On the Wheel of Fire: Session 1

The characters spotted a camp hidden in the hollow of some rocky hills. Alessandra opted to simply walk into the enemy camp, with Catherine and Gronk in tow. Meanwhile, Altier and Luther snuck around the camp to get a better vantage point (successful Ob 1 Stealthy test).

The people in camp intended to rob the three interlopers, inviting them to share their food before yanking Alessandra’s holy book from her hands, prompting a violent reaction from Gronk and Cat. The former lunged forward sword-first, while the latter threw her game hen in the face of one of the raiders before joining the battle. Alessandra prayed for the Goddess to strengthen Gronk’s sword arm (Ob 2 Faith – success), then drew steel and joined in. Luther, meanwhile, rushed down to help with the battle, while Altier stayed hidden above.

There was no contest. The raiders landed glancing blows against the party, but they were devastated by Gronk’s ferocity. All six of them were cut down, not quite dead, but not long for this world (Bloody Versus, Ob 4 test, enemy wound up with B8 wounds). When the fight was over, Cat moved to start putting the poor slobs out of their misery, but Alessandra wasn’t going to let her. They danced around the dying a few times before Cat shoved the priestess to the ground, despite her prayer for the strength to stand against the warrior (Successful Ob 2 Faith test, followed by a Power (3s) vs Power (1s) test). Luther started to get between the two of them, but the conflict was over by this point.

Gronk, meanwhile, decapitated the young lady who stole his sister’s Book. He and Al attempted to stop the bleeding of one of the enemy, so that they could question him, but, despite the use of Elvish magic, there wasn’t anything that could be done. Alessandra called for her Goddess to bestow healing on the remaining dying person to no avail. The deity’s answer was to pour rain down on the blood-soaked earth (failed Ob 5 Faith test).

During this, Luther and Cat heard the unmistakable sound of approaching footprints (successful Ob 4 Perception). Cat urged the group to collect the iron-bound lockbox that they found in the raiders’ camp and run for a hiding place. They tried, but Gronk wasn’t quite fast enough, and the newcomers spotted the party as Cat was passing the lockbox to Al so that she could aid Gronk.

“That’s our property!” the new folk, who appeared to hail from Mirkwell.

Cat informed them that they were entitled to the loot they found from stopping the unstoppable horde.

“Oh, my dear,” the man in charge responded. “You have gotten yourself in over your head.”

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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.

Lights in the Darkness

My friend, Sean Nittner, has been running a pieced together series of sessions of Torchbearer, the forthcoming dungeon crawl RPG from Thor Olavsrud and Luke Crane. We’re going through the Temple of Elemental Evil and It. Is. Awesome.

There’s an amazing amount of fun to be had in trying to piece together how the game works from the character sheets, bits and pieces of mechanics that get discussed in interviews and the Mouse Guard rules which Torchbearer is based on.

The biggest thing is that it’s done a great job of scratching a particular itch that I’ve been having – to delve into dungeons and make off with as much loot as I can – while still using mechanics that promote the style of play that I find satisfying in the regular games that I play. Also, Sean’s a fantastic GM, which certainly helps to cover the gaps in what we know about the system.

Y’all should go check out Sean’s AP posts on his blog, even the non-Torchbearer or Burning Wheel ones. He’s one of the only people I know that can make almost any system work for him, and it’s worth looking over the many diverse games that Sean runs and plays in.

Fire in the Garden – A New Burning Wheel Podcast

Something I’ve been planning for a while is a new podcast for the Burning Wheel RPG. Those of you who are familiar with me know that BW is my favorite game, and I try really hard to introduce it to new players as often as I can.

Fire in the Garden is a 30 minute show which goes through the Burning Wheel system concept by concept, in an attempt to teach the game to new folks. Its definitely a show aimed at beginners, though hopefully veterans will find useful insights, or be able to offer commentary or corrections on.

The first episode is planned for next Sunday – that’s June 2nd, 2013 for those of you who might be going through the archives and picking up on this post -from 8:00-8:30 Pacific time, and we’ll be covering the concepts of Intent, Task & Failure.

I know that this post is going to get fed out to my Twitter stream, and I have a handful of folks who follow this blog, so if there’s a particular question you have about this show’s topic, or you have a good example or insight to share on it, feel free to send me an @ on twitter, or post your questions and comments on this blog entry. I’ll be posting another one for the next topic a week from today, so be on the lookout for it.

