Posts Tagged ‘relationship map’

Maybe this was an obvious one, but… yeah, bad-guys have to be prepared.

When GMing with Sorcerer’s Relationship-Map method, you (the GM) don’t decide who the main villain is; that comes out through play.  You start with lots of NPCs who each have their own motivations and plans, and who will each try to influence, recruit, help or hinder the PCs accordingly.  As the story develops, one (or more) of the NPCs will naturally end up opposing the PCs or trying to harm them.

My problem is: twice now in the current game, an NPC that had the potential to develop into the main villain has ended up dead.  In their very first interaction with the PCs.

I’ve been statting up these NPCs as if they were some-what experienced PCs, which I see now was not the right approach.  These are ambitious and dangerous people who already have a number of enemies.  They should each be walking around with the equivalent of a couple of Glocks, a kevlar vest and six body guards.  With a bullet-proof limo idling out front.

The prepared bad-guy was practically built into the dungeon-crawl model of play.  A whole maze of mooks, lieutenants and guard-dogs stood between the heroes and the villain.  In the new democratic world of R-map play, I will have to be a little smarter.  Or at least, my antagonists will have to be.


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Here’s a page that identifies eight noble houses with significant roles in our Dictionary of Elric game.  Thanks to Ry for the layout idea.

(click HERE to download PDF).

Dictionary of Elric Melnibonean Noble Houses



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Okay I got the relationship map sorted out — and it’s HUGE.  Right now it’s actually on four different pieces of paper, and I’m not sure that I’m going to bother transcribing it all onto one (poster-sized) sheet; it would probably be too unwieldy anyway.  We’ve got:

  • inter-personal relations (good and bad)
  • inter- noble-house relations (good and bad)
  • several schemes in progress

This is going to be great fun.

Now I’m statting up (stat’ing up?) NPCs, demons and other critters and items.  LOTS of them.  They’re each half a page, to save table space (let me know if you want me to post my character sheet templates).

Then I’ve got to make up some Bangs (which should be easy, given all these ambitious NPCs and their clear motivations!), and detail some locations.

44 hours til game time!

When this is all over, I plan to polish up a bunch of this material and put it into the next revision of the Dictionary of Elric.  But first: the kick-assing’est game of Sorcerer & Sword, ever.


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The planning session went great.  The players came with the seeds of character concepts, and we jammed on each others ideas.  I had also prepared a list of questions that I wanted each player to answer about their character — I’ll post it later, some were from Sorcerer, some were setting-specific — and that spurred more conversation.

I especially loved it when the players proposed things to each other like “hey, can we say that our characters are brothers / I’m in love with your daughter / your uncle just knocked up my wife?”  These guys practically built their own tangled relationship map without any help from me!

Which is also the problem I’m now facing.   (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?


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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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