Prepping for the Next Session of Burning Wheel

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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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BURNING WHEEL: Gift of the Magi — Characters

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Burning Wheel! We burned characters and played for a few hours last night.
A recap of the setting and situation details:THE SETTING
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.
The only race is Human.

The PCs are all wizards — three life paths max.
Emotionally inexperienced. Having received not only knowledge but a home, safety, and shelter in the covenant.
A couple of older wizards who pulled the PCs in.
PCs will get an additional Resource Points to spend on spells.

MAGIC DETAILS
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.
(I know Colin is very keen on Art Magic. But I think the feel I’m looking for is sorcery. That is, lists of specific spells instead of crafting spells on the fly.)
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.

THE SITUATION
The characters are all relatively young wizard’s living in an isolated tower in the Kingdom of Gerantlia. There are the three PCs and two wizardly masters. They are the only people living in the tower. The life is hardscrabble, focused on survival and arcane arts.

A neighboring kingdom, The Forgotten Lands, has resurrected the practice of Blood Magic. It began slowly, but has now spread, becoming supported by the king of the Forgotten Lands. He now lets Blood Magic support his ambitions. With the help of The Horned King (one of the Forgotten Words) the king launched a war on Gerantlia.

In recent months the troops crossed the border into Gerantlia. One of the masters of the tower left to help the war. A few weeks ago one of the students, Isska, saw a vision of the city of Dallon, the seat the king and queen of Gerantlia, in flames. The other master, taking the vision seriously, left to help. He left the three students in charge of the tower, telling them to guard it well.

I told all the players this. And then I said, “And this is how play will begin….

“It will be a dark and stormy night. There will be a knock at the door. A teenage girl will be there. Rain soaked and panicked, hungry and scratched from trees and brambles. A handmaiden from the royal palace of Dallon. She holds an infant. She will tell you the city has fallen. She will tell you that she holds the heir to the throne. She will tell you soldiers are in pursuit. She will tell you she needs your help.”

These are the characters they made:

THE PLAYER CHARACTERS

ISSKA (20)
Life Paths: Gifted Child, Hunter, Auger
Isska is from the Fallen Lands. Five years ago she was living with a man she loved and her recently born son. Blood magic was spreading. Visions haunted her. She felt she had to follow them to a wizard’s tower in Gerantlia and study magic. Her visions said only by abandoning her lover and child could she save them.

Beliefs
I have foreseen that this child will save my family (father & child). I will protect him with my life.
Blood magic is evil. There is no right reason to use it.
The tower is the only place I have ever felt safe. I will preserve its and James’ innocence

Instincts
When leaving the Tower, always prepare as if I’m never coming back
Always sneak about when traveling alone
When cornered, always cast falcon skin

DIANEKTA (23)
Life Paths: City Born, Apt Pupil, Wizard’s Apprentice
Dianekta, too, is from the Fallen Lands. Her mother became a Blood Magic wizard. She killed Dianekta’s father in a ritual. Master Fellas of Alazander Tower rescued her from the Fallen Kingdom and, recognizing she had the gift for magic, brought her back to study magic.

Beliefs
I was saved, therefor I must save others
My dark wizard mother can be saved, I must find my mother
Magic is balanced. If blood magic exists, then something wonderful must also exist. I will find it and wield it.

Instincts
Never reveal anything about my background
Never trust a woman
Always cast emperor’s hand when under duress

JAMES (24)
Life Paths: City Born, Student, Wizard’s Apprentice
James was found by Master Fassel at a young age and invited to the tower to study magic at a young age. He and Dianekta are practically brother and sister, having grown up together as children within the magical education of the tower.

Beliefs
The safety of the tower must come first. this child belongs in other hands
As the oldest I am most fit to lead. I will unite the other students under me
I’m angry our masters left us. I will make them come home.

Instincts
Never go out in the cold unprepared
Always consult my books before speaking on a topic
Always secure the location before going to sleep

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

The_Horned_King_by_Caelkriss

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:

THE SETTING
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.

MAGIC DETAILS

  • 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.

THE CURRENT SITUATION
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.
Circumspect
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.