We’ll catch you up right here so you can watch along with us.
In the first arc of the game Nara was a baby and in that game she was declared an elf-friend (so that a cruel elf wouldn’t murder her) and prophesied to be the Arch-mage. When we learned this before we knew what an Arch-mage was, what the title meant or that Nara was going to be a character in the third arc.
Since then we have learned that the ages of this world are marked by Arch-mages, one per generation. If Nara is the next Arch-mage she will be the 5th, an auspicious number. An Arch-mage is a wizard who picks up the Burning Wheel, an artifact left on a mountaintop in the care of the Dwarven Wheelholdt clan, and carries it down the mountain.
Nara has been feeling the pressure to pick up this dangerous and powerful artifact while also feeling unprepared and unready to do so. Despite all of these pressures, when violence broke out in the city she picked up the Wheel and tried to stop this outbreak of violence with magic. She failed and is burned. That is where we find her today. Burned, frustrated, ashamed and trying to figure out what comes next for a wizard who tries to pick up the Wheel and fails.
Sean and I are playing Burning Wheel (Technically, Burning Wheel Gold Revised), a rules dense system that revolves around the character’s beliefs. Below are the beliefs Sean has written for Nara over the sessions of this game, to give you an idea of her growth and what interests Sean about the setting. It is Judd’s job to push these beliefs.
Theses are ambitious beliefs Sean has written.
Bury your own heads has become a kind of unofficial campaign motto since Nara made a deal with a powerful spirit and it led to her playing a role in the death of over a dozen bandits.
Sean putting Nara in a position to change the world. We don’t know how much she’ll change the world or how much the world will change her.
B1: Write a belief about the duke’s heir, a warrior knight who is warring with neighbors.
B2: Write a philosophical belief based on your favorite tactician’s treatise on war and life.
B3: Write a belief about how you feel when you see war’s fell hand smash the common folk.
War Wizardry Art Magic
3 Specialties: Destroy with Sorcerous Fire, Arcane Weapon, Advantage
+4 Arcane Action
+6 Arcane Knowledge
Necromancer – practitioner of the Death Art
Play this if you want to do fell rituals upon corpses and be infamous for commanding undead.
Note: I’ll burn this up later.
B1: Write a belief about the duke’s dead father, said to haunt the wetlands as an undead abomination.
B2: Write a philosophical belief about death and your skill in evading and twisting it to your purposes.
B3: Write a belief about some necromantic goal that you wish to accomplish to prove your power to the world and yourself.
Twilight and Dusk wizards might find themselves in the midst of battles. War Wizards might have to deal with throne games. Five Towers Guild trained wizards might have to deal with church politics. It is just a matter of degree and how your skills are built.
* = five towns the wizard offers guidance to, as per the ancient agreement made when the tower was first built
*Stipel – little town that built the wizard’s tower long ago
*Aelton – village on the far side of the Southward Ash River, on the other side of the stones but asked for the wizard’s guidance when the tower was first built
Dusk Stones – said to have been placed by fey folk to prevent war
*Castle Byrne – ducal seat
*Port Gersum – on the verge of becoming a bustling port city, seen to by the duke’s sibling
*Livarin – town built around a construction site where foundations for a castle has been laid
Southern Wyrd – spooky forest
The Wizard’s Friend
Just in case you’ve got a third player. The way I’ve made this character creates a very real danger of this game going from being about a wizard finding their place in the world and coming into their own and a hackneyed peasant-prophesied-to-become-king tale. Don’t let it.
B1: Write a belief about hiding from that damned prophecy.
B2: Write a philosophical belief about the simple honor you find in serving a wizard.
B3: Write a belief about supporting the wizard in coming into their own power.
I burned up the characters I could with the online character burner but when some wizards needed hand-burning because they needed Codex lifepaths. So I set those aside aside in order to get this blog post out sooner rather than later. I’ll burn them up in the coming weeks and add them to the post as needed.
If you use this as a jumping off point for a game, please let me know. I’d love to hear how it went.
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.
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.
Grey autumn clouds are gathering as the ducal council closes and the two richest duchies declare war, each declaring itself the monarch. Soon your modest tower’s place in between these two dukes will force you to choose your place as the storm of war approaches.
Write a belief about the horrors of war you have seen and/or choosing a side in the coming conflict.
Write a belief about getting a warhorse.
Write a belief about what your late spouse taught you before they died and how you would like to live to honor their memory.
Write a belief about helping your knight make a decision about the coming conflict.
Write a belief about getting a warhorse.
Write a belief about what you will do to prove to the knight that you are ready to be knighted.
Village Guard’s Beliefs
Write a belief about serving the knight through a previous war and how what you’ve seen effects what you will do now.
Write a belief about a skill or a truth about the world that you will teach the squire.
Write a belief about nobility by blood or by action.
Most Noble of Beasts of which they are five because five is a holy number, the number of spokes on the Burning Wheel.
Upjumped commoners sometimes find their way to noble title and when they do their banners have objects to show their house’s humble roots.
Sorcerers, wizards and witches are forbidden by law from holding noble title but once this was not so. Here are the heraldric symbols of an arcane origin.
Holy symbols were once the five ducal sigils but now those houses are long since fallen but their symbols are still found on minor houses who married into the holy houses in ancient times.
The Burning Wheel, 5 spokes, aflame, fire and change
The Tidal Wheel, 3 spokes, water and fortune
The Storm Wheel, 4 spokes, wind and change
The Buried Wheel, 6 spokes, earth and stability
None know what the 5th wheel might be. A wheel without spokes? Leave those kinds of arguments for priests and philosophers.
NOTE: Why all this on heraldry? Because making things up from a vacuum is more difficult than making it up with a structure.
If you’d like the possibility of the knight leading an army, fiddle around with your general skills and get Strategy. It is a rare skill. I might even change the reputation so that it is known you can lead in battle and make war.
They are the last of their kind, still guarding this ancient tower with a young human squire and a village guard looking up to them.
The Emperor and the Grand Theogonist have found your family guilty on charges of being Chaos Tainted. Your house is exiled, sent to the lawless Borderlands due to Sigmar’s mercy. At best you will establish your ducal house as a Border Prince and maybe marry your children back into the Empire. At worst your house will fall under bandits, orc or Chaos Cults that all flourish in the Borderlands.
Write a Belief about the first thing you want to get done to insure your family’s survival in the Borderlands.
Write a belief about something you will ask of your wife to help you lead the family.
Write a belief about Chaos and how you feel about it upon being exiled from the Empire or about how you will make sure your children survive out here.
Write a belief about how you will have to model change so that your family survives this dangerous transition into this dangerous place.
Write a belief about something you will make sure your children learn so they survive.
Write a belief about something your family needs to acquire to help them flourish and become established as a Border Principality.
Write a belief about a heroic deed you want to accomplish to prove to your parents that you are not a child anymore.
Write a belief about something you will learn so you will be more valuable to the family.
Write a belief about being protective of your sister as she becomes more martial or about how your sister has protected you in the past.
Write a belief about something ancient and dangerous that you want to seek out and learn more about in the Borderlands.
Write a belief about something you need to teach your brother before he gets himself killed.
Write a belief about something you need to learn from your mother or father to survive the Borderlands.
The game starts at around 56 minutes in if you want to skip the character burning and belief writing.
Our scoundrels were not going to make it to the table tonight, so we went to the Burning Wheel Campaign Ideas and chose one. Sean got stuff ready so we could stream and he got it up in about fifteen minutes; it was a heroic effort.
Sean narrowed it down to 3 and he chose some of my favorites from the list. In the end we chose this one:
BW campaign idea: You are a shoeless peasant. The armies of the dwarves, elves and humans will soon clash near your home. #burningwheel
Sean did a great job of walking through the lifepaths and teasing out the setting implications of his choices. Bina was a captive of war turned servant who married into the village, built around a tower at the crossroads. Bina has a husband who is a wheelwright and a lover who is a hunter. She has a 4 year old child. She serves the lord knight who rules this tower at the crossroads, where farmers from all over meet for market.
To the north are the mountains, ruled by dwarven princes. To the south is the ancient forest, ruled by elves. To the east is the capital, ruled by the human ducal council. The elves forbid anyone from going too far west.
I peeked at an old article, Elves at War, on the BW forum written by Luke.
Convince Deek to flee.
Keep Bodnar from raising the alarm.
Keep Bodnar’s flagon full.
We got up and moving pretty fast. In that time we cleared up our expectations. Sean seemed to be expecting a fast and furious one-shot but I’m more into a long, slow burn with BW. I’m glad we cleared that up.
Sean definitely burned up a character who gave me plenty to work with but it was challenging. Bina is not a traditional fantasy novel protagonist and I liked that. As the situation demanded, she is a normal person swept up into an epic and dangerous event.
Deek Nandor – Bina’s husband, a wheelright
Nara – her 4 year old daughter
Sir Bodnar Butond – the knight in whose tower she serves
Vas – her hunter lover, tired of waiting, wants to run away with her
I prodded at Bina for a few hours. We rolled some dice, played out the consequences – did a Duel of Wits and learned how far Bina will go. We got to know the place, this lonely tower at the crossroads where farmers and shepherds brought their goods to market. We got to know the important people in Bina’s life a bit. I left Sean with a terrible choice, putting the life of the lord-knight directly into her hands.
I was hoping for some time to let the Range & Cover mechanics breath a bit, have some arrows and fireballs flying around the back-alleys of Greyhawk but the dice decided and death was swift.
Accererak is in the mix! I was excited when I heard that the Tomb of Horror‘s demi-lich was back in action in Tomb of Annihilation. This episode pre-dated that announcement by a few weeks.
Thanks again, Rich for the wonderful editing and playing.
What is Comic Strip AP?
Comic Strip AP started as a short, 10-15 minute actual play of Dungeon World at the end of every episode of Discern Realities. It is like sprint training for GM’s, really making me think about how I manage a 15 minute time range.
I wouldn’t want to play every game like this but it is a fun weekly exercise.
If you like this, you might like the Sorcerer game Rich and I played, where demons are buildings in New York City.
In the Gord the Rogue books, specifically in City of Hawks, Gord travels to the Shadowplane and encounters evil beings known as “gloams”. The leader of these monsters, called Imprimus, is referred to as a vampire lich.
Does anyone know anything more definitive about Gloams and specifically Imprimus, such as a monster description and/or stats?