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Author Topic: [Burning Wheel] Running Before the Storm  (Read 6821 times)
rafial
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« on: August 17, 2004, 01:44:31 AM »

This weekend saw a good showing for Indie RPG's at Dragonflight, the annual Seattle based gaming convention.  For my part, I ran a four hour (well, closer to five as it turned out) BW adventure, for four players.  I got a full house with advanced sign ups, and had two walk ins on top of that, so there was no shortage of interest.  One player had heard the game discussed before (on the Forge as it happens) and others merely liked my teaser in the Con brochure and were looking to try something new.  In your face, d20.

Prep was my usual process of weeks of avoidance and idle brainstorming followed by a few hours of frantic scribbling the night before and the day of.  As always, the process of generating characters via the lifepath system was not only soothing to fevered brain, but generated lots of ideas as the characters backgrounds started to take shape.  When you know that the 51 year temple guardian was conscripted into the army at the age of 14, fought as foot soldier and then went on a pilgrimage as a result of the horrors he endured, before serving faithfully in the temple for 30 years.  I wound up with 4 pregenerated characters, and a page of scribbled notes on situation outline.

Plus it was a fun challenge to design a 14 lifepath character who only had 22 skill points ;)

As the setting, I used the world and city I (and my players) created as part of the Tarshish campaign that was chronicled earlier.  That campaign saw Tarshish under the yoke of the Theban empire, and concerned the return of the sacred icons of the animist faith to the city.  I decided that it would be fun to tell the story of how one of those icons was smuggled to safety in the first place.

The characters I pregenerated were:

 * A young Spirit Priest, dedicated to the element of Storms, inexperienced, but brave.
 * An elder Temple Guardian, selected for his absolute trustworthyness.
 * A Dwarven Word Bearer, selected for his tolerance of strangeness, and his knowledge of the Chronology of Kings.
 * An Orcan Sea Raider, one of the feared and hated Hamedan pirates, now on the run from the ruthless suppressions of the Theban empire.
 
At this point Luke will shout "what were the BITs"?  Unfortunately I let the players take their character sheets, and the realized I didn't have the BI portion of that written in my notes.  I'll see what I can reconstruct.  I do have the traits, which I'll provide in a separate post.  The priest was pretty much a boy scout, the guardian was a fanatic, the dwarf combined need for clan with a disturbing tendency for free thinking, and the Orc hated all humans, but Thebans the most.
 
Players received their character sheet, a one page rules cheat sheet that I assembled a while back by chopping up the GM reference sheets, a scripting sheet, and for the player of the Spirit priest, a one sheet explaining summoning magic (condensed from the Magic Burner chapters available online).  That sheet also had a brief background on Tarshish theology (the animist priests divide the spirits in to circle of eight elements, each with a canonical direction).

The "bronze age culture" emphasis of the Tarshish setting plus the emphasis on spirit magic caused several of the players to chat fondly about RuneQuest.  I smiled and nodded since my exposure to Glorantha to date has been almost nil.

We eased into play, starting with some basic rules chatter, followed by some setting exposition on my part, and then gradually fleshing out the opening scene with frequent asides to answer rules questions or clarify some point of the setting.

My biggest problem during the game was that I kept missing points that I had wanted to cover, and having to back up.  For example, I gave every character 2 beliefs and 2 instincts, and had planned to have the players add one each of their own, but didn't actually remember to have them do that till well into the game.  I think in the future I'll have a sheet of talking points for presenting the game system as well as my regular game notes.

My plot/situation outline was basically designed to be a pretty bog standard mission oriented flume ride, designed to hit some of the highlights of things I think are cool about BW.  The Theban empire stands poised to take the city of Tarshish, and the Spirit Priests have decided to scatter the eight elemental icons to safe locations until the day when the city can be freed and the temple reestablished.  Questioning the spirits has revealed that each icon should be taken in its elemental direction.  In particular, the icon of Lightening must be carried south west to the legendary forgotten citadel of the Sea Dwarves.  The Spirit Priest is assigned to bear it, the Guardian to guard, the Word Bearer to intercede with the lost Sea Dwarves should they still exist, and the Orc smuggler to get them out of the city, past the Theban galleys.

