I recently started a new Burning Wheel campaign after a long hiatus with a few friends. It’s set in a facsimile of the Incan Empire, a high-altitude culture of stone carvers, with no riding-animals and no steel. In our situation, local outcast Supay has just found the forgotten tomb of an old king near her village, and she intends to use the glory of this discovery to be accepted anew back into her family. She has summoned the aid of a brash young minor nobleman to investigate, looking for ancient artifacts to restore honor to his fallen family line.
Background and BITs of the principle actors:
The illegitimate daughter of the village Big Man, Supay has lived virtually her entire life in disguise as a boy, named Huallpa. She is looked down on as a trouble-maker by most of the village, but is very close friends with the Big Man’s son, Amaru, who does not know of her true identity.
1 I will bring Amaru to the tomb and reveal my identity to him, and use the treasure therein to be accepted into my family.
2 I will contact the medicine woman to find out who my mother is.
1 Always keep my identity secret
2 Never be the first to speak
Always in the Way; Bad Egg; Skinny; Fleet of Foot
Relationship with Amaru, Big Man’s son
Local Reputation as Troublemaker, 1D
The largest, strongest son in a line of fallen nobles, Tupac is a confident, blustering young warrior who believes himself destined for greatness. He has brought along a squire, his pouting cousin Mopac, to teach him the ways of heroism and cheer him up.
1 I will recover the treasures within the tomb and restore my family’s name.
2 I don’t do well without guidance; I will find a local worthy mentor to guide me.
3 I will show Mopac a good time.
1 Swing on 'em
2 Always be the first to speak
Brash; Emotional; Mark of Privilege
Relationship with Mopac, disaffected cousin
Reputation as student of the great warrior Zosa, 2D
The campaign opens with Supay, checking in on the closed door to the tomb, as she has anxiously done every day since she discovered it, caught in the terrible wait for the hero who will help her explore it. She has also seen a crane every day, a sign of good luck, which bolsters her resolve. Today, however, as night is falling, she comes across the body of a crane lying dead next to a stream, and she is visited by an ominous spirit playing mournful pipes. The spirit has long hair and stone teeth, and he tells her in no uncertain terms that her foul blood is unwelcome in his tomb, before disappearing.
Meanwhile, Tupac and Mopac are drawing close to the village. Tupac has gotten a bit ahead of his cousin, and encounters a peculiar old man, a hunter, with a necklace of dead guacamayas. The old man tells Tupac he is very brave to enter these mountains, and Tupac responds that he is of course very brave, and very large besides. The hunter laughs, and says the Urcóns have much reason to fear this place on account of their ancient sins, and suddenly his necklace of parrots all come to life and chant “very brave!”, as the old man backs away into shadows. Tupac calls after him, asking how he can lift the dishonor off his family name, and rolls an untrained Spirit-wise to get an answer. He fails, and accidentally offends the spirit with his cheek—he has now made a minor foe.
As Tupac and Mopac make their way into the village, they are greeted with a strange timidity and silence from the townspeople—but it turns out that a great feast has been prepared for them. The village’s gathering place boasts a prominent stone arch with the Urcón family crest (a hummingbird with a monkey’s tail); it turns out the people of this village are loyalists to the Urcón family line, and are over the moon to be visited by the scion of their heroes. Tupac rallies his formal training, and graciously accepts the honor of the village, rolling Etiquette with a forked Oratory against Ob 2, intending to curry good favor, and in particular make sure that his cousin is having a good time. He succeeds, and Mopac is overwhelmed with the questions and adoration of locals, cheerily getting drunker, while Tupac speaks to various people about who the greatest warrior nearby is. They all speak warily of the Old Man. Meanwhile, Supay, scouts around the edges of the party, biding her time to speak with the heroes about her task, before noticing that her half-brother Amaru isn’t present, which is decidedly strange.
