Burning Warhammer: The Captain and the Witch (Session 3) is a game session report for Burning Wheel Gold. We played via Zoom on .
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.
In the previous session, Captain James van Shaw and Kasmiir stayed at the Swollen Goat near the village of Zandt.
The winds remain favorable as they work their way to Carroburg.
Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits
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.
- We’ve got this Brettonian brandy to deliver to Grissenwald, I’m going to convince Kasmiir to conjure up some river help to keep us safe from river patrols.
- I’ve got these damn sappy letters from Jens, I’ll deliver them to Femke
- 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; but first I need to keep it hidden.
- I need to stay close to James van Shaw, he pays my bills.
- Currency is useless, knowledge is power. I'll learn more about the shark tooth before I give it away.
- 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
Spirit Binding: River Currents
Having spent the night in the stables of the Swollen Goat, Kasmiir and Captain James are eager to get back to the river. As they’re setting out, James asks that Kasmiir bind a spirit of the river. James knows he’s going to need all the help he can get.
- Bind a Strength 1 River Spirit for Help
- To provide help while piloting the boat to Carroburg
- The river impedes your journey.
For 1 helping dice, the base Obstacle (Ob 📖) is 1. There’s a +3 Ob modifier because Kasmiir’s wants the spirit to have efficacy along the whole river. Captain James van Shaw, casts a few bones, offers up 1 helping die with Astrology.
Kasmiir throws 8 dice, and lands 8 successes. Not only is Kasmiir successful, the spirit won’t seek retribution.
The river spirit begins gently guiding the Danseur. The Danseur is the name of the fishing boat that Captain James owns and is learning to pilot.
An auspicious opening! Spirit Binding is a Sorcery skill; so it’s already open-ended (e.g. when you roll a six, you count the success, and roll that die again). Kasmiir’s player (Alhana) rolled a lot of sixes and chose to spend a Fate point to re-roll on of the failed dice.
In hindsight, I shouldn’t have written the belief about convincing Kasmiir to bind a spirit; They have an instinct around this and it wasn’t an interesting belief. When I resolved this without a test, I should’ve taken the moment to write up a new belief.
Though it didn’t matter, we misunderstood the retribution.
Binding Meets Obstacle: If the Spirit Binding test meets, but does not exceed, its obstacle, the summoner will suffer retribution. The retribution is doled out at the Strength of the spirit. See Retribution Suitable to the Task below.
Binding Exceeds the Obstacle: If the Spirit Binding test exceeds the obstacle, the margin of success reduces the Strength of the spirit for the purposes of retribution. See Retribution Suitable to the Task below.
If the margin of success reduces the spirit’s Strength to zero, no retribution is suffered (except maybe for a flung plate, banging shutter, groaning foundation or cracked window pane).
We had misconstrued the Spirit Binding Ob4 for the Spirit’s Strength of 1. It didn’t matter because Kasmiir exceeded the Spirit Binding by 4 successes.
As they’re making their way up the Reik, Captain James spots two large river boats coming downstream. Consulting his corpus of boating knowledge, James begins think through all that he’s read.
- James wants to know how to properly approach these boats.
- James recalls the wrong bit of information, and further endangers the Danseur and it's crew.
This is a River-wise Ob 2. Kasmiir helps with they’re knowledge of the river (e.g. River-wise). James throws 4 dice and gets 3 successes.
On the river Riek, there’s an expectation of extreme deference to the larger ships. This also secures a successful linked test for the impending piloting test.
Given that James will be testing Beginner’s Luck for Piloting, I wanted to muster all the help for James’s Piloting test.
Pilot: Avoiding Large Vessels
With two large river boats bearing down on the Danseur, James begins piloting the boat out of the way.
- To safely circumvent the oncoming boats
- They're going bump into the boats and sustain some damage.
The base Ob is 2. However, for “Captain” James, he’s using Beginner’s Luck to test Piloting; which doubles the base obstacle. James gathers his dice: 6D for Perception, 1D for the River Spirit’s help, 1D for the successful River-wise linked test, and 1D of help from Kasmiir. I contemplate having James work on this Carefully, so I can secure another dice.
James throws nine dice and gets 1 success.
The Danseur’s boom clips one of the ships; The boom swings around and cracks into Kasmiir and James. They both sustain a Light wound. The difference between a Light wound and a Midi wound seems rather stark. A Midi could well represent a concussion, but there’s an implication of stopping the bleeding.
From the deck of the other ship, the sailors mock and laugh at Captain James. One of them throws a bottle of ale onto the Danseur and cackles: “You need this more than I do!”
In this moment Phil, the Game Master (GM 📖), fully realized that James’s only boating skill is Ship-wise. That was more evident in the beliefs from session 1:
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.
Consulting the boating damage table from his old copy of Death on the Reik, Phil rolls “Crew”.
