Burning Olengrav: Session 1 (01/14/2014)

I thought it might be fun to steal my good friend Sean Nittner’s idea (and format) and start writing up AP posts of games that I’m running or playing in. So, here’s the first entry. This game, set in the port city of Olengrav, is a new Burning Wheel campaign that I started with three out of the five normal players in my Tuesday night group. We were playing Burning Empires, but that game sort of fell apart for various reasons.

Anyway, it’s been almost a week since this session, so things may be fuzzy or inaccurate. I’ll leave it up to the other players to comment and correct me on what happened, although the session wasn’t particularly long.

Game: Olengrav
System: Burning Wheel
GM: Shaun Hayworth
Players: Sam Tlustos, Haley Rose, Matt Glover

A NOTE ON SETTING

Olengrav is a bustling port city, left largely autonomous by the Duke. It’s a center of trade and learning. It’s also a center of politics, wealthy families, mysterious sorcerers, pious priesthoods, and vicious criminals. It is ruled over by Lord Branik Rabinov and his court of members of various prominent families.

The city is also home to two somewhat rival organizations; the Church of the Triad, the most recognized religion in the land, and the Lycaeum, a school of sorcery. The thing that sets these two at odds is the fact that the Gift has always been viewed by the church as a bit of the divine spark of creation born into a mortal, and thus have traditionally been the ones to train sorcerers. The Lycaeum, on the other hand, claims that anyone can be taught to use sorcery, and in the last few years has proved that to be true, with previously un-Gifted students graduating from the school able to cast spells as though they’d been gifted from birth.

THE CHARACTERS

Peter Boyar, the Faithful Knight, played by Matt Glover
Beliefs:

  1. A man stands accused of murder, and to make sure his soul is judged fairly I shall find evidence to either convict or acquit him.
  2. My brother has fallen down a dark path. I will help him find his footing by bringing him into the light of the Triad.
  3. As my sword is a tool of my will, I too am but an instrument to enact the will of the Triad.
  4. I am sworn to protect those Gifted who have been touched by the Triad.

Peter is a devout member of the church, and sworn to an order which protects the church-trained sorcerers from harm. He’s also the elder brother of Nicodemus, though his choice to join the Church’s ranks have prevented him from being named heir to the Boyar family name.

Ganya Volkav, the Church’s Golden Retriever, played by Haley Rose
Beliefs:

  1. Something does not add up; I will find the truth about my parents execution by secretly enlisting Nicademous to root around in the churches records.
  2. This new “sorcerer” is spoiling the name of magic and I will either expose him for a murderous fruad or prove he was set up.

Ganya is a sorceress, trained by her older sister, Irena, in the Church of the Triad. Peter is her assigned protector. She knows that, for some reason, her parents were executed by the church, but the reason for it is a mystery.

Nicodemus Laron (Boyar), the Prodigal Son, played by Sam Tlsustos
Beliefs:

  1. The Sorcerer is hiding something; I’ll infiltrate his home and find details on this crime
  2. My brother’s efforts of Conversion are wasted; I’ll convince him that I’m not the Pilgrim he assumes.
  3. The Boyar name is not mine to claim, I’ll prove to my father that Peter is the the better Heir.

Nicodemus is a liar and perennial fuck-up. He’s the heir of the Boyar name, though he’s currently somewhat in disgrace, and wants to convince his father that his brother, Peter, is a more appropriate heir.

The Prisoner, The Corpse, and the Commander

We open with the characters being led into one of the cells in the Grey Tower, Olengrad’s primary prison. It seems that one of the students from the Lycaeum, Yuri, was caught on the Street of Shrines near the docks with the body of an eight-year-old boy. The child turned out to be Iliya, the son of the Canon Demian of the Church of the Triad. Lord Rabinov is known to favor the Lycaeum, so, in order to avoid any awkward political situations, the Church sent Ganya and Peter to question the prisoner and find out what the story is with the child. Peter, worried that they may need to interact with some of the less-than-savory elements of Olengrav society, tapped his brother, Nico, to assist them.

Yuri turns out to be a young man, barely 16 years old. He’s clearly been tortured for information, but has, as of yet, refused to yield any information about the murder. The three of them start to ask questions of the boy, but he’s not particularly forthcoming. Nicodemus points out the nasty punishments that are in store if Yuri doesn’t spill his guts, and Ganya picks up on that and tries to intimidate him into talking. Peter, in an effort to allay the boy’s fear, prays to his gods to heal the wounds inflicted from the rather aggressive interrogation he’d received after his arrest (a Minor Miracle).

It works! The tattoos on Peter’s face begin to glow, and the flesh beneath the weeping wounds knits back together!

