New Burning Wheel Adventure! Spy hunt

OK! So new game started yesterday. Went relatively well, I think, despite the “teething issues” you’d expect from an inexperienced GM and players. Here’s what happened.

First, setup: as stated, I’m an overall inexperienced GM who’s only run a couple of games, though I’m a very experienced player from other systems. I don’t really like GMing as I tend to not have fun in the role, due to my worrying too much and trying too hard to ensure everyone has a good time but myself. I’ve never played BW before, but have loved it since I first read the old Revised books and always wanted to play. My group is made of both new and veteran TTRPG players, none of whom had heard of BW before I brought it up. We formed a group specifically to play BW as it’s my favorite game (yes, without even having played it yet) and I wanted to show the new people the joys of the tabletop hobby in general.

The setting that was decided on in our initial session was a “spy hunter” story - a group of spies have infiltrated the town/kingdom the group starts in, and they’ll be tasked with rooting them out and tracking their paymasters. The town they’re in is one of the most important merchant ports in the nation, with a strong naval presence, as well. The navy discovered the spies first, having captured one who’d managed to infiltrate the navy yard. Since this guy was a years-long resident and not a recent arrival, the officers at the yard fear that the spy ring is pretty big already, and they’re not really equipped to handle land-based espionage. Hence, they ask the admirality and local nobles for help. And that’s where the party comes in…

PCs (Character names are changed to protect the guilty):

Lidia”: (Slave-Born, Desperate Killer (outcast), Poisoner (outcast), Consort (noble court)) - a former slave and killer-for-hire who’s managed to become the favorite consort of the local Baronette. She’s got complicated feelings for her patron, who’s managed to awaken the embers of something she thought long-crushed; as such, she’ll do anything to help him.

Popeye”: (Peasant-Born, Lazy Stayabout (peasant), Sailor (soldier), Navigator (sea)) - a one-armed sailor who’s love of the sea is only dwarfed by his love of his Captain. They served together in the Navy, and he followed his superior to become a merchantman. After that turned up little profit, they decided to take their combined military knowledge and become a Merchant/Privateer operation. They arrived at this port after a successful “acquisition” mission.

Maggie”: (Noble-Born, Court Jester, Apostate, Neophyte Sorcerer) - A wandering entertainer who is searching for the source of the voice in her head. She thought she was insane for a long time, enough to even cut ties with her former life in court…right up until the voice started teaching her actual sorcerous spells, one of which accidentally turned her daughter into a frog while she was learning it (not so bad since frogs are sacred creatures in her new religion). Having long ago learned to hide her powers from suspicious townspeople, she’s come to this place on the advice of the voice, and it’s not steered her wrong yet.

STORY
So, we start with Lidia, who’s summoned to the Baronette; instead of the usual “services”, he has a grave mission for her, from his father - to root out this spy ring infesting his city. As she’s the only one he can trust and who has the skills they need, he’s forced to ask her, and provides her cash for the operation (B3 credit) to get started. Then, after seducing him to get him to relax - for a second time! - She then heads to the naval yard to find out more.

Cut to Popeye, who’s asked to speak with his Captain once they arrive at port. Apparently, their pulling in here is no coincidence: the Captain was secretly contacted to find out what’s going on here after getting strange reports about “spies” from the naval yard. After accepting the request from his Captain. Popeye gets some money from the advanced payment the Captain was given (B1 credit). However, he’s noticed how uncomfortable his Captain’s been since they arrived and, after a bit of coaxing (vs test) managed to get the Captain to reveal that he and the Baron have bad blood from an incident in the past, which the Captain’s rather ashamed of. Armed with this, the good sailorman heads to the naval yard as instructed.

Over to Maggie, she’s just arrived in town, so starts her work as an entertainer to make her money. She sadly fails to get work at the Inn - failing to impress with her juggling act - so is left to hawk her skills on the street with the other entertainers, where she also fails to get money. Fed up, she decides to risk hawking her skills in a different area that’s less competitive, but is confronted by guards who tell her to move along. She refuses, naively stating she wants to help some frogs nearby (Artha for belief). This…disturbs the guards for many reasons (frogs are vermin with associations of witchcraft) and she looks and acts a bit odd anyway, so now they demand she move out. She pleads with them to let her stay and help the frogs and, after failing to convince them, is frog marched (yes, I said it at the table) back to the merchant district where the guards stay nearby to watch. Interestingly, the guards attracts the notice of the crowd, who are now WAY more interested in her act then before! She’s finally able to make money for herself!

Over at the Naval Yard, Lidia meets the Commodore, who’s expecting her due to communication from the Baronette. He explains how the spy’s resisted physical interrogation, to which Lydia suggests a different approach. The Commodore tries to drink from his hip flask, but Lidia manages to deftly snatch it from him and suggest he remain sober for now - a rather impressive feat to him!

After this, Popeye arrives, but needs to prove who he is. He informs them he’s from the Captain, but then lies and refuses to tell the Commodore/Lidia anything more about the Captain, for fear of this Noble Commodore reporting to the Captain (Artha for belief)! The Commodore and Lidia detect the lies easily and, fearing Popeye to be a spy, have him sent to the torture chamber for interrogation! Lydia, now fearing that their internal channels have been breached, feels she needs to recruit someone “from the outside” to help act as patsy and heads out to find a sucker volunteer she can get to join, heading for the Merchant district.

At this point, I should note that Popeye has a mighty Forte of *freakin’ B8"! So we’re all joking that he’ll pass the initial ob 3 test that I have to start the Linked Test of the interrogation scene (just multiple Forte tests from ob 3 to ob 5 as the torture gets progressively more brutal, with another Falsehood ob 3 test at the end). Instead, he fails the first check and breaks just as the hot coals are on him - he’s used to lashing and brawling, not burning! As he sobs and confesses to his Captain’s dark secret, the Commodore realizes his misguided loyalty was all he was protecting, and has him cleaned up and brought back to his office. Upon returning, Popeye - a Drunk who’s trying desperately to stay off the sauce - can’t help himself and snatches the Commodore’s flask from his desk and downs the very expensive scotch in one drought (Artha for trait)! The Commodore manages to explain the situation to him, also explaining that he knows the Captain personally and that’s why he asked for the Captain specifically. After testing this wastrel’s sword skills to find what worth made the Captain send him in the first place, Popeye offers to stay and wait for Lydia to return as he’s “in no condition to go out on this dangerous mission, having just been tortured” (fail). The Commodore’s eyes flash and he agrees that Popeye shouldn’t head out right now…so instead has him temporarily drafted back and placed on a punishment detail “bootcamp” to whip him into shape, as a lesson about taking things from others without asking (practice for Power test).

Cut to the Merchant District - Maggie’s performance is continuing, and she has a decent crowd, though for a little while now, she’s felt uneasy. Likely because Lydia is secretly watching her as part of said crowd, though she’s not entirely sure why (both failed checks to notice the other and/or things about each other). After Maggie’s done for the day, she packs up and heads back to the Inn to get lodging for the night. However, the Innkeeper asks for almost ALL of her money up front! Just then, Lydia quietly enters and heads to the bar, flashing a gold coin at the Innkeeper to keep his mouth shut about it. Sadly, the innkeeper isn’t able to hide his surprise, but Maggie doesn’t notice Lydia’s entrance, so it works out fine and the innkeeper returns to the matter at hand. After an intense round of negotiation (fail), the innkeeper agrees to throw in a free meal every day IF she agrees to entertain during the slow breakfast period. Just as Maggie’s about to respond, Lydia walks by and mysteriously whispers “I can get you more money if you want” before heading out the door. Maggie quickly agrees to the Innkeeper and heads out after.

Now that they have a moment to actually notice/examine each other, they get descriptions: Lydia is a somewhat tall, pretty young woman with raven curls who’d look for all the world like a normal city dweller…save her startlingly piercing green eyes, belying a sharp intelligence and cunning that are NOT to be trifled with. Maggie is dressed in a simple linen dress and brightly colored cloak and looks like a simple life-long street performer, but on close inspection, her skin isn’t as weather worn as a peasant’s, and she’s got a demeanor that’s not quite what a commoner would hold herself. She also has a frog on her shoulder? Who seems to be very well trained, and even acts with near human-like mannerisms?..anyway, Maggie approaches Lydia cautiously, asking what she meant about the “more money” thing? Lydia concocts a story about serving as a nurse at the naval yard, but Maggie’s not buying it. Still, when Lydia flashes the gold, Maggie’s interest is piqued by her growling stomach, so she agrees to head out in spite of her misgivings.

When they arrive, Lydia is shocked to find the suspected spy waiting in the Commodore’s office again, drenched in sweat. The Commodore quickly explains the misunderstanding after the door’s closed, then offers everyone (but Popeye) a drink to settle nerves. Everyone declines. After confirming with Lydia that Maggie wants to join, he then “offers” Maggie a choice - serve king and country and get paid in gold and silver, or…Maggie, having already had alarm bells go off when she saw she would be addressing a Noble with their political games, takes his attempt at intimidation and throws everyone for a loop by saying “but will my pet frog be OK?” (Artha for belief). After being told that ESPECIALLY the frog will be harmed, she quickly agrees to be part of this and to keep quiet, after which the Commodore explains the situation again. We ended with the group finally united and preparing to interrogate the (real) captured spy.

