Burning Warhammer: The Captain and the Witch (Session 5)

Leaning on Circles and Wises to World Build

Note: This post has content disclaimers.

Burning Warhammer: The Captain and the Witch (Session 5) is a game session report for Burning Wheel Gold. We played via Zoom on .

Kasmiir was helping Lilith around the shop while James had just finished talking with Femke, his sister.

Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits

As I was refining James’s beliefs for this session, I started to realize that I need a Guiding Light belief for James. He’s continually focusing on schemes and rooting out information. I’ll think on this for our next session. I’m contemplating Information is a currency….

Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits (BITs 🔍) for Captain James van Shaw…
Beliefs
I need to get Femke out of jail…now I need to find that dwarf that ratted out Femke and get them to help.
I need to decipher the ledger to figure out what the scope of all these troubles are.
Kasmiir's delving into dangerous stuff, and I need to find out what Lilith's angle is.
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 am determined to find someone with close ties to the Tzeentch 🔍 cult; I want to get on Lilith’s good side. Maybe she can give me more information, or more contacts in the cult.
I need to stay close to James van Shaw, he pays my bills; I’ll help him with this weird Femke thing and see what I can do.
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

Training Montage

As a group we agree that we’ll focus on closing out the Instruction test. Per Burning Wheel Gold 🔍, we need 11 days for the instruction test.

There are quite a few things going on; During the day Kasmiir and James’s tend to the shop. When there are no customers, Kasmiir transcribes Lilith’s book and James deciphers Femke’s ledger. In the evening, Lilith is instructing Kasmiir on Aura Reading and James is providing encouragement to Kasmiir to keep at it.

Since , we follow the Let it Ride rule.

Note: I’m presenting these in a different order as they make a bit more logical sense.

Spirit Binding: Help James with Deciphering

Kasmiir, knowing the difficult task ahead, looks to bind a spirit to help James. They spend a moment one morning coaxing the help of a spirit.

Task
Spirit Binding: 2D of Help
Intent
Kasmiir wants the bound spirit to reduce the interruptions to the shop, so James can concentrate
Consequences
Anger of the Ancients!
Obstacle
5
Dice
5D Spirit Binding
+1D Persona
+1D for Spirit Mark
Result
Failure, by margin of 1.

Kasmiir, attempting to coax a shop spirit instead angers a Strength 6 spirit. At some point in the future, that Shop Spirit will enact it’s retribution (e.g., a +2 Obstacle (Ob 🔍) to a test in a shop.)

Cryptography: Gleaning Information from Femke’s Ledger

With Kasmiir transcribing a book, James is working through Femke’s encoded ledger. He really needs to get information to help Femke. From that ledger he can determine where to further explore.

James could be Femke’s lawyer, but in we established that due to Femke’s crimes there’s no guarantee of any privacy when the lawyer and defendant are talking. So James needs to do what research he can without talking to Femke.

Task
Cryptography - using Femke's cipher decode the ledger
Intent
I want to find information that will help me free Femke from jail.
Consequences
James works his way through the ledger but discovers something that will require immediate action.
Obstacle
Ob 3, doubled to Ob 6 for Beginner's Luck
Dice
6D for Perception
+1D for Persona
+1D for working Patiently
Result
Failure!

During the montage James discovers that Femke owes Josef Gierig of Kreutzhofen 🔍 some kind of delivery by the 18th of Sommerzeit. And Josef is not to be crossed. This is bad because James doesn’t know what the expected payment is, nor the consequences to Femke for failure to deliver.

Observation

We agree that James learns this information on the day that Kasmiir completes their training for Aura Reading. I had originally thought an interesting consequence would’ve been for Captain van Huus to visit the shop while James was working on the ledger. However, the consequence of Josef creates a veritable nightmare for James and a tension with Kasmiir’s need to deliver things.

Chaos Cult-wise: What’s Going on Here

While James is helping with the instruction and deciphering the ledger, he’s trying to figure out Lilith’s role in a Chaos Cult.

Task
Chaos Cult-wise: I'm looking for signs about Lilith's indoctrination into a cult.
Intent
I want to establish that Lilith is a very low stakes player in the cult, and really only on the periphery.
Consequences
Oh boy is she a major player!
Obstacle
Base Ob 3; doubled to Ob 6 for Beginner's Luck
Dice
6D for Perception
+1D for Persona
+2D help from Kasmiir's Perception
Result
7 successes!

During the 11 days, Lilith leaves subtle clues that she’s not all that involved in the cult: inconsistent language and not a lot of interactions with chaos cult type members.

Observation

As a player, I love having Wises at my disposal. My goal as a player was to neutralize the danger of Lilith, because James needs Kasmiir and cults draw people into them.

We had a quick conversation. Phil—the Game Master (GM 🔍)—didn’t have any strong inkling on Lilith’s involvement in the cult. So the Chaos Cult-wise was an appropriate test. We talked through the framing of the base obstacle a bit, and I’m refining that even more in this write-up.

