PLAY SORCERER 50: I. The Game Master Brainstorms Brushstrokes of Setting (1)


1. Play Begins now

When we play Sorcerer, we are playing in the same way that we play a musical instrument, or play a part in a play, or play with clay.

In Sorcerer, however, we play with bits of fiction.

First the Game Master daydreams bits of fiction during his brainstorming. This is where the Game Master makes an imprint on the look, feel and setting of the upcoming Sorcerer story. The Players will be wholly in charge of their characters. But the world and the feel and the tone—that is the purvey of the Game Master.

In the Annotated Sorcerer, Ron makes it clear that Here and Now is what you want for a Sorcerer game — the mundane and every day of your life. And I certainly recommend that for the first game or so. But, of course, one can also go afield of Here and Now. And when it comes to Sorcerer & Sword, one will have to. 

So, what is the look and feel of the game? What are the Demons like? What turns you on? Don’t go into two much detail at all. But this is where play begins. It begins the the imaginative act of something you’d like to see. And the Game Master will bring these quick brushstrokes of setting to the Players and see what they do with them.

Here’s an example of some brushstrokes of setting I put together recently:


Lately I’ve been digging into some of the Old School Renaissance. (Games spun off from OD&D and early RPG design. But cleaned up and effective.) I’m loving Lamentations of the Flame Princess and its adventures in particular and thinking about dangerous dungeon delving in general. Mulling all of this, I’m hoping to GM some of this stuff for friends. I feel that I have handle on a kind of play I did well in high school — but did well almost by accident.

Unexpectedly, reading a lot about OSR has put me in the mind for some Sorcerer & Sword as well. It’s almost as if by focusing on what OSR does really well (and what it doesn’t) I’ve ended up hungering for the opposite at the same time.

I just re-read Tanith Lee’s Companions on the Road, which I loved all over again. It has a Sorcerer & Sword vibe to it… and yet, it doesn’t seem very over the top gonzo pulp.

Lee’s story reminded me of Song of Ice and Fire. I’ve only seen the HBO version, but I’m digging it. The world I’ve seen in the television series is very mundane in most ways — but there is clearly magic and clearly strange creatures that can lure men to madness and violence. (I’m convinced that damned Iron Throne is Ring of Power’s BFF) Given what I’ve seen so far, Game of Thrones could easily be an inspiration for a fresh Sorcerer & Sword setting. Less pulp than the book itself refers to, and instead more of a historical drama in a grounded world with touches of dangerous magic at the edges.

I’d love to play  a setting that is less magic driven (though magic is present) and less outright horror (though when magic shows up, it’s bad). There are creatures (Old Things, Pagan Things, forgotten beasts and so on)… and there are demons that bestow amazing abilities in return for meeting Needs and Desires. But we’re not pushing toward horror-weirdness, per Robert E. Howard or Clark Ashton Smith. If the Players want to go there, sweet! But it’s not on them to jump on board with that. The characters can be as heroic or horrible or confounded shades of grey — just like in the inspirational fiction of Martin’s novels. The thrust of the fiction iis war and dynastic struggles and family and loyalty and treachery and all of it.

What the Game Master Does Not Do

Here is what the Game Master does not do a this point:

He or she does not build a plot of any kind.

Does not assume in any way what the climax of the story will be.

Does not start creating key villains or antagonists, or have any expectations of conflicts to come with the Players’ Characters.

Why? Because in Sorcerer all of these things will be built, socially, through play with everyone present at the table.

To anticipate the tale or have expectations of conflicts or plot is to break the process of playing Sorcerer. How could you know any of these things if you do not know who the most important characters of the story are, what they care about, what they are driven to do?

Those characters are the Players’ Characters. And even once they are made, you will only know what they care about and who their antagonists are and what the climax of the story will be through play.



One Response to “PLAY SORCERER 50: I. The Game Master Brainstorms Brushstrokes of Setting (1)”

  1. Some Thoughts on the Brushstrokes of Setting Posts | Play Sorcerer Says:

    […] would say that the description I have here for my Mud-Shit Fantasy is all that is needed for the fantasy. And that Demons described as […]

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