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.