First, in Burning Wheel Gold, when in doubt, make it Ob 3. If you think it should be a bit easier, lower it to Ob 2. If it should be a bit harder, set it to Ob 4. To make this easier, I could’ve narrowed the test to Tzeentch Cult-wise. Or because it wasn’t specific enough, Phil could’ve raised the obstacle by 1.

Regardless, helping the GM with decision-making and world-building seems incredibly useful and beneficial to both the creative process and in reducing decision fatigue.

All of our characters’s interactions with Lilith are now seasoned with the knowledge that she’s not a big player, but herself trying to ingratiate herself into a cult.

And all of this James did by Beginner’s Luck, which adds an interesting logged test to his character sheet. This test is a mark that reflects and echo’s James’s relationship and interaction with Kasmiir.

Instruction: Lilith Instructing Kasmiir on Aura Reading

We start the session with a bit of a montage. During the day, Kasmiir’s tending Lilith’s apothecary shop. When the shop’s empty Kasmiir’s busy transcribing this creepy book and James is deciphering Femke’s ledger. As I’m writing this session report, I remembered that James was going to earn a bit of currency by helping smuggle something into Carroburg 🔍. This didn’t come up, so it must’ve been something he did in the background and it was a bit of a wash. After the shop closes, Lilith spends the evenings instructing Kasmiir on Aura Reading while James offers encouragement to Kasmiir.

While training, Kasmiir binds a spirit to help around the shop (a routine test that gives +1D helping to the Instruction test).

Task
Instruction of Aura Reading
Intent
To teach Kasmiir how to read the auras of people and objects.
Consequences
Kasmiir fails to learn, and future attempts are more difficult.
Obstacle
Base of Ob 1 + 3 for being a Sorcerous test.
Dice
3D Instruction
+ 2D help from James's Persuasion
+ 1D help from Kasmiir's Spirit-Binding
+ 1D Persona
Result
Success!

Observation

In Lilith’s Instruction test, she didn’t get any successes on the instruction dice, but the helping dice and persona dice carried the success. This little bit of narrative guidance helped frame the team effort.

Closing out the Montage

We wrap-up the montage. Kasmiir has their first test in Aura Reading. James has learned that Femke owes Josef Geireg some kind of payment. And both Kasmiir and James have learned that Lilith is on the periphery of a cult of Tzeentch.

James needs to again talk with Femke. While James is out, Kasmiir’s going to determine if the source book is magical.

Law-wise: What’s the Trial Timeline for Femke

I ask Phil if there’s any timeframe on Femke’s trial. Phil doesn’t have anything in mind. So we again look to Law-wise to establish a fact. Given that James is sitting on a key evidence it’s unlikely the magistrates will want to proceed.

Task
Law-wise
Intent
I want to establish that Femke will be held for the season without going to trial.
Consequences
The trial will be happening very soon!
Obstacle
Ob 2
Dice
3D Law-wise
+ 1D Fields of Related Knowledge (FoRKs 🔍) for Rule of Law
Result
3 Successes!

Observation

Again, we used the Law-wise as an oracle. Succeeding at this test helped everyone accept that Femke will continue to be in jail. In other words, we can focus on the other situations without concern for Femke’s trial.

Circle: Time to Get Help from Kersten

James needs to ask some questions of Femke, to do so, he needs to track down Kersten—the guard that gave James prior access to Femke.

Task
Circle up Kersten
Intent
To again gain private access to Femke
Consequences
Enmity Clause!
Obstacle
Ob 3 (the same obstacle as )
Dice
2D for Circles
+ 1D for Guard-wise FoRKs
+ 1D for City-wise FoRKs
+ 1D for Law-wise FoRKs
+ 1D for exceeding the obstacle in the first circling up of Kersten.
Result
Success!

Observation

This is the first time I’ve circled up an Non-Player Character (NPC 🔍) previously introduced through a Circles; And it worked great and I highly encourage it. The success meant that Kersten continued to be friendly with James; In fact, we invoked Let it Ride from the , as James needed the same thing.

Had James failed, the Enmity Clause seemed obvious: Kersten’s disposition or situation had changed in such a way that she’s not going to do it. Maybe she got in trouble? Maybe she’s had a change of heart? Maybe she’s been reassigned?

Regardless, the oracular nature of the Circles test can add to the dynamism of the world.

Conversation with Femke

Kersten takes James to Femke’s cell; this time she’s all alone. Knowing that times short, James starts off asking questions.

“First, do you still need a lawyer?” asks James.

“Yes,” sighs Femke.

“Alright, you can pay?”

“Yeah”

“Good, now what’s the name of the dwarf that ratted you out?” asks James.

“Stapmï Thundergut. He’s an asshole and sitting on the valuables.”

“And what are those valuables?” asks James.

Femke sighs, “They’re the prized silver bracelets of the Archduke Leopold. They’re shaped like comets. And Stapmï has them.”

“Alright, now who’s Josef?” asks James.

