Actual Play – The Gift (2/12/2011)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Mia, Eric Z, Fattig, Mary, Shaun Sub One, Karen, Matthew and Luke
System: Burning Wheel

Yay, The Gift! I love running this game, and this time it was a birthday present, so it was even extra “gifty”

Here’s some pics of the game:


I did a few new things with props this time (every time I run it, the game get a little heavier on the props). This time I added a crown (visible on Matt’s head in the picture above). Gold, red, gem encrusted and really gaudy. Perfect for the Dwarves I thought.

Also, I made some nice folders for the character sheets (red for the dwarves and blue for the elves), which had the character sheet plus the trait/skill reference sheets (who knows what “Song of the Ages” is anyway?). I tailored the Fight! sheets to put a box just around the Fight moves so it was easier to ignore all the positioning, stance and other options. This was done as per Luke’s suggestion to ignore stance and positioning in a intro game.

I had a bit of fun with the cups too. The Dwarves got root bear (dwarven nog) to drink out of their bottles. The elves however had sparkling water (elven mirror wine) but didn’t bring glasses, instead the relied on the dwarves hospitality to provide them. So I gave Uncle Oxen for plastic red cups (frat boy style) to give them as “goblets”. Yeah, that went well. *evil grin*

The payers themselves were quite prop-ful in their costumes. I believe all of the players came dressed in their appropriate colors, or were later garbed in them thanks to Mary bringing and extra coat.

Enter the Dwarven Halls 

I’ve realized in this game, all I need to do is start the fire under everyone’s ass and they will take it from there. Here are the three ways I mess with them, they work every time. First, I make huge showing of the gifts that clan Narn (some unimportant NPC dwarves) give to Prince Vost. Man do they just shower him with riches. This means the Dwarves are always alert to the fact that the Elves didn’t bring crap. Next, and this one is usually done by the PCs but I still stir the pot. The elves always think about singing a song, which inevitably ensorcelles the dwarves in wonderment and someone always loses it over that! Lastly, if the every seem to be getting along, forgetting about their age old grudges and generally seeing eye to eye (or eye to chest as the case may be), I dump the mithril armor on them like an atom bomb. That always makes the game go boom… and it did!

What rocked

We have some new players of all ranges. Several had never played burning wheel, one had only played a handful of RPGs (and certainly nothing as crunchy as BW) before and finally we had one completely new gamer in the mix. On the other end of the Spectrum we had Shaun and Eric F who have all played in campaign length games. That said the game ran smoothly throughout. I’ve finally accumulated enough system knowledge (with a bit of help from Shaun) to run the game without referencing the books. Also because so much of the game isn’t directed by me, I had time to stand over people’s shoulders and help them figure out dice pool, determine if they should spend Artha, etc. Overall, it was great to see new players in the game.

The “dwarven goblets” were great. Definitely adding that prop in again next time. Same with the crown.

Matthew played this “Yosemite Sam” version of Prince Vost. A strong “Wut’s ‘dis here?” kind of voice. Add that to opening up his nog with his eye socket, then slamming it on the table (spilling it everywhere) and tossing his cheese rind on the table (all actually done by the player) and he was this crazy over the top boisterous prince. My only concern was that he was having so much fun it would be infectious, but instead it did exactly what I hoped for, made all the other three dwarves feel like they needed to “instruct” him the whole time. It was perfect.

Karen loves the low status, subject to panic attack character and she found it in seneschal Kol. Not only was he trying (unsuccessfully) to moderate the prince, but he also lost his marbles with the mithril appeared. Upon seeing the mithril, her first reaction was perfect: “We accept your gift!” Watching her trying to hide that greed and keep it under wraps, while nearly melting under the pressure of NEEDING THE MITHRIL was great.

Shaun rightly pointed out that playing Uncle Oxen is tough. He really is in the difficult position of trying to pry his favorite cousin free from the grips of the seneschal and the warden, while still maintaining honor amongst his people. To that end, he did some great things, one on which was making the most sumptuous meal imaginable (apparently made from doves and mermaid flanks) to keep the peace (which really nearly worked if I wasn’t such an instigating bastard). He also saved the princes life when his arm got chopped off by the captain, which was FANTASTIC.

Mary’s line pretty well encapsulated the entire game, infact, the entire scenario for that matter. “TIME FOR DIPLOMACY IS OVER!” She was so quick to take that bow, I loved it. And kept reminding me of her instinct to always have an arrow knocked. It was Mary, as the ranger, who pointed out how the Dwarven prince “assaulted” her prince (when he grabbed his mithril clad arm in awe) prompting the captain to chop off his arm. Then later, she realized what a sneaky bastard her character was and rigged the final trial… nearly giving her prince the win.

