Need Help Twisting the Knife

I am having a hard time coming up with tough challenges in my current Burning Wheel campaign. So far, Pete, the player is pushing all the scenes, driving his character to hit is beliefs. In opposition, I am playing the NPCs as best as I can. Mean landlord and his goons, condescending steward of a noble house, suspicious smugglers, incredulous urchins, and sharp witted Madame of a brothel.

Its good, but I feel like I need to bring on the pressure.

So far, this players hasn’t failed too many tests. Even a Ob 4 Persuasion test with 5 dice was passed.

So far he hasn’t had to run for his life, smooth talk himself out of life threatening danger or jail time.

We are in session 4, so maybe we are just laying the foundations?

Obviously its great to see a player with that kind of investment into the Burning Wheel BITs engine and I am so happy, when he throws Tenebrous’ schemes at me, but I feel like I should be scheming too.

How do you suggest I tackle this?

Character’s Beliefs are:
1. My father is innocent. I will infiltrate the upper class and discover who led my father down this dark path.
Context: His father is a wealthy merchant with a shipping business. Tenebrous witnessed his father selling corpses (very taboo) to an official from the King’s court that might have had some zombie body guards.
From Session 1 Pete has pushed this belief by trying to infiltrate a fancy wedding between two noble houses. In this resource poor world (Fresh game is very scarce because the surrounding countryside is monster infested swampland). His butcher friend has a contact that supplied him with beef. So tenebrous used that info to approach a Steward from House Elaxor and promised to get him 5 carcasses for the wedding. He then stole it from the swampland rangers that bagged the beasts. He succeeded in the heist (falsehood and disguise with help), succeeded in the trade and got paid 5D cash (haggling), and finally he pushed to meet the Head Chef of the party (Difficult Persuasion) fail with the consequence that he cannot try that angle again.

2. People of Gristle Row are Missing. I will discover who is behind this.
Context: I feel this is my belief to bring out the cultists and assassins. The people that Tenebrous’ father was selling corpses to. Out in the swamps, cultist from the nobility have encountered an ancient sunken ziggurat. There may or may not be a Cthulhu creature out there demanding corpses. In Tenebrous’ neighborhood, the local street urchins are full of a lot of kids whose parent’s were scribes from Ink Pot Alley. They are being used to copy the forbidden demonic language inscribed on the walls of the ziggurat. Maybe it’s a summoning ritual?
So far Tenebrous hasn’t done much to investigate the abductions because he is too busy paying the rent.

3. I want a simple and beautiful world where I can build a family. I will dismantle the corrupt structures of society by inspiring the poor of Gristle Row to stand up to tyranny.
Context: we are really trying to establish a setting that’s a horrible dystopia. Squalor, filth, corruption, bureaucratic, and oppressive. So far tenebrous has given an inspiring speech to the street urchins, and has also tried to tell a prostitute that this kind of life is not what their lot should be. There is a better way. I should do something to frustrate this belief as well!

Thanks for reading.


Whose fault is that!?

Creatw an antagonist who embodies opposition to Tenebrous’s Beliefs, and have thay antagonist take action.

I would probably do something like…

A member of the nobility approaches Tenebrous – he’s a Bailiff, maybe, or a Courtier or a Man-at-Arms – and informs him that he heard Tenebrous was trying to weasel his way into the wedding. He suggests, perhaps cryptically, that it would be in Tenebrous’s best interests to abandon those efforts. He mentions something about Tenebrous’s father appreciating him keeping his son out of trouble. Tenebrous has seen this man speaking in hushed conversations with his father, now that he thinks of it.

Who is this guy, really? He looks a little worse for wear – sunken, baggy eyes, clothing fallen out of fashion, perhaps a few more gray hairs than you’d expect from a man his age. You were looking to introduce a cultist; msybe this is him. But that’s not all he is. See, he’s in dire straights because Tenebrous’s father cheated him out of his money – got him to invest in a big transport deal, then conspired to have the thing robbed and claimed all the profits for himself. Tenebrous doesn’t know this, but our maybe-cultist does. He hates Tenebrous’s father, but also needs him. His father has offered to cut him in on the corpse trade – provided he helps out, of course – it’s the least he could do after that bad business with those bandits. I feel terrible. Amd how’s he helping? Why his cultist buddies are providing him merchandise from Gristle Row, of course!

