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Author Topic: [Burning Wheel] Summary and Sacrifice  (Read 2855 times)
Kaare Berg

Posts: 158

« on: May 03, 2004, 12:11:24 AM »

Ok, its been a while. And the following post is from an eight+ hours session, so it is long. There were however some rather interesting moments so I think it is worth your while.

In earlier post I have spoke of my overall campaign structure and now my prolouge is finished, and the main plot of my campaign could begin.

The brief recap: The prologue.
For various reasons our heroes have drifted to Shiring Vale, a god-forsaken valley in the far north. After having rescued te younger brother of the local Lord, the heroes got embroiled in the machinations of an evil sorcerer called the Hooded One. After struggling against him for a bit over two years matters came to a head, and the shadow-sworn man was killed in a climatic battle.

Why a prologue?

There are several reasons.
I wanted my players to get a feel for the world. To give them motivation to try to save it later, and to create the place in our collective imagination.
Iwanted to introduce the main conflict without getting the ball rolling from day one, thus avoiding a syndrome that is all too common in our group, namely the “two sessions and halfway up Mount Doom” syndrome.
It also allowed me to try out some ideas fished up here on the forge without them having campaign wrecking consequences.
It let my players define their characters, and subsequently their player goals (I admit the latter came a bit later but the idea fits in).
And I am certain there are other reasons why.

It worked, and it is amaizing to think back now, and see how my game and my players progressed as the plot began to thicken. There was also a growth among the characters:
Liam gradually coming out of his shell, Gorin becoming the moral fibre of the group, Calem shouldering more responsibility and Tengel’s rise from self pity to honour. Johua who despite his lack of ambition shouldrered the mantle of heroism, and Locklear falling tragically in love.

My players kept coming back, and all feedback says they had a great game so far. So when I took my game into the main plot, it was with a little anxiety.

Here is how it went.

Players and their characters:

These joined in,

Christer, wants Liam to grow into a position of trust, while Liam pragmatically wants to do his job while being tortured by the possibility of his wife still being alive.

Jon, who sees Gorin as the Gandalfian Advisor, and Gorin who seeks to restore the virtues to the lands of man so that he one day can bring them home to his seclustered people.

Peri, who plays Joshua seeing him becoming a spymaster, while Joshua is torn between the comforts of fame and his past advising anonymity.

Christian, wants Tengel to lead the people of Trinsic in the coming battle, while Tengel just wants to lead them back to honour.

I know this has been repeated through every post I have had, but this session saw some major character development, as well as some clearcut moments where I as the GM made some basic mistakes with regards to these.

The Game:

Six months after The Battle of Tirnen Pendrath, the heroes have risen to prominence. While the ravaged Liam healed, Joshua found himself training four new ranger-recruits. Gorin was helping in the rebuilding of the vale and spent his time training, while Tengel healed and performed his duties as the new Captain of the Laranne. Even the hated Lord Fedred left for home; all in all it was a happy summer in the valley.

The two characters not present were off doing things that conveniently kept them out of the game.

The only sad moment came when the dwarf Thorgen returned from his son’s tomb up in the mountains and said his goodbyes. His head shaved he would return to the dwarvenhold in Dinen Aeglir, not to play a part in this tale for a long time.

As the summer drew to a close, tales of their exploits had spread to Minoc, the capitol, and the king Mikail summoned them to his court. Rewards were to be given. Lord Stennarch sent them on their way with new clothes and the journey was swift and safe. The only one reluctant was Joshua who feared for his safety should he spotted by his former “business associates”.
They were given a heroes welcome and all made Heroes of Minoc, receiving a big shiny medal and a lot of praise. They were now friends of the king and men of good standing. There was a big feast for the honoured guests, and they ate close to the kings table, before they the following day ate breakfast with the king and his closest advisors.

One of the points raised in some of the "how to make an epic" discussions here lately was the need to let the characters be heroes and then reap the fame and fortune. I used this for all it was worth for the theme was Sacrifice, and I needed them to really do so later on.
During that night Liam’s wife, Joanna came to him in a dream, warning him that the shadow now knew tham and that agents had been set on their trail.
At the breakfast, before the assembled Lords of Minoc they recounted their tale. When they came to the part about the Stone of Sacrifice (given to Gorin by Thorgen in the tomb of Niall IV) the lords became livid, it was found, the stone that had been so shamefully stolen, would the heroes give the stone to King for safe keeping?
While Gorin went to fetch the stone he began to have reservations, and he became uncertain. He felt the stone belonged to Minoc, upon which the sceneshal Ohlem, who seemed most covetus of the Stone, countered that the King was Minoc. As Gorin was about to hand over the stone something reminded Liam of his dream and the humble ranger spoke up. He said that the stone would do no good locked up in the treasury, and that it was given into their (the heroes) hands for a purpose. The seneschal ordered the guards to sieze the four, but the King intersected, reminding all that they where his guests, and thus protected and bound by the laws of hospitality. As they were led to their rooms he warned them of his anger should they reject his hospitality and leave with what was his.

