Sorcerer Space Fantasy with Sword & Schism! (one-shot)

Just got home from a thrilling Sorcerer one-shot and I wanted to post something while it’s still fresh.

The situation was, we’re together for the holidays and today was our only chance to play an in-person game. Four of us have played together before in multiple games and campaigns. One player was new to the group, but had lots of previous experience with Pathfinder and modern D&D. Another player joined us without any previous role-playing experience.

We decided to run two games back-to-back. My daughter requested Mörk Borg as a light warm-up game for shenanigans, but she also brought Psychic Trash Detectives, which we played instead. Knowing her fiancé is a Star Wars fan, I pushed for the “feature” game to feature space opera action. And Sorcerer, because it’s my favorite game and life is short.

Prep for a Sorcerer one-shot

My initial plan didn’t involve space opera at all, actually. On Christmas, I pitched a John Woo-style Western game where the demons are guns. But I changed my mind after hearing my daughter’s fiancé critique the latest Star Wars media less 16 hours before the game, and I offered to run a space fantasy game instead. How was I supposed to pull that together?

Well, a year ago I studied this post and adapted the approach to prep for a one-shot at a local convention. I created 6 character sheets with pre-filled descriptors for Stamina, Will, and Past, and I created a separate menu of pre-made demons which came with their master’s Lore descriptor, Telltale, and Price.

To spike this toward the loaded situation necessary for Sorcerer & Sword, I based each character template on the main characters from Howard’s short story The People of the Black Circle: Conan, Gitara, Kerim Shah, Khemsa, Yar Afzal, Yasmina; oh, and Thoth-Amon from The Phoenix on the Sword too—taking some liberties, of course. In order to furnish some inspiration for kickers, I also added a single Dungeon World-style bond to each sheet, so that each character would be overtly linked to one other character in a suggestive way. The result was a play kit like what you might print out for Apocalypse World or similar.

The demons were all inspired by those Howard stories too, but I got COVID on the eve of the con and never got to run the scenario.

This morning, I pulled out those sheets again, and created a new menu of “demons” to go with them, placing them in space instead of Howard’s subcontinent border kingdoms. Here’s what I gave the players:

Roles

The Assassin

  • Stamina: Arcane regimen.
  • Will: Brush with the unknown.
  • Past: Spy/assassin serving the Yimsha cabal.
  • ___ is the target of my next hit.

The Devi

  • Stamina: Just healthy.
  • Will: Aristocrat. (If 5+, add Vow)
  • Past: Ruler of Vendhya, sibling of the slain king.
  • I will sway ___ to help me avenge my brother.

The Handmaid

  • Stamina: Trained soldier.
  • Will: Lover.
  • Past: Handmaid and bodyguard to the Vendhyan royal house.
  • I have broken my oath to Vendhya, and I will make ___ a king/queen.

The Hetman

  • Stamina: Big & vigorous.
  • Will: Zest for life.
  • Past: Mercenary, chief of the Wazuli hill folk.
  • ___ owes me their life, whether they admit it or not.

The Outlander

  • Stamina: Savage-raised.
  • Will: Leader of men.
  • Past: Traveler, chief of Afghuli hill tribe.
  • I have kidnapped ___ to ransom for the release of my tribesmen imprisoned by the frontier governor.

The Turanian

  • Stamina: Trained soldier.
  • Will: Leader of men.
  • Past: Prince/ss of Turanistan Turanis, mercenary, vassal of Turanian King.
  • ___ was my contact with the Necromancers of Yimsha who slew the King of Vendhya.

The Stygian

  • Stamina: Big & vigorous.
  • Will: Angry.
  • Past: Stygian scholar/bondservant.
  • I serve ___ as a slave, until I recover something precious that they took from me.

Demonics

To differentiate the space fantasy further from Howard’s setting, I had two kinds of demonics in mind: mind powers, like those demonstrated by the Jedi or by Paul Muad’Dib; and artificial intelligence, including illegal robotics. I decided, like in Dune, thinking machines were outlawed in this galaxy.

For the former, I stole thoroughly and without shame from Jared Sorenson’s Sorcerer supplement Schism. I had forgotten that this existed! But I apparently bought it on DriveThruRPG many years ago. Just like in Schism, the players could get extra powers under their power type by spending their Humanity. I included the list of disciplines under each type on the player hand-out. I put “Jump” under Clairvoyance instead of Psychokinesis too, because in my setting idea, teleportation and remote viewing are both related to folding space.