The players were nervous about BW scripted combat, as most new players are, but I kicked over that bucket right at the start by having the Theban breakthrough come right as they were being briefed.  As they headed for the secrete passage under the temple leading to the smugglers caves, Theban soldiers pored into the temple, blocking their way.  After an initial bit of uncertainty, the players bit into the scripting with gusto, and easily dispatched their opponents.

They then hurried through the sewers to the smugglers cave, where they waited for the sun to set (Orcs don't sail by day), while the Spirit Priest with the assistance of the Guardian conducted a ritual to summon and bind a spirit of the air to fill the sails on their boat (a small sailing dhow).  The Spirit Priest player seemed to enjoy working with the options provided by the magic system to determine just the right way to cast his spells.  To me as a GM, it definitely felt more significant than "I cast this spell.  Pass/Fail." ... and I liked that.

I should also mention that this point that I tried to inject a bit of moral quandary by equipping the Orc with a chattel slave, whom I described as an abused looking human female.  The Orc player certainly got into his role with gusto, whipping his slave whenever she looked askance.  The other players seemed a litter perturbed, but also into their mission.

With the aid of the air spirit, and under cover of darkness, the smuggler's vessel slipped out past the blockade and in to open water.  I set up a series of linked test for this, with the dwarf acting lookout, the Orc at the helm, and the chattel running the rigging.

As the sun rose, the Orc, Guard and Dwarf slept while the Priest used a book given to him by the temple elders that contained clues as to the location of the lost citadel.  After pulling off a research roll, I informed the players that the book contained information, but couched the location of what the sought in terms of references to other ancient Dwarvish kinds.  This was of course a cue for the Dwarf to use his Chronology of Kings to fill in the gaps.  The research process was livened up again by the inclusion and justification of FoRKs (combining skills) and the judicious use of Artha, making it seem more like research and less like "just making a roll."

As they continued sailing, they fell in to a pattern of the Guard, Orc and Dwarf as night watch, and the Priest and chattel as day watch.  The priest tried to talk to the chattel, but they had no common language.  He took to feeding her from his provisions when the Orc was asleep, and after a couple days of this, the woman came on to him sexually.  I was curious how the player would handle this, and I made it clear that his religion had no expectations of celibacy.  The player decided that going along with it might "jeopardize the mission", and I saddled him with a difficult suasion test to convey his unwillingness to the woman without offending her.

Once I had extracted all the eventfulness that I could from the sea voyage, I framed ahead to their arrival at the island.  I set first sighting of the island at dusk, and as the approached in darkness, ahead they spotted a running battle between two galleys, also headed toward the island.  This was the occasion for what I thought was a great call-on use of a trait by the Orc player, who had the trait "Follow the Beat", and used it to identify the drumming patters on the galleys and learn that it was a Theban galley in pursuit of a Hamedan galley.

The players attempted to race past the galleys while they were occupied fighting each other, but bad die rolls put them directly in the path of the battle.  I justified the failure by saying that after over a week of steadily blowing them to the south-west, the spirit filling their sails could not be persuaded to change its direction, making maneuvering hard.  In the end, they wound up sailing around the island and beaching on the far side, while the galley battle entered a small semi-concealed harbor they hadn't seen from a distance.

