Traditions of the Swordlords: Faith and Taxes

Back in the Riverlands

It was difficult getting back into the groove. It has been so very long.

The session itself was solid. We rolled some dice, earned some personna artha and got to see each other’s faces once again – a lovely way to spend any evening.

Red Apple and Silver Bells. A book of verse for children ... Illustrated by A. B. Woodward

Lifestyle and Taxes

The last game was a long, long time ago. So the snow is thawing and it is time to think about the Lifestyle Resources roll and taxes from the various towns.

They made their ob 9 role for a ducal lifestyle with plenty of cash dice from taxes to spare. Drew brought me back to the Riverlands with descriptions of the tax montage scene; it is a good reminder that we have to link these rolls to in-game, in-world descriptions. Especially after long times away from a world, I find that I still forget that.

We talked about wax tablets and the gold vault’s walls being made of slate that the accountants use to keep tally of where various payments come from. They suspect Jiri, the pimp-knight in charge of the prostitution in the Riverlands, is holding out on them.

Red Apple and Silver Bells. A book of verse for children ... Illustrated by A. B. Woodward

River Tolls

A detail that came up was that the rivers were being used by merchants without tax nor tariff going into the High Swordlord’s coffers. Rachel circled up a Swordlord and a knight to deal with the situation. The Swordlord was Lom Godina; I had very little written about him and everyone else’s notes didn’t amount to much. I picked a picture for him from the Swordlords Pinterest page and played him with some swagger – a general who got captured early in the war and who had said the way they were fighting the Brevosi wouldn’t work but did his best to make it work until he was taken.

The knight was the warden of a debtor’s prison named Mihaly Warden; he had a pinterest pic already and was known as a humble knight, having led the debtors into the Riverlands due to a letter written by Ivo way back in the day.

Lom was all about sticking it to Mivon and making war on their soft, merchant-princes. Mihaly suggested setting their tolls at a price point that specifically would not start a war. They were sent off to do their work, to set the prices at a reasonable sum, fortifying a bridge already build on the Thorn River.

Red Apple and Silver Bells. A book of verse for children ... Illustrated by A. B. Woodward

The Priest and the The Bishop

Drew had a belief about unburdening Ivo of a book filled with the names of Drajnov’s dead that needed to be read out loud in a ritual meant to put the dead to rest. He wanted to discharge this list to the Church of 1000 Saints. It was an old summoning debt. The Sorcerer and the Swordlord called on Brother Johd, who was now a priest but in the old days of the uncivilized Riverlands he was a wanderer with faith in the Sword Saints. Now he is a priest, and apparently, a priest who had attempted to become a Bishop of the Riverlands in the recent elections but had fallen short.

Johd seemed out of place. He was comfortable in the old Riverlands, on the fringe of civilization and now civilization had come to him. The church had politics that were outside of his comfort zone. Johd was sad. I didn’t realize he was so until Ivo and Zora tracked him down.

But who was the bishop? I thought about that for a second. The older Sword-Matron had been dismissed by the High Swordlord. The priesthood wasn’t sure of its place in the Riverlands. The High Swordlord was not interested in giving them power or access to ways of making money that they had in Olde Rostland. The priests were scared and so the bishops who had been elected to serve throughout the Charterlands were the priests who had offered solutions, humble solutions.

And there was Bishop Ayub, an older priest who lost his sight late in life, a stone-carver who makes statues of the Sword Saints and sells them out of a barn. After the encounter, Drew said, “I liked your rabbi, Judd.” That was apt. I don’t think Ayub was any rabbi I’ve ever known. Maybe he was the rabbit I’d always wanted.

Ivo suggested that they give the remaining bits of taxes to the church to loan out at fair rates to the Riverlanders. And so the church became a bank.

Interesting times.

Red Apple and Silver Bells. A book of verse for children ... Illustrated by A. B. Woodward

Why the blog post?

The Burning Wheel forum is slowly closing its doors. I thought it was a good idea to start putting all of my Actual Play posts here.


British Library. “Red Apple and Silver Bells. A book of verse for children … Illustrated by A. B. Woodward.” British Library Flickr Collections.

Daydreaming about Swordlords, Sorcerers and Sword-Saints

We haven’t played our Swordlords campaign all together in a little over a month and we ended on a nasty cliff-hanger. The players are heading into diplomatic negotiations with Swordlord Grahl, who held his army back when Swordlord Zora was facing a horde of trolls and orc.

Then Zora’s mom dropped a bomb on her brother, who is going to talk to Grahl: “We have to consider the very real possibility that Swordlord Grahl doesn’t need us to save his wife’s soul because he’s already done it. We have to consider that he saved his wife by leaving Zora for dead in the battle with the orc. The Sword Saints have to be very scared of the idea that Zora could take up the dragon faith. It could be they wanted her dead and demanded that Grahl see it done by simply not showing up to the battle at the Little Sellen River.

