Burning Sanctuary – Session 1

We met for our second session of Burning Sanctuary. Some of the players had not completed their beliefs. So we spent some time finalizing both characters and a bit of the world. This took about an hour of our 3.5 hour session.


Without knowing the players starting beliefs and instincts I wasn’t able to plan as much as I had hoped.

There was Shrewsbury Abbey (and clergy). One of the players provided beliefs related to smuggling something out of the Abbey.

I focused on writing various impressions and bits of scenery for Shrewsbury Abbey:

  • Stooped monks harvesting squash and onions
  • Moans of the injured
  • Dripping water as bloodied clothes are wrung out over a bowl
  • Chanting prayers as tallow candles crackle and flicker
  • Hushed conversations in stone halls
  • Wretched poor seeking alms
  • Unarmed soldiers walking idling about
  • Cool stones in open air passages
  • A small girl asleep under an ancient oak
  • A bell tolling

I used the above to add color to the environs. It provided a means for tredding water as we felt out the scope of the game.

Character Burning

What follows are a list of beliefs; not precise as they were workshopped during the session, but instead the notes and recollections that I’m working from.

  • Aneúpin [Nye for short] (Welsh Scout):
    • B1: Wants solitude and to get back to the wilderness
    • B2: Needs to get possessions back so I can be self-sufficient
    • I1: Always looking for new cooking ingredients
    • I2: Always fall to the back of the group.
    • I3: Always watch the nobility out of the corner of my eye.
  • Raimund (Anglo-Norman Smuggler):
    • B1: William was supposed to supply an artifact to me as part of the deal, but it’s sealed away at Shrewsbury Abbey. I’m to meet his contact there, obtain the artifact, and deliver it to Ranulf.
    • B2: I need help to escort me back to Chester.
    • B3: I will advance my status and wealth to return my family to the peerage
    • I1: While at ports, large markets, or trade fairs, always chitchat with fellow merchants and look over their wares. Prioritize the exotic and foreign.
    • I2: Never pass by a rare or exotic good without inspecting it.
    • I3: Always carry a packet of herbs to ward off the disease-ridden miasma.
  • Old Travis (Anglo-Norman Elder):
    • B1: Find the family of Clovis FitzTravis, my son.
    • B2: I want to be known for my writings, but I must learn to compose. So I will study the manuscripts of the abbey.
    • I1: When prattling on about travels always be assessing my surroundings.
    • I2: Always take an afternoon nap.
    • I3: Always work patiently when mending
  • Edmund Thatcher (Anglo-Saxon Doctor):
    • B1: I will get my sister (Adwyn) out from the control of Robert of Gloucester. I will take her to Chester and seek an audience with Earl Ranulf. (wants to improve her station)
    • B2: I have an academic interest in these relics, I know someone wants them I’m going to find out who.
    • I1: Always provide medical attention to the injured


I’m adopting the procedure of having the players go around the table reading their Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits. It is a helpful reminder for everyone since each players BITs drives the Artha awards.

In this session we went around once to flesh out the beliefs. We then went around again to restate the more “formalized” beliefs. It was a collaboration.

World Burning

Mixing throughout character burning was some world burning. We fleshed out the primary deity and the details of the relics.

Shirat, the Illuminating Eye

Instead of using a “vanilla” Christian God, we came up Shira, the Illuminating Eye. The “Catholic” church venerates her.

  • Sun
  • Water
  • Time
  • Knowledge
  • Labor
  • Forethought
  • Augury
  • Law
  • Written Word

Relic Smuggling

We discussed that Raimund is smuggling relics to Ranulf. The players know that these relics are Fey related. They are also being positioned along ley lines. The characters know none of this.

The Session Proper

We spent much of the session getting the characters into a common orbit.

  • Edmund Thatcher became a local celebrity through his miraculous healing of one of Robert Gloucester’s men (Roger FitzWallace).
  • Travis spent time fixing up the Abbey, always conspiring to gain access to the scriptorium and its books. He learned that Brother George had a key to the storeroom.
  • Nye focused on gaining his equipment; Things went awry when he sought the help of several fellow Welsh men.
  • Raimund was busy tracking down his contact and laying out an initial plan to smuggle out some “holy” bones.

