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Author Topic: [Burning Wheel] Bad-ass elves in action  (Read 4454 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: September 01, 2004, 09:03:37 PM »

Hello,

At last! We made up characters for this over a month ago, but conventions, illnesses, and many late-summer obligations have hammered our play-schedule.

As I discussed in Prepping my Burning Wheel game, we started with the idea of playing elves with a lot of Tolkien-themed guts. We brainstormed a bit on stuff like elegy as well as related big or weird words. I also suggested that we all try to focus on bad-ass characters, in preparation for lots of violence. I really want to see the game's stuff in this regard, and it so happens that these players often throw me a curve by making up diplomats and scouts and other talky folk. Not a bad thing, but in this game, I want scars and massive combat twinking.

As it stands now, one session into it, I'm planning on a fairly solid game, six sessions at least. Our role-playing tends to avoid playing most downtime - very strong scene framing, mostly - so that will mean a lot of events and lot of conflicts.

The scenario itself grew partly out of our general elf discussion and partly from the characters. And boy are they bad-asses. Six lifepaths at least apiece. We are talking Gray Steel at a minimum of 6 dice, with one monster at 9. They're all Outriders, with one Lancer, with Grief ranging from 5 to 8. When I sat down to review the combat rules, it instantly became clear that just these three elves alone had a solid chance against a dozen armed men of 3-4 lifepaths worth.

The characters turned out to have a number of useful and interesting contacts and affiliations (in my opinion, character creation should start with these after the lifepaths), and as it turned out, two of them are just riddled with close family members who hate their guts. Well, that was the curve ball. 'Cause you see, Hate as described in the text as orcish thing is right up my alley and, I hope this doesn't disturb you, very easy and intuitive for me to grasp. (In Violence Future, I thought it was interesting that Dav Harnish did brilliant work with Sloth and Avarice, but I raised hell with his Hate material and insisted on a full rewrite. Hate is something I am ashamed to admit I care about, but there, I said it.) But what's it to do with tragic, immortal, elegiac, deadly elves? What's all this "as the world turns" soap opera doin' in there?!

OK, so to cut to the chase, I managed to come up with a pretty brutal scenario which utilized all the material I'd been handed. On the plus side, all the elf stuff is working wonderfully. The players know exactly what to do (i.e. they surprise me a lot but whatever it is makes tons of sense), and all the elf-ish rules play into it nicely. We like Grief, we like Laments, and we like the way that we articulate elvish culture and interactions. Elvish hate and soap opera just look different, and we seem to share a very strong idea among us what it's like.

What about the scenario? Um, where to start ... OK, these humans came and settled unusually deep in our mountainous "don't go there, there're elves" territory, and over a decade or two, the folks at the Citadel decided to do something about it. In fact, very disturbing news showed up, that the wilderland elves near this settlement (who might have been relied upon to harass it out of existence) are all - shockingly - going west at once, A specially impulsive Prince (a player-character's brother) sends what might be considered a death-squad of warriors to go and wipe out what is apparently a real threat.

Our heroes, Outriders all, get involved because the leader of said squad isn't real confident that the Prince knows anything about anything, and wants backup as well as perhaps someone who can get some information outta there if the worst comes to worst.

And yeah, bad-asses indeed. When they were attacked by about six or seven armed humans (3-4 lifepaths, rural fighter types), they were just scary. It didn't help the humans that the elves (a) surprised them in the first place, and the humans did the "confused big dog" act as the elves nocked their arrows, then (b) feathered them with said arrows, inflicting severe wounds with every hit (while singing), and then (c) the Wonderment from all the singing kicked in. The elves then just leaped their horses over the stunned and bewildered and agonized mob and trotted up the trail.

In play, they encounter a scary mystery. The death-squad seems to have encountered not only a determined band of resistant humans, but a bunch of the wilderlands elves who are defending them, and then the whole confused melee seems to have been broken up by a bunch of horrifying bat-things which scream elvish obscenities and kill very effectively. I won't go into the back-story of all this in detail because the players haven't delved into it much yet. A later post for sure.

Anyway, the upshot of the session is that our heroes are now tracking down the mysterious human leader and the other refugees, elves and humans both, to save them from the bat-guys, and they also have a very strong notion of who might be responsible for the bat-guys, namely one of the characters' hatin' relatives.

