Actual Play – Burning up our Fates (6/3/2008)

GM: Sean Nittner
System: Burning Wheel

This one is a little long, so its going behind an LJ cut.

We opened with Luke and Jaina in the orc cave, where she took him to be safe. Luke met Thrall and the three of them had a show down to determine the fate of the orcs. See below for my frustration with this scene. In the end, Luke folded to thrall and agreed to Jaina’s turn to throw a battle. The salvation to this scene came at the end of the game when discussing it with players and we came up with a plan for Jaina and Luke to create the Illusion of men for Thrall’s orcs to sack. Still, I was disappointed.

We flashed over to Brighton’s camp where Colin found out that off all the peasants he had rescued, one was missed, still left behind. He had to make the choice to risk all of their safety to save one woman he didn’t even know. Lars, the leader of the peasants asked him to go. His corporal begged him not to risk their safety. Colin shone as a hero, snuck back into the camp, mauled one of the guards to death, and suck out with the woman, bringing her to safety. The consequence of him failing the roll was the peasants being captured and most likely cut down as deserters.

Back to the scene we left off with at the end of last game, the trail. I was really happy with this scene (see below) because the players really drove it. Not that I didn’t need to narrate the actions of the NPCs, but the players stood up and said “This is what’s gonna happen!” and fought for it. They got some wacky results as a matter of failed dice rolls, but again really cool consequences were on the line. Almost to the point where I was more excited about a failed result than I was a success. In the end Genn proved his innocence, thus completing his belief of clearing his name, but still owes the dwarves (or maybe Jordan) a minor concession. Jordan, remarkably gained a boon from the trial as well. (Still pondering the logic of all that in my head).

The trail was broken up however, by a commotion it the crowd. A dwarf was missing, an ork was spotted, nog was drunk, it’s time for a brawl! So, the dwarves all charged on stubby legs to the tent of Jamie, the orc allowed to walk freely in the camp. Colin made it their first but in his drunken stupor gave up the fight. This was not the orc he was looking for. Then hell broke loose. Jordan charged to protect her, summoning Jaina. Gavin saw his “brother” in danger and charged. Jaime could not control her demon nature and was going to attack. And Colin, just as he was going to retreat, saw the woman who he somehow knew he had to protect appear out of nowhere, in the middle of this chaos. We had some fun opposed rolls. My dice hated me and the players were triumphant heroes, but some egos were bruised, some interest raised, and questions left unanswered. Some good seeds for next session.

In Arthas’ camp Genn appeared, regaled in Alterac finery to make Brighton’s offer to Arthas. After he earned a private meeting, the entire host of Arthas’ camp thought he was the traitor, until he presented Arthas his desire, the Orb of Fire. At which point all of the host thought he was a traitor except Arthas, who was busy playing with his new toy. A contest came down between Genn and Luke over who should command the armies. Luke has been responsible, stayed by Artha’s side and brought him some measure of victory. Genn had been unpredictable and suspicious but brought Arthas the orb, news of Brighton’s camp, and a plan to win the day. In the end, it was a popularity contest and Genn won. I can’t way to see Luke’s wrath!

Next session will be the final battle between the Alliance and the Horde. Everyone will be on the battlefield and it will open the opportunity to settle old scores, make allies as well a enemies, or die a glorious death. Here are some elements that can or will show up next game.

  1. If Genn is leading the troops, he doesn’t know about Luke’s plan. Luke will either need to take back control to make his plan work, or risk that when the men descend upon Thrall’s troops, the thirst is not slaked on his illusion.
  2. Thrall is presumably the only person capable (with his Shamanistic magic) of suppressing the influence of Mannorath’s blood, which inhabits both Jaime and Jordan. This opportunity should present itself at a cost.
  3. Jaina is going to be in lots of danger. She can’t teleport away if she is creating illusionary troops to battle Thrall’s forces. Someone will have to protect her from the onslaught of orcs that will otherwise overwhelm her. Someone might have to die to do that.
  4. Brighton has not won or lost, he’s still going to seek out his advantage. Unopposed he’ll at the very least hold his title, if not regain his throne. If apposed he can be defeated, but Gavin will be at his side.
  5. Jordan and Uther will inevitably meet in the battlefield, can either convince the other, the “right”-ness of their ways.
  6. Someone must win the day for Arthas. Defeat the orcs (or at least push them back) and rescue the prisoners. Who will it be? Who will gain his favor?
  7. Any important beliefs should have an opportunity to be expressed in the battle.

