We’re back and we’re scratching pentagrams into the floor, muttering blasphemous incantations and making ill-advised pacts with demons. This episode is our discussion of Ron Edwards’ influential indie RPG, Sorcerer. Kicking off a self-publishing revolution in the late 1990s, Sorcerer was arguably a manifesto as much as a game. This is not to say that it’s not fun or interesting to play. It’s a challenging RPG, but a rewarding one.
In our discussion, we make reference to the indie games website, The Forge. While the discussion forum is no longer active, its archived content is still accessible. If you have any interest in playing Sorcerer (or other indie games of the period), there are plenty of insightful threads to be found there. Another useful resource we mention is Christopher Kubasik’s Play Sorcerer. While the book itself was never completed, you can find several chapters on the linked blog. This is essential reading for Sorcerer GMs. Kubasik also created the TV series, The Booth at the End, which explores many of the same themes as Sorcerer. Finally, we mention the range of Sorcerer mini-supplements, as well as the excellent Dictionary of Mu.
One of the perils of recording these segments in advance is that sometimes the news isn’t as fresh as we’d like. We’ve already mentioned that Scott has been running his Call of Cthulhu scenario Blackwater Creek for the How We Roll podcast crew, but seeing that it came up in the episode, we shall take the opportunity to plug it again. You can download the recordings, along with many other Call of Cthulhu actual plays, from the How We Roll website. It was a fun game with a great bunch of players. We hope to do more stuff with them again.
As we also mention in the news segment, we will be attending Dragonmeet in London, on Saturday the 2nd of December. While we are not giving any seminars, we still hope to see some of you there and maybe have a chat over a pint.
As you can plainly hear, we all had nasty colds when recording. Whether or not this made our singing any worse is debatable. It definitely sounds like we’re trying to conjure up unholy spirits from the very bowels of Hell, but this is actually our way of saying thanks. When particularly generous backers pledge $5 per episode on Patreon, we sing their praises. As you may surmise from the results, whatever we received in exchange for our immortal souls, it wasn’t musical talent.
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Hi! My thanks and appreciation for playing the game and recording the discussion. It’s a pleasure all around.
I have some comments, as how could I not. The first ones are corrections about the Forge.
The story begins with Sorcerer, originally offered in late 1996 off my graduate student page – we were not exactly carefully monitored in our use of the academic internet back then. You could fill in an email field and click it to send me an automatic email; I’d reply with the game attached and my mailing address in the body text, and if you wanted, you could mail me $5 cash. The file in question was, if you can believe it, a TXT because anything else hit compatibility problems and crashed servers.
I established a mailing list, meaning email/internet, i.e., not limited to purchasers but for anyone who wanted to join, and it became a discussion community, very intense by 1998. A fan of the game, Ed Healy, taught me about PDFs, and so I began to sell it outright as PDF instead, using one of those pay-to-setup pre-Paypal credit card services. I added Sorcerer & Sword at this point, and in 2000, The Sorcerer’s Soul.
The Forge comes in at about this point. Besides the Sorcerer list, its community also grew out of the forum I’d made at the Gaming Outpost, and the first essays and reviews I published there (The Nuked Applecart and System Does Matter, both in 1999). Ed was on staff at the Gaming Outpost for a while, and Sorcerer was one of its publisher forums.
Ed and I discussed the idea for a magnet site for all the little DIY games around the internet, first by telephone, and then to promote it at the Gaming Outpost. Ed proposed the name Hephaestus’ Forge. In this project, he and I were briefly joined by Mike Mearls who was then distracted by employment somewhere-or-other. Ed designed the pages and arranged hosting for the site, I wrote the majority of the content, and both Ed and I wrote early articles for it. We coordinated it with the idea that discussions would be at the Gaming Outpost forums.
Two things happened in 2000: the Gaming Outpost was getting dodgy – new owners, switching to paid subscriptions and paywalls, et cetera; and the Hephaestus’ Forge site, and my first domain-based Sorcerer site that Ed also set up, ran into hosting problems that Ed couldn’t solve. After about six months of dead site time and weird hassles at the Outpost, I picked the project up again with Clinton R. Nixon’s help (as named then, he’s now Clinton Dreisbach). Ed was involved in the early stages of that transition; he was not ousted or anything like that. The three of us met at Origins and GenCon during 2000 and really hammered out what we were doing.
The occasional claim that you repeated here, that I was merely a vocal or dominating Forge member rather than its co-founder and primary, i.e., single consistent creator, is flatly untrue. I was a concept co-creator, an adminstrator, a policy-and-design contributor, and the content moderator from its outset, and even, as you can see from the history, from before its outset.
The new version was now called the Forge and we decided it would be a forum. Its functions were expanded considerably to include promoting design as well as merely finding them, as the game-design ferment from the Outpost and Sorcerer discussions really needed a home. We put a lot of work into optimzing what we considered to be the strongest features of the old Outpost and also RPG.net of that time.
Another emergent feature of attending those cons is that I met the Apophis Consortium publishers, who were also in Chicago, and they connected me with their promoter, Liz Fulda. Given her ahead-of-the-curve insights and help, it now seemed possible after all to publish Sorcerer as a book, and in early 2001, I was at the GAMA Trade Show, and put the book into distribution and was able to run the Sorcerer booth at GenCon 2001. Book versions of the two supplements were released in November 2001 and February 2002.
The important thing about that is that the Forge, Mk 2 if you will, Clinton/Ron version, blossomed right along with Sorcerer making this transition into book form, and the booth became a Forge booth, basically – full of games in preparation and draft to be furiously played-and-promoted throughout the con. The experience from there set up the Forge booth as a GenCon feature from 2002-2011.
So Sorcerer, the Forge, and the Forge booth aren’t the same three things, but they were born together and informed one another intimately. I authored and published the first, held at least a full co-lead role to conceive, design, and run the second, and conceived, financed, and ran the third.
That’s enough of that! Ask any questions about that if you’d like. I’d also love to follow up on the features of the game and the many topics you discussed, so I’ll post a new comment about then in a while.
Thanks for that Ron. Apologies if we made some errors in the background of the Forge and the game – we will seek to set the record straight in a future show (note, that probably won’t be in the next show as we have that in the can already and won’t meet to record again before that goes live, but rest assured we will address it). Thanks for listening – I hope you feel we did justice to the game.
Oh, I do like me some Sorcerer. It’s an excellent game. Like Scott, I found it a formative game for how I approach games now, with proactive characters pursuing their own goals, while I as GM work to give them interesting things to engage with. The Apocalypse World advice seems to sum this up, in that the GM should “be a fan of the player characters” and be interested in what they do, rather than the GM defining a particular story. I also heavily influenced the way I pitch games: here’s a situation, the players will have to make characters who are already involved in that situation and won’t want to walk away from it.
As for the difficulties of having proactive characters in the game, I think a litmus test for it is the starting demon. I think it’s really important to have characters who have deliberately and consciously already summoned a demon before play starts, and the GM should reject characters that haven’t. It’s a good test for players being in the proactive mindset. Saying that, there’s no reason why you couldn’t have Act Zero or Prologue scenes to introduce the players to the world, then do character generation after that.
And thanks for mentioning my mobile-nuclear-power-plant demon from the Mad Science game. God, that was a scary demon. I was terrified of it by the end of the game, but it was so powerful I didn’t have a hope of banishing it!