Archive for the ‘Actual Play’ Category

So now there’s a new “red box set,” a simplified version of the current edition of the D&D game.  Somehow, I don’t see this one sparking the same revolution that the original 1983 Basic D&D box set did.  Needless to say (?), my gaming blog is named for the original, but the contrast between story gaming and tactical wargaming is even starker when the current product is considered.

Managing Big Conflicts in Sorcerer

With every PC and NPC sorcerer having at least one demon, combat scenes in Sorcerer tend to involve a lot of characters, and all the demons are role-played as separate characters.  Our first few conflicts felt quite unmanageable, and a lot got overlooked.  Now at the end of our second full Sorcerer game (about 12 sessions total), we finally feel like we’ve had a major conflict that went smoothly.  Here’s how we did it.


  • Cards numbered 1 thru 15. Red on one side, blue on the other. After initiative order is determined, give everyone a numbered card showing their initiative rank – red side up.  Now everyone takes their turn in order.  As characters act OR roll full defence, turn their card over. This helps to track initiative order as well as who has given up their action to defend themselves.
  • Build dice pools from different coloured dice, for:
    • stats
    • ad hoc bonuses
    • carried-over victories
  • Immediately after winning an opposed action, put dice for carryover-able victories on the chr sheet, so next round you will remember you have them.
  • For tracking damage of NPCs and Demons without chr sheets, we used post-it notes: Stamina, Next-action dmg and Lasting dmg.
  • Don’t get hypnotized into attack-attack-attack, not everything is a fight to the death.  Each new round, consider the motivations of each chr.   Some of them are just trying to escape, rescue a hostage, destroy or capture an item, restrain someone, etc. etc.   Some of them aren’t invested and would rather break and run.

We also realized that we were doing a couple things wrong, but I don’t think I need to go into that here.  If you too are having trouble figuring out how to apply Sorcerer’s mechanics in all situations, you’re not alone.  The rulebook is not organized for quick reference, and some points have been redacted or changed since publication.  In my next post, I’ll go over some realizations and talk about some house rules that we’ll be implementing for our next game.


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Session 5 was epic!  I don’t want to say any more than that – go read the synopsis here on The Forge.  When the dust (and dice) settled, we found that we had driven most of the story lines to a natural (and epic!) conclusion.  So we decided that the game had ended, and gave short epilogues for Dr. von Braun, Jacques and Serge.  We’re all looking forward to playing Sorcerer again soon!

Enjoy the synopsis and thanks for reading,

-Johnny 0.

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Dr. von Braun and his “wife” Elsa were approached in the lounge of the Hotel Ville de Cloche by a gaunt man in his 50s.  He knew Elsa by name, and looked as though he was seeing a ghost.  “You look just like your mother…” he muttered.  He introduced himself as Timo Meyer, an old friend of her father’s.  After an awkward and brief conversation, he begged them to come visit him at his home that afternoon, and excused himself.

Von Braun and Elsa arrived at the dilapidated mansion to the sound of screams from upstairs.  The door stood open.  The doctor mounted the stairs as quickly as his gamey leg would allow, but reached the second-floor study too late.  Someone (or something) smashed the window and escaped as von Braun entered the room to find Meyer on the floor, eviscerated and dying.  The old man gasped out a warning, an apology, and expired.  Gripped in his hand were the covers of a journal, the centre of which had been ripped out by his assailant.  But the first and last few pages of the journal yet clung to the covers.  They read as follows:

I, Captain Timo Meyer, write this journal to record the events surrounding The Ruby of Kiauchau and my own shameful part in its history.  My purpose is not to write about the Japanese invasion of China, which events have been ably documented by other authors, but to tell of the events that so affected the lives of myself and three others – three others in whose destiny The Ruby continues to play a large and commanding part.  After 26 years of hiding from the truth, I must tell the whole story, and may God forgive me – if there is a God, and not an infinity of mocking demons.

In 1914, as a Captain in the German army I was assigned to Kiauchau Bay in the South China Seas, a coastal territory which the German empire had leased from China.  There was no armed conflict there, the purpose of the territory was mainly trade, but the tiny holding required a military presence for protection.  Therefore, it was a plum assignment, as there was little to do but enjoy the tropical weather while helping the German Governor to maintain order and good relations with the locals.  The weather was hot with a fresh sea breeze, the land green and lush, the beaches fine and sunny.  Some of the men brought their families with them, and lived in the village instead of the army camp.  Myself I was there with my baby daughter and a maidservant.  To my good fortune, my longtime friend Major Victor Breuer was also stationed at Kiauchau Bay.

In keeping up relations, we accompanied the Governor to meetings with the local Chinese warlord, Fang Jiou, on more than one occasion.  Fang Jiou was very rich; he did a lot of pillaging in China and a lot of trade with the Germans.  He was extremely charismatic, but his countenance unsettled me somehow.  I fancied his eyes glowed red when his face was in shadow.   He took pleasure in entertaining the Governor at his palace, which was a huge damp fort adorned and cluttered with a king’s ransom of gold vases, statuary, weapons, jewels, silk carpets and other treasures.

Fang showed us a great ruby the size of a peach pit, The Ruby of Kiauchau, producing it conspiratoriously from within his jacket.  He told of it’s sordid history: it preceded wealth and power, and left betrayal and murder in its wake.  People struggled for possession of it.  Kingdoms rose and fell on ownership of it.  Once, an entire province was put to the sword in conquest of The Ruby.  Fang recounted his story of the murders he himself had committed to acquire the red gem, and the plots and manipulations he had executed since then to rise to his current position.  He credited The Ruby’s halo of good luck for his success.

Fang claimed that The Ruby contained a fantastic landscape too maddening to look upon.  When I laughed, the warlord invited me to look into The Ruby myself.  He held the giant jewel up to the light for me.  “Be careful not to fall in, Captain,” he warned, smiling.  I looked into The Ruby, and my head immediately began to swim.  A pattern of mineral impurities seemed to reach deep into the red jewel, silhouetting razor-sharp mountains and sheer valleys.  The nightmare landscape precessed before my eyes, as if I were flying over it.  I felt my self falling in, plunging towards a deep crevass… I fell bodily onto the table, upsetting dishes and goblets.  Major Breuer caught my arm before I toppled onto the floor.  Fang laughed quietly and slipped The Ruby back inside his jacket.

Our visit ended shortly afterwards, and I did not see Fang or The Ruby again for a year or so, and then only in the course of that horrible event which forms the climax of this narrative – an event which has brought me more shame and unhappiness than I would have thought possible.

I will pass on now to the beginnings of the Japanese attack on Kiauchau Bay in late 1914,…

* * *

[last page]

Few texts even mention The Ruby.  It took me two years of research to learn its true powers – It was formally known as The Ruby of Agrapur – and by that time I was irrevocably bound to it.  I used it, I admit, but now I regret ever claiming it.  I wish only to destroy it, but I know that I am no longer strong enough.

She hounds me still, and soon I will no longer be able to resist her.  Therefore I have hidden The Ruby.  As to it’s hiding place, I dare not write it plainly.  A place of darkness, under a knotted rope.  Three red lights shine clearly on the spot when the moon pulls on the water.  Take it, Elsa.  It is clearly yours by my gift, and by the laws of Germany.  Sell it quickly, before its fell influence ensnares you too. Only keep it out of Her hands.

Antequam haec legis, mortuus ero; utinam ex animo hominum tam celeriter memoria mea discetat.

– Meyer, T. 1940

PS: The preceding is with thanks and apologies to Mr. Philip Pullman, the author of (amongst other great books) The Ruby In The Smoke, which is the book from which I pulled the relationship map for this particular game of Sorcerer.  In addition, the above text borrows liberally from The Ruby In The Smoke.  There, now you know.  I trust my players not to go out and get the book to find the answer to the riddle and to learn what I may have in store for them…

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After the 3rd session, I was a bit worried about the fact that the 3 PCs’ personal storylines were diverging.  But the sages on The Forge convinced me to run with it rather than try to impose some artificial convergence.  With the buy-in of the players, that’s what I did.  And the fourth session was outstandingly good!  Nobody got bored waiting for their next scene to come around.  The stories are intense and individual, as entertaining to watch as they are to play.

Here’s the AP, posted on The Forge.


-Johnny 0.

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Like I said, some shocking happenings in our third session!  Ry is really playing the moral dilemmas and pulling out all the stops.  Serge is on the ragged edge of sanity, and I keep pushing… 🙂  Synopsis posted here on The Forge.

-Johnny 0.

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Another great session of Sorcerer!  The plots are starting to twist deliciously.  Again, I’ve posted the synopsis on The Forge, here.

The third session was last night, and it was shocking!  Really, jaws hit the table.  I’ll write about it soon-soon.  Cheers,


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First session was way fun!  I posted a synopsis here in the AP* section of The Forge (*Actual Play), along with some analysis.  Go have a look, and see why we’re all so looking forward to Session 2!

-Johnny 0.

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