The Rot if Hirihandia, Session 2!

Session 2: The Rot of Hiri Handia November 12th, 2021.

I feel like this session was designed for the players to flesh out the situation and entrench their beliefs into the emerging story lines.

So, to catch up, Aiwendil, our pc Sword Singer has come to the capital city of Hiri Handia to investigate the disappearance of his wife an Archfey Etharch. Aiwendil’s lifepaths are City Born, skip to Wilderland’s Spouse, Sword Singer, Lieutenant. An Arch Fey Queen from a Faerie Forest took a fancy to a city-elf and married him! He became one of her honor guard and a Sword Singer and master of drawing the blade swift has a hummingbird (practiced precision). He arrives in Hiri Handia with a retinue comprised of his son Fileg, and the honor guard. Aiwendil’s reason for coming to Hiri Handia is because his uncle, the famed bladesmith, Thindan Beard-kisser, had clandestinely sent him a clue, His wife’s enchanted elven longsword and a note stating simply that “Turul Bereth has gone missing. Meet me in Hiri Handia.”

Aiwendil had sent word to a trusted human friend and native of the capitol, Sir Ladislaus. House Ladislaus have protected the lands to the north along the borderlands for many generations fighting along side the elves against the barbarian clans of the North. His family were some of the first bannermen that rode with the first Sorcerer King, Zoltan of House Nhilas, back in the Time of Troubles. But now in its third generation, the line of Zoltan has become decadent and weak, and have turned inward, delving deep into lore and the study of magic. Younger, more cunning houses took advantage of the King’s lack of practicality and have slowly risen to power. Prime out of these, is House Feketes ruled by Duke Szeffrin. A House with vast and prosperous land holdings, House Feketes have become quite powerful, playing off the esoteric Sorcerer King against the Guild Houses of Hiri Handia. Sir Ladislaus has a personal vendetta against House Feketes not only because they represent all that is dishonourable about Hiri Handian nobility and rulership, but because it was one of their Knights that had him stripped of his rank.

As a backdrop to all of this, and perhaps the central conflict, the kingdom is currently beset by a brutal set of environmental factors. Famine and Plague. After an extremely dry and meager summer, where crops looked like they would yield next to nothing, it suddenly began to rain. The rain caused great joy and rejoincing for it looked like the crops would bounce back, but when it was time to harvest, the rain did not let up. It poured and poured, rivers overran and the land was flooded. Rotten fields led to pestilence, and a plague emerged. Emanating from the cities, it has spread to the neighboring villages.

In the first session the two heroes settled into the elven enclave and prepared for the worst. Sir Ladislaus learned that the Sorcerer King has sealed the doors to his Tower and that Seven of his Soothsayers committed suicide in the courtyard. House Feketes will call martial law and a curfew. Aiwendil, learned that Grief is waying heavily on the elves of the enclave. The Ambassador and his little community are despondent and are not willing to muster up the energy act. His own son, Fileg, only a few days in Hiri Handia, feels the weight of death as well. With these facts in hand the players settled in for session 2 ready to act on their beliefs.

Sir Ladislaus:

  1. I am from a heroic line of Hiri Handian warriors and defenders, I am sworn to defeat any force that threatens the realm. I believe that House Feketes is a threat to the city. I will find out what they are up to and try to disrupt their martial law.

  2. My family believe that the Eldar are our allies, and for centuries we were sworn to answer the call when they needed help. I will listen to Turul, but I don’t not see how he can help me defend the realm. I will try to get him to bring the elves asap.

  3. I am loyal to the Sorcerer King, and I believe that the plague on the land is that he has lost his way. I will attempt to reach him via the catacombs and help him get free.

Aiwendil:

Love and Duty: Discover the truth, free my beloved and punish the guilty. I will: Question Thindan the BladesmIth who returned Turulbereth’s sword. I BELIEVE there is MORE that he knows.

Honor and Brotherhood: Sir Ladislaus is my Fate-Kin. Help him reclaim his birthright. I will use my powers to heal and preserve Sir Laudislaus in the crisis. He knows the City better; I will consult with & support him regarding how best to deal with the Feketes & maintain security.

The Turulmegil is Ruthess; Aiwendil is kind and merciful. I must maintain my own balance between true edge & false edge… and help my SON find his way… we all walk along the blade’s edge in this crisis.

