This phase of our “Sorcerer Musik” game definitely needs its own body of comment. The first batch showed us finding our feet with the on-line venue; the second one showed our re-orientation toward that venue and a little reflection on play so far; and this one is … well, it’s when Sorcerer delivers. None of the Kickers are the same as the more-or-less basic problem they initially presented, having done their job of “today is not like any other day” now that those problems have evolved into something a lot more consequential for the characters.
I call special attention to everyone’s responsiveness around the “table.” It’s constant; everyone is listening and you can see any given person imagine what’s going on. You can see when someone disengages slightly and when they invest again. You can see two players not-quite say come on as the third cautiously gets into action, and then get just as viscerally into that action, even though their characters aren’t there. You can see all of us share our humor at different points. I specially notice how expressions and occasional pantomiming play a big role for this group, creating an environment of communication which is much more mutual and more rich than an audio would convey.
I’m interested in how people perceive my presentation of violence during play, which I strive to do a little differently from familiar mass media, especially for Sorcerer.
24 responses to “Crescendo”
I’m interested in how people
I like it. It's more realistic, obviously, although that by itself is neither better or worse. But it feel, in terms of imagery, more, hum, sickening? It certainly packs a bigger punch in your gut when you see it with your mind's eye. And given Sorcerer's aspirations, it feels quite adequate, because it reinforces the "this isn't an imaginary world. Demon's don't exist. This is Here and Now, our own world" vibe the game is going for. It's fitting.
I appreciate that. One of
I appreciate that. One of Sorcerer's features is that ethical infractions are not defined by a textual list, but are instead subject to one person's reactions during play. This isn't intended to be a privilege for the GM but rather an enforced exposure of him or her – a demand, in fact, that he or she self-examine and live up to any such content. One cannot fall back on "well, in this setting, X is right and Y is wrong," nor on genre expectations. And the decisions are so consequential for the players so that this exposure will be relevant to them.
For a brief while, in the early 1990s, it seemed as if a number of disconnected works in various media were experimenting with a more up-front, questioning approach to violence. Whether that was true at all, or whether it became merely a platform for a new vocabulary of equally-dumb depiction, I don't know. I know that I thought the depictions I'm thinking of were more honest – in terms of pain and resulting empathy, not realism for its own sake – and thought of it as a good thing. A lot of the textual approach to violence in the game was influenced by that perception of mine, and I know that I always play it that way.
Circle of Hands presents an interesting contrast, as the original design it's built from, Gray Magick, dates exactly to the same time as Sorcerer's primary design phase, but its moral sensibility is derived from a different, angry, and disoriented perspective, more about real-life and less focused on how current and past media make/made stories. It also takes that somewhat clinical, wince-factor element of violence very far down the road, drawing literally upon multiple instances of being hurt myself for the rules.
One cannot fall back on “well
I remember some discussion on this on The Forge archives. The way I think about this, is that ethical infractions in Sorcerer (and associated Humanity-checks) are about the ethics of the players, not the morality of whatever cultures the PCs come from or represent. So, if we were playing Sorcerer in some Bronze Age mediterranean setting, or if a PC was a visiting Venusian with a completely different sociobiological evolutionary history leading to a radically different set of morals, Humanity-checks would still be made according to the players' sense of Right & Wrong. Am I correct?
Yes. That's what I feel too. They are more honest, truer, uglier depictions. They take out the heroic, glamorous side of violence and show its true, undignifying, sickening face. That makes its depiction in the game all the more impactful. It may also make the players think twice, even if not quite conscious of it perhaps, about comiting violence, because suddenly violence doesn't look that dehumanised anymore.
You’re right, although your
You're right, although your phrasing "players" in plural is overly democratic for Sorcerer. The GM is really the moral sounding-board and need not consult or agree with anyone else regarding Humanity rolls of either kind … which may sound bad, in the sense of "moral authority," but as intended, is more like a self-examination and self-exposure, especially if it's not over-analyzed and is based very much as an audience member judges and likes/dislikes what a given character has just done.
Yes, from when John fell down
Yes, from when John fell down in a heap on the floor of the club in the first session, to Michael’s decisive rapid pistol shots in the bar, the harm felt suitably disconcerting and real.
That was certainly Zak's fault (*runs for cover*).