Fattig, like Karen played the pained advisor. Unlike other Loremasters however, I finally saw one taking his proper authority and putting the price in his place. They were in jail (for the aforementioned arm removal) and the he told the prince flat out “peace with the dwarves is worth more than your mithril armor. Give it up boy!” Then, he took the consequence that he would accept responsibility for botching the whole mission (by forgetting the gift) once the prince took the throne (potentially a long time to wait for sentencing).

Eric, as the prince blew me away. Like a lot of the well meaning princes, he endured a lot of the dwarven crudeness (like the hall of death and butchery, aka the hunting lodge they were given as quarters) but when the final trial was announced, and single combat would ensue, he took up the sword in the place of his captain to save him from the grief. The tragedy there, of course was that when he died, the captain was wracked with grief just the same, and wasted away in the west. His dying action was to sing a dirge, blaming the loremaster for this mistake. It was beautiful.

Mia was adorable as the captain, playing off the dichotomy of one seeking peace but always turning to violence, and losing herself (well himself, but as the dwarves pointed out it’s hard for the other races to really tell) in the process. In a drunken moment (Dwarven Nog is nasty powerful to elves) she chopped off Prince Vost’s arm, for his assault on her prince. THAT was the move that set the wheel on fire.

You might have noticed that I went around the table starting with Matthew, the dwarven prince and getting to the dwarven warden last. There is a reason for that. Because this was perhaps the most memorable moment of the game. Luke announces that when Warden Ferun sees the mithril (after failing his steel test and standing and drooling) he stands up, in order to hide his erection under the table. It was brilliant. He also happily poisoned the uncle, killed the elven prince in single battle (with an AXE HAFT no less, thanks to the ranger rigging the fight), and was generally mighty.

Some other bits:

  • The elves brought doves… which were turned into a meal
  • Seneschal Kol put poison on Ferun’s blade, which Uncle Oxen accidentally scraped himself on.
  • The same axe head was later loosed by the ranger.
  • The prince fought in the stead of his captain, so the captain would not suffer the grief of killing, but when he died, the captain was stricken with grief just the same.
  • The hunting lodge… a scene from nature. DEAD, BUTCHERED and TAXIDERMIED nature. It was so atrocious, and yet the elves endured it.
  • The prince is dragged off by the uncle to save his life and all he can say is “GET THAT MITHRIL”.

We had several Duels of Wits and a single Fight! All of which were awesome and worked really well in the fiction (despite claims that scripting three moves in advance doesn’t make sense).

Death count: 3.5 Elven prince dies in single combat, his captain wastes away in grief. Uncle Oxen is killed by the poison meant for the elven prince, and Prince Vost is now known as the “left-handed”

Though he died and lost his father’s gift for it, the elven prince DID get the peace he wanted. What a perfect elf tragedy that so much was lost to achieve it!

What could have improved

It is hard to pronounce (and remember) the evles names. I need to make character tents.

Uncle Oxen is so hard to play because Kol and Ferun get along like buddies and Vost thinks they are both great. Either Vost needs a reason to be suspicious of them, or Oxen needs a divide to place between the two of them.

For the first time I really wish I had another hour or so to finish things up. We ended with the trial (out of time) but there was definitely some unfinished matters. I would have like to see a few more scenes play out.

I announced the sentence for the dwarves at the end (as part of closing the scene). I should have given that final choice to the prince to decide what happened with the mithril chain, and the lives of the other elves, etc.

Props on the brain

I love props. I think they are great. Wish I had pictures as they would do more justice. I posted this over at story-games but realized I wanted an archive of props used on LJ. Here are some that I’ve used recently.

“The Gift” – Burring Wheel

  • Start with an 8′ x 18″ table. Divided by race but everyone is very close to their opposition.
  • The center chair on each side is a throne. To do this just get two yards of fabric for each side and drape them over the chair. For the dwarves: Crushed red velvet. Elves: Silver and blue brocade
  • Following that color scheme, blue/red vis-a-vis pen for scripting, blue/red dice for the sides, with a giant black d6 in the middle of the table for and advantage die.
  • Dwarves enmbolded by dwarven nog (Sam Adam’s “Winter Ale” if you can have alcohol in the game, I.P.R. Root Beer if not).
  • Refined Elves have Mirrorwine (Navarro Vineyards Gewüztraminer or Sparkling juice)
  • A standard for any game with player resources. Poker chips to represent Artha.

