Burning Cahlous-IV: a group experience

So this weekend we had our first Burning Empires game session as a group of players. While I’ve posted an example of my World Burning before (http://burningwheel.org/forum/showthread.php?t=3707), this time it was with a group of players intending to actually play.

The first part of the meeting was to cover the basics of the game mechanics. This was mostly me explaining what Exponents, Obstacles, FoRK’ing, Helping and Artha were in the context of these rules.

The second phase was World Burning, and this was a lot more fun. The group really pulled together and discussed the concepts and impacts of each choice of the World Burning process, and produced an interesting and challenging world-setting. Somehow the number of players also swelled from 4 to 6.

It was also decided that instead of Players-vrs.-GM, this was going to be a Players-versus-Players campaign, with three Human players and three Vaylen players. As GM I would referee, and support both sides. It turned out this way because two of the players really wanted to play Vaylen, and I didn’t want to take on six players at once!

Character Burning was the final phase of this session, and took the most time. We were up till 4AM! I think this was because this was the first time making characters in BW/BE, and there was only one copy of the rules available. There was some confusion early on when it became apparent that one PC from each side -had- to play one of the FoN’s, but that worked out.

By the end of the evening, each character had a concept and lifepaths chosen, and prototype Beliefs in place. Instincts are still being worked on, as are final Skills and Traits and derived stats (Steel, Hezitation, Affiliations/Reputations, etc). There was much entertainment to be had as I read out the Lifepaths and the Traits that often came with them (FUGAZI, Number One! and Hammer Flies Anvil Dies were well received). At four AM, we all agreed to finish character creation the next session.

Character Beliefs were a challenge, but Instincts are proving more challenging. I told the players: “Start with color, then add a goal and a price willing to be paid to reach that goal.” Once that was clear, the Beliefs came more naturally.

I kept having to tell people to make their Instincts more specific than, as one player initially wanted: “I always have a way out.” Instincts are so far removed from the standard roleplaying experience that it is difficult to wrap one’s brain around them initially. I think I’ll show them sample characters from the book, forum and WIKI to get them used to how Beliefs and Instincts have been used.

I’ll be posting the write-ups here and on the B.E. WIKI as soon as I have some time and learn how to post on the WIKI.

The next session (in two weeks because of DunDraCon next weekend) will finish character creation and hopefully begin the first Maneuver!

During the heyday of the Federated Empire, Cahlus-IV was a major shipyard: producing hammer craft of all classes and sizes for the Empire and commercial interests. An airless rock of a world, dotted with arcologies and biodomes surrounding the massive engineering pits where hammer craft were constructed and could launch directly into space without having to force their way out of planetary atmospheres. Once a High-Index world, many of her biodomes and arcologies have been destroyed or have fun unchecked and untended. Those that remain struggle daily to maintain their aged life-support systems.

After the Imperial Stewardship dissolved, the commercial interests with the most power over Cahlus-IV was MUD: the Municipal Utilities Distribution corporation. Originally contracted by the Empire to maintain the life-support systems of the various biomes on Cahlus-IV, MUD has paradoxically become the most powerful of the remaining compaines to remain on Cahlus-IV, and thus is the ruling body of the world. Everyone on Cahlus-IV needs air, water and recycled food. Everyone turns to MUD to provide these things, and thus MUD is in charge. Not long after the fall, MUD’s directing council seats became hereditary positions.

John Veblen is the current CEO of MUD. A self-made man, he worked his way from the bottom to the very top of MUD by playing by its rules. And now that he’s on top? He’s changing those rules. His first change? MUD Executve Council seats are no longer hereditary. This has most upset his own son, Samael Veblen, who has long ridden on his father’s coattails and expected an easy transition into power when his father retired. Samael wants what he has always considered already his and is willing to do anything to ensure that he is the next CEO of MUD.

Cahlus-IV is a modern Tortuga in space: a neutral space haven for privateers, pirates and Vaylen hunters and a refuge for those feeling Vaylen predations to the galactic south. Until recently, these privateers and pirate bands were disorganized, prone to infighting and open conflicts with each other. That is until Pirate Queen Baird struck a deal with John Veblen. With his support, she united the disparate pirate groups under her iron heel. Now she rules the pirate fleets, ensuring Cahlus-IV remains a neutral and safe territory.

