Posts Tagged ‘Humanity’

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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I’m preparing the setting for a campaign based on the excellent Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock, a set of books that I just can’t recommend highly enough.  And although the Elric novels were a big inspiration for the Sorcerer RPG, we’re not sure that Sorcerer is the right system for my Elric game…

This is a highly charged project.  I love the source literature, and my expectations for the game are sky-high.  The potential for a mismatch and disappointment at the table is definitely there.  So I’m taking a close look at my expectations before this goes much further.

Mike, Pete, Ry and I spoke about this at length, and my thanks to them for sharing their perspectives.  Any great ideas in here are theirs, any stupidity is mine.

I Want Sharks With Frickin’ Lasers On Their Heads

I have to admit that I have some pretty specific things that I want to happen in this game.  Here’s the big one.  A PC finds himself facing an overwhelming enemy; defeat is clearly in the cards.  He somehow buys himself a few minutes, casts his mind out into the multiverse and contacts just the right supernatural ally.  If his foe is a swarm of giant insects, he summons the Beast Lord of the Iguanas, which appears and eats them all.   If his foe is the Elohoin, a race of flesh-eating warrior women from an alien plane, he summons their sworn enemies the Grashnaks from across the void, who take up the fight with relish.

Basically, I want to see on-the-spot sorcery that turns the tide of battle.  And let’s leave aside the mechanical difficulties of this in the Sorcerer mechanics as written, cuz I have some ideas.  But for now, some quality-of-play concerns:

If I set up situations that only have one possible solution, then this won’t be Story Now.  It’ll be more like one of those old text adventures: if you have the key, and the old boot, and the crow bar and the gas mask, then you can get through the laboratory safely; otherwise, you’re screwed.  I’ll be hogging all the story-telling responsibilities and the players will just be following along.  A related concern: If I set up the situation, and the players find some other solution, how disappointed am I going to be?  So I have to:

  • create rich environments for set-piece conflicts, so the PCs have lots of things to interact with, lots of resources from which to build solutions.
    “PCs need sets the way Errol Flynn needs sets.”
  • accept that the outcome of the situation is not in my hands.  The players decide the characters’ actions, the dice decide their success or failure.

And remember: NO RAILROADING.  This goes for on-the-spot sorcery as well as summoning Lords of Chaos, visiting Ameeron or anything else from the books.  Okay no problem, I can do that.


The Elric stories are fast-paced and action-packed, whereas Sorcerer is focused on developing story based around theme and  “Humanity.”  Maybe I should pick a more Step-On-Up system like Apocalypse World or even some sort of d20 hack.  But I don’t want to lose the Story Now… do I?

As far as I’m concerned, the best elements of Sorcerer are Kickers and Bangs, and these parts seem pretty portable.  Can a Step-On-Up system be played with elements of Story Now?  Sure it can.  But… if players know they’re going into a Step On Up game, an Us-vs.-Them cage match where the “Them” is the GM and all his creations, then they’re going to be trying to load their character backstories and kickers with all kinds of advantages for the fights ahead.  They won’t be thinking about creating cool Story.  That’s not the way I want this to go down.

Can Sorcerer do fast-paced and action-packed?  Sure it can.  The game’s conflict-resolution (as opposed to task-resolution) system ensures that combat situations evolve rapidly and in interesting ways.  Headlocks, chair-throwing, flying tackles and swinging from the chandeliers!  But… we’re gonna want to make some tweaks.

Next Up: The Tweaks


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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?


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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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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.


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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(5th 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)

I have a bunch of posts in the works about the game’s unique dice mechanics, and they (the posts) assume that you’ve read the rulebook once but didn’t really get it (I didn’t). So to give you one more day to finish reading Sorcerer, here’s our to-do list for the pre-game session:

Things I Need To Prep Before Planning Session:

  • Names List for Demons

Sorcerer Pre-Game Session(s):

  1. Discuss the game. Any confusion w. the rules? Ready to move forward?
  2. Discuss setting: Era and location and flavour
  3. Brainstorm character concepts
  4. Discussion of types of stories of interest leads to meanings of: Humanity, Demons, Sorcery.
  5. Fill in top half of the One Sheet
  6. Crystalize character concepts:
    • Stats and descriptors (front of chr sheet)
    • Back stories, kickers, and some related “people, demons, places, possessions” (back of the sheet)
  7. Draw “Relationship Map A”, 3 distinct characters and their related people, demons, places, possessions. Maybe 3 disctinct constellations, but merge where appropriate/interesting.
  8. PCs roll up starting Demons
  9. GM makes copies of all PCs and PC-Demons

Your Kicker Should Be:

  • immediate and urgent — impossible for your PC to ignore
  • personal (ties in to something on the back of your sheet – though your chr doesn’t have to know how, yet)

Your Backstory Should:

  • explain how and why you became a sorcerer
  • tie into your kicker
  • describe the circumstances of acquiring your first demon
  • introduce some people whom you need and/or care about

GM Prep After First Session:

  1. Review Kickers and backstories.  Merge PC’s relationship map and GM’s secret relationship map.
  2. Create and detail-out NPCs & demons, their motivations and goals, and where the juicy conflicts lie.
  3. Review PCs’ demons. Make changes as necessary. Consider personality of each.
  4. Plan some Bangs. A bunch of Bangs. A variety of Bangs.
  5. Create any other details required by Kickers and Bangs: maps, locations, stats of bad guys and their demons, etc.
  6. Write short descriptions of people, demons, rituals, places, etc. with an emphasis on creating ATMOSPHERE. To give your GMing some imagery and flavour.
  7. a Demons Sheet: one page to track PC demons: binding strengths, mood vs rebellion, Need and feeding, etc.

