Posts Tagged ‘Setting’

Some Thoughts on the “Brushstrokes of Setting” Posts

December 9, 2013

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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.

SAVAGE BORN: Sorcerer & Sword in Action (Part Seven – The Second Session & Beyond)

November 5, 2013

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[Some of this was recapped two posts back…]

The Shaman challenges Golgrek to knock it off with his talk of attacking the Fortress. Golgrek got all in his face with “Are we orcs or what?” The Shaman claims the voice of “Our God” as his authority. Golgrek wants to know who serves who? The Shaman pulls and axe and they go at it. Golgrek doesn’t want to fight the Shaman, but it’s clear the Shaman is actually attacking Golgrek to take the Clan Chieftain position — which is to the death.

Golgrek is going to toss his axe at the Shaman’s feet and try to find peace. But Golgrek’s eldest son, You Are Me, out of love for his father, rushes the Shaman to try to save his dad. Golgrek is now drawn into the fight as he tries to save his son.

Meanwhile, Giaus rushes across the clan’s camp during the fight as all the orcs get caught up in the spectacle of their clan-strife, grabs his sword off the alter of Our God, where it has been placed, and rushes into the fight to protect a terrible blow from the Shaman striking You Are Me.

You Are Me doesn’t relent his attack on the Shaman. The Shaman is going to order the clan to attack Golgrek. Golgrek goes first, ramming his thick fingers right down the Shaman’s mouth, choking him and breaking his jaw. He lifts the shaman by the strange grip he has on him, carrying him to the stone that is Our God and batters the Shaman against the stone till he’s a bloody pulp.

The clan is shocked. Their Chieftain has slain their Shaman. These things happen, but there is no one to speak to Our God anymore.

Moreover, Golgrek is furious You Are Me stepped into a ritual battle, committing taboo. He strips You Are Me of his name, giving it to his second son, and banishes his first son from the clan until he can come back with a name he finds on his own.

Golgrek, grateful to Giaus, release Lucia, sending a group of orcs to escort them back to the Fortress. Giaus says he wants to stay. He is curious about Our God. Hoping to get closer to Giaus and learn more about the Gods his people are fighting, Giaus helps Golgrek bind Our God after sending the Goddess of Death along after Lucia to help guard her on the way back to the fortress.

Golgrek batters his forearms and hands against the stone that is Our God fiercely, tearing skin and bleeding. As Our God’s Desire is Dominance, the sacrifice of Ruhu’s bloody corpse, and the way it was delivered, adds a lot of dice to the roll! He binds the God. Everyone in the clan relaxes.

But Golgrek is troubled. He retreats to a cave and contemplates what it means to now be bound to Our God, as Our God tells him not to attack the Fortress.

Giaus, meanwhile, heads off into the wilds of the Great Forests, hoping to find the source of where Our God came from…

***

So, that’s how play began.

We played another four or five sessions, with Giaus and Golgrek eventually working together to save Golgrek’s son and stop an old god within a cave under the Imperial fortress.

I posted all that as a example of the collaborative nature of setting up Sorcerer and as a reassurance that by feeding the interests of the players, you actually get something very cool!

SAVAGE BORN: Sorcerer & Sword in Action (Part Six – The First Session)

November 5, 2013

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Recap
Colin is playing Golgrek Troll Reaver, Chief of an Orc clan. His Kicker was that he had a vision he should lead his clan to attack and re-claim the fortress lost years ago. The Kicker part is his Clan Shaman, Ruhu, says they should all avoid the Fortress and his vision is a trick.

Jesse is playing Gaius Ambrosius, High Priest of the Goddess of Death. His Kicker is that his apprentice was kidnapped by Ruhu.

