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Posts Tagged ‘demons’

All four of us in my gaming group are serious, serious gamers, we like the same types of games, and we get along great.  But despite all that, each of us brings very different games to the table.  We all take turns choosing the game and GMing.  Mike is very plugged in to the online indie gaming scene, and brings us the new hotness.  Ryan is on a lifelong quest to discover or build the perfect story-gaming system.  Peter’s tastes run to the crunchy, and he loves superhero games.  And me, well…

When I look at the history of the games that I have nominated and run, there are both expected and unexpected trends:

I’m attracted to settings more than systems.  I know that system is vitally important to the gaming experience, but when I read a new game and go “hell yeah I want to play that,” it’s usually because the fictional content (or “fluff”) has grabbed me.  I find this especially when reading the GUMSHOE games: Trail of Cthulhu, Ashen Stars, Night’s Black Agents, et al.  I don’t even particularly like the GUMSHOE system, but these games have evocative, detailed settings that are ripe for drama and adventure.  Setting-rich games are kind-of a problem with my group, though, which tends to prefer games with a low barrier to entry (i.e. not having a lot of setting material to memorize before the game can begin).  When I run a game, I tend to spend a lot of time developing setting and backstory content, and then trying to figure out how I’ll introduce it all during play (without boring exposition scenes).

But system IS important.  I like systems that aren’t too crunchy; I don’t want to have to keep flipping through the rulebook during the game.  A system should have explicit mechanics for driving the story forward and in unexpected directions.  I want to be surprised, even as the GM.  We end up mixing and matching systems and settings quite a bit.  For example, I ran a game in the Elric! (a.k.a Stormbringer) setting using the Sorcerer and Sword system (with great success).  But paradoxically, reading setting-free system rulebooks (e.g. Fate Core) leaves me cold.  I need some sets and costumes with my rules, even if I’ll never use them.

Sorcery, ghosts and demons.  These are favourite genres of mine that I keep coming back to.  I feel like there’s something about forbidden knowledge and Things That Should Not Be Named that I haven’t successfully invoked at the gaming table yet; but I can’t say exactly what that is.  I’ll keep exploring these genres until I do.

I just finished my turn in the GM’s chair, so my next opportunity to pick the game is probably a year away.  Still, I’m always reading new RPGs and supplements, and of course I want to play just about all of them.  Maybe looking back at my previous selections will help me to narrow down on what I’m really looking for.  Or maybe I’ll decide to try something completely different.

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As I mentioned recently, I’m using half-page character sheets for the NPCs and their demons, to save table space during combats.  When every PC and NPC brings a demon or two to the fight, the playing surface gets crowded in a hurry!

Here they are:

Sorcerer half-page chr sheets – NPC Sorcerers

Sorcerer half-page chr sheets – Demons

Print them out double-sided and cut them across the middle.  In case it’s confusing: write your answers below each heading like “Appearance,” “Telltale,” etc., except write above the line for “Name.”   The “Kicker/Conspiracy” field is there in case you have multiple groups to keep track of: the vampire court, a satanist cult and the Young Sorcerers Party, for example.  Under “Need” are the stages of demon hunger, from “Sated” to “Vengeful.”  Circle the demon’s current mood based on how it is treated, used, wounded, and fed.

Hope y’all find them useful!

-Johnny 0.

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Our first session of play was last night and it was – pretty great!

I was a bit more apprehensive than enthusiastic, because I didn’t feel like I had enough bangs prepared, I hadn’t decided yet why Mike’s character’s son had been kidnapped ten years ago and where he was now (re: Mike’s backstory and kicker), and I hadn’t quite figured out the best way to bring the story from a throne-room intrigue to a world-roaming adventure story.

But despite all that, it was a fun session because I have great players :).  Everyone really got into their roles.  I was especially impressed with how well Pete and Ry embraced the “Melnibonean-ness” of their characters, casually discussing execution and dismemberment of family members while seeking the most appropriate way to respond to infidelity and other betrayals! (not gratuitously, but to highlight the contrast with the characters-of-conscience in the story; this juxtaposition will be an ongoing theme in this particular game).  And Mike more-or-less allowed himself to be captured and labelled a spy, because it would be good for the ensuing story! (more…)

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The excellent game Sorcerer has been central to my gaming experience and tinkerings lately.  A few loosely-related notes:

A Sorcerer Tweak?

We love Sorcerer.  When it landed in the late ’90s, it was revolutionary.  Compared to D&D, it was Completely Different.  It was the first (?) RPG that really put the focus on “Story Now!,” the phenomenon of story creation as a real-time group activity (in contrast, the D&D paradigm is “Story Before”: the GM creates the story alone, and then brings it to the table and runs the players through it).  But…

Sorcerer is now the oldest game in the Story Now! category.  Since Sorcerer landed, there have been 10+ more years of great indie games that have built on what Sorcerer started.  Perhaps Sorcerer could benefit from an upgrade, a renovation, an incorporation of some of the refinements that have emerged from the forge (ahem) of indie games in recent years.

Things We Love About Sorcerer:

  • Humanity – what do you need so badly that you’ll risk your soul to get it?  This score is the heart of the game.
  • Kickers & Bangs – the players initiate the story, the GM puts pressure on things, the story continues to come from the players.
  • Relationship maps – delicious complexity in NPCs without pre-planned “encounters”.
  • Demons – dangerous allies that are NOT your friends.  The rope by which the desperate protagonist hangs himself.

Aspects Of Sorcerer That Could Stand Some Refining:

  • Conflict Resolution (“Combat”) – we still spend a lot of time going “how many dice do i get?”. – there’s a lot to track: next-action damage, lasting damage, victories carried over, damage penalties, etc.  This needs to be simplified.
    • maybe just one kind of damage instead of “next action” and “lasting”.  Reduce the damage table to something simpler.
  • The Statistics of The Dice-Pool Mechanic – do they suit the kind of game we want to play?
    • a big dice-count advantage rarely translates into a large number of victories.

We (my gaming group) want to give Sorcerer a serious think-over.  Can we make the game even better while preserving the best aspects of the original?  No, let me re-phrase: can we make the game more suitable for the kind of experience that we want at the table?

-J

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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,

-J

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One week left til game time.   Here is the third and final player-character for our impending game of Sorcerer.  Setting: Casablanca 1940. This is pretty much all Ry’s own work.  He also gave me a long list of Serge’s family members, colleagues and acquaintances, as well as an idea for a first in-game scene involving… well, you’ll see!  Thanks Ry!

Serge Denis Molière

Serge is a great big fire marshall, captain of one of the larger fire halls in the city. He has a well-deserved reputation for being a tireless hero and hard worker, putting the safety of children before any other concern.

Several months ago, Serge was trapped in a partially-collapsed building, and despite his prodigious strength was unable to save two young children that he had been leading to safety. Near death from smoke inhalation, Serge spotted a rat running impossibly across a pane of glass and escaping through a tiny hole in the wall. The rat was a part of the demon Tachyorychtes, and the thoughts would eat at Serge’s mind for the following few months, when he struck a bargain with a German doctor by the name of von Braun.

The rat/demon has abilities that help Serge to rescue people from burning buildings: it confers the ability to “see” structural strength, material stresses and weak points. Its Need is to see beautiful things destroyed (in fire or otherwise).

Demon: Tachyorychtes, the Rat.

Wife: Anna Molière (née Godechaux)

Kicker

Serge is Catholic. His wife Anna has converted to Catholicism and attends church with him and takes communion.

A few weeks after binding the rat Tachyorychtes (‘Tack’), Serge was asked by his Jewish in-laws to help them fix something at their bookshop, and to bring his tools. Naturally, Serge agreed, like any good son-in-law, although he puzzled at their insistence that he come alone on a particular Saturday afternoon.

When Serge arrived he found most of the Godechaux men were gathered. Serge was asked to help make sure that nothing was damaged as the family set to clearing out “an old unused back room in the basement.”

Despite the lies, the intent of the enterprise was clear: to open up a new wall in the basement of the Godechaux bookstore. Expanding Jewish businesses was already banned in Casablanca by French decree, and while Serge found the law disturbing he was angry at his father-in-law for drawing him into something illegal.

Nevertheless, Serge carefully inspected the structural integrity of the house, and determined that opening up the new wall was probably safe. Always cautious when working with civilians, he sent the various Godechaux kin out of the house so he could get to work.

Serge used Tack’s conferred materials sight to discern where the weak spot was, and realized one area was particularly vulnerable to being struck. What Serge didn’t realize was that he was aiming straight at the entrance to a prison that had been Containing a powerful demon.

An inky blackness leapt from the hole, and the room grew dark. Serge fell to the ground, disoriented, and tried to get his bearings, looking for the light of the door upstairs. When he looked to that light, he saw something cross his field of vision – something like a large pile of rope suddenly uncoiling as if the other end was tied to a cannonball. When Serge tried to stand, he felt something heavy on his back, and when he tried to look he briefly saw something – again, like a rope but with hooks protruding from it, which faintly glowed red, like embers. Serge then blacked out.

The next thing Serge heard was his brother-in-law, Denis, calling to ask if he was alright. Serge picked himself up and saw that a corridor, several feet long, had yawned behind the spot he struck. The stone walls appeared to be the foundations – or even the first floor – of a much older construction. After this discovery, completing the tunnel to the adjacent building was trivial, and Serge went home scraped and exhausted but also disgusted with himself. Serge resolved to speak to the Doctor von Braun first thing in the morning.

