Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Sorcerer’

How we manage combat in Sorcerer. Might work for you, too.

Take one suit from a deck of cards – so, you have 13 cards.

Once everybody rolls to determine priority of action, hand out the cards: Ace (“one”) to the highest roll, 2 to the next highest, etc. Everybody leaves their card showing face-up on the table. Now resolve actions in order, starting with the character who has the Ace card and proceeding numerically. Turn your card face-down when:

  • you take your action
  • you abort your action, e.g. to roll full defense
  • your action is obviated due to changing circumstances

When you’ve got a dozen PCs, NPCs and demons acting at once, this can really help to remember who should act when, without having to re-survey all the rolls, and especially to remember who has aborted their action. It’s not too hard for a player to remember their PC’s place in the order, but the GM is potentially tracking 5-10 characters including everyone’s demons, so this really helps them.

I originally made cards for this: orange on one side, blue on the other, with the numbers written on both sides. But I think playing cards would work just as well. If you have more than 13 actors, start a second suit.

I find this quicker than the method described in Annotated Sorcerer, drawing circles and numbered arrows on a piece of paper. The drawback is that the cards method doesn’t record who is acting against whom. I suppose the methods could be combined.

– – –

You could do Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery as a Sorcerer tale.  Burying a body is the ritual to summon a possessor or parasite demon to re-animate it.  The pet cemetery’s cursed grounds provide a Lore bonus.  The demon has the Cover ability to mimic whatever or whoever you buried there.  But it also has a Need, and it gets nasty if you don’t provide it…

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The tale of the D.C. Beltway Sniper – a man and a teenage boy terrorize D.C. with a sniper rifle over several weeks – is a Sorcerer tale.  A teenage boy in Alabama was going through hell, and none of the adults in his life would give him the help he needed.  In his desperation, he created a demon in the form of his childhood hero: a revered uncle who had just died in Afghanistan.    A demon with a Desire to protect the boy, and a Need to kill.  The demon hunted down and shot the boy’s tormentor, but it didn’t end there.  As more bullies and less-favourite teachers turned up dead, the boy realized that he had endangered his whole town.  He tried to unsummon the demon, but it proved too strong.  That’s when it kidnapped him, stole a car, and took the killing spree on the road.

The boy struggled between his fear of discovery and his fear of the murderous fiend in the shape of his uncle.  He nudged the roadtrip towards the nation’s capital, hoping to be captured there.  Once, he mastered himself long enough to telephone for help.  It was a few more days before the authorities caught up with the pair.  They couldn’t have subdued the demon without the boy’s help.

What really happened between their arrest in 2002 and the demon’s “execution” in 2009, we’ll never know.

– – –

The setting-and-character generation session is still a week away, so this is how I exercise my creative energy (and exorcise my obsession).

I’ve just finished re-reading the Annotated Sorcerer, the re-issue of the Sorcerer rulebook complete with the author’s extensive observations and comments on 15+ years of play (his and ours) and discussion on The Forge forums.  It’s a great resource.  I still wish Ron Edwards had updated or rewritten the rulebook, because finding the definitive version of a rule requires perusing both the original text and the nearby notations.  But the annotations taken together comprise a master class in running/playing Sorcerer, and in Forge-style play.  Valuable, fascinating reading.

Since our game’s scenario will be based on the characters’ kickers, this (re-reading the rulebooks, and finding sorcerous tales in pop culture and current events) is the only “prep” that I can do.

Read Full Post »

This is my pitch for a new game of Sorcerer that I’m putting together.  It will be unique in a couple of ways.  First, the pitch, which was aimed at players who are totally unfamiliar with the Sorcerer RPG:

“Know this: all the traditions, cultures, rituals, and bodies of knowledge surrounding what we call magic or the occult are wrong. It is hogwash, flimflam, swindlery, and lies. But even so, here and now in the modern world, there are perhaps several dozen sorcerers in existence. They do summon demons and bind them to their will. They do have an inkling, although no surety, about the unnatural laws.

