Actual Play – Burning Taramai, part 3 (8/13/2012)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Shaun Hayworth, Kristin Hayworth, Eric Fattig, and Scott White
System: Burning Empires
Planet: Taramai

Oh my, oh my, oh Firefight!

We knew this game was going to have the Firefight that almost happened last session. It was going to conclude the 2nd maneuver, which would most do a major blow to the Vaylen (Gambit scripted vs. Flak). I thought, foolishly that I had some time to built up to it however, so I kicked off a few scenes before the Firefight.

That was a mistake.

Scene Breakdown

VaylenArtoisConflictDuel of Wits with Routhy to make him "willingly" accept an optic hulling in exchange for his other son Micah's freedom.
HumanGraceColorPreparing the outlaws for the fight.
HumanMarcusColorWith Micah in the gardens, given him a medical examination to see if he has been hulled.
HumanMarcusInterstitialWith Routhy. Thanks him for his sacrifice. Tells him that he’ll look after Micah.
HumanGraceConflictOMG Firefight!

The last three scenes I’m shamed to admit I don’t remember very well. We were so damn tired after the Firefight.


At the end of Maneuver the human’s rolled and dropped the Vaylen disposition by 3, they lost 3 as well due to the Gambit maneuver. That left them at 15 and 2 respectively. Not enough to finish off the humans, but we decided we were done anyway. Mostly we were all itching to start World Building a new planet of our own.

The results were grim. We narrated Routhy going in to get hulled (as per his DoW condition), Marcus staying behind for Shoshana and Grace being the only one to make it off planet (Kessling was killed in the firefight).

Thoughts on this game

Firefight did a lot that I liked. Lets talk about that first:

It was unpredictable. Kessling died right out in close combat. He took an H10 wound with no persona (for Will to Live) and like that was dead. It wasn’t a high probability of happening but looking at the dice rolls that happened, it also wasn’t that exceptional (really it came down to the die of fate after he got hit).

There was a lot of back and forth. Trading hails of bullets with each other. I didn’t use the Ammo Check rules (mostly because I forgot until it was too late) but even if I had, I think the number of suppressible fire and direct fire maneuvers would have been tough.

Reducing disposition is TOUGH! I didn’t realize until I did it that you generally need to first create a shot opportunity and then take someone out with that shot to drop disposition. (There are other ways but that seems to be the default way to do it when scripting “Fire” moves).

Starting with a position, as the GM is brutal. You have all the cards. My Vaylen holed up in the most defensible position on the map. Speaking of maps, I was pretty happy with this one.

Having only one leader is very dangerous. The human side lost because Grace got hit, failed a steel test and her disposition was lost. They had no position or other advantages to give them disposition and in the blink of an eye were routed. I like that breaking morale has a huge effect on one side winning, as very few combats are fought to the last man.

The whole thing felt epic. We were talking about dozens of soldiers, multiple buildings, explosions, hails of bullets, and a lot of moving around the battlefield (several flank maneuvers were scripted).

I really, really like that Burning Empires is much more restrictive about FoRKs. In Burning Wheel, I see (and do) a lot of dice mongering. I like that in BE there are only a few skills for any action, and only those will help. It made a major difference if who pulled of what moves, and that shifting responsibility (like you see in Mouse Guard conflicts) is awesome.

Philippe Artois, despite his bureaucratic heirs and ridiculous obesity, still got his thick hands around Marcus’ throat to choke the life out if him. Two injuries, but no maiming.

Specialty actions are awesome! We had demolitions experts, Routhy recruiting said experts, signals warfare, and field medics dressing wounds. Very cool stuff.

What I didn’t like as much:

The whole thing took almost three hours. A lot of that was us just not being familiar with the rules and me having to look up stuff like circles difficulties, field medicine rules, and steel tests. I need to get a PDF copy for faster reference.

