PLAY SORCERER 81: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (16)

December 21, 2013

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16. Descriptors—nailing down your Character’s Point of View

Make sure to use the Descriptors in the books! I know, I know, you want to start customizing and tooling around. Don’t. At least for a while. Either of the lists in Sorcerer or Sorcerer & Soul should give you a proper spectrum of descriptors to handle almost any setting.

Keep in mind that the Descriptors are not so much “setting-specific” as they are “attitude-specific” for the Characters.

Their true value is nailing down how your Character sees himself or herself in the world, to sketch quickly what your Character values, how your Character interacts with the world and with life in general.

This matters! These quick-sketch elements will inform how your character approaches problems, how he or she reacts under stress, what he or she values.

No matter what the value of the Stamina Score, a character with the “Scrapper” Descriptor whose “upbringing included frequent physical violence” is going to carry himself different and respond to violence differently than someone with “Military Training.” And both of those people are different than someone who is “Chemically Heightened” and depends on uppers as a mean to physical excellence.

And, of course, the Will and Lore Descriptors function the same way. The Descriptors are there first and foremost for you to get a handle on your Character’s point-of-view, choices about life, reactions to life, and experiences of life so far.

PLAY SORCERER 80: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (15)

December 21, 2013

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15. Story, Not Simulation

The Scores and mechanics are not meant to model “reality” in any significant way. What we get from the Scores is this: A way of adjudicating and resolving conflict between the Characters and what forces (usually characters) that stand between them and what they want.

A Score represents all things that might be represented by that score. There is no specific list of skill as to how one handles a gun, for example. A Character wanting to gun someone down will use his Stamina Score.

How the Character uses the gun is up to the Player, in how the Player describes the Character using the weapon. This is how the abstract Score becomes specific—through specific moments of play.

This will, of course (or should be), influenced by the Descriptor applied to the Score. A woman with military experience is going to handle a gun differently than a man’s whose physical abilities depends on uppers.

Depending on how you Describe the actions of a Character, the Game Master might give you Bonus Dice. In this way, the Character is rewarded for the descriptive power of the Player. It is possible, for example, for a clumsy drug addict, who has never held a gun let alone fired one, to have his Player describe with a comic phrasing how the addict fumbles with the gun an enemy rushes him in such an engaging way that the Game Master gives him Bonus Dice for the manner of the narrative. On the other hand, cool description of how a trained sniper sets up her shot from a rooftop—terse and tense and full of little details—can gain Bonus Dice as well.

The point here is not to discuss competence vs. incompetence (those are just the examples), but to make it clear that the Scores a part of the larger process of playing Sorcerer—which is making story.

PLAY SORCERER 79: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (14)

December 19, 2013

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14. Scores—The Relative Value of the Scores

The relative difference between Scores represent likelihood of success, but never certainty. Before you start any Conflict, keep that in mind.

The Sorcerer conflict resolution system depends on risk. To enter a conflict of any kind, no matter how many more dice you have over your opponent, means the possibility that your opponent will win the roll. A character rolling only one die against your six dice can still swing a Victory over you.

Moreover, in Sorcerer conflicts, once a character begins taking Penalties, the conflict can go bad for that character fast.

To enter a conflict, then, is always a big deal. The notion is not that you should never enter a conflict because of the risk, but that whatever you pick up the dice to do better be worth the risk.

PLAY SORCERER 78: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (13)

December 19, 2013

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13. Scores—Your Character is more than the scores

Characters in Sorcerer are seldom differentiated very much by their Scores. I note this only to point out that the values of the Scores is not what matters to making a Character unique in Sorcerer play.

From my experience, the most defining qualities of a Sorcerer Character are what is written on the Character Grid, the Score Descriptor and the Kicker. In other words, what makes a character most uniquely a character in Sorcerer is what he cares about and how he behaves. Those two things are all the elements of Price and Lore and Cover and the Kicker.

The Scores do matter, of course. They define the relative value of your Character when entering any kind of conflict against another character. They help establish details of your Character by their relative value to each other on your Character Sheet (a man with a Stamina of 2 and Will of 2 but a Lore of 4 or 5 is clearly a specific kind of person!)