AFTERMATH:
The players really seemed to enjoy the game and how things went. Only real complaint was Maggie’s player saying they weren’t happy about their character being strong-armed into this. To which I said “Yes, that is terrible that you’re forced into this against your will! Gosh, if it were me, I’d probably somewhat resent my companions and seek to try and undermine them a bit as revenge!” On their look of surprise, I responded “What? Burning Wheel doesn’t care so much about ‘party cohesion’ - it’s all about interesting stories and fun at the table. So long as the table’s having a good time with it, who cares why??” Lydia’s and Popeye’s players both agreed, which I suspect will have Maggie planning some things for next session.

Lydia’s player admits that they usually don’t to like “crunchy” games like BW, preferring the lighter cleaner feel of D&D 5e. But the way everything locks together and encourages the kind of chaotic messy gameplay they enjoy is really winning them over, and they’re excited to see more.

Popeye was having issues at the original character creation session due to not being able to jive with what they’d created, but those issues were resolved before this session started (along with some final bookkeeping and administrative stuff we had left over) - they’d apparently felt that their character was a “split” between the bad (lazy, drunk, missing arm, etc) and the good (duty-bound, caring lover) and couldn’t reconcile them in their head. With some help from Lydia’s player, we managed to tweak the character enough that it slotted into place mentally. After that, they seemed to enjoy the hell out of playing Popeye against himself, managing to earn the most Artha by far for the session.

As for me…I had fun, sure, but I still worry. I had fun the first couple of sessions in my previous games, but I eventually burned out very quickly. I’ve got my rough outline for the scenario setup already, with basic stat blocks for allies and foes prepared and PC stuff noted down for my own use. And I’ve got a few programs (including my test tracker) to help with the bookkeeping. Burning Wheel is my favorite system, and my players appear to be fantastic, so those should help. I’ll keep going as long as I can handle, I guess. :sweat_smile:

SPOILER
OK, so I’m talking about behind-the-scenes GM planning stuff I have, for those who are curious. If my players happen to stumble on this, I’m Hiding it so they don’t see it (they’ll recognize themselves from the above, of course):

Spoilers

OK, so funny thing about that Inn - that’s actually the headquarters of the Spy ring; the Innkeeper is part of the spy ring itself! So flashing that obviously-not-a-commoner coin in front of the Innkeeper…may have repercussions later.

Bit of info on the Kingdom: it’s actually bordered by 3 VERY powerful nations, and none of them have easy access to this particular ocean, due to unfavorable terrain (or afore-mentioned hostile nations) getting in the way. They hate each other, and that’s where this nation is able to survive - it acts as a small trade nation where goods flow between the ocean and the 3 nations. None of the 3 land nations dare make a move for fear the other 2 will strike back as has happened in the past, and traditionally, the sea nations aren’t powerful enough to break through the Kingdom’s incredibly powerful navy to stage an invasion. Hence, the spies.

The spies are from a nation across the sea (unnamed right now, will come up with one in due time). In addition to taking over the Inn, they’ve managed to infiltrate the town’s Glassworks and Tavern, and all three have their own specific objectives. Their overall goal is to soften this town up for a surprise invasion from sea, which would open the rest of the kingdom up to conquest. Their objectives:
-Undermine city defenses and naval facilities (Glassworks)
-Contact the 3 land nations for secret negotiations to ensure their non-interference (Inn)
-Infiltrate the Baron’s castle to steal info on land defenses/noble secrets/etc (Tavern)

The spy who was caught was from the Glassworks, so that ring knows they’re in trouble and are on the alert. The other two are unaware currently - the rings try and keep messages to a minimum. But as I said, that gold coin at the Innkeeper might make a head or two turn in interest at the Inn now…

Fortunately, the rings have mainly spent their time integrating themselves in the town and expanding their powerbase here; they’ve not made a move on their objectives until just recently. Further, to prevent chance of discovery and increase their chances at succeeding, they’ve stayed at or near the port instead of spreading to the rest of the Kingdom. Once the town’s subversion is complete and their control is secure, they’ll send word back home and move on to other towns, as well as the capital itself.

I mainly plan to run this as a true game of intrigue; lots of stealth and social roles and chasing through back-alleys, with combat being a VERY distant prospect. As such, I plan to use DoW and Movement and Pursuit. If fighting happens, it’ll likely be just Range and Cover distance stuff as the enemy attempts to escape, with Bloody VS as a last resort - no full Fight! mechanics on this one, nor other associated rules (Anatomy of Injury, Arms and Armor, etc) beyond what’s absolutely required.

Sorry it’s so long. Hope you enjoyed reading! :slightly_smiling_face:

OK, Session 2!

STORY
So, Lidia and Maggie started off the game with an IMMEDIATE DoW against each other over payment: Maggie rightly believed that she was being forced into something she hadn’t been told of and that could cost her (and her child) her life, and so demanded almost the whole sum of money that Lidia had been granted by the Baronet, up front. Lidia, rightly, wasn’t willing to part with so much of the money needed for the operation, nor was she willing to let her patsy gain control of the finances when that was what was keeping her obedient; as such, she planned to only actually give Maggie money freely at the end of everything, and would otherwise buy things for her when necessary.

In the end, Lidia’s powerful presence and skill at Persuasion managed to dominate poor Maggie in a single Volley and, as Maggie stood stunned by the outcome, Lidia handed her enough money to cover her costs of dinner for the day. After this, they agreed to meet back at the naval yard to begin interrogating the captured spy.

Lidia then headed back toward her room in the castle, trying not to be seen. Unfortunately, skulking in shadows is somewhat new to her - she’d much rather blend into the crowd - so she was noticed and accosted by a couple of town guards. She tried to explain that she was a harmless young woman who’d lost her way, but the guards weren’t having any of it and so planned to take her to the dungeon for sorting out. She then managed to successfully seduce the guards, but as they were heading to the castle, the castle’s guards recognized her and got the others to release her before they made “the mistake of their lives”. On returning to her room, she spent several hours making poisons, first a simple sickening poison for food (which she’s adept at by now), and then…well, she made SOMETHING bad, but what it is or how it works she couldn’t say; since she’d intended to make a blade poison, she placed it on the knife-like sticks that kept her hair up. Then off to bed for her.

Cut over to Popeye, who’d bee-lined it straight back to his ship, both to report on what transpired and to finally have some rest after his rather troublesome day. Upon learning of his being tortured, the Captain cursed up a storm, and with his Booming Voice, several dock workers blushed at what they heard. Then everyone on the ship began muttering curses over hearing that their poor Second Mate and Navigator was going to be forced to work on land for the duration, and with nothing but women to help, no less!

…Well, almost all of them. Popeye managed to hear a joyful snicker over the din, and the source was all too obvious: a nearby Deckmate was having a laugh at his expense. Janus and Popeye had been rivals for quite some time, with the Deckmate disrespecting him at every turn. While Popeye technically outranked him, the Deckmate had the ear of the First Mate, so couldn’t just be gotten rid of so easily. However, as Captain Marold and the First Mate made their way to the Captain’s quarters, bidding Popeye follow, he hung back for a minute until the door was closed, then went over and confronted Janus over his behavior. His dressing down could be heard across the ship, which turned out to be bad as the First Mate dressed him down in the Captain’s Quarters for it and warned him not to do it again.

Popeye then asked for a drink as he prepared to explain things (Artha Earned). Captain Marold at first refused, but Popeye made a plea that, after all he’d been through, he needed something to steady his nerves; at this, the Captain relented and gave him something to drink. Popeye then began explaining everything that had happened to him, though he made sure to skip how long it actually took for him to break; on finishing, Captain Marold sighed and explained they’d already accepted payment, and that Popeye was the best they had that could be spared, as well as the only one Marold could trust with this, and while working with these females was troublesome, the kingdom - and the Captain himself - were counting on him to step up. The First Mate then formally stated that they wouldn’t be leaving port until this was resolved and that Popeye was relieved of further duties to pursue this in full, where Popeye excused himself to get some much needed rest (and sleep off his tipsiness).

On exiting the Captain’s quarters, though, he spotted the Deckhand JUST as he was leaping back to work; Lazy-wise told Popeye all he needed to know about this slacker, so despite the First Mate’s warning he confronted the Deckhand again, this time slapping him across the mouth when he dared to talk back (Artha earned). Fortunately for him, the First Mate despises layabouts as much as he likes the Deckmate, so Popeye got away with it (this time). To bed with him, then.

Finally, we cut over to Maggie who’s feeling quite upset right now and not particularly pleased with how things are transpiring, though she at least got money for dinner. Then the frog on her shoulder (her daughter transformed) then quietly spoke to her in human tongue, asking if they were really going to work for this awful woman?? Maggie confirmed they were as the money was good enough. Her Daughter then asked if the Voice told her to do this, to which Maggie lied that yes, it had. Reassured, as the voice hadn’t steered them wrong yet, her Daughter fell silent once again.

