Monday, September 29, 2014

Blame Brandon

I was lucky enough to get an analysis of the first sesssion of our BW campaign by Brandon, our GM. This is an invaluable look inside the head of a Burning Wheel GM who is running the game for a bunch of new players.  Thanks goes out to  Brandon for writing this up.  I hope we can get plenty more "Blame Brandon" posts in the future, but I'm not going to ask him for one after each session.  I don't want to burn him out or scare him away.  Running a game for my particular group can be a trying affair.  Brandon has no idea what's in store for him.   My comments are in bold italics.  So, here's....

Blame Brandon

I was woefully under prepared after a month of not thinking about the game. So after my initial “lay down, try not to cry, cry anyway” nervousness was overcome, I looked through what I had prepped: two jerk nobles and entourage on the road. Which would hit several Beliefs and Instincts. Okay, I felt better. And it feels good to be playing again after a year away from Burning Wheel. Like nice comfy slippers.

The Jarl was browbeaten by a few group-members in the great hall into giving up some horses after a failed (Beginner’s Luck) Persuasion roll and some Helping dice. That’ll come back to haunt the group, but for now the Jarl is just being tight-lipped and none-too-pleased that he was just sassed to in front of his court. (Wow!  I had no idea we had pissed off the Jarl) But since the Rule of Law die came up a success I decided it would be improper to let the prince tramp through the spring thaw on foot.

I had Calder Circle up his mother - who is the sister of the King of Erenland (I think? We need to draw that family tree)(We had established that my mother is the daughter of the King) - not to find her, but to see what her disposition was like when he went to see her. Success, so she is happy to see him. Another failed Persuasion roll. Okay, I shouldn’t have had him roll Persuade here, but since I did I’ll roll with it. She gave him five of her personal house guard and a personal mission. There’s more to the “why” but I’ll leave it there for now. Intrigue‘s certainly afoot.

As they are gathering information, and rangers, Calder’s player hit me with a Wise-style fact: each of the houses has their own fort they are responsible for on the wall. Oh. Erm. Okay! Well I had thought that each fort would just be under-manned, but with that information it means that most of the forts are now abandoned! I smile evilly. (Someday I'll learn to keep my mouth shut!)

When Rysdan talked to the Jarl I made sure to mention that Calder’s brother was smirking. Calder has been away from court for a few years being a Captain at the Wall. His brother has been up to no good while he was gone.

The letter was totally unexpected and a good surprise for me as well. If Daschell hadn’t corrected the hot-headed prince’s words, those two nobles that were my only prep would have been turned into assassins. Way to save the prince from himself spymaster. So those two nobles I’d prepped became the representatives. I love it when serendipitous events like that happen.

Those two nobles were big jerk-faces. They insulted, they whipped their servants, they rolled their eyes and laughed at the “Raven Prince“. I was trying to get someone to come to blows with them, but cooler and clearer heads prevailed. Probably for the best, since Jarl Esben would have used that against House Dale, if possible. I was surprised that Rysdan didn’t get to torture them though, since I was trying to push for it. In the end the two Gunnar nobles were so verbally tongue-lashed by the group they gave up the beans anyway. But not all of them, only what the Intent of the Interrogation made them.
Thinking back on it, it would have been a good time for a Duel of Wits. Since they wanted something from the group. Maybe I’ll start there next session? Or maybe I’ll let it go and save it for the next time they meet.
I hesitated on starting a fight with some goblins. At least one of the players looked like he really wanted to smash some orc. But I really didn’t want to slow down the game or change the pace of the socially-focused session. Plus the group spent a long time working out defenses for the gap in the wall, so I let it go.

Next session might have a big fight though, depending on what the group does of course. Thorin and Arvidus both have Beliefs about protecting Calder, so it should probably happen. I’m just not looking forward to a five player combat. Then again after they experience a BW combat, and get horrible injuries, they might avoid it next time. If it comes up I’ll talk about Bloody Versus, Fight, or even Range and Cover if combat comes up.

Fun times! And wow I'm long-winded. (Nope.  If you were long winded, you'd have a blog!)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Session Two Recap

With our second session of Burning Wheel, we sat down to actually play the game.  Well, we had to do some quick maintenance on the characters as we'd made some mistakes during character burning that had to be cleaned up.  That was a quick process and so we were playing in short order.  The Charred Online Character Burner proved to be a huge help.  I wish I knew who wrote this program so I can give them a proper thanks.  If you know, please let me know.

