Gaius Caligula in Exile

Here’s a pitch (one pager) I’m drafting for an upcoming gaming retreat.  If players join me, we’ll run 3 sessions over a weekend. I’d love some feedback before I finalize the pitch.

Caligula’s Game

Neos Helios, “the new sun”,  the One King and One God, Jupiter on Earth, Divine Kindly Prince, Gaius Caligula has cheated Life by Pacting with Death and reigns in Exile as Necrolord Supreme!

Using interdimensional ‘gates’ he draws living souls from across time and probability to populate New Rome, to serve as fodder for nihilistic blood sport in the Colosseum, and ultimately fuel his dark satanic mills supplying eternal life.

Players will use the rules of Sorcerer and its supplement Sorcerer & Sword, to role-play the lives of heroes who have been drawn to Exilium where they may eke out fame, fortune or infamy as Destiny decrees.

Humanity is honour and fair play. 

Check for humanity loss when you exploit unfairness, win through nefarious means or renege on a debt. Check for humanity gain when you accept a perilous handicap to level the playing field, treat an adversary with dignity, or keep a promise at great cost.

Demons are all unfair advantages.

Two wrongs make a wrong, right? Demons exist as objects, totems, and nightmarish slinking horrors. When held or commanded they tip the odds ever in one’s favour, right until the moment they are stolen out from under you!

Lore is Deception, Cheating, Treachery.

No one obtained a demon without resorting to subterfuge, betrayal, or larceny. It can be tempting to steal from thieves—tempting and rewarding! The only price is your humanity.

Sorcerers are all Players “in the Game”.

Caligula’s game is the Circus. A Battle Royale in the Coliseum culminating in mass slaughter of souls. Though slaves and beasts and even freelance gladiators fight in the arena, there are also players behind the scenes; in the slums and markets and salons of New Rome toying with the lives of pawns in a game whose prize is eternal life. Players may enter as plebeians, patricians, or even benighted peregrini struggling to earn the freedom to choose whether to live or die. Whatever cards they are dealt, they will be judged by how they play and rewarded depending on whether they win or lose.

7 responses to “Gaius Caligula in Exile”

  1. Light reading

    Hello! Over the past couple of years, I've been keeping an eye on how people bring Sorcerer to events or to their friends who are unfamiliar with it. Here are a couple of times when I think the comments opened up some useful points and some successful re-orientation in play.

    First time running Sorcerer, looking for feedback, Sorcerer & Sword: Into the K’Lau first session

    My apologies for opening with a reading recommendation rather than dialogue, but I plan to get back for that later.

    • the game is about a game

      the game is about a game

      Thanks for those links.  The page about John's game Into the K'Lau was where I cribbed the one-pager.  I was looking to write a pitch for the retreat since on the first night all the GM/Hosts will present our pitches to potential players and see who wants to come to our table.  John's one-pager reminded me of the key definitions I need to prep: humanity, lore, demons and going through that process helped me really settle on The Game as the overriding theme for… a game.

      The comment in Ranuth's thread that speaks loudest to me is this:

      All this conceptualizing you're doing swiftly turns into blithering, and should very quickly, for you, be switched to enthusiasm and savagery for playing these demons.

      I'm very vulnerable to that.  Especially since I've been pottering around in this setting in my head and fiction writing for the past year. I don't have detailed maps, or economic charts, but I still have probably too much content in my head that needs to stay there and not get in the way of the players sharing in the act of creation. I hope I'm not too blase about the setting elements.  I think even a fairly shallow notion of peplum fantasy in the players head will be enough to get them into a groove. There is certainly no time to give them all reading assignments in advance of starting the game.  I do like the idea of maybe playing a couple of move trailers though. 


    • I should have opened by

      I should have opened by saying I'm glad to see you again … especially since this is one of those comments that I am not so sure I should post.

      Several different factors are working against you.

      • Pitching publicly in a social space to attract people to play, in competition with others (which is what this is)
      • Working from complex content which has already found expression in another medium
      • Playing in a context in which the other participants expect to be entertained by you
      • Teaching/showcasing the game while under pressure to "make it good"
      • Using content that – although enjoyably weird – is not immediately and naturalistically tracked to human relationships
      • Working with material from one of the supplements out of the gate, rather than the core rules alone

      With respect for your long-time engagement with Sorcerer, and I also appreciate your readiness to put it out there socially, it is poorly suited for any two-piece combination of these things, let alone all of them. So … setting aside total pessimism, what might be done?

