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[Sorcerer] Chum in the Water

Started by Lxndr, June 25, 2003, 04:14:04 PM

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This is a "one-sheet" that I've been working on.  I ask one simple question, seeking as many answers as possible:  What Did I Do Wrong?

Beneath the surface of the Bermuda Triangle, the ruins of Atlantis lie buried, protected by twelve thousand years of sediment and erosion.  It is a hostile place - dark, cold, and filled with enough pressure to crush an unprotected man like he were a paper cup.  Yet there is civilization in the deep, people living off the remains of the past and the rubbish of the present, hiding in air-filled pockets resulting from varying combinations of natural formation, elbow grease, and the skilled use of lost Atlantean knowledge.

   When Atlantis fell, most of its inhabitants died.  Of the survivors, the majority fled to the coasts of Africa and the Americas, where they were eventually lost amongst the civilizations that took them in.  However, some, out of desperation or stubbornness, stayed behind.  A few chose to adapt to the waters, sacrificing their humanity in exchange for fins and gills; others, more plentiful, banded together, creating air-filled Edifices that have lasted to this day.  Both tried to keep their civilization alive, but they were too few.  The lines of communication fell, and their society collapsed.

   There are many mysterious things in the depths, things for which there can be no explanation.  They are disturbing, they are alien, they are harrowing, and no few men have called them demon.  Some blame them for the fall of Atlantis; others believe that they are the result of the fall.  Whatever else they are, the demons are potent, and willing to serve.  They are the power behind the Edifices, the force keeping the air breathable and healthy.  They can be found swimming in the deeps, flitting through your peripheral vision, and bound into artifacts from the ancient days.  Time and time again, the desperate inhabitants of these last bastions of Atlantean civilization would call upon these things, yoking them into service for a time, or bargaining with them to fulfill a particular task.

   Estranged from their neighbors, the people in the Edifices diverged in both tradition and law.  As time passed, and generation succeeded generation, much of the knowledge of ancient Atlantis was lost.  Bloodlines grew thinner and more inbred; resources grew scarce.  Some would raid passing ships for new blood, or even venture to the surface, but that was rare, and soon, each succeeding generation became more infertile than the last.  Many dealt with demons for new blood, or had demons carry their children.  Desperation and despair consumed one Edifice after another, but they did not die - they limped along for the next ten thousand years.

   (Do not forget the Tritons, the name given to those few Atlanteans who took up the fins and gills.  Their transformation was a result of a powerful compact with demons, their culture is a continual struggle to balance the human and demonic spirits they carry within them, a blending of the ideals of Atlantis with the drives and needs of the deeps.  However, where the Edifices mostly stagnated, the Tritons thrived, and no small number of Atlantean children fled the Edifices to join the Tritons over the centuries.  To this day, there remains a bitter resentment between the two groups.)

   In the 1500s, ships from Europe and Africa began heading through the Triangle in significant number.  They carried sailors, colonists, criminals, and slaves.  This increase in traffic did not go unnoticed by the Atlantean city-states, and others in the deep.  Desperate for new blood and resources, many Atlanteans took to raiding ships for plunder.  Soon, for the first time in millennia, there was a consistent surplus underwater, and societies based on scarcity struggled to catch up.

   Enterprising Atlanteans soon realized the value of their plunder.  The tools the surface world had developed while they had hidden in the depths were astounding, and the value of humans themselves went far beyond breeding stock; when they were not breeding, they could be put to work.  Given the rate at which humans bred amongst themselves, a slave market soon developed, with the native Atlanteans comfortably on the top of the pyramid.  They embraced luxury with fervor, for they had starved for thousands of years; decadence came quickly.  They held pogroms of Tritons, hunting them, then capturing them and banishing the demons that allowed them to survive the crushing depths.  Few of the Tritons were grateful.

   Twelve thousand years of genetic drift, inbreeding, and mating with demons, has not left the Atlantean form untouched.  Despite their longevity, Atlanteans are often frail - few among their number are renown for their stamina.  Standing no more than five feet tall, their teardrop-shaped heads sport large black eyes over mere slits where a nose should be.  Atlantean fingers tend to be overlong, and their skin is oily and gray.  Finally, they sport odd enhancements or growths, remnants of their demonic legacy.  Despite their infertility, they breed true, even when using a human as breeding stock.  It is not surprising that they would differentiate themselves from their breeding stock, and treat human slaves as cattle.

