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Author Topic: [Burning Wheel] The end of a beginning  (Read 1880 times)
Kaare Berg
Member

Posts: 158


« on: April 02, 2004, 06:39:43 AM »

The end of a beginning.

Its been a long time, but here is my latest foray into roleplaying with the forgite twist. As my game stand now, some of the ideas and input given me by you guys have taken hold and some new ones are dangling around. One such thing is this:

   
Quote
Burning Wheel has “karma” point system called Artha that is used for different things such as bying rerolls, the ability to reroll sixes and so forth. These points are after some revision futher defined into three types Fate, Persona and Deeds. The latest suggestion was to enable a player to buy his way out of a failed roll by spending a persona point and taking a heavy complication.
I figured this sounded fun and we all agreed to try it out.

Since its been a while here is a quick run down of my previous posts.
   
Story summary:
Briefly put, the PCs have been twarting a shadow-sworn mage known as the Hooded One for the past couple of years(game-time). As of last session it topped with the Hooded One sending about a hundred trolls into the character’s home, the Shiring Vale, and thus escalating the conflict.
Having twarted the sorcerer and single handedly slain over 50 trolls the characters were celebrated as heroes despite the tradgedy that befell the vale (half a village was led away to the troll lair up in the mountains including the magically gifted noblewoman Gwen). And we rejoined the heroes as winter turned into spring and sadness turned into righteous anger.

The players and their characters:
My group has come to accept the simple logic of player motivation to the extent that we are all now feeling rather foolish for not realising this before now.

Christer, playing Liam, who wants Liam to earn a postion of trust and responsibility (sort of the american dream for fantasy rangers, start dirt poor and work your way up). Liam wants to find his lost wife and do a good job as ranger.


Espen, playing Calem, who he wants to revive the True Druids, an order now reduced to one man, and then lead this order against the Shadow. Calem wants to learn this magic and has begun to yearn for a family.


Jon, playing Gorin the dwarf, who Jon wants to become the “gandalfian advisor”. Gorin wants to rediscover the virtues and reawake his people from their despondendt isolation.

Ole Morten, playing Locklear with the hope that he’ll be allowed to achive something noteworthy before Locklear succumbs to his Doom; “to die a futile death, kinless and alone”. Locklear wants to reetablish the fallen knightly order of the Roadwardens and marry Gwen.

Thomas joined us for a one-off game, playing the character, brother Fevrel, an assasin who hid in a monestary to redeem himself, but has taken up arms again to seek redemtion in the self-less rescue of the abducted villagers. Thomas wanted to spread and preach the virtues, but we never really got to this.

The Game:
   The valley was preparing for war, with the high-ups worried. The old dwarven stronghold where the Hooded One hid, Tirnen Pendrath, had been under siege for a hundred years in the days of yore, and did not fall. So the dwarf Thorgen asked how earl Stennarch planned to do what trolls could not? Liam suggested at this point that a small party could enter the back gate, for which they had found the key (see http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=9705&highlight=storm+suprise+surprise for how this came about). A bit futher discussion and all the Pcs volunteered to sneak into the fortress and liberated the captives while all attention was at the front gate where the earl’s army would be camped.

So why did characters volunteer? (aside from the metagame issue):
Liam, well he had failed and this way he could prove himself again.
Gorin had sworn an oath to bring back the kidnapped Gwen.
Calem saw a chance to even the score with the Hooded One.
While Locklear is in love with Gwen.
Broher Fevrel was not yet present.

   First there was the celebration of Landfall Day, where the people of Miranna celebrated their liberation from Shadow and their arrival at Miranna. A solem occasion that turnes into a night long feast. The characters did their different things, while Brother Fevrel was introduced by the nervous abbot Phillip. Another sword swinger was more then welcome so he joined the four in their preparations.
   Early the next morning they began their trek towards the still snowed in mountains. While passing through the remains of the village Chalke (the one that was raided) they were given a hearty meal and a lot of dove eyed stares from small children askingif they were going to rescue their parents. Trying to keep their mission secret they failed to stem the entusiastic children and the word was out.


   From this point on they entered the wilderness and the party put their trust in Liam’s great perception and tracking skill. The BW let it ride rule meant they were trusting in a measly two successes. Its great to watch my players nervousness as their characters blitely marched on. As they drew close to the event below they expected to be creamed in an ambush but as it turned out . . .  

   On the eve of the second day the five climbed deeper into the foothills and met Kornsworth the Fjoltroll. Liam was embarrased because he had walked straight past the pipe-smoking troll, but the four were glad to see their old friend (Brother Fevrel had to be restrained and explained that Kornsworth was just that). They told him of their mission and he thought it was a worthy quest and joined them.

. . . their relief proved that this rule is not only a great way to give a player a sense of accomplishment but also a great way of building dramatic tension.

   Some time during the third day, as the forest thinned out and they drew higher Liam and Locklear became aware of someone following them. While the party set up camp Liam snuck back to scout on their pursuer. Much to his delight he found a huffing and puffing Thorgen hard on their trail. Suprising the dwarf where he had set up camp, Liam invited him to join the others (Thorgen berated Liam on the idiocy of suprising an armed dwarf in hostle territory). With Thorgen, Kornsworth and Gorin all snoring away the night was long and cold for the others.

   This saw some intresting use of traits by the players, Christer (liam) nearly had the trait: quiet, backfire on him as Liam usually takes great pleasure in apperaing unseen and unheard by people, suprising them. As stated above the dwarf came close to attacking him. While Gorin who shares the trait “loud snorer” with both Kornsworth and Thorgen reduces the party efficiency by keeping them awake at night (this is a concious decision by the player Jon), to the extent that it forces Liam to sleep outside the camp-site and is a dead give away in enemy territory.