For the latter, I built 3 demons using the unmodified rules from Sorcerer.

The Telepath

  • Lore: Religious training. Your powers were nurtured through rigorous ascetic practice under the guidance of a religious order.
  • Price: Arrogant. -1 die to perception.
  • Telltale: Vocal changes (pitch/modulation).

The Psyker

  • Lore: Traumatized. Your powers spontaneously manifested after being involved in an accident or some other traumatic incident.
  • Price: Inner-rage. -1 die to all actions involving willpower or self-control
  • Telltale: “Poltergeist” activity nearby.

The Clairvoyant

  • Lore: Sensitive. Your abilities stem from your extraordinary powers of intuition, empathy and inner-strength.
  • Price: Phobic. -1 die when confronted by the character’s phobia.
  • Telltale: Detatched, entranced state; eyes roll back.

The C-Class Boomer (cyborg bodyguard)

Boomers are cyborgs designed to appear human, that have been discontinued and outlawed in the galaxy. C-Class Boomers typically have alloy endoskeletons capable of mounting new weapons systems.

  • Lore: Naïve (Lore 1–2).
  • Price: Idealistic/gullible.
  • Telltale: ?? (I couldn’t think of one before game time, but the player came up with something cool.)

Type: Passer; Telltale: Roving crimson light sometimes flashes behind eyes.
Abilities: Cover (mercenary/bodyguard) (self), armor (self), fast (self), perception (x-ray/infrared) (self), cloak (concealed firearms/blades).

Desire: Artistry; Need: Lullabies.

The I-Class Boomer

I-Class Boomers are designed for infiltration and espionage through social engineering.

  • Lore: Inhuman. You are an cybernetic organism created to be virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
  • Price: Chill. -1 die whenever interacting with someone new.
  • Telltale: A roving violet light sometimes flashes in your eyes.

Type: Parasite. Telltale: (Since this parasite possessed the master, I used the same telltale. I couldn’t think of something different in my short prep time.)
Abilities: Perception (social chess) (host), cover (savoir faire/disguise) (host), daze (host), cloak (abilities) (host), taint (self).

Desire: Corruption; Need: Impress new people.

The Celerity (AI-powered subspace folding vessel)

  • Lore: Adept.
  • Price: Bad reputation. -1 die when someone knows about your past.
  • Telltale: Interface jack on base of neck.

Type: Object; Telltale: Faint unnerving hum.
Abilities: Big (self), armor (self), travel (self), transport (self), special damage/lethal, ranged (weapons platform), fast (self).

Desire: Knowledge/exploration; Need: Spinal fluid from master.

My biggest prep regret was not naming the robot demons in advance of play, or at least having a list of flavorful names available for the players to pick.

How they put it together

I plopped these down in front of the players, along with a quickly-sketched map of a star system where tonight’s episode would be taking place. Planets such as Vendhya, Turanis, and Hova were there. A sprawling asteroid belt called The Minefield separated Turanis from the gas giant Hova, and Hova had a rocky, mountainous moon called Himelius. That moon is where the Afghuli and Wazuli tribes would be, along with the supposed Yimsha cabal. (In reality, I had no such NPC faction in my prep. I predicted, correctly, that the kickers generated by the preceding material would provide enough inter-character conflict and drama that no NPC sorcery would be needed.)

The characters came together as follows:

  • “The Handmaid” became Katsuri (Katsu). Her demonic power was Clairvoyance, trained in the Foretell discipline. She decided she was not only the Devi’s handmaid, but also recognized as a seer to the royal family, and secretly the Devi’s lover. She took part in killing the King to place the Devi on the throne, and her visions told her that a political marriage to the Turanian prince would cement her mistress’s power in the system. Katsuri’s kicker was, “I disobeyed orders to kill the queen (my lover), by switching the poison cups.” The entire Vendhyan royal family was supposed to be wiped out.
  • “The Turanian” became Prince Kerum. His demonic power was Telepathy, and he chose 2 disciplines: Blast, and Shield. The player put Rinesh (the Assassin) down as his contact with the Yimsha cabal. His kicker was obvious from one of the bond statements: the player simply wrote, ”Escape kidnapping.”
  • “The Assassin” became Rinesh. Rinesh was the I-Class Boomer, and the player chose the name ”Aesklepian” for his demonic AI. This combo made for a VERY effective assassin! The player wrote in “Katsuri” as the target of his next hit, and his kicker was, “Ravyn (the Outlander) saw something during the King’s assassination. They must also be handled.” No witnesses.
  • “The Hetman” became Ravyn. Her demonic power was Psychokinesis, specializing in levitation. She described gaining her powers when she and her daughter were sucked out of an airlock into space. Her daughter died, and she survived. Now she rules over a hill tribe on a backwater moon, and her kicker involved taking payment from the Yimsha cabal to bring the assassin along with her delegation to meet with the Vendhayan king—without knowing the assassin’s purpose.
  • “The Outlander” became Mona. At this point the only demons left were the Boomer bodyguard and the ship. Her first pick was the AI space ship, but she didn’t like the idea of feeding it spinal fluid, so she chose the bodyguard. For her telltale, she said her character had a conductive, glossy-blue-black circuit tattoo. As noted earlier, she chose to kidnap the Prince to ransom him to the Turanian king for the return of her tribesmen, and her kicker was just that.

