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This is about Sorcerer: An Intense Roleplaying Game by Ron Edwards.

I love Sorcerer. I’ve had several abortive attempts to run it over the course of 15 years or so, but we just had a thrilling run with it that wrapped up after 15 intense sessions. I always say my favorite game is [whatever I happen to be running right now]—and I love a lot of very different RPGs across the spectrum. But Sorcerer might be the one, if I had to choose a favorite.

Often someone telling you about a role-playing game they like will try to convince you that it’s the game to replace all others. Sorcerer is not that game. It is very intense—too intense for some people.

You don’t want to spring it on anyone: Some people want their role-playing to have the GM weave a story while they engage in a series of antics. Or to give them a heroic persona within the guard rails of a game that ensures that you get to be a hero.

Sorcerer offers none of that. It is masterfully character-driven, and player-driven. Sorcerer is the game to play a driven character whose conflicts you care about—a real person who will suffer if they don’t get what they want. And maybe they don’t deserve it. But you want to play to find out.

A lot of stuff that makes Sorcerer great can be found piecemeal in the play culture surrounding other games. It helped inspire a lineage of role-playing games that notably includes Apocalypse World and its offspring—from Dungeon World to the new Avatar Legends RPG. Those close to the taproot all have some Sorcerer DNA, if you look closely enough.

If Sorcerer does stuff you like, you can also use a lot of its tech in other games. In fact, when I first read Sorcerer and Trollbabe and Sorcerer & Sword, I thought, “Wow! This is how every RPG should be played.” (I don’t believe that anymore.)

It might be like giving your character a Kicker, a backstory, or even a name in MÖRK BORG, before you fall dead the first time a skeleton looks at you. Not every technique that makes one game sing will be worth transposing to various other games.

The thing is, what makes Sorcerer work isn’t just a bunch of disparate techniques, but the alchemy that happens when those ingredients are combined through play.

Some of what I love about Sorcerer is in the ingredients that work really well together. They work really well together because of their composition. They have a through line that holds them together and makes something more than the cumulative sum of their operations. Here are some of the bloody teeth glistening on the sinew string:

Every score on your sheet is also a powerful descriptor of your character’s personality, history, skills, style, gear, and contacts.

As a consequence, every element on your character sheet implies a cast of NPCs and other connections with the world. Many of these will be made explicit in the course of character creation—most especially when you compose your diagram.

Each player authors a Kicker that will be an explicit focus of the scenario. The Kicker is defined as an event or revelation that throws the character’s whole life out of balance and thrusts them into motion, without an obvious and indisputable path that they “should” choose. In other words, it’s not a “hook” that tells the player what the GM wants them to do, nor a prompt they could otherwise ignore.

Each character starts with a diagram on the back of your character sheet, listing the names of people, places, and things that matter to them, juxtaposed in a way that creates tension for the character.

This diagram tells the GM exactly where the first scene of your first session must be framed, and may determine the first scene of many sessions thereafter. This keeps play focused on what really matters to you as a player and what matters to your character.

Bangs! I figured this out intuitively and recently got confirmation: The whole idea of MC moves and GM moves in the Apocalypse World family of games—especially as they manifest in Fronts and grim portents—is the progeny of Bangs in Sorcerer.

The difference between a GM move in Dungeon World and a proper Bang is that a Bang is supposed to surface the focal question of Sorcerer play, which is “How far will you go to get what you want?” A Bang is a GM move that applies pressure to your Humanity. Put another way, a GM move is like a Bang that brings the central conflicts of an Apocalypse World Engine game into focus, instead of challenging your Humanity.

The core loop of Sorcerer is the continuous flow between Bangs, your choices, your relationship with any demons, and your Humanity. This provides an intricately rich cauldron that constantly ratchets up tension like really good Dungeon World play, but in a way that produces much more personal intensity due to the diagram content being focal at all times.

The dice mechanics provide a really delightful idiom for developing and resolving the complex and dynamic chain of conflicts that arise! Sorcerer’s system for conflict resolution drives play toward hard choices and shifting priorities. And the hard choices matter, because they concern the people, places and things that matter most to you.