What rocked

Where there was chaos in the court and someone needed to step forward, Jordan totally grabbed the story by the balls. This is what I want to see in the game, players not just thinking about how the character can be cool, but how they can make the story about what they care about. Instead of a Dwarf trial, we had a debate between two heroes to determine BOTH of their fates. It was quite marvelous.

Great failure consequences that all of us would have liked to see. Peasants being caught in a question of the good of the one vs. the good of the many. Dwarves sentencing the prosecutor to the same sentence as the defendant (which now that I think about it is HORRIBLE logic, as a prosecutor would then just argue for a light sentence, but somehow Jordon was psychotic enough that the dwarves didn’t think self preservation was an instinct of his). Jaime’s life being on the line. Jaina making Jordan make the decision between her or Jaime. Accidentally shooting Gavin and earning a bloodhunt from Brighton for it. All of these things sound like they would be cool if they happened.

There was a lot of humor concerning the two-facedness of both Genn and Luke. I was really happy to see them go head to head.

What could have been improved

I wasn’t happy with my portrayal of canon characters. I had a scene with Thrall and Jaina, because, basically this was a turning point in the story for them as well and I wanted to include the players input on that. I was trying to portray Thrall as coming from a position of wounded pride. He wanted the other orcs to believe in him, had failed to do so, but was too proud to admit it. Jaina, as always, was trying to stop the bloodshed of both man and orc. I was really looking to Luke to say “Listen, you can’t both get what you want, so this is what is going to happen!” and then make some roll with the consequence being that one of the two of them was unhappy with the plan and in the case of thrall would have a show down with him in the battlefield, in the case of Jaina would withdraw the growing affection she’s had for him. The consequence would depend on who’s plan he strayed from the most. What happened though, was the player let me set the stakes, which was basically Jaina offering up a compromise which made her look less of a pacifist and more of a traitor than she really is and made Thrall look like someone who would be happy with a pitched battle that he could win without honor. I really needed the player to step up and set the stakes and I should have just told him that out right. Instead, when I saw a pause on his part, I sought to fill the gap with them coming up with comprises. It was frustrating for me and after the game I asked the players about the scene. They weren’t happy either.

A short version of the problem above. I need to talk less and listen more.

I hate the total vilification of Brighton. I’ve been trying to portray him as proud and deceitful but perusing something that anyone in his station would, to reclaim the throne his father lost. I’m fine with the characters opposing him, even hating him, but instead I feel like they disregard him. The sweeping beliefs are “all Brighton’s men are evil” or casually killing his soldiers and then leaving camp frustrates me. Part of wants to hammer down and say “Brighton is not the bad guy here guys, he’s just a player in this big machination. Killing him does nothing but take an element out of the story”. I think next game I’m going to offer up Brighton’s head to anyone who wants to take it, but the caveat is they have to tear through his brother Gavin first. If anyone takes this besides Luke (who has no reason to love Gavin and many reasons to hate Brighton) it will be a clear indicator to me that Brighton must BECOME the bad guy and really bring hell on some of the characters.

I forgot the “Let it Ride” rules. When Jordan ran to protect Jamie he made a roll to throw back Colin. His roll there should have carried forward in the other conflict. Not a big deal but there rule is there for a reason.

I had this moment when I realized that Colin cared about nothing in my game except something he had invented for his character. And that is fine, he is sworn to protect Jaina. Cool. But that means when Jaina’s life is on the line, I’ve got nothing to put at stake. My rule is the stakes can’t be what you need. Because then a die roll determines the story. The stakes have to be, what you’ve give up to get what you need. Now, that doesn’t mean every roll has to end up in a success, there are lots of rolls over things someone doesn’t “need” that I’m happy to set consequences of “you fail, and this happens….” As long as this “this” is interesting and keeps driving things forward. But when you’re only belief that you actually care about is on the line, I’ve got to put something else in danger. In retrospect it should have been something more brutal than a reputation. An archer can’t shoot without fingers right? Or is that just too brutal? The “Burning Wheel” turns on the exchange of Artha. Players give the GM hooks, the GM awards the players with Artha when he uses those hooks. Similarly, the players push their own beliefs, and the GM pits those beliefs against others to see which one wins out, again awarding Artha for the player’s trail. Next session my plan is to either foster other beliefs that will be as meaningful or use that one belief with Heroic consequences.

Overall the game session was a mixed bag. Some really good, some just “meh” and some that I was flat out disappointed with. Still I look forward to next game a lot. The final showdown has been brewing for too long.