Prepping for the Next Session of Burning Wheel

14 - 1-2

We’re playing again next weekend! I need to put some thought into this! We last played the game back on the 14th of December. More than a month ago!

However, if you look at my notes, I’m more than covered.

First, the Setting Burner Questions I answered are an entire recap of what the setting is about, what the situation is, what the conflicts are.

Then, if you reread this post you’ll find the writes-up for the three Player Characters.

You might notice that some of the Players built Non-Player Characters into their Characters’ Beliefs.

In particular:

  • Dianekta has a Belief about her “dark wizard mother”
  • James has a Belief about “this child” that has fallen into their hands as well as “our [wizard] masters”
  • Isska has Beliefs about “this child” as well, tying the child directly to her husband and son.

So, even though I haven’t thought about the game for weeks (the holidays, of course, sent everything spinning), my notes are review and for moving forward are right in front of me.

In terms of review, I’ll reread the Setting Burning information I created. I’ll tweak it with any ideas that come up from our first session of play or any inspiration that bubbles up today.

And then, thankfully, I’ve got the Beliefs for the characters. This is a gold mine of material for me to play with.


Let’s take an example: Dianekta’s “dark wizard mother.”

Now, I don’t have her written up yet. She doesn’t even have a name yet! In fact, I know nothing about her except what Gretchen (Dianekta’s Player) wrote up during character creation.

But I have a lovely opportunity to create this engaging character this afternoon.

Why “lovely”? Why “engaging”?

First, because the character is emotionally significant to Dianekta.

Second, of vital note, the character is of significance to Gretchen as well. Gretchen created the character. By creating the character Gretchen said, “I want this character in the game. I want a woman that I both think is evil and that I want to save. I want this tension as part of play.”

That’s one of the important charms of Player created Beliefs in Burning Wheel: I, as the Game Master, am not responsible for “hooking” either the Player Character or the Player into the fiction. Gretchen has already said she cares about this. I don’t have to hope she does, or keep dangling little bits of carrot in front of her about this “dark wizard mother” in front of Dianekta in the hopes Gretchen will get invested and care. She already cares from the get go. My job is simply to present the character in engaging ways.

Third, note that how this blood wizard mother is going to be used in play is utterly underdetermined at this moment. Gretchen created the woman. But Gretchen then gave the woman to me to use as a character as I see fit.

This is a vital part of play for Burning Wheel as well. The Players can create Non-Player Characters, but then they belong to the Game Master. (In fact, let’s retire the term “Non-Player Characters.” Really, they are Game Master Characters, and we’ll identify them as such from now on.) This woman is a gift to me. My job is to flesh her out and use her as I see fit. The only obligation I have is to make sure have the character act in ways that engage with Dianekta in interesting ways.


So, who is this woman? What do I want to do with her?

First, I’m going to name her, just to have that at hand. She is called Kareneta

Second, here is Dianekta’s Belief involving Karenta: “My dark wizard mother can be saved, I must find my mother”

Now, who is Kareneta and what does she want? What is Kareneta’s Belief?

She might want to save Dianekta as much as Dianekta wants to save her. Though, of course, “saving” Dianekta would probably mean training her to accept the use of Blood Magic and getting Dianekta to wield Blood Magic.

She might want to destroy Dianekta for having betrayed her.

She might be searching the Fallen Lands, looking for Dianekta, unaware her daughter was spirited away to the wizard’s tower in the Kingdom of Gerantlia. This would mean that Dianekta will have to travel into the Fallen Lands to find her mother.

But another possibility: Kareneta used magic or other methods to determine exactly where her daughter is and has been trying to make her way to the tower. She might have been working at this for a while, or just recently.

And here’s another possibility: Kareneta is part of the invasion that has made its way into the Kingdom of Gerantlia. She either knows her daughter is alive and wants to kill her, or knows her daughter is alive and wants to save her before she is slaughtered by the invading forces, or she doesn’t even know her daughter is alive, or she knows and doesn’t care.

Morever, off the top of my head, the Player Characters, when they looked back while fleeing the castle, saw troops from the Fallen Lands marching toward the tower with both soldiers and Blood Magic Wizards. They saw a Blood Wizard in full armor riding at the center of the army amid men on carts being tortured. What if that wizard in the armor was, in fact, Dianekta’s mother?

Note that all of these are possibilities per the rules. The Players make up characters that matter (for good or bad) in their Beliefs, and then hand them to the Game Master to use as they wish.

Which one will I choose? I honestly haven’t decided yet. Typing out this post was part of the brain-storming process. But I’ll begin today and then be mulling the matter the rest of the week.


A final thought:

Normally, when a Player writes a Belief involving something they want their character to do, you don’t, as the Game Master, want to do it for them. This would mean robbing the Player of the very activity they told the Game Master they wanted to do.

For example, if Gretchen had written, “I must find my dark wizard mother,” the worst thing I could do would be to have her mother hunt Dianekta down and shut show up.

However, Gretchen in fact wrote the Belief: “My dark wizard mother can be saved, I must find my mother.” Which mean, in my reading, saving her mother is really what the Belief is about.

Moreover, my thinking is this: If Dianekta’s mother is off in the Fallen Lands, then she is far away from Dianekta and her companions. Additionally, the Player Character currently have an infant the are responsible for protecting. Carrying the child into the Fallen Lands is the last thing they’ll probably do.

In other words, Dianekta going off to search for her mother is probably a long time away. And my question is, “Why wait?” If it is likely that Kareneta is part of the invasion force from the Fallen Lands into Gerantlia (and it is), why not just do that! Why hold off the tension between the mother and daughter — which does no one any good — and make Dianekta aware that her mother is nearby. This will tear Dianekta between her Belief about her mother and her Belief about saving others (i.e.: the baby she and her friends are protecting). If Kareneta comes to kill Dianekta that still means Dianekta can want to save her. If Karenta comes to make Dianekta an ally, again, the daughter can be driven to save the mother.

I bring all this up to point out that I’m a) honing in on what the Player asked for; b) I’m giving it to the Player sooner rather than later; and c) there are a dozen ways for me to deliver this for the Player as I decide who this woman is and what she wants. And there’s a lot of fun to be had in that!

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