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Sorcerers of Old Toronto, Session-1

I just held session-1 of a Sorcerer game with a small group of old friends.  They're all new to Sorcerer and have only played a handful of other indie games.  This was the character generation session, and it went so very well!  We're all really excited for the game to come.

I'll talk about the first session, give an overview of the 3 PC sorcerers and their kickers, and share some of my ideas about the situation.  Ask me any questions about the first session, and do share your thoughts on what you would do with these PCs and kickers!

None of the players had read the rulebook, but I've talked at length about the concept of Sorcerer.  In the session I didn't talk about the mechanics much.  I mainly focused on helping them develop strong character concepts that will make great Sorcerer PCs.  Then filled out the character sheets and made demons, then kickers.  At the end of the session, we played a quick scuffle to see how the conflict mechanics work.

One Sheet:
Setting is... Present-day Toronto.  The shiny downtown and the old character-rich neighbourhoods.
Humanty is… Empathy, social consciousness.
Sorcery is… All the classic Western/Near-Eastern demonic stuff: candles, glyphs & sigils, bloodletting, invoking the true names of ancient demons, reading from famous grimoires in ancient languages.
Demons are… Classic zoomorphic or goblinoid humanoids (horns, fangs, tails), muscular, gaunt or any other shape.  Appearance as described by Dante et al, but they are pre-Christian creatures.

Explaining the concept of kickers to new players is always tricky.  I had success this time by going straight to examples from popular media: Neo meets Trinity, who tells him that the Matrix is real.  Some guy tells Sarah Connor that he has come from the future to protect her from a killer robot.  Luke Skywalker encounters an old Jedi, a secret message in a droid, and his parents are murdered.  Etc..  They picked up on it pretty quickly.

Now I've got a week to turn the characters and kickers they gave me into a situation or three, and my brain is on fire with ideas.  I'm really excited by the possibilities :


Barry, a small guy guy who was bullied in high-school, now a chef with a chip on his shoulder.  He roams the streets at night beating up "bullies".  His demon makes him hell in a fight, but Barry is worried that he doesn't know where his vigilante justice ends and the demon's Need for bloody violence begins.

Kicker: He hears that another student at his old high school has been badly injured in a bullying incident.  He swears to enact vengeance on the school administrators who failed to protect him and are still failing to protect the students.

The player and I were both thinking the same thing: that there will be more than meets the eye about the school administrators.  Perhaps they are subtly encouraging the on-campus violence, and deriving some sort of sorcerous juice from the resulting suffering.

Clara is a young finance student and social justice activist with an internship at a big investment bank.  Her demon gives her advanced computer hacking powers.  She digs up information on wealthy fraudsters and tax cheats to get them arrested.  She also siphons away cash from off-shore accounts and donates it to local charities and people in need.  Her demon is able to cloak her digital footprints.

Kicker: Some organization or group has recognized her unique skills, and is trying to recruit her to take down a large criminal organization.

The player wanted to leave all the details up to me, and that's fine.  It will make it easier for me to mesh this character's situation with those of the other two.  Corruption between developers and government is a persistent problem in and around Toronto these days, just as the skyrocketing cost of housing is a big social-justice issue.  I think she will be going after real-estate developers with criminal connections.

Lance is a police detective who craves career advancement.  His demon provides uncanny insights into cases when Lance brings him crime-scene photos, coroner reports and other evidence.  Lance's case closure rate is remarkable.  He's currently working on a serial-killer case.

Kicker: A police officer is found murdered.  Lance believes this is more of his serial killer's work, but he is told to stay away from the case!  A superior is working his own pet theory.  It's all office politics.

I'm pretty sure the serial killer is going to end up being a demon on the loose.  Sorcerous telltales on all the victims?


My initial thoughts on Situation:

The administrators at Barry's school (Principal, VP, department heads) are a coven, and the school itself is a demon.  The student violence which they encourage either feeds the demon or fuels a sorcerous token.

With their sorcery they have youth, wealth and long life, but they are tied to this little school in this run-down suburb.  So they will bring the luxuries of the world to themselves.  Through their shell companies, they have bought up most of the adjacent city block.  They just need one more property -- Barry's restaurant -- before they can bulldoze the whole neighbourhood and build their luxury mega-condo.

