Once upon a time, I used to commute two hours a day, four days a week. But those days are now a pre-Pandemic haze. My car usage has plummeted, and with it my podcast listening.
But I had a bit of a drive I needed to take, so I downloaded some podcast episodes and drove.
I listened to Episode 89: What to Do with Post-great-game Energy of Judd Karlman’s Daydreaming about Dragons. Folks, I implore you all to give this podcast a listen. Judd is providing some of the best gaming insights.
I’ve been running one game of Burning Wheel Gold (BWG 📖) and playing in another. I have chosen to “publish” my notes for playing in Burning Locusts but haven’t written much about The Mistimed Scroll.
And as with all sessions, some sessions are alright and some are amazing. And the simple alchemy is this: letting the characters fail but not in such a way that it becomes misery porn.
Player and Character Agency
In BWG there is excellent guidance on establishing the framing conditions of a test; what is the:
- Task (e.g., how are you doing it?)
- Intent (e.g., what are you hoping to achieve?)
- Consequences of failure
The absolute magic is working with all of the players to establish the consequences of failure. It is about building consent for how the world bends with and snaps back against the characters.
I also frame this such that if your intent is grandiose, you should expect more amplified consequences. But if your aim is something small, then the consequences are less thorny.
Again, it’s these negotiations that build the shared narrative. The world takes shape.
And in the case of BWG, we have Wises to let players bring narratives suggestions to the game. It is a time when the player/character combination says “I want this to be true.”
And the game facilitator and the rest of the table can have a conversation about whether to accept this, call for a test, and if testing, shape the consequences for the character if they fail.
This provides player agency.
Mechanics that Makes the Important…Important
If we look at Antonius’s character sheet the following four skills/attributes stick out: Circle, Contract-wise, Haggling, Painting.
Those four skills/attributes have the vast majority of tests for advancement as well as Artha investments. Burning Locusts is about a web of relationships, negotiated expectations, and how art illuminates those realities.
We have made art and relationships important, and BWG has flexed to meet us where we want to go. This kind of growth would be incidental were we using Dungeons and Dragons: Fifth Edition (5E 📖).
Further, there have been times when I’ve felt our characters were a bit out of alignment. The easiest solution: dive into a Duel of Wits.
Let the conflict and it’s compromises guide the game.
After Game Conversations
I’m at a stage in life where I now have ample time for after game conversations. I would love nothing more than to go for a walk with the folks who I play with.
But the current situation is that we are dispersed throughout the Eastern time zone. There have been a few occasions where we’ve talked, and each time I find this enriches my experience.
These games are not transactional. They are a sharing of a collective story, in which we negotiate with each other to form a meaningful game. One that says many things about who we are.
The philosophy and poetry of a game session, if you will.
Characters with Relationships
I come from the gaming lineage of the “orphaned player characters” who never have much of any ties to much of any where. A vagabond looking for loot and adventure.
But as I’ve played more BWG I see how the relationships, which you purchase with your starting resources, shape the game.
There’s an interesting magic in paying starting resource points to create a relationship and then watching as that relationship moves through the fiction. They matter because I used those precious points to conjure them into being.
They can become what the game is about. Or at least provide the foundation from which to build.
All of which is to say, the relationships help bring intimacy and immediacy to the situation of the game.
In A Hearty “No Thank You” to Interstitial Cut Scenes in Novels I admonished authors for writing cut-scenes. Yet, in our Burning Locusts campaign, we’re leaning into these non-player character scenes.
The main difference is that the game facilitator sets the scene, establishes task and intent, and we as a table establish consequences of a failed test.
Further, these tests always adjust the fictional state of the game as it impacts our characters.
The result is somewhat analogous to a rumor table, peppered with “what our characters know to be true but couldn’t prove.” Yet, it doesn’t lay bare any mystery.
This is an odd one, but I love BWG’s The Chase is On section (pages 531 to 532). This compact little sub-system gets it so very right.
None of that 5E crap with the clumsy chase table. Instead pursuer and pursued each gather their dice pool, working through the various potential advantages.
If the pursued win, they get away. If the pursuer wins, they get a single action (at a disadvantage) to try to stop the pursued. If it’s a tie, you make another test, using a different ability.
There’s something down right magical about this option to resolve a chase, instead of moving 12 squares on a grid.
Each time it comes to the table, my pulse quickens, because the stakes are invariably so high.
Sometimes I miss face to face gaming, but I’ve come around to playing over voice chat. I’ve developed new friendships and have had wonderful conversations about games and literature.
It’s far easier finding folks online with schedules that overlap with my schedule. So for now, I embrace this new form of game play. I’m averaging about 1.25 sessions per week and wish I could nudge that up a bit. But for now, this is good.