Sorcerer and the non-optimal character sheets

[I promise the actual play from Friday night is on the way. I’ve got it about half-written, I swear.]
I mentioned this parenthetically in the previous post but it bears repeating (and adding to my SorcererWiki, actually): one big difference between Sorcerer and pretty much every other game on the market (at least every game I’ve ever encountered) is the character sheet.
To be more specific, in almost any game the sheet is meant to express your character at their current optimal functionality; generally, in-game modifiers pull down (lowering stats, scores, skills, or removing equipment or spells or whatever) — the sheet is the top end — things just get worse from there. This seems so obvious that it hardly needs to be noted… except that Sorcerer doesn’t do it that way.
What you get on a Sorcerer sheet is the character when they’re not really trying too hard.
The assumption that the character-on-the-sheet is the “optimal” version (and failure on the part of the GM to correct this assumption *coff*myfirstgame*coff*) is erroneous and is usually why players fail to capitalize on the bonuses that come from ‘contextual play’: most folks with experience in other games will look at the sheet and think “I have a Will of 5,” when it is more accurate to say “If I don’t really put much work into it, my Will is 5. If I’m really phoning it in, it’s probably more like a 4, and if I’m truly firing on all cylinders as a player, my Will is a 6, 7, maybe even 8 or more.
It’s also worth noting that it’s the players actions during play (bonuses for tactics, cool scene setting, et cetera) that make the character more effective, not usually the character’s actions (such as using a ‘boost’ ability or whatever). In the long term at any rate the former method of enhancement is more more reliable than the latter.
The game more than supports this kind of play; it really requires it in order to do well and will kick your ass otherwise. Some of the differences I’ve noticed in play between the first game I ran and some of the later stuff is the simple fact that I’ve eventually started to point this feature out to people before the game starts.

2 replies on “Sorcerer and the non-optimal character sheets”

  1. Certainly you’ve supported, or even encouraged, the tactic, but I can see scribbling on my character sheet “ROLE-PLAY BONUS!” “TACTICS BONUS!” “COOL NARRATIVE DETAILS BONUS!” as a reminder. I think the issue (to couch it differently) is that those bonuses come as a pleasant surprise (“Hey! Thanks for the props!”) instead of being an expected part of the mechanic.
    Of course, as GM, dealing with similar reward mechanics, I have nothing to boast about myself …

  2. In a nutshell, I need to replace “tell me what you’re doing” with “give me the scene setting and tactical choices that will make your chances of success not suck.” 🙂
    I noted last night to Randy that I’m seeing a lot more enhancing action and tactics in some of the one-shots like Grimm Therapy than I have in the ongoing game (Bibliophage) where the player’s obviously know the system better.
    Randy opined that I’m seeing perception support the system: the idea that everyone in Grimm Therapy is a kid means that everyone’s encouraged to really go for the bonuses because the characters are “just kids”; they need all the help they can get. Conversely, the perception is the Val’s a badass sorcerer… Ken’s a badass sorcerer… Shannon’s a badass sorcerer… they don’t really need the help.
    … which is funny, since both games use exactly the same number of character points and are essentially identical to one another in a rules sense.

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