Burning Warhammer: The Captain and the Witch (Session 2) is a game session report for Burning Wheel. We played via Zoom on .
Failure is not punishment. Abandon that stance. Failure is a new obstacle that tightens the noose around the character’s belief.
Last session Captain James van Shaw convinced Jens Nijlgaard that he would let him pass unhindered from Marienburg in exchange for James delivering Jens’s letters to James’s cousin Femke.
Captain James van Shaw and Kasmiir are looking to deliver a few things up the Riek; A Chaos artifact to Altdorf and some contraband Bretonian brandy to Grissenwald.
Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits
We spent the first part of the session tweaking our Beliefs. No one changed their instincts.
Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits (BITs 📖) for Captain James van Shaw…
- I’ve read about being a boat captain, I better learn how to run this ship.
- I’ve got this Bretonian brandy to deliver Grissenwald, and I’ll make sure that Kasmiir helps me keep this shit safe.
- Femke knows more about the Riek, I’m going to convince her to come along.
- Always know where the exits are
- Never accept the first offer
- Always rummage through the paperwork
- Eidetic Memory
- Blank Stare
BITs for Kasmiir van Shaw…
- I’m going to get this shark tooth to the Royal College of Pharmacists, Ernst Hiedelman
- I need to stay close to James van Shaw, he pays my bills.
- Currency is useless, knowledge is power. I’ll steal a boating book for James to prove my point!
- Books like my bag so much, they find their way inside.
- I prefer shadows, so I always keep my hood up.
- When at a crossroads, I look to the wisdom of the spirits.
- Mark of the Beast
- Extremely Respectful of One’s Betters
- Aura of Fear
- Obscure Aura
- Weather Sense
Kasmiir, a weather witch, looks to the skies trying to predict the weather. With a good tail wind The Danseur could travel faster to Femke’s cottage in Carroburg.
- Predict the weather using the Weather Sense trait
- Get a strong tail wind; which will increase our speed by about 25%
- the tailwinds are far stronger than you thought and it's going to require a Piloting test
Kasmiir needs to make an Obstacle (Ob 📖)5 Perception test. Captain James van Shaw offers up 2 helping die, Kasmiir adds a Persona, and throws 8 dice. They come up with 6 successes. You can only record successful Perception tests. This test nets James and Kasmiir a Difficult Perception test. Which is very nice.
Had James not offered help, I’m wondering if the consequence was appropriate. Should one players failure lead to challenging another character’s belief?
Witout help, does the above consequence deflect the failure to the other character? To some extent yes. I think the bad weather could also add a situation where Kasmiir needs to make a test—maybe to protect the Shark artifact.
With James’s help, hazarding the Danseur is appropriate and necessary.
I’ll also add that the Weather Sense trait is fantastic. It gives the player the ability to dictate the weather. I assume that this will be one of Kasmiir’s go to checks.
What’s also nice is that the Let it Ride rule means that we’ll have a nice tale wind for the first leg of our journey.
Scavenging for Credentials
With a strong tailwind, the Danseur makes great time for the first day of travel.
Captain James contemplates camping along the river, but wants to be prepared as the Danseur crosses into Imperial waters.
James starts looking for a river patrol person’s body floating down the river, or something.
- Scavenge up some credentials
- If a river boat patrol stops the characters, James wants to have some mechanism to dupe the patrol
- Your going to draw attention to yourself
James needs to make an Ob4 Scavenging test. Kasmiir helps with River-wise, guiding James to a place along the river—The Swollen Goat, a riverside inn…with an Imperial patrol boat docked; people lose stuff along the docks all the time.
I grab the 3 dice for James’s Scavenging and 1 for the help from Kasmiir. Even with James’s call-on for Scavenging, he only lands one success.
With seven Imperial patrolmen eating meals at the inn and looking at the river, they see the Danseur clip the patrol boat. The Danseur’s rigging snaps. And the patrolmen laugh.
In framing this task, I started to sense that the pacing of the fiction and James beliefs were just a bit out of line. There was no way we’d have time to get to Femke’s during this session.
Ideally, I should have raised my hand and asked to rewrite my belief—“To get to Femke’s I’m going to need some paperwork or a badge to convince the river patrols to leave the Danseur unhindered.”
However, I didn’t tighten my belief. But this did a wonderful job framing the rest of the season.
The failure immediately tightened fiction around James’s belief regarding learning about boating. It also created some space for me to play out James’s numerous traits.
Repairing the Rigging
With the rigging tangled, and the patrol laughing from the shoreline, James jumped to fix the rigging.
- Re-tie the rigging
- Get the rigging secured so we can continue to sail
- You're not able to fix it and will need someone's help
James needs to make an Ob1 Rigging test; since he’s using Beginer’s Luck, the obstactle doubles to 2. Kasmiir helps. And James musters enough successes to fix the rigging.
One of the patrol person’s calls out, “Hey, it’s getting dark, you’re not going to keep traveling are you?”
James picks up his first non-academic test related to boating; with an aptitude of 6, he now needs 5 more successes to open up Rigging.
As a player, I wanted to establish the fact that every river boat patrol person has a badge. I’m ready make an Imperial River Patrol-wise test, but Phil (the Referee) doesn’t have any interesting consequences for failure. So he says “Yes.”
At this point, James weighs the options:
- Keep boating up-river at night, further raising the suspicion of the patrol
- Dock and get a warm meal
The concern is that it would be suspicious not stopping at the Swollen Goat.
