Sorcerer Archipel, Session 1

So we finalized Azur’s character and played our first session.

Character finalization

We finalized Laura’s character while reviewing the rules together so here is the reworked version. We used the Sorcerer & Sword rules for humanity and she traded off 2 points of humanity for 2 points in Will. Her character, Azur, is now:

  • Stamina 5 (Trained soldier, Unnatural means)
  • Will 4 (Leader of men, Inhumanly)
  • Lore 3 (Inhuman)
  • Past 2 (Pirate queen of the Azur Sea)
  • Humanity 5 (humanity as empathy)
  • Price -1 to social interaction (Bad reputation: not recognized as a legitimate queen)
  • Destiny: being a queen by all means necessary.

Laura stated that there were a sorcerer caste and a warrior caste in her old sunken inhuman civilization and a few survivors. The warrior caste needed potions to practice sorcery, something the sorcerer caste didn’t need. So she has an alchemist lab where she crafts this blue potion (we didn’t discussed it but I have flashback from The Beastmaster now). We settled that the inhuman civilization is a bit melnibonean like, with cruel rituals and orgies, but that’s all we said.

We chose to start with 2 demons.  To choose the demon abilities, I asked Laura to describe what she wants for her demon. She opted for a “war” demon and a “queen-goddess-making” demon as described in Ron’s comment (we already discussed about something like it a week ago so it was a natural choice). When she described the powers, I chose some of the abilities and we read it together to see if it was fitting to Laura’s view. We were careful to not take a “pick in the power list” stance, we only checked if the power fitted with the description. Not sure about the choices but we had to go on and play so when we stopped to doubt and made some choices.

Glòir, the Demon-Ship has: Stamina 8, Will 9, Lore 3, Power 9. Need: to contemplate sexual domination; Desire : Destruction. Azur’s “inhuman civilization” had lots of these demon ship and some are used to create these barbarian communities into ship-cities.

Travel (running on water), Perception (other’s eyes), Cover (Child of war), Big, Armor (ethereal smoke), Fast, Protection (Asphyxia), Warp.

The ship can “control the elements (sea, tempests and winds), transport Azur to a safe place when in danger, make her one of the best warriors and deviates weapon, go super-fast on the water and make Azur go super-fast like running on the water, protect her from drowning and see from the eyes of a target”. Fast, Armor and Cover (Child of war) are combined to make her one of the best warriors. Travel is used for fast movements of either Azur or Glòir, on water and to transport Azur in a safe place if needed. Protection (Asphyxia) for protection from drowning and Warp is used to “control the elements”, in the way that it can change water in to wind, accelerate winds, create a tempest. Not sure if these powers fit but couldn’t find better. I’m wondering if “travel” has to be taken two times (once for running on water and once for “teleportation to a safe place”.  I dropped Lore to 3 because Glòir is more a war machine than everything. I’m thinking about dropping its will too but I didn’t have any narrative reason to justify it other than an intuitive feeling.

Rowina is the demon-isle of Azur’s island. It is a True Demon incarnated in an idol representing a bird-phoenix-woman. Stamina 6, Will 7, Lore 6, Power 7. Need: To dominate sexually (being caressed and licked). Desire: To be worshipped. Every city has a True Demon that protects it and that needs to be bound for the city to be restored and defended.

Hint, Cover (Queen-Goddess), Vitality, Command, Confuse, Hold.

Rowina controls the beast that approach her territory, can confuse people who attacks the city, gives queen-goddess charisma to Azur, can restore her life if needed and gives her glimpses of the future. Hint gives her the visions. Confuse, Hold and Command protects her territory, and Cover (Queen-Goddess) enacts the divine royal majesty. Now in retrospect, I think it’s lacking Big to cover the whole territory.

In Laura’s description, demon/beasts are controlled to tract the ships out of the sea and I didn’t know how to deal with this with Rowina’s power. Command only applies to animals. Maybe it should be Pacts between Azur and the beasts that need to be clarified.

