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[Burning Wheel] Character Burning Session: Motivation

Started by Luke, December 29, 2003, 07:45:10 PM

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I had an amazing character burning session the other night. I was visiting my family and my brother and I were introducing one of his friends to the game. (they're both 13).

I thought this would be a good example of the role the GM is supposed to take in Character Burning. Page 14-15 of the CB indicate that the process of character burning is a collaborative one, but I really don't think I make this case strongly enough. So here's an example:

Logan, my brother's friend, had expressed interest in making an elf "like Legolas". Hart, my brother, hinted that he wanted to play a "bad-ass knight." I suggested that Hart make an elf as well. He balked, but I told him he wouldn't have any trouble creating a "bad-ass" elven swordsman. Of course, as soon as Logan heard Hart wanted to make a bad-ass elven swordsman, he wanted to make one, too.

Interestingly, neither of their characters emerged from the burning as bad-ass anything!

I gave them both a brief overview sketch of elven life (and the BW settings) and told them to use the LOTR as their basis. Logan wanted to be born in Galadriel's forest, Hart wanted to come from "the Elf King's place" (Imladris/Rivendell). Born Wilder for Logan, Born Citadel from Hart.

At this point I tried get them to focus on a character concept to guide their lifepath choices, neither produced anything terribly strong. Rather they both seemed to be caught up in the moment of the growing story of these characters. Each lifepath chosen lit sparks behind their eyes.

Rather than let them have free rein over the books and lps, I really encouraged them to tell me "what happens next". More often than not, they did require a little encouragement and some examples. I read off various LP choices, intermixing the exciting and the mundane. The final results were fascinating:

Logan: Born Wilder, Student, Novice, Huntsman, Ranger

Hart: Born Citadel, Student, Wanderer, Rider, Song Singer.

The idea that I wasn't going to "tell them how it was", that they had a huge degree of control determining their history and environs, definitely seemed a little foreign, but a little exciting to them. As they chose each path, I encouraged them to really think about this character's life and where it was heading. I tried to also push them to think how this comfortable life of theirs was going to change -- what was going to break them out of their good fortune so that we could take over and get on with the business of adventuring?

This was really tough for them! They both gravitated toward choosing an easy life for their characters. Hart has played a bunch before, so I let him have freer rein, but Logan I really pushed. He told me that his character returned to the Wilderlands to rejoin his family and learn their trade, hunting. I asked him if there was anything that might have happened to his family that might cause him to leave again. He offered, "They disappear?" Um, how about something a little stronger? After some tense negotiation, we agree that his whole family was killed by Orcs while hunting. He was returning from a nearby foray and hid in fear and witnessed the murders. Now we were getting somewhere!

Logan then indicated that this might change his character. I agreed. He asked about becoming a Song Singer after this. A fine choice, but not quite in the vein of his "Legolas" character. Finally he indicated his character would want revenge and we agreed he would join the Rangers (rather than become a Song Singer).

When they divided up their points, Logan and Hart gleefully collaborated on taking skills and songs so as not to double up or be redundant. (I wish some of my more veteran players would be so open-minded.)

Both had expressed their intent to be "bad-ass" but neither had built that type of character.  However, both of them spent all of their general skill points on martial skills (though I did try to encourage them to buy more songs). Logan purchased Sword and Brawling. Hart purchased Brawling and Knives. Hart also made sure his character had Oratory and a few good songs. Overall he made an incredibly well-rounded character with a couple of very neat tricks up his sleeve. But he kept pushing the "bad ass" shtick, despite being something of a bard. So we kind of joked that he sang and got into bar fights, this stuck, as you shall see.

The real fun began when they chose their BITs.
For traits, Logan chose Brave and Hart chose Charming. Vveerryy nice.

Hart started in with some bad bad bad instincts held over from previous play experiences: Aggressive Stance was the first one. We joked about his bar fights some more, and I made him qualify it. He choose: "Aggressive Stance when surprised". Perfectly acceptable.

Logan chose Instincts  to suit his character's experience (if not his concept): Stealth when tracking, Hide when surprised, and Keep the bow ready.