We started out in the city of Riismark, ancestral home of House Dale.  The current Jarl of House Dale is Olaf Dale, my character's father.  The Jarl has tasked me to gather a force and travel north to the wall to inspect the condition of the forts that stretch along the great length of the wall.  In the Midnight setting, the wall is only a string of forts, but for our game we decided to make "the wall" an actual wall, like the Great Wall of China or the ice wall in Game of Thrones.  There is a fort for each of the major Dornish houses and they have manned those forts for millenia to help keep the forces of the dark god Izrador at bay.  Beyond the wall is the wild north, full of darkspawn and worse.  Twice in the history of our world, Eredane, has Izrador attacked from the north.  There are rumors that the darkspawn are active again and beginning to come over the wall in greater numbers.  Jarl Olaf wants a report on the condition of the wall and the forts.  He fears that the other great houses are no longer doing their duty to the realm and letting their forts fall to ruin.  After all, it's been well over a thousand years since Izrador has last threatened the realms of man, elf, and dwarf.  In fact, some claim that he's only a rumor and doesn't really exist.  The dwarves and elves know the truth, but the elves are no longer interacting with humans and the dwarves just barely.

The game began with the players preparing to set off for the north.  Since we are beginning characters, some of us were woefully under equipped.  I petitioned my father, the Jarl, for supplies and troops, but he only agreed to supply horses.  We felt that there was something he wasn't telling us so I went to his wife, my mother.  She supplied us with a squad of soldiers and tasked us to be on the lookout for anyone from House Esben.  She had heard rumors that they were unhappy with the reign of the current king, my grandfather and my mother's father.  She was afraid that they may be causing trouble of some kind but had no concrete information.  Finally, I visited with the Rangers of Riismark.  They are a unit that I had held a commission with some time in the past, so I still had contacts.  The Rangers confirmed that there are darkspawn stirring to the north and agreed to send twelve Rangers with us on our task.

While I was busy with my contacts, the other players made circles tests to gain information from their contacts.  Thorin, the Dwarven smith hired by House Dale (at great expense) ascertained that there was a breach in the wall very close to the fort manned by House Esben.  This, of course, stirred our suspicions.  Thorin organized an expedition of craftsmen to travel north to make repairs to the wall and we assigned the dozen Rangers that I had gathered to guard their wagon train during their passage north.

Rysdan, the House "Questioner" decided to gain more information from the Jarl, but he was as tightlipped with him as he had been with me.  Instead, Rysdan made contact with one of the Jarl's closest friends, whom Rysdan happened to have dirt on.  The man, Lord Orm, confirmed our suspicions that the Jarl knew more than he was letting on, but wanted to try to keep his hands clean and to confirm his information from a reliable source, since he did not trust his own sources.  The Jarl knew that the other Great Houses were no longer manning their houses.  I was outraged to hear this and so had Daschell, the House Spymaster, pen me a stern and threatening letter to the Jarl of House Esben demanding a reception at their keep on the wall.  Since I cannot read or write, I relied on Daschell to write the letter for me.  Without my knowledge, he penned a far more polite and cordial letter than I had dictated to him.

We traveled north the next day at first light.  The craftsmen caravan would be slow, so we agreed to go ahead and scout the breach.  After several weeks on the road we came across a broken down wagon.  The wagon had the markings of a House Esben banner house.  We met Lord and Lady Gunnar, who were both very rude and crass, especially to me.  I would have lost my temper on the spot and done something I would later regret had it not been for my companion and friend, Arvidus, who stepped in and helped calm the situation.  Our interactions with the Gunnars led to more anger and Daschell even saw Lord Gunnar casting a spell to eavesdrop on our private conversations.  Again, calmer heads prevailed and I did not have him horsewhipped on the spot.

It turns out that the Jarl of Esben had received my letter and had sent the Gunnars as his representatives to make the reception that I had demanded.  They were on their way to the fort when their wagon wheel broke and we came across them.  This was meant as a direct insult to me and my father and grandfather as the House of Gunnar is a lowly house, shamed many years ago for the use of necromancy and blood magic.  Thorin reluctantly repaired the wagon and we had the Gunnars come with us to the breach, against their will of course.

At the breach, which was quite large, we found evidence of many darkspawn incursions.  We also found evidence of magical markings on the north side of the wall that stretched for many miles to the east and the west.  Arvidus, a war mage, discerned that the markings were used the focus magic and that the wall had been breached with a magical force of some kind that both scattered wall debris far and wide and caused the very foundation stones of the wall to sink into the earth.  We were dealing with something quite powerful and quite organized.

We did our best that night to build some measure of fortification in the breach to try to slow down any darkspawn that might try to come through.  We knew our efforts were mostly futile, but we felt we had to try something.  Thorin had spotted what he called goblins in the woods north of the breach, which had us all on edge.

The night was uneventful but the next morning the Gunnars were as rude and demanding as during our trip to the breach with them.  Rysdan interrogated them after Daschell had determined that they had broken the King's law in their lack of deference for my station and their use of magic against nobility.  We were shocked to learn from them that House Esben was plotting a rebellion and were going to attempt to break away from the Torbault Kingdom.  That was enough to convince me to put the Gunnars to death, but I was deterred from that course of action...for the moment.

We stopped the game at that point and awarded artha.  We had a great time and we are very much looking forward to our next session.  Blood, as they say, will be spilled....

Friday, September 26, 2014

Actual Play!

Session two of our Burning Midnight Campaign was completed tonight.  Since session one was character burning, this was our first opportunity to actually play the game.  I can say that a few of our players entered the game with some trepidation regarding the complexity of the game, but everyone had a great time and agreed that the game plays better than it reads.  The complexity of the game lent itself to a feeling that anything and everything can be resolved using the rules.  What surprised me about the game is that combat never happened and we didn't care.  We mostly used social skills and we all still had fun.  I'm sure that many game systems can claim to be fun without combat in a session, but the truth is that most center and resolve around conflict.  Well, we had conflict and tension in our game, but still never drew steel nor engaged in any form of combat...and we loved it!  I would have to say that the game exceeded all my expectations and I can now see why people say that The Burning Wheel is their favorite game system.  After only one session I'm not quite ready to make that proclamation, but give me a few more and I can easily see sharing that belief.  The Burning Wheel may not be for everyone but I can honestly say now that it is for me.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Letter Home....

Campaign Entry .9 (pre-campaign fiction)

Lady Tyra Dale,

My dearest mother, it shames me to admit that I have not yet mastered my letters enough to  be able to write this myself.  Good Legate Sivik has been kind enough to transcribe my letters to you.  I assure you that I work every day to better myself in this regard, as you commanded of me.

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of my arrival here in Cale for my fostering with Earl Redgard.  The Earl is a very stern man, but he is fair and he treats me and Arvidus well.  Speaking of Arvidus, he has been excused from most of his duties to the Earl and spends most of his time with Legate Sivik.  The Legate tells me that what Arvidus does is beyond my ability to comprehend and that I should not worry so much about him.  He says that Arvidus is special and that he has important things to do in the future.  I’m not sure what he’s talking about, but I respect the Legate, so I’ll take his word for it.  Arvidus himself doesn’t speak much about his duties with the Legate.  He seems very quiet and withdrawn since beginning these new duties and I often see burns on his clothing and his fingers are often blackened and raw.  I worry because he’s not the bright, cheerful friend that I had when we arrived.  His cheeks are sunken and his eyes are...I don’t know, hollow?  He was supposed to be training to be my right arm, my sworn sword.  Now he seems a shadow of himself.

(Note:  My Lady, I must interject a note on this matter.  Arvidus has taken up an apprenticeship with me and performs his duties admirably.  Earl Redgard has given his blessing to this arrangement and I assure you, the boy is in no danger.  He has been instructed, at this time, to keep his duties to himself.  He and I mean no disrespect to your son, the Prince.  We are merely following the dictates of the church and the commands of Earl Redgard. - Legate Sivik)

While I worry for Arvidus, you need not worry for me, Mother.  I grow stronger every day and my skills with sword and bow are unmatched among my peers here, even the Earl’s son, Rolli.  Rolli is big and strong and has a few years on me, but he is slow and, dare I say, stupid.  I best him easily at sword and bow.  This makes him angry and he often stings me with the flat of his blade when the swordmaster is not looking.  I say nothing, but I remember each blow and will have the last word, of that you can be sure.

I spend my time when not training and serving the Earl in the Keep’s rookery.  The Ravenmaster is teaching me the language of the birds and he says I have a keen mind for it and that the birds trust me.  I enjoy my time there, but I’m roundly mocked for it by the other pages and squires.  They have taken to calling me “The Raven Prince” behind my back.  They mean it as an insult, but I wear the title with pride.  The raven is solitary and strong and does not back down from larger foes...just like me.  They think to demean me, but they make me stronger with each jape.  The Earl has even taken to calling me “Raven Boy”.  He says it with a chuckle and means no disrespect, but everyone laughs when he says it.  Like the raven, though, I will remain strong.  I still have a few years here and I will emerge the stronger for all the hardships I endure.

