1648 Playtest

Hello hello,
Last night we started a new playtest for some of the 1648 material. It’s a big group of five players—over the recommended limit of three to four PCs for M&M.

In the interest of playtesting, I allowed the players to go in two new directions: first, to pick from the new unreleased lifepaths and second, to have multi-lifepath starting characters.

Character creation for five players (guided by me) took about two and a half hours.

The motif the players agreed on is that they conspired to murder someone in their past and now must all keep the secret together (lest they all be hanged). It’s a dark motif, and not in the spirit of the rule for motifs as written, but I was game to experiment. I suspect the motif will break or won’t provide a motivating bond, but we shall see!

For player characters, we have:
Laura: a commoner Clerk, Merchant, Explorer
Madelaine: a commoner Soldier (L2), Duelist
Paracelsus: a peasant Soldier (L2), Doctor
Rotrou: a bourgeois Sailor (L2), Author
and Martin: a commoner Filou (L1), Presbyter (L2)

We had an improbable round of debts rolls. Laura is debt free and all others are owed money!

We used last night as a session zero. It felt very much like a Burning Wheel game, more than D&D. We created characters and an over-arching threat (the revelation of this murder). Now I need to develop some antagonists and some situations to bring these five into action.

My first instinct here is to pull in some dependents who can no longer bear the shame of the knowledge of this crime. Or perhaps relatives of the deceased who come looking for revenge. One has to take care with threatening dependents, though. While it is sad to see them go, their passing does alleviate some of the financial burden of life in Paris.


Maybe make it so that those indebted to the characters know instead? You could use it as a way to attack wealth rating, and it gives the players a good reason to flesh out someone other than dependents from the start.

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Yes, the people who owe money have to be involved, tangentially or otherwise. There’s a scent of mob activity, however anachronistic.

Maybe they’re the folks who paid for the hit? But they never paid their debt!

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If I missed it in the text let me know, but if they’re found out does the campaign end? Or do they just write a new Motif?

You only get one motif ever. The campaign does not end, but you continue on without one.

And it’s not that they’re found out, it’s that in a moment of crisis, one of them confesses or reveals the secret.

Mes Amis,
We conducted our second playtest of the 1648 material. As I discussed briefly in the first post, the motif the players chose demands address in the game—or at least in a four session playtest.

During the week I thought about possible victims for their perfidious deed. I settled on vile snake of the age: a tax farmer. But rather than laying out the whole murder plot on my own, I decided I’d consult the players to see what level of darkness and villainy they were comfortable with.

It felt like a very Burning Wheel thing to do — to discuss situation before play and get buy-in from all players. But in Burning Wheel, we would discuss the situation as the players bought resources like relationships, properties, affiliations and reputations. Those choices create strong signals and flags for me as the GM. I have different signals in this game. So rather than guess the players’ interest, I had to ask.

So before we began play formally, I initiated a discussion with the group about their relationship to the one they murdered and the nature of that victim. We decided on a female tax farmer named Madame Regnard. In addition to bleeding the poor people of Drancy dry, albeit legally, she was suspected of being a salt smuggler and of murdering a poor man who could not pay what he owed. A true villain!

We also decided that the money owed to the characters was in the form of a promise of payment for the murder. I told them that they had been instructed to the task by a Msr Argouges, a local bourgeois. They liked the idea that he said something like “Take care of this serpent of a woman.” and they perhaps overreacted by murdering her.

I let them know that there are no police, but they would be sought by the echevin (a bourgeois magistrate) of Drancy as well as the Provost of the Île de France, the royal authority in the area. I also let them know there was another legal authority looking for them whom they would meet soon.

Unrelated to the immediate situation, we also decided that the explorer, Laura, and the presbyter, Martin, had come from America together (along with Martin’s wife and child).

We began on the night of March 18th of 1648. They were to gather in a park at the edge of town and await Msr Argouges to bring their payment.

One thing I decided as GM was that we needed to kick off the campaign with action. And that we needed to get the inevitable double-cross/betrayal out of the way immediately.

So after some awkward introductions/reunions from the players, I told them a group of six figures approached in the darkness. They had no lantern, but three of them held burning coals in their hands. Once they stepped into the moonlit clearing, their leader spoke in a quavering, cracking voice, “Monsieur Argouges sends his regards!” And the three figures in the back leveled muskets and fired!

We then kicked off an exciting, desperate combat that resulted in some wounds for the players, and three wounded, two dead and one fled for the opposing force.

The leader, a boy it turned out, was shot in the back by the duelist’s pistol as he tried to flee this ambush gone wrong. He writhed in agony from his wound. The duelist, Madelaine, attempted to interrogate him, threatening to kill him if he didn’t confess who sent him.

This precipitated a multi-part duel of wits initiated by the sailor, Rotrou, against Madelaine. Rotrou fell to a insult! But Laura and Martin stepped in and finished the task and educated the angry duelist in the price of wrath. This left an opening for Dr Paracelsus to attempt to save the boy using the new Chirugie rules. Sadly, the patient didn’t survive the surgery.

The boy’s dying words were “Mother, I have failed in my mission. I come to join you and my sister, sweet innocent Marie, at last!”

We played for just over 2.5 hours and left the story there for next time!


Session 3 was interesting. In order to make sense of the plot and its participants, I drew up a relationship map prior to the session. I found it immensely helpful in weighting the pressures of the situation.

We began in the home of Rotrou in Drancy. M. Paracelsus insisted on dissecting the corpse of the young man who lead the ambush. It was clear the player was simply trying to check off an experience condition, with no bearing on the story or situation. So I pressed him for an intent. He surprised me with an excellent response: He wanted to perform an autopsy to see how his surgery failed. We all agreed that was an excellent reason to perform his vivisection. He rolled and pass the test.

The next morning, an Intendant of Finance arrived from Paris with a small retinue. A few hours after the break of day, the Intendant’s men began posting placards asking for the information in the disappearance or death of one Antoine Regnard. This must have been the young man they killed.

Feeling the heat was getting a bit hot in Drancy, our crew concocted a plan for revenge and headed into Paris. I stopped them at the (ironically convenient) Porte Antoine under the Bastille and had the customs agents search them for contraband. The players reviewed their inventory and we only found one single item on the banned list: The Protestant Bible. Martin, the Presbyter, was forced to use the skills of his thieving past—Rook in this instance—to surreptitiously bribe the customs agent to let him through. He succeeded.

In Paris, the duelist (now retconned to be called de Troyes so she might pass as a he), took up residence at an inn alone to rest and recover from her wounds.

The others set their burdens down in Martin’s townhouse. There, Laura and Martin concocted a fake letter from Regnard to the Intendant about the raising of certain taxes at the start of the next month. They then took the letter to a sympathetic Frondeur printer whom they contracted to turn the letter into a pamphlet they could distribute in Drancy.

Meanwhile, de Troyes received a mysterious letter at her inn: “Cour des Miracles — a minuit” The Court of Miracles, at midnight.

This mysterious missive precipitated a huge debate within the group about whether or not to go. Martin’s player objected the most vocally. At one point I stopped the discussion and asked him what his player objections were to going. He said, “I want to go! My character is terrified of going back to his past!” That was an excellent clarification. He then asked the group to convince him to go with a Duel of Wits.

It was a long and wild conflict. Maybe 10 rounds. Defying the group’s intent, Paracelsus went after de Troyes, telling her she was in no condition to undertake such a dangerous task when still wounded. While Laura and Martin flattered each other about how brave and thoughtful they were to cross the ocean together twice!

Permission to speak first was asked and granted. Invitations to speak were offered and rejected!

Eventually Martin knocked out Paracelsus and de Troyes. Laura’s player was desperate to go to the Court of Miracles, being an explorer after all. So she started spending years to get rerolls. Even that didn’t seem enough. Martin started to walk away. In desperation, Laura shouted after him that he was a coward! This penetrated Martin’s shell (and knocked his Will to 0). His player chose to ignore the insult victory effect and instead remember the flattery.

De Troyes remembered the shame inflicted on her by the doctor and ran from the company crying. The doctor foolishly ignored Martin’s advice to find his answers in the Bible and instead chose forgive but not forget how stubborn de Troyes was.

Exhausted with each other, but convinced that heading to the rendez-vous was the right thing to do, Martin lead the group to the semi-mythical place through an alley north of Les Halles. Being formerly a filou, Martin had visited before.

In this commune of misery, camaraderie and freedom they were greeted by none other than the young bravo who fled from their encounter a few nights ago. He and another older figure approached them from the fire-cast shadows. He said, “I believe we have mutual interests and can perhaps come to some agreement.”

We ended there!


I always wondered what a Duel of Wits would look like in a d20 game. My copy needs to get to me faster! This report has been awesome!

We picked up right where we left off, in the Court of Miracles in northern Paris. The players confronted the young bravo who had attempted to assassinate them, but before he could say another word, an older woman stepped in and declared that she spoke for him. She announced herself as his sickly mother, Madame Brunet!

She proceeded to intimate that her son had knowledge about the group’s misdeeds and that to keep silent, he would require 1000 pistoles!

During her introductory extortion, Laura assessed the situation in the court itself. She noticed a figure sitting casually in a window above them, smoking a cigarillo, which he was using to keep a slow match lit. A musket rested in his lap. Laura cursed to herself.