And here my game ground to a halt. Bonk! Or at least it did for me. For the next three hours my players were busy discussing the virtue of sacrifice. What I at first interpeted as an OOC "what do we do now" discussion  I later learned was an IC attempt by Liam and Gorin to convince the other two to throw all their new fame and fortue away for the virtue of Sacrifice.
But as Christian exasperated said to me, “look I’ve got no motivation here, the way I saw last session was “We killed the Hooded One and liberated his victims, oh and then we got a rock”. I have no intrest in this stone.”
Great, he voiced his frustration during gametime, six months ago no one would have. Made me feel stupid for assuming that all would be motivated to fight for this stone, and why he was not, is obvious with hindsight. I knew then that Peri was struggeling with the same.
So . . .

Enter Fedred. The errant cousin of Tengel and his anthesis. Obviously gloating that the righteous Tengel had balled it all up for himself again Fedred tried to get his cousin to surrender the stone. He also said he had sent word to Tengels father, and that he was on his way. When Fedred had left Tengel to stew in frustrated anger food was brought in. Joshua recognized one servant as a former pick-pocket and they coerced him into bringing rope (the one in their gear was too short).
Unfortunatly, it was the second time the pickpocket had been in the room and he had poisoned Joshua’s food. A possibility that did not occur to Joshua until after he had eaten. There was much ado, and as to not reveal the act thus increasing the guard, Joshua faked food-poisoning. A cook was whipped, much to their chargrin, but their escape routes had not been compromised.

Where I assumed that my players were again spending an eternity discussing the dreaded “what to do”, they were in actuality having an IC discussion on the virtues. So it was Gorin and Liam trying to sway Tengel and Joshua. This is where the motivation issue cropped up.
Where my fix above was meant to give them impetus to get moving, it did NOTHING for the motivational issues. Luckily the save was given to me by Peri.
He asked if anything happened to him while he held the stone, so I replied: do you want it to? He thought about it and then said yes.

Joshua took the stone, curious to the amount of discussion over a piece of black stone. A vision came over him, where he saw his life and how the lack of the spirit of sacrifice had turned him towards the life of crime he had lived. Again leaving it all down to a simple choice, hand over the stone and live a life of a public hero, or sacrifice it all for the greater good. Joshua made his choice.

With the aid of Sir Yolains, the two rangers set out to recon an escape route, while Gorin and tengel continued the debate. However just as the two had left the castle, Prince William II entered the guest appartments, Tengel and Gorin greeted the prince who said that the Lords had put a small wager on the famed archery skills of Liam the ranger and wondered if he’d oblige them.

Cut to the absent rangers who had to duck inside a tavern to avoid curious town guards, here Joshua met two of his former associates, Scar and Skunk. Speaking to them in private Joshua learned that the poison in his system would lead to a slow death and that it was so rare that the only cure was in their hands. With rising dread he learned that the price of the cure was the stone of sacrifice. Skunk and Scar would like nothing better than to watch joshua drown in his own blood and vomit, but a mysterious fellow called the Whisperer was behind the job. And the money was too good.
Meanwhile in the castle Gorin and Tengel concocted a story to mask the rangers abscense and then rummaged around his room trying to make enough huffing sound to convince the prince that the ranger was asleep. For their troubles got a two hour reprive. That mattered postponed attention again shifted to the two wayward rangers.

At this stage the game was finally rolling again. However I was now burdened with a poisoning plot that had been made obsolete by Peri’s decision to create his own motivation, And the struggle to give Christian some more defined motivation was still weighing me down.  As Jon and Christian continued their IC discussion on sacrifice . . .

Joshua led Liam to the Roadwarden Hospital near the Eastgate of Minoc. Seeing the place even more decrepit than when he as a kid sought out shelter here Joshua’s new found belief became more resolute. They met the blind Hospitaller commander, and he had seen their arrival. He told the two how to find the Shrine, and more importantly how to learn its mantra. Equipped with this they now knew how to sanctify the Shrine.
They made haste back to the castle, and had no sooner climbed in the window before the prince and his friends knocked on the door.
The carousing nobles put a lot of money on the bet, and those who bet against cheered when Liam missed by a hair. Furious with himself the ranger retired, and as the nobles left Fedred told Tengel that is father already was on a ship to Minoc.

Fedred serves as foil for the characters, and my players have developed a justified hatred for him. He is also one of those “magic” NPCs that can’t be dealt with just by killing him. However at this time he only served to aggregate Christian and he (meaning I) failed to bring the motivation that Christian wanted. This motivation was however brought by my other players.

