Not Telling Players About the Vaylen

Thanks for those links , they are really helpfull!!!

I don’t know if it fits into this thread perfectly, but:
has anyone tried to setup a burning empires game without ever telling the players vaylen exist?

Okay my players don’t have a clue. It’s a “bit” unfair but we burned a world and all the personaes without ever mentioning the true enemy. I was so seduced by the horror and drama of “first contact” and an “unknown enemy”, I had to resort to a few tricks. To my players: burning empires is a sci-fi game with unusual mechanics and is all about planetary conflict between factions.

Guess I’m a sneaky bastard.

I’ll definitely be interested to hear how this goes. As part of the “World Burning” process, our group put all our cards on the table. Since creating Figures of Note was a collaborative effort, the players knew who was who going in. Also, so much of the World Burning seemed to emphasize how/where the threats would potentially come from.

That’s not to say the CHARACTERS knew of course, and that’s where a lot of the drama has come! It has been really fun to see the players struggle with choices they KNOW will put their characters in a bad place, but the artha system ensures they’ll be rightfully rewarded for doing so.

God oh god oh god, don’t do it. Tell them. Imagine, for a second, getting all ramped up to play Star Trek, arriving and having Invasion of the Body Snatchers thrown out instead. This bait and switch sucks, and pisses people off.

Be up front regarding what the game is about, so the players can make an informed choice on whether or not to play. If they buy into the concept, they can make things really good by playing up the horror of losing your humanity, of worms taking over your mind and locking your free will away. If the players don’t care about the Vaylen, the game will die a horrible death.

The characters being clueless is awesome, hands down. But the players must be fully aware. The game needs that level of open communication in order to work.

Keeping the motivations of your figures of note secret is fine. Your plans should be a secret. But every scene should be played out (or at least summarized) including the Vaylen ones, so the Players will know your actions. That keeps things legal and maintain the sense of friendly competition necessary to make Burning Empires run the way it’s intended.

But yeah. The players need to know what they’re playing. Tell them.

My intuition tells me you’ve broken the game and will no longer be playing Burning Empires. That said, you could almost certainly run a good traditional-style Burning game set in Chris Moeller’s Iron Empires setting using some of the rules from BE.

The whole house of cards falls apart if you try and play a bait-and-switch game with people heading into a Burning game of any kind. Even BW requires a very high level of player knowledge and buy-in. You need to treat your fellow players more like authors and less like method actors.

Given the IMO relatively high failure rate of people successfully carrying out a complete Burning Empires game, wandering this far off the intended path will almost certainly end in failure … if you’re still trying to play Burning Empires. That said, I’m really interested in hearing what happens!


As awesome as that sounds on paper, I have to echo what a lot of people have said about it most likely pissing off your players. If the players and characters were one and the same, it would be an amazing experience because of a lack of expectation beyond how the universe is supposed to operate being brought to the table. However, I don’t know of any player, let along gaming group that is able to immerse themselves so far into a character that the only desires for the game that they are about to play are borne out in the desires of the character. As is, your players will be expecting something more akin to Traveller or other more traditional Space Opera settings and will suddenly be handed something a little more creepy. The other issue that I can see happening is that due to the collaborative way that a Burning Empires story is developed, suddenly having the alien menace show up will definitely derail the story creation process as the big reveal happens.

However, if your gaming group is totally awesome and you go through with this and it turns out well, I think we would all love to hear how it goes (because like I said, it does sound awesome on paper).

Thanks for your feedback guys, tomorrow is the first, real gameplay session so I will keep you guys informed.

It was late yesterday, so I haven’t spilled it out all details:

It was a hard decision and I have pondered about it for three days while reading the comics and the book. I had this once in a life time opportunity and in this case ( I hope ) the end justifies the means. I can’t tell how they will react when the veil is lifted, or how they would have reacted if I had them confronted with the whole setting.

Well, neither me nor my friends have ever heard about BE or CM’s Comics, it was just luck I stumbled upon this page, looking for a new indy RPG to throw at them. All my players have a traditional roleplaying/storytelling background mixed with experience in reenactment, so they expect a traditional game.
I’m not sure they are interested in this style of strategical gaming at all. Their reaction to the basic concepts I have introduced ( structured gameplay, lifepaths, world burning ) was mixed, but mostly positive … I don’t know how they will react to the more complex game mechanics. Well, I was more afraid of scaring them off by serving everything on a silver plate, than by serving it in small chewable bits.

Paul B and Glendower are right : in a way I have broken the game. I’m keeping the central aspect of it hidden - the real enemy. But the Vaylen threat and “body snatching” is the only thing I have ommited to tell them. Every thing else, world burning, character burning and the planning was done by the book. My players think they are acting against human opposition infiltrating to take over their planet. It’s more a hardcore ignorant planetary attitude scenario.

Well, tomorrow is showtime.

One last thought:

This sort of setup – the surprise switcharoo, the bait and switch, whatever you want to call it – is probably as diametrically opposed to Burning-style games as one can get. The system itself strongly supports creative collaboration, particularly in Burning Empires. Yes, it’s a strategic/competitive RPG but it’s also very highly collaborative.

This has proven to be a very difficult concept for many people: If they’re already creative and collaborative, the competitive element puts them off. If they’re already competitive, they’re not going to give a shit about collaboration if it gets in the way of winning. You have to discover a third way of playing: collaborating in order to set up better competition.

Even Burning Wheel requires the players act more like authors than actors. Examples: Many of the skills allow players to introduce new facts to the setting. The entire resolution system is built on totally transparent intents and negotiations between the GM and player. The reward system thrives on the players using authorship to put their characters in trouble.

Now…personally I think a bait-and-switch game can be big fun. CAN BE, with the right players and the right system. I’ve had great fun with this in very traditional RPGs: Top Secret, D&D, GURPS, whatever. The trick to making it fun is that it causes panic in the players and (hopefully) immerses them into the panic their characters are feeling. I’m gonna open a monstrous can of worms and I’m sure Luke et al will kick the shit out of me, but we’ve found the BW style of play is almost anti-immersive in the traditional sense. I mean, the players are all totally engaged while we’re playing but we’re also thinking about our characters very much in the third person, not the first. “How do I get my character into hot water and earn Artha? What stakes am I willing to lose so my character can accomplish what I want him to?”

None of this will become obvious until you start playing. It was completely inobvious to me when I picked up BE, because I’d never played a Burning game of any kind. The dynamics of Burning play are revealed only with actual play.

In short: Don’t be disappointed when your idea doesn’t work the way you think it “should.” But do come back, talk it out, and maybe we can help you figure some stuff out.


It’s certainly an interesting experiment. Some players may enjoy it, some may not–it’s the difference between surprise and suspense. How does Hitchcock describe it? Suspense is when the audience knows something that the film character does not. Burning Empires is so enjoyable to me because of what the players know, versus what the characters know. The players know that their characters are in danger of being ‘hulled’ and that’s what drives the tension and drama in the game.

What I’m wondering is, how will you handle the Infection mechanics and disposition?


Well, besides the notes on world burning that say “Vaylen Disposition” and “Human Disposition” there really isn’t anything in either the World Burner or the Infection mechanics that require the opposition side to be the Vaylen. I’ve talked with friends about how the infection mechanic can be used to model any build-up to war scenario (Band of Burning Brothers with the macro-scale being the events happening around the Battle of the Bulge and the micro being Bastogne) and as it has been mentioned elsewhere that infection disposition is mostly a pacing counter, everything should work out ok.

The real trick is to get the suspense in there without the overt threat of the worm. A rebel faction or impending invasion or something that will get the players going and fighting for what they want will be doubly important (because everyone can get behind not having worms in their head without too much cajoling). Actually, I can see the possibility for a really cool rebellion style game, where the players are members of the group in power and are having a “do bad things for the greater good” style crisis against the rebel forces who are sympathetic but who’s goals will cripple the planetary government and hammer forces, leaving the planet open to invasion from their neighbors. Then half-way through the usurpation phase, the PCs get their mitts on one of the rebel leaders and someone notices that he’s a little bit wormy…

It’s not at all a requirement for Vaylen-side Figures of Note to be Vaylen themselves.

Yeah, check Prometheus Chained. I don’t have a single Vaylen character in play. They’re starting to pop up in some color scenes, and a few of my characters are brushing close to getting hulled.

I figure that in the Usurpation phase, I’ll start turning some of the major players.

Yup, I introduced Vaylen only in the final couple Maneuvers of our Infiltration phase.