Belief and Situation Help (Looking for Advice)

I think this is the right place for the topic, but I’m running a quarantine game over Roll20, we’ve had 2ish sessions so far, but they were a brief session zero over discord, and then the second was an intro to BW on Roll20 + more complete character introductions + the beginnings of the adventure.

The setting is pretty standard fantasy fair, with a Capital City served by many noble houses, 7 of which hold council and 1 of which is king (very GoT). The Big Picture is set around political intrigue, and the immediate Situation is that there’s a land trade deal to the north, where the dwarves are giving up some unexploited, gold-rich mountain to the human lands in order to gain a seat on the council (making 8 members, an even number, meaning tied votes can happen and whatnot). The party has been set forth to finalize this trade deal, along with representatives from each house, each trying to maximize what their house (and the humans more generally) get out of it. There’s an obviously “bad/evil” house that the players are (rightfully) leery of and I expect the game to move in that direction (of “dealing with evil house”) as the representative of that house (the eldest son, secret half dark elf) does bad stuff TM during the negotiations.

My issue with this as it stands right now is that the group is really eclectic, coming from different castes, races, and settings, and we’re having hard time creating beliefs that can be challenged.

  1. We have a human scribe/scholar type who’s being sent to record the whole deal
  2. the advisor/hand of the king
  3. the brother and main representatives of one of the ruling noble houses (originally his bastard squire, but we moved him to a side 1-on-1 game as his long term goals of becoming the greatest swordsman ever really didn’t fit with where the game was going)
  4. a greedy dwarf who wants to get the trade deal as favorable as possible for the dwarves
  5. hippie Elf type who wants to prevent the whole deal from happening because of river pollution and whatnot (or else find some other way of protecting the sacred river).

Obviously, there’s plenty of room for conflict between characters, but we’re having a hard time writing beliefs that are tied to the situation immediately enough in order to make it work. My main thought here was to type up the actual text of the trade deal as it stands, and then have a set of duel of wits both between the players and relevant NPCs to work out the exact wording of who gets what from this deal, and the beliefs can be directly tied to that. I’m also worried about the scribe/scholar character, who isn’t directly powerful enough in the setting to really do much it seems, at least for this adventure (she could definitely be of more help during an “end/weaken the evil house” campaign), because I’m having trouble writing challenging beliefs for her. Also

Would it be possible at all to post each character and their beliefs and get some help untangling this mess? I feel like I’m so close to having this game get off the ground, but just need to get this final (very important) piece in place to really make it tick.

I’m up for helping.

Could you clarify, though: Are you writing the player’s character’s Beliefs, or are the players?

The players are writing them, but they’re actively looking for suggestions. We’re still workshopping them to the initial situation due to having to work around the technical issues mentioned before.

Alaric Braxton Advisor and friend of the king

  1. This deal should pass and I should be the impartial tiebreaker
  2. The king Aldrich is my friend, but I’m not afraid to use him
  3. ???
  4. Rulership is my natural and ordained task (Noblesse Oblige Trait)

T: Mark of Privilege, Sworn Homage, Noblesse Oblige, Lame, Regal Bearing, Your Grace

Baron Roderick val Gravenheim 2nd brother in line, ambassador of house Gravenheim (one of the 8 major houses)

  1. I’m a soldier. It’s what I’m good at, and it’s all I want.
  2. he tiebreaker position should be held by the king alone. I will do what I must to ensure that his prerogative is maintained, but I will not debase myself with deceit or corruption
  3. Umbric’s a good lad, and he’s about ready for knighthood, but I won’t give it out freely. (Umbric is now on his own 1-on-1 adventures, this player is much more into the game than everyone else, he’s just an intense person in general)

(don’t have trait list handy)

Hardee Knowler Dwarf, one of the two ambassadors who originally came to iron out the deal, along with a small vanguard of dwarven fighters.

  1. This deal will go through, and I will make sure the dwarves will get the winning end of it by hook or by crook.
  2. The hippie elves shouldn’t care so much about nature, and there’s nothing wrong with polluting to increase society’s aggregate wealth.
  3. What we need is an aristocracy, and so I’ll never question my betters.

T: Quirky, Iron Memory, Humility in the Face of your Betters

Rheva Scholar and scribe, sent to record the transaction with the promise of position of court scribe at the end of it

  1. I must prove to House Quedlinburg that I am capable and sharp-witted in order to become a scholar (House Quedlinburg are a bit like the Meisters in GoT, they run what passes for acedemia and records keeping in the kingdom)
  2. This mission is an excellent opportunity for me to learn about diplomacy and contracts
  3. ???

T: Idealistic, Ink-Stained Hands, Rabble Rouser, Geometric, Near-Sighted

Wyn Elthuin Elven wanderer, young (low grief), focused on environmentalism

  1. The river in the forest is sacred, and I will not let anyone pollute it.
  2. The river belongs to the elves and not to men or dwarves.
  3. The sea and the trees can speak to us and teach us how to live.

