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Sorcerer and Sword Debriefing: Adventuring in the World of Hybreasil

A group of us has been carrying on a Sorcerer and Sword game for 5 months.  This has taken our characters through two sets of kickers, and at the conclusion, we decided to sit down for a conversation to reflect on the game and our experiences. 

Rod was the GM, with Greg and me playing a courtly knight and a celtic shaman respectively. Rod provided a brief document outlining his world of Hybreasil. Here’s a piece from his description which will give you a bit of the flavor:

“The dominant culture of the big southern island, Gigondas, is courtly, French-influenced and Catholic, with some crypto-pagan eccentricities (one imagines medallions of St. John the Baptist with antlers growing from his head, or similar things) . The farther north from there you go, the more Celtic and tribal it gets, and the more the religion seems like paganism with a little Catholic spice, instead of the other way around. There are also tribes of fully pagan holdouts living in the fierce interiors of the northern islands, representing the “savage-raised” option for hero descriptors.”

Our conversation ranges freely over a number of topics including:

  • How the description of setting feeds into the creation of characters and kickers.
  • How the game yields a different experience when played by a more seasoned Sorcerer group.
  • The key ingredient of player commitment to the experience at the table.
  • The decision to bring the Sorcerer characters into geographic proximity.
  • The possibility of large chronological jumps between kickers. Specifically we entertain the possibility of another set of kickers which would bring our characters to an end, and then afterward leaping back in time to play the characters with their “destiny” already established.
  • Some of the ways in which Sorcerer rewards “devious” manipulation of rules (such as intentionally punishing one’s demon to increase the odds for other rituals or actions).
  • The difference between player knowledge and character knowledge, which spins into a discussion of metagaming and the decision of when the GM withholds or reveals key facts and how this decision impacts the play experience.
  • The importance of framing scenes and playing characters with strong motives and intentions. 
  • Playing demons who have the upper hand as a result of the Binding roll. 

While we have temporarily agreed to set the game aside, you’ll see that we are all enthusiastic. In a few months, we may be returning to Hybreasil for more adventures. 
 

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

I may get around to both eventually, but as I strategize what to do in this moment, let me know which is better for me to focus on:

  • Using the diagrams, which I think is still in the learning curve.
  • The "not-playing" effect described by Greg, which I do not think is thespian or "play my character" at all.

Or neither, or nothing, in case you think it's better for me to stay out of others' processing for these games. That's OK too, just let me know.

robowist's picture

In our game, we often were coming back to the diagrams, so I'd love to see more ideas concerning their use.

Some specific questions we had:

There can be a tendency for things to pile up in the middle of the diagram, which makes for a muddling effect. So some added guidance for how to make sure that the full field of the diagram is used would be helpful. I also then wonder about the role of those items that are explicitly not in the center vortex.

How do you deal with the diagram over a sequence of sessions? Here again, if I return to the diagrams, I have a tendency to pull more items (characters, locations, objects, etc.) into the center as play proceeds.

And I'm wondering how dynamic the diagrams should be over the course of a kicker arch. I think we tend to see the diagrams most importantly as an aid to setting up the initial situations. Thoughts about how the diagrams inform play in later sessions would be useful.

Rod_A's picture

I keep trying to figure out what my response to this is, and I guess for me it's "still processing, will check back later". When I first discussed struggling with the diagrams with the group, Greg gave me numerous links to posts and videos where you dealt with the topic at some length, and at least in principle and verbally, I don't know how much more clear "what you're supposed to do" could be made. Yet something about getting on and staying on the horse is a struggle. If we do wind up playing again, I may suggest that we do a video about our diagram prepping and post it here for some -- guidance, mentorship, however it seems best to think of it.

Ron Edwards's picture

I'm editing a video about this and writing the accompanying text right now.

Greg's picture

'm really interested into this "not-playing" effect. I encounter the same problem with the same players to another game, and I'm not sure I would have seen it without playing sorcerer first and/or realized I found myself in the same situation. I'll post more details about how it reproduces with a different effect (in summary, boring scenes) very soon under this comment.

Greg's picture

PS : I'm interested into this, but feel free to take your time, I'm posting it so we can get it back later. I'm also very interested into the diagram understanding!

badspeler's picture

Was curious if you could expand on your long-term play. You mention that changing aspects of the character was more impactful than just increasing one of your attributes by one die. What was the process of coming up with new kickers like? How much of the diagrams were rewritten?

robowist's picture

When a character resolves a kicker and finishes a storyline (which typically involves a number of gaming sessions) they get to roll their Humanity against Stamina, Will, Lore, and Cover (or Past if playing Sorcer and Sword) to try to increase one of those scores--and only one--by a single increment. In the scheme of things, that's a very modest advance, and I honestly don't think I'd be upset if I blew all my rolls and was left with those scores at the same level. 

But here's what the book also says: "If the character’s Kicker is resolved, and if sufficient drama has occurred to illustrate the character’s true colors to all concerned, the player should rewrite the character. This would almost certainly involve losing the old Price and choosing a new one, and might even include rewriting some or all of the score descriptions. The only thing that must remain unchanged is Humanity."

That kind of rewriting is going to have far more impact on the next storyline than, say, moving your Will from a 3 to a 4. It's not that the score boost is inconsequential, but for me, the changing of a descriptor is going to have much more influence in how I'm approaching the character at the table. 

For example, in our Sorcerer and Sword game, my character (Siosadh) began with the score description of "Apprentice" for his Lore, but at the end of the first storyline, he ended up binding a powerful serpent demon. The demon (U'Nadredd) had a secure upper hand in the binding roll (3 in the demon's favor), and our GM was quite good in describing the otherwordly terror of the whole event. 

So for the next kicker, I saw my Lore increase from 2 to 3, and I changed the descriptor "Apprentice" to "Changeling" with the idea that Siosaidh (who was literally swallowed by his serpent demon in the binding ritual) was entering a new mental state poised somewhere betweeh the human and spirit realms.

The diagrams were largely rewritten for the next stage of play. For mine, I imagined what the repercussions of the new demon would mean for my sorcerer. The fact that this powerful demon had a need to eat humans--and that my sorcerer lived with a close-knit celtic tribe--made the future problematic to say the least. So, for my kicker, I thought that I would make some type of bargain with my demon. Here's what I came up with :

Siosaidh has managed to make a risky bargain with U'Nadredd: The demon will desist from preying on members of the Sifriff (his tribe) provided that Siosaidh goes to Laugharne (a distant island) to complete some unfinished business. U'Nadredd is deliberately vague about what exactly will be involved. When asked, the demon offers crypto-prophetic utterances like, "Strip the fur and rend the bone-lappings: This is the course to the bejewelled heart."

I made Rod (the GM) a list of items--characters, objects, locations, etc.--for different sections of the new diagram. Some of those elements were novel (i.e. not on the diagram for my first kicker), but there were some that were carryovers. Plus there were some items that weren't necessarily on the first diagram but which were introduced in play while I was working at resolving the initial kicker.

 

Greg's picture

Hi badspeler, I can help by sharing the two versions of Guillaume's character sheet.

Guillaume de Landegarde, first kicker : 

Kicker: Last night, his father Henry de Landegarde, dead for years, destroyed the crypt he was buried in, got out in armor, with his splendid shield showing St Damwen and expressed his shame about Guillaume, and now he’s taken the castle throne and is gathering the soldiers, some of them having served for him, to do whoever knows what.
Guillaume has inherited the Château de Landegarde, a citadel built on a rock to guard the Haunted Pass, a strategic passage out of a forest between two little chains of mountain. A famous battle was won by one of his ancestors, Godefroy de Landegarde, who built the citadel, two hundred years ago, against a fearful opponent, a mix of celtic tribes and Gigondas rival. The records are in fact blurry of this battle. Guillaume have lost three wives and a few children, buried in the family crypt inside the castle walls, and lives in the castle with 200 hundred soldiers, his family, and servants, and a village down the hill.

Catherine de Flamehaut also teached him to summon Elise and the few things he knows about sorcery. Elisea showed him what she calls an enchanted pool of crystal-clear salted water, where he surprised a celtic girl that he meets sometimes there, alone, to know about her tribes.

Descriptors :

Stamina (Trained soldier) 4: Guillaume is Knight, commander of the rear guard of the Duke Aymeric de Flamehaut, he practices hunting, tournament.
Will (Lover, Vow) 5 : The typical French courtly love story, he desires profoundly Catherine de Flamehaut, and they play this refusal/seducing game that should never lead to a charnel relationship. He vowed that he would do anything to please and protect her.
Lore (Apprentice) 1: Catherine is his mentor, and he learned everything from her.
Past (Comte de Landegarde): 5, the name of the region he is living in. Regional warfare, commanding man, knowing heraldry, arrange marriages and claim territories, all those things.
Price (Unlucky in love): -1 in interaction to protect his cared ones from threats (his wife, Catherine, any women he takes interest in). Guillaume is quite guilty from the loss of his previous wife, but also his mother who died when he was very young. He prays every week in the family crypt and ask advices to his mother, Aliénor.

Diagram Elements :

Past: Château de Landegarde, Chivalrous tournaments, Blanche (his fourth wife), the haunted pass.
Lore: Élise, Catherine de Flamehaut, an enchanted pool of salted water in the forest, a celtic girl/priestess.
Price: His previous wives’s tombs in the family crypt (Bérengère, Jeanne, Isabelle), terrible scars in the back from previous wars and tournaments.
Kicker: Henry de Landegarde, The Family Shield.
king.

 

Guillaume, Second kicker : 

Kicker :

The king has called an army to take back a sacred relic in a mystic grotto known to be the tomb of a martyr and extend the realm’s boundaries. After a harsh and almost-blind battle in a mysterious and very dense fog against blurred silhouettes, I realize that we just slaughtered one another, and that I just killed the king.

Descriptors :

Stamina (Trained soldier, just healthy) 4: Guillaume is Knight, commander of the rear guard of the Duke Aymeric de Flamehaut, he practices hunting, tournaments.
Will (Wrathful, Leader of men) 5. Guillaume can't pardon Unaddred or Catherine herself for the loss.
Lore (Adept) 3. Guillaume is now himself versed into the forbidden arts of magics.
Past (Comte de Landegarde, King of Girondas) 5. 
Price (Bad reputation). -1 in interaction with the nobility, because he changed his family emblem.
 

Elements :

Past: The “ost” (army) camp, Duke Aymeric de Flamehaut, The King, Jacques (Guillaume’s second in command). 
Lore: Elise, Scarvish, Catherine’s scarf, a belt of hair from the Abbey.
Price: Catherine de Flamehaut, Dead wives, the scattered family’s shield, the new Emblem.
Kicker: the fog, the relic, the grotto, a mass of dead and injured levies, the king’s corpse. 

The point is having a gritty scenery of a lost and misunderstood battle, a feeling of despair with a touch of mysticism.
The belt has been given by one of the leaders of the Abbey after what happened with his father.
 

badspeler's picture

Just wanted to say I appreciate your detailed responses.

Ron Edwards's picture

Here it is! I drew on a game from a few years ago for the sheets and concepts, which you can read about in Praying is too slow if you’re interested.  

Here are some follow-up points.

I forgot to mention that the order of making these connections within a single diagram doesn’t matter. I could have started Keenan’s diagram by considering the congregation and the sign first, rather than last, and the diagram would have ended up looking exactly the same.

While making a diagram, often I realize that some NPC or detail about a location or thing is not only viable, but irresistible, so it becomes an added item. I didn’t do that here very much to avoid muddying the points I was making, but I am certain that for a real game, one of the coven members would have acquired a name and some characterization in my mind, and thus received a diagram position.

I struggled a bit to say what I meant regarding the blog followers + sign for Bev, so for clarity, it means that the sign and the blog followers are not required to be in physical proximity. They’re next to each other on the diagram because one or more blog followers know about the sign, but they’re not in the center so the opening moments of the session do not assign the blog followers to be standing at the sign.

For Charlene, I represented the GM as asking the player “where are you,” but also specifying the time, early morning. This is because I’m conceiving this as a single game with these three characters as generated here, and I’ve already mentally placed the location specified in Keenan’s diagram in the early morning. Having no “when” to go by for Charlene, or for Bev for that matter, I’m treating the three locations’ cold open at the start of the session as occurring simultaneously, using the only one that has seemed obvious to me.

If there were no such time-intution available to me for any of the locations specified by the diagrams, then I’d ask “when” for every character without a when, as well as “where” for those characters without a where. It’s OK to play separate scenes out-of-time sync in Sorcerer (and in almost any game, in fact). However, just so we don’t get weird in this conversation, if you have a “when” for even one character, it’s simplest to say the others are all simultaneous, especially for the first session.

(first of a two-part reply)

Ron Edwards's picture

This presentation really fought to be born through the course of a difficult week and especially the day I’d reserved for it (but got steamrolled), so what you’re seeing is a very tired person. In the second half, you can see me start to stumble over words, and my final points aren’t made as sharply as the earlier ones. So here are a few conclusive or connecting points regarding using the diagrams and preparing a session after the first.

Regarding NPCs who are not in the center, and especially if they are really out at the edge somewhere, you are not prohibited from having them do things. However, they are doing them physically away from the opening situation.

If their actions can’t possibly impact whatever is happening in the center-determined opening situation, then they happen “over there” – make one-stop-and-over rolls if needed. For example, the Cruel Enemy kidnaps the Innocent Child – well, roll a score for each and see whether the Innocent Child is now running around freely (where it may make most sense to be, and whatever it makes most sense to be doing), with the Cruel Enemy frustrated; or the Cruel Enemy now has the Child in durance vile or whatever it had in mind.

If such NPCs’ actions are directed toward or into one or more player-characters’ situation(s), possibly because they are intent on doing something roll-worthy to a player-character (just to pick an obvious example), then they have to “get into” the situation via a roll, either to be there at all or in terms of timing, as I mentioned. However, to illustrate via a softer example, let’s say that an NPC just really wants to say something to a player-character. In one of the Sorcerer games I played not long ago, the character’s grandmother really wanted to talk to him, but she was not at the center. Well, it’s not like an attack or something, nor was the information important in terms of timing relative to the situation at the center, and as the fiction was set in the modern world, all that means is that in the middle of the center-determined situation, he got a call from his grandma. The point is that because she wasn’t at the center of the diagram, when “the lights come up,” as it were, she is not there with him and whoever/whatever else is.

As sessions proceed, really do the diagrams de novo. Don’t start with the one you just used and see “if things move from there.” Stay with physical proximity or subsets as the gold standard, with formal social equivalents insofar as they approximate that kind of solid connection as you see it.

Doing the diagram entirely over, from the non-ordered lists, often revises the simple associations among items. Just because Buddy is in Buddy’s place as a default concept at the opening of session 1, doesn’t mean Buddy is trapped there during play. If we never saw him in session 1, then sure, still think of them as “together” for the new diagram why not, but if Buddy went to the liquor store or moved to Denver, then they’re not associated due to proximity any more.

New diagrams almost always entail including new things, too. It may come from almost anywhere during play, but the most common source is exactly the pragmatic inspiration of giving the liquor store guy a name because he was surprisingly fun to play, or having an interaction at City Hall when Keenan uncharacteristically goes there to make a fuss, so we now have a location (an office) to go with the councilman. Conceivably, every location we see in play probably should get onto the new diagram, and no small number of NPCs and details that “came alive.”

Things on other player-characters’ diagrams are a subset of that concept, which I mentioned a little too quickly in the recording. I should have said “presuming that characters’ paths have crossed,” for which see Crosses in Sex & Sorcery at the very least. It’s also helpful to restrict this sharing (say, of things on player-character A’s diagram) to either those which are associated with things on player-character via the same standards of associating things on a diagram at all (especially proximity), or those which now harbor motivated intentions toward the player-character or toward things on their diagram. Note as well that the sector that something “comes from” on player-character A’s diagram doesn’t dictate where it lands on player-character B’s.

Now I’m officially wiped out, so let’s see how this goes.

(concludes the two-part reply)

Sean_RDP's picture

I have a question about Bev or perhaps an observation.

The guitar and the beater. I was thinking in terms of physical closeness, the guitar might have to live in the beater because its too easy to steal in the Hostel? And Bev might bring the guitar along to protest the kicker. So I had the idea that they would converge on the center. But in my headI keep thinking "the beater and guitar are not that important."

Does that even matter how "important" they are or is their relationship to one another what matters most? Assuming of course one did I like I did and envisioned the beater and guitar having that physical closeness. 

I am going to be making a Sorcerer character today because it has been a minute and want to walk through the process again. 

Sean_RDP's picture

Ah I should have waited for the next video, because that answers my question.

Rod_A's picture

This is a great piece of teaching, and does indeed make things more clear. I'll look forward to implementing it sometime soon.

Ron Edwards's picture

Hi Sean, you said that a later video answered your question, but I don’t think it did.

The guitar and the beater. I was thinking in terms of physical closeness, the guitar might have to live in the beater because its too easy to steal in the Hostel? And Bev might bring the guitar along to protest the kicker. So I had the idea that they would converge on the center. But in my headI keep thinking "the beater and guitar are not that important."

Does that even matter how "important" they are or is their relationship to one another what matters most?

I see two questions which should be addressed separately and very directly.

First, the physical association between the guitar and the beater. In a real game, the player makes the lists and in fact, should make the diagram (this is not possible for first-time players). So the GM does not infer associations. The player would decide whether the guitar lives in the beater or doesn’t, period ... and if it does, wham, we know that the two terms slam right into the center.

Taken in isolation, that means we know Bev is in the car with the guitar at the outset of play. This raises two subordinate points.

What if two locations arrive at the center? For example, if the hostel and blog are there as shown and used in the video? No problem: both associations are now true in terms of location, and ask the player where the character is, meaning, which one.

In this case, the laptop is at the hostel (presuming we keep that somewhat-soft idea) and the guitar is in the car, but the player says where Bev is ... and is often capable of reconciling the two by having Bev in transition from car to hostel room, holding both the laptop and the guitar. Remember, this is about the opening shot, not about “the scene” – to get to “the scene,” just keep playing. Bev can go wherever she wants and put the things she’s carrying wherever she wants.

Second, this business of “importance” needs to be killed dead in the water. That is motorboating, as I casually coined while recording: saying a given thing in the diagram has some kind of motility or in this case, special attraction for some other item, due to intended plot events.

I think I see why that happens: when you think that something has to be central in the diagram to be active in play, which is not correct. The player and GM have very separate Authorities in Sorcerer and are notably effective/consequential in exercising them, compared to most other games. If your sphere of activity includes a given thing and what it does, then that applies at all times during play.

Finally, as a footnote to both of these topics, our entire discussion of diagramming is marred by thinking of it as a GM operation when the player really should be the main contributor. As conceived, the GM receives the diagram and may remind the player of this or that thing if necessary. I have not yet managed to encourage a play-culture of Sorcerer to do this, and until recently, I’d given up.

Sean_RDP's picture

re: Importance

Agreed. In fact the very next video answered that question. It clicked a bit better after seeing the next character.

re Player doing the work

It has been a minute since I have played as opposed to read through Sorcerer. The other day as I was going through creation process (realizing it works best with a group) and it occurred to me that this is the player's work and I took on the task with that in mind. Taking the GM hat off made the process more interesting for me and worked much better. 

Greg's picture

I could find time to watch anything but the first video. I hope I'll find time to watch the other ones this week-end. Spontaneous reactions:

I think I see why that happens: when you think that something has to be central in the diagram to be active in play, which is not correct. 

and

Finally, as a footnote to both of these topics, our entire discussion of diagramming is marred by thinking of it as a GM operation when the player really should be the main contributor. 

This is so true. For the moment, everything written here exactly explains why some of my sorcerer games worked, and why the other didn't. 

I realize that in the Day of the Dupes Sorcerer Louis XIII session that finally went very functionnaly, I was using the diagram more as you explain (without really knowing it), and in the others, I fell more into those traps you describe. I could understand why it was working in one game and not in the other and I had multifactorial variables - but not expecting the diagram as one of them!

The fact that I only play with new players to the game doesn't help, because I can see there is a group learning curve. I still need to reflect on that but it only gives me more desire to play more Sorcerer ! But I really feel I need to gm some trollbabe before. It's the advice you gave me and I really understand why now.

Thank you for all those inputs.

Greg's picture

Ok. So I've watched the video. This is really helpful. I think I "thought" I got it but it made it clearer. Here is why.

Understanding that the players decide where are things is helpfully (ie : Charlene's diagram). In fact, this solve my scene framing problem in the first Sorcerer Louis XIII game. It wasn't clear in this game that the diagram is a creative constraint. In this session, we had a little power struggle between Laura and me about how the first scene was framed. For reminder, Laura's diagram had this in the center: Her mentor, the mission to kill Charles (given by her mentor), a rapier (given by her mentor to kill Charles), and a full moon (a condition given by her mention for when to kill Charles), and "Fencing spectacles" (attracted by the rapier). So, the Mentor (a lore element) attracts three elements from the kicker through an association made by the player (Laura), and one element from the cover (the fencing spectacle) is attracted by an element form the kicker who is already in the center (the rapier). I think I did it well. So I started to frame the scene as a full moon during a fencing spectacle in Charles' Manor, but Laura wanted to play how she prepared herself to do this mission a week before. I chose Charles's Manor so I play the scenes simultaneously - and we struggled, with me finally changing the framing to a scene where the Mentor gives the Mission during a Fencing Spectacle, giving the Rapier and asking to do it during a Full Moon. In fact, if I understand well, I should have made clear to Laura that she's framing the scene with all those centered elements in some way.

In my game of Xar, I also arrived to some point that I had too much elements in a diagram - like grapes of them. The Ascended Guard and its Ascended Captain under the Ascended Queen. So I was sure it was more a matter of having lots of elements as mentioned in the 4th video. But I redrawed the diagrams right now and I'm not so sure about it. I stopped this game because I'm not sure it fits this group for the moment, mainly because of the "playing not playing" phenomen that I will adress in a later post more in detail (I have more to say). 

Those are the things that are really ticking for me :

As sessions proceed, really do the diagrams de novo. Don’t start with the one you just used and see “if things move from there.” Stay with physical proximity or subsets as the gold standard, with formal social equivalents insofar as they approximate that kind of solid connection as you see it.

I totally fell into that trap. I was even looking for online tools to do it better. The diagram, put aside after the opening scene, can serve as a notebook for the next session with the player writing new elements that appeared during the game, so he can write the diagram de novo for the next game.

New diagrams almost always entail including new things, too. It may come from almost anywhere during play, but the most common source is exactly the pragmatic inspiration of giving the liquor store guy a name because he was surprisingly fun to play, or having an interaction at City Hall when Keenan uncharacteristically goes there to make a fuss, so we now have a location (an office) to go with the councilman. Conceivably, every location we see in play probably should get onto the new diagram, and no small number of NPCs and details that “came alive.”

I was wondering how much you could do. Now I realize: nothing at all. I, as a GM, did every time after the session. It strikes me it would be better that the player do it, once everybody knows clearly how the diagram works - so it would be best to be a conversation in the beginning of session. The players just come with their made diagrams and the GM asks questions to check if he understand what it looks like as an opening scene.

I've quoted it just before, but anyway.

Finally, as a footnote to both of these topics, our entire discussion of diagramming is marred by thinking of it as a GM operation when the player really should be the main contributor. As conceived, the GM receives the diagram and may remind the player of this or that thing if necessary. I have not yet managed to encourage a play-culture of Sorcerer to do this, and until recently, I’d given up.

I still think Sorcerer is a difficult game, or at least, it is a difficult game for me, to teach and to practice. It seems that Sorcerer cannot work by itself with just a "good GM". It plays very well with players who really understand what the game facilitate and really want to do it. Everything makes sense, but it's very different from the play culture I've been socialized, and there are lots of those little coherent things. It is striking now that with those insights and every players on the same page, it should be incredibly stressless for the GM.

We made a pause to this game of Sorcerer & Sword in Hybreasil but we decided to come back to this game and those characters after a little pause, letting us the time to play some other things. I'm really excited to start again with those insights. 

We're continuing Sorcerer Archipel with Laura and will implement this in the next session, sunday. Laura will draw the diagram and associates elements herself and we'll see how it works! 

Greg's picture

Ron, I try to think about authorities in Sorcerer, and I realize I can't clearly identify how it works.

I'm pretty sure I'm doing some mistakes here, but I'll try. If I understand well, situational authority in the beginning of a session is held by the player under the creative constraint of which elements are in the center of the diagram. In fact, basically situational authority is generally in the player's hand, and shared with the gm. After the opening scene, when the player has a strong idea on what he wants to do, he just do it, which frames a sitaution with the GM's inputs what he thinks the NPC would do on basis of whatever is preparation or seems logical in the moment for those NPC from the backstory.

To take the Day of the Dupes example, let's take the scene of the duel between Charles and Helen that I quote here for easier reading.

I hard cut to the duel scene at midnight, after Charles’s player told me that he was totally serious about accepting the duel. We set that Charles is moving to his campaign manor outside Paris. The scene is in an abandoned manor, destroyed by the fire a few years earlier, and known to all duelists (duels being forbidden at that moment). 

What happened in terms of situational authorities, is that I proposed to Laura a location, "there is should be an abandoned manor that every duellists like you know about, a retired and abandoned thing as duels are currently forbidden", but it was just a proposition, that she validated. This is for colour.  I asked both players what was the situation on their part. "Charles, do you go like an honorable gentleman or do you prep some sneaky plan? Do you go alone?", I did the same for Laura. I framed the scene without any input on my part, just summarizing to provide a shared visual. In some way, like the setup in S/Lay W/Me, describing horizons and letting the players describe how they arrived or was already there, and in a "Fair and Clear" state applied to the scene framing (which was clearly the setup for a conflict).

Interestingly I looked at the diagrams at that moment and saw Charles' old valet in the center but he wasn't part of the scene. I was thinking "I should bring him in some way", that's why I made him appear when Charles was killed by Hélène. I understand know that it was a leggit move, but that had not causal relation with its position in the diagram - I shouldn't have care about this. It worked very well, but only because my belief that I had to bring it has put me in a "NPC, who are not protagonists, acts toward PC as protagonists" meaning, playing the NPC as needing the NPC for their own desires. This is striking how it is solving, for me, the way I did with Vampire the Masquerade - where NPC don't need PC at all and makes their plans without them, which leads to this metaplot no pc hears or has to hear about - except in purely social fanfic conversations between players outside the game.

Now that I think about it, how we (the players and me) treated the situational authority between this session and the previous session seems to explain why this one worked so well.

In my game of Xar, the "playing non playing" players never took this authority and I was trying to fill the gape, which led to filling and filling and filling and having pile of elements pushing for reactions that lead to frustration together.

 

Greg's picture

"playing the NPC as needing the NPC for their own desires." should be read "playing the NPC as needing the PC for their own desires."

John Willson's picture

I just finished watching the 4 videos about the Sorcerer diagrams. I feel like I fully understand them for the first time. Great explanation.

Link to video playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLju-wHxFDuebkq3nPIAxxDX5JOGdzcgQk

Ron Edwards's picture

Thanks John! Also thanks for posting this here, as I've been thinking about one critical point which ... I think ... is probably where everyone keeps falling apart with these things.

At one point in the annotations, I quote someone as referring to the diagrams as a "story bullseye," which I now realize means something entirely different to everybody who isn't me.

To me, that refers specifically to the opening locations and content of the next session; it is a limited form of scene-switch focus. It does not refer to the entirety or even main focus of "what's going on," or a grand diagram of everything that must be played, or any-and-all content. It is not preparation in the usual sense of the term, meaning, essentially, authorship of a classic adventure or mystery module, which you "play through" or "take them through" or "guide."

... but that's what everyone else thinks when the word "story" is used, up to and including the sequence of events which will occur as play continues. They are thinking of story as the whole story as eventually played, as a product, as a unit, as the grand experience to be had, and then to look back upon. They are thinking of the diagram as a framing device at least an order of magnitude higher than what I'm trying to provide and use.

With respect to everyone here, the chance is far too high that when you (everyone, anyone) are looking at a group of players, a pile of dice, and a few pages of notes, you will slip right back into it as soon as the imagined space kicks in. The training and the trained reactions are really strong. If you do, then you will start trying to use the diagram as an intuitive continuity technique.

So my attempt at constructive advice about this topic continues with this point: as the GM, anything you prepare, anything you do, anything you bring in or include as backstory or situation - because all of these things are your job - can be brought into play any time you like. The diagram never tells you anything about what cannot be happening in terms of the overall situation. It is a "story bullseye," but of vastly more limited scope; we are talking about a single function (where, who is there) at a single moment (the beginning of a session).

 

Jesse Burneko's picture

I watched the four videos a few months ago. I know the text the game of the game mentionions updating the diagram but I never really did that. I would have the players setup the diagram and then I would use that for prep.  But from there we played each session just picking up where the last session left off.

I don't think I ever interpreted the "story bullseye" as a form of intuitive continuity but more like a cluster of billard balls I should target with bangs.  If things were attached then bangs should threaten to break them apart.  If things were seperated then bangs should threaten to bring elements together in ways the character would find problematic.  In fact the pool table analogy probalby holds pretty well as I would do things like, "Okay, here's a bang that's going to send the grandmother from out near the edge careening into the finance near the middle threatening to knock her away from the demonic engagement ring."

PedroPereira's picture

(reposted as it's own comment instead of a reply)

So, as I pointed out on the Discord server, there is a question regarding the use of the Diagrams that I've been thinking for a while and I'd like Ron to comment on: in what way would using the diagram spacial relationships for setting the starting scene's elements e.g. location, who's and what is there (as it is used now) versus not using it would affect gameplay. Would it necessarily cause problems (or just potentially so) or would it be just different in terms of scene elements? Would it be a non-functional way of playing? Is it's primary concern a tool to help avoid Intuitive Continuity, at least at the session's beguining? Something(s) else?

Not sure if my question is clear, but hopefully it's enough to start a meaningful discussion.

Ron Edwards's picture

There are two answers: one is factual in the sense of how I came to use these things in the first place, and the other is speculative.

For #1, I realized some time around 1996 that I simply did not have to prepare "story" in the sense of knowing where it was going and how it would come to any sort of specific confrontation, either in this session or eventually. I finally understood why, throughout all the years of Champions and Cyberpunk, sometimes play popped hard into dynamic story creation right there among us and sometimes it flailed badly and traumatically. That flailing was especially bad because it always resulted from my best intentions as GM for "a good story" meeting obviously the best possible activities of the player for exactly the same thing. How could good GMing be incompatible with good character play?

Anyway, at this moment (it was the game I discuss in detail in pp. 115-118 in the annotations), the conundrum was instantly and easily resolved. How should a new session start? Obviously, not in anything to do with where I as the GM might want to take things or to get to, but in this moment's conformation or profile of who was were, and what thing was with whom. In other words, I shifted, for this specific function, entirely to causal inertia of the current fictional profile of people, places, and things. There was still plenty of room for these characters to do things; that wasn't being taken away at all. What was suddenly prohibited was my anticipated or desired outcome, and my privilege to shape the entirety of the world to my liking as a grand tautology. Instead of me saying, "Gee, I sure would like to see Gino the Thumb to confront player-character X from a position of advantage, so when he comes home, Gino is there and has his girlfriend hostage," I turn instead to see where all the nouns are in association with one another ... and if Gino isn't there in that apartment with that girlfriend, well ... fuck you, Mr. I Sure Would Like To See, because the diagram says Gino isn't there. If he wants to be there (which I do have jurisdiction over), well, he's going to have to try to get there, with rolls if called for, like everyone else, as part of play.

I think this sets up for my speculative #2 reply, which unfortunately isn't so speculative after all. It's found in the dozens of examples of someone posting in some confusion, along the lines of "we played Sorcerer and I'm confused and doubtful, what do I do, I don't get it," when I say "are you using the diagrams?" and they say "Um, those? Yeah, I skimmed that part, because I'm an experienced GM, so, uh, what are those, again?"

Take out the diagrams and all your bad habits of tautological Mr. I Would Like To See GMing will rush right in. It's painting a bullseye on your back.

PedroPereira's picture

I had the pleasure yesterday to have a video call on Discord with Ron about the "WHY" of diagrams in Sorcerer. Read the rest of this thread for more context on this. Here is my digest of that conversation. My questions were more or less formulated as follows during the call:

Perhaps a better way to restate my original question is what about games that do not use a Diagram (like, say, your own Champions Now), but which nevertheless work well as long as you are aware of the pitfalls? I understand what Sorcerer's Diagram is doing and (partially) why you developed it as a tool, but is it *stritly necessary* for functional GMing? Why isn't something like it in Champions Now? If someone is conscious of the issues/pitfalls you mentioned, can't you still just look at the NPCs drives/ambitions/desires/etc coupled with the present Situation and still do your scene framing without falling into "where the GM wants to take things" and avoiding GM anticipated /desired outcomes, sans Diagram?

Perhaps a thought exercise could help with clarifying my question, just in case I'm still not being clear: if Sorcerer had been published last year instead of circa 20 years ago, would it be more like Champions Now in terms of setting the starting scenes? Because to me it seems that the Diagram was a specific (and excellent) tool developed as a response to particular issues in the context of the time in which Sorcerer was being developed. I could have imagined you coming up with something similar if you had published Champions Now instead of Sorcerer 20 years ago.

Does that make sense? I'm I totally missing it?
 

Ron's answer to my question is that, yes, to a great degree the Diagram and the spacial relationships (that get redrawn at the end of all sessions by the players) are "preventive" of behaviours like Intuitive Continuity. I think it's important to see this in the context of the times in which the game was designed, and this was actually my primary reason to ask Ron about this in the first place ("do we need it nowadays?"). Plotting the adventure ahead of time, railroading, taking the story (even if on a subtle or unconscious level) "where we want it to go", etc, were all big concerns at the time (even today for that matter), and using the Diagrams partially as a preventive tool was part of the motivation for the way they work like they do.

But it's not JUST that. There are other reasons for redrawing them for starting scenes (mainly where's this, who's there, and what's there). From what I understood, there's two main points regarding this, which may actually be part of a single point, and Ron can clarify that:

a) he wanted, very consciously, to "throw a wrench" in the scene framing process at the start of a session. Instead of just flowing directly from what was established in a previous session and follow it "logically", the redrawn Diagram would start the process anew. Notice a few things about this. First is that since the Diagrams are based on what happened last session, there is no illogical break whatsoever, so we need not worry about the diagrams producing incoherence. Whatever shows up in the diagram-centre will make sense by default. But it imposes an intentional *constraint* on exactly what is in that opening scene for that character. Then you just work with that (see a comment elsewhere in this thread about rolling to see if an NPC could or not be present if the NPC wasn't in the diagram-centre etc). The second point is that, regardless of considerations like "but I'm aware of issues regarding Intuitive Continuity/railroading/temptation to set the scene this way, and so maybe I don't need to use the spacial relationships in the Diagram), it *still* is worth using the diagram process. Ron stated very clearly that even if he was designing Sorcerer today instead of circa 20 years ago, he would still develop the Diagrams as they are, so this is very intentional, not just a preventive tool against Intuitive Continuity and such possible (many times unconscious) issues.

b) there's another factor that is related to a bunch of design variables. The best way to explain it myself (and as I understand it) is that such variables, especially related to character behaviour and moral judgement, are quite voluntary and flexible in-game. Examples that Ron mentions would be e.g. when exactly does a demon rebel or when does a GM call for a Humanity check. There are no specific metrics for this, nor fixed tables for you to consult. They are (within certain constraints of the rules) individual, voluntary, and flexible choices. In this context, using the diagrams acts somewhat as a "counterbalance", or a way to inject some determinism, to counterpoint all this flexibility and reactivity (the non-deterministic component of the design).

For contrast, I asked Ron about Champions Now, and he contrasts them as follows:

For contrast, see Champions Now, which does have involuntary, mandated, and semi-mandated behavior built into play [unlike Sorcerer], for both player-characters and NPCs ... but which has a softer procedure than Sorcerer for starting a session or scene. Not hand-wavy or squishy, but softer in terms of straightforward yes-or-no. So it's the opposite in terms of the specific variables, but it's the same in the sense that some are more deterministic and some are more reactive/voluntary.

That's the real reason for retaining the diagrams, i.e., why it is not a remedial or scaffolding technique. Its deterministic features are tuned to the presence of the non-deterministic, unpredictable, reactive features in other aspects of creating the fiction as we go.

There's still a lot to unpack here and I definitely can see things that are not so clear to me and which would benefit from more discussion. But it's a discussion that I've never seen about the Diagrams in Sorcerer. For what it's worth, I like to know "why" stuff works the way it does, and this discussion with Ron goes a long way to enlighten the role of Diagrams in the game, even if there are many things that I'd like to clarify or dig deeper into. But this is what I managed in a 10 mins call that turned into more than half an hour of pleasant discussion, and I cherish that opportunity.

So, here's the bottom line as I perceive it: will your game break down into pieces or melt in your hands if you don't use the diagrams in-between sessions? No, I don't think so, BUT there are very good reasons why these procedures are in place and you should use them. It's, in a sense, the same reason why players shouldn't play each other's demons instead of the GM, or why Humanity checks are the sole purview of the GM: it's very intentional, there's good design reasons why the rules work the way they work, and it has nothing (or not only) to do with not being an "experienced GM, so I'll avoid the issues". It's not an optional tool, neither is it just there because Ron prefers it that way.

 

John Willson's picture

Hi Ron, could you explain a little more about this statement?  About putting an NPC, who isn't at the centre of the diagram, into the opening scene.

"If he wants to be there (which I do have jurisdiction over), well, he's going to have to try to get there, with rolls if called for, like everyone else, as part of play."

I think you make a similar statement in the diagrams video.

If the NPC wants to be there:

  • What stat are they rolling with, and what are they rolling against?

If the GM wants a person or thing to be there in the opening scene:

  • Is there a roll for this?
  • What stat are they rolling with, and what are they rolling against?

Thanks.

Ron Edwards's picture

Let's resolve one potential confounding topic first: I do not distinguish between "my NPC wants to be there" and "I want my NPC to be there." For purposes of this conversation the latter is just a real-world phrasing for the former, not a big deal.

To answer as best I can: let's say, according to the fictional events that have happened, a given NPC wants to get to a certain place and do a certain thing. How does that happen, what's the best way to establish that, in playing Sorcerer? Does he do it? Has he done it already? Can he do it? Can he do it before a player-character does something that negates the possibility?

I hope you see the point of the questions: that sometimes it will not be a done-deal that this NPC has actually managed to do this thing. Sometimes it is a done-deal; nothing was stopping him, there was plenty of time, it was in his power to do so, et cetera. But I'm talking about when it isn't.

What may be confusing you is that this question isn't actually, necessarily specific to the start of a session or anything to do with the diagram. It's been folded into that particular circumstance because that circumstance (the start of a session) is what we were talking about in the text you've quoted. But as a topic, on its own, it should be understood independently. Maybe it's better to isolate the concept and understand how it works during a session, not at the start, so you can see how the diagram might work with it at the start of a session.

I already stated the basics: that an NPC has not yet done a thing (including being somewhere), they want to do it, and circumstances are such that someone else might do it first (or get there first), or do something that negates it, or interpose themselves intentionally, or interpose themselves unintentionally for some reason, et cetera.

This shouldn't be hard, right? Effectively it's a conflict between two or more characters whose actions aren't compatible. One of them has to prevail. All your questions about which score to use, et cetera, seem like no-brainers to me. You pick the relevant score based on what the person is trying to do (run fast, navigate an unfamiliar or familiar city, negotiate a contract, hell, any action imaginable really). You just roll to see who gets there first, for instance.

I find myself trying to guess at your own frame of mind that turns this into a question. Is it because we're talking about "between the lines" play to some extent, meaning, this roll is occurring more like a framing device between played moments in fictional chronological experienced time? But that's not hard, people have been doing that ever since we had random encounters in dungeons. Rolling for XYZ as a feature of off-screen or upcoming events is not exotic.

I'm hoping that this hasn't just spun you out into the stratosphere, because it's only the first half. Given that this technique (which I stress, isn't special or weird or innovative or anything) can and should be used whenever it applies, well, sometimes it applies regarding the start of a session. The diagram shows you where we are all "looking" at the start; that's really all it does. What if you have some NPC in a situation as I've described above, which is not exactly uncommon, it's pretty likely in fact; and what if the diagram does not put this NPC at the center?

You roll for it, just if the same applied at any time during play, when some active NPC who's not currently in a scene wants to do a thing and maybe will get blocked or stopped or pre-empted. The whole concept is nothing more than an application of the fundamental rule about rolling dice in Sorcerer: that you do so when the fiction provides a conflict of interest or outcomes; there is no "say yes or roll the dice," because the roll is obligatory.

Well, I did my best. Let's see if it helped.

John Willson's picture

Thanks Ron, that helps a lot.  So, to summarize: 

  • An NPC wanting to be there, and the GM wanting the NPC there, are essentially the same thing.
  • If a PC's actions or desires stand in opposition to the NPC being there -- simply being there, or being there in time to do or prevent something -- then it's a conflict, and is resolved according to the game's conflict resolution mechanic.
  • It's not necessarily a roll to see whether the NPC is there.  If there is nothing in opposition, then the NPC can simply be there.
  • None of this is specific to the start of session nor to the diagram.  Per the Sorcerer rules, do this whenever "the fiction provides a conflict of interest or outcomes".

Why this was a question for me.  You mentioned that one of the purposes of the diagram was to bypass your own (the GM's) fiat in setting scenes.  It's one of the game's roadblocks to the GM (purposely or inadvertently) imposing a preconceived story.  So, if I have let's say the the "CONDEMNED" lawn sign, the pastor, the congregation and the coven in the opening scene on the front lawn of the church, and I think "it would be fun if the councillor was there too," then I can just do that, put the councillor in the scene.  But that's my own fiat, and that strongly changes the tenor of the scene!  Now instead of the stakeholders all going "what do we do" together, they have a target for their ire.

But in this case, I'm not sure whom the councillor is in opposition to, in his desire (my desire) to be there when the church community notices the sign.

Hmm, well, perhaps I could imagine that it was the blogger who noticed the sign first and who messaged everyone: "meet on the church lawn in 30 minutes!"  And she didn't message the councillor.  So, the councillor wanting to (let's say) show up and control the discussion would be in opposition to the blogger's desire to have a summit meeting/gripe session with all the affected parties.  So I would roll off the blogger's Will vs. the Councillor's Will.  Okay, I see how this works.

I'm sure there could be situations where there is no logical opposition between characters to someone or something being consequentially in a scene.  In that case, do I roll vs. 1 die, or do we just rely on GM fiat in that case?  Maybe I'd ask the players: do you want to have _______ in this scene too?  Or maybe it's too much of an edge case to worry about.

Ron Edwards's picture

Somewhere, somehow, somebody got it into their heads that if a GM does any damn thing which they are in fact supposed to be able to do, that it's "fiat."

Fiat is by definition overriding what a current, expected procedure is supposed to do. Ignoring the quantitative results of a dice roll, contradicting something which another person said which was in that person's purview to do, altering an established feature typically in order to permit or prevent something from happening.

None of what you described is fiat. Populating the beginning of any scene, or entrances and exits of persons during a scene, is something the GM in this game is supposed to be doing; if they don't do it, it's a failure of play.

