Burning Warhammer: The Captain and the Witch (Session 4)

When Law-wise is the Workhorse Skill

Note: This post has content disclaimers.

Burning Warhammer: The Captain and the Witch (Session 4) is a game session report for Burning Wheel. We played via Zoom on .

In Carroburg, Kasmiir is looking to learn Aura Reading and Captain James van Shaw considers how to learn more about the fate of Femke, his sister.

, Kasmiir and Captain James van Shaw arrived at the city of Carroburg.

Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits

Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits (BITs 📖) for Captain James van Shaw…
Beliefs
I need to get Femke out of jail…first, I need to scope out the situation.
I’m flat broke, I need to get some cash…maybe we could off-load this Brettonian brandy for a reasonable profit.
Kasmiir’s got too many tricks and skills to not sell some street magic to folks of Carroburg; I’m going to convince them that making money is a good thing.
Instincts
Always know where the exits are
Never accept the first offer
Always rummage through the paperwork
Traits
Paranoid
Rabble-rouser
Shrewd
Glib
Scavenger
Geometric
Scheming
Eidetic Memory
Blank Stare
BITs for Kasmiir van Shaw…
Beliefs
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 need someone to teach me how to read this tooth’s aura.
Instincts
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.
Traits
Mark of the Beast
Extremely Respectful of One’s Betters
Spooky
Aura of Fear
Gifted
Obscure Aura
Weather Sense

Conversation with Lilith

We start on the 18th of Sigmarzeit. James van Shaw and Kasmiir are talking with Lilith, a shop proprietor and someone that can instruct Kasmiir in the art of Aura Reading.

While Kasmiir talks with Lilith, James is leafing through the ledger. Lilith’s red and gray streaked hair has a prismatic effect. Lilith knows Lizbeth. Kasmiir circled up Lizbeth in

“I want to learn how to read the auras of relics such as these,” Kasmiir says as they pull the shark tooth relic out of their voluminous cloak. I think after the next session, we should have a trait vote. I believe Kasmiir should gain the character trait Voluminous Cloak.

Lilith’s eyes widen just a bit. “Ah, I see,” she says as she goes about making some tea, “Here have some tea.”

Kasmiir and James hold the tea, but each refuse to drink.

“In exchange I could teach you spirit binding,” offers Kasmiir.

Lilith responds, “Why bind spirits when you can summon things? Now that I think about it, I do have a few things you could do for me. There’s dealing with the customers of this shop, so I can get on with other more important things. Or perhaps you could pick-up some shipments from the docks. Or, well, there’s this little transcription project. How’s your Old Imperial Script?”

James, hearing an offer on the table, closes the book. He’s convinced its a ledger, but has some Dwarven script; Maybe Dwarven proper names.

“I don’t know Old Imperial,” says Kasmiir.

“Perfect,” quips Lilith.

As Kasmiir starts to accept all of those as payment, James interrupts, “Kasmiir, why don’t you help with the shop in exchange for the instruction.”

Kasmiir and Lilith accept those terms.

James, eager to get some coins, says, “Well, with that deal made, I might be of service—if you have silver to pay. I know about shipments and getting things around in a city.”

While scratching her chin Lilith responds, “I suppose that could work. In two days time, there’s a shipment coming down from Bögenhafen. There’s three medium sized boxes to pickup; you’ll need a cart. They’ll be coming on the Sigmar’s Light. Your contact is Jurgen, he’ll hook you up.”

“Sounds like we have a deal,” says James.

“And while I’m tending the shop, I can transcribe the book,” interjects Kasmiir as James just shakes his head.

“Perfect. Well, I have errands I need to run, and with you watching my shop, why don’t I keep that tooth as collateral?” asks Lilith.

“No, we’ll keep it close by,” says Kasmiir as they eye the tea that they’ve ignored.

“Suit yourself, keep an eye on the shop and tomorrow I’ll start the instruction.”

Observation

We had a rather long exchange, but much of is was trying to get our footing.

We didn’t make any tests in this conversation. It felt a bit like we were trying to get our bearings.

Personally, I would’ve loved to have thrown a few dice. I think one useful thing for all players is to extend some patience regarding role-playing scenes, but for those on the sidelines to also ask for clarification; what’s at stake in this scene? What are you driving at?

In a way, those not actively role-playing can look on as a curious director. Help nudge the story forward. I know that sometimes speaking in funny voices and issuing witty repartee is a lot of fun, but only if everyone’s engaged.

In Burning Wheel (BWG 📖), I think it’s a good idea to help refocus on the character’s beliefs and instincts.

Law-wise: Establish Confidentiality

With Kasmiir at the shop, James heads into the city.

Thinking that at some point James is going to want to talk with Femke, I wanted to establish a fact about the law. Namely, that the accused have a right to confidential conversations with their lawyer.

While James has the Scheming trait, this is something that helps me get in the mindset of James. Make tests to establish the fiction of the world. Those tests then frame how James can go about his scheming.

Task
Law-wise
Intent
To establish that the lawyer and the defendant have a right to privacy.
Consequences
There is privacy, but not for all cases.
Obstacle
Ob 2
Dice
3D Law-wise
+1D Fields of Related Knowledge (FoRKs 📖) Rule of Law
Result
Failure

Observation

It’s interesting using Law-wise for jurisprudence. Given that James van Shaw skirts around the edges of the law, it’s been useful establishing some of the administrative aspects of law in the Empire.

What I love about this is that I, the player, can shape the law in the game. And Phil can likewise shape the law either by fiat, or by establishing the obstacle for test that I’m soliciting.

Circles: Find Someone with Access to Femke

With Kasmiir working Lilith’s shop, James takes to the streets of Carroburg to find someone that can get him some time alone with Femke.

Task
Circles
Intent
James wants to find someone that can give him access to communicate with Femke
Consequences
Will encounter the .
Obstacle
Ob 3
Dice
2D Circles attribute
+1D FoRKs Law-wise
+1D FoRKs Guard-wise
+1D FoRKs City-wise
+2D Persona
Result
Success!

James circles up Kersten Becker. Kersten works at the jail as an administrator; she oversees the women prisoners.

Law-wise: Establish that Siblings are Not Liable

Given that not all crimes allow for confidential attorney consultations, I wanted to establish that James could not be held as culpable for his sister’s actions. After all, James was going to be visiting Femke and didn’t want to risk being detained.

Task
Law-wise
Intent
Establish that the Empire does not hold siblings liable for the crimes nor accusations against a person.
Consequences
Siblings can be held liable by association.
Obstacle
Ob 2
Dice
3D Law-wise
FoRKs +1D Rule of Law
Result
Success!

Observation

Imagine if James had failed his Law-wise test? What would that say about this world? That it got a lot more grim.

Given that Carroburg has an export of “government” and has a high wealth rating (according to the book’s Phil referenced), we felt that jeopardy by association would be unlikely. After all, a wealthy baron wouldn’t want their good for nothing brother to drag them into the legal tar pit.

Again, I love BWG’s Wises subsystem.

Spirit Binding: Help with Transcription

Task
Spirit Binding (Help)
Intent
To ask the spirits for help transcribing the book.
Consequences
Will need to test Corruption.
Obstacle
Base Ob 1
Dice
5D Spirit Binding
Result
4 successes
No retribution

Observation

Kasmiir continues to make routine Spirit Binding tests; It’s not causing any problems, but Kasmiir’s not gaining any tests for advancement.

Write: Transcription

Kasmiir sets about the days work of transcribing this old ancient and all together wicked book.

Task
Write
Intent
Accurately transcribe this sketchy book.
Consequences
Unknown
Obstacle
Ob 2
Dice
2D Write
+1D Help from bound shop spirit
+1D Persona
Result
Success

Observation

I’m loathe to think of the consequences of a failed Write test when your source material is a vile magic tome.

