Playing Burning Wheel Gold With The Kids

I’ve run two sessions of Bloodstone in Burning Wheel Gold. In the group of five players, there are three adults and two kids (my 14 year old son and my 11 year old daughter).  I had some trepidations about running such a rules crunchy system for such young gamers.

My son has played quite a bit of D&D and has been gaming for a long time.  My daughter has been more tangentially involved, but has expressed continued interest over the years.

Knowing the challenges, I adopted a plan to help them and here are some points of advice for gaming with your kids.

Assign a Mentor

This is by far the most important step. Each of the kids have a mentor assigned to them. Each mentor’s character is more directly connected to the mentee’s character through beliefs and backstory. The mentor also helps with the procedures of game play.

Help Them Out with Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits (i.e. help them develop their character)

My son’s character is a dwarf high captain with very proud beliefs. When he first started talking he was very non-committal and would ask for other character’s input regarding military orders.

The table spoke up and let my son know that he was a take charge kind of character.  He started barking orders with a bit more authority.

What I found incredibly helpful is to start out the session by having each player read their beliefs out loud then spend a bit of time quietly “getting into character.”

Recording Tests (i.e. keeping track of things)

Remembering to record tests is probably the most tricky. The mentor reminds the player to record tests for advancement; During play we record the non-Artha dice used vs. the obstacle. Once the session is over, we go through the log and record the appropriate test.

There is a bit of disconnect between tests and advancement. I believe if we were to transition to “in the moment” recording of tests, then the players would push even harder as there is an immediate feedback.

Names on Index Cards

I picked this up as a recommendation for con gaming. Every character, henchman, and hireling has their name on an index card and display that card prominently at the table. No excuse to forget another character’s name.

I’ve played in a campaign where no one knew the name of my shortly lived orc sorcerer.

Avoid Scripted Conflict…for Now (i.e. Don’t Get Too Detailed)

Thus far, I have avoided the scripted “Range and Cover” and “Fight” as they can be intimidating and unforgiving.  I have, however, had a few duel of wits, and in both cases it went rather smoothly.

At some point, I feel as though I can break into Fight with my son’s character, a dwarf-mail wearing, 11 Mortal Wounds, combat veteran.  His risk of injury is rather small, especially if I have a single fool-hardy soldier challenge him.

For now, however, I will take advice from D. Vincent Baker‘s Apocalypse World and  at NPCs through crosshairs; I’ll make sure the characters witness the danger of a missile weapon.

Observations

The kids do a remarkable job getting into character.  I hear the echoes of my nostalgic gaming memories as they role-play their characters.  The engagement and energy that they bring elevates the game, and I want to create an even more engaging story with them. This is a hobby that I would love to see them pick up as their own. It is a hobby that has kept me in touch with friends over the course of more than twenty years.

Hacking Together a Burning Wheel Conflict Resolution on the Fly

At this point, the Bloodstone adventuring party is composed of 5 player characters, 4 associates travelling with them (purchased with resource points), 2 farming boys from Bloodstone, and 9 dwarves recruited by Menas and part of a larger contingent of axe-bearers.  Needless to say a very large group.

Having recently and hastily fled Valls, they started the session all gathered on a nearby hilltop.  Quickly they set out for Bloodstone, a two week journey.  They knew that constable Jared of Valls was going to pursue them, as the Duke of Arcata was recently slain and the corrupt constable was going to try to pin it on the characters.

While on the road to Bloodstone, not more than an hour outside of Valls, they heard the approach of mounted soldiers.  They hastily attempted to hide their wagon, and the two injured NPCs, in the woods.  It was a dismal failure.  Miraculously, however, the dwarfs were able to hide in the woods.

As the knights were approaching but not yet visible, Holden cast a spell and changed his appearance to that of a peasant.  Once the soldiers closed, they immediatelyassess the situation, asking where Holden, a powerful sorcerer, was.

Remy rather quickly and successfully convinced the soldiers that Holden and the dwarves had split from the party and were going another way.  Remy’s hope was to divide the soldiers, and deal with a smaller group of mounted combatants.

Unfortunately, the soldiers were primarily interested in Lady Gwen. So upon believing the deception that Holden and 9 dwarfs were gone, the soldiers attempted to hastily and somewhat sloppily capture Lady Gwen.