While James goes to get a warm meal and assess the situation, he tells Kasmiir to stay on the boat and watch the brandy
Lola Mueller (15 year old girl and owner of the Swollen Goat) greets James, and asks that he sign the guestbook. Flipping through the pages, James quietly commits to memory the guestbooks ledger.
Of note, Jens Nijlgaard has signed the guest book at the first of each month. Also Lizbeth Notenboom, the flower woman from Session 1, came through with Etelka Herzen. James doesn’t know about Lizbeth.
Lola presses James to sign the guest book and to have Kasmiir come in and sign as well. James instead deflects and asks Lola to bring the book to Kasmiir.
James signs the book as Johann vanDeer.
James learns that guards are here for two more days. As their walking out Lola asks about any agents of Chaos.
I really want James to leave before the guards leave. In fact, James wants to get up early in the morning.
This section didn’t have any tests, and perhaps should’ve had some heckling guards. But Kasmiir and James were separate, so a Referee should probably work to bring them together with minimal fuss.
Persuasion as Distraction
With two bowls of warm goat stew in hand, James heads to the boat with Lola.
James, seeing that Kasmiir is eyeing the book, decides to distract Lola. We’re framing this as a Linked test for Kasmiir’s Sleight of Hand.
- Persuade Lola to keep talking with James
- Keep Lola's attention that Kasmiir can swipe the book
- She's going to get angry with you
James needs an Ob3 Persuasion test. I grab 5 dice, and throw one single success. Failure!
In a huff Lola turns, and adds 1 to the obstacle for Kasmiir.
This worked well as a linked test. James was attempting to bring the “older guy” charm, and Lola wasn’t having any of that. After all, there must be a story for this 15 year old woman to be the owner and operator of the Swollen Goat.
Sleight of Hand
Kasmiir, eyeing the book, decides to try to swipe it.
- I'm going to pocket the guestbook and drop a rock into the water
- I want Lola to think I dropped the book in the water.
- She sees you and is going to be pissed off!
Kasmiir needs to make an Ob3 Sleight of Hand. However, James’s failed linked test increases that Ob to 4.
Kasmiir fails. In the moment that Lola spins away from James, she sees Kasmiir pocketing the guestbook.
“Guards!” yells Lola.
Quickly James calms her down, and says “It’s all a mistake. And one reason I wanted them to stay on the boat. They just can’t help themselves with books.”
“Fine, I’ll drop it if you clean the stables in the morning,” says Lola.
“Can we sleep in the stables tonight so we can get an early start?” asks James.
“Sure. And you know, if you really like a ledger, I have a few loose pages I could give you.”
“Thank you, I’d like that very much,” replies Kasmiir.
This was a great scene. And Lola’s demand to clean the stables complicated James plans. James wants to get the Danseur as far ahead of the patrol as possible; each delay means its more likely this patrol would catch-up with the Danseur.
The situation smolders a bit more. We talked about how James might distract the guards, getting them to leave early.
Fictionally, we all assume that this patrol boat will be the one that catches up with the characters in the next few days. After all, the laughter of the off-duty patrol will be in stark contrast to them doing their job of enforcing Imperial law; Or perhaps skimming a bit off of the the top.
Scavenging for a Tarp
James, ever scheming, decides they’ll unload their supplies and the Bretonian brandy into the stable. To hide the brandy, James wants to wrap it in a tarp and hide it in the manure.
Yes, James could use a tarp from the Danseur, but instead wants to find one. No sense having a manure stained tarp on your boat.
- Scavenge up a tarp
- I want to find a tarp to hide the brandy from the guards, and to keep the brandy from being smudged in manure
- You're going to draw the attention of the river patrol
It’s an Ob 1 Scavenging test. James’s Scavenging is B3. And not wanting to fail this, I add a Persona to the roll. James gets three success; And spends a fate point to seal the deal.
I like the symmetry of the Scavenging tests; The initial failure leads to a series of events that draws the attention of the river patrol.
And the closing Scavenging test and debasement wraps up the extended scene. These aren’t heroes but scrappy con artists and outcasts making their way in the story.
At the end of the session we discussed that our beginning of session beliefs assume one fictional pace, but as we entered play, we moved at a slower pace. Burning Wheel (BWG 📖) advises that it’s okay to change or refine your beliefs mid-session; so long as the Referee agrees.
When playing Burning Wheel, keep looking back at your beliefs. Sharpen the belief in play to give everyone a chance to push against that.
I think it would’ve helped Phil if I had proposed a Belief change when I started asking about Scavenging for credentials. This would’ve been something immediate and would’ve brought James paranoid and scheming trait further to the foreground.
As it stands, every time I play or run a game other than Burning Wheel I wish I had the tooling around checks:
- Helping dice
- Fields of Related Knowledge (FoRKs 📖)
- Linked tests
- Fate points to try to dig out a desperate success
- Persona to improve your base chances
- Call-on traits to improve your odds of a key skill
- Advancement based on the difficulty of tests; meaning you may not want help
The hub of Burning Wheel creates such a tight system for skill checks.
I’ve also found that in running online, with access to a computer, it’s really easy to record the relevant information to log tests.
Another interesting observation, each of these tests create a moment of fictional and mechanical focus. I find it quite easy to recall sessions based entirely on the sequence of tests.