Burning Wheel actual play


Family obligations and sickness kept some members of our group away, and so two of us played Burning Wheel. We returned to this game, with each of us playing a PC and sharing GMing responsibilities depending on whose character is at the centre of the action.

Our last session ended with Alicia and Aedhros sitting out-of-the-way on the docks, Aedhros quietly singing Elven lays. I had set as homework for my friend to determine what trouble might result from this, to be the start of our next session of this game. It turned out that, despite having over 20 months to do his homework, he hadn't!

(I had done some homework of my own, writing up the Elven Ambassador to Hardby, and the Ship's Master from last session, as NPCs. But we didn't end up needing them.)

After a bit of prompting, he decided that a petty harbour official came up to Aedhros, telling him to move on and stop begging. (The singing being treated as busking, and hence a type of begging.)

Aedhros's response was to sing a short verse of the Rhyme of Unravelling, breaking the official's belt with the result that his pants fell down. I decided that Aedhros kept singing, sufficently to give me a test to cause the official intense sorrow (this is the Dark Elf version of Wonderment from spell songs). The official - Will B3, we agreed - fell to his knees weeping bitterly, in remorse for all his pointless past actions (including his harassment of Aedhros). An attempt to further grind him down with Ugly Truth (untrained on Perception, and suffering a +2 Ob penalty from the Deceptive trait) failed.

My friend decided that this was about the time that Alicia awoke - she has an instinct If it shines in the dark, steal it, and he wondered if there was anything shiny revealed by the falling down of the official's trousers. I suggested a key. Alicia wanted to steal it as he wept. She called on the spirits of the coastal sea to help, and a mist rose up on the harbour. The successful Spirit Binding gave a helping die for a beginner's luck Inconspicuous test, lifting the key from the helpless, weeping man.

One of Aedhros's Beliefs was that Only because Alicia seems poor and broken can I endure her company. To keep her poor and broken, he pick-pocketed the key from her - an easy success for B4 Sleight of Hand with Stealthy and Inconspicuous FoRKs against untrained Observation.

Alicia, unaware of what Aedhros had done, wanted to know what the key opened. She Persuaded the official to tell her (an easy success against Will 3). I (exercising GMing powers, not playing Aedhros) decided that it opened the strongroom in the harbour office, where records and the like are kept. Alicia and Aedhros agreed to break into it, to find information that might help Alicia pursue her Belief that I will one day be rich enough to BUY a ship, and/or help get revenge on the master of the ship the two of us had sailed on.

Aedhros confirmed with Alicia that she can read; he reads and writes only Elvish.

He then suggested that the two of the get some lunch. With Resources 0 this required one of his cash dice. My friend suggested that a failure meant the food was bad. I read out the wound descriptions and a Light wound ("the pain from an extremely hard gut punch") seemed appropriate. The test failed and so we chundered up our "meat" pies. Aedhros made the Ob 2 Health test to recover pretty quickly. Alicia failed, and so was -1D down. She needed to rest to recover more Tax.

While she rested - "among the bins", as my friend put it - Aedhros went off to find someone who might know where the office was. His three Circles are the Elven Etharchs, the Elven Wilders, and the Paths of Spite. The lattermost seemed appropriate, together with his +1D Reputation as "ill-fated for himself and others". I told my friend I wanted to find a Half-Orc or similar ill-favoured fellow who might fall in with someone like me. It was Ob 3 Circles (someone with distinctive but not rare knowledge); I succeeded on the check, and met Grellin, a Half-Orc who believes herself The smartest lady on the docks. As played by my friend, it quickly became clear that a duel of wits was going to be required to get her to agree to my price of 1D of coin, and so we quickly burned her up - City Born, Labourer, Thug and then - after I asked how old she was, was told mid-to-late 20s, saw that Smuggler would bring her there and confirmed this with my friend - Smuggler. Straight 4s for her stats.

The Duel of Wits was predominantly her Haggling 3 vs my Beginner's Luck Will 6. Her body of argument was 7 and mine was 9. The debate went on for 3 exchanges - I won, but had only 3 body of argument left and so had to compromise. She had wanted half - I agreed to double my offer to 2D of coin, and to acknowledge her as the smartest lady on the docks.

We returned to Alicia, who was finishing resting around nightfall. I enjoyed introducing her to Grellin, the smartest lady on the docks. She was suitably put out. In the ensuing conversation, she patted her pocket to show that she had the key we needed, only to notice it was not there (Perception vs Ob 2, a double obstacle penalty on an Ob 1 Observation test). I (Aedhros) produced the key. I think it was about then that we made opposed social checks - Ugly Truth from Aedhros, with a cutting remark that I can no longer recall but must have been about her ineptitude vs Begging from Alicia (untrained Will), pleading that I give the key back - as per her Instinct When challenged, grovel. Aedhros succeeded, kept the key, and asked Alicia what the weather would be. She predicted clear, moonlit skies - helpful for us to see where we would be going - but the Perception test for Weather Sense failed (I called in the spirit retribution at this point, which made an already rather hard test even harder) and so (as decided by me, again using my GM authority) it started raining.