There were several times (and this is endemic to BE) where I was torn between advocating for the Vaylen and trying to help the players understand the system. It just isn’t fair for a GM (who already has advantages) that is the only one who knows the rules to be playing as hard as he can against new players. Generally I’m happy to be merciless in Duel of Wits, but as we were all learning here, I pulled back a lot, which led to…

Stalemate. Because the Vaylen grossly outclassed the human resistance it was very, very difficult to reduce their disposition, but because I was having the Vaylen choose sub-optimal moves, the weren’t knocking much disposition off the Humans either. In the end I think it would have been faster (and funner) for me to just play hard and crush the humans in a few volleys.

Clearly, not having the right skills to get into a firefight is REALLY problematic. We saw a lot of beginner’s luck (on both sides), which was cool in the moment (trying something risky) but predictably ended in a lot of failure.

Actual Play – Burning Taramai, part 2 (7/30/2012)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Shaun Hayworth, Kristin Hayworth, Eric Fattig, and Scott White
System: Burning Empires
Planet: Taramai

We started the game doing Artha awards for last session. After that the players discussed what maneuver to take (I had already picked mine before the game). Once we got started playing it was 9PM.  Several of our color and interstitial scenes were quite short but the building and conflict scenes were all very protracted. All this meant we didn’t finish a maneuver this session. My hope is we get fast enough that we can roll them out regularly once we start the new campaign.*

Man, knowing Burning Wheel does not mean you know Burning Empires. I keep having to look up Circles OBs, and what skill to use for things. It’s a good process to become more proficient with the system but slow. And we haven’t tackled firefight yet.  Next session!


I had already picked flak (Artois closing his defenses by hulling slaves and and Dermot making a blanket attack with the tectonic interference device.

Wisely, foolishly, or both, the humans chose Gambit. They are giving up access to the mines where they collect water from (already in short supply in the camps) to divert the Ganesh forces away from the camp while they make an aggressive assault!

 List of scenes

VaylenArtoisInterstitialArgument with Dermot over the Aadau clan's claim over the "stock" vs. the Vibhuuten's plans to hull them and move on.
HumanGraceInterstitialDiscussion with Marcus at the outcast camp. "We need to get them back"
VaylenArtois (via Junior)Building SceneThe hell you will. Junior, infuriated with Marcus and Grace blame them for losing Kessling and Routhy. He tries to kick them out of the camp but relents to keep them if they accept him as the leader.
HumanKesslingInterstitialKessling asks Routhy what to do if his son is a Vaylen. There is no response.
HumanRouthyBuilding SceneRounded up slaves to prepare for the coming firefight. Unfortunately his contact was the Vaylen sleeper Jepard.
VaylenArtoisColorKessling sees Jepard and Routhy planning something and then sees Jepard report back to the Vaylen.
VaylenDermotInterstitialDermot shows Routhy the plans they have for terraforming Taramai and asks him to be his father once more (accepting a Vaylen hydrologist)
HumanMarcusConflictMarcus tries to trick Artois into moving his troops into the mines while the outcasts attack, but is tricked into revealing his love for Shoshanna.
HumanKesslingBuilding SceneBreaking out of his cell, beating up one of the ganesh to recover his weapons and belongings. It's on!


We ended just before Grace leads the assault. Our first shot at firefight next game!

Thoughts on this game

*Given our session length I think we should plan on doing the “2 maneuver per session” scene currency even though we’re just doing one maneuver per session.

Does Flak still get it’s offensive roll against gambit, or is just proper fucked like Rebuttal vs. Feint.

Actual Play – Burning Taramai, part 1 (7/2/2012)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Shaun Hayworth, Kristin Hayworth, Eric Fattig, and Scott White
System: Burning Empires
Planet: Taramai

We’ve been itching for this game for a while. Here is the plan. I’m running a short miniseries where we will answer the question of how does Taramai fall to the Vaylen. It’s a bit like playing Roanoke, we all know it will end in blood and tears, but the question of personal redemption, revenge, and, at it’s core the bonds of family are still left to be answered. The setup is here: Taramai Falls.

I burned up the world, the characters and started the disposition at 18 (Vaylen) vs. 5 (Human). My hope is to play a few maneuvers where we push to a violent and bloody end and then start all over on a new planet, created by the group at large. There are several reasons for this. 1) I want to get the “Kill the fucking worms!” urge out of people’s system. When we start infiltration the game is going to be all about personal conflicts, a world with problems, and Vaylen exacerbating those problems to get a toe-hold on the world. But the problems will be the focus, not the worms. 2) I wanted to jump right into playing so we got some “instant” satisfaction. 3) I want a sandbox to fuck up in. I know I’ll get things wrong (and I did) and I’d rather that not deleteriously effect our campaign. This way, mistakes made can be learned from but put behind us when we start over on a new planet.

The intro to the world is in the link above, so I’m going to jump right into what we did.


I knew the Vaylen were trying to rid Taramai of the last humans on the planet, but the dry surface of the “shell” is inhospitable to the Vaylen themselves. So their Figure of Note, Dermot Routhy, a previous minter, is using his understanding of the planet’s tectonic activity, plus his newly acquired access to Low Index technology to create a TID (tectonic interference device). Read: An earthquake maker.  The way to to use it to destroy the human camps on the surface. To do so though they needed to scout out the camps as well as test out the device.  I scripted Assess for the Vaylen.

The human camp has been making raids on the Vaylen. They are looking for supplies and food, but now, with Routhy (Donald Routhy, Dermot’s father) determined to save his family, and Grace wanting to kill the Vaylen, they have become more aggressive. They don’t just want to hit the camp for supplies, they want to find out their defenses, free the slaves, and otherwise put the hurting on the Vaylen. To do that they need intel, which means some dangerous reconnaissance. Humans also scripted Assess.

The Play is the Thing

I feel sort of obliged to write a description of all the scenes, but I always find that painful. Not because they weren’t good scenes, but it means I’m writing a novel each post. What I want to do is point out the highlights and the turning points in the game. So, I’m going to try and do both. First, a very brief recap of the scenes, followed by where I think the action was:

VaylenDermotColorSetting up the Tectonic Interference Device (TID) in one of the mines.
VaylenPhilippeInterstitialWith Marcus. Giving him an offer of freedom if he convinces the Humans to take a ship offered by the Vaylen and leave the planet.
HumanMarcusColorChecking the "peace offering" to make sure the rations were not tampered with.
HumanRouthyInterstitialWith Grace. Trying to get her to scout the concentration camp his sons are in for "intel". She agrees but only if he becomes the leader of the camp. "We will go tonight."
HumanGraceInterstitialWith Kessling. A bit of roughing up and accusation followed by demands to "scout the camp." Kessling concedes but Graces owes him a favor.
VaylenDermotInterstitialBetween Junior (representing Dermot's interests) and Kessling. "Kessling, this is suicide. He protests but Kessling assures him this is good move.
HumanGraceColorFinds Marcus driving up in a van. Pulls him out of the van outside camp and disarms him, takes him to her "leader" (Marcus expects Kessling, but she's going to Routhy).
HumanMarcusConflictMarcus tries to win Grace over, convince her he's not a turncoat, just doing what he can with what he's got. Grace wants him to use his intel to help raid the camp. Grace wins with a compromise. He'll lead the raid but she has to protect him.
HumanKesslingBuildingGoes to get a gun, has to track it down first to Reno, then to Smiley. Pays him and promises Smiley revenge for his girl dying.
VaylenPhilippeBuildingA hidden camera from under under the Van's bumper emerges to survey the camp. Grace notices something though, and rushes Marcus into a tent. Phillipe underestimates the strength of the camp.
HumanRouthyColorLooking at schematics for building a drilling rig to tap into the planets resources.
HumanMarcusInterstitialWith Routhy. Makes Philippe's offer. Routhy tells him to fuck himself. Marcus tells him Dermot has been hulled. Routhy goes apeshit and says we need to go. NOW.
VaylenPhilippeColorSpying on the camp, getting the wrong informatin. Showing people packing up for the raid and assuming it is their full force.
HumanGraceBuildingInfiltrating the concentration camp (despite heavy security) and getting recon data.
HumanRouthyBuildingBreaking off from the group to look for his sons. Getting caught and presented to Dermot, now hulled.
VaylenDermotBuildingCapturing Routhy and a gunfight ensuing. Marcus shows his bravery. Kessling and his men get caught. Grace and Marcus escape with injuries.
HuamnKesslingInterstitialSpeaking with Philippe, finding out about the offer Marcus never made to him. Begging for it again.


