Last night was the fourth session of my Burning Wheel campaign, “Burning France”, which was also the last session of the first story arc, which I have retroactively dubbed “The Cleansing of Avignon-sur-Chantre”. For a write-up of what led us here, you can refer to my post about Session 3. I ran into a slight snag writing the blog post this time, as my players had already deleted their finished Beliefs, so I couldn’t refer back to them! Time for me to keep better track of those in the future!
The group heads out into the forest north of Avignon-sur-Chantre to handle the nobles camped out there. The trio decide to approach the group openly and warmly, carrying a cart of food. Benoit takes the lead and suavely greets people, leading the group to the centre of the little encampment. Having arrived there, Joseph, the son of the deposed Noble of Avignon, greets the group, and Geoffrey sits him down for a picnic to try and sway his opinion. In discussion, it becomes clear that Joseph has a strong disregard for those he deems as lesser, and he accuses the villagers of having stolen the house his family has held for generations. Meanwhile, Bertrand is fuming at having to deal with this vile noble, and we cut back to a week earlier to when Bertrand and Geoffrey were investigating Joseph. Bertrand uncovers the vile truth of his family: they made (and still make) their money by selling off villagers to slavers.
Back in the present, the trio execute the plan we didn’t even know they had: Benoit convinces the professional workers there to leave for Avignon by reminding them of their awful surroundings and that they can do much better than care for spoiled landowners. Meanwhile, Geoffrey distracts Joseph while Bertrand gets on a soapbox to address the crowd of bourgeouisie. The horrible truth of Joseph’s family tradition of slave trade is brought out into the open, and the gathered people leave in disgust. A heavy rain starts falling down as Joseph stands there shocked and stunned by his sudden and immense turn of fortune. Bertrand, seeing his opening, steps up without hesitation and plunges his dagger into the young boy’s heart, to demonstrate to Benoit how a true zealot deals with the nobility. As the pair walks off into the rain, leaving the crumpled body of the boy to bleed out into the mud, Geoffrey takes a moment to look down at it and, without speaking, tosses an apple on top of the corpse and walks away.
This session was quite an interesting one. I had read up on the rules for Duel of Wits and Fight! in expectation of the conflict with the nobles going somewhere in that direction. I made sure to read up on rules for sneaking in case my players wanted to make this some stealthy assassination attempt. I’d even briefly scouted through the Range and Cover rules to see if they would be relevant at some point. Given that one of the players has the Arson skill, I even read up on fires and burning materials.Now, I figured that the players would try to solve this diplomatically, so that went as expected, but what I wasn’t expecting was the players deciding to dig up the dirtiest, most horrible family secret they could to use as a weapon in a conflict.
What was quite interesting about this session is that when we had to reference the rules this time, it wasn’t particularly to find out how the rules worked but rather to find out what would be the most interesting rules. We could have made the rumor gathering an extended test with multiple characters to shine a spotlight on that but in the end we chose to make a single test with a help action. However, since it was the most disgusting secret around that would without fail turn his fellow bourgeouisie against Joseph, we set the test at Ob 4. As a consequence of potential failure, I set that Bertrand would instead discover a horrible secret about his own family instead – what stakes! Miraculously, with a B4 skill, the players threw everything they had against it and leveraged out a success! Well, while I figured this might have been a good Duel of Wits opportunity with two speakers going head to head to win the minds of the crowd, I felt like this was too good of a thing to overrule with a potential Duel of Wits loss.
I’m happy that when I asked at the end of the session whether the players wanted to continue (potentially with different characters, a different story, or even a different game system), they all wanted to continue to see where all this goes.
I’m quite happy with how the session went. We were all a little beat by this week but still managed to make it into an entertaining session. On top of that, we were all quite more comfortable with the system and it felt like it was less “in the way” as it has been at times in the past when we needed to get used to it. Now, our interactions with the system served to encourage and stimulate roleplay.
I think this first arc has really set an interesting tone to the world. We’ve only just begun to see who these characters are and what they are about. In essence, this feels like the pilot episodes to our show, and now that the stage has been set we can take it places. I very much look forward to seeing where we head off to next!