Posts Tagged ‘Characters’

PLAY SORCERER 82: V. The Game Master and Players Gather for Character Creation (17)

October 11, 2015


17. Binding The Starting demons

After Players finish making their Characters, the Players describe how their characters contacted, summoned, and bound their starting Demons.

This is the first step of building the fiction. The Players will already have described their Demons, but it is here we’ll see what the Characters are like once they are in motion.

The Sorcerer rules cover this section well. I’ll only add a few points:

No Sorcerer ends up with a Demon by “accident.” It just doesn’t happen.

The Binding rolls will be made now, which not only establishes the relative power dynamic between the Sorcerer and the Demon, but will reveal a great deal of color about who the Sorcerer is and who the Demon is.

Don’t create a Demon “just so you can play Sorcerer.” And don’t create a Demon with the anticipation of having a conflict with your Demon. Instead, when thinking about the relationship between your Sorcerer and his or her Demon, go backward.

Remember that there are three stages of your Character’s past:

  • A person before becoming a Sorcerer.
  • A person who became a Sorcerer.
  • A Sorcerer now facing a Kicker.

Your Sorcerer didn’t summon and bind a demon just so he could fit into this game called Sorcerer. He did it because once upon a time, for one reason or another, he needed a Demon. He had an acute need or desire that he thought was so important that he broke the rules of physics and reality and morality on fundamental level to get and secure what he needed. Between becoming a Sorcerer and facing a Kicker, your character is living a life with immense power.

So, the first thing you need to create is the need that prompted the summoning and binding of the Demon in the first place. What were the circumstances of the Character’s life? What was wrong, lacking, desired, driving him or her crazy, and so on, that so compelled this person to create something that should not be there because he or she could not see another way forward.

When you are setting up those first summon and binding rolls, remember these details. Let them color the circumstances of rituals. Let the people and places and things on the character sheet influence them as well. These are the fictional circumstances that started the relationship between Sorcerer and Demon. Not a conflict between then, but a challenge to get something done.

And, significantly, because the Sorcerer still has the Demon, in one way or another, the relationship is working out.

Things in some ways might be horrible! The Sorcerer might be doing horrible deeds. Might be lying to his wife. Might have abandoned his family. But in other ways, in the ways that prompted the Sorcerer to summon a Demon in the first place, he’s getting what he wants.

We know this because he still has the demon! The Sorcerer hasn’t banished it. Hasn’t tried to get a new one. So, at this point of the character creation process (especially at this point), don’t loose sight of this fact. The relationship, even if horribly dysfunctional (especially if dysfunctional) is getting the Character something he wants, or getting the Character closer to something he wants. The Demon is serving the Sorcerer’s needs in one way or another. And when the Kicker arrives, it is most likely the Sorcerer will rightly depend on the Demon to help him or her out even more.


Some Thoughts on the “Brushstrokes of Setting” Posts

December 9, 2013


The posts I put up about “Brushstrokes of Setting” are sections of Play Sorcerer I wrote a couple of years ago.

Since then I’ve thought more about the game, had several conversations with Jesse Burneko, and, of course, read Annotated Sorcerer.

Even though I was working from Sorcerer’s Soul, I think in years past I probably went too heavy on lining up image and setting. Especially for straight up Sorcerer. But even beyond that. I think Ron’s points in Annotated Sorcerer should be taken to heart: Use the best shorthand you can think of for the setting (Here and Now being the briefest one can find, of course), describe the Demons with specific look and feel… and then hand it all over to the Players to make up their Characters. Don’t worry about how much the Players tie their Characters to one another. Just let them find the Characters they find most compelling, based off the quick sketch of setting and demons.

I 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 artifacts of power (weapons, religious icons, representations of power like thrones or rings, stone towers, with smatterings of old pagan-like things like holy trees and so forth) is all I’d need to say or want to say.

Just some thoughts.

A Terrific Book about Screenwriting and Storytelling

December 8, 2013

Film Critic Hulk has just published an ebook on screenwriting and storytelling.