Not surprisingly the building and conflict scenes were where the real excitement was.

I loved seeing Marcus try to win over Grace. We were all sure he’d do it, but I don’t think I quite equipped him to own in DoW like I thought I did. In the end he lost, but with a good compromise. The interesting thing to me was how he played it. Marcus, a fop, was trying to win the support of a hardened soldier. He played the pity card. “Look, I’m soft, there is nothing else I could do.”  It didn’t work, but I thought it was a good approach.  Even though I’m rooting for Marcus to eventually win favor, I was kind of glad he didn’t do it early on. We gotta watch him squirm for a bit.

It was really funny watching Kessling track down a gun. I didn’t think he’d have much of a chance getting something Low Index. He had some tough rolls (Circles Ob 4, Resources Ob 5 (brought down by his bargaining), but he got it. CEBW acquired!

The scene that just broke my heart though was when Routhy broke away from the group to find his sons. And found them he did. Aw, I was so hoping he’d make it out. Tie breakers are a bitch!

Thoughts on the game

Oh, the many ways I fucked this up. Shall I count them

  1. Integrity. At one point Kristin was like “I want to go rescue the sons” and I said “no way, that’s a full maneuver, or a conflict at least.” Then later, when Routhy went to look for them, I let Dermot capture him in a building scene. Partially that is because it was really late and I was tired, but also because Routhy had failed his roll (got detected) and I still had a scene to use for Dermot.  But that wasn’t really fair of me.
  2. Not burning the NPCs. I had to prep the world and the PCs before the game, which was a crap ton of work, so I skimped on burning the NPCs. That was fine when the PCs were banging on each other, but once they hit my dudes I had to make shit up on the fly. I knew they were technically superior, so I gave them really high signals, sensors and security, but otherwise I tried to keep their base exponents around 3 or 4.  I didn’t like it though, both sides gotta play by the rules.
  3. I didn’t like the haughty interstitial scene between Philippe and Kessling. Yeah, he had him captured, but I think he should have done more than just gloat. I just wasn’t sure what to do with it.
  4. Similarly, I didn’t like how I handled Dermot meeting Routhy. He was basically like “one of us, one of us” when I wanted him to still be a bit more “human”.  I have some ideas for this though.
  5. I sucked at announcing failure consequences before the rolls. A few times the were failed and I was like “fuck, I was supposed to set these stakes in advance.”
  6. I really wasn’t sure how to handle failed rolls in linked tests. Because if someone failed the building rolls, I didn’t want to halt the attempt at the final roll, just make it more difficult. So, Philippe, for instance missed his inconspicuous roll (vs. Grace’s observation) so I just narrated that she noticed something and got Marcus out of site, but you know, why wouldn’t she have gone over to inspect it, or destroy the monitoring device?
  7. Rules mastery. whats the resources ob for weapons out of the book? I should freaking know this. How does bargaining work? C’mon, on your toes Nittner.

For all that. We had fun. And some fucking awesome things happened. I’m really looking forward to next session when Dermot starts using his TID blindly (failed Assess maneuver) and Philippe tightens defenses by hulling slaves. Projecting much?

