Burning France: Session 3

Yesterday, we ran the third session of my “Burning France” Burning Wheel game. The write-up of session two can be found here. Our game is really starting to get going, and this session was more action-packed than the previous two!

The Story

Our recent fumble is a problem; the people of Avignon must be convinced of the righteousness of our deeds.

Bertrand’s Third Belief

We last left Bertrand and Benoit at the scene of a crime, where the now-murdered guard captain Matthieu had alerted the entire guardhouse with his dying cry. Benoit legged it at top speed, beating out the guards rushing out from the guardhouse with B5 Speed (+1 Fork) vs B4 Speed, rolling a magical 6s vs 3s. Meanwhile, Bertrand did his best to deceive the guards, saying he came to investigate the strange noises. Rolling B3 Falsehood (+1 Persona) versus the guards’ B4 Perception, it ends up in a tie with 3s vs 3s. Bertrand, however, relies on his good luck, and swings +1s success (Fate reroll). The guard are convinced that nothing serious is amiss.

The next morning, Bertrand and Geoffrey head to the guard house to try and sway the loyalty of the guards now that their captain is gone. (Duel of Wits).

Elisa employs the guard; we work for Elisa, so you work for us. We are certain the nobles did it, and they should be seen as the main threat.

Statement of Purpose Bertrand & Geoffrey, Body of Argument 7

Thank you for your kind donation of money; however, the guard will remain independent with regards to this murder case. Please leave us to it.

Statement of Purpose Guards, Body of Argument 4

The guards, initially trying to brush them off with a standard spiel, get turned around when they find their guests agreeing with them Obfuscate B3 Falsehood 2s vs Point B4 Persuasion 1s; not only that, Bertrand and Geoffrey manage to redirect their attention to the nobles hiding out in the forest: clearly, given that they were just about to close a deal with the captain, the nobles must surely have killed him Point B3 Falsehood (+1 Help, +1 Oratory) 4s vs Rebuttal B4 Persuasion 0s defend & 1s attack. Who can withstand such ruthless logic? The guards, thoroughly convinced of this evidence, agree to make the nobles their prime suspects.

My companions are a liability for me. I must act in their best interests, even if they disagree.

Those who resent you are dangerous, and should be scared into obedience or destroyed.

Geoffrey’s First and Third Beliefs

Meanwhile, Benoit has been spending time with Elisa to find out how he can help her. She admits to being overwhelmed by her new responsibilities, and worries that the village’s food supply will not last because crop yields have apparently been falling for a while. There are a myriad of tiny problems besetting the village: farmers not using proper techniques, others are not cooperating, others are full-on fighting. Benoit and Elisa end up spending the afternoon touring the village, making an index of all of these issues B3 Farming (+2 FoRK Trouble-wise, Foraging) 3s. He encourages Elisa to take the lead in this, seeking to empower her through his experience.

Now that everyone is equal, we should all be able to shape our lives according to our own wishes.

Benoit’s First Belief

The trio meet back up with Léonce, the woodsman B2 Circles (+1 Golden Boy reputation, +1 Named Contact) 1s vs Ob 1, who was asked to scout of the location of the nobles. He informs them that he easily found them, spotting about a dozen people and counting about three or four hired muscle among them. Rather than looking to set up a counter-revolution, they seemed instead to be struggling to make due. The trio decides to let them simmer in their misery for a week or so before showing up with food and supplies to try and sway the nobles back peacefully.

We must find the deposed nobles and their sympathizers and make sure they don’t stage a counter-revolution.

Benoit’s Third Belief

During that time, Bertrand decides to rewrite his manifesto to sway the new revolutionaries to accept new leadership (namely: his); sadly, with a B3 Write (+1 Persona, +2 Fork Rule of Law & Philosophy), 2s vs Ob4 the final product does not end up being as good as Bertrand believes it to be, and it will net him a +1Ob in future tests. Benoit has a look at the developments among the farmers, and with a graduated test B3 Farming (+1 FoRK Trouble-wise, +1 FoRK Rumor-wise) 3s he notices that it is going quite well indeed. With some hard work on his side, not just the crops but the mood in the village is also doing better, making the whole place more homely. Lastly, Geoffrey wishes to get back into his old business, and decides to advertise the intimate services offered by his husband and wife, as well as set up a rudimentary spy network through them. Sadly, as it turns out, villages are more tightly knit than cities are, and the spouses of his new customers are not happy at all that he has started up business B2 Haggling (+1 FoRK Protitute-wise, +1 FoRK Persuasion), 1s vs Ob3.