So, now we’ve got… A victim of Tenebrous’s father – Innocent, my ass! … Who is a cultist responsible for the disappearances in Gristle Row (sort of) … And has a complicated relationship with Tenebrous’s father – Some simple world. This character is tied up in all three of Tenebrous’s Beliefs.

Now, what’s he going to do? First, he’s going to, like I said, gently (and accurately!) suggest that Tenebrous would be happier if he left the wedding (and his investigation) be. Then, if (when) Tenebrous presses on, he’s going to have some of his cultist buddies (try to) capture him (presumably throwing him in a dark room with the “merchandise” taken from Gristle Row) and leverage him against his father for… Money? Freedom? Petty revenge?

… For example.


I would basically recommend this, look at BITs (and organisations / structures the pc is interacting with), and try to tie them together.

I think it’s sometimes also good to push on the ‘why’ of a belief. 1 is all good on that front, he’s doing to action to prove his father innocent. A failed test might lead to his father getting in trouble, possibly getting accused of something he is truly innocent of, or being put in a situation where he needs to commit further criminal acts, maybe he asks the pc to do it for him.

  1. Why does he want to discover who is behind this? If it’s to try and stop it then maybe he discovers the truth but no one believes him, or it’s someone so important the pc can’t get near them. Also if the pc isn’t going straight for this then have more people go missing / someone they know / they find the aftermath.

  2. This has the why: a simple and beautiful world, to build a family. Maybe the pc is offered a way out, financial safety and a partner with which to start a family, maybe the simplicity of the world is a strict social structure he can be towards the top of, or in a more extreme case maybe the simplicity is the sudden burning down of all structures, and the anarchy that follows (getting one part of the why but not the other).

In general though sometimes things just go well for the pc’s, and sometimes it’s nice to have fairly easy free flowing sessions at the start. I really like using circles to build opposition to the party, a failure almost always means someone who’s willing to help (maybe for the right price), but then works against the best interest of the party (or helps in a way against the best interest of the party). This way I can keep the session going, while producing npcs who will work against the party (sometimes in the background, sometimes more directly).

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Thanks for the tips.

I have a session this afternoon and I am excited to bring more of the world alive.

Some ideas:
Pete’s first Belief about Tenebrous, my father is ultimately redeemable and has been manipulated into working for really bad people, seems to tell me that the climax of this scene is him facing off with his father, exposing all of his evidence and revealing the nefarious plot that his father’s associates are behind. The moment has to be a real struggle and test worthy. A Duel of Wits.

This informs me that yes, his instincts are right. His father is greedy and foolish and looks the other way but once he learns from Tenebrous that the zombie labour force is being used to do something horrible…like build a ziggurat in the swamp…his father has to make a choice. The more INCULCATED his father is into the CULT DOCTRINE the harder it will be.

Okay…his father is a Wealthy Cartage Magnate turned CULTIST. whoa! that is 9 LIFEPATHS!
Born Noble, Student in Noble Court, Apprentice in city, Journeyman, Saddler, Master of Horses, Merchant, Magnate, Cultist.

57 years old. Very Rich and Powerful.

What kind of Cult Leader inspires someone like this?

have to think on this.


An insightful and, probably, miracle-working one.


mmmm good questions.
One thing is to have minor villain’s pestering the characters as they go along their merry way. For example, When he stole the 5 carcasses, the warden finds out from the buyer, who sold them. Then the warden is after him for the carcasses along with a possible tax collector that his dad owes. Have the bailiff and warden trying to find him and throw him in debtors prison for awhile. I like having little thorns or ants always picking at them to make the struggle more difficult.
You could have his first belief be totally wrong. His father is guilty and an evil man that he as his son will find out.
His third belief is interesting. If caught and thrown in debtors prison, could catch leprosy or hideous scars from fight, and that would make him ineligible to find that perfect princess to marry. Perhaps his theft now noticed is known by everyone and his reputation is ruined in this town and must leave to start a new somewhere else.

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