Sorcerer’s Annotations, part two: Demons

Previously I covered annotations from Chapters one and two, so the next one up is:

Demons

The annotations begin:

This chapter concerns how players and GM talk while creating demons, whether during initial character creation or later in play.

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p>That’s an interesting turn of phrase. Roleplaying is talking, naturally, but the framing here is both procedural and as a negotiation. It needs to be procedural because the GM should be playing the PC’s demon. Sorcerer differs from the superficially similar treatment of magic in Stormbringer, in that the powers of the demon are not within the players domain during play, even if the PC can call on them.

Edwards takes a moment to note how the rules effects of demons are not in-fiction; that is to say two different powers that have the same outcome outside the various cosmetic features of those powers are essentially the same power. I don’t think this is a new conceit anymore; take the Magic Missile description in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which says “each Magic-User’s [spell] is unique in appearance”. Edwards is however setting a precedent by partitioning fiction and underlying rules. Something that’s fairly obvious when you think about it.

The next passage mentions something similarly obvious but necessary — that a demon is essentially the same as a person for purposes of affecting the world (barring powers, of course). And it communicates — it always communicates.

I appreciated that part. I appreciated the following annotations less. There’s a lot of reiteration and little new insight. He does it for demon descriptions, he does it for powers. It’s handy to have a summary of the different demons but wouldn’t this be more useful in a worksheet, maybe following one of those workflow diagrams Edwards is so fond of (and good at)?

At the same time Edwards makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it comment on the different demons and how they behave re: intimacy and proactivity — helpful markers for the GM who plays them. It’s an insightful piece of commentary that isn’t in the original text, but it’s an annotation that’s worthy of its own annotation. Instead it’s presented in Edwards’ ubiquitous terse and intractable style. Still, I think I get it.

And then, suddenly, up pops a fairly coherent passage about Possessors. Why is no similar treatment given to the other Demon types? OK, Possessors need clarification on what happens to them when their host is killed or otherwise expels them. I don’t think this annotation makes the terse terminology on the opposite page (the original) any easier to grasp. I’m not even sure it’s directly relevant.

There are a few other comments popping up like “the requirements for Cloak and Cover are inelegantly designed”. Well, I’ll take your word for it; but if the annotation does nothing to revise that, what is the point?

The useful part of the annotations are for the abilities where Edwards to alludes to the actual utility of certain powers in play (I guess from his many play sessions). Now the penny drops.  Earlier Edwards mentioned the “what does it do?” dialogue in coaching a player to think of their demon (the example was reacting to an attack on the demon’s master); some actual play description of utility goes a long way.

I thought Edwards was going to go through each power in turn, offering comments. Which he does… right up until the letter H, where he suddenly stops, save for a throwaway comment about the Protection power.

Uh, great. I had to switch back to the cover to make sure I wasn’t reading the proof I got from the pre-release. No, this is the final version. Does he think all of the other powers are so transparent in their application and in-game use that they aren’t worthy of comment? Come on.

Oh… no… hang on. Edwards stops for some aside about the difference between two different powers (Cloak and Cover, which last time I checked should come between B and D in the alphabet) then rejoins the list halfway through S, before veering off the road at T and rejoining a little later. Overall I reckon Edwards has skipped over about half of the powers; and that’s fine, I trust that was a conscious decision. But I would really have loved to hear his take on the arcane description of the Mark power.

The annotations improve a bit from hereon. The next part is a bit Edwards is “[adding] to lay the foundation for the applied points in later chapters”. Er, OK. It’s good material, all about how abilities are activated and what they cost in terms of fatigue. But if it’s an annotation, shouldn’t it be annotating the later text where the mechanical procedure is discussed? What good is it doing here, forcing the user to remember the location of the passage? Annotations are metadata that enhance passages in a sequential text; they should have sequential context themselves, surely? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

Eh, never mind. Edwards tackles Desire and Need next, and this is one of the higher value passages — since the original treatment is very terse. Then we come to the bit that I think has the highest value: how to actually prepare to play your player’s demon. Not a very long passage, but it gets to the heart of playing the demon as a character rather than an object the PC can point and fire.

Edwards rounds everything out with closing remarks about how “demons don’t exist”, i.e. they violate the laws of the fictional world. They don’t come from “somewhere”, they don’t have a realm or classes (other than the categories that are useful to define how they relate to their summoner), and they are somehow less than human. I found this whole idea very appealing on my first read-through, and it’s still appealing.

And on the subject of “still appealing” I’d like to note that my feelings of this game haven’t changed. But the more I read of these annotations, the more I see a job half-done, like a special edition DVD with a lot of content that you have to dig through to find any real value. I don’t think the layout is that great, and I think the annotations are not consistent but more importantly out of place, making it a little difficult to spot what Edwards is annotating.

Maybe it will get better. 

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