Taramai, The Fall

Taramai is a sub-index (equivalent to 21st century earth tech, no space travel) world in the Karsan League, the region closest to the Vaylen invasion and thus on the forefront of the war.

Taramai is such a small planet that the surface cannot maintain an atmosphere, and is considered an uninhabitable desert wasteland. Only in the valleys is there adequate atmosphere for life to exist.

Valleys now taken by the worms. Every city is now under Vaylen* control. Despite the lack of technology inherent to the planet spaceports are currently under construction and Vaylen Hammer ships rule the skies.

Humanity exists in one of three states. Hosts of the Vaylen, the new rulers of Taramai, led by the scholar Phillipe Artois, the Vaylen hosts work on turning Taramai into a staging points for Vaylen invasions on other nearby worlds.

Prisoners. All those who are have been rounded up into concentration camps are have been left free of hulling (the term of inserting a naiven worm into the base of a human’s brain) to serve as hostages, slaves, and potential hosts.

Outlaws. Though who have literally existed, for many years outside Taramai law. The outlaws still have their freedom because they have found a way to scrape out a living on the planet’s surface. They must, to survive, raid civilized areas for basic goods (food, materials, etc) but they have somehow devised a way to mine water and oxygen from the planet’s surface.

The outlaws have thus far stayed out of Vaylen reach because while the arid surface of planet is inhospitable to humans (and impossible to live on without an oxygen supply), it is actually harmful to Vaylen, who need a moist environment to exist.

Besides humans, the Vaylen have also brought their own genetic creations. Warriors made in test tubes and dropped onto Taramai like a violent parasite that quickly drains all life from its host. As the need for real fighting comes to a close, more and more of the alien creatures are being redeployed to other planets, but key locations are still guarded by then, until the Vaylen are sure the human infestation has been stamped out for good.

Phase: Invasion. Disposition: Vaylen 18, Humans 5

*Vaylen: A race of parasites. When they come in contact with another creature’s central nervous system (particularly with the brain), the Vaylen secrete an electrically conductive resin with which they control the nervous systems of much larger creatures, effectively short-circuiting the “will” of their host. Vaylen farm-worlds have become the concentration camps of the age, where people are harvested as hosts to their overlords.


Routhy (FoN) – Donald Routhy is a union boss that has spent all of his life going in and out of the Merchant Leagues favor. As a boy, he was identified as having a Bright Mark and brought into the foundation, but before his training was complete, his father was caught stealing from the League coffers and both of them were kicked out of the league, left to find their way amongst the laborers and miners.

Routhy took his small knowledge of league politics and found the underrepresented miners and convinced them that, so long as the league didn’t identify them as a union, they were free to branch out into other fields. The stopped supplying ore and started using it to manufacture themselves, narrowly dodging league tariffs and restrictions.

Eventually the Merchant League decided Routhy was more trouble than he was worth and offered him a high position as advocate. He took the job, not for any love of the league, but to protect what had become his family (both literal and figurative). That was before the war.

Now, his world has been torn apart once again. Routhy has lost his wife, father, and two sons to the Vaylen. His wife dead, one of his sons hulled, and the other two captives. Routhy has joined Kessling in the hopes of freeing his family. Routhy has the know-how to turn Kessling’s small operation into a formidable outpost, but who has the time, his father and son may be killed, or worse, hulled at any moment.

Kessling – Kessling is the only non-native human. Born on a low-index ship, Taramai at first seemed like a backwater planet, one which was sorely in need of off-world supplies. Kessling ran afoul of the Merchant League for disrupting their “natural order” and soon found out there was a warrant for his arrest. He protested, called the entire affair corruption on part of the league to maintain their business at the exclusion of all others, and soon found himself on the wrong side of the law. That was before the war.

Since the war, Kessling has found himself trapped on the planet, at first against his will. He was exited to the surface, where he was expected to die. Others outlaws, who had found a way to scrape by one edges of society took him in and eventually, after he helped them raid outposts of low index league technology that improved their quality of living substantially, he became their leader.

