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Sorcerer Archipel

My Desperate Sorcerer's group split up before we can continue and I absolutly wanted to GM Sorcerer. After a few of S/Lay W/Me sessions with Laura where we tried different ways of “playing loose”, we wanted to play a Sorcerer and Sword game. Furthermore, Sorcerer & Sword states explicitly that it’s good to play with only one player.

I was kind of fascinated by a dark Grimm orientation and we selected a biography together in this way. Laura didn’t read so much sword & sorcery and I’ve read it only long time ago so we added the classics. We’ve read the selected Conan stories in Sorcerer & Sword, Mythago Wood, Gormenghast, Jirel of Joyri, Elric and Kane. In chronogical order, once finished Mythago wood, we played a game of “Inflorenza” (a very interesting narrative game with a great mechanic) set in this kind of settings and were fed up with this idea. I asked Laura some idea of her character and she answered “I want to play a badass queen. Maybe a pirate queen!” I stopped reading Gormenghast which I just started, proposed Laura to read Elric and finished Kane’s Bloodstone and Dark Crusade. We got a discussion about Jirel of Joyri in I argued that she wasn’t so naïve (like I’ve read on some critics, the girl falling in love with her wannabe rapper), but that the love was the “unnatural curse” of the Dark God, a kind of demonic trade-off for the mean to kill him. We got a bit fed up with the representation of woman in Conan and Elric, but Kane’s Bloodstone really inspired me.

Anyway, I asked Laura to create her character and she chose:

  • Stamina 5 : Trained solider, unnatural means
  • Will 2 : Leader of Men
  • Lore 3 : Inhuman
  • Past 2 : Pirate Queen of the Azur Sea
  • Price -1 : Bad Reputation

A small discussion lead to these elements: Demons = “erotic and disturbing”, Color = “Archipels in an azur sea”. “Azur”, her character, would be part of an ancient dominant civilization with some rare survivors leaving in strong rivalry, “highlander style”. She was part of a warrior caste. When asked about her bad reputation, she answrs that she’s not recognized by the local aristocracy as she “gained” her title and not inherited it, and the inhuman race has let some bad memories. Also she destroyed a community with a tempest and people remembers that. Today, she leads a whole flotilla of competent pirates that leaves on an island she controls where ships are raised from the sea by complex network of pulleys.

We talked a bit about the settings without trying to go to far. We checked the methodology of the Azk’Arn setting in the Sorcerer & Sex supplement for that.

I refrained myself to came with my own ideas and let Laura’s answers show the way. The world is full of archipel and “land” is the wealthiest resource. Water is one of the most precious resource in the salted and poisoned sea world. Lands are covered by dense jungles inhabited by weird and brutal (demon) beasts - Kane’s Bloodstone’s Kranorril style or Conan’s Queen of the Black Coast’s style. To leave on a City on the ground, one has to bind/pact/deal with a powerful demon linked to the city (we couldn’t refrain inspiration from bloodstone and Az’ , and we didn’t want to define too much bfore the character) which can activates the cities defenses, and “control” local beasts (as in bloodstone), or at least make them go away from the city. These cities are all ruins of the ancient inhuman civilization from which Laura’s character comes from. These reactivated fortress cities are the “civilization” with a hierarchical nobility. “Barbarism” is how these cities call another type of social structures, more egalitarian and leaving on whole floating cities made of ships on the sea.  These ship-cities are unbuilt and rebuilt on the sea according to needs and are complete flotilla. They elect a military leader but that’s the main social hierarchy, everything else relies on clans and they deal with sea creatures and elementals, demons “beasts” leaving in the sea with whom they can sometimes deal some pacts. Also, we are in world that has been submerged, so there’s whole ruins of older civilizations in the deep sea.

When asked, “you’re leaving the life you always wanted, what does it look likes, and how your demon helps you with that”, Laura answers that she wants to be the queen of a city.

We than play the sorcerer’s game in Marseille and got some new insights about the game.