The session drew to a close when they all noticed the Welsh men carrying out a corpse of one of the priests (Brother George). The church bell rang, raising the alarm; The abbey awoke; In the general chaos Raimund and Nye begun forming an alliance.


The NPCs introduced throughout the session:

  • Gwyir – a Welsh traveler and spokes person for 3 other Welsh men. They have sought an evening respite at Shrewsbury Abbey; They are not wealthy. They came with a wagon of wool.
  • Abbot Gerald (Vicious and Precise) – Abbot of Shrewsbury
  • Brother Michael – contact for Raimund
  • Brother George – oversees the storeroom.
  • Brother Ferand – tends the kitchen
  • Brother Albert – an elderly monk with one eye blind from cataracts


  • Faith (Ob 4) for Edmund Thatcher:
    • Task: Seek guidance for the surgery to come
    • Intent: Gain guidance
    • Consequence: Brother Albert, the chatty old, will mark you a blasphemer.
    • Result: Success. A glowing nimbus and a bead of sweat forms on Edmund Thatcher’s brow.
  • Surgery (Ob 4) for Edmund Thatcher:
    • Task: Stitch up this severe wound
    • Intent: Get him healthy and on the road to recovery and even ingratiate himself to Earl of Gloucester.
    • Consequence: He’s a bannerman of Gloucester and Gloucester will find out about it.
    • Side note: The player rolled 3 successes. But one of them was a 6 and was the dice from astrology. With the open-ended dice, they got the 4 successes.
    • Result: The bannerman is on the road to recovery. And Brother Albert is extolling the virtues of a miracle.
  • Persuasion (Ob 5) for Travis:
    • Task: Persuade the abbot that this place is falling apart and you can help clean it up.
    • Intention: Ingratiate himself with the abbot so he can gain access to the books
    • Consequence: You draw the ire of the Abbot and he assigns someone to watch over you.
    • Result: Failure
  • Stealth (Ob 2) for Raimund linked into Inconspicuous:
    • Task: Moving through the abbey without being seen
    • Intention: To observe each monk.
    • Consequence: You draw unwanted attention as it is clear you are singling someone out.
    • Result: Success, one over OB, so the linked test gets +1D.
  • Inconspicuous (Ob 2 linked from Stealth) for Raimund:
    • Task: Mingling without drawing attention
    • Intention: To find Brother Michael without drawing attention.
    • Consequence: You are unable to find the brother as he is out-of-town. This one was weak. I was thinking perhaps a Circles test.
    • Result: Success. Raimund finds Brother Michael.
    • Side note: I really should’ve called for an Inconspicuous test then an Observation test.
  • Scavenging (Ob 3) for Nye:
    • Task: Find something that could be used to pick a lock.
    • Intention: With a tool in hand, he’d pick the lock to get into the store-room.
    • Consequence: you draw unwanted attention. Opted not to test.
    • Result: The player stepped away from the test.
    • Side note: With the Ob set, the player backed down. Instead going towards Rumor-wise
  • Rumor-wise (Ob 2) for Nye:
    • Task: Poke around a bit regarding these Welsh men’s mode of operation storeroom
    • Intention: I want them to help me bust into the store-room
    • Consequence: These Welshmen are very bad news; burn down the Abbey, mass murder.
    • Result: Success. These Welshmen are ready to help.
  • Mending (Ob 3) for Travis: I’m drawing a blank on this one, but I believe it was along the lines of you aggravate Brother Michael and he assumes you are stalling.
    • Result: Success. Travis has begun ingratiating himself with Brother Michael.
  • Inconspicuous (Ob 2) for Raimund:
    • Task: Pull Brother Michael aside to talk
    • Intention: Determine what and where the relics are that Raimund needs to smuggle out
    • Consequence: You are deep in conspiring and someone stumbles upon you.
    • Result: Success. The players.
  • Persuasion (Ob 3 untrained, so Ob 6) for Nye:
    • Task: Convince the Welsh men that there are valuables in the
    • Intention: Get them to help me bust into the store-room
    • Consequence: They’ll help but its going to escalate into the abduction/murder of a priest. abduct/kill a priest.
    • Result: Failure (untrained got 5 successes).
  • Observation (Ob 3) for all:
    • Task: Looking into the evening.
    • Intent: See if they spot the people leaving through the sally port.
    • Consequence: You don’t see the events transpiring in the courtyard.
    • Result: The players see four men carrying the body of another.
    • Side Note: I wasn’t sure how to proceed. The party was not coordinated in their effort. So I called for individual tests.