The Devi and the Stygian were not chosen, and nor was the spaceship in the end. The Devi was such a crucial part of the diagrams, though, that I took her on as a pivotal (non-sorcerous) NPC.

Our character sheets put the diagrams front and center, and I gave the players little sticky tabs to write their diagram items on. That helped everyone move the elements around quickly and easily. It was really the fastest I’ve ever seen the diagrams become clear for Sorcerer players, and it got us moving into play right away.

(The drawback of these particular sticky tabs was we lost most of them while packing up: the adhesive just wasn’t very sticky. It got the job done, though!)

I want to write about every scene, but I’ve run out of steam for the night. It was an utter blast.

The kickers were not resolved in this one-shot, but we got to see a lot of intense drama that started hot and escalated continuously. At the end of the session, we had 2 riveting scenes I want to mention:

Rinesh, the true assassin, successfully convinced the Devi that her handmaid Katsu was in on the death of her brother, and he got away. (At least for now: His demon was in severe need.) This forced Katsu to decide whether she was a true lover to the Devi, or just manipulating the political game.

The Devi was about to demand that Katsu commit seppuku, but after the dice were against her all night, Katsu decided to come clean and tell the Devi about her vision and efforts to make sure the Devi gained the throne. It was so riveting and sincere, it demanded the “automatic maximum” rule. But it was also obvious that the Devi could not allow a handmaid to shed royal blood unpunished.

“Katsuri, you have been my right hand. And now my right hand has betrayed me. You have left me with no other choice than to cut off my right hand.” Turning to Ravyn, she said, “Hetman, have you a blade?” Then the Devi did her own arm up in a tourniquet and we saw blood spots on silk hangings as Ravyn lowered her blade.

Meanwhile, the Prince Kerum escaped the cargo hold where he was bound after Mona crashed his ship on an asteroid. Confronting his captors, they had a tense exchange and agreed to work together to recover Mona’s tribesmen from Kerum’s father.

This came after several scenes in which Mona’s Boomer ”Classy” (Class C, right?) was outclassing both of the player characters in sheer combat prowess. But now they were connecting through force of personality, fully engaged, and sparks were flying.

I wish we could have scheduled one more episode to wrap it up. But I’m very happy with the great role-playing, loose ends and all!

,

6 responses to “Sorcerer Space Fantasy with Sword & Schism! (one-shot)”

  1. I guess I should add that the ideas for this setting started shaping up for me after I saw the trailer for the new Dune film 2 years ago.

    A few of us played around with it using Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes. We later played another scenario using Sorcerer & Sword, without the benefit of Schism’s psionics rules. And we used Sanguine’s Usagi Yojimbo to play a third scenario in the same setting.

    Four of us from tonight’s session played in at least one of those games.

  2. From the post: “The Devi was about to demand that Katsu commit seppuku, but after the dice were against her all night, Katsu decided to come clean and tell the Devi about her vision and efforts to make sure the Devi gained the throne. It was so riveting and sincere, it demanded the ‘automatic maximum’ rule. But it was also obvious that the Devi could not allow a handmaid to shed royal blood unpunished.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard of the Automatic Maximum rule employed like this before. I was under the impression that it was solely about physically hurting helpless people real bad. Am I right in understanding that there was a conflict of wills between the Devi and Katsu and you applied the Automatic Maximum rule in Katsu’s favor?

    • Yes, more or less.