Madame Brunet said, “I see you have met my other son, Alain!”

At the same time, while Madame Brunet was gesticulating, Dr Paracelsus took time to examine Brunet. Was she truly sick? If so, what ailed her? I had him make a check against his Intelligence at -4 to make this assessment at night at a distance. He failed the check but opted to spend a year of his life to reroll. He then passed and saw that she was not sick at all, but was faking her coughs and tremors while wearing make-up to give the appearance of a deathly pallor. He kept the information to himself.

But Doctor Paracelsus decided that he would negotiate with Madame Brunet. After some discussion with the group, they agreed to engage with her and her sons in a duel of wits.

This one went quite differently than the last…

Martin the Presbyter has precedence and reputation in the duel of wits for this group. So Madam Brunet politely asked him if she might speak first. He graciously accepted (and increased his already high reputation by one). Madame stepped before the group and began to speak about the troubles and tribulations ahead when she suddently fell before them in a heap, trembling, foaming at the mouth, hitting her head on the ground, beseeching Dr Paracelsus for help.

The looks around the table were priceless. It got better when I announced that “She has the Rifodé skill. She gets +6 to hit with an Implore when having a seizure.” The players started to howl. I rolled. 18 +6, a critical hit. Paracelsus’ player’s eyes sharpened and he asked, “Can I spend a year of my life to make you reroll?” Yes, yes he could. I rerolled now with only a +1 to hit and still landed the blow, but without a crit. Paracelsus accepted the blow.

Her tactic failed to knock out the doctor, so he quickly asked Martin if he could speak next. He has a bonus to damage with Implore when treating a patient and that seemed to apply here. But first he needed to get her to listen. He knelt down and examined Brunet and begged her to stop. Due to his earlier Intelligence check, he knew she was likely faking.

He rolled and missed. Spent a year. Rerolled. Missed. Spent another year and rerolled landing a triple crit! He knocked her out in one blow, revealing her act to his companions. It was a triumph, perfectly played.

Meanwhile, Martin stepped in and begged Delon to see it their way. He succeeded and scored a lucky hit, knocking Delon out. Alain declined to press the matter from his perch, as he’d be shouting into a bad situation. The duel of wits was over before the first round ended.

Martin then rooked Delon into believing that God was going to bring down the truth and, since Martin was a priest, he might as well confess. He succeeded and Delon spilled out an largely incomprehensible tale about what happened on the night of March 18th.

Eventually, they pieced it together that Delon and his crew were hired by Argouges—not Antoine Regnard. They were hired in advance by Argouges to protect Antoine should he go and decide to avenge his mother’s death. Delon also intimated that Antoine was Argouges son—making him a child out of wedlock with M. Argouges and Mdm Regnard.

Pondering this new information, the group realized they needed something more than payment for their deed. They needed revenge. They had been set up by Argouges to murder his lover. And now been set up again to murder his obstreperous illegitimate child.

Back in Drancy, they released their pamphlet into the wild and waited for it to take hold. On the night of the 23rd, they saw a crowd gather at the Inn of the Two Lanterns, near the Hôtel de Ville. They were waving the pamphlets and shouting for the Intendant to explain the meaning of this tax rise coming on the 1st.

Laura decided the crowd wasn’t heated enough. She wanted them to turn to a mob.

I had been thinking about rules like this, so I quickly sketched something out and we tested them.

The Intendant’s archers were trying to keep order at the gate of the inn, but they were badly outnumbered—though the crowd wasn’t violent. The Intendant, clearly eating his supper, stuck his mustachioed head out of the second floor window of the inn and told the crowd to disperse, that they would deal with the matter in the morning.

Laura threw a rock at the Intendant, aiming to hit the window next to him, trying to rile the crowd up. She succeeded in earning the ire of the archers who started pushing through the crowd to apprehend her.

I also realized that the crowd’s Will had been attacked via the pamphlet. I decided it was a Poison action via the press, so I had them roll to hit and damage for that. They succeeded.

Martin then attempted to rile the crowd up as the archers came through, preaching brutality. he did enough damage to the crowd’s Will that they started to waver and churn. They failed their S-F test and turned angry. They then marched to the Hôtel de Ville, shouting for answers from Monsieur L’Echiven Argouges.

It was late so we stopped there. Hopefully we’ll wrap up the situation next time!

Also, as you can see, I’ve been working on 1648. Brunet is a L6 Mercalot. Delon is a L2 Coup-Gourge, cutthroat. Both are new lifepaths that we’ll hopefully feature in the book.

I also very much want to include rules for crowds and mobs in the new book. They’re proving challenging to develop, but I’m hopeful.

All in all, it was a good playtest!