   Over time, the Atlanteans grew careless.  The slave populations grew faster than their own, and as it expanded, it became progressively harder to control.  The idea of abolitionism came down from the surface, and spread despite Atlantean attempts to quash it.  In addition, humans were equally adept at binding the demons of the deep, and they found them just as eager to serve.  The first successful slave rebellion was in 1816; also the most violent, it left no Atlanteans alive in the entire Edifice.  Unfortunately, the slaves did not know how to bind the Edifice to their service, and they all died as the demon rebelled.  Nevertheless, other uprisings followed as the word spread, each one learning from the mistakes of the last.  Eventually, most Atlanteans chose to free their slaves rather than risk revolt and possible slaughter.

   The days of slavery are mostly past; there is a small black market, mostly supported by a few backward city-states and corrupt Atlanteans.  Humans are more in the majority than ever, but the Atlantean minority has generally remained both rich and powerful (in part because they've kept most of the Edifices bound to themselves).  Contact with the surface world is extremely limited; the demons of the deep demand secrecy, and are willing to enforce that at any cost.  In other words, for those lost at sea, it's generally a one-way trip down.  Nonetheless, goods from the surface filter down to the Edifices through select merchants.

Look and Feel:
* Movies such as Abyss, Leviathan, Deep Star Six, Sphere, Deep Blue Sea
* A mix of the ancient technology of Atlantis and the castoffs of modern technology
* Dirt, grime, crusty salt, detritus from the surface, inoperable artifacts
* Final authority in any Edifice comes to the individual who has bound it
* World will be created as we explore it, with the GM having the final say, but all players able to input

Protagonists Could Be:
* Decadent aristocracy or traders
* Bandits, criminals, beggars
* Castaways from the surface
* Outcast/runaway Tritons

Demons are:
* Mysterious beasts that lurk in the deep, subjugated by will and favors
* Beings that exist in the cracks of reality, given form through sorcerous rituals
* The power behind Atlantean artifacts, or perhaps imbued in modern devices
* Intangible essences that can possess, inhabit, or mimic a person or animal
* Alien in intention, incomprehensible, free-willed, hungry, and willing to rebel if dissatisfied

Rituals are:
* Contacting involves opening one's mind to the currents of the sea.  Bonuses if done in the water.
* Summoning is effectively a call.  It is unnecessary if you already have the demon in your posession.
* Binding is simply a matter of Will.
* Banishing discorporates the demon, and sends it back into the waves
* Punishing is simply cutting the demon off from the currents of the sea.
* Containing involves sculpting the currents such that the demon cannot move outside them.

Sorcery is:
   Sorcery is wrestling with the nature of the deep and the currents of the sea, letting it flow through your mind and soul.  It is dealing with pressure, both literal and figurative, and deriving strength from the fissures stress leaves behind.  The techniques of sorcery are very individual, and are meant to be slightly surreal.  Players are encouraged to come up with their own interpretations of the rituals, and of the specific actions and devices their players use to achieve their effects.

Humanity is:
* Self vs. Other -   Sorcerous actions risk one's humanity.  Actions taken in congruence with Otherness inspire Humanity loss rolls; actions that reinforce one's natural humanity inspire Humanity gain rolls.
* self vs. other -   Sorcerous actions risk one's identity.  Actions taken to support one's own agenda and safety instead of that of others inspire Humanity gain rolls; actions taken that put others first inspire Humanity loss rolls.

   This will lead, it is hoped, to interesting situations.  Choosing to have a child, for instance, would likely inspire a loss roll on small-s self, but a gain roll on big-S self (as having children reinforces your humanity as opposed to demon-ness, but it puts the child before your own agendas).  On the other hand, advancing one's personal agenda through demonic/Otherworldly means gives a loss roll through big-S self, but a gain roll through small-s self.  Note that in both cases, this applies to actions of some import and impact.
Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
Maker of many fine story-games!
Moderator of Indie Netgaming

Ron Edwards

Hi Alexander,

I like all of it except the Humanity material.

The picky part: "self vs. other" breaks down in terms of child-bearing. From my perspective (and that of the diagrams in Ch. 4 in Sex & Sorcery), one does not sacrifice "oneself" for a child - the child is considered part of oneself, or more accurately, self-preservation and child-bearing are considered aspects of the same act. They may conflict in local circumstances, but they do not conflict thematically or emotionally.

The more general part: "my own agenda" cannot be separated, in play, from "what the character decides to do." I anticipate much stress and strife in trying to niggle out the distinctions during play.

I suggest making the Humanity issue much, much simpler. Come up with five very simple, straightforward examples each for potential Humanity gain and Humanity loss. Don't concern yourself about dual definitions and complex possibilities.



Yeah, I'm not quite comfortable with the humanity definition yet (though it seems poetic and somehow fitting that choosing to have children violates one's humanity).

I'm considering just leaving it open when I throw the one-sheet at the "sharks"... I mean, players... to devour, and then hash it out through discussion.  I'll keep hacking away.
Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
Maker of many fine story-games!
Moderator of Indie Netgaming