My maiden run of Sorcerer came to an end late Monday night. This was Session 8 of the mini-campaign, which means we actually ran it for nine intense sessions if you include our session zero.
Here are links to the final sessions:
All of us were grateful that we made it. The three players were invested in the game, but hectic and shifting schedules being what they are, we were having difficulty maintaining our initial Saturday morning times, and we were scrambling to keep the group together and to get in one final session to conclude the game. That desire obviously put some added pressure on me as the GM, as I wanted to give the group a chance to get some issues resolved without forcing a narrative upon them.
How did the group fare in the finale?
By the end of the evening, our naive sorcerer (Dylan) was sufficiently unsettled by his demon’s (Korybantos) increasingly violent tendencies to attempt a banishment. The first attempt failed But after another sorcerer (Chuck) knocked down Dylan’s demon with a volley from his M-16 (growing up a military brat has its advantages), the entire group got into the effort and sent Korybantos packing. Dylan–who had decided that he wasn’t cut out for being a sorcerer–succeeded in his humanity gain check.
Meanwhile, the gun-wielding Chuck lost some humanity: He prided himself as a fighter, but actually shooting a person (or a demon passing as a person) was something different for him, and he was deeply unsettled by the encounter despite his rugged, stoic mindset.
Our third sorcerer (Shawn) faced a humanity check from a different source. In this case, it was the result of a successful use of Taint directed at a burned-out husk of an NPC sorcerer who was clinging onto the last thin thread of her humanity. When Shawn witnessed the humanity loss caused by the Taint, he was reminded of a similar effect that he had observed previously when he saw his demon Hop from one person to another. Shawn managed to pass the humanity check, but there was a heavy price to be paid. Awakened to the awesome and disturbing power of sorcery, he acknowledged the demonic abililites at his command and, with a burdened soul, took ownership of his identity as a sorcerer.
Every time a humanity roll came up in our session, the players knew that something of consequence had occurred, and those moments were dripping with dramatic and narrative import.
In terms of the kickers, Shawn and Dylan both achieved closure on theirs. Chuck’s kicker would have taken another session or two fully to resolve, but there was good development in that direction underway, and the player was satisfied with the story that unfolded. He was also pleased with the climactic confrontation with Korybantos and the key role Chuck played in knocking the demon down.
To be sure, a number of key narrative elements remained unexplored or undiscovered. For example, the characters never got to the bottom of the mysterious Stewart Barfield, an entertainment mogul who never appeared in the flesh, but who seemed to be involved in some malevolent enterprises on the dark web. Likewise, they never found out who was behind the threatening photos that featured members of Chuck’s household being stalked. The players commented on some of those loose strings, but they didn’t see this as a weakness of the game or of our play: They realized that it was up to them to deal with the bangs and strands as they deemed fit. If they left some of those elements to pursue on another day–and maybe simply decided not to pursue others–that was acceptable. Sorcerer is NOT a game filled with plot tokens that the characters must collect.
I was worried about the slowburn pacing and whether the players would keep up the engagement level. It turned out my fears were unfounded, and the more deliberate speed resulted in an experience that was complex, nuanced and deeply satisfying. The characters started the game on separate paths, as they were slow to realize the sorcerous identity of the others. This led to some delicious dramatic irony, and my players revelled in the way that Lore rolls to pick up on telltales almost always failed, which then gave the ironies even more tension and potency. Once the characters did recognize each other, there were some wonderful roleplay scenes where I was able to take a back seat and enjoy the interaction and dialogue of the characters. My group was made up of members of The Gauntlet, an online gaming community. But I deliberately ran the game off calendar so that we wouldn’t be forced into the standard four-session run. In the debriefing, all the players commented that the longer time frame and the fact that we weren’t forced into a predetermined number of sessions yielded a far more satisfying experience.
We typically had a week between sessions, but for the last one, two weeks had elapsed. This also created some concern for me. Back in the halcyon days of my youth, my gaming group would play on Friday nights, but the members talked to each other during the week, so we had no problem keeping the fire of interest burning strong between sessions. Despite being mostly incommunicado during the week, my Sorcerer group remained steadfast, and one player in particular commented on the importance of breathing space between sessions. Yes, we did require some time to review facts and events from previous sessions, but it turns out that my players kept Sorcerer on their minds during the week, and they consistently re-entered the game with intense interest and thoughts that had been brewing.
We were all impressed by the way that the game accommodated very different types of characters, and how the demon-character relationships were also diverse. In the case of Shawn, for example, it wasn’t clear who was the master in the demon-human relationship. However, in the case of Chuck, there was a more symbiotic relationship that had developed. Chuck’s demon had a need to witness scenes of violence, and Chuck’s cover as a bouncer put him in a perfect position to keep his demon happy. Meanwhile, Dylan made choices that worked against his demon’s need, and this resulted in a transformation of that relationship that became increasingly menacing and disturbing for Dylan. This rich variety was aided by the fact that the characters initially were pursuing separate storylines that only gradually became woven together
There’s so much more to discuss. It took us awhile to get a handle of the dice roll mechanics and to understand the meaning of the core attributes. The Sorcerer system allows a great amount of flexibility. Humanity, for example, is the key attribute of the game, but its meaning is left up to the GM and players to define. Beyond that, each character will have a slightly different relationship to Humanity, and the way that Humanity can play into the mechanics and resolution of specific conflicts within the game can vary. This richness is also one of the features that makes the games so challenging. Demon abilities seem like spells, but there is great leeway in terms of how they can be imagined and implemented, and the possibility of linking abilities together means that they will look very different depending on who is using them. That all sounds great, but it means that everyone at the table must work hard to determine whether or not they are making a reasonable interpretation of the abilities, and they must be creative in how they implement the rules.
What’s in store for the future?
I have a few ideas.
- A solo Sorcerer adventure for training purposes would be an interesting and useful endeavor. Certainly, such a scenario would have to leave out some crucial aspects of the game that involve a conversation at the table. But such an adventure could take beginning players and GMs through a character and demon creation process and then lead them to varied conflicts to demonstrate the dice roll mechanics.
- I recently received a copy of The Skyrealms of Jorune by Andrew Leker, and my initial reaction is that the setting would lend itself to a reskin using the rules of Sorcerer (with some ideas taken from Sorcerer and Sword. I might propose this as a project to my high school gaming group. If that project has legs, I’ll keep you updated.
- I’d love to take another crack at a straight Sorcerer game. My “Demons are Social Media Junkies” ideas has potential for further development, and I’d love to run that concept with some implementation of social media into the game play. Maybe, for example, we set up a twitter or Facebook account and make periodic posts in between sessions.
- Finally I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to lead or play in another campaign of Sorcerer centered around a new set of anchoring statements.