The Beliefs are where it really pulled together, though.  I gave them a brief description of Beliefs and they both started to write down things like, "Ghosts" and "Reincarnation" and "Life after Death". Sigh.  Ok. I tried again, describing more practical philosophies.

Hart glommed onto the idea of "I do what I have to."
Very nice, but at this point I really started to encourage them to dig into what made their characters tick. I kept going back into their character concept, and the points we had developed over the course of creating the character. Hart had taken "Mother, Song Singer" as a contact, and made her famous/important. I suggested that she might not approve of a son who is constantly angry (a la "aggressive stance") and always getting into fights. Perhaps she gave him an ultimatum to cool out? What would the character say to that? Hart belted out, jumping from his seat:  "Anger is justifiable!"  I nearly swooned, what a belief!

His last belief came naturally following a brief discussion about what would motivate this character to get out into the world: "To prove my mother wrong."

Logan countered Hart's first belief with: "I finish what I've started." I just smiled innocently at this one, but inside I was dancing. That's a FANTASTIC belief for use in play.

We discussed the character's motivations some more and Logan decided, "Family first" would be a good one. I countered that his family was dead, but then agreed to expand the definition of family to include his extended family and his friends.

Finally, I really hammered hard on Logan: What motivates this character? He answered, Revenge. Ok, how do we turn that into a belief? I asked him: "When is revenge enough?" He countered, "When my 'family' is safe." Good answer, but I replied, "You live forever, your family lives forever, the Orcs never stop coming; they'll never be safe. When is the revenge complete?  He finally broke: "Revenge isn't complete until all the orcs are destroyed!"

I saw stars and nearly passed out. Such good BITs!

We played a session with these two characters the next night and I can't describe how easy and fun it was. They were so vibrant and full of life, and so completely full of hooks and motivations!

I started them down their journey leaving their Elven village: Hart's character, Zoah, had just had his falling out with his mother. Logan's character, Orthis, was suprised by his Ranger Captain (contact and cousin) who confronted him with his obsession for revenge. He told him that he wouldn't be allowed to the fences again until he had mastered himself.

Orthis witnessed Zoah leaving and approached him, "Can I come? There is nothing for me here."

And so their journey began!

Paul Czege

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans


Quote from: Paul CzegeI love novices!


Um. Me, too!

Interestingly, Logan chose to stress this aspect of his character. He loved the idea of being able to make and repair "swords and stuff." In the end I was suprised to see he favored his Elven Smith-Craft (a craft song) with a B5. His highest skill ranking.

He also tied this into his character by taking his master from his days as a novice as a significant contact. Lots of potential there!



We BW veterans definitely could use a session like this! Why don't you take such time when we build characters? I am hurt! ;o)

Seriously, though, such back and forth during creation would really, really help out anybody burning up characters, not just newbies! Why don't you do this all the time? Don't you think a veteran would listen to you? (I can already think of one or two that wouldn't, actually...)
Abzu yelled at me and called my old sig "silly."


This is very cool stuff Luke.  Similar to what we tried to achieve in the Tarshish campaign with our joint character creation session.  I especially liked your detailing of the process of focusing in on key life events and beliefs, taking the players initially unfocused suggestions and forcing them to refine them into something plot driving.  Pure gold.

I hope you are considering taking some of this "system in action" material you've been posting here on the Forge and including it in the BW annual you've been talking about putting out.  Just as much as expanded rules material, BW needs just these sort of "practical application" examples to make it more accessible.


Quote from: Paul CzegeI love novices!


btw, i didn't get the double entendre until i posted my "clever" response.

Thanks for the comments, and despite what Pete says, I do make a habit of doing this with most of my players (when time allows). All too often we get players that are thrown into a game mid-session and we have to take what they give us character-wise. Also, there are a number of my players that aren't nearly as receptive as our "novices". They see such give and take as interference -- they come to the table with much stronger character concepts.

Writing this post was probably as enlightening for me as it was for those of you'll who'll read it.