Actual Play – The Battle of Jordan’s Damnation – (6/17/2009)

GM: Sean Nittner
System: Burning Wheel

We played the last game of Burning Wheel. If you followed the previous AP posts, you know everything was on the line for the characters. Just like the epic battle, and then epic play session (which ran well after midnight) this is an epic AP report. Probably more detail than I need, but I wanted to get in all the last bits.

Also, without me knowing. Two of the players were “live tweeting” the game, which was awesome. I rounded up their tweets and put them as headers for the scenes.

Before I get into the scene by scene breakdown, here are some special rules I used to handle the battle. All of which I think, went over quite well.

  1. The name. As the game was ending Artha was going to mean a lot less as a reward. So I told everyone up front that in addition to getting artha, the person who got the most (persona counts as two, deeds as four) would have the battle name after them. For the most part this made everyone focus on creating beliefs they could complete (which I really wanted).
  2. I wanted to create the epic scale of a battle waging with personal scenes happening in the middle, using the battle as a backdrop. To do this I used the MouseGuard Conflict system, porting to Burning Wheel as follows. Starting Disposition. Roll Strategy + Affiliations and add to Will. I know Affiliations are usually only used in circles rolls, but I felt the strength of the armies present (and there were a bunch of them) needed to be represented. Also because this was the “BIG” fight and I really didn’t want it to end before each of the players had time to frame their personal scenes, I took that total and doubled it. Starting Human Disposition: 18. Starting Orc Disposition: 20. Pretty close. For actions, Attacks and Feints used Strategy, Defend used Command, and Maneuvers used tactics. This really rewarded the two captains in the group for having all these skills. I gave the Humans the following weapons:
  • Arthus with the Orb of Fire: +1s Attacks, -1d Defend, -1d Feint (like an Axe from MG)
  • War Wizards: +1d Maneuver
  • Knights of the Silver Hand: +1d Defend (like staff from MG)
  • Illusionary Troops: +2d Feint (only usable once)
  • The orcs had fewer but deadlier weapons.
  • Blademaster: +1d Attack, +1d Maneuver
  • Shroud of Darkness: +1d Defend, +1d Feint
  • Summoned Doom Guard Demons: +2d Attack
The format for play was that the current general (started with Genn, but changed midway through) would script an exchange (three volleys) and I would script for the orcs. We would then play out one exchange, and each volley different armies were activated (using the weapon bonuses above if they applied. The Alliance had: Gilnean Calvary, Arthus’s army, Leon Musgrave’s contingent of the Alterac Army, Knights of the Silver Hand and War Wizards (commanded only by Captain Luke). The orcs had the Frostwolf Clan (including Thrall), Blackrock Clan, Worg Riders, and The Blademaster. The two captains were able to offer each other aid, but only Luke could command his War Wizards, so volleys including them were scripted and rolled by Luke.

Before each exchange (which was composed of three volleys) and after the final exchange, we had a round of personal scenes where we went around table and each player had a chance peruse their goals using the giant battle as a backdrop.

Round 0 – Before the armies clashed – Heroes

I started by narrating the sound of the war drums resonating trough the alliance camp, met with mixed results of terror and defiance from the soldiers. As the sun lifted up over the sky, a billowing black cloud rolled over the horizon protecting the orcs and preventing the humans from knowing their numbers or their position.

I turned to the general to narrate the alliance side, describing troops preparing the battlements, checking their armor and standing at the ready. His own men were particularly active creating the appearance on an unguarded front, by digging trenches hide in and burying spikes just beneath the ground level.

Luke looked about the battlefield and saw the end of his career in front of him. Let Genn win the battle and he’ll be a hero twice over, allow the alliance to loose and the blame will be placed on him for his prior performance. His only chance for glory was to seize control and win the day. With that knowledge in place of his moral compass, set to sabotaging Genn’s efforts. The player wanted to round up Genn, which I called a circles roll, Ob 3. The consequence for failure was that one of their troops were not ready at the start of the battle (either Genn’s Gilneans or Luke’s Wizards), granting the orcs and advantage die. [Rolled 5 ob 3. Failure.] Instead of commanding his men, Genn was interrupted by his second in command “Lord Genn, the wizard captain is in need of yor succor!” The two captains had a relatively fruitless conversation that ended in “You command your wizards, I’ll take care of the rest.” As the circles roll failed, it did serve to give the orcs an advantage [+1 advantage die].

