I have always wanted to game with my dad but the hunger grew especially keen after he had his heart attack. He called me to let me know that he was in the hospital and getting a stent put in his chest right as my plane took off on my way back from a vacation. I spent the flight staring off into space, not sure if he would be alive when I landed and there was a thought that echoed in my head over and over until the plane landed and I called to find out that he was alive.
“I should have gamed with my dad, should have shared that thing I do with him because he’d enjoy it too and I want to show him what I have been doing all these years. I should’ve shared it with him and now I might not get to.”
Ever since, every time I see him or he comes to see me, I get a game together that I think will work and plan to game with him. Every time I come home with some bullshit excuse why we didn’t do it and that next morning I’d look myself in the mirror and say, “But there might not be a next time; we just don’t know.”
Finally, we got to game tonight.
A few months ago he told me about how he had been going to his friend’s house every week to watch the Game of Thrones television show. That friend was visiting this weekend, so I wrote up a scenario about the Dance of Dragons, in which House Targaryen is in the midst of a civil war over the heir to the Iron Throne. For the first time in Westeros history it is dragon versus dragon.
My dad was the Warden of the North, The Lord of Winterfell. His buddy was his bastard brother, the one who was willing to do the bloody deeds his Lord wasn’t willing to do.
I have so many favorite moments that I don’t know where to begin.
My dad and his buddy in battle with a Targaryen who is trying to get his dragon into the air so that it can breathe hot death on them. The bastard brother kills the dragon-rider/knight/Targaryen prince and my dad wounds the dragon a bit and as they attempt to drive the dragon into the nearby archers’ fire the Targaryen squire runs up, crying. He’s a teenage boy and he begins begging, “Please don’t hurt the dragon! Please!”
My dad: “I cut him down.”
The table goes silent and his buddy, Charles expresses shock and dismay.
“Listen, I don’t like killing kids but if that kid started giving the dragon orders that would’ve the end of us.”
As the dragon got away, badly wounded, they bickered, covered in human and dragon blood.
The bastard brother rushed up a tower of a castle with their Maester to stop a knight from burning the missives in the Maester’s tower. He guts the knight before he can burn the missives and while the knight bleeds to death he spits curses at him. “You will kneel to a queen!?! What kind of man are you?”
“What kind of man are you?”
“I’m bred from Andal-stock, men belong on thrones, not women.”
Witt was an important piece of that puzzle. He’s gamed with me for years and not only go to feed the key pieces of Westeros-lore but got to offer his own Burning Wheel-wise helping dice and prompt cool role-playing through his subtle depiction of the Maester.
We marked up a map of Westeros, my dad sending his armies hither and yon. We had a wedding at the Frey’s place. Princesses, Iron Men, dragons, ravens, battlefields, some bickering, some death and loss and a Warden of North who started to hope that if enough of the Targaryens kill each other’s dragons, maybe there could be another King in the North.
I got to visit Westeros with my father, show him what it is I have been doing all of these years and see him do it too and do it well.
Now it is time to crash out, go to sleep and dream of dragon fire.
Westeros is a really fun map, lots of castles and rivers and with folks who are fans of the books and/or show, lots of fun background. Also, making up stuff in Westeros history is a good time. I said something about the north still being made at the Starks over the King Who Knelt and had just put down the Bear Rebellion, in which the Mormonts rose up to attempt to take the north.
1) In which the Warden of the North quickly musters banner-men who can answer quickly and sets up camp in Moat Callin. He didn’t have the numbers he could have had but he had speed, aggression and a little bit of surprise at this point.
2) In which the Warden and his bastard brother take a segment of the army and go to the Twins in order to marry his brother to one of the Frey daughters while the bulk of his army, led by Lord Umber guided by a Maester to cross the river near Harrenhall, where an army loyal to the Princess is on the move. When the scouts note dragons on the horizon, they send 3 separate forces to draw them off. Two return but one substantial group of men is never heard from again.
Due to Riverrun being ruled by a child whose duties are seen to by an indecisive Regents Council, Lord Walder throws in with the North.
3) The Northern army overruns Silverhall and proceeds to pick the surrounding lands dry. Using the castle’s ravens and trickery, the Warden tricks the Lannister Army mustering at Casterly Rock into thinking that the northern host is moving down the Goldroad towards King’s Landing. They march hard to catch an army that is not there, leaving Casterly Rock open. When the Northern Host approaches Casterly Rock, the Iron Islanders are already burning and pillaging the city with plans to go right down the west coast of Westeros. The Warden convinces the leader of the raids to take him by boat to Dragonstone to break the siege.
At this point, they have around 7 dragons, picked up out of the westlands and from various Targaryen dragon-riders who have been cut off from other armies loyal to the princess.
4 – 5) The Ironmen’s fleet takes the Northern Host to Dragonstone where they break the siege and capture the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. When the commander insults the Warden of the North, mentioning the death of his son who had been squired to a knight who served the queen, the Warden showed restraint when the princess (the heir) ordered him to stand down and leave the hostage alive.
It was fun; we were hitting on beliefs and that is the crux of BW. Having huge battles resolved all in one roll wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped, particularly because the opposing side was not fully burned up, so I erred on the side of less dice, leaving the Warden outnumbering the Lord-Commander’s die pool in every conflict. Several key rolls needed artha to cause sixes to explode and my dad rolled 6’s very, very often that night.
I’ve begun work on a slightly expanded battle mechanic based on Bloody Versus. If you want to take a look at how it is going, you can look at Clashing Storm of Sword-Kings here or see it on the thread itself.
We were talking numbers at the table but they were hugely inflated and I have left them out so that any professional or amateur historians wouldn’t hurt their neck wincing. Going by GRRM’s numbers, the armies of Westeros, like the castles, are far more numerous and grand than the European counterparts.
Ravens are a big deal. When the army is on the move, they can’t receive ravens and so they don’t know what is going on around the kingdom. My dad decided to keep things moving, mostly so no dragons could zero-in on them and decimate their forces. It was a smart gamble but they lost the ability to know what was going on in the rest of the war. When they take Silverhall, they learned what was where, where the dragons were and learned that half of the King’s Landing fleet had sailed north to sack White Harbor. It was neat and gave yet another advantage to those who stay behind their safe walls.
I am jotting down notes on a Burning Wheel one-shot for my dad. He is going to be the Lord of Winterfell during the Targaryen Civil War, also called the Dance of Dragons. He will have children on both sides of the conflict, a son who is a squire to the queen’s brother and a daughter who is a lady-in-waiting to the princess.
And he will have intense pressure to not sit this one out. His grandfather was the King-Who-Knelt, who bowed down to the Targaryens and their dragons without a fight. If he sits out, he is going to have to do something intense or the other Northern Lords are going to start calling the Starks craven.
Based on the short excerpt to an upcoming short story about the Dance of Dragons, it is turning Westeros into a meat-grinder, with Queens folk on one side of the river and the Princess’ folks on the other side.
My dad is going to play the Lord of Winterfell, his buddy will play his bastard brother and Witt is going to play their Maester, a perfect role for a RPG veteran helping two newbies at the table.
I’m looking forward to it.
When introducing someone to tabletop role-playing games, I am of the opinion that genre is king. Finding a subject matter that they find compelling is the surest way to get them to sit around, roll dice and talk in funny voices.
My dad loves plenty of geeky media, as does his buddy, Charles. They both love military science fiction, so I considered Burning Empires but I don’t know BE very well. I know my dad loves westerns and samurai fiction but I wasn’t sure if Charles would be interested.
But Game of Thrones is media that they not only both know but that they had shared and taken in together. They discuss it and geek out over it. I know that Westeros was what I wanted to do.
Burning Wheel is my general go-to game when I’m playing with a group of folks who are down with its white-dwarf mechanical density. Charles had some gaming from his days in the midwest playing Diplomacy and Avalon Hill. Shit, he knew Dave Arneson! Crazy! But he had never gamed with him. My biggest worry, other than the thought that maybe my dad and his buddy might pick up dice in a fit of bickering and try to murder each other’s characters, was that BW was the wrong system for tonight.
First thing’s first, I tossed out the character sheets. The print is just too small for my dad and I didn’t want him to have to use his reading glasses or mag glass to read it. I wrote and labelled the Beliefs, Instincts, Relationships, Reputations, Affiliations, and skills. I offered two different reputations, allowing them to choose between two. The Warden of the North had Honorable or Brutal in Battle. My dad chose Brutal. The Bastard could choose either Dragon-fucker (meaning he was a lady’s man who often had romantic dalliances with Targaryen women) or Best Warrior in the North. To my intense relief, he chose Dragon-effer, though he gently chided me on my language choice.
When they were getting their dice together, I’d help them do so, which gave me time to let them know exactly what they were rolling for, what would happen if they failed and how many successes they needed. Witt was key to the whole process. He was the model of good role-playing and got to also show where they could get extra dice.
I totally left out traits, skill advancement, sub-systems, equipment lists, and everything else on the character sheet. If someone had been hurt, I would have explained the consequences and when they made Circles rolls, even though their Circles stat wasn’t on their cheat-sheet, I explained where the dice came from and how their Reputations played into it.
When they resolved a belief, I crossed it off their sheet and marked their Persona point. When my dad started musing about turning dragon on dragon and perhaps becoming King in the North again, I picked up his sheet and wrote it down as a new belief. And when they did something artha-worthy, I gave them their artha and explained why. The artha they got pretty much saved them game for them on two HUGE rolls.
I was pretty sure it was going to be a good night when I explained the situation over dinner and my dad turned to Charles and said, “Brother, I need some dragons; go get me some dragons.”
“I can’t get you dragons…”
“I’m your liege lord and if I say get me dragons, get some some damned dragons.”
And they started bickering over dinner.
“Save it for the game, guys. This is good stuff.”
I think in another session, I could have added Circles and Resources to their character sheet without a problem, another after that, I could have added stats and wounds. Then some traits and then skill advancement along with some Duel of Wits.
I needed to trim BW to just what I needed to convey their characters for a one-shot. The stuff I left out is vital for BW to work for long-term play but what I needed tonight was a large font and just enough fire on the wheel’s spokes to let them know what kind of character they were playing.
Also, I made it very clear that there were NO right answers. “I’m putting you in a tight spot and the interesting stuff will come from what you decide to do with it.”
My dad does this thing I love where he’d step away from his character and told me what other characters think and feel and how they react. “No, dad, you don’t get to decide that; that is my job. You just play lord Bertum Stark.” He was always doing this great stuff, pushing the boundaries of what he could and could not make up.
“I’m supporting the princess because the last time I saw the king, he told me he wanted her to be his heir, back when we went hunting together. She is the legal heir and so I’m supporting her; that is that.”
Burning Wheel system stuff aside, I loved at the end of the night when my dad jumped up, all excited and said, “That was really fun! I totally understand why you’d do this.”
NOTE: This was originally a few different blog posts written in the afterglow of the game described above. I decided to put this all in one place. If that is confusing, my apologies.