When Clara's predecessor noticed the unusual money transfers, real-estate transactions and bribes to city officials, the coven sent a demon to slay him.  The possessor demon, having satisfied its Need for murder, was loathe to return to captivity.  Instead it has been possessing one body after another, looking for the perfect host, and killing the rejects.  It thought it had found the perfect host in a police officer -- who else in this world can get away with murder? -- but the officer's will was strong, and the demon had to give it up.  It now seeks a more agreeable body in blue to be its permanent new skin.

What do you think?  What would you do with these PCs and kickers?

(Image credit: I can't find the original artist, I will post it in a comment when I do!)

Department: 
Actual Play
Games: 
Sorcerer

Comments

Greg's picture

Hi John. This is wonderful, I love to see what people makes of Sorcerer and I'm always excited to see things about that and to discuss it. Here is what I think.

Things I like in your game: the issue of social justice is everywhere, which has a tendancy to put the premise at the "how far will you go to bring justice to this world?". Please read this post not as me saying "you should do this", but as an answer to you "what would you do?". So this is a very personal "myself" answer. 

First, a little more information would be good about the elements brought up by the players for their diagram, more specially the prices. I don't have a formalized technique to start any input from them, but my guts tells me that I would like to know more about the prices before I went into the kickers, to see where bangs could hit, specially at the first session. Also to see if any technicalities could arise from the elements of the diagrams (an object or passing demon, etc). For instance, are the school administrators parts of the elements?

I love the school as demon, as I had a very complicated story myself with high school and I would personnaly would be brutal about that. From your description, I would myself picture a powerful demon using a low lore score sorcerer abused by a powerful and very brutal demon to satisfy its need and design the sheet by looking at the perfect sorcerer for this type of demon. That would be a little twist that would echo the bullying aspect of one of the character story. If it's a coven, there is only one sorcerer in this coven bound to this demon (I would stay with only one sorcerer, choosing a NPC from one of the diagram element), and it does not have to be the director or the main administrator. The answer is somewhere on the diagrams, if there is any Sorcerer in a lore element.

One thing is that the "school demon" has to be related to your demon/sorcery description, which is not evident from now (you described gobelinoid creatures and we have a big building). You didn't provide us the telltale and description so maybe it's not a problem, and maybe it's not even a problem at all, bI would myself worry that I'm not following the aesthetic collective commitment and that could lead to a trust issue. As it is I would think about how to make something "gobelinoid" from that, maybe an anthropomorphic "soul of the school" hidden in the boiler room, or something like that (again, I would look to the diagrams to find inspirations, but would not force myself to stick to the diagrams if I wouldn't be inspire, in this case).

Also all the kickers don't have to be connected, with the same big villains. I think I would disconnect them and rely on crosses. Clara's kicker is fine without the venture capitals not being the school administrators, and Lance's kicker is fine if this Demon is not linked to the venture capital. 

It woule be a way for me to avoid "hey we kill the inhuman evil venture capital administrators, we won the game", which would worry me at this stage, as I know myself as not a really good improviser in game.

 

Greg's picture

Reading Ron's following comment, I warn that my previous comment here may not be productive. Also I want to point out that I've learned Sorcerer by doing it, not really by reading how people did it everywhere on the internet.

In retrospect, I think it's a really important process to not trying to do whatever other GM and groups have done or would do. To follow Ron's variables, the way I prep today leans toward #1, and I find it to be a sweet spot for the moment as it's very functional for me, who has a tendency of pushing towards 4-5. I found an equilibrium where I'm not trying to design a perfect machine and explain everything, while having sufficient material to get into play.

I suggest looking at Ron's variables as a way to reflect on your prep rather than discussing my previous comment.

John Willson's picture

Theme. Common situation.

Hi Greg, thanks for sharing your thoughts!  As I say below in my response to Ron, I'm not looking to do my prep the way anyone else would do it.  Just soliciting more ideas for my mental mill.

