First Impressions + Storyline (Did I do it right?)

So I finally got around to playing with my group weeks after ordering additional BWG books online. The group consists of an elven archer/bowyer, an orc spider tamer (has some magic), and a human wandering healer.

To prepare, I typed up basic information on how my world is on 4" x 6" index cards. These 8 cards covered how the world was created, the cosmology of the universe (heaven, earth, etc.), a general list of deities, and a breakdown on the nobility, guilds, general life, and how the law works. My primary objective here was to explain how things worked in my world: how the average person lived under the thumb of nobility and how the law was largely arbitrary. In short - I wanted my players to throw out their perceptions of how things work in real life and immerse themselves in how things work in the world their characters live in.

The healer couldn’t make it this weekend, so I decided to run the elf and the orc through an introductory session. Mostly I wanted to demo the basic mechanics and also dust off my storytelling abilities.

To start, I had both players make Health checks Ob 3, which they both succeeded at (mark their routine tests). Both wake up and find themselves on the ground inside an old, walled fortress. In the center of the fort on a small hill is a partially collapsed tower. Their clothes are singed and there are obvious signs of battle, with slain soldiers from the city of Corganth and the bodies of men with criminal brands (an imprint burned into their left hand) spread throughout the fort. At this time the elf posits that the old fortress was likely being used as a jail.

The air is filled with smoke. The elf finds her possessions scattered and goes to retrieve them and the orc, in nothing more than rags, manages to scrounge up a knife and a spear from one of the fallen soldiers (Perception check - routine, did not count towards advancement). Both the orc and elf are rattled and don’t understand where they are or why they are there. I have them make Will checks Ob 5 to see if they remember anything (elf fails, marks Difficult test) - the orc only has 4 Will so I do not allow him to check (not sure if this is right).

The elf finds a burned scroll among her belongings which indicates that she and the orc have been dispatched by the magistrate of Corganth to the fort to question a criminal named Horzo. The details as to why have are unclear as a large portion of the scroll has been burned. They make their way around the collapsed tower and find a large portion of the stone wall missing as well as a large crater below the section of missing wall. Everything in the area has been obliterated.

They are contemplating their next move when hear moaning coming from the tower. They make their way up the small hill and find a man trapped by collapsed stones. He begs them to help him out of the debris. The elf begins moving the stones off of the man’s left arm to check if he’s a criminal. She is assisted by the orc (Power check + 1D helping die). I don’t remember the Ob I set, but she failed. The elf asks him about Horzo and he claims to know his whereabouts but will only tell them his location if they somehow help him escape.

At this moment a crossbow quarrel hits the man’s throat and he promptly dies. The elf and orc turn and see three men dressed in Corganthian soldier uniforms and handkerchiefs covering their faces (presumably to avoid the smoke remarks the elf). Both the elf and orc quickly find cover, but tensions subside quickly after the men inspect the elf and orc’s hands for the criminal brand and find nothing. The elf, irritated that the soldiers have killed her source of information, demands to know if the soldiers know of Horzo. They simply shrug and explain he was likely killed in the explosion that blew a hole in the northern wall.

The men convince the elf and orc to assist them in clearing the lower levels beneath the tower, which may contain criminals who fled the fighting above. They indicate there will be a reward in assisting them once they return to Corganth. The group enters the lower levels. The orc can see fine in the darkness, but both the elf and human soldiers must rely on torchlight. One guard, Kane, suggests they split up. He leaves his two compatriots to guard the main entrance to the upper tower to ensure no criminals escape.

In the immediate area there are four doors and a t-intersection ahead. The players take the left doors and Kane takes the right. The players search briefly but find nothing, so they decide to return to Kane to let him know they are moving on. They find him leaning over another man, speaking softly. Both players make Perception checks (should this have been Observation?) Ob 4 and succeed. They hear Kane questioning the man about Horzo and his whereabouts before plunging a knife into his chest.

Immediately they confront Kane who brushes aside their questions and states that he and his men are cleaning up the mess and are simply looking for Horzo because he was a notorious gang leader. The players, now suspicious, move on and take the left hallway at the t-intersection. They proceed to another door and enter a small study. The orc makes a Perception check Ob 2 and finds some old moldy scrolls which he keeps. In the room, there is another door. As the orc is about to open it, the elf hears something skittering in the hallway. She states she wishes to close the door so I make a versus Speed test against the creature in the hall which the elf aces. She slams the door before whatever is coming down the hallway can enter the room.