They beached their ship, and pulled it up into the tree line, then hiked overland toward the other harbor, to determine the outcome of the battle.  Arriving near dawn, the saw the burned out hulk of the pirate galley, and Theban soldiers on the beach, with patrols headed upland to search for survivors.  Concerned that fleeing pirates might happen upon their boat, they headed back to their landing spot.  At this point I had planned a few run ins with Orcs and Theban patrols, but since we were hitting the end of our time block, instead I layed a Sea Dwarf ambush on them in the form of Ewok style nets from the trees (in fact, without prior planning on part, the lost Sea Dwarves wound up being pretty Ewoky in general).  The dwarf was able to establish communication with them, but they were very suspicious of the humans, whose like they had never seen before, so the trussed up humans (and Orc) were carried off to be examined by the Dwarven Elders.

So we ended on a council scene, with nice impassioned speeches by our Dwarf and the Spirit Priest.  The both got Person points for nicely weaving their BITs into their arguments, and of course finally persuading the Sea Dwarves to take custody of the icon was worth Deeds.  And the dwarves wanted to kill the orc, but the player bargained them down to just kicking him off the island with his promised payment, and dire threats should he ever return.

They players said they enjoyed the session, and I certainly enjoyed running it.  I had purchased an extra copy of the rules so as to have extra books to pass around during play, and one of the players bought the extra set off me when I was done, so that seems to indicate that I sparked some interest.  They players also mentioned that they liked how the adventure had given each character a chance to shine at what they did best.  The odd thing about that was that while I had planned ideas for incidents to showcase aspects of the system, I hadn't explicitly tried to plan a "spotlight" for each character.  I honestly think many of the spotlight moments were player created whether they realized it or not, such as the example of the Orc analyzing the galley drumming patterns.

Another observation that I had was that while this particular group was fairly low key in their playing style, preferring mostly to work in OOC description, there were a few passionate IC moments that occured, and I thank BITs for providing the fuel for that fire.

All and all, a good session.  I'm hoping that the player of the Dwarf, who said he was a Forge visitor, will see this and pitch in with his impression of the session.
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rafial
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« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2004, 01:59:53 AM »

Here's what I have in my notes:

Spirit Priest

Second Sight
Lesser Gift (Gift only to cast summoning spells, I'm looking for a better name)
Quiet
Reverant
Trusting
Trustworthy

(yeah, pretty sickening I know ;)

Temple Guardian

Road Weary
Alms Taker
Fanatical Devotion
Superstitious
Graft
Quick (I wanted something to let Reflexes round up, similar to what Tough does for MW.  I couldn't find one in the book, so I made this up and set its cost at 3 points).

Word Bearer

Dwarven Traits plus
Curious
Tinkerer
Boasting
Announcements
Iron Memory
Meticulous
Eldritch Sink
Misplaced Aura

Orcan Sea Raider

Orc Traits plus
Missing Digits (3 fingers on right hand, yup, I rolled this)
Life is Death
Tasting the Lash
Eating Maggots
Exhaustion
Follow the Beat
Weather Sense
Where there's a Whip, there's a Way
Cowardly

As mentioned earlier, the ITs were only on the final character sheets, which I no longer have.

Also worth mentioning, in the process of prep I came up with preliminary notes on four new life paths, Spirit Priest and Spirit Acolyte for humans, and the tenitively named Deck Runner and Smells the Storm for Orcs (I just don't have Luke's gift for Orcan lifepath names...)  I'll probably refine these further once I have my paws on the final MoB.
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Luke
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« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2004, 08:06:15 AM »

Wilhelm!

Wow, that sounds like so much fun. Unbelievable.

Good judgement on the rolls. And good instincts with the scene framing.

Can you describe the process you used for the "linked" roll? This sounds interesting.

Also, what assistance did the Guardian offer the Priest? Was it a helping die from Ritual or Doctrine?

thanks!
-L
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rafial
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« Reply #3 on: August 17, 2004, 08:28:25 AM »

Quote from: abzu

Can you describe the process you used for the "linked" roll? This sounds interesting.


Well, it was just a case of "you need to proceed through these tasks in this order".  So I set a perception roll to spot the blockading ships in the darkness, a helm rolls to steer around them, and a rigging roll to keep the ship moving.

