PLAY SORCERER 18: Our Words

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When we speak in Sorcerer we are sharing: We speak so the other people at the table can hear our ideas and what interests us and what we find compelling. We speak to entertain and engage. We speak to clarify and to ask questions of others and to have a conversation.

Our words are how we give to the other players at the table. I might be imagining all sorts of things in my head about what my character is doing or feeling or saying… but if I don’t share these imagined moments of my character with the group they’ll never know about them. And creating and sharing these moments is really the journey of any Sorcerer session.

We alternate between doing three things with our words when playing Sorcerer: Tell a story. Build a Story. Have conversation.

There’s nothing mystical or strange about telling a story with spoken words. We might not be that used to telling a story with spoken words, but for all of human history before the 20th-century most storytelling was told with the spoken word. Folk tales, epic poems and theater dominated the globe—and all these tales were told with people speaking.

I’ll be discussing lessons learned from different modes of storytelling soon. But for now I want you to really listen to this notion: when you describe what your character says or does, it isn’t just a matter of you jumping in to have “your turn.” You’re also explicitly telling moments of a story to the other players. It might not feel like that if you’re caught up in the moments of your characters actions and emotions—and that’s fine! That’s great!

But when you say, “My guy walks up to the guard and tells him a joke,” you are in the grand tradition of the oral storyteller. The fact that a Sorcerer story is patched and pieced together from sentences and words told by different people only marks a Sorcerer story as a specific kind of storytelling.

And when you and another player go back and forth, each of you speaking dialogue for your characters, you are doing nothing more than what human beings have been doing on stages since the time of the ancient Greeks, if not before.

So, when you speak at the table to your fellow players bits of narrative or bits of dialogue, you are sharing a story with your fellow players. At that moment you are a storyteller of one form or another and the other players are audience.

I say all this not to set you on edge (“Oh, my God! You mean I’m acting!”) but to relax you. When you speak during Sorcerer play, you are participating in an activity that humans have enjoyed for centuries, long before there were professionals, long before you had to get everything “right.” You engaging in the art of communal storytelling, where people gathered simply to make up stories and share them with each other.

The second thing we do with our words when we play Sorcerer is build a story. We ask each other questions. We ask for clarification. Someone say, “I charge into the room,” someone else might say, “I thought you were downstairs looking at the corpse,” and the first player says, “Right. I hear the clatter through the ceiling above me and rush for the stairs.”

Or the Game Master might say, “The creature shambles toward you, still unseen shadows under the trees along your driveway,” and the Player the Game Master is talking to might say, “How about if I start hearing my baby give a little cry upstairs, like she’s about to start crying.” And if the Game Master thinks that would be a good idea, he goes, “Okay. Sure.”

Kibititzing and offering suggestions about story things is part and parcel of creating a Sorcerer story. Nobody has to take anyone else’s ideas—each Player has absolute authority over his or her character—but sometimes, as we’re building a story socially, someone is going to have a cool idea that might appeal to someone else at the table. So there’s no reason not to suggest it. The only thing to keep in mind is that you can’t be attached to your suggestions or be disappointed if someone doesn’t pick up on them. Each player knows what is best for what he or she wants to do with his or her character, and you’ll have to respect that no matter how terrific you think your suggestion is.

Or, if a Player gets stuck on what to do, the Game Master might say, “Look over your Character Sheet and see if anything sparks with that.” Or a Player might ask, “Well, if I begin drawing on the walls of the living room, like, all these words, writing down all the secrets I’ve known about every person I’ve ever known, would that be a good part of a ritual?” and as all the players nod, thinking that would be cool in the context of the story they’re building, he picks up dice and start describing—as a storyteller engaging the gathered audience—what his character is doing.

Remember, no one at the table is a mind-reader. If you have questions, ask them. If you think someone missed, forgot or skipped an important detail of the fiction, speak up. If the story beats go on for a while that suddenly someone realizes contradicts what has happened, say something about it. It is an easy enough thing to fix—just roll back the story and pick it up again with the narrative bits all in place. Holding hours upon hours generated over many weeks is no easy task, especially when one considers how many little details might appear that are insignificant upon their first appearance, but that someone might grab and make greatly important eight hours of game play later. There is no shame in seeking clarity, speaking your mind, making suggestions, and asking for help generating ideas that’s what you want to do.

The last thing we’re doing with our words, which encompasses these first two things, is have a conversation.

From the moment we gather up to the moment we part, we’re all going to be talking to each other. When we’re playing—that is, making story or telling story—we’re revealing things that matter to us, that interest us, that we care about, that we’re curious about. If a movie is a conversation with the audience about things the film makers care about (and it is) and if a novel is a conversation with the reader about things the author cares about, then Sorcerer play is a conversation with each other about the things we care about.

Like any story, the telling is filtered through the elements of fiction: characters, dramatic stakes, cool bits of description of action, tender moments, horrific moments, betrayal, reversal, mundane objects suddenly taking on great significance, and so on. It is a conversation, but it is a playful conversation—a conversation through play.

And, of course, a conversation beyond play. This conversation will encompass everything from “Pass the pizza,” to, “Whoa, if you don’t want to go there with this scene, we don’t have to.”

When we gather to play Sorcerer we are first and foremost gathered as people—not as storytellers, not “as our characters,” not as hobby participants.

Across the table from me? That’s Eric. That’s Vasco. That’s Colin. These are people I like hanging out with. And the key thing is to make sure that I respect them as people. In one way or another they’ve opened themselves up to me with trust—and part of my responsibility—person-to-person—is not to blow that trust by trammeling it with useless, harmful, or ignorant words.

What words should I speak in a conversation? The same kind of words I’d want people to speak to me: interested, curious, engaged, revealing, purposeful.

But, of course, the other half of a conversation is listening.

 

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