The First Session
In the first session, Golgrek led his son (“You Are Me”) close to the fortress felt a presence of some sort reaching out to him. When he listened he went backward in his perceptions through the history of his race: First the present day clan and tribe he lived with, then the battles with the Empire, then the time before he was born, and then all the orcs who had lived and died before him, feeling their pain in death and joys in triumph, then back before they won their freedom, living under the lash of their Golgondran makers, then just a few of them, then just two, and then the first orc and then… nothing… back to the point before the Golgondran made the orcs and Golgrek’s kind existed at all.

Meanwhile, Gaius, upon hearing what happened to his apprentice, went rushing out to rescue her. He grabbed a sword off the apprentice’s brother, who was wounded in the attack, planning on hunting down an orc and killing him and imbuing the sword with death magic to head off and rescue the apprentice on his own.

The closest Orc he spotted was Golgrek, and he rushed to chase Golgrek down. Golgrek fled through the shadows of the forest. But Gaius asked the Goddes of Death to part the shadows and reveal his enemy. She did. Gauis rushed to run down Golgrek down with his horse. Golgrek was knocked to the ground (and already worn from his exertions trying to contact the thing in the Fortress), and then grabbed Gaius’ horse and drove it down to the ground. Gaius swing his sword fiercely. Golgrek grabbed a rock and used it to block the blow — then took the rock and smashed it against Gauis’ head. He knocked the priest out and ended up capturing him. He rejoined his son and other orcs and return to the clan camp with his prize.

There he discovered the apprentice already a prisoner. Golgrek announced his vision and Ruhu dismissed it, saying that their god (“Our God” — a crude stone rock they took from the Gongondran three genrations ago) said they should not go to the fortress. Ruhu said he captured the apprentice to find out how to destroy the Imperials without going to the fortress. This is how “Our God” wants them to proceed.

Giaus tried to use his death touch on Ruhu, Ruhu (also rich in Lore) saw it coming, jumped back — getting an acidic burn on his skin in the shape of a handprint… but still alive. Golgrek jumped to the apprentice, holding his axe’s blade against her throat to stop Giaus from using any more of his sorcery…

And that’s where we left it.

The whole thing very much as the feel of a Howard story where he alternates back and forth between protagonists, shifting point of view as they separate and come into conflict.

SAVAGE BORN: Sorcerer & Sword in Action (Part Five – A Discussion About a Kicker)

November 4, 2013

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When I was writing about this game a couple of years ago, Per Fischer had some questions about the Kicker Colin made for Golgrek.

This is the discussion that ensued. Notice a few things about it:

Jesse and I talk about the kibitzing that occurred about the Kicker. (Sorcerer is a social activity!) Notice, too, how the Kicker was tweaked to offer more tension for the player! Notice, finally, that nothing was imposed on Colin. He liked complicating the Kicker.

Here is the Kicker Per asked about:

Golgrek the Troll Reaver’s Kicker was that he had a vision he should lead his clan to attack and re-claim the fortress lost years ago. The Kicker part is his Clan Shaman, Ruhu, says they should all avoid the Fortress and his vision is a trick.

Here is the discussion:

Could you perhaps say a word or two about this – when I read it I thought it was kind of a weak Kicker, or perhaps I don’t quite get why it works (and I assume it DID work in play). I’m asking because if I had been the GM, I would probably have asked the player if it could be sharpened a bit.

Per

Here was my reply:

Per.

The original Kicker was: “I have a vision we should attack the fort.”

I said, “That’s not quite strong enough. He can have the vision, but there need to be something involving another person somehow.”

And Colin said, “What if the Shaman, Ruhu, doesn’t believe in the vision. Says it s trick.”

So, the focus is off the Fortress now, and on the relationship between Golgrek, the clan Chieftain, and Ruhu, the clan shaman. It was strong enough for me because I knew there was tension a’ brewing, and I had no idea how things would work out.

On the other hand, it still circled the fortress, where Giaus was based, so it seemed to be building some sort of localized focus of play, which is good for aSorcerer & Sword game.