You are one of them.”  –Ron Edwards, Sorcerer (rulebook)

Sorcerer is a game that explores “what do you WANT, and how far are you willing to go to get it?” As you can imagine, summoning and bargaining with demons can be… hazardous.  There is no secret school of magic, no accepted body of sorcerous knowledge. Besides your fellow PCs, you maybe know one other sorcerer. You’re pretty much on your own in dealing with these crafty, extra-planar fuckers. You have no magic, no powers of your own, except the ability to summon, bind and banish demons. But demons can give you almost any power imaginable – for a price. Want to be invulnerable to weapons? Want to be able to fly? Want a slavering beast that’ll tear apart your enemies? No problem, as long as you can pay their price. Need more? Demons will give you all the power you want. They are the ultimate loan-sharks.

Why Sorcerer kicks ass:

  • Combat is flexible, cinematic and fast. A fight usually resolves within 5-10 minutes, and with serious consequences.
  • Players have lots of creative input. By the choices you make for your PC during character creation, YOU basically tell ME what you want to see and do in the game. And then I go and create a situation based on your characters.
  • Your creative control continues throughout the game. The GM does not plan an adventure from beginning to end; he runs the world and provides opposition, but YOU take the story wherever you want to.
  • A demon can be almost anything: a red, pointy-tailed devil, a kid’s imaginary friend, a parasite that lives in your gut, an intelligent magic item, a rogue AI, etc..
  • The system is fairly simple, I can teach it as we go. No homework will be assigned. 😉

What do you think? Want to see if you can use the ultimate users, and come out on top?

The pitch worked, the players are IN, and I can’t wait to get started.  Why this game will be unique (for me):

  • The players are traditional D&D players who are willing to try something new.  They tend to play very dramatically and collaboratively, but are unused to rules sets that support that kind of play directly.
  • I’ve run Sorcerer in Melniboné and in 1941 Casablanca, I’ve played Sorcerer in Mu, but I’ve never played or run it straight-up, by the book, in the here-and-now, as this game will be.
  • I’ve always used the relationship-map method of scenario creation.  This time, I’m just going to go with the advice in the core book.  I think this will bring maximal focus on the PCs’ kickers.

I look forward to introducing these players to Forge-style play.  They’re pretty pro-active players already, so I don’t think it’ll be much of a culture shock.  And I look forward to going in with an open mind, hearing their character concepts, awesoming-up their kickers, and then taking a week to come up with a scenario based entirely on that.

Read Full Post »

2014 is turning out to be a really, really good year for new games.  Not only is Vincent Baker actively and publicly developing the next Apocalypse World game, and so far it looks brilliant; but Ron Edwards (of Sorcerer fame) is developing and publishing a new RPG!  The latter, called Circle of Hands, Kickstartered in March and is due to be published by the end of the year.  From now until the end of the summer, Ron is running an open playtest of the working draft.  What a great opportunity, not just to get a sneak preview of a favourite designer’s latest game, but also to participate in game development with him!  I grabbed the playtest document and assembled a few friends to play it with me.

Circle of Hands is a gritty story-now RPG set in a fictional iron-age land that culturally and technologically resembles Northen Europe around 1000CE.  Not castles but walled towns.  Not kings but chieftains.  Not swords but spears.  There are no non-human races, but there are some fantastic monsters.  The combat mechanics aim to be fast, simple and brutal while bringing a measure of realism never before seen in a fantasy RPG.  And there is magic, oh is there magic.  Gone is the false choice of muscles or brains; if you want to wield magic, you’d better be strong enough.  There are no skinny bookish spellcasters in this harsh land.  Wizards mutter spells through gritted teeth, between spear thrust and shield bash.

Mitch, Peter and Christian stepped up to try out the game with me (David also volunteered, but due to interference by Real Life never actually made it to a session).  They really threw themselves into the true spirit of playtesting.  Although I offered to teach them the rules at the table, they all read the playtest doc ahead of the first session.  They gamely tried the different character options, and worked to test all the mechanics in play.  And best of all, they gave good post-game discussion and feedback.  All of our comments were enthusiastically received by Ron on the Adept Press forum, and lead to some very interesting conversations.  Our names will be in the published game.  We played three sessions in total, and it was a great experience.

What’s the game like?  As promised, fast and brutal.  A scenario is meant to be started and finished in one night, which we usually achieved without having to rush.  The game has an interesting scenario-generation mechanic for the GM, which doesn’t take long at all and results in some very charged situations.  It’s a story-now game, so the GM isn’t meant to plan out what happens.  He creates the initial conditions (location, problem, some NPCs), and then plays to find out what happens.  Game play includes a mandatory social roll for every PC/major-NPC interaction, which strongly influences how things proceed.  This is great, because it makes it impossible for the GM to plan what will happen in a scenario, and leads to some very interesting unexpected situations.