Playing the first session

We chose a “short story” approach, Howard’s conan style. The setting is an azure sea with a very hot temperature, and crafting made from sea shells. Azur’s destiny is “being queen by all means necessary” and we start with her as a queen. Laura explicitly stated that she wants to play as a queen more than “becoming” queen. We played a session of 1 hour because we started late after finilazing the character during the day, and we did some back and forth together between the game and the rules during the session. Laura and me have a 2 years long experience of playing a neonoir solo with a tweaked chronicle of darkness system, a few game of S/Lay W/me and a one-year weekly game (with a total group of 4 players including the GM) of Masks of Nyarlathotep game using various system, mostly Cthulhu Dark combined with a simplified Hillfolk’s DramaSystem variation and apocalypse world’s principles (sometimes). So, we are used to some experiments in rules, with try-out/rejection/adaptations of mechanics adapted to our needs and use the campaign as an experiment laboratory for play more than a written story to follow. These experiences made us deviate from the famous written Cthulhu campaign, with dozens of sessions which are totally emerging individual stories and sometimes input of in media res pre-written scenes as starting situations.

The game starts with Azur on the top of her Tower (which looks like a Chess tower). Her five lieutenants are in the room. I asked Laura how may ships she has and she states that she leads a flotilla of 6 ships (her own and one by lieutenant), and that all of her officers are women.  She observes the sea from her balcony and sees two things: an armada of a dozen naval ships blockading her city and, farer on the horizon, a sunken city being raised from the sea, with a dragon-like beast flying ahead. A captured messenger is chained on the ground explaining to Azur that the Lords has allied and put a bounty on her head, that they want the freedom of the enslaved kings in her harem and that she will keep her life if she surrenders. A few back and forth helped to set the settings in play: the city is built on the top of high cliffs; the ships are pulled with a complex system of pulleys activated by slaves and beasts; the ships are brought into a sea pool on the top of these cliffs. The city is an almost invincible fortress with this system.

In summary:

  • We have a discussion about whether Azur knows the desire of her demons or not. We try a Lore trait that she misses, and nothing happens;
  • Azur asked the messenger to bring the negotiators;
  • She takes a moment alone to feed Rowina’s need by worshipping the idol’s feet;
  • She uses Rowina’s “hints” to ask “if a member of my sunken civilization (we still need to give it a name) is involved with the city raised from the sea” (yes)
  • The negotiators are brought on Glòir and Azur uses Rowina’s Goddess-Queen Cover (against the negotiator’s Will that I set to 3) to ask the lords to recognize her legitimacy as a queen and to leave her alone. The negotiators go back to the main ship. (Laura rolls Rowina’s power for the Queen Cover, we discussed that for Glòir’s War Cover we would go for the “two rolls” described in Ron’s previous comment). I chose that the Lord leading the flotilla is affected by the roll as the negotiators were, because I felt it would be denying the success if I treated the negotiators as simple messenger, that Azur already met.
  • Azur uses Glòir’s Perception to know what happens between the Lord Amiral and the negotiators (Glòir’s power vs the Lord’s Will 3). She sees that the Lords accept the terms and the flotilla retreats (opening a way to the risen city).
  • Azur commands two of her lieutenants, Raka and Sonja, to take their ships and follow the flotilla (no roll).
  • Azur brings her harem of enslaved king (there are 3 kings) on Glòir’s bridge. I improvise that one (Idris) of the king is the brother of the Lord Amiral (Teryrno) and she feeds Glòir’s need by slashing Idris. We close the session there.


