The Historical Importance of Ron Edwards' Sorcerer [+]

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
What this thread is about?
Discussing the impact that Sorcerer has had on our hobby by helping to popularize things like scene framing, playing to the characters' dramatic needs and emotional safety techniques in roleplaying games.

What this thread is not about?
Discussing the validity of the Big Model, The Forge Essays, The Forge as a community, Ron as a person or comments he made he made about other games. I'm open to direct criticism of Sorcerer, but please keep it to the actual game rather than its author or the community that spawned it.

My Roleplaying Journey
Way back in 2005/2006 I had begun to sour on playing and running roleplaying games. I wanted a focus on more personal stories where who the characters were really mattered. Party based adventuring had kind of started feel stale to me after 8 years in the hobby. At that point I had been a member of this community since 2000 when it was still Eric Noah's forum. At that time there was a strong throughline of debates on these boards is roleplaying games were an appropriate medium for the sort of personal journeys I was interested in. I had already had a significant amount of experience with games like Vampire and Legends of the Five Rings which seemed to promise what I was looking for, but only through GM led illusionism.

Some members of these boards (@fusangite and @SweeneyTodd) at the time talked about a different sort of game. One that did not involve illusionism, but still was focused on personal narratives. Those discussions led me to The Forge and more importantly a little game called Sorcerer. Reading Sorcerer was like a revelation to me at that time. The idea that we could start with the characters first and build around them and that play could focus on resolving their personal stories and that it would end once those were done. Like just that was staggering, but then it followed with the idea that the player characters did not need to be a discrete group, but that we could just follow them around individually and frame scenes that would lead them to interacting with each other in whatever way they chose.

Getting to run and play Sorcerer was the first time I really felt satisfied with roleplaying. This journey is not my alone. It's one that has been shared by many of us. The creative movement that Sorcerer spawned basically created a whole new category of games. Ones that focused first and foremost on the player characters and addressing who they are under stress. I have since learned to enjoy more traditional play, but Sorcerer sparked my love for our hobby.

That's all for now. Soon I'll go into the impact I feel Sorcerer has had outside of the category of games it has spawned.
 
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As much as anything, Sorcerer contributed a game paradigm that was anti-GM Force (this is not the GM's story...GM's should never subordinate player input by replacing it with the GM's own desired outcomes) and "Kicker-forward." These are huge pieces of TTRPG technology that contributed to subsequent design (more on that below).

What is the action/crux of player-character as protagonist? Kicker answers that. Something personally significant, always provocative and never casual, never dictate character actions, NOT performative or aspirational scripts.

Whose lead do we follow? The players (via authored Kicker).

What happens when we resolve a Kicker? Development that significantly changes the character, creates emergent setting, and culminates in a new Kicker that propels play in a significant direction (or retirement/game ending).

Look at the design impact of this:

4e D&D:

* Character Theme along with Background/Class/Race (crux for Heroic Tier protagonism) + Player-authored Quests > resolve > Paragon Path (crux for Paragon Tier protagonism)+ Player-authored Quests > resolve > Epic Destiny (crux for Epic Tier protagonism) + Player-authored Quests > resolve
 
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niklinna

satisfied?
I found my groove in a more roundabout way, first with Spirit of the Century's aspects and a couple other things, leading to games like Apocalypse World and its many spawn, and currently Blades in the Dark. Somewhere along the way I came upon Ron & company's essays and digested what they had to say, more or less. But I never did play Sorcerer. I did finally manage to read the book, though, and it was quite illuminating. I had many moments of "Oh so this is what he meant!" Even though I'd been playing games that did those things, seeing some of the original implementations of the ideas just made things so much clearer. I really wish I'd been more active in gaming when all that stuff was being discussed and created.

Edit to add: Also I would love to actually play Sorcerer sometime! I had originally let it slide as too narrow based on a fundamental misunderstanding. I thought it was about playing a traditional party of warlock-type characters, and how interesting could that be? Even though I'd read Ron's essays! I really should have known better. The text makes it very clear that neither of those is the case, and that what a sorcerer is, is wide open to a galaxy of interpretations.
 
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pemerton

Legend
I've never read or played Sorcerer. I know a bit about some of the techniques it introduces (eg kickers) from reading Edwards's essays and posts on The Forge. Those essays had a big impact on my approach to Rolemaster, and to 4e D&D, and in my RPGing since. I put them up there with Luke Crane and Vincent Baker for their affect on how I go about RPGing.
 



niklinna

satisfied?
Sorcerer is a game I'm really glad exists. I may not like how it's written, but its Velvet-Underground-like influence is pretty undeniable.
What specific criticisms do you have of the text? I would have appreciated more explanation of the uses of Lore and rituals. The organization also assumed you'd be reading it twice; it could have benefitted from a good overview before all the chapters on the particulars.
 

What specific criticisms do you have of the text? I would have appreciated more explanation of the uses of Lore and rituals. The organization also assumed you'd be reading it twice; it could have benefitted from a good overview before all the chapters on the particulars.

I don't want to get overly spicy in a + thread, but the writing in Sorcerer is too conversational for my tastes. It feels like you're getting the rationale and backstory for every single element, and that (to me) self-indulgence and "let me tell you about my campaign" quality veers into parody with the annotated text. Like, the original text is already annotating itself at every turn. Adding director's commentary to your director's commentary is too much for me—shades of The Rehearsal without the irony.

Then again, I only read it a year or so ago. At the time Edwards wrote it there were lots of valid reasons to present a game like a manifesto. I just kinda wish there was a 50-page version now that cut to the chase and didn't constantly explain itself. If I had to use the book at the table I'd tear my hair out.
 

niklinna

satisfied?
I don't want to get overly spicy in a + thread, but the writing in Sorcerer is too conversational for my tastes. It feels like you're getting the rationale and backstory for every single element, and that (to me) self-indulgence and "let me tell you about my campaign" quality veers into parody with the annotated text. Like, the original text is already annotating itself at every turn. Adding director's commentary to your director's commentary is too much for me—shades of The Rehearsal without the irony.
I should have just read the text itself on the first go, and then gone back and read the annotations. That's more on me, but a lot of the annotations did seem more self-indulgent than helpful, or they'd call out a deficit he recognized after experience and reflection, but not actually address the deficit. (I haven't read the supplements to see what they fill in.)

@Campbell specifically stated that he's open to criticism of Sorcerer itself, by the way.

Then again, I only read it a year or so ago. At the time Edwards wrote it there were lots of valid reasons to present a game like a manifesto. I just kinda wish there was a 50-page version now that cut to the chase and didn't constantly explain itself. If I had to use the book at the table I'd tear my hair out.
Yeah, I agree that a whole new edition would make a lot of sense. He could axe the things he called out as mistakes or things that didn't pan out (or he could warn against them). He could fill in the gaps he noted, too.
 

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