   With a new companion the band made good way into the mountains and they were soon upon the winding stairs leading up into the secret pass. After a cold night in a small shelter, a night dominated by snoring, the would-be rescuers came to a bridge across a glacier.
   There Calem cast the spell Sense and in the snow drifts on the other side he sensed a large life form, a stone troll. Also there was a similar form in the snow to their left, but this seemed much more dormant. With huge snowdrifts hanging above silence was imperative, but so was a safe escape route. After a hurried and hushed discussion, it was decided that Calem, who volunteered a spell, was to try and destroy the apparently sleeping troll on the other side. Moving carefully across the bridge Calem, guarded by a nervous Liam snuck towards the slumbering troll.
   As he began to summon his ancient druidic magic the troll woke up. Taking advantage of the trolls drowsieness Liam shouted the order “report”, startled the troll began to report, until it summoned its wits. But by then Calem had summoned his arcane energies and his spell was let loose. With its arm crackling with fire the troll roared in pain, and in response the mountain roared with tumbling snow.


It was the first ever Abstraction (an alternative magic system developed by Luke (abzu)) cast in our game. Though he was successful in casting the spell, he lacked enough sucesses to gain complete control. Thus his spell went from a destroy rock spell to a melt spell. Causing less damage and making a lot of noise. At this point it got interesting.

                 Running for their lives the heroes took shelter on the bridge while the enraged troll tried to pound the mage. Selflessly Liam drew its ire away from Calem who scrambeled out on the bridge. As the snow crashed down Liam tried to hold on to the ledge, but both he and the troll went over the edge.

                 Christer failed his roll, his character was about to fall to his death when he played a Persona point to convert his failure into a complicated success. He suggested that he would be buried under the snow and unless the others found him he would simply die. I found this to be too simple, a mere roll and his complication would be decided, and I do not think this is what Luke had in mind what he suggested this rule change. So . . .

                 As he tumbled through the snow Liam found something to hold onto. With desperate strength he held onto this point of safety as the avalanched fell into the canyon below. When the rushing snow was all spent he took stock of his new found reprive, and to his horror found it to be the good arm of the stone troll. Shaking snow from its eyes the troll saw his tormentor within reach. Ignoring the drop it was dangling over, it tried to grab Liam and toss him away. His friends threw a rope and Liam barely go hold of it before the troll fell into the deep.


              The complication worked, but I could not help to feel bad because I had overruled Christer’s attempt at narration. Yet at the same time I felt the need to demonstrate what my definition of a suitable complication was. I know there is a lot of input on this waiting outthere and if you have any hints and tips at using this technique please let me know.
While you ponder this my story moves on . . .

                 Taking stock the heroes now faced the dilemma of having a defenseless troll on their escape route. At first the consensus was to kill it, but when Kornsworth would not be party to the slaying of a helpless troll just because it was a troll, the group was suddenly divided. Fevrel and Gorin were quick to side with the Fjol troll and they marched on, leaving Liam, Locklear and Calem by the troll. Thorgen the dwarf urged them to kill it. The choice became Calem’s because it was in his power to destroy the troll.
The mage was torn between his choices, and held his spell trying to decide what to do. Iit was not until Gorin spoke the undying sentence: “It is a creature of shadow, I am not.” that Calem walked away.


          It was beautifull. This was a defining moment of this campaign. Jon siezing the oppurtunity to use his character to clinch the scene by those well chosen words, Espen taking the hard option because of those very words and thus taking his first steps on the path of the true druids. Christer playing Liam’s practical nature to the hilt, yet letting doubt seep into Liam when all walked away leaving him in error. Even Thomas who was there for a one shot contributed. What Locklear was doing? Well he didn’t quite stop gaming long enough to get the drama.
   At this moment my players chose to walk the path of heroes, and thus eleveated my game to where I wanted it to be, all by themselves. Chalk up one impossible thing, now for breakfast.

   The heroes then continued on their way, coming to the rear gate of Egolothronn. With trepidation they made their way through the darkened halls, bringing light upon stones that had not been seen for aeons. Eventually they came upon the part of the Forsaken Keep that the Hooded one had claimed as his.
   As the path divided, one leading into the deep, another to the battlements Calem bid his leave. On the weak draft he heard the chanting of magic and the stirrings of its force. Knowing that he had scores to settle with the shadow-sworn mage Calem set out to find Hooded One, urging the rest to rescue the villagers.


   Espen had work early in the morning and left at this juncture.

   Pressing on the band came into the central stairwell. After a silent and deadly scuffle with some sentries, one ending its day hurtling into the murky pool at the base of the hall. The omnious bubbles did not become less so when they found a sign warning all not to disturb the waters.
   They skirted a smithy where the ring of hammers spoke of great activity and found an undisturbed passage. Curiosity won over caution and Gorin and Liam distrubed the ages old dust on its floor, uaware that they were about to step into a dwarven trap. Twin blades spun from the wall cutting down the two. Gorin was saved by his dwarven mail, but Liam was in a bad way.


   This actually sums up the next two hours of play. Again abysimal Perception rolls combined with the “let it ride rule” gave heightened tension that ended brutally and quick.  I love that concept.

