PLAY SORCERER 38: The Kicker

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The Kicker is the first situation of active play.

It is essentially the First Bang that gets tossed that compels a Character into action. Which will in turn lead to more actions, which will in turn lead to more Bangs, which will demand more actions, which will lead to more decisions, which will lead to more actions… and eventually, in one way or another, in ways no one could have anticipated, the Player will resolve his Character’s Kicker.

In this way, in the wake of the Character’s decisions, actions, words and deeds, from Kicker to resolution of the Kicker, the story is built from beginning to end.

Getting to the Kicker

Note that you don’t need to start of with the Kickers in the first seconds of play. It’s more than possible to gather for the first session of play (the session after Character creation) gather up, and do some introductory scenes of the Characters. Who are they before the Kicker hits? What are they up to? What is their daily life like?

In all cases, the fun is in knowing where your Character is going (the Kicker) though your Character doesn’t know. As a Player you don’t have to “build” toward the Kicker or “get there.” Kicking out the Kicker is the Game Master’s job. Let him handle that. Just be aware that you get some time to wallow in being the Character before the Kicker hits.

You might play your Character with everything going great before the Kicker smashes everything apart. Or you might have your Character already at the bottom, struggling against every stress imaginable, only to discover there’s a bottom under what he thought was the bottom and he falls ever deeper when the Kicker arrives.

You can play it out any way you want. But at some point that Kicker arrives. A crisis of some sort begins; some sort of issue and matter of import is sprung, and a series of events begins that will ultimately result in a story.

Resolving The Kicker

A Kicker’s resolution is malleable. There is, literally, no way to know how it will resolve, what the climax will be like, what final decision the Character will make in the final moments of the story.

The reason there is no way to know is that what the resolution of the Kicker will be is that as play continues from the Kicker, one story detail after another will be added to play. The story will find its shape only through one player saying one thing, and then another player building something off of that, and so on. This accretion of story details (actions, decisions, choices, words, deeds), in every case I’ve ever seen, invariably involve decisions on the part of their Players for their Characters that no one could have anticipated. Even the Players look back and are often amazed at the turns the story has taken, where their Character have ended up! Sorcerer play is one branch point in the narrative after another, where there are no limits to what a Character might choose to do.

By the time several sessions have passed, where the story is, what characters are involved, what the story is about, has been determined in such free-wheeling, unpredictable ways that no one could know, at all, what the story would turn out to be.

By the time play his heading into the resolution of the Kickers, what finally really, truly matters for the Characters (and, of course, their Players) has become clearer and clearer. We know more than ever who the Character really values, what the Character really values, what the Character has gained or lost along the way of the story. We know now what the Character most wants, what the obstacles are, what can be gained or lost by pushing all the way or surrendering.

This is the climax: This is Luke deciding whether or not to use the Force at the climax of Star Wars; Ripley deciding to battle one-on-one against the alien queen in Aliens; Michael showing what sort of leader of his crime family he will be when he lies to his wife’s face at the climax of The Godfather; the young, confused man from Animal Kingdom showing his family who is now the boss; and so on.

If, as I have said, story is the revelation of Character (which it is), then the climax—the resolution of the Kicker) is the moment when the Player says, “This is who my Character is.”

But can you “build” to that? Can you plan for it? Do you manipulate your Character to get your Character to that big moment? Do you try to leave “clues” of how things will turn out. Foreshadow events. And so on? No. No, no, no and no.

Instead of looking forward, you will, along with your fellow players, be building on what has come before. What would look like foreshadowing if one were to hear the tale told from beginning to end is simply a natural growth of the Character’s choices and behaviors made more intense and more focused through play, intensifying each step of the way. There is not need to “try” to get anywhere because where you are going is exactly the place you should end up.

And that place would be the resolution of the Kicker, as it seems appropriate and emotionally sound and right as makes sense in that moment of resolution.

The Kicker is authored by the Player

The Game Master has final approval of a Kicker, but it must be created and written by the Player.

This is vital, for the Kicker is the impetus and spring-well for all action to come. In one way or another, the Player will be circling the Kicker for the rest of play, for it is when the Kicker is resolved that the story ends.

Thus the Player better be invested in the Kicker. And the best way to do that is to make the Player write a Kicker that both the fictional Character and the Player finds compelling in some way.

Notice I did not say that the Character alone finds the Kicker compelling. If the Character alone is invested in the Kicker, then play will slowly grind to uncertain confusion and the story will ultimately just… stop.

As always in Sorcerer play, it is the actual people at the table that matter most.

This is why the Player authors the Kicker, not the Game Master. A Game Master might look at a Character sheet, look over all the items listed on the sheet and think, “Oh, this would make a great Kicker,” because he drew forth from the Character sheet items that made sense to him about what would be a compelling moment of decision for the Character.

But the Character belongs wholly to the Player. He or she has to find every moment of that Character compelling from start to finish.

More importantly, by authoring the Kicker the Player is saying to the Game Master, “This is something I care about. This Kicker right here, these elements in it, these are things I want this story to be about.” The Game Master, then, has to pay attention to this. And if the Game Master creates the Kickers for the Players there would be no way to get that signal from the Players.

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