Posted on July 6, 2005 by Flames
Written by Ron Edwards
Within the horror and dark fantasy realm, it seems as if a lot of fans are concerned about setting. Sorcerer takes an extremely bold approach – it is more concerned about how you play than where. The book, published by Adept Press, is beautifully bound in hardcover form and retails for about $20.00. At around 140 pages in trade size, the size of the book threw me for a loop. After all, how can such a thin book without a pregenerated setting pack such a big punch?
Sorcerer is a Faustian game for people who want to test the limits of their character and have complete freedom to use their own imagination to fill in all the details. You play a Sorcerer(ess) who summons demons. Your character’s actions are tied to your Humanity stat, which is defined by the GM. Lose your humanity, lose your soul or worse – lose control over your character. At a Humanity of zero, the GM takes over. Your humanity is the price you may pay for being league with a demon. The nice aspect of this mechanic, which is central to the game, is that there is some element of chance. “Every time your character successfully Contacts, Summons, or Binds a demon…roll Humanity against the demon’s Power.” (page 43) However, as I quickly learned when I played Sorcerer, your decisions in game could also mean a Humanity check. “GMs can also decree Humanity loss rolls if the character performs heinous acts…” (page 43) I liked that aspect of the game, for it balanced out the sorcerer aspect of the character with his real-world abilities.
Evil, no matter what shade, may always require a humanity check (as dictated by the GM).
While the meat of the game focuses on a nearly flawless line of mechanics that blend with your character’s (and demon’s) actions, Edwards provides additional cues for players to focus on by creating a kind of game template or game vocabulary. I felt that this was a nice hands-off approach to adding in a story element (through character creation) that wasn’t so “in-your-face.” This vocabulary is added into a player’s character creation. Sorcerer character creation doesn’t take that long if you can come up with a few, basic questions. Your stats are in a few, basic categories and must add up to 10. Then, your humanity is set (which equals the greater of Stamina or Will). Come up with your Appearance, your Telltale, your Price (basically, a flaw), your Cover (day job), and your Kicker. “The kicker is an event or realization that your character has experienced before play begins.” (page 34) One reason why chargen takes only 10 minutes – after you choose your stats, ratings are given which help determine how you’re going to play your character. Once you figure that out, you ask yourself the question, “What would I enjoy playing?” From there, it’s easy. Choosing your Telltale can add to your player’s physical appearance and can help others easily distinguish you. The Telltale is a discerning mark, behavior or habit. Do you have a nervous twitch? Are you allergic to chocolate? Have to have blue hair? In game, the Telltale adds to your Kicker. In the form of a two or three sentence statement, the Kicker, combined with your Telltale, Price and Cover, are great, quick references to add to your role-playing experience.
The demons, in addition to the players, also have a scale of action that is measured. Here is where it can be a lot of fun; you get to create your own demon in about as much time as it would take to create your own character. Your demon also has a Telltale. A demon’s personal quest comes in the form of a Need and a Desire. Sometimes a demon’s Desire works against the Sorcerer. For example, the demon could Desire to bring her Sorcerer’s humanity to zero so she can take over. A Need (or compulsion) is a demon’s flaw. To keep the demons from overpowering their masters, three rules are commonly placed to try to keep them in check. However, like all things in Sorcerer, nothing is absolute. There is always an element of chance.
Sorcerer’s system requires no specific dice, provided all the players’ dice are the same. Your success is not measured by matching a roll against a number – whoever rolls the higher numbers wins that many successes. Modifiers give and take away dice to roll, and effect the next action your character takes. These modifiers can take many forms based on how well you roll or role-play. Combat was pretty standard, I didn’t like that you had to roll your entire dice pool for initiative. Remember, the GM controls both NPCs and demons, so depending on how many NPCs and demons you have initiative could take a while.
Sorcerer’s focus is on the internal conflicts of the players, and how they interact with those around them. As a result, the overall story arc of the game has the potential to take a million different turns because the game pivots on those actions. How does this differ from other games? Your character has the potential to not only kill the bad guy, but become the bad guy. However, you also have the opportunity to gain Humanity back through role-playing. So, your character might be redeemed through the course of the game. The GM is both a very hands-on in game, as well as a hands-off. If you make a bad (or good) decision, you’re stuck with it. The GM’s job is not to tell you what you can and can not do.
The GM’s job is tough – they act as the moral compass for the players, keep track of the demons and NPCs, provide “Bangs” (story-action moments the players respond to) in a playable setting, and regulate dice modifiers. Although there is a lot for the GM to do, the game has a nice balance between character interaction and decision-making and a hand-of-the-GM intervention. However, I will say that Sorcerer is not the type of game that should be run by a novice GM. Players, on the other hand, will pick up the game quickly provided they keep notes as to what their characters can do. I felt that the character sheet could have been organized a lot differently to include the range of a sorcerer’s abilities. However, if players have the opportunity to be directed under the guiding hand of an experienced GM, play will seem as if it was choreographed. All the pieces (characters, demons, NPCs) will magically fall into place.
Playing the game was a lot of fun. Our group played a demo called “Grimm Therapy” from an unofficial player site based on the game. In this demo, we played a group of sorcerer third graders. I absolutely, hands-down, loved this variation of the game. It appealed to me simply because I felt like I could really let myself go and get into my character, without having to stress over what stat was what. The mechanics were easy enough to pick up, and the setting was one we all have daydreamed about. Put yourself in the mind of a third grader, where everything is larger than life in the world of make-believe. Snippets of Bugs Bunny cartoons, Pokemon, Hello Kitty and a myriad of other anime episodes fueled my imagination. The other players got into their characters as well, and we quickly learned how the character’s elements factored into the game.
Sorcerer isn’t for everyone. It’s for the gamer that wants to have a stake in creating his or her personal experience on a rudimentary level. If you decide to GM the game, be warned: you become that which your players try to control and get to direct how their actions affect their Humanity. Whether you want to run/play a fun dark fantasy game or a horrific one, Sorcerer is definitely a game that is as good as you make it.
Game support is provided through Sorcerer’s official site: www.sorcerer-rpg.com.
Reviewer: Monica Valentinelli