New Players and Humanity Rolls

I have been playing an in person game of Sorcerer with some of the players that I posted about in my most recent post talking about new players. One of them, Laura, only played a single session of a roleplaying game before–the session of The Pool I talked about in that post. We finally worked out our schedules and got a game of Sorcerer going. I thought Laura was awesome at playing when we first played together, and I was super excited to see what she would do.

So…we are playing in Northampton, MA and she is playing Eve, a student at Smith college. Her demon, an object demon that looks like an elaborate cross necklace, makes her the most popular person at the school, through abilities like Boost Will and giving her a helpful cover. It’s Need was to be bathed in almond oil extract. Laura conceived Eve as a cruel manipulator who didn’t have any real friends anymore (this was part of her Price), just worshippers and a bunch of people who silently hated her. The first session saw Eve doing some cruel acts towards fellow students, one of which resulted in me calling for a Humanity check, and grappling with her Kicker.

The second session began with me saying to the players “it’s Friday night, what are you up to” because neither of their diagrams were screaming for hard framing. Eve headed to the Majestic, a local queer bar, and began using her demonic powers to put all the attention on her. She succeeded massively, and soon had a small crowd of people around her. Laura was my source of real-world imagery for this scene, because I had never been to the Majestic, so a lot of the framing and description of the people there were hers. I described how the demon’s powers were making the scene more and more unreal and plastic, more and more like a psychedelic sitcom. Her character was under a spotlight, and whoever she spoke to would be engulfed in the spotlight with her.

Laura had Eve head over to the bar from the booth she was sitting in and ask the bartender, Gavin(also under the demonic spell) for any gossip. The spotlight was on the bartender, and I realized what he would say. It was like the two of them were the only people in the world for him at that moment. He was having a shitty night, he’d been up on his feet and in the blindingly exhausting flow state of service work…and is all of a sudden confronted with this intense intimacy. Rather than offering up some banal rumor or whatever else, he spilled forth some childhood trauma (veiled and kept unspecified) to her. I then realized that the bartender’s actions seemed to call for a Humanity roll, and I succeeded–suddenly, Eve was confronted with the reality that this person she had ensorcelled was an actual person.

Confronted with the result of the roll, Laura did something that I think might surprise some people who lack faith. She didn’t get angry at her “character concept” being messed with (“Eve would never feel that, she IS cruel“). She felt it, she took it as a real constraint, and she loved it. Her eyes lit up. Suddenly Eve was really there, no longer just being played. I’ve experienced this with characters (I had just experienced it with the bartender), and when it happens its unmistakable.

Everything changed for her character in that moment. Seeing the result of the roll, she understood that Eve wanted a chance at something real. And that session culminated in a real friendship between them beginning, in a different scene away from the bar, where Laura succeeded on a Humanity roll to connect with Gavin for real (without the need for demonic Cover + boosted Will). During that scene, Laura described Eve crushing her demon in her hand to punish it.

I can’t convey the feelings we felt by writing them during that second scene, but I could feel that everyone in the room was close to tears. After the session we talked about the two scenes for almost a half an hour, and both of the other players expressed shock that playing an rpg could make them feel something so intense. I had been grappling with the loss of a friendship at the time and I realized how much I needed that scene after we ended play.

Hopefully the post speaks for itself about the value of listening to the people we play with, letting go of control, and trusting new players to be able to become great players.

I would really appreciate comments about experiences you have had with new players. And if you haven’t played with someone new for a while, I challenge you to do it, and to do it with love and trust.

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12 responses to “New Players and Humanity Rolls”

    • To be clear, the roll involved the bartender’s humanity being rolled against Eve’s will. I said that the result meant that the bartender was unavoidably a person now to Eve, not merely a plaything. The interpretation of what that meant for Eve was Laura’s.

  1. What you describe is an interesting use of humanity. In a similar situation, I might have called for a will vs will roll. Using will vs humanity expands my concept of how humanity might be used. Your choice feels intuitively good, but do you have any idea what inspired you to choose humanity as the defense?

    • Eve’s will was the defense, in this case. Eve had succeeded at some prior will vs will rolls (or maybe a demonically provided cover I don’t remember) to make her the center of attention. This roll was different, I was “attacking” (word choice not great because this really was not an attack at all, but I’m tired so forgive me) with the bartender’s humanity vs Eve’s will. I actually find myself rolling humanity vs will pretty often when I play sorcerer. I find it to be quite powerful.

    • When I played Sorcerer this time we had a few humanity vs will rolls. One was the example above, another was later on, with Eve’s humanity vs Gavin’s will (Eve literally said “do you want to be my friend” and I called for this roll because Gavin was no longer under any demonic effects that would have made him more likely to comply with what Eve wanted, and Laura was explicit in saying that Eve was really trying to connect with him, not manipulate him). There was another example in the other sorcerer’s story that I can go into if you would like me to give you another example.

  2. I’ll consider another topic: that of surprises and escalations, as opposed to swerves and undercuts. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I’ve realized that the latter are the go-to goals or default desired effects for too many people. “Wait ’til they get a load of this!” “Didn’t see that coming, did you?” “Ha! What if the assassin is your mom?!”

    So, its relevance here is that in this game – and as I can see in your other posts about new players, Sam – plenty of “new”-ness arises. It might be a change in the immediate moment of the fiction, or a shift in understanding or knowledge about the more general fictional situation, or even a revised perspective or appreciation for the characters as entities, whether one’s own character or someone else’s. The effects are clearly surprise, escalation, and excitement, ranging from slow-burn to flash-bang (doesn’t matter).

    But they’re not swerves or undercuts, with the effect of jarring or diminishing others. These experiences look to me as if they establish “retroactive inevitability,” the sense that whatever just happened or however we’re looking at it now, had to happen. Even though it was obviously established through contingencies and intuitions during moments of play.

    • I’ve been trying to think of something to add to this for a while but I can’t do much other than say yes, I think that if what happened during play seems inevitable then that is a sign that we are doing something that was in no way inevitable, and was in fact organic and real.
      Whereas, when agency is taken away from certain people, everything takes on a forced and uncomfortable feeling. Suddenly it is very clear who did/made this thing, and who received it.

  3. Hi Sam, I wanted to know more about this game. You talked about Laura playing Eve, but there was another player, right? Who was their character? Without diving too far into the weeds, how did this character interact with Eve?

    • The other player was my partner, Sterling. Their character was August, the healer figure (and sometimes leader) of a small cult related to apocalyptic prepping in the middle of a major crisis of leadership. The two characters never interacted directly, mainly due to the locations that the characters ended up in. August’s cult hung out in a reimagined Mount Holyoke Observatory, while Eve’s story took place on the Smith college campus almost entirely.
      There were some interactions between their demons, though, but was never really known by the players. I had it in my notes that the presence of two demons in such close proximity was creating a problem with reality. This resulted in an area of Northampton (some abandoned factories and sewers near Smith) being corrupted and turned into a psychedelic demon-jungle with a weird time-thing wandering around. August nearly entered into this otherworld, but not quite. I think if he had then the characters would certainly have met.

    • I know what you mean. I’ve often found myself playing “what the demons do or are together” in GMing Sorcerer. It’s really evident in both of the games presented here a few years ago, the “Musik” one set in Los Angeles and the one set in Marseilles, which I have come to think of as “perfect evil.”

    • Humanity vs. Will / Will vs. Humanity / Will vs. Will

      These are all distinct in my practices of playing Sorcerer, and I think you’ll enjoy developing your own sense for it.

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