      I did hit upon a usable form a few years ago, which might help for comparison or even be adapted as a model using your content. It's based on providing just enough punch for use and enough openness for the players to establish their own presence via the characers. You can read about it and check out the materials I brought for play in Sorcerer: Praying is too slow.



  2. Thank you Ron I’m glad to be here!

    I will never be discouraged by a bracing wave of pragmatic pessimism.  I find it always helps me narrow down which mole-hills I actually want to die on. 😉

    Thanks for the link to Praying is too slow.  I recall watching one of your videos from that game in reference to advice on using the charts. I'm inspired to adapt the method of pre-generating sorcerers and lore/demon combos.  I think several of the pre-gen demons will be peices of gladiator equipment.  Others I'm thinking might be Immanents suitable for pacting with. 

    Only to refine your advice (not to brattily refute it) I'll  add some more details about the retreat I'm going to. It's a space and group of players that I've come to know well over the past 4 years. We orginally came together drawn to a game designers workshop taught by Avery Alder. Over the years we alternatively re-unite for game design sessions or simple gaming retreats. I know and trust many of the participants well and am not anxious about impressing them. The last time I hosted a game I think we played my first ever in-person game of Circle of Hands.  The group is also the most dominantly queer space I've ever been in.  I used to think I was the only straight cis person there until I realized I was neither of those things.  Which doesn't address the challenges directly but it does in a way.

    My last two Sorcerer games were both set in my home town with players who lived in the same town in the present day.  Now I really really want to play Sword and Sorcerer and will definitely die on this pile of cracked skulls if I have to.   

    Tell me if you think its too cheesy to print out some character portrait cards like the type that abound in box-set dungeon crawling rp/board games. I imagine having a small stack of colour prints, not connected to any particular sorcerer that players can choose from when selecting the pre-gen sorcerers and demons. I want them to look at a Sorcerer then a picture and think "I could really kick some ass with this character, all I need is…. (looking over the pile of demons…) THAT one!"

    One or two of my pre-gen Sorcerers I think should be a Naive without a starting demon at all. This could give them a leg up on retaining their humanity. 

    One last bad idea: I've never played Dark Souls (another video game) but in it I understand there is a mechanic by which when the PC dies, they come back but have lost something in the process… would it conflict with the core economy of Sorcerer to have death->ressurection->humanity loss/check as another process?  I think so, but bad ideas swarm around my head like flies on rice sometimes. 

    • At some point I did poke

      At some point I did poke around with "come back later in some dark way" as a procedure for following Humanity 0, and I think it's in Soul, but am not sure. It changes the game a lot, into a new shape rather than messing it up. I didn't work with it long enough to find a way for it to be qualitatively different from just changing-up descriptors as normal at the end of a Kicker, but I think that would be necessary and possible through some playful play.

  3. Short circuited this plan with some actual play

    So today I had the opportunity to try out two options in advance of the upcoming gaming retreat. Option 1, stick with the Sorcerer game as planned. Option 2, play Trollbabe for the first time ever.

    My belief had been that this video-game inspired, Sorcerer and Sword Arena, would be easy and straightforward enough for playing at the retreat. To test this out I played a session with two volunteer players. We did an abreviated character creation session and started play in media res with both Sorcerers appearing in the middle of a colliseum facing some three-headed chimera/cerberus looking monster. We played through a short battle scene. I got to experiment with a wound/penalty tracking system involving different coloured dice for stamina. Play was moderately successful but I immediately convinced myself that this was not how I wanted to spend my weekend at the retreat. Primarily because I feel building up the setting and character grids will require more player agency and involvement than the retreat's timeline will allow. Also it will take work between sessions for me. I want to be able to enjoy the down-time between sessions relaxing, socialising and even playing other games. I don't think this pitch will allow me that luxury.  I am keen on possibly launching this game after the retreat with some players who might be interested in a series of weekly sessions, but that will be a whole other project.

    Then we moved into an hour and half session of Trollbabe.  I was instantly delighted. I wont break down our session except to say the game delivered exactly as hoped. Our play was limited in scope, we only used single roll conflicts for pace (with a couple of re-rolls) and we did not establish any relationships, but the two Trollbabes responded in lively and engaging ways with the setting, characters and the stakes. I'm very excited to play this with a group that will get to re-unite for three separate sessions over a weekend. But I'll start a new thread after that occurs. 

    I want to thank you Ron, your feedback has been encouraging and enlightening. If I revisit this Sorcerer and Sword setting/pitch in the future I'll be sure to rely on your comments above and to share the results here. 

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