I would share the PC diagrams, but I haven't put them together yet :)  We are playing online, with a spreadsheet character keeper that I made, and the diagram part is clunky, so we didn't try to fill it in during the session.  Also we didn't have time.  Also, I think the diagram is mainly a tool for the GM.  It has taken me a long time to understand how to use the diagram, and I didn't want to go down that rabbit hole with brand-new players for something that only I need.  I did get the players to write a few people /places /things for each of Lore, Price, Cover and Kicker, simply in list form.  I will put everyone's things on their diagrams, move them around, and see what comes together.

Interesting idea to bring Price into situation building, I wouldn't have thought of that, but I can see how it can make the situation even more "about" the PCs.

I love the idea that the school-demon bullies its sorcerer!  A good reminder about theme.  I did note a couple of points about theme from each PC (bullying, social justice, etc.).  It's good to review any prep with theme in mind, and look for ways to insert or strengthen theme in the elements.

Hmmm, I see your point about one big situation possibly turning the game into a team-up to beat "the villain(s)".  I was concerned about the opposite end of the spectrum, where the PCs remain independent protagonists who never interact.  I find the game more fun for everyone once PCs are in scenes together and their stories are meshing somewhat.  But that can happen without there being only one underlying situation for them all.  I will think about this.

Greg's picture

John, just to clarify: I never use the relative position of the elements of the diagram as a way to prep the situation. I only use them for defining the opening scene of the session. So when I say "The answer i in the player's diagram" or anything related to diagram, what I really mean is "the elements related to Lore, Stamina, Will and Price", but not their relative position.

John Willson's picture

That makes sense.  Thanks!

Ron Edwards's picture

I caution against "what would you do" discussions. Right now this Sorcerer game is a real thing in the hands of you and the other participants, but its reality is vulnerable since active play hasn't yet begun. There's a big risk that your moment of preparation becoming play will become just another mote in a swirl of "woulds." Furthermore, always, any "would"-based discussion swiftly loses the truth that what I might do today isn't what I might do tomorrow.

A more productive approach is for us (anyone participating in these comments) to compare the extent to which GMing Sorcerer makes up new things before play, specifically, sorcerous/demon things. Imagine if you will a rough linear, left-to-right spectrum:

  1. Solipsistic prep: nearly everything notable comes from the player-character diagrams, so there no other demons, sorcerers, or strange-shit besides those stated there. If there's a coven, it's because one or more of them is a coven member, et cetera. The location and idiom from the statements are presented very much as known and understood already, not to be twisted.
  2. Somewhat between #1 and #3.
  3. Complementary prep: Kickers are spiked into deeper and weirder forms, Lore content is interpreted and connected across nominally different in-setting terms, at least one institution or significant power-player is introduced by the GM, multiple NPCs proliferate out of most of the items on the player-character diagrams.
  4. Somewhat between #3 and #5.
  5. Anonymous prep: meaning, that player-characters are conceived as "dropped into" a situation with its own history, dynamics, and boiling point; their character diagrams' items are either woven hard into this situation or diminished into wholly internal characterization.

I hope it's clear that I'm not talking about depth or intensity - both of those are perfectly able to find their levels in play. I hope it's also clear that my range of game design covers the whole spectrum, i.e., there is no dysfunction here.

Anyway, my earlier experiences with Sorcerer ranged across #3 and #4. Certainly the variants or shifted focus for Sorcerer & Sword (which is predicated on building setting) and The Sorcerer's Soul (which is predicated on building backstory) move hard into #4.

For the past decade or so, I've leaned the other way, so that now I'm very much at #2. I've found #1 to be less powerful and fails to juxtapose the GM as a person with anyone else as a person, so I don't go all the way into it. It probably doesn't surprise you that I think #5 is unsuited for the game.

However, I stress that my habits and interests for playing the game are mine alone. (addressed to everyone) It's useful to consider where you may be - not ideologically or in principle, but intuitively and pragmatically - regarding Sorcerer at this moment. Rather than second-guess yourself with "woulds" or "shoulds," reflect on your outlook after play to see what you think.