With a bit of discussion we agreed that if there's a locked strongroom then there must be an outer door to go through first. We also agreed that there would be the petty official there, and a guard. A roll on the die of fate had the official alone (50/50 for alone or company) and hence sleeping.

We discussed how we would get through the first door, and my friend - reviewing Alicia's spells - noticed that she has Chameleon. So he decided she would turn invisible.

Chameleon is 8 actions to cast, but we were in no great hurry and so he decided to cast as carefully as possible - x8 = 64 actions to get +4D (the maximum bonus, equal to the spell's Ob 4).

With Alicia's B5 Sorcerery reduced to B4 by the lingering effects of the bad pie, this was 8 Sorcery dice. Alicia's Will of B4 was reduced to B3 by the Light wound. And she had 1D of Forte (B4 reduced to B3 by the wound, and 2 tax remaining). That was 12 dice in total, to allocate to two test against Ob 4 (casting and tax; casting patiently allows allocating Sorcery, but not Will, dice to the tax check). I think a Persona may have been put into one of the pools, but in any event both failed: she took 1 tax (and so once again fell unconscious) and the casting failure was garbled transmission. This is the first time we've ever had that result in our BW play, and we rolled diligently on the Wheel of Magic. Instead of a Control Heaven, Personal Origin, Sustained duration effect on the Caster, Alicia had created a Transmute Water, Presence Origin, Instantaneous duration Natural Effect.

We discussed a bit what this might mean. After one false start (my initial idea that she had transmute some water in the harbour went nowhere) I suggested that her eagerness for money meant that she had transformed the rain in her Presence into coins! My friend suggested low-value coins - copper pieces - and we agreed it was a 1D fund.

He then wanted Alicia to make a roll to master the new spell. We got out the Magic Burner and applied the Abstraction and Distillation rules to get an Obstacle for it - after applying the rule that includes a modification for powerful effects, it was Ob 5 and 66 actions of casting, to turn rain in the Presence of the caster into a 1D fund of copper coins. The fainting Alicia (fainting due to her tax) attempt the Ob 5 Sorcerer test to try and learn this new spell - her player got three successes, and so it is an Ob 7 spell for her.

Alicia was now lying, unconscious, in a pile of copper coins that had "rained" down on her. We agreed that Grellin, who is unused to such sorcery, was struck with awe by the Ob 7 Steel test for witnessing pronounced sorcery. Aedhros, on the other hand, could only see yet more evidence of the ill fortune and ineptitude that brings all things to ironic ruin. At least, until . . .

My friend was urging me - mightn't Aedhros have at least a hint of pity left in his heart, and be moved by Alicia's plight? Aedhros's relevant instinct, here, was Never use Song of Soothing unless compelled to - Song of Soothing being the Elven equivalent of herbalism. There was also his Belief about why he can stand Alicia's company - would that remain unshifted even seeing her so broken even as her poverty was slightly lifted?

I told my friend I would make the Song of Soothing test, and see where that led me. The obstacle for a Light wound is Ob 2, doubled for no tools. The skill is open-ended (natural Elven magic), and so despite being B3 plus 1D from my Rhyme of Rules FoRK, I was able to get my four successes and restore Alicia to consciousness. We then played out an exchange in which we both went for Mouldbreaker - Aedhros's Belief is now Only because Alicia is not entirely without capability can I endure her company. Alicia's Belief that The strong do what they may - I will do what I must to survive was changed by the fact that Aedhros had had her utterly under his power, and with coin all about her to be taken, and yet had healed her instead: now she Believes that I will be compassionate to the poor.

I narrated (again, wearing my GM hat) that the raining coins had attracted the attention of the ragged poor who huddle about the docks even when it is raining. Alicia's player decided to give them money - and having earned a Persona point from Mouldbreaker spent it to amplify her 1D fund so as not to lose her fund from tax. But both his dice were failures, and so the fund was spent being compassionate to the poor!

Aedhros, moved by his Belief that I will never admit I am wrong, drew himself up to his full Dark and Imposing height (he was once Fair and Statuesque, but became Dark and Imposing when he began down the Paths of Spite and became a Dark Elf). I rolled Beginner's Luck Oratory, telling the poor who had taken the coins to return it. My friend set an Ob of 3 or 4 (my memory isn't perfect here, but he was including the rain that would make it hard for Aedhros's voice to travel) and with the double obstacle penalty that was 6 or 8, for my Will of 4. I drew Heart-seeker - my black metal long knife - to drive the point home, and may have also put in a point of Persona, but the check failed. All the wretched heard was "coin", and they advanced on Aedhros looking for more! I asked my friend how many actions I had - he said that these were sick and wretched types, advancing at no great speed, and so I had about 8. I only wanted 6, so that was enough - with 6 actions I was able to sing the Rhyme of Unravelling to undo the seams in their rags, so that their clothes would fall from them. I succeeded, and they were rendered naked in the rain. My friend's description of the scene - the sores on some, the scars on others - was quite evocative. I got my desired effect - they were demoralised, and shamed, and left me alone.

