Journey Down the King’s Road

Otlet Sets Out

This was the first Burning Wheel adventure in the 1-on-1 game I posted about earlier.

The starting situation was Otlet in his leaky shack looking Northward, the metropolis of Freeport to the West and the ancient forest to the East. His Roden were the embittered dwellers Below the metropolis, and he had never had any experience with the rural and conflict-averse Field Roden. I had three interpersonal encounters in mind, and the intrusion of an outside force that would transform the situation.

  • the Cataphracts of the Eternal Overlord were heading in a column North up the Royal Road
  • the first visitor was to be his old pal Mallet who simply came to check in on what his friend was up to
  • later, his sister Arpo would be there to visit in the afternoon
  • evening would see the visit of Paladin, the right hand man of Silver, the obsessive missionary

Tabitha declared what Otlet was doing and that brought some of Burning Wheel’s mechanics into play. “History” skill revealed that it was highly unusual for the Cataphracts to be seen in the Duchy of Baliospok and were a sign of something coming up. Mallet transmitted some news about his kid sister and Silver’s curiosity about Otlet and the dispatch of her servant to look for Otlet. Tabitha followed one of Otlet’s beliefs — bring justice to Roden abused by humans — and set off with Mallet to see what the column was all about. Tabitha used the proximity of Freeport to find an ally to aid with infiltrating the baggage train of the cavalrymen and this invoked a use of Burning Wheel’s Circles mechanic. Each task that led to a roll of the dice was an occasion for logging a test for advancement. This is a task that I would normally insist the player do. However, given that Tabitha is sketching a lot of the scenes, makes me willing announce when the Advancement tests should be recorded. After all, I have only one player.

Tabitha Circled up a sneak thief who we dubbed “The Lad.” The Lad was able to to pinch animportant-looking dispatch from a table in the baggage train. Otlet’s “Logistics” skill helped The Lad locate a communications hub among the cavalry’s support. This was an implementation of the Linked Tests mechanic. Given that Otlet is obsessed with planning, I suspect to see a lot of these in the future. Tab made a sketch of Otlet writing out a “to do” list.

The heist revealed the threat that the Cataphracts hold for everyone in the Duchy. The Eternal Overlord demands that his troops compel the Duke to aid them in cleansing the Great Forest of “vermin”: Great Spiders, Great Wolves, and Roden. They are to use force if the Duke is unwilling to put every resource at the disposal of the EO’s representative. Previous Dukes had given up on trying to thin out the Great Forest. The immense density of the forest posed a challenge to development and the presence of a native defenders made development very costly. This was a decision I made prior to the start of the session.

There was a hue and cry when the theft was discovered. I had not anticipated a visit to the Great Forest this early in the campaign, but Tabitha recognized that it was the nearest and best hiding place. At this point I had not yet formulated an precise ideas about characters that dwelt there. I chose to just reveal the nature of the environment. The Roden have hacked out narrow passages in the dense bush. So I just tried to paint a picture of the forest at night time, with rays of the Roden’s lamps shining through the cracks in the passages.

This was prime opportunity for a forest encounter. But I had not really burned up local guys and had to turn to the Adventure Burner. There was a picture of a wandering spider who had teamed up with a human adventurer. Rather than trying to tie in the current situation (the intrusion of the cavalry) or set up some grand part of the back story, I simply let the character be the character. The spider is an outlaw because of his companionship with a human so I just imagined him as a trouble maker who liked to mess around. He loomed up with his 8 eyes twinkling and tapped at the brambles the Roden were hiding behind. A Steel test allowed the PCs and their guide to stay in place as a few minor NPCs took off (Roden have the Trait of “Skittish”). The spider looked at all hesitating Roden, snickered a bit and jumped back into the night. The Roden got themselves together and where hailed by the spider’s companion: he needed to be directed to a path that would take him out of the forest. I don’t know why the adventuring duo were there or what they were up do: I just imagined some roguish guys in a bit of trouble messing with folk they came upon by chance. Tabitha was amused by their appearance but didn’t really waste energy or thought on them: she was intent on getting her team to The Den hidden deep in a forest glade and sheltering the Field Roden.

Tabitha was cautious but not passive. The Artha review at the end of the session rewarded her for dedication to get proof of the oncoming danger to the ill-disposed Field Roden, rather than treating it as a bargaining chip of some kind. Otlet’s dedication cost him the companionship of The Lad, who thought they were sauntering out to track the Cataphracts all the way to the Duke’s fortress, filching goodies and gleaning information that could be exchanged for loot. Otlet’s “Soothing Platitudes” failed to sway him, and he abandoned the team before they dared to enter a forest with which they were completely unfamiliar. Tabitha’s streak of good luck didn’t last the whole game.

We do not have scheduled sessions. I will provide updates about the next session when it happens. Burning Wheel is a game with a lot of complex interlocking parts. I have had to refamiliarize myself with them after many years (10?) of not playing the game. If readers have any questions about what rules were invoked and when, I would be glad to answer them.

It looks like some kind of Duel of Wits may be coming up. I think I will try to provide Tab with an overview of the basic principles so that the first time we do a DoW she is not overwhelmed.

Infiltrating the Cataphracts

All I knew when I prepped the session was that the Cataphracts would be seen from the distance. That was it. It would take weeks before they got up to carrying out the Eternal Overlord’s intentions. There was no urgency. But Tabitha followed that thread. A series of “Linked Tests,” preceded by the casting of a horoscope. The Instinct mechanics make certain events happen whenever a fictional situation arises. Otlet always consults the stars before carrying out a plan. Tabitha was rolling a lot of bare successes and failures. I also forgot the mechanics for tools — without the necessary tools, a character must face increased obstacles to using a skill and Astrology is just such a skill. Must address that difficulty in future sessions.

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2 responses to “Journey Down the King’s Road”

  1. I’m seeing a lot of the effects of your reflection since our Bushido game. You’re providing content as content, not as signals or planned outcomes or crumbs to follow, and Tabitha’s play of Otlet is really about what Otlet makes of things and wants to do. And when either of you responds to the other, then events happen. All the instrumentation of Burning Wheel therefore becomes a means of expression, rather than a mechanism to crank out story sausage.

  2. There is just something sympatico between me and this game. The rules put a big neon highlight under the character’s wants and desires. But even in a game without elaborate meta mechanics those should be in the forefront. A character is an agent in The Pool and in Holmes D&D.

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