Actual Play – Burning Wheel (11/26/2008)

GM: Sean Nittner
System: Burning Wheel

This report is coming a bit late because of Thanksgiving and having to work this weekend, which is really a shame as a lot happened in the game and I don’t think I’ll remember all of it.

Julian – A peasant conscript who is getting in over his head.
Jordan – A paladin of the Silver Hand who’s righteous temper is going to earn him a court martial.

Wow, I’ve been told before that Burning Wheel rocks, but I didn’t realized quite how much until I ran it. I’m in love with this game. Also, we only used the simple mechanics for the first game (as per Luke’s suggestion). So even though there were wounds I didn’t use DoW or Fight mechanics, we’ll get to DoW next session and then in a session or two I’ll do range and cover and fight. I guess I should be more specific and stop gushing.

What rocked:

The advancement system – players love to check boxes and see things progress. Experience points are so nebulous, but ticking away at box and seeing your character progress is awesome. There were some bits of confusion here, see below.

Character driven plots – I started the game with one conflict. One of the characters discovers a fallen knight, who will prompt them to a certain action (which hasn’t even come up yet) but there will be complications making that action difficult. This was a conflict I knew all the characters would have some interest in and would have a pretty high level of urgency. No action = tragedy. Wrong action = heroism and tragedy. There is not right action.

So, this seemed pretty cool, I was excited about throwing it player’s faces, but before I could even get the far, Jordan goes off and kills some foot soldier in cold blood! It was awesome. The player totally played up the “Psychotic” trait along with his beliefs. I think it just goes to show that Strong Belief + Psychotic = Axe Murderer (or in this case Hammer Murderer). Now the story is taking a very different direction. There will be a trial, which will be quick and decisive. I don’t know what the player is going to set for his body of argument, but I’ve been thinking about what the Sergeant of the soldier wants… and it’s brutal.

Also, the supplies are dangerously low. It just so happens that a peons motivation to keep the army well stocked and a powerful Lord’s desire to trump Arthas are in alignment. However, will the Julian get himself in a shit load of trouble or will he end up with a leg up on Baron Pererolde? Hell if I know, I guess we’ll find out next session. Both of these plots just sprung up in the game, and both of them in some ways tie to my original conflict. Friggin awesome.

Consequences. Every test has a condition. “If you fail this roll, this happens.” That condition has made the game brutal and it has also made me very aware or superfluous tests. If I can’t think of something that happens should a test fail, then it is a very clear indicator to me, there probably shouldn’t be a test at all. Every time a skill or attribute is tested, the character will learn something, this makes tests somewhat precious and not to be doled out without purpose. So far the tests have been things like “or else you will throw out your back”, “or else the soldiers will beat the hell out of you”, “or else the lord will not trust your sincerity” and my personal favorite “or else you’ll get lost in the woods and find something really scary.” This game is merciless and I love it.

Circles. This is a mixed bag. I like the rules, but I was disappointed in my own execution. We’ll see how it goes.

Die Pool modifiers – I really like that things like getting help, using a Field of Related Knowledge, making a Linked Test or lobbying for an advantage die make a huge difference. When you’re rolling 3 dice, adding even one really changes the odds. And similarly, being wounded, in the dark, etc, really hurts.

NPC evolution. Sergeant Aaron the asshole was basically the result of a circles roll. He is now going to be a thorn in Jordan’s side forevermore. Unless of course, Jordan just kills him… that will make things simpler… sure it will. Point being, this asshole didn’t even exist until play started and now he’s a pivotal (or at least important) character.

The sides are uncertain. I could sense that Jordan really wanted to call the entire Perenolde camp the bad guys, but things are more complicated than that. Some people do just need a good killing, but most of the characters are too dynamic to be simply good or evil. We save the simple kill for the orcs… yeah, because that has never been complicated.

Intro movie clip. I found a cool clip from 13th warrior that I felt would adequately portray the battle between the orcs and the humans in Strathbad that happened the night before the game started.

What could have been improved:

My execution of circles was poor. Jordan made the roll and I didn’t deliver. It will be amended next game.

I was a little shaky the beginners luck rules, when does it qualify as a test for an attribute and when does it add to the practice log for skills. I’ve got it figured out now but I messed it up a couple times in the game.

Jordan shined really brightly (literally and figuratively) but I don’t feel like I gave enough attention to Julian, the peon. I’m hoping to rectify this.

The game has a certain rocky start because I was expecting another player (Jordan’s childhood friend turned rival) to be in attendance. Le sigh. Day before Turkey day, what can you do.

I’m still not sure if I handled wounds correctly. I doled out a couple superficial wounds when it seemed appropriate. Even “superficial” however, are pretty serious. A crack rib and a deep gash in the shoulder, not something you can ignore. In general I wanted to engage more of the rules than we did (for instance when the paladin was running from the undead creature, I wanted to use the range and cover rules) but found that keeping the first game simple was adequate.

So, as you can probably see, I loved Burning Warcraft, I’m looking forward to Wednesday.

Also, see buffaloraven’s report on it here: