09 June, 2010

Vector Theory #24: Overlooked or deliberate

I’ve been looking through Ron Edward’s game, Sorcerer, in an attempt to see where it fits into the structure I wrote up for magic systems. Looking over it, it doesn’t fit my notion of a magic system at all, but instead reflects an assortment of static powers. Like the powers wielded by most superheroes, the system is very static. If you want new powers you need to go and bind a new demon possessing those powers. If you bind too many demons, your story gets pulled in too many directions and things threaten to tear apart.

It’s an interesting question, as the Sorcerers don’t really have any ability to manipulate the world directly. Instead Sorcerers have abilities to manipulate demons (hopefully), then the demons simply manifest powers in the world. It’s almost like a Catholic praying to a patron saint, they desperately hope the prayer will be heard and answered, because an answered prayer will instantly manifest a change in the world. But that’s all colour text, and from the perspective of Vector Theory it’s all a part of the Narraton’s polarity.

The actual process of wielding magic in Sorceror is pretty sedate. Player declares their intention, but this intention is limited to the available powers their demon is able to manifest (effectively synonymous with a spell list in other magic systems), a player may have multiple bound demons and therefore a wider range of potential powers to manifest, but in each case the power has a specific outcome on the mechanisms of the game and the flow of the narrative. Interestingly (from a design perspective), virtually none of the potential powers have an effect on the direction of the story, they merely change an individuals wavelength within the narrative.

Story direction in Sorcerer is provided a few ways; first by the kicker (which sets things into motion), then by the needs and desires of the bound demons. Once things start moving, a player has the opportunity to follow their demons goals, or ignore them (both of which have consequences). But it’s interesting to note that the direction of the story and the powers of the game are fairly exclusive, they only share a solid link through the demons that form the heart and soul of the game.

Unlike Mage: the Acension, where everything is about the magic and a demon may simply be a step on the path toward true enlightenment…Sorcerer places magic as a tool to facilitate the relationships between the demons and their “masters”.

Yet Sorcerer is also different from D&D, where the spells are simply rotes memorised from a list. There is something dark in the magic, it is specifically linked to demonic entities with their own desires. In both systems, the casting of a spell is simply the meeting of a required circumstance and then the power simply happens, but in D&D, any magical story is generated through the acquisition of ingredients or the enactment of ritual.

On the other hand, if the demons weren’t such a focal point of the system, it would be easy to isolate the magic from the remainder of the game. And a specific group can define the “demons” in any way they want. A demon could be a vice for alcohol or bloodletting, purely ephemeral and within the sorcerer’s mind. A demon could be the traditional familiar, an animal spirit bound for the purposes of metaphysical hijinks. It could be the traditional bat-winged imp or a succubus. The GM (or the group), defines the nature of the demon.

I could almost see a valid Sorceror game run in the setting of the Matrix; in which the Demons would be programs downloadable into a person’s mind while they are in the Matrix. The demons provide subroutines that create “un-natural” effects, but they each have their own glitches as a result of their errant programming. These glitches would need to be accommodated (and thus work as desires within the system).

Another interesting aspect to note is that the Sorcerer’s magical ability doesn’t change, because they have no magical ability. They simply have better knowledge of the occult and therefore learn ways to successfully bind stronger demons. In this light, a player’s journey through a Sorceror story isn’t represented by a single narraton and its choices. The Sorceror and the Demons are unique narratons all bound by a common journey for a while, until the path diverges. The sorcerer and their demon superimpose their frequencies to create a stronger gestalt, but many demons will always be trying to break away, and there will be an internal story developing as the narratons pull on one another with their own gravity.
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