Harmony and human wreckage

The Kickers are concluded, and the story is done. To my knowledge, this is the only game of Sorcerer that I’ve been in which is now visible start to finish on record (OK, granted, one session is a verbal account). I’d certainly love to learn what an observer thinks of it.

One sorcerer ending with moderately decent Humanity, due to plenty of empathic moments as he acted on a strong desire to recapture friendship in his life. Whose one injudicious use of Lore and two significantly failed attempts to use Humanity, however, resulted in two tragic deaths and utter emotional destruction. Who has apparently left the path of sorcery entirely as well … although his demon sits patiently, waiting.

One sorcerer ending with dangerously low Humanity, due to walking a couple of moral lines and less luck in the Humanity checks … but with a fully-affirmed family, a frightening network of power across the region, a committed and loyal demon, and an opinionated but nevertheless skilled mentor. “Yes, I’ve paid with pieces of myself – but I drove a good bargain.” He’s the one whose turns may not ever have been virtuous, but were arguably not far from good.

And one also with low Humanity, a destroyed life in any terms you or I could understand, ill and injured family and close acquaintances in the road behind, a fugitive … yet also everything she wanted and dreamed, far beyond what even those she previously idolized could have imagined, with apparently more to come, with her demon driving her forward, or perhaps the other way around.

As with every session so far, some specific rolls bear mentioning, especially those which are less visible. Kelly’s fate, for example – I knew that she was determined to leave the department and her career path immediately, but would confront John first. I rolled her Will against John’s, to see whether she would succeed in determining what he was doing, in the face of his considerable secrecy (he’d already kept his activities secret from Alain). She succeeded. So the next roll was Singularity’s Taint ability against her … which succeeded so heinously that the only solution was to absorb her utterly and imbue the entire galaxy with her essence … granted, that means spreading her mighty thin.

I stress that these were resolution rolls. Failing against John, for example, would have meant she’d left the campus in disgust, but safely, and Alain would have found her working as a bar waitress somewhere desperate, still determined not to have anything to do with him. I didn’t just say “Oh, Kelly’s gonna die, must pile grief upon Alain.” Alain simply wasn’t around for the events of those rolls, that’s all – especially since his usual means of keeping tabs on people, Singularity, was not in his keeping at the time.

I’m pretty sure that the players didn’t realize that putting Singularity into that Contain also clinched John’s death. The demon’s roll from the previous session was the only thing keeping him alive.

The game-play in the video is just over an hour, followed by our application of the rules that are used upon resolving one’s Kicker. It finishes with about 15 minutes of sheer ideas-and-playing Sorcerer discussion, out of what seems to be simply pure rush of having done it. I really hope you watch that part.

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9 responses to “Harmony and human wreckage”

  1. It has been great fun to

    It has been great fun to watch these sessions, and the last part of this last one when you changed the characters was really interesting too. 

    I read the annotated Sorcerer book as I watched, and the videos was an interesting complementary learning experience for me because you talked about and solved problems along the way. For instance, the mismatching character diagram problem between Ron and Zac really drove home the importance of those diagrams for me. Despite a nice and likable cast of participants and some really intense an entertaining situations, this was not a “show” produced for entertainment, which was a good thing. 

    Apart from being fueled by your combined actions, and by the demons and the unpredictability of the dice, it seemed like some of the conflicts got a big part of their tension from their orthogonal nature. I felt that the situation was about to change dramatically when the dice hit the table, because the actions of all the involved characters (and demons) were going to create a new situation, or several, that was hard to foresee and impossible to control for any given player. I mean, a high combined demon power plus stat score could get one player character a fairly good chance of success and “control” over their action’s outcome, but the consequences in a situation wasn’t always, or even often, limited to the outcome of one character’s action. The fact that a character couldn’t control the whole situation, meant that s/he not only got defined by the chosen action, but by the actions s/he didn’t choose to take in the free-and-clear. I don’t know exactly how much of that came from the system, and how much came from Ron’s gamemastering (the NPCs actions and visceral interpretation of the harm rules).
    The player proactivity felt somewhat reigned in in parts of the first sessions. Not strange at all, with the learning curve and uncertainty about what one could do in the system. Anyway, proactivity seemed really important. It was clear that the game lifted and/or rocketed, carried by system procedures, whenever proactivity kicked in. 
    My understanding is that many of the chosen abilities in the game were giving the characters knowledge-gathering skill, protection, vitality – things that could give a sense of control over situations. Was that why you chose them? Did you talk about that? 
    • I appreciate your point about

      I appreciate your point about the game not being a show produced for entertainment. When I was first talking about setting up Adept Play, some listeners expected or encouraged the kind of trendy, fun "watch the geeks do their kooky role-playing," Knights of the Dinner Table episodes that are hitting it big lately. My goal was almost 100% the opposite, to share how actual people who are themselves not "playing roles" conduct this activity for their own enjoyment.