Meting out justice is what’s required, but is it not justice to be considered first among many?

Bertrand’s First Belief

With that, time enough has passed for our trio to prepare to head into the forest and finally confront the nobles.

The Session

During this session, everything really started flowing much more naturally and easily. I’m getting the sense that the players are starting to get a good grip on who their characters are and what they want to do with them, and the Beliefs are coming into play more and more. It was quite satisfying to run this session, and I was impressed that with this increased clarity, I actually had almost no prep time for this evening.

Being more on point gave us the opportunity as well to engage in a Duel of Wits, as we got into our first difference of opinion in the conflict with the guards. While it was a little involved to try running this, it was also over before I realized it. I tried to give my players a decent hint at what the guards were going to do, and I’m happy that my players picked up on exactly that. Roleplaying the interaction worked relatively nicely, and I think once we get some more familiarity with this conflict resolution system, we can use it more naturally as well.

One thing that I slipped with this session was clearly laying out the risks of failure for rolls. I think this started with me neglecting to specifically ask after and confirm Task and Intent, and therefore forgetting to set consequences. Fortunately, it didn’t cause any issues but it’s a thing I should keep an eye out on.

Overall Impression

I’m really happy with where we’re going with this game. Every session I get more ideas of where to go as the fiction now starts writing itself. I’m also getting more comfortable setting Obstacles on the fly and estimating relative difficulty for Tests. One thing that I need to work on is a bit of time management. I was well on time for most of the session but near the end I wanted to have a little vignette to skip time before the next session, which ended up costing us much more time than I figured it would have. As a result, we again couldn’t do Belief workshopping at the end of the session as we should. Well, something to focus on next time!

Burning France: Session 2

Yesterday was the second session of my “Burning France” Burning Wheel game. The write-up on the previous session can be found here. It gave me a good chance to try out a new thing or two in Foundry VTT, such as using some ambient music for a scene and practising help and extended tests in the Burning Wheel game system for Foundry. I felt a little more comfortable running this time, and the awkward start to the session was a little shorter this time than last.

The Story

Our band of characters, Benoit the Farmer, Bertrand the Bastard, and Geoffrey the Barkeep, started off discussing what their next moves would be. Last session, they heard that the previously deposed nobles of Avignon-sur-Chantre had been exiled to the woods to the north of the village, which made them a looming threat to the post-revolution village. They gathered around a rough map of the village to plan out their next move.

A map of Avignon-sur-Chantre made in Wonderdraft using assets from 2-Minute Tabletop

Reviewing the map, the team wondered who was guarding the palisades and the gates, realizing that there was a group of guards of unknown affiliation—who were these people even loyal to? Benoit used his connections among the villagers to do a B2 Rumor-wise against Ob 2 (+2 FoRK, +1 help, passed with 3 successes) learning that the guard leadership had been brought in from outside, and since the revolution has been distant from the villagers. Despite no longer being paid, they nevertheless had enough money to spend in the tavern every night.

“We must find the deposed nobles and their sympathizers and make sure they don’t stage a counter-revolution

Benoit, Belief #3

Meanwhile, Bertrand desired to find a woodsman capable of scouting out the woods to the north to find trace of the hiding nobles. A quick B2 Circles against Ob 2 (+1 Affiliation Insurrectionists, +1 “Golden Boy” Reputation, passed with 2 successes) brought him to Léonce the Woodsman, a local trapper who was an appreciative follower of the revolution. He quickly agreed to take a day to scout out the forest.

“Benoit is a sincere follower and obviously looks to me for guidance; I will show him how a true revolutionary deals with these filthy nobles near Avignon.”

