The Gift of the Magi — Notes for a BURNING WHEEL Session


Getting ready to run some Burning Wheel tomorrow. I used Luke Crane’s World Burner Questions he posted on the BW forums a while back. Here’s the short sketch of what I came up with:

Think Game of Thrones. Think Earthsea. Think Ars Magica.

A small community of wizards, isolated from common folk — both for the protection of the common folk…and the wizards. A haven of sorts for those with the gift and desire (for one reason or another) to study magic. (There are several of these scattered about. But they are rare.)

  • All humans.
  • All wizards — two or three life paths. Emotionally inexperienced. Having received not only knowledge but a home, safety, and shelter in the covenant.
  • A couple of older wizard NPCs who keep the covenant going.
  • PCs will get an additional Resource Points to spend on spells.


  • There is no Faith when play begins, but it might come into play.
  • There is sorcery and there is blood magic.
  • There is Blood Magic.
  • Spells are SHAPES of sounds that the Wizard must memorize — the shape of the sounds, like holding a sculpture in your thoughts. When the shapes are released (an ancient language, long forgotten, the spell is released.)
  • There are the Forgotten Words: Spirits that do not belong in this world, but appear on occasion, sometimes taking on physical form.
  • There are memories of the Old Gods. The creatures that made humanity. People have forgotten them. People have forgotten faith. There is no religion to speak of.

And here is the full list of answers to questions Luke suggested one should ask when creating a setting for Burning Wheel:

What’s the Big Picture? What’s going on in this setting that makes it ripe for adventure. What’s changing, evolving, declining?
A Dark God of Blood is backing a kingdom working to bring Blood Magic back.

What’s the world’s culture? What are the cultural analogs? Analogs can be taken from historical earth, current events or fantasy works.
Arthurian Briton. Earthsea (magic is rare, controlled, hopefully used for good). Ars Magica with its isolated wizard communities.

What’s the conflict in which the characters are involved? What are the sides? What’s wrong?
The Fate of Magic.

What physical place does this conflict take place in? What ecology, environment, place?
A landscape like feudal Britain. Hills, forests, lots of land for farming, grazing, only a few cities. Isolated communities.

What’s the name of the most important place in this setting? Not the capital or any dumb shit like that, but THE PLACE where all the action goes down?
Gerantlia, the kingdom where the Horned King wants to slaughter the heir to the throne in a ritual of blood magic and finish off a prophecy about the Old Gods.

What’s the name of a faraway place that folks talk about, dream about or mutter under their breath about?
Darazan, home of the Old Gods. Nothing more than Obscure History now, known only to a few. When people dream about it, they don’t know what it is. (Note: Faith is not a magic in the game—yet. It is something the PCs might introduce to the world. But might not.)

Who are the antagonists? Who is opposing the goals of the characters?
Redaka—The Horned King. A dark god of blood who has willed himself into this world.
King Theos of The Fallen Lands, who has made a pact with Redaka to bring glory back to his people.
The people of the Fallen Lands, who have reinstitute the ways of Blood Magic, are raising sorcerers to do black magic, who are subjugating people to have victims for black magic, steal hidden tomes about black magic, and conscript wizards to study the ways of black magic (or die).

+Imagine all of the characters are standing a room/ruin/field with the antagonists or their minions. What do the antagonists want from that meeting? What do the character want from that meeting? That’s where your game begins.*
A baby, son of the king and queen of Gerantlia, heir to throne, the last (known) surviving member of the royal family after The Horned King, King Theos, and his army march on Gerantlia.
The child, Ronoke, is both a potential tool of sacrifice for the Horned King to alter the nature of magic in Gerantlia and the key to releasing Faith in the Old Gods back into the world.

Alternately, imagine the characters standing at the scene of some great disaster or calamity clearly caused by one of the antagonists. What’s the disaster? How did it happen? What are the characters going to do about it right now?
The world is ruined, the landscape blighted. People live in fear, shivering and hiding in shelters, as others scour the land looking for victims of blood magic to sustain them.
The characters will have to find a new kind of magic to sustain themselves and change the world.