John Willson's picture

Good point, let's stick to discussions of actual play, and not hypothetical play.  My question of what would others do was a way to ellicit ideas for building backstory out of these sorcerers & kickers, which I have only just begun to do.  To get help with my homework, so to speak!

As for your scale, I think I'm naturally in/around #3.  I purposely didn't think up anything about situation before I had this first session, because I want to build a situation out of the building blocks that the players would give me.  That way, from the moment we start open play, the story is already a collaborative thing.  But I also intend to add a lot to the starting conditions, to build a detailed situation that the players can enjoy discovering, exploring and interacting with.  I know that when I'm a player, discovery (of situation and setting) is a big part of my enjoyment of play.

An illustrative example that I gave the players, when talking about kickers, was the Luke Skywalker one: I explained that the rhetorical player who came up with Luke's kicker could have invented Jedi knights on the spot, and had some vague idea about an evil empire and a growing but vulnerable rebellion, but that's all.  To write this kicker, they didn't need to come up with The Force, Darth Vader, the Death Star, Han Solo, or anything else.  The GM came up with all that AFTER the player gave them the kicker.  I think this example helped to remove any pressure to pack a whole awesome story into the kicker.

I'll continue to post about this game as it proceeds, and will keep my focus on discussing actual play.  I welcome anyone's questions about how I conducted the character generation session with new players.  As I said, I think it went really well.

Ron Edwards's picture

For pure celebratory purposes, could you post the build for one of the starting demons? I love demons ...

John Willson's picture

Another player has joined the game!  We've had one session of open play, which I'll describe in a new post, and a fourth character player will join us for the next session.  Here are all four of the players' starting demons.  The 3rd & 4th lack Binding Strength rolls and a couple of other details because those players missed the first session of play.

Grint
Type:     Parasite
Bound to:     Barry Barzotti
Telltale:     Animal musk
Binding Strength: +2 (negative means: in demon's favour)

Appearance:
Demeanor:    Laconic. Growly bear voice.

Stam    5    Need:     Bloody violence
Will     6
Lore     5    Desire:     Meat, blood
Power    6

Bearlike (Big (Barry))
Cover: Bear (Barry)
Fast (Fast (Barry))
Healing (Vitality (Barry))
Intimidating (Boost Will (self))

Alvin
Type:     Inconspicuous
Bound to:     Clara Chan
Telltale:     "Smell of dust, nose irritation"
Binding Strength:     +1 (negative means: in demon's favour)
 
Appearance:    Handsome boy, age ~ 20.
Demeanor:    Ethereal, soothing voice

Stam     6    Need:     Disassemble household appliances
Will     7
Lore     6    Desire:     Competition
Power    7

Invisible / Cloak (self)
"Change History" / Confuse (self)
Ageless / Vitality (Clara)
Intuition/Body Language (Perception (self))
Hacker (Cover (Clara))
No digital footprint (Cloak (Clara))

Cy
Type:     Inconspicuous
Bound to:     Lance Mortimer
Telltale:     Shimmers like hot air
Binding Strength: 
 
Appearance:
Demeanor:    Aloof, Conspiratorial. Whispers urgently.

Stam     3    Need:     Privacy Invasion
Will     4
Lore     3    Desire:     Corruption
Power    4

Invisibility (Cloak (self))
Extract leads & clues from evidence (Perception (self))
Incredible Insight (Hint (Self)).

Aranea
Type:     Object
Bound to:     Helga Ligens
Telltale:     Smell of burning sage
Binding Strength: 
 
Appearance:    Gaudy spider broach

Stam     4    Need:     Destroy antiques
Will     5
Lore     4    Desire:     Corruption
Power    5

Ligens Mark / Mark (Helga)
Tough Broad / Armour (Helga)
Insight / Hint (Helga)
Paramedic / Cover (Helga)

Ron Edwards's picture

I love demons.

What I see, or rather, what would strike me as important if I were GMing, thus playing these demons myself, are two important things to apply: Cy's "extract leads and clues" and Aranea's Hint. Having played several smarty-pants characters over the past few years, I am more keenly aware of how much GMing is trained to diminish and direct them, rather than to treat these things as effective as a correponding-in-currency super-powered punch.

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