Actual Play – Cut off his thieving hand! (4/11/2012)

GM: Shaun Hayworth
Players: Sean Nittner, Kristin Hayworth, Justin Dhiel
System: Burning Wheel
Setting: Burning Theorsa

This game was a pivotal one for the characters. Baldric and Moya had been allied in their cause since the beginning of the campaign. They both served the Duke Roderick (who also happened to be their father) and sought worked to put the heir Owain onto the throne of Theorsa. This is a crazy bold mission, one that has sent them all over the world and consumed the last year (and change) of their life.

Their companion, Afon, however, really, really doesn’t care about that mission. Like he actively could give a shit about it. His only tie to the mission, to the characters at all was his old friendship with Moya. At times he has sworn allegiance to various patrons, but (to steal a little bit from Martin) words are wind. As Baldric’s squire for instance, he never actually served him. In fact the idea of serving Baldric was so alien to him that the one time the knight asked him for a sword, Afon just looked at him dumbstruck. Until he said “you know, like squires do for their knights?”

For a while this wasn’t a problem, either for the characters, or the players. Even when the characters were infuriated, that wasn’t a big deal. I mean, our characters are always infuriating each other. But eventually it’s started to cause a problem for me as a player. One thing that I think makes a game VERY strong is having a common social construct that the characters are all invested in. Dogs in the Vineyard is fantastic in that it asserts that all the PCs are Dogs, and that they all care. When I ran my Burning Warcraft game, it rocked so hard because the characters were all invested in Arthas, and his quest. The other night, we were talking about how “teenagers in high school” really doesn’t bond the characters together nearly as much as “teenagers in a rock band”. One is something forced on them (they have to go to high school), the other is something they chose to do, and that choice makes the difference.

As a player, I was getting frustrated because I realized we didn’t have a common bond between our character, or in fact, any bond at all. This had manifested in the game in the form of neither Afon nor Baldric caring about the other one, and even being quite willing to kill (or at least let die) the other.

So… now fast forward to the current situation. Afon has stolen from Baldri’s brother Aeric. Aeric wants Baldric to hold Afon down so he can cut off his hand! Thinking in character my first impulse was “Yeah, he’ll totally do that.” but that wasn’t very satisfying for me. Cutting off Afon’s hand is not the way to bring the characters in line. So, instead I thought about the knight Baldric thinks he should be and opted for these two beliefs:

Belief: By Argent’s Tits! I’ve let the spirits get the better of me and now my brother is about to cut off Afon’s hand. I must be a better knight than this. I’ll convince Aeric to stay his anger.
Belief: Ferros’ Bent Nail I hate Afon and his self-serving insolence. I’ll find out the cost of his loyalty, by sword point if need be.

I also emailed Justin about where these came from, and what I wanted as a player: for our characters to find common ground. We went back and forth a bit, over text and just before the game, and he came up with this belief, which to me was all that I needed.

Belief: I know no road to follow anymore but the one my sister-in-arms know. I must be worthy of following Moya and make a sacrifice to her cause.

The play is the thing…?

That said, this game was really more about our characters bonding that, the amazing events that happened.

We started with a Duel of Wits between Baldric and Afon to try and get him to cool his heels and let justice be measured out by trial (and not trial by combat).  Baldric won with the concession that he be the prosecutor.

The trial itself, because we just had had a DoW to make it happen, was handled as a versus between Baldric and Moya. Moya won, and Afon kept his hand, was given an apology even (her case being that he didn’t steal them but was trying to keep them safe for Aeric).

After the trial, Baldric and Afon were left alone in the yard. We had what would have been called an interstitial scene in Burning Empires. I’m not sure if I led off with “how can I ever trust you?” or “what makes you tick?” but the results were the same, Afon revealed that the only thing that he was loyal to was Moya, she was his sister and because of his bond to her, he would follow her anywhere. Baldric is in love with Moya (though he only admits that when he is drunk or thinks he is about to die), so for him, that’s good enough.

After that Afon, Baldric, and eventually Moya got drunk in a tavern outside the keep. Badric boasted of his prowess with the blade, danced with patrons, and got silly drunk. Moya and Afon snickered about the knight and found their peace as well, agreeing that their bond to each other was enough to carry them through the tough times ahead.


The game started with a letter from Moya to Lord Galen requesting his presence at Duke Roderick’s castle and ended with him arriving and treating with us. Though he wanted Moya as his war wizard Baldric made the plea that he should accept Duke Catamere’s soldiers in her stead, as Roderick needed her to fight off the inevitable advances of King Kentigern.

Just as the alliance was made and as we toasted the doors burst open. My lords! Redvale is under attack. The King is at our borders!

Thoughts on the game

Though the plot did move forward, I was really, really happy with the character development. Afon and Baldric’s relationship has been like a broken record. I’m glad to see it changing.

I’m also glad the game has mechanics for awarding characters for changing. Afon earned both “Moldbreaker” and “MVP” for this game. Deservedly!

I’m looking forward to a trait vote. Some things need to change on our character sheets and want a big honking reputation for Baldric!

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