“My Life with Joker” –My Life with Master

  • Started with an image of the Joker with blank caption boxes, stolen from the cover of a comic. Print that onto an iron on transfer paper and then iron that onto a white t-shirt (I tried purple and it wasn’t legible). During mater creation, as the players create the joker (Brain vs. Beast, etc), using a sharpie, fill in the caption boxes. Once complete, put on the shirt and become the Joker.
  • Die my hair bright green.
  • A set of gorgeous purple and green d4s from Chessex.
  • My masterpiece. With a digital camera, laptop and printer at the game, I took pictures of the players and printed them out. During the game, whenever the players would oppose me, I used a red crayon to draw red all over their lips and a purple crayon to draw their hair green. As the game progressed I pulled out a pair of scissors and started hacking away bits of the picture while I repeated what they just said in a mocking tone. That freaked people out.

“Exalted Unplugged” – Exalted/Wushu/Wuxalted
The game started in the 1980s as a battle of the bands where the two rival bands “White Fire” and “The Maidens of Mercy” were transported into “Creation” as Solars and Abyssals, both vying for the legendary artifact at the pillar of air – the Stratocaster! Hard core cheese here!

  • All the character sheets were built into cassette tape boxes. Name on the spine. Picture of the character on the front, stats, dice, and poker chips on the inside
  • As the game was a late night game, a six pack of Rock Star in the center of the table for the players to drink
  • Red and Black dice. Scarlet/Ebon and AC/DC
  • A music sound track of 80s rock.

“There is No Spoon” – Matrix Wushu Adaptation

  • Character sheets printed on as 4×6” pictures and then put in clear plastic (high tech looking) frames. Matriculated picture on front, stats on back
  • old sticks of RAM as tokens for Bullet time
  • Matrix score (not soundtrack) playing in the background

Three thoughts after listening to the Durham3

None of this is new. Just made me think.

  1. Secrets are more fun when all the players know and can drive towards the reveal. Practical application: When running the gift, and telling the Loremaster that he forgot the gift, I’m not going to take him aside. I’m going to tell him in front of everyone! Second application: In my Burning Warcraft game I’m going to ask the players why the traitors are betraying the alliance in the form of a warm up game (see below).
  2. Low trust comes from fear that another player or the GM will step on your fun if you make yourself vulnerable. I want to encourage the players to trust each other and me. Application: In the Burning Wheel game I’m going to have the players tell me an epic journey of one of their characters. Each player will say one sentence followed by the next player who will say “Yes, and…” and then build on the previous players ideas.
  3. A method of finding out what the players want: Ask them (PTA style) for a scene they want to play out. Where, who and what it’s about. As vague as “I want an introduction to Arthas” or as specific as “I want to seduce Jaina and convince her to lay with me in the moonlight”

Actual Play – Justin’s Gift (02/28/2009)

This weekend I was invited to “The Boy, The Bad, and The Ugly,” a weekend long birthday party convention at mrboy ’s house. In one way or another I played in all of the scheduled games (I’ll talk more about that as I review the con itself) but I had the honor of kicking off the weekend with a new installment of “The Gift”.

This game ran VERY different from my previous two. The dwarven prince (MrBoy himself) didn’t care nearly as much that the elves didn’t bring a gift, but wanted to see some action… post haste! Within minutes Prince Vost (better known in the game as Your Lordship) asked the elves to show their skill in battle by participating in a duel. The scene ended quickly as the prince sent the elves away and both sides prepared for a fight.

The duel itself had some pretty brutal stakes. The dwarven warden wanted to take the sword arm of the elvish captain, where as the elf wanted the match to end in a tie (for political reasons) but make an absolute mockery of the dwarf and make him loose his station because of his incompetence. First challenges and the stakes were already through the roof. I thought about entertaining Fight! (it certainly would have been appropriate) for the duel but the game was still very early on and I was still getting people used to the core mechanics so we decided on using a blood versus. The dice pools and corresponding results were through the roof. Yet somehow, despite the gigantic numbers, the roll resulted in a tie (I believe 18 vs 18, I know… crazy). Neither participant got what they desired and the duel (which neither had an “intent” to win) was determined by a die of fate. It was epic.

