Sorcerer: inaction and consequence

After 7 years of anticipation, pondering, forum reading and false starts, I played an extremely satisfying game of Ron Edwards’ Sorcerer with some friends. Jesse Burneko of the Play Passionately blog and Actual People, Actual Play podcast was the gamemaster.

Jesse brought a craft and focus to the game that finally made Sorcerer “click” with me. I’d already learned a lot from my own failures with the game, but the “negative learning” of working out what not to do just didn’t compare with the positive learning of seeing what a well-run, super-charged and engaged game of Sorcerer looks like. It was the final piece in the puzzle of consistently fun and rewarding play of the game, for me.

Our game was called “Down by the Sea,” set in a West Coast town modeled on Venice Beach in California. Home to bohemian artsy types, small-business entrepreneurs and homeless beach campers, this cozy community was the backdrop for three characters: Sebastian, hedonistic nightclub owner ¬†who led a cult of Dynonisian hedonism and whose club was a powerful demon that hungered for decadent acts to be performed within its walls. Kelly, an art director whose Demon, Kennedy, was a smoking hot babe determined to see him go far in the art world, at any cost. Gunther, a homeless anarchist shit-kicker whose leather jacket was a Demon named Vildgrim that craved mayhem and battle.

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How to (not) build community

bullhorn-evangelismEven once I recognized and processed what I what I wanted from roleplaying, it wasn’t easy to find Story Now play in practice. I had a lot of hiccups and false steps along the way, but I’m finally starting to figure it out.

When I stumbled upon the Forge, I devoured Ron Edwards’ essays and read a whole bunch of dense, extensive discussions, in an effort to figure out what the whole deal was about. In the process I found a system of thought that helped explain the dysfunctions in my roleplaying history, and I was able to put a name to the kind of play I wanted but wasn’t getting: Narratawatsi–I mean, Story Now.

Great, right? Only not so great. I approached a fellow roleplayer or two (mostly my brother) to explain the great new ideas I’d discovered, and I met. . .resistance. For one thing, I was still learning the concepts, and misrepresented them horribly. By the time I had things squared away, I’d already left an impression in my bro’s head along the lines of “Story Now means acting out of character for the good of the story,” which was justly repellent to him. And there’s no guarantee he and the others would have been interested in the play I wanted even if I had explained it properly.

So, while my gaming buds enjoyed the very occasional foray into hippie roleplaying land, they mostly wanted to play the same games the same way. So I had to look elsewhere for my Story Now fix. Through the internet I found a Yahoo Group of Portland indie gamers. We all met up and started gathering to try out new and different games, and evolved into Go Play PDX. I’d finally found my tribe, and all was well in roleplaying-land, right?

Nope, wrong again. Yes, I had fun and formed lasting friendships with a bunch of friendly, creative people who love shared story creation and trying new things. But I made this shocking discovery that–get this–even within the same “scene” people have different aesthetic preferences and creative priorities! Oddly enough, walking into a gaggle of self-professed “Story Gamers” and waving any old game around at anyone who’ll sit still is NOT a recipe for reliable, fulfilling play, of Story Now or any other agenda. Everyone needs to be on the same page, which means matching the right game with the right people AND clearly articulating the style and goal of play.

In the midst of a couple of games–Sorcerer and Red Box Hack–flopping with my friends because I approached it carelessly, I examined the experience with Ron Edwards at the Forge, and we explored the concept of BUY-IN: getting everyone on board for THIS activity, right NOW, with THESE people. Ron’s method for soliciting buy-in is to pitch Color and Reward, that is, what kind of story are we creating–space Nazis, political-intrigue elves, or post-apocalyptic cyborgs–and how does the game facilitate that experience? If you’ve got people on board for both those things, then you can look forward to a rewarding experience for all. If someone doesn’t get the color (“Whaddya mean political? I thought elves just shoot orcs with bows.”) or is turned off by the game method (“I gotta roll HOW many dice?!”) you’re headed for trouble.

I guess the bottom line is that there is no one monoculture of “Story” or “Indie” gamers one can gather around oneself. There’s a diverse community with a variety of interests. And there’s no simplistic “typing” to sort players into. different activities, different times, different people. All those things are mutable. The guys who indulge in immersive emo-porn one night might well be all over some board-gamey orc slayin’ the next. Just make sure you’re all on board for whatever activity is at hand. Don’t make the mistake of bringing your tenor sax to Death Metal night. And if you’re looking for Story Now gamers, don’t sweat so much assembling a “community” of monocultured, same-interest players. They don’t exist. Solicit interest for specific games with specific folks. You’ll have great games, and “community”–like the motley crew below, with whom I bonded over specific games–will happen on its own.Gamestormcrew

Peace,

-Joel