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Sorcerer: Deep ΑΠΝΟΙΑ

Although we haven't sat down together for our first session, with the work and excitement of preparations I already feel as though we are "playing" and so I'm starting an actual play thread.  I hope this doesn't curse our actual plans to commence.  I have 3 players committed to meeting me on April 4th to start a Sorcerer Campaign set in our here and now: Halifax, Nova Scotia - a salty little town-city on the east coast of Canada. This will be my second Sorcerer campaign and my second game set in Halifax. The Campaign title "deep apnea" is a reference to the answers to the two questions. Halifax has a deep harbour that leads into a massive inland cove called the Bedford Basin. In the game the harbour and the basin will be the source of the demons. Apnea refers to the the practice of not breathing. In real life I practice apnea as a hobby with a group of freedivers.  We train our bodies and minds to go without air as long as possible in order to plumb the depths of the ocean and our souls.  One of my fellow divers is joining the campaign. Lore will be related in some way to the practice of not breathing and or diving into the sea... 

All of the players so far have a personal or professional connection concern with the sea and the effects of human activity on the marine environment and the future of the ocean's effects on civilization. I foresee a powerful ecological element to our definition of "humanity" in this game but I have yet to nail it down. This is not meant to be a simplistic moralizing endeavor. I don't even necessarily want the game to be about plastic pollution, climate change, or rising sea levels... but I am interested in these elements as sources of anxiety, revulsion, and guilt. 

Demons are wet, slimy, viscous, alien, highly toxic. Though the sea is already home to truly other-worldly looking organisms, demons will always be distinctly recognizable as incompatible with our natural order. They can be contacted and summoned from under the sea but they do not belong there anymore than they belong perched our our shoulders or walking down the streets with us. Perhaps they are harbingers of a post-human world --- and summoning them accerates our eventual extinction as a species. I don't know yet.  I have always had a romantic (unscientific) fascination with the tale of cyanobacteria and the Great Oxygenation Event: in which our elder anerobic organizisms dominated the earth but poisoned themselves with their own sucess leading to the Dawn of the Planet of the Eukaryotes.  There may be a source of inspiration there. 

This is pretty much it for now. One other bit of game prep I'm doing is taking more and more pictures on my phone of my city.  I hope to print them in black and white and use them during play as provocations, scene back drops, or in other ways.  In between play sessions we might hone our photoshop skills to encode the scenes with teltales or other hints of our adventures.

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

Shoot, I have almost nothing to say except for slightly-awed excitement about whatever the hell the players are going to come up with. This is high-concentrate aesthetics and unease, exactly the right place to launch from.

P.S. It's great to see you posting - I was just rereading some of the text you provided in Circle of Hands and thinking about you.

Joshua Bearden's picture

 Eventually we even had tea.

We had our first session last Thursday. My friend Sam offered to host this game at his apartment which is wonderful because he has wholeheartedly embraced the Avery Alder school of nurturing gaming facilitation, (Avery recently came out to Nova Scotia to do some workshops with us) and cooked us a big batch of chili for the game and does an amazing job of looking out for players comfort. For my part I brought a Chinese tea set but only got around to serving people tea at the very end of our session.

Sam and I have been gaming together since 2013 at least. He's a designer and game enthusiast and has been interested in playing Sorcerer for several years. Other players asked to be identified by initials only if I was posting so: JG says her first experience with role playing games occurred last November (at the aforementioned gaming retreat with Avery Alder). AM has played D&D for most of her life, starting with her brother and sister. She is also a free-diver. DT has role-played for decades, and has run several horror games in past including Dread and Shab-al-Hiri roach. This is everyone's first game of Sorcerer, and only my second.

By way of preparation I had made little cheat sheets and pamphlets to facilitate taking people through character development. I tried to start with cover first, with a plan to add stats and demons after. But I got to stats a little too early and found that explaining Stamina/Will/Lore took much more time than I expected. Discussing the descriptors was fairly distracting. In the future I might try holding off on picking scores until even later, and try to deduce the appropriate score from players descriptions. We moved more quickly through Demon creation. I didn't let them pick their demons needs - and so I will do that now (in this post). However I'll be sure to allow players to veto any need they find intolerably repugnant.

Kickers came quickly and I was very pleased with the results. Almost every "first try" seemed perfect to me. The only serious casualty of my poor time management was the work on the grid. I dreamed that they would be carefully and lovingly filled out with careful consideration of the placement of each character or element in relation to the 4 quadrants. It didn't exactly come out like that, however everyone has given me more than enough to start planning some scenes and bangs and to develop some background for the characters I'll be playing.

Characters

Ms Maple

Ms Maple is a retired police detective and member of a coven of six elderly sorcerers. Her telltale is superlatively white hair that actually glows in the dark. Her price is bouts of age-related physical frailty. Her demon Waldo is an inconspicuous small water creature modeled after the Caprella mutica (skeleton shrimp) but imagine it's over 13 inches long - google them! Waldo has three kinds of perception: enhanced smell, hearing, and microscopic sight, it also has hint and link. I think it's need is to hear a confession every day. Ms. Maple uses its abilities to supplement her years of police experience skills and successfully operate as private investigator. The kicker is this: Ms Maple's nephew Reginald Treehhorn has been framed for homicide, of his boss. Reggie is presently in custody; the trial starts tomorrow.

Connor Murphy

Connor is a gardener with great stamina honed from a lifetime of hard manual labour. Sorcery has been passed down in his family for generations. Lore is understood by the Murphy clan as a relationship with water faeries and sprites. They don't use the word "demon" and would smirk at those who do (if they were to ever meet another sorcerer). Connor's price is clinical depression and his telltale is a sense of cold, dark stillness that afflicts anyone in his company. He claims he inadvertently contacted, summoned and bound his current parasite demon through his obsessive bathing and diving rituals in the polluted harbour. "Sprite swum up yer nose" mocks his father. But he knew what he was doing. The demon's taint ability literally causes depression in others. Its other abilities effectively weaponize Connor's depression: shadow, special cold damage, and the ability to make a target perceive time as slowed or almost stopped (confuse). The parasite confers two forms of vitality: standard physical robustness, and the ability to resist the effects of hypoxia until death. Its need is to be submerged in salt water daily. Here's the kicker: Connor's son disappeared while they were swimming together in the Harbour last night. Connor spent hours diving and searching but finally returned home to face the drunken derision and abuse of his Da.

Prof. Harry Gladstone

Harry is a tenured history professor at the University. As a solitary adept he abuses the secure position to devote his time exclusively to the study of Sorcery, neglecting all other duties. Students and colleagues are banished from his office which itself is a massive archive of Lore related texts and objects. His price is estrangement from his family and colleagues, (penalty to interactions with anyone who he ought to know and care for). His demon is a passer named Doug posing as a post-doc fellow. Its need is to post or comment on something in its field every day. Doug uses cloak, confuse, and shape-shift at his masters behest to basically 'take care' of all social and professional interactions permitting Harry to remain focused on his work. Doug's desire (bullying) has only accelerated the professor's alienation from family and associates. The kicker is this: Doug failed to advise him that the historic home housing the history department (and Harry's office) was slated for destruction and re-development 13 months ago. Demolition starts tomorrow.

Barry

Barry is a strong willed young computer technician (and amateur software developer). Barry's has connections with a sorcerous mentor who teaches him sorcery in exchange for his work in computer assisted-bathymetry. He is wheelchair bound and suffers from tremors (they're getting worse). His demon called Lea is a powerful, inconspicuous ichthyic humanoid who can cloak and transport him. It also has big and boost. It allows Barry to compensate for his physical limitations in certain circumstances. Its desire is to collect trophies. It needs to harm someone every day. The kicker is this: Barry only learned today that his boyfriend Oscar is leaving tomorrow for Dahab, Egypt to dive in the blue hole. He's been planning this for months and keeping it secret.