Planning over Breakfast:

On the second day in Hirihandia, the duo discuss their next course of action and what it is that they want to do. Plenty of roleplaying, where it seemed like Chris, playing Sir Ladislaus, was expressing his anger and frustration towards House Feketes and was urging Aiwendil to command his Elven Sword Singers to aid him in House Feketes grips on the city. He wanted to start fire bombing the docks. Jay, playing Aiwendil, was urging a more cautious approach, to first assess the situation and understand what was truly at stake. They still had no idea what had happened to the Fey Queen.

The role-play was playing out for about 20-30 minutes and I thought that the two were at an impasse. Guerilla tactics or investigate? When I called for a test to see if Sir Ladislaus had convinced his friend of getting down to action right away, Chris, backed off and said, that he agreed with Jay and thought investigating the lay of the land was the best course of action.

This was kind of frustrating for me. I was really finding it hard to understand what Sir Ladislaus’ motivations were during that conversation. It felt like he was arguing for action, but when asked to roll for it he backed off. I have to remember to talk about this with the group next session. If you read Ladislaus’ first belief, he does say find out what they are up to and in order to better disrupt their imposition of martial law. Do any of you have players that shy away from pvp rolls? I think this could be because he is totally new to BW and needs to get used to realizing that failure doesn’t suck.

With an agreement to investigate done the duo decided to head down to Thindan the Bladesmith’s workshop.

Sir Rodo of House Feketes – Hateful prick.

Travelling around Hirihandia with this group of elves is practically a test every time. A group of armed elves is pretty ballsy and threatening to the men-at-arms of House Feketes.

Approaching Thindan’s workshop, the party sees that Sir Rodo Feketes and a retinue of men-at-arms are already there. They have come to Order Thindan to fashion more arms and armor for their troops.

I have been roleplaying Sir Rodo as a haughty noble with little battle experience who likes to threaten but will never throw down. He really cannot take any action against the elves because he cannot disrupt the political order. He always makes a snide remark at Sir Ladislaus about his lower status and his loyalty to the elves.

As is my habit, I ended up revealing a little secret about Sir Rodo that I didn’t think I was going to include into the story just yet. I have a note book of ideas and sometimes things just happen and I am like…ok, I just did that. I described to Jay that Aiwendil notices that Sir Rodo wears a small chain with a flame wreathed wheel with an eye in the center. It’s a call back to my favorite Lawful Neutral bad guys in my Greyhawk campaigns – Pholtus. I have been thinking about mashing the White Cloak’s of Wheel of Time, Pholtus (now Saint-Pholtus) and The Burning Wheel (from this game system) into a new zealous cult among the nobility. They hate magic and elves.

It was a piece of inspiration that could have been done with a roll, and I was about to call for a perception test, but then realized, in BW you don’t really ask the player to make a roll they don’t want to make. Also, I thought to myself, what if they don’t meet my obstacle? Do I withhold the information? That’s dumb. I wanted them to have that detail and do something with it!

When they leave Aiwendil asked Ladislaus what the symbol meant to him, and I was happy to hear that Chris saw it as a symbol of a new cult among the southern nobles that espouses a fear and distrust of elves and magic. Chris recognized my old tropes! I love that.

Sir Rodo had come to press Thindan into securing his workshop to build high quality arms and armor for House Feketes’ most honored knights. He Intimidated Aiwendil and Sir Rodo with snide remark to watch their backs. Things in Hiri Handia were about to get pretty difficult for their kind. There is no mechanical effect for an intimidation roll like this, but it just pushes a part of the story that I wanted to tell.

Thindan’s Workshop and Reveal.

Thindan is one of Aiwendil’s relationships. His uncle and a master bladesmith. He is ostracized by the elven community because he is married to Dwarven blacksmith. They call him Beard-kisser. The workshop is out in the city proper a short distance from the elven enclave.

Thindan’s workshop was busy and orderly. A multi-race workshop that befitted his belief that great works can be built together not in isolation. He was a bladesmith in high standing and had created works for the Sorcerer King himself. He was also a close friend of Turulbereth, the arch-fey queen. He revealed that he knew where Turulbereth disappeared. They were supposed to meet at the Glade Where the Moonlight Glows Blue and Where One Can View the Splendor of the Aqualonde Waterfall. This was less than a week ago. She was on her own, as was her habit, as a whimsical fey creature. He found her sword there, but nothing else. He was sure that he was being watched but could not get a glimpse of who it was. He turned back to the city and sent word and Turul’s sword to Aiwendil with a messenger.