Asked about her Demon, she says her demon is big demon-ship that : gives her an Aura of Majesty leading people to worship her as a goddess, let her control the elements, the tempests and the winds, can transport her to a safe location particularly when in a dangerous situation, makes her an incredible supernatural warrior who can almost crushes anybody else, can sees in the eyes of somebody else and gives her hints or visions of the future. I translate this into the following powers: Hint, Travel, Vision, Transport, Perception (else’s eyes), Cover (Children of War), Big, Armor, Confuse, Hold, Cover (Majestic Goddess), Psychic force, Warp. We still have to define the need and desire of the demon.

Azur’s sorcery looks like “bloody orgies”. She inherits it from her inhuman descriptor, so we stated that her the ancient civilization was a civilization of sorcerer and warriors

Asked about her kicker, Laura defines that “Somebody else has just risen a city from the sea, in front of mine.” We went for this diagram.

Now we’re about to play and I feel some doubts in the actual development that I’d like to share to have feedback.

  • We rapidly arrived to a discussion about “what is the demon”, and “can we have two demons at the beginning”. This was caused by the idea of having to bind a demon to defend a fortress city. This idea was in the Sorcerer & Sex supplement and we found it so cool, wanting to keep it after having considerate to drop if it was constraining our creative process. At the current stade, we solve the case by stating “just choose the demon you want to play, not the one that would be logical” and we went with the Demon-Ship. So maybe Azur starts the game with a city needing a strong demon, or she doesn’t need to bind it. We still need to deal (or not) with this issue.
  • Not sure about the definition of the demon. To me it’s actually one of the most difficult thing to grasp as a GM.
  •  Here’s the diagram we got but I’m not sure about it. Not sure how we “cut” the phrases into elements. Not sure if the “aristocracy” should be defined as a specific NPC with a name and motive before the game. Not sure if everything is well positioned. I think we did the diagrams together in real time. I “feel” is nothing is not really right but can’t put my finger on it.
  • The idea is to make the “guy that raise a city from the sea” a member of the inhuman civilization (“highlander style”) and Azur’s warrior caste. The risen city could be the city that has been destroyed (in the price). Am I already giving too much content (my feeling is that I’m constraining to the kicker an djust spiking it a bit).
  • We’re gonna play the proposed S&S chronology (C-A-B-…) So Laura’s playing a badass queen, not a quest to become queen.
  • We didn’t define a Destiny and had trouble to define one outside of the one proposed in examples.

Now we can’t wait to play but it would be great to have feedback and correction before starting the game!

I think I can retain this from our Shadow & beauty in Marseille’s game:

  • Let’s try to ask again about the parts of the diagrams to the player without input from the GM;
  • Focus on the elements that comes from the discussion. There’s still some things to clarify (demon need, stamina’s unnatural means).

Any comment and/or advices?

 

Department: 
Actual Play
Games: 
Sorcerer

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

I think you need to begin again for the diagram. I was forced to make yours and Laura's for our game, in the sense that it became clear to me that we would not be able to play otherwise, but it's bad practice, and our experience held no teaching value for you about how to do it.

This technique is conducted in two very different steps.

Step #1 is to name items or people for each of the four categories, strictly as Laura decides, with no input from you at all. (I did this correctly for our game. You chose, for instance, that the Livia's mother's ring was in the Cover, and Livia's mother was in the Price.)

Step #2 is to bring things together which are incontrovertibly associated in the fiction due to proximity, ownership, relationships, or cause-and-effect. (In our game, the ring and the mother were pulled together because it had been given to her and stolen from her.)

It is very hard to assess the diagram you provided without a conversation with Laura, but I can already identify several problems with it. It includes things that are not described in the text (the inhuman rivals), and it pulls things together in the center which have nothing to do with one another.

Specifically, as far as I can tell, the destroyed community and the tempest in the Price section are not pulled to the center by anything and should remain at the outside of the diagram in that section. If the inhuman rivals are part of the character's Lore, then they don't seem to have any reason to be at the center either.

Also, although it may seem picky, I hope you can see that it is the islands which are associated ("pull together") due to heir geographic location, so the people on the islands or the person who made the one rise from the sea, are not pulled this way. Instead, they "follow after" the things which are pulled, so they should be placed "behind" the main things, the islands," relative to the point of contact.

I think we need some practice exercises. I will provide one in the next comment.

arakn_e's picture

The "inhuman rivals" come from Laura's statement, "Highlander style", but it's an assumption I made, so I see the problem. I thought I was just "spiking" but I'm "spiking" inputs I've made, so it's not spiking at all but injecting. That's the problem with a wrong way to do the step #1.