A Sorcerer scenario ends when the Kickers are resolved for all characters. This happens organically and without warning, and it is very satisfying. And resolving the Kickers eliminates the possible flounder of play around proliferating goals, agendas, and quests that fail to engage all the players.

Taken as a whole, this produces characters and situations that are in constant, desperate, and spirited motion. The players are never left guessing what they should do next, nor do they ever struggle with ambiguous motivation. The game brings a laser-like focus on the question, “What will you do to get what you want?” and doesn’t waste any attention or energy resolving anything else.

That is what I love about Sorcerer.


You can get Sorcerer here. The Sorcerer supplements are available here. These are not affiliate links, just enthuastic hypertext.

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TL;DR

  • Tulasa and Ghanna fight off Shiisa as the shade attempts to enter the Infinite Stacks.
  • The Invader takes Krenzi, Duke, and Socrates into the Stacks along with the demons Maiven and Amoria.
  • The sorcerers resolve to seek sanctuary in Adûnibad in order to recover from their injuries.

Mercy

As he stands over Mentari’s unconscious body in the makeshift smithy, Duke gazes at the blade Amoria. Duke offers to make her his own, but Amoria begs him to spare her master.

Krenzi and Duke discuss the situation until the doorflap opens, and the Hound Socrates comes in, disguised as a Klav woman. He is pleased to see that Duke is free and begs for the help of Duke and Krenzi to escape the Hudbeklaaid war camp.

The Invader detects that, somewhere, Tulasa has opened the Infinite Stacks. He reveals this to Krenzi, who orders the demon to take them there.

Doubt

Gazing into the eyes of Tulasa on the peak of Heksepunt, the shade of Shiisa slackens her grip on the Warden’s neck as she searches for his name. At last, she begs him to slay the Eater of Knowledge to recover the memories he sucked out of her, so that she will can rest in peace.

Ghanna and Tulasa are still skeptical of her request, suspecting that she is the same demon that took Ausmundt’s form. Tulasa cuts his hand and cautiously offers her some blood to sate her thirst.

Shiisa lunges to drink from the wound, and Tulasa immediately opens a door to the Infinite Stacks. In the chorus of voices Tulasa and Ghanna heard before, Shiisa calls upon the shades of the Deenryk to strike Tulasa down before he can escape while grabbing Tulasa’s arm.

Ghanna rushes into the open door, finding herself among the piled books. Dozens of spectral figures, ghostly skeletons clad in rags and tattered flesh, erupt from the standing megaliths surrounding them and rush into Tulasa’s body. He collapses into the open door of the Infinite Stacks.

Still Shiisa keeps her grip on Tulasa’s wounded arm. Ghanna fires two well-aimed shots at the demon. Tulasa musters all his strength to call upon the Curator, the scribes, and all the shades of former masters of the Infinite Stacks to keep this demon out.

They rush forth, forming from clouds of dust coating every surface of the ancient library. They slam the door on Shiisa’s arm until she loses her grip on Tulasa. They close the door.

Ghanna immediately throws the mantle of the Loving Caress over Tulasa, who is in critical condition after the spectres rushed into him. He slowly begins to stabilize.

Into Adûnibad

Out of a shadow, the Invader appears with Krenzi and Socrates before going back for Duke, Amoria, and Maiven.

The sorcerers share some of their experiences and decide to take refuge in Adûnibad in order to recover. Duke offers the use of an old base in the city.

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TL;DR

  • Duke receives the blessing of Kasai while chained up in Mentari’s forge, and she frees him from his chains.
  • Krenzi frees Iambs Twiling from the iron mine at Heechoven, but abandons him in the wild. Duke and Krenzi knock Mentari out.
  • The dark powers at Heksepunt demand a sacrifice from Tulasa and Ghanna. Tulasa rejects the demand and is attacked by the shade of Shiisa while Ghanna fights off shades of the fallen Skaalruters.

A Vision of Kasai

Duke wakes in a fever, chained to the anvil in a makeshift forge. His vision is drawn into the consuming flame inside the furnace, where he beholds a vision of a queen seated on a fiery reptile in blinding glory.

She addresses him as a child of her royal city and offers him grace, while calling upon him to drive out the spawn of the Dark Fire. She further commands him to protect Ghanna, the heiress of Atzara, from the Dark Fire spawn that surround her.

Duke accepts Kasai’s grace and finds himself free of the chains that bind him to the anvil. As the vision fades, the smith returns, wearing a dried tongue on a lanyard around his neck: Duke recognizes the smith as his ancient rival Mentari, whom he last faced in Adûnibad.

Putting the tongue in his mouth, Mentari reveals that he went to the Skedelfjilden, where the Hudbeklaaid dwell. There he was taken captive by the Konur Villtar clan, who cut out his tongue, but he gained their favor through his skill at the forge. They came to know him as Heilagur Ingvar Járnhendur—“Saint Ingvar Iron-hands”, a craftsman of renown.

Then Mentari draws out Maiven, and Duke addresses his demon. She asks when he intends to raise her into her true form. Duke promises that he will find her a suitable body here among the Konur Villtar. Then he rushes Mentari, revealing that he is not really chained.

The Walls Are Ringing

At Heksepunt, Krenzi recognizes Beppe Hinnemûs before being grabbed by the Invader and taken into a dark, cold crack deep beneath the earth where he hears miners toiling and the labored breathing of Iambs Twiling nearby.

Iambs reveals that he was taken captive by the Konur Villtar, along with all the men of the South Farthing who did not escape. They reopened the long-abandoned iron mine at Heechoven and forced the Klavs to toil there. Iambs rolled his ankle early in his labor, and Renke hid him in a cavity, doubling his own workload so that their captors wouldn’t learn about Iambs’s injury and feed him to their dogs.

Krenzi helps Iambs up and bears him up the steep slope toward the mouth of the mine shaft. There, Krenzi speaks to the Konur Villtar guards, and they loose their dogs on him. The Invader lashes out at the hounds, driving the guards and their dogs to flee.

Outside the mine, Krenzi sees the war camp that the Konur Villtar have established reviving the iron smelting at Heechoven. He bears Iambs across the forested slope out of sight of the Hudbeklaaid women.

We Offer No Sacrifice

The apparition of Ausmundt fades and his voice merges with a chorus of voices echoing from the standing stones at Heksepunt, including voices of a crone, a mother, and a maiden weaving in and out. The chorus offers Tulasa and Ghanna their lives in exchange for two concessions: No one may leave Heksepunt without shedding their blood on the stones, and at least one of them must leave something more: Some organ or body part.

Tulasa announces that there will be no sacrifice and calls on Beppe to explain her bargain with these voices. Beppe explains that she came to Heksepunt after witnessing Krenzi’s traffic with demons. She realized that the Heksememmen—Granaatmem and Appelmem—might give some real protection to the Klavs like they did of old.

The Heksememmen answered her call and returned Ausmundt to her, her deceased husband. And they gave her their word that they would aid her in driving out the Ynkringers so that the Klavs could live in peace again.

The shade of Namuu of the Skaalruters demands a tithe of blood for his men too. When Tulasa rejects the demand again, the chorus calls upon the Skaalruters to shed their blood as a sacrifice for their mothers. Namuu is incensed and they draw their weapons to take Ghanna’s blood.

Ghanna fires her arrow into the shades while the disembodied chorus of Heksepunt summons the shade of Tulasa’s old ally Shiisa from the ashes. Shiisa lays hold of Tulasa, while Ghanna’s desperate assault drives the Skaalruters away, forcing them down the slope.

The Lover’s Grasp

The Invader tells Krenzi that the makeshift forge they espied from the slope is hiding the mercenary they met before, Duke, in chains. Krenzi drops Iambs in the snowy forest, and travels with the Invader through the shadowy void.

