Sean and I playing Burning Wheel started out because a Blades in the Dark game we both played in had a few nights a month where he and I were the only players who could make it. I suggested a BW side-game and now, several years later, that campaign is still going. Having just purchased a map making program I made a map:
The map helped. It forced me to name things and gives things shape. The human dukes were divvied up into 3 groups that I think of as the Gold Dukes, the Iron Dukes and the Wyrd Dukes. That will help when I need to make up a human on the fly. I can see where they are from and know a bunch about what their political life is like. Naming the dwarven holdfasts wasn’t something I thought about but became important later. Only now have I started to get more firm ideas about Ostofair and Andune.
I knew the BW system wouldn’t be an issue with Sean. He might hate it (and that would be fine (but he didn’t)) but he wouldn’t bounce off it the way I’ve seen some folks do. So I asked him to take a look at the BW Situations I had tweeted and one of those tweets grabbed him.
When I imagined this campaign, I imagined a conscripted soldier who returned home to farm and just wants a peaceful life but is very aware of the perils of war. Instead, Sean burned up Bina Janos, a servant who worked in a tower at the crossroads, serving the knight there. It was not what I expected at all. The game straight up made me nervous. There aren’t many (any?) fantasy books about Bina Janos. She didn’t secretly have magic powers nor was she secretly the lost child of a queen or a knife murder goddess in hiding.
Bina was a mother who married a decent guy, a wheelwright (and it is a Burning Wheel game…huh? get it?) and had a daughter, Nara, with him. She had been taken from a nearby village during some feuding and never went back home. She got by with a skill called Soothing Platitudes, being good at her job and knowing the local gossip.
That first campaign was an exercise in GMing failure without beating up the player. In following Bina’s journey we learned and made up a bunch of mythology in the world. The Burning Wheel, an actual physical artifact that could be seen like an arcane beacon atop a northern mountain and its church. The lore behind the dwarves and the elves that was leading to war. The 17 Great Debts of the Dwarven Princes. The politics behind the human dukes and the songs of the human peasants. There are immigrants from a faraway continent who have traditionally guarded the gold mines and the caravans that take the gold from the mines to the capital after a few local knights turned bandit or rebel lord, trying to control the wealth.
During the game it was clear that a dragon still had an important elf, a consort to the elf queen, and so the second book was about a working class dwarf in charge of tunneling into an abandoned holdfast that was being squatted in by a dragon. The dragon was trapped within but still, there was real imminent danger there.
Pellara the Pillar would become Pellar Dragonsworn and also Prince Pellara Dragonsworn of the Vault through the course of play. That was not at all my intent. I wanted to stay away from noble games but she was born to and was the matriarch of a working class family. To be honest, having a game about a strong woman taking control of a political situation driven into the shitter by born noble princes felt pretty damned good. All of those dwarven holdfasts at the top of the map suddenly became very important. I made notes on each prince and what made those places unique.
I was making stuff up as I went and adjusting to the beliefs Sean made but I daydreamed myself enough content to give myself structure so I wasn’t ever making shit up in a void.
In a subreddit someone asked how GM’s make character arcs. It might look like I very carefully planned everything. Book 1 and 2 are both nine sessions long.
I didn’t. I didn’t plan a damned thing. There was no arc in mind. I didn’ tknow where Sean’s beliefs would take us. I know how I want to push on them but once I push, I have no idea how Sean will react to that pressure. I didn’t want each game to be 9 sessions long and I don’t mind if Nara’s time in the campaign takes 3 sessions or 99 sessions.
Here’s what I wrote in the thread:
Just let he players deal with the problems and cool stuff and arcs will happen naturally because we are humans and we like to find patterns and familiar rhythms in things. Don’t plan the solutions, just put forth the situations filled with problems and wonder and see what happens.Me, saying stuff, link above
This third book’s situation is more vague. We found out in the first book that Bina’s daughter, Nara, was Gifted and might be destined to be the next Arch-Mage. What does that term even mean? Arch-Mage. All we know is that an Arch-Mage is a wizard who picks up the Burning Wheel, braves its sorcerous fires and takes it down the mountain. We know that her destiny is wrapped up in that mess. I am relying on the lore we’ve built and the fact that we’ve barely scraped the surface. There is still so much that Sean doesn’t know and Nara can learn.
I’ve started writing notes about how Arch-Mages are selected and the previous Arch-Mages and how each of them has led to the current state of affairs in wizard society. We will get to see Wheelholdt from a very different point of view. I’ve been daydreaming about wizards, apprentices and how they learn, what their hierarchies are like and how they interact with the rest of human society.
One of the things BW does well is learning. Seeking out teachers and reading books can be a big deal.
I’m glad we’ve got an empty third belief to start off with, it allows Sean to jump on something that comes up in play as we get to know Nara.
Here are the playlists for the first two books. Come join us in a week for the beginning of the the third. I have no idea what is going to happen. Or…I know some stuff but have no idea how Sean is going to play Nara. We’re going to find out about the history of wizardry and Arch-Magery. We’ll see where Nara fits in all that mess and if she agrees with the prophecy told to her mother years ago that said she was destined to pick up a fiery magical artifact created by a sorcerous fire god.
We’ll be at the Actual Play twitch channel next Friday at 9PM EST or so, please stop by if that kinda thing is your cuppa tea.
I’m adding a link to the third arc’s playlist just so they are all in one place: