Burning Dwarven Fortress

Back in 2019-2020, I’ve returned to TTRPGs by running “Burning Dwarven Fortress” campaign. It had been influenced by playing Dwarf Fortress video game back then. I’ve used Burning Wheel. Why? In Autumn 2019, I was looking for a game which suits DF’s theme as best as possible and BW was my comfort and kinda OK choice. This game already explores Dwarven Greed, their magic affinities and skills (including construction and exploration). Which were other choices? I don’t remember well… only two other options: overstreching by Forbidden Lands (“all players play dwarves with a premise to start their fortress as soon as resources looted allows for it”) and Legacy: Life Among the Ruins 2nd (perhaps better than BW in terms of settlement playing, but still a lot of re-skin job to make it look like DF).

We managed to play 17 sessions. First 14 sessions were played from December 2019 to March 2020; we had to take a break, because of The Pandemic insurgence and thus, one of the players needed to leave outside of the decent Internet range (we played online, BTW). Next and last three sessions had been played within 5 weeks in the Summer 2020. Why just three? Long story short [and SPOILER ALERT], one of the Player Characters died in Fight and due to that, the player resigned because “he overattached to his PC and didn’t havd an idea to play another character”… [ok, END OF SPOILER].

This was also my de facto debut in publishing written forms in English. I posted Google Docs’ session reports in Burning Wheel’s subreddit. I’ve manage to create this comprehensive “site” to contain all session reports, Trait Votes and character sheets. As you can explore there, in the beginning I’ve experimented with World Anvil, but ultimately changed mind into simpler option.

You can check Burning Dwarven Fortress Files here. Be aware of my even worse English than today. 

We experimented a bit with some linguistic and cultural touches with the world. For instance, Dwarves used Armenian script, while their vocabulary was an incoherent mix od DF’s language, Georgian and Armenian. Like, I still think that Caucasian people are real “dwarven clans” counterpart, both with their fervor, bravery, inquiries and unique cultures. Humans were presented here as: Empire of the River (Czech language) and human cliche exile nation “Cossacks” (Silesian language + their local emerging faith loosely inspired by Finno-Ugric myths).

OK, main reason why I’m posting it here. I’ve decided to write my post-commentary, almost two years after the end. Especially, because recently I started to run Mountain Home campaign (which game is precisely about dwarven settlement on the frontier). But I’d spare Mountain Home’s feeling right now.

Burning Memories of The Dwarven Fortress (BDF)

My first thought is “how I was both desperate and lazy in just forcing poor players into as intimidating game as Burning Wheel?”. There’s many qualities that BW does have, and it’s demeanor in both character creation and scripted conflict does count too. I remembered my short BW campaign in 2017, where one of the players run away after fourth session, just because I’ve showed him Range and Cover scripted conflict (as maneuver skirmish of three groups, 2 vs 1). So I can consider myself lucky to pick three players for BDF, who hadn’t ran away after character burning, playing first Duel of Wits, slow advancement and so on…

My second thought: I was lucky with players (now, using their PC’s names for clarity). Tobul as fairly experienced roleplayer, Grimm as just novice, and Thermyr – complete beginner. No one played Burning Wheel before. But they did made buy-in into the theme of a campaign. Considering my mixed experienced with looking for players online – for niche TTRPGs – I consider lucky to strike with three players, who were willing to learn BW and they enjoyed it…

I also feel, like Burning Wheel itself doesn’t really support settlement play. I mean, it does support protagonists’ perspective: their Beliefs, agenda, their competence and lack of it. BDF campaign indeed showed us, how it feels as a fortress pioneers from a personal perspective. We utilized BW skills related to infrastructure, agriculture, architecture and mining. Before we break up for good, we managed to build a small but stone fortress ready to have more than several dozens of dwarves. We do mingle with Humans: both Empire’s inquiries (including looming danger of a Summer 3000 invasion) and messing with Cossacks’ politics (and breaking neutrality stance of Dwarves towards them). This campaign quickly turned into a game of politics: our colony vs mountain homes vs Cossacks (and fourth Empire party ready to join).

That’s how Lielivarti looked like after 11th Session. Please notice that bright-brown lines represents wood

How BW really shined in this campaign is character’s development and advancement. We did experience in fullest (except Epiphany: shade-shifting one of abilities) how player character does change and develop their fields of interests. For examples:

  • Despite of her ambition to forge the greatest axe ever, Thermyr didn’t even had War Art magic skill! In the end, she did opened War Art skill. Plus advanced couple of skills, like Soothing Platitudes and Axe. Plus Circle B3 -> B5, Will B4 -> B5 and Resources B4 -> B5.
  • Grimm does make his “pacific arc story”, by essentially trying to run his apiary business (and hobby). At least he ended with opening Carpentry skill and advancing Perception to B5. Also, he did some social conflict, which resulted in Coarse Persuasion advanced to B3…
  • Tobul did achieved his dream: running his own inn like on crossroad, while both saving his leadership in Lielivarti (with hard compromise) and maintaining his anti-traditional approach. He learnt how to speak like a Dwarf (Coarse Persuasion opened, then advanced to B4) and how to speak like non-Dwarf (Foreign Languages opened). Plus he improved his social-financial understanding (Resources B2 -> B3) and his contact abilities (Circles B3 -> B4).

I feel that more goodies and drama awaited us, if we just survived up to 20th or further session. One of the PCs did have two Deeds Artha!

We did even started with “hex” scale to represent our larger initiatives! “Mazivarti” is a small hamlet for Cossack’s refugees, under Lielivarti government. 

I do feel like I’ve run a campaign, which just pretended to be a story about a new settlement. In fact, it was about three founders – Grimm, Thermyr and Tobul – and their adventures, pioneering and politics (both external and internal). But still it was a very enjoyable experience, which put me back into TTRPG hobby. BW as a game behaves as expected: as a crunchy game which tells you how a player character does change after attempts to achieve their goals, challenge their beliefs and interacting with unexpected. Maybe it was just mediocre “campaign about dwarven settlement”, but quite good “campaign about it’s founders” in my opinion.

Plus, it’s my second longest campaign as a GM.

At least I’ve ended BDF campaign with knowlegde and understanding about DoW scripted conflicts, how does advancement really works. I did experienced that “real” part of Burning Wheel, which happens far after first Trait vote. Before BDF, I’ve managed to run 10 session long BW campaign at best, and two attempts as a Player were even shorter. Burning Wheel still belongs to one of my favourite TTRPGs, despite of guilty pleasure (in regards of it’s creator) and this game’s inability to work like “easy to learn, how to master” (“master” in regard of mastering the gameplay). It’s a mess, which I finally enjoyed to the fullest thanks to Lielivarti and it’s founders…

I wish that I had 15+ sessions experience in BW as a Player. I’m jealous to back then my players…