I'm finally writing this post about a game that has never happened. I gather friends to play a Sorcerer game a few months ago, based on the Day of the Dupes from the Sorcerer's Soul supplement. They created very cool characters. But I realize that the way I handle the preparation of a Sorcerer game pushes me in a paralyzing swamp that impede me to GM the game. It's the third time I experience this for the game, as GM, with three paused games for the same reason. I felt the necessity to discuss it and I hope anybody could help me understand what doesn't work in my approach of the game. I'll go in details here and I can provide different examples of other games in discussion. I'll write it in 2 or 3 posts for the sake of readibility.
To my players: stop read now.
The first meeting
I wanted to take another definition of humanity and was inspired by the “Day of the Dupes”” scenario” in Sorcerer & Soul. Here’s what I did and here where I’m stuck. I’m looking for why do I stuck at this step … in all the games of Sorcerer I’ve prepared. I end up creates characters then wait months before launching the game because of this.
I read the source materiel of the scenario, then met with 3 players: Laura, Math and Bruno, and gave words for the Color (Louis XIII’s Paris), and the definition of Humanity as Honor, as defined in the Day of the Dupe example (and its literary sources such as Alexandre Dumas). So, in this setting Humanity is just called Honor. I highlighted that in this context, climbing the social ladder is the main goal of most peoples. I asked a player names for Sorcery and Bruno came up with, in his own words “very classic stuff: Caves and pentacles”. I’ve been far more less controlling and anxious than in my first Desperate Sorceresses game, thanks to discussions here. I’ve talked a bit about how the game doesn’t expect specific outcomes, like them playing together or being a group, etc, but that we expected the story to be intertwined and articulated due to narrative techniques such as weaving and crossings.
Here what the players came up with, and I think they are pretty good.
Hélène de Montmorency (Laura). A girl from a modest family, with a passion for fencing and duels in a period where duels are just bound. She wants to be the best swordmaster in the world and performs fencing duels for the King. She seduced and married a noble.
Thanks to her Mentor, Madame de Launoy, She learned to bind Arété, a military vest demon (object), which empowers her to be a world class fencing master, “by enhancing her physical capacities” (in her own words), protects her from weapons and poison and gives her the power her to take somebody else’s appearance, but also “get a sense of where she is”. Arété’s powers led her to be more and more rebellious about social norms and she started frequenting some rebellious underdogs in Paris, dismissing her family, ignoring etiquettes, etc.
Vigor 2 (Martial training), Will 4 (Inquisitive), Lore 4 (Apprentice), Cover 2 (Noble Renown duelist), Price -1 (Rebellious => -1 when confronting social hierarchy).
Charles de Hautfort (Math). An old competent military officer, part of the Ministry of War after a bright military carrier, in the paroxysm of this carrier. He was a street urchin, lost in Paris’s catacombs and dying of hunger, before he found a strange box containing a bone dagger, he bound a possessor demon by giving his own blood, becoming its host. He always wanted to be a hero, and now it’s more important to him to be famous for being a “hero” (in the classical Dumas’s Three Musketeer terms), than being a real one. But it really matters for him. Its brilliant carrier is only due to the careful support of its demon, and he’s now married to the young and beautiful Comtesse d’Anjou, which gave him access to the nobility. Charles has more and more aggressive and brutal behaviors with time (we led this without explanations), which led him to engage in very brutal brawlings, sometimes killing people.
Vigor 4 (Military training), Will 3 (Survivor), Lore 3 (Naïve), Cover 4 (Noble Military officer), Price -1 (Brutal, -1 in social interactions).
Abélart Chagrin de Montluçon (Bruno). The private confessor of the low-ranking rural Lady (Madame de Montluçon), he just arrived in Paris to become the private confessor of the Comtesse d’Anjou – Charles’s wife, thanks to the advice of Madame de Montluçon. Abélart is member of a coven of Priests supporting Richelieu, named the Cat’s Tails. Abélart’s condition of entry was the sacrifice of the only person who supported him every time, his innocent friend Ophelia, which he killed during its first ritual. Abélart and Charles are not acquittances, but they crossed each other path and they decide that Abélart knows Charles is a Sorcerer, but Charles didn’t notice. His demon as inconspicuous demon with Ophelia’s voice and silhouette, and he feels a profound guilt about this sacrifice. Also, Abélart has been ordered by Richelieu, through the Cat’s Tails, to protect the Comtesse.
