[1 on 1] The Venetian Affair, Session 3

Okay, -technically-, this is Session 5, but the intervening two sessions were quite short, and involved tertiary characters, so until they become more relevant I’ll exclude them.

We added a second player on this session, our sister, who has no RPG experience at all, but has a -lot- of acting experience, and we knew once she grasped the principles, she’d run away with Burning Wheel. We were absolutely right.

This session picked up where we’d left off with Danilo, introducing his rival, Raphaele Vultaggio. As you may recall, Danilo needed a pair of pistols to protect him from a local war hero whose brother he had accidentally killed. Raphaele distinguished himself in war as a young man, but had a religious conversion to Lutheranism, and he became a wandering pilgrim for years before returning to Venice, shaming his family with his Protestant stances, and has become a noted duelist in the city beside. He has vowed revenge on the lowlife scum who killed his brother.

Raphaele Vultaggio, Age 28

Born Noble, Page–>Footsoldier–>Pilgrim–>Pilgrim (city), Duelist

BITs:

B1: I will avenge my brother; I will get the information I need to humiliate Grato Lordi (Danilo’s Italian pseudonym)

B2: I must give my brother a proper protestant funeral; I will have to have a serious conversation with my blasphemous parents.

I1: I will always defend my own honor with my sword

Traits: Righteous, Collector, Mercenary, Superstitious, Generous, Condescending, Mark of Privilege

Danilo’s BITs:

B1: I will lure Raphaele Vultaggio into a trap in my territory, and put an end to him.

B2: I will knock over a local merchant to aid my sister, and garnish my reputation

B3: I never want to see any member of my family again

The scene opens with an enraged Raphaele having discovered the name of his brother’s murderer, and attempting to find this up-and-coming criminal with a streetwise check—I tell my sister if she fails, that she will instead find one of Danilo’s associates, and that Raphaele’s Lutheran pastor will hear that he’s been making trouble amongst criminals. She rolls four dice, but falls short of the Ob 3 test. Raphaele is directed in his inquiries to a young, sneering, patchily mustachioed lad lounging on the marble steps of a church. Raphaele declares himself, and demands to know the whereabouts of Grato Lordi (Danilo), openly wearing his sword and attempting an untrained Intimidate roll. I give my sister an advantage die for her War Hero reputation, but she fails, rolling 5 dice against Ob 6 (Will of 3, doubled)—the young man, and the people in the crowded square, just laugh at this pompous nobleman trying to strong-arm a known gangster. Flustered and enraged, Raphaele draws his sword and demands immediate satisfaction, which the young man is only too willing to give. We negotiate the stakes—if my sister succeeds, she will get the young man to cough up Grato Lordi’s location, and additional successes will go toward impressing the crowd; if she fails, Raphaele will be chased out of the slums, and lose his sword to the gang. She musters 7 dice against his 4, but amazingly they tie at 2 successes. She decides to push the conflict, and they both lose their weapons and start Brawling. Here Raphaele pulls ahead, rolling 5 successes to the criminal’s 2. Raphaele breaks the young man’s wrist to disarm him, sweeps his legs, and mercilessly pounds his face until he’s a blubbering lump. The crowd is duly impressed with the nobleman’s savagery, and Raphaele coaxes out Grato Lordi’s address.

Raphaele finds Grato Lordi that evening, heading alone into the immigrant district—he tails him to the small enclave of a mourning Serbian family. The night passes, while inside, the events of the first session transpire for Danilo. Raphaele bides his time, and sleeps in the alley. (Early in the morning, a sheepish Uncle Marinko knocks on Danilo’s door and hands him the “borrowed” šargija, having bought it back from the pawnshop—see Session 2)

As dawn breaks, a funeral procession leaves the enclave, keening family members all dressed in black. Danilo is tucked in the middle, playing the šargija with other musicians. Raphaele attempts an untrained Inconspicuous against Danilo’s Observation, but is spotted. Danilo’s blood runs cold as he first realizing who the Italian is following the procession, and then that he has left his pistols behind. The procession goes into a small Orthodox church, and Raphaele stands leering at the back. It comes time for Danilo to take musical command of the liturgy, and we set the stakes for the Ob 3 roll: if Danilo succeeds, his family will consider his obligations to them to be paid, and they will no longer bother him; if he fails, his father will publicly humiliate him by taking the šargija away mid-playing and finish the funeral without him. Danilo burns a persona to roll 6 dice, and comes up with just two successes—but one of them is a 6. He burns a fate for the exploding 6…but it’s all for nought. He is distracted by the threat of Raphaele at the back, and his playing is rote and lifeless. Suddenly the instrument is jerked out of his hands, and he is shoved back by his father, who takes over with true passion and sorrow—and anger. It’s the worst day of Danilo’s life. Shamefaced, he heads for the side exit, and from the back Raphaele shouts “The coward can’t stand his own brother’s funeral—but he’ll send another’s brother to the grave!”

Danilo attempts to Stealthy his way out of the situation, but Raphaele outmaneuvers him and catches him in a nearby alley. Danilo elects not to run, trusting that this nobleman will not kill him in cold blood. The two exchange barbs, Raphaele insisting on a duel, and Danilo accusing Raphaele of hypocrisy—disguising his murderous feelings behind high-minded ideals of dueling. Danilo tells him, if he’s so brave, to meet him for a duel in the slums that Danilo calls home, and Raphaele instantly agrees. Danilo, however, has no intention of going through with a fair fight. The two part, until the following day.

Back home, Raphaele Circles up his second for the duel, electing on his dead brother’s best friend—he succeeds, and the friend convinces Raphaele to perhaps bring some backup, in case this known criminal doesn’t have honorable intentions. Raphaele agrees, and we decide to leave the potential enormous street-fight for next session.

This was my first time playing Burning Wheel with more than one player in a very long time, and it was an absolute blast. The summary does not bring out any of the humor, because I don’t feel competent to express my siblings’ acting and jokes, but we were crying laughing through much of the session, stumbling through Italian accents, and my sister repeatedly making a point of crowing Raphaele’s entire name, family, and quest to anyone who would listen. Can’t wait for next session, and it was so amazing having a new RPGer play the game so well.

3 Likes

This is awesome! Sounds like you guys are having a blast, and it’s always exciting seeing new players get initiated! Cheers to your sister and to you both for getting her involved!

This is brilliant! I love the decision to award advantage for the reputation in the intimidation test - I’ve been making the mistake of awarding advantage dice to social tests equal to the scale of any applicable reputation, which I realize now is overkill. Your choice feels far more respectful of the rules as written. I also love how you brought up the mechanics for artha in order to build up the suspenseful moment of the meta-game. This is incredibly exciting to read!
I also really enjoyed the narrative overlap between a story that had already been told (session 2) and the Raphaele’s. Did you or your sister have to take deliberate steps to avoid breaking continuity?

I’m glad you’re enjoying the read! I find these sessions so exciting to play, and am trying to strike a balance in the summaries between story and mechanic—I feel like a good session writeup should be a tool for others to learn from your experiences and apply it to their games, while also conveying pacing, character, etc. One major thing I’ve been learning from this campaign is to spend most of my energy on good stakes for failure. I’ll routinely pause when a test comes up, sometimes spitballing with my players for a minute or two, to really focus in on what failure will mean in this circumstance, such that it will bite while staying homed in on beliefs and the story at hand. I remember when I first started playing that my sessions would routinely get derailed by insufficiently relevant failure clauses, and the story would rapidly get flabby and confusing.

We knew that Danilo needed to get to his family, and know that he was being hunted, and we had an inkling that Raphaele might show up at the funeral before we started play, so there was from the get-go a sense of where we wanted to end up, but we let the dice decide how it actually happened. Retconning timelines is actually a really fun way to play, though it’s super delicate, and everyone needs to be onboard for the fact that they’re going to have unusual restraints placed upon themselves. In this case it was fortunately pretty easy.

1 Like

Yeah, I know what you mean! I’ve been in games where the GM doesn’t really care much about the failure conditions, and it just goes all over the place.

I think you’re striking a good balance with these recaps. No only are the mechanical notes good for seeing the game in play, as players, we’re interested in the game part of the game as well as the stories (at least I am). So seeing the mechanics in action is fun in its own right for me.

I think the temporal recontextualization thing is fine so long as your players are on-board. If we all believe in the story, we’ll wanna do right by it as best we can.