He’s my favorite writer writing about movies and Hollywood these days. I recommend the book highly to anyone interested in screenwriting.

But, more importantly, he says things in the book I say to people all the time. If fact, you’ll see sentiments I’ve written on this blog echoed all over his book. (Both my manager and a friend of mine both thought I was secretly Film Critic Hulk because he and I say the same damned things over and over.)

Since so much of this blog, and Sorcerer, is about making story I thought I’d recommend it. For only $4.95 it’s a steal!

Jesse Burneko talks about Sorcerer on a Podcast

November 17, 2013


Here’s a link to a terrific podcast called Actual People, Actual Play.

And here’s a link to a specific podcast about playing Sorcerer. Jesse Burneko GM’d a game of Sorcerer for two friends, and then they have a post-game discussion about the game. Jesse talks about his experiences with the game and how it’s played, and the two other players (Morgan and Will) ask questions or give illustrations of what Jesse is talking about from the game they just played.

Well worth a listen to.

A Reader Asks About Getting the Characters Together in Sorcerer

November 10, 2013


Belinda wrote:

My problem with Sorcerer (at least when I looked at it a few years ago; haven’t checked it out for a while) was that the players make up all of these interesting characters with kickers and bangs and relationships – and the characters are all in silos from each other.

What sort of mechanisms does the game have for forming a party of connected individuals that have a reason to interact with each other?

Like with your Conan-esque example from earlier; while both characters are very interesting, what do they have in common with each other and why would they get involved in each other’s stuff? How did you set this up as a GM and how did you make it work effectively?

I replied:

Hi, good questions. I don’t know if this answer is going to satisfy you, but here goes. (This is the quick answer. Future posts will address this.)

1. The Characters aren’t in silos. Silos implies they’re cut off from one another, with concrete and deep earth between them. That isn’t the case. They are eau their own Characters, but they’re in the same geographical area (established before Character Creation begins) so they can easily get to each other if they way.

2. Sorcerer has no concern with party. There is no reason for them to interact with each other, other than any reason created by the Players themselves.

3. In practice this means the scenes rotate from one Player Character after another.

3a. This is one reason that Sorcerer play is best with two to three Players plus a GM. Four Players and a GM max.

3b. This works fine because… The journey of the Characters are actually interesting because of all the prep with the Kickers and relationships and stuff. it’s vital to understand that when a Player’s Character is not “onscreen” the Player is watching and listening to the fictional events involving the others Player Characters. You might not believe me about this, but it’s true. I’ve seen it happen again and again. A story is unfolding. People pay attention.

3c. This works fine because… the GM often (but not always) cuts away from the Player Character when the Player is confronted with some sort of choice or dilemma. The Players often need a moment to figure out what they want their character to do. It is NICE to get a break when we cut to another character because we suddenly NEED a break.

3d. This works fine because… the GM is working with Demons from a look and feel (along with the game’s location) established before Character Creation. This also affects Lore. The Players are paying attention to each other and the fiction the other Players are creating because they are looking for clues about Lore and about how the Demons work. Remember, we’re all making this up on the fly — and we’re sharing it. We want to see what has been added in terms of details — because we’re going to be adding on those details when the scene focus comes around to us.

3e. There works fine because… there is no reason to assume that the character’s don’t have connections between them. I mean this fully in the “Six Degrees of Separation” sense. The Players might not have written down these mutual connectors, or even be aware of them. But when the GM goes off to do her prep, there’s no reason to think as she’s brainstorming about the Characters and their NPC relationships that there won’t be elements that conned the PCs that the Players get to *discover.*

3f. This works fine because… What is interesting to one sorcerer might well end up being interesting to another sorcerer. Remember, the Players are listening as audience to what the other Players are doing. This means that they might hear about a power item of muckety-muck. Or a sorcerer cult. Or a whatever. And the listening Player’s imagination might think, “Hey, I could use that!” Or, “I hate guys like that.” And then the Player will position himself fictionally on a course to meet up or track down that thing or those people.