In straight up Sorcerer I usually go for something more emotionally grabby and more on the line in terms of a relationship. But this is Robert E. Howard/Tanith Lee/Clark Ashton Smith terriorty. So having enough to have people fighting over things, in my thinking, was enough. In these stories the emotional weight grows as the story continues and characters invest in each other. We’ll see if it happens!

Also, I knew (knowing how I think) that this would open up all this narrative possibilities I had peer into: Why was the Shaman down on the idea of attacking the Fortress? What prompted the vision? Was there a threat that Golgrek could not see and what was it? Was the Shaman being told by his demon not to attack the Fortress? And if so, why? 

So, all that would grist for the mill for my prep/brainstorming as I had to figure out and justify the Kicker. So, it was good for me at least, because the answers I found helped build all the world/demon stuff I posted above, as well as other stuff I haven’t posted yet.

I can tell you that the other night, during play, the Shaman challenged Golgrek to knock it off with his talk of attacking the Fortress. Golgrek got all in his face with “Are we orcs or what?” The Shaman claims the voice of “Our God” as his authority. Golgrek wants to know who serves who? The Shaman pulls and axe and they go at it. Golgrek doesn’t want to fight the Shaman, but it’s clear the Shaman is actually attacking Golgrek to take the Clan Chieftain position — which is to the death.

Golgrek is going to toss his axe at the Shaman’s feet and try to find peace. But Golgrek’s eldest son, You Are Me, out of love for his father, rushes the Shaman to try to save his dad. Golgrek is now drawn into the fight as he tries to save his son. 

Meanwhile, Giaus rushes across the clan’s camp during the fight as all the orcs get caught up in the spectacle of their clan-strife, grabs his sword off the alter of Our God, where it has been placed, and rushes into the fight to protect a terrible blow from the Shaman striking You Are Me. 

You Are Me doesn’t relent his attack on the Shaman. The Shaman is going to order the clan to attack Golgrek. Golgrek goes first, ramming his thick fingers right down the Shaman’s mouth, choking him and breaking his jaw. He lifts the shaman by the strange grip he has on him, carrying him to the stone that is Our God and batters the Shaman against the stone till he’s a bloody pulp. 

And more things happen after that.

And that was from the Kicker. And the repercussions are only just starting. And Golgrek is still haunted by the call he received by the whatever he heard from the Fortress. So I’d say the Kicker is paying off… 

But does that sound good to you? And what were your original thoughts about the Kicker? I’d really love to know — now you have the context of how play has proceeded.

Per replied:

Thanks also for your thorough answer, Chris, very awesome indeed.

The short answer is: yes, it sounds good to me. I guess my initial gut reaction to the Kicker was that is was somehow passive, merely by being a vision. I think you’ve described brilliantly how you first strengthened the Kicked and then how it worked in play. I really like how you (and your players) managed to “localize focus of play”, that’s really good advice for S&S.

I answered:

I think this about that…

That’s a good concern. And in some games it might even be more of a concern. But the thing about Player Authored Kickers is that the Player is saying, “I want a game about this.” It’s the Player’s declaration about what he what to invest in and drive toward in one way or another. As long as I don’t block it to the point of taking it off the table (as opposed to providing obstacles, which is a whole different thing since the Character is still pushing toward it), then I have ever reason to believe that even a vision is loaded with energy and drive.

Moreover, I’m blessed to be playing with Colin and Jesse who are well versed in Sorcerer. We’ve had lots of conversations about the game, and god knows Colin has listened to me talk about many aspects of the game, including the power and value of Kickers in terms of being Player Authored. So he knows it’s on him to create a compelling cool Kicker that he really fucking cares about or intrigues him in some way… since he knows I’m counting on him to give me something I know he really can’t wait to make a story about. And, of course, he did!

Jesse and Colin are energetic, creative players who just keep generating ideas and material. They’re open about what they’re interested in, and a lot of my job is just listening to what they want and feeding them obstacles and opportunities about what they want.