She goes to the Big Man’s house to investigate, and is stopped by the young serving-girl Palta, who tells Supay (dressed, as always, as the young man Huallpa) that Amaru can’t see “him”. Supay brushes past her, and the girl goes in anger to fetch the Lady of the house. Supay enters Amaru’s chambers, who is praying before his shrine. Amaru welcomes his old friend in a state of distraction, explaining that he has been chosen by the Gods to go West on a Spirit-Journey. This is a high honor, bestowed on young men but rarely, and those who return are always destined for greatness. The weeks before this journey must be taken up with fasting and purification ceremonies, and one of the great restrictions is that the young man must not be in the presence of any woman leading up to his journey. Supay’s heart sinks as she realizes what she has done, and how complicated her goal of revealing her identity to her half-brother has become. The Lady of the house approaches outside, and with little time, Supay wishes her brother well, promising to bring one of the Urcóns to his room to bless him, and rolls Shortcut-wise to leave by a secret way she and Amaru have worked out, succeeding easily, and evading Amaru’s mother.
Back at the feast, in dramatic style, the Old Man arrives; perched on top of the stone arch, broad-shouldered and immensely strong despite his age. He drunkenly decries the Urcón family, smashing the family crest with his cudgel, and causing Tupac’s blood to rise up in anger. Tupac scurries up the arch and challenges the Old Man to hand-to-hand combat. The Old Man throws away his cudgel and they square off. Tupac wishes to impress the Old Man, and get him to take him on as a student. I set the terms as: opposed Brawling, with a graduated test. If Tupac wins, the Old Man is blown away by this young warrior’s prowess. If they tie, he is very impressed, and will take on Tupac as student. If Tupac loses by one, the Old Man sees his potential, and will further test him. If Tupac loses by two or more, he isn’t worth the Old Man’s time. Tupac rallies up four dice, forking in Climbing for their precarious position, and the Old Man rolls three successes; Tupac gets only one.
Tupac is beaten in grand style, and thrown from the arch to the ground, utterly humiliated, and leaving many villagers wondering whether these giants of the Urcón family are as great as everyone says. The Old Man disappears into the woods.
Supay goes to the fallen Tupac to help him, and he insists that she help him chase after that greatest of warriors he has just traded blows with. Tupac rolls Speed with Supay’s help against the Old Man’s speed, at +1 Ob for his having a head start, and Tupac’s fall; the two of them fail, and are battered and sore from trying to run in the dark woods.
Tupac changes his tack, and is sure that with the right gift, he can receive the Old Man’s mentorship. He finds the most beautiful stone he can, and Supay fetches a fine wine to try to win him over. I decide this is an etiquette test—but if he fails, the Old Man’s attention will instead be drawn to Mopac. Despite throwing in a persona point, Tupac comes up short; and the two of them encounter Mopac, with a local girl on his arm, reciting poetry to the eager ear of the Old Man in a clearing a little ways off from the party. They hear the Old Man invite Mopac to his home the next day as he leaves. Tupac embraces his deliriously happy cousin and gives him his blessing, all the while inwardly in turmoil at how poorly his heroic quest is going to so far.
Supay asks for Tupac to accompany her to Amaru’s room to bless him on his Spirit-Journey, to which Tupac half-heartedly agrees. He passes the climbing test to sneak inside, and Amaru is overjoyed to receive the benediction of an Urcón, and Tupac gifts him the beautiful rock he had saved for the Old Man. Supay then asks if Amaru will accompany her to a secret place outside the village (the tomb) where she has something important to show him. He protests that it’s very important that he not wander astray, and that he spend his days in isolation, preparing for his journey. Supay pushes the matter, rolling Persuasion with a persona point to force his hand—but the dice are not with our heroes in this first session, and she fails. Amaru becomes enraged, telling Supay (of course believing her to be Huallpa) that she’s always been jealous of the blessings the Gods have given him, though he alone has always shared everything with her, and now that he’s been selected for something truly important, all she can think about is herself, no matter how much it might risk for his own well-being. He calls her a worthless peasant, apologizes to Tupac, and tells them both to leave. Supay angrily flees into the night, while Tupac finds a place to drunkenly fall into uneasy dreams.
This was a fun session, with some early important failures that start to set the tone for the following ones (we just completed our third last night—more of these reports incoming). Next time, Supay takes a day off, but we add in another character, played by a complete RPG-newbie. So far, we’re sticking pretty close to the Hub as we all get our bearings and get used to the book-keeping and flow of play once again.