Burning Wheel actual play


Today I played a 2 hour session of BW, played over Skype by me and the GM.

My PC is Thurgon, a warrior cleric type (heavy armour, Faithful to the Lord of Battle, Last Knight of the Iron Tower, etc). His companion is Aramina, a sorcerer. His ancestral estate, which he has not visited for 5 years, is Auxol.

At the start of the session, Thurgon had the following four Beliefs - The Lord of Battle will lead me to glory; I am a Knight of the Iron Tower, and by devotion and example I will lead the righteous to glorious victory; Harm and infamy will befall Auxol no more!; Aramina will need my protection - and three Instincts - When entering battle, always speak a prayer to the Lord of Battle; If an innocent is threatened, interpose myself; When camping, always ensure that the campfire is burning.

Aramina's had three Beliefs - I'm not going to finish my career with no spellbooks and an empty purse! - next, some coins!; I don't need Thurgon's pity; If in doubt, burn it! and three instincts - Never catch the glance or gaze of a stranger; Always wear my cloak; Always Assess before casting a spell.

The session started with a bit of a recap, as it was over two years since our last session of this particular game. The two of us were in the Pomarj (World of Greyhawk) at the abandoned tower of Evard, where Thurgon had fought a demon in Evard's form (he didn't quite defeat it, but held it off long enough that it's summoning ended), and then they had found some interesting writings - Evard's Book of Fire, a spellbook, and some letters that suggested that Thurgon's mother Xanthippe was a daughter of Evard. Thurgon had destroyed these letters in the campfire. Aramina was unconscious (Forte reduced to zero) from sorcerous Tax, although I can't remember now exactly what spell she was trying to cast that had that effect.

So the appropriate way to start seemed to be by preparing a meal which might also help Aramina recover. I failed an untrained Foraging check for Thurgon to find some healing herbs, which - the GM smilingly told me - meant that I found "herbs" and berries. I then failed my Cooking check to try and prepare a pleasant meal, and the GM narrated sparks from the fire reaching the dry timber of the broken doors, setting them alight. I took the opportunity for Thurgon to empty his skillet onto them, and rolled a Die of Fate for a 1-in-6 chance that this might extinguish the flames. It didn't. I then failed a Power check for Thurgon to pull the broken doors fully away from their hinges and the tower, succeeded on a Forte check so he didn't get burned, had Thurgon pick up his mace and try to bash the doors away that way only to fail that check too, the upshot being that the fire spread into the interior of the tower and gradually burnt away the timber furnishing and floors.

This did have the effect of revealing the tower basement, but I (as Thurgon) wasn't keen to go into a wizard's basement alone. I rolled for Aramina's recovery, which was 1 die of her 5 Taxed Forte per 3 hours rest. We rested for 6 hours and then (the GM told me) it started to rain so no more rest was possible. At that point shelter seemed necessary, and the rain doused the worst of the flames, and the two characters could see an exposed trapdoor. "Does it have an iron ring?" I asked. When told yes by the GM, Aramina used her Call of Iron spell to pull the ring towards her, lifting the trapdoor open (the GM said 'yes' to this, which meant no Tax check was required). She then encouraged Thurgon to go in. Thurgon spoke a prayer (Blessing) to bolster his courage (+1D to Steel while exploring the basement) and - leaving his shield upstairs - went down the ladder. In the basement were crates and boxes, and magical symbols in a circle on the floor. I checked Doctrine (with Ritual as an augment, or FoRK for those who know the system) and Thurgon learned it was a teleport circle. Thurgon then used his Ritual skill to open it, conjecturing that it led to Auxol or the vicinity - how else could his mother have sent letters to Evard when she was young?

The ritual and prayers opened it, but (failed check) it was not anywhere familiar - rather, it led to a cave. And it was flickering, as if it would close any moment. Thurgon called Aramina to come down, and she did - and with her Symbology (and Reading FoRKed in) recognised that the travel to somewhere about 100 miles east. With that success in hand, I decided to try for another: Aramina would draw a symbol to extend the duration of the gate so they could go back up and get their gear to take with them. This was Sorcery with Writing FoRKed in, and failed: Aramina drew a disharmonious magical symbol and closed the gate rather than holding it open.

With that avenue shut behind them, they looked around the basement. In the boxes were metal bars, ingots and simple tools - orc-work, it looked like, as if to build something. Aramina decided to take as much as she could carry, because it would be helpful for mending things and also for Call of Iron. She also decided to join Thurgon in looking around, hoping to find some coin - this was an untrained Scavenging check by Thurgon with help from Aramina. It failed - and the GM explained that "no one would have thought that such an important stone, in terms of holding up the structure, would have been so easily dislodged by moving crates around - perhaps it was weakened, or a crucial support beam burned, by the fire". Speed checks were made, against obstacle 3, and I rolled two successes for both characters. The GM put a choice to Aramina: drop your load of metal, or be injured by falling masonry. But I decided that she had a third option - cast Call of Iron as a single action (stepping up the obstacle by 1) and use the called iron to brace and block the stones just long enough for her and Thurgon to get out. The GM allowed the attempt, and it succeeded, and her Tax test left her still conscious on Forte 1. As the characters made their escape, Aramina made a point of explaining that she had done this not to help Thurgon but to save her scavenged metal.

