Actual Play – Octavian Offensive (4/4/2010)

GM: Shaun Hayworth
Players: Sean, Eric, Travis and Kristin
System: Burning Empires

We ended up gaming on a Sunday night because I would be out of town during our normal game time (minor detail: wife’s birthday). The game suffered some of its usual starting late plus low energy as the night progresses issues. We didn’t do our belief review, which isn’t a big deal on its own but it means next session will start that much later. The more I play the more I think Burning games need to be treated a little differently than most RPGs. Usually you set aside game time, game time that is used ubiquitously for pre-game bullshitting, setup, actual play, tangents, breaks, eating, post-game rewards and wrap up. Since in most of these games almost any of these steps can be skipped or at least shrunk down (example: “okay, tonight you guys killed about 20 orcs, so you get 1000 xp each”) we don’t worry much about fitting them in.

Burning Empires includes a few other mandatory components: Belief review before game, maneuver planning, managing a scene economy (which sometimes means everyone going down the checklist to make sure everyone got their scenes in), maneuver rolls, and Artha rewards. I separate Artha rewards from the standard “post-game rewards” because it’s one of the more important parts of the game and can take a fair bit of time.

Given that and the Maneuver details, Burning Empires really needs to be played in a more structured fashion. If we’ve got three hours to game that means two actual hours of play with a half hour on either end for the game prep and wind down.

And now, on with the show…

Locke’s Beliefs

Beliefs from last game that changed:

  • I can’t be court marshaled if Kesling needs me. I’ll deliver him the rebel’s on a silver platter. (Completed/Persona)
  • Gorrey is a loose cannon. I’ll convince him to play ball with the nobles. (Tried and failed/Fate)
  • We cannot defeat the Vaylen if we are at war with the Darikahn. I’ll see that Kesling calls his dogs off Ambassador Raj. (No Change)

Beliefs as of this Maneuver:

  • I can’t be court marshaled if Kesling needs me. I’ll help him find a new Anvil lord. The person I’ll find is Roderick.
  • Gorrey cares about face with the blues. I’ll show him how mindless they are by finding a defector.
  • We cannot defeat the Vaylen if we are at war with the Darikahn. I’ll see that Kesling calls his dogs off Ambassador Raj.

Maneuver 6

(H) Gorrey (Building): Gorrey works on finding a replacement for Octavia. He rounds up an employee with a similar appearance (Jenny) and offers her the “Employment for life contract”. With a little help from Locke, she agrees and becomes his Octavia double.

(H) Misha (Interstitial with Locke): Misha shows Locke all the evidence against Gaius that it has found and asks him to present it to Kesling. Gravely (knowing how much this “ghost hunt” upsets Kesling) Locke agrees, but only on the condition that Misha speak well on behalf of Ambassador Raj.

(V) Kesling (Interstitial with Roderick): Kesling speaks to Roderick over the holocom and offers him a letter of mark to intercept any Darikahn trading vessels that enter proxerian space as they are in violation of the cease fire. Roderick gladly accepts.

(H) Gorrey (Color): The Locke estate is empty… all the blues are gone.

(H) Locke (Interstitial with Kesling): Meeting the war room, Locke tries to use his recent successes to frame an argument for more peaceful negotiation with the Darikahn but is cut off by Kesling who has more “urgent” matters that need attending. The Anvil Lord’s chair must be filled and he wants Locke to find a Lord amongst the rebel line to take the position. Reluctantly Locke holds his tongue and consents.

(V) Octavia (Color): Ammo boxes are being loaded onto Anvil Grav tanks and she consults with her number two “Kesling will never see this one coming.”

(H) Locke (Building): Lock works on securing an Anvil Lord. He finds Lord Tyson and offers him the position. The Lord still has most of his marbles (or has lost all of them) because he accepts.

(H) Roderick (Interstitial with Misha): Roderick offers to help Misha. He in fact will be her deputy in taking down Octavia. He asks for some ancient relic called a “badge”.

(H) Misha (Color): A somewhat confused Misha finds a jeweler to make a “badge”. Much laughter ensues.

(V) Gaius (Building): After the meeting in the war room goes over the reports “Too bad we need more fuel that we’ve got…” He fudges some numbers and suddenly the Hammer is on rationed supplies.