After returning to the inn and purchasing food and drink for the night, the exhausted pair went up to their room, preparing to sing - or at least entertain - for her breakfast in the morning.

In the morning, the three met at the naval yard, and were quickly shown to the torturer’s prep room. Lidia asked for the prisoner’s food to be brought to them, whereupon she put the poison she’d made last night in and asked Maggie to deliver it. Popeye then confronted them and said he should be the one to deliver the food, to which Lidia disagreed. They argued for some time, with Lidia wanting Maggie to do it since she’s strange enough to catch the prisoner off-guard, and Popeye fearing that this weirdness will tip him off to the poison (as well as trying to assert his male dominance). Maggie eventually just said “screw it” and went out with the tainted food, forcing the quarrel to stop and for them to listen in.

The prisoner, Lawrence, was covered in wounds, though it appeared that they weren’t too severe; obvious signs of torture and abuse. Maggie presented him the food under his warry eye, then leaned in close and whispered “the food has been poisoned, so I wouldn’t eat it”(!) This DEFINITELY startled the prisoner, who immediately and loudly proclaimed that this “witch” (frog on the shoulder, weird colorful robes, etc) was trying to poison him to soften him up, tossing the tainted food on the ground. Maggie, noticing how sad Lawrence was, cracked a REALLY terrible joke to get him to laugh, which he did, stating how much she reminds him of his daughter. He then opened up a bit, pleading in a whisper for her to get a message to his family in town asking them to flee the place. Maggie agreed, but when he then asked her if she’d be willing to kill him, she refused and the conversation ended. He then loudly proclaimed she must go, but Maggie was unsure of what to do, causing him to become belligerent at her.

Meanwhile, things were NOT going well in the nearby room. Those inside hadn’t been able to hear the whispering going on, so didn’t realize what was really transpiring (fortunately for Maggie!) Upon learning that the poison gambit failed, Popeye immediately accused Lidia of screwing up and demanded they go in to interrogate the prisoner more directly and quickly. Lidia refused, stating that Maggie had still succeeded at getting headway with her joke cracking. Popeye, furious at being told what to do by this woman, tried to barge his way out of the prep room to interrupt the interrogation (Artha point); Lidia and the present torturer managed to stop him and throw him back, but only barely (the scuffle was heard by Maggie and Lawrence, though they didn’t know what caused it). Lidia then spent the next few minutes explaining basic interrogation techniques in the manner that a teacher instructs a particularly slow student, even using her rapier wit to get a good jab or two in at his expense (Artha earned^) before Maggie arrived back.

(^It was especially earned with the whole table laughing uncontrollably for a solid minute after one of them: “I’m not sure you understand what counter-intelligence is…actually, check that, I’m not sure you even know what intelligence is!” I almost fell out of my chair from laughing so hard!)

Lidia, having severe doubts about Popeye, then went to see the Commodore about it. Upon hearing what had happened, the Commodore asked to speak with first Popeye and then Lidia one-on-one, first to take Popeye to task for not representing his ship’s and Captain’s honor properly and getting a promise to do better in future, and then to calm Lidia down and get her to accept that she’d have to teach Popeye the basics of how to do this sort of thing.

While Popeye was being spoken to, Lidia praised Maggie for her excellent work in salvaging the situation; at this stage, Lidia was starting to think her “patsy” would be more useful then she initially thought, perhaps even become a full on member worthy of respect! While Lidia was being spoken to, though, Popeye apologized to Maggie about being forced into this situation, and said that perhaps they should “stick together against that foolish woman”, attempting a sort of powerplay to try and get her on his side against Lidia. Maggie agreed…for the moment, at least. We then left the game where Lidia was contemplating joining Maggie at the Inn as her “safehouse and operating location”, and all of them planning to return the next day to continue the interrogation with a new tactic - good cop, bad cop. And Lidia learned from the Commodore where Lawrence’s family is, also learning that they’re being watched by unsavory types…

AFTERMATH:
Once again, everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. A bit of feedback I got was that we were taking A LOT of tests that seemed unnecessary and which slowed play down some, which I agreed was the case - I’ve been deliberately suspending Say Yes for these first few sessions so I can help everyone get used to the mechanics of tests. I even forced a Circles test for Popeye’s character, specifically to introduce and explain how Circles works (and so we’d have an excuse to name the man; the Captain and Deckmate were relationships, but not him! I’ll note his name if he turns out to be more relevant to the story later). I promised that once we all got used to the system (say, around session 5 or so), I’d quit with the excessive tests and use Say Yes far more often (obviously NOT suspending Let It Ride as that would just be annoying to everyone).

Some who read this may notice that Popeye is getting a lot of Artha; part of this is because he really is playing off his Traits and Beliefs that much, but I’m afraid it’s also partly to make up for his current lack of competence. He’s a sailor through and through, and all of his current skills reflect that, having to do with ships or with sailing; the only one that’s really useful on land is his Sword skill which, for this spy game we’re doing, is a VERY last resort. They’re new to TTRPGs and was very passionate about this, so I simply plan to incorporate sailing into the game later…but at this stage, I’m finding it hard to come up with things for Popeye to use his narrow skillset on, with most of his tests so far being Beginner’s Luck.

I’m going to try and have a one-on-one with Popeye’s player later this week to chat about this and come up with some ideas to resolve it (I’ve got a few already, but want to let the player know about my difficulty and hear their thoughts/ideas first) as I don’t want the player to start feeling discouraged that their character “isn’t useful” - Popeye will be INCREDIBLY useful later with what I’ve got planned; it’s just right now.

Maggie’s player finds themselves in an interesting position. And for those wondering, no, Maggie didn’t cast Low Speech to talk with her daughter; since her daughter’s frog state is result of a magical accident and the player bought her as a relationship, we decided to give her the ability to talk normally at will. Of course, realizing that her “pet frog” can talk would send EVERYONE into a tizzy and immediately blow Maggie’s cover as a sorcerer, so they keep it on the down-low for now.

And to be clear: the Voice only lead them here and said they should stay as “they’ll get money soon” - I plan to be as light-handed with the Voice as I possibly can, as I’d rather Maggie’s player find their own way organically to introduce things; it’s mainly there to give Maggie a helpful pointer in a fun way (“The Voice says we should go East!” “What voice??” “The one in my head!”)

Lidia’s player’s enjoying the crap out of how things are shaping up, though they promise the group that they really aren’t trying to ferment hostilities like what’s going on, and we’ve assured them we get it and that it’s OK, with me going so far as to explain that this is how the game works and one of the reasons why I love it so much - it’s the player chaos generator to end player chaos generators!

I also took some time to remind everyone that their Beliefs and

One issue that I’ve noticed and brought up is that I’m not challenging Beliefs as frequently as I should, and definitely not as often. Yes, people are having fun and yes, we’re getting established and such, but I know how important this is and how core it is to Burning Wheel’s philosophy. I’ve managed to challenge Popeye’s a number of times, but I need to start challenging Maggie more, and I need to start challenging Lidia at all!

Still worried about burn out on my end. It’s early days yet, though, so I’m still worried. Probably will be for a few more sessions, at least.

SPOILER

Spoilers

So, yes, the spy ring is still quiet right now; that’s because they’re trying to figure out what the hell is going on. At this point, the Inn has clandestinely sent out messengers to the Glass Works and Tavern to get information, but due to them having to be super careful to avoid being spotted, they’ve not had a chance to report back yet. Since the players haven’t visited either of those locations yet, if ever - two just arrived to town and one is a near permanent Castle resident - they’re not going to get much back, leaving them warry, but in the dark.

Fortunately, if Lidia decides to use the Inn as a safehouse for them, their job will get a whole lot easier, though it could also cause issues if the group discovers the true nature of the Inn. I’ve heard of “keeping your friends close and your enemies closer” but this is ridiculous!

As far as hitting Lidia’s beliefs, I have a long-term one that’s going to be RIFE with drama and trouble. And it all revolves around the Baronet and their last encounter. Specifically…pregnancy.

You see, Lidia’s been pregnant before and has used her poisons to get rid of it each time in the past. However, she has no instinct for this, nor has she SAID she’s going to over the past couple of in-game days. I wanted to see if her player would do so, but now that they haven’t, I’m going to approach them about the possibility that, in a few months time and far away from the kingdom’s shores, Lidia begins to experience the pangs that a bastard child would bring. And both she AND the Baronet have “it’s complicated” as beliefs regarding each other, tying it together nicely. And that’s not even getting into me abducting/murdering the Baronet!

This, btw, is why I short-circuited the Seduced guards scene from earlier - one of Lidia’s instincts actually IS to Seduce if cornered, and I don’t want there to be anything throwing the child’s origin into doubt. And yes, I had this idea midway through the game and wanted to sleep on it first, else I’d have approached the player ahead of time with this. But if they agree, the possibilities!

As far as Lawrence, things are going better then I’d hoped - Maggie’s player “betraying” the group to get his trust was actually unexpected by everyone at the table, but the 100% best option I’d planned for this scenario. Lawrence was resisting interrogation due to his (very well-founded) Belief that the spy ring would kill his family if he betrays them. While it’s possible to just beat him into submission or use a DoW, I’ve stacked him to be a VERY formidable opponent in those situations (not quite Grey-shade impossible, but still), and I had a couple of secrets they could’ve discovered about him to apply pressure and make it easier to get him to crack (he’s got a bit of a gambling issue, for example).

However, if they can convince him that they’ll get his family to safety, he’ll tell them whatever they want about the Glassworks group and spy-ring, and likely even offer to help them if they want; his loyalty to his employer is eclipsed by his love of his family.

Speaking of, the Glassworks and Tavern are continuing their missions. A couple of spies from the Glassworks have already successfully infiltrated the naval yard and are clandestinely mapping the area out in prep for sabotage efforts, and the Tavern is trying to acquire maps of the greater Kingdom (named Merinthil, by the way) to make travel to the bordering kingdoms easier and faster. The Inn has been stalled due to this unexpected revelation of the party’s existence, and are hesitant to continue infiltrating the Castle until they’re sure they’ve got a handle on this potential new threat. The Glassworks are also the ones that sent spies to Lawrence’s home in an effort to abduct his family; sadly for them, the Naval Yard had requested that guard patrols be stepped up in the area his family lives, which scared the spies away…this time.

The players have begun to think about moving “unnoticed” as they get used to being in a spy narrative, which is good as it’ll help for when the spies finally start trying to tail them. They’re only aware of Maggie and Lidia currently, but once they see Popeye associating with them, it’ll be a matter of time before sailor boy is traced back to his ship. And when that happens, they’ll likely try to send a message by trying to sneak onto the ship…which is likely going to go poorly, as this ship is a privateer with hardened fighting men, Popeye included. So we’ll have a nice bout of fighting in store, though the Captain may be gravely wounded depending on how things turn out.

Deckhand will be in the Tavern at the time, and due to how Popeye’s been treating him, may just end up becoming an informant, though that’s in the air right now. He likes the Fist Mate a lot, but hates Popeye. We’ll see how that goes down.

As you’ve no doubt noticed, I’m a bit of a simulationist - I like to have things moving in the background even when the players will never be aware of them, as it helps me decide on realistic reactions to my players’ moves. Quite fitting to take the role of “Chess master” for a spy game, eh? :slightly_smiling_face:

Hope you enjoyed reading, and I’ll post next session when it happens!

Session 3 begin!

STORY
Lidia proposed the idea for Popeye to act as the “bad cop” now that Maggie had established herself as the good one, and Popeye - desperately wanting to prove his competence and save his Captain’s reputation - agrees and charges into the room. Poor Lawrence was taken by surprise when some big, mean looking sailor comes in looking to tear his poor head off! He wasn’t strong enough to man-handle Lawrence, but this aggressive posture combined with his screaming and willingness to seemingly destroy him put fear into his soul like the methodical torturers couldn’t!

And that’s when Lidia showed herself, staying the mad-man’s hand.

She let Lawrence know that they knew all about his wife and children, and that his family was being hunted by “unknown parties” that the guards had spotted. After Lawrence visibly paled at this news, he was offered a choice: either work with them and they would secure his family, or…not. And see what happens next…

Lawrence almost caved right then and there, but thanks to Maggie, he held out some hope that his family could be saved…right until Maggie walked in! Fearing that he’d entrusted his family’s life to a complete imbecile, Lawrence agreed to work with them. But ONLY if they could save his family from his former masters!

Upon this, Lidia and Popeye rushed out of the chamber secure the family, as agreed. Maggie stayed behind to console the poor man, cracking jokes for a time before she, too, headed out to ensure the family was safe. As she tried to catch up, though, she snuck along in order to prevent Lidia from seeing her, hopeful that she might still deliver the message that the family man had requested of her. Sadly, her clumsy sneaking got her noticed by guards…wait, what? You two again?! Yes, the same ones who’d “escorted” her back to market had spotted her acting strange again! Fortunately for her, they’d enjoyed her performance, but were unwilling to let her go without an explanation for her strange behavior. Queue a tale of feeling that she needed to leave the city to practice her art better, much to the dismay of her new fans…

Lidia and Popeye got directions and quickly arrived at the street of the family home. However, as they approached, they both noticed two important things:
-two shifty individuals quickly rounding a corner, clearly intent on exiting unnoticed
-the faint and acrid smell of smoke from a large - and growing - fire

Lidia bade Popeye to chase after the two spies, but she needn’t have bothered, as he was already racing after them. As he rounded the corner, his quarry immediately noticed the strong sailor barreling toward them and broke into a desperate run. The chase was on!

Back and forth the two parties surged, with Popeye charging in full tilt, heedless of the many throwing daggers the pair of villains were seemingly throwing in their wake, and even shrugging off the first few that struck him like they were nothing! He even managed to close enough to swing his sword at them a few times, but they sadly managed to break away again.

Through the screaming crowd they ran, Popeye hot on their tail, but unfortunately, the daggers took their toll - a couple of lucky hits finally managed to slow Popeye enough that the spies could sneak away and lose him in the crowd. Discouraged by his failure to capture them, Popeye headed back to help Lidia, picking up the daggers they’d tossed along the way.

Lidia, meantime, had hurriedly smashed a window and vaulted into the now clearly smoking building. She’d tried to instruct the town to get a bucket brigade going, but she’d only succeeded in sowing confusion and delaying such efforts; if anyone was going to save the family now, it was her!

On entering the home’s first floor, she quickly took water from a nearby bucket and dowsed her scarf in it, then wrapped this around her mouth as a guard against smoke. She then raced upstairs, where the inferno was raging. The smoke was too thick to see with, so she called out to them, desperately trying to - wait! Cries of children in the corner…Ah, here they are, two children and their unconscious mother. Finding the mother unresponsive, Lidia grabbed the two kids and dashed downstairs to safety, only pausing to tell the kids not to wander off before rushing back in.

Recalling the mother’s general location, it took her seconds to get back. But as she was dragging the unconscious form to the stairs, the weakened room caved in with a thunderous crash, showering debris on Lidia and burying the mother in flaming wreckage up to her naval! With a tremendous heave, Lidia managed to extricate her charge and carried her safely out of the home.

But she wasn’t out of the woods yet: the injuries compounded to per her in critical condition, and if she didn’t receive medical care quickly, she would die immediately. Lidia called out to the bucket brigade and onlookers for a healer, but nobody responded. Lidia could only watch in horror as the mother of her prisoner slipped further and further away…

…until Maggie and Popeye appeared! While Maggie had managed to slip past the cordone the guards had setup to minimize the chaos, Popeye had been spotted, and had to explain why he was trying to sneak back over; he chose to tell the truth, that he’d been chasing the culprits who started the fire in the first place! Fortunately for him, his blade-shaped injuries and the onlookers agreeing were enough to convince the guards to let him through.

And when both saw Lidia kneeling next to a prone woman screaming for help, they instinctively helped to search for a healer. And with an incredible test, one of the court healers, who’d happened to be on an errand, finally heard the call and stepped forward - not just to heal, but also to see why one of those voices sounded like Lidia…? Questions later, healing NOW! All watched as the man did his best to save her life, and…

Success. The poor woman was breathing easier at last.

The doctor bade the group to gather her and the children and, with a guard escort, they hurriedly took the woman to the nearby Inn. There, the doctor finished checking the woman, as well as the rest of the group’s injuries, though Lidia had to shut him up with a “private chest exam” before he spilled the beans on her identity to everyone present.

After this was done, the woman was taken to the local temple for longer term care, but the group stayed behind; the guards wanted to know more about the ones who’d started the fire from Popeye, and Lidia seemed to be connected as well, with her timing being just a bit too convenient and seeming to know Popeye. Maggie also seemed connected to the two, but she was so innocent seeming that she was allowed to leave; she chose to stay, offering to look after the children who were still here (the father was being searched for), and to offer the guards her own room for the questioning.

Up in the room, Lidia at first tried to pass herself off as a simple good samaritan, but the guards weren’t having it; they recognized her from the castle, especially after the doctor recognized her. She then dropped a bit of the veil, revealing that she was on a special mission for the Baronet and had happened to be nearby when the fire started. Popeye added that he was a sailor of Captain Marold-oops! The guards’ looks indicated they knew of the Captain’s reputation, and that the Baron would be learning of his presence soon…

Lidia managed to calm the guards and convince them to deliver a message for her. After trying (and failing) her hand at writing a message like she’d seen her lover do, she gave up and simply bade them tell the baronet what happened, and even managed to convince them to do it in person; nobody else needs to know. The guards thought this strange, but shrugged - she’s the Baronet’s favorite, so why not curry some favor? After this, they all headed downstairs.

…to uproarious laughter. It seems that, in an attempt to help cheer the children up, Maggie had begun making jokes, and the remaining guards took notice. One thing lead to another and she found herself making an impromptu entertainment gig for the guards. Just as they were about to ask the nearby innkeeper for drinks, their leader came down and rushed them outside, much to their dismay.

Our story ends with the three taking the kids to see their father and deliver the news of his new status as homeless.

AFTERMATH
So yeah, a LOT of action this time. Lots of nailbiting by my players, too - they were literally standing to get a better view as I rolled the dice for the doctor saving the woman! Of course, their amazingly lucky Circles roll (success on 5 dice for an Ob 5 test!) meant that the man had PLENTY of ForKS and other skills for his Surgery roll, but they’d already seen massive dice numbers fail before, so they knew there was always a chance…

And yes, this debuts the first time we used the Run and Cover rules! Since this is cloak and dagger style gameplay, I made the decision that we’d focus on DoW and R+C, with known enemies always choosing to flee whenever possible. It’ll be a rare and momentous occasion when the players manage to corner rats enough to really fight in melee, and even then, I’m keeping it to Bloody Melee for now while we get used to everything.

Speaking of R+C…I admit, I was pretty sloppy with it. I thought I’d read the rules well enough, but I later learned that I was dreadfully mistaken. I did a decent job with the basics - calling for maneuver tests, writing and revealing volleys, changing distances during the chase - but was pretty clumsy with minor rules such as “if they close to melee range and one side swings a sword, what do you do”? I ended up winging it, and it worked well enough for the action, but I need to get better about anticipating edge cases like that. Familiarity with the book rules will help, and that takes time, of course. But it’s still frustrating to know I botched the rules when I’m trying to showcase the game!

Obviously, everyone enjoyed themselves. Plus, they’re finally starting to find in-game reasons to become a team. Popeye’s finally got to showcase his usefulness in game, first as a bad cop and then with chasing down the spies and helping find a doctor, so Lidia no longer sees him as a liability. Maggie got to see Lidia with the mother and so no longer thinks of her as completely heartless (though she’s still mad at being tricked), and is proving herself quite useful…and they don’t even know about her Gifted powers yet! And while Lidia is still a stone-cold tart, she’s at least proving she’s right and knows what she’s doing to the others. There’s still a possible power play in the group that may happen - looking forward to that kettle boiling over - but the characters are at least seeing each other as useful now.

Also, though it’s pretty early for it, I decided to have a Trait Vote after this session was done, specifically to introduce everyone to the concept, to practice it, and so that players could swap out traits and instincts now that they knew better how BW works.

I also was able to award way more Artha - way too many to describe up above, which is how I think it should be in the first place. And everyone got some, too, which considering that they’ve been playing their characters well so far, that means I’m finally starting to do my main job right. Just need to get the details down now, like R+C and DoW.

On a personal level, I’m getting drained. I’m hoping it’s just new game stress that will go away as we get more comfortable and the group settles into its groove, but I’m worried about it. And I wish I could stop talking about it, but I can’t. On the one hand, I don’t like talking about this as I know people don’t like downer stuff. but on the other, I think it might be helpful for other new GMs to hear about how I’m feeling deep down after a game so that they know they’re not alone if they feel this way.

SPOILERS

Spoilers

So the wife was approached by her husband’s employers earlier. And I mean that in both sense - the spies Popeye was chasing were from the Glassworks where he officially works at. They hadn’t seen him in a couple of days and wanted to know his wareabouts. When she said she didn’t know, one of them got mad and knocked her out. Unfortunately, this created a problem since she knew what they looked like. So they decided that she, and the kids, needed to have an…accident. There was a reason she was left Traumatically wounded despite Lidia and the doctor acting as quickly as they did. She’s going to be out for some time, sadly.

The Glassworks is in for a nasty shock when their two members return and report what occurred. Of course, they’re in for an even nastier one when their bosses find out. Idiots! You attacked Lawrence’s wife and set his house on fire?? And nearly killed the only leverage we have on the man?! You KNOW the navy has him; what would’ve stopped him from telling them everything out of revenge?? Plus you were seen by everyone and almost caught! Your incompetence has become a liability, so I’m afraid your time here is up…

Two suspiciously familiar bodies are going to be found the next day, with equally familiar knife marks along their throats. And the Glassworks is now going to redouble its efforts to infiltrate the Naval Yard and silence that fool Lawrence before he can squeal! All other efforts have been put on hold as they plan a nighttime “visit” to his cell.

I’d actually intended for the gang to arrive after the fire was already out of control, with the kids having made it outside for them to bring to their father. But with Lidia and Popeye moving as fast as they did, I changed the timeline to them arriving to JUST as they did. If Lidia had been slow at any point in her mission, the kids and mother would’ve both been lost and poor Lawrence would become recalcitrant, killing himself with a hidden poison pill, only giving them a cryptic clue as he died. As it stands, though…they may have just made a very powerful ally (if they can get him away from the Naval Yard to somewhere safe, at least)

And it’s a good thing, too, because they’re going to need it. I pretended to roll a “choice die” for the players on whether the wife would go to the Temple or the Inn, but it was actually a Die of Fate to see if the neutral Temple would be chosen over the spy-infested Inn. Sadly, they lost.

And you better believe that the innkeeper was present downstairs, and that the floor of Maggie’s room has thin boards with hidden knotholes throughout. So the spy ring heard everything that went on. If they had any doubts before about these people, they surely don’t anymore! And now that Lidia has decided that she will be rooming with Maggie for the foreseeable future, and is likely to get Popeye to join them…the opportunity is looking quite golden.

Now, I know what you may be asking: why doesn’t the Inn just kill them tonight while they sleep? Because that would attract unwanted attention to their hiding place, of course! Besides, why kill what could become a valuable asset? At first, from loose lips - they believe themselves safe in their room to talk and plan, so the spy ring need only to sit back and listen in. And hey, perhaps these three could eventually be subverted somehow? Even convinced to change sides? Despite the insistence of some of their less experienced subordinates, the bosses are firm; just tail them for now, learn what you can of them, and for Divine’s sake, stay out of sight!

The Inn is doing what it can to get word out to the other spy rings, but it’s difficult to do. They have their own objectives to accomplish and timetables to follow, so they don’t have many resources to spare for heading off these three, or even warning other spy rings of what’s going on. And that’s if they can even find the others - the three spy rings are operating independently by design, with only emergency drops as communication relays, which could take days - the magical communication only links back home, with no way to redirect it (that they know of, anyway). So locating their brothers quickly is almost as challenging for them as it will be for the players!

Of course, now that they know about the woman, they have to find out more about her…and her missing husband. These three saving her can’t have been a coincidence. So the hunt for him begins!

I will now begin making some Observation and Stealth rolls at the beginning of the session for the spies tailing the PCs, without telling players what they’re for. If/when the PCs roll Stealth/Inconspicuous and/or Observation, I’ll be comparing the results both to see if they succeed at their chosen task, but also to see if their new tails lose them or are discovered. I’ll also be asking them to make a Perception check at the beginning of the session against Ob 4 to see if they notice anything strange about the Inn (without telling them the intent, of course) - with the spy ring actively interested in them, it’s much more likely they’ll slip up and that the PCs will notice something out of place. I hope that the players go for the Glassworks and Tavern first, and have plans for setup for those to be the first they handle. But hey; you never know what can happen, right?

Speaking of, the Tavern continues on its merry way, blissfully unaware of the counter-spies hunting them and continuing its efforts to learn more about the castle. In fact, their efforts have born some fruit - they’ve learned that the Baron prizes his son above all else, and that the Baron’s wife is secretly…well…baron (I’ll never apologize). To have the Baron himself under their thumb would be quite a coup! Now they just have to determine how to get to his offspring…

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I generally like hearing about downer stuff, actually.

3 Likes

I’ve been roleplaying long enough that my first session was hunting an elk to make the dice; and I still get drained sometimes. So, talk if it might help: we’re all in this together.

4 Likes

OK, Session 4!

STORY
Lidia wasted no time in heading back to the Naval Yard to deliver the…mostly good news. With the children in tow as proof, she felt now would be an excellent time to secure the cooperation of their prisoner.

And secure it they did! While Maggie and Popeye watched the children in one of the offices, Lidia’s description of events - of her managing to save his wife and children from their burning home, and of them giving chase to suspicious interlopers at the scene - made for a white-knuckle tale for Lawrence! Her demeanor made it clear she wasn’t lying, especially as her singed visage made it clear she’d been in a terrible inferno recently. It was all enough to cause Lawrence to attempt to charge out after his “compatriots”, himself, and he might well have had his chains not kept him at bay!

Not only was he willing to divulge whatever information he could to them, he was prepared to assist them - they’d tried to murder his beloved family, and he’d be DAMNED if he wouldn’t make them pay for it!!

The information he gave was substantial - he’d originally been hired in his home country a few years back, one of the trading island nations in the sea to the East. In exchange for gold, he’d been bidden to come here and take a job at the local Glassworks, which turned out to be the meeting place for the spy-ring. Or rather, his spy-ring - he’d overheard his bosses discussing other cells within the city, though he knew nothing else beyond their existence. The tasks his bosses had provided him before all amounted to noting things about the naval yard - guard patrols, worker habits, etc. The mission he’d been captured on, he’d been tasked with discovering what sort of ship was under construction (a large warship, as it turns out, nearing completion in a matter of weeks).

He further revealed that he’d been bidden to marry into the town in order to deepen his cover; what he hadn’t expected was to genuinely fall in love with his chosen wife! Once his first child was born, his employers decided that gold would no longer be necessary to ensure his cooperation. Now, they threatened his family if he should EVER turn traitor. This is what stayed his hand even after his second child was born last year.

Finally, he said that while his bosses keep themselves well concealed and he knows little of them (other then that there are two and both male), all of his fellow conspirators are Glassworks workers. He provided detailed descriptions of several when prompted, and then gave the best piece of all: it seems that the group meets semi-regularly on the evening starting the weekend. The possibility of capturing all in one swoop, if not the bosses themselves, was tantalizingly real!

Lidia then went to Maggie and Popeye to relate what she’d learned. Then, at last, the children were reunited with their (dirty, disheveled, and smelly - but no longer obviously injured) father. Popeye presented his youngest to him; though Lawrence shrank in uncertain fear at first from the man who’d been a raging bull a few hours before, he at least realized that the man was under a tight leash with Lidia nearby.

After that, they all headed to the Commodore to discuss what to do. First, Lidia related (as best she could) the descriptions of those Lawrence had told her about. The Commodore was then able to trace several of their addresses, meaning that the guards could quietly snatch them up with little trouble in the night.

After that, they hatched a plan: they would place Lawrence back into his cell, with false chains and locks, and then drug the new spies they’d caught. A false breakout would then be staged, with the drugged spies being dressed as guards that were slain during the escape. This would give Lawrence the cover he needed to escape and rejoin his former comrades at the Glassworks, where he could act as a plant for when the group inevitably closes the noose around the necks of the spy-ring members.

The Commodore likes the plan, and suggested that the group act as it will, authorizing them to take several naval yard guards with them as backup in case things go sour. However, he suggested that, as the Glassworks no longer has any real leverage on the prisoner and Lawrence has seemingly joined up with them, that they may take some time to look into the other rings, if possible. So long as they keep a watch on the man’s (still unconscious) wife to ensure her safety, he feels that now might be the time to begin gathering new leads in preparation for the next leg of the mission.

And so, as the group ponders its next move, the sun sets on the town by the bay. And is it does, it shines a light on the town entrance, where new entrants are arriving. And among them are one or two who may assist them…or hinder them. Only time will tell.

AFTERMATH:
So this one was a lot quicker and less “action packed” then the previous sessions, and that was mainly by design, but also by chance - I was feeling under the weather that night from lack of sleep, and I actually passed out light-headedly almost as soon as it was over!

Even had that not been the case, though, I’d planned for this to be a sort of wrap-up of the events that had occurred. While I’d kept the plot “on rails” for the most part the previous sessions, that was to get our feet grounded in the story and get the players used to thinking in terms of spies and counter-intelligence, while also allowing everyone as thorough an exposure to the mechanics of BW with as few distractions as possible; hard enough to learn a brand new (and initially overwhelming) game system when you’re ALSO having to worry about player choices and plot ramifications at the same time!

But I’d promised them that things would open up a bit after a while, and that’s exactly what’s happened: while it might seem like they should immediately go to bust up the ring at the Glassworks, I made it clear that they have time to check around for clues on the other cells if they so desired - they could go the very next night, but they can also wait a couple of weeks and check the next time. And yes, I pealed the curtain back a bit to ensure that they’re not fretting on whether they’ll miss something important in this - I want them to get used to feeling as if they have control of the flow of action like they usually should, so I made it plain that I have no intention of sticking a timer on this one (within reason, of course). What’s there will still be there whether they strike the next day or a couple of weeks from now.

I also introduced them to the concept of Practice, which they fell on immediately, and I believe is the last “core rule” that I’d yet to teach them. So a lot of the last part of the session was explaining how that works and notating that on their sheets.

Lidia’s player is driving the plot forward quite a bit with her actions, as is clear from her name appearing so much here. However, I expressed concern over my inability to give challenges to her beliefs and instincts. At least, none that would make sense in context of the story. Her player says this is fine for now, and that someone does have to drive the plot, which is true, but it shouldn’t be the same character all the time! I’ve suggested a couple of ideas to help remedy this, but they feel that it would be far too early for Lidia to be challenged by any of those currently. So I’m going to keep brainstorming, but it may be some time before I get a chance to really challenge Lidia like I want to, which could leave her starved of artha in the long run.

Maggie, sadly, has near the opposite problem. She’s quirky and full of crazy good angles - an Apostate who worships a Cult of Frogs (which she spent HOURS delving into to determine how it works) and is also a Sorceress that learned her abilities from the voice in her head! Tons of potential there for mischief, surely, but unfortunately, it’s been difficult to interject her into the story save as merely a bystander - she was coerced into this and has only the tenuous reason of “The Voice told me to stay in this town and I trust the voice” to stay on. To help combat this, her player has recently swapped a redundant belief out to be something more immediate - Maggie didn’t like or trust Lidia before, but after seeing her jump into a burning building to altruistically save the prisoner’s family (or so she thinks), she needs to determine whether Lidia is worth trusting or not. This is good…for now. But I think I’m going to need to have a sit-down and brainstorm something more substantial to really pull her into the story. I’m really loathe to use the voice for that, as I have some plans for it in future, but if it comes to it, I will pull that lever. Still, I’d prefer to use her sorcerous secret or Apostate trait, if possible. Just need to have a chance to sit and figure it out.

Popeye is the bright spot, here - he’s been a quirky and rambunctious character from the get-go, but these past couple of sessions have seen him really inserting himself into the plot and advancing the plot, as well! Popeye’s player is quite happy with how things are going, and they plan to continue with their secret mission to undermine and attempt to usurp their “leader” Lidia, at least for now. Our discussion last time seems to have really paid off, so I’m excited to see what new craziness is in store later for him. And that’s not even getting into later still, when he’s in his element on the high seas!

Also, as the last statement in the story might allude, I’ve got a couple of other players who want to join my game. One of them is brand new to gaming, as well, but is so excited after generating their character that they plan on buying a set of books ASAP! The other is someone I’ve known a while, and we’ve played together quite a bit in other games; they actually came up with a character just as a fun exercise with me long ago, but now that I’m running a real game, they’ve created something new specifically for this game. The first new player is going to be joining immediately, but life events are interfering with the second, so they may take a bit of time to join. We’ll see.

As for me…yeah, still not feeling quite well; someone gave me their cold (test is negative), so I’m trying to get better as soon as possible. We may have to skip this week while I recover, as I don’t want to pass this on, but it’s early in the week, so there’s hope. We’ll see.

SPOILERS

Spoilers

So, I’m sure one of the immediate questions that will be asked: why wouldn’t the Glassworks IMMEDIATELY move to disband its membership and move its operations elsewhere? Why wouldn’t the spy bosses sink into the shadows and disappear, never to be traced again?

First, what makes you think they’re not trying? But such movements take time and resources, something that they don’t have in abundance - it took them YEARS to get setup to where they are now, with a working emergency contact system, stable front, and all. You can’t just up and move all that overnight.

And while the bosses could up and just ditch everyone if they felt threatened enough - something they may do if the PCs screw up the timing of their preparations - to do so prematurely is to throw away all of the progress they’ve made in their mission. They’d either have to leave their subordinates to rot or silently kill nearly a dozen or so people; either way, chaos would ensue, giving their opponents plenty of reason to shakedown guards, change patrols, request re-enforcements from the capital, etc. And these spies have timetables that need to be followed; they have no magical communication with the homeland, and even if they did, changing the entire invasion operation is nearly impossible at this point; it’s likely their mission would simply fail outright anyway!

Besides, the bosses are confident. Only one spy has been captured, and Lawrence is too tough to break that easily. And though those two idiots nearly screwed with their rash actions, some samaritans managed to fix the mess they caused and saved his family. So all they have to do is get close enough and wait for the time to be right to strike; either get a message to him or - failing that - just kill him in a none-to-obvious way.

They’ve received communication from the Inn about the counter-spies, of course. But since photography is sadly non-existent and brains enough to memorize descriptions were obviously NOT part of the now-dead bunglers’ repertoire, they have no way to connect the dots yet. All they can do is stay alert for enemies and prepare for the worst, while slowly trying to setup shop elsewhere as quick as they can.

The Inn, meantime, is nervously watching Maggie and Lidia, who have shacked up together, possibly as a staging location for their operations. They’ve been successful in hiding their presence so far, but they’re a little worried about being discovered. They’ve sent runners to determine if there’s anything interesting about the family that was saved, and to determine if the rumors of suspicious men starting the fire are true; if so, this is confirmation that one of their cells is compromised, and that they’ll need to enact plans to ensure information DOES NOT fall into their enemies’ hands.

And finally, the Tavern. They’ve gotten word of counter-spies operating against them, but they’ve seen no trace of any of it. Surely the others can handle it? They’re busy! They’ve almost determined the best way to snatch the Baron’s son from the castle, after all! They just need to wait for the right moment to strike!

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What are Maggie’s BITs?

Maggie

B: The voice in my head is real and I have to find out what it is; Worshipping the goddess Heqet will bring good fortune and luck; I have to figure out if Lidia can be trusted

I: If sadness is sensed, I start cracking jokes; If I can’t see, I cast Cat’s Eye

T: Scapegoat; Guarded; Apostate; Gifted; Aura of Innocence

Ah. That’s cool! What is the voice in her head, and (how) is it tied to all this spy stuff?

The Voice is a Minor relationship I made her take to help explain how she knows Sorcerous spells despite having no master or books to learn it from in her backstory. It also does a good job of compelling her character to action, and serves as a nice explanation for her becoming an Apostate - she mistook the Voice for that of God (to her detriment), but even after it corrected her, she was already thinking about different/forbidden gods to worship.

Currently, the voice isn’t really tied to anything spy-related at all - it’s acting as that sort of insufferable “all knowing” type of character that answers in vague terms when questioned on things, and is mainly there to keep Maggie from trying to leave the town; she believes the Voice has her best interests in mind at all times, so she’s going to follow it no matter what. As I said, I could force the issue by having the Voice order Maggie to help…but that’s pretty ham-fisted and feels like it’s going against BW’s spirit. So I’d rather the player explore Maggie on their own terms and come up with their own reasons to participate.

Long term, though…I’ve got some ideas for integrating it and testing that Belief.

Spoilers

On one hand, I could have the voice turn out to be either a lieutenant to the Big Bad who’s hoping to usurp its masters’ position with this treachery, or be a sorcerous Elf that’s hoping to either be King maker or even sweep in and take over once the main players are eliminated.

I’ve also got ideas for it being a rebellious element in the enemy nation’s society - make them really fascistic jackboot types and this be a sort of underground mystic who’s seeking a powerful ally to help overthrow the tyranny. Most likely, I’d have the mystic fail in some catastrophic way to test Maggie’s belief that the Voice is worth following.

It depends very much on the direction the players take the story, how Maggie’s player feels about it, and - quite frankly - what I had for breakfast that day. I don’t want to tie myself down right now so soon into the story.

My experience is often that if you save your good stuff for later, later never comes. Besides, her Belief is there to challenge now. :thinking: Are her other Beliefs being engaged?

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Maybe so, but she’s got the others to be challenged; this one gives her a motivation that’s beyond the immediate term, so we both agree it’s something for the medium- to long-term. Besides, I’ve got plenty of other good stuff in the immediate term for them to do; if this never comes up, it doesn’t come up. For all we know, Maggie will just “outgrow” the need for the Voice, and the belief will fall away along with it.

Her other beliefs are new as of last session, so haven’t had a chance to really challenge them yet. But I’ve challenged her beliefs and traits before on several occasions. As I said, Maggie’s issue isn’t making trouble and/or being challenged, it’s having a tie-in to the plot beyond “I’m being made to”. And that’s going to require discussion and planning with the player to really iron out.

Cool, cool. So long as some of her Beliefs are being engaged, it’s probably nothing to worry about, especially since the Belief in question is one she can openly pursue. If she wants to find out what’s up with the voice, she can go do so. In fact… The Voice is a relationship, so she has access to it… She could probably just hit it up and DoW it to tell her it’s tragic backstory!

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Oh, absolutely she can DoW it. But she needs to get to the point where she’d be willing to challenge it first!

That’s why it’s more mid- to long-term: we see Maggie being able to demand things from the Voice as an arc for the character. Right now, she’s acting subservient to it, as an ignorant religious peon reacts to an archon of their faith. So when it shows up in session right now, expect her to immediately do what it says without any reservation or question (hence my reluctance to use it for right now - it’s a lever for me, but it’s a pretty heavy-handed one).

Yeah, for sure. It sounds solid!

So…Session 5! A “quick one”…but OH MAN!

STORY
So Lidia decided that, while it was a risk that the cells would pull up roots, it was better to strike at the Glassworks now while the iron is hot. Thomas and Maggie tried to object at first, but quickly fell in line - they’d learned not to argue much with Lidia on these things. As it was late in the day, they decided to retire and prepare themselves for the day after. Lidia went to sleep with Maggie at the Inn, which forced her to sleep on the floor.

The next morning, a new, robed figure with a staff walked into town. Barnold had arrived on the scene, a court sorcerer sent by Her Majesty to determine what was going on here. He quickly made his way over to the Baron to present himself, per his instructions. The Baron set him up in a guest suite and bid him head to the Commodore of the Naval Yard, which he did after disguising himself in peasant clothing.

The Commodore was grateful to have magical assistance directly from the Royal court, and was delighted to see an example when Barnold offered it as proof. Barnold - who’d not been expecting the now-quite-savy-Commodore to want proof and had no non-dangerous Sorcerous spells - managed to use his Second Sight to sense some nearby spirits and asked them to prove their presence to the Commodore, which they did by flying through his body. Now convinced of his power, he let Barnold know about Lawrence and how the group had “flipped” the prisoner to their side. After ensuring he saw the prisoner with his own eyes at least once, Barnold headed off to find the group at the Inn.

On arrival, the Innkeeper welcomed him and asked if he had a place to stay, to which the disguised sorcerer said no and decided to watch the show of a certain morning entertainer who was telling scathing jokes of the nobility with her froggy sidekick. As time went on, Popeye joined the crowd, having finished swordsmanship lessons with his Captain.

As the show neared its end, Barnold asked the Innkeeper if he was aware of where Lidia was, to which he helpfully said that she was shaking up with the very entertainer they were watching, to which he motioned to come over. Maggie was done with her act for the day anyway, so she did as bid, and Popeye quickly joined them. Barnold explained that he was a courier and had a message for Lidia, to which Popeye loudly proclaimed that he didn’t trust this one, no SIR! After failing to reason with him, the Innkeeper finally offered him a drink to “settle his nerves”, which the sailor happily accepted. Sadly, despite his usual fortitude, this drink got to him quickly, and he found himself stumbling up the stairs as the group retired to find Lidia.

As they moved, Maggie expressed concerns that she, also, didn’t trust the new man’s presence. Sadly, she forgot the difference between an actual whisper and a stage whisper, so Barnold heard everything, not that he minded any. On entering the room, Lidia readied a dagger she’d been practicing throwing with, but quickly hid it when she recognized the others. Barnold quickly presented himself and pulled his “parcel” out, which turned out to be his orders from the Queen. He then explained his sorcerous nature (to which Maggie’s “pet frog” mysteriously vanished, almost as if it understood…?) and his mission to help them with the spy ring.

Sadly, despite recognizing the Queen’s seal and knowing this man could be trusted, she couldn’t actually read the blasted thing. She couldn’t let anyone know about her “deficiency” lest it get back to the Baronette, though, so she pretended to read the document for a solid minute straight. While this was going on, Barnold asked Popeye to check and see if there was anyone listening before they started talking, but when Popeye looked out, he screamed about “spies everywhere” and fell backwards! When a startled Lidia peered out, she found only a potted plant with an unusually large blossom facing her…clearly Popeye had gotten drunk again, and in the morning, too, the useless sod!

Lidia picked up the now gibbering Popeye off the floor and prepared to escort him downstairs, but when she asked Maggie to watch Barnold for a minute, Maggie declared she needed to use the bathroom and demanded they give her a minute’s privacy with the chamber pot. With her newly bought alone time, Maggie’s daughter crawled back out of the pack and demanded to know what they were going to do about this mess, with Maggie calming her distraught daughter down and assuring that she’d think of something. After Barnold’s re-entry, there was a tense silence in the air as Barnold started enquiring about her skills and reasons for being. Maggie answered honestly on her reasons - she’d been tricked after being offered money - which Barnold seemed to accept at present, never realizing that his idle questions were only causing more panic in his compatriot by the minute.

Meantime, Lidia had successfully carried Popeye on down to the Innkeeper’s desk, where the man quickly helped Popeye to a chair. The Innkeeper then explained that, in fact, he’d slipped an herbal remedy into the drink to help the man rapidly relax, but that something appeared to have gone wrong - Popeye wasn’t drunk; he was having a bad trip! Lidia asked the Innkeeper to take care of the drugged-out sailor for her while she attended to the “courier” upstairs, whereupon the Innkeeper took the sailor into the kitchen, both to keep him out of sight of guests and to be watched over by his wife (this wasn’t the first time someone had had a bad reaction).

Upon returning, Lidia explained their plan in detail to Barnold, who liked it and then proposed that he could disguise himself as the drunk they’d been planning to pay to watch the spy abductions take place. His shrewd nature and intelligence VERY quickly won over Lidia - at last, here was someone truly useful amongst the morons and amateurs she’d had to put up with! Barnold, on realizing what Lidia had to endure, was instantly sympathetic and resolved to help make up for the dreadful state the team was in. He pulled out a false bottle of booze, dirtied himself up to make himself unrecognizable, then stumbled out of the Inn to the Innkeeper’s shouts and curses at “another drunk layabout!”

And so the day passed quickly, with Barnold monitoring the house while also practicing beating up garbage with his precious staff and yelling something about the end times to passerby (evading the guards quite easily when he took it too far). Lidia prepared for the morning, and after recovering, an embarrassed Popeye headed back to the ship to prepare.

And Maggie…had had enough.

She was tired of being treated like trash, of being used by a kingdom that had forced her to leave the life she’d had behind just because of her convictions. She wasn’t going to stand idle and wait for this damned sorcerer to discover her secret and have her burned at the stake; it was time to explore her options.

