Gearing up for a game in the near future, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that I find myself often drifting back to Sorcerer for anime inspired games. And the more I thought about why that is, I figured it’s probably worth writing up a little guide as to what makes it a good fit and how to make it work for you.
Dangerous Power & Riding The Line
Well, it’s not hard to find several anime or manga series that revolve around power that’s not totally in your control and characters who risk going to far… which is pretty much what Sorcerer is all about.
I usually start by asking what does it look like when the protagonists lose control of the power? Giant robot Evangelions going on a rampage? Psychic powers ripping up city blocks, police squads and your loved ones while your body mutates out of control?
Usually thinking a bit about that will tell you how to word the pitch in terms of mood, theme, and how to define your demons and sorcery in the game. Also consider if there’s any limitations on what kind of characters would make good protagonists.
Specializing Your Demons and Sorcery
First, does the world know that the demons exist? And how are they viewed? Usually the Rule of Secrecy is the first thing that disappears in an anime or manga setting.
Second, you may require demons to only be one type, and to have certain types of powers, or none of others. The Imminent rules in Sorcerer and Sword are often useful, potentially along with the Pacting rules if small one-time demons get used a lot in the setting.
I know the core Sorcerer rules set up that demon Needs are completely individualized, but I find that usually leads to… really disjointed situations that maybe don’t fit well together. Instead I prefer to pick an appropriate Need that generally falls into one of these categories:
- Colorful but not hard to fulfill (“Say the magic words & raise your hands!”)
- A logistical need to fulfill that sometimes is a problem (“The robot needs refueling”)
- Something that will probably lead to complications later. (“Steal something sentimental from someone and then sacrifice it.”)
- Something thematically intense every time (“Make a promise to an enemy then deliver on it”)
The demons might all have the same need but if they are different, you generally want them to fall into the same category type, or you might have a very disjointed feeling game and setting. Generally I make the differentiation around desires rather than needs.
Demons as… sort of known?
Baseline Sorcerer establishes that demons violate your fictional setting – whatever people in the fiction believe them to be, it is just projections, guesses, and not the actuality, which is ultimately OTHER.
In anime and manga, these things may be known on some level, even 100% accurately described… but not controlled. Are these things giant robots? Yes. Do they sometimes activate and move on their own? “That’s impossible!” but apparently that too. Oops.
“My Demon is a good demon!”
There’s a common trope where you have most of the demons of whatever sort as evil, but the protagonists have somehow found/created one that is good. The easiest way to handle this in the rules is to change it’s Need and/or Desire so that it’s less messed up than the usual ones.
Starting at the bottom – humanity 0
I like to consider what Humanity 0 looks like, first, since it often makes all the other definitions easier. It tends to be a thing that happens a lot in shonen anime and manga, sometimes temporarily for protagonists, or with permanent consequences for antagonists.
- Becoming obsessed with a goal and becoming inhuman through extreme experimentation/magic/cybernetics, etc. – always a villain favorite
- The demon is in control and can wreak havoc without your influence for a time. (Tokyo Ravens)
- You disappear or fade out from existence. (Control: C)
- You become a monster or demon, probably the very thing you’ve been fighting. (Madoka Magica)
- Go berserk or obsessive in pursuit of your goals, taking the most extreme and ultimately destructive path. (Full Metal Alchemist)
You can look at what kind of characters end up here, and what sort of behaviors preceded going too far. This helps you suss out things that are bad for Humanity, and conversely, which things would be good for it as well.
Dual Humanity Definitions
The dual humanity rules in Sorcerer & Soul get a lot of use in these kinds of stories. You’ll find there’s a lot of antagonists who, in one category, are the scum of the earth, and in another category, shining exemplars. If one definition is “Compassionate” and the other is “Decisive and confident”, you can see how someone might focus one or the other, and keep up their Humanity through relentless pursuit of embodying that.
You can also set up Humanity definitions as completely orthogonal to actual morality – in which case, “What’s right?” is tested in theme against “But I need to do something quick and easy to get my Humanity score up”, which doesn’t always line up.
Funky Humanity Tricks – “The Power of Friendship!”
Now the other set of rules to pull from Sorcerer & Soul – all those bits about using Humanity as an action score unto itself.
The most common usage is declaring why your character is so motivated about doing XYZ and rolling Humanity to generate rollover successes. It you want to truly emulate the genre, try Humanity vs. 1 die, but useable maybe once per session, since it seems to often create a super boost. (note that this can stack with the usual roleplaying bonus dice). This is a Shonen manga/anime classic – Naruto and One Piece for example rest heavily on this one.
If your setting is a bit more grim, maybe you can do Humanity rolls vs. 1 die of the Humanity of various allies/friends/loved ones who died, that are motivating you to push on and Do The Thing. This sets up a perverse dynamic – the protagonists obviously want these people to live, but the more of them who sacrifice themselves or are victimized along the way, the more powerful you get in dice, potentially allowing you to take on “The Big Bad”.
Really dark series, however, posit Humanity as a force that interferes with effectiveness, rather than enhance it. The most obvious one might be having your Humanity rolled against your acting score before you can commit an act of violence… which sets up a great point of decent people not wanting to hurt others, but also means the character might be forced to ride a low Humanity score to survive.
While I’m pulling direct from series here, I actually prefer to create new settings and ideas that are anime-like, but if you see how it works with established ones, you can see how you can make your own as well.
Demons: EVAs. (Objects, Armor, Big) Need: Power Cord Desire: Hurt someone you care about. EVAs may be a state secrets, but yes, the world basically knows about them and there’s no way a 200 foot tall robot is going to uphold the Rule of Secrecy. People think they’re just machines, mostly. Rebellion: doesn’t activate when you need it to, activates when you don’t, goes on a rampage, etc. Sorcery: Disturbing visions/flashbacks into your traumatic subconsciousness.
Humanity: Actual decency and kindness to the people around you. Humanity 0: Being useless for a while, and if you have an EVA it can rampage without your control for a while. Make a Lore roll vs. 1 die to come back from your state (whether, it’s catatonic or, you know, physically transformed into liquid or whatever). Otherwise you’re gone forever, another useless pilot.
Special Humanity Rule: Your humanity can generate rollover successes for anyone trying to manipulate or lie to you. This includes if you’re lying to yourself. (Notice how this can quickly cause a Humanity check as well…)
Demons: Parasytes. (Parasites, Shapeshift, Perception:Other Parasytes, Lethal Damage, Vitality, maybe Hop) Need: Migi needs sleep, but the other Parasytes need to eat people, generally. Desires: all across the board here – the basic list in Sorcerer can work and you can add on to it with stuff like “Motherhood”, or “Domination” etc. The Parasytes are mostly not known at the beginning of the series, and looked upon with horror and fear as people find out about them. Rebellion: Well… leaving the host, committing horrific acts of violence, etc.
Humanity: Caring for the people in your life. Note that the series involves a lot of Humanity Gain rolls for protecting people from being eaten BUT at the same time has a lot of Humanity Checks for emotional distancing. Humanity 0: Trade down your maximum Humanity per Sorcerer & Sword, you’re now Inhuman. If this happens again, your Humanity max must continue to drop further. If you reach absolute 0, you’re now a Passer Demon and not human at all.
Special Humanity Rule: Humanity rolls against you committing violence or simply allowing other people to be sacrificed through callous inaction.
Kill La Kill
Demons: Clothing (Object, Boost, Taint) Need: Blood, lifeforce of wearers. (Makes an attack vs. wearer’s Stamina, as if it were an Edged Weapon). Desire: Most either want something like Alien Domination, while Senketsu has Knowledge. Aside from Goku Uniforms, the world is generally uninformed about clothing. There’s not a Rule of Secrecy, though the REVOCs corporation is keeping it’s true history hidden for obvious reasons. Rebellion: Aside from the usual “won’t activate” possibility, there’s always Taint which can be used against the Wearer.
Humanity: Connections with friends and family. Humanity 0: Any demon-clothing you wear can make a Binding roll vs. 1 die on you.
Special Humanity Rule: Power of Friendship – anyone who pitches in their support and tells you why you matter can make Humanity rolls to create rollover successes that you can use.