Art by Crowy.
I continue grappling with Burning wheel, it seems. Recruitment text:
Vikings sack a monastery: A Burning wheel one-shot. Year eight hundred and something, a bunch of vikings have sailed to close to a monastery and are about to rob and pillage it. Everyone makes a character in the situation: a viking, a villager, someone living in or visiting the monastery. Then we play to see what happens. Players are responsible for making an interesting character with beliefs that drive them to action. Experimenting with: freedom in character burning; use an existent character or make a new one, with as many or few lifepaths as you deem interesting. Experimenting with: lots of fast dice rolls; failure consequences might not be declared ahead of time, but let it ride is certainly on. And, who knows, maybe we will get to see a duel of wits, a fight or a range and cover, too.
Eventually I got two players, both strangers, one new to the game and one with good knowledge of it. Here are observations from the experiment:
- The players played a corrupt abbot and a devoted custodian. Both had just a couple of days for character generation and even the new player managed it independently, though we adjusted one of their skills before play started to better capture what they were going for and to give some primary social skill to the character.
- No limits on the number of lifepaths or exponents or such. One of the characters was more powerful than the other and the characters were against one another. My impression is that it worked out fine regardless.
- I aimed for frequent and possibly low-stakes dice rolling; task and intent were made clear, but I did not stress about always declaring failure consequences. This worked out great. The pace of the game was perceivably faster than I had the last time I ran BW.
- Similarly, we went for not fishing after forks after the roll, but rather checking which ones were part of the thing when one declared the task. A short game with strangers was not an extensive enough an experiment to be sure; I suspect this requires more de-training to get away from the established habits. I should also aim for this with bonus and penalty dice.
- I really want to be strict with skills, and especially forking wises (I think they should only give a bonus die when that knowledge would actually be helpful, not simply because the test touches on the concept the wise is about). I did not enforce or experiment with this during this game.
- The situation was specified according to beliefs and relationships, but I did not stress at all about taking the beliefs into account when running the game. This worked out fine, but the conclusions do not transfer to longer games without further experimentation.
- I was pretty aggressive in going for duel of wits whenever it seemed relevant. We got two of those done; first was fast and punchy, lots of points, while the in the second the player who knew the game, playing the more competent character, went defensive, which made that duel longer than it should have been. Duel of wits is my least favourite part of BW, but overall I was okay with these outcomes. Also the new player seemed to survive being thrown off the pier and asked to swim right away, even if he scripted pretty much only points. A crash course on duel of wits.
- An artha experiment: before going through the trait list and seeing what got pinged, we discussed what kind of potential traits we saw in play. The idea is to get some trait pinged for the artha reward, or at least get suggestions for future trait votes. We did check what the character had afterwards. This is worth more experimentation.
The monks argued about whether they should use their relics for paying off the vikings (nope), the custodian hid and buried them (ditch digging!), there was a big prayer to see if God would so kind as to shipwreck the vikings with a terrible storm (nope) and later an argument about whether the corrupt abbot was fit to rule (probably yes, but ended up going with the custodian to meet the vikings). Bribery failed, some spears were cast and we ended play there, leaving the fate of the player characters undetermined (dead, thrall, left alive?), but it is pretty clear the abbey was burning, but relics remained hidden.
We did the artha check-up at the end with the variation discussed above. I am still uncertain about it as a process.
I think the game was good in the sense that I did not know what was going to happen; the characters and the situation were there, but there were decisions and dice rolls both that could have gone the other way. The monkish intrigue could also have affected the viking situation. In this sense this game felt as real play, even though it was a short PvP thing. There was some player coordination involved before play to set up the PvP situation, but that was on them and seemed fairly minimal to me.
No particular subject I want to emphasize; I hope this can be useful to fellow travellers working on Burning wheel.