Burning Sanctuary – Session 1

We met for our second session of Burning Sanctuary. Some of the players had not completed their beliefs. So we spent some time finalizing both characters and a bit of the world. This took about an hour of our 3.5 hour session.

Preparation

Without knowing the players starting beliefs and instincts I wasn’t able to plan as much as I had hoped.

There was Shrewsbury Abbey (and clergy). One of the players provided beliefs related to smuggling something out of the Abbey.

I focused on writing various impressions and bits of scenery for Shrewsbury Abbey:

  • Stooped monks harvesting squash and onions
  • Moans of the injured
  • Dripping water as bloodied clothes are wrung out over a bowl
  • Chanting prayers as tallow candles crackle and flicker
  • Hushed conversations in stone halls
  • Wretched poor seeking alms
  • Unarmed soldiers walking idling about
  • Cool stones in open air passages
  • A small girl asleep under an ancient oak
  • A bell tolling

I used the above to add color to the environs. It provided a means for tredding water as we felt out the scope of the game.

Character Burning

What follows are a list of beliefs; not precise as they were workshopped during the session, but instead the notes and recollections that I’m working from.

  • Aneúpin [Nye for short] (Welsh Scout):
    • B1: Wants solitude and to get back to the wilderness
    • B2: Needs to get possessions back so I can be self-sufficient
    • I1: Always looking for new cooking ingredients
    • I2: Always fall to the back of the group.
    • I3: Always watch the nobility out of the corner of my eye.
  • Raimund (Anglo-Norman Smuggler):
    • B1: William was supposed to supply an artifact to me as part of the deal, but it’s sealed away at Shrewsbury Abbey. I’m to meet his contact there, obtain the artifact, and deliver it to Ranulf.
    • B2: I need help to escort me back to Chester.
    • B3: I will advance my status and wealth to return my family to the peerage
    • I1: While at ports, large markets, or trade fairs, always chitchat with fellow merchants and look over their wares. Prioritize the exotic and foreign.
    • I2: Never pass by a rare or exotic good without inspecting it.
    • I3: Always carry a packet of herbs to ward off the disease-ridden miasma.
  • Old Travis (Anglo-Norman Elder):
    • B1: Find the family of Clovis FitzTravis, my son.
    • B2: I want to be known for my writings, but I must learn to compose. So I will study the manuscripts of the abbey.
    • I1: When prattling on about travels always be assessing my surroundings.
    • I2: Always take an afternoon nap.
    • I3: Always work patiently when mending
  • Edmund Thatcher (Anglo-Saxon Doctor):
    • B1: I will get my sister (Adwyn) out from the control of Robert of Gloucester. I will take her to Chester and seek an audience with Earl Ranulf. (wants to improve her station)
    • B2: I have an academic interest in these relics, I know someone wants them I’m going to find out who.
    • I1: Always provide medical attention to the injured

Procedures

I’m adopting the procedure of having the players go around the table reading their Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits. It is a helpful reminder for everyone since each players BITs drives the Artha awards.

In this session we went around once to flesh out the beliefs. We then went around again to restate the more “formalized” beliefs. It was a collaboration.

World Burning

Mixing throughout character burning was some world burning. We fleshed out the primary deity and the details of the relics.

Shirat, the Illuminating Eye

Instead of using a “vanilla” Christian God, we came up Shira, the Illuminating Eye. The “Catholic” church venerates her.

  • Sun
  • Water
  • Time
  • Knowledge
  • Labor
  • Forethought
  • Augury
  • Law
  • Written Word

Relic Smuggling

We discussed that Raimund is smuggling relics to Ranulf. The players know that these relics are Fey related. They are also being positioned along ley lines. The characters know none of this.

The Session Proper

We spent much of the session getting the characters into a common orbit.

  • Edmund Thatcher became a local celebrity through his miraculous healing of one of Robert Gloucester’s men (Roger FitzWallace).
  • Travis spent time fixing up the Abbey, always conspiring to gain access to the scriptorium and its books. He learned that Brother George had a key to the storeroom.
  • Nye focused on gaining his equipment; Things went awry when he sought the help of several fellow Welsh men.
  • Raimund was busy tracking down his contact and laying out an initial plan to smuggle out some “holy” bones.

The session drew to a close when they all noticed the Welsh men carrying out a corpse of one of the priests (Brother George). The church bell rang, raising the alarm; The abbey awoke; In the general chaos Raimund and Nye begun forming an alliance.