The next day passed slowly for the royal guests. And the few hours after nightfall, until calm had ensued even longer. Again the two rangers found their way out, somehow sneaking two mail-clad dwarves past the guards. Fate was looking out for the five, and they soon found themselves outside the tavern where Joshua’s blackmailers waited. But Joshua told the others he had a plan.
Leaving the stone outside Joshua went in and met his former friends. Skunk pulled out the antidote vial and gloatingly held it up before the poisoned thief.

Here Peri surprised us all, just as I was about to deliver yet another taunting “I have all the cards speech,” Peri said: “I grab the potion and run”. Every one was stunned, so this was the grand plan. Luckily for Peri the thugs in the tavern were as stunned as the GM, who rolled abysmally for the thugs Hesitation. Peri got Artha.

Busting through the door Joshua shouted for his comrades to run and the five sprinted down the streets. Having regained their wits the furious thugs followed them. After a while Liam, in between breaths, asked why they were running from gutter scum, while they would boldly face large armed bands of trolls. As one the five turned and within a few seconds five thugs lay dead in the street, the rest slinking away in the dark.

They bluffed their way past a tired guardsman and left Minoc.

And our game entered what can be described as part 2.

The fugitives where only a few minutes out from Minoc when they heard the alarm bells toll. Sheltered by the dark they made it to the forest and there the King’s army could not find them, for the master ranger Liam hid their tracks.
Under the boughs, they travelled for nearly a week before they came to the ancient battlefield of Roundrock. There they would learn the Mantra of Sacrifice from the crows. But before they dared to cross the open fields Liam scouted the woods around it. Ever stealthy he came upon a large twisted beast. The M˘rwarg was watching the field and Liam decided that he would not suffer such a beast to live.
But his shock was great as the arrow bounced of the thick plates of iron sew into the m§rwarg’s skin. With a powerful jump the beast was upon Liam, but as its throat closed around his head another powerful roar was heard and the monster left the dazed ranger on the ground.

I think Christer got a bit overconfident here, and the BW combat system is particularly good at punishing players who get overconfident. I think his overconfidence was sparked by the low action level so far, and the aforementioned brutal fight with the Minoc Thugs. It was however not time for the main threat to rear her ugly head so Liam was spared, but it was a nice opportunity for some foreshadowing though.

After this scare the fugitives made way for Roundrock, where they learned the mantra from the crows. Not knowing what beast that stalked them in the forest they were none the less forced to follow an old path into the mountains by an approaching company of riders. The path lead to the Valley of the Sacrifice, and as they made their decent into the vale m˘rwargs attacked. Faring badly the heroes barely defeated the beasts and then took to flight as more m˘rwargs were driven after them by even more thunderous roars.

In the old Shrine Tower they found shelter, barring the old doors against the pounding of the m˘rwargs. Within the old tower they encountered the shades of its former guardians. Restless souls forced to wander the lands for their failure to guard the Shrine. Upon learning the nature of the heroes task, the shades marched out and slew the m˘rwargs, leaving the path open for the five to head for the boathouse and the Shrine Island.

Having only fought humanoid enemies so far, my players struggled when they met different opponents using different tactics. Using push to remove the armoured dwarf and get to the juicy unarmoured ranger behind him, was one such tactic. Leaving a wet Gorin and a struggling Liam. It is amazing what this does to player stress level.

A magical boat waited and it the twilight brought them over to the enchanted island. Now neglect and disuse had left it overgrown, a sad sight for our heroes. However all toughts of sadness were driven away as they entered circle of standing stones that marked the heart of the island.
Waiting for them there was the Morgul Hound Delugraug. As large as two haycarts the beast harshly spoke to them, and let out a roar that tried to chill their bones. Only the dwarfs resisted and they chargeed into the fray. Delugraug watched bemused as Gorin’s axe bounced of its scaly fur, before she with one sweep of her claw eviscerated Eirik.
Screaming with anger Tengel attacked as an arrow from Liam scratched the beast’s eye. Stunned for a second it opened for a blow from Tengel, unfortunately the blow barely wounded the beast which with one fell stroke sent the knight flying over the grass circle., leaving his sword in the monster’s shoulder.

Another example of the use of Persona Artha to turn a failed roll into a success with a complication. Christian spent a persona point to turn his failed armour roll (and subsequent traumatic wound) into a survival. I’ve found that this rule have given BW a more heroic tone and removed some of the grittiness. Where as this fits my game perfectly, if I run another campaign using BW, where the tone and mood is to be grittier, I will not use this. For this campaign it is perfect. At this stage of the battle I feared that the bad guy was too powerful. I was afraid that I would literarily kill my campaign here.