Meanwhile the uncle and the seneschal had noticed the mithril armor and the scheming began. Uncle Oxen sent cooks to rifle through the elves belongings to see if they had any other items of value in their quarters. After the duel the Captain in private told the Warden that even though he won, the Warden was the greatest warrior he had ever faced and handed over his bow. The bigot ranger, not privy to this gift returned to his quarters and found them ransacked. He found the Warden with his men inspecting the bow and assumed the greed dwarves had stolen it. The gloryhoud shouted his challenge to the warden as he let an arrow fly. Woot, using the range and cover rules!

The alarm was sounded and the ranger was captured by the troupes before he could finish off the nearly slain warden. The final scene was a court trial to determine the fate of the ranger, who wrongly attacked the warden but all of that was just pretence to test the steel of the elves. In the end they were given the choice, blood (give up the Ranger to the dwarves) or mithril (give up the prices armor) and they chose blood! It was freaking awesome!

What rocked

Every conflict was supercharged. The players were all amazing and they all played their characters to the hilt. Artha was flying like mad as every roll was critical. We had two different ties that both resulted in crazy, unexpected results.

Each duel of wits was filled with both sides vying for something they REALLY wanted. The players were very clear when they didn’t agree and the system backed them up.

Two characters “died.” The ranger was given to the Dwarves to be imprisoned for life (which is pretty damn long if you are immortal) and the Seneschal was overcome with greed, seeking out the Mithril heedless of the judgment made, only to spell his own doom. The captain and the warden however, developed a deep respect for each other and in the end the captain was ready to sing his song of boding to the first dwarf to ever receive such an honor. The outcomes were amazing.

What could have been improved

I am still not very comfortable with the range and cover rules so when we got into a ranged combat, I was feeling pretty shaky. Unfortunately, Shaun from TMD who was also in the conflict hadn’t used them much either so we all kind of bumbled through it. It worked but it was slow and I don’t think we got it all right.

There are SO many skills and traits on the character sheets that need a reference. I printed out the ones for the ranger but it took forever so I didn’t finish the other seven characters. I’ll definitely have to have that part ready before Kubla, looking them up in game takes WAY too long.

I’m wondering if Mouseguard has it right. One system for every type of conflict, fight, Duel of Wits, chase, etc. I’m going to have to play more MG.

DundraCon 2009 – Part 1

Wow, that was a killer con. A few things were less than perfect but I definitely had a GREAT time. Because the easiest way for me to organize my thoughts is chronologically, I’ll step through the con in few hour chunks.

10:00 PM Thursday 2/12

Oh fuck, oh fuck! How the hell am I going to get everything prepared? I needed to clean house, pack up my game, clothes, the kid’s stuff, podcasting equipment, and edit episode 20 of Narrative Control. My normal length for episodes is 20 to 30 minutes. This one was 1:36 minute before editing. Oh crap, this is going to kill me.

7:00 AM Friday 2/13

Waking up early to finish editing NC 20, pack everything in the car, print out directions to a rental place (in case I needed to rent my own special table my game). Got the car packed and then started cleaning in full force. My better half came home from work and desperately needed sleep, so I juggled editing, cleaning and kid wrangling till 11:00 when we left.

12:30 PM Friday 2/13

Hotel check in, no problem. The staff at DDC are really great people, all very friendly and most of them are familiar with the con itself. Mark Schynert, the RPG coordinator had been emailing me back and forth about a long table for the room (a round table really doesn’t work well for my game) and I found out that the hotel was going to provide one for me. Rock!

3:00 PM Friday 2/13

It seems like the world showed up. Plenty of Good Omens folks, LARPers, and random other folks that I know or sort of know were coming to check in. I wanted to spend some time hanging out but needed to get to my room and set up for my game.

4:00 PM Friday 2/13

The Gift (A Good Omens Production)
Friday 4 PM in Room 377 for 4 hours (that’s short for me, usually I do 6-8)
GM: Sean Nittner (yep, me)
System: Burning Wheel (first time running at a con)
Players: 8 (first time intentionally having 8 players)
Provided: All characters provided by GM (Damn right they were!)

This game had way more turn out than I thought it would. Being a 4PM game, I figured most people wouldn’t have arrived at the con yet, but it was packed. I let a few people in because there was a lot of overflow and a few no shows. This pissed one “would be” gamer as he arrived late and I had already filled his slot. Felt like a jerk (as I always do when I have to turn people away) but had to move on. The game rocked. It was full of fun, insults, and murder most foul. Surprisingly in my play test nobody resorted to violence but in the end negotiations couldn’t be made. At the end of my con game half of both sides were dead but the Dwarves and Elves made a treaty. Crazy.