I then just had the appropriate player rolls, and had any failed, I would have described appropriate consequences based on which one failed and how badly.

As it was, the only one that came close to failing was the Orc at the Helm, who was short by one success but with a 6 sitting on the table.  The player spent a fate point, rolled an extra die for the 6, and squeaked out a success.  So I described a harrowing passage in which they nearly collided with a galley in the darkness, but managed to change course just enough to skim alongside the hull, holding their breaths and crossing their fingers (or whatever the culturally appropriate gesture might have been).

Thinking back on it, if I were to do it again, I might set the obstacles a little higher, and then do a Sorcerer like game of rolling successes from an earlier test into the following test as dice.

Quote

Also, what assistance did the Guardian offer the Priest? Was it a helping die from Ritual or Doctrine?


Precisely, it was Doctrine.  The players really got into justifying their FoRKs, and the player of the Guardian allowed as how he'd been serving the temple for 30 years, longer than the Priest had been alive, he ought to have some familiarity with how the rituals were done, even if he had not the capability to do them himself.  And in fact his skills supported him in this statement since I had given the Guardian a higher rating in Doctrine than even the priest had, based on just such thinking.
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Luke
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« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2004, 08:41:27 AM »

Quote
Thinking back on it, if I were to do it again, I might set the obstacles a little higher, and then do a Sorcerer like game of rolling successes from an earlier test into the following test as dice.


Hrm. Well, according to the rules (at least the spirit, if not the actual word for word), you could have made that one test -- the Orc Piloting (or something), and everyone else throwing in helping dice to get by.

But I kind of like linked rolls, too.

In the new Recovery mechanics, doctors who pass their medicinal skill test to tend a wound give their patients helping dice equal to their margin of success.

This has proved to work very well.

The one kink in extended helping rolls is failure in the chain. Of course, the failed roll grants no dice, but typically a failed roll has a bit more outstanding consequences in BW.

Hm, I guess a higher obstacle for a linked test would be in order...

thanks!
-L
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taepoong
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« Reply #5 on: August 17, 2004, 08:55:14 AM »

Quote from: rafial

Quick (I wanted something to let Reflexes round up, similar to what Tough does for MW.  I couldn't find one in the book, so I made this up and set its cost at 3 points).


FYI, HERE are some new traits, including Quickened Pulse, which is exactly what you were thinking. It only costs 2 points, too!

Great job with the adventure. Certainly worthy of a write-up and posting as a  BW module![/quote]
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rafial
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« Reply #6 on: August 17, 2004, 09:55:40 AM »

Quote

Hrm. Well, according to the rules (at least the spirit, if not the actual word for word), you could have made that one test -- the Orc Piloting (or something), and everyone else throwing in helping dice to get by.


Perfectly correct, and while as I pointed out above the decisions that BW provides the players with add drama to even single rolls, I wanted to draw this conflict out, and give more people an opportunity to sling the cubes.    Sort of "blow by blow" resolution if you will.

Quote

Hm, I guess a higher obstacle for a linked test would be in order...


Right, if a positive margin of success gives you bonuses, then a negative margin of success would roll over as penalties...  And matching the Ob exactly would get you to the next test with no adjustments.
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s3kt0r
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« Reply #7 on: August 17, 2004, 10:35:10 AM »

I got to play the dwarf in this game, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  

I've heard of Burning Wheel before, just from the Forge (I lurk a lot) and had an interest in trying it out, but never got around to it.  So, when I saw it on the convention schedule, I jumped at the chance to play it.

When I had come in to play it, I had just come off of a string of Donjon and InSpectres games, both excellently run by Zak Arntson.  I had a really fun time with them in what ended up being over-the-top craziness.  After about 10 hours of that though, I was ready for something a little more serious and BW fit the bill perfectly.