And one of those options was currently at the Glassworks, unaware of the fate in store for him. A fate that Maggie was intimately familiar with the details of.

Maggie quickly made her way to the guards her were monitoring the Glassworks. She knew that she had to convince them that her reason for entering was sanctioned by Lidia already to prevent them from revealing her treachery. Fortunately, she was (barely) able to convince them of her legitimate need to enter, being a companion of Lidia’s team they knew of, so they let her through, though they told her to be quick lest she give the plan away.

Our story ends with her entering the Glassworks and sighting the very spy she’d been looking for, who looked up at this strange woman striding forward him in an urgent manner.

AFTERMATH:
WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MAN, we’re COOKING NOW!

This, THIS is what I was looking for with Burning Wheel: chaos to such a degree that the group can actually be at complete odds with each other! This is exactly the kind of stuff you don’t get from the likes of D&D or Pathfinder, and it’s what I’ve been hoping for from the beginning!

And I didn’t have much anything to do with it, really! This ALL came about from the players themselves! It’s glorious beyond imagining!

So, anyway, let’s get into it:

I don’t think I need to state how much the players were enjoying this. It’s pretty obvious from how they were all but DRAGGED away from the table by their busy schedules, with text messages pinging me later desperate to know what they missed, if anything. This was further exacerbated when the veterans all looked at me and realized that the GM is excited about the party disharmony, something that’s as alien to them as a D12 being useful for something!

Barnold’s player is stoked to have joined the game, and is already liking the atmosphere so far. Being a D&D veteran, he was at first rather surprised by how the game was being handled, but quickly fell into it, and seemed to enjoy the chaos as much as everyone else. Unlike Maggie’s more practical (and muted) spells, his spells are bombastic and powerful, as befitting someone of his station. The player’s quite happy with how they’re fitting in, and is very much looking forward to digging into that Glassworks mess next time.

They took the Second Sight trait, which I’ve had to restrict as a GM: I’ve disallowed the use of Aura Reading from it, as it’s pretty much a “mind reading” skill, and I stated at the very beginning that I wasn’t allowing that. Everything else there is intact, and the player is fine with the restriction, but I felt it should be stated for readers’ purposes - if you’re wondering why Aura Reading doesn’t come up, this is why.

The player also took Enchanting as a skill, which I’m reading up on along with Summoning; I’ll be working with them so they understand how Enchanting works according to the Codex.

Lidia’s player was surprised and delighted over these events, though they did call me on almost Saying Yes to Maggie getting through the guards. I’m happy they’re getting used to the rules enough to call me out, as I’d almost let the excitement of the moment get to me; had Maggie failed, Lidia discovering the treachery early would’ve been just as exciting as Maggie carrying on as happened!

Though it was a sort of tit-for-tat: I had to get on them as a stern GM this time and talk to them 1-on-1 about letting other players have their time and fun; they get super excited and into things, and it’s very easy for them to accidentally steal the spotlight from other players, especially those who are new. They definitely understood and were suitably chagrinned about their behavior, but I’ll have to keep an out to be sure it doesn’t become a habit.

Popeye’s player actually succeeded in the Fortitude save to resist the drug, but they chose to make it a failure because they wanted to live up the drama! I gave them some Artha for that, though I did warn them that this is a one-time thing and not to expect it again. Still, the fact that they’re enjoying themselves enough to purposefully fail a test like that is indicative of how they’re enjoying themselves, especially now that they’re in the swing of how Beliefs and such work.

Which leads us to the star of this particular session: Maggie. As I said at the beginning, hooooo boy. I actually had a very long talk with the player in between games about Maggie’s motivations and state of being right now, and they arrived - of their own volition - that they would be seeking to switch sides at this point, or at least reach out to the other side to way them against the kingdom. All the other players have some sort of Belief that gives them personal loyalty to the authority of the Crown; Maggie alone has agency with her beliefs, so she’s the one character who’s in a perfect position to tow the line this way, with all the motivation to do it from previous sessions.

Honestly, I was surprised then as the players were during the session: I thought for sure the player would convince themselves to stick with the group and work for the Kingdom, to try and change the horribleness from the inside (as I later told the player after their decision was made). But I did my absolute best to lay the situation out as fairly to both sides as I could, keeping in mind that Maggie has a fairly high intelligence (PER B5), and so could probably way things in a fairly comprehensive manner.

After the player’d made their decision on Maggie’s torn allegiance, we agreed to hold them to that for at least a few sessions unless something Belief-shaking occurs. We’ll see how things play out, of course, but I’ve already warned the player that I’m not going to prevent the other players from murdering Maggie if it comes down to it, and they’ve accepted that possibility.

I’ve actually got another player who was supposed to join this time, but they were delayed due to life. They’ve promised to clear their schedules COMPLETELY for next game, as they’re aware that it’s when we expect things to go down, so I should be able to introduce the last party member at that time.

On a side note, I’ve been discussing methods of creating/discovering new spells elsewhere in the forum. I’ve come up with a “lightweight” method that is useful for games where Sorcery is just another tool in the PC pile, or at least just something only one player will use. But we’re quickly turning into a very magic-heavy group - two sorcerers, one Faith-based character (incoming), and no less then 2 other magic systems on top! So I’m going to go ahead and introduce the full Distillation rules as described to me elsewhere. I’ve already outlined them for the players and they’re keen to try them out; I’ll report back when it becomes relevant.

Also, players are starting to get used to the idea of having stuff to do in downtime that’s actually meaningful; I like that instead of the usual “I’m just waiting for the action” like you get in D&D, they’re eager to cram practice time and other activities into the “time passes” snippets I’m giving them, and I think they’re appreciating it, too. Obviously, their practice times are going at a snail’s pace right now, but I’ve assured them that they’ll have a lot more of that as the game goes on.

As for me: I’m genuinely excited for what’s going to happen next time, as much as the players are. While I knew the betrayal was coming, I certainly didn’t expect Maggie’s player to walk right up to the spy ring and talk to them, bold as brass! I’ve got a bit of planning to do, but I’m not feeling any of the fatigue I’ve experienced in the past; hopefully, this is a sign of things to come!

SPOILERS

Spoilers

Well! Looks like patience has definitely paid off! :rofl:

The Inn is aware of everyone’s identity, of course, having kept a close listen in once the “courier” went upstairs, so they’re aware of the plan. And they’ve basically decided that it’s best to cut ties and not get involved anymore; the Glassworks group has pretty much had it, and the PCs are just closing the noose as far as the Inn is concerned. No reason to get strung up along with those idiots!

They’re NOT aware of Maggie going to the Glassworks, though: I have a tail follow the group whenever they leave the Inn to see where they go, and if they split up, I have them follow one person. Usually, this means that the tail follows the first person to leave the Inn, which in this case was…Barnold, disguised as the drunk (the tail did have to search around a bit as Barnold left abruptly, but did eventually spot him). This means that they weren’t there for when Maggie left on her little mission, as it takes them a bit to return, by which point Maggie’d already been well on her way.

I’m tempted to say “screw it; he spots Maggie as she’s heading out JUST as he arrives back at the Inn”, as that would lead to hilarity…and I might end up doing - GM license and all. We’ll see how I feel about it next session; it may be that Maggie and the Glassworks have an unexpected third party from the Inn at their meeting. This is a person who lives in a hidden area underneath the Inn specifically to keep out of sight of patrons, so Maggie wouldn’t know him and so the big reveal won’t be spoiled…as I said, I’ll see how I feel on it in the next session. :smiley:

As for the Glassworks, they’re waiting for an opportune moment to strike out at the Naval base and take care of that traitor; they’re certain he’s blabbed on them now. They’re fully aware of the guards watching them, though - not like all that armor doesn’t make noise - and so are keeping low until the heat is off, thinking that those in charge haven’t got a clue and that they’ve got time enough to set up shop elsewhere; they’re completely blind to the possibility that their foes are actually competent and that counter-agents are working against them. Of course, depending on Maggie’s actions, that may change very quickly.

The Tavern continues to monitor the castle, though they’ve begun seeking ways to actually get in. They’ve got good feeds from the castle guards, but they’re now looking for someone closer to the Baronette. Someone who might have a better idea on the man’s habits and personality. The Baronette is a trained Knight and very skilled warrior, so just capturing him and getting him out of the castle is going to be no easy task, let alone without anyone noticing his absence before the ring is ready.

The arrival of a court mage this morning has the town in something of a stir - first the mysterious fire with rumors of cloaked individuals with daggers starting it, and now a sanctioned Magi arriving and going straight to the Baron’s keep?? The town is starting to get nervous over these strange coincidences, and trouble may be brewing if more keep happening…

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: all cities as large as the Bay have direct communication with the Royal Family. This is, in fact, one of the strategic advantages that has kept the Kingdom from being conquered in the past - while such “scrying” obviously exists, no other nation has such an extensive network that allows the nobility to coordinate with every major city in their borders. It’s VERY closely guarded - only those of the aristocracy (e.g. the Baron and his son) are aware of how it works, with commands to destroy it should the city fall to invaders or uprisings.

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