Burning Warhammer: The Captain and the Witch (Alternate Character Creation)

Burning Up a Different Character

Note: This post has content disclaimers.

I’ve thought about my original version of , and I don’t think they’re what I want to play.

In that version, they are a competent ship captain, ready to press their formidable will upon Marienburg. And something in their approach didn’t quite feel like the character I wanted to play. The predatory character trait was a major hold out. Though I will miss the Fat Merchant-wise, I believe the character that follows will stumble into far more interesting adventures.

I think it was the firmness of goals, instead of the intrinsic responsiveness. At a meta-level, and to pull from a chess concept, the prior version of James van Shaw has the initiative. In this new version, I’ve positioned James van Shaw as ready to act, but not everything’s quite aligned.

I hope it’s evident in my walk through of “Captain” James van Shaw.

“Captain” James van Shaw

In the previous version, James van Shaw was born noble. That worked for someone looking to rise within Marienburg; Embarking on a sort of homecoming.

In this version, James is a scrappy outsider who made their way to Marienburg to study, but fell into the cracks of society. I thought about Blackmailer but didn’t like the Cold-Hearted trait. I’m looking for someone a little more likeable.

In this version of the “Captain”, there’s a more youthful ambition. He’s got a few ideas of where to go, but is always angling for a scheme. In the over confidence of their intellect, perhaps they over-engineer ideas.

Village: Born Villager, Peddler → City: Student → Outcast: Smuggler, Fence
I've read about being a boat captain and since someone just fenced the Danseur—it's mine now and I have the "papers" to prove it—I will get it out on the river and begin my life as a captain.
I will become a fat with riches, but first I'll convince Anouk to get me a good paying gig.
How fortuitous! I just learned about my brother's strange river powers, together we'll travel the river and make our first shipment.
Always know where the exits are
Never accept the first offer
Always rummage through the paperwork
Notable Skills and Attributes
Astrology B3
Circles B2
City-wise B3
Falsehood B4
Forgery B4
Haggling B5
Persuasion B5
Scavenging B3
Ship-wise B3
Read B3
Resources B2
Scavenger (call-on)
Blank Stare (die)
Eidetic Memory (die)
Geometric (die)
Glib (call-on)
Paranoid (character)
Rabble-rouser (character)
Scheming (die)
Shrewd (character)
Superstitious (character)
Marienburg - Riverman's Association (large)
Framke van Shaw (minor, Sister, Augur, Midwife, Bandit)
Anouk Vas (minor, Ship's Steward, Cousin)

Background and Design

Again, I’m breaking down my character’s Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits (BITs 🔍).

I decided that this version of Captain James van Shaw is far smaller in scope. He has a small skiff instead of a felucca. He has no combat skills, instead favoring deception and persuasion. He uses individual charm to get what he wants

If he wants to be a true “captain”, he’s going to need to get a bigger boat, a crew, and develop some skills (e.g. Command and Oratory). If that’s a path he takes, there will be plenty of failed tests to bring about interesting changes in fiction.

Belief 1: I’ve read about…

I decided instead of a full on ship’s captain, that Captain James van Shaw has just become a self-proclaimed captain. His only “boating skill” is Boat-wise and perhaps Astrology. I see astrology playing into his superstitious trait. Also, I’m thinking about opening up Omen-wise.

Baked into this belief is a bit of James van Shaw’s profession. He’s a fence and forger, and I love the idea of it not quite being his skiff.

Though with Rule of Law and Law-wise he may just be able to defend his claim in a court of law; Which would mean opening up Rhetoric and perhaps Oratory.

Wouldn’t that be interesting? En media res we open in a court room, where James van Shaw defends his ownership of a boat.

I wonder, how many people have begun a campaign in a court room drama?

It’s not like James will fight for the skiff. He’ll likely try to negotiate some kind of agreement. It’s not about ownership, it’s about schemes.

Maybe if the owner comes looking, James will convince the owner to bring him on and teach him boating?

Belief 2: I will become a fat with riches…

This is a reworking of the previous . However, given this version of James’s reduced Resources (e.g. the prior version had B4 resources, this one has B2), I’m pointing the belief at a relationship.

Cousin Anouk Vas is a steward of a sea going vessel. I envision that they are wealthier and connected, but also always needing supplies or to offload trade goods. They also cross the gap into the Seafaring setting, which gives James van Shaw some possible options for learning.

I kept the affiliation to the Riverman’s Association. However, in this version of Captain James van Shaw, I dropped the reputation that connected me to the Brotherhood of Seaman and Pilots. Cousin Anouk Vas’s relationship helps maintain that connection to the seafarers.

Also, if things get real troublesome, I can call on cousin Anouk Vas to maybe get James out of Marienburg.

Belief 3: How Fortuitous!…

This is a reworking of the previous belief. In this phrasing, I’m drawing out my character’s scheming and superstitious traits. The rewording removes the predatory language that I wrote to align with a prior character instinct.

This also telegraphs to the other player: I’m expecting that we’re going on the river to ship some goods. Let’s accomplish that.


This is where I’m even more excited.

Always know where the exits are

This version of Captain James van Shaw is much more of a slippery fish. I envision that he’s made some bad deals, gotten into some significant trouble, and bounced around with some unsavory people.

The instinct helps telegraph to the Game Master (GM 🔍) that James van Shaw isn’t in it for a fight. He’s in it for the scheme.

Never accept the first offer

Any offer, regardless of how good, is out of the question. James van Shaw is always angling for something more. With the interplay of Burning Wheel Gold 🔍’s Let it Ride rule, this instinct may mean James must pursue a different approach or work against the established boundaries of a Dual of Wits.

I suspect that this instinct, when pressed, will result in things going in wildly different directions.

Always rummage through the paperwork

This one’s ripe for trouble. In the original version James was always reading something. In this version, he’s better at reading. I wanted to acknowledge that version and build on what I had.

First, there’s the inevitable meetings in which James van Shaw’s talking to someone at their desk. He just can’t help himself.

Second, with eidetic memory and Forgery, I may well be able to write my own path to becoming a guilder.

Third, with a focus on scavenging, I’m likely to find and produce lots of interesting snippets of paper.


This version still has two relationships, though they’ve changed a bit.

First is sister Femke van Shaw. She’s an midwife, augur, turned bandit. I now see her as my sanctuary out in the wilderness. She’s got skill in herbalism, omen-wise, and astrology. These skills are both helpful and feed into James’s superstitious. Also, she has a small cottage.

I’m keeping Femke out of the belief spotlight for the moment, but know that as a bandit things may turn sour for her.

Second is cousin Anouk Vas. A ship’s steward. I already wrote about her and her utility. She’s someone of a higher station than James; likely serving on a felucca or carrack. There’s almost certainly some derision around James’s new boat and self-proclaimed “Captain”

At a meta-level, these characters are manifestations of “Captain” James van Shaw’s instinct always know where the exits are. One provides an egress into the sea and the other into the wilderness.


In burning up this version of “Captain” James van Shaw, I find a more approachable character. One that’s ready to wheel and deal, not committed to a given direction, just to the adventure at hand and where it might take them.

Important, however, is having beliefs and relationships that prime the first session for adventure.

Immediately James is aiming to convince his cousin to give him a job. And there’s the problem of the boat ownership. That’s enough adventure to get going. From there, this scheming smuggler will go where the river takes him.