      I totally let the players decide what their demons could do. I did provide a lot of questions or prompts which tended toward more direct action, like whether Passion could assassinate someone via some kind of targeted "death message" in a song. The players didn't really respond to those, mostly. Zac kind of vaguely wanted Fugue to make him safe or less vulnerable to violence, that was all. They all trended toward weird perception and similar things. I did make sure each demon had some defensive or protective ability for each sorcerer though.

    • My goal was almost 100% the

      My goal was almost 100% the opposite

      Yes, there sure are a lot of role playing videos on the internet now, and apart from Adept Play’s actual play videos I haven’t come across any with the stated goal of using the recording as a starting point for discussion about play experience and/or design. Some sites put up videos of real play though (I mean, not of the “entertainment show” variety). The Gauntlet comes to mind here, Comic strip AP being their more “edited for entertainment” side project but still portraying real play that probably could be discussed in a meaningful way. 

      Anyway, my point is that I’m still kind of shocked at how effective it can be as an actual play format here, with the added clarifications and thoughts as text overlays on the video, and the accompanying post and comments discussing the session. I haven’t commented much, but following along has kickstarted a lot of thoughts about play and procedure. Not only in Sorcerer Musik but in the consulting video Actual plays, D&D 4eee, and the others.

      “They all trended toward weird perception and similar things.”

      Yes! There were quite a lot of weird perception abilities, and weird disembodied demons! I find it fascinating, and surprising, that “demons as music” worked out as good as it did, with the musical communication between them becoming one of the big and engaging problems the characters tackled. I’m jazzed at the prospect of playing a sorcerer with my friends, but I must say one of the most alluring things about the game for me is that I can play the demons as a GM. All matter of crazy demon concepts could work because of the abilities mechanical nature, possible to cloth in different colors depending on how the demons work.

  2. As an observer
    I can tell you that this is the only AP series where I really wish there’d been SPOILER tags on the text’s body haha. It really seems to me like Sorcerer is a really watchable game. It’s really fun to watch these videos, both at the level of the fiction and at the level of you players. Picture me eating popcorn at the edge of my seat thinking equally thoughts like:

    “They miscommunicated about Zac’s character grandma, how will they bring her in now?”

    “What’s gonna happen to Maxine? Oh God, NOW what’s gonna happen to Maxine?!” (at many, multiple points: having her performance interrupted by the professor, becoming a being with the power of making people leave work, getting sucked into a black hole)

    “Pedro and the guys really don’t want the professor character to die! Neither do I! Will they be able to use the game mechanics to save him?”

    I purposefully made the third one an example that works at both levels at the same time. That’s also a thing that happens!

    • I’m looking forward to

      I'm looking forward to playing Sorcerer more and presenting it here. The game seems to get lost in a general folk understanding that it's somehow good but must have been superceded by now, or in certain misconceptions that it's somehow freeform or otherwise not very "designed." I'd especially like to showcase its fabulously emergent and consequential qualities, the distinction between preparation and planning, the utter lack of safety-net aspects of GMing (I really don't care if anyone "likes" what I prep, or how it turns out), and the frequent response like what you can see here – the shock to the system regarding role-playing in general.

  3. Sorry for the late comment,

    Sorry for the late comment, but real life got in the way. I'll make some observations here based on the above comments.

    "The player proactivity felt somewhat reigned in in parts of the first sessions. Not strange at all, with the learning curve and uncertainty about what one could do in the system."

    That was certainly a factor; my understanding of Sorcerer rules was certainly a bit rusty, to say the least. But I also think that another reason for the occasional lack of player proactivity during the first couple of sessions or so was that we players didn't actually design the demons down to the abilities, mechanically speaking. We didn't actually have a list of the abilities in front of us so that the whole thing would meld better in our minds. We basically just stated some general guidelines for what we wanted them to be able to do and went from there. This worked just fine and I had a hell of a good time, but I think it pays off more if the players are better aquainted with the abilities, mechanically speaking, and design the (first) demons fully.

    What happened to me during the first sessions was that I actually had to go back to my notes occasionally to check again what Sing could do. If we had done this in a way that the abilities and their mechanics were more defined in our minds we probably would have been more "conscious" of them during play during those first sessions. It's a bit like like just reading how to do something vs actually doing it yourself; the latter sticks better in your mind and becomes more instinctive. Nevertheless, after the first couple of sessions, at least on my side, I was more conscious of what Sing could do, and I was mostly looking for openings to do some cool stuff. On the other hand, I wanted to play my character for real, so there were moments in which I thought of stuff that would look good on "screen" but that I didn't go for, because I wasn't playing for the special effects or to sell the game to a potential online audience. I think there are moments in which we are playing and someone watching the game may feel like we had some missed opportunities, but I was fully conscious of that during gameplay and I intentionally avoided doing things that I just didn't envision Alain doing. I think the game came out more "humanly real" because of that.

    "I'm looking forward to playing Sorcerer more and presenting it here."

    That would be great. I'd also looooove to see some Sorcerer & Sword make it.

    "The game seems to get lost in a general folk understanding that it's somehow good but must have been superceded by now, or in certain misconceptions that it's somehow freeform or otherwise not very "designed."

    From what I've seen, what happens is that people in general know of Sorcerer but shun from actually bringing it to the table, mostly because they either heard that the rules are presentent in a somewhat idiosyncratic, no holding-hands kind of way or have actually read it but it was though going. Sorcerer was the game that brought me to the whole "indie games/Forge" thing years ago, after some 25 years of playing the usual suspects, and not only did it require a lot of brain re-wiring to grock some of its fundamental ideas on my own (ideas and concepts that are now widespread 18 years latter), but it also required a lot of Forge-reading to clarify some rules implied in the text but somewaht unclear just due to the way it's writen (I'm sure you've heard this ad nauseam since the game came out.) What kept me going was that I was totally fascinated by the idea of playing summoners, and the focus on the demons as real entities that we could interact with in depth, something that no other game did or does. Most people don't have that motivation driving them, so the game ends up falling by the wayside; too much work for just another game.

    This is somewhat dissapointing to me, because Sorcerer is my favourite game (even if by no means the most played) and I'd love to see the fan-base grow. At least these video APs (and the one from Judd Karlman and Rich Rogers, albeit in a drastically different format) are now available, so maybe some people will do some effort and give Sorcerer a chance.




    • I would also love to see more

      I would also love to see more games of Sorcerer and Sorcerer & sword!

      “We basically just stated some general guidelines for what we wanted them to be able to do and went from there. This worked just fine and I had a hell of a good time, but I think it pays off more if the players are better acquainted with the abilities, mechanically speaking, and design the (first) demons fully.”

      Interesting! I can totally see that it must be hard to comprehend what one could do in any given situation, especially with the abilities, without the knowledge a face to face session of character and demon creation would create. One of the first problems we encounter playing over great distances, I guess.

      I definitely appreciate what you’re saying about playing to the character in a real way, like you did throughout the game with Alain, and the others too. 

    • I know it’s good marketing to

      I know it's good marketing to claim all of a given game-experience was uplifting and awesome, but maybe it's better to be open about the converse. Disclosure: some of our pre-game work exhausted and frustrated me, to the extent that by the time it came for me to make the demons, I couldn't face going through any more. I just went into play and decided to have the demons do what they could do.

      Typically I'm a lot more clear to people about their demons and don't mind handing out the sheets during or after the first session, but this time, I played it all the way in the "GM's demons, GM's sheets" zone. The rules don't mention doing that, let alone recommend it under any circumstances, and I haven't done it before. That was more of an outcome than a decision and I never planned for things to stay that way, but they kind of did.

      For what it's worth, I didn't introduce anything new to the concepts. All the demons' powers and Needs can be traced back to what the players said they wanted for them, and at some point during play I clarified their Desires.

    • That’s understandable, Ron,

      That's understandable, Ron, and I think it was for the better that you did it that way. This was the first time I've played online, I didn't know the players, etc, and I think that going through the whole thing through emails and Skype in these circumstances can be a bit frustrating at times. When people live nearby and/or can meet face-to-face with no time pressures (and especially if the players already know each other to some extent) things are much easier, both during pre-play prep and during actual gameplay. Plus, Sorcerer is a bit more involved than usual when it comes to the intersection between mechanics and concepts. So, I don't mind that there were a few kinks here and there, I enjoyed the game immensely, and I hope everyone else did to. I think you took the right approach to the game, Ron.

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