3g. Given 3e. and 3f. there’s every reason to assume that the Character might, indeed, meet up. it’s not required, it’s not a goal. But Players like to have their Characters show up where interesting things are happening. As Characters generate interesting things happening, the Players tend to move their Characters toward each other.

4. There is precedent for this kind of storytelling. Look at a show like HEROES, or the novels of Stephen King or Michael Crichton. Or look at the structure of Gibson’s Neuromancer books. We cut from one scene or chapter focusing one character to another scene or chapter focusing on a different character. Often these character are not near each other, and often are not aware of each other. But as we read the stories we, on the outside, are aware of the larger picture that is growing. Sorcerer is often experienced just like that. And just like in those stories, the further into the game we progress, the more aware of each other the characters often become and the more entwined their stories become. I’m going to repeat myself here: you might not think this is true or will work. I’m telling you, it does.

5. Remember that even when there is “a party” only one person can speak at a time. Sure, people can try to jump all over verbally to get the GM’s attention. But the truth is, only one person is going to be speaking/describing what their doing at a time. We take turns between players *even when there is a party.* Now, the unit of turn taking might be longer in the kind of play described above (but maybe not!) but let’s not kid ourselves: We do this all the time in party play.

Finally, page 71 of SORCERER addresses concerns about “the party” (with additional comments now in the annotation).

And if you haven’t read it yet, Chapter 7 of SORCERER & SWORD (“The Anatomy of Authored Role-Playing”) goes into this matter extensively. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet and you’re interested in SORCERER I can’t recommend it to you highly enough.

A final repeat: I know that because of how we’ve played other games for years we assume that this sort of play isn’t possible or can’t work. But I assure you, it can.

* * *
To address the example of the Savage Born setting I played in… My Players did all the work. (Players tend to be intrigued with each other’s characters. At least my Players are!)

Colin decided his character wanted to attack the fort where Jesse’s character had just arrived to serve as a priest. And Jesse’s Kicker was that his assistant was kidnapped. Well, the most likely culprits were the orc tribe that Colin’s character was a part of. So they pointed their Characters right at each other.

Sometimes Players will do that. Sometimes they won’t. But it certainly isn’t required. Sometimes they’ll end up pointing their Characters at each other later in play — as described above out of their own curiosity and/or need.

Jesse Burneko’s “State of the Union” Post from PLAY PASSIONATELY

November 10, 2013

"No, I am your father."

If you’re not familiar with Jesse Burneko’s Play Passionately blog… well, if you’re interested in Sorcerer, you should really check it out.

In particular, his State of the Union post on how he approaches games like Sorcerer is a brilliant summation of his thoughts about the kind of play he seeks when he plays. When I was working on Play Sorcerer as a book, I was going to ask if the essay could be the forward.

It begins like this:

Story is a problematic word when it comes to RPGs.  To some, a story is just a causal sequence of fictional events and a good story is one that simply indulges the imagination.  If the character got to ride a dinosaur on the moon and stave off an invasion of Martian vampires then that was a good story.  Such a definition of story has never been satisfying for me and the fiction produced from such play has always felt hollow and devoid of emotional truth.  To me, a good story must reveal something about the characters as real human beings no matter how fantastical their circumstances.  I crave a certain kind of emotional intimacy, revelation and resolution that speaks to recognizable human issues.

Since role-playing happens face-to-face getting that kind of emotional resonance requires a degree of honesty, self-reflection and social vulnerability in ways that I think many gamers find uncomfortable.  Indeed I think that a great number of “story oriented” gamers have spent a great deal of time and energy developing techniques that remove that need for vulnerability.  By removing that risk these techniques not only diminish the emotional rewards of story creation but also unintentionally introduce new social tensions and stresses that further complicate the role-playing experience.  It is my intention to layout a few “best practices” for opening yourself to the levels of creative risk that routinely produces high-impact emotional narratives.  Collectively I refer to the philosophy underlying these techniques as Play Passionately.

