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Sorcerer as teaching text

Started by Ron Edwards, January 14, 2004, 12:49:36 PM

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Ron Edwards


In [Trollbabe comics] Naked helpless sacrifice story, I wrote,

QuoteWhat's very hard to explain is that I don't make any distinctions between "obvious" and "not obvious." You're not supposed to see this kind of connection, and you're not supposed not to see it, either. I'm interested in whether someone sees it, sure. But I'm not sympathetic either to (a) "I didn't see it so you failed" or (b) "I don't see anything so it must not be there."

And Jesse (jburneko) responded,
QuoteSee, this baffles me. It baffles me in the same way that your assertion that Sorcerer was not a teaching text baffles me. If the point isn't to make sure these things get across to the reader then what IS the point?

I want to discuss Sorcerer and its supplements as teaching texts, and how Jesse is mis-reading me.

Sorcerer, like all rules-texts of any kind, is a teaching text. However, its intended audience was very narrow: anyone who already understood effects-first design (as in Champions), who was terminally frustrated by the supplement-heavy and front-loaded story publishing habits of most RPG companies at the time, and who understood Story Now as the priority of play without any particular need to learn why or how. In other words, people like myself circa 1994 or so.

So "Sorcerer is not a teaching text" is an incorrect paraphrase of my position. I do want to get the point across to the reader - but the reader who fails to conform to my intended target wasn't a reader at all, just a person holding the book and of no interest to me as a potential consumer. I figured these folks would glance at the book, know it wasn't for them, and simply not buy it.

I had been convinced by every retailer and publisher I'd spoken with: people want splatbooks, they want elaborate setting, they want faux-fiction, and they want Simulationist mechanics of the initiative/skill-list type. They want that? Fine. Let'em not buy my book; I'll write to the few fellow weirdos who can see where I'm coming from already.

Who could possibly imagine that that Christopher, licking his wounds, was only one confirmation away from returning his insights to the hobby? That Jake was working in almost-perfect parallel over in Utah? That Paul and Scott would proceed to redefine RPG design?

And most importantly, who could imagine that a whole shadow-community of almost-eligible readers were out there, who could see that something was going on in this game that they wanted to do, but not see why or how from the ground up? And who, in fact, did pony up the money and did therefore deserve my attention - even if their immediate reaction was a steam-whistle scream of outraged propriety?

Hence the supplements, or more accurately, hence the supplements' expanded range of intended audience. I had already intended to publish both Sorcerer & Sword and The Sorcerer's Soul from the start (in fact, the original Sorcerer rules were pulp fantasy, which shouldn't surprise anyone). But the tone and explanations of the supplements were sharply revised in my mind - the extensive differences between the PDF and book versions of The Sorcerer's Sword are the most obvious example of that transition. I realized I had to help people through the processes and perspectives of Narrativist play - not only how-to in the limited sense of Sorcerer play, but what-is, at a more general level.

Did I know how to do this? No. No one did, and we're only working out how, as a community, now at the Forge. But that's why I refer to the supplements as generalized teaching texts, and apparently there's something of a market for them as such, if frequent forum-comments here and at are evidence.

Jesse, does that make more sense?



Curiosity forces me to ask one question:

* There's a lot of Christophers around here, and I don't know the full history that you're referring to.  I'm pretty sure I know who you're talking about when you reference "Paul" and "Scott", but which Christopher do you mean?

Okay, besides that:

You mention that the Sorcerer's Sword had some extensive differences between PDF and book, and I'm assuming Soul also had some (if lesser ones).  

What stopped you from changing the tone, etc., and creating more extensive differences in the Sorcerer main book, as it proceeded over time from PDF to book?  Was your realization of the secondary market (the ones who you termed almost-eligible?) something that happened AFTER print publishing of the main book?  If not, why did you choose to expand the intended audience of the supplements, but not the core book?
Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
Maker of many fine story-games!
Moderator of Indie Netgaming

Ron Edwards

One question, eh Alexander?

Anyway, Christopher = Christopher Kubasik, Jesse = jburneko, Ralph = Valamir, Paul = Paul Czege, Scott = hardcoremoose

Julie (jrs) is always bugging me about being clearer about that ...

Your question overlooks the fact that publishing a book is not an instantaneous process.

My decision to generalize Sorcerer material to a wider audience dates from after the process to get the core book into print began (fall 2000; I didn't have much time to generate enough finished material for GTS 2001). As the revised manuscript (January 2001) became a book by July/August 2001, I was revising Sorcerer & Sword significantly from its PDF form - sometimes the insight-to-prose-to-bookdraft process was simultaneous.

What's a little weird about all that is that The Sorcerer's Soul PDF had benefited from an earlier creative/revision push, during 2000. Hence when I got around to setting it up for print, the revisions were milder although individually significant. That's why the first print supplement's text is actually a better teaching text than the second.

Anyway, that's not really a "why I chose to" answer but more of a "how it happened" one, which is pretty much all I can give.



Hello Ron,

I think I more or less understood most of that before.  Especially, the part about not anticipating the existance of the "shadow-community."  But I think what throws me is this:

QuoteI had been convinced by every retailer and publisher I'd spoken with: people want splatbooks, they want elaborate setting, they want faux-fiction, and they want Simulationist mechanics of the initiative/skill-list type. They want that? Fine. Let'em not buy my book; I'll write to the few fellow weirdos who can see where I'm coming from already.

If you were feeling THAT isolated then I'm really surprised you didn't approach writing the book from almost a persuasive essay point-of-view.  Not so much to say, "Hey, isn't this BETTER than what you're already doing" but rather to say, "Hey, this is different.  This is how it's different.  This is why it's different.  And this is it how it works.  C'mon give it a try!  What have you got to lose?"  In the hopes that someone "normal" might pick it up and decide it isn't so weird after all.

So, even if you didn't anticipate a shadow community or parallel design or any of that, even if you thought you were the only role-player in the WORLD who thought this was fun and cool, then why not put your effort into trying to convince some people to come be weird with you?



Quotewhy not put your effort into trying to convince some people to come be weird with you?
Alright, I'm not Ron, but I play him on TV.
Well, maybe not, but I do have an insight into this issue which Ron may or may not share in it generalities.

Because it's wasted effort? And it leads to arguments that pretend to be about logic, but aren't; and because people react more strongly to being "convinced" than they do to presented criticisms?

At least, I'm looking at it from the standpoint of a religious person subjected to numerous attempts to be converted by others -- and I have to note that proselytization rarely works.

Hence, "come be weird with me" is like "come find God through me"...yet such conversions always work better when someone isn't accosted, but finds the information presented by an individual as information to another person of the same beliefs.

That is, "What the hell are they on about? Let's see...Oh...that's interesting..." is the key to opening people's minds. Exactly the opposite of trying to convince people, which usually results in entrenched positions.

Ultimately, actually having fun doing what you are doing is a better use of one's time and more productive and insightful for others, than trying to convince those others to come have fun with you doing what you want to do. The same way actually following your faith is a better example to others and piques their interest more, than is spending that time proselytizing about following your faith.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio



I see your point but I'm not sure I agree.  Someone's religious beliefs has to do with their peception of truth and reality and philosophical outlook.  It's much more rooted in how they live their lives, what they think their purpose for existance is and so forth.  I just don't see roleplaying habits, techniques and agendas on that level.

I've met my fair share of proselytizers.  Hell, I've got a friend who's a proselytizing atheist.  And they're anoying.  But trying to convince you to change your entire perception of the universe (usually permanently) is a far cry from trying to convince someone to give Chinese food a go (just this once) instead of their usual pizza.  But you might also have to explain to them that it's often served family style as well.


Ron Edwards


Neither religion nor pizza is analogous to the decisions made by a publisher in terms of topic. The rock-bottom issue, to answer your earlier question, Jesse, is this:

Write what you know to an audience which (a) exists and (b) can understand you. When I wrote Sorcerer, neither (a) nor (b) applied in my mind.