The players debate on whether they should proceed or turn and face whatever is in the hallway. Ultimately the orc opens the next door. Inside the room are three men, one identifiable as a criminal, hunkered down. They are only in rags armed with clubs and shortswords, but immediately tense for a fight. They have no where to go and nothing to lose.

The elf yells out that they should surrender, but she lacks both Intimidation and Persuasion so it has little effect. In retrospect I should have had her make a Power or Will versus the criminals’ steel at double the obstacle - essentially providing the criminals with double successes. Is that right?

Anyway, the fight is on. It’s our first time so I use Bloody Versus and for the criminals I use a dumbed down version of the Duelist stats in the back of the BWG.

The elf has an arrow knocked (it’s one her instincts - I believe it’s used as an example in BWG and I had no issues lettering her use it). She wants to shoot the furthest man.

We do a run through her dice: Bow Skill 5D, Bow-wise FoRK 1D, longer weapon (range on the bow) 1D, bodkin arrows (3 VA) 3D, higher reflexes 1D, longer stride 1D (not sure if this is applicable in ranged combat). That’s 12 dice. She also has 2D for Defense from her reinforced leather, but it won’t come into play, at least not yet, because it is unlikely any of the criminals will be able to get to her. The criminal is in optimal range (note - I did not let her add her range dice for Optimal range – dunno if this was correct) I suppose so I state the Ob is 2. But hey wait, her orc friend is in the way. That’s going to make the shot a little tougher. Ob 3 it is!

12 dice, Ob 3, she smokes it (marks Routine test). I believe she came out with six successes. On her die of fate she rolls a 3 (Mark), but since she doubled the obstacle I let her increase her DoF roll by +2. That’s 5, so a Superb hit of D10 with the bodkin arrow. Insta-death for a measly criminal. I let her describe it and she states she puts an arrow right between his eyes.

The remaining criminals are desperate, but also scared. After seeing their comrade die, they make D4 Steel checks at Ob 3. One fails and hesitates (effectively out of the fight per the Bloody Versus rules) and the other succeeds and moves to confront the orc. He goes all in and commits his 4D club to attacking.

We do a run through on the orc’s dice: Spear Skill 2D, longer weapon 1D, +1 for VA. That’s 4D. He decides he’ll use 3D to attack and 1D to defense. The criminal attacks. He rolls and gets one success. The orc rolls his defense and gets a 6, cancelling the criminals attack. Now he rolls his attack dice. 3 successes. At this point I was unsure if his Ob was 0 or 1. Since the criminal didn’t defend, would the orc technically automatically strike? I decide the Ob should be 1. His spear Add Value is 2 so he uses the two remaining successes to bump the damage from Incidental to Mark.

That inflicts a Midi wound on the criminal. Because of the severity of the Wound, I have the criminal make a Steel check. I forgot to make sure the Wound penalties applied to the Steel roll. Regardless the criminal only gets 1 success which I decide is not enough to keep in the fight (not sure if the Obstacle is simply 1 or if it’s somehow inferred from the level of wound he receives). The criminal collapses.

The Fight is over, as far as it goes. The third criminal drops his weapon and attempts to push past the orc, a versus Power test. The orc easily overpowers him and the players question him on Horzo. The man claims that Horzo escaped the fort with several dozen other men and is heading to Corganth. He and his gang will infiltrate the city by dressing in soldiers’ uniforms. The man knows Horzo is returning to the city to find something valuable that he was unable to steal the first time around, but he doesn’t know what or why it is so important. The elf gestures for the criminal to go free, though the orc is torn on whether he wants to eat him or not. Ultimately the criminal goes free.

The elf and orc decide it’s time to go, but they will not tell Kane about what the man said. They return to the tower stairwell and find Kane standing over the body of the criminal they just released. The indicate there is nothing more than can do here and that they intend to return to Corganth. Kane thanks them and says he and his men will finish mopping up. The elf and orc head to Corganth. End of session.

Some points and questions:
[li]We did not trait vote. It was late so we called it a night.
[/li][li]We did not address, use, or reward Artha.
[/li][li]I’m not fully in tune with the mechanics or frequency of Hate or Grief, so we did not utilize that.
[/li][li]In combat, did the elf get too many dice? Did the orc get too few? What am I missing?
[/li][li]In combat - how do you treat reloads? Spend a turn making a Speed check versus Nock and Draw actions? What about spells?
[/li][li]Generally, I have issues with pacing my stories. Sometimes it drags on forever and sometimes I think it moves to fast and I reveal too much. Any suggestions?
[/li][li]Did I screw up allowing an elf and orc to play together? Can they even physically communicate with one another?
[/li][li]I think I am still in the D&D mindset with regards to black and white successes/failures. For example: The elf failed to move the stones off the criminal in the collapsed tower so that was that. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it’s supposed to work in BW.

