Dining with the Baron

After a long hiatus, we were back in Bloodstone. Previously, the party had arrived, and were going to be dining with the Baron Tranth.

Dinner

  • There was some discussion about who would be attending
  • No one wanted all the dwarves to come
  • After some back and forth the dinner party invitees would consist of
    • Menas (PC)
    • Kruder (PC)
    • Remy (PC)
    • Holden (PC)
    • Lady Gwen (PC)
    • Dragan (NPC)
    • Crispin (NPC)
    • Katie (NPC)
    • Dellan (NPC)
  • Squire Marlin asked if anyone needed to be introduced.
  • Menas insisted on being introduced as High Captain Menas.
  • Squire Marlin escorted the guests into the dinning room and Menas to a waiting room.
  • Abbott Aldric and Sage Quillan were also present.
  • Holden had been at the College of Magic while Quillan was there.  They sat together.
  • Meanwhile Menas was introduced to Baron Tranth and his daughter Lady Christine.
  • The seating arrangement would prove key…At the head of the table was Baron Tranth, and then going around clockwise was Sage Quillan, Holden, Abott Aldric, Lady Gwen, Katie, Remy, Lady Christine (at the foot), Dragan, Dellan, Crispin, Kruder, Menas (to the immediate right of Baron Tranth).
  • Dinner was served, and the drinks were flowing.  Baron Tranth wanted no talk of business.
  • Holden and Sage Quillan talked about a student who was likely with the dwarves.
  • Lady Gwen kept eating to avoid any conversation with Abbott Aldric.
  • Dragan, Lady Christine, Remy, and Katie were conversing.

Complications

  • Crispin was devouring lots of food and Baron Tranth took note.  Menas dismissed Crispin, and as he was leaving Remy decided to poke fun at the Crispin to impress Lady Christine and Katy.
  • The test was a Comedy test with the consequence being he would infuriate Crispin.
  • Remy failed and Crispin tried to go over the table at Remy, but was restrained by Dragan and Dellan.
  • Crispin was escorted out, followed by Kruder and Menas.
  • There Crispin swore that he would exact revenge on Remy for the humiliations.  Menas interceded and promised he would be the one to punish Remy.
  • There was lots of cursing and threats in dwarvish.
  • Crispin was placated, and left.  Outside was Remy’s guard/bondsman Brandon…and Crispin, without his armor and weapons wisely decided to disengage from Brandon (I should’ve had the Crispin attack Brandon).  Instead Crispin cursed Brandon saying he would be put down along with his master.
  • While this is going on, Lady Christine is working to converse with Remy.  Remy is trying to deflect the attention onto Dragan, who only has eyes for Lady Gwen.  A bit of maneuvering, and Remy failed to redirect conversation.  Lady Christine was infatuated.
  • During the conversation I called for a test to not alienate Katie, but Remy failed and Katie stormed out.
  • Lady Gwen, tired of Abbott Aldric and his droning, seized on Katie’s leaving and excused herself to help Katie.  Together they hatched a plan to snoop around the Abbey.
  • Out in the hall Kruder and Menas were working up a plan when Lady Gwen and Katie came out.
  • Lady Gwen and Katie attempted to lie about Katie feeling sick…it was her time of the month.  But Menas and Kruder didn’t buy the lie.  They did, however, let the ladies go.