   Helping poor Liam to his feet, the heroes continued their exploration. At the end of the hall they came to a place where great damage had been wrought on the walls and some massive stone doors. But despite the destruction the digging trolls had only breached the ante-chamber of Niall IV’s tomb, the resting place of last lord of the Tirnen Pendrath.  While intrigued they left the sullied doors and headed futher down, the plight of the villagers stronger than the lure of old tombs.
   At the bottom of the stairwell the murky pool was obviosly stirring, so our heroes snuck past it catching only glimpses of something green. As the distant sounds of battle drifted down from above they came into the spawning chamber of the trolls.
   Stunned by the horror of the room and the cries of the last male captive being boiled alive the six watched as a grey troll was clawed its way from the horrid pit. Apathy turned into anger and battle was joined. Liam killed the Soul Render with a shot from his bow, while Locklear and Gorin killed the Black Gatherers and the troll Pitslaves. Locklear nearly fullfilled his doom, and fearing to do so let the freshly spawned grey troll escape.


   The battle ended and so did our session.

As a side note, after the game Christer told me that during play (while I was busy else where) Gorin had approached Liam and apologised for failing him during their last battle (Peperations for Winter), and that he was in his debt for this. This was futher compounded when Gorin led Liam into the trap. Thus Locklear, already in Liams debt, and Gorin had a dispute over who were to carry the wounded ranger. Locklear was left frustrated, by the adamant dwarf.

one of my post game observations was related to the term "filler" used to describe a "unimportant" scenario. Too me as the GM the game after the dilemma by the bridge seemed like filler. Is there such a thing as filler scenarios for GMs?

Aside from that there were the matter of players narrating scenes and how to roll with it when it fails to gel with my percption of tone and mood. I know its probably my old GM-side that keeps fighting the urge to let go, but som input on this is greatly appriciated.

Other than that I think the persona point = success pluss complication was a success, and it might be just the tool I need to get my players to grab hold of scenes and take a more active part (assuming I haven't totally misunderstood the concept of scene-framing, which is what I am aming for.)

We are playing the sequel today, but I am going off-line for nearly a week so you will all have to wait for that. have a nice holiday (in an noncomittal and politically correct way).
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-K
Luke
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« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2004, 07:50:38 AM »

Very interesting stuff, Kaare.

Quote
This saw some intresting use of traits by the players, Christer (liam) nearly had the trait: quiet, backfire on him as Liam usually takes great pleasure in apperaing unseen and unheard by people, suprising them. As stated above the dwarf came close to attacking him. While Gorin who shares the trait “loud snorer” with both Kornsworth and Thorgen reduces the party efficiency by keeping them awake at night (this is a concious decision by the player Jon), to the extent that it forces Liam to sleep outside the camp-site and is a dead give away in enemy territory.


I hope you awarded both of those players Fate points on the spot. Using traits to make life difficult (and play interesting) is exactly how fate points are supposed to be used. Usually, it's Beliefs and Instincts that get these awards, because traits exist to save your butt. However, you've sited a perfect example of how traits can and should be used to earn artha.

Quote
The complication worked, but I could not help to feel bad because I had overruled Christer’s attempt at narration. Yet at the same time I felt the need to demonstrate what my definition of a suitable complication was. I know there is a lot of input on this waiting outthere and if you have any hints and tips at using this technique please let me know.
While you ponder this my story moves on . . .


Personally, I don't think your friend's complication was a bad one. However, I do think your GM instincts were good in this case --  yours was better. By tossing him on top of the troll you really complicated matters, but in a way that knit the scene together. This is really important. Coincidence at the table is a good thing, as it often keeps players involved in unlikely scenes.

So talk with your players about the complications -- how they should tie them directly back into the scene, and not take them out of it -- and be careful about overriding too much in the future. Sometimes it's better to let a player's call stand, even if it isn't your first choice, in order to encourage future use of a little used mechanic.

thanks!
-Luke
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Kaare Berg
Member

Posts: 158


« Reply #2 on: April 10, 2004, 04:38:18 PM »

Thanks for the feedback Luke, here’s part two for all of you to enjoy.

There were some changes to my group between the two games, leaving me hanging at the point where I did not want to be:

In the middle of a scenario with half my players gone and no easy introduction. I guess this stems from me being lazy and a fading, irrational dislike of split party games.

Thus my set up looked like this:

Espen, Calem, had to leave early last night and was off somewhere in the ancient dwarven halls.

Jon, Gorin, and Christer, Liam, were deep in the bowels of the dwarven keep, having just freed a bunch of women and children from the troll spawning pits.

Thomas, brother Fevrel, had left us, and so had Ole Morten, Locklear.

Joining us for the game was Peri, Joshua, and Christian, Tengel, both who were with the main army marching on the gates of the Forsaken Keep.

Great! Not only were they split physically, they were split in time as well. Luckily I was armed with experience and the discussion by Lisa Padol in his forum. This is how it went.

Both Peri and Christian wanted some time to think on their character motivation, so we began our session in their company just as Joshua was caught up by his lack of ambition.

Being the only ranger in the Vale (a position he had wrangled to escape the irate NCO Simon) Joshua was ordered by earl Stennarch to lead the army into the Tirnen Pendrath Pass. Unable to do anything about it and not knowing anything about tracking, the young man led the force to the pass by a roundabout way.
Meanwhile Tengel was chosen to lead the vanguard, riding side by side with the redeeming sgt. Barringer. Around them was the nobility of the Vale and a levy force of close to two hundred man. Not enough to do what the trolls had failed to do for a hundred years.
Entering the pass they rode down the lone sentry and more due to luck than planning came upon the Forsaken Keep unnoticed.

