I feel like posting about a game I’ve been running for 4 years now. It’s not going to all get down on one page, and for the moment my priority is going to be getting a broad gist down and highlighting some things I learned about Play By Post in Burning Wheel, and why not to do it.
In 2017, I decided to try running my own Play By Post Burning Wheel game. I had experienced a failed one prior as a player, due to non-engagement, and was in another (which failed in a similar manner) but I thought that by recruiting no more than 4 people and keeping up momentum whilst focusing on people who were contributing I’d be able to push things forward enough. We also agreed to use Discord channels to discuss Help and FoRKs quickly and efficiently outside the main channel of play.
Setting: The world is a Great Forest Wilderness, linking oases of civilization. Magic all comes from the Spirits; as well as Summoning and Spirit Binding there is a natural ability to channel Spirit-power that some humans have, called Channelling.
Situation: people are turning from traditional veneration to a conjoined worshipping of a single being “The Tower” and are forcefully spreading this religion. It’s also right before Winter, which is a terrible time to not be in a warm house.
Bang: your village, Kallbacken, has a force of 20 extremely well-armed and armoured people turn up, plant a banner, and demand everyone gives up the old ways and embraces the change.
Mechanical Facts: Channelling (which would be its own topic), Seasonal Resources, 4 Lifepaths by default. Elves, Humans and Great Wolves all available.
Some things changed quickly: No-one played an Elf and they weren’t too well tied in anyway. The person who played a Wolf had a concept that required more LPs, so they got 6 by group approval. Also, some wilderness was defined as not being forest.
The 4 characters we started with were:
Eirikr ‘Kid’ turned Kallbacken’s guard against dangers from the wild. Taft’s son. Married to the Shrine-keeper Freyr, a Wind-Singer.
Taft Experienced hunter and trapper; quiet husband to the head of a popular household in Kallbacken. Good friend of Shadow. A Wind Channeller
Vasil Blacksmith from a distant land, lamed by a fight with deadly wolves; an outsider trying to join Kallbacken. Unknown to himself, a Fire Channeller.
Winter’s Third Bite (known by humans as “Shadow”) Spirit Hunter Wolf with a fondness for the humans who saved them as a Yearling. I’ll use Shadow as preference because it’s easier to type.
Initial Beliefs seemed relatively stacked: Vasil and Taft wanted to protect Kallbacken from this outside influence, Shadow did not want The Tower getting more influence as an uppity spirit. Eirikr was torn between his family, his love for his husband, and wanting to protect the village by going along with what the Tower wanted.
We defined some character traits: local people were Insular and Hardy with Leathery Skin. People from Vasil’s land are Welcoming, but Unforgiving and all Know Their Place; the nobility there had Fire-Channelling, others did not.
Over about 6 months we managed a very good pace, but then it slowed somewhat until in September 2018 we agreed the pattern wasn’t working.
Partially, PbP is a poor format for Burning Wheel in general. Even with the ability to discuss standard table questions via Discord, the distance was not good for the game. Momentum was difficult to keep up, and Artha awards were terrible to adjudicate. But also, there were 2 players who were far worse at regularly contributing: 1 was not quite as on-board as the others with the general tone and struggled because of that, and the other just struggled to write anything unless it was “perfect”. Very much the enemy of the good.
This had a large knock-on effect as Helping required some amount of engagement, which meant dice pools varied based on completely out of character situations, and the tensest rolls got delayed whilst waiting for the much needed Help to come in.
So, we changed to playing online using Discord, at a time that suited a group spanned the globe (well, as far as what turned out to be 3 points on a globe can be said to span it). One player had to drop out due to this switch, but we continued with Taft, Vasil and Shadow. Since March 2019 we’ve managed to average about a game a month. We still use GamersPlane for rolls and character sheets.
The Story Thus Far:
I’m just going to bullet point this as much as possible; there’s too much for granular detail; apologies if the formatting gets lost with the copypasting.
They argued with the Town and convinced the majority to lay an ambush against the Tower’s forces.
a. Shadow convinced its pack to help strike against any Spirits, but not join in the human vs human conflict.
They successfully fought this battle with a Midi wound levied against the PCs.
a. They captured one person, who was from about 2 settlements over.
b. Shadow’s wolf pack invited the channelers Taft and Vasil to meet.
i. To Vasil’s surprise, as he found out he was a Fire Channeller.
They realised the Banner the Tower’s forces had brought had a bound spirit inside, who was still spying. Vasil burned it to destruction using his newfound power.
a. They also burned the dead bodies. And Eirikr was healed by his Mum, Alva the midwife.
They met with the wolves properly. They parleyed for a bit and when the party said they wanted to leave to track the tower, the Dominant said that Shadow leaving to track the tower would mean Shadow leaving the pack; the wolves were asked to help against the Tower by the party.
a. The Duel of Wits the party entered was hampered by the humans’ poor Pack Etiquette, but a really well-timed Feint from the party meant they won with a major compromise: the wolves would let Shadow go whilst retaining pack membership but wouldn’t help further unless a great service was done for them first.
b. The party must deal with a pack of Ghosts of the Deeping Wood. Unknown to the party, Shadow is in a loving forbidden relationship with one of the Ghosts.
c. In preparation, Taft the Foul-Smelling Taxes himself, his wife, and Vasil, acquiring Trapping Tools.
On the way to deal with the Ghosts, they see a Steading ruined by the Tower’s influence and convince Ragna, the captured foe, to explain a little of what happened.
a. Ragna’s Steading, the Sigrunshrine, had been recruited in a similar way to the way Kallbacken had been targeted, but her small family just gave in.
b. The banner at the Sigrunshrine is impervious to mundane axes but is quickly burnt to cinders.
c. Failed Hunting rolls mean that this takes long enough that Winter Snow begins falling.
d. Failed other rolls ruin Taft’s bow and leave them all hungry anyway.
Arriving on one side of a giant lake, which marks the border between the wolves’ territories, Shadow threatens its ancient enemy, the Spider-Spirit Frostbite.
a. They cow Frostbite into agreeing to not harm them but take superficial cold wounds in the process.
b. This is the point where we switched to voiced real-time play.
They encounter the Ghost pack and fight them.
a. They struggle in this regard and Vasil and Shadow are injured relatively badly, but not fatally.
b. Instead of dying to a wolf’s onslaught, Taft spends a Complication persona and permanently stops being a Wind Channeler, instead becoming Touched by Frostbite and becoming the first ever Frost Channeler
c. They beat the Ghosts back, away from Shadow’s pack’s territory.
Over the Winter, the group prepare:
a. To learn more power from Frostbite, Taft builds a shrine. Taft neglects his wife asking for help on the roof and telling him he smells to do this.
b. Vasil learns of a fire-spirit who can teach him, Pyre, and with Shadow’s help learns how to summon it. He earns the first test towards Fire-Artifice, a skill for making Spirit-Harming weapons.
c. Taft argues with the Shrinekeeper about building a shrine to a different spirit, although he wins as a compromise the Wolves are reviled (Shadow was mouthy during the argument, threatening the town drunk), Alva loses standing and Vasil does not yet get accepted to the village.
d. Winter’s Third Bite learns Grandfather’s Song from its Dominant.
e. Vasil makes himself a Spear, but as a failure-consequence any Spirit who knows its name is unharmed by its touch.
f. Alva moves away from Taft and lives with her son instead due to his neglect.
g. Taft gets forcibly washed by Vasil to help make things up to her. He accepted the need because Shadow agreed he smelt, and Shadow has a good nose (but being a wolf didn’t hate the smell).
h. Shadow consults Ravens for guidance.
i. Vasil fights the town drunk because he kept talking shit about Shadow.
j. Vasil makes a gambeson for himself and for Taft.
k. Taft traps a really precious pelt, a Moeve (a being we’d described as otherworldly and intelligent) who obviously chose to get caught (10 successes on a Trapping roll to get a gift for Alva); he finally fixes the roof.
l. Vasil shames everyone in the village who disagrees with Taft’s romantic gesture, and in a ceremony Alva and Taft reaffirm.
m. Vasil starts to practice riding Shadow.
n. Taft finished Frostbite’s shrine.
When pursuing a Frost Spirit, the Fossergrym, to further teach Taft without empowering Frostbite, the party accidentally blunder into a group of Moeve and disturb them whilst trying to understand why one of them gave their life to get Taft’s attention.
a. Taft gains his first test towards Frost Ki, a martial art using ice attacks.
b. Vasil and Shadow get a lot more Riding practice whilst waiting for Taft to finish being Instructed.
c. Shadow talks to Summer’s Fourth Howl, its lover in the Ghosts, and finds out their leader is the wolf that lamed Vasil, and was blinded in one eye in the process and has sworn revenge. They are being hunted.