(H) Misha (Building): Builds up her forces to take on Ocatvia. In the War Room again she gets emergency funding from Kesling, finds an officer to orient Tyson to his new role as Anvil Lord before the fight and coordinates the Hammer, Anvil and Squad 113 forces to oppose Octavia.

(H) Gorrey (Building, continued): Rallies his civilian to raise morale.

(V) Gaius (Building, continued): Peaved, he releases the funds to needed for the offensive but warns Octavia of the fight. He decides to leak the information to the press so there will be demonstrators in the middle of the fight.
(H) Roderick (Building): Rounds up Shavash (his Kerrn crew member) and offers him a job as gunner, but to take it Shavash has to do his first tour outside the ship. On the fucking hull! He agrees. Madness!

(V) Octavia (Conflict): Her anvil forces storm the palace. They are defeated but not without a lot of civilian casualties.

Maneuver Roll: Pin vs. Flak. Our efforts stop Octavia’s offensive but Gaius succeeds in turning the whole event into a financial fiasco, limiting our efforts in the future.

What rocked

Locke keeps being this close to being able to approach Kesling and get some forward momentum going to improve Darikahn relations. He’s brought him the rebels to heel, found an Anvil lord, quashed Octavia’s treason and even curbed the aloof behavior of the Proxerian fuel magnate. He’s done so much to prove his worth, he just needs and opening to challenge Kesling on his policy regarding the Darikahn. It’s pretty groovy!

Misha is a tough character to warm up to. Its got the whole “Serious as a heart attack” shtick that doesn’t give outsides much of an idea as to how to interact with it. In this (and the last) maneuver Misha has become a lot more connected to both Roderick and Locke, which is cool for the story and more fun for me because our characters have more to do together.

The “badge” novelty was great. Misha’s big show about finding one and then Roderick waving it around was just awesome.

What the hell? Ride on the back of my spaceship? I mean yeah, he’s a Kerrn, but that’s just crazy. And he did it!

What could have been improved

So far Firefight is really unexciting to me. We’ve had four so far. Roderick had a ship battle that was pretty lopsided. Misha ran a ground assault that was pretty lopsided. Misha had an extended “I corner him and stab him in the face” that was actually pretty close but also we ignored some of the rules because they didn’t seem to make sense but my experience is that isn’t a good idea in Burning Wheel/Empires. Finally I really wanted to lead this one. It seemed appropriate. I was wanted the role of commander specifically so I could call out individuals to take heroic actions. As it is the game has all these stats for different weapons and vehicles and what not but it felt like very little of that mattered. We made some very high level executive rolls and the individual actions either did nothing or seemed grossly overpowered. I’m going to re-read the rules, It feels like we’re either making something too simple or too complex.

Kristin was really tired by the end of the game and had to work the next morning. I felt like a jerk dragging the game out but it also didn’t make sense how we could end it early. Just a case of not allocated enough time.

There was some tension in the end about who would call a conflict (Octavia or Misha), who should lead it (Misha or Locke) and what happens when two people have different objectives (Misha and Gorrey). I was frigging wishing we were playing Agon just then. Who is first to the punch? Roll Name + Grace. Who is leading the fight? Roll Name + Orate. Can Gorrey switch Octavia at the end with her double? Roll Name + Cunning. Who wins the fight? Use the cool battle mechanic where we all get to kick ass and take names. Would Agon have really worked for this? No, not really. But it feels like the Burning Empires method of resolving such questions is uncertain. I was pushing for some versus tests, but it could have also been Duel of Wits. In the end we all settled, which we shouldn’t be doing unless the dice tell us we have to.

Travis is retiring Gorrey. I understand why. The character is supposed to be the Figure of Note in this phase and has mostly been ignored by the other characters (PC and GM). So, he’s bringing in someone new. He excited about the new character and I think it will be cool too, but I’m bummed about losing Gorrey (at least as a PC) because Locke and Gorrey were really starting to gel. We had beliefs about each other and spent a lot of time together bantering back and forth. “See Gorrey, they blues are mindless” … “Uh huh Locke, you’re estate looking a little shabby after all your workers didn’t show up today?” It was good stuff.

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