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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.


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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ACTS 2: It’s Complicated

Sorcerers are not heroes, they’re not champions of Good, but nor are they Evil incarnate.  In Sorcerer, Good and Evil is complex.  I think of a prohibition-era whisky runner.  Technically, what he does is against the law, but he’s a good man.  At first it was just easy money, but the level of subterfuge and violence quickly escalated.  So did the income.  He now keeps a machine gun on the boat, and is ready to kill off rival whisky gangs to protect his business.  But he’ still a loving family man, and didn’t he donate the money to build two new ice rinks in town?  He doesn’t get off on the violence, he just can’t see how else he can make a living  (to continue this example, we might say that a gangster who does get off on the violence has reached zero Humanity).

Humanity is a score on your character sheet, and it is possibly the most important concept in the game.  Sorcery is an affront to Humanity.  Acts of sorcery mock Humanity, they put your personal Humanity score at risk.  The sorcerer performs them not because he hates Humanity but because he is willing to gamble it for something else.  Sorcery turns the PC sorcerer’s stomach.

What does your sorcerer want so badly?  Money?  Power?  Revenge?  Answers?  I recently read a character concept in which the character just wanted some measure of control over his life.  Or I could see a socially awkward loser with a dead-end job turning to sorcery just to feel special.  One well known Sorcerer variant involves grade-schoolers and their “imaginary friends.”  Kids call up demons out of loneliness.

What does your sorcerer want so badly that he’ll gamble his Humanity to achieve it?

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ACTS of Sorcery will be a daily missive leading up to our first session of Sorcerer. There’s a lot to wrap one’s head around in this game. And I’ve dug up so many juicy nuggets of wisdom from forums and stuff that I want to share.

Let’s start with this. Sorcery is an act of desperation or arrogance. Nobody summons up demons for fun. A sorcerer is someone so desperate to achieve something that he will risk his Humanity to get it. And he is arrogant enough to hope to control the forces that he bargains with. [By ‘desperate and arrogant’ I don’t mean ‘Evil’. A sorcerer could be empowering himself with the best of intentions. You could also swap ‘arrogant’ for ‘naive’.]

Ron Edwards sees tales of sorcery in many stories that don’t contain literal demons. He cites Euripides’ Medea as the main blueprint for the Sorcerer game. I haven’t read it but I looked up a synopsis: there is no sorcerer in this story, not literally. Jason (of “and the Argonauts” fame) wants to reclaim the golden fleece, but first must perform several impossible tasks involving magical foes. He makes a deal with Medea, a witch: if she will help him to complete and survive the tasks, he agrees to marry her. In each of the tasks, and through the many trials that follow, Jason survives and succeeds thanks to Medea’s magical help. But in the end, he spurns her love to marry a princess. Medea poisons Jason’s fiancé and the father-in-law King Creon. She completes her revenge by murdering her own two children whom she’d had by Jason.

In game terms, Jason was “the Sorcerer,” Medea was “the Demon.”

The terms of any Binding ritual are that the sorcerer will provide the demon’s “Need,” and the demon will serve the sorcerer. Her Need was Jason’s Love. When the sorcerer stopped providing the demon’s Need, it rebelled, with disastrous results.

Demons have two key attributes: Desire and Need.

Desire – a role-playing “key” to the Demon’s behaviour

Need – payment, what the sorcerer agrees to pay the demon (regularly) for its services.

The demon’s Desire is like its religion, its political ideology, and its favorite hobby all rolled into one. The demon likes and enjoys its Desire, and at all times, it will try to perform the Desire, to observe it in action, or to influence others to do it too.

The demon’s Need is its addiction. It needs it at all times, but sometimes more desperately than others… Crucially, the demon will never satisfy its Need by itself. It relies wholly on the sorcerer to make sure the Need gets to it. The GM should always know whether the demon is currently ‘hungry,’ and play the demon accordingly.” -Ron Edwards

Yes that’s right, the GM plays all the demons… even yours. Never miss a feeding.

Watch the movie trailer (embedded above) for Youth In Revolt. This movie looks hilarious. And I’m seeing it as a Sorcerer tale. Replace “arrogance” with “naivety.” Nick is the naive “Sorcerer.” Francois is “the Demon,” and its Desire is pure egoism. Nick obviously rolled badly on the Binding ritual, because he seems incapable of controlling the demon he’s summoned!

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