“I can’t tell Ivo nor Zora about this theory because I am not sure what they would do with it. I am not sure how angry they might be and what their anger might bring about.

“Ivo has never cared for the Sword Saints and losing Spearpointe had a strong effect on your sister. I am sorry to burden you with this but I could not send you south without considering this. I am glad you are going; there is no one else I would rather be going to Spearpointe to talk to Grahl.”

I can’t wait.

medieval book border


Cyril’s Beliefs
B1: They all think clever words can fix this, as if lords and gods settle for anything less than flesh and dreadful promises. But I will not pay that price again. I will convince Swordlord Grahl to make the sacrifice.

B2: My reputation proceeds me and it always ties me back to Brevoy. I will earn a better Reputation that stands alone.

B3. I want to believe that we have a future greater than surviving and dispensing violence. I want to bring new life to our families. I want to have more children and Magnus needs an heir. I will find him a surrogate.

I1. Never sleep alone.
I2. Always soothe the tension.
I3. Never let them see your distress.

Homesick, Worldly, Mark of Privilege, Darling of the Court, Numb

Ivo, astride his borrowed horse, aimed at Grahl
B1: I confess; in my heart I wish the traitor Swordlord crisped from my flames. But my Swordlord has placed her faith in Cyril, and I will support him. It is his skill, not mine, that will see this resolved with the greatest good garnered.

B2: I will discern Grahl’s intentions and motivations. If, however, Grahl plays the games that brought Rostland to ruin, I will remove him from our Riverlands before these games ruin all we have built.

B3: The well being of the Rostlander refugees supersedes all other concerns. For the future of all, I will do what must be done to save their lives and livelihoods — Including surrender, if I must.

I1: Never overstep my place: Zora Kucera’s rule must be obeyed.
I2: If attacked, burn them with Sorcerous Fire.
I3: Things may not be what they seem – I always look for clues and signs

Character Traits
Pragmatic outlook, Shrewd

Die Traits
Mark of Privilege, Bastard, Gifted, Thick skinned, State-maker

I’m reading beliefs and day-dreaming until the game begins.

Traditions of the Swordlords: the Murk

To the west of the Riverlands is another Swordlord with his own charter to worry about. Swordlord Grahl has been a peripheral NPC, father of Squire Irenka, first mentioned in this blog post. He has two other daughters with him. He married a matriarch of a local swamp clan to strengthen his ties.

Now his daughter is a knight who has given birth to a demi-goddess, her home has been sacked by orc and he has rallied the Murk-folk to support his neighbor. He will join the effort to take back Spearpointe after its fall. It was time to think about where he is coming from and who he is bringing with him.


The Murk-folk are a group of quasi-feudal swamp tribes. They pray to their own fickle swamp gods, a few sword saints and sometimes they are known to call on the Dragon Gods. In the troll-haunted swamps, you call on whatever works.

Once they prayed to one of Erastil’s siblings but he died centuries ago during a war with the Brevosi that ended in blood and dragon-fire (oddly, I made that up BEFORE Erastil died). That sibling was said to have given them the gifts of slingstones, axes and druidic magic in the same way that Erastil gave the Riverlanders the bow, spear and hunting.

A few tribes claim to be “descended from the Sword-Crowns” and some worship that descendant as Rostlanders would pray to a Sword Saints. Swordlord Grahl has married into one such tribe and they see his sword as a holy relic, a tether to their proud, lost heritage.

Their highland tribes in the nearby mountains are their constant rivals with feuds often nearly becoming wars until cooler heads prevail.


Note: The above image is from NYPL’s Digital Image Collection.

excerpt from The Military History of the Riverlands Swordlords by Norwich O’Ber


Sgt. Jitka is one of the few soldiers to have fought in every engagement of The Swordlord’s Westerly March. She dragged several comrades to safety, one out of the very maw of a Great Wolf during the Spearpointe Arrival.

She road with the Swordlord and caved in her share of orc chattel’s heads during the Sellen River Orc Drowning, chosen due to her limited experience on horseback at a time when riding skills were rare. During Spearpointe’s Fall she galvanized the Little Goddess’ Spears and helped them find a path for their deity to safety once the desperate call to retreat was sounded.

Her Lieutenants have held off on promoting her to sergeant because of how dependable she is on the scout and because she claimed she would bloody an officer’s nose to be busted down if she received her stripes, not wanting the responsibility. After the orc invasion the stripes and the responsibility that came with them could not longer be avoided.

I love this picture found for our Traditions of the Swordlords Pinterest board by Alexander “Minze” Thümer, had to write something about it from our Burning Wheel game.

Burning Minutiae

tl;dr: talk to you players;engage the system – ORC!

The Traditions of the Swordlords campaign has reached a point where the frontier nation has grown and now they are collecting taxes and founding a proper state (or as Janaki put it, “So they were getting colonized but now they are doing the colonizing?” Me, defensive, “NO!…maybe. Kinda, yeah.”). We made some big rolls and got some big things done and oddly, the players navigated clear of any internal war. It was a close thing and they made some smart decisions, some brilliant decisions and some lucky ones.