NPCs

The NPCs introduced throughout the session:

  • Gwyir – a Welsh traveler and spokes person for 3 other Welsh men. They have sought an evening respite at Shrewsbury Abbey; They are not wealthy. They came with a wagon of wool.
  • Abbot Gerald (Vicious and Precise) – Abbot of Shrewsbury
  • Brother Michael – contact for Raimund
  • Brother George – oversees the storeroom.
  • Brother Ferand – tends the kitchen
  • Brother Albert – an elderly monk with one eye blind from cataracts

Tests

  • Faith (Ob 4) for Edmund Thatcher:
    • Task: Seek guidance for the surgery to come
    • Intent: Gain guidance
    • Consequence: Brother Albert, the chatty old, will mark you a blasphemer.
    • Result: Success. A glowing nimbus and a bead of sweat forms on Edmund Thatcher’s brow.
  • Surgery (Ob 4) for Edmund Thatcher:
    • Task: Stitch up this severe wound
    • Intent: Get him healthy and on the road to recovery and even ingratiate himself to Earl of Gloucester.
    • Consequence: He’s a bannerman of Gloucester and Gloucester will find out about it.
    • Side note: The player rolled 3 successes. But one of them was a 6 and was the dice from astrology. With the open-ended dice, they got the 4 successes.
    • Result: The bannerman is on the road to recovery. And Brother Albert is extolling the virtues of a miracle.
  • Persuasion (Ob 5) for Travis:
    • Task: Persuade the abbot that this place is falling apart and you can help clean it up.
    • Intention: Ingratiate himself with the abbot so he can gain access to the books
    • Consequence: You draw the ire of the Abbot and he assigns someone to watch over you.
    • Result: Failure
  • Stealth (Ob 2) for Raimund linked into Inconspicuous:
    • Task: Moving through the abbey without being seen
    • Intention: To observe each monk.
    • Consequence: You draw unwanted attention as it is clear you are singling someone out.
    • Result: Success, one over OB, so the linked test gets +1D.
  • Inconspicuous (Ob 2 linked from Stealth) for Raimund:
    • Task: Mingling without drawing attention
    • Intention: To find Brother Michael without drawing attention.
    • Consequence: You are unable to find the brother as he is out-of-town. This one was weak. I was thinking perhaps a Circles test.
    • Result: Success. Raimund finds Brother Michael.
    • Side note: I really should’ve called for an Inconspicuous test then an Observation test.
  • Scavenging (Ob 3) for Nye:
    • Task: Find something that could be used to pick a lock.
    • Intention: With a tool in hand, he’d pick the lock to get into the store-room.
    • Consequence: you draw unwanted attention. Opted not to test.
    • Result: The player stepped away from the test.
    • Side note: With the Ob set, the player backed down. Instead going towards Rumor-wise
  • Rumor-wise (Ob 2) for Nye:
    • Task: Poke around a bit regarding these Welsh men’s mode of operation storeroom
    • Intention: I want them to help me bust into the store-room
    • Consequence: These Welshmen are very bad news; burn down the Abbey, mass murder.
    • Result: Success. These Welshmen are ready to help.
  • Mending (Ob 3) for Travis: I’m drawing a blank on this one, but I believe it was along the lines of you aggravate Brother Michael and he assumes you are stalling.
    • Result: Success. Travis has begun ingratiating himself with Brother Michael.
  • Inconspicuous (Ob 2) for Raimund:
    • Task: Pull Brother Michael aside to talk
    • Intention: Determine what and where the relics are that Raimund needs to smuggle out
    • Consequence: You are deep in conspiring and someone stumbles upon you.
    • Result: Success. The players.
  • Persuasion (Ob 3 untrained, so Ob 6) for Nye:
    • Task: Convince the Welsh men that there are valuables in the
    • Intention: Get them to help me bust into the store-room
    • Consequence: They’ll help but its going to escalate into the abduction/murder of a priest. abduct/kill a priest.
    • Result: Failure (untrained got 5 successes).
  • Observation (Ob 3) for all:
    • Task: Looking into the evening.
    • Intent: See if they spot the people leaving through the sally port.
    • Consequence: You don’t see the events transpiring in the courtyard.
    • Result: The players see four men carrying the body of another.
    • Side Note: I wasn’t sure how to proceed. The party was not coordinated in their effort. So I called for individual tests.

Closing Scenes

Abbot Gerald (Vicious and Precise) insinuates the Edmund Thatcher’s miracles could draw pilgrims to Shrewsbury and bolster their coffers. The Abbot wants to talk with Edmund in his chambers.

Nye and Arnolt have their first conversation. Arnolt offers cash to Nye if he will help get some relics to Chester. The beginnings of a plan take shape. We end the session.

Precedence

I am keeping a running log of what we establish via Wises and Duel of Wits. Both resolutions are manifestations of the Let it Ride principle.

  • The Four Clovers are a band of Welsh rebels; They despise the English. They are destabilizing England. (via Rumor-wise)
  • The relics are three leg bones from the Abbey crypt. These bones are in a prominent spot.
  • At temples of Shirat, at least one brother or sister maintains a nighttime vigil for Shirat’s return.

Observations

I also like to reflect on the sessions that I’ve run. I have personal notes for where to go with the next session; But I’m not going to publish those at the moment.

Task and Intent

I was insistent on players providing both Task and Intent. In doing so, we were able to map tests to beliefs. This made the end of session Artha awards smooth and meaningful. The wrap up discussion concerning Artha award categories was helpful for me; We were generous in interpretation. It also felt like we ended on the same page.

An interesting note, no one earned Artha for character traits. There are a lot of parts, and I believe those traits are something that is hard to pay attention to in the first session.

Once we completed the session wrap-up, the players saw some of the reward cycle. They now have greater clarity on how to write their beliefs. They can also focus their beliefs to the immediate situation.

An interesting observation is that I think User Stories (from Agile software development) are an excellent template for writing beliefs. They have the following form:

As a ____, I will ____, so that ____.

Odd Getting Started

The players are not well aligned; I believe this is a failing on my part. The initial situation (everyone has declared sanctuary) doesn’t have enough teeth to join them. I also didn’t lead them through group creation.

I’m not worried about keeping the characters together, but hope to nurse the aligning of goals.

Then again, it’s a first session. Everyone is feeling out their characters and intentions. I imagine the next session will move better.

Back on the Gaming Treadmill (maybe)

It would appear that running a lengthy session of Dungeon World for a table of five was great for a few reasons:

First, the dwarven judiciary is only slightly less terrifying than the dwarven actuarial system. Together, their justice is both exacting and miserly. And with 10% interest on debts accumulated each month, adventure is mandated!

Second, roaming bands of halflings are dangerous. They lay “surprise siege” to a city/village by first entering, eating all of the food, then leaving the city and setting up a blockade for all arriving caravans. All of this in search of a coin on one of the player character’s person.

Third, playing with a new player that doesn’t know all of the old tropes of D&D is revelatory…realizing a curse is an opportunity for even more adventuring.

Most important , playing with a great table is hands down one of the best parts of role-playing. It took a lot of questions to get a sense for why a Templar, Cleric, Halfling, Druid, and Mechanic would all stop around together, but we eventually built some cohesion and a good adventure was had by all.

So yesterday and today, I’ve been sharpening my RPG tools, gathering up raw resources, and beginning some work on a potential campaign. I spent about an hour on Friday morning cataloging what system I would want to run and use.

The contenders were:

My heart initially said Burning Wheel Gold. So I started with reading the Adventure Burner, an excellent resource on getting campaigns going.

And I got to thinking, Burning Wheel Gold is great; The system speaks to me. But it feels very tightly coupled. There are lots of intertwined elements, crafted to work in concert. I have no doubt the game would be amazing.

But it pushes hard against several of the play styles of the gamers I have available. In some cases, I think the accounting would be overwhelming. In others, the odds are too much to overcome. This also knocks Ars Magica out of the running (as not everyone wants to play a wizard).

So I set aside Burning Wheel and its sibling Torchbearer. I gave Dungeon World a brief consideration, but it is my goto game for one shots, it is not what I want for longer games.

As an aside, I’m considering lifting Discern Realities from Dungeon World and bringing it as an option for any game; I’ll need to normalize the probabilities, but it is a good “We are stuck, what comes next” release valve.

While Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Sword & Wizardry, and Labyrinth Lord appeal to me for their bare-bones systems, I am looking for some additional “tech” to provide for the gaming group.

This leaves D&D 5E, Stars without Number, and Pendragon up for grabs, though I’m leaning heavily towards D&D.

I spent some more time poking around in the DMG 5E. There are an awful lot of house rules to push things in a direction that I believe will work best for the table and for the type of game I want to run.

Next steps are to figure out who all can play, a schedule for a character creation session and mini-adventure, and a plan for what to do when someone can’t make it.

A Bizarre Ritual of Mine

I wish I was more organized with my note taking, preparation, and storage of character sheets. I don’t believe Matt has forgiven me for losing one of his characters – alas poor Spike X, we barely knew him.

