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Inhuman perfection

Catching up on my Sorcerer posting! Laura, Grégory, and I get into weird spaces in this one, partly because of the location in our fiction, the mutable or at least shiftable interior of a demonic church, but also because I played demons with remarkably awful/abstract outlooks.

To review, the phrases for this game are Shadows and beauty for the sorcery/demons, and Social activism, right and wrong, for the drama. I was able to shrug or shoulder my way into just how scary that first one seemed to me. Our sorcerers are Chloe, a rather sweet if outlaw-ish idealistic singer, and Livia, an ex-convict who runs a cult. As I pointed out at the end of session 3, it may seem as if they're the nice one and the mean one, but that's only because play up that point focused more directly on Livia.

These sessions are also or almost a poster child for the "player-characters meet, what are we supposed to do" process. I like it as a process and hate it as a conundrum. I have often observed players to struggle a little with it in this game, because unlike much talk of sandboxes, it really is open for what the players want to do; there is no "supposed to." Furthermore, something about it militates against falling into habits of saying, well, we're finally in the same room, let's investigate, or, hey, we're a band of fellow outlaws now, let's go.

It took a while during the game's playtesting about twenty-five years ago, but I finally figured out what to do while GMing such things. It includes playing NPCs very much as their own characters, without using them as directive mouthpieces. You'll see that I remembered Omar was present at one point and realized that he isn't a Ken doll and can have perfectly reasonable opinions.

A related technique showed up in a later session, to be posted soon, in which the players discover that if they ask a demon for advice, they'll get very demonic opinions ... kind of, "Oh yes, now I remember, that's why I don't ask you for advice."

I'm over-stating the whole issue regarding this particular game, though, because the players didn't struggle so much as feel things out, checking internally about what they really wanted, and moving into it. These two sessions were pretty short, just under an hour each, in a single location of play, and they are probably best understood as a continuous experience for us. So seeing them connect emotionally to their characters and then bring that forward as what each one wants to do is very instructive.

Session 2 part 1 is embedded below. It's followed by part 2 and part 3.

Session 3 is here too: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

Minor post-script: the casual potty-mouth prize goes to Laura, mentioned here only because I am accustomed to winning it myself. NSFW, OK?

Actual Play


Ross's picture

That seemed like an intense few sessions!

I was a bit unclear about some of the prinicples at play regarding when things need rolls and when things happen. For example why did Livia need to roll to tell Epiphany to send someone to the Church crypt, to determine when this happened in relation to other character activities when shortly before the she could just have the Doors slam shut? Similarly if you wanted to talk abit more about how you structured the activities while Chloe and LIvia were connected to Heritage that would be interested - snce you said you were doing weird things with time!

Meanwhile here is a map of Britich regional names for Woodlice:


Ron Edwards's picture

I'll have to check the raw footage because I'm pretty sure we rolled, or maybe I rolled Epiphany vs. Adam, regarding whether the church doors would close before he and Livia's mom got out. I even remember looking at the result and thinking, oh shit, they didn't escape, now what'm I going to do?

I've made it a long-standing habit never to decide "plot" in Sorcerer when a roll among the interested parties would establish it. It works wonders especially for scene framing, in terms of who arrives first, which is often consequential. My answer to the general question is, insofar as I don't screw up, always.

Editing sometimes loses information, especially if there was an interruption by a person or noise.

Ah, sowbugs, or roly-polies, crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside.

Love D's picture

My understanding was that it seemed reasonable that the door slam was an almost instinctive action for the demon, or rather, that it was easy for the demon to understand, on a tactical level, what Livia wanted in that situation (seeing that Epiphany, it’s needs met, is gm-played more or less like an “allied NPC”). In the later case, when Livia got the idea to Transport Adam to the crypt, that action probably wasn’t in the demon’s mind (it wasn’t an obvious action in that context, and Epiphany would probably do something else or just stand by if it wasn’t given that specific command). 

arakn_e's picture


Grégory here. I'm pretty sure I rolled for Epiphany when the door slammed!

Love D's picture

Oh, okay! 

I can’t wait for the next session, great characters and demons! One question, I’m not sure I got what Livia’s kicker was? Was it that she realized she was pregnant?

Ron Edwards's picture

The pregancy wasn't included in the original Kicker. It emerged during my very slow, moment by moment approach to playing Livia's Kicker from just before it began into its full expression. I had decided privately why Omar would suddenly become violent, but at the beginning of the session I still did not know why the characters were arguing or fighting. Instead of yet more processing prior to play (which can have a draining and ruinous effect), I decided to play it this way and ask very clear questions at every step.

When I asked exactly why they were arguing, especially since Omar was a source of emotional stability for Liva, Grégory replied - and I think, invented in the moment - that she was pregnant. You can see this exchange in the recording, and perhaps it will be clear that I continued to inquire with a series of very simple questions, at first factual and then about Livia's actions and goals, in order eventually to arrive at Omar's actions - both actually his and as influenced by Héritage.

Love D's picture

I see! I just rewatched the recording (and I’ve also read your recent comment about the kickers in the post “Inhuman perfection”). Your factual questions, and then the questions about what Livia is saying (actually playing it out), insured that the kicker’s core content remained under the player’s authority. Not just the thing the argument was about, but the nuances too.

arakn_e's picture


The pregnancy came up during the discussion. I thought about some topics to argue off-session but didn't have so much time. I had ideas about other kickers, such as the disappearance of my sister, Clara, but finally I chose the argument with my boyfriend because I wanted something very personnal. My goal was to highlight Livia's difficulties to deal with almost normal situations, such as an argument with someone she loves. Also, my scores were chosen with this assumption in mind: she has 5 in stamin and 2 in will. My aim was to have an incitation to deal with any situation by the use of violence. With 2 in Will and 3 in Lore, the best way to deal with day-to-day situations is to use Epiphany. I think it fitted well.

In retrospect, I think I was struggling with a fundamental assumption of sorcerer: that the sorcerer starts with the life she wants, and that the kicker is something that breaks this cycle. My kicker was trying to show how Livia has trouble to deal with normal interactions.. But that's Livia without a demon. When I tried to GM the game (3 times, I have too much work for the moment but when I'll have time these games will be played again and I'll write AP), I've seen this difficulties every time from the players.

Love D's picture

I think it fitted well

I think so too!
I get the struggle. Still, from my outside perspective it seemed like Epiphany helped Livia carve out a space there in the church, so she could feel safe (and avoid social reintegration into society). In my mind, that fulfilled the assumption/rule (paraphrasing): “the character did successfully get what she wanted with the demon”. Based on that I thought the kicker, as played, had quite a punch (a possibility of upsetting that life).
Ron Edwards's picture

I agree with that interpretation, but it took form very late in the preparation process. We never did get a good look at the "high-function abnormal, but good enough for her" life for Livia. I think that our group, collectively, managed to make sense of it just in time.

The diagrams really clarify what we're talking about. I used two colors for Livia's diagram because the center area had so many elements. One color was for the fight (Omar, church, coven, witness), and one was for her family (mother, ring).

So fighting with Omar in the church with the mother and ring and a witness present ... it's a lot of material. I could have left it all disconnected, with each element being there for its own reasons, but since I was not receiving or even intuiting sensible reasons, I decided to Weave more than I have been habitually doing lately. I had one element "mix colors," the ring, and decided it was a demon. That allowed me to make the witnessing character into a more interesting person, connected Livia's family history with sorcery, and provided a better context for why Omar would be involved in anything violent with her.

It was risky! I was invoking a Mind Control Incident, one of the lowest-potential story elements in fiction, as well as the beaten-flat it's all connected, man, concept.

As you can see from the videos, I went even further with the Weaving by making Adam into Chloe's ex-boyfriend. The whole thing was ten times "too neat" by my usual standards. I hoped the players would embrace it by making their sorcerers into really passionate people, and they did so! So thoroughly and well, even by halfway through the first session, that I was reassured and could develop the entire backstory and weird demon goals.

Love D's picture

Haha! That sounds risky! Yeah, in addition to the methodical questions, I can see how crucial it must have been that the players did that. Playing the sorcerers as passionate people, and finding the character’s voice instead of, for instance, overthinking and theorizing/negotiating how everything “should” be or go, story-wise. 

It was great to see it snap together somewhere there after the factual questions and careful bit-by-bit play in the beginning-to-middle. Like a visible relaxation and determination kicking in. 

Between the methodical questions you used here, the diagram discussion on Sorcerer Musik, and this last behind the scenes look at the diagram and colored elements, you have provided an incredibly helpful aid for me in mentally preparing for a game of sorcerer. Like Grégory said in the other thread/post, it was especially helpful to see the careful questions and clarifications method (on video!), how it quite easily can solve even an unusually complicated and/or vague starting situation. It makes it easier for me, as a gm, to relieve the worry I’ve felt about vague kickers, and suppress the bad impulse to “help” define and elaborate upon them. So thanks for this! 

For context: A couple of months ago, after our session zero, I instantly knew that I had botched our game. It was only me and a friend, and initially, I’d worried that his kicker was too vague, so we started to discuss it. We excitedly started to specify things and elaborate on it (for about 5 minutes). When I got home I realized that some elaborations had been proposed by me. Not only that, I realized that in those few minutes, we had decided or planned play/story before actually playing. I should have let it be vague, and we could have clarified what had to be clarified (if anything) quite effortlessly through methodical and careful (not directing) questions during play. I called the game off. 

I hadn’t played, but I knew the rules: they are clear on this. So the mistake was the result of game-cultural baggage and, I think, the fact that we got started thinking that this would be a demo-like, short and punchy learning-game before we played with a whole group. You can’t plan for that in Sorcerer, and that’s actually a big feature of the game! What I mean is, if we hadn’t planned and front-loaded it, the game’s procedures would’ve taken care of us.

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