Good stuff.

We were starting to use our G+ community dedicated to just the game to write out to-do lists. Not wanting to play Crusader Kings 2 (a game I LOVE) at the table, I wrote told them an orc invasion was coming and after discussing it with them for a while and realizing there was so much to do before the orc impact, I wrote the following:

Here’s my idea.

Feel free to write any orc-invasion beliefs and set them aside.

One of Eliska’s left-over squires arrives on a half-dead horse that Bow-mother was attacked and decimated by wolf-riding orc. The refugees who could make it, made it to Spearpointe and the gates were closed. 3 pages made their way out and so far, she is the only one who made it to you. She says Baron Kucera reckoned there were about 100 wolf-riders.

Within the hour you will hear from Haps that someone set a fire on Spider Hill and it led to a few buildings there being burned down and whoever did it seems to have gotten into some kind of tussle with some soldiers and were driven off. He isn’t sure; he was keeping clear of it all but heard about it all second hand from merchants on their way down to Spearpointe to purchase more wool.


You get an Estate Management roll. Don’t have the skill? Roll unskilled and every two successes is a success (and take a test!). For every success you complete one to-do item before the orc arrive. Each item has to align with a pre-orc belief, so the max is 3.

Yeah, you can get shit done but how much you get done depends on how good your character is at administrating medieval fiefdoms. Roll the dice.

bakshi orc

Orc are coming!



Burning Saturday: Iron Gods and True Swords

Burning Saturday: Iron Gods and True Swords

Played 2 games of Burning Wheel this Saturday.

Welcome to Unity Prison was the second session of our Iron Gods-inspired science-fantasy campaign. The first game got the players in prison and so we started the second session in the mix.

Iron Gods Pinterest



Death and Taxes is the umpteenth game of the Traditions of the Swordlords campaign. The players just collected the first year of taxes and made their Ducal Lifestyle Resource roll. The sorcerer summoned the dead. Good times.

What? The game inspired ill-advised short-story writing? Yes, yes, it did.

Swordlords Pinterest

Drew asked if the games were taking place in the same world, which is an excellent question. The True Swords from the Swordlords campaign are right out of Numeria and are clearly inhabited by networked, AI haunted swords. I don’t want the campaigns to get so entangled that it becomes messy or gets in the way of gaming. For now, yes, they are happening in the same world, though perhaps not at the same time.

Above image of a spinning wheel (get it? huh, get it?!?) from the NYPL Images Collection


Swordlords into the Rivermark, Wyrdmark, Daggermark and Eastmark

Rachel, Drew and I are playing a Burning Wheel campaign inspired by the Kingmaker Adventure path. I was just thinking about the other posses who have ventured out into the Stolen Lands and thanks to Pinterest, I had some art inspiration.

swords icons dudes

The Swordlords of Rostland’s way of life is about to be destroyed by the Brevosi Dukes.

Four posses were sent into the Stolen Lands to the south, chartered to not only guard Rostland’s southern border, for as long as it continues to exist, but to be seeds so that Swordlords might continue and some piece of their culture might live on.

Lady Zora Kucera ventures south with her loyal man-at-arms Sgt Hajek. The Rivermark is plagued with bandits and is even rumored to have a dragon within its borders.


Lady Zora Kucera


Sgt. Hajek

knight icon blue

Lady Eva Kucera, elder sister to Kora, is chartered to settle the Wyrdmark, where it is said elves and fey folk dwell. She ventures forth with a wizard friend and her loyal companion and squire.


Lady Eva Kucera


Tamryn the Sorcerer


Antoni the Thousand Year Squire

knight icon red

Sir Bohdan lost his taste for dying nobly for Rostland when the Thousand Saint Church deemed his wife sinful and refused to allow her to be burned according to Rostland religious tradition. By refusing her funeral rites, they also refused her entry through the Black Gate where swordlords go for their final well deserved rest.

Sir Bohdan and his daughters will venture into the Eastmark, about which very little is known.

Sir Bad-ass

Sir Bohdan Gral

Eldest Daughter

Lady Anna Gral – Anna the Red

Sister Daughter

Sister Gabriela of the Thousand Sword-Saints Member of the Holy Order of Saints

daughter youngest

Squire Irenka Gral

knight icon phoenix

The third posse has been chartered to settle the Daggermark, on the western border that is thick with Numerian barbarians.

They are all mystery knights, men and women who wear their helms as cowls and masks, guarding their identities as they travelled through Rostland and beyond, winning tournaments and destroying bandits before taking up the oaths and charter.

Mystery Knight 1

Lady Wolf

Mystery Knight: The Ivy Halo

Mystery Knight: Sir Laurel

Mystery Knight 3

Knight Without Name nor Banner