Gorin lifted his Herald’s Hammer and prepared to meet his fate, Liam and Joshua both let arrows fly towards Delugraug’s other eye. Both struck true and the hound screamed in fury, pounding the ground and Gorin. His mail held and the dwarf picked up his hammer and smashed it down between the beast’s eyes.

Again the BW combat system snuck up and stunned me. Delugraug was dead. One blow B16 (for the uninitiated: that’s a lot) and he killed this horror. My players were ecstatic, Jon in particular. And I was secretly relived. After the victory celebration died down . . .

Liam and Gorin rushed to the stricken Eirik, who was dying in front of their eyes. Then inspiration struck Gorin, he took up the Stone of Sacrifice and carried it towards the altar. As a blue glow spread the others joined in, sanctifying the shrine and letting its healing power return Eirik back to the world.
As the Shrine was sanctified the foul remains of Delugraug dissolved and an aura of peace enveloped the island. Appearing in a vision in front of them Liam’s long lost wife, Joanna the Seeress, bade them all to travel to Barad Calen.
With peace in their hearts they returned to the Shrine Tower, where they relived Eirik from his oath. The scarred dwarf left their service and took custodian ship of the Shrine. Joined by the shades of the former guardians the dwarf waved goodbye to our heroes, who walked out of the valley to face justice.

The company of knights that waited for them was headed by King Mikail himself. Before the heroes could begin explaining the King went down on his knees and with him the assembled lords. He asked for their forgiveness and thanked them in a lesson in something he had forgotten; Sacrifice.

And so ended our session.

The Lessons Learned:

What really struck me was the way that Peri, by asking for motivation and given the option actually had his character change. Joshua went from the involuntary shirking hero to a man who would lay his life and fortune on the line for something as nebulous as the common good. It was beautiful.

The complaint from Christian on his lack of motivation and my failure to provide this just shows that the forgite ideas picked up here are slowly seeping in to my players and out of me. Must be vigilant.

At work gotta run.


Posts: 1359

Conventions Forum Moderator, First Thoughts Pest

« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2004, 05:33:53 PM »

thanks for another cool thread, Kaare. I really appreciate it.

Sounds like you guys are really rolling now.

can't wait for more!

Thor Olavsrud

Posts: 349

« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2004, 08:39:13 AM »

Hi Kaare,

That sessions sounds like it was amazingly fun. Out of curiousity, did you discuss the theme of the session out-of-play, or was it something the players picked up and expanded upon within the course of play?

Kaare Berg

Posts: 158

« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2004, 11:30:42 PM »

Hi Thor,

I generally don't discuss theme before the play, trying to get my players to pick up on it. It dosen't always work, but when it does I end up with sessions like the one above.

I guess I do it this way because IMO theme serves to exand the current session, and not to constrict or control the flow of play.

Although in the above example one can argue that I imposed the theme because the entire game was about the Stone of Sacrifice, it was my players who picked up on the subtle and not so subtle hints that I provided.

So I guess the answer is : no I did not directly discuss the theme out of play, but I laid down some specific guidelines by making the entire session revolve around the infamous stone.

It must be said that tailoring the theme to the stories about the Virtues of my world, lends itself to themes about these virtues. Restoring the shrine of sacrifice will gravitate towards the theme of sacrifice, just like our next game will gravitate towards the theme of compassion, since this is the next virtue they want to bring back.

I am curious to the extent any of you have been using this technique.


Posts: 1359

Conventions Forum Moderator, First Thoughts Pest

« Reply #4 on: May 10, 2004, 04:18:08 PM »

Hi Kaare,

I think what you are talking about is applicable to all games. I know I have overarching thematic goals in mind when I plan out a story arc. I try to weave them into the character's stories in order to create a coherent, cohesive game.

Some examples: I titled a game I ran last year "For Money and Love", and this is what the players made the game about. We had grifts, seduction, and betrayal. They made it all about money and love!

In a campaign I ran which one player dubbed "Kingmaker", the theme was really, "what price freedom?" The players led a slave revolt through all of its terrible trials and tribulation. The questions at hand revolved around whether they could keep their nerve in the face of overwhelming odds, and resist the temptation to simply join the dark side.

Currently, I'm running a game that we are simply calling, "The Insurrection/Rebllion/Revolt."  However, more than just mere rabblerousing, this game is turning out to be one about tradition in the face of political rebirth, ideology vs philosophy and "what price victory?" In this case, that question is "is overthrowing the corrupt ruling oligarchy worth destroying the city?"

So again, I believe theme is important and fairly easily injected into play. Combining your own themes with those of the players can create deep and rich stories. (Pretty easy to do in a game where the GM knows each players' character's history, and each player must state his character's beliefs to the GM.)


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