I now have a system for character sheets – it involved purchasing an accordion binder and placing everything in there. But other information…there’s a notebook somewhere.

I never picked up good study habits, because I always felt as though things came naturally for me. Most of my notes from class were often doodles. And now, as I balance the reality of full-time job, remarriage, and teenage children, I wish I were better at my note taking and preparation.

I find that my hand written notes are much easier to remember than anything I type. However, this creates a challenge, because I don’t always write them in a reasonable notebook and they can inevitably get lost in the shuffle.

I would turn to the computer, but for me, it represents my workspace. And as I said earlier, I know that there are better ways to store the information – I could create an ontology and begin mapping the information for storage and retrieval. But would I rather work on a game? Or work on the meta-game?

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been in somewhat of a funk. I started a new job, learning from and helping others. I’ve been mentally drained as I stepped out of the marketing environment of content management and into the library environment of cataloging, archiving, and discoverability – There are similarities, but there are real differences as well. There is a lot to learn.

What I realized today, as I was picking up a birthday present for my daughter, is that I buy a new notebook and pen when I’m ready for a change.

There is some catharsis in choosing a new notebook. A whole new opportunity to record thoughts in a blank book. A book devoted solely to whatever idea is trying to break forth from my skull.

Inevitably, the notebook’s original intent, which was likely not very clear, gets muddled. With its initial purpose sullied, the notebook languishes. For some reason my brain abandons this once promising virginal book to undertake a stygian journey of mindlessness.

For now, the notebook is new and fresh. I know there are ideas to come, so now, it is time to sit with pen and paper and capture those thoughts.

And I’m looking forward to reading “Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Session Prep.” I’m certain there will be some helpful advice.

Planning Diaspora: The Precious Few, Session #5

Well this is no good.  I’m about an hour and a half away from running The Precious Few campaign.  The last session, which we played more than a month ago, found the crew of The Precious in New Florida.  My notes from the previous session suggest that I need to hammer on the Wealth stress track.  As I see it, looking for a doctor to work on Billy’s implant is a likely course of action.

Given that a Fate game is driven by the aspects, it makes sense to review the character’s aspects when planning.  I’m going to create three couplings of character aspects; Two will be in tension and one in cooperation.  Quickly scanning the character aspects, I’m going to have:

  • William Nigh’s sheltered socialite will be in tension Mason Widmore’s reclusive nerd.
  • Timothy Heizerman’s well connected will be in tension Martin Patel’s feels no guilt.
  • Timothy Heizerman’s everything must add up will be in cooperation with Mason Widmore’s I can’t work with these morons.

Some ideas I’m rolling around are having the players need to confront a doctor at a social event.  The doctor is interested in Mason’s work, but being the recluse, drawing him out is going to be a bit difficult.  William, being the sheltered socialite is trying to secure the doctor for surgery.  A social combat where Mason is trying to conceal information from the doctor and William is trying to get the doctor to agree to the surgery.

In the case of Timothy Heizerman, bring an NPC into play, perhaps the doctor, and see about forcing Martin’s hand regarding keeping the doctor alive; After all the doctor knows that Billy may very well know is wanted.

I believe the third Fate pairing may very naturally arise from the other two conflicts.

Of course, all of this can easily fall apart if the Precious Few does not agree to seek the help of a doctor.  After all, players are a fickle bunch.  But I’m not prepping specific scenes, just themes and character interactions that I want to see.

The above is based somewhat loosely on Dresden Files RPG‘s suggestion on making aspect connections, either Tension-based or Cooperation-based connections.  This does not account for non-player characters that may be a part of the campaign.  But, given the history of the two disparate groups aboard the Precious, I believe that the internal tension has more than enough story to explore.  Of course, when all else fails I may just send in the ninjas.

Planning Diaspora: The Precious Few, Session #4

Taking the excellent advice of the gentlemen that wrote Diaspora, I opted to create a character in the campaign:  Billy Sadan, a gun happy former agent of New Florida.  This upcoming session, Joe is planning on running the campaign.  The crew of the Precious is on the run, and needs to get to New Florida.  Who knows, perhaps Billy will try to clear his name; After all William has the keys to do so.

The Diaspora rules lend themselves to this.  Unlike other Fate games, which ask that you guess a non-player character’s aspect, Diaspora encourages aspects to be public knowledge and collaboratively created.  After all the Game Master knows a character’s aspect, why shouldn’t the player know an opponent’s aspect.