But my point is that to make your Character unique and worth playing you’ll need to go past the scores and into the words you fill out on the page. Those are the qualities that make your Character compelling and worth following.

PLAY SORCERER 77: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (12)

December 18, 2013

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12. Filling in The Character Sheet

In the Sorcerer rule book you’ll find the checklist for filling out the Character sheet. Most of the rules are clear in this regard.

However, I have a specific approach or notes regarding some of these elements and I’ll discuss them on the next few pages.

Use the Checklist.

One point, however: Make sure to go down the checklist on page 25 and 26 of the rule book. You want to make sure hit ever item. You don’t have to do all the steps in the order as listed. But you have to do all over them.

In addition, add “Fill Out the Character Grid” as one of the steps. This vital step is mentioned in passing on page 34. I’ve already been harping on it. And I will again soon. [Obviously, the Annotated Sorcerer goes into much greater detail about the Character Grid (the Diagram, as Ron calls it). I’ll be going into greater length on it as well. But the point is clear in both cases: That Diagram isn’t something extraneous. It’s the launching point of play and must be filled out.]

PLAY SORCERER 76: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (11)

December 18, 2013

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11. The Game Master’s Creative Authority

The Game Master, on the other hand, has authority over everything else in the fiction people create. So, if a Player says, “I want my Demon to be a dancing purple dog,” and the Game Master knows that Demons don’t like to be noticed, he should first ask, “Tell me more about that.” And if the Players answers work out, then the Demon will be a dancing purple dog.

But if the answers clash with the Game Master’s sensibilities and judgment of what the setting should be like, then the Game Master is allowed to say, “You know… that just isn’t working for me. Here’s why. Can you come up with something else that works within the setting assumptions for Demons?”

If I’m the Game Master and I do this, I never get flustered with the Player, and I don’t anticipate a conflict with the Player. We’re all peers here and here to make a story as peers. The Player knows he’s in charge of his Character and I’m responsible for everything else. The Player knows I wouldn’t do this unless I had a good reason.

That said, just because I don’t understand what the Player is going for doesn’t mean I reject it out of hand. Again, I ask questions—not as a bullying tactic but from genuine curiosity. As a Game Master I assume everyone at the table is loaded with Pure Awesome, and if I’m confused about something, it’s my job to understand what the Player is going for to tap that Awesome and pour it over the fictional bits we’re creating.

So, again, ask questions. Go deeper. Get the Player to talk about what they’re going for if you’re confused. See if you can keep them brainstorming in the direction that makes sense for you if you’re stuck on the idea they have.

Remember, there is always one more idea.

PLAY SORCERER 75: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (10)

December 17, 2013

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10. The Player’s Creative Authority

During Character creation there’s a lot of brainstorming and talking. People float ideas they’re thinking about, listen to other people’s ideas, and make suggestions.

When it comes to the Players, they alone are in charge of their Characters. If you’re a Player, no one can make you use an idea that you don’t like or that doesn’t mean something to you. Respect this authority! To be a Player in Sorcerer play is quite a powerful thing! You get to make the Character you want to play and you get to play the Character exactly as you want to play it.

The habit of deciding how you want to play your Character begins now, during Character creation.

Now, sometimes you’re going to have an idea that confuses the Game Master. He’s not trying to be thick. But he’s in charge of all the other characters and elements of the world, and he’s in charge of keeping a consistent tone and feel to the world. So every once in a while you’re going to say something that make him think, “Hmmm… I’m not sure how that’s going to work,” or, “Hmmm… I’m not sure how that fits the setting.”

When this happens, don’t panic. The Game Master isn’t saying you’re wrong. He or she isn’t trying to get you to play the “right” way. He or she is saying, “I don’t understand. Let’s talk more.”

And so you’ll talk more.

As you talk, understand that there’s no need to dig in your heels. Remember: You’re not at the table to win, you’re not at the table to fight. You’re at the table to make things up. Remember this too: There is always one more idea—always. And by that I mean, one more idea you like. Always. You might not see it right away. But if the Game Master is flummoxed, listen, and see if you can find something that you love that also satisfies what the Game Master needs.