Closing Scenes

Abbot Gerald (Vicious and Precise) insinuates the Edmund Thatcher’s miracles could draw pilgrims to Shrewsbury and bolster their coffers. The Abbot wants to talk with Edmund in his chambers.

Nye and Arnolt have their first conversation. Arnolt offers cash to Nye if he will help get some relics to Chester. The beginnings of a plan take shape. We end the session.


I am keeping a running log of what we establish via Wises and Duel of Wits. Both resolutions are manifestations of the Let it Ride principle.

  • The Four Clovers are a band of Welsh rebels; They despise the English. They are destabilizing England. (via Rumor-wise)
  • The relics are three leg bones from the Abbey crypt. These bones are in a prominent spot.
  • At temples of Shirat, at least one brother or sister maintains a nighttime vigil for Shirat’s return.


I also like to reflect on the sessions that I’ve run. I have personal notes for where to go with the next session; But I’m not going to publish those at the moment.

Task and Intent

I was insistent on players providing both Task and Intent. In doing so, we were able to map tests to beliefs. This made the end of session Artha awards smooth and meaningful. The wrap up discussion concerning Artha award categories was helpful for me; We were generous in interpretation. It also felt like we ended on the same page.

An interesting note, no one earned Artha for character traits. There are a lot of parts, and I believe those traits are something that is hard to pay attention to in the first session.

Once we completed the session wrap-up, the players saw some of the reward cycle. They now have greater clarity on how to write their beliefs. They can also focus their beliefs to the immediate situation.

An interesting observation is that I think User Stories (from Agile software development) are an excellent template for writing beliefs. They have the following form:

As a ____, I will ____, so that ____.

Odd Getting Started

The players are not well aligned; I believe this is a failing on my part. The initial situation (everyone has declared sanctuary) doesn’t have enough teeth to join them. I also didn’t lead them through group creation.

I’m not worried about keeping the characters together, but hope to nurse the aligning of goals.

Then again, it’s a first session. Everyone is feeling out their characters and intentions. I imagine the next session will move better.

Further Work on Beliefs for Burning Sanctuary

Building on a previous post for our Burning Sanctuary campaign, we are continuing our belief workshop. Here is the second round. The player also provided extensive details and reasoning.


  • Belief 1: I successfully assisted William FitzAlan’s escape. He’s pledged loyalty to Ranulf and making his way to the Welsh Marches. William was supposed to supply an artifact to me as part of the deal, but it’s sealed away at Shrewsbury Abbey. I’m to meet his contact there, obtain the artifact, and deliver it to Ranulf.

The preamble of this belief is helpful; The heart of the belief starts “William was supposed…”. We can discard the leading two sentences and have the same resulting belief. Those two sentences are very helpful as a GM for our first session.

Belief 2: It’s too risky to transport this artifact alone back to Chester. Too many patrols. Too many desperate deserters turned bandit. There are a lot of refugees at this abbey. Maybe some might help escort me back to Chester for food, a little pay, and the promise of steady employment.

There is a lot of background, which is again helpful. At present, this is an opinionated placeholder for when other character beliefs materialize.

Belief 3: I will advance my status and wealth to return my family to the peerage.

An excellent Artha mine; It informs all other beliefs. When acting, the player can frame task and intent with this in mind.


Instinct 1: While at ports, large markets, or trade fairs, always chitchat with fellow merchants and look over their wares. Prioritize the exotic and foreign.

  • Did I cram too damn much in this instinct?

I love the intention; I’m uncertain how this will play out. There are implications in training a skill – Merchant-wise – but also in pulling the character into an unwanted action; Especially if there is something that targets their other instinct.