After the Vaylen took control of the valley’s Kessling’s surface outposts have become the only place humans can live (if you can call it that) and be free. Suffice to say, the man is not thrilled about taking in refugees who once sent him off to die. Now Taramai is his home, as the fight for control of the planet with the Vaylen rings a chord in his innate rebel nature.

Grace – Grace was a good for nothing kid, always getting in trouble when she was growing up. Her family wanted her to be be a scientist or a doctor. They said she had the mind for it. So instead, she joined the Landwehr, or voluntary military, to be a soldier, like the plant leader Sheva. She did it initially just to anger her parents and to rebel. They never took her seriously, nobody took her seriously, and she was going to show them!

As a soldier though, life was hard. Her first position was scout, which meant a whole lot of being alone, not sure if the missions she was sent on were vital to the military, or just some sarge trying to get her out of his hair and sending her to bum-fuck nowhere valley.

That was before the war. Once the Vaylen were here, and in force, life got a whole lot shittier. Grace never had time to worry if anyone cared about what she thought, she was too busy trying not go get shot. And apparently, not getting shot is enough during war time to get a promotion.

It was Sheva herself, leading an attack on the invaders that addressed her “Private Grace? I need someone to take four men and setup a beacon on that ridge so we can get a read on the Vaylen location… That you Sergeant Grace!” And that was that. She served under Sheva, a remarkable post, one she fully expected to dye serving in. But after the blast, everything when black and when she came to it was Sheva who had been captured and executed, not Grace.


Marcus – Constable Marcus Ballion had done very well for himself on Taramai, before the Vaylen arrived. He was above the riff raff like Routhy, and would have personally seen Kessling out into the wasteland of the surface shell himself, if not for the unpleasantness of the harsh environment. Marcus wanted to be a Lords-Pilot, as many children do, but his family felt him better suited of “softer” tasks, and before he knew it, they had bought him a position of power as Mandarin, and latter Constable of Grass Valley.

“Be careful of your bedmates” is a term Marcus heard bandied around many times, but never realized, until it was far too late, how true it was. His benefactor, Philippe Artois, who helped him advance, turned out to be using him as a pawn to help the vaylen seize control of the planet. When Phillipe revealed his treachery, Marcus was reviled as a traitor as well.

Faced with the options of following that fool Sheva to her death, and siding with the Vaylen (and being allowed to remain himself, unhulled, Marcus chose the path any sane man would. He worked, he kept telling himself, to undermine them, to set his people free. But hey have never seen him as their inside man, they call him only turncoat or filthy worm lover.

Now Marcus has been sent to broker a peace treaty between the Vaylen the small resistance left. The Vaylen want the planet and don’t want to deal with the pestersome raids from the few remaining humans. They are offering a ship for for all of the remaining humans on the shell to board and fly away from the planet, unharmed. All the humans have to do is leave.

Marcus has been given several tools to broker this deal. A comlink to communicate with the Vaylen. A ground cargo vehicle equipped with a huge repository or rations (as a gesture of good will) and a highly advanced medical kit to tend to the aid of the sick or injured (again, as a good faith message). He as also been told that if he fails, the Vaylen are prepared to take extreme measures to secure the planet.

Philippe Artois (NPC) – Phillipe has traded his soul to the Vaylen. They have delivered him a library of high-index wealth, the kind of technology to make you believe in magic again, in exchange for the planet. He wants power for power’s sake and doesn’t care if he is human or worm. He’s walked too far down the road of corruption and betrayal to ever care.

Dermot (FoN, NPC, Vaylen) – Dermot is Routhy’s son and former soldier who served with Grace. He has been hulled and now uses his knowledge of League trade routes, Military organization, and geography to hunt down the remaining humans.

Dermot may look like Routhy’s son, and may even have some of his mannerisms, but ever since the worm took up shop in his brain, he hasn’t been Dermot Routhy. Go ahead and try to convince his father of that!