T: Oikofugic, Call of the Sea, Aloof, Elven suite

So, two things I notice right away: No one has a Belief about another player’s character (not including the Belief about Sir No Longer Appearing in This Campaign), and no one has a goal that can be accomplished in one setting (at least as far as I can tell)

What’s the opening action like for the first session? Do you know?

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@Gnosego is spot on about the advantages of having a Belief linked to another character.

It’s a contentious negotiation with players on several sides, so immediate things that springs to mind are along the lines of:

Half the deal is made before we sit down at the table: I will get on X’s good side before the first official session

Tired people make mistakes: I will arrange for Y’s accommodation to be flawed

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Re: opening action for the “real” session 1, I was going to have one of the other house’s representatives fall “ill” (dark elf poison), and the party have a brief travel sequence (likely just an uneventful trip downriver with the poisoned NPC continuing to worsen unless the PCs do something). When they arrive at the Dwarven halls they’ll have a day or so of downtime before they debate the dwarven delegates in front of the Longbeard in a series of Duel of Wits. (There’s a few contentious issues about who should provide the labor for extraction, who fundamentally “owns” the land, whether some percentage of the haul must go to the dwarves, etc.)

The party chose at the end of last session to not go to the dwarven hold that will be moving into human lands and give them fair warning, figuring that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. We later retconned this to have Umbric (the 1-on-1 adventure) be message bearer.


I’ve tried pushing them to form some beliefs about each other, but they haven’t really bit on this. I’ll push them harder on it, and also make it a goal that each of them have a belief that they can accomplish or at least challenge in one session.

Re: the scribe character, any thoughts on how she can be relevant to this part of the story? I’m having trouble seeing her as much more than an NPC, and she’s being played by a relatively shy person in general who is insecure about their character being boring, so I want her to have agency here, but she’s definitely out of her social caste. I can see how she may be more valuable if this becomes a “deal with a bad house” type deal where gathering intel and doing history checks become more useful, but at this moment I’m having a hard time seeing how she fits in a meaningful way.

I’ve posted this before, elsewhere, but it may still help. The example beliefs are generic, though.

Don’t disregard the important mechanical role beliefs play in the system. They are more than just an indication of who the characters are and what they think is important. They are the primary avenue for players getting Artha, and the clearest way for players to let the GM know what they want to do and the situations they want to be in.

In my experience, the game works well when players explicitly link broader beliefs to actions reflecting their goals for the session ( I will… , I need to… , I must…, etc). I encourage mine to consider two-part beliefs that express both.

For example, these could be the beliefs of a well meaning town guard:

  • Something unnatural is corrupting the Trollkin near Erdvale; I need to explore the caves there to find out what is happening (a situation belief).
  • My half-troll friend Orsoot is innocent, but a lynch mob wants to string him up; I will protect him (a party member belief).
  • Without the rule of law, society crumbles and innocents are hurt; I must uphold the law, no matter the personal cost (a broader philosophical belief, but one which still provides the GM with options).

At least one of these goals can probably be accomplished within a session, providing the player with persona. The player might work toward others and earn fate points. And if the only way to pursue the first two beliefs involves breaking the law, the player can role play the inner turmoil, earning more Artha again.

I just made these beliefs up, but it’s not hard to think of ways a GM could challenge them:

  • the lynch mob is very motivated and difficult to reason with (the church was burnt down, or the crime resulted in a villager’s death).
  • Orsoot is innocent, but the PC’s superior (the guard captain) committed the crime and is happy to see the troll take the fall
  • Orsoot is technically guilty, but was under the sway of the power in the caves
  • there is no ‘power in the caves’. Orsoot made it all up because he did something stupid and now he has blood on his hands…

Etc, etc, etc.

I recommend that you ask your players to come up with ‘action components’ to their beliefs you can engage with straight away (i.e., this session). They can then update this aspect of their beliefs until they resolve or change the underlying belief.

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What is she apart from someone who has Write and a writing tool kit?

For example, she’s being sent to record the deal which suggests she’s seen as impartial: so, have a representative of a different house from the victim be accused, have both houses refuse to proceed until it’s resolved, then have her be the only person both sides will agree can judge impartially.

Or, to smoosh players into the action, have the accused be either the dwarf or elf PC; or have the real murderer stash “evidence” it was her wot dun da dastadly deed, so she has to acquit herself (after all, she seems so meek and unremarkable, just like any good assassin).

What other skills/traits is she good in? How can you write the plot to play into those?

And, the biggie: what story does she want to play out? She created this character because something interested her about the idea, so what was that and how can you make that thing a key part of how the session plays out?

