Burning Wheel: Demoing Twilight in Verdorben Duchy

Last Friday, I ran the first session of the Twilight in Verdorben Duchy demo game of Burning Wheel for my wife and two of our friends. Since it was the first time I GMed anything in years, I wanted to keep it small and relatively simple. Burning Wheel has long-since been my absolute favorite RPG, and I was very excited to be running it again (though I also absolutely love being a player).

One of my friends was really interested in playing an RPG again together (I ran a World of Darkness campaign for her, her partner and another friend for a few years), and both our partners were humoring us by joining in. My wife isn’t a particular fan of RPGs, but she was fine joining to spend time with our mutual friend, and she could see I was excited about playing Burning Wheel. My friend’s partner plays RPGs more often, but doesn’t really like the Burning Wheel system. He particularly dslikes the Duel of Wits system and, well, if you don’t like that, you’re just plain not going to like Burning Wheel.

Overall, it took some getting used to running a game again. I’d run RPGs for years and years, but I felt really rusty after taking a few years’ break. Running Burning Wheel requires quite some improvisation, but also quite a lot of rules mastery. Burning Wheel is a game for people who enjoy hefty rules. Don’t get me wrong: it’s all layered in a way that you don’t have to get real crunchy with the rules, and in my opinion it’s the job of the GM to obfuscate the mechanics of an RPG as much as possible in favor of keeping a narrative running—that is to say, a player should just focus on having fun and participating in creating the narrative, and shouldn’t have to worry about what dice to roll for what skill, and what the seven steps of this or that is to get where they want to go. Nevertheless, though, as a GM, running it requires me to have a solid grasp of the mechanics.

I made sure to emphasize that we’re just trying out the system, and working to build up experience with the system as a group. There were a few times where I had to take a little time to gather myself, but overall the session ran quite smoothly. Sure, I got a rule or two wrong; for instance, a player had an Instinct that got triggered, which meant they were supposed to get a free test, but I just gave them advantage right away. Mostly, though, I managed to get it running well, though I did make sure to keep it to simple tests. It was a little tricky at first to get used to playing characters again, but fortunately my players also seemed interested in exploring te setting, which made it a bit easier to be reactive to their questions.

The game itself is off to a good start. After a bit of time completing the character sheets (they’re mostly pre-made with a few gaps to practice with Burning Wheel Relationships and Beliefs), we got started with the characters arriving at the village. We had the Knight, Hunter, and the Mage working together to explore what the strange rumors about Hochen village were all about. They were met by Marten, the Wojt of the village, who was a suspicious character from the start. They quickly worked to pressure and shame him into telling them about what’s going on with the village. After some good rolls, with everybody working together to pile on that pressure, he cracked and told them that the village had turned away from Tudom, the usual deity of the Duchy, to worship Tawaret. They found themselves facing a full-blown cult!

The Wojt assured them that that really was just it. All the village wanted, really, was to just not face persecution and worship the deity they wanted to worship. So, the characters went to rest before investigating further; the Knight and the Mage with the Wojt, and the Hunter went to sleep at his mum’s house on the edge of the village. During the night, the Wojt’s house ended up surrounded by the cult, who semed to be led by the Blacksmith of the village. Though the cultist tried to kidnap the Knight and the Mage by pressing knives to to their throats as they slept. Surprisingly, the players actually kept rolling success after success, so the Mage was ready for the cultist and intimidated them with magic, and the Knight had no trouble shoving the cultists back. At the same time, the Hunter was awakened by the rabble-rousing cultists, and snuck up to the Wojt’s house to find the Blacksmith at the helm of this pitchfork parade.

I’m looking forward to running the rest of ths adventure for them, and I’ll post another update once that’s done.

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