A few considerations:

  • Shared bibliography. We did something new in our roleplaying experience: the preparation of the settings took time (we decided to play 3 months ago), we shared a bibliography, discussed about it, changes a few things, then talked about the Character’s concept. We would have not play in this kind of settings without doing this. We started with a grimm forest idea to something built upon a pirate queen. We tried to go for simplicity because it’s a new game for us. Our mindset is really to open ourselves of new way to play if needed. We were both excited to play Sorcerer. During the character creation and finalization, we did references to our bibliography which really helped the process. For instance, “let’s try short novels in Howard’s style”, “jungles are like Queen of the Black Coast with these weird creatures around ruins cities, or as in Bloodstone”, “the inhuman civilization is kind of melnibonean”. We use classical tropes of the genre but we don’t bother as we take this as an experiment (and we want the classical tropes at this stage!).
  • Diagram, Hints and Andrigone: While in the Diagram, Andrigone and its armlet in dragon scales are central, they are not in the first scene. I almost did not prepare and I forgot to give them a central place. I did not hesitate to retreat with the naval flotilla as the kicker is about the risen city. Then again, the risen city is in the background of the scene. I put this on lack of preparation, we were eager to play, and we already put so much time on prep. I’m puzzled how we used hint in the session. Laura knew that Andrigone was rising the sunken city (her character knows Andrigone in game, Laura stated that she left this same city together when the cataclysm arrived – we didn’t say anything else about the cataclysm), but she wanted Azur to know it and so she used hint. I think it’s weird that she has to roll for something that is in the center of the diagram and I put it on my inability to set a scene that corresponds exactly to the “bull’s eye”. More preparation from my part, once the diagram is settled, would have not lead to this issue.
  • Demon sheet: We decided that Laura will have access to the demon sheet. I tried a lore test to see if she knows Rowina’s desire, but I think it’s a bad decision. The question of the desire of the starting demon being known or not is open. I propose to give the sheet next time because I don’t see the fact that Laura knows her demon’s desire as a restraint to story emergence. I will let Laura decide if Azur know her demon’s desire or not.
  • Perception and Desire: I realized after we played this action that Azur’s decision to solve the issue peacefully go against Glòir’s desire for destruction. Maybe I should have refused the perception. I thought about the demon’s desire a few time but didn’t really put it in motion, as their needs were almost always assessed, but my mind is now awaken on this and I will thing about it in “bangs” for the next game.
  • Richness: We only play one hour but it was really demanding. It’s interesting to see how the player is involved, which caused difficulties for us both. Lots of questions, thoughts, moments of thinking about elements in the diagram. Laura had trouble to fix concrete things, most of the elements were abstracts in the first draft. For instance, Lore’s “inhuman civilization” became “Cultural scarifications” in the diagrams. Player’s creativity is strongly demanded, which is puzzling but really great.
  • Experiment: I always feel I didn’t not “integrate” the rules as much as I should. I only id superficial readings for certain parts of the rules and supplements I finally accepted that this is my way of doing as I’m always looking for leisure time and really struggling to include RPG in my life despite of all my professional obligations (which I totally love). So my relationship to RPG is some kind of reflective practice following this cycle: read -> play -> mistake/questions/notes about it -> debrief  with players or online-> read deeply specific parts linked to real issues of the mistake/notes moment, etc.

We post it to have some feedback, both on how we played and how the game should be played. We are totally ok to know how the system has been built and why, more for comparison with how we play it, to try it in new ways, even if we have to fall back on stuffs (we do this for 2 years now!), so every type of feedback is welcome!

We didn’t record this tabletop session but some of them will be played online. Should we integrate the records even if it’s in French?

The Diagram :

15 responses to “Sorcerer Archipel, Session 1”

  1. A few details for understanding

    Let's see …

    Am I misunderstanding, or is Glòir's Lore actually 8, not 3? (this may be a trivial misprint)

    Is Glòir's Need to contemplate sexual domination at the same time as Rowina's Need is to sexually dominate? That seems like double-dipping, or close to it. However, in the account of the events, you say that Glòir's Need is met by slashing Idris, so maybe the perceived symmetry is an accidental redundancy from typing.

    For the moment, it looks as if Azur is handling her situation quite well: she has successfully negotiated with the other lords to be recognized as the local queen. I am interested to see whether adversity might arise from various non-demon characters' priorities and actions, or if Azur's interactions with her own demons in this new circumstance will generate its own adversity.

    Following our discussion of the Marseille game, I decided it would be important to mention to you that the bound demon's Desire is not intended necessarily to be a source of adversity. A demon is always attentive to its Desire but is not desperate about it the way it is with its Need. It's best to think of it as less important as an independent variable, but a very powerful reinforcing variable when and if it parallels other factors like Need and Binding.

    • Hi!


      I've set Glòir's to 3, focusing him on its desire, war, and non sorcerous domination. To reflect more precisely the needs: Glòir's need is to see the Queen dominate sexually, Rowina's desire is to dominate the queen sexually. It comes from the demon themes (erotic and disturbing) and "sexually" should be understood in a broad definition. It's a voluntary choice from Laura to mirror the needs and to reflect the "by all means necessary" dimension of Azur's desire to be queen. That's why Azur only feed Rowina when she's alone: pride.

      Nothing is planned for the next session, I'll think about some bangs based on the elements of the diagrams, and we'll see what are Azur's next actions are. It's been helpful to watch the Blood Red Blossom consultance video and understand Sorcerer as a game where the dices are designed to push the story and not only to resolve conflicts (even if in Sorcerer, most of the roll are conflicts of interests).

      I've understood from our Marseille game that the Desire can be something strong, but it helps to see it as an independant variable reinforcing others. In this session, I thought using the Desire as a shaking-the-story element but didn't do it because Azur feeded her Demon every time she could.

      As you, I'm wondering if the adversity will come from Azur's demons, human NPC or Andrigone. My main concerns are (1) the articulation of the two main demons and their desire, (2) the existence of a rival sorcerer which can focus the attention (I think it's mentionned in the Sorcerer's book). Laura stated herself the inhuman survivors in "highlander" terms (rivalry and duel). Can't wait to see what happens. 

    • We need to discuss a rule, I

      We need to discuss a rule, I think. The number of abilities that a demon has is set by its Lore, or perhaps it's easier to say, once you have decided what a demon's abilities are, how many it has sets its Lore. So Glòir's Lore simply has to be 8, and I don't understand why you're talking about 3.

      Your text about it goes into a very strange direction, something about Desire and Need, which has nothing to do with the magnitude of a demon's Lore. That makes me a little worried, that perhaps you are constructing the demons using some logic that isn't part of the rules or even contradicts them or creates new rules by accident.

  2. Lore score


    I reviewed the rules and my notes. My discussion about needs and desires is an answer to your mention of about them, not linked to the Demons' scores. 

    I applied the book rules for the Demon Scores but not totally in the same order of stats. I've chosen abilities, counted them (X abilities), than annotated rule in this order : Stamina X, Will X+1, Lore X and Power X+1. For same reason I chose to change the Lore score but I can't find a good reason in my notes. I didn't have to play the Demon's Lore for the moment so it doesn't change anything in game. I'll keep Lore to 8!

  3. Bangs & pause

    So, we still didn't play, but we spoke and I thought a lot about this game. I realize I didn't clarify some points you made about Gloir and Rowina's desire. I'm not always very clear when I write in English without taking the time to read and correct myself, sorry about that.

    So Gloir and Rowina's desire are not linked together. Gloir wants to spectate sexual domination, Rowina wants to dominate sexually. These needs are totally independant (except in the thematic link designed for the demon). To be honest, we're veiling a lot of these scenes as we are more interested in what happens in the story than erotic descriptions.

    You said somewhere that what happens around the game is as much important that what happens in the game itself. So we have not played, but realized that there is a reason for that. Of course Azur's player and me are really busy for the moment, but still we could have find time to play. To be honest, I realized I constrained my self and delayed the game more and more because I couldn't find good bangs to offer when I sat at the table to prep the session.

    I stopped myself at least two times during these month to think about this prep. First, I came up with a dense backstory influenced by Kane's Darkness weaves and the relationship map from Ellroy's A Big Nowhere (I had to do it for a sociology course fifteen years ago and still got the notes). Then I realized it was not really working with our agreement about the stories structures ("Like Conan's short novels")

    I came up with interesting ideas such as informations to reveal, but realized that I was inventing a story or a situation but not imagining bangs, as tense moral dilemmas.

    I've been asked by friends to launch a sorcerer game and I realize that I launch more Sorcerer games than I finish, so I really need to work this issue.

    I thought it was interesting to post it even if there's no advance in play, merely because this "no play" period and its worries are actually part of the playing experience.

    • Hi! I am drawn toward this

      Hi! I am drawn toward this specific comment:

      I came up with interesting ideas such as informations to reveal, but realized that I was inventing a story or a situation but not imagining bangs, as tense moral dilemmas.

      It seems to me as if you are describing a performance process, in which their discovery of the story or situation is the payoff – well, "discovery" in the sense of uncovering something which was already created and placed in a difficult but not impossible place.

      In regard to much of my superhero role-playing (most of which was 25-30 years ago, until recently), I found myself breaking out of that process by concocting a rather strong, even sensible goal and plan for the villains, and designing them to be distinctly superior in raw power to the heroes. In other words, treating villainous triumph as the default. This perhaps makes sense when one understands the Champions rules-set as containing several mechanics which are (1) highly conditional on the circumstances of the moment and (2) orthogonal to the otherwise rather deterministic resolution rules. By removing the possibility of the heroes prevailing because they are mighty and/or stupidly fortunate, the players were put into the position of having to understand and leverage aspects of their foes, of the immediate situations, and (most importantly) of their own priorities and relationships. Once the rules which are relevant to those things become used more and more, then the outcomes of situations, including fights, become far less predictable and the process becomes both plot experience and plot creation. The dreaded separation of "author-ness" never happened … but the story had not been prepared, polished, and presented to them either.

      I mention this in the context of Champions because during those years, I only came to see this issue in small steps, many of them painful, and because Sorcerer was created in a sense of "what I have learned," for the first time admitting that I would do all the way into this process rather than ever rely on the comfort and safety of the former one.

      I am also thinking now about the unfortunate ambiguity of the phrase "play to find out," which in my view has too much potential to be interpreted in either way.

    • It seems to me as if you are

      It seems to me as if you are describing a performance process, in which their discovery of the story or situation is the payoff – well, "discovery" in the sense of uncovering something which was already created and placed in a difficult but not impossible place.

      I'm just answering this for the moment. We have to set an agreement on those terms. Maybe I'm using the glossary wrongly, and be welcome to correct me, but here's what I mean in those discussions.

      By "plot", I mean fictional content produced by the consequence of the system (in Sorcerer, a dice roll), which is what you call "story now".

      By "inventing a story",  I'm thinking about any consciously pre-imagined series of informations that is bring into the session for the purpose of a revelation. In fact, I realize that I use the term "story" in reference to a conversation we had during the preparation of our Sorcerer game, when I was describing the kicker. I quote yourself :

      You are "writing," telling a story, with the Kicker. 

      A little metacommunication here, I think that French tends to highlights and distinguish specifics things by focusing on nouns, when English uses verbs for the same function, and maybe that's what misguided me.

      Anyway, your whole description about Champions's villains and how it influenced Sorcerer is very, very enlightning for me as a Sorcerer GM. It's like identifying the pinpoint that makes all the dice mechanics articulate to the GM's role and techniques. I'll stop thinking, will experiment stuff, and post about it after the next session.


    • It’s a fascinating topic and

      It's a fascinating topic and often difficult to parse, in any language. I think the entire culture lacks a good vocabulary for "create a plot from a condition of not having one."

    • About the backstory.

      About the backstory.

      I'm late for all my replies, so this is my answer to your comment. I realized I didn't have any backstory. I kind of assumed that "no plot" was some equivalent of "no prep about any plot". So I was focusing on potential "bangs", such as written on the book "a bandoulier of bang", but without any material. I've taken a simple plot from the last Kane's novel, Darkness Weaves, adapted it to this setting and now it just flows by itself. The key was really the backstory.

      So next time we'll play, and I'll post the next session!

    • A crucial insight! I’m

      A crucial insight! I'm looking forward to learning more about what it's like to play now, with that change.

      This is also related to my presentation at Lucca early this year, regarding this distinction:

      • No prep, but retaining control over the developing plot via "just ahead" improvisation
      • Fixed (binding) prep, but staying ready for wherever stated actions and systemic outcomes take us
  4. Reading you, I feel the need

    Reading you, I feel the need to divide your two categories into four criteria that leads to a typology. This is also very exploratory. Imagine a four entries table here, with an emblematic technique and :

    No Prep or low prep / Control : Improvisation.

    No Prep or low prep / Reaction (to whatever actions or outcomes) : Opening Q&A, Don't rest your head.

    Prep / Control : Adventure Path, Pathfinder.

    Prep / Reaction : Backstory, Sorcerer.

    I fell this typology is more useful to describe a GM relationship to roleplaying practice than a classification of system intention.

    Sure, the Adventure Path is exactly intented to suits Preparation and Control of the plot (I have dreadful stories about players screaming to the GM that he didn't gmed the adventure path as written, and that they were playing to play exactly the AP as written, but I always imagined it was very rare, at least in my social world). But if I understood correctly, it's absolutly possible to do "intuitive continuity" (or "improvisation" in this table) with an Adventure Path.

    Maybe it would be useful that you describe, just to be sure we are talkinga bout the same thing, what you mean by "control over the developing plot" (let's take "developing" plot" as a distinction from "emergent plot", which would be your second bullet point). Are we talking about the GM envisionning a story while it's happening, and "pushing" it into his own vision?

    In my previous comment in the Blades in the Dark post (answers are still in the tube!), I talk about about "preplanned scenes" instead of "planned outcomes", by doing this I was not only refering to the outcomes of the dices or mechanics, but the idea that "Something has to happen" (for instance, "I want to see Azur in a flying dragon battle", or "I want the final scene to be a big ritual with explosions") and that twistting the story by improvisation to ensure that this particular scene happens, whatever will be the outcomes of the scene, and whatever intermediary outcomes on everything that happens. Are we on the same page?


    • As the elves say, “Yes and no

      As the elves say, “Yes and no.” There is a single, two-sided principle I’m trying to articulate. All the other distinctions, many of which are significant at a personal level, are local to a particular instance of play. They don’t override or juxtapose to the basic dichotomy, however much they may matter emotionally or procedurally to those people at that time.

      The single principle is control vs. readiness.

      One of the local distinctions concerns prepared material vs. improvised material. I’ve tried to point out that this difference does not correspond to control vs. readiness, e.g., one can use improvisation as a form of control. Similarly, you could also play with lots of improvisation in the context of high readiness instead, although I suggest that this would work best with well-understood and structured rules for doing so.

      In other words, although improvisation, or its converse, prepared material, operates and feels differently in the context of control than in the context of readiness, the raw extent of how much it is used is simply a local variant within each context. Therefore the exact zero-sum trade-off for them is very distracting and absorbing to consider in one’s own play-experience, and is certainly subject to strong individual preferences, but it is in no way determinant or even relevant for which context is in place, control or readiness.

      (For those of you familiar with Universalis, I can now see the basic tension between its two original authors, in that Mike Holmes wanted high improvisation with utter control, trading it off among another in a tacitly competitive sense; whereas Ralph Mazza wanted high improvisation in a context of constant readiness, with the trading-off being more about shared effort than grabbing the steering wheel.)

      You’re absolutely right to point out another local distinction: whether the play-contributions we’re talking about provide situations/conflicts or determine their outcomes. As with the other one, the distinction is real and meaningful for one’s own experience of play, but also, as with the other, it doesn’t “matter” much in terms of understanding the contextual difference.

      Since it’s a litte more complicated, since we haven’t talked about it before, and since the context changes its experience drastically, I’ll go over it in steps.

      In the context of control, situations’ outcomes matter most, i.e., that’s what must be controlled. However, there are lots and lots of ways to do that. The most obvious is simply maintaining fiat control over resolution systems’results. In doing this, you can relax control over “next scene,” letting players “do what they want,” as long as you know it can’t turn out any way except how you want, whether victory or defeat, or whatever information you provide to lead to the eventual climax (for example).

      More subtly, you can do it by effectively dictating the initiation of scenes and conflicts, ostensibly allowing the resolution system to take care of outcomes … but using a resolution system which is very predictable (e.g., win or lose a fight) or trivial (e.g., unlikely that characters will die even if they lose). So it looks like you’re not controlling outcomes when you are.

      That comparison is only the beginning of the mix-and-matching and nuances of these two things (initiation vs. outcome) in the context of control. Unlike improvisation vs. readiness, they aren’t zero-sum. Clearly we can max out both, for what amounts to a nearly wholly-transitive “storytelling” mode of play, in which the players have little to do except wear their characters’ distinctive hats and get excited about whether to go left or to go right (this is Pathfinder). Or one could minimize them to pinpoint strikes, subtly choosing exactly when to honor a systemic outcome and and when to “wiggle” it. Or one could be expert at controlling the available choices for either at crucial moments so that the other participants feel very “free to choose” when they’re not. As long as the eventual effect of controlling the outcomes, or enough of them to matter, is achieved, the interplay among the moving parts can be constructed in a bewildering variety of ways.

      I suggest that all of the RPG texts to date about “secrets of good game-mastering,” whether sections in a game text or as a book of its own, are about the these two local distinctions, but always presented as means to one super-technique, that of control. Listing titles here, even restricted to the most well-known instances, would be pages long.

      Now for this distinction (initiation of scenes or conflicts vs. their outcomes) in the context of readiness. Here, the eventual effect is not to control the outcomes, and again, the interplay of constraint vs. choice toward that end is wildly various, per game. Or even better, per game-in-action, i.e., by group. You may be working with extensive contraints or with lack of constraint + a well-organized means of providing input. Unfortunately, unlike the context of control, the context of readiness is under-represented in the history of role-playing texts, indeed, almost absent. The best are found in incredibly obscure games (e.g., Demon’s Lair, Heroic Do-Gooders and Dastardly Deed-Doers). Many game designs do provide useful constructions for it, but not very good text to say so (the original Champions, the first version of Hero Wars), and many of those sabotage themselves via their supplements that fall back on control (e.g. the original Cyberpunk). We are forced to grope around, to try things at the table or in provisional game designs, in order even to try to understand what does or doesn’t facilitate readiness.

      Finally, You may wonder why I have presented these ideas, so far, in a specific context: intuitive continuity (using improvisation for control) and Bang-driven play (using preparation for readiness). I’ve done this due to the current configuration of hobby rhetoric and marketing, which claims a deep divide between “trad” and “indie.” I am arguing that both are exactly alike in relying primarily on intuitive continuity and that the rhetoric represents no meaningful choice regarding “ways to play.” That’s why I have focused on the more applied and audience-accessible specification of “high improv, high control” vs. “high prep, high readiness,” rather than the more difficult and more basic dichotomy of of control vs. readiness. People understand things on the basis of what they’re used to experiencing and the social constructions they perceive as real, so like it or not, I have to go a little ways into those experiences and perceptions. As I’ve mentioned before, in biology, you cannot get them to understand what “life” is if you begin with intracellular biochemistry, because they have no way of experiencing or perceiving it as they live. You have to describe the biochemistry’s effects on things they do experience and perceive, even if the ultimate goal is to challenge those specific experiences and perceptions/beliefs.

      That should also explain some things about my older writings especially in the Sorcerer texts, because the hobby rhetoric was different, although the fixation upon control was exactly the same. In the 1990s, the watchwords were “setting,” which was not setting at all but code for intense situational preparation to the point of canalizing the available conflicts and the player-characters’ roles in them; and “the Golden Rule,” which was open fiat concerning systemic resolution, as well as a general design trend toward low-impact per resolution anyway. Back then, the perceived splits were “universal” vs. “setting,” which was false because any application of “generic” required high-setting anyway; and “heavy” vs. “light” in terms of the fine-grained resolution, which given the low impact of each resolution, was of little practical importance during play. Sorcerer kicks all of these into disarray.

    • Thanks, this is clearer now,

      Thanks, this is clearer now, and those categories makes totally sense. The reason why I was going through the 4 criterions, is that I'm actually interested by games that would fit the "High improv, high readiness", Mostly to reduce the time to prep. I thought Apocalypse World or Blades in the Dark would help in that way, but I realized both from mastering Sorcerer (as written in previous comment), and from experiencing AW and BitD mastering that prepping some backstory with emerged elements significantly improves the game. I was trying to find a system that significantly support "high improv, high readiness" (which doesn't mean no prep, but low prep). This is induced by a very material constrain: the willingness to play more rpg, with the less and less time to play.

      The only game I've found to fit in this case, I think, is the french game Inflorenza, about which I should post in a few time. 

    • I’m glad it makes sense! (I

      I'm glad it makes sense! (I wasn't entirely sure it did.)

      A lot of the games "baked at the Forge" in 2001-2005 fit your stated interest. The idea was very popular for a number of reasons, partly because it was relatively unexplored design space, and partly for practical reasons of time and immediate play.

      I've been critical of that trend for exactly the reasons I've developed over the past year; that this sort of design provides too much opportunity for the same old habit of control to take over, with the added camouflage of "indie" and "story game." Here are some games for you to check out whose mechanics are robust enough to avoid this problem, if you use them as written.

      InSpectres, by Jared Sorensen. I must warn you that I have rarely, possibly never seen it played as written. As written, the team of startup weirdness-investigators begins a scenario which has no GM-driven backstory at all. The mechanics themselves determine the nature of the problem or threat, ranging from "it was just the house settling" or something similarly mundane all the way to elder gods bursting through portals. It all depends on the players announcing avenues of investigation and seeing which rolls provide which results, including an important interaction with the narration mechanics' constraints.

      However, as I've observed it in action, including myself, the GM is horribly tempted to provide content when introducing material, rather than sticking with ambiguous clues which will be developed by the system in play. When that happens, play degenerates quickly into Ghostbusters pastiche and the typical piling-on of silliness that characterizes play which has lost its core. In particular, the success or failure of the characters' startup company (a significant mechanical feature) vanishes from consideration.

      So if you check out InSpectres, I urge you to diagram the mechanics yourself using pen and paper, to see exactly how content is suggested and how it may turn out to be right or wrong, so that the backstory of the immediate situation is genuinely constructed via play. The payoff for doing this well is very great, because it's just as much fun for the agents to over-react to an ordinary problem, like actual termites or whatever, with their over-the-top conspiracy theories and gadgets, as it is for them to uncover a real occult threat and battle it bravely, especially when no actual person at the table knows which is happening.

      Dirty Secrets, by Seth Ben Ezra. This is a masterpiece of detective fiction creation at the table, but again, one must understand certain concepts without falling back on inappropriate ones which are so familiar they're unavoidable unless you take steps. One of those concepts is that the detective will never learn anything with the "investigate" scenes, although those scenes may narrow the range of whoever turns out to be the culprit. There are ways for the detective to learn things, but it never happens through the means you might find in, for example, Call of Cthulhu – instead, the case is "solved" in story terms as a result of the detective's efforts, which may or may not involve them figuring anything out. Also, the resolution mechanics are extremely unusual and the plot-events of the first game or two that you try will certainly reflect the group's learning-curve.

      Svart av Kval, Vit av Lust, by Simon Pettersson, which I've written about at this site. If you want to throw yourself directly into almost romantic, gory, sexy, awful, and self-indulgent vampire drama, this is the game, and it's built very much for playing immediately.

      (adding this through edit) A lot of the two-player games focus on high-improv high-readiness. In addition to my own S/Lay w/Me, I think you'd be very happy with Kevin Allen's Sweet Agatha, Seth Ben Ezra's Showdown, Tim Koppang's Mars Colony and 39 Dark, and perhaps especially, Matt Gwinn's The Hour Between Dog & Wolf.

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