The Game, the Situation, the Decision-Point, and the Mechanics


Alright, simple thread.

Tell me/us about the machinery of a focused moment of play in your game. Format-wise, not looking for story-time. Looking for the following format:

The Game:
The Situation:
The Decision-Point:
The Mechanics’ Role in Resolution:

So I'll start with an example

The Game:

A "Japan Warring States Period That Never Was" hack of Dogs in the Vineyard. Call it "Sohei in the Sengoku" if you'd like.

The main difference from Dogs is (a) guns are "swords" (or naginata, etc...regardless, its Acuity + Will for your dice pool), (b) instead of a starting Coat, you get your Weapon (which is d8 but carries a d4 like guns in Dogs because it complicates your life), (c) the Faith is a hypermystical, militant brand of Shinto, (d) the Ronin, Sohei, Samurai (it doesn't matter...they're just locked into temple service for the Faith and the Daimyo) encode proper practice/ritual and enforce justice for a province that is trying to maintain independence, seclusion/isolationism, non-aggression, and protect its sovereignty from aggressors.

The Situation:

A cadre of Western traders were engaging borderlands farmers. The traders wanted to import missionaries of their Faith. The farmers wanted western firearms to defend their lands against raiders and aggression from the adjacent province (as they were on the front lines).

Both the firearms and the infusion of Western Faith were forbidden.
However, the farmers had legitimate gripe as they were under-protected, their economic means and the lives of their families in the balance.

The Decision-Point:

As the Sohei mediated the trade, things turned heated ("just talking", which is social combat). The farmers, bulwarked by the sweet-talking traders, their own desperation, and a profound sense of self-righteousness within their plight, weren't to have their request for these weapons rebuffed.

But violence is a dangerous path always but specifically here. The traders are armed (who knows how they will respond to escalated conflict), the farmers have their tools which can serve as improvised weapons, and, just as important, these farmers are informally, but effectively regardless, the first line of defense against aggression from the adjacent provincial forces.

Demoralize them or weaken them and you've got a problem.

The Mechanic's Role in Resolution:

Toward the end of the social conflict, the dice are running out for the PCs. After a player of a Sohei has to spend 3 dice to answer (exceed the total of the two dice put forward by their opponent), (a) the player takes Fallout (XP but some form of trauma/negative thing that we'll learn about after the conflict) and (b) the PC group dice have dwindled to the point that what is next put forward by the opponent is going to have a meek response by the PCs (basically trivially answerable).

They "Consult the Spirits of the Flame" (a Trait of one of the PCs that was entered into the fray).

The torch dims against the backdrop of the cloudy night. Its left for interpretation, and the players do their best to contort the fire spirit's response to their cause. A meek pair of dice are put forward for the other side to see.

The traders jump in.

They don't know the rituals of these people, but they know that they are here to do their Lord's work. And their Lord wants these noble farmers to have weapons sufficient to protect their lands and thwart the ruthlessness of the enemies that will do harm to this province. And in this righteous exchange, He will reveal Himself.

At the table, we can all see the meek number put forward by the PCs and we know their opposition have the ability to answer with only 1 dice of their own (which was held back for this occasion). I do so and then use that same big die (because the 1 dice only being needed to “see” the PCs allows me to do so) in the 2 dice put forward to go on the offensive with. The farmers are emboldened by the backing and legitimizing words of the traders. Mathematically, its clear that the PCs cannot win the social conflict at this point (they can only earn more Fallout in the effort). The farmers and the traders are bold and desperate.

Do the players decide to escalate to "force/fists/knives" or go all the way to "swords?" They would get new, big dice pools, but (as mentioned above) there is danger galore here.

What to do?

They decide to escalate straight to "swords"...but only with the traders (for the insult to the honor of all people and all things sacred involved…this outrageous, exploitative indiscretion must be made an example of), gambling that the farmers won't join in.

Big, candy combat dicepools enter the sway for the PCs (which advantages then). Only the farmer that incited the situation joins in (minorly bulwarking the dice pool of the foreign traders). They slay all of the traders but one, sending him back to his ship with a message, and brutalize the farmer into submission.