Grappling with Fate

First, let me apologize for the spate of Fate related posts. Normally I’m a Burning Wheel guy, but, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m running a Dresden Files RPG campaign, and there’s a bunch of little niggling things that bug me about the system. Not that it’s bad. I’m just the Burning Wheel equivalent of a grognard at this point, and, well, this is my space to rant or throw out questions about the game, or how I’m running it.

Anyway, one of the most-used actions in our game is grappling. As it’s written up in the DFRPG book, it’s a pretty goddamned powerful move, although it takes two actions to do. First, you need to Maneuver to place an Aspect on your target, like Pinned or Full Nelson or something. Then you need to make a Might roll. Assuming you succeed, you now have until your next turn to do a block against anything the other character might do, plus you can take a supplemental action to do a 1-stress hit, move your target a zone, or add an aspect for free. That’s pretty nasty stuff. It’s also kind of a pain in the ass in play, because really, it’s something that takes 2 rounds to do, plus tagging an Aspect (that’s usually free, unless the grapplee is awesome and manages to Maneuver the aspect off). You’re dealing with 2 defense rolls (1 for the Maneuver, 1 for the Might roll), then the free supplemental action. There’s a lot of failure points, sure, but in my experience in play, the grapple goes off.

Now, I should say that none of this is bad. I only really have one complaint about the grappling system in DFRPG, and that is that it’s boring. Really boring. More boring than just going around with everyone attacking, because at least then you have some exciting narration. Choking someone out? Not super exiting.

I said all of that in order to say this: I’ve finally picked up and skimmed through the Fate Core rules, and they’ve done some thing (many things, actually) to the system that I really, really like. I’m sure I’ll post about them after I’ve had a chance to test out some of the new mechanics. But, one of the things that actually could have an impact on my current game is the changes they made to grappling.

Well, technically they didn’t change grappling. They got rid of it. Grappling was always just a fancy block, and they pretty much grouped that effect in with the Create an Advantage action. Which is really cool, because now, it’s a really simple thing. Create an Advantage to put an Aspect on a dude, let’s say Pinned. Doing that justifies an opposing roll to the NPC as long as the Aspect is applicable. Dude wants to get up and run away? Roll opposed Might vs Athletics. Easy, and you don’t have to keep track of how well you rolled from last time (Jesus, that was a pain in the ass). But that gets me to thinking, what about all those other cool things you could do?

In my brain, nothing’s free anymore. I totally think it’s appropriate to have to spend a Fate Point to take any of the other actions. Really, they’re just compels, right? It becomes, “Here’s an FP for a 1-stress hit,” as opposed to the usual, “Fuck you, I’m just going to sit here and inflict free damage until you go out. Cool?”

Yes, that’s hyperbolic.

So, that’s grappling now. I dig it. I’m sure it’ll cause confusion at the table until everyone gets used to it.

Also, I’m sure that this is all stuff that’s been covered before, and better, elsewhere. Richard Bellingham has an excellent guide to blocks and such over at faterpg.com, and you should totally read it if you’re playing Fate Core.

Oh, Fate, How I Want to Beat You in the Facemeat

I’ve been running a Dresden Files game for the Tuesday night Google+ group. It’s been going… okay. Fate, I’m realizing, is not my strongest game. It’s not bad, by any means, and lots of people have a great time with it.

But.

I’ve come to really like certain things out of an RPG, and there aren’t many that deliver on my particular tastes. I like struggle. I like conflict. I like difficult choices. Drama. Fate does all those things pretty well. I like games that offer players a solid direction on where the fiction is headed. This is where things sort of fall down for me.

We had this situation where I (being the big asshole of a GM that I am. Mwahaha and all that) put the group in a shitty situation. There’s a private mom-and-pop orphanage (more like a specialized foster home, really), full of half-demon kids. Think of Changelings from the DF canon, but instead of consciously making The Choice, these kids go full-infernal when they express their basest instincts, right? So, a half-demon that’s all built on rage and violence might start reaching for that extra power in a fight, then pretty soon, rage and violence starts looking like a good solution to most problems and yada-yada-yada you wind up with a super-nasty demon. Probably. Anyway.

So, there’s a group of religious zealots who’ve killed one of these kids already, probably going to go after more. Oh, and one of the player-characters is a Warden, and this whole mess has been going on under the White Council’s nose. And to top it off, the demon-daddy of the kids shows up and asks the group to help him fulfill the contracts he has with the parents of these orphans (all nice and signed and legal, according to the Unseelie Accords). Yeah. I totally gave everyone the shit-end of the moral stick here, as best I could. It was a moment of pride for me.

