Posts Tagged ‘Rituals’

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

October 11, 2015

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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.

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Conan Performs a Sorcerous Ritual

October 29, 2013

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[Edit: Please see all the commentary in the post below between Jesse and myself about the nature of the ritual Conan uses and the Demon involved. I ended up seeing the in-game elements very differently than on my first pass of thinking about it.]

From “Beyond the Black River” by Robert E. Howard

“Then others will be on our trail?”

“They are now,” was Conan’s disquieting answer. “Zogar would never leave our tracking to one beast alone.”

“What are we to do, then?” asked Balthus uneasily, grasping his ax as he stared at the gloomy arches above him. His flesh crawled with the momentary expectation of ripping talons and fangs leaping from the shadows.

“Wait!”

Conan turned, squatted and with his knife began scratching a curious symbol in the mold. Stooping to look at it over his shoulder, Balthus felt a crawling of the flesh along his spine, he knew not why. He felt no wind against his face, but there was a rustling of leaves above them and a weird moaning swept ghostily through the branches. Conan glanced up inscrutably, then rose and stood staring somberly down at the symbol he had drawn.

“What is it?” whispered Balthus. It looked archaic and meaningless to him. He supposed that it was his ignorance of artistry which prevented his identifying it as one of the conventional designs of some prevailing culture. But had he been the most erudite artist in the world, he would have been no nearer the solution.

“I saw it carved in the rock of a cave no human had visited for a million years,” muttered Conan, “in the uninhabited mountains beyond the Sea of Vilayet, half a world away from this spot. Later I saw a black witch-finder of Kush scratch it in the sand of a nameless river. He told me part of its meaning – it’s sacred to Jhebbal Sag and the creatures which worship him. Watch!”

They drew back among the dense foliage some yards away and waited in tense silence. To the east drums muttered and somewhere to north and west other drums answered. Balthus shivered, though he knew long miles of black forest separated him from the grim beaters of those drums whose dull pulsing was a sinister overture that set the dark stage for bloody drama.

Balthus found himself holding his breath. Then with a slight shaking of the leaves, the bushes parted and a magnificent panther came into view. The moonlight dappling through the leaves shone on its glossy coat rippling with the play of the great muscles beneath it.

With its head low it glided toward them. It was smelling out their trail. Then it halted as if frozen, its muzzle almost touching the symbol cut in the mold. For a long space it crouched motionless; it flattened its long body and laid its head on the ground before the mark. And Balthus felt the short hairs stir on his scalp. For the attitude of the great carnivore was one of awe and adoration.

Then the panther rose and backed away carefully, belly almost to the ground. With his hind-quarters among the bushes he wheeled as if in sudden panic and was gone like a flash of dappled light.

Balthus mopped his brow with a trembling hand and glanced at Conan.

The barbarian’s eyes were smoldering with fires that never lit the eyes of men bred to the ideas of civilization. In that instant he was all wild, and had forgotten the man at his side. In his burning gaze Balthus glimpsed and vaguely recognized pristine images and half-embodied memories, shadows from Life’s dawn, forgotten and repudiated by sophisticated races—ancient, primeval fantasms unnamed and nameless.

Then the deeper fires were masked and Conan was silently leading the way deeper into the forest.

“We’ve no more to fear from the beasts,” he said…

Sorcery is not a job description in the game Sorcerer. It is a character’s ability to use Lore.

For some reason, a few people found Ron’s statement in Sorcerer & Sword that, “In game terms, Conan is a sorcerer!” controversial. I have no idea why. Conan performs sorcerous rituals and steps into the pools of Lore all the time.

In the above example, translating the event into the rules of Sorcerer & Sword, I’d say it was a Pact. Conan wants to ward off beasts that have been sent to follow himself and his companion.

Translating fiction not built from Sorcerer into Sorcerer’s rules is always tricky, and there is never a precise or correct method of translations (Lore always ends up being person/group specific and built through play), but here’s how I’d look at it:

The Player (playing Conan) gets bonus dice for the cool setup:

“I saw it carved in the rock of a cave no human had visited for a million years,” muttered Conan, “in the uninhabited mountains beyond the Sea of Vilayet, half a world away from this spot. Later I saw a black witch-finder of Kush scratch it in the sand of a nameless river. He told me part of its meaning – it’s sacred to Jhebbal Sag and the creatures which worship him.” Note that this is something the Player could have made up right on the spot. Howard certainly did in the Conan story!