And then Jesse added:

An amusing point on this is that Colin is SO pro-active as a player that one of the reasons we “spiked” even the vision-only version of the Kicker was because his character’s total commitment to following the vision and taking the Fortress represented the status quo. I remember suggesting the idea that his Kicker be about something that blind-sides that commitment.

Jesse

And then I wrote:

Yes.

It went like this: 

Colin: “Golgrek has a vision that he should attack the fortress.”

Me: “I, um, well…. We need something… that makes it…. um.”

My face is all confusion and concern. Jesse sees it…

Jesse: “Something that blind-sides your commitment to attacking the fortress…”

Me: “Yeah, like someone, like the shaman not wanting you to do that…”

Colin: “Oh, right! Ruhu says it’s a trick. That my vision is false and we shouldn’t do that.”

***

I post that because I think it shows the level of collaborative trust at the table. It was a bunch of “Yes, And…” that led to what I needed as a GM and that still offered Colin what he needed and wanted as a Player.

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

November 3, 2013

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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:

GIAUS ABROSIUS
High Priest of the Goddess of Death of the Dreaming Empire

TELLTALE: Black Eyes

STAMINA: 2
Natural Means

WILL: 4
Lover (The Goddess of Death)

LORE: 4
Adept

PAST: 4
High Priest of Maravia
Huntsman

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

CHARACTER GRID
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
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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.)

GOLGREK THE TROLL REAVER
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…)

STAMINA: 5*
Savage Raised

WILL: 4
Angry

LORE: 2
Inhuman (Orc)

COVER: 2
Orc Warlord Chieftain

PRICE: Inhuman
-1 to first interactions

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

CHARACTER GRID

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.”

SAVAGE BORN: Sorcerer & Sword in Action (Part Two – Fleshing Out the Setting)

November 2, 2013

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As Colin and Jesse createdtheir characters, as is the way of Sorcerer & Sword, we fleshed out the background elements of the setting:

What’s the setting?
SAVAGE BORN: A pulp, weird fantasy setting (imagine A Weird Tales cover from back in the day)

The Dreaming Empire conquered the vast forests to the north with the help of the demonic gods — Death, Disease, Delirium, Despair and Destruction.

The conquered a race of pict-like humans summoned new gods to create a race of Orcs to battle the invaders. The picts were most conquered, and as they fell the Orcs rose up against them and battled both the picts and the Dreaming Empire for freedom. The Orcs have taken the gods of the creators and worship them as their own.

Two hundred years of war have passed and the Empire seems to be fading. The conquests of the Great Forests seem tenuous. Soldiers of the Dreaming Empire are torn between wanting to go home and wanting to do their duty and keep the dream of the Empire alive.

What’s the system?
Sorcerer (Sorcerer & Sword)

What’s going on?
The game turns out to be centered on a Fortress ruled by the Empire at the edge of the Empire’s influence in the Great Forest. It was originally ruled by the Golgondran (the Pictish-humans), then taken by the Orcs, and then taken in turn by Imperial troops stationed far from home. The soldiers are tasked with continuing to build a road through the great forests.

Who are the characters?

Colin is playing Golgrek Troll Reaver, Chief of an Orc clan. His Kicker was that he had a vision he should lead his clan to attack and re-claim the fortress lost years ago. The Kicker part is his Clan Shaman, Ruhu, says they should all avoid the Fortress and his vision is a trick.

Jesse is playing Gaius Ambrosius, High Priest of the Goddess of Death. His Kicker is that his apprentice was kidnapped by Ruhu.

Descriptors
The descriptors are straight out of Sorcerer & Sword. (Honestly, I don’t muck with the descriptors anymore. After looking them over a long time, I see that their job isn’t to establish setting as much to establish a variety of points-of-view of the characters. And between Sorcerer and S&Sword, there’s really enough to work with as is.)

Humanity
Humanity is Friendship and Loyalty… which honestly hasn’t come into play yet. Both Gaius and Golgrek are functioning very much in their roles in their respective society. But, S&Sword plays a lighter game with Humanity in general.