*   *   *

Ry originally gave me a much more explosive kicker, but later decided that we should save the good part for in-game.  Can’t wait 🙂 -Johnny 0.

GM’s Post Script: Animated-Object Demons

The rope demon poses an interesting question: how do you spec an animated-object demon in game terms?  I first browsed the demon abilities for one that would allow a demon to animate an object.  The rulebook explicitly states that the ability Warp can not confer animation, and an Object demon with the Travel ability just relocates when nobody’s looking, the way your car keys seem to do.  Then I found an answer on The Forge:

“I’d go with Inconspicuous [Type,] with the specific limitations about abilities of Passers (i.e. no conferring to others). You, um, do remember that in The Sorcerer’s Soul, I’m pretty clear that the demon Types are customizable and blend-able, right?” -Ron Edwards, Dec.10 2002

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The G.o.T.H. (Games on The Hill) players are gearing up for our first game of Sorcerer RPG, yours truly presiding.  We’ve had our planning session, and the game is scheduled to crack wide open in eleven days.  Today’s post is our One-Sheet, describing our “game concept” if you like, thematic direction and the selections we made in customizing the rules of play.

One-Sheet

Notes on Theme, Setting and Genre. Mention any inspirational material.

Casablanca, the movie (1942).  World War II real history was inspirational, but we are picking elements from it, not adopting real history wholesale into the game.

What is the setting: Location and Era?

Casablanca, late 1940.  Crossroads of refugees, outlaws, deserters and resistance fighters from all over the world, war profiteers, black marketeers, corrupt local officials and imperious German officers.  French Morocco is part of “unoccupied France,” but the Nazi army moves across and within its borders with impunity.  There is some unequal treatment of Jewish people in the setting, some ghettos (Mellahs), but no transportation or concentration (yet).  Jews can still operate businesses.  Nazis are searching Europe for objects of divine power and sorcerous lore.  Nazi occult researchers have turned up nothing real – with exceptions possible.

The events of this game will not be a proxy for the greater war at hand.  The players are not trying to defeat the Nazis single-handedly.  This game will be about the personal plights of the player characters – as any Sorcerer game should be – and the war is just part of the setting.

What are Demons?

Impossible beings, with fetishes that they want to play out in the real world.  There is no big demon conspiracy, although they can know each other, have friendships and rivalries.  Like inmates of the same mental institution.

All demons can communicate by speech during the Contact ritual.  Demons take on their Type upon being Summoned.

Demons take names when they first encounter the human world.  Therefore, mix of biblical, Arabic, Sumerian, Greek, Indian names, etc. and (rarely) some modern names.

What are Sorcerers/What is Sorcery?

People who know about real demons, and how to perform the rituals of sorcery.

What is Humanity?

Sanity/Empathy hybrid.  Your Humanity is your ability to empathize with others and to act with compassion.  It is also your ability to maintain a reasoned connection with the human world and society.

What acts risk reducing your personal Humanity?

Victimizing someone (demons don’t count).  Recklessly exposing the world to insanity or chaotic and dangerous forces.  Anything that permanently raises your Lore exposes you to ever greater insane concepts, and requires a Humanity check.  Contact, Summon and Bind rituals.

What acts can redeem your personal Humanity?

Acting in the best interest of others, even though it costs you.  Destroying a significant source of sorcerous lore.  Banishing a demon whose Power exceeds your Humanity score.

At zero Humanity, you are…

…a sociopath, a gibbering wreck.

Demons will…

…challenge and disrupt reality; bypass decency.

Humanity check to…

…keep your grip; understand others.

Rituals are based on…

…transgressing on someone; performing the ritual somewhere you’re not supposed to be, e.g. someone else’s house, or a public place.  Creates a permanent incongruity in space/time at the location (insanity manifest, alien geometry).

Descriptors: Stamina, Will and Lore taken straight from the book.

*  *  *

Next I’ll post the three character concepts, including backstories and kickers.  Then you’ll really know why I’m so excited to start this game!

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(8th chapter in a book of thoughts and learnings from a GM who is studying Ron Edwards’ game of Sorcerer in preparation for his first game)

Today I had the good fortune to exchange correspondence with Ron Edwards, author of Sorcerer, on his forum The Forge.  For a revered game designer, he is remarkably accessible and generous with his time, and displays infinite patience in entertaining questions from newbies.  Here was my query:

Communicating with Demons

A quick line of mechanics questioning for anyone out there. Object Demons generally only communicate by conferring (or withholding) their abilities. That is, when they are in the real world (ie. already summoned). But do they communicate more directly, by speech or otherwise, during the Contact ritual? How about during Binding, which is post-Summoning, can they bargain verbally, play at riddles, arm-wrestle? Who decides what form an Object Demon takes, the sorcerer or the Demon?