They fight the Ghosts again, this time with a little preparation and not on empty stomachs.
a. They aim for the Dominant first: Taft narrowly avoids severe injury - thanks to some incredible luck, and Vasil’s armour.
b. Vasil’s spear failed to find much purchase on the great beast.
c. Shadow incapacitated it very quickly with Lock and Strike.
d. Vasil tries to ceremonially dedicate the killed and powerful foe to Pyre, but it goes very wrong and he ends up Marked by the Spirit Wildfire.
They treat with Shadow’s pack now that all the Ghosts except Summer’s Fourth Howl are slain.
a. Shadow’s dominant suggests killing Summer, but Shadow begs and it is spared.
They travel to where the Tower’s forces came from, and reach Flodmynningstead, a large Steading.
a. They are really good at sneaking around and killing lone people, Shadow charges in overnight and removes the banner and then asks Ravens for advice.
b. They even lay false trails really well.
c. They find that some giant ceremony seems to be going on.
d. Turns out that Primal Bark incapacitates large groups quickly, and Shadow can outrun humans, especially with a Spirit-Binding wolf, Summer, slowing them down.
e. Once they’ve killed the Speaker and are happy they’ve disrupted the Tower’s influence upon the Steading, they head further out.
The party have an argument about how to proceed: Vasil wants to burn their enemies to cinders but Taft is in favour of there still being a forest left at the end. They tie.
a. Vasil speaks to Pyre to learn how to use Fire Ki, but Pyre is upset at being talked to in a campfire and explains it just makes things, doesn’t teach Fire Ki.
They realise that there are campfire lights in a line heading for a ford by Flodmynningstead.
a. They prepare a fortified ambush position at the ford for later use.
b. Vasil and Shadow scout closer, finding out that the Tower’s forces are building a path of stones; Vasil and Shadow kill some Tower scouts, both human and Spirit, in the process.
In a fantastic heist, they help the emaciated and bullied people building the “road” escape.
a. This involved Silent Voice to trick guards, Persuading the water carriers, tracking and killing further groups of scouts, and interrogating an enemy.
b. They finished this off by using Herbalism to poison the water supply and killing the Speaker in charge.
c. They escape, with lame Vasil on Shadow’s back leading the chasing soldiers in the wrong direction before doubling back.
d. It’s here that they realise that the reason no one has really fought back against The Tower is that Spirit Nature makes it impossible for most people to hurt the Spirits of the Tower.
Realising the 20 or so people they liberated are not particularly healthy or well-equipped for the forest, they decide they need other options.
a. Shadow spends a long time recovering from having been ridden by Vasil.
b. They parley with some people from Flodmynningstead when they’re out hunting and find out that their current leader, Vaccar, fought against the Tower but never made any progress and eventually gave in.
c. Using this information, the party convinces Vaccar to look after the people rescued from the road-site; Vaccar lets the party know that unless he gains some way of harming the Tower’s Spirits, he will be give himself and everyone else up once reinforcements arrive.
Vasil takes everyone to an island so he can unleash Wildfire there and learn Fire Ki.
a. Wildfire wants a lot more than Vasil is willing to give up. Incensed by their obstinacy it attacks.
b. Taft’s Warmth-Taking Frost powers let Shadow get close enough to subdue Wildfire, who is forced into taking a bargain: instead of burning Vasil’s leg off, Vasil will be possessed by Wildfire for a day.
c. On the way back to land they handily deal with an ambush laid against them.
d. Taft can walk on water by turning it to ice, which made it possible for the humans to cross safely overnight, with the wolves swimming silently.
I believe that there have been 3 Trait Votes.
Everyone received One Deeds for saving people from the Tower and saddling themselves with a load of mouths to feed. Shadow received a Deeds for helping build Frostbite’s shrine despite them being mortal enemies.
There are now 5 fully realised Channelling Skills, and several others with sketched rules. There are about 5 different non-Channelling fully custom traits in the game thus far: both the humans have a quite potent Die Trait.
I’m happy to post any more details I have; I should say that whereas I do have several iterations of the character sheets, I don’t have all of them, and probably lack at least some of the initial Beliefs. If people are interested in my implementation of Channelling, that’s probably a whole Hacks topic.