Ron Edwards's picture

H'mm. Feedback, or would that harsh the buzz?

Joshua Bearden's picture

I definitely welcome feedback. At long as it's directed mostly at me rather than the players. Learning Sorcerer is a long term project for me and I am eager for all and any direction and guidance.

Ron Edwards's picture

Cool. Here are two things for consideration.

Needs are often interpreted by players as the way to problematize their characters, putting them into ethical quandaries or compromise. I suggest dialing this down considerably, with these three interacting pieces of the design in mind:

  • The sorcerer should be functionally getting what they want prior to the appearance of the Kicker in their lives.
  • The sorcerer should be relatable as far as the player is concerned.
  • The sorcerer is responsible for the demon's Need; the demon cannot get it by itself.

Therefore I suggest rewriting the "hurt people every day" Need. As a perhaps difficult recommendation, I also suggest simply doing so, telling the player, and moving on, without processing or negotiation with the player. Remember, the demon is your character, not theirs, and finalizing it is not a groovy group-consult consensus process.

I'm really wary of everything you're writing about the diagrams. This issue has seen a lot of attention through several Sorcerer games here at Adept Play, so warning signs of its possible derailment seem pretty important to me. The comments/discussion at Sorcerer Archipel seem like a good starting point, and I coul provide a similar exercise/practice for you if you want. There's also a how-to explanation at the older post Sorcerer Musik - harmony and dissonance.

Joshua Bearden's picture

Thanks for the advice about the need. It's what I wanted to hear since I chose everyone demons need for them and knew as soon as I wrote it down that I didn't like it. I'll give it more thought and give them something workable.

Thanks for links on diagrams. Reading through the discussion threads I feel confidant that I have a good handle on the importance of the diagram for character and story focus.  However I can tell I haven't relayed that to my players. On reviewing the diagrams generated so far in light of the advice I quickly note some deficiencies. I think I'll dedicate some time to completing them at the start of next session. I'll try to post the results then. My rubrick for that process will be as follows: (1) something goes in every section (2) Player must be able to explain who or what the elements they've added are (3) The position is logical especially regarding connections/pull between quadrants.

Ron Edwards's picture

Here’s the last pushy advice (promise).

Don’t process or address the diagrams with your players. You will exhaust them and drain play, even destroy it. You’re up against the contradiction between teaching and doing; the two of them can work together, but they can also negate one another, and unless you and your players are superhumans who correspond to no one I’ve met or played with, you’re at that point right now.

You have a list of things for each player, right? I suggest that you assign them to the four quadrants for each character, uncritically and based entirely on what they said, and don’t add anything. (The Sorcerer Archipel discussion is about doing this.)

If a quadrant’s empty, then ask the player for something, but not technically (“what goes with Lore”), but in pure visual terms (“where does ‘Doug’ sit and work during the professional day”).  

Then work out how the parts “pull” for each character, de novo, and proceed from there. You can show this to them later, after playing at least a  session, so they know what you’re doing.

The risk here is what I ran into with Zac in the Sorcerer Musik game, when I interpreted his description of his character’s grandmother, their relationship, her pianola, and her attic as primary material, and (paraphrasing and caricaturing slightly for effect) he was just trying to get through pro forma “character history bullshit” and didn’t want to see it in play.

But I suggest this was an edge case, and that the far greater risk is that you are trying to teach the game in depth, trying to learn that depth yourself, trying to play the game in a fun experience, and trying to get others through the right procedure, at the same time. I think shifting to “play the game in a fun experience” is the big priority and the others can be made its helpers or shifted to longer-term goals.

Joshua Bearden's picture

Oh this is excellent advice.  Thank you!. I'm glad you warned me away from stalling play on Friday with this sort of a do-over, yes I fear it would have a draining effect. I certainly have the material I need, just a couple clarifying questions will get me me going.   

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