Spirit Bind: Help with Persuasion

While Kasmiir is tending Lilith’s shop, a few random people drop in:

  • “Tell Lilith that my cough is better”
  • “The rash is gone, please thank Lilith”

Kasmiir loses track of time, and kept the store open just a bit later. Three drunk and richly dressed young men make some noise and stumble into the shop. They start pulling things down, and saying they can keep things.

Kasmiir’s wants to convince them to put the things down so she can inventory them. Before that, Kasmiir seeks the help of a shop spirit.

Task
Spirit Binding (Help)
Intent
To have a shop spirit (Strength 1) help persuade the drunk hooligans to put down merchandise and leave
Consequences
Corruption
Obstacle
Ob 1 for Strength 1 helping spirit
+2 Ob for binding during the analogue to a duel of wits
Dice
5D Spirit binding
Result
With the help of a Fate point, an incredible 6 successes.
No retribution.

Observation

I think we need to establish the Spirit Binding idioms; Does it involve incantations, dancing, whispers, runes, or chants.

Persuasion: Convince Hooligans to Put Down Goods

The shop dims and creaks and Kasmiir from within their deep hooded cowl says, “Please put the merchandise on the counter so I can inventory it.”

Kasmiir’s preparing to drop their cowl, and invoke the Aura of Fear on these drunk nobles.

Task
Persuasion
Intent
Convince the rich drunk hooligans to put down the goods and leave
Consequences
They're going to take the goods, or draw down their noble power at a later date
Obstacle
Ob 3 (normally Ob 4, but they're drunk)
Dice
3D Persuasion
+1D Help from the Spirit
Result
7 freaking successes! The first 4 dice were all sixes, so Kasmiir spent the Fate point to explode them all.

Observation

I think that perhaps Command would have been a better task. The narration of the help felt more creepy.

Burning Wheel advancement relies on opportunities to help. In this case Kasmiir has access to spirit helpers. This gives them one of the two advancement benefits; they can get help “out of thin air” which lets them tweak the type of test for advancement.

I suspect a solo spirit binder would work quite well.

Persuasion: Convince Kersten

Having spent the day circling up Kersten, James waits until Kersten left her work. And approaches her.

After a bit of small talk, Kersten explains that several lawyers have been approaching Femke; she’s accused of several high crimes, one being theft from the Grand Duke Leopold. Phil gives a bit of exposition, but yikes to the stakes!

James says he is curious to see if he would represent Femke. James also nudges Kersten, saying “What do you care about people stealing from the Duke. He’s rich, we’re poor, why should we care about him and his wealth?”

James asks, “So, if I swing by tomorrow, will you let me talk to Femke alone?”

Task
Persuasion
Intent
Convince Kersten to give unfettered access to Femke
Consequences
She'll agree in the moment, but later think twice about it
Obstacle
Ob 4
Dice
5D Persuasion
+1D FoRKs Guard-wise
+1D FoRKs Law-wise
+1D FoRKs Soothing Platitudes
Result
Success!

Kersten responds, “Yeah, come by tomorrow and I can get you a few moments. But just know, representatives of the Grand Duke have showed up.”

“Fair enough, you can be close by and come in if agents arrive.”

Observation

I was really hoping we’d have a quick Duel of Wits; but Phil didn’t have anyting. I think in the moment, we could’ve paused and figured out some stakes.

In hindsight Kersten could’ve had a great statement of purpose: “I want you to buzz off and leave me alone.”

Framing End of Session

We were running out of time for our session, so we talked about wrapping up. We all agreed that the next session would be Kasmiir doing an Instruction montage with Lilith, and James maybe doing a few things.

I thought that James having a scene with Femke would give him grist for his scheming.

Inconspicuous: Avoid the Guards

We frame the closing scene: It’s the 19th of Sigmarzeit and James walks into the jail to talk with Femke. But he’s nervous, this is not a place he wants to be. He deliberately tries to be inconspicuous.

I called for this complication to hit on James’s Paranoid character trait.

Task
Inconspicuous
Intent
Avoid drawing attention from the other guards; Namely James is a nervous wreck
Consequences
The guards
Obstacle
Ob 1
Dice
4D Inconspicuous
+1D FoRKs Guard-wise
Result
Success

Observation

I’m wondering if a more appropriate test would’ve been a Steel test?

The way I was thinking about this is, James was deliberately trying to be inconspicuous. He could’ve just walked in and no one would’ve thought otherwise. However, because of his instinct Always know where the exits are and Paranoid character trait, he was trying to be even less noticed.

Conversation with Femke

Kersten leads James to the holding cell for women. Inside is Femke and a sleeping woman.

Kersten says, “Hey Femke, I got another person here wanting to be your lawyer.”

James clarifies, “I’m not wanting to be. I want to know if I want to be.”

Femke responds, “Him, my lawyer? Sure. I’ll see if I want him to be my lawyer.”

James enters the cell, and they start talking. Kersten, still outside the cell, closes and locks James in with Femke. Right here, James should’ve made a Steel test. I don’t think I would’ve had him Run Screaming, but I think Swooning would’ve been especially dramatic.

“Tell me about the ledger?” asks James.

“They have it, that’s why I’m here. If they figure it out, I’m doomed.”

James says, “No, they don’t have it. I know where it’s at. It’s secure. What did you do that got you here?”

Femke pauses, looks at the woman sleeping in the cell and says, “Bertie—Bertie—Bertie—Bertie—Bertie—Okay, she’s out. I may have taken some things from the Grand Duke Leopold. And some fucking dwarf ratted me out; or someone who knows me.”

“So the book, should I destroy it?” asks James.

“Maybe, but I’d lose a lot of contacts. Besides, it’s encrypted.” replies Femke.

“What’s the cipher?” asks James.

“It’s pretty complicated, can you remember it?” Femke asks.

“Yeah, remember those games I used to play?”

“You mean the ones I thought you?” responds Femke.

“I think you’re misremembering, any scratch it on the dirt,” James whispers.

Femke scratches the cipher in the dirt, and James commits it to memory. Eidetic Memory for the win!

“When’s the trial?” asks James.

“I don’t know,” says Femke, “But they’re bumping it up.”

“What other things might they have?” asks James.

“Probably the rat that’s ratting me out.”

James asks, “Tell me about Jens?”

“Jens? From MarienburgMarienburg?” says Femke, “Why do you care? He sometimes visits me.”

“I just saw his name in a ledger downstream, and was wondering if he’s mixed up in this. He wanted me to deliver some letters to you. But I left them in my room. I didn’t know if they’d be incriminating.”

“Jens is most definitely not involved,” says Femke, “He just visits sometimes and its really none of your business.”

“Alright. Do you have a lawyer? If not, I could represent you. Or be your second if you already have one.”

“You? Ha! A lawyer,” says Femke.

“Hey, I have some trial experience. I just want to make sure you’re alright.”

“I’ve got money, and can get a lawyer,” replies Femke, “but you can be my second.”

“Last question, do you know this guy?” asks James as he begins describing the guard captain that previously had the book.

“Yeah, that’s fucking Captain van Huus. He’s a fucking nightmare. He’s a criminal with a badge. I hate that fucker,” says Femke.

“Has he murdered people?” asks James.

“Definitely. And cut out people’s tongues and other nasty stuff.”

“So, what if I could frame him?” asks James.

“You frame him? I mean he deserves anything and everything.”

“Fair enough. My time is just about up. Be well sister.”

James calls for Kristen, and she comes and lets James out. James, in a bit of hurry, heads out into the streets. He finds an ally and pukes.

Conclusion

As I’ve said before, after every session of Burning Wheel, I’m eager to play again.

One thing I’ve noticed is that it may be useful to spend a bit of time at the beginning of the session to work out, as a group, how to frame the first scene.

I’m pleased that I went with this instead of the more .

I suspect in the next session or two, James will be advancing a few skills and attributes; Perhaps Law-wise and perhaps Circles.