Passionate Game Design

Sorcerer Unbound: Social Conflict

Physical conflicts in Sorcerer are fairly straightforward because their consequences are rather obvious from the declared action. If I’m trying to shoot you and I succeed you have a bullet ripping through you. However, social conflicts require a bit of special attention because Sorcerer preserves player (GM included) autonomy over his or her character (NPCs included). No one can force another character into action even through social conflict. The exception is when a Sorcerer orders a Demon to do something.

So how does social conflict work in Sorcerer? Again the lack of stakes helps. Let’s say a man is trying to pick up a woman in a bar. It should be noted that it is perfectly fine and dandy for the player of the man to say, “I really want her to go home with me and have sex.” In fact that helps clarify the nature of the situation at hand but it isn’t Stakes in the Dogs in the Vineyard or Primetime Adventures sense of the word. If the man wins the roll that doesn’t necessarily guarantee the woman will go home with him and have sex with him.

Now let’s add the fact the woman is an NPC and the GM knows that the woman has an abusive boyfriend but the player of the man doesn’t know that. It gets to the point where the man is being chatty and flirty with the woman and the woman is acting all nervous trying to get away. We have a conflict of interest and so a Will vs. Will role is made. Let’s say the man wins.

At this point the GM is shifting in his seat uncomfortably (a LOT of Sorcerer rules are based on this sense of unease that other games can sometimes back you into) because as a creative participant in the game with autonomy over his character, the woman, he’s thinking, “There’s just no way she’d go with this guy. She’s TERRIFIED of her boyfriend.” But the roll has gone in the favor of the man.

Here’s the key point: The GM is free to narrate ANY follow up action on the part of the woman he wants. What the dice do at this point is give the man roll over victories against that action. Here are some viable options for the GM.

The GM could have the woman blurt out something about being scared of her boyfriend. This complies with man’s win because the woman is now giving up something useful to the man. The player of the man might then choose to take the victories from his roll and roll them over to a new roll about trying to get the woman to explain why she’s afraid of her boyfriend.


The GM could have the woman try to run away. Notice this goes totally AGAINST the outcome of the first die roll in terms of the woman’s behavior but that’s perfectly fine because the player of the man can roll over his victories into a new roll, say to snag her arm and stop her from fleeing. “Hey, doll, what’s the rush?”

The idea is that rolls force the situation to CHANGE and victories describe the DIRECTION OF CHANGE. The GM can’t have the woman just sit there stubbornly resisting, he has to have her do something else but it’s perfectly fine to continue to follow his own agenda for the character, the player of the man just has the momentum of the situation going in his favor.

Here’s another point: conflicts always resolve the immediate situation at hand and only for the short term (in story time). It might very well be that the GM just says, “Fuck it, she goes home with you.” And then starts the very next scene the next morning with the woman incredibly hostile, maybe even violently so, screaming, “You bastard! Why did I listen to you! Oh my god, he’s going to KILL ME!”


Maybe he decides that the woman sees a way out in the man, goes home with him and the next morning she’s all cuddled up to him and says to him, “Honey, uh, there’s something I didn’t tell you…”

All of these are valid creative riffs off that initial die roll. This principle applies regardless of whether it’s NPC vs. NPC, PC vs. NPC or even, yes, PC. vs. PC.

In particular notice how this rather simply solves the problem of two players endlessly bickering in character about something without resorting to bullying one of the two players either socially or systematically. As soon as the two characters (in the fiction) are in an argument go to Will vs. Will. We now instantly know who has the upper hand in the argument. The loser can either go, “I lost the argument, fair enough” and comply with appropriate behavior OR if he’s STILL committed to “his way” he has to switch tactics to something other than arguing (or at minimum a new course of argument) and the winner has victory dice to oppose that new tactic if he so chooses.

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