At this point, I had a moment of internal panic.  Here was a physical conflict between 34 people.  Clearly Fight was not going to work.  Should I drop to Range and Cover?  Should I just have a single test?  Is it okay to resolve this whole scene with a single test?  Or should it be a series of linked tests? Ultimately I deferred to the players, asking everyone wanted to do in that exact moment.

What I chose to do ended up working reasonably well, at least I felt it worked well.  I stated what the soldiers were attempting to do; Two of them were going to grab Lady Gwen and ride off with her, while the others were going to remain at attention.  I went around the table and asked what everyone was doing.

  • Kruder was going to fire his crossbow to protect Lady Gwen
  • Menas was going to step in between the two soldiers and chop down anyone that approached Lady Gwen
  • Remy was going to dive under the wagon
  • Lady Gwen was going to dive under the wagon for cover
  • Holden was going to cast Horror
  • The other friendly NPCs were hiding and waiting to see what happened.

Once everyone had declared their actions, I called for Speed tests, giving various characters bonus dice (Kruder’s instinct and crossbow gave him the best bonus +3D, the mounted soldiers were given a +2D, and most everyone else had +0D).  The results of the Speed test determined the order of actions.

Kruder went first, firing a crossbow bolt into the chest of a soldier, and killing him outright.  Menas stepped to protect Lady Gwen, by attacking the soldier who was approaching Lady Gwen.  Unfortunately, the soldier’s armor deflected Menas’ attack.  The soldier then attempted to grab Lady Gwen, but wasn’t able to get a firm hold of her.  Both Remy and Lady Gwen then quickly dove under the wagon.  Holden, the old man that he is, then let loose a Horror spell.

At this point, I did some quick mental acrobatics. Clearly the soldiers were going to have issues with a Steel test at +2 OB.  Also the dwarves.  However, the Dwarves, due to their general mental fortitude, were going to snap out of their shock and jump into action quicker than the human soldiers.

With the above determined, I had the players perform a few linked tests (i.e. knocking someone down, attacking them, rhetoric to demand their surrender) to increase the effectiveness of 9 concealed dwarfs charing a dozen startled soldiers.  The characters were rather successful in these tests, and I had half of the soldiers unhorsed and the remaining soldiers rode off with tails between their legs.

Not Quite Rules as Written

I used some of the rules of Burning Wheel, but also opted to roll with the punches.  Instead of scripting conflict, either in the form of Range and Cover or Fight, I went framing the initial first segment of the scene.  I framed the first segment and then resolved, mentally treating the first segment as a linked test that informed the remainder of the scene.

All told this “massive battle” with 34 people, took about 20 minutes, which included both the “talky” part, the “stabby” part, and the “loot the bodies” part.  Did it strictly adhere to Burning Wheel?  I don’t care.  We had a great scene that advanced the story.

So the lesson I learned, or reinforced perhaps, is to make sure the players have enough hooks in the conflict framing and resolution that a scene can be resolved and no one is left saying “Wait a minute I was going to…”  As I pointed out earlier, even the simplest Burning Wheel test, has lots of hooks for players to interact with (i.e. FoRK, help, Persona point, Deed point, Fate point, linked test, emotional attribute).

This is all a fine balance, but I feel as though the players trust me to adjudicate a fair game.  In doing so we were able to resolve what could’ve been a long encounter in a brief amount of time.

Related Articles

FoRK-ed off

As I’ve started running another Burning Wheel campaign, I’ve noticed the heavy and seemingly extreme use of FoRKs.  Amongst the characters, there is an extremely dangerous persuader (Remy Leduc); He can easily FoRK three or more skills into a single Persuasion test.

That is the nature of a 7 Lifepath character.  He is extremely potent in his particular focus.  This character has the luxury that for each Persuasion test he can choose between almost certain success or a test for advancement.  This is a design decision of Burning Wheel.

His heavy reliance on FoRKs comes with a mechanical cost…He won’t be advancing his Persuasion skill. Nor will he need to spend Artha on these tests.  This character has already plateaued in regards to Persuasion.

In fact, Remy’s player is adverse to failing a Burning Wheel test. He is tracking the result of all tests by all players, recording dice rolled, obstacle, artha involved, and success/failure.

Why the Fear of Failure?

A single test in Burning Wheel is quite “gamey”.  You can maneuver for bonuses (i.e. FoRKs and helping dice), commit precious resources before the roll (i.e. spending a Persona point), and even gamble on salvaging a failed test  (i.e. spending a Fate point).

A single test in Burning Wheel has many similarities to combat in D&D, albeit as a fast combat.  In D&D you maneuver for bonuses (i.e. flank) and commit precious resources before the roll (i.e. use a daily power, unleash your highest level spell).

It is these similarities that creates the disproportionall fear of failure. In the games of D&D I’ve played, failure in combat means death or at least dead ends.

Burning Wheel, however, discourages failure from being the end. It is instead the start of a new thread steeped in a complication.  Burning Wheel is all about saying “Yes but…”

Embrace Failure

Burning Wheel has many mechanics for improving your chance of success, but those chances come at the cost of advancement.  Don’t be afraid to fail a test in Burning Wheel. In failing, your character is getting something.

A Missed Opportunity for Burning Wheel – Duel of Wits

In the latest session of our Bloodstone campaign (yes I know I need to post session reports).  We had a session ending Duel of Wits. The stakes were as follows: Lady Gilliam demanded that the heroes remain in the village of Fendowns for 1 month and provide defenses.  The heroes were asking for 2 weeks provisions, 6 draft horses, and a wagon.

The powerful persuader Remy Leduc, and the other heroes, started with a body of argument of 21, whereas Lady Gilliam, with a little help, had 11.  The duel was quickly over, as Remy with a G7 persuasion, and enough FoRKs for a small dinner party, trounced Lady Gilliam.  The heroes were required to offer a minor concession.  After a bit of back and forth, we settled on the heroes staying in the village of Fendowns for 3 extra days.

Given that Remy has already seduced a “paranoid” woman, with “daddy issues”, after some thinking and discussion with Jaron, what I should have done is have Lady Gilliam insist that any negotiations be done in private.  This would’ve had a two-fold effect: First, it would’ve created a binding contract between one of the characters.  Second, it would’ve created some tension between Remy’s woman and Lady Gilliam.

Imagine Remy agreeing to the whole party staying for 3 days and then having to convince the party that they’d need to stay for 3 days.  That is some excellent tension.  Now imagine negotiations behind closed doors when there is a paranoid lover kept out.  Again, excellent tension.

Alas, those ideas were after the gaming session.  None the less, the characters are now going to be stuck in the Fendowns for 3 days, while the village of Bloodstone draws closer to the day in which it must pay tribute.  I’m really looking forward to the next session.

Life During a Wartime – Random Village Generator

I’ve been preparing for the second session of Bloodstone, and have been thinking about the trip from Valls to Bloodstone. The region has fallen into anarchy as the Kingdom of Vaasa continues to exert control over the shattered remains of the Kingdom of Damara.

During the second session, the players are almost certainly going to be encountering numerous villages along the way. In fact, since they left without supplies, I’m assuming they’ll be scrounging and begging at each of the villages.  

Applying a bit of Zak S’ advice, I figured I’d up a platform to generate villages during wartime.  So at lunch, I started thinking about various attributes of a fantasy gaming village during wartime.

To determine the village size, roll 1d6 x 1d6 x 30.  Of those villagers, (1d6 + 4) x 10% are capable of defending the village (50% to 100%); In the case of 100%, assume that the village has sent the children, elderly, and infirm away.

In addition to the village size, I wanted some other random attributes: physical condition, mental condition, current supplies, most recent raid, who’s in charge, and an associated random event/hook.

Table 1: Physical Condition – What is the current physical state of the village
1d6 Physical Condition
1 Ruins
2 Partial Ruins
3 No Defenses
4 Manor House
5 Light Village-wide Fortification
6 Heavy Village-wide Fortification
Table 2: Mental Condition – what is the current mental state of the villagers
1d6 Mental Condition
1 Sympathetic to the enemy
2 Preparing to evacuate
3 Paranoid
4 Indifferent
5 Inviting
6 Defiant
Table 3: Current Supplies
1d6 Current Supplies
1 Almost depleted
2 Starvation rations
3 Carefully rationed
4 Enough…for now
5 Enough for the season
6 Enough for the year
Table 4: Most Recent Raid
1d6 Most Recent Raid
1 1 hour ago
2 1 day ago
3 1 week ago
4 1 month ago
5 1 year ago
6 never
Table 5: Who’s in Charge
1d6 Who’s in Charge
1 Village Council
2 Lord of the Manor
3 Lady of the Manor
4 Elected Mayor
5 Charismatic Villager
6 An Outsider
Table 6: Interesting events, roll twice.
3d6 Random Event
3 Some nefarious abomination has seized control of the village.
4 Garrisoned with oppositional force (Soldiers of Vaasa)
5 A contagious disease is beginning to take hold
6 Mercenary troop now controls the village
7 Lord has been killed
8 Village has taken to raiding other neighboring villages
9 Holding a neighboring lord ransom
10 Sleeper agents (1d6-2, minimum of 1) is amongst the public
11 Overwhelming number of injured militia
12 Lord is being held for ransom
13 Roll 2 more times on this table
14 Currently sheltering an entire neighboring village
15 Garrisoned with sympathetic force (Soldiers of Damara)
16 A sorcerer has moved into town and is offering protection
17 A small group of heroes have been enlisted to defend the village.
18 A local god has manifested to “protect” the village

The Butcher, the Baker, and the Candlestick Maker

Map for Butcher, Baker and the Candlestick Maker Campaign

Map for Butcher, Baker and the Candlestick Maker Campaign

This past Sunday, October 9, we sat down to start another Burning Wheel campaign.  This one will run on alternate weekends with the Bloodstone campaign.

Prior to the character creation session, Joe provided the initial constraint:  Jaron, Matt, and I were all going to play siblings in a large family (8 or so children).  And our grandfather was a powerful sorcerer, long since gone.  Our parents were simple farmers, mother died years ago and father disappeared around that time.

While we were waiting for everyone to assemble, I suggested that we needed more of a theme.  And I suggested, somewhat jokingly, that the characters should be a butcher, baker, and a candlestick maker. The idea took hold.

Jaron chose to play the candlestick maker, which in Burning Wheel is best done by the peddler.  I chose the butcher, leaving Matt with the baker.

World Burning

But, before we got too far along, we needed to burn up the world.  Using a modified version of Legends of Anglerre’s campaign building, we drew up the map.  Using Matt Finch’s most excellent Tome of Adventure Design we named our points of interest:

  • Crypt of the Slug Mother
  • Asylum of the Reawakened Prince
  • The Resurrection Altar
  • The Boiling Pools
  • The Spiraling Lake
  • Manse of the Loathsome Keeper
  • The Overgrown Halls
  • The Slumbering Libraries

Already an interesting tale was unfolding.  The map has an ocean, a wild forest home to a fallen empire of elves, a mountain region, and three countries: Atlya, Brothers of the Blind Fire, and the Cromonian Confederation.

Atlya

Ruled by a regent until Crown Prince Claud Richardson comes of age.  We gave it the aspects of “magical refuge” and “kingdom on the verge of bankruptcy.”  It has a magic index of +3 (i.e. abundant), resources +2 (i.e. major exports), and military action -2 (i.e. espionage).  Clearly with abundant resources and on the verge of bankruptcy, taxes are not being properly collected.

Brothers of the Blind Fire

A theocracy dedicated to Aliziac, the Fire that Blinds.  The theocracy’s aspects are “sorcerers shall be fed to the flames” and “our fires once burned bright and shall once again.”  It has magic +0 (i.e. rare gifted), resources +1 (i.e. rich), and military -2 (i.e. espionage).

The Cromonian Confederation

A confederation of states, it’s aspects are “wizard’s school” and “patriotic”.  It has magic +3 (i.e. abundant), resources +0 (i.e. sustainable), and military -1 (i.e. defensive).

Character Burning

I set about to make my butcher.  Given the abundance of magic, and our families history in sorcery, I wanted to play a sorcerer.  So I burned up Margeret Whiteguard (Born Gifted (Village), Butcher, Lead to Peasant, Auger).

I was very hesitant to play a woman, in fact this is the first time in my gaming career that I’ve played a woman (at least one that wasn’t changed to a woman due to a magic item).  Ultimately I was drawn to the idea of digging through the entrails of butchered chickens as she consults the portents.

As I worked through the character questionnaire, I began working out her backstory.  She had in fact given birth to a baby girl, but committed infanticide when Margaret consulted the portents and saw something unspeakable horror in the baby’s future.  A few years later, she was pregnant again, and consulted the portents…only to have the exact same divination.  With the baby, she fled to her brother and forced him to take her baby girl. She returned to her home village and lived as an impoverished augur.

