Trouble with "Trouble in Hochen"

So, I ran “Trouble In Hochen” tonight with a three player group, playing Gunter (the knight), Daniel (the hunter) and Brin (the wizard). Only one of the players (Daniel’s) had played Burning Wheel before.

So, we start the adventure with the trio arriving in Hochen, and being greeted by Marten, who invites them back to his home to rest after their jouney. As instucted in the scenario text, I describe Marten as appearing shifty, and looking like he’s hiding something. Brin immediately distrusts him, and refuses to go with him to his home, instead demanding that they talk in a more neutral place. Daniel suggest the local church, and Marten agrees. At this point, Brin’s player announces that (as per her instinct) she will be casting Touch Not Sublime Flesh. I explain that he (Brin’s player) should roll Brin’s B4 Sorcery against Ob 3, which he seems hesitant to do, noting that there is less than a 50% chance of success. He ultimately rolls the dice, generating zero successes. I then instuct him to roll a DoF to see if there’s a miscast, resulting in a 1, for and Unwanted Summoning. I then have him roll on the Unwanted Summoning table, resulting in an 11, for a Minor Deity. I decide to have Tawaret, the pagan fertility godess that the local cult has been worshipping, manifest in the room with them. I ask everyone make Steel checks to determine how they react to the sudden appearance of a giant, 8 breasted woman with the head of a hippopotamus. At this point, Brin’s player again complains that he has a negligible chance of actually passing the test, and questions whether its even worth it to roll. Sensing that one of my players doesn’t seem to be having fun, I call a halt to the game to talk things over.

Brin’s player again voices his frustration with the system, specifically with the magic system. I stress that accidentally sumoning a Minor Deity on your first spell isn’t a typical result, but he still seems upset that the obstacles for his spells are so high, meaning that his magic “should work slightly more than half the time”, with potentially disasterous consequences to failure. At this point, I’m not really sure what to say, except to mention that there’s an alternate magic system (Art Magic) that has less chance for cataclysic failure, and so might be more to his liking. His response is that he “won’t give up that easilly”, and that he would like to continue playing next week, but only hates giving up on things.

I’m not really sure how I should handle this. Help?

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  1. Failure is a facet of Burning Wheel. It happens all the time. Usually the interesting things happen when we fail. You’ve got to embrace failure and run with it.
  2. Sorcery is hard in Burning Wheel. It’s meant to be. You don’t screw with the natural order lightly.
  3. He could use Astrology as a FoRK. He could cast Carefully (Advanced Spell Casting, p. 512).
  4. He could accept that summoning a minor deity is a pretty awesome result, suck up the Steel test and then start interrogating her for the information they want.

The Wheel rolls, and it’s best to roll with it. You have to shift your expectations. Success is not a prerequisite for fun. The above scenario actually sounds pretty awesome.

That being said, as Thor said, if he really wants to pass a test, there are means. Carefully, FoRKs, Help, Artha, etc. A naked roll usually has a pretty good chance of failing, especially early on. One thing that can reduce the sting of failure is to remind the player to record the test for advancement. At least he got something out of it. And usually an awesome twist also, like above.

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Some of that may have been mitigated with the right expectations. What kind of pitch did you give to the players before playing the game?

With new BW players I make sure to emphasize that failure is a core part of Burning Wheel and that the game strives to make failure interesting instead of stopping the game/story in its tracks.

sheds a tear

I want Minor Deities to be accidentally summoned in my games!

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So she fails her steel test. So what? I’d fail my steel test too. Talk about interesting failures! That’s awesome!

is it worth the roll? That’s a juicy test for advancement.

And now that your player knows the stakes perhaps this is a good teaching moment. As mentioned above casting patiently, a ritual to fork in astrology and symbolism and suddenly he’s some got serious dice. A linked alchemy test to brew up some soma piss or other witchy concoction and there’s potentially another. And that’s without dropping a persona.

And Sorcery and Steel tests are Open-Ended, right? That’s got to skew the odds in the character’s favor as well.

Feels more like it’s about the player’s expectations than the details of the sorcery system. A miscast isn’t necessarily a disaster, just unexpected. Failing a steel test is probably pretty low stakes unless the summoned goddess is actively hostile. (The rules do say “It is traditional that the results be bad”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that she tries to strike them dead on the spot) If you’re still concerned about it, skew towards failure results that leave the players with agency to respond (trickier with Steel than some other tests) so they don’t feel totally helpless.

Do make a point of coming up with interesting failure results before the dice are rolled. Doesn’t apply so much to a mis-summoning, but it helps build the trust between the GM and the players that can take the sting out of the bad rolls. In my experience, everyone starts to get a feel for what the stakes are going to be and there’s less hesitation in fear of an unfair result.

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Depending on the games that your player have been playing in they may have a very different view of magic when it comes to Burning Wheel, I know I did. Magic is incredibly powerful but that power comes at an incredible price.

As mentioned earlier, forking astrology and casting carefully helps. Also as a GM if a player does something that for this particular spell would help with it, like finding sands from the sea of forgotten memories then you can also add +1d. with that low of a sorcery spell you will also more than likely see a lot of failures but those failures make the world interesting and are the only way to gain advancement quickly.

Do note there’s been a change from Revised to Gold: Sorcery now uses Sorcery straight rather than Sorcery+Will for casting. IIRC, several spells have had their Obstacles modified a bit to match. It’s not as big of a “nerf” as it seems because FORKs for Sorcery and other advantages for Sorcery are handled a bit more liberally now.

I don’t think Touch Not Sublime Flesh necessarily needs to be modified to have a lower Ob, but it’s something to keep in mind.

I’m with most of the rest. I like a real chance of spell failure and accidentally summoning a minor deity, especially one so central to the Hochen story, sounds like sheer coolness to me. I’d try to get her to into a Duel of Wits! :slight_smile: