Here’s a techniques discussion of the Sorcerer character diagrams, which is a spiky topic in the case of this game. I didn’t realize the physical separation among us would be this significant, and I’m worried enough to reflect here. First, a detailed look at how the damn things work:
Now let’s apply this to play, and to Sorcerer Musik especially, including the fourth session which is right here in the post too. When you watch the session, you’ll see a lot of good material, and a lot of good will among everyone, but you might spot some inequality among spotlight time, agency, and proactivity. I think I have a pretty good idea why.
Take a look at Michael’s initial diagram that Zac drew,
… and the one that I drew. They aren’t the same.
Neither, in retrospect, is really correct based on his starting material, and we brought them to play having barely glanced at them. Using mine, that’s why I put his first scene in the game at the hospital with his sister Mia, by themselves, but with his grandmother already interfering with his demon. If I’d used his diagram, the opening would have been at his bar and focused heavily on criminal leadership stuff.
Note, too, that his grandmother is not in his diagram – and I should have attended to that like a five-alarm fire, before play. His Lore descriptor is Apprentice, and she’s the mentor, period. It’s a central feature of his character and should be represented on the diagram with at least two, probably more items.
After each session, I kept re-doing the diagrams, but again, by myself and without the players seeing what’s going on. After the third, which included Michael’s demon Fugue becoming aware of the other sorcerers at Michael’s orders, Michael’s looked like this:
Why? Because the demons’ “music” is harmonizing, and that brought every sorcerer’s paraphernalia straight to the center of each diagram, dragging anything associated with it. (For example, in Alain’s diagram, John Landis was no longer at the center, just like Mia isn’t in this one.)
Maybe you’ve been watching and reading this without knowing what these things are for … that the center determines what the GM plays at the beginning of the session. That’s why I am always asking the players, over and over, broken record, where are you, what does it look like, what are you doing, if you’re done where are you going next. They frame their scenes based on what they think and want following the prior events; my job is to put in content based on what they say and also based on each diagram’s bull’s-eye.
So I began the session shown in this post with the above diagram in front of me. The interaction among the demons established in prior play, now that Fugue was in on it, at the center. According to Zac, Michael was being driven to the Skinned Cat. His diagram said, unequivocally, demons, which means for him, on the one hand, his suddenly deeply-invested grandmother (who thinks she’s his mentor/master no matter what he feels about it), and on the other, his piano as his primary sorcerous tool, which means his bar as well. Note that each of the other sorcerers is present in the diagram, but in his case, behind each demon.
You see the disconnect, right? It has several facets. In retrospect, to me, Zac had painted a vivid picture of the estrangement between Michael and Sra. Brucato, and of her specific interaction with their family, whereas it’s possible that to him, she was a “done with” feature of his character’s descriptor. He even asked things about her during play that I thought he had emphatically explained to me a few weeks ago. It’s possible that to him, I am playing my story now, and putting it on him, saddling him with this woman he doesn’t want to have in there.
[Clarification: Rawford’s in the middle of the diagram too. I had his next move ready to go, relating to the bar and Sra. Brucato; in fact, by the end of play, he’d already done it. But I’d fumbled the simultaneity of play to the extent that Michael’s events had received very little forward motion, and we simply didn’t get that far.]
Another facet concerns player agency and character action. Crucially: given my perception of the center of the diagram (even without the above disconnect), does that mean I force Michael into the bar? Does he have to meet his grandmother there? No. That would only occur if Zac told me Michael was at or going to the bar already, such that his grandmother shows up, or if, conceivably, he were with his grandmother, such that she reveals her knowledge of the bar and his piano there. Since this isn’t the case, I play this as Michael learning about her being there, in this case because the grandmother gets the bar guy to call him.
But I am not trying to make him go there. This is a call to Michael from his grandmother, not a call from the GM to Zac.
I’m positive this indicates a developing rupture in techniques-and-purpose. To clarify that, let me explain the important converse of “at the center,” in terms of play techniques.
What I mean is, what happens with the things that aren’t in the middle of the diagram? They’re not frozen. They’re doing things that aren’t my responsibility to tell the player. Crayne is certainly up to no good, and given what’s occurred already, is probably moving to threaten Michael’s professional interests and immediate family even more. I have notes for that; for example, Bobby Crayne is definitely doing something heinous, outside of Michael’s immediate sphere of perception. In GM terms, I make notes for what he’s doing and what consequences may necessarily become evident to Michael later, but I don’t have any of that come in upon Michael at this time.
However, should it have been the case that Zac said, “I’m going to deal with Crayne,” in any of a hundred possible ways to express that in aims and actions, I mean, considering this is the guy who personally assaulted and traumatized Mia, then that’s what we’d do. Since Michael already investigated the Burbank police successfully, and recently infiltrated them, he’d come upon Crayne, and various assets or associations of theirs engaged in exactly those acts, or whatever else might make sense for them to be doing given the hour of day or night in the fiction.
But – Zac didn’t know any of this, and although I can’t speak for him, I’m sensitive to what’s occurred in a couple past cases – when a player is not picking up the dynamics intuitively, partly because I didn’t start out using them properly and partly due to our physical separation. They’re not seeing any of the instruments of play, including the results of my rolls, so it’s easy to think I’m making the situations and outcomes up. What I do looks like the same old GMing, and they start to think in terms of planned events and programmed sessions, as opposed to proactivity that’s completely under their control regardless of what information or communications come along.
GM and player internal experiences, respectively, aren’t the same in Sorcerer, but there still shouldn’t be a screen up regarding what they do, procedurally. The medium is unexpectedly imposing enough of a screen that it might have caused a problem.