Meanwhile, Ganya takes a few moments to open herself to sensing the magical energies of the world, determined to discover the nature of this student’s Gift (Magesense spell, successful). As she tries to hone in on Yuri’s aura, however, the energy from Peter’s divine aid obscures her senses, and she is unable to determine whether or not the boy is actually gifted. However, the miracle does weaken Yuri’s resolve, and he finally comes clean, explaining that he’s not even a graduate of the Lycaeum, only a Junior Student, and he was disposing the body at the behest of a recent graduate that he was in love with, a girl named Naya Vitelli. This catches Nicodemus’ attention – he was once the lover of another Vitelli, the Countess Maria.

The information gathered, the three prepare to leave and investigate Yuri’s claims. As they do, one of the guards catches their attention, and asks if they’re to take the body back to the Canon. When they respond with confusion, the guardsman explains that they were instructed to keep the body in the chambers below, to await Lord Rabinov’s physician to come and examine it, but he figured that, since the Church had sent the three of them, they might have come to collect the body instead.

The three of them agree to descend into the basements below the Grey Tower, where they pass through the rooms used to store dead prisoners until last rites and burials can be performed. Iliya’s body is lying on a table, wrapped in a sheet of bloodstained cloth. Peter and Nico unwrap the body while Ganya views it through her magical senses. The boy’s been skinned from the neck down, though his face is perfectly intact. Ganya can sense that this is the result of some sort of dark magic (successful Perception roll). Nico suspects that this is the result of some sort of summoning ritual (Summoning-Wise, failed), but, without being able to dissect the body, he can’t be sure. Peter, meanwhile, gets close enough to the corpse to try to determine what sort of ritual it was (Dark Magic-Wise, failed), but as he gets close, demonic hands burst through the boy’s corpse. The torch, which the guard who accompanied them carries, turns blue, casting a garish light across the scene, as a three-foot tall monstrosity tears its way out of Iliya. The guard drops the torch to the ground and runs screaming back up the stairs. Ganya stands and watches in horror as the thing emerges. Peter and Nico, however, manage to keep their wits about them. The knight uttered a quick prayer, beseeching the gods to grant his sword-arm strength.

The fight was quick and brutal, with the demon-thing lunging for Peter as he scooped up the torch, while Nico drew back his bow, attempting to angle for a shot on the creature. Then Peter’s blade came slicing down on the thing’s head, cleaving it in half.

As the fight wound down, the guardsman came back with reinforcements, including Sidor Ivanov, the Commander of the city watch, who tried to suss out what had happened, and what was going on with the prisoner. Ganya, Nico and Peter claimed that he was innocent, and that they had a lead on the real murderer to investigate. They refused, however, to actually share the information with Commander Ivanov. The Commander viewed this as an obstruction of justice, and had the group rounded up to be hauled off to the cells while the watch conducted their own investigation. Nico, about to be hauled away, tried to give the Commander a fake name for the new suspect, but Ivanov didn’t buy it at all, instead telling his men to take Nico in for “questioning” while the others were placed in cells.

Thoughts on This Session

Overall, I felt really good about this session. I was a little worried because I still need to stat up a lot of the NPC’s involved, like Ivanov and Naya Vitelli, but I felt like things were tense and started off with a bang. I mean, hell, we managed to have a Fight in the first session, and it wasn’t super long or involved. I did feel bad about Haley having to Stand and Drool through combat, though I’m sure she’ll have a chance to blast some critters with magical fire before too long.

One of the things that I did for this campaign that I haven’t really done before is to use a relationship map for it. I’m using a program called Scapple to do it, and getting some decent results. Here’s a link to how it looks right now.

Having the characters arrested was awesome! It was one of those moments that really emerged out of the fiction and, I think, surprised everyone. Definitely the result of interesting failure consequences. The best part is, it really set up a solid situation for the next session. I think everyone has or will have a Belief about getting out of prison.

Also, I made an effort to end the session a little earlier than usual. Partly because everyone else in 2-3 hours ahead of me, but also because there’s a tendency to think of Artha awards as the thing you do after the session, rather than actually being part of the session. Cutting the game back a little made going over BITs less of a “thing we need to get through so that we can go to bed.” A nice side-effect of that was that people were jumping on Beliefs for next session, which means that we should get going a little earlier.

What Could Improve

I need to hit Beliefs harder. I managed to nail a couple of them that were tied directly to the questioning of the Prisoner, but there are a couple that I didn’t hit as nicely as I’d like. I’ll definitely provide more opportunities for some of the other, longer-term Beliefs that are on the characters’ sheet in the future.

I need to be more of a stickler about the “Task” part of “Intent and Task.” I think it’s a common issue, but there’s a definite tendency to say, “My intent is to open the locked door, so I’m going to roll Lock Pick with Doors-Wise and Locksmith as FoRKs,” and then describe the actions of the character after the dice have been rolled. The way it should work is, “My intent is to open the locked door, so I crouch down beside the door, unroll my picking tools and carefully start working the picks against the tumblers,” at which point the GM decides what the appropriate skill to roll is, and at what Obstacle, and what the consequences of failure are. It’s real easy, as a GM, to let it slide when players push for a particular skill before description, and it’s something I do as a player in Burning* games, as well.