I’ve been busy and haven’t gotten around to writing things up lately, but the Great 13 One Shots Experiment has not died on the vine! We’ve finished off the first chapter (Sorcerer and Sword) and have done character creation for the second (Agon). Due to holidays and grown-up schedules and such it’s slower than I’d hoped, but so it goes.
I’ll discuss the systems and play below. The summary of the story is over at the Book of the Long March site.
I’d wanted to run Sorcerer largely because of a great oneshot that Rob MacDougall ran for us many years back. It’s one of those games that I just wanted to try out for myself to see how it “clicked.” In Sorcerer you play mortals who have bound demons to yourself. The demons are the source of all supernatural powers, and while they may confer abilities to the “master” (sure, keep telling yourself that you’re the one in charge here) the demon is the one with the final say on whether the power fires. So it behooves you to keep your demon happy by fulfilling its Desire (stuff it just likes) and Need (more like a physiological addiction). The real game is in the relationship between sorcerer and demon. The challenge would be how deep we could get into that relationship in a one-shot.
We all really liked the character creation process. Lots of opportunity for defining who your character is and building meaningful/interesting backstory. And it’s one of those games that really encourages you to screw yourself over in the name of story and drama. The more cool powers you give your demon, the more likely that your “control” over it is laughably tenuous. The nature and flavor of the ritual that binds the sorcerer and demon together also gives some great cues as to what their relationship looks like. I felt like after a couple of hours we all had a very solid idea of who these characters were, what the demons were all about, and where the friction points were.
The play itself actually ran two sessions. I’m glad it did because the first was largely social interaction and setup, and it gave me a number of really juicy bits I hadn’t planned on that I was then able to loop back into the story in the second session. I’m glad we gave it the room it needed to breathe rather than just forcing the characters off into the Plot like a dungeon crawl. We also had our first experience with the combat system in that first session, which was very valuable as it showed us how brutal it got very quickly. Everybody knew that from here on when the knives (or demons) come out, make sure it’s worthwhile and that you have a plan going in.
There were a few places where I was unclear on the system after that first session so I was sure to read up on the Forge boards and listen to a couple “actual play” podcasts between sessions. Interestingly some of the places where I got tripped up also caused problems in the podcast sessions (the Hint power and assisting other characters’ actions being chief among them). I’m definitely going to do this for all my sessions going forward and recommend that the other folks running games do it as well; you can only get so much from a reading of the book.
The group really liked Sorcerer and I would definitely use it for future one-shots or even short arc campaigns. I would definitely keep the group smaller though. We had 4 or 5 players and that felt like too much. In the rules as written the GM controls all the demons but I decided to have the players each run someone else’s demon (and idea pinched from Wraith: The Oblivion, I think). I could do that with this group because we’ve been playing together for a long time and I knew they would put the screws to each other appropriately and not be either obnoxious or too light a touch with it. It worked out fine, but each person was in effect running 2 characters which detracted from their ability to really delve into either.
If I were to run Sorcerer again I would definitely compile some house rules and annotations beforehand, to try to smooth out some of the rough patches. The copy of the rulebook I have is the Annotated version produced in the recent kickstarter and in some places the notes help to clarify but not in all. For example, if you damage a character that goes later in the intiative order, how do penalty dice apply to that character’s later action? The dice have already been rolled – do you pick up and reroll the correct number of dice (which could actually make for a better result)? We ended up just adding those penalty dice to the defender’s pool. Many of our problems just might be things that need to get shaken out in play, and I think that’s the key. This is a game that I feel works better in practice than on paper. You have to see how all the gears fit together.
Next up we did a character creation session for Agon, a sword-and-sandals game with deep roots in Greek mythology and contests by and between characters to prove worthiness. Again, we have a large-ish group and the character creation in Agon is very much a group endeavor. You each take turns narrating contests with the other characters to determine who owes Oaths (favors/honor/etc.) to one another. This definitely helped the relationships within the group and the personalities of the characters to gel as we went around the table with various challenges. I really like Agon, having played it at Origins many many years back, and am looking forward to seeing it in play.
More to come in the New Year!