Who should do the associations of the step #2 ? The players? 

(The following description is just an explanation of my logic here, not arguing about its validity.)

For the destroyed community and the tempest, I assumed the destroyed community could have been the one of the submerged city that is just being raised. And as the submerged city is geographically near Azur's city, I linked them in the center. The reason why the cities are not "behind" the "other guy raising the city" is because I linked the "guy" with the "inhuman rivals" of the Lore (but it seems that it should be a price element instead of a lore element, now that I think of it). I did it in the first place so the other elements came "behind". Why is this important? In fact it was more a matter of space in my view, as all these elements should be on the same level in the center of the diagram. I understand you make a difference.

I assumed that linking the destroyed community with the rising island (something that has not been explicitly stated) was "spiking", as when you choose that Livia's ring was a demon. But I feel something's wrong in the process without point out exactly what. As the destroyed community has been destroyed by a tempest linked to Azur's Demon (that's what Laura said when asked about her price), the tempest followed the community in the center. Thinking of it, am I correct if I say that I should clarifiy these questions with Laura instead of assuming these connections myself?

 

Ron Edwards's picture

I think I can resolve these questions. The diagram should be made from the elements as the player states them. Ideally the player should write the diagram. However, this is not possible in practice for a new player - they are usually so disoriented by the choices they've already made, especially about the demon and about the Kicker, that it's too much to ask. But for later games, they should do it.

But you are absolutely correct that even for a new player, the GM must ask (usually, demand) the player to provide the list of things for the diagram, and must not author any by themselves. You may remember how insistent I was about this for our game.

After that, then you, as the GM, looking at the diagram the player made, are free to spike things, to make strange connections, and even to invent content of your own. All of that is now yours.

Do you see the difference? You were making connections and changes and content before the diagram was drawn.

Once you make these changes, then yes, the diagram will change, but it should do so after the first session of play. Another way to look at it is that you, as the GM, reveal connections of this kind and therefore the diagram must change. And remember, too, that many things that will "pull" together later will do so on the basis of what players do, not the GM.

arakn_e's picture

Here is the new diagram. I asked Laura to put elements into it. It was not an easy process. Laura had trouble to find concrete elemnts to put in the diagram. We talked about it and we found it very difficult to lead without input from the GM, such as concrete example. Finally we construct this one.

We had to work some elements. Laura putted "Land Lords despises me" in the price, and I made 3 elements with that, but nothing came from me, it's only things that she said during the conversation. I mostly said "think about objects, locations, npcs, events, that makes real into the story choices you already made with your character".

She stated that the warrior caste of her old inhuman race needed alchemy to do sorcery, and that the sorcerer caste from the same civilization did not. Andrigone is coming from the same city than her (the inhumain civilization, we definitly need a name for that), the city actually being risen. For a reason we didn't stated yet (let's see in play?), the inhuman civilization has been totally immerged (some kind of undiscussed cataclysm).  We putted this in the Lore section.

Here is my logic: The city risen here is coming from the inhuman imerged civilization (is this a good item for the diagram?), so they are attracted in the center. The city risen attracts Andrigone to the center, wich attracts his Dragon-Demon and his Armlet (all these elements came from Laura alone).  The city risen attracts the island with pulleys which have a harem, a naval flotilla and lieutenants and pirates in the center of the diagram, but "behind" the islands. The Harem is attracted by the "bounty" and "alliance" as kings are enslaved in the harem which is despised by other kings. The naval flotilla, which is attracted in the center but "behind" the island attracts the Ship Demon.

And now I can imagine something with this. Is it better?

Btw it's really great to discuss these things on the website, thank you for your time.

Ron Edwards's picture

Yes. I hope you can see that this is the way "setting" is created, in terms of locations, history, people, and relevance to the main characters.

Ron Edwards's picture

Here’s a character I just made up using the same setting ideas: Kulca.

Stamina: Just healthy 3, Will: Brush with the Unknown 5, Lore: Naïve, 2

Past: Veteran of the Tangled Island civil war (i.e. one of those barbarians)

Price: Hedonist, -1 when pleasures are available

His demon is a sea-snake which either helps him while sailing or rides around with him in a water-filled pot. It has straightforward violent monster powers and is like a buddy. Its Need is to contemplate the stars.