Deep in the mountain and further into the future the lone mage came closer and closer to the battle. Casting a few spells to protect himself he moved cautiously. But soon he came upon a group of wood trolls. Trying at first to bluff the trolls into thinking he was the Hooded One he made the mistake of trying to intimidate them when his ruse failed. As Calem was about to learn is that wood trolls believe that if one kills an enemy that is stronger this ties that enemies soul to the killer. Thus his show of force made them all rush him in a frenzy.
His magical shield held out, but the trolls hacked away at it relentlessly. Calem again resorted to druidic magic, blasting the trolls with magical flame, scouring the corridor of enemies. Unfortunately the spell had a high cost and it took a tremendous effort of will for the mage to maintain his magical shields.


Espen has not been present when the Jon and Christer painfully learned this particular aspect of wood troll psychology, and when he began to intimidate the trolls the knowing looks between the two was sweet. It was time to leave Espen and see how the last duo was doing.

At the same time the group from last session was leading the terrified women and children out from the spawning pit. Being very careful to avoid making any noise to attract the green tentacles they could see swirling around the edge of the pool in the circular hall. Climbing the stairs they heard two sentries replacing the two killed previously. Fevrel and Liam killed two with one falling into the pool, which now began to boil. Hurrying as much as they could they tried to guide the scared villagers up.

This was the hardest part to time correctly, but by now I had gotten into the flow, and I cut to the two outside.

A council of war discussed the possible approaches to the keep. An unguarded ramp would let the army onto a raised courtyard and thus the walls, much more than they had hoped to achieve. But Tengel’s cousin Fedred spoke out against this, reminding them all that they were there to create a distraction, not capture the keep. Besides the army could not reach the ramp before the trolls would cut it. Tengel spoke true and well, saying he would lead a small group up on the ramparts and hold them until more men could be brought up. He also trapped Fedred by playing on his apparent honour and bravery making him ride in this vanguard.
Earl Stennarch gave Tengel his family horn and gave him the honour of starting the attack. All eyes were upon him as he raised his sword and shouted: “For honour, for the innocents. Attack.” He then blew the horn.


The conflict between Christian’s Tengel and his cousin stems from sometime after the second session when I asked each of my players for a subplot they would like to explore next to the main story. Christian wanted Tengel’s “evil” family to enter the game more. Thus Fedred came to act as his foil. This was my first attempt to give the players narrative input and Fedred is well the one element I have included the most. When Fedred spoke up against Tengel’s plan there were mutters of “oh its him again”. It was also this man who grabbed a smug and safe Joshua and dragged him along with the vanguard.

Tengel’s vanguard thundered the short way to the ramp and captured it before the trolls could cut it down. They then proceeded to slaughter the trolls scattered about the courtyard. Joshua tore loose from Fedred, and found a corner from where he would use his bow to keep the trolls away from the ramp. It seemed that the day would be theirs until more trolls poured from the doors of the Keep.

Calem continued his stealthy trek under the main battle. He came into a hall that served as the courtyard for the surface keep. The hall was filled with trolls that chanted war cries and prepared to charge into the army outside. He also spotted a door that he surmised would lead him to the Hooded One. (The big troll guard was a give away). Having nearly made his way there he saw the gates beginning to open. Climbing up on the battlements he wondered if he had the strength to cast a spell that would bring the roof down. But his skill was not up to the task.


Sad to say I failed to provide much for Espen to do. He could have attacked the trolls opening the gates, but its fair to say that he would have thrown away any chance at getting to the Hooded One. Since they were in an underground cavern there was no way for him to cast his only area destructive spell, so he tried to find some way to use druidic magic to do this. Though it would have been cool and “dramatically appropriate” it would have bent the rules too much. But I’ll keep this scene in mind some day in the future, when his character has grown in skill.

The rescuers where busy guiding the terrified villagers away while fighting of the tentacles that tried to drag the unwary to their doom. Liam having led some up to the passage they had snuck in through went to stand guard at the doorway leading to the surface part of the keep. To his horror he saw he saw a bunch of humans and trolls sneaking down a hallway towards a robed and hooded figure. Liam, despite horrible wounds, drew his bow and shot the hooded figure. Alas his arrow bounced of the sorcerer’s magical shield.

I suspect Christer knew that the robed man was Espen’s Calem, but he played his character to the hilt and shot at him. Liam was still sorely wounded and he rolled good for a player with so few dice. Espen most certainly knew who the robed person was, and the agonized look on his face was priceless. But he kept his mouth shut.

The ambushing shadow-servants turned towards Liam, and then charged the wounded ranger. It looked like Liam would die.

Outside the troll-army had engaged the humans and it looked like the line would not hold for long. On the wall four armoured grey trolls ran upon the command of their big leader towards the wooden ramp. Knowing that if this ramp fell the vanguard would be lost Tengel charged them. Unnoticed by all Joshua rose to the occasion and actually dropped two of these trolls before they could reach the ramp. Tengel rode one down, but became locked in mortal combat with the fourth. It was not until Joshua wounded the troll that Tengel secured the ramp.
Charging from his place by the door the big leader ran towards the ramp as if something scared him away from the doorway. As Tengel braced himself for impact determined to hold the ramp he looked on with surprise as Joshua put an arrow through the troll’s throat.


I would dare to say that most of us had written of Joshua as the comic relief character. I think even Peri might have done so. However, here he rose to the occasion and actually carried the day. He used a lot of Artha, but it seemed that despite his lack of ambition the young man suddenly became a force to be reconed with. In this scene he truly shone and I have to give credit to Peri for not giving up on Joshua.

