Burning Wheel at Chicago Gameday 43

For my event at Gameday 43, I ran a Burning Wheel scenario that I titled, “Devil Take the Hindmost”; the PCs were all Great Wolves from the Monster Burner. The starting situation