Bertrand, Belief #2

Meanwhile, Geoffrey spoke to Elise, the house servant of the previous lord of the manor of Avignon-sur-Chantre. The group had decided that Avignon needed new administration, and Elise was the most capable person around. Elise quickly agreed, and sent out for people in the village to turn her de-facto position into a fixture of the village.

Finally, the trio decided to confront Matthieu, the captain of the guard, and see whether he could be swayed to their side or whether he needed to be taken out. After some quick carousing with him, Benoit and Bertrand decided that the man could never be convinced and needed to be taken out then and there. Geoffrey made a Exp 3 Beginner's Luck Drinking vs test Ob 4 (+1 help, +2 FoRK, 3 successes) which even after a fate re-roll resulted in both Geoffrey and Matthieu being absolutely sloshed.

“Those who resent you are dangerous and should be scared into obedience or destroyed.”

Geoffrey, Belief #3

The group used this to their advantage, as Benoit made a Exp 3 Beginner's Luck Conspicuous against Ob 2 (+1 FoRK, +1 Advantage, 2 successes) which meant that Benoit and the drunken Geoffrey were the loud and obvious distraction to Bertrand and Matthieu slipping out quietly. Geoffrey was dumped in a small nearby alleyway, as Bertrand and Matthieu made their way to the docks to the north of the village.

The final step of their plan was to knock Matthieu on the back of the head with Bertrand’s mace, and dump the body into the river. Hopefully, everybody would assume he fell in it while drunk, hit his head, and that’d be the end of that. With Benoit rolling B3 Mace vs B3 Perception (+1 Help), it came out at 1 Success for Benoit versus 2 Successes for Matthieu, meaning the captain caught sight of what was happening just too late, crying out loudly as he now messily fell onto rocks below before being swept away in the river.

The session ended with clamoring and alarums raised in the nearby guard post. How will our team get out of this one?

The Session

The session went more smoothly than last time, to my feeling. The players had a more clear idea of what they wanted to achieve, and I was able to prepare a little more beforehand as well, so that I would have some knowledge of rules prepared. This time, the beliefs came out a little better as well, and I’m getting the sense that they’re starting to click more for the players as well, as newer beliefs have been more focused on practical.

There were two big errors that we made, though (which probably enraged those familiar with the rules in my description above). Firstly, FoRKs aren’t supposed to be used for Beginner’s Luck tests. We weren’t exactly sure in play, so we just went with it and figured to look it up later. Now, I’ve seen that BWG p.36 explicitly states that FoRKs apply only to skill tests, and BWG p.37 notes that Beginner’s Luck tests are stat tests. Luke Crane, the author of the game, also explains as much in a reddit reply.

By the way, the “You are a monster” comment jokingly refers to the original poster, who asked “If I allow players to FORK into beginners luck tests, am I a monster?”

The second big error that we made is that during the large extended test that was getting the captain drunk and disposing of him, we forgot to track the advantage/obstable modifiers. So, technically, the failed Drinking test should have increased the obstacle of the following Conspicuous test, which means it should have failed. Similarly, the mistakenly succeeded Conspicuous test should have added a +1D advantage to the Mace test. Well, either way, we’ll move forward with what we have, as this is pretty interesting too.

We had a minor struggle at the start, incidentally, as initially the group was exploring the manor to potentially find ledgers and figure out how the guards were being paid. One player wanted to point out that it seemed like the game was heading towards a middle-management simulator genre, which he wasn’t particularly interested in. Fortunately, nobody else at the table was interested in that either, so we abandoned that thread quickly. I can see where the player initiating that scene was going, though: he was attempting to get a test to determine that the guards were receiving outside money, and thereby have new information to act on. The difficulty was that none of the characters had the relevant skills to do this, so that ended up with a bit of fumbling.

Funnily enough, I was hoping to drive the players towards a Duel of Wits with the guard captain in the tavern, as each character had a Belief that involved him as a sympathizer of the nobles. To me, that made him a big enough character to deserve a spotlight in one of the more involved conflict mechanics. So, naturally, in the roleplaying at the tavern, I made him oppose the position of the players. However, the impression of one of the players was that this made him impossible to convince, hence opting for the murderous alternative. My assumption was that if I made him more amenable to dealing with them, such as dropping a line like “Well, for the right amount of money, anything is possible” then that would remove the need for a Duel of Wits in the first place. I’m not sure yet how I should set that up so that I more clearly communicate the distinction between the in-fiction opposition yet the narrative-level opportunities available.

Overall Impression

Overall, though, the story started flowing, and I got the impression that the characters started getting more aligned in their actions and intentions. While we struggled a bit with the mechanics of the extended test in both a game-mechanical sense (how are you supposed to factor learning new skills again?) and a technical sense (how to work out learning new skills in Foundry VTT), we had a clear and concise session that didn’t go for too long. Elements were set in motion, and the fiction was detailed a little more.

I think with more experience working with Beliefs and a little more comfort with the mechanics, we’ll have the story flowing more smoothly and start advancing. I was relatively happy with the pacing of the second half of the game, as we moved to important scenes right away, and we focused more directly on actionable Beliefs, which meant that we rolled more tests as well. I realized at times that I still needed to emphasize the consequences of test failure, so that’s a thing I have to keep in mind to do in a timely fashion.

Oh, and lastly, I’ve just been having a lot of fun using the sessions as inspiration for building some maps, so I updated the world map as well:

The map of Occitania, made in Wonderdraft. The trees are an asset called Tree Clumps

Burning France: Session 1

Yesterday, I ran the first session of my Burning Wheel game, “Burning France” (traditionally, all Burning Wheel campaigns are named “Burning [noun]”). I was quite happy to get started after some unfortunate but unavoidable delays, though I have to admit I was also fairly nervous for the game. I haven’t GMed anything in years, and I hold my players in high regard for their RPG knowledge and experience. Fortunately, I think the session went reasonably well and helped set a tone and direction for the next session in two weeks.

The Story

Our setting is Occitania, a medieval France-like country, and the date is May 6th 1312—one day after the success of the glorious revolution of the people against the nobles. Each of our players (initial description in this post) had played a crucial role in one of the activist groups that have made this possible. Now, however, the time has come to settle into the new life, and we discover that while there’s been much talk of how to revolution should go, there’s not been as much talk of what the world looks like after and what the new power structures would be.

Figure 1: the initial map for the campaign, made in Wonderdraft. It’s empty by design, as my intention is for it to be filled out during play. It’s based on a Roman map of the provinces of Gallia.

The characters, Bernard, Benoit, and Geoffrey, started off being called to oversee an unruly mob in a square of Sompteux, the capital city of Occitania. The activist group is concerned that if the revolution turns too bloody, they will lose the support of the people, leaving them weak to a counter-revolution or returning power to the ancien régime. The players approach to see a well-coiffed, powdered, and made-up dwarf, the compte d’chantilly, carried on the back of a mob to a makeshift gallows set up nearby. Scanning the mob, they see they’re heavily ambivalent about the affair: there are a minority of bloodthirsty insurrectionists at the head, surrounded by a significant group of people going along with the flow, along with a reasonable amount of people on the margins disgusted by the entire affair. The players are in prime position to swing this mob one way or another.

Our characters decide to interpose themselves in the affair, helped by Bertrand The Bastard’s reputation as the insurrection’s Golden Boy and Benoit’s imposing stature. Seeing the moment as a tool, Bertrand addresses the crowd to convince them of the justness of the revolution and to not murder the man in cold blood like animals but to execute him as a result of careful and cold calculation—the undertone clearly aimed at those hesitant in the back: work with us or meet a grisly fate. He manages to bring parts of the crowd to his side, and a gruesome scene folds out.

A few days after, the trio meets Gerard, the first-among-equals of the insurrectionist group. Gerard tells them of Avignon-sur-Chantre, a nearby farming village that supplies much of the food to Sompteux, that is causing some trouble. There too, the proletariat has overthrown the bourgeoisie, but now they have chosen to keep all their produce rather than ship some off to Sompteux. While the group agrees to this plan, they also eye Gerard with suspicion as he moves off from table-to-table, apparently giving out orders with the same type of power-moves he pulled on the group. A first character has gotten a target painted on their back.

The trio travel to Avignon-sur-Chantre, where they immediately march up to the manor house to find a local nobody, Eustice, living their, having proclaimed himself the new lord of the manner. After a brief and forceful discussion (“You’re a lord, huh? Do you know what we do to lords?”), they take over the place and decide that the solution to the problem of these uppity villagers is to make them understand what the new world is like. Geoffrey, the former conman and barkeep, sends out his husband and wife to carouse among the villagers, spreading the gospel of how good city life is and how it’s a precious ideal to be protected. Meanwhile, Benoit and Bernard extract a list of big players and local gossip from Eutstice. The next day, the trio visits the most troublesome villagers, and runs their protection racket: there’ll be rewards for those who ship food to Sompteux again and if they’re not interested, well, they know who’s had an affair with whom, and it’d just be a shame if that got out somehow, right?

At the end of the day, the trio settles in to the manor house (after all, it belongs to the people, and they’re people, right?) and broadly consider that it might be nice to settle down in this village for a while. While exploring whom they could thrust into a position of power here, they learn from Eustice that the villagers just banished all the bourgeoisie into the outlying forests, leaving mostly the workers in the village. A group of intelligent nobles, socially savvy, out near a place where mercenaries are known to rob trade-lines—what’s the worst that can happen?

The Session

I was quite nervous, as this was the first tabletop RPG I have GMed in what is probably years. Fortunately, the friends I’m running it for are quite understanding and kindly helped me along during the session as well. As is the general recommendation in Burning Wheel, I wanted to start with a conflict right off the bat. I was quite rusty in starting off sessions (I’ve only recently started playing again, and as a player you can at least hang back and be passive), but fortunately with some player questions I got my feet back under me. One of the players also is quite familiar with Burning Wheel, so he also fell quite naturally into the role that the game asks of players, which helped me along.

The player beliefs are starting to get a little more focused, now that we’re also narrowing down on an actual Situation. I’m also happy how quickly and naturally through play we’re creating a bunch of loose ends already that are now giving me much more to work with for the next session. It’s certainly a lesson for me that I should have been far more explicit about an actionable Situation in Session 0, so that we could hit the ground running. I’m sure as we move on we’ll start working on specifying and fine-tuning our beliefs as well.

I was happy that we managed to do a few different skill checks during the session. We started off with a simple Oratory, and worked on ForKs and helping dice, and seeing how that works in fiction. I made sure to get Intent and Task clear by asking onwards for each test, which really helped in making sure that failure was never a block but always a case of failing forward. Near the end of the session, in the large protection racket being run in the farming village, we tested out using an extended test, with two separate rolls and a lot of helping dice. I am very pleased with how Foundry VTT automates most of the work. That helped me focus on the narrative, and reduce the rules-referencing at the table.

We did run into some small rules questions, which I adjudicated on the spot with the intention of reading up more later. One was the question of whether a character with grift-wise could use that skill to actively grift. One player argued that while in Torchbearer you indeed cannot use wises actively, in Burning Wheel you can. I figured to just run with it at the time, though in looking it up afterwards I couldn’t find a clear statement either way in the book. The description of Wises in BWG p. 309 states that wises are “a skill through which a character can call upon the knowldge of various details of the game world”, which to me suggests it’s purely passive. This post on the blog Take On Rules references Mouse Guard RPG (a Burning Wheel-style game), which more strictly defines wises as a means to either supplement another skill or to call up knowledge. So, next time, I think I’ll have to disallow the active use of Wises and rather suggest that a grift is run through Haggling, Persuasion, or Falsehood.

The other question I was left with was what to do with player-created items for future skill tests. Specifically, Bertrand started writing down the first draft of his pamphlet manifesto. His intention is to mass produce these and hand them out. I would imagine that would add helping dice to future Persuasion or Oratory roles but I’ll have to research a bit to find out what would be reasonable. My current feeling is that it should probably be a 1D advantage to roles.

