Sunday, May 31, 2020

(M: tAs) Sorcerer, Revised

How do these Sorcerer books keep being better than Mage? My working theory is that it's because sorcerers are allowed to use magic.

Or, less snarkily, when you talk about Mages, the most interesting thing about them is their role in the setting's metaphysics. Their whole deal is the BATTLE for REALITY. Whereas with sorcerers, the only interesting thing about them is their magic, so they have to go out of their way to try and make that magic interesting. That's what Sorcerer, Revised is - White Wolf's urban fantasy game about magic in the modern day. . .

Wait, this is almost exactly the same post I made for World of Darkness: Sorcerer. I went back and checked. I was about to make all the same salient points - Sorcerer is more Mage than Mage; the magic rules fit the setting better than the Sphere system's attempt to be both generic and universal; the crossover rules, where they try to fit Sorcerer into the Mage continuity are a detraction from the book; they're still doing that thing where they accuse the Traditions of being "shallow" when they created the Dreamspeakers, hoping we'll overlook that they exist because of White Wolf's shallowness . . . which continues up to this very book; and the Ancient Order of Aeon Rites is still just the Order of Hermes with a moral code.

Taken together, it all makes it seem like the Revised edition book is just a retread of the 2e book and there's a certain degree of justice to that accusation, but Sorcerer, Revised manages the trick of improving upon its predecessor in almost every regard.

It's not a perfect book, by any means. It shares the mid-period Storyteller system flaw where it's finally getting concrete about what different success levels mean, but winds up setting the success cost for many actions too high, so that you wind up having to roll multiple times for just about any task, and oftentimes, even when the success cost is set correctly, the process of an action is broken down into too many discrete steps, each of which requires its own roll.

The Hellfire path is an example of one that suffers from both problems. To use it, you've got to make an activation roll to see how potent the blast is, then you've got to target the blast with a separate roll, then your target gets a defense roll, then if it hits, you roll damage, then your target rolls soak. Five rolls for hitting someone with a fireball.

But that's a minimum, because paths have Aspects. "Aspect" is just a jargon word for "something about your power that the mechanics are interested in." The rules about how Aspects apply are a little vaguely written, but if I'm reading them right they work like this - Aspects range from one to six points, and are capped at your rating in the path. If you roll one success on your activation roll, you get the rating one Aspects for free, but anything beyond that is bought with successes. Hellfire has three Aspects - damage, range, and area of effect, plus optional elemental effects which aren't technically Aspects, but which have a cost in successes.

If you've got a low rating in Hellfire, but a large Manipulation + Occult dice pool, you'll probably max out your aspects with a simple roll, but if you're high level and fighting something that warrants that kind of firepower, you'll need to spend several rounds charging up.

It's unwieldy, but at least it's got greater clarity than the old book. Though this does bring up an issue that recurs throughout the book. It insists that awakened mages are more powerful than sorcerers. And this is notionally the case, because their success chart for scaling effects is generally more generous than the printed Aspects (when it's not being completely half-assed), but it fails to take into account mages' dramatically lower dice pools.

Compare a mage with Force 3, Arete 3 to a sorcerer with Hellfire 3, and a Manipulation + Occult of 8 (i.e. not optimized much at all - it's rules legal to make those values 5 and 10 as a starting character). With a single roll, the sorcerer's expected success total is 3, which is enough for 6 damage dice at touch or 4 damage at a range of 10 feet. The mage's expected success total is 1. Which is enough for jack shit. It costs one success to affect anyone besides yourself with magic. If the roll gets 2 successes, that's 3 levels of damage, about what you'd expect from the sorcerer. If it rolls 3 successes, it will deliver 5 levels of damage, but that's only a 6 percent chance (by contrast, the sorcerer has a 9 percent chance to roll 5 or more successes on their 6 damage dice).

The main advantage the mage has is range (if the roll is successful enough to do damage, it can hit anyone they can see) and the fact that they don't have to roll to hit (unless either the player or the GM decides to follow the book's vague advice to require a targeting roll when it feels appropriate). But the rub here is that when the sorcerer rolls as improbably as the mage, they'll be able to do massive damage to an area of effect. The mage's peak is around the sorcerer's average.

At least until you bring extended rolls into it. That's where mages shine - when they have the luxury to make long charge ups with no intrinsic cap. Then it's just a matter of how willing you are to wager that your next roll won't be a botch.

Anyway, I guess the point of that diversion was this - for fuck's sake, Mage, let your mages do magic. If you're going to give them a dice pool small enough to yield one expected success, make the result of rolling one success into something interesting. That's the main advantage that the Sorcerer books have over core Mage. Interesting things happen at the expected success levels.

It's an approach that pays dividends in Sorcerer, revised's flavor sections as well. Once you take out the notion that magic is small and furtive and couched in coincidence, you're left with an actual fantasy setting. There's a group here, called the Order of the Golden Fly, who are descended from the priests of ancient Egypt and their whole deal is that they tracked down the angel who delivered the ten plagues to Pharaoh and mystically bound him as revenge (or so they thought, turns out the angel developed a taste for fucking shit up, and so let the Order believe they bound him, so that they might continue to fuck shit up). The Psychic Phenomena chapter begins each power description with a little vignette that not only illustrates the power, but spoon feeds you a plot for your low-powered occult procedural game. Also, the Star Council is just a straight upgrade to the Thal'hun.-They're on the run because they stole UFO technology from a top-secret government hangar - how are they not a full Tradition?

I guess what I'm saying is that this book is good. It's Mage freed from the need to be Mage, and as a result threads the needle between gritty street level and high-fantasy weirdness better than any of the cores ever did. . .

I think I might have some ambivalence towards Mage: the Ascension, guys. I'd better hurry up and work that out, because I've only got an edition and a half left to go.

Ukss Contribution: I'm going reverse my usual trope where I use the Ukss Contribution section to highlight a couple of cool setting elements before I ultimately select my second or third choice. This time, my pick for the contribution is going to be my genuine first choice, but I'm going to do an honorable mention before I get to it.

Sorcerer, revised includes an homage to the Amazing Randi! His name is Randy "the Fabulous" Foster and he too was a stage magician who went around exposing fraudulent psychics. But because this is the World of Darkness, he eventually found a real psychic who was being exploited by his parents. Now the two of them travel the country together doing stage magic and rescuing psychics in trouble. It's sweet, funny, and a great rpg plot hook.

Or, in other words, a perfect candidate for my "here's my first choice, but it doesn't fit with the cultural context of Ukss" shtick . . . except in this case it's my second choice.

First choice is the psychic power "Ectoplasmic Generation." Create goo with your mind. At higher levels, you can make the goo look like things. Moderately useful, but still the sort of booby-prize superpower that always makes me smile. I think it would also make a fun magic wand ("you open the chest to find . . . a magic wand! Roll perception to identify the slimy green liquid that's dripping from the tip.")

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