Meanwhile, down the hill and past the main forces, in a small outcrop of trees, Jordan had assembled the rank and file commanders of the peasant troops. Farmers, herdsmen, potters. All simple people who wanted more than anything to make it back home [Circles Roll, Ob 4 (increased by one to have a favorable disposition), Success!]. Jordan spoke to them of the doctrine of the Light (or at least his version of the doctrine) whereupon every man and woman has equal station as servant of the light, and the peasants would not be ruled over by their secular lords. They peasants looked at each other funny, confused till one said “You mean we don’t have to fight and we can go home?” Jordan smiled in encouragement, on his signal they would break off and flee the battlefield. [Oratory Roll, Ob 4 again, Linked test, circles success offered +1 advantage die, Success!]

Tweeted as: Genn vs The Lich King. EPIC. Genn wins!…his soul.

The billowing cloud rolled closer to Arthus’s army. The shouts of orcs, the howl of wolves and the unearthly sounds of demonic battle cries began to fill the air. But Genn, Genn the General now, was nowhere to be seen. He let out a gruff command “Number two, you get the troops into position, I have some personal matters to attend to” and stalked into his tent. Assuming that Genn had found religion, number two respected his wishes and called them to rally behind him “Stand behind that tower. It cannot fall! Gilneas cannot fall!”

Inside the tent Genn saw his squire, arming for battle. He had somehow scrounged up a leather hauberk that fit well enough and took a blade from the armory, though he was holding it like a hammer. A blacksmiths son, never trained in battle, and eager to die in Genn’s name. It would not be hard to get his wish. As Genn entered the squire made a low bow and departed. Once alone the captain rifled through his belonging until he found, buried under mounds of finery, the mirror filed with his shadowy reflection. “Genn, you are wise to summon me now. I can aid you in this battle. Tell you of the orc forces and how you can defeat them.” Genn was surprised that the figure was so well aware of his predicament, unaware that the boy whose own eyes looked like a shallow reflection, was a vessel for the Lich King as well. Still, he knew this power came at a cost. He could see in the mirror a pale reflection of his former self, withered and a pawn of this great power.

“No, you will control me no further.” Jordan held the mirror up high and sought to shatter it but felt his own arms freeze as his reflection asserted its will upon him. Sweat beading up on his forhead, the tasted of redemption on the tip of his tongue, slowly, finger by finger he released his grip on the mirror and let it go crashing down, shattering all over the floor. Each shard casting back for once a clear reflection of Genn. [Contested Will roll, Genn vs. the Lich King. Genns dice were on fire. Success!] Outside he hear the shrill scream of an adolescent boy “My family! He killed my family!”

Round 1 – Battle (Starting Disposition. Alliance: 18, Horde: 20)

Volley 1 – Attack vs. Maneuver
As the orc worg riders pushed out of the cloud to circle the alliance forces, Arthus’s troops advanced and took the battle two them. [Attack vs. Maneuver. Attack won by two point margin. Horde disposition dropped to 18]
Volley 2 – Maneuver vs. Attack
Commanded by Luke the War Wizards summed up a great hale that beat down on the orcs but it was met with vigor born of hatred and corruption and neither side could gain the advantage. The Wrath Guard Demons cut a swath through the front line, but quickly the alliance troops were able to regroup and hold them at bay. [Maneuver vs. Attack. Tie]
Volley 3 – Feint vs. Defend
From the cloud a summons called, to rally the orcs back together, but in their bloodlust they fell for Genn’s trap. He had intentionally created a fake base filled with empty tents, unused camp fires and other signs of use. Any easy kill in the orcs’ eyes. One they could not pass up. They were unaware however of the archers above them, the caltrops in the ground or the great spikes hidden just beneath the surface. A brilliant play by Genn, but would it be enough to win the day. [Feint trumps Defend. Three successes. Horde disposition dropped to 15]
End Disposition Alliance: 18, Horde: 15

Tweeted as: Battle round 1: Humans:18 Orcs:15 humans have a slight edge!

