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.”

PLAY SORCERER 71: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (6)

December 15, 2013

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6. The Game Master Asks Questions to translate what matters into bits of fiction stuff

Game Master, as you listen to the Players brainstorm, ask questions.

Sometimes you’ll do this because something isn’t clear. For example, if a Player says, “My guy is married,” you might say, “Okay, you also said your guy will be starting the story in prison. Where is his wife now? What is their relationship?” You do this to help the Player brainstorm deeper into the fictional elements he or she is already creating.

Because you’re not caught up in having to brainstorm a Character, you can sit back and listen and think of things that might be more intriguing to know about. This isn’t an interrogation, nor are the Players failing if they don’t have answers for all your questions right away. What I’m saying is: Just be curious. That’s what I try to do when I’m in the role of the Game Master. I’m there for the Players at this point, listening and simply asking, “Hey, is there something more here? Is the relationship with the daughter good or stressed?” Or, “Your drug dealing sorcerer… does he use the drugs, too, or just deal?” Or, “Okay, he’s a veteran back from Afghanistan. Is he still in contact with anyone from his unit? Okay, pick a couple of them and write them down under Cover on the Character Grid.”

See, all you’re doing is helping the Character to translate the things they are already interested in playing into specific bits of fiction on the Character Sheet. This matters because you need things translated into bits of fiction. That’s how we tell stories—not with intellectual concepts or a hammering of moral dilemmas, but with the interaction of people, objects and places, specific behaviors and actions, one after another. There is no mystery to this. Go watch a movie you love: Everything that matter is told is told in this way.

When you go off to do your preparation for play, you’ll be looking at the Character sheets for material to use. All the specific bits of story stuff on their Character sheets becomes material for you to use, not only making your job easier but making sure what you prepare connects to what the Players care about.

PLAY SORCERER 70: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (5)

December 14, 2013

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5. Talk out loud

Making Characters is a social process. That’s why we gather to do it together.

As you, a Player, brainstorm, you’ll be asking questions of the Game Master: “Can I have a Demon like this?” Or, “Wait, what if my Kicker is this?”

Or you’ll say, “My Character’s Price is a limp he got when he bound his demon. He had to go out and start a fight with some gang members down the street, and he got his leg broken. It’s -1 penalty for all running or jumping or physical activity like that.”

You’ll be brainstorming out loud or making announcements out loud, allowing others to hear what your thinking about doing.

You’ll also be hearing what others are thinking about doing. In this way, you’re all brainstorming together, inspiring each other and getting a clearer idea of what every Player cares about, why the Characters matter to each Player, and finding out the things that make you curious about each other’s Characters. You don’t do this to “connect” the characters in any way. You do it to share what you care about with the people you’re about to make something with as a group.

PLAY SORCERER 69: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (4)

December 14, 2013

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4. You Must Care for the System to Work

Are you interested in the relationships between parents and children? Build that relationship onto your Character sheet somehow. Are you interested in how we use violence to get things done? Are you afraid of how we use violence to get things done? Then get that onto your Character sheet—be a soldier, perhaps, or a therapist working with soldiers coming back from the war.

The point is, when making your Character, dig around for the things you care about, the things that interest you, and get them on your Character Sheet.

If you do this, who your Character is will be a Character you care about. If you do this, what you care about will be part of play. If what you care about is part of play, the story you make will be something you care about.

Note that by the time you take these you care about and write them down on your Character sheet, they are in no way intellectual or conceptual. The things that you write down on your Character sheet are other characters, places or things that matter a great deal to your Character, or references to events that happened that affected your Character in a visceral or dramatic way. There is no way around this. Everything that matters to you gets translated into specific, emotional and visceral bits of fiction on your Character sheet.

PLAY SORCERER 68: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (3)

December 13, 2013

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3. Trust the system

Sorcerer can’t make a story for you.

Sorcerer is a tool or a toy for making stories socially. Like a piano or paintbrush it can help you make something, but it can’t make music or a painting for you.

The first step to taking responsibility for playing Sorcerer well is to invest the Character you’re creating. Like any piece of fiction, when the creator is invested in the characters the story will be stronger.

More importantly, you won’t be able to “make a story” by standing outside of your Character.

Sorcerer aids you in making story by providing a structural framework based on the craft of making story—defined relationships between characters via the Character Grid; fusing characters with situations via Kickers; the freedom for characters to drive the story through their actions; thematic material woven viscerally and visually into the narrative through the use of Humanity and Lore; a conflict resolution system that constantly challenges Characters to question what matters most and provides unexpected results that opens the narrative up in new directions; the Game Master introduces threat and opportunity, reversals and revelations via Bangs, which inspire new actins and new directions on the part of the Characters; all of this driving toward a climax in the form of the resolution of Kickers.

The value of this framework is that you, as a Player, never have to worry about building a story on purpose or thinking from outside your Character as to what would make the best story. You are free, instead, to invest fully in your Character. And you must do this. When you are brainstorming your Character or filling out the Character sheet write down things that truly interest you.

PLAY SORCERER 67: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (2)

December 13, 2013

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2. We do Character creation together

Everyone gathers for the Character creation session—the Game Master and the Players. We do this because we’re getting into habits as a group.

We listen to each other, we ask questions, we make suggestions, we talk, we get inspired, we get an idea from someone else that suddenly sparks something for own Character.

This is how we play Sorcerer. And we start practicing how to play now, even before the story begins.

Even if we’ve played together before, we haven’t done it yet with these colors, we haven’t done it with this setting, we haven’t done it with these Characters we’re building.

Moreover, as each Player is building his or her Character, we’re learning what each Player at the table wants in the story, what they care about, why they care about their Character. In Sorcerer, everything on the Character sheet matters. They are all clues and signals to the Game Master from the Player: “My Characters relationship with my daughter to me. That’s why I created a daughter for my Character. Make sure she’s part of the story.” And so on.

We do this in front of everyone and together so we’re all witness to and part of these creations of these Characters—because these Characters are the most important part of any Sorcerer story. The more we know about why the Player created the Character the way he or she did, the more we can become invested in the Characters as co-collaborators of the story and as members of the audience watching the Characters in action.

PLAY SORCERER 66: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (1)

December 12, 2013

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1. Unity and Variety

When a painter paints a painting, he doesn’t grab a tube of every of colors he can in order to make the painting. If he did that he’d have too many colors. The human eye would become confused.

Instead he selects a limited palette of colors. He doesn’t need a tube of every color he might need, because even if he doesn’t have a green on his palette, he’ll be able to make a green from yellow and blue.

But mixing the colors from his limited palette, he can make countless colors of varying hue and tonal value. But all colors and hues and tonal values are mixed from a small set of colors, which provides focus and clarity for the painting. The limited palette provides aesthetic Unity, and by mixing this Unity in new ways, the painter creates all sorts of Variety.

So it is when we sit down to make Characters as a group. The Game Master has created the “colors of setting”. We have images, references to other media and stories, definitions of Humanity, Lore, Demons and what happens to someone at a Humanity of 0.

These colors provide Unity for the setting. By working with them and brainstorming from them, we produce Variety in our Characters and the Sorcerer play to come.

This is one of the many reasons why Sorcerer play doesn’t run off the rails despite all the Variety that his possible. By growing what we invent from what as already existed and been created, we hold to a creative Unity even as we expand with greater and greater Variety.

As always, I say this not to get you to intellectualize about this, but to get you to understand and trust it. We are pattern-making creatures. By simply learning to let your imaginative brain circle around what has come before, you will intuitively learn grow new, unexpected ideas and bits of fiction that are part of a unified whole even as you create variety within that unity.

Trust it.

PLAY SORCERER 65: IV. The Game Master Gathers Supplies (1)

December 12, 2013

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1. Tricks of the Game Master Trade

When I Game Master Sorcerer, I use the following:

  • A notebook of some kind for taking down notes at the Players brainstorm their characters.
  • A stack of index cards to use for all the characters the Players will be brainstorming who have relationships with their Characters. When Game Masterering Sorcerer I use one index card per character. The stat blocks of Sorcerer are fairly tight and I can usually get all the numbers on one side of the card and descriptive notes on the other side. Using either an box designed for holding index cards or a rubber band, I can bundle all the characters up and I’m ready to go.
  • Printouts of the Character Sheets and Demon sheets. If you are using the Character Sheet from the Sorcerer rule book, make sure to print both sides. The second side, usually called “the back of the character sheet” is important that I’ve redesigned the Character Sheet so that what I call “The Character Grid” is front and center.
  • Two types of markers of some kind to track next action penalties and lasting penalties. I used to use white beads and red beads from a craft store year ago, using white beads for next round penalties and the red for lasting penalties. I know use the paperclip method from Sorcerer. You can use whatever you want. But I have found using these items to be the smoothest and most efficient way of tracking penalties.
  • I also have printed up the list of Score Descriptors from both Sorcerer and Sorcerer & Sword, along with their descriptions, so Players have them on hand to reference while we make Characters.

PLAY SORCERER 64: III. The Game Master Pitches the Brushstrokes of Setting to Players (5)

December 12, 2013

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5. If the Colors Don’t appeal to the players

If you’re the Game Master and your potential Players aren’t interested in the setting, what do you do? You move on.

You’re players, after all, aren’t trying to hurt you or stop you from having fun. They’re just being honest: the setting that excites you just isn’t doing that much for them. It’s not a big deal. You had a good time making it up. And now you’ll do it again.

What if some of the group you want to play with is excited about it, but not everyone? Well, maybe you’ll be playing with some of them, but not all of them. Talk it over with everyone. See what everyone thinks on this matter.

But whatever you do, don’t take it personally—and don’t make it personal for the Players. It is, after all, just making up a story with people you like. If you don’t do it this time around, you’ll do it with another setting.

PLAY SORCERER 63: III. The Game Master Pitches the Brushstrokes of Setting to Players (4)

December 11, 2013

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4. Sending the brushstrokes of setting out

I usually write up the setting and send it out by email. Sometimes I’ll create a word doc, pasting in images I’ve found from around the Internet. Sometimes it is just words.

Here is the email I sent to some friends for a setting I created:

The Brotherood

  • You’re all Prisoners in state penitentiary located in the middle of nowhere somewhere between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
  • Your character might have been guilty. He might have been innocent. But he ended up in The System.
  • Your character knew no sorcery before getting into prison. But there are a few teachers there — people who know how to get by by summoning the unnatural powers within the walls of the old prison.
  • Demons are tattoos, shivs, razor blades, cocaine, cigarettes, money, shadows, pin-ups, fantasies of the world outside and all things prison.
  • The Lore of sorcery are acts of domination and submission between men.
  • Humanity is standing up for your own moral code.
  • It’s important to remember that the word “demon” in this game doesn’t mean “things from hell.” Think more of the girl from “The Ring”—where something has gone WRONG with the fabric of reality. We’re building our own specific and self-contained story, with it’s own specific mythology and world

That was enough to get us going.

In retrospect, this was very specific. These days I wouldn’t put any limits on what kind of “history” they had. At all. Nor when and how they learned sorcery. That said, the game was incredibly successful. So there’s some  teasing out to do about how far you’d want to push it. In general, error on the side of too little: as Annotated Sorcerer suggests, just the setting (described briefly and tersely) and what Demons are/look like.