Sorry for the long-winded, convoluted post. It’s late. Feedback is greatly appreciated, however.

A very nice write up. I liked you openning in medias res. Perfect.
Here’s my quick and incomplete analysis

The Per check to Scavenge stuff is a test to open Scavenging.

Pow check to move rocks, only needed if there was a consequence to failure. Would failing have killed or KO’d the guy or somehow changed the fiction?

Per check to listen in is good.

Bloody Versus vs Prisoners is a Versus roll, not a flat Ob roll. The NPC’s should have had a pool of dice to roll themselves. Re-read BV the BV section and scan the forum for BV hints and stuff. It’s a roll with an intent and consequences of failure. The PC’s intent was probably only to catch one guy and interrogate him. The prisoners intent is to escape at all cost. There are no reloads in a BV, the one roll incorporates all the rounds of combat that might take place, divided into attack and defence pools.

Tackling some of your questions.

  • We don’t do a trait vote every session, we do them at thematically appropriate times, The PC’s have been through a couple hours of game time, and nothing much has happened to change them. I’d wait on it.
  • It’s OK to skip Artha use a bit to start with, but definitely pick it up next session, earning and spending fate can really move the game along. It’s even OK to go back over the session in your heads at the end and see if there needed to be more Artha awarded that you missed.
  • If you have to, reread hate and grief and make the players read the approriate sections themselves so they get a firm understanding themselves.
  • Reloads in Fight! are slow and dangerous if you’re outnumbered, but in R&C or BV they hardly matter to the fiction unless you’re using a really slow weapon or spell.

Sounds like you did well your first time out. Keep it up. It’s OK to make mistakes.

Hey thanks for the response. It’s greatly appreciated.

So the Perception check to scavenge weapons would have been at double the obstacle, correct? Then it’s marked as a test to open Scavenging as you said.

I forgot that tests are only necessary if time is of the essence or failure has consequences. So I suppose if more stones were about to collapse on the trapped man or the players noticed the guards moving into position with crossbows at the ready, they could have tested to free the man before anything bad happened to him.

To address the Bloody Versus test… I was using the rules in BWG, but treating it as if it was turn by turn resolution. So based on what you wrote would the following have been more appropriate?

The players open the door to find the criminals hiding in the room. The Fight is on! The criminals decide they will do anything to escape. The players state they only need one alive. So then we start crunching some numbers.

Elf: 12D offense / 2D defense
Orc: 3D offense / 1D defense
Criminals: 12D offense (4D a piece) - desperate to escape

Would I then have each criminal test separately versus the players or would I have the orc and elf test simultaneously as a group and the criminals test as one group and the interpret the general results from that?

The way I see it, I would have them all roll separately. The orc might impale a criminal, but also take a club to the face. The elf may have shot the criminal between the eyes, but did he manage to push past the orc and thrust his shortsword at her? To me that would require a Power roll to get past the orc and a Speed check to see if makes the distance before being shot (optimal range shots are Ob 2, so maybe a Speed check at Ob 2 to reach her before she shoots).

At this point I’m not sure that Bloody Versus is good for my group, because they are used to a much more defined, turn-by-turn combat. The full Fight rules are looking better and better. Then again, a fight against just mooks…


Just found this post on multiple opponents:

The orc should have been allowed to take the test. He might have passed if he’d spent Artha and would at least get a challenging test if he succeeded.

Or he could have been allowed to help the elf (and get his challenging anyway) if they’d been trying to piece together a certain event they were both involved in (GM’s call, as always)

Ummmm…I wouldnt have used a static Ob. If this was bloody versus:
Bow -5D
Bow-wise 1D (I don’t think I would let bow-wise fork in here. What is it bringing to the table that isn’t covered by just knowing how to shoot?)
Longer Weapon -1D
Reflexes -1D

8 dice (7 if you’re more stringent on the fork)

Since you stated she’s safe, it’s not bloody versus. So, I’d have gone with a versus. Bow vs. The criminal’s Speed, assuming an intent like get to cover. Longer weapon and Reflexes don’t matter now, so no dice there. So, 5D or 6D depending upon the fork.