You have described the situation with the councillor very well, but what I want you to consider is the objection which you raised to yourself:

So, if I have let's say the the "CONDEMNED" lawn sign, the pastor, the congregation and the coven in the opening scene on the front lawn of the church, and I think "it would be fun if the councillor was there too," then I can just do that, put the councillor in the scene.  But that's my own fiat, and that strongly changes the tenor of the scene!  Now instead of the stakeholders all going "what do we do" together, they have a target for their ire.

So what? What is all this about "changing the tenor of the scene," which as a phrase is tremendously non-rigorous. First, there wasn't a scene in place which was then changed, i.e., there isn't any prevailing or existing "tenor" which is supposed to be acknowledged or honored or preserved. So the implications of "oh no, I changed it" do not apply. Second, your logic about deciding whether they're present is a little weird because you have two toggles: (1) whether the councillor even knows about this meeting and wants to be there and (2) whether the blogger tried to keep it from the councillor ... and blah blah blah, there you are, writing a whole chapter of fiction of your own to justify whether this or that feature of this fiction (the one we're making) is present.

This isn't a sausage factory machine. You don't feed the diagram items into the diagram mechanism and have it spit out a "play this scene" package on a tray for you. It's a musical instrument. You use it and discover how its properties influence what you make.

It may simply be the case that you are imagining what-ifs and if-I-dids and then-whats, which isn't play, and cannot be play or model play. It's doomed to fail because you can always second-guess and frighten yourself.

But I know you are asking this authentically and I'm not going to dismiss your concern. Instead, I will try it this way. From the diagram we have the church, the sign, the paster, the congregation, and (as a subset of the latter) the coven. Just as you say, your imagination hands you a bit more, e.g., the front lawn specifically. So far so good.

Then you basically hang yourself with this phrase: "I think 'it would be fun if the councillor was there too.'" Bam. There it is. The wrong thought, the poisoned cup. You are not there to create fun. You are not the entertainer. You are not the planner for how good this upcoming scene is going to be.

Go back to your own imagination, the same one that quite rightly gave us the front lawn and has probably visualized the situation enough so that if I asked, "How many people," you would know without any need to make it up in some entertaining way. You're probably already imagining the pastor's expression, the subtle difference in the coven members' appearances and comportment that would alert someone with Lore to their presence - right? I hope so. Without trying, can you say what color the visible part of the church is, in your mind's eye? I'm pretty sure you can.

Now you're faced with the constraint that this whole comment is about: you cannot put the councilman there, because the diagram says not to. But your concept of the councilman, and of the situation in general, says, "well, that person would definitely want to be there."

John, this is so, so easy: the councilman shows up a little ways into the scene. There's no roll necessary, which you know because in order to arrive at a roll, you had to make something up - that's the signal that you didn't need one. And having him show up is not fiat or a cheat. The diagram says nothing about what will happen; it is only a way for us to know what is happening as the session opens, the opening shot. It is not a planning device for the scene as a dramatic unit.

Over the past few days, for a wide variety of reasons, I have completely lost the ability - already not very accomplished, ask anyone - to assess my tone. I have no idea how this reply is coming off, or whether our dialogue through these comments has been more and more clear for you vs. more and more frustrating. So I plead your tolerance if I have been going or started to go the wrong way with this.

John Willson's picture

Hi Ron, your tone didn't bother me, but thanks for explaining.  You sound passionate and a little frustrated, but frustrated at the gamer noosphere that has cultivated such thoughts as "fiat" in my head, not frustrated with me personally.  I appreciate you taking the time to walk me through your thinking on this in detail.  Things are getting more clear for me with every exchange.

"It would be fun if the councillor was there too," yes I deliberately chose that alarming phrasing as an example of something that we would like the diagram rules to prevent.

If I'm writing fiction for myself to justify a scene set-up, or to create a roll between NPCs, then I've overstepped.  Okay, that makes sense.  "...in order to arrive at a roll, you had to make something up - that's the signal that you didn't need one."  Excellent, got it.

From your 40-minute video explanation plus further clarifications in the comments, it seems like the diagram is a finely-tuned mechanism that will produce The Right Opening Scene if only we will use it correctly.  And then, when I ask some questions to make sure I'll use it right, you say "This isn't a sausage factory machine. [It doesn't] spit out a 'play this scene' package on a tray for you."  This felt contradictory.  But I guess your explanations are not about the one and only correct way to use the diagram.  You are are teaching us the technique to get the most out of it.  As you said, "it's a musical instrument."

Yes, I could certainly have the councilman show up part way through the scene.  At first thought, that felt like a cheat: "I followed the diagram… and THEN I put him in!"  But it's not a cheat.  It's a bang.

Ron Edwards's picture

You got it.

Regarding the sense of contradiction, imagine someone who plays guitar and also happens to have designed a particular guitar. Another person says, "How do you play that?," and the first one says, "Well, it works like this."

The questioner painstakingly imitates what they see the person doing, then asks, "So if I do it just like that, I'll be a great guitar player?" "Umm ... no, you still have to play it, it's just ... OK, let me try again: this is how it works, so this is the kind of thing you can do with it, as an example."

"I don't get it," says the questioner. "First you say this guitar will do this thing, then you say it won't. First you say that I have to use its features correctly, then you say that it won't do anything unless I do it. Are you just double-talking me?"

The fact that you're going through this with me, or at this site in general, means you're not whom I'm personally frustrated with or criticizing. Specific people and games, however, yes, I am very definitely calling out. The legacy of discussion and the co-opting of "indie" dating from about 2006 through 2010 is terrible. This is what I targeted so hard in the Introduction to Design course, about widgetry: prioritizing reproducible results and indulging people's desire to say "I know kung fu!" are absolutely anti-play.

I don't have anything against Guitar Hero or casual karaoke or any of those activities like making a pseudo-music video with your friends pretending to play the instruments and jumping around. Why not? Because the people doing them know what it is and don't pretend or believe otherwise.

I am completely out of fucks regarding alleged role-playing design which does not know what it is, or worse, does not care and rakes in money for vapor. The latter has always been pretty bad in role-playing publishing, but probably no worse than for anything else ... until 2012 through the present, in which it has discovered new depths and still seeks the bottom.

John Willson's picture

Thanks again, Ron.  It's all clear now now.  At least I think it is.  The proof will be in when I try to apply it.

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