What no one knows is that the Vaylen are already on Cahlus-IV, and are making their move to take control. Sleeper agents arriving as refugees have slowly made inroads into Cahlus-IV’s culture, and indeed MUD itself. Sensing the rift between Veblen father and son, they move to support the son’s bid for power, hoping to distract, divide, and sew confusion that they can take advantage of. The Usurpation of Cahlus-IV has begun…

/b: John Veblen, CEO of MUD (Userpation Phase)
(Human): Pirate Queen Baird (Invasion Phase)
(Human): Chernobog (Kerrn Labor Union leader) (Infiltration Phase)
(Vaylen): Samael Veblen - Son of John (Userpation Phase)
(Vaylen): Mathias Negezzar - Hulled head of MUD Quarrentine services. (Infiltration Phase)
(Vaylen): Naet Tuner - CEO of a Biotech firm on Cahlus-IV (Invation Phase)

(Human) John Veblen [Human FoN, Usurpation Phase]
(Human) Sergeant in MUD Secury
(Human) Donovan Windrome, Pirate Captain
(Vaylen) Samael Veblen [Vaylen FoN, Usurpation Phase]
(Vaylen) Mathias Negezzar [Vaylen FoN, Infiltraion Phase]
(Vaylen) Ichabod, Guildmaster over the Sex industry on Cahlus-IV


May I suggest that Instincts will become abundantly clear once the players have a stronger grasp of the mechanics? Once my guys understood the timing of rolls and Artha generation, Instincts became a snap (i.e. they knew how to write Instincts to swing timing in their favor, or Instincts they could ignore for the Artha).

Mostly we let everyone rewrite their Instincts once they’d seen the game in action a couple turns. IE once they got that there’s no real initiative in Firefight, they dropped Instincts related to doing things “first;” when they saw a DoW, they realized they could earn Artha by doing stuff like “always start a DoW with a Point” and then start with an Obfuscate instead, and so on.


I have no problem with players determining or re-writing Beliefs and Instincts during game. But doesn’t it seem kinda… i dunno… munchkin to write Instinctsyou’re always going to ignore, just for Artha’s sake?


You only get Artha if you ignore and it gets you into trouble. (pp 336)

Yes, of course! I should have expanded my note with something along the lines of understanding all the clever ways you can get yourself into trouble once you understand the mechanics.


Also, Andrew, when you write that instinct on the sheet, it means you instinctually do that thing. You’re saying that. Now, if the player really never ever does that, might talk to them about it or trait-vote in an opposing trait or something. But more likely, what happens is that the character really does walk around with his sidearm at all times except that one time when the reader just knows they’ll get ambushed. You don’t talk about it a lot, so it looks like it’s more honored in the breach, but really they are strapped at the store, at work, at their friend’s… Just not that one time when their cousin calls and needs a ride from the bad part of town.

More generally, the artha cycle in BE is designed to work like you’d think. Creating instincts you know you’ll break at the critical moment is no more munchkinish than choosing a good weapon in D&D (And like I was saying above, “the critical moment” is likely to encompass most mechanical applications of instincts). It’s part of the game, and it creates good play. The only way you can really break it is by making instincts that are no fun.

There’s a little tweaking here depending on the instinct in question. If a player has an instinct like “When the Bright Mark flares, so does my ScREW,” and the first and only time that instinct comes up it’s her lover and she overrules the instinct, well, she never actually carried out that instinct, ever. But I think that’s okay. I think it’s a good story even. If it’s an instinct like “Never leave home without my lunch” and the player leaves the lunch home more often than not, that’s a little different. But if we can assume they bring it along every day, but the two times that it’s important to the player to know if this guy has his lunch (because he favors sandwiches made of a local meat that is poisonous to Mukhadish), it turns out he forgot it, that’s still good. Does this help any?

Thank you. That is very true and indeed the heart of the matter. What I was talking about was utterly silly or extreme Instincts that were ignored because following the Instinct would cause more trouble. I’ve had a few players who have created characters with instincts (note the lower case) such as: “Kill all small children on sight.” Some of my players aren’t catching on so quickly to Instincts so quickly, thinking they will be rewarded for playing in character. It’s just a matter of me making clear to them the difference between Character Traits, Beliefs and Instincts.

But thank you all for the feedback. This is going to be an interesting game!

Updated the first post with details of the World: Cahlus-IV, the situation, the FoN’s and PC’s.