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.