PLAY SORCERER 74: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (9)

December 16, 2013

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9. Players Sometimes Hide What They Care About

Sometimes I help up-and-coming writers with their screenplays. Usually something like this happens:

“Hey,” I say, “you know, there seems to be this notion in your screenplay. This theme or idea, but it’s barely in your script. I mean, it’s there. But you really didn’t do anything with it.”

And the up-and-coming writer will say, “Well, yeah…” and get kind of sheepish and says, “I mean, I like that. But I didn’t think anyone else would care about it.”

But, of course, this always turns out to be the thing the screenplay is missing: The thing that matters most to the writer—that he’s afraid to share.

I’ve noticed that some Players do the same thing. For a variety of reasons, they hide what matters most to them. They learned to build characters that have no personal connection to the things that interest them and are ready to be of service to a “plot” of some kind. They’re looking to build a story where we staple together bits of business from movies we’ve seen or books we’ve read and call it a day.

But that’s not how Sorcerer works. If you look at the best work found in The Shield or The X-Files or The Lord of the Rings or Battlestar Galactica, you’re going to see work that is built from the things that the writers and creators care about.

When I’m the Game Master, one of my jobs during Character creation is to intuit when someone is dodging what truly interests them and stapling in some bits of fictional business from other stories. That’s another reason I ask questions: to dig down a bit and make sure the Player is really tapping that gold vein of what matters to them and finding a way to reflect it in the words on their Character Sheets.

When I’m a Player, my job is not back off and just depend on grabbing bits of fictional business from other stories. My job during Character creation is to really dig into the definitions of Humanity, the rituals of Lore, the definitions of Demons and all the color of setting the Game Master has created and find out what it means to me. Only by doing that can I guarantee I’ll be engaged and energized in the weeks of play to come.

PLAY SORCERER 73: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (8)

December 16, 2013

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8. The Game Master asks questions as gifts

When asking questions I never treat it as an interrogation, or as a moment of frustration, or that the Players are failing.

I ask questions the same way I’d be asking questions if I was helping someone with a script he or she was writing: What are you really going for here? What matters here? To you? What specifically do you care about? How can you make this more clear?”

I’m not saying that my Players don’t sometimes feel on the spot in these moments. Coming up with ideas on the spot clearly puts people on the spot.

My point is I always try to make my approach that of giving gifts. Presumptuous or not, I always assume that I’m offering the Player a chance to go deeper into what he or she cares about. I see it as giving breathing room and a chance to imagine.

PLAY SORCERER 72: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (7)

December 15, 2013

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7. The Game Master asks questions For Clairity

The other reason the Game Master might ask questions is because he or she isn’t sure what a Player is getting at with an idea for his or her Character. This is another reason we make Characters together—so everyone is on the same page about the elements that will launch us into the story.

For example, a Player might say, “I want my Kicker to be, ‘My guy realize some of my socks are going missing.’”

Now, if I was the Game Master in this moment, I know I’d ask questions, because that Kicker doesn’t sound compelling enough to me. I’d ask questions because I’m assuming there’s something the Player is going for, but I’m not seeing it.

I might say, “So, Kickers, by definition, are compelling, emotionally or morally visceral in some way, demanding a choice or decision on the part of the Character. I’m not sure I’m getting that with the socks. What is about the socks that heads us down that road?”

“Well,” the Player might say, “I mean, my guy knows something is wrong.”

“Okay. So a mystery of some kind. Your guy knows something is off, something mundane that implies something bigger.”

“Yeah.”

“So, what would be a bigger version of that thing.”

“I don’t know…”

“Well, no rush. Just turn the dial up.”

“Well, I like the idea… what if he realizes lots of this things are missing. Like, at first he thinks he’s being forgetful. He thinks he’s misplaced his cell phone. His keys. But then he realizes they’re gone.”

“And what would be the moment he realizes this… what does he see, what happens.”

“He sees another him… walking down the street, wearing his clothes, carrying his cell phone, about to pay for something with a credit card from his wallet.”

I’d then say something like, “Awesome.”


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