A Wonderful Cascade of Tests in Burning Wheel

The Dice Helped Tap Some Amazing Narrative Beats

Note: This post has content disclaimers.

A Wonderful Cascade of Tests in Burning Wheel is a game session report for Burning Wheel Gold. We played via Discord and Roll20 on .

I’ve been playing a Burning Wheel Gold 🔍 session on Monday nights. And while I’ve been keeping campaign notes, I have chosen not to convert them into session reports.

But I wanted to write about a wonderful moment when failures cascaded. It was a glorious burst of three tests, a triggered instinct, and a character trait. In that moment, the character felt alive.

The Scene

My characters is Viscount Nentres Rhydulf, a theologian. The two other characters are playing Beren, a soldier, and Sir Vaughn, a knight. The character’s are visiting from another duchy, attempting to convince the Duke of Umbria to join in our cause. Nentres has a belief about galvanizing the support of the Duke and finding out who the traitor is in the castle.

While in the castle, they learn of some urgent news. They don’t have direct access to report to the Duke of Umbria, so we attempt to circle up someone that can give us direct access to the Duke. Our thoughts are his son, the Earl of Umberlake. We’ve had past adventures with the Earl, so it’s feasible, and less difficult than circling up the Duke. However, we keep it vague, with the stated consequence that we’ll find someone who can help but that they will be predisposed against helping us (e.g., the Enmity Clause).

We gather our dice for a Circles test, Sir Vaughn gathers their dice (having been the one to adventure with the young Earl) and Nentres offers to help. This binds Nentres’s fate to the Circles test. Beren opts not to help.

Sir Vaughn rolls and fails, we find Lady Kiara, the 16 year old daughter of the Duke. And she’s none to pleased that Sir Vaughn, a lowly knight, is asking to speak to the Duke.

In this moment of role-playing, I started speaking and out comes soothing platitudes. Nentres’s social skills are rhetoric and ugly truth; they have given no consideration for persuasion. Nentres attempted to calm down the sleighted and upset Lady Kiara. Sir Vaughn and Beren also attempt to sooth the agitated Lady Kiara.

Untrained, Nentres tries Beginner’s Luck. The consequence of failure is that Lady Kiara will call the guards and throw them out of the castle for the night. Lady Kiara’s Will is B4. We consult the likely will of a Born Noble Young Lady, and it’s either a Will of 3 or 4. Because of Beginner’s Luck that B4 Will becomes an Obstacle (Ob) 8 test. And with the Enmity Clause, we have a +2 Ob penalty.

Nentres gathers up the 8 dice for the test. update: Nentres has a B4 Will, Beren a B5 Will (which gives +2D for help), and Sir Vaughn a B6 (which gives +2D for help). Looking at my Artha Pool, I’ve got 2 Persona. This is a long shot, so I opt to not throw any Persona into the pool. I toss the dice in Roll 20 and get seven successes and three dice turned up sixes; So I threw a Fate and pulled down 2 more successes. Nentres and company failed by 1 success.

Lady Kiara called the guards and instructed them to toss the characters out of the castle. In that moment, I went with Nentres’s instinct, Never hold back on stating the ugly truth to those beneath me. Nentres, now on tilt, began explaining the dire situation for Duke Umbria; Caer Harth was marching not on Caer Debold but on Castle Umbria.

This was an ugly truth, and Nentres added in some Rhetoric and Beren and Sir Vaughn helped with command and intimidation. Nentres’s intent was to get the guards to consider the information as truth. The consequence of failure was that the guards would rough up Nentres; Beren and Sir Vaughn were ready to defend Viscount Nentres.

Nentres rolled an Ugly Truth, 6 dice against Ob 4 and succeeded. The news stuck and the guards ushered Nentres, Beren, and Sir Vaughn into the rain.

Dusting themselves off, Beren took the lead to find some of the soldiers that he’d previously chatted with in the bailey. To the tavern they went.

Conclusion

This quick encounter, lasted about 5 minutes in real-time. But the interplay of Help, Instincts, and Consequences created a memorable deflection for gaining access to the Duke. It also colored the relationships and interactions with various folk throughout the castle. Most importantly, the failure didn’t create barriers nor dead ends, but forced us to pursue different venues.

Another great aspect of this game, is that our Game Master (GM 🔍) is great about establishing the consequences of failure before the dice roll. He noodles on an option and is open for others suggesting failure consequences.

Our group started with one GM and five players. One dropped out and another was absent. So we had 3 characters that stuck together as they tried to get the attention of the Duke and tease out who might be the traitor.

As I’ve reflected on that scene, the character sheet provided strong guidance on how to proceed: Fight for a Belief, trigger an instinct, play up a Rabble-Rouser character trait. And in following the character sheet’s guidance, when it came time for the Artha award, it was easy to make a case for the Embodiment award as well as several other Fate yielding awards.