      What happened was this: Rinesh used his demonic AI to mimic the captain of the guard, and convinced the Devi (Cover vs. Will) that he was escorting her to safety. He was really trying to get her alone in her quarters so he could off her.

      Katsu got inside and tried to convince the Devi that the captain of the guard was the real assassin. Though Rinesh was elsewhere, we handled this as a conflict between Katsu’s Will and Rinesh’s demonic Cover as captain of the guard. Katsu lost. If the Devi remained convinced that the guard captain was legit, how would she understand Katsu’s sudden accusation? In the frenzied aftermath of losing her brother, my gut told me the Devi would accuse Katsu of betraying her.

      Katsu continued trying to push the Devi to believe her, while also concealing her own role in the assassination. I payed close attention to the player’s approach in each beat, and offered her this question: Was she appealing to the Devi as a human being, or manipulating her?

      She continued to choose deceptive arguments, matching her Will vs. the Devi’s Will, plus roll-over victories (originally Ranesh’s victories). And she kept losing. After each failed roll, the Devi’s position hardened: She pointed a dagger at Katsu, demanded that Katsu prostrate herself, then demanded that Katsu look her in the eye.

      At that point, the player confessed she didn’t know what to do; she couldn’t see what her character would do or say. She said something like, “I just wanted to put her on the throne”, and she brought up various complications. I said, “What if you told her exactly that?”

      It clicked for the player, and she spilled. In this case, it was clear she pivoted completely to employing her Humanity instead of her Will, against the demon.

      Because of their history as lovers and the my own gut response (and the table’s response) to the visceral role-playing, it seemed obvious that she could not fail to sway the Devi here.

      The automatic maximum rule says, “This is for cases where the target is completely helpless or similar situations”. I didn’t reason it out at the time, but if I did, I would say Rinesh’s demonic AI was completely helpless against the Katsu’s appeal as a lover, in this instance.

      It was also obvious to me—but not immediately to the player—that the Devi couldn’t just forgive Katsu for killing her brother, as a matter of state. So the Devi sacrificed her hand rather than condemn her lover.

    • If I could go back and change one thing that affected this exchange, it would be the Devi’s stats. Because this was one of the player character roles, I assigned 10 dice to her three main Scores, without allotting any to Lore; that gave her a Will of 7. In hindsight, I think 5 would have been sufficient for her role as a non-player character.

      This isn’t my biggest regret of the session, and I don’t feel too bad about it. The rules do suggest creating non-sorcerous NPCs who can kick the sorcerers’ asses once in a while.

  3. I wanted to mention some mistakes we made this session.

    The biggest mistake was when Mona and Classy were trying to navigate a treacherous asteroid belt. I pointed out Classy’s Cover included all things combat, but not piloting a space vehicle. And since Mona had the “Savage-raised” Stamina descriptor, I doubted she would be a pilot either.

    The consequence was, she rolled 1 die vs. 3 for the asteroid belt. A meteoroid clipped the vessel’s wing, forcing them to make an emergency landing on an asteroid.

    Trouble with that is, Mona had the “Traveler” descriptor for her Past, and I explained when handing out the roles that this character was from another star system entirely. Of course her Past should have included piloting a shuttle craft like this! I was just stuck thinking of her as a Conan analogue, without adjusting for the change of setting.

    Most players know that when I say something like that about their character, it’s ok to push back, and it’s ok to remind me of rules or fiction I may have forgotten. I’m just a regular human participant, even as the GM.

    Unfortunately, Mona was played by the one player who was completely new to the group and this was her first time ever playing any RPG. Not only that, she trusted me to know about the character skeletons that I created for them before play.

    I think this mistake would have been less likely—or at least fixed before it had significant consequences—if the players made their own characters; or if this had happened with another player who knows me and the hobby better.

    • I see your point about how it might have been avoided or caught in time, but I’m also thinking, “so what?” I’m not sure when this kicked in, but over the past years I’ve developed an outlook that is very much like a musician’s or an athlete’s: there is contingent “whoops” in all procedures. A misplayed or poorly-chosen note in a song, a bobbled catch or for that matter, a bad referee call … it’s not good, and whatever one did, one may try not to do that again, but it’s not – you know – a disaster. Ruination, or degradation of the activity. It might be a necessary aspect of improvement, but even not so optimistically, if it’s an unavoidable and essentially probabilistic event, but either way, well, one is still a musician, one is still an athlete, there will be more songs, there will be more games. What’s your thought on that?

Leave a Reply