Besides the above, the game stands out for two reasons: the combat mechanics and the magic rules.

Combat mechanics

Whenever you attack OR are attacked, you enter a “clash” with your opponent.  You each roll attack and defense at once, and either one of you can injure the other.  You also get to decide how far you bias your action towards attack or defense.  And then there’s the Advantage die; one and only one character in each clash gets an extra die based on the immediate tactical situation.  There are no rounds, and what we would traditionally call the initiative order is very dynamic.  Whenever you attack or fight back, you go to the end of the initiative order.  If you get attacked a lot, you might never get to initiate any actions, but you could still be doing a lot of damage.  Any time, you can spend a point of Brawn to skip to the front of the line.  But don’t be a spendthrift: Brawn is also your damage modifier, your hit points AND your spell points!  In practice, all this meant for some very exciting combat scenes full of rapid reversals of fortune.  The mechanics are just complex enough to demand quick and strategic thinking.

Magic rules

All PCs use magic.  Wizard PCs have access to all of the spells; yes, all of them, right from the start.  Non-wizards select just a few spells for their repertoires.  There are two types of magic: White and Black.  As you might expect, White is all about healing and purity, and Black is demons and necromancy.  But don’t make the mistake of calling them Good and Evil; they’re both terrible.  White magic run amok will purify your village right out of existence, erasing it as surely as a horde of undead will.  All NPC wizards are devoted to one source of magic or the other, and the war between White and Black magic is the scourge of the setting world.  The PCs are unique in that they alone have sworn to use both kinds of magic in balance.  Spellcasting expends your Brawn attribute (as mentioned above), and using too much magic of one colour has permanent consequences.

Circle of Hands has a few other unique spins on the way we role-play.  I won’t try to get into them all now.  Overall, we really enjoyed the game, and as GM I was forced to practice some new techniques.  We and other playtesters did manage to find a couple of leaks in the rules.  Ron is currently re-writing and reformulating several parts of the game.  I look forward to playing it again soon; and to eventually receiving the finished product.

-J

Read Full Post »

But unlike Ol’ Blue Eyes, I think mine are worth mentioning.  And pondering, and learning from.  My regrets are the big “Dead End” signs on the road to improving as a GM and a player.  I want to remember where they are so I can steer clear of them in future.

I remember the time…

…when Ryan was in a duel to the death with Yrkoon over the Runeswords, Stormbringer and Mourneblade. Ryan was about to be defeated, which would have meant the annihilation of his character’s soul. The stakes were absolutely clear. We all looked at each other in horror – it should have been a great moment – and I fudged a rule to allow him one more round. He won the duel. I think we all felt dirty after that moment, like we’d cheated ourselves.

My mistake was not being willing to let the PCs fail, not trusting in our ability to make failure interesting – even though defeat in that duel would have meant the end of Ry’s character. That kind of curveball is what drives emergent story at the table! I should have been willing to let it happen. Ry would have re-entered the story as another character, we would have turned it into something interesting.  Instead, we went for the hollow happy ending.

I remember the time…

…when, in the first session of a new campaign, the PCs captured and disarmed the guy whom I was going to turn into the master villain! I panicked, I was seeing all my carefully laid plans spiraling down the toilet – and I engineered the villain’s immediate escape.

My mistake was that I took away the players’ agency. They were driving the story by taking bold and provocative action, and I shut them down. I made them adjuncts to MY vision, instead of partners in storytelling. I strongly regret it now.

My other mistake was that I was too attached to my own plans. I didn’t have faith in my ability to still build a cool (but different) story around an unexpected outcome. It would have been simple: this would-be villain was the head of a family of powerful politicians and sorcerers. Kidnapping him as the PCs did would have instantly set off a war between noble houses! And the patriarch’s nephew would have made a fine arch enemy in his place. But I couldn’t see any of that, I had panicked.  I should have rolled with it.

I have more regrets, but those are the biggest that rattle around in my head.  If I can take the lessons from these, then I’ll make big strides towards becoming the kind of GM that I want to be.

-J

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

-J

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »