What follows is a resurrection of a blog post I wrote a year and a half ago.
It has been awhile since my last Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker session report. We have had a horrific time getting together to play. Life schedules can be such a hyrda.
After OnusBone's comments on my Dungeon World Kickstarter announcement, I feel like I should continue writing the session reports.
Wedding Day Redux
Unfortunately most of this is lost.
Tackling the Tower
This session felt different. Joe, the game master, came with a set of puzzles/trap rooms that we were going to have to navigate to the basement of the tower. There were several rooms with physical challenges and numerous ability and skill tests.
So many that poor Margaret, still recovering from her Midi wound managed to advance both Speed and Power both to B5 – Margaret made some ridiculously lucky checks to avoid catastrophe.
The session worked rather well…the consequences for failure were rather obvious (i.e. don’t fall, don’t drown, etc.) And here is where I note something, that I think, is interesting; But more on that later.
We’re Going to Need Another Researcher
We spent the first few hours regaining some of our traction from a long interlude. With such a long hiatus, it was somewhat natural. Unfortunately, trying to restart a campaign in a library doing research is not quite starting en media res.
We didn’t learn much through the tower library – I believe we learned about the burial place of our grandfather. However, while others were researching, Margaret did work at instructing her niece and nephew in Butchery – using Beginner’s Luck to work at opening Child-Rearing.
Through Astrology, Margaret did divine the location the Redguard’s portion of the map; We were going go back to where Julia was originally captured. The family decided it was time to return to the capital.
Margaret survived her first casting of Flame Breath with only a whimper. Alas the details have long since been forgotten.
Contrast the consequences of a failed physical test vs. a failed “mental” test. We intrinsically understand what a failed physical test means…you fall, you get hurt, etc. We are able to map our player understandings to the character’s world. However, what does a non-physical failure look like? We don’t learn something, we stop, we get caught, etc.
In the case of climbing, the consequence wasn’t “You can’t climb it” the consequence was “You fall”. As I see it there are three outcomes of a climb test: “You climb it”, “You are stuck somewhere” and “You fall”.
Compare that to the failed “Research” test. As a player, I was at the end of my patience concerning information. We were in a freaking old library of the characters' grandfather who was a guardian of that which we were trying to learn about. And we learned nothing. So when Peter and Anna, Peter’s wife, failed their research test we got a big fat “You learn nothing.” Then what was the point of the test? Why did Anna get to mark a test for her Research?
If I were at the helm, choosing the consequence for failed research I would have started with “Okay if you fail the test, you’ll learn how to find the portal, but you won’t like the price.” Then with the failed research, I would’ve had them stumble upon a passage that said “To reveal the portal to the next generation of guardians, the first born of the new generation must be sacrificed.” Or some such ominous thing. After all, every single characters' belief is tied to protecting their family. The stakes are high so keep them elevated.
Without consequences of failure in the “mental” arena, test mongering becomes standard. In fact, I fired off a string of successive Astrology tests out of frustration and desperation, knowing that the consequences for failing an Obstacle (Ob 📖)10 test was “And I mark a Challenging Test.” In fact, without Astrology, we would be completely lost…but it is an unreliable means of advancing the story.
An astute reader of the Sorcery section will notice that tests already have backed in complications. Especially when attempting a First Reading.
So, in an attempt change my micro-culture I’m going work hard to demand a consequence before I roll for a test. I ask that players in my games, be they Burning Wheel or otherwise, do the same. I think this method of positing two outcomes before determining one is good practice as well as helpful in getting the creative elements going. We build our narratives not only on the paths we take, but by those we’ve considered taking.