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Tweaks to the Sorcerer RPG, based on experiences from our last game and plans for our next one:
(once again, thanks to the guys in my gaming group for chewing this over with me)

Ad Hoc Bonus Dice

Bonuses, like taxes, should encourage desired behaviour.  According to the rules, ad hoc bonus dice should be awarded anytime for:

  • smart tactics
  • adding detail
  • strong role-playing

You want to encourage players to think about smart tactics.  That’s what makes the difference between “I hit him.  I hit him again,” and “I pick up the big candle and splash hot wax in his eyes, then kick his legs out so Sofia can brain him with a stool.”  It just makes play more cinematic and fresh.

You want to encourage the players to narrate in their own details into the scene.  The GM can’t think of everything.  With everyone at the table adding detail, you get a very rich environment – which means better story-telling and more tactical options for everybody.  Says the player: “The walls are covered with hunting trophies, okay?  Weird beasts.  One of the heads is from something that looks like a rhino with huge tusks.  I pick up the necromancer and try to impale him on it.”  In the next round, one of the other player-characters tears a trophy head off the wall and uses it as a weapon.  Cool!

Bonuses for strong role-playing?  Yes, role-playing is something we want to encourage, but how to adjudicate the awarding of bonuses?  Either you’ll give the same +2 dice to every attempt, or you’ll end up having to say things like “Mike’s role-playing was better than that; no bonus dice for you.”  Let’s avoid beauty contests and take this bonus off the table.  In my group, good role-playing is always a priority so this isn’t an issue.  Alternately, I’d advise GMs to award this bonus only when someone picks good role-playing over some other in-game advantage.  “I know he’s going to cream me if I don’t wait for back-up, but damnit, he killed my partner!  I can’t hold back,  I go in now, guns blazing!”

Once More, with Conviction!

For encouraging derring-do, Ry likes the Conviction Dice mechanic.  In Sorcerer, it would work something like this:

  • Each PC starts the game with a pool of Conviction dice equal to his Humanity score (for example)
  • At any time, PCs can add Conviction dice to any roll: combat, sorcery, ability check, etc. (but not to Humanity checks!)
  • Whenever the PC succeeds at a Humanity (loss or gain) check, his Conviction pool refreshes.

The deal is, a PC doesn’t just use his Conviction dice whenever he needs a boost, even if the situation is dire.  Let Story happen.   He should use them when the situation is really central to his character’s core motivation.

“I can’t fail now that we’re so close to rescuing my betrothed!  I’m adding all my Conviction dice to this roll!”

It’s the stuff that theme music is made of.  But that reminds me of the “Mastering oneself” mechanic that’s already present in the Sorcerer rules.  The difference is: by mastering yourself, you have one last chance at an heroic (but doomed) gesture.  You can only do it when you’re nearly dead.  With Conviction dice, you can choose your moment and be sure to own it.  There’s probably room for both mechanics in this game.  I guess it’s all about what kind of stories you want to tell.  I’m still thinking about this one.

Swing From The Chandelier – Please!

Further to encouraging cool tactics: the game’s damage rules seem to do the opposite.  Let’s compare two possible moves:

A: “I leap, swing from the chandelier and land behind him.”  The PC succeeds with 2 victories, which we apply as a penalty to his opponent’s next action.

B: “I punch him.”  The PC succeeds with 2 victories, doing 2 next-action damage and 1 lasting damage.  His opponent now has a 3-dice penalty to his next action, plus a 1-die penalty that will last til the end of the scene.

Notice in case-B, the PC is more effective when he’s just attacking instead of using smart tactics.  Multiply this effect several times if he’s doing Special Damage.  The damage rules provide a perverse incentive to just attack rather than to look for clever ways to gain the upper hand.

Solution?  I’m still thinking about this one.  First of all, the “smart tactics” bonus, if applied liberally, might even the odds in favour of cinematic action.  One other possible solution might be:

  • 1 bonus victory is awarded to successful actions that don’t do damage (in combat situations)

Well, the game does provide a cumulative 1-die penalty for unimaginatively repeating the same action.  So “attack, attack, attack” has a mechanical disincentive.  Is that enough?  In Sorcerer’s short combats, repeating the same action rarely becomes an issue anyway…

Two Hits

“Me hittin’ you, you hittin’ the floor.”  Fights in Sorcerer tend to go this way: one-round combats in which the loser is down before he can even take a swing.  A character is out when damage exceeds his Stamina score (3-5 usually, or higher for big demons), while anyone with the Special Damage ability is doing 3X+Power of total damage per hit (where X is victories rolled).  Even with 1 victory, a Power-5 demon is doing enough damage to knock out any mere mortal with one blow.  And even if you’re not down, remember that all damage counts as penalties against your scores.  You take a few points of damage, you’re effectively down on one knee.  It’s the “Spiral of death.”

So now it’s an arms race: everybody and his demon has to have Armor and Big if they want to survive past the first round, and Special Damage if they expect to win any fights, not to mention Boost (Stamina), Vitality, Cover (trained killer), etc..  Suddenly it’s not safe to walk out your front door without a Power-8 demon at your back, and it’s a game of superheroes in which “normals” don’t stand a chance.

Solution?  I’m still toying with some ideas:

  • disallow the Special Damage ability, or seriously scale it back
  • delay the spiral of death: penalties don’t accrue until damage exceeds Stamina.  So, penalties = damage – Stamina, and “stunned” doesn’t occur until damage > 2x Stamina.
  • make it much harder to keep a fucking big demon (see related tweak, below)

Your Big Cuddly Friend

Any character with a bound demon is essentially a one man army.  If your demon is Power-8, make that a superbeing.  Really, I think in past games we have been too easy on characters that summon up the equivalent of Satan himself, and order him around like a well-trained attack dog.

Any demon whose Power exceeds every one of its master’s scores (typically 5 or 6 max) should be fucking hard to handle, should be a stronger narrative force than the PC himself. The demon should be constantly pushing its sorcerer around, demanding that it’s Need be fed, demanding that the sorcerer’s plans feed into its Desires, and being difficult whenever it’s not getting its way.  Binding a Power-8 demon should be seen as suicidal even by other sorcerers.  Any stability should be short lived.  For as long as that uber-demon is around, the sorcerer/demon dynamic should become the main conflict of that PC’s story.

Demons aren’t cuddly.

Sorcerer players, let me know what you think of these tweaks, and share any house rules or experiences of your own!  Cheers,

-Johnny 0.

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