A Few Cool Things in Sorcery!

Posted on October 10, 2014

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I want to continue to talk about playing through Sorcery! book 4 today. Particularly I want to point out some of the slick stuff it does.

Page Rolls

Since this is a classical fantasy rpg descendant, the game makes you roll dice (2d6) to do stuff, like killing or sneaking. But since it’s a book, and you might be reading (playing? Play-reading?) on the bus or in bed, the bottom of each right-hand page shows a pre-rolled 2d6. When the text calls for a roll, flip through with your thumb and stop at random. It’s problem solving of the simplest and therefore highest order. I had thought in the back of my head there were ways to make the game fit more ideally within the medium of “book”, but on examination of these ideas they’re just not as good. I love the page rolls.

Fighting

When you cross swords with a She-Satyr or a Sightless, you basically roll dice and compare numbers, lowest taking damage. It’s not fun or tactical, and once you’ve made the decision to fight, there is rarely another decision of even small importance to be made. The point is simply attrition. Getting into a fight will use up some of your hit point resources, which will affects how you proceed in the game. If you’re nearly full up, you don’t have to be as cautious; you can try to take enemies by surprise and stride forth boldly. When you’re low it’s time to watch your ass and avoid confrontation. As a “battle system” it’s not much, but as a way for the game to give teeth to your decisions that actually affect how you play, it’s great. That’s what matters.

Spell Memorization

When you make a character in Sorcery! you choose either a Warrior or a Sorcerer. Warrior is labeled as the “basic game” while the Sorcerer is “advanced”. I’ve died five or six times so far and I’ve continually chosen Warrior, partly because I have a penchant for testing out games as the fighter archetype, partly because I’m lazy.

See, if you play as a Sorcerer, before you begin the game you flip to the spell list at the back of the book. You’re asked to study it as thoroughly as you can, and then once you begin the game you are not allowed to look at it any longer. To cast spells in the game, you have to remember them from your time studying. All the spells are three letters long — ZAP, POP — and each produce a different effect (ZAP, as you can imagine, is a lightning spell)

Quite often during the adventure you’re given the option to cast a spell. Five three-letter words are given as your options, and you pick one. You need to pick one that actually is a spell (some of them aren’t) and further you need to pick one appropriate to the situation. When you’re trying to cast a sleep spell on a Birdman guard you don’t want to fry it with lightning.

Since I haven’t tried it out yet, that’s kind of all I know. But it’s pretty brilliant in writing. Spell memorization is an old fantasy roleplaying trope, but this is the first time I’ve seen a game make the player do the memorization. I suppose this may be obvious, but it strikes me that the spell memorization reveals where the gamebook’s strength lies: immersion. You’re not going to get the kind of creative back-and-forth that happens in a tabletop rpg with this thing, but damn if it won’t do its best to make you feel like a scruffy hero.

The immersion is certainly there. I often read books on the bus, but I’m easily distracted. While riding home yesterday, though, Sorcery! #4 in hand, I forgot where I was until it was almost my stop. It’s not perfect. Immersion breaks down, especially in the face of cheating, which I’ve begun to engage in. More on that next week.

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