Actual Play – The Gift (2/7/2009)

GM: Sean Nittner
System: Burning Wheel

I ran my play-test for the gift on Saturday night. It was great. I had a ton of fun goading the dwarves and elves to fight with each other… and amongst each other. I really hope that I get a full 8 players when I run it at DDC as it will be improved by having the last character.

The Gift is an adventure predicated on a botch. The elves came to congratulate the new dwarven price on his recent rise to the throne, but woops, they forgot a gift. A huge offence in dwarven culture.

I’m not going to go into all the details just in case someone that is going to play in the game at DDC is reading this, but suffice to say, I learned a lot.

This list of what rocked and what could be improved is actually a laundry list of all the feedback I got after the game, so its longer and briefer than usual.

What rocked:

  • The characters as written were primed to go at each other’s throats… and man did they.
  • I had a lot of fun playing back seat to the “nobility” (a.k.a. the players)
  • All of the conflicts were driven by player motivations, nothing I created or forced on them (though I did goad them quite a bit).
  • There were multiple scenes, allowing some decent character exposition (apparently in other games there game is just one big long scene)
  • The Mithril didn’t show up immediately, letting the tension build.
  • We got to see almost all of the mechanics.
  • Everyone had something to do
  • The set up was good (I set up a long table and had some rockin props, dwarven nog and elven mirrorwine, plus a throne for the Dwarven king.
  • The question “who’s got to be an elf?” was a good one at the start.
  • Though the game was all male characters, gender bending wasn’t a problem. We had an Aunt Oxen instead, no problems.
  • Everyone understood their motivation
  • Lots of juicy secrets were buried in the character sheets, a bunch of them came out.
  • We didn’t force to many of the BW fiddly bits, that improved game play.
  • There was a nice slow progression as new things were unveiled.
  • Idea for the actual game. Get two different color pieces of cloth to drape over the “thrones”
  • Players which were uncomfortable speaking over others were still engaged in the game.

What could have been improved

  • I forgot to ask the question “what are you guys looking for out of this game?”
  • There were a lot of times when the players had to ask “how do I do this?” The system needed to be reviewed.
  • Duel of Wit’s needed a better explanation. Including a discussion of how concessions work. Remind people that in arguments, usually nobody wins without some kind of compromise. Give examples of Duel of Wit’s maneuvers. When George Bush junior was asked why he was attacking Iraq he would talk about the dangers we faced in 9/11. That is “Avoiding the Topic”. When calling on reporters he often insulted them “Yeah, you, lanky!” That is an “Incite”. etc.
  • The first scene should be regimented to using simple mechanics.
  • Don’t allow Fight! until the end of the game, if there is time allowing AND the players are feeling up for it.
  • I need to push towards quicker scene resolution. What is the conflict, let’s roll and move onto the next.
  • There should be more, smaller (having fewer people in them) scenes.
  • The characters need a skill cheat sheet.
  • The mithril needs to be brought out by the second scene to give everyone time to go for it.
  • Use Bloody vs. instead of Fight! unless the players really want it (see above)
  • Ask people “are you going to take that?” a lot!

Some of that was a little redundant and/or contradictory because it was suggestions from everyone, but I think there are some excellent nuggets in there I will use.

9 thoughts on “Actual Play – The Gift (2/7/2009)”

    1. Yep, I sent the invite to your hotmail account on 1/28. I figured I didn’t hear back from you because you were busy and the shortly after you were organizing your 7th Sea playtest that I figured was eating up your time.

      Speaking of which, have you run your playtest? Did you end up doing it with Bay Area folk or are you still looking for a time?

      1. Oh yeah, look…there it is! I guess it went in one ear and out the other. Ahh well. I think I’m going to try to play in your game on Friday.

        I didn’t get enough response for the play test, so it didn’t run. The most I had for any posted time/date was 2 players. I’ll just have to wing it.

        1. Ah, it’s 7th Sea, you know that system like the back of your dice rolling hand. I’m sure the game will go well.

          It would be a lot of fun to have you in “The Gift”, the game really needs people who will get passionate about their beliefs, which you would do very well. Only one warning, the game as lots of mechanical fiddly bits and everything that is important is resolved by dice rolls, which is weird because the game is rather LARPy in some ways (or so LARPers have told me) but in that regard it’s totally the opposite. Still, I think you’d really enjoy it.

  1. Twas fun. I do like how quickly the system lets you grab your character motivations and roll (which might be the LARPy feeling part?).

    Sorry if my knee-jerk response to one of my triggery pet peeves made folks shake their heads as we were heading out there. Not at all sorry for my opinion on the matter, but it was late and I may very well have been more vehement than is wise.

    1. Glad you like it and don’t worry, I understand completely what you mean. Most Indie RPGs these days are made out in the open with lots of contribution from outside sources. Luke is an oddball in pretty much creating the game in a vacuum. I think if someone had mentioned it to him, he would have said “oh yeah…there should be women as well.”

      The gender differences I mentioned were kind of out of context. I made a point that men and women had some different options, but in the character burner EVERY decision you make gives you different options, and in most cases if you want something for your character, it’s just a matter of figuring out how you’ll get there with the choices you made. So I think I made it seem more gender divided than it really is.

      Regardless, I’m glad it didn’t impact the actual play, nor do I think it would in another group. Aunt Oxen was great.

      1. Well, given that one review of the Mouse Guard one specifically mentioned the, once common, boilerplate at the book’s beginning along the lines of “nothing is meant by using the male pronoun as neutral, it’s just easier” makes me think it’s more a matter of sheer laziness than actual oversight. Given the huge amount of work that goes into the rest of Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard (and the absolutely excellent examples of how to write gender neutral rules descriptions that I’m reading and can’t share right now), I get annoyed at that. It’s basically saying…’all this stuff over here…that’s worth my energy. Inclusive writing isn’t.’

        I’ll admit, I haven’t looked nearly deep enough into the Character Burner to really comment on how far the mechanics go. But the single example you selected…having kids grants a woman more Steel, is about as offensively stereotyped as a game set in the 1800’s giving black people a lower Int cap, or heck since the Steel is a bonus, a higher Str cap because they were supposed to be inherently dumber and stronger according to the beliefs of the time. Note that I have no inherent problem with *setting* a game in an inherently racist time and place. But backing it up with mechanics that tacitly say the beliefs of that time/place were correct, when they weren’t, that’s problematic.

        But that’s the variety of thing that would have me grinding my teeth all the way through the book.

        Entertainingly, the entire thing sparked a two day running argument between C and I about the ‘correctness’ of ‘he/his’ being considered neutral pronouns in formal writing. Mind you, that’s a reawakening of an argument that has flared here and there for the past four or five years. I think we managed something much closer to an actual resolution this time. So kicking off my sexist radar triggers had at least one positive outcome.

        1. Yay for disagreements leading towards growth. It’s only recently that I’ve realized how much that can happen. Makes me wonder if I should tackle some of the nagging things that I’ve been afraid to talk to people about thus far. Hmmm.

          I think I’m probably burying the whole BW product line in a hole by giving specific examples without context, but I’d encourage you to check it out some time on your own and see what you think.

          1. Oh possibly. The fact that my chances are pretty much nil of working through such a crunchy system anytime in the near future makes my potential moral objections kind of moot. Time constraints mean that there’s largish chunks of Changeling I don’t consider myself to have mastered…and I’m actually playing that regularly.

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