Kicker: He woke from a drugged dream holding an incredibly valuable golden ornament, whose design hints at bizarre sorcerous insights.

So here are a lot of things that I have made up for the four sections of my diagram.

  • Past: the Tangled Island, tattoos that show which side of the war he was on, distinctive cultural dagger
  • Kicker: the dream, the golden ornament
  • Price: bag of enjoyable drugs, tattoos from past enjoyable misadventures
  • Lore: the sea-snake demon, the water-filled pot, the bizarre insights, an ancient star-chart

Your assignment is to draw the diagram using these things, as practice for how to do it.

arakn_e's picture

Hi! 

I really feel something's wrong with the diagram, and thinking of it I can't remember what elements came from me or Laura, which indicates the difficulties. I talked with her and realized I interpretated the elements from the discussion we had (mostly the descriptions). So I'm falling back and asked her to put her own elements in a blank diagram.

First considerations: I would have different elements if I only based myself on the description. I would have forget to put the dream as an element and the water-filled pot, and would have put the bizarre insights in the "kicker" section. I realize I choose the elements from the description/conversation with the player (a violation of the step #1). I can see clearly now why it failed every time I did this (I think we made the diagram before our game set in Marseille). Here is the diagram I came up with:

 
Ron Edwards's picture

Almost perfect! There is only one thing to fix: because the tattoos in the Price and the tattoos in the Past are on the same person's body, they must be pulled together on the basis of strict "geographical" (in this case anatomical) location.

That puts the insights, the two kinds of tattoos, and the ornament into the center, squeezed there quite hard in fact. It also provides a bit of a GM "mystery" or "problem," which is more like a gift, in that somehow the tattoos are involved in the first scene, not just present because the character is present, and that scene must also deal directly with the ornament and the insights.

So the GM has a choice now, whether (1) to put the character into some scene where the tattoos matter (e.g., someone recognizes or "reads" them) but which is complicated by the ornament/insights as an independent phenomenon, or (2) to Weave the elements together and decide that the tattoos are related to the ornament/insight situations. Either one is fine. I tend to favor #1 but I chose #2 for Livia in our game.

Here is an important point: things that connect across Lore-Past, Past-Kicker, Kicker-Price, or Price-Lore do not automatically pull to the center. They will only go the center if one or both is connected to something in a third sector. But things that connect across Lore-Kicker or Past-Price do pull into the center on the basis of that connection alone. This is very, very much intentional design on my part.

arakn_e's picture

I also struggled with this in the other games. Here is the demon, built from the description I gave (which is exactly what Laura said). It seems that we have a powerful demon.

I've heard you combining different powers to design demon on the Desperate Sorceress's game that split up. I sometimes feel it's not easy to design and play the demons. Here are my ideas:

- I don't really understand when and how to use "boost". When I think about it, I can't really imagine a way to use it. Here, Laura wants to be one of the best warrior in the world, and I use "Cover" for that. But in a combat, should the Cover be used or stamina? In this case, is Cover (Children of battle) a good way to use it, or should boost be useful?

- I understood from our game that Demons are always pursuing their desires, and that they use their power to do that. This can lead to problems for the sorcerer, am I correct? In our game, Epiphany never putted Livia into problems, but Heritage's desire was a problem for everyone, even her own sorcerer. So here, the demon-ship would pursue his mayhem desire even if leads to problem for Azur (it seems to be contradictory with the bind, I'm not very sure about all this).

Well in fact I'm not sure as how to use the PC's demon "independantly" of the proactive interactions of the sorcerer.

 

arakn_e's picture

Oh and by the way, does the "Cover (Majestic goddess" respond to the "My demon helps me to be worshipped like a goddess" statement?

Thank you!

Ron Edwards's picture

Let’s see if I can help.

First: Boost. Boost is vulnerable to misinterpretation if you think of it as a free improvement. The person receiving it gets one massive increase to the relevant score, and then the demon is exhausted and in extreme Need. Think of it as the demon expending all of its resources at considerable danger to itself. Most players see the word, say “I want that!”, and then, when I show them the actual rules, change their mind. It’s perfect for some demons but not at all what people apparently think at their first glance.