We spend a bit of time looking through the injuries. A Midi seems a bit harsh and a Light wound seems not quite right. However, this being the first injuries of the campaign, Phil opts for a milder consequence. He doles out a Light wound.
We each quickly roll our Steel tests and Health tests for a quick recovery.
In hindsight, I think I would’ve called for a physical test to avoid the Midi wound.
Forgery: Concealing Brandy’s Origin
With this bottle of Imperial ale, James hatched a plan: when they next stop, he would forge an Imperial ale seal on the Brettonian brandy. That way he can hopefully avoid suspicion of any imperial patrols.
- To ensure that any patrols think this brandy's a legal trade good.
- While working on the forgery, some guards will roll up.
The base Ob is 4. James gathers his writing supplies and his dice pool. He has Forgery 4D, +1D for Writing, +1D for Reading, and Kasmiir helps with writing 1D.
James throws 7 dice, spends a Fate to open-end the three sixes he threw, and comes up with a massive 9 successes.
While James and Kasmiir are working on the forgery, they talk about finding someone to help Kasmiir learn Aura Reading.
This is the second time that James has attempted something that will improve his chances of keeping the Brettonian brandy hidden from guards. In both cases, I’ve thrown Artha at the tests. I really should’ve written a belief about that.
With Let it Ride, any patrols will be assuming James has a perfectly legit cask of Imperial ale.
Inconspicuous: Avoiding Attention from Guards
After a few days of travel, the Danseur approached Femke’s river-side cottage, a few miles downstream of Carroburg. From a distance, James and Kasmiir spotted unusual activity.
Several Imperial guards were ransacking Femke’s cottage. Femke is Captain James’s sister. Her last two lifepaths are Midwife and Bandit.
Wanting to learn more, they landed their boat just a bit further upstream (e.g. closer to Carroburg) and went about eating an afternoon meal.
- To get close enough to the cottage without drawing suspicion from the guards.
- While working on the forgery, some guards will roll up.
Both Kasmiir and James wanted to be inconspicuous, so using the Slowest and Loudest rules from Burning Wheel Codex (BWC 📖), we compared who was worse at being inconspicuous. James has Inconspicuous B4 and Kasmiir has Inconspicuous B3.
So Kasmiir tests and James helps. Alas, James couldn’t bring his B3 Guard-wise in to help the test.
Kasmiir spends a Persona to throw five dice, explodes the bounty of sixes with a Fate Artha, and lands 8 successes. The guards test observation, and garner 1 success.
The guards remained focused on ransacking.
I always forget how much I love the inconspicuous skill; It’s not that the character’s trying to hid. It just that they want to blend in so others forget about them.
Originally, Phil was thinking we’d arrive at Femke’s place and I’d deliver the letters. However, I felt that the belief hadn’t been directly tested. So I asked for a complication. I also wanted to connect into Kasmiir’s belief about finding someone to teach them Aura Reading.
Scavenge: Distracting the Courier Guard’s Horse
As Kasmiir and James finish their lunch, one of the guards exits the cottage. They’re holding a ledger. They walk over to a horse, put the ledger in the saddle bag, and mount up.
James moves to intercept, and start making small talk.
“Looks like you found what you’re after. What’s all the fuss?” asked James.
“Oh, we’re collecting evidence for this very bad person. They’ve committed extortion, bribery, theft, and high crimes against the crown,” says the guard.
Bending down, James starts rooting around for last falls crab apples, and says, “Sounds like a dangerous person indeed.”
- Scavenging up some crab apples to feed to the horse
- To distract the guard while Kasmiir pilfers the ledger.
- The guard's going to be suspicious of the situation.
James gathers his dice. Scavenging 3D + 1D for a Guard-wise Fields of Related Knowledge (FoRKs 📖). He throws four dice and lands 3 successes, which exceeds the Ob 2.
James continues his small talk feeding little treats to the guard’s horse.
“What’s your horse’s name?”
“Sigmar.“ Almost every guard names their horse Sigmar.
This is the second time James has attempted to distract Kasmiir’s mark. This time, the Linked test succeeded. I had previously debated about whether or not this should be a Helping Die or a Linked Test.
However, it feels right to have this be a Linked Test. First the suspicion is an adequate consequence; Regardless of success or failure, the suspicion would mean that the guard will remember James.
Sleight of Hand: Lifting the Ledger
While James is feeding crab apples to Sigmar, Kasmiir creeps up and attempts to steal the ledger. Using the Let it Ride rule, Kasmiir’s absurd inconspicuous gives them fictional justification to be near the guard.
- Sleight of Hand the ledger out the saddle bags.
- To get the book without the guard noticing.
- The guard notice this happening and the situation escalates.
Kasmiir grabs 5 dice (Sleight of Hand 3D + 1D from James’s linked test + 1D from the Inconspicuous) and roll versus the guard’s 3D observation.