And some more mechanical questions:

What type of magic exists in this world? Pick one or two of the magic systems: Faith (and Blasphemous Hatred), Sorcery (and Abstraction), Natural Magic, Spirit Binding, Summoning, Enchanting.
Sorcery is the magic at hand. It is rare and suspect because of the Blood Magic traditions that haunt history from thousands of years ago. Wizards find potential pupils, raise them in isolated communities to respect magic and use its power to help stability. This is the plan. There are always those who get caught up in the study of magic for magic’s sake (part of the temperament of a wizard, I suppose) as well as thinking, “Well, sure, this went wrong a thousand years ago. But I wouldn’t fall into that trap!”

Blood Magic is the magic of the enemy. I think as the power of the Horned King spreads, magic itself is needed to sustain life. Those who submit to the Horned King need blood magic sorcerers to feed them life force taken from those they torture and kill.

Faith is the second kind of magic in the setting. It does not exist yet as a power. The characters can choose to invoke and activate it for their characters by taking on a Belief or Beliefs of Faith.

If Sorcery is used, what’s it’s idiom? Does it require speech? Gestures?
The shape of the world is found in the shape of certain words. (Not “true names” but the actual shape and sounds of certain words.) Wizards must study these sounds, like blind sculptors feeling a work of art, memorizing their form and texture, and then release them by recreating them by speaking them.

If Sorcery is used, what spells are available? Which spells are inappropriate to the game world?
At this time, first time really running this outside of The Sword, I’m not limiting anything because I really wouldn’t know what to keep and what to cut. I have no context.

If is Faith used, what is the Faith idiom? What are the religions? Is Faith universal or does it only affect believers?
The religions do not exist yet, but involve gods who do not abuse humanity but love humanity. The Forgotten Words are impersonal forces that, by their mere presence, abuse and bruise human flesh and life. They do not belong here. They are not part of humanity.
The Old Gods are the reasons humans exist. If they arrive, they arrive in the form of human beings. They meet us on our own terms. They arrive not as kings, but as mundane men, women, or children. They promise much—but only if the people around them take action.
Faith only affects believes.

*What character stocks are in play in this world? Which are restricted and why?+
Humans. I want a world where things are utterly bleak and normal—as much as possible. Where the magical or religious is strange and extraordinary. The PCs have access to tap these magics. The question of the game is—Okay, there is magic. Okay, there is religious power. Now… what are you going to do with it?

Will you allow only character burns or will you allow monster-burned characters as well?
No monster-burned characters.

What cultural traits apply to the characters of this game world? Pick three character traits for each culture.
Man of Few Words
Suspicious (toward magic)

What’s your Resources cycle? 1 month, seasonal, 6 months, annual? What’s the game world’s currency? Who collects the taxes? What do people do for work? What’s the major economy? What’s the black market economy?
Seasonal. Metal coins made by the kingdom. Officials of the kingdom tax from nobles, nobles collect from the commoners. People farm, tend cattle, there are few mines. Crops of one kind or another. I have no idea.

Resources hacks: Are there special conditions on your world that necessitate characters beginning with certain resources, gear or relationships? If necessary, distribute 5, 10 or 15 resource points to each character so they may begin the game in line with the vision of your world. (Don’t take this one lightly, either. It can break the game.)
The starting character are all wizards at a remote tower in the kingdom. I have tweaked the resources in two ways:
I wanted them to start somewhat young. Somewhere between 14 and 18. I want them to have found safety and shelter in the wizard community—and now that is torn apart. They are somewhat naive and outgunned. And I wanted an emotionally younger age. The world is still scary. We’ll decide how to house rule ages for the Life Paths to make this work.

I see the covenants themselves to be only loosely affiliated, so there is no circle to offer. They don’t want to be seen as a federations of wizards — so they don’t go down that road. Different wizards will have different responses to the assault on the kingdom.

1 thought on “The Gift of the Magi — Notes for a BURNING WHEEL Session

  1. Pingback: Prepping for the Next Session of Burning Wheel | Tales to Astound!

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