer.  First for all of us I believe.  I think I would switch to another setting next time.  Charnel Gods is a really cool setting and deserves to be revisited, but I'd also like to try out all the other kinds of things you can do with Sorcerer.  I'd definitely like to have some more autonomous demons to play.  Charnel Gods' humanity definition also kind of tripped me up, which is why we had so few humanity checks early on.  But it was a good learning experience on how to focus on the humanity dilemmas and push them to the foreground.


Ron Edwards


That's a great start. I think you are top of things for your next game regarding demons and Humanity. If you're looking for another pre-made setting, then I suggest my Demon Cops, as it's about as "vanilla" Sorcerer as you can get - very clear Humanity definitions, very clear player-character roles, and way-fun demons.

As for your remaining minor hassles, I fully understand why you ran into them.

For the first one, 16-on-1 fights will kill a player-character. 4-on-1 fights will also kill a player-character.

... unless you and the players are conversant with advanced Sorcerer dice techniques, including the add-ons from Sorcerer & Sword. These rules cannot be picked up and adopted right out of the box, especially by folks who are used to traditional role-playing combat and with an inexperienced GM. They require something I can only call perspective that comes from working with the game.

In order to be good enough to take on a crowd of combatants, a character must be played by a player who's as good with the Sorcerer dice as the character is supposed to be with the sword. So if you guys stumbled a bit at this point, that's no big deal.

For the second one, here's my secret: sticky-notes. Yup, everyone active in the combat gets a sticky-note on the table with his name on it (and sometimes even his intention/action). I roll his dice right next to him. It works great.

Now, I can also see why you'd be boggled at looking at umpty-up piles of dice on the table. In a regular game, it'd be a nightmare. But really, here's where the Sorcerer system shines as long as you don't flip the "omigod look at it all omigod" switch. Look around, have everyone else look too, and find the highest value. See what the sticky-note says - now resolve that. That's it, just it, nothing else, because this guy's going first and there's nothing anyone else can do about it. See what the defender has to say about that - roll!

The key is to make each bit along this process its own clash worth a full set of narration, a full set of choices, and a full set of dynamic outcomes. There's a tendency, when GMing Sorcerer, to want to speed up and narrate all the way through everything. Why, I'm not sure, except that I suspect it has to do with everyone sitting there waiting for the GM to say what happens instead of participating. My advice is to work against that tendency, and instead, slow down. Take the high-die guy. Do his thing (as GM, you're either him or defending against him, typically). Get everyone involved, make sure things get described, take your opportunity to make the SIS everything you always dreamed it could be during role-playing.

I hope some of this makes sense or helps. The main thing is, you guys did great.

Best, Ron


I'm a  couple days late to this post, but it sounds great. 

I remember my first runs with Sorcerer, and you'll be glad to know that problems you experienced aren't unique to you or your group.

Humanity checks?  I always forgot to ask for them.  And sometimes when it occurred to me, I didn't know if it was appropriate.  Ultimately I decided that it was almost always appropriate, and I wrote Charnel Gods with that thought in mind.  Rest assured, it'll get easier the more you play.

Playing demons as real characters...that was tough for me too.  The demons in my first couple games were almost non-existent.  And it's entirely true that Charnel Gods doesn't really help you out there...Object demons, while way cool, are trickier than some of the other types.  NPCs have always been tough for me, and I'm only now starting to get the hang of it ("less is more" seems to work for me).  Maybe I wrote Charnel Gods with all object demons so I could finally get away from having to come up with good dialogue for so many damn NPCs?!  Even so, I don't much good advice on how to handle them.  I know in my own games I didn't necesarily wed the demons wants and needs to anything the players were doing; I'd keep the demons in the forefront of my brain and make sure the players were aware that they were "living" things, but for full-blow player on demon interaction I'd bide my time and wait for a great opportunity...usually when one demon's desires or needs dovetailed or conflicted with something a different player and/or demon was up to.

Loads of dice?  Not every Sorcerer game has this many dice floating around, but any time you're dealing with various pools, and sometimes two or three per player, it gets hectic.  Ron's advice is the best...slowing down is always good.

I'd love to see some Demon Cops actual play.  Why haven't I done this yet?  It's my favorite of the mini-supplements, barring my own (and maybe even then...although I have yet to pick up Mu, which I must, must do).

Thanks for playing and I hope it calls out to you again in the future!

- Scott