The paper was just something Ron came up with either during the scene or during prep. It wasn't established in the fiction before that moment nor in the kicker itself. But it made sense and I ran with it. And yes, it was such a tender scene. Loved it! For me it's important that Ron understands that Alain isn't trying to screw or antagonise John at all. He just wants his friends back, really, now that they are back in the city. Lovely moment. Let's see what comes out of that.
Yes, group hug! While keeping
Yes, group hug! While keeping in mind that Lore is by definition a Humanity-threatening sphere of activity …and that John just gained Lore 1 because that's how many victories Pedro rolled for that score.
Over here in GM-land, where my mandate includes playing the demons, John's awe at the "beauty" and his appreciation of the demonic/cosmic music isn't grounds for sniffling celebration of tender humanity after all.
..and that John just gained
That whole scene was great. John asking for Alain to explain to him the paper: awesome. The idea of using Lore as well as Cover to explain it: brilliant. And then imagining John absorbing Alain's explanation while looking at the ceiling of the ambulance and finally utter "That's…beautiful". That was simply genious. And the moment in which Alain puts his hand on John's shoulder and says that all that was thanks to John's mentoring was nice. Of course, Zac somehow must have made me loose the associated Humanity-gain roll, as usual.
Then there was the city all dancing to Maxine's music. That was great and weird, all at the same time. Straight from Twilight Zone. I wonder how people will react in general and how the News will eventually racionalise it.
And I really enjoyed the whole mafiosi moment from Michael's scene. Brutal, but oh so fitting. I want to see more.
The paper was just something
Oh, okay! You ran beautifully with that! And yeah, that bit with the mentoring really drove it home for me. I must say that in these sessions, Alain has shown that he really cares about these people. Of course, it’s only natural, and a little sinister, that he now tries to fix his relationships with lore.
(Haha yes, it’s surely without question that Zac has something to do with those rolls!)
Morality as a Directive Mechanic
I feel like Alain has emerged as the most heart-felt character so far. A lot of his scenes really are quite touching and human. And Ron and Pedro, I love the GM/player interaction that you two have developed. It feels very natural and is a pleasure to watch!
I'm also really thrilled that Maxine got a chance to force her youthful perspective on Los Angeles. Hopefully Hollywood, hospitals, and the menagerie of air ports in the LA basin won't mind. We're going to pay for this, I know.
I want to jump back a bit and talk about violence. As I've gotten older, I've found myself increasing in sensitivity towards the rougher side of life. Maybe "sensitivitiy" captures too many meanings though — I'm at least taking things more seriously than when I was younger. The "clinical" descriptions in last session certainly felt sobering. I'm very used to roleplay being a pretty jovial activity, so the dark directing made me feel it in my chest more than I'm used to. Don't ask me what I expected with a game like this!
I don't think I totally realized this until you articulated it this way, Ron. Do you mean that it exposes the GM's understanding of morality, since it's your moral understanding that shapes the rolls, and therefore the world we're experiencing? It makes me wonder — this aspect of Sorcerer must make every player's personal moral philosophy an almost inescapable topic of discussion, or at least a point that's thought about. Have you encountered situations in the past with Sorcerer where considerably different moral perspectives soured the game?
It's funny you should say this, Ron. I'm kind of sad not to see your mug on the screen with ours and Pedro's in the videos! I feel like we, the players, get the benefit of seeing all of your facial expressions and reactions, but the audience doesn't.
Do you mean that it exposes
This shaping won't work if it's filtered and over-sanitized. Sorcerer seeks the state of creativity in which one cannot stand to contribute (say, perform,do, whatever you call it) anything but the most personally-authentic possible. The GM does well never to think about Humanity and simply to embrace doing it. The moral or ethical framework that emerges, or is revealed, is not expected to be the same, and perhaps could not possibly be the same, as whatever the GM would have stated as a personal ethos in conversation or as an "about me" essay.
I've run into people saying they don't like another person, especially tagged as "the GM" with the perceived power imbalance of the term, to judge their characters. Leaving aside that they have, themselves, engaged in an activity for which doing so is intrinsic, my take on that is that the GM is judging, but given the specifics of the game's design, on the basis of empathy – "Wow, I could have done that, so what would that make me."