I like the idea of enabling a player’s public knowledge to help drive the character narrative via the Fate point economy.  Some of the mystery, and possible “big reveals,” can certainly be more challenging to pull off, but I believe the trade-off is fair.  If I want the players to interact with someone diabolical then why not let them tag or compel that aspect; I’m sure they can come up with truly wicked things.

So it is with little reservation that I had the keys of the Diaspora campaign to Joe; After all he created the Vulcan system and William, the ship’s scientist.

I also believe that sitting on the other side of the table, as a player, will help give me some insights into how I can run my next FATE session.

So instead of focusing on this week’s campaign, I’ve thought a bit about the H-series The Bloodstone Pass Saga adventures, and how I might translate that to FATE (either Diaspora or Legends of Anglerre).  What follows are two unit’s I created for the Diaspora Platoon Combat.  Note: If I were running a Fantasy combat via the Platoon Combat, I’d likely grant each unit an additional stunt, and likely give “magical” units an additional stunt.

Begin OPEN GAME CONTENT

Dwarven Militia

Dwarven Irregulars x6, Dwarven Graybeard x1

Dwarven Irregulars (T-3 Infantry)

Specialist (sink) 3, Hand to Hand 2, Armour 2, Command 1, Observation 1, Direct Fire 1
Morale: OO
Command Range: 1*
Out of Ammo
We know how to use our hammers!
* – Command Range of 1 due to leader’s Battlefield genius.

Dwarven Graybeard (T-3 Infantry leader)

Veteran 3, Command 2, Hand to Hand 2, Armour 1, Signals 1, Specialist (sink) 1
Morale: OOO OOO
Command Range: 1
Battlefield genius: units can be one zone further from the Leader than otherwise allowed.
Out of Ammo
This is the oldest trick in the book.
I’ve seen it all before.

Ogre Headtakers

Ogre Skullcrushers x4, Ogre Chieftan x1

Ogre Skullcrushers (T-3 Infantry)

Armour 3, Hand to Hand 2,  Movement 2, Indirect Fire 1, Veteran 1, Command 1
Morale: OOO O
Command Range: 0
The chieftain demands blood!
Out of Ammo

Ogre Chieftan (T-3 Infantry leader)

Command 3, Hand to Hand 2,  Armour 2, Indirect Fire 1, Veteran 1, Movement 1
Morale: OOO OO
Command Range: 0
Large-Sized: Platoon may use Hand to Hand skill to attack adjacent zones
Crush the puny weaklings!
Ravage the archers!

End OPEN GAME CONTENT

Planning Diaspora: The Precious Few, Session #2

As my slew of prior posts might indicate, I’ve been spending some time thinking about our upcoming Diaspora campaign…In particular the opening scene. The characters naturally started in two different groups: Billy and Martin are now partners in smuggling, hoping to someday find William to help them clear their name from the wanted list. Mason, William, and Tim are doing their best to avoid “the Man” in their hot T3 prototype ship.

Billy was once tasked with kidnapping William and bring him to New Florida to face trial/questions/employment for cracking New Florida’s cyphers. To complicate the first encounter, Tim had once threatened to kill Martin for getting Tim’s girlfriend hooked on XX. Needless to say the first encounter should be charged. Layered on this is the fact that Dynamic Solutions, a company based on Exxon, wants its T3 ship back…and quietly.

My thought is that the scene will start with Mason’s ship, and skeleton crew, in the middle of it’s response to an S.O.S. being sent from Billy and Martin’s ship. And they aren’t the only ones responding, they just happen to be the first.  The challenge becomes how will they respond to the growing understanding of the situation.

I’ve poured over the Diaspora rulebook, Dresden Files RPG and Spirit of the Century, in particular the amazing section Tips and Tricks of Spirit of the Century. One of the things is thinking about the Pulp Plot Framework:

  1. Endanger the Characters
  2. Reveal the True Danger
  3. The Pursuit Encounters Complications
  4. Certain Doom
  5. The Twist
  6. Final Showdown
  7. Breakneck Escape (Optional)

Obviously the first scene is going to be the Endangerment; Followed by a scene that will reveal the True Danger.  I’m anticipating a handful of directions the first scene might go, and the corresponding True Danger for each path.  Much like a Schrödinger’s Cat if a path is not chosen that path’s True Danger will likely never manifest nor necessarily exist.

I’m also reviewing each character’s aspects (at least those that have given me theirs) and tried to pair them up with other character’s aspects.  I’ve looked at three pairings, and one pairing is complimentary while the other two are contradictory.  This is a track straight out of the Dresden Files RPG.  Establish a reason for them to work together as well as establish points of potential conflict.