Kasmiir succeeds and carefully lifts the ledger and hides it in their voluminous cloak.
At this point, I’m giddy to think about the pending situation. The guard remains oblivious to the missing ledger. James has access to a ledger with lots of information, though likely encoded. And James also has this belief about delivering Jens’s letters to Femke.
I smile as I look at James’s Forgery, Rule of Law, and Law-wise skills. It may be time for James to become Captain James van Shaw Esquire!
I’m also loving that Phil keeps putting books in front of us. Between James’s instinct “always rummage through the paper work” and Kasmiir’s “Books like my bag so much, they find their way inside”, they keep reaching for more and more hooks.
Pilot: Docking in Carroburg
After bidding Sigmar and the rider farewell James returns to the Danseur. Kasmiir and James then finish the last bit of their journey.
They approach the river port of Carroburg, and Phil calls for a Piloting test.
- Pilot the Danseur into port.
- To safely dock without drawing undue attention to the Danseur.
It is an Ob1 Pilot test, but for James, it’s still Beginner’s Luck. James grabs 6D for Perception, +1D for the River spirit, and +2D for help from Kasmiir. And throws 5 successes. Maybe James’s is getting the hang of this.
For this one, we didn’t have a clear consequence. I think an interesting consequence for failure would’ve been seeing the guard from the previous scene standing at the wharf, talking with the harbormaster.
Regardless, it felt good for James to have notched one more test to open up Piloting. Only 2 more tests to go!
Haggle: Negotiating a Price
Having arrived at Carroburg, they seek out a place to secure some temporary housing. James wants to help Femke and Kasmiir wants to learn more about the shark’s tooth and learn aura reading. It looks like they’ll be in Carroburg for a while.
James and Kasmiir stumble upon the Misbegotten Loom - Mutton Shop & Hostel.
Looking to score a cheap place to stay, James haggles with the proprietor: Vassily Fleggalboom. Vassily’s hesitant to rent to someone like Kasmiir (that cloaked and creepy really disturbs people).
Feeling his meager coin purse, James starts dickering. A room for the short-term as an Ob2 resource test.
- To get a lower price.
- Vassily won't budge.
It’s James’s Haggle 5D + 1D for Soothing Platitudes + 1D for Persuasion versus Vassily’s 3D Haggle. James throws one success and Vassily throws two. Vassily remains firm on the price.
Yikes. That did not go according to plan.
Resources: Securing a Short-Term Stay
James’s is now obligated to make the Ob2 Resource test with 2D.
- To pay for a room where they can stash the Brettonian brandy.
- Phil will extend the gift of kindness.
James spends 2 Persona to throw 4 dice against an Ob2 resources test. And fails with one success.
Phil extends the Gift of Kindness and James accepts. James taxes his resource 2 steps, which downgrades his resources to B1.
Ouch! This one hurt. Fictionally, James and Kasmiir needed a place to stay. And to hide their Brettonian brandy. I had thought about declining the Gift of Kindness but the situation felt dire enough to damage James’s Resource stat.
Going forward, while Kasmiir’s learning Aura Reading, James is going to need to scrounge up some cash.
Circles: Tracking down an Aura Reading Instructor
With a room secured, Kasmiir and James go about Circling up an instructor for Aura Reading.
- Circle up an Aura Reading instructor
- Find someone willing and able to teach Kasmiir Aura Reading
- Enmity clause
Kasmiir brings 5D: 2D Circle + 1D reputation + 1D for help + 1D for Persona. They need to meet an Ob3 difficulty.
They succeed, and circle up Lilith, a rogue wizard/hedge wizard.
We were going to stop at the failed resource test, but instead I asked for us to complete the Circles test. The thought was that it would be useful to start the next session with the known disposition of the instructor.
After each session of Burning Wheel Gold (BWG 📖) I’m always eager to dive back in. I see how I want my character to engage and wrestle with their beliefs. I love the advice about re-contextualizing failure; namely failure further tightens the vice grips that squeeze at your character’s beliefs.
Pointing your beliefs at finding people to teach you something looks to be a strong Burning Wheel Gold tactic. You grow your Circles, introduce Non-Player Characters (NPCs 📖) into the fiction, and position yourself for even more tests.
I plan to flex James’s belief “Never accept the first offer” when negotiating with Lilith.
I also see that I’ll be altering James’s beliefs. I think we’re going to end up spending a session or two in Carroburg. Which will mean setting aside any beliefs around boating.
One over-arching belief is going to be clearing Femke’s name. I’m penciling in: “Femke’s going to need a solicitor; I’ll need to scrounge up some suitable credentials if I’m going to represent her.”
I’m also envisioning that the guard will be popping back up as a bit of a nuisance. James will deal with him through a Duel of Wits.