It was now time to break into the strongroom. We decided to be stealthy. I assigned some stats to the guard based on a quick look at the City Guard lifepath and a few rolls of the die of fate: Will B4, Perception B3, no Observation, Knives and Cudgels both B3. We all failed our tests, and so the guard noticed us as we tried to sneak in, pretending the door was just banging in the wind.

I decided that he was wearing wooden clogs, thus giving Alicia the chance to use her Binding spell to bind his shoes together, making him trip over when he tried to catch us. The test for tax failed, however, and so Alicia fainted once again, and hence could not sustain her spell, and so the guard and his shoes were not bound.

My friend then took over Grellin, who tried a Falsehood that I had to concede was not too implausible - "Our friend has fainted and needs help!" But even with a call-on for Falsehood (Forked Tongue, from her Orcish ancestry), the test failed. "You can help me carry her to the brig!" replied the guard.

And so it was time for a Fight! My friend scripted for Grellin, while I scripted for the guard and also for Aedhros. I didn't try and do anything clever with Aedhros, and the guard's declared actions mostly followed from the fictional situation, and so I didn't feel too much of a conflict of interest.

The guard's basic strategy was to stay at optimal distance and pummel and block with his iron club. Grellin's strategy was to get in close and lock, while using her wooden club too (trying to guess when the guard might succeed in increasing their separation). Adehros fights with a long knife that is quite handy on the inside, and so at first tried to get in close to support Grellin and do some stabbing of his own - but then, after the guard broke away from him, was quite happy to stay at lunging distance and strike away.

Grellin took one superficial wound and Aedhros was unhurt, while the guard suffered 6 Superficials and 2 Lights (most of them dealt by Aedhros with Heart-seeker) for 4 Lights in total, which brought him down.

Grellin then went to cow the petty official (awakened by the fracas, which lasted 4 exchanges), while Aedhros realised that he was compelled to try and rouse Alicia, given only she could read the materials in the strongroom. I rolled Scavenging B3 vs Ob 3 to try and find herbalism tools anywhere about, but failed - what I did discover was a back way out, which the official was trying to use! Grellin was able to stop him, but it was possible someone had seen the official trying to run and being dragged back in and the door shut.

So I once again used Song of Soothing, with Rhyme of Rules as a FoRK, against a double Ob penalty for having no tools. We agreed that the obstacle to restore one point of tax should be the same as for a Light wound, and so it was 4 open-ended dice against Ob 4. I threw in a Persona point to make it 5 dice, and the test succeeded. Alicia was grateful.

She then looked through the material in the strongroom, to find charts of the waters around the Hardby harbour: Reading with Research and Navigation FoRKed, and help from Aedhros's Scavenging (he can't read human texts, but can recognise a chart). I set an Ob 2, and my friend made it.

We then discussed a bit more, and he decided Alica would also look for accounts or similar documents (eg records of custom duties paid) that might reveal how much the master of the ship we had sailed on (which we decided is named The Golden Sow) had actually made. This was Beginner's Luck Accounting (ie Perception) with Research FoRKed. I set the obstacle at 3, which was doubled (for Beginner's Luck) to 6. The test succeeded. I then rolled a die and we agreed it was 5D that the master had made.

Finally, we decided that both Aedhros and Alicia would look around for any valuables - Ob 3 Scavenging to find 2D of coins and the like. Aedhros succeeded, but Alicia failed - and so two guards arrived, having been alerted by whoever saw Grellin grab the official and pull him back in the back door. I decided that these two would be a bit more serious - polearms, rigid leather breastplates, and soft leather arm and leg pieces keeping them warm in the rain.

We ended the session there. We performed a quick check to make sure we'd got all our artha (Grellin got Workhorse, on my nomination; Aedhros got MVP, on my friend's nomination), and discussed the merits of running from the guards vs fighting. Running seemed preferable. On my way home, I had the further idea of tossing my 2D to Grellin (with a Sleight of Hand test if necessary) and telling her that she's now been paid off, leaving her and her coin as a distraction for the guards!

We also discussed that Aedhros might use Rhyme of Unravelling to break the seams on the Sow. On my way home I pondered how this could be done without Aedhros's singing being heard. He would have to go down into the hold and sing the spellsong there!

Aedhros is the first time I've played a genuinely nasty character. It's quite an interesting experience. When I'm in doubt, I just ask myself what Eol and/or Maeglin (from the Silmarillion) would do.

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