Inside things looked grim with Locklear and Thorgen desperately trying to keep the tentacles from grabbing any villagers and Liam and fevrel about to be overrun by trolls and evil men. Gorin who was bringing up the rear could do nothing but watch, until the thought struck him and he raised the Horn of the Herald. The deep note filled all the men and women on the side of good with renewed courage and strength.

The in game effect of this magic item was that all on the horn-blowers side would ignore all wound penalties and their morale would be bolstered. Jon’s timing was impeccable. Unfortunately for them I took control of their Physical Tolerance Grey Scales (used for tracking wounds), meaning they would not know what damage they would take in the battle to come.

In the brutal battle the ambushing trolls and men were killed, Calem fried the troll guarding the door leading up, and the spawn in the pool tore down the gate after the refugees. Leaving Gorin and Liam to follow Calem’s tracks through empty halls.

Upstairs the source of the troll leaders fear became obvious as the Hooded One stepped through the door. A young knight desperately charged the mage who killed him without breaking his stride. At this moment Fedred fled with a wounded sir Bran (from troll winter) and sir Pellogres (also from troll winter) tried to rescue Joshua. The mage cast a spell and the ramp was disintegrated, Joshua barely had time to throw himself of the horse before the brave knight fell off the wall.


I was trying to set the scene here for all to join for a final climatic battle on the battlements, but as usual my players got the better of me. Where I had intended for the Hooded One to hold his evil monologue and may bash the two around until the rest arrived, Christian had other plans. Having sent Tengel into the midst of the frenzied wood trolls to shield himself against magic of the sort Calem throws about (burning rain, very bad), Christian saw an opportunity. Drawing on all the artha he had left he charged the mage from behind.

Tengel raised his sword and spurred his horse. Driving the beast towards the overconfident sorcerer. Joshua shaking the cobwebs from his head saw his friend’s foolhardy charge and raised his bow. Hoping to get the mage’s attention. The mage raised his arms to cast a spell to blast the little man away and thus let Tengel hit him square in the back. His sword crashed through the magical shields, cutting a deep wound in the mage’s back. The arcane shields he held by the force of his will crumbled. Leaving him vulnerable to the Joshua’s arrow. With a startled cry of pain the mage they had opposed for two years died.

I think everyone was in shock. In one round of combat the two had cut down the main villain for all the previously episodes. But this was not a bad thing. The players Christian and Peri spent a sizable amount of artha and thus bought this ending with points they had earned themselves. It didn’t go as I planned it, but this was better and filled with infinitely more coolness than anything I had envisioned. It left the other three a little robbed though, but they would soon make a great impact.

Seeing their mighty lord fall the grey trolls took to flight. Tengel and Joshua’s joy turned to chagrin as they heard the collective frenzied howl of the wood trolls all around them. As one they turned on Joshua and the ranger/thief was very alone. Then Barringer entered the scene and repaid the two, dragging Joshua into one of the towers, leaving the door open long enough for Tengel to ride through.
As the trolls tried to hack their way in the remaing three entered the courtyard. Seeing the seething mob, Gorin raised his horn and blew a long note. The trolls turned to them and filled with bloodlust they charged. Though Liam’s arrows felled many and Gorin’s hammer was ready it all came down to the mage. Though he didn’t feel it Calem knew that his body was sorely taxed, yet he began his most powerful spell.


Jon didn’t hesitate and blew his horn the moment the three entered the battle. We were all caught up in the moment and it seemed the right thing to do. Espen, who always casts paintently and carefully to reduce the risk didn’t have time. Nor did he know how badly taxed his character really was. They could have run. But he chose to cast his spell.

The trolls drew nearer and the mage chanted. Then when they where a scant few paces from the heroes he unleashed his spell and scoured the courtyard of trolls. The mage then coughed up blood and fell, dying.

Espen spent artha for the “will to live” and staved off the mortal wound he received when he overtaxed himself. The trolls routed and the forces of good where victorious. What followed was a period of rest both for the characters and the players. It had been some intense hours. Though this session had for all intents and purposes been nothing but a four hour scripting marathon (i.e. one big battle) the heroism chosen by my players, their ability to seize moments and elevated them gave this game a feeling that has been discussed a lot here lately.

Yep IMO this felt epic, and it had nothing to do with the scale of things (it was a battle involving no more than five, six hundred combatants ), nor was it earth shattering (it was an agent of evil, but not the biggest one they will meet and his defeat saved only a few villagers), and the protagonists were far from mythic in skill and ability. What gave us that vaunted feeling was the players commitment to the outcome of the battle and their acceptance of the nature of my game.
We had some of the tropes; the heroic charges, the revesal of fortune, the desperate stand and the heroic sacrifice. I had given them stakes in the battle, and it had ramifications on their home (albeit only Shiring Vale).

And my two cents to the raging debate over at the RPG Theory Forum is that to get that gooey, elusive feeling we struggle so hard to define, one needs to have a social contract with one’s players that defines this as the type of game one is heading for and that the group as an entity works towards this common goal. I fear in our attempts to quantify this elusive concept the discussion got too bogged down in trying to quantify the one thing one really can’t quantify, a feeling.

So no matter how one defines an epic game my input is that to achieve this both the players and the gamemaster must be in agreement that this is the type of game one wants to play. Then all involved has to work to achive it. With everyone working towards this goal one gets commitment, and then one begins get stakes in the confrontation.