Vigor 2 (Clean living), Will 3 (Inquisitive), Lore 5 (Coven), Cover 3 (Gentleman Agent of Richelieu), Price -1 (Guilty, -1 to Honor checks).
The players came up with incredible kickers (I totally hold off to make any suggestion):
Hélène. Madame de Launoy gives the mission to Hélène to kill … Charles. She specifies specific conditions: during a full moon, and with a specific rapier, given to Hélène.
Charles de Hautfort, getting more and more aggressive, kills his wife’s mother, la Marquise d’Anjou (I know that we can have an historical debate about whether the Comtesse’s mother is a Marquise or not, but I choose this for matters of simplicity to understand who is who). And he kills it in the eye of his Wife, the Comtesse.
Abélart. Last but, not least: to the horror of Abélart’s eyes, the Comtesse d’Anjou is the exact double of his sacrificed friend and now inconspicuous demon Ophélia.
During all these discussions, I intervened a few times to say that the need, the goals, the prices, the sorcery should not be to difficult to do, that going very gory would be just impossible to make sorcery very long, etc, etc. Math was going that road with his character (with complex murder during the sorcery’s descriptions) and we can still see it in the description, so some things has been attenuated but the players seems eager for lots of drama.
My feeling is that the most important thing before any more backstory prep is to get a good feeling of each demons’ personality. The interesting thing in Sorcerer is that the Demon’s personality arises from its combination of powers related to its need and Desire. I came up with this, but I’m still having some doubts. Demon creation is an art and feels difficult even after the third time.
Arété (object; need: Chaos; bind -4) => Armor, Cover (Duelist), Link, Fast, Protection (Poison), Shapeshift, Cloak. (Desire: Dominance). I’m not sure about this. Laura’s shapeshifting power description was that she could become the double of somebody for a few hours, for instance appearing as somebody’s wife and having an affair with her husband. So, I added cloak, thinking about some combination with Shapeshift that would maintain the idea of the false appearance for a few hours. Also, Arété’s Need is Chaos, we discussed about the consequences of this (it’s interesting that the main Demon of the Day of the Dupes scenario has the same need) but I refrained myself to add any constraints, even if Laura would accept to narrow the need. More on Desire after. Stamina 7, will 8, Lore 7, Power 8.
Rage (possessor; need: to caress weapons that have killed; bind -1) => Armor, Boost (Vigor), Big, Psychic Force, Perception (imminent threat to himself), Hold, Ranged (Hold), Cover (War Diplomacy). In Math’s description, Rage allows Charles to get a feeling of a tense situation,” seeing what happens in the future and anticipating it”, but also allowing him to “a diplomatic feel to create wars”. Psychic force, Ranged Hold, Perception seems to fit, with “big” to apply all these effect in a wide zone such as a battle zone. Boost is an answer to “I can have huge strength in very exceptional dangerous situations”, we discussed about the power’s effect and consequences as advised in the annotated sorcerer book, and Math was totally into that, like an “emergency power” (Maybe I could drop armor now that I think of this). (Desir: Suffering). Stamina 7, Will 8, Lore 7, Power 8.
Ophélia (inconspicuous; need: watching the sorcerer’s self-punishment; bind +3). Cloak, Cover (Court Noble) Armor, Perception (Social expectation), Perception (Location’s past), Perception (People in interaction’s past), Confuse, Hint. Bruno’s descriptions of power were about knowing other’s secrets, making its way through the high nobility, avoiding combat by changing’s people mind (Perception => social expectation deals with this, with confuse). (Desire: Corruption, or Knowledge). So, Stamina 7, Will 8, Lore 7, Power 8.
Now we have a lot of very good material to deal with, and a good collective excitation pike. This will add to the frustration of entering the prep swamp, passing from exciting pike to swampy doubts. These doubts start with the demon creation. What would be a good desire? Which combination of powers work with the player's expectations? What other combination would be good? Is my Cloak/Shapeshift combination valid for play?
These doubts are the first steps in the paralyzing swamp, because they are choices than can be revised when I don't know how to resolve the new doubts that will appear during the prep. I will enter a back and forth revision of every choices without getting satisfied enough. And the game will not happen.