Actual Play – The battle of Redvale (5/2/2012)

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

Hah. I loved the beliefs that we have for this game. Baldric and Moya are up to their their normal conflicting beliefs.

Baldric: I can no longer live without Moya. She detests me because of my actions in Kashkyr, most of which is a drunken haze. To make amends, I must first find out what I did. I’ll get the information I need from Afon.

Moya: Baldric’s affections are overbearing and unwanted. I will involve myself with Ayernand to put him off for a while.

Introducing Ayernand

The game started with an introduction to Noam’s character Ayernand. He was in the village as our soldiers approached and Baldric had finally gotten sick of watching people flee before the battle even started (the road had been full of villagers making for the hills).  My goal was to have a powerful and charged interaction with Ayernand. To do this I had Baldric grab a villager and the were leaving and set into him, shouting “how can you flee your homes, when we will go and die to protect them? do you have no courage, no honor?” This of course to a 12 year old boy who had never used a weapon before in his life and would surely die moments after any pitched battle began.

As I hoped Ayernand stepped up in his defense. Said that he was just a boy and the rest. Baldric asked if he too was a coward and would flee and when he said that he would stay and fight, Baldric decided that his man, maimed as he was, would be a symbol of the people. I nailed a conspicuous roll to get everyone’s attention on him and to rally some of the villagers to stay and fight.

Ayernand’s backstory is that he knows Baldric and was sent to fight (where he got maimed) in a battle that Duke Roderick kept Baldric from fighting in. So there was some animosity there to begin with, and then when Baldric did even recognize him, and commanded him to fight on the front lines, that old wound opened and reeked of pus.

Scouting for a beard

While Baldric was dealing with the affairs of setting up camp Moya set out with Ayernand and Afon to go scout the enemies forces. While they found that we were outnumbered almost 2 to 1, they more importantly go to spend some time together.  Hilariously Moya used that time to put the moves on Ayernand.  “So, you seen like a pretty good guy. Want to have dinner in my tent tonight?”

She also saw that there was a single bridge the army would have to cross, not far from Redvale, and a discussion of blowing up said bridge. Woots. Magic. (Ayernand hates magic).

Stand down

Back at the camp, Lord Martin approached Baldric and told him, in short, that he didn’t want to fight, didn’t want to lose his family.  Baldric told him that the fight was happening with him or without.  He didn’t want to fight, so Baldric excused him from his post. Martin was infuriated but what’s a knight going to do?

I made a circles roll and Baldric, thanks to his reputation, found a young and eager farmer named Leon, who he put in charge of gathering supplies from the village (food, tinder, etc).

We didn’t roll and dice here, and I wonder if that is why I felt somewhat uncertain about this scene. I wasn’t really sure what Shaun was pushing for, and probably should have just asked “what does this dude want?” It might have resulted in a DoW or a versus, I’m not sure.

Town council

When Moya returned, we adjourned in the recently deposed mayor’s home to review our strategy. The bridge was the key, we knew that. But the conversation quickly wasn’t about that. It was about the burning in Baldric’s heart that drew him to Moya like a moth to a flame.

A moth she quickly and vehemently batted away. The two argued but it was clear that Baldric’s affections, despite being rejected, weren’t going anywhere. Moya stormed out to go have “dinner” with Ayernand. Baldric was supposed to noticed this, but it only barely registered. Like, he heard it, but it would be a while until he would pick up on it.

Dinner for Two

Moya tried to befriend, perhaps even seduce Ayernand. She wanted some measure of protection from Baldric and thought that hooking up, or appearing to hook up, with another man would do it. The initial invite to spend some nights sleeping in her tent didn’t go over too well, but when she revealed she was the Duke’s bastard daughter and Ayernand realized he would be serving the duke and preventing incest by having dinners in her tent, he relented.

Drinking with Afon

Baldric, confused as to why Moya kept spurning him, had decided that he must have done something horrible while in Kashkyr but he just couldn’t remember what it was. What he actually didn’t remember was that Moya was his sister, but he didn’t know that.

So Baldric went to drink with Afon and try to find out from him, what he had done to drive Moya so far away. Eventually, after many, many, drinks Afon told him that she was his sister. Because the mercenary was avoiding giving him a straight answer for so long, Baldric kept getting the wrong ideas “No, she’s not my spiritual sister under Argent.” “What, are you saying she’s half-dragon?” Until finally Afon blurted out “Your dad banged her mom.”

Baldric’s response. “Oh….” (long pause) “I need to go take a walk.”

Enemy at out gates

Having drunk way too much Baldric and Afon woke up on the hill overlooking the bridge to Moya kicking them both awake. Infuriated that they were drunk, she merely told them to suit up, the battle was upon us.

Bearing the white flag

Once dressed for battle, we waited to see Kentigern’s forces advance across the bridge, where we would cut them off.  Instead the spent a small convoy bearing a white flag. Baldric charged down on his steed to meet them. Moya, seeing he brother in danger, followed suit…

Thoughts on this game

I felt somewhat cynical and upset about the game and it’s taken me a couple days to figure out why. In game this manifested as me teasing the other players for what I considered unambitious or overly cautious play. Teasing isn’t considerate or particularly mature and I shouldn’t have done that.