The process is fortunately prevented from being circular, as the diagram method accounts for a lot of the framing/scene-loading function of the GM, so he or she is not judging situations entirely of his or her own invention.
Instead of open or analytical discussion, I find that play tends to stay with the people in the long term as a fictional experience, providing the same sort of touchpoint that certain media/entertainment works have, the ones that aren't just another movie or just another comic or the next novel in the series.
The general problem regarding Humanity isn't what you described, so much as a wrong turn from the very beginning: seeing Humanity as an entirely fictional setting feature and therefore "well, slavery is OK in this setting, so it doesn't affect Humanity," and stuff like that. The supplement The Sorcerer's Soul spends a lot of time on how diverse Humanity can be, even providing rules for dealing with criss-crossing, contradictory forms in the same game, but it struggles against this perception.
I have serious business,
I have serious business, social, and ideological reasons for my face or any GM's or other organizing/whatever player to be the same size as everyone else's in the videos. The problem is that I can't make it work! I tried switching to Appear.in, which is great in use, but the resulting recording is not functional, or not predictably so. And every instruction or advice I find for manipulating that feature of Skype flat-out doesn't work for me.
(Anyone reading this, do not provide helpful advice about Skype use or alternate communications programs. It does not work, I'm not a bonehead "user," please let me work it out by myself.)
The Nâzgul scream you may have heard over the horizon last Wednesday was produced by myself just following our Sorcerer session, when I realized it had not been recorded properly. Devastated, I have asked the players to free-associate regarding the events of play with no need for "story-telling" in a sensible way.
Missed Session Additions
I'll just add a couple of notes from my side of things to Pedro's summary.
This session was one where we actually got ahead of ourselves on a couple points and I see a bit of murk cropped up because of it. First, Michael's first scene in this session was actually a scene in his own office having a conversation with Mia, and we actually failed to resolve that scene all together after saying "we'll come back to it", and never did! I have been thinking about a fitting ret-con for this and I'll bring it up next session and have it filled in retroactively for everyone, so there's no need to go into all of this right this second.
The other point of murk is that I thought Michael showed up in the observatory, not in Alain's office. The scene I pictured was John still in the observatory, and Alain going to leave, but opening the door on the way out and Michael standing there. So, which was it? Not sure, but the fun details were these,
Michael is standing in the doorway with a wry smile introducing himself to Alain. The line was, "I'm a…business man, but, of course, that's just my day job," which he adds as he noticing Alain picking up on his telltale. Alain frowns at a "business man", asks what sort, and brightens up when Alain answers, "tech, mostly." Michael notices John and goes, "Who's this guy?" and that's when Alain starts communicating his issue. The problem is, at this moment, Maxine has tapped into both her current demons (Sing and Passion) and they implore her, "where's Fugue? We're missing the full depth of what our music could be without it." Maxine attempts a CONTACTING ritual, successfully contacts Fugue, and enthralls him despite Michael's commanding Fugue to cease immediately. Then John launches into action (delibrately trying to overdoes on his own pills), and the crisis moment occurs. Michael and Alain attempt to physically stop John from what he's doing, but Michael doesn't get any of Fugue's bonus dice because the demon is hypnotized (or whatever) by Maxine's new demon band.
Maxine does appear immediately on the scene, but our cliffhanger is that we're in the moment of needing to roll for all these simultaneous actions. Does John die??? Does another demon get summoned? Why oh why is everything going wrong? All of these thoughts flashed through Michael's mind, and I earned a bonus dice on this upcoming actioning roll (which we have yet to roll!) for having Michael realize "maybe grandma was right, maybe we need to put a stop to all this" as he sees John going for the pills and begins mediating on "more death, more pain" coming out of all this demon stuff.
The last session was a
The last session was a complete blast, and I am so sad that we didn't get this one. I sympathize with, empathize with, project, echo, whateveretc. the anguish of Ron's Nazul scream.
For the most part, Maxine has been having the time of her life for the past few weeks. She and the rest of the Crown of Bones gang have been hinding out in the pad of a washed up actress friend in the La Tuna Canyon area. It's been a wild ride, hiding from the po-po, feeding their rabid fanbase more "inspired" content through peer-to-peer dark web channels. Truly, Maxine is "never going back".
But, that said, some interesting pokes at humanity cropped up. It seems that Jason, Max's old heart-throb drummer, has hung himself? Is he okay? My heart dropped a little when Ron offered that to the table. Plus, Alex (Max's twin brother and the band lead) seems to be popping pills a little more excessively than normal, and the whole band seems a little… more compliant than normal. At first, this seemed extremely cool, but Max is definitely starting to feel a little chill from — where? is there a breeze coming in from somewhere, and seeping into my bones?
A thrilling and natural progression of this session culmninated when Passion and Singularity and Max were enjoying a now-typical session of music-making, and we've all reached out to Fugue to join us again. However, Max was thinking about Jason with some measure of guilt and concern at the time, and upon a successful CONTACT ritual, she not only invited Fugue to the merriment with the two other demons, but asked if he could, you know, check in on Jason to see what his fate was. I didn't realize it at the time, but Fugue is a parasite demon and can't be seperated from Michael. Ron and Zac explained this to me, and I thought, hey, let's let Max roll with this! Max has been completely unaware of the rapidly escalating situation between John, Michael, and Alain (I believe I remember Michael and Alain desperately trying to cover John's mouth, stop his hands from moving, etc.!), and upon making contact with Fugue, realized that he couldn't move. But guess what? Singularity can let me step through time and space, so Max figured they'd simply pay Fugue a visit!
I'm so tense and excited for the next session. I just have no idea what's going to happen.
And don't woooorry, Pedro! Max intends to give Singularity back, but really, must he go so soon? He's having such a good time over here!
Logistics: the mad scramble
Logistics: the mad scramble among Alain, Michael, and John is occurring in the observatory. That's where Alain found John dreamin' his Humanity away, and when Michael went to the Astrophysics department to find Alain, they directed him there. So, think of lots of thrumming, black hole viewing, high tech fun things to cause trouble with … kind of like a cosmic mixing board if you think about it …
Zac, you're throwin' around the term Murk pretty freely. Occasionally having to say, "Wait, what?" "Oh, like this," is part of doing group creative things, not a breakdown. You're right that we skated past Mia, very much not to my liking in retrospect, as that was actually one of my top priorities during that session. But it'll be easy to manage and to be incorporated properly, like all asynchronous events in role-playing although that really scares people for some reason. Sorcerer's system is especially good at keeping it easy.
Pedro, it would be wrong of me not to point this rule out – that to feed a demon's Need, you cannot simply "turn it loose" in some way that disconnects you from the feeding activity. It has to know that you put yourself out for it. Right now, Singularity is very hungry and blames you for the discomfort – never mind that it said it wanted to run off and play with Maxine and Passion, "if you truly loved me you'd know I didn't mean it." Alain understands this as part of being a sorcerer, especially an adept.
The other point of murk is
Heh, I was a bit confused for a moment during that scene too. I think you knocked on the door, Alain wasn't going anywhere. However when you knock on the door I was like (thinking to myself) "Door? I thought we were outside near the antennas". I was thinking "observatory" as the the field where the antennas are. I guess Ron was thinking about it as some building near the antennas, which of course makes total sense. I was somewhat confused in the moment and in my mind I just moved the whole scene to Alain's office. But yeah, the best way to think about it is some computer lab in a building near the antennas' field, as Ron points out in his comment.
OK. I thought in this particular case Alain's *intentionality* to feed it by *allowing* Maxine to do it would be enough. So the little bastard is blaming his hunger on me, huh?
Can't wait to play today!
For me, the session threw all
For me, the session threw all the morals into the crunch. I was able finally to get Mia into the role-playing space where she acted as a character rather than as a meek plot hook, putting Michael into the pressure that rises right out of his Kicker: what actually will you do to the men who injured me? As with the rest of us, I watched with some awe as, after I described the social alienation and psychological breakdown of everyone who's helping Maxine, she went even further into the sorcerous, ecstatic zone – right down the drain of Humanity loss, including a powerful Contact ritual, literally seeking to capture Michael's demon. Simultaneously, Alain looked as much as 90% ready to give up on sorcery entirely, focusing on his recovered friendships, working against his own cynicism, even as much as relinquishing his demon to Maxine. All of this just went BOOM because John was right in the middle of both characters' diagrams, and I'd happily given his shiny new Lore the descriptor "Mad." And when Zac role-played Michael as actually reconsidering his grandmother's Banish/Contain approach to sorcery as possibly valid, and the surprise on his own face at himself for saying it – wow.
You bastard, stop messing with my friends!
Your analysis of Alain is spot on. I tried to convey that at various points during the sessions. I gave him 5 Will precisely to represent that self assurance, that sense of "I'm in control here, not you. If you ever cross the line you go back to Nowhere". Both his Lore 3 Solitary Adept and the interaction he now had with other sorcerers should make it clear to him that he can get another demon if he wants and send this one back or destroy it if need be. He was totally ready last session to give it up to Maxine ("here, have fun") when Singularity asked Alain if he "was with him or not". That is why I asked you to clarify exactely what that entailed, what was Singularity's intended meaning, because that was not clear to me at that moment (was it asking Alain to support its attack on Maxine? To stand by it no matter what? Or just to accept it back?)
As it was, Alain did accept it back (and showed Sing who was in control through that Will roll, just to make a dramatic point), since Alain needed Sing to help out with the whole John imbroglio going on (he didn't want John to die. And, Oh!, I loved that you did bring Necromancy from S&S into our game, I had the feeling that was what you were going for last session). After Sing helped and the situation was under control, though, Alain did a Punish ritual, physically represented by throwing Singularity brutally against a wall and basically saying something to the effect of "NEVER FUCK WITH ME AGAIN". But if John wasn't an issue in that scene, Alain would have totally told Sing "no, I'm NOT with you", probably Punished it and/or Contained it, and then attempted a Banish. As it where, he had to play safe.
I have the feeling that the next session or two are going to wrap things up, which saddens me in, and also fills me with dread for John, and especially Helen. She's just a victim of all this and Alain wants her to be happy. I'm affraid this may end on a sour note. And Alain needs to find Kelly too. On a more positive note, I'm really excited for that dinner and I hope to meet Granny Dorosa there…
Yes, yes, and yes — but hold
Yes, yes, and yes — but hold on, you're getting ahead! I'm just finishing the edits for the latest session and we can discuss all the spanking, uh, Punishing that happened when I post it!
And there was a lot of that to discuss, too. Rituals every which way.
Damn, you’re right! Sorry
Damn, you're right! Sorry about that. I got so excited and carried away that I didn't even notice I was talking before you posted the last session. I'll make a link to this post from the new thread.
“I’m interested in how people perceive…”
Since you have asked more some impressions on this post and video, I'd like to make a short comment here to that effect.
I've recently started playing a Sorcerer game for the first time, and so I was quite curious to see what I might get out of this video, and ended up reading the whole thing.
First of all, I wanted to say that the first five minutes or so of the video are a really good, and thorough overview of the basic concepts of Sorcerer. I've shared it as a link with the other players in my game; you get to the point very quickly and very directly. I like that.
I also really enjoyed the pedagogical nature of the play here – as someone learning about the game, it's really handy to have each step explained as they come along.
Finally, your take on "on-screen violence" here really appeals to me. For the sort of play that this game is supposed to be about – visceral, character-focused drama – a "realistic" approach to violence is, at least for me, just the right thing. It's not about celebrating violence or gratuitous description; rather, it's about making it real and felt, with context and consequences. A little detail here and there can go a long way to engaging with the emotional or psychological implications of each scene or moment.
I've long tried to do the same thing in my games (where appropriate), so it speaks to me. For instance, when I play Apocalypse World, I'm occasionally disappointed by the "cartoonish" implications of some of the rules for harm and violence, so I've experimented with a number of house rules to address that, which make the game far more to my liking in style.
In general, from my experiences with Sorcerer so far and this video, I suspect that we share a lot of aesthetic/creative interests in this style of gaming: while I'm not normally excited by the idea of summoning and binding supernatural demons, the intensely character-driven dramatic goals of the game, putting harsh and consequential choices into the hands of the players, and engaging with front-loaded themes and real, human problems all appeal to me, and the premise of Sorcerer does a fantastic job of zeroing in on all of those elements. I'm looking forward to seeing our own game move forward beyond the beginning we've played so far.
While I'm here to voice agreement or appreciation, I might as well engage in some discussion, too:
I've heard a few people suggest the possibility of having players take on the roles of the other PCs' demons, so that they may play their character in one storyline, and then participate in another as a sort of co-GM, giving life and character to another PC's demon.