Second: the demon ability Cover, which works slightly differently depending on its concept. For the simpler version, when it permits the user to be seen as or thought of as someone or something they’re not, the demon’s Power is the acting score, rolled against others’ perception. For the more complex version, the ability includes a specific role or reputation, so that the user is doing something with their own scores but it’s in the context of the Cover. This has been common in my games lately, with two characters who used Cover to be career or reputation enhanced musicians.

In this case, when the character is doing something like interact with a crowd via their music, or trying to accomplish anything at all because of “who they are” (i.e. the identity the demon is loaning), then the player rolls using the character’s own score. The demon ability is rolled first, however, against three or four dice, and the victories if any are applied as bonus dice to the character’s direct roll.

Third: demon “size,” meaning, number of abilities, meaning Power and Will. A demon of this size is legal by the rules. I can tell you that the largest starting demon I’ve seen in play had Power 12, and it was a very dangerous, problem-causing, primary figure in play. The player wanted it that way, so that was all right, but you should know that this is not a toy. It is not the GM’s job to make everything and empowered for the sorcerer.

Review the rules with Laura: her character has Will 2, so her disagreements with or even basic commands to the demon will find her 2 dice opposed by 12 dice, probably more if the Binding favors the demon. If the demon tells her what to do, and she disagrees, then fails the roll and continues with her own desired acions, her attempt will be penalized by the victories the demon gained with its roll. Bluntly, the demon will dominate this relationship to the point of the character being its slave (this was Adam’s situation).

Again, in the earlier game that I’m referring to (over twenty years ago), that’s what the player wanted. But is this really the powerful sorceress pirate queen Laura wants to play? It doesn’t look like it. If (and only if) not, then I suggest reducing the demon so that it is, essentially, just the ship as a physical powerhouse, and either starting with two demons or, if Laura wants, she can address her desire for a “queen-making demon” through rituals in play.

Fourth, and related: demon Desires. You have written several times that you have a hard time understanding how to play the demons as active, goal-oriented characters.

One thing you mention here caught my attention: your perception that Epiphany never caused Livia any problems with its Desire. That surprises me. Epiphany aided Heritage in almost every session, as I described explicitly several times, including signs that they were agreeing and sharing their efforts, e.g., the image of the ring appearing in the windows. Do you really think Adam could have set up that altar that easily? Or that Epiphany just “forgot” to tell Livia about Heritage in the first place, or that it had broken the Contain? The only time that Epiphany aided Livia directly against it, without being ordered, was when Heritage threatened her too closely/severely by using Taint ... and later, it would not even do that, because when it seemed as if Heritage was going to “win” its beautiful project, Epiphany even advised Livia to give up and cease to exist, anticipating that it would become Bound to Adam.

Both Epiphany and Jasmine were sympathetic to Heritage in terms of Desire. This is one of the interesting consequences of a casual decision of mine at the beginning, that all demons would share Sensation, specifically artistic beauty, as a Desire. That doesn’t mean they would always agree, any more than artists typically do, but it does mean that if they agree, it will be very strong and collaborative. If you review the sessions, you’ll see that I describe how Heritage is influencing Jasmine’s music too, and that the moment that Chloe breaks this relationship by shifting to dissonant musical composition is very consequential.

I’ll post a new comment/thread to address playing demons.

arakn_e's picture

This make total sense. We were talking about two demons and I think we'll go this, way.

I really felt how to play the demon when Epiphany answered to my demand of advice about Heritage. But it's really helpful to read this comment.

May I ask what was Héritage's sheet? I understood he only had 2 powers but it felt like he had a high power score.

arakn_e's picture

Epiphany broke the contain. Goda*** sh** f****. I'm laughing at my naïveté.

Ron Edwards's picture

I thought I mentioned this at one point in play, when you succeeded in a Lore roll to understand Heritage.

It's an Object demon with Stamina 7, Will 8, Lore 2, Power 8 - the same Stamina, Will, and Power as both Epiphany and Jasmine, and a lower Lore, due to having only two abilities, Hint and Taint. It has Desire: Sensation (beauty, same as the other two demons) and Need: filth.