As @spunkrat indicates, unlike many systems, BW is much more about the GM providing a plot that sparks drama from what the players want than seeing whether a bunch of characters can handle the GM’s pre-existing plot; so, you not only have permission but are almost required to rewrite each session to put characters back in the centre of the action.

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To add to DaveHiggins already solid advice, might I recommend asking the player why she wants to play a scribe? You can probably take her answer and have her write a Belief about that: Does she want to play someone who has an eye for the future? Does she want to play someone who exerts influence through the control of information? Does she just want to play someone who can kind of narratively justify her being quiet herself - who suspects the quiet, humble scribe? Those can all become Beliefs: “The Here and Now is transient; what is written can endure forever.” “Knowledge is Power.” “Bluster and bravado is a weakness; it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.”

Also take a look at what the character needs. The Character Burner is a cruel mechanism; rarely does a character emerge with everything they “should have”. This is by design; it propels characters forward. Is there anything the player has complained about not being able to get in character burning? Write a Belief about getting it.

Moving away from our scribe. Do we know who the Dwarf’s Oath Relationship is?

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We actually don’t. It will be someone at the Dwarven stronghold (we’re playing pretty Tolkien-esque elves/dwarves here as the entire group are huge Tolkien fans and half of them can give you a blow-by-blow of The Silmarilion), so I think I’ll reach out to that player and work with them to make a relationship with someone there of import to the situation. I know he was technically supposed to buy it during character creation, but it was late at night when we were working through burning and the rule slipped my mind.

Gotcha. At the risk of undoing some work, could the Elf’s first two Belief’s be consolidated into one to allow for either better party coordination - a Belief about another party member - or more immediate engagement - what does the player/character think of the Dark Elves? Would he be interested in their presence and interference? Ask him about that. If so, maybe Say Yes to him recognising Dark Elf poison out the gate so he can write a Belief about neutralizing the poison and/or finding and stopping the Dark Elf.

That there are “dark elves” isn’t something that many elves even know about, just that some elves lose their way and trade their grief for spite. However, having the poison be recognized for what it is definitely seems in line with her character, (made from herbs from elven lands, etc) so just saying yes to that would definitely give her some ability to act beyond the current circumstances.

Ooh. Neat. Yeah, that seems like it could be good - assuming she’d be interested in that; maybe she doesn’t give a fig about this representative!

Even if they don’t care about the representative, we know they care about stopping toxic pollution; so, would they be prepared to lie about what poisoned him in order to “prove” the industrial expansion is evil?

After all, even if the representative hasn’t openly visited other sites, they might have visited discreetly to do research for negotiations—if they were discreet potentially that makes it even more likely they were exposed to the bits the industrialists don’t want people to know about :wink:

Perhaps:

The illness of X is an opportunity: I must plant a rumour that the illness comes from exposure to hazardous materials.

Yeah, that might work. My larger point, though, is that Beliefs are player priorities; all of this speculation amounts to nothing if the player isn’t interested. Conversely, the solution to this problem is going to be getting the player’s input on what she wants to do this session.

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The session went really well! We reworked the scribe character to be a part of one of the existing noble houses so they could have a bit more of a voice and long term goals. The players were into it, the after some failed attempts to detect what was going on (and thus further deteriorating the dwarves health) the elf was able to reveal that he was poisoned, and that this wasn’t natural. Everyone has beliefs about going about finding what happened, and the Dwarf player is convinced the Elf did it, so good drama. Thanks for the help all!

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Hah! That’s great news! Thanks for the update.

Glad we could assist.

Glorious!

Or rather, the dwarf character is convinced. The Elf and Dwarf are being played by a couple, so it’s fun to watch.

Had another session tonight, the Baron and the King’s Hand worked with the rest of the group to narrow down whodunnit, the elf is still be cagey that it was Dark Elven poison, but the scholar character should be able to do some digging to figure out what’s up hopefully pretty quickly. They prisoner dillemmad the two main suspects, proving one of them innocent when he was willing to accept a drink from the vial of poison when offered as alcohol, and the real culprit announced he wanted a trial by combat. Thankfully our young sword prodigy then had a chance to shine (the one who was previously written out a bit, but we’re bringing him back by popular demand) and easily slaughtered the perp (who managed a very impressive inconspicuous check to poison his blade before the fight) without a scratch (Sword B7 + Brawling vs Sword B3) in a bloody versus, decapitating him and fulfilling a bunch of character’s beliefs in the process, including a moldbreaker moment for the dwarf who may be coming around that all elves aren’t bad.

Anyway, thanks for all your help with this, it means a lot and we have the basics of a campaign rolling now! Next up will likely be a Duel of Wits with the dwarven elders, and dealing with the Dwarven NIMBYs who will be losing their side of the mountain in this trade deal.

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I’m glad it’s going well. Have a great time!