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[Sorcerer] Linda Meier

Started by Tveir, February 26, 2010, 02:09:07 AM

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Thinking of running a game in (a terribly inaccurate version of) Berlin in the 90s, from the perspective of eleven-year-old kids.
I'm still essentially running one-player one-shots, trying to figure out the ins and outs of Sorcerer through trial and error, and trying to overcome passive-player-itis.

Our child protagonist is a a girl of eleven named Linda Meier, the granddaughter of an ex-amish ex-military american her father doesn't speak to anymore. She lives with her father and (since the death of her mother in a car accident when she was younger) her mother's brother, in a flat on top of a stripclub aimed at homosexual men named "Boy Night", which is, in theory, run by the whole family, in practice by one of her cousins. At school she's best friends with a shy, intelligent girl who's a teensy bit passive-aggressive, and she occasionally hangs out with her younger cousin who's deeply into pokemon and comes by every other week to live with his father, due to an old divorce. She's had a secret crush at psychology-student Friedrich Haus, whom her older brother (who has the personality of a pimp, but dresses in shorts and novelty shirts - studies marketing and is the first in the family to finish secondary school) convinced to dance at Boy Night despite being straight and who plans to maybe write a thesis about his experiences one day, but she is beginning to get over it. Her main female rolemodels since the death of her mother is her teacher (who's a very worried woman) and three pro-porn feminists that hang out in the club from time to time. They're usually short on money, as her uncle works at the subway, her father spends much of his time between jobs (currently a baker) and the club isn't doing as well as they'd want, in part because it's in a basement in a high unemployment, working class district.

Humanity is something akin to awareness, in that things become less real when you lose it. Low humanity has symthoms similar to insomnia, and sometimes actual insomnia is a result. Sorcery is performed through trance and a common personality trait among sorcerers in a vivid imagination - since it takes magical thinking to see demons for what they really are. Others are arrogance, curiosity, desire, and faith.

Her first demon is named Sokkwi and is visually a sort of hybrid between Yomi (from the SNES RPG Terranigma), the Cheshire Cat (from Alice in Wonderland), and Hobbes (from Calvin & Hobbes), except with a rooster's comb and the ability to drastically change shape at will, appearing as, for example, a stuffed animal, a balloon or a backpack, although as a telltale his face and purple fur remain ever present no matter the form. He's got a trickster personality, always wanting to stir the pot, a need to eat fruit, and the ability to transport through flight and warp (an ability we chose specifically for its creative, rather than offensive, potential). We haven't run the binding yet, but she's supposed to find him in the school basement, among the machines, as she and some of her classmates break in, as children do, but her friends back out in fear of the strange box the creature is sealed in, leaving her alone and painfully curious.
Sokkwi is the kind of demon who loves it when you twist the faces of old statues and mess with the messages on billboards, thus the context of the warp ability, but I do have one slight problem. We know he's an external force, hovering beside Linda like an oversized humming bird or being dragged along or held or worn, but I hesitate to call him a passer, since for one thing he doesn't really look like anything normal (people are much more likely to think him a toy than an animal) and secondly because we want the warp ability to be controlled by the sorcerer - in part because it gives Linda more creative authority in its use, but also in part because it gives good reason for Sokkwi to want to have a sorcerer around to make a glorious mess of things. For now I am calling him inconspicuous, but I am unsure if the rules agree with me.

As for Linda herself:
STA 2 - Martial Arts training (through her father)
WILL 6 - Social Competence, Zest for life
Lore 2 - Naif (largely oblivious to the true nature of what she's doing, but with strange talent)
Cover - Student
Price - foolhardy (essentially the same as "arrogance" in the book, -1 to perception, but neither of us pictured her as especially arrogant)
Her telltale is a series of strange symbols around her pupils.

Having trouble coming up with a decent kicker though. In part because of her youth we're concidering a somewhat less action-oriented game, more on the mystery-side, and it may be an idea to involve the presumably dead mother somehow, since that is something she obviously cares about. Concidered making it about the strangeness of finding a bound demon in the school and how it got there, but it's not really something that would take too long to resolve, nor do I believe the character cares much if she finds out or not.
But if anything goes as planned, there should be at least one riot.

Here's a few quick conceptual sketches my brother did.
I mostly drew portraits and NPCs who weren't blood relatives, but while rough, these are more fun.
Linda and Sokkwi
Boy Night - Haus is stripping and her brother's wearing his "Amerika nacht mein hosen" shirt
Hanging out with cousin Fester - uncle Günther is facepalming
"Hallo aus Berlin"
Dad is hitting the bottle
and a page-full of classmates

Ron Edwards


First, you know that Berlin is my favorite city in the world, right? You know about Spione too? Please tell me where Boy Night is fictionally located - in years past, it would have to be just off Kurfürstendamm, but times have changed, and given a couple of details in your pictures and also your brief description, I'm thinking of an eastern vibe. Somewhere deep in Mitte or Friedrichshain that tourists don't see much ... or maybe under one of those toaster buildings in Lichtenberg (that would be kind of cool).

The demon's Need is to eat fruit? Holy cow. I would be afraid of getting punched if I suggested such a thing, playing Sorcerer in Berlin.

Second, the whole concept is a little bit astounding - it's like My Neighbor Totoro crossed with Edward Gorey - I love it! In your series of one-player-one-GM one-shots, are you playing with just one person throughout, or going from friend to friend? In this case, who's the person you're playing with?

Regarding Sokkwi's demon Type, he's Inconspicuous. It fits absolutely with the rules; that Type is deliberately built to be the "anything else" category relative to the others.

Now let's talk about all of this as Sorcerer preparation. You're facing a single difficult issue which is stifling: basically, too much plot in your preparation. You've already resolved a bit of romance. You've neither closed the book on the mother's death nor ramped it up as a source of action. And the NPCs are great, but also too detailed and too "written up" for purposes of actually playing them. Sorcerer prep is about making the components of a story available, not about making the story prior to play.

The easy solution is to look at the diagram on the character sheet. Right now you have about twenty items to scribble into the Cover section, including the club itself, but they have nothing to do with the other three sections, so they are crammed against the edge of the diagram, as far from the center or the borders with the other sections as possible. You have nothing at all in Price (no characters, no places, no things). You have the demon in Lore, shifted over to be near the border with Price. You have nothing at all in the Kicker, unless it's "I just found a demon" (a very weak, lousy Kicker; see below), in which case the demon is shifted toward the center of the sheet but is still all alone.

That diagram as I've just described it illustrates your current confusion perfectly. You don't have a Sorcerer character concept yet; or rather, you have a fictional sorcerer, but not a player-character. She's been painted at arm's length, far from the heart despite her charming and detailed nature.

Thinking in terms of the diagram, I suggest removing some of the details from her "normal" life. You've got the father, the brother, and the graduate student, and the porn-positive feminists. Never mind all the cousins and uncles and teachers and whatever, and consider the mother's death entirely concluded - sad, yes, but that is over (Color, not incipient plot). Don't discount the crush on the grad student before we even have a chance to see it.

Now see which of those elements of Linda's ordinary life may be brought closer to her life as a sorcerer. Basically, to do that, you need more stuff in the other sectors: people and places. Not many, just one for each section would be fine, or in the case of Lore, one more besides the demon. Then see which "pairs" (that is, a term in one section and a term in another) may be interacting, which draws them either sideways toward one another or toward the center, depending on what they are.

To do this, of course, you'll need a real Kicker. "Hey, I have a demon" is a terrible Kicker (my Armand example is misleading about that; the annoying thing is that I had a real one in mind when I wrote that but focused instead on his internal dialogue rather than his actual situation). Think of the sorcerer and her demon as relatively stable compared to what happens concerning the Kicker.

I can't dictate this for you and the other person, as the Kicker should definitely be written by the person who's playing Linda, but if I were that person, here's what I would do. First, I'd have some interaction with the demon and the nightclub already - maybe it really likes the place and Linda has to scoot around making sure her "backpack" or whatever doesn't keep turning up there when it shouldn't. That's not the Kicker, that's merely setup which brings Sokkwi and the club closer together on the diagram. Don't forget, I'd have at least one other person or place or thing written into Lore and Price at this point, too.

Then I'd threaten the family's ideals. Someone is happy to buy the club and let them run it, but they have to run it exactly as instructed. And this person is a West Berliner, totally maxed out with globalized, arrogant, American-all-the-way money; the club as he or she sees it is entirely condescending - probably some patronizing, exploitative parody of Ost-Berlin that'll make all the tourists laugh complacently and enjoy being oh-so-West. It'd totally alienate and even exclude the actual culture of gay guys and gay or straight performers who currently value the place.