Our session however didn’t end here. So I will leave the words above to glow for themselves, and hope they made sense. The rest was like an epilogue, only with a whole lot more action than usual.

Espen took the character Fevrel, since Calem was close to death, and they all set out to examine the quarters of The Hooded One.

The fair lady Gwen had not been found, and the heroes made their way up into the highest part of the keep, seeking out the chambers of the Hooded One. Defeating two guards the heroes entered some torture chambers. There Thorgen found a survivor, the dwarf Eirik, who had been a travelling companion to Thorgen’s son Narvi. Thus they learned of Narvi’s fate and sacrifice. But before the wounded dwarf could be carried to safety a stone troll charged in on the heroes.
Desperate battle was joined, and the rock-like skin of the troll frustrated the heroes time and time again. Fevrel nearly fell to his death as a blow from the troll crushed the balcony he stood upon, leaving the poor monk dangling a hundred paces above ground. Tengel summoned all his strength and with a mighty trust forced his sword into the mouth of the troll, sending it tumbling over Fevrel robbing Tengel of his sword.


Espen used a persona point to save Fevrel when the monk/assassin failed his avoid roll and asked if the troll could miss, but crush the balcony the monk stood on instead. I found this a perfect complication and it was so. At same moment Christian threw another bunch of Artha into his strike, and struck the troll with fourteen successes (1 over obstacle is a hit, 5 is a superb hit). This left me in a pickle since a sword by the BW rules can only do so much damage, and a troll can take so much more  than that. I let dramatic necessity over rule the books and let Tengel kill the troll with one blow, robbing him of his sword in the process.

Hearing screams from above the party rushed up and through a room with a body covered in white cloth. Barging in to rescue the fair lady Gwen they left the room undisturbed. The next fight was short and brutal ending with the death of the Hooded One’s troll torturer dead and a swooning lady Gwen rescued.
Joshua who had stayed behind downstairs came up to find the white cloth on the floor, curious he bent down to examined it only to be landed on by a mysterious assassin. A brief, silent and deadly scuffle resulted in the assassin pinning Joshua. A rasping voice revealed the attacker to be none other than Aelfric, and assassin previously killed by Liam. The assassin took the very dagger that Joshua had taken from him and took an ear as payment. Weakened the assassin took flight, leaving an unconscious Joshua with a message for Liam.


There after some of the heroes escorted Thorgen down to his sons resting place, the tomb of Niall IV (last lord of the dwarven keep) and there the dwarf said farewell to his son, giving the item he died for, the stone of sacrifice to Gorin.

The rest was just bookkeeping.

The above though not inherently epic in itself, it is the type of gaming I feel is important if one needs to refine and keep the epic feel alive in games that aim for that feel. It may seem from my initial definition that to achieve epic feeling one needs to have dramatic battles and a lot riding on every toss of the dice. Well this gets wearisome after a while and is not what I mean. To build the feel one needs to start small and work on the details.
The above could quickly have become what Valamir defined as filler, but by now I truly embraced player motivation and by combining that with the contract mentioned in my definition of epic gaming, I bring the high drama into even smaller events. Sure, they rescued the girl and found the lost stone of sacrifice, it is the meat and bone of nearly every cheesy rpg plot. But it is not the events themselves that count, but the way they came about.

My players act and talk like the characters of LOTR do, and I let them. They move in the high circles, and they get to make the decisions that count. Yet some times I need to give them information or to set the scene for future adventure, like above, and some time the fellowship needs to go through Moria and stop by Balin’s tomb. Am I making sense.

Thus my final argument as it stands is:

Epic gaming can be achived by a common concensous among the entire group to work together to achieve the epic feel. The players aswell as the narrator must be aware that the stakes will eventually be about something larger than the characters themselves. Armed with this knowledge the group must them communally work to create an environment where the feeling of epicness can grow.
When one achieves this environment the scale of the individual scenarios are insignificant as long as the group itself is making a gradual progression towards agreed upon final conflict.

To clarify this a bit I'll tie it into my game:
I said: look I am going to create a world and a game where you, the players will deternine the final out come in the third war against evil.
My players said: cool, we want to play these charcters.
I said: ok but you need to play heroes for this to work.
after a few sessions and some forgite wisdom they all said: so this is what you meant. We will be the heroes and you will tailor the setting around us to make our decisions count.
I answered: basicly yeah, you now know where we are going with this, I'll set the scene but you need to play it.

And they replied with the session above.


Thanks for a great game Luke.

Peace

K
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taepoong
Member

Posts: 120


« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2004, 08:38:39 AM »

Amazing! I am learning a lot from your posts!

Thanks!
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Luke
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« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2004, 03:22:48 PM »

Wowee, Kaare. You had me on the edge of my seat, laughing and cheering.

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I would dare to say that most of us had written of Joshua as the comic relief character. I think even Peri might have done so. However, here he rose to the occasion and actually carried the day. He used a lot of Artha, but it seemed that despite his lack of ambition the young man suddenly became a force to be reconed with. In this scene he truly shone and I have to give credit to Peri for not giving up on Joshua.


I love this phenomena, and I see it a lot in BW. Especially from players who play well in the background, earning artha. At just the right moment they step forward and layi down heaps of artha to steal the show. It's good game, and fun to watch.

I hope Joshua was rewarded with even more Artha in kind -- for good roleplay and moldbreaker, of course!

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I think everyone was in shock. In one round of combat the two had cut down the main villain for all the previously episodes. But this was not a bad thing. The players Christian and Peri spent a sizable amount of artha and thus bought this ending with points they had earned themselves. It didn’t go as I planned it, but this was better and filled with infinitely more coolness than anything I had envisioned. It left the other three a little robbed though, but they would soon make a great impact.


