Category : Gaming

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.

2003 November 30

real fuckin' punk gaming

oh, sweet jesus, I'm dyin' laughing. kill puppies for satan:

don't try to tempt people to sin. it's a union thing, and believe me you don't want to scab on demons. just kill puppies and leave the rest to the professionals.

if you can't begin to guess what i might be talking about -- okay, it's game rules -- you may well not find it as funny as i do.

2003 November 29

Airship Voyages Made Easy

The web is a wonderful thing, part XVII: Airship Voyages Made Easy, a pamphlet by Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei, c. 1936.

At the beginning, it is hard to realize you are on board a Zeppelin; the comfort and protection from the weather, the spaciousness, the elegance and neat equipment, the well-appointed cabins, the courtesy and deference of the ship's company who are only too ready to help, awake in you a new conception of pleasurable travel. A new anticipation of excitement mingles with the atmosphere of farewell. You are conscious that in a few days, thousands of miles will be traversed and you will arrive in a new country. Instinctively you approach the large windows and become interested in the preparations for departure.

Contains everything from advice on how to get to the airport and what kinds of personal effects to bring ("One hint to the men: a lot of time is spent in looking out of the window at passing ships and other scenes of interest below. Many will find a comfortable cap an advantage."), to a walkthrough of the marvelous vessel.

Dammit, I have to run a game with a scene on a Zeppelin.

2003 November 27

I'd like to buy an enemy, please

Bryant Durrell has a wacky idea for an RPG mechanic -- players spending XP on buying better enemies:

I wonder if it would be feasible to write a system in which experience points were spent, not on the PC's power level, but on the power level of the PC's opposition? (I must pause to cite Trollbabe here; the concept of Scale is pretty darned relevant to this line of thinking.) The mechanical details of battling a street urchin would be the same as the mechanical details of battling a master villain, but the scope -- the effects of victory and defeat -- would be far larger.

That is, instead of buying a higher number for your swordsmanship skills, just directly buy yourself a better class of opponent: Bill Ferny becomes a scrub, and now you fight on equal terms with Uruk-hai.

I don't know if it's a good idea, but hey, interesting. From a certain perspective, this is what Nobilis has done -- every normal human has been compressed down to one description: Aspect 0, and in the context of combat there isn't really anything else you need to know about them.

Also from a Nobilis angle, Javern Spithorn's Sunset Leap is great stuff.

2003 October 6

Postmodern roleplaying

For the role-players out there:

Neel Krishnaswami: I use reification -- making a metagame convention a character-level fact -- a lot in the games I run. For example, in my End of the Line game the PCs all knew that since they were primal archetypes story was an unavoidable fact of life. An even better example was in my friend Shinpei's D&D game. We ran across the demon Asmodeus, Prince of the Game. Asmodeus would teach any character the D&D rules, and give advice on min-maxing, in exchange for his or her soul.

Asmodeus did this because teaching humans to treat each other as collections of statistics encouraged them to dehumanize one another. This was an effective set-piece *because* it both legitimized and subverted the role of minmaxing in D&D.

(In response to Jim Henley in Rock Scissors Blog.)



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