For their trouble, the PCs earn emotional Fallout that arises in various ways (1d6 Traits "insecurity about the border" + "fear of foreign reprisal", and a new Relationship 1d8 with the Border Farmers whom they swear an oath to that they will appeal the daimyo for more border forces) and claim one of the farmer's two boys for instruction and labor at the Temple. One of them earns lasting physical Fallout from the combat (a hip wound from a firearm) which will complicate things in the future.

You can probably hazard a guess from where two major sources of antagonism emerge after this conflict.


Alright tell me about a singular moment of conflict from one of your games.


I've got quite a large collection of actual play posts from various of my campaigns.

Here's an episode I'm sure I've mentioned (EDIT: yes I have, see link below) but may not have written up. It's from a while ago now, but showcases some features of the system in question.

The Game
Burning Wheel - the three PCs involved in this escapade were Jobe, a somewhat renegade wizard who is trying to rescue his brother Joachim from possession by a balrog; Tru-leigh, a somewhat crazed snake-handling healer and spirit-talker from the Abor-Alz, who has been dominated by a dark naga and instructed to bring Joachim's blood back to his scaly master to use it as an offering to the spirits of the earth; and Alenihel, an elven "ronin" working as a bodyguard for Jabal, a powerful leader in the sorcerous cabal to which Jobe belongs.

The key NPC was a former PC whose player had dropped out of the game: Halika, a fighter/mage bandit who has sworn vengeance on her sorcerous former master for the brutality he perpretrated upon her. Of course her former master was Joachim.

The Situation
At the table everyone knows everyone's goals. In the fiction, Jobe and Halika know their respective goals though they have an uneasy truce.

In a previous session, Joachim had nearly died when he trie to cast a powerful spell and internalised the power instead. (It was a previous such event, in the backstory, that led to his demon-possessed state.) Jobe had taken him, unconscious, to recuperate in Jabal's tower.

Now Jobe and Tru-leigh learn that Halika is planning to break into Jabal's tower to assassinate Joachim, and so plan to get there first and take him elsewhere.

The Decision Point
How to get to the tower - Jobe decides to lead them through the catacombs (which he's been exploring). This has the advantage of secrecy, but the disadvantage of the risk of getting lost.

They also decide to feed Halika a sleeping potion before they go. This works; but then things come unstuck in the catacombs.

The Mechanics
The PC build mechanics were key to having set-up this situation: Jobe and Halika had their respective Beliefs from PC build, while Tru-leigh's acquired his as a result of being subjected to the Force of Will spell by the naga in an earlier session.

Also, Jobe's player made the decsion to use the catacombs because he wanted to get a Catacombs-wise test - if he gets enough he can open up the skill. But he hadn't yet, and so was checking it using the Beginner's Luck rules, which allow a larger dice pool but against double the normal obstacle, thus reducing the chances of success.

Tru-leigh's player succeeded on the check to make a sleeping potion (using Apothecary skill) and so Halika fell asleep. But then Jobe's player failed the Catacombs-wise check. So they got lost!

I narrated the failure as the two of them finding themselves at a dead end beneath a grate, where Halika - clearly now awake and on the move - was there to taunt them, stuck in the catacombs while she went to the tower to get Joachim.

Burning Wheel gives the GM a lot of latitude in narrating failure: here I made what Apocalypse World would call a "soft move", negating their former advantage and so requiring another check to get what they wanted.

It was now clearly a race - them vs Halika - and so we resolved this as opposed Speed checks with appropriate advantages (eg Halika has Witch Flight, a jump like spell good for infiltrating upper stories of towers; Jobe can turn into a falcon, also pretty handly when needing to get to a tower quickly).

Halika won (ie I rolled better for her), and so got there first. Jobe next. Tru-leigh (whose physical stats are pretty poor) last. Alenihel, Jabal's elven bodyguard, tried to stop Halika but I had her unleash her Emperor's Hand spell, and she knocked him unconscious. (The details of this are much hazier in my memory, and so I can't elaborate on how the timing was handled. But I doubt it was sheer fiat.) So Jobe arrived at Joachim's room in the tower only to see Halika beheading him; and Tru-leigh ran up behind him in time to see the blood gushing out. (Apocalypse World would call this a "hard move".)

For the follow up, see here.
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