Hah hah! As Pete will tell you, this is a symptom of Burning Wheel. If players really want something done, they can get it -- provided they have been playing the game up to that point. Many a wizard has fallen to such hubris, and I think it is a testament to your set up that your players were terrified enough to dump all that artha into dropping him.

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The trolls drew nearer and the mage chanted. Then when they where a scant few paces from the heroes he unleashed his spell and scoured the courtyard of trolls. The mage then coughed up blood and fell, dying.

Espen spent artha for the “will to live”


Good call on using the magic item to obscure their collective PTGS. Incredibly dramatic! I'm so jealous!

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Espen used a persona point to save Fevrel when the monk/assassin failed his avoid roll and asked if the troll could miss, but crush the balcony the monk stood on instead. I found this a perfect complication and it was so. At same moment Christian threw another bunch of Artha into his strike, and struck the troll with fourteen successes (1 over obstacle is a hit, 5 is a superb hit). This left me in a pickle since a sword by the BW rules can only do so much damage, and a troll can take so much more than that. I let dramatic necessity over rule the books and let Tengel kill the troll with one blow, robbing him of his sword in the process


Neat use of a Persona complication. Definitely gives it an epic feel.

As for the sword hit, I'm a bit more dubious of that. It seems you were caught up in the moment of heroism... A tenet of BW is that everything has its limits, including a heroic sword strike.

From my position, I would have allowed a called shot to the mouth or eye -- no armor save. The superb hit from his sword, probably a B12, should have been enough to make the troll hesitate, after which he could have been easily dispatched.

I know it may seem like I am splitting hairs, but I just wanted to show how your ruling could have transpired within the frame work of the rules (sans fudging).



One last question (for now), how did you handle the mass battle stuff? Did you simply describe it? Or did you use a mechanic?


Oh, and another thing, were you awarding artha on the spot? If so, can you point out some places where you awarded a point?

thanks for an awesome story!
-Luke
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Kaare Berg
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Posts: 158


« Reply #5 on: April 13, 2004, 07:45:36 AM »

Glad you liked it.

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One last question (for now), how did you handle the mass battle stuff? Did you simply describe it? Or did you use a mechanic?


I did not use a battle mechanic (since I havn't nailed one down yet), but I'let my players make the important descisions and actions that would affect the outcome. e.g:
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The hall was filled with trolls that chanted war cries and prepared to charge into the army outside.

Here Espen could have radically changed the battle by blasting the trolls that he observed opening the gates. He however chose to stay focused on his goal and thus the battle began to fare poorly for the side of good.
Later on there will be mass battles where the outcome will be dependent on the characters manouvers and such like, but for now they were mere "foot-soldiers" leading more by example than by actual commands.

This is how I prefer to narrate battles, as that puts the focus squarly on the characters, and fits the dramatic style of gaming I prefer.

As to:
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Oh, and another thing, were you awarding artha on the spot? If so, can you point out some places where you awarded a point?


I gave Christian a persona point for the entire scene leading up to:
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All eyes were upon him as he raised his sword and shouted: “For honour, for the innocents. Attack.” He then blew the horn

This:
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Liam, despite horrible wounds, drew his bow and shot the hooded figure . . . Christer knew that the robed man was Espen’s Calem

Garned Christer Persona.

I can't recall any specific moments when I handed out fate, but it was given, mostly after great ploys or quick comments, or when in staying true to the character made life that much harder.
Ole Morten wasn't with us so he wasn't the butt of any dwarvish comments, thus there are no such quotes. From our last game (yet to be posted) there is one example where Liam and Tengle has a discussion, where Tegnel applaudes Liam's bravery when he stands up to a king.
Liam replies: "It is brave to stand up to a stone troll my Lord, The king on the other hand is a resonable man."
That got him a fate point.

As for deeds, the defeat of the Hooded One gave both Joshua and Tengel deeds points, then all recived a deed point for the completion of the adventure which both to mark its significance, and because of their achievements in total.

Now to the rant bit:
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As for the sword hit, I'm a bit more dubious of that. It seems you were caught up in the moment of heroism... A tenet of BW is that everything has its limits, including a heroic sword strike.


It is alright to fudge, if it serves to create a better experience for all.

I know my argument is going to seem circular because of this:

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. . . so he tried to find some way to use druidic magic to do this. Though it would have been cool and “dramatically appropriate” it would have bent the rules too much.


But there is a difference between the two situations and I belive that it is my right and my job to make that call as long as I sit behind the screen. To justify this let me explain:

I am very concerned with the aspect of "dramatic appropiateness". This combined with my aspirations for an "epic" game means at times I must fudge the rules. It's a though call, and sometimes I miss, but not here.

In this instance it was a faceless troll beating on them mercielessly, yet they would have killed it eventually. It was only a "minor" obstacle and in the light of things, its death at this moment made the scene memorable and more cinematic. Instead of just being another troll fight.

Where as Calem wanted to bring down tons and tons of rocks, obliterating an entire troll army, with the D&D equivalent of magic missile. And he wanted to do this from the safety of a secluded walkway above and behind the trolls. There was dramatic potential in the basic coolness of the act itself. But this is not of the same kind of dramatic potential as above.

Do you see the difference?

To futher illustrate let me justify the result by following the rules:
Troll recieves a B12 wound. OUCH, it hesitates and falls prone where there no longer is a balcony. The troll falls to its death and Tengel is left with the bloody sword in his hand. (him losing the sword the only thing I can't justify).