And later he writes this:

I was running a game of Sorcerer and after the first session one of the players commented that she didn’t like how much the die system redefined her character.  When I asked for clarification it turned out that there had been certain key moments where she had failed a die roll and in those moments her character concept had been redefined because the character she wanted to play “would have” succeeded at those things.  She had failed in those moments and her actual idea of who the character was had been altered.

The key to avoiding this disappointment is to shift focus away from thinking about what the character is supposed to accomplish and start thinking about the character in terms of what crisis he is confronting.  When a player invests in the character’s crisis the paths to satisfaction become less confined.  If my character is defined by his struggle with his religion then any set of events and resolutions which speak to that struggle will be satisfactory.  Maybe he drives his family away with his zealousness.  Maybe he abandons it all together.  Maybe he learns to keep it quiet so he can co-exist with his best friend.  What happens almost doesn’t matter because what the player and the group care about is the character’s struggle with his religion.

I recommend reading the whole thing.

SAVAGE BORN: Sorcerer & Sword in Action (Part Four – Jesse’s Character)

November 3, 2013


Here is the Character Jesse created for the game. (Language convention: I canalize the word “Character” for Player Characters, and use lower case “character” for any other character in the story.)

Jesse’s Character:

High Priest of the Goddess of Death of the Dreaming Empire

TELLTALE: Black Eyes

Natural Means

Lover (The Goddess of Death)


High Priest of Maravia

PRICE: Culturally Arrogant
-1 to non-Imperial cultural interactions

Lore Quadrant
“The Sarcophagus” (A shrine to Maravia built with wheels that Giaus travels with)

Kicker Quadrant
Lucia (his acolyte and priestess in training); her name is written along the border of Lore quadrant
Ruhu (orc shaman of the Beaten Last Clan); written along the border of the Price quadrant

Price Quadrant
Ulfar (a troll slave)
Golgondran (the Pict-ish humans that worshiped the gods that made the orcs and used the orcs as warrior slaves)

Past Quadrant
The Road (the Imperial road being built through the Great Forests — he has been sent to the end of the road to help the construction continue)
Centurion Arenus (Commander of the Fortress where Giaus is stationed)
Fabius (Lucia’s brother, also stationed at the Fortress)

Starting Humanity of 4

KICKER: “My priestess Lucia has been kidnapped by the Orc shaman, Ruhu.”

SAVAGE BORN: Sorcerer & Sword in Action (Part Three – Colin’s Character)

November 3, 2013
Here is the Character Colin created for the game. (Language convention: I canalize the word “Character” for Player Characters, and use lower case “character” for any other character in the story.)

Orc Chieftain of the Beaten Last Clan

TELLTALE: Scarred Hand (from beating fists and forearms in adulation to the large rock that is his clan’s god…)

Savage Raised


Inhuman (Orc)

Orc Warlord Chieftain

PRICE: Inhuman
-1 to first interactions

*Stamina is raised one point through a Humanity trade, via Inhuman Lore


Lore Quadrant
“Our God” (Clan’s God)

Kicker Quadrant
Fortress (the Fortress the Imperials now control, once ruled by the Orcs, and before them the Golgondran)
The Imperial Road (the road the Imperials are building through the Great Forests)
Centurion Arenus (commander of the Fortress)

Price Quadrant
The Troll Reaver

Past Quadrant
“You Are Me” (First born son)

Spreading across both Past Quadrant and Price Quadrant are:
“Beaten Last” (Golgrek’s Clan)
“Deerp Root Tribe” (the tribe that the Beaten Last clan is a part of)

Right in the center of the Character Grid is:
Shaman Ruhu (orc shaman of the Beaten Last Clan)

Starting Humanity of 2
No Bound Demons at start

KICKER: “Ruhu says my vision to attack the Fortress is wrong.”