Instinct 2: If in the presence of a rare or exotic craft good, appraise and/or experience wonderment (as per Dwarf Wonderment minus “I must have it”)

  • “I must have it” doesn’t square with my characters ethos belief (trade must flow > personal gain). It might be interesting to replace it with “I must know more about it! / I must find out where you got this!”.
  • Concerned that the GM might think this is soliciting for steel tests. This is such a good and fitting flavor instinct for this character that I’d be willing to forgo some or all steel tests for it. Wait, do instincts automatically bypass tests?
  • I’m making this much harder than it should be, aren’t I?

There is a glorious intention here. Some refinements:

  • I must always know more about rare or exotic craft goods.
  • Never pass by a rare or exotic good without inspecting it.

I’m disinclined to allow for something that mirrors Dwarven Wonderment and the associated Steel tests. The instinct can aim towards that emotion, but I feel that for dwarves this is an important separation.

As the game progresses, I think trait votes can begin to subsume the instinct into something that is very much an analogue to Dwarven Wonderment.

Also, my understanding of instincts is that they do not bypass tests.

Instinct 3: Always carry a packet of herbs to ward off the disease-ridden miasma.

  • There, an easy one. It’s based in character history, requires a piece of gear, and will probably mess up a sneak test or twelve.

Pure awesome!


  • T1: Paranoid (Smuggler req, char)
  • T2: Distracted (Merchant req, char)
  • T3: Ambitious (General, 1pt, char)
  • T4: Tolerant (General, 1pt, char)

In the previous go round, the player gave notes about being an ambitious smuggler. But didn’t have the Ambitious character trait. Now the character is Ambitious.

Working Through Beliefs for Burning Sanctuary

I’m working with a first time Burning Wheel player. He sent me a rather lengthy email about his character for our upcoming Burning Sanctuary.

I think some of this might be helpful for those considering Burning Wheel. With the player’s permission, I am reposting these questions.


As expected, he provided a rather lengthy section on beliefs as well as some reasons behind those beliefs.

Proposed Belief

  • I need to retrieve this <artifact, promissory note, message, military intelligence, etc?>that was confiscated by the Abbey and deliver it Ranulf de Gernon
    • Leaving this vague for now…
  • Serve Ranulf until it becomes clear that he can’t advance my status or finances any further or you catch the eye of a superior lord.
    • Does only one of the first two beliefs need to exist or is this okay as is? The first belief exists nested in the second.


I love the specifics of the 1st belief. To strengthen it, it needs to incoprorate a reason. Why is he delivering the McGuffin to the Earl of Chester? What does he hope to gain?

With that in place, the player can remove the next belief “Serve Ranulf until it becomes clear that he can’t advance my status” and focus on something else; perhaps an ethos belief.

There is more discussion about other beliefs as well as guiding-light discussion. All told an excellent bit of work from the player.

Character Problems

I loved the “Character Problems” section. At this point, he is the first player to share the nature of his beliefs, instincts, and traits. In doing so, he begins to give shape to the campaign.


Is it inappropriate or gamey to start with a relationship with a major player when you’re just a reputable village tradesman? Should the relationship be with some courtier or middle rank instead?


I love the relationship with Ranulf de Gernon, 4th Earl of Chester. You spent your resource points (as per the rules). For 15 resource points, you could have a relationship with King Stephen or Empress Matilda.

In spending the resources you are telling me and the table that you want Ranulf de Gernon to play a role in the upcoming campaign; And you want to have guaranteed access to him (and starting with an amicable disposition).


Why not just go from merchant to magnate for the fourth lifepath instead of smuggler?

  • It would make more sense for Ranulf to work with a respected merchant magnate, likely with court experience, then to work with a lowly merchant smuggler.
  • However, it seems more interesting to me to start small-time with B2 resources and work up instead of just having a huge B6 resources immediately. The smuggler can do more things outside of social and financial situations. Seems more flavorful as well.


I agree that it will be more interesting to start with a small-time B2 resources and claw your way up. It also adds complications to Ranulf de Gernon, Earl of Chester. He has a relationship with someone ill-reputable.

It creates an asymmetric and unstable relationship – a relationship in motion.