In any case, the predictable debate broke out, right? Players arguing about what to do. Everyone looking at their Aspects, pointing to reasons why they should do one thing or the other. As a GM, my instinct was to give them a couple of minutes to yell at each other, then push for someone to grab for some dice. But I didn’t. Because nothing, mechanically, seemed right.

Sure, Fate’s got a social conflict mechanic, but it isn’t really well geared for dealing with a conflict between player characters (which, really, is almost always a conflict between players, anyway). It’s cumbersome against NPCs, and it seemed awkward to trot it out for this. I could have compelled an Aspect as a GM, but I felt like that would have been pushing things in the direction that I wanted, rather than letting the rest of the players get on the same page. Or, players could have started an Aspect-tagging bidding war, trying to bribe everyone else to go their way. That probably would have been the best thing, but it didn’t happen.

What did happen was that all the characters went off on their own, and this left me pretty frustrated with Fate. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by how well Burning Wheel’s Duel of Wits mechanics deal with this exact sort of player conflict, but I was really unsatisfied with how that turned out. I should have known better, I guess. The last time I ran DFRPG, the entire campaign self-destructed when I put a different set of players into just this sort of conundrum. Maybe Fate just doesn’t handle that kind of no-good-answer scenario. Maybe I’m just shitty at running Fate. I’m not sure. Whatever it is, it fell flat, and I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to handle it.

Deleran at the Moathouse

My good friend, Sean Nittner, offered to run a little test-run of Thor Olavsrud and Luke Crane’s new game, Torchbearer. I created Deleran Ap Denemir, an Elven Ranger from the remote village of Nulb, and he joined up with a couple of gents from Hommlet and Verbobonc and headed out to an old abandoned moathouse, hoping for maybe a little treasure, maybe a little fame.

I’m not going to bore you with a full account of what happened. Also, this isn’t really a review of Torchbearer as a game.

What I will tell you is this: Creating a character for Torchbearer is a fuckton of fun. Seriously.

Yeah, there’s a list of questions, kind of like in Mouse Guard, but it seems like, if you’re just jumping into the game, you can pretty much be left to your own devices for most of it, maybe have the GM ask you the required questions for Nature, and be ready to play in ten minutes or so. It felt a lot like playing old-skool D&D, where you roll 3d6 six times, pick a name and a class, and join everyone else in the filth and the muck to scrounge for gold and treasure.

There were a couple of things that came up in play that really highlighted how this game is supposed to be run, I think. Granted, this is pretty much speculation based on trying to estimate changes from the Mouse Guard rules to the hints of what’s to come that are on the Torchbearer character sheet, but I think my suspicions are at least on the right track. Also, from here on out, I’m going to assume a general knowledge of the Mouse Guard RPG. I’ll be happy to answer any questions in the comments though (hint hint).

First, since we were playing through the Temple of Elemental Evil module (that’s T1-T4, if folks are old like me), we tried to start by heading into Hommlet to start asking questions. What we realized, though, is that, since Torchbearer characters start with no checks, we didn’t actually have a way of interacting with the townsfolk. The only way we could actually start an adventure was by assuming that we’d already asked people where a group of dirty murder-hobos like us could find some loot, and then skip straight to being out in front of the moathouse. I dig that. The less time spent looking for the adventure, the more time there is for adventuring.

The second thing that struck me is the brutality of Conditions in Torchbearer. After a brief conflict in which we drove a huge spider out of the moathouse tower, poor Deleran got saddled with the Afraid condition, which prevents a character from offering helping dice or using Beginner’s Luck tests. That’s nuts! You sit and cower in fear while your friends yell at you to give them a hand. I love it.

Lastly, there was the inventory system. Some people might not want to play the “can I carry this loot?” game, but I seriously dug it. The first bit of treasure we found, after the tussle with the spider, was a carved ivory box, which took up one inventory slot. It took us all of three seconds to start asking eachother who had room in their pack for it (I did, fortunately). That gave me a bit of a “woah” moment, though. If nobody had any room, because they were carrying stuff, we would have had a hard choice – what do you leave behind? I imagine that, when the full rules are available, there will be something about the consequences of putting your loot down and trying to come back for it later.

Anyway, playing Torchbearer, even in the hacky way we did, was an absolute blast. MM Olavsrud and Crane had my money at the words, “New game,” but I’m super glad that this one is going to scratch the dungeon-crawl itch that I’ve been having trouble reaching for the last couple of years.