I can see definite advantages and disadvantages to such a way of playing Sorcerer, but, not having tried it, I can't be entirely sure. What is your take on such experiments, and have you ever seen or tried this approach to playing? I like the way it might engage players with others' Kickers and storylines, but I also wonder if it might not dilute some other elements of the game.
Hi Paul, the play-each-other
Hi Paul, the play-each-other's demons is a terrible idea for Sorcerer. It sounds all kinds of wonderful and participatory, but it's bad. I say this not because "I don't like it," or "it's my game, don't change it," but because it destroys crucial dynamics. After twenty years of seeing people pipe up with the suggestion less than two minutes after hearing the first mention of the game, I've come to think that it represents a hasty retreat from what the game offers – perhaps not deliberate, but no less real.
The lesser "thing" that people are retreating from, when they suggest this, is a boogeyman in their head concerning spotlight time – they figure playing one another's demosn will give them something to do while otherwise "sitting out." I've been dealing with this issue for a long time, the belief that if another player's character is located somewhere differently from one's own, then all you get to do is "sit around." I suggest something different is really the case: that when playing a badly-designed and/or unengaging game, all I get to do is sit around no matter where my character is relative to yours, and when playing a well-designed and engaging game, it doesn't matter where our characters are relative to one another.
Sorcerer is especially well-suited to play multiple locations and separated characters' actions simultaneously, rolling for conflict just as if they were all present, switching attention back and forth across mega-locations exactly as we do micro-locations if the characters were in the same room. It works flawlessly. If all the characters are separated, and all the characters are doing things, then the GM goes among them just as if they were all in one spot and doing things.
Therefore that particular issue, when and if present in the "let's make helpful suggestions while knowing nothing about how the game plays" discussion, is a dead end from the outset.
The potentially more important "thing" that's being retreated from is less common because it requires more familiarity with the game. It arises when someone realizes that the GM is actually playing the characters' "powers" and gets nervous about the potential control – specifically, that you try to do something, the GM doesn't feel like letting you do it, and says, "the demon won't do it." Just as with the other concern, it's rooted in dysfunctional play experiences.
I have to interrupt myself to say that I am not about to deliver the usual bromide of saying, "but a good, good-hearted GM wouldn't do that," or, "but the GM is your gentle story guide so it's OK if they did," or maddeningly, both. I am saying something completely different.
OK, so back to the objection/concern, it has other facets or possible emphases too, some of which are interesting. For example, why does the GM get both to play the demons and to call for Humanity rolls, specifically ethical Humanity checks? The answer is subtle: because the GM does not get to frame scenes freely nor to exert an iota of systemic control over dice outcomes, and the players are absolutely free to have their characters do as they please, including more scene-framing power than the GM, pound for pound. In other words, the GM is not responding to his or her own imposed situations of play, as in, "here, I'll challenge their Humanity like this, ah hah, you did that thing which I shoved in your face, so now make a Humanity check."
It's related to the moral, or if one doesn't like that word, personal exposure that's getting ripped from the GM in a fashion not under his or her control or censor/filter power. The GM must play the demons as demons, things rather than characters. How he or she does so, and what constitutes Humanity checks (and does not) are the same activity – you can't do one well without the other.
It's also related to the fact that in Sorcerer, there is no "say yes or roll the dice" – not even a little. If the fictional circumstances calling for a dice roll are occurring, then you roll. Always. There is flatly no someone-decides, someone-says in play for anyone at the table.
If that's not adding up … let me try once more, to say that in this game, concerns of right and wrong are partitioned in terms of who gets to "push it" in specific ways. The GM pushes it by playing the demons as well as any other ethically-challenging characters or events; the players push it by playing their characters. That's not stimulus-response, either; that's stimulus-stimulus, with response being a rather unpredictable but logical emergent outcome (the above-mentioned point about rolling the dice). The difference is that the players are free to be – for lack of a better word – good, and the GM is not, concerning the demons. That's the biggie right there. Decentralizing that distinction is destructive to all those interconnected mechanics.
There are some really good game ideas out there for playing one another's characters' dark-sides or unpredictable-servants; the one I've always wanted to investigate is the absolutely-first edition of Wraith, which was hands-down the best of the early White Wolf games. But Sorcerer is not one of these.