Second attempt at BE


It’s been forever since I posted anything on these forums…

I come to you for help concerning our gaming group’s second attempt at playing Burning Empires. The first one failed miserably and I want to be sure it doesn’t happen this time.

/drifting a bit, only to give some background: We’ve played BWR a whole lot but I feel only recently have we started playing it correctly. We used to play it a lot like RuneQuest, or D&D even. Encouraged by the Obstacle values listed for different skills at different tasks, we rolled our asses off, for every single campfire that was built at the end of each day. Somewhere along the line we realized we enjoyed different things in RPGs nowadays than we did 15 years ago when we started. We started to actually believe what was being said in the book about streamlining play (things like Resources as a stat, Letting it ride and saying Yes). Mostly this was brought on because we played a ginormous amount of the more narrative-oriented indie games (especially The Shadow Of Yesterday). When we came back to BWR we kind of saw it for what it was.

Midway through this revelation, we tried to play BE for the first time. This was about a year-and-a-half ago. Encouraged by practically everyone on these forums, we played Omac as our first game (or tried to). We hadn’t really grasped Scenes back then. We played the game a bit old-school, where we had scenes for very trivial stuff, and when we tried to go to Scene-mode (cutting play at the end of a scene and jumping into the next one), the play got very clunky indeed.

This would’ve been OK had it not been for the pregenerated scenario. The players didn’t feel very engaged in the world nor did they take to the characters. The only thing everyone agreed on was that the Kodiak Alpha was uber-cool (giant death-bears, what’s not to like?). We had an introductory session and then got together to play once. After that, we agreed BE was not our game, at least for now.

Now we’re ready to have another go at it. I think we’re a lot more ready for the game this time, as our playstyle has changed and adapted. I’ve read Getting Past the First Turn

which was very enlightening. I recommend it highly to anyone planning to play the game. Still, I feel I need some kind of support to get things going and my confidence level as the GM up. I have a few questions, and I will be adding more to this thread once we burn up the world and characters, and also probably (but hopefully not) after the first session of play.

As for the details of the game. I’m the GM and I’m playing with two players. Why we opted not to go for 3 PCs + GM was because us three have been playing the most together, and we’ve played more narrative games. Having played Primetime Adventures, we’re now fairly familiar with scenes and cutting. Also, it seems next to impossible to get four adults into the same place at the same time with the same intention (play). So 2 + GM it is. Also, as per Luke’s suggestion, we’re going to start the campaign at Usurpation.

In no particular order, a few questions that come to mind

  1. Can I use color tech for any reasonable, narrative, non-game-mechanical purpose? This one dates back to when I burned my first character for BE. I burned a spy-type character, and I thought he would have these cool spider-like drones that gathered intel for him. They would eavesdrop on conversations and keep tabs on important people. I wasn’t intending to use them for any game-mechanical advantage. My guy would know who knew what and what they were planning, but I wouldn’t be begging for advantage dice or anything because of them. I would have possibly based a few scenes around the drones and probably would’ve picked some scenes based on the intel they gathered, but again, no game-mechanical advantage, at least in the form of dice. Would this be OK?

  2. Multi-part question, bear with me. As there are only two players in the game-to-be, I will have to control one of the PCFONs. In a thread that eludes me, Luke suggested that as first order of business as GM he would hull the third PCFON. I like this idea, in particular because I don’t have to play against myself with that character. In the more Adventuring Party -oriented games the thing I probably hate the most as GM is playing an NPC or mooks in the players’ party. Should I so desire, could I possibly even just Say Yes to hulling the PCFON? Could I kill him? I would like this even more, as I wouldn’t have as many strings in my hands (four fully fleshed-out major NPCs can be a handful). If I did kill him as first order of business, possibly even by just saying Yes, would there be a need to burn the character in the first place? I was thinking the third PCFON would have been the spotlight FON for the first Phase, so the players could get their spotlight-phases. Could we then just narrate an important FON for the first Phase before the game and get on with the killing?

  3. Can characters buy their way into a scene? I don’t recall reading it in the book, but somewhere, maybe on the forums, I got the idea that a player may jump into a scene, even though it’s not his scene. Does it require the consent of the player who’se scene it is (and is the consent all that is required)? For example, if my first scene as GM would be to off the PCFON, could the characters interrupt the scene even though I’d say no you can’t?

  4. Can you give me a guideline as to how competitive to be? I know BE is very much a GAME, but also that you can’t go all-out as GM. There are many situations in which the GM calls the shots, and it would be unfair to make all calls in favor of the GM. I’m a very competitive boardgamer but a very non-competitive GM and I feel this may become an issue. I’m kindof leaning more towards pulling punches rather than playing all-out.

  5. Should the optional, second conflict per maneuver per side be more of an exception than a rule? Actual play reports indicate some people use two conflicts more often than just one. The rules are very concise in some places, but I feel not here. Should I and the players be gunning for just one conflict per maneuver, or is it OK to plan a maneuver with two conflicts?

I guess that’s it. As I said, there’ll be more questions after world and character burning, but these ones should help me find the confidence in my ability to run the game.


  1. Yes! That’s what color tech is for.

  2. Technically, you can Say Yes to that, but I wouldn’t. It’s bad form. Definitely make the tests. The rolls are going to create drama.

  3. Other players may be invited into scenes by the controlling player.

  4. Be gentlemanly and sportsmanlike – play your hardest, but always make sure you’re being fair, that your opponent has a fair chance and that he knows the rules of the game.

  5. This is really up to individual groups and the fiction in their games. Stick with the idea that you’re going to do one conflict per maneuver. When you reach a point when that feels tight, throw in a second. If you play one conflict per side per maneuver, you can play tighter maneuvers and more of them. I’m a fan of short maneuvers.

Hope that helps.

I added an item to the “winning the Infection” section of the wiki page. It’s been something that’s been on my mind for some time, but I forgot that I hadn’t included it in the original document. Glad it’s helping you!


Oh, but the spider drones can’t test. So when someone challenges them, they fail. If you’re following me and I make a pass through a crowd and jump in a cab to shake pursuit, that’s it. They’re lost. If I go to my secret rendezvous and turn on my damper field, once again, that’s it, they’re scrambled until I turn it off. Even if the damper’s just color tech too (though I’m not looking at a book so someone correct me if I’m wrong on that).

You also can’t say after the fact “Oh, by the way, that conversation you had two sessions back where you laid out the whole plan, I got that on tape and now I’m playing it for the Hammer Lord.”

They’re pretty much useful only where the other party wants you to eavesdrop, or where they can’t explain why they would know to take precautions, or where they can’t be seen to take precautions because it would look like they had something to hide. That’s plenty useful, actually. It’s particularly useful in the early game. Once folks start to get all paranoid, you free up a builder and burn them as hard tech.

As far as the hulling/murder of the third PC FoN, saying yes to that is dirty pool. If Luke says it’s legal, then it’s legal, but if that happened in a game I played, my rage would burst out of my chest, seize your dice, and take over as the player of the late FoN’s aide-de-camp. And I should warn you: my rage is very lucky when rolling for maneuvers.

You’re starting in the usurpation phase, though. You should make sure the usurpation and invasion phase FoNs are in play, and talk to the players. If everyone is amenable, you could say that the infiltration FoN ate a SCrEW at the end of that phase. (I wouldn’t hull her like that, though. I do think it’s fair to capture off camera at the end of that phase (with player agreement) and have your first builder in Usurpation be Circles to locate surgeon, Surgery to hull, and something to re-infiltrate the missing-presumed-dead FoN to her previous role.)

True, but they are also useful as a pretext to use a building scene to establish tech and surveillance so that you can say exactly that.

Thanks! This has been helpful, as I expected. Looks like the start of the game will be postponed until next week, but I’ll come back with more questions then.

This week I’m looking into playing a Firefight or two…