And this threatening person is also threatening further to use Linda as leverage - the bar is clearly inappropriate for a little girl to be anywhere near, and if the family doesn't sell the bar to this person, he or she will try to get Linda taken away by the state ... and she'd never see her family or the bar again.

Imagine yourself as Linda's player. Are you mad yet? I am. If I were playing Linda, I'd hand the GM that and dare him or her to fuck with me/Linda further.

Best, Ron


It is, as I said, bound to be terribly inaccurate, as I have only passing familiarity with the city. I've been there, but I can't say I know it. I'd imagined it as vaguely middle-ish, and, as you say, a place that tourists don't see much.

Concerning my player, I do the one-shot sessions with my brother, who might be even more enthusiastic about the game than I am. It's nice to have some continuity (and more importantly, someone who really feels for the game) when you're trying to simultaneously learn Sorcerer and relearn how to GM, and having moved recently, he's about the only guy around that I have any experience gaming with. I'm not sure I'm up for learning Sorcerer, relearning GMing AND building a new group at the same time.

As for the preparation, I think you pretty much nailed the issue. There's been a tendency to overelaborate in later years - possibly due to the rust of not gaming for a while, nor as much as I once did - but I never quite put the problem into words. We never truly understood the Kicker, just not sure how it's meant to be written, and perhaps our ability to do so is further harmed by preparation plot-overload.
That being said, I showed your post to my brother and we both love the kicker you describe. It is a thing of such beauty and making such sense in the context of her personality that we cannot but feel grateful for the help.

Now, the diagram. Reading your suggestions we concidered putting the janitor in Lore, her knowing him from seeing him around the school and identifying him as a Sorcerer by Sokkwi claiming to have been sealed there by him, though the janitor himself does not know she is one, nor where to find the demon he sealed. He'd be towards the cover side of Lore, because of his connection to the school. Does that work or are we still dancing around Cover too much? Also, we're unsure what to put in Price. Since it represents a reckless side of her personality, I assume some parts are more drawn to it than others, but we have trouble identifying something that would represent that side of her more than any of the other sides of the diagram. I assume it should be the kind of people or place that are dangerous, but in a sort of exciting way. Something like a secret lair somewhere the grownups don't want her to be, or the police officer whose gun she stole when he visited school to make a speech? Or am I interpreting Price the wrong way altogether?

All in all though, I think you may have saved our game.

Ron Edwards


I'll answer in not exactly the right order, merely what comes to my mind.

Your examples for the Price are just right. I think your brother should pick one of those, or something like them, and only one. The character is quite well-stocked in Cover, and I think it will be good to keep the other sectors minimal at the start.

As far as Lore goes, sure, he might use the janitor ... but as the GM, recognize that the whole school setting is not at all the same, and is in fact entirely disconnected from the nightclub setting. If you are going to have the Kicker centered on the nightclub, try not to get sucked into the school just because a lot of anime soap opera is set in school. I'm not saying that the school material like the janitor is a bad idea (and it's nice to see some of her life that's not at the club or family home), but I am saying, as GM, avoid what I see as a major temptation to put a lot of your prepped play events into the school. Don't get all excited about what demons may be lurking in the boys' bathroom or whatever Cosmic War the janitor is engaged in, or whatever.

All of that might be interesting to consider and to follow up on if the player directs Linda to do so ... but since it's not the Kicker, it's not really your problem at the present. Frankly, I think some of this janitor talk, specifically the connection to Sokkwi, is legacy from the idea of "finding Sokkwi" as the Kicker. If you jettison that, then the connection to Sokkwi can go away with it, and the janitor can be interesting and potentially important ... but not drawn to the center of the diagram by being associated with both Lore and Cover.

The practical point is that, when the diagram on the back of the sheet is done, look at what's in the middle. That's where you as GM want to focus your adverse prep. You can introduce whatever else you'd like, sure, from the rest of it or stuff you bring in all by yourself, but the outright threats should come from the middle of the diagram. And remember, once play gets going, and if the player is serious about playing this game, he or she will be aiming there already anyway ... so your prep is only about what your characters bring to the session, not "how the story will go."

Best, Ron