So it really wasn't a "huge monster demon" at all. It's pretty powerful, but no more so than the demons your two characters were already using. The two abilities are cruel and potentially fatal (in the sense of removing a character permanently from play, which I treated as death in one or two cases), but not a "killer combo" or anything like that. I even decided not to include Confuse and Armor, in order to enjoy playing it as so purely focused on its characteristic interactions that it doesn't even bother to protect itself.

 

Ron Edwards's picture

Perhaps we should discuss the specific techniques of playing demons, and how that is related to my concept of what they are in narrative/story terms. I once confused people by describing them as Toons (from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), probably because the people could not separate the concept from cute comedy, and because that film reversed itself by making the toons “human” after all. But as initially conceived and presented, Toons are terrifying.

Let’s see if I can help a little with this idea, at least to lay the foundation for a future discussion.

First, demons have very simple personalities:

  • Their Desire is what they enjoy and seek, but they can live without it and can wait for it, or try it in different ways. It’s just as good if they do it or if someone else does it in their presence, and in the latter case, it doesn’t matter if the someone else is their sorcerer or not.
  • Their Need is what they crave and must have or cease to exist, and they are utterly dependent on the sorcerer to provide it. Superficially it looks as if they “like” it, but the basic dynamic is addiction, not enjoyment. They cannot get it for themselves – if they do, fictionally speaking, it will not work.

Their only other consideration is continuing to exist, but you should think of this as a subroutine or consequence of the Need. They care about being Bound because that’s the only way they get their Need, and the Need is the only way to continue to exist. Whether the first priority is the Need itself or the existence itself, is not relevant; to the demon, they are the same.

Crucially: nothing else matters to the demon. Everything else, every relationship, every bit of information, every detail of a situation, is subject to present-moment analysis of these things only. And the next moment is the same, without regard for whatever they decided or did in the past moment(s).  This concept of the moving wave-front of assessment particularly, and always, applies to their current degree of obedience and alliance with the sorcerer that has Bound them.

Second, demons express themselves through the following venues.

  • Granting or withholding their abilities. If the demon is the user of the ability, that is very straightfoward, because it either does or does not do something. If the demon grants the sorcerer use of the ability instead, that is a little less direct but it is also quite obvious in play, when the sorcerer wants to use the ability and it isn’t available, much like flicking a light switch on with no effect.
  • Providing information or, most directly, remaining silent. “You didn’t ask” is perhaps a demon’s most powerful tactic, in terms of passive-aggressive consequences. It is also capable of providing false, misleading, or incomplete information, and significantly, may do so without actually intending to deceive. Demons’ understanding of anything is badly limited by their simplistic outlook that I described above.
  • Responses to and interactions with other demons, and their ongoing, constant assessements of other sorcerers, when present, as better or worse potential masters than the one they have.

From the sorcerer’s point of view, the safest/best practice is easy to say. Provide your demon with its Need, regularly, and perhaps more generously than it requires. Demand the best information that it can provide. Tell it what to do. Never, never, trust it or ask its advice. It looks like and feels like your friend, lover, tool, weapon, ally, pet, or family, but it only thinks about its Desire and Need. Above all, know what you want. Guard and nourish your Humanity, which the demon cannot improve or protect.

Doing this is a lot harder than saying it. Wanting something as badly as a sorcerer does makes them vulnerable to caring for and trusting the demons, as the only means toward their ends. Sorcery requires payment that is perilously close, emotionally, to the kinds of sacrifice we reserve for the people and things we love. Binding in particular is intimate, revealing, and dangerous. Demons are often cool and interesting, even fascinating.

As the GM, you are playing the “other side” in that dynamic. The demons’ side. It includes all sorts of exciting power and help for the sorcerer; it includes terrible dangers and consequences as well. Which one depends on the moment. Thinking like a demon, in the moment, is your job.

arakn_e's picture

Translating it into gm techniques to use during the game. When the player interacts with the demon, I, as the GM playing the demon, ask myself: 

- how does the demon interpret this particular action through the lense of its desire

- how does the demon interpret this particular interaction through the lense of its need.

- what or who is the most useful to fullfil those needs.

It really makes sense as design. The GM can focus on the particular situation without having to think too much off screen. Only the direct situation through the lense of the demons's desire and needs.

Thanks, I'll post a new article after our next game!

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