He said that he could bring the PCs there.

Looking around the workshop, Chris, pushing Ladislaus’ third belief asks Thindan if he knows how he can get to the Sorcerer King. He wants to understand if there is an angle that they can pursue there. Thindan has been mapping the catacombs in the undercity. Former elven ruins from an older age. He has two apprentices that can show the way.

Glade Where the Moonlight Glows Blue and Where One Can View the Splendor of the Aqualonde Waterfall

The party travel up-river by long boat to the glade. Feels weird to be swinging around so much power…but if a scene involving more guards isn’t interesting then don’t do it. I am reminded of one of my first BW games. We were freedom fighters in a city that was under lock down by a group of mercenaries called The Dogs. We had to roll inconspicuous and stealthy every time we went out and I loved it. I loved watching my skills increase with each session. These guys are totally conspicuous, with their shinny gear and military demeanor. I feel like the powers that be just brealy tolerate them. But sooner or later they could very well be in hiding and have to develop those stealthy techniques to survive.

In the Glade, the elves fan out and one of them finds a little tuft of greyish/white fur snagged into a bush. Song Of Arbors sung with 6 successes (!) tells Fileg that the old tree saw a the beautiful queen being attacked by Rat Men with Long Curved Knives. She was downed and then taken away!

Meta – everyone knows I am using the Roden. But the characters do not. Which is interesting.

Chris got three Fate Points for everyone of his Beliefs. And Jay got two Fate Points and one Persona for the meeting with Thindan.

Not many tests. Actually maybe only one. So that was a little bit of a let down for me. I feel like players could find me jipping them if they didn’t get a chance to advance. I spoke about that and they didn’t mind and had fun anyways.

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Did you ask the player what the motivation was?

Not really. If someone doesn’t like PVP rolls, I generally don’t play Burning Wheel with them. That’s not to say that Burning Wheel can’t be played without PVP; I just find that there’s overlap between, “I don’t like PVP,” and, “This game isn’t for me.”

Yeah? Neat! What was the test? Did they pass?

Ooh! Controversy!

I have some PCs who hate PVP and some that don’t. Depending on the table I’m at, strong PVP tables means that I tend to force the PCs to squirm constantly and see what happens. Whereas if I have PVP shy players, I tend to force the situation, as a GM I force their beliefs and then twist the knives with NPCs.

It’s very much the GM in the active role of the PCs are PVP shy.

I also know that there’s lots of players trained to shy away from taking strong action, it can be really hard, figuring out how to prevent turtling is mostly a matter of figuring out how to handle consequences and talking to them. But it’s hard to do, and I don’t know how to do it in the short term.

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One way to have players make their motivations clearer might be to suggest they have at least one belief that sets out a single thing they want to achieve this session rather than having more overarching statements of grand purpose.

Aiwendil’s second belief in particular could be firmer:

At the moment it seems to be pulling in several directions, so not sure what the core is: get Ladislaus his birthright? Keep him alive? Use him for his city knowledge? Help him deal with Feketes?

Whereas, if it was split into two beliefs: for example, “help Ladislaus defeat Feketes so he can reclaim his birthright” and “convince Ladislaus to find someone in the city who has heard something about my wife” then the relationship (and any potential PvP conflict) is clearer and there’s a better chance for those sweet Persona awards for completing/mouldbreaking.

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I personally also call for a roll sooner than the aforementioned 20 to 30 minute mark when the players start to argue, basically as soon as I see them butting heads and not actually making progress.
I am fine letting the PCs plan in character or work things through together, but when it is clear they are going to butt heads, as soon as I think I have a good statement of purpose out of them I stop play and go “It sounds like player 1 wants X, and player 2 wants Y. Are either of your characters going to back down, do you think this is more of a DoW or a simple vs test?”
If one or more player keeps backing down, they keep not getting what they want. The also miss out on chances to learn/advance their social skills!
Sometimes the mere act of checking in also makes players realize “nah, I don’t actually care that much” or has them come up with a compromise on the spot. Both of which are not quite the same thing as being PVP shy, although they can overlap.

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