Here’s what was getting under my skin. I’m totally down with Baldric being hated or reviled, but what I’ve never wanted was a character that was dismissed. There were several times when Moya has undone any of Baldric’s assertions by saying “he’s just a pampered boy” or “oh, that’s just Baldric, don’t mind him”. And that gets under my skin, I’ve never consider Baldric comic relief, or someone to be taken lightly. I don’t want him to be universally loved or followed, but I do think he’s done enough that he should be respected, at least as someone who is dangerous. Instead, he’s been treated like a child throwing a temper tantrum.

Which begs the question is he a child having a temper tantrum? There have been several decisions I’ve made for the character that I thought would serve the good of the story. Someone had to make a folly for things to move forward, someone had to make a move based on emotion, rather than reason, for the story to be interesting and compelling.  Some examples from the last few games:

Example 1: The Hand

When Baldric was prosecuting Afon, as a player I was pretty much at a loss for what punishment to ask for Afon. I suggested indentured servitude because it seemed like a) the thing that would seem reasonable and b) would keep Afon in the game (a apposed to say being locked in the dungeons). Justin was totally not interested in those stakes though, and in that moment I realized I wasn’t invested in his prosecution one way or another. But this was Afon’s case, and to make it dramatic, Afon needed a foil that would be a real threat. Justin wanted his hand on the line, so I went for that. Baldric pushed for the punishment to be to cut the thieves hand off, because Justin wanted that!

That move however, earned Baldric a whole lot of shit from Moya and Afon. I had been trying to portray Baldric as someone who was basically a reasonable person when he was sober, but made really bad mistakes when drunk, and sought to be drunk often because he was miserable. As he tried to “clean up” and at least stay sober for important decisions (like this one), he ended up in the role of asshole regardless. The way I look at is that I was advocating to make another character (Afon) look awesome, and for that I earned my character being cast as a dolt.

Example 2: The introduction

I wanted a charged introduction with Ayernand. As players we had all talked about having these built up animosities with each other. Things that would cause tension between the characters. Ayernand was supposed to hate both Baldric and Moya for his injuries. Baldric because he was privileged and didn’t have to fight in the war that Ayernand got maimed in, and Moya because she was a wizard and it was a wizard’s spell that did the maiming.

We had talked about this as players, we were excited about it, and so I pushed for it. I started off our first interaction by Ayernand seeing Baldric trying to press a helpless villager into service. I wanted to open that old wound immediately, so our characters would start with a charged introduction. I also tried to emphasize that although the characters were fiercely at odds, they were both important to each other, and would butt heads again.  In my opinion, I brought the goods.

Moya and Afon’s introduction, however, was much more moderate. Even with the introduction of Moya’s magic Ayernand was perhaps uncomfortable but still had a mostly amicable relationship. That, on it’s own, seems fine. It doesn’t have the charge of “You’re a witch! I lost my man parts because of magic, get the fuck out of my sight!” What bugged me was that during the discussion it was Baldric that was depicted as a an asshole and a buffoon.

So here’s the crux of it. I play a vulnerable character. He make mistakes, he leads with his emotion, or he does things to satisfy or challenge other character’s beliefs. For instance, I had planned to have Baldric leave Moya alone in the last session, instead focusing on Afon. Moya’s belief however was that “Baldric’s affections are overbearing and unwanted” so I played that up. I had Baldric make more advances, serious ones this time (last time they were drunken sloppy advances) so that Moya would have something to really push off of. This wasn’t done for me, this was done for Kristin, so he belief would feel real.

Going forward

I think we all want to play big, bold characters. The story will be driven forward based on that.  So I think the direction to is for all the players to collectively work on our characters being bold and flawed individuals that are always the protagonists of the game. I think this means sometimes stepping back, out of character, and out of game for a while and taking an author/director stance to make it happen.  Example “Okay, this looks like your character is being undermined. How do we stages this such that either he can regain control, or that the undermining is a big deal and he needs to fight for status, etc.”

Talking to Shaun and Kristin

I hung out with Shaun and Kristin on Friday night. We talked about this for a while and everyone brought up some really good points. Kristin pointed out that Baldric feeling dismissed is something he should bring up, and fight to assert his station. Shaun also noted that this kind of thing has happened in other regards, even perhaps by accident. There is a spell for instance, an incredibly powerful one, cast by a dragon, that was supposed to literally steal Moya’s family name from her. Not like she forgot it, like it isn’t hers and it never was. Unfortunately that hasn’t been observed in game. And so the ALL POWERFUL DRAGON MAGIC has been reduced to a running joke about things the Auley family has forgotten.

I have really good hopes that we’ll be able to address these concerns both between the players out of game and between the characters (in game) via Duel of Wits, versus tests, etc.