I’m planning on ramping that up soon with some Bangs… but I’m also expecting my wonderful plays to start laying the groundwork for that as well.

Demons
Demons are gods of the respective cultures:

The Golgondran had gods — primitive, cruel and crude pagan things. The Golgondran (in secret ways) also created new gods so they could make the Orcs. They used the Orcs march south, raiding and conquering.

A man to the south contacted the God of Delirium for aid. Delirium said he would help, but only if the man would establish religious orders for his god-kin. The man agreed, and with the help of Delirium and his kin, a great empire was born. For the last thousand years the man who bound Delirium has been in a torpor, mumbling strange words that priests and witch write down and study as commands. In this way, the Dreaming Emperor rules the Dreaming Empire.

The Empire marched north, beat the snot out of the Golgondran. The Orcs rebelled against the Golgrondran masters. They killed the Golgondran priests and their Orc shamen took the Golgondran gods as their own from them, serving them and using them against the Golgondran and the soldiers of the Dreaming Empire.

The Golgondran are still around, and have a few of their old gods as well.

SAVAGE BORN: Sorcerer & Sword in Action (Part One – An Accidental Beginning)

November 1, 2013
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Savage Born Map

A couple of years ago I played a six session game of Sorcerer & Sword with my friends Colin and Jesse. Here’s how it went down:

THE PITCH
Heading down to a local convention, I was hoping to get in some Sword & Sorcerer. I’d been reading Tanith Lee’s Night’s Master and some Clark Ashton Smith, which looped me back into some Conan stories I hadn’t read yet. So I was hungry.

However, I couldn’t figure out the setting or tone. And tone is really what you’re looking for to pitch to the players for Sorcerer & Sword. As the GM, you want to pitch the lightest setting you can to the Players, letting the focus of the social, creative act be set around the Players making their Characters

I wanted something like Howard’s Hyborea — and even toyed with the idea of just saying, “Fuck it… we’re playing in Hyborea. Conan is somewhere else.” But it didn’t want the onus of having someone else creating hanging over me.

Then I thought of using the setting for Earthdawn — a setting I clearly love, but I found the rules too much. But the weird fantasy is there with the Horrors. The Passions could be Demons using the Angel rules from Sorcerer’s Soul. But, again, I’d be dealing with big, detailed already-built setting. And so much of Sorcerer & Sword is in starting with the characters defining the situation and growing the setting form that.

Then, driving down to the convention I was struck with the notion of orcs — savage and bold. They seemed to tap into the energy of sword and sorcery if we took them completely out of high fantasy and made them not pawns in someone else’s story but the focus of the story. No Tolkien — they would be creatures, weird creatures, made creatures. Weird fantasy incarnate.

I saw them in an vast woods like primitive Germany. So then I immediately thought of something like the Roman Empire invading those woods. And then I thought of troll vikings to the north…. and then I stopped myself. Because I probably already had too much! The setting should be kept simple. So stopped thinking and drew a map shown above.

I was drawing it at the table while Colin was setting up his Apocalypse World game and we were waiting for other players. He was like, “Hey… what’s that?” And, well… he was all in after that.

Later, when many of the story gamers were hanging out I pitched the idea of playing a Sorcerer & Sword game some time during the convention to Jesse and he was in too.

But then, the next day I bumped into Colin and he explained that he and Jesse had decided that I was actually going to run a full on series of sessions for them. I said sure! We made an appointment to make characters during lunch on Sunday during the convention.

Sorcerer: Some Things It Does Well; Some Things It Doesn’t

January 24, 2010

Last year I came up with a Sorcerer setting I called “Hidden Gods.” I came up with it to play with folks I already played with and as a tool to introduce a new player.

Just around that time my life and the life of everyone who might have played exploded with new romances, new education, and new success at passion-careers. Figuring out how to manage our time with all this newness became a challenge alongside everything else.

Now the dust has settled and everyone has a better sense of what time is available and how they want to use it – and more gaming is on the table. Also, I’ve met more folks who haven’t played these crazy new games that have come out in the last decade, but want to give them a whirl.

I’ve been whipping up a variety of Sorcerer settings to send out, along with Hero Wars using Glorantha, to see who is interested in what.

My plan is to have a Sorcerer SF setting (“Future Perfect”), a modern day Sorcerer setting (“Hidden Gods”) and a fantasy Sorcerer setting (“Mythic Age” – which I’ll be posting soon.)

If you click on the link above to “Hidden Gods” you’ll find a document that is a little bit different from the one I posted last year.

The difference in the documents is what I want to post about. Something had always been nagging at me about the way I’d set up “Hidden Gods,” and after opening up the doc again recently and mulling it over, I figured out the problem. Significantly, the changes I’ve made to the document touch on the way Sorcerer works in general, so I wanted to do a write-up on the matter.

Last year, the concept of “Hidden Gods” was that there were these Hidden Gods, Lovecraft-type things that were “out there.” The Demons would be the servants of the Gods. I wanted a kind of mythos that we’d all be making up, with cultists and the whole deal. Some Player Characters might be cultists, others might be cops investigating ritual murders that lead them into investigations that make them want to stop the cultists. Others might be journalists investigating the murders that lead them to start tapping the powers of the demons to learn more… And so on.

What I wanted was the whole Cthulhu Mythos mystery-that-is-bigger-than us thing.

I’m sure I still want to make a game like this. But after mulling over “Hidden Gods” I realized that using Sorcerer to do this would be the effect I wanted. Sorcerer can do some things well, and other things not so well.

After my experiment with “Traveller: Holy War,” where I used the GDW Traveller setting with the Sorcerer rules, I had a better understanding of how the Sorcerer rules channel the fiction and started paying more attention to how the Sorcerer rules work or don’t work with certain kinds of stories.

To sum up the Traveller game quickly, we ended up with a fantastic series of sessions of play that that had the tonal feel of SciFi channel’s Battlestar Galactica. I also saw, clearly, that the Sorcerer rules do not care about your big setting. Once the Kickers are activated and the Players and GM are engaged, Sorcerer drives the game toward a strong narrative arc worthy of a long form TV show, focusing on the Player Characters, their choices and their actions above all else. The phrase I’ve come up with is this from these lessons: “In Sorcerer, the setting is what is left in the wake of the character’s actions.”

Looking over the “Hidden Gods” setting I remembered that Ron Edwards has written many times that there should be no “secret reality” that only the PCs know about; no curtain over world we know that, if you only pulled it back, you could see the way the world really works.

Of course, Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos is ALL ABOUT the notion that there is a secret reality to the way the world really is. But I still, at first, could not see why it would not work well.

After examining the issue again, it occurred to me the core issue is this: Sorcerer is about relationships. (Ron once said that the relationship between sorcerers and demons is a dysfunctional relationship. Some people took this to mean the game is about — and only deals with — dysfunctional relationships. But of course this isn’t the case at all. There need to be many relationships in a game of Sorcerer to make the game work – most of them not with demons, and some dysfunctional and some not.)

But the protagonists of a Cthulhu Mythos don’t have a relationship with the mythos gods. They interact, sometimes, with people who have relationships with those gods; they find clues/documents/statues that offer more proof of the dark gods; they come to intellectual understanding of the implications of what they have found…. But they do not have relationships with the mythos gods.

Without that relationship, the connection between the protagonist and the gods becomes one of understanding — understanding of insignificance; of the true, dark nature of the universe; of the frailty of human beings and the weakness of civilization. This is all fun stuff!

But it has no gears for the Sorcerer rules to engage with. I think Ron’s admonishment about not having “the secret reality” is all about this one point. To go down the path of the “secret reality” is to risk walking down a path of intellectual understand — and leaving the playing field of relationships and how the relationships affect each other.

If a sorcerer can’t have a relationship with his new understanding, then how does such an understanding fit effectively into play? How does it avoid becoming an intellectual exercise that avoids the interlocking teeth of the Sorcerer mechanics? Because Sorcerer should never be an intellectual exercise; those teeth are all about being visceral and emotional.

At this time, my answer to both questions is, it can’t. Without personifying the “new understanding” in some sort of relationship, I don’t think the understanding can be anything but solipsistic and intellectual for the Player Characters, and I don’t think such a bit of fiction will fit comfortably with the mechanical gears of Sorcerer play.

To be clear, here are some of the teeth I’m talking about: The definition of Humanity, the definition of Demons, the definition of Lore, and Demon Needs and Wants. All of these might look like they are abstract or intellectual at first glance, but their real purpose is to define a Player Character by the actions he takes, what he does with and to strangers and loved ones; how he conducts himself in pursuit of the things he wants.

Without those elements, you might be having a great time (and you probably would!) finding the cool clues and playing out the implications of your PC coming to understand the secret truth of the world — but there’s a very good chance you would no longer be playing Sorcerer. You could stop using the game’s elements and just have the GM feed you cool new bits of reality. Again, fun! It’s a game I want to play. But it’s no longer Sorcerer for all the reasons I’ve listed above about Sorcerer being about relationships and behavior, not intellectual understanding.

So, when I looked over the “Hidden Gods” setting material, I saw that I was close to making a Sorcerer setting, but had placed some structural elements that would, in the long run, weaken the game.

I ended up taking out the Gods. I kept all the stuff about Lore being about seeing the secret patterns of reality. And then the Demons, rather than being servants of the Hidden Gods, are ability of the sorcerers to take that understanding of the secret patterns of reality and take that understanding to re-shape reality to their whim.

So, yes, I have kept a portion of the notion of the “secret reality” — the sorcerers can see the reality that others cannot. But it isn’t “out there.” It is tangible and concrete to the sorcerers. They have a relationship with the Tarot Deck they use, or the Glass Eye that lets them hidden truths in newspaper articles, and so on. They see the secret reality immediately and can engage with it immediately. It isn’t “out there” — it’s at their fingertips, forcing them to make choices about how they’ll act now that these powers are at hand to use.

This only strengthened my understanding of the game — this notion that the game is really, really about relationships. Not just the relationship between the sorcerer and his demon, but the sorcerer and all the relationships the Player writes down on his character’s sheet. It is the concrete interaction of behaviors, choices and people that make the game sing.

Future Perfect: A Setting for Sorcerer

January 5, 2010


I’ve always been drawn to the art of Warhammer 40K, loved the SPACE HULK game, but never really knew more about it than that.

I’ve got some people wanting to try Sorcerer, and along with some of the settings I’ve already got, I was thinking of doing something in the 40K universe.

And then I realized I really didn’t want to spend a lot of time learning the 40K universe. So I decided to just steal the art and make up my own setting!

Future Perfect takes place at the End Times of Earth’s history: Resources are running low, wars are still being fought, dynastic families struggle to keep their families and their people alive.

Sorcerers are people who use psionic abilities forged from their own thoughts melded with armored power suits.

• LORE is Selfishness.
• DEMONS are the powered armored suits.
• HUMANITY is Compassion – the ability to see the greater good of humanity, act on the needs of others not connected to you, forswearing or sacrificing your own needs or the needs of those closest to you for someone else.
• RITUALS are acts that rob others of life, love, security and dignity in the name of serving one’s own interests or the interests of those one loves
• At a HUMANITY OF 0 the Player Character can care only for his own needs, losing all connections with those he once fought for or loved. He becomes a gabbish, wandering the land slaughtering all and taking all he finds for himself.

I slammed together a five page PDF to show to my players. You can see it here.