EDIT: Does VA add dice in Bloody Versus now? It didn’t in BWR and I am away from my books ATM.

It does, but only if the opponent is armored (I don’t know if the criminals were in the play situation above). One could perhaps make a case for capping the truckload of extra dice from VA at the same level of armor that your opponent uses. E.g. if your opponent is using armor that gives +1D to his defense pool, the most you can apply from your VA is +1D to your offense pool. Otherwise, using crossbows and spells like Shards can quickly get out of hand.

I must say I instinctively made the adjustment that you only add VA dice to bloody versus if the opponent wears armor, and then only up to the amount of dice his armor grants him as a bonus; anything else doesn’t make sense, or did I miss something?

Otherwise, your players will start tossing gambesons to their opponents right before they fire their crossbows…

The criminals were not armored so the +3 VA from bodkin arrows should not have been included.

I urge you to try out a session of The Sword. It sounds like you’re legitimately getting used to how tasks and intents are resolved in BW, but skipping beliefs and artha really is avoiding something fundamental to the game. It sounds like you’ve made a world and dropped some players into it with a cold start, without much opportunity to buy into it, while playing your cards really close to your chest.

Generally, BW campaigns start with an OOC discussion - the GM describes a situation he or she is excited about, and if they players are excited as well, they create characters with strong motivations to address the situation. (If not, modify the concept.)

A common D&D setup is to have the players tacitly adopt an adventure-seeking mentality, but otherwise have no idea what the premise of “the story” is about; the GM reveals it during the first few sessions. When they discover it, they’re expected to buy in and to continue following the ‘adventure this way’ cues.

Try turning this on its head. Tell the players the concept right away. Don’t worry about big reveals, instead, focus on creating protagonists that are highly motivated to attack the premise. Have the players encode these motivations as beliefs. Then, urge them to follow them. This way, you don’t need to tempt and seduce them to follow the story with clues and hints, they come out of the gate like greyhounds, using every available creative tool (like circles and wises) to try to meet their goals.

The GM task is then to create challenges, more or less on the fly, in the space where PC beliefs and the game concept intersect. There’s give and take here, of course - sometimes you’re not really challenging beliefs but pushing an as-yet unrevealed Big Thing, or (conversely) merely working through natural consequences of the players’ actions. But a lot of the time you’re trying to adapt your plays to challenge someone’s belief - by opposing it, by threatening permanent failure, by dangling opportunties, forcing them into awful choices between priorities, etc.

The Artha system looks like an add-on - bonus points for good roleplaying - but it’s not. The advancement system is rigged so that players need artha to advance.

Beliefs take care and feeding (many players from games without player flags tend to undervalue their importance, which nerfs their advancement and can derail the game if they’ve got a fistful of secondary goals and no strong, situation-tackling belief), but as a GM it’s very helpful to have a list of three things each player really wants the game to be about.

EDIT: Beliefs and insincts also really do help with pacing, because you know what’s important to the players. If someone has an instinct, “Always be on the lookout for monsters approaching our camp at night,” then you know that nighttime wandering monster checks are actually interesting to someone. But if everyone’s BITs are pointing at plot points weeks into the future, then skip all that and just jump them to their travel destination.

So really I hosed this up from the get-go. I told them to create whatever characters they wanted to play within the confines of the rules and having a max exponent of 5. Then I set myself at bringing them together and creating a storyline for them.

That’s fine for having some fun, but I wouldn’t recommend starting a campaign this way, no.

One of the things I’ve learned, though, is to go easy on myself. GMing BW is challenging, and if you want, you can beat yourself up after every session. For task-oriented games, you can rely a lot on mechanical mastery, and the uncertain future is some distance away. The mechanical details of the present moment - this or that fight, searching for secret doors, etc. - take up a lot of game time.

In BW, I find my growing edge is on constantly allowing the game to advance beyond what I’ve planned for. You see these threads on RPG forums, “What do you do when the players have thrown all your preparation out of the window?” That’s when I know I’m playing Burning Wheel. :slight_smile:

I’m going to take your suggestion and run my group through The Sword. I’m reading through the PDF now and I think I’ll work great.

Thank you.

Just keep in mind that The Sword is set up as a PvP situation to showcase the mechanics and Beliefs and Instincts in conflicts. The PvP throws some players, but thats for purposes of the Demo. In your own game, you’re free to bake in as little or as much interpersonal conflict as you want (generally when you create Beliefs and Instincts together).