Round 1 – Heroes

With the battle as their backdrop, each of the heroes framed another scene. Colin’s player arrived, so he joined in the fray as well.

Tweeted as: Jordan splatters a demon! I’m a faith machine!

Jordan’s plan would not be complete unless he freed not just the human peasants but ALL of the peasants. Of course without telling them his plan Jordan rounded up a small contingent of Silver Hand and called them “Silver Hand. To my side!” [Circles roll, OB 5. Success!] With five Holy Warriors at his back Jordan plunged forward into the front ranks of the Wrath Guard Demons. 12’ tall monsters with four massive arms each wielding a wicked blade. As he approached one inhaled deeply and shot out a gout of infernal flames. Channeling the faith of the Silver hand Jordan adjusted a heavy metal ring on his finger. One side inscribed with the Hammer of the Silver Hand, the other with Jaina’s house sigil. He focused all of his faith into the ring until a bright light burned from it and shot forth, carving a hole through the Demon and leaving a smoking husk behind. [Jordan’s faith, with 5 advantage dice from his Silver Hand vs. Orc Summoner’s Blasphemous Hatred in a bloody versus. Success! ] The line broken, Jordan and his men rode bravely into the dark cloud that enveloped the troops.

Tweeted as: Luke fails to convince Arthas. Into the thick of the battle with him! Dagger to the ribs. Ouch!
Tweeted as: Luke takes a hard hit.
Tweeted as: Luke sends fire up the orcs’ behinds.

Just behind the lines, Luke saw Genn struggling to keep control. Or rather, he saw his destiny slipping away. Genn had made a good play, but the false village was his only fallback and he knew the orcs had not shown their main force yet. Risking his own hide, Luke rode out into the battlefield to find Arthus. Like a child throwing a temper tantrum, the young prince was destroying everything that got near him. Luke tried to call out over the din of the battle, but in his battle rage, Arthus could not hear him and cut Luke’s horse down before he recognized his own friend. [Conspicious roll to get his attention. Ob 4. Failure. Goodbye mount! ] Now fighting back to back, Luke shouted into Arthus’ ear “Do you see Genn telling the troops to fall back. We’ll never win the day like that!” Arthus did not understand Luke’s plea for command and thought only that it was a rally to battle. He pointed at the Silver Hand in black armor breaking the enemies lines and shouted “You are right brother. We must take the battle to our foe!” With that he bounded paste the front line into the thick of several orcs, dragging Luke along with him [Persuasion roll to have Arthus give him command. Ob 4. Failure. What the hell Arthus, are you mad? ] Plunging themselves along into the orc lines armed with the sword of fire and Luke’s arcane powers they incinerated foes around them but the numbers were just too much. A rusted and jagged blade slipped under Lukes mail and into his ribs. Arhtus was cleaved from a word rider across his chest. Both warriors were staggered and could press no further until their reinforcements arrived. [Bloody versus. Sorcery with an helping die from Arthus. Failure. Each of them took a Medium wound. Ouch ]

Tweeted as: Genn sucker punches an orc in the face. Sneaky bastard.
Tweeted as: Genn does luke’s work for him

Genn’s player has a pretty awesome revelation. “So I can use Circles to round up anybody, even a bad guy?” and my response was “Sure… and on a failed roll, he’ll get the drop on you instead.” So Genn sought out to find the orc Gorund, as proof of Brighton Perinolde’s involvement with the Horde. One of his lookouts found the orc riding a wolf down in a ravine, circling back around to Perinolde’s camp. They took the advantage and ran him down [Circles ob 5. Success! ] At first Gorund thought Genn (who brought a few of his men) was bringing him payment (human flesh) but it soon became clear it was Gorund who would fry. A capable warrior in his own right Gorund took a crossbow bolt and kept charging. He cut down one of Genn’s men but just as he reached the captain he found a mailed fisted planted solidly in his face. Knocked out, Gorund was tied up and dragged back to camp [Bloody versus. Genn was given an advantage die for his men and both sides FoRKed like mad. Success! ]

Tweeted as: Colin successfully defends Jaina! Hail of arrows for the win!