11 thoughts on “Actual Play – The battle of Redvale (5/2/2012)”

  1. A great post, Sean, and a good examination as to why we must all, even the most immersive RPGers of us, engage in meta gaming from time to time. There are certain principles to playing an RPG character that have to be maintained at some level and I think you hit on some of them in play. (Not the least of which that if the player’s core goal for the character isn’t being acheived at all, it’s a problem.) I see the main issue being that characters that are dismissed like that in fiction tend to turn out to be antagonists, not protagonists. It’s a direction you might go. Although I like Kristin’s comment that Baldric can just fight for acknowledgement. (See, the perverted player in me might just take to slaughtering a village or two in the process of the war. With perfect jutification, of course. At least on the surface. Ignore me NOW. Go on. I dare you to.)

    1. My concern with escalating is that, without making it clear to the players first what I’m going for, I’m afraid of being a bully and introducing something that another player has been trying to ignore, leave out of game, etc. And when they dismiss it, if I escalate the stakes, I’m just forcing it down their throats. Also, I fear it backfiring. So, lets say I burn a village to the ground to prove a point, what if that only proves that my character is a petulant jerk who wants attention? Having seen children lash out like this, I could understand that reaction as well.

      1. I agree. That’s what the meta discussions are for. Your instincts on that are dead on, there. But who says being a petulant jerk who only wants attention isn’t a valid choice? 🙂 I understand, though, that you most likely have other plans for our friend Baldric. But if you watch Mad Men, Pete Campbell is a hell of a character while being a petulant child. 🙂 If you want to go for heroism instead, be the martyr. Be so damn heroic and self-sacrificing, you can’t be ignored. On one level, I do agree with you checking in with the GM and other players. But afterward, just go for it. Trust yourself. I’ve seen you make some great choices at the table. Keep making them and it’ll be grand!

  2. I think another helpful aspect might be something I overheard at a workshop at the Thespian Festival I just chaperoned down South for Patrick Idleman. Basically, when someone says a fellow actor is “generous”, they aren’t talking about kindness from actor to actor or character to character. They’re talking about giving you something meaty to play off of, which quite often will be confrontational or down right provocational. I think Baldric’s actions are steeped in that. But the fatal flaw (and this is an actual quote that just happens to dovetail with your experience) can be that people in real life often go for the power play of ignoring that which is confrontational or provocational so they do so on stage thinking that’s an authentic reaction. “The cool customer” or “Pretending to not give a shit” or “above it all”. True, it’s an authentic reation, but unfortunately, dramatically, that’s as boring as hell. (So your instincts are valid on a couple of levels.) However, it’s your responsibility to meet that dismissive attitude with that which can’t be dismissed. On stage, if you’re fawning over someone and they’re ignoring you, up the desperation to the point where it’s uncomfortable…shift it to something bordering on *worship* of the other character…watch the actor squirm, and THEN you really have something. And if you’re playing the kind of character that does not one fuck give, push the hell on the subtext of actually *caring so much you might as well be bleeding out*. Just keep upping the stakes and you’ll get the excitement back in there, I think. The meta discussions are great, but I really do think you have to push the hell out of each other, too, to get interesting movement.

  3. See, my approach to this characters first session was to try and take as much of a backseat as possible, since A) it’s that characters first session B) it’s within the nature of that character to defer to people in power (the Dutiful trait) C) there was about to be an epic battle. I figured there’d be plenty of time to get to more direct conflict, but also, generally envisioned a character who must inherently bite his tongue more often than not.

    1. Noam. Just channel Nicholson in “About Schmidt”. Man, did he do a compelling job playing someone who defers!

    2. Listen to me with all my advice. 🙂 Sorry for chiming in. I just love these kinds of discussions, though. Thanks for sharing them, Sean and company!

    3. No reason to apologize Tom. I love hearing your perspective. Noam, I don’ think you did anything wrong playing Ayernand as deferential, but I do want to give him opportunities to legitimately take umbrage with one or both of Baldric and Moya.

      This is a good example though, of why discussing intent out of game is really important. My intention in the introduction scene was basically to give Ayernand a reason to take a swing a Baldric (socially speaking, not physically, though he could have done that as well) rather than to embarrass him. I think this is one of the cases where we should have put it to the dice, so we could have each expressed what we were trying to get out of the interaction (perhaps Baldric going for “making Ayernand accept the position of the “soldier of the people” and Ayernand’s stakes being that Baldric relents to let the child flee with his family, or just that he looks like an asshole for making children serve in the army).

      1. Sorry, hit enter a little too early…Yeah, my character probably has enmity towards all the other characters (probably the least amount with Afon) but I was just trying to move things forward for now. As I said, Ayernand is more the type to clench his teeth than stand up to his social (or puissant) betters. It seems like you wanted Ayernand to confront Baldric from the get go; something that wasn’t explicitly discussed with me, nor something I envisioned for my character. I’m sure more direct conflict will come up in later sessions; there’s plenty of time for that! I agree that more meta discussions amongst the group will help stem these frustrations. Good write up!

        1. Yeah, my bad for assuming that. Sorry Noam. We had discussed our characters all having major grudges against each other, and in my mind I envisioned that coming out early and vocally.

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