There is one very bright spot.  The Earl has a daughter, as you know, Astra.  Cuyler is very lucky to be betrothed to her.  She is kind and smart and very, very beautiful.  We often ride into the countryside (escorted of course!) to hunt small game and catch fish from the rivers.  She will make Cuyler a wonderful wife and I must say that I envy him greatly.  She seems special, especially compared to her oaf of a brother.  I’m sure you will love her when you finally meet her.

I have to tell you, on one such outing with Astra we saw Elves!  They were at a distance, but they sat their horses with such ease and grace that they seemed creatures from the storybooks, such was their beauty.  They must have come down from the Veradeen.  Perhaps they were scouting?  I thought to find out so we attempted to approach, but they just waved and rode off.  Our mounts had no chance of catching them and our escorts were forbidding the pursuit anyway, so we could only watch them ride away.  I would very much like to meet and speak with an Elf one day.

Please give Father and Cuyler my regards and assure them that I prosper here in the House of Redgard, but I look forward to my return to Riismark.  

All my love, Calder.

  • Legate Solomai Sivik, transcriber

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Heart Attack!

Not much to say about this game.  I think my heart literally stopped a few times.  What a game!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Burning Wheel Super-Sized!

There has been some discussion about running Burning Wheel with a large group lately over on Google+.  My own GM, Brandon, has also expressed some anxiety at the idea of running BW with a group of 5 players.  Trying to keep track of all the beliefs that will be active in play, I can understand why he prefers 2-3 players in his BW game.  Well, we have 5 and I hope it works.  I've copied the advice of an obviously talented and experienced BW GM from Google+, +Dan Hall , who talks about making sure that the beliefs of each player in a large group compliment each other and work together to drive the narrative forward.  Here's his post:

Just to offer another point of view...I'm using a pre-written campaign and I have a regular group of 7-8 players, and so far, six sessions in, everyone keeps turning up and seem to be really enjoying Burning Wheel!!! None of us have played before. I have introduced Duel of Wits, Fight!, and Range and Cover and everyone is enjoying the game immensely.

I think it helps that we are playing The Darkening of Mirkwood campaign, which is written as a skeleton for major regional events and expects lots of player driven plots to occur in between those events. Also, because of that particular setting, there is lots of player buy in, so i think that is keep everything together somewhat.

As far as resolving the action, my players have been quick to take to the microsystems, but the Hub rules really seem to shine in a large group. I've had feedback that the resolution system is far more interesting than say pathfinder, because of Helping. Everyone around the table tends to get involved with each other's rolls and this makes it better for a large group than most trad games, where it's you and your roll and everyone else can only watch on. Honestly, I've been pleasantly surprised with how well the Hub handles a larger group, as I was really concerned before starting the campaign.

After about our forth session I realised that having disparate Beliefs was going to become a potential issue. I wrote some belief guidelines that we are now using and the players all seem to be on-board with the idea of keeping at least one Belief coherent with the group. I also encourage the players to talk about their Beliefs regularly, so that others can engage with similar or conflicting Beliefs.

Here's what I have written to help our large group coordinate Beliefs.


Beliefs drive your character and the game forward. Choose them carefully, but also change them any time you want. In fact, changing your Beliefs as the game goes on will be vital to progressing your character and the whole campaign. I will endeavour to run games that challenge your Beliefs; that's how Burning Wheel is supposed to work.

We will hold a formal "Question your Beliefs" session during the Fellowship Phase at the end of every game year, but feel free to change them whenever you want or whenever makes sense. If your Belief isn't seeing much action, it's probably a good time to change it.

Here's the general Beliefs guidelines for starting characters. It may be slightly different to what I've discussed previously with some of you. These new guidelines will work better for us, but if you already have Beliefs you are welcome to keep them if you wish.

Motivating Belief
What is my overarching driving purpose?
What elements of the setting am I interested in exploring?
What is my philosophy on life, and how do I live it every day?

Fellowship Belief
What ties me to The Fellowship?
What is my relationship to one, some, or all of the other characters?
What is my role within The Fellowship?

What is my short term goal (achievable within the next 1-3 sessions)?
What is my first active response to the current Situation?
If you don't know yet...leave this Belief blank until you find out more about The Situation. Write your Goal within the first hour of play if you can!

See Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits for more details and advice.

Aligning Beliefs
Your character’s Beliefs directly determine what sort of adventures you want to experience - for the GM’s job is to create narrative obstacles that get in the way of you fulfilling those Beliefs. From this, drama and story emerge. Hopefully, awesome fun times too.

This is the big picture of the Burning Wheel cycle. Beliefs + challenge = story.

You may notice how the game’s mechanics, particularly Artha and Advancement, support and propel the turning of this wheel. You get Artha by playing out your Beliefs. You spend Artha to advance your character. You advance your character so you can overcome bigger obstacles. And so the wheel turns...

So, it’s fairly clear, you need to challenge, drive forward with, and play out your Beliefs to improve your character over time. The GM is obliged to provide opportunities for you to do this. Beliefs are therefore much much more than queues that describe how we should roleplay our character; Beliefs literally drive the game forward.

The trick for us, in The Darkening of Mirkwood campaign, is that we have a very large cast of characters, and if everyone is to see some Artha each session then we need to make sure that most everyone’s  Beliefs are relevant each session.

So I ask you this: at the beginning of each session it is your job to look at your Beliefs and ask yourself “how do these Beliefs relate to the situation at hand?” “Why am I here?”, and “What am I going to do about it?”. If no answers come up, first consider slightly modifying a Belief to match the situation, or second, rewrite a Belief so that it becomes fully blown and relevant to what’s going on. Goal and Relationship Beliefs are ripe for this, so have a look at those first.

When changing your Beliefs, ask after other character’s Beliefs first, or announce it to the table so that others may work with (or against) you. Consider whether you can align with their Beliefs, creating a synergy. Or, consider whether your beliefs work at cross purposes with each other. Do not be afraid to do this! Doing so can lead to some great drama, and Burning Wheel handles this sort of thing really well (often with an inter party Duel of Wits).

Forge a pact. Make an oath. Promise revenge. Help a friend. Make your Beliefs conflicted. Don’t forget the Moldbreaker, Embodiment, and Goal rewards.

The other thing you should absolutely do is drive the game forward with your Beliefs. If there is something your character must do, then go and do it! Do it now! This is exactly what it means to drive the game forward with your Beliefs. We may end up resolving your Task with a single roll, or it may be the spark that motivates a whole session of play. The more other people’s Beliefs align with yours, the more chances are that this will indeed be the focus of a whole session.

In summary:

Challenge your Beliefs, but question where your Beliefs converge with others. Help, hinder, and mess with their story. Do this, and our campaign will most likely be awesome :)

Burn, baby Burn!

I've finally sat down and translated my Burning Wheel character, Prince Calder Dale, into a format that allows me to publish it here.  The character still needs to be approved by the GM and I'm sure I've made plenty of mistakes, but here it is anyway.  Opinions and advice are always welcome.

Edit:  The picture I chose in the wee hours of the night looks a lot like Jon Snow.  Oh well, It works for now.  Made some corrections to the character and changed some names to protect the innocent.

Here's a link to the PDF: Prince Calder Dale

             House Torbault                                                                    House Dale

Monday, September 15, 2014

Football Blues

It sucks when the Seahawks lose.  Not so much because they actually lost the game, that's going to happen.  What bothers me is that my expectations are SO high, that a loss like this hurts even more.  To add insult to injury, now the general NFL population is crowing that the Seahawks were "exposed".  Give me a break.  They played like shit, which is going to happen and the Chargers played great.  You have got to hand it to Philip Rivers.  He's a tough son of a bitch and their future HOF TE, Antonio Gates, is one of the best ever.  The Chargers won that game, no doubt about it.  But it's not the end of the world for Seahawks fans, as much as Seahawk haters would love it to be.

Prediction:  If the Broncos win next week in Seattle, which may happen, look for Broncos fans to scream that the Superbowl was a fluke and the Seahawks cheated.  I'll bet money on it.

Oh, extra salt on the fantasy team laid another giant egg.  Why do I even play?  I'm clearly not very good at it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Start of the Beginning, or something like that....

My Play by Post game, Blackpowder over Harn, has started again.  We had a false start, but we reset and grabbed some excellent new players.  This is my first PbP, so I'm on unsure footing, but the games is starting well and seems like it's going to be a lot of fun.  Read along if you like!

On a non-gaming front, my beloved Seattle Seahawks took care of business in week one.  Well done, Hawks!  My fantasy team, however, is currently laying a massive egg.  You can't win them all....