The other players burned up 5 lifepath characters, while I burned up a 3 lifepath character.  Margaret has a very limited skill list: Anatomy B2, Astrology B2, Butchery B2, Falsehood B2, Guts-wise B2, Omen-wise B2, Sorcery B4, and Ugly Truth B2 (10 initial skill points, 2 of which were general skills).  She spent most of her resources on spells (i.e. The Fear, Low Speech, and Phantasmagoria).

She is disturbed (Char), misunderstood (Char), has a prominent scar on her face (Char), is gifted (Dt), has the touch of the ages (Dt), and is a dreamer (Dt).  Every morning, she consults the portents (Instinct).  Through her premonitions, she has vowed to find the family member that is committing vile acts (Belief).

I’m still working on the remaining beliefs, but believe I have quite a bit to hang my hat on.

Family Role-Playing and Unexpected Events

Le Spitler Friesen Frech Menu

Le Spitler Friesen Frech Menu

Last night was quite possibly the most surreal parenting night of my life; Tonight was likely the second most.

Yesterday

Yesterday, my youngest daughter kept badgering me for money for her Scholastic book order. And my step-daughter kept petitioning on her behalf.  Together, they were working to erode Dad’s Deaf Wall of Apathy™.  At the same time, my middle daughter smelled blood in the water and pounced; She wanted to have friends over for a make-up birthday party.  Dad’s Deaf Wall of Apathy™ was wearing dangerously thin.

So, in a flash of brilliance or fool-hardiness, I made them schedule an appointment with me.  The youngest was slated to petition for books at 7pm; The middlest would plead for her party at 7:15pm.

As the minutes slowly passed, the youngest repeatedly asked “Can I have money for the books?”

And I replied, “I can answer you now, or you can wait until our appointment.  If I answer you now…”

She’d hastily interrupt with an “Oh, I’ll wait.”

As the appointment drew closer, I decided that I would put on a tie (something I very rarely wear) and conduct the appointment in as professional manner as I could muster.  As I crept upstairs, I overheard the girls.  They too were getting dressed up for their appointment.  The game was on!

At 6:55pm, I instructed Jenny to call me at 7:05pm to interrupt my meeting.  Then I waited, and informed those waiting on appointments that I wasn’t ready.

At 7pm, I let the girls begin to plead their case.  They were passionate, and explaining the case for each of the books.  With a bit of back and forth banter, I agreed and wrote the check.

At 7:15pm, the middle child approached.  And this was a bit more delicate of a situation.  I dismissed her retinue and we talked in earnest about her request.  I broke down the schedule, and we talked about what she was thinking.  We eventually agreed on a date.

And then all hell broke loose.  By this time, the girls were emboldened, and brought Jenny in to see, in their terms, “The Love Doctor.”  At this point, the youngest opened a barrage of energetically delivered questions, the first one being “How’s your love life?”

Jenny and I played along, as best we could, considering we were talking to with our 9 and 11 year old children.  My heart warmed when the youngest said “You should buy Jenny flowers, like roses or peonies.”  Afterall, peonies are Jenny’s favorite flower.  And here, my daughter had called out something important to her step-mother.

But the Love Doctor wasn’t done, and my youngest went on to suggest that I should take Jenny out to a fancy restaurant.  And from their, the children all agreed that they would make us a fancy dinner the following night, and would be the wait staff for the family restaurant.

Eventually, the Love Doctor was sent off to take her bath, and we were given a reprieve.

Today

With some help from Jenny, the girls prepared the food for this evenings dinner.  They were busy cutting potatoes, making hors d’œuvre, preparing menus, and formulating their plan.

When I got home from work, they forbid me to enter the kitchen or dinning room, and went so far as to force me to wear ear plugs so I couldn’t hear them planning a romantic candle light dinner for their parent and step-parent.

When the food was ready, they had us wait to be seated, and ushered us into the dining room.  The table was set, with silverware wrapped in napkins, candles, flowers, wine glasses, and even little bells for us to ring if we needed anything.

Jenny and I had a relatively quite dinner where we talked and caught up on our day.  All the while, the children were checking in to see if we needed more water, or were interested in seconds. The girls even offered and then made brownies for dessert.  They were also quite  gracious in helping us eat them.

And to top off the evening, we played a short game of Mouse Guard.  But, to be honest, the autumnal exploits of the Spitler-Friesen-Frech family are far more memorable than a handful of mice delivering the mail.  In fact, I’m fairly certain, that my initial “conflict” with the youngest resulted in a cascade of complications that ultimately wove the tail of a wonderful story.