Now for the tougher part. For us, resolving stuff took a long damn time - rules for individual actions and step-by-step effects, my god, I gotta find my feet again with this kind of play! Armor was the breaking point in play itself, when I said, OK, now that you've hit, and by this much, now we gotta see what the armor does, and everyone just gave me this look of "you're kidding, right?" This is a matter of GM-prep and familiarity, which I well remember from oh so many years - I simply have to become the Burning Wheel maestro who can go, roll roll, wham, the arrow slams into his arm, he screams and spins as he falls. But the "roll roll" part and the rapid processing thereof is something I typically don't have to deal with, or can rely on an "everyone rolls, dice stay on table" approach as in Sorcerer.

Managing time during a conflict is tricky too, because it's more organized in the rules rather than less. Trying to keep it straight in and out of scripting is especially tricky - once the above-mentioned humans lost two to seven actions due to Steel tests, and when they get only three actions per exchange apiece, what's the point in sticking with the exchange/volley structure? The elves can just hack or shoot at will. By the rules, we should still monitor these things, to see which elf does what in what order, but practically speaking, the effort involved to manage it (as opposed to just saying, "everyone shoot") is a little much for me.

The learning curve for resolution (not basic did-it, which is easy, but nuances like damage) actually have a more difficult buy-in than The Riddle of Steel, which as it turns out relies on much more abstract thinking than most people realize. I like what the 'Wheel does in this regard, because it always makes lovely sense and utilizes the strength of its basic resolution rather than using patch-rules, but there is definitely a brand of expertise that one has to cultivate.

I'm also fairly critical of my GMing in this game, which is also a matter of finding my feet with the system. Bluntly, there was not enough color, not enough description, not enough in-character dialogue by a factor of maybe ten. However, our early Azk'Arn play had the same issue, and it got a lot better over time. So maybe it's just going to develop. The only really in-character scene came when they healed up the mortally-wounded commander of the death-squad, who also happens to be a contact of one of the player-characters. It was actually pretty shocking for me in play to role-play him, as he insisted (regarding the mysterious human leader), "You haven't met him ... he knew we were coming, he knows all ... they're going to keep coming here, even if these ones die ... our songs meant nothing ... they'll never stop ... it's over for us ..." He was trying to express the word "God" and failing. This is going to be a very religious scenario, predicated on the heroes' absolute incomprehension of any such thing. Ha! Premise!

Monster Burner is amazing, inspiring, highly useful (I totally want to play a Roden game). An extra bonus comes from the excellent Annual - elf Spite is exactly what I needed, and in effect I invented it on my own, giving Luke a golden opportunity to say "one step ahead of you bwah" in pointing the great rules in the Annual out to me.

Anyway, it looks quite likely that we'll be playing again in a few days, so I need to sit down to write out the NPCs and all their funny little numbers.

Best,
Ron

(edited to fix typo in thread title)
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rafial
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« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2004, 09:45:56 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
all the elf-ish rules play into it nicely. We like Grief, we like Laments, and we like the way that we articulate elvish culture and interactions.


I'd love to hear more about exactly how the mechanics of Grief are impacting your play.  It should be especially interesting given the high starting Griefs of your player characters.

Quote
Now for the tougher part. For us, resolving stuff took a long damn time - rules for individual actions and step-by-step effects, my god, I gotta find my feet again with this kind of play!


I think this problem will abate rapidly.  As you point out elsewhere, BW adheres very strongly to its own internal logic, and I was surprised at how fast I was able to go from stumbling incomprehension to feeling at least semi-fluid with the resolution.

Quote
Monster Burner is amazing, inspiring, highly useful (I totally want to play a Roden game).


You and me both.  The Roden are clearly the stars of the fully fleshed races, which is saying something considering how good the wolves, trolls and spiders were.

Quote
An extra bonus comes from the excellent Annual


A secret society do exist!  I'm glad to hear you are playtesting this stuff, because it means the rest of us will hopefully get to see it soon ;)

Alright, so here's the question that always fascinates me when BW play is involved.  What kind of BITs are the players carrying around?
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Kaare Berg
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« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2004, 03:37:33 AM »

Hi Ron, a tantalising post.

Elf bat demons, you are one twisted puppy.

Quote from: You
The learning curve for resolution (not basic did-it, which is easy, but nuances like damage) actually have a more difficult buy-in than The Riddle of Steel . . . snip . . . there is definitely a brand of expertise that one has to cultivate.


True, even after something like 10 to 12 sessions some of my players still stumble on the different stances in combat. This they however pick up rather a bit too quickly for me.

The next question is, did you use artha, if so the new version or the book version.

In a game where combat is heavy I recommend the Persona for complication rule. Even in a gritty combat game.

K
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-K
Luke
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« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2004, 07:04:37 AM »

Hiya Ron,

Thanks for the very engaging Actual Play post. I definitely want to read more.

Quote
Managing time during a conflict is tricky too, because it's more organized in the rules rather than less. Trying to keep it straight in and out of scripting is especially tricky - once the above-mentioned humans lost two to seven actions due to Steel tests, and when they get only three actions per exchange apiece, what's the point in sticking with the exchange/volley structure? The elves can just hack or shoot at will. By the rules, we should still monitor these things, to see which elf does what in what order, but practically speaking, the effort involved to manage it (as opposed to just saying, "everyone shoot") is a little much for me.


Your instincts are correct here, once there is no direct conflict there's no need to stay in the "scripted" mode. You can simply time out in your head what the Elves are doing: Farmer hesitates for 7 actions -- that's two full exchanges for him. An Elf with a Reflexes 5 can accomplish 10 actions in two exchanges. Easily another shot or two with his bow -- without needing to write it out.

And in regards to the hit/damage sequence in BW: For melee it's roll to hit, determine damage by number of extra successes (or lack thereof). For missile, you have: roll to hit, roll the DOF with bonuses, roll armor. However, I strongly recommend altering the sequence and rolling for armor before the DOF with missile attacks. It takes away the "I killed him, no I didn't" feeling. (Also, if your Elves are such bad-asses, they should be calling their shots to unarmored areas -- what's +2 Ob to someone with a B6 skill!?)

rrrawk!
-L
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2004, 08:24:23 AM »

Hello,

It would help greatly if I were to have NPCs for whom armor locations and type are explicitly written out. One of my tasks for the next session.

Here is my current understanding of the characters' BITS, although they might have been slightly altered since I took these notes.

Amore (widowed Wilderlands elf) (relevant trait: Poised)
Everything happens for a reason
Truth can always be revealed

When talk isn't called for, sing
Early riser
Always make evening rounds (patrol)

Lodril (ex-trader Wilderlands elf) (relevant trait: Charming)
Peace can be found through common interests
Higher is better than lower in battle

Seek out common interests
Watch for trouble
Never reveal all of one's possessions

Mablung (Etharch born, soldier elf) (relevant trait: Bedside Manner)
My duty is to my people
It will be better in the west

Always know where your weapons are
Hit back

Again, they've all done at least two stints as Outriders and Mablung is in addition a Lancer.

Best,
Ron
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taepoong
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« Reply #5 on: September 02, 2004, 09:12:58 AM »

I wouldn't recommend scripting each npc individually. Instead, prepare generic scripts for them, and only rarely switch something out. This'll save you a lot of time. And once a regular soldier takes a bad wound, instead of have him stand and drool and count the hesitating rounds, just have him flee or surrender - if he's not important to the story that is.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: September 02, 2004, 09:17:14 AM »

Way ahead of you, taepoong. I decided quite a while ago to have most NPCs' scripts all ready.

About Grief, we quickly learned that with these high scores, Routine Grief tests (or "tests" as you don't roll them) don't mean anything. So far, they haven't been hit with a severe Grief situation yet, although seeing the wilderlands elves' bodies with Citadel elves-inflicted wounds seemed close. And my description of the Citadel elves' horses' corpses, clearly maimed and savaged by the bat-things and then dispatched with single sword-thrusts, seemed to get a shared "chill" reaction among the group.

But not to worry - much more Grief coming soon.

Best,
Ron
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Kaare Berg
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« Reply #7 on: September 02, 2004, 10:31:09 AM »

Quote from: Ron
I decided quite a while ago to have most NPCs' scripts all ready


What I do is that I script the Npcs as the situation happens, but say in a fight involving three NPCs on each PC (which happens way to often) I only script say, three or four different variations. Using them on the different enemy NPCs. Most of them time you can recycle these scripts.

You retain flexibility and you don't have to write for five minutes every exchange. And with the recycling you'll speed up the process so much that you'll be waiting for your players.

K

*edited to fix the quote box and write this
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-K
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