Archives : January 2004

2004 January 4

Demons, humans, and Sorcerer

Jesse Burneko manages to blow my mind with an analysis of what's really going on in the RPG Sorcerer. It's too subtle and stunning to do anything less than quote at length -- with luck Jesse will not be offended.

First Ron talks about some funky place called Not-Here which is pretty much defined as The Place You Can't Define. And now [...] he's talking about how Sorcerer's default setting isn't Here-And-Now-Plus Demons.

This is really subtle shit.

It's like contemplating NaN. NaN is a concept I first ran into when learning the Java programming language. NaN stands for Not a Number. It was primarily Java's clean trick for getting around divide by zero errors. If you devide something by zero the result is NaN, Not a Number. Simple.

This is the weird part. Like all mathematical concepts NaN has a formal definition. NaN is defined as: A value that is equal to nothing, not even itself. So we know the question "Does X equal NaN" is ALWAYS "No" even if X is NaN. The weirdness comes in because Java includes a function called IsNaN. IsNaN returns TRUE if its input parameter is NaN. But we've just said that you can't test for equality on NaN... So how the HELL does IsNaN function?

That's what I feel like Ron is trying to say. Demons don't exist and you've just bound one. Blink.

Demons are NaN. They are Not-an-Entity who come from Not-a-Place.

However, the function IsNaN is only really bizarre when you think about it literally. How can I determine if X is equal to NaN when by definition if X is NaN I still get false as the output. But there IS a way we can determine if X is NaN. X is NaN if X is, well, Not a Number. We can determine if X is a Number if X IS equal to itself because all numbers are equal to themselves.

So IsNaN looks like this.

if(X == X) then FALSE, otherwise TRUE

What this means, is that I can't consider NaN in isolation. NaN is DEFINED only by the existance of numbers. We can't look at NaN all by itself, we have to consider real numbers in a sideways effort to see NaN.

Going back to the Sorcerer analogy. We can NOT examine demons by themselves. We can't perform social tests and opperators on them because they are, Not-a-Human. Alone there is no standard of conceptualization for demons. The ONLY way we can conceptually understand Demons is by understanding Human Beings. We can understand NaN ONLY by understanding the equality property of real NUMBERS. We can only understand demons by understanding the Humanity property of real HUMAN BEINGS.

How do you recognize a demon? It's Not-A-Human. What's a Human? That which has Humanity. What's Humanity? That's why we're playing the game. [+]

Jesse's entry includes a whole lot of context in the form of quotations from Ron Edwards, Sorcerer's designer, that are well worth reading as well.

Sorcerer is a strange game. I haven't played it yet, and don't even own a copy of the rules, but I am becoming more fascinated by it the more I read about it. It's not because the setting is especially interesting -- there essentially isn't one. It's some generic rules that can be used with pretty much any setting, and what I've seen of the mechanics doesn't look especially exciting or elegant.

What Sorcerer appears to be, is an attitude. Ron Edwards appears to have devised a new way to run a role-playing game, with responsibility for setting and plot massively devolved from the GM to the players -- the GM remains as a referee and all-purpose antagonist, but he is no longer God in the same way as in all traditional RPGs. That is, in a Call of Cthulhu game, if Jon is the GM, then it is entirely justified to talk about being a player in Jon's game.

The ideal of Sorcerer seems to be to make that not true of a Sorcerer game.

The really weird thing is there seem to be remarkably few mechanics involved to define this -- instead it seems more correct to say there is an ascetic lack of mechanics to support any traditional role-playing style. Skills, advantages, disadvantages, quirks, equipment, all the usual character-sheet stuff? Sorcerer doesn't have any of them. The game almost has to focus on the characters' personal crises and demons because there's nothing else on the character sheet.

It doesn't seem like this can possibly really work in play, but the Sorcerer forum at the Forge is full of people ranting about how fabulous their games were. I'm thinking I've got to give it a shot, just to see.

2004 January 13

Things I've never done

On my way to work this morning I rode past a telephone truck, and it occurred to me that I have never ridden in the basket of a cherry-picker.

There are other things I haven't done:

  • Operated a backhoe
  • Fired a gun -- a real gun, that is. Once when I was 7 I think we were at the cottage of friends of the family, and I think I did some target practice with an air rifle.
  • Ridden an elephant
  • Drunk a martini
I think an entry like this is its own point, really.

2004 January 25

I have found what I have been waiting for

Check it out: is selling mp3 downloads at a flat rate of $0.01/Mb -- no weird file formats, restrictive terms, or RIAA garbage. It appears to be legal, properly licensed by the Russian Organization for Multimedia Services, though of course I am not a lawyer, and am inclined to take a broad view of the matter. Their selection isn't vast, but had stuff that interested me.

Anyway -- I downloaded the whole album "Elvis: 2nd to None" for $0.72, "New Order: Brotherhood" for $0.42, and Outkast's "Hey Ya" for $0.03. Can't beat that with a stick.