I had my concerns about the combat system, but in action, I was very pleased with the results.  It was a refreshing take and different from any other games I've played.  I enjoyed trying to outguess my opponents and in the end it gave fighting a very quick and dirty street brawling feel.  My first attack was shoulder charging a guy onto his back and bringing my warhammer down on his chest.  Good stuff!

I also liked the fact that it was very easy to get a feel for my character just by looking at the character sheet.  I think the other players really got into their characters, too.  While there wasn't a lot of IC dialogue, I think the little bit there was, was excellently done.  I liked how the priest took the guardian aside at one point and explained what having faith in the church meant to him in a long speech all IC.  I liked the Orc, who started shouting orders to all of us right out the gate.  I think having full blooded characters before we even started playing helped a lot with that and I could see how if I actually went the character creation myself, how that would be even further intensified.

I thought it was interesting how the session attracted a much older group than what I am used to playing with and that gave the game a more serious tone, I think.  It was fun watching these guys hash out the tactics of avoiding detection by the galleys.  

All in all, it was a well done game.  It kept me interested even though I was on my 40th hour of no sleep at the convention and it ended up being one the highlights.
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Greg
rafial
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« Reply #8 on: August 17, 2004, 11:50:25 AM »

Quote from: s3kt0r
I liked the Orc, who started shouting orders to all of us right out the gate.


He Who Bears the Lash and Drives Us All Before Him will tend to do that sort of thing ;)
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #9 on: August 17, 2004, 04:47:21 PM »

Quote from: rafial
...I came up with preliminary notes on ...new life paths, ... Deck Runner and Smells the Storm for Orcs ....


Orc Pirates. Who always set sail at nightfall. I love it. Except for whatever that Warhammer naval battles spin-off was, I've never heard of anyone exploring Orcs that can sail, yet they'd make such beautiful swearing, squabbling swabbies and whip-wielding galley masters.

Now if we can only combine this with Jonathan Walton's Seadog Tuxedo Iron Game Chef entry about penguin pirates somehow.... (see my sig).
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Valamir
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« Reply #10 on: August 17, 2004, 06:05:07 PM »

Soveriegn Stone did sea faring orcs

Along with Samurai Elves

and Mongel-esque Horse Riding Dwarf Clans...THAT'S a wicked cool image
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eef
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« Reply #11 on: August 18, 2004, 09:37:28 PM »

Hello, it's the Orc here.
Yes, I thought the life-path stuff was a blast, so were the traits.  It gave me a very quick handle on the character.  It was great playing a character that everybody hated but needed.  Myself, my character knew he was in very dangerous waters of trying to keep in command without honking people off too much.

Favorite moments:
-- Introducing the slave at the first chance to see what the other characters did with the situation.
-- Looking down at a critical roll I'd just blown and realizing I still had a chance to use a luck point.
-- Getting to boss people around (Bearer of the Lash and All That)

Things I didn't like:
--The combat system.  There's a good system in there someplace after you throw away 2/3 of the rules.

Now that the game is over, can you tell me why the spirits were deserting the city?
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rafial
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« Reply #12 on: August 18, 2004, 10:52:10 PM »

Quote from: eef

Now that the game is over, can you tell me why the spirits were deserting the city?


To be honest, even I don't know.  Unbeknownst to you, you were playing a piece of the backstory of my original Tarshish campaign.  The original campaign was 30 years in the future of the adventure you played, when the icons were being returned to the city after decades of Theban domination.

But many things about Tarshish are still a mystery, including the ultimate cause of the breaking of the Great Pact.  I will clearly have to run more adventures in order to figure out the answers.
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John Harper
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« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2004, 12:30:07 PM »

Quote from: rafial
I will clearly have to run more adventures in order to figure out the answers.

See? That's why Wilhelm is such an awesome GM. Everyone go and write that phrase on the inside of your GM screen. With a sharpie.
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taepoong
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« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2004, 12:42:05 PM »

Quote from: eef
There's a good system in there someplace after you throw away 2/3 of the rules.


Is that a compliment? ;)
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