Overall Impression

While I’ve run better sessions for sure, I was pleasantly surprised how quickly I could get back into GM mode. I want to work a little more on my mood-setting descriptions, and particularly I want to remember to call on multiple senses to evoke the imagery. I still want to make sure to hold back and let players keep the reigns in their hands, but I want to be able to help their imaginations and initiative by providing them with enough information for them to imagine where they want the story to go. One player mentioned how he did enjoy the open nature of world exploration, as I figured he would, so hopefully I can encourage all of them to take ownership of more of this creation.

Lastly, it was also just good to hang out with friends again and play something like this together. Two of my players had run the first RPGs I’ve played in since a few years back, and I’m happy I got to run a first session for something for them (so they don’t have to be the Forever GM, either!). Oh, and it’s amazing that I now feel so inspired to create/write a load of things for the game again! Two weeks from now is the next session, and I’m already looking forward to it!

Burning France: Additional Thoughts

As I’ve been reading more about running different types of Burning Wheel games, I’ve come to some realizations about my Burning France setup that I should have done differently, in retrospect. In particular, reading about Burning Thac0, an attempt to model old-school D&D with Burning Wheel, was quite an eye-opener for me. I think it’s the meta-system discussion that really highlights what is specific about the system itself, and brought some ideas to the fore.

The first thing that I realized I should have done differently, in retrospect, is work more on the specific situation in Session 0. The start as of Burning France as of now is based just after interesting things happened (the burgeouisie has just overthrown the feudal opressors); however, that leaves us with a big open questionmark as to what should happen next. Now, I had an overall idea lying around, where the characters were Dogs in the Vineyard-style justices being sent out to troubleshoot problems in this nascent political structure, but that’s more the context rather than the immediate situation.

My second realization flows directly from the first, in that I should have focused more on what the individual characters are here for. Now, we’ve agreed that they’ve somehow have been involved in the uprising to the degree that they’ve been selected to do this itinerant justice thing but we hadn’t explored much of the why and how. I realize that what I should have done is ask all the players why their characters bothered to join the uprising and what they are intending to get out of it from hereon out. Moreover, the largest problem, I realize, is that we didn’t get to creating our beliefs together as a group at the same time.

That last issue, I realize now, is the largest one that ties the first two together. Making beliefs together at the same time should have been the moment for all four of us to brainstorm what game we were going to play. The players should have written their beliefs, I should have worked with them to see how they intertwine, and together we would have made the initial story out of this. Ideally, we should have played out a single quick scene just after the first creation of beliefs, and then immediately after adjusted beliefs again to create a direction.

It’s funny, we haven’t even played our first session yet, and already I’m learning how to do better.

Burning Wheel Coming

On the 28th, we’ll finally play out first session of Burning Wheel. We’ve had to move it so many times that I was worried it’d die before we get started. Granted, this last session was moved on my accord, given that I wanted to attend an event on that night (which I didn’t end up attending after all, because I was sick). Either way, I’m pretty excited to get started. I’ve been reading various RPG related blogs, articles, and so on to get back into the mindset of DMing, and the more I’m doing that the more ideas I’ve been getting again.

Burning France: Initial Character Beliefs.

In the last post about the Burning France campaign, I described the progress of our Session 0. Back then, we didn’t have the Beliefs worked out yet but fortunately now we have everything set up. Without further ado, here are the sets of beliefs for each character:

The Bastard

  1. Meting out justice is what’s required, but no-one said I couldn’t get paid in the process.
  2. My companions obviously look to me for leadership and Guidance; I will set an example and put them on the path of righteousness.
  3. (Direct goal-orientated Belief to be decided at the start of Session 1)
  4. (Zealot Belief) Nobilé lurk around every corner; under every peasant lurks a budding, ambitious freeloader that must be stopped.

This is a good solid spread of Beliefs. The first is an ethical stance, the second is a party-orientated belief, the third will be a direct goal to achieve, and the fourth is a clear invitation for me to present obstacles and ties is quite well with the theme we’d set out in Session 0. Here we have a character with a clear direction: the insurrection has cleared the power structure, a new leader is needed, and The Bastard will be that leader for the group; yet anybody else who wants to pop up needs to get pushed back down.

The Bawdyhouse Operator

  1. Always look out for number one.
  2. Power cannot be trusted no matter what mask it wears.
  3. (Direct goal-orientated Belief to be decided at the start of Session 1)

A solid pair of Beliefs, though I would have enjoyed seeing a party-orientated one here as well. However, I suspect that the goal-orientated Belief may end up being a comment on the party as well once we get to it. The first Belief may risk being antagonistic towards the party and invite some backstabbing, which isn’t particularly the type of game I had in mind, but the player intends for it to mean that her character will just save her own ass before helping others. That second Belief is again a nice one because it ties in well with our theme.

The Farmer

  1. Now that everyone is equal, we should all be able to shape our lives according to our own vision.
  2. My companions have shaped their lives according to their own vision, so they are well suited to dispense advice to others to do the same. I must trust their judgement.
  3. (Direct goal-orientated Belief to be decided at the start of Session 1)

Another good set of Beliefs to work from. The first one is a good ethical Belief fitting to our theme. The second is a nice party-orientated belief that helps me see what role The Farmer will have to play in the story. While initially these Beliefs may be passive, as they’re all somewhat wait-and-see approaches (Burning Wheel is about passionate stances), I suspect that these are the starting point for Beliefs that are sure to end up changing and growing throughout the game.


What immediately jumps out to me is that each character seems to have a different view of what the new classless political structure is to be. The Bastard feels no one should be a leader yet also that he should lead (contradictory Beliefs are such a goldmine!), the Bawdyhouse Operator believes that all power is dangerous, and the Farmer feels that everybody’s view should be respected. Those three Beliefs will surely clash once the rubber hits the road. We’re off to a good start!

Burning France: Session 0

Yesterday, I ran Session 0 for the Burning Wheel campaign that I will be hosting. Session 0 is the name typically given to the first session where the group works out what to play and how, setting the stage, characters, and working out the story. It’s the first RPG I’ll be hosting in quite a while, so I am a bit nervous about doing so. Nevertheless, yesterday’s session has me excited, and thanks to the group I have a number of ideas for the game now that we can work with.

The World

The first step was establishing what we wanted to play. After going around the table, we settled on a number of characteristics: we’ll be playing in a dark, gritty neomedieval world. I distinctly call it “neomedieval” in the sense of medievalism and Eco’s definition of it: a world that’s reminiscent or referential to medieval life, but is starkly colored by modern sensibilities and perceptions of it. So, as we joked around the table, it’s not a historical middle ages, but one where a balding elf with a beer belly might be chugging a coffee at his desk while complaining about having to do clerical work on a Monday morning.

To further broadly describe our world, we settled on the idea that the group will be playing low-born, low-status characters. It’ll be a world of low fantasy, where the gods and magic may or may not exist; if either does, their effects are probably very subtle or very rare. The magic we may run into will be Folklore magic, defined in the Codex on pp. 363–366. Whether or not gods are real, religion will be, though our setting will be polytheistic. All stocks will be in play, though monsters will be folklore-based and relatively uncommon; in my mind, it’ll be similar to wolves in The Netherlands today: sure, there are a handful around, but you’re unlikely to see some unless you venture into the wild. Perhaps every now and then one might roam near settlements.

The Setting

After exploring a few possible ideas, we settled on a setting just after a revolution. We’ll be taking our cues from revolutions like The French Revolution, the Khmer Rouge, or the Russian Civil War: in short, in this 14th-century French-like small country, the proletariat has had enough of being oppressed by the bourgeoisie, and has rebelled against its masters. The revolution was a smashing success, and the entirety of the previous ruling class has been killed or run off, leaving the former peasantry finally in control of their fate. Freedom at last! The big problem is, in the great purge, nobody was left alive with experience of running the large apparatus of state, and the insurrectionists planned no further than “once the oppressive regime is gone, we will be free”. Power vacuums abound. What is left of “us versus them” when you’ve beaten “them”?

We decided that our little corner of the world will be a small province of this as-of-yet-unnamed French-like country; I think we may want to rethink that into a Luxembourgh-sized country, however—after all, what country would just accept an uprising in its demesne and not do anything about it? In any case, our capital will be a medievalist Paris-like city: a large hub of commerce and culture that’s pretty on the outside, but the dunnyman comes to collect your waste each morning just like any other village. While all Burning Wheel stocks are in play, our players decided to go for all Mannish stock. We decided that each character would have three cultural traits: Love Of Wining And Dining, Distrust of Formality, and Class Solidarity. They may be poor, but camaraderie is best done at a full dinner table; ettiquette is just one more tool of the oppressors to heap disdain on the commoners; and commoners have all bled the same, so we all share the same.

The Story

For the sake of making our first experience as a group with Burning Wheel a little easier, we kept to one of the three general situations from the Situation Commentary in the Codex (pp.59–62): Quest, Struggle, or Intrigue. The players had a fondness for Intrigue over Quest, though wouldn’t mind a story of Struggle either. One of the players enjoyed stories involved leaving a home village, and that sounded like an interesting path to take for me as well.

I had a few plot ideas lying around (I have a small notebook that I write down a plot idea in whenever they come to me), and after listing a couple, there was one that the players zoomed in on. It involved being appointed to a position of legal power and responsibility without much experience. Something similar to the now out-of-print Dogs in the Vineyard (sidenote: apparently, KN Obaugh has been allowed to do a retooling of the game, which resulted in DOGS). A core feature of this story, to me, is empowerment. The trappings of class have been removed from the world, and now the people are to reshape it. The big question will be: how do you reshape it? How do you determine what’s permissible? I suspect we may soon be needing anarchist theory to work out some conflicts in the game. Time to brush up on Kropotkin!

We decided that what we wanted out of the game was a bit of fun escapism, so we’ll be avoiding centralizing topics of racism, sexism, pandemics or plagues, or world-ending climate change. Similarly, we wanted to enjoy exploring a world of anarchist equality, so we’ll ignore some of the sexism by design in the game. For clarity, by default, Burning Wheel is meant to mimic a medieval world if Lord of the Rings was a historical record, so there are gender divides such as all dwarves who travel are male and all the female dwarves stay home. Fortunately, the game is quite explicit about this, and also recommends just ignoring that if you aren’t interested in it. Similarly, we’ll use the Burning Wheel terminology of “Stock” what in many other games would be called “race”, and we’ll work to avoid colonialist themes. Anarchism means inclusivity.

The Characters

As to be expected, each of our players has crafted a character. We’re still finalizing some of the details, so more specific descriptions will have to wait, but we’ve settled on the following characters for the group:

The Farmer

A Village Born child, who spent his early teens as a Kid causing trouble in the Village, before being put to work as a Farmer. At the last, however, he got swept up as a Conscript, and as such has played his role in the uprising.

The Bastard

A Born Noble, this character had the unfortunate luck of being a Bastard and therefore never really a big player in the noble scene. However, he’s taken his fate in his own hands, and became a Blackmailer to improve his lot in life. Over the past three years, however, he’s seen his opportunity to create real change and became an Insurrectionist.

The Bawdyhouse Operator

This character was City Born, and started out life as a Confidence Man. After that, she found good money in the field of being a Sex Worker Facilitator (we have chosen to rename “Whoremonger” on p. 194). For the past five years, however, she’s settled down as a Barkeep, to create a more steady and public-facing income.

Next Up: Session Planning

After writing this up, I’ve been noticing some interesting themes that may come into play. For one, our setting is quite anarchist. I think the story will likely start revolving around the ideals versus the reality of anarcist theory. Secondly, I didn’t notice it while we were making characters, but it’s quite interesting to see we have characters starting in the Village Lifepath, the Noble Lifepath, and the City Lifepath. The village character so far seems to be the most ethical, judging by the traits, whereas the city and noble characters are more corrupted and ethically troubled. This may end up serving an interesting theme, depending on where we land with the story. Lastly, based on this I’m not quite sure what the larger story will end up being about, but it’s open enough to quite a few minor conflicts. I think the way we deal with those conflicts will guide us towards a larger story.

The next challenge will be a far more practical one of logistics: when and how do we play?