Dungeon Crawl Classic: Portal Under the Stars

In which one is nearly saved by a pound of clay…

Umm you may want to consider your tactics.

Umm you may want to consider your tactics. (From DCC 3rd printing page

I ran a one-shot Dungeon Crawl Classic zero-level adventure for four intrepid players at Better World Books in Goshen. I chose “The Portal Under the Stars” from the 3rd printing of DCC.

This was my first time running DCC. It was also the first time playing DCC for each of the players.

The adventure ended in a TPK (20 characters). But not before executing an outrageous plan.

Here are some of the action highlights of this under-equipped hodgepodge of humanity:

  • Action: Attempting to force open a trapped door by hammering a 10′ pole with a mallet.
    • Result: Flame weakened 2 foot pole.
  • Action: Using a fallen armored companion as a heat shield from gouts of flame.
    • Result: Success…though the armor became melted slag.
  • Action: Gathering kneecaps as sling ammunition.
    • Result: Gruesome butchery but 4 sling bullets.
  • Action: Using a shovel handle to pick up and fling a flaming lantern at the terra-cotta warriors in hopes of drawing the crystal creatures towards the heat.
    • Result: Missing the warriors and shattering the lamp on the wall.

And the most absurd plan:

Fashioning a pound of wet clay (Yay for random equipment items!) into the helmet shape of one of the many terra-cotta warriors that were advancing. Then pulling a Scoobie Doo as he walks through the ranks towards the general and warlord in hopes of getting to the glowing crystal orb. This was too cool, so I didn’t require the character to even roll to fool the warriors nor generals. The warlord would be a different matter.

During this time the other characters are slaughtered by the terra-cotta warriors (I chose to hand-wave this as it was 50 to 7 and time was running out).

After exchanging a few grunts and mumbles, the warriors and generals let the character pass. Making his way to the generals room. As he walks past the warlord, the warlord takes note. The character turns, runs to the crystal, grabs it and smashes it on the ground; Shattering the only light source. I narrate a “Quick fade to black followed by a lone scream cut short”.


This was my first time running DCC. I kept things fast and loose. It was a bit confusing for players to have 4 characters. Many of them took actions together. In DCC, this is a bad idea. As a player, consider each character as its own resource; Only risk one at a time.

There was some impatience and brazen actions. Little in the way of listening at the door. Cracking the door for a peak. Caution is a mandatory mode of operation.

Within the read aloud text there is helpful information for players to leverage. Unless the situation is immediately in motion, dig into that read aloud text. Pay attention.

Game Night with my Son

Before college started, I spent an evening playing games with Aidan, my son. We first ate dinner, then worked through some college planning.

A Few Games of Swords & Strongholds

Aidan contemplating how he will yet again crush me.

First we played a few games of Mouseguard: Swords & StrongholdsThe rules are simple, but the strategy fails me. I have played 6 or 7 games against my son, and never won. This evening was no different.

Our last game was a rather protracted game as we each jockeyed for position. Even when I had what I thought to an advantage (see the above picture) things collapsed and Aidan won.

After losing, we pulled out another of our standards – Wyatt Earp; We’ve played this game together since 2005 or so. I’d wager that I have a 80+% winning streak versus Aidan. And my luck held. Two tense games, and I knocked another two victories in the proverbial belt.

It was our only evening together throughout the summer. And I cherished each moment…in agonizing defeat and glorious victory. We laughed as we talked through college stuff, gaming, how his first year of college went, and general life things.

It is very rewarding listening to Aidan’s thoughtful consideration as he works through the complexities of college decisions. I can’t help but smile and beam with pride when he calls up and asks for help and advice.

Burning Sanctuary – Session 0

We gathered with an initial situation in mind. A civil war is ramping up and the characters have each declared sanctuary at an abbey.

We had a new composition of players, some that have never played together. There was a bit of back and forth on characters to play. Lots of noodling on the mechanics.

The session was very low-key, toddlers romping around, eager to play and see what the grownups were doing.

We ran out of time to dive into beliefs and instincts; But things were drawing close. The character lifepaths ended as:

  • Scout < Conscript < Hunter < Village born
  • Doctor < Student < Temple Acolyte < Noble born
  • Smuggler < Merchant < Shopkeeper < Village born (at least from memory)
  • Elder < Thinker < Student Tinkerer < City born

Two of the players leveraged the online Character Burner to assist in the character process.

