Actual Play – Burning Treachery (4/9/2009)

GM: Sean Nittner
System: Burning Wheel

Wow, Burning Wheel continues to deliver. Last night we picked back up on the story of rooting out the traitors inside Arthas’s camp as well as introducing a new character.

The thing I love about the Burning Wheel game is that all I need to do is create a spark for the characters to run with. Essentially I just create bloody awful opposition and they tear it up. I don’t think this is lazy GMing. I’ve been a lazy GM who just kind of lets the story do whatever. In this case I’m really driving towards a vicious retelling of Arthas’ journey from nobility to insanity and finally to utter corruption. But like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern we’re telling it from the perspective of those around him. Hamlet has gone crazy, that is for sure, but what will those who love him do about it.

Last night I started off with a few belief questions and a bang for everyone in the camp.

Review beliefs:

Jordan: Caged, diseased, and unable to help the one he loves, what are his beliefs now?
Genn: Confronted with a hungry dragon demanding a sacrifice, what will he do?
Luke: Prisoner in hand as he storms to Arthas’ tent, what does he want now?


Outside there is a commotion as the Orcs make a surprise attack, many of Jordan’s guards depart to join Uther in defending the camp. While in the distance he hears others shouting “that bitch had brought her hordes right to us, kill her now”

The result was a few great beliefs coming out of this like “I will have this traitor’s head” and well as a ton of action. We actually had two Fights!, which is a first for me.


Jordan broke free of his captivity and joined with Gavin Perinolde to defend the just, whoever the just end up being. This is a frequent pairing and one I like. Gavin and Jordan are both desperate in their own way. Jordan to be a shining pillar of light, Gavin to restore honor to his family’s name.

Genn negotiated with Dragon Searinox for his heart of fire. A bold request to say the least. He had to go through a lot of crap to do it as well. Losing his personal effects, offering up innocent villagers as sacrifice, pledging to a village that he would avenge the misdeeds of the Perinolde’s, offering up a false deed that will surely ear the Dragon’s ire at some point and soon to be hunting down a young boy. Yeah, he pretty much went through hell but in the end he was granted not only the dragons orb, but a jewel encrusted silver mirror that speaks whispers to him while he holds it, stolen from the dragons’ horde when he devoured the peasants.

Luke brought Gavin Perinolde before Arthas and branded him a traitor, demanding to know why he had the battle plans. In a duel of wits, Luke crushed him, agreeing to spare his life but only after Gavin confessed he had taken the plans from his brother, who had apparently traveled from Alterac and was somewhere at large outside the camp now. As he headed out into the night to join the fight he found a squad of men advancing on the infirmary shouting “That orc bitch has poised us with her lying tongue, cut it out and let us rid ourselves of her threat.” Though he had no compassion for the orc captive, Luke saw that it was Uther’s men protecting her and did not want to give the Lightbringer another reason to hate him. In an attempt to unify the troops he ordered them to the front line but was challenged by a surly sergeant. The sergeant argued that we cannot turn our backs on our enemy and so long as this orc lives the camp is in danger. Though he made a good point, he was disobeying a direct order from a superior officer. We broke into a duel of wits and in a single exchange Luke destroyed him and branded him a mutinous traitor. As evidence of just how bad things are, the sergeant bellowed “I’ll not be marshaled by the likes of you” and charged into Luke, axe drawn. Another Fight! ensued and while the soldier landed a hefty blow into Luke’s helm, it did not penetrate. Invoking the power of white fire, Luke burnt the mutinous bastard to a crisp. Leaving a dying pile of flesh to be tended by the Silver Hand.

What rocked

Again, I continue to be impressed with the ingenuity and creativity of the players. I throw a few things at them and they really roll with it. Burning down buildings to escape, serving up peasants three at a time. The players do a great job of making their own character’s lives interesting.

We tried out Fight! without using the positioning mechanics and it worked really well. In fact, without positioning to worry about Fight! is almost easier to script than Duel of Wits. The reason being that most of the moves are independent of each other vs. DoW where all the moves interlock and you need to see how they work with one another. I love DoW but I’m starting to really like Fight! too. Most importantly I’m not intimidated by it anymore.

The Dragon came off exactly how I wanted him. Incredibly powerful but also lazy, overconfident and totally hedonistic. He was not easily swayed and his demands were huge but he was beatable… and beat him Genn did. It was also fun to script something that normally never work (like Incite) and to play out the interactions between dragon and man. In the end the Dragon got the shaft, which is cool. It’s the classic case of the hero outwitting the monster.

Both Genn and Jordan have shown that they will stop at nothing to get what they want. This is the stuff heroes (and villains) are made of. I can easily see either of these characters being great champions or heinous villains. I’m quite happy about that.

We had some great lines. During a questioning of the traitor:
Gavin: “I give me life for my liege!”
Luke: “And that would be?”

The Artha awards went pretty smoothly, didn’t take much time and were quite rewarding. The characters are definitely moving their abilities into the heroic tier (grey).

During the middle of it all, we made a character! Sergeant of the Fletching’s Shadow! He is the commander of a group of scouts determined to learn the ways of orcs and seek out the elusive mountain rams of Alterac.

What could have been improved

I had a pretty major case of micro managing and missing the intent on one player’s tests. He was looking for a few things and I boiled it down to some rolls that a) were crappy for him and b) were probably unnecessary. I think it’s important to think on a larger scope and realize that making someone test for every piece of a small insignificant puzzle goes against the design ethics of Burning Wheel. The let it ride and the task/intent rules are mechanical reinforcements of those ethics and I wasn’t paying enough attention to them. The end result was a frustrated player.

Time. I know I can’t do much about this but I’m frustrated that the game is always squeezed between the time people can all arrive (which is usually around 9PM) and when we get to tired to continue (around 11 to midnight). I’d really like this to be a game that goes from 7:30 to 11:00, with half an hour at the end to do trait votes, beliefs and wrap up. Unfortunately schedules don’t allow for that and the end result it’s a came that feels a little disjointed at times (filling people in on what they misses) and squeezed for time.

More reasons for the PCs to interact. I really like the story but I’m going to need to think of some more bones to throw at the characters to make them interested in each other. We had one scene were one character was running (naked mind you) past another. They just didn’t have any reason to interact however, so the scene was over as soon as it started. I think in the upcoming scenario I can see Jordan and Luke being at each other’s throats. We’ll see.


So… if you can’t tell, still loving Burning Wheel in general. Next session Jordan should have a Fight! and DoW on his hands almost right of the bat. Genn will hunt down a boy and return to the camp and Luke

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *