Passionate Game Design

Sorcerer Unbound: Sorcery As Conflict

Some people find it odd that Sorcery is disproportionately difficult to do relative to anything else in a game called Sorcerer. Other people think the rituals in the game are task resolution complete with a whiff factor. These two misconceptions are related. Let’s take a look at the most conceptually difficult ritual: Contact. Contact is a Lore vs. Power roll which in most cases make it look almost impossible to pull off since you’re often looking at ratios like 3:8. Similarly, if a Contact fails, nothing seems to happen. It can feel like a whiff.

First of all, a Contact ritual isn’t like a fireball spell in D&D. You don’t just say, “Hey, I’m going to Contact” and reach for the dice. That isn’t going to work due to the disproportionate amount of difficulty. You need to get bonus dice and helper rolls. Remember that I said those two things are about refining the details of the situation. This is key to understanding what happens when a Contact fails. You NEED those details if failure is going to make any sense which is why the game forces you to strive for them. Remember that bonus dice are only awarded if at least one person is emotionally moved by the detail which means elements of the Contact must have meaning relative to the greater narrative.

So even after you stack on the bonus dice and helper rolls, how is a Contact ritual a conflict? I can tell you right now that you are not in conflict with the Demon. Remember, in Sorcerer, Demons do not exist. What you are in conflict with is…


Contemplate that for a moment. Since Demons do not exist, if you are attempting to Contact one that puts you in conflict with Reality. Further, remember that Reality in Sorcerer is an emotional narrative construct. It is not a simulated imagined world. As such it can have an agenda just the way inanimate objects can appear to have an agenda. So question: Is there anything in Sorcerer that can serve as Reality’s agenda?

How about the Humanity definition?

When a Contact ritual fails, the Reality that demons do not exist and the Reality of the humanity definition come down on the Sorcerer in a crushing manner. You did not *fail* to Contact a demon who exists out there somewhere, there is no demon to Contact. Thus the consequences for failing a Contact ritual are tied up in the specifics of its attempt.

I played a Southern Gothic game of Sorcerer where the Humanity definition was about walking the line between respect for community and family traditions while retaining your own identity. One of the PCs was married to a woman who was related to a powerful sorcery driven family and she had put a lot of effort in distancing herself from that family. At one point the PC’s daughter was kidnapped by people the PC owed money.

The PC decided he was going to try to Contact a demon. He gathered all these ritual items, including elements he had used to contact this particular demon before (it was a demon he had banished earlier in the story), into his daughter’s bedroom. The Contact failed and the sad reality of the fact that there is no magical incantation that will bring your daughter back came crashing home. He was alone in a room with a bunch of junk and some superstitious poetry. His wife walked in on him and grew very angry! She worked hard to keep herself away from this stuff, to keep her daughter from that crazy side of the family, and now he’s brought it into her home. His daughter was out there somewhere and the BEST he could manage as a father was this superstitious BULLSHIT. How pathetic.

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