The same result except mine looked cooler in my minds eye, and subsequently in my player's imagination.

I guess I'm just a sucker for cinematics.

When it comes to the subject of fudging I'd like to point out a little observation I've made from my games:
Since you suggested the "spend Persona, take a complication but make the roll" rule the amount of fudging has gone down on my part, as it has moved some of the responsibility over on the players. This is great and works.

For now I'll leave you with the question: why is it ok for my players to circumvent the rules(above), while it is a no no for me, their GM?

Peace

K
he who gets on the high horse and stumbles because he puts his foot in his mouth.
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Luke
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« Reply #6 on: April 13, 2004, 08:07:32 AM »

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For now I'll leave you with the question: why is it ok for my players to circumvent the rules(above), while it is a no no for me, their GM?


Because the players are using an acknowledged mechanic, whereas you are just being arbitrary.

(Calem had absolutely no mechanical grounds to cave in the palace on the trolls. You were right not to let him. Inability and impotence can create drama, too! And it did, right there.)

The Persona point/complication thing is a manifestation of the player's involvement in the game. You awarded that point to the player because he was part of the game at a dramatic and crucial moment — he was playing, (all that that term implies in an rpg is relevant here).

So when the time comes for him to get his ass handed to him, his prior noteworthy participation earns him another shot, in the form of the persona point mechanic.


The GM making arbitrary rules calls in order to move things along is risky business. We all do it to some degree or another, I'm sure. (I know I've done it.) So I'm not telling you you're a bad person or a bad GM. But I want to point out that players rely on the mechanics of the game in order to create the earth under their feet, the sky overhead and the troll in front of them. GM and Player abide by the mechanics in order to create a shared reality. Violate the mechanics and the shared reality becomes questionable.

Tengel's player could have made quite a case against you for taking his sword away. You had no grounds to do it, other than it looked cool and felt right (and I agree with you!). But I know a number of players who would say, "I just spent a bucket of artha and rolled 14 successes. You're telling me that I fucked up and lost my sword!? Uncool!" And you know what? Those players are right, we "cool" GMs are not. Ya gotta go with the rules. This isn't storytime or acting class, it's a game.

Kaare, I'm really just playing devil's advocate here. I'm not attacking your decision. Obviously, you and your players had a great time and that counts for a whole lot in the end.

That said: Discuss!

-Luke
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Kaare Berg
Member

Posts: 158


« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2004, 04:35:17 AM »

No attack inferred.

And do not take my fudging to imply that your game dosen't work, it does.

Discuss I will though,

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Because the players are using an acknowledged mechanic, whereas you are just being arbitrary.


By line of that reasoning, if I invented a sort of GM token system, saying
"I pay a token and thus I can fudge this result" it would be ok?

Taking on the Game Master mantle, this focus on being mechanically justified makes sense. Taking on the Narrator mantle however I see this as being less significant.

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Tengel's player could have made quite a case against you for taking his sword away


Make a case against me, why?

I am the GM, even HackMaster recognises my role as a wannabe god by stating "the GM is always right." (mind you my knowledge of HackMaster stems from the Knights of the Dinner Table). And that game styles it self as "old style gaming".

The only reason a player would want to make a case against my call is if I made an arbitrary call that unjustly robbed him of the sword. Christian got the heroic killer blow, he paid for it with his sword. A fair trade. In mye eyes, and more importantly in his.

In my mechanics justification example, where the troll falls is also an arbitrary descision. It could fall off the edge, it could collapse on top of Tengel. Both are valid, one is unfair towards the troll, another is unfair towards the player. It is still a choice made by me.

Relying solely on mechanics the characters would have to wound the troll until it collapsed, fair enough, but then they would have had to chop of its unconcious and helpless head.
Not fair, as it would rob the players of the satisfaction of felling the great troll heroically, since a B12 wound (maximum damage possible for a ST5 master swordsman) never will inflict enough damage to kill a troll.
This will either leave a bunch of angry scarred trolls out there, or force my players to kill helpless enemies (which was the fate of the ice-troll Kaldbane in troll winter). This does not fit our style of play nor the way our game has evolved.

However this is not a discussion on the morality of killing helpless trolls.

I am aware, and agree with the tenet "system does matter", and I can understand why you object to my fudging, as this implies your system dosen't work.

For our games your system works. The grittyness inherent in your combat system contrasts wonderfully with the few and far between  "heroic/cinematic" moments. Most of these heroic moments are "rule true", but occasionally there crops up a moment where the inherent magic of my game-world reaches out and increases the dramatic outcome of a scene. In other words I fudge because it adds so much more to the story.

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This isn't storytime or acting class, it's a game.


Here is the heart of the matter, though.

IMO if you remove the storytime and acting part (no matter how small) from a roleplaying game, you might aswell play checkers. That's the magic of our hobby. The almagation of these three aspects.

As to:
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GM and Player abide by the mechanics in order to create a shared reality. Violate the mechanics and the shared reality becomes questionable.

I see it as a matter of the GM and Player used the mechanics in order to resolve whether or not a given action is successfull given the parameters of the shared reality, where the GM has final narrative responsibility. He interpets the result of the mechanics and fits these into the shared reality.
Since the shared reality thus becomes his responsibility, it is also his right to adapt these results into a form he sees most fit.

But what we are discussing here are two different styles/philosophies of play.

We might aswell discuss which is the best colour, red or blue.

It is blue of course.

Peace and love

K
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