I’d say it was an object Demon (the marking itself). I really like the description, so I’d say for the purpose of the game Conan doesn’t need to Contact or Summon it. This is a bit of a cheat, I suppose, but I really liked the description, so I’d probably be generous on this front. All the Character would have to do is make the Pact roll.

What I like about it, by the way, is the “no human had visited for a million years,” and later, “a black witch-finder of Kush scratch it in the sand of a nameless river.” There’s something, for me at least, a bit chilling about these details because they suggest Conan, too, was chilled by them. Conan went really off the beaten path in those incidents, and I think, if the Player plays that up for his character we’re in proper weird fantasy color. (Always keep this text from Sorcerer & Sword in mind: “The authors considered themselves not to be a branch of adventure fiction, but an adventurous branch of horror/surrealist fiction.”)

So, there is a Pact roll, a ritual is performed. And here is the meat of it for me:

“The barbarian’s eyes were smoldering with fires that never lit the eyes of men bred to the ideas of civilization. In that instant he was all wild, and had forgotten the man at his side. In his burning gaze Balthus glimpsed and vaguely recognized pristine images and half-embodied memories, shadows from Life’s dawn, forgotten and repudiated by sophisticated races—ancient, primeval fantasms unnamed and nameless.”

Something happens to Conan here! He becomes, without doubt, less than a man. Even Conan, who is Howard’s stand in for the man who stands against the stale, dead rules of civilization, becomes something not even Conan would recognize.

I find this fascinating, because this suggests, to me, that Howard–for all his love of Conan being impatient with the rules of men and cities, knows there’s something that Conan isn’t. Something no longer a man at all. And that is what Conan risks when he performs the ritual. After all, later in his life, Conan would become a king. And a good one! He is not incapable of dealing with civilization. He is a man, no matter what. But in the moment of this ritual, he risk slipping away from his humanity (his Humanity!). He is unaware of the man beside, forgetting him, lost in something carved in a cave when no one had walked “for a million years.”

For me, that’s the Humanity roll right there. Did Conan succeed? Did he fail? The fiction, as written does not tell us. (Remember, even if Conan lost a point, his behavior would not change.) But what would have changed, if we were playing out this moment at table with friends, is that we would know if Conan had lost a point. We would also know about bit more about Lore and how it works for Conan (it is his risk of become something less than savage, something so wild and primordial as to not even be human. Non-Civilizaed as Conan is, he is still human. If he lost that, what would he be? A creature of muscles wielding a sword as a monster in the wilds. A lone figure hiding in a cave, leaving bones and unused pelts for wanderers to find–and perhaps stumble across him before their end?)

So, the Player is describing something like this as the Lore roll unfolds:

“The barbarian’s eyes were smoldering with fires that never lit the eyes of men bred to the ideas of civilization… he was all wild…  had forgotten the man at his side. In his burning gaze… vaguely recognized pristine images and half-embodied memories, shadows from Life’s dawn, forgotten and repudiated by sophisticated races—ancient, primeval fantasms unnamed and nameless.”

All that stuff is happening inside Conan. If the Player brings that to the table, in that moment we have a great Sorcerer & Sword moment. Something where the Player is stating, “This is what matters to me: How do I hold the tension between being utterly my own man–but risk slipping from being a man at all.” It’s chilling, weird, thematically resonate and puts the Character’s Humanity on the line.

Sorcerer (and Sorcerer & Sword) is of course about the external goals and ambitions of the character–the broad agendas and the moment-to-moment conflicts. But it is also about what is at stake at the most intimate and personal element of the character–his or her Humanity. I’d say that this passage reflects something Howard cared about–his internal life. He created Conan to sort things out that he wanted to understand. In this, it is a mirror of how we approach Sorcererwe must care about something more than the color when we approach the fiction. Just as Howard did.

And you? How would you address this moment in Sorcerer & Sword rules?