With the tower now ruined - the upper levels gutted by fire and the basement collapsed - Thurgon decided that they would head east, along the river, looking for the cave - which must be a goblin cave, he thought - the old-fashioned way. He also kept an eye out for an ex-knight, Friedrich, who lives in the area and had helped Thurgon and Aramina when they were on their way to Evard's tower. This Circles check (base 3 dice +1 for Reputation as the Last Knight of the Iron Tower and +1 for an affiliation with the Order of the Iron Tower, vs Ob 2) succeeded, and as the character trudged along Friedrich passed them, poling his skiff along the river. Thurgon told him that the tower was no more, and that a demon had been driven off, and asked for a ride. Aramina mended the dents in Thurgon's breastplate (successful Mending vs Obstacle 1) while Friedrich took them as far as the next tributary's inflow - at that point the river turns north-east, and the two character's wanted to continue more-or-less due east on the other side of both streams. This was heading into the neighbourhood of Auxol, and so Thurgon kept his eye out for friends and family. The Circles check (base 3 dice +1 for an Affiliation with the nobility and another +1 for an Affiliation with his family) succeeded again, and the two characters came upon Thurgon's older brother Rufus driving a horse and cart. (Thurgon has a Rationship with his mother Xanthippe but no other family members; hence the Circles check to meet his brother.)

There was a reunion between Rufus and Thurgon. But (as described by the GM) it was clear to Thurgon that Rufus was not who he had been, but seemed cowed - as Rufus explained when Thurgon asked after Auxol, he (Rufus) was on his way to collect wine for the master. Rufus mentioned that Thurgon's younger son had married not long ago - a bit of lore (like Rufus hmself) taken from the background I'd prepared for Thurgon as part of PC gen - and had headed south in search of glory (that was something new the GM introduced). I mentioned that Aramina was not meeting Rufus's gaze, and the GM picked up on this - Rufus asked Thurgon who this woman was who wouldn't look at him from beneath the hood of her cloak - was she a witch? Thurgon answered that she travelled with him and mended his armour. Then I switched to Aramina, and she looked Rufus directly in the eye and told him what she thought of him - "Thurgon has trained and is now seeking glory on his errantry, and his younger brother has gone too to seek glory, but your, Rufus . . ." I told the GM that I wanted to check Ugly Truth for Aramina, to cause a Steel check on Rufus's part. The GM decided that Rufus has Will 3, and then we quickly calculated his Steel which also came out at 3. My Ugly Truth check was a success, and the Steel check failed. Rufus looked at Aramina, shamed but unable to respond. Switching back to Thurgon, I tried to break Rufus out of it with a Command check: he should pull himself together and join in restoring Auxol to its former glory. But the check failed, and Rufus, broken, explained that he had to go and get the wine. Switching back to Aramina, I had a last go - she tried for untrained Command, saying that if he wasn't going to join with Thurgon he might at least give us some coin so that we might spend the night at an inn rather than camping. This was Will 5, with an advantage die for having cowed him the first time, against a double obstacle penalty for untrained (ie 6) +1 penalty because Rufus was very set in his way. It failed. and so Rufus rode on and now has animosity towards Aramina. As the GM said, she better not have her back to him while he has a knife ready to hand.

The characters continued on, and soon arrived at Auxol,. The GM narrated the estate still being worked, but looking somewhat run-down compared to Thrugon's memories of it. An old, bowed woman greeted us - Xanthippe, looking much more than her 61 years. She welcomed Thurgon back, but chided him for having been away. And asked him not to leave again. The GM was getting ready to force a Duel of Wits on the point - ie that Thurgon should not leave again - when I tried a different approach. I'd already made a point of Thurgon having his arms on clear display as he rode through the countryside and the estate; now he raised his mace and shield to the heavens, and called on the Lord of Battle to bring strength back to his mother so that Auxol might be restored to its former greatness. This was a prayer for a Minor Miracle, obstacle 5. Thurgon has Faith 5 and I burned his last point of Persona to take it to 6 dice (the significance of this being that, without 1 Persona, you can't stop the effect of a mortal wound should one be suffered). With 6s being open-ended (ie auto-rolls), the expected success rate is 3/5, so that's 3.6 successes there. And I had a Fate point to reroll one failure, for an overall expected 4-ish successes. Against an obstacle of 5.

As it turned out, I finished up with 7 successes. So a beam of light shot down from the sky, and Xanthippe straightened up and greeted Thurgon again, but this time with vigour and readiness to restore Auxol. The GM accepted my proposition that this played out Thurgon's Belief that Harm and infamy will befall Auxol no more! (earning a Persona point). His new Belief is Xanthippe and I will liberate Auxol. He picked up a second Persona point for Embodiment ("Your roleplay (a performance or a decision) captures the mood of the table and drives the story onward").

Turning back to Aramina, I decided that this made an impact on her too: up until now she had been cynical and slightly bitter, but now she was genuinely inspired and determined: instead of never meeting the gaze of a stranger, her Instinct is to look strangers in the eyes and Assess. And rather than I don't need Thurgon's pity, her Belief is Thurgon and I will liberate Auxol. This earned a Persona point for Mouldbreaker ("If a situation brings your Beliefs, Instincts and Traits into conflict with a decision your PC must make, you play out your inner turmoil as you dramatically play against a Belief in a believable and engaging manner").

We finished the session there (after two hours of play). As well as the Persona already mentioned, we voted Thurgon for "most valued" and Aramina for "workhorse" - earning another Persona each - and over the course of the session we'd also tracked Fate earned for Beliefs and Instincts: Aramina picked up 4 (for pursuing coins, not needing Thurgon's pity, always assessing before casting a spell, and (most memorably) never meeting the gaze of a stranger) and Thurgon 4 also (for entering the basement blessed by the Lord of Battle looking for glory, for protecting Aramina, for trying to assuage the infamy to Auxol, and for making sure the campfire was burning). I forgot to keep track of Character Traits, which could probably have earned another Fate point for each character (Fiery Temper for Aramina, and maybe Disciplined for Thurgon). Live and learn!

This was the first time I've played (as opposed to GM) since the last session of this campaign. It was definitely fun.

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