Mentari deftly dodges Duke’s surprise attack just as Krenzi takes shape behind him in the shadows. Maiven leaps out of Mentari’s hand into Duke’s. Krenzi brains Mentari with his shillelagh, knocking the forgemaster unconscious.

Duke stoops over his old enemy and takes Mentari’s great shamshir, Amoria, into his grasp.

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TL;DR

  • Duke leads a small group of Klavs to the Konur Villtar war camp at Heechoven. There, he reveals himself to distract the warriors so that the Klavs can rescue some of their people. Duke is mauled by dogs and taken captive.
  • At Heksepunt, Ausmundt summons shades of the fallen Skaalruters who pin Ghanna to the altar. Tulasa and Beppe Hinnemûs force Ausmundt to relent from his demand for Ghanna’s life.

The Furnace, Rekindled

Leading a handful of young men from Caer Hyvel, Duke takes backwoods paths to the South Farthing. There, they are harried by the sound of dogs barking and baying night and day, and they find the forest marked with more and more dog tracks from hunts led by the Konur Villtar.

They find a major thoroughfare where the tracks of dozens of expeditions converge and spill out into a sprawling war camp around Heechoven. They see Klav men toiling under the yoke of the Konur Villtar warriors, who have reopened the blast furnace to smelt iron day and night.

Duke orders Troché Twiling to take command and rescue as many of his fellows as they can, while he draws the captors’ attention away from the mine.

Duke approaches the war camp and calls out the Konur Villtar warriors, who cover their ears and release their dogs. Duke fights off a dozen war hounds with Maiven and the Spear of Fan Hyvel, but the war chief Sjef Hun Tegn spies him from afar and fires a war bow at him. Duke is finally dragged down and mauled by the dogs. As he fades in and out of consciousness, he senses that the Konur Villtar are dragging him through the snow.

The Hanging Stones

At Heksepunt, the Invader grabs Krenzi and drags him into a shadow behind one of the standing stones, and they disappear.

Beppe’s consort Ausmundt summons shadows from the stones, who take the shapes of the Felkiezers and Skaalruters who died on the slopes of the Deenskewâl. These shades pin Ghanna to a stone altar and raise their daggers to take her life.

Ausmundt advances with a dagger drawn, over Beppe’s pleas for him to halt. Ausmundt insists that the Heksememmen require a sacrifice, and Ghanna’s life will suffice.

In her struggle, Ghanna offers Saint Crucian’s blessing to the Felkiezer shades, releasing them from the mockery of life. She and Pinaka manage to fire an arrow into the midst of the Skaalruters, and nock another.

Beppe punishes Ausmundt, compelling him to stop in his tracks, and the standing stones shift, shaking off stony flakes to reveal wounded flesh. Ausmundt orders the Skaalruters to back down, in eery tones that sound like a chord of three female voices.

As the Skaalruters quail before Ausmundt’s invocation, Tulasa throws his mantle—the Loving Caress—over Ghanna, and commands the demon to heal her.

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TL;DR

  • Aided by Krenzi, Tulasa summons a healing hearth spirit known as “The Loving Caress”.
  • Aided by Siliona, Duke summons the memory of Ruprekt Fan Hyvel into the warlord’s spear.
  • Ghanna and Chaser pass through the Aspen Vale with the scouting party of witch hunters and steppe warriors, and reach the Deenskewâl after nightfall.

In the Infinite Stacks…

In the Infinite Stacks, Krenzi sends the Invader away and Tulasa grants him refuge to rest in the Stacks. Tulasa meanwhile directs his animus for Kurik to make contact with another demon, the “Loving Caress”. She reveals that the cloak that once served as her form is in the cloakroom of the Infinite Stacks: A former warden of the Stacks was once her mistress.

In the ruins on Caer Hyvel…

In the ruins on Caer Hyvel, Sidney spies on Sietske Twiling speaking with her mother Nolduske Hinnemûs for Duke: She learns that the Hudbeklaaid mercenaries are rounding up all the men of the Southfarthing, and they are burning in Heechoven day and night. Her sister Ninke’s husband Iambs was taken.

When Sietske’s husband Troché asks Duke to lend his mercenary team to the aid of the Klavs, to drive the invaders out of their land, Duke puts it to a vote. Siliona and Sidney favor helping the Klavs, but Armentad wants to stick to their mission. Armentad gives in.

Duke resolves to explore the ruins to find Ruprekt Fan Hyvel’s spear, and summon his spirit into it for Siliona. They inform the Klavs that the crypts will be trapped, so they must not follow Duke and his crew there. Duke goes into the crypt with Armentad, Sidney, Siliona, and Lancelot, and begins reaching out to the departed spirit of Fan Hyvel. After hours of unanswered calls, Armentad and Sidney grow restless, and then Fan Hyvel’s voice answers them.

On the high ridge of Caer Hyvel…

On the high ridge of Caer Hyvel, Avga Akh is silent as he assesses the disappearance of the riders who attacked his scouting party. Chaser speaks to him as Ghanna inspects a few pieces of ancient, dinted armor. Lance Corporal Guiomar of the Felkiezers asks Chaser to make sure his son is trained as an Inquisitor if he himself does not return, so that the title of “Elvenban“ (“Elf-bane”) bestowed on his forefather during the War of the Alliance will carry on after him.

In the Infinite Stacks…

Krenzi wakes and assists Tulasa in summoning the Loving Caress. Tulasa collects every record mentioning Kurik’s name from the Infinite Stacks and tears them out while kneeling before a fireplace, making sure they are all slowly consumed by the fire in a huge wodge, and the cloak breathes, urging Tulasa to eat good soup right away.

Fan Hyvel’s Tomb

Duke and Siliona parley with Fan Hyvel’s ghost, who reveals that he wants nothing more than to drive out all “Ynkringers” (invaders/outsiders) from the Klau. They begin the ritual to summon the spirit, but the ritual fails without a sacrifice.

The Aspen Vale

After sunset, Chaser’s scouting party rides through the Aspen Vale in the fold between Caer Hyvel and the Deenskewâl. The Skaalruters notice a small pinchpot at the base of an aspen tree. Ghanna smells sour milk in it and spots strange tracks left by the cubs of a large carnivore.

Guiomar remembers the Lupitzes leaving bits of cheese for the “neighbors” as they passed through the vale. They decide to leave some of Avga Akh’s “saddle curds” in the pinchpot and continue, and in six more pinchpots they find as they travel through the wood. As the darkness grows deeper, they see red eyes peer at them through the thicket as they pass.

After leaving the wood behind them, Chaser’s party rides up a glacier that forms part of the Deenskewâl.

At the Hinnemûs Farmstead…

Tulasa and Krenzi exit the Stacks to scavenge arromatic herbs and ingredients from the Hinnemûs cellar. They find what they need, and Krenzi lends his camp pot to cook up the soup. As Tulasa drinks the soup, the Loving Caress becomes truly bound to him as her master. Tulasa and Krenzi set out toward Caer Hyvel.

Fan Hyvel’s Tomb

Duke kneels before Maiven’s dog Lancelot, the crew’s mascot, and urges him to go and catch a wild animal they can use for a sacrifice. Lancelot leaves the ruins, coming back with two baby possums.

Duke performs the ritual to contact Fan Hyvel’s spirit again, and then kills one of the possum joeys. The summoning succeeds, and Duke hands Siliona the newly-haunted spear of Fan Hyvel. To seal the bond between them, Fan Hyvel calls on her to plunge the spear into the heart of an Ynkringer. Without hesitation, Siliona cuts off her golden braid and lunges the spear at Armentad

On the Deenskewâl…

After nightfall Skaalruters and Hounds attempt to make camp on the glacier, but the little firewood they have will barely light and glows only dimly, providing inadequate heat. Chaser and Ghanna agree to press on through the night to reach Heksepunt before daybreak.

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