Colin rode out in the battlefield and saw a group of worg riders about to run the defenseless Jaina down. She was casting an illusionary spell and had to divert all of her attention to maintain that. Seeing her in danger, Colin commanded his men to fill the sky with black and rain a barbed and feathered hell upon the advancing orcs. He succeeded in getting their attention. Filled with hate, the survivors turned their course to charge the archers down [Command versus against the orks, FoRKing in bow, riding, etc. Success! ]

Round 2 – Battle (Starting Disposition Alliance: 18, Horde: 15)

Volley 1 – Attack vs. Defend
The War Wizards, too close to the enemy lines to gain position, began casting fireballs into the Frey, as the orcs finally heeded the call to return to the protective fog. [Attack vs. Defend. Attack won by three, reducing Horde disposition to 12]
Volley 2 – Attack vs. Attack
For a moment the clatter of blades, the grunt of orcs and the shouts of men stopped. It was as though the world held its breath. From behind the lines, apparently chasing a man in black armor, Arthus and his forces charged forward. Armed with blade of fire, his touch ignited the foes around him and rallied his men to victory. But to stand against him, the great blademaster emerged from the cloud. Appearing often in many places at once, he mercilessly cut down the alliance forces. The first major blow to the alliance forces was made. [Independent attacks, Horde disposition dropped to 8, Alliance to 11]
Volley 3 – Defend vs. Maneuver
Genn called the men back to regroup. Arthus had extended himself too far. But the Blademaster would not let the escape. He shattered their lines, cut off their retreat, and finally met his foe on the field. The great Arthus. Even though the princes blade was deadly, you cannot hurt what you cannot touch. The Blademaster appearing on all sides of him converged. Mirror after mirror of the bladmaster was cut down, but the true threat came from behind. The last that was seen of Arthus was a great sword which ran him through. Their prince fallen, the Alliance morale crumbled and the orcs pressed their advantage. [Maneuver vs. Defend. Maneuver won by six successes, impeding the alliance (-1d), gaining their own advantage (+2d), and disarming one of their weapons: Arthus]

End Disposition Alliance: 11, Horde: 8, Alliance morale lowered -1d, Orcs gain position +2D, Arthas taken out by the blademaster (weapon disarmed).

Tweeted as: Battle round 2: humans: 11 orcs: 8 Fireballs, blademasters, Arthas is koed!

Round 2 – Heroes

Dismayed by the loss of their prince, the Alliance troops were losing faith.

Tweeted as: Luke takes command, reforming the lines and helping morale. Jordan’s commies help.
Tweeted as: Luke back in the saddle again. I’m back!

For Luke it was now or never. He was either going to grab hold of the reins and win this battle or lose his chance in the next exchange. Both sides had taken heavy losses and the battle would end soon. He charged to Genn’s camp ready for a fight, but too his surprise the captain was happy to hand over the battle standard. “If you can rally our men, I’ll stand behind you.” The task now became to covey to all that Luke was now the general and to bolster their morale. With a few winning speeches, support from the Gilneans and displays of arcane Might, Luke won their hearts. Now it would just be a matter of guiding their swords! [Command roll, Ob 6. Success indicated the -1d penalty from morale would be negated, failure meant in the confusion would cost them battle readiness and they would hesitate for the first volley of round three, not good. However, Success! ]

Tweeted as: Jordan splatters his own men to win the loyalty of orcs, then makes out with his cousin!
Tweeted as: The stakes are raised for Jordan. He will be tested.
Tweeted as: Jordan, lost in translation.

Inside the bilious cloud, Jordan saw it was like a perpetual twilight, just enough light to illuminate everything in grayscale, making the contrast between his black mail and his fellow Silver Hand knights that much more stark. They pushed forward avoiding the main forces, all the while the paladins at his rear believing they were on some valiant mission to save the prisoners or defeat the orc leaders. Joined by his cousin Jamie (who still wore the skin of an orc) he approached the line of orc peons. “Great warriors” he called them. “Zug zug” they called back. With Jamie at his side however, he tried to translate into orc “All of you are blessed under the light and do not need serve your cruel masters! Come, follow me, to your Salvation!” As Jordan cast off his helm the other Silver Hand recognized him and saw him conspiring with the orcs. Hammer in hand they charged “Traitor!” What ensued was a bloody battle that ended with three of the knights slain by his hammer, one riding off, just has he choked the life out of the last with his bare hands. The orcs however, seeing this violence he would commit upon his own men rallied to his side. [A complicated mess that all came down to one roll. Oratory, Ob 6 (4 normally plus 2 for the translation difficulty). Failure indicated that his knights figured out what was going and ran him down, inflicting a medium wound, allowing one to flee to report what he had found and leaving the last to be strangled to death by Jordan. Suffice to say, even with a helping die from Jamie, he failed. Oh what a cool failure it was. ] Still breathing hard from his battle and now wounded, Jordan pulled his cousin to his side “Just like old times Jamie” and planted his lips upon hers, gorging himself on the warmth of mouth.

Genn returned to his camp to secure the prisoner in his camp when he saw the boy, face filled with tears and a wicked piece of the shattered mirror in his hands, which he held like a knife. “Don’t you dare touch me. You killed all of my family. I will tell everyone. They will make you pay.” The child bolted from his tent and hopped on a mount, chased down by Genn, and not for the first time. The lord rode hard and tackled the boy off of his mount. He crushed him under his armor and as the boy flailed, trying to cut out his eyes with the jagged blade, which unwrapped was even now slicing into his hand, blood trickling down its edge. “Boy. Listen to me. You’re right. What I did was wrong. But I’ll make it better. Somehow. I promise. I’ll take care of you.” [This was the most FoRK’ed persuasion roll I’ve ever seen. Including riding, command, brawling and a few others I forget. Success! ]

Tweeted as: Colin got Jaina out of the wolf riders with a ram. wtf?
Tweeted as: Isn’t that the way Jaina always goes, with a ram……..

Colin faced the wolf riders and prevailed. Losing his mount but saving Jaina atop an Alterac ram . Seeing that her spell had served its purpose, Jaina was snapped to her senses and teleported her and her savior to a hilltop beside the battlefield, where she could see Jordan below, his indiscretions with Jamie and his coming battle with Uther. Suffice to say, she was brought to tears and called Jordan her “once bethrothed”. [Bloody versus against the Ork worg rider. Success! ]

Round 3 – Battle (Starting Disposition Alliance: 11, Horde: 8)

Tweeted as: Luke split the field with fire. lots of death!

Volley 1 – Attack vs. Attack
The Wrathguard demons swarmed forward, cutting down Glinean, Arathi, Alterac and Lorderon troops alike. Yet under Luke’s command, the troups held their line, pushed back the demons and set upon their masters. As the soliders charged into the dark mists, Luke divided his war wizards placing them at either side of their front and with one combined ritual summoned two titanic axes of fire that cleaved through the cloud, burning it away and slaughtering lines of ocrs, forming a giant X through their forces. Routed, the orcs fled, abandoning their cave. Luke had one the day! [Alliance disposition down to 3, Horde to -3]
Volley 2 – Feint vs. Defend
[Not played out, battle over, but would have gone worse for the orcs]
Volley 2 – Attack vs. Feint (ooh, poor orcs)
[Also not played out, battle over, but would have been a total decimation if Volley two didn’t do it]

End Disposition (after Volley 1) Alliance: 3, Horde: LOST

Round 3 – Heroes

Tweeted as: Jordan got schooled by uther, then tried to put out uther’s eyes with his fingers…and failed.
Tweeted as: Jordan loses his dice, marbles, (choose your weapon)

Jordan, mounted back on his black horse and rode to the front. Just as he broke from the cloud, he summoned a great column of light which bathed him in gold, signaling to both the orc peons and the human peasants that they time was now and they should flee the battlefield. Although this did not turn the tide of battle, it did garner the attention of Uther Lightbrniger. The giant of a man charged his warhorse from his unit, for once forsaking his duty for personal vengeance. He rode down Jordan and the two paladins faced each other, Hammer’s at the ready. Each of them seeking to prove they were a better man shouted accusations at the other, Jordan sought to make Uther see his version of the light and follow in his path of salvation for the peasants. Uther, shouted back that Jordan was mad and should fall upon his own blade as redemption for his sins. As they spoke it became clear that Uther would not be phased, Jordan’s argument could not touch his ears [My first every total KO on a player in a Duel of Wits. Jordan lost without dropping a single point off Uther’s body of argument ] Unwilling to accept defeat, Jordan charged forward and lunged into Uther, knocking both men off their horses. Jamie had caught up with them and she tackled Uther as well, ripping off his helm. Jordan pulled Uther’s hair back and lit his fingers with a burning Light before he plunged them into Uther’s eyes. “The last thing you see will be my Light, Uther!” Uther winced and gripped his faith like a shield. It was then, for the first time, the Jordan’s Light failed him. His faith lost, he had failed. [Contested faith rolls. Jordan’s stakes were to burn out Uther’s eyes. Uther’s was that Jordan would lose his faith. They both had identical dice pools. Uther won out by a single success. Jordan is damned! ]

Tweeted as: Genn almost gets his head blown off! Then a demon tried killed every one.

Seeking in his final moments to gain favor with the Dwarves, Genn moved his men to their aid. As their siege weaponry was damaged, he offered up his men to protect them while they repaired it. The dwarves however, had seen the riches of Alterac and had been bough off by Brighton (thanks to that dwarven greed). As a canon was repaired, it was leveled on Genn instead of the orcs “You’re body will catch a handsome prize, even without the head!” Before the dwarf could fire however, one of the Wrath Guard demons, no longer under control of the orks charged through their line, cutting at human, orc and dwarf alike. Genn could not gain their favor, neither did he loose half his face in the process. [We were all itching for super high stakes so his were a bit more inflated then they should have been, success is that he would prove himself to the dwarves, failure they would destroy his face, leaving him ugly and maimed. We got a tie, however, and the demon sowed enough chaos that neither achieved their goals ]

Luke personally rode to the field to rescue Arthus, wounded but still alive as the orcs were fleeing in every direction.

At the end of the game we added up Artha and Jordan won by a landslide, the player chose the battles name: Jordan’s Damnation!

What rocked

The players started by reworking their beliefs to be strong ones that would really push what mattered to them, and could be accomplished in the battle.

Most of the conflicts were really charged, all of the players pushing for their goals. Fate and Persona was earned on nearly every belief.
The backdrop of a great battle is just an awesome place to frame scenes. There is a never a lack of a fight, a deserter, or a message to carry. I really liked how our army mechanics set the tone for the personal scenes.

The conflict system from Mouseguard worked great. Handling special troops like weapons was perfect, especially because they could be neutralized. This part was just as good as the personal scenes.

I was really tired by the end of the game, and was struggling to find a good compromise for the Alliance forces (brought from 18 disposition down to 3). It hit me that affiliations should be lost, so I took a bunch of the players dice (which were color coded and the same size) as well as some of my own to represent the other armies and put them in the dice cup. I then and Luke’s player pull half of them out and those were the affiliations (in this case all military forces) that were lost. I was pretty happy with that resolution as it had a major impact.
Faith Lost, Fire axes the size of trees, Illusionary troops, The blademaster vs. Arthus, and an ton over other killer scenes. I’d watch that movie.

What could have been improved

I forgot Colin’s archers in the losses. Of all forces, surrounded by orcs, his should have been a gimme.

I forgot to bring Brighton or Gavin into the fight. The players set it up so they wouldn’t be present. Which is cool, but they could have made nice stakes for a few conflicts.

We never had a Fight! There were a bunch of skirmishes and bloody versus but never a fight that really mattered. I guess that is okay, but I was hoping we’d get a really brutal battle at some point. All good, the characters came out of it messed up anyway.

We got a little too excited about having BIG stakes and I think set Genn’s last one too high. I was happy he didn’t lose that one.

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