“Josef’s who we were going to take the valuables.”

“I hear he’s not someone to cross,” responds James.

“Nah, I bet his bark is worse than his bit,” says Femke.

“What if we can pin this all on Stapmï? Turn him in with the bracelets?” asks James.

“Are you kidding, those are valuable, and we need to get them to Josef.”

“Well, it sounds like you have 20 days to get those bracelets to Josef. And as I see it, you’re not going to trial anytime soon. So, I’ll get you a lawyer or do it myself, and find out about Stapmï,” says James as he turns and leaves.

Aura Reading: Kasmiir’s Looking at the Books

While James is talking with Femke, Kasmiir decides to test their new found skill at Aura Reading.

Task
Aura Reading
Intent
Kasmiir wants to know if the book is magical
Consequences
You'll need to test Corruption
Obstacle
Ob 1, doubled to Ob 2 for Beginner's Luck
Dice
5D for Perception
Result
Success! The original book radiates demonology magic.

Observation

Corruption is a core component of the Warhammer Fantasy Setting 🔍, and Burning Wheel Gold’s Corruption mechanic works quite well. As of yet, Phil hasn’t called for any Corruption tests on Kasmiir. But I think it may be time: transcribing a magic codex of demonology and carrying a likely marked item are all grounds for Corruption tests.

Departing from Lilith’s Apothecary

James heads back to Lilith’s Apothecary to enlist Kasmiir’s help in tracking down Stapmï.

Kasmiir and James talk with Lilith for a bit. They learn that the book Kasmiir transcribed is The Story of the Bloodflower. Lilith is hoping we can deliver it to the Baronet Ingrid von Wittgenstein.

Kasmiir accepts the book. And we add another possible stop in our river boat journey.

Observation

Knowing that Lilith is an aspiring cultist, I’m imaging that she’s using her gifts to attempt to gain an inroad deeper into a cult.

Circles: Find Someone Who Can Lead James to Stapmï Thundergut

James has no idea where to find a dwarf, so he hits the street to circle up someone that can tell him where to find Stapmï Thundergut. James and Kasmiir hit up a few shops to find someone that fences goods.

Task
Circle up a fence that knows Stapmï
Intent
I want to find someone that can lead me to Stapmï
Consequences
Enmity Clause
Obstacle
Ob 2
Dice
2D Circles
+1D help from Kasmiir
+1D for Persona
+1D for FoRKs with City-wise
Result
3 successes! I name the NPC Eight-fingered Ortel Fuchs
James advanced his Circles to 3D!

At Ortel’s Antiquary they strike up a conversation with Ortel Fuchs. Ortel sells rare books and after a bit, both James and Ortel recognize each other as fences and James asks about Stapmï.

“Oh, Stapmï, he hangs out at the Five-Sided Square.”

James asks Ortel, “Should I tell Stapmï that you were the one that mentioned where to find me?”

Ortel responds, “Best not, he’s one of my better customers.”

During the conversation, Kasmiir’s eyeing all of the books. Ready to pocket one of them.

James thanks Ortel and heads out the door.

“Kasmiir, come along,” requests James.

Kasmiir stays in the shop for a bit, and considers their course of action. After some hesitation, they leave.

Observation

Based on James’s lifepaths and affiliations, he wouldn’t have a dwarf in his circles. So, we went with the path of indirection: circle up someone that knows Stapmï. I really liked how this played out.

First, if we think of this as a movie, this is the scene when a detective’s asking around trying to find someone. It’s now plausible, when we go to meet Stapmï, he’s already heard of us.

Second, in adding this indirection, we had a scene that could ensnare the other character. Kasmiir’s long been a book thief, so circling up an Antiquarian that has the information we need is rather splendid. This resulted in a Moldbreaker moment when Kasmiir had to decide between their belief and instinct.

Conclusion

I’ll keep reiterating, after every session of Burning Wheel Gold, I’m eager to play more.

I’m seeing how I’ll approach running my next game. In particular I’ll be leaning on Wises to help make world building decisions. Asking the players if they’d like to establish something. Pointing at the world-building they can do.

I’m also seeing that most every game should have a Circles-like mechanism. I find great utility in testing to find them again and using failure to change the NPC’s circumstance. In other words, let the dice determine if something has changed.

Circles and Wises cover two major world-building mechanics: introducing facts and adding to the cast of characters. Putting those two mechanics in front of the players gives tremendous freedom.

The players can zero in on what they want. The GM can think about complications and what’s happening. And the dice can say who gets to say what happens. Yes, the GM could say “You want to know if Lilith’s deep in the Cult? No test. She is.”

So, a word of advice to GMs of Burning Wheel Gold, be prepared to establish baselines for Wises. We’ve settled on Ob 3 as the baseline; anything less means we’re conceding that what the player wants is more likely the reality in the game. Anything more means, the GM is more interested in their path.

And of course, the more specific the Wise, the lower the obstacle if it’s germane to that wise.