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Sorcerer: "Demons are Social Media Junkies", Session 0

Three players and I launched into our opening session of Sorcerer on Sunday morning. The core statements of our game:

  • “Demons are social media junkies.”
  • “The most magical place on Earth: Orlando’s theme park empires.”

 

The background of the players: We are all part of The Gauntlet, an online rpg community.

  • I had only played with one of the players previously (that was Alejandro).
  • I was meeting Jenny and Walter for the first time.
  • Alejandro was the only one of us who had played Sorcerer previously . . . and that was over a decade ago at a convention.

 

So we had our work cut out for us. But you will see right off the bat that there was sharp creativity at work and a real investment on the part of the players. Yes, there are plenty of spots where you will see me working to dig up the appropriate rule and where things get a bit messy. But there is creative magic occurring: Players did a great job coming into the game with few preconceptions, and as a result, they were pulling together character and kickers which really don’t fit into any pre-set genre or predetermined path. Alejandro was excited at the end: He said he didn’t know where the game was going. That sentiment was echoed by the others, and that element of having started an unscripted, genre-defying group of tales was making everyone excited about what is in store.

 

One thing I love about Sorcerer: It is a game that can certainly draw on various tropes if the GM or players want it to, and it has flexibility in that way. But in terms of our specific game, I can’t identify any specific storyline or genre that we are following.  Yes, there are snatches of some different tropes that we are dancing around, but at its core, we have a sense that we are creating something unique and that we are untethered from a preexisting idea about what our narrative will be.

 

The first 40+ minutes of the video show me setting up the game, establishing the concept, aim, tone, safety procedures, basic terms, etc. The character creation begins in earnest about 42 minutes into the session. So if you want to see me organizing the play space, look at the opening, but if you want the creative fireworks, advance to where Walter starts to catalyze the rules and basic Sorcerer principles into ideas for his character. Keep in mind that all of us were neophytes when it comes to this game. I think the speed with which ideas started spinning out of the group testifies to their investment, their creative instincts, and the framework provided by Sorcerer itself.

 

I was intentional with keeping things to broad brushstrokes:

  • Humanity was quickly defined in terms of “Identity and Empathy,” my logic being that social media can have a particularly devastating effect on those traits.
  • Lore was defined as “Algorithmic Alchemy.” We will have to flesh this out more fully, but the idea is to make some warping of the digital domain a core element of demonic power. One idea: The Sorcerers are learning key parts of their sorcerous rituals through the following of a complex web of hashtags, hyperlinks, anonymous snapchat postings, and cryptic tweets. They assemble this information, and it is unclear whether there is a single entity/organization behind this information or whether the sorcerer is leveraging powerful, disjointed information that seems to be appearing randomly across various social media platforms.
  • Tied to the Lore idea: If I have time, I might start up some type of social media site for my game as a way to keep records and to inspire the group.

 

There’s some tidying up to be done at the start of our next session: I neglected to have the players roll their humanity after the binding roll, so that’s where the next session will start...and that should then neatly lead into them explaining more fully how the demon helps them and how their life changed when they became a real Sorcerer. There are big wheels in motion.

 

So what did we come up with? Here’s a viewable link of the character keeper that provides an overview of the Sorcerers and their Demons:

 

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1GlHRQZIx66Q3yGAYPDzCa_7bfrxEwR6qcPD64NMJHmI/edit?usp=sharing

 

One connecting theme: All of the characters have a sense of being uprooted and are desperately in search of finding themselves and their place in the world.

 

Some notable developments and oddities with respect to character and demon creation:

 

  • Jenny has a character with a stunning 7 Will, and a 1 Lore (a Neophyte). She ties her Will into her performances and stage presence: Her character belongs to a punk rock band. I need to think of exactly how that super high Will score figures into the equation. I forgot that she has the option of taking a second descriptor, and will suggest “Zest for Life” as a possibility.
  • Jenny’s character has a demon which has a desire for creative control and which needs some type of public acknowledgement which does not blow its demon cover. This seems like an interesting line to walk.
  • The Kicker: Jenny’s demon physically harmed a band member, which has shaken her trust in it, and this has also opened her eyes to the fact that sorcery is more serious than she initially thought it to be.
  • Jenny opted to double up on the special damage attribute: One of them dishes out physical pain without being lethal; the other takes the form of a more lethal choking attack. There is something profoundly dramatic in the works here! Jenny’s character has a high humanity and wants to be lighthearted, but there are some rather serious and momentous undercurrents swirling around her.
  • Walter went for a Demon with a low stamina, which is set at 2. The rules allow this, and Ron notes that many players are wary of demons they perceive as too strong. I’m thinking I’ll let this stand . . . but part of me is wondering if I should have Walter reconsider the choice.
  • Walter’s character belongs to a cult working in Orlando and using social media to proselytize. For unknown reasons, Walters blog and social media presence for the cult has gone viral and he is now being thrust into the limelight as the public face of the cult (his Kicker). We still have to work out details about the cult.
  • Walter has a possessor demon which is currently inhabiting one of the cult members, but it also has the Hop attribute.
  • Walter is an Adept, and his Master works in the cult. But the cult is otherwise free of sorcery. So my sense is that the Master (and Walter) are working in the cult for some ulterior motive tied to their sorcery, and they are using the cult for some bigger plot. That still needs to be worked out.
  • Walter’s demon desires influence, and as a need it needs to regularly witness people who are being influenced to believe things or do things which are stupid, self-harmful, or otherwise bizarre.
  • Alejandro has a Passer demon (a black cat or similar sized animal) with no Cover. The rules stay on p. 48a that passers “almost always have Cover; p. 50b says that they must have cover; and on p. 54i there are examples of the consequences of having a Passer with no cover. So I’m going to let Alejandro know about this: I’m assuming the consequence of having a Passer with no Cover is that the Demon might stand out as odd and that other Sorcerers are almost obviously going to know that it’s a Demon (which will create a conflict). I’m not sure whether I let the passer with no Cover float of if I should ask Alejandro and re-do the binding part.
  • Alejandro was sometimes sceptical (maybe as a result of his previous encounter with the game many years ago. He didn’t identify a Kicker. It was funny that when he mentioned the challenge of coming up with a kicker, the other players said that they had no problem with it. But I think I have a great kicker for Alejandro!! He described his binding ritual as involving the harming of another animal and that his cruel father came into the basement when the ritual was being performed and clobbered Alejandro’s character. That violence also became part of the ritual (Alejandro’s demon has a need to witness violence and people being physically harmed.) In addition, Alejandro found his demon initially by stealing a “good luck charm” from someone in Haiti and that charm actually had something to do with a previous binding of the demon. So what if someone shows up looking for the charm and their own previously bound demon.
  • I was transparent in the Binding rolls, so everyone is aware of the Binding Strength that they have. Two players earned one success each, and one player had three successes. Going strictly by the book, I think I’m supposed to withhold the result of the roll, but it’s the first roll of the game, and I wanted to start giving the players a sense of the dice mechanic. Also, I’m not sure whether it’s bad for players to know how the binding went: When they need to resolve conflicts with their demons, I would tell them how many pluses or minuses they are getting, so I think they would figure out their binding strength at some point. Also, as time goes on, it makes sense that they would develop some sense of how reliable their demon was in carrying out commands.

 

My impressions as a novice Sorcerer GM:

 

  • There are many balls in the air! I have so much to work with, but it’s almost overwhelming. I’m putting things down on the “cross haired” character chart and am going to use that to organized the play, but I can tell it’s going to be a game that demands a lot of me at the table to keep those elements straight and in play.
  • Demon creation was challenging in part because we are all new to the abilities. This will no doubt get easier as I get my feet under me with the game. Right now, I think I would suggest a shorter character creation session with players giving me a sense of who they imagine their demons being, and then breaking and then maybe starting the next session with some better ideas of how to work out the demon details.
  • The game has the players (and the GM!) buzzing. Alejandro initially needed to break off early, but he stayed the full session. Jenny is at a con next week and thought she wouldn’t be able to make our session (which I said would be o.k.), but she’s going to make the effort to play with us during the con.

 

 

Department: 
Actual Play
Games: 
Sorcerer

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

Here are some things I've adopted as personal GMing for Sorcerer, presented as in the comment's title.

When a player can't or won't write a Kicker, and if I come up with a "good one" for them, it never goes well. The ownership never transfers, and since it's supposed to arrive at the GM, you end up with the classic evasive character vs. GM's attempt to hook them. After a few experiences, I started to treat this issue as make-or-break for including the person in the game at all, and the very few exceptions I've made have only confirmed it as good policy.

Low-Stamina demons are more fragile than players think. Since Stamina is twinned for purposes of damage, the "toughness" of a demon is best understood as exponential. Therefore Stamina 3 (squared) is quite solid, but 2 is a big drop down from there. Furthermore, demons don't have the plot armor that player-characters do, i.e., they stay alive unless the fiction absolutely insists otherwise. It's playable, but is also deliberately stepping into danger. Furthermore, such a demon is constantly in Need if it uses its abilities to any appreciable degree. Again: doable, but be ready for big consequences.

Make the diagrams and be sure you understand why anything "goes to the middle." It's not because you want it there or even choose anything; what ends up in the center is both deterministic and emergent. It turns out to be much easier than ordinary situational prep, but only if you get it. Let me know if you want some help.

Players don't vet or finalize or approve of the final demon constructions. All they really have is initial creative rights over what it definitely can do, what Type it is, and what  its Desire and Need are. The abilities, including things the player didn't say, and numbers are finalized by the GM, the sheet remains with the GM, and only its abilities and other listed details should go onto the character sheet. I do think keeping the Binding strength closed is the better idea, but you're not the first to balk at it, and it's not make-or-break to do so.

One rules point: Passing demons should all have Cover. I bobbled the prose about that in the original but tried to resolve it in the annotations. In retrospect, as I think I discussed in the annotations, the best design would be that all Inconspicuous demons should have to take Cloak and all Passing demons should have to take Cover, and neither should get it for "free" in terms of Lore.

Comments like these make me wish you would do a series of (short) videoclips with suggestions, informations, comments and in general "things useful but I didn't have the space to print them" or "things I learned playing it afterwards" about sorcerer and your other games.

Another suggestion: "common errors I have seen people do playing this game"...

Ron Edwards's picture

I'm merely quoting my own annotations at this point. They were almost all taken from inquiries and play reports from the Forge.

The original pledge-reward videos from the 2013 Kickstarter, explaining rules or principles as requested, are available here. They're pretty heinous examples of how my self-pointing camera video fumbling began, but the heart in them is pure and the advice or observations are on target.

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