And his reply shall be found here, on The Forge (direct link to his post).

As with many things in Sorcerer, the answer is up to the group, and depends on what sort of story they wish to tell.  So, what do you think?  How verbose or reticent should demons be?  How constant, or labile?  And how would that affect the tone of the  game?  What sort of theme would it serve?

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I want to let the players define the game’s setting, theme and story as much as possible. I just have some guidelines in mind.

Required Reading:

Just the main Sorcerer rulebook. Although reading Chapter-1 of Sorcerer’s Soul will certainly up your game.

Standard Setting:

Since this is our first Sorcerer game, let’s keep it simple, and save our grand creative outbursts for subsequent games. I know there is no “standard setting” in the rulebook, but let’s borrow unabashedly from the examples provided. We’ll pick our definition of Humanity from one of the four offered in the book (pg44, or Sorcerer’s Soul pg16).

And unless you’re feeling especially inspired, feel free to lift your PC’s Score descriptions, Price, Kicker type (pg35) and maybe even your whole character concept (ideas pg37-38) right from the book.

Demons:

There’s a wide range of possible definitions of Demons given in the book (pg58), from “fallen angels” to “fighter jets with AI.” I’d like to stick to a fairly traditional definition of Demons: extraplanar creatures, banished djinni, spirits of the dead, something like that. Beings that have a crappy half-existence Elsewhere, but really prefer to mix it up with humans on our plane.

The One-Sheet:

By the time we are ready to begin play, we will have filled in all the blanks on the One-Sheet, which is a handy one-page summary of our game parameters, and which looks like this:

  • Notes on Theme, Setting and Genre (mention any inspirational material)
  • What are Demons?
  • What are Sorcerers/What is Sorcery?
  • What is Lore?
  • What is Humanity?
  • —–What acts risk reducing your personal Humanity?
  • —–What acts can redeem your personal Humanity?
  • —–At zero Humanity, you are…
  • —–Demons will…
  • —–Humanity check to…
  • —–Rituals are based on…
  • What is the setting: Location and Era?
  • Descriptors: Stamina, Will, and Lore

Again, since we’re using the examples offered in the book as much as possible, it won’t take us long to answer these questions. I’ll send out a filled-in One-Sheet after our pre-game session. It will replace this, becoming the GM’s hand-out.

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Demons Conceptually

There’s a wide range of possible definitions of Demons given in the book (pg58), from “fallen angels” to “fighter jets with AI.” I’d like to stick to a fairly traditional definition of Demons for our first game: extraplanar spirits, banished djinni, ghosts of the dead, something like that. Beings that have a crappy half-existence Elsewhere and really prefer to mix it up with humans on our own plane. But I’d also like to avoid anything that smacks of a biblical angels-vs.-demons-type cosmological struggle. The game should be about sorcerer vs. demon (or, vs. self, really).

Do all Demons know each other? Is there some sort of common demonic agenda? Or are they all purely individual? What do Demons look like in our game? Things to decide as a group.

Your Demon’s Desire and Need: with reference to the examples given on pg57-58, I’m open to any of those, or similar ones, except the “Trivial” ones.

Demons Mechanically

Demons are just as detailed as PCs, but with more options available. If we are rolling up starting Demons together, then we’ll certainly need two planning sessions before play begins. Let me know if y’all are comfortable rolling up your own demons and sending them to me at least 1 week before the start of play.

Note that PCs do not control their Demons. They can ask or tell or Command their demons to do stuff, but compliance is always up to the Demon.

Yes, your Demon can go off on missions on its own. And yes, you are morally responsible for its actions. If you send your Demon to spy on Mr. X, and it kills someone in the process, you’ll be rolling a Humanity check!

Note that at the start of play, your PC already has his starting Demon. We don’t have to play out the Contact and Summoning rituals (and the attendant Humanity checks – whew!), but we will play out the Binding roll together. You’ll see your own roll, but you won’t see the Demon’s, so you’ll never really know how strongly you have bound it…

Note also that, with the exception of their starting Demons, the PCs can only specify the Demons they Contact and Summon in the most general terms. Such rituals begin not with the player handing the GM a completed Demon character sheet, but instead with words like “I’d like to Contact a powerful Passer Demon that confers the ‘Boost Lore’ ability.” The GM rolls up the Demon that responds to your Contact, and it may or may not meet your expectations. Yes, sorcery is unpredictable! The exception to this rule is an attempt to reach a specific Demon whom the PC has dealt with before or at least knows by name. Since the GM has to roll up any new Demons, players should give the GM at least a few days’ notice!

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Demons, guys.

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