What rocked

  • Having all eight players is really important for this game. In the play test we only had seven and while that worked fine, having the “trouble maker” character is really key to ramping up the tension in the game.
  • The extra props. A blue brocade with silver patterns on the Elven prince’s seat and crushed red velvet on the Dwarven throne did quite nicely. The elderberry juice and root beer (standing in for mirrorwine and nog respectively) were greatly appreciated and all but polished off (I think one root beer remained at the end).
  • Players, even shy ones got to take their grief to the dice. We had a seneschal (the super manipulative character) trying to trick the elven prince who wasn’t going to have any of it. Our first Duel of Wits was between a very comfortable roleplayer and one who was still very new and nervous. The system was great for facilitating both of them making their points equally, without favoring a more persuasive player.
  • Good times seeing some old friends and meeting new people. Both Brent and Cassie were in my game, which was a blast (as it always is) because they play to the hilt. Also I met Duane, who despite playing a character that was young, naïve, and constantly being manipulated by those around him managed to persevere with a noble outcome.
  • The game was hilarious. I was in stitches a few times from the gags the players were pulling.

What could have been improved

  • I forgot to tell the players about their emotional attributes until we started playing. It felt a little bit like a retcon as a told the dwarves “No, no, no, a song is not a suitable gift, you’re greed demands more.” It didn’t break the game or anything, but it would have been better if I remembered earlier on.
  • Some of the players were turtling at first and I really had to goad them to put their two cents in. I need to remember to tell people that they can challenge their leader. Because the prince says so does not make it right.
  • We never got to the Fight! mechanic. I don’t see this as a major failure, but there were definitely guys who came to the game to see how the system works and they would have liked to see more. As it was, in the end we did one big eight-way bloody versus, from of which four characters died. Great stuff and it involved everyone, but it didn’t really show off Burning Wheel.

What was just weird

  • The power went out at the start of my game. Luckily we had enough light coming through the window and the Dwarven Prince brought a camping lantern (we all knew we made him prince for a reason) that helped those further from the window. About an hour later, it came back on. No explanation. I think I need to make a con game about this…

8:00 PM Friday 2/13

Bizarrely, I got into “A Fool and His Gold”, a Dungeons and Dragons game that I didn’t sign up for. I found out later that the “pre registration” shuffler mixed up the Period 1 games. Woops! It turned out to be fine. I palled around with Kevan Forbes, Mike Parker, and Matt Gaston for a while until we decided to head up for a pickup game of Deathwish. Kai, a friend of Mike P. came to join us and we made our superspies. The game has a pretty serious note (much more Bourne Identity than Pussy Galore) but that didn’t stop us from having a ridiculously fun time.

Kevan ran the game, came up with a on the spot plot and then we ran the system through its paces. Dust Devils feels like a crunchier version of PTA. We used cards for resolution (like you do in PTA) but we had stats, loyalties, specialties and of course, a deathwish, which allowed us to either draw more cards in the beginning or turn in a few cards for new ones. The best poker hands unequivocally wins, the player with the lowest fails and takes “damage” and whoever had the highest card (regardless of best hand) got to narrate the scene giving success or failure to anyone in the middle. The damage track was our own skills, so as you got hurt (or failed) you got worse. I’m not sure how I feel about that part yet as my character was only hurt in the last confrontation so it didn’t affect him much. We also had “chips” that could be use to buy an extra card, fold, etc, very similar to fan mail.

We had four statistics: Aim, Wits, Guts and Cool, but I think the game would have been much better served to have used the five Wilderness of Mirror stats (Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Pluto and Vulcan) as we were often mixing traits that only sort of worked. Also the “stud” hand seemed like an afterthought that didn’t really engage the rules as they excluded the advantage for specialties. Other than that I think the system is solid and makes for some real fun adventures.

Thinking about Wilderness of Mirrors, this game could be even more of a “pick up” game if you added the WoM planning mechanic. That would have to reward players chips, which is probably a good idea, as Kevan ended up giving us one to start anyway. This way you could make people earn them. Hmm…

1:00 AM Saturday 2/14

A chat with Carl Rigney. As I walked downstairs to find out what I was in Saturday morning (nothing… which turned out to be the trend for the con) I bumped into my friend Carl. As usual we talked shop until my eyelids started to drop and decided 3:30 AM was way past my bedtime. How wrong I would find out I was.

To be continued…

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.