Clandestine Operation

  • Lady Gwen and Katie went to the Abbey, and were greeted by Acolyte Devin.  He was sweeping the entry.
  • Lady Gwen and Katie insisted on saying their prayers, and went into the Abbey.
  • Acolyte Devin kept sweeping, until Kruder arrived and asked a few questions.
  • Kruder left, and Acolyte Devin locked the Abbey up.  At this point, I was simply assuming Acolyte Devin was concerned about a dwarf in the night.
  • Lady Gwen and Katie started poking around the Abbott’s chambers.
  • I called for a Scavenging test… Ob 2, they’d find more information about the heretical books.  Ob 5, and they’d find a book of pure evil.  And this would be beginner’s luck.
  • Lady Gwen beseeched her god, who was the god of the Abbey, for aid…Her request was struck down and she would need to atone for her actions.
  • Not to be deterred, Lady Gwen’s player threw some persona into the roll.  With Fate and Persona, she managed to get 8 successes, though she would need 10.  She opted to burn her Deed point, and did indeed find a book of pure evil.
  • Lady Gwen was going to bring down the Abbot…but not before Acolyte Devin interceded.  With the successful test, I opted to have Acolyte Devin be more sinister.
  • Acolyte Devin attacked, trying to push Lady Gwen into the book.  Lady Gwen screamed.
  • Kruder hearing the scream tried to bust down the door, but failed.
  • Acolyte Devin, with black energy coursing through his veins attempted to strike Lady Gwen, but failed.
  • Katie fled the room, leaving Lady Gwen and Acolyte Devin to fight each other.
  • The scuffle quickly ended after Menas burst down the door and Kruder and Menas subdued Acolyte Devin.
  • Menas, Kruder, Katie and Lady Gwen carefully gathered up the book, and they brought the book and the unconscious Acolyte Devin to Baron Tranth’s manor.

Back at the Dinner Party

  • While the others were out, the dinner was rather quiet, and eventually excused themselves to the sitting room, where the Baron began pouring find bourbons.
  • Holden began asking Abbott Aldric about books, after all Holden knew that the Abbott had sent some books to another priest.
  • Their conversation turned to heretical books of power, and Holden made a “Dark Secret-Wise” test to figure out how to destroy books of power.
  • He failed, and the complication that I gave him was that in order to destroy a book of power, he would need a person willing to sacrifice an appendage. I was particularly proud of this complication, as it was a moment where I could turn the failure into a complication, and still enable the player to craft what else must be done. 
  • As the conversations were turning, Kruder, Menas, Lady Gwen, and Katie burst into the room…and sought the Baron’s attention.
  • During the confusion, Aldric attempted to slip away Inconspicuously, but failed. Instead he fled.  He even muttered a baleful prayer of intercession, but his dark god would not listen.
  • Kruder, attempting to stop the abbott, threw Acolyte Devin, but wasn’t able to trip up the abbott.
  • Dragan, Kruder and Menas gave pursuit. A quick chase through the winding halls, and Kruder was left facing Abbott Aldric and his hostage, a serving lady.
  • Kruder advanced, and Aldric ripped at the hostages throat, drawing blood.
  • Kruder lunged but Aldric managed to put blood to his broach and turned into a puff of smoke…and was gone.
  • Lady Gwen was summoned and successfully tended to the serving lady.

I wasn’t intending for Abbott Alrdic to go evil so soon, but felt that I could challenge Lady Gwen’s beliefs and have her dig up some dirt.  It was a perfect confluence of being annoyed, etiquette, powder rooms, clandestine operations, and pushing real hard.  The story then naturally spiralled from there.

In reviewing how this campaign is going, I will say that Burning Wheel with 5 players is very challenging.  There is a lot to keep track of.  At times Lady Gwen, played by my 11 year old daughter, feels as though there is too much downtime.  I try to move the spotlight around, but it is challenging with 5 players.  In D&D, its simple, never split the party.

In this iteration of Burning Wheel, people are going off in separate groups, trying to accomplish something.  I also feel that if the player wants the spotlight, then they should grab it.  Or hook into the story in interesting ways.

What Should the Game Master Fight For?

I have kicked off lots of campaigns as a GM, and none of them have been completed to my satisfaction.  Some campaigns withered as I grew disinterested, others collapsed as integral players left, and to my recollection none of my campaigns have completed.

I want to run a long-standing campaign, at least 15 sessions, to it’s conclusion.

Typically I spend quite a bit of time thinking about where things should end up – in 10 sessions – and much less focused on the present situations.

I don’t prepare adventures but prefer to act and react with the players and their characters.  Certainly I could create more challenging “set pieces” for the player characters, but I don’t know if that’s in my gamer DNA.

Burning Wheel builds on the assumption that you will “Fight for what you believe.” And the question hit me – What if this imperative is not just for the characters’ players but is for the Game Master as well?

What should a Game Master fight for?

First and foremost, we are all playing a game, and as such all participants should fight for enjoyment.  The short-term enjoyment of a single in-game moment, the medium-term enjoyment of a resolving story-arc, and the long-term enjoyment of character development and narrative closure.

A Game Master should fight to challenge the players and characters.  Guaranteed success is boring. In fact, my most memorable sessions are inevitably where situations spiral out of control, ala Fiasco-style, because success wasn’t guaranteed.  Typically these sessions are also very combat-lite.  A thinly veiled threat of splitting the loot 2 ways comes to mind.

Most systems I’ve played have two possible outcomes for a given roll…Success or Failure.  If I succeed, I am given narrative control.  If I fail, the GM is given narrative control.  There is no negotiation. No compromise.

I believe Apocalypse World gets it so very right by codifying that moves have a third possible outcome: Partial Success. Partial Success is a negotiated success…I get something that I want, but with a cost.  In the case of Apocalypse World, I’m negotiating with the rules.  In the case of Burning Wheel’s Duel of Wits, I’m negotiating with the table.

And lastly fight for what the characters and players believe in.  I struggle with engaging everyone’s beliefs.  In part this is a natural consequence of my failure to help shepherd character creation by not successfully conveying my campaign vision.  Also, beliefs are adjusted and change according to developing goals.  Keeping this information up to date is a challenge…especially if you can’t get confirmation from your game group that you are even playing that weekend.

In summary, understand what your players want then challenge and engage them via the story and the system.

Make a Decision Already

I sometimes struggle with analysis paralyses.  I’m looking at you restaurant menus and complex strategy games.

In the last session of the Butcher, Baker, and Candlestick Maker, we ended the session with an interesting Duel of Wits.  Chase, Peter, and Margaret were going to ensure Julia marries William.  And the Duel of Wits turned ugly fast.

As a player, I wanted to advance certain skills and abilities.  My character, however, wanted to make sure that her sister’s wedding went through as originally agreed.  And there was beautiful tension of player and character.  As the duel of wits spiralled into the dark corners of a pyrrhic victory, I was marking off tests for various skills and dishing out slander against Julia’s future in-laws.

And in this tension, I’ve discovered more about my character Margaret.  She is oblivious to the ramifications of her words…Misunderstood perhaps.  She’s very rash when it comes to “protecting her family” and will pull no punches.

Take a moment to read Luke Crane’s micro-interview from RPG Countdown’s “Best of 2011.”

We came to the climax of the [three year] game and every player was chewing his beard or gnawing on his knuckles going, “Oh God, I don’t wanna do this thing…but I can’t…but I should.” Burning Wheel Gold gets you to that point. When you have those conflicts and they are rewarded, [Burning Wheel Gold] loves it. It doesn’t care what decision you make, it just wants you to make a decision.

For my RPGs I want what Luke’s talking about – meaningful decisions.  Decisions that shape future direction of the game…Decisions that are not easy, but show the mettle of a character.   But here in lies a tension with meaningful decisions comes the potential for analysis paralysis.

But, if the decision is important enough – related directly to a character’s belief – then there should be some gnashing of teeth and grinding of gears.  Characters are forged in the fires of adversity.

Contrast this with D&D 4E.  I’ve witnessed player turns in various D&D 4E games that took far too long – I don’t need to witness 3 minutes of decision making paired with 3 minutes of action resolution for a single player.  If you are aware of the math in D&D 4E, any single decision doesn’t carry that much weight – there are no Save or Die spells.

In D&D 4E, the weight of your tactical decision is inversely proportional to the number of hit points you have remaining.  This encodes a narrative ebb and flow.  Early, there is little tension, and as hit points are lost, the tension increases.

Whereas in Burning Wheel, the advice for tension regarding tests is based on how close a test cleaves to a belief.  If a test is directly related to a Belief, the stakes should be very high.

I’m willing to sit back and watch someone deliberate about a test for something they believe in…a meaningful test.  I want to better understand their character.  I can take those insights and as a player or game master fold them back into the ongoing campaign.