At this point, my understanding of the character backstories are:

  • The elder is from a village neighboring Shrewsbury, and was outspoken against King Stephen and the siege.
  • The scout just learned that sanctuary was an option and deserted.
  • The doctor worked in the city of Shrewsbury.
  • The smuggler, likely Welsh, is a trade magnate.

Only one of the characters is “combat” savvy. It is the Scout; The one with the character trait “Flee from Battle” and an instinct to always be in the back rank.


People were quick to dive into the book and think about building their character. It was a much more personal affair. I did not feel like I was facilitating the collaboration for character creation. In the future, I think having further constraints will help bring focus to the character creation.

I’ll also consider seeding a few constrained beliefs – but not lifepaths. I wrote a few quick sketches for kick starting a Burning Wheel campaign:

The scope of these 4 situations is perhaps more urgent than Burning Sanctuary’s initial situation; The framework of belief prompts helps point characters in directions without removing their ability to interpret them.

In hindsight, a bit more collaborative world and situation building may have been appropriate. Character creation felt somewhat isolated. I wasn’t facilitating the back and forth conversation.

Once we wrapped up I sent out some guidance to work on character’s beliefs:

  • A belief paired with actionable things
  • Tied directly to the situation of play
  • Designed to drive characters towards action and conflict

I also pointed them to the Burning Wheel Belief Workshop.

I’m looking forward to this Burning Wheel; My favorite RPG sessions have always been those that strive to avoid physical combat. This group is ill-prepared for any physical combat.

They are, however, quite ready for Duel of Wits.

Life During a Wartime Random Table Redux

Every great man built himself a castle and held it against the king; and they filled the whole land with these castles. They sorely burdened the unhappy people of the country with forced labour on the castles; and when the castles were built, they filled them with devils and wicked men. [1]

By Henry of Huntingdon (Historia Anglorum) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Henry of Huntingdon (Historia Anglorum) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m preparing for an upcoming Burning Wheel campaign. I am using the Anarchy of England as the backdrop.

If the characters crawl the English countryside, I want some more random generators. Five years ago, I was gearing up to run a campaign set during a war. I wrote up a random wartime village generator; I may reuse some of that.


In response to a weak crown, the barons are consolidating their personal power.

What is the State of the Fortifications?

2d6 Roll
2 Wooden palisade
3-5 Major enhancements beginning
6-8 Major enhancements wrapping up
9-11 Earthen motte and bailey
12 Stone castle

Were these Fortifications Sanctioned by the King?

An unsanctioned castle may draw the ire of the king; Though he has numerous irons in the fire.

1d6 Roll
1-5 Unsanctioned
6 Sanctioned


Taking a page from Zzarchov Kowolski‘s Scenic Dunnsmouth (review), I’m establishing a campaign attribute “King’s Popularity”.

When a person’s loyalty to the king is unknown, the GM rolls 2d6 to get their “Loyal to the King” score. Then compare that score to the current “King’s Popularity”:

Loyal to the King is… Resulting Allegiance
Less than King’s Popularity Loyal to the King Stephen
Equal to King’s Popularity Hedging bets
Greater than King’s Popularity Loyal to Empress Matilda

Throughout the course of play as the “King’s Popularity” rises and falls, this will adjust a person’s allegiance.

Example: The current “King’s Popularity” score is 7. The players encounter Herald FitzJohn, an unknown. The GM secretly rolls 2d6 and gets a 6. Herald FitzJohn’s allegiance is to King Stephen. If the “King’s Popularity” drops to 5, the Herald FitzJohn’s allegiance will shift to Empress Matilda.

More Randomizations

  • Village/city events – lift from Torchbearer
  • Countryside events – drawing a blank right now


1: The Angle-Saxon Chronicle, placed as the entry for the year 1137, but written in the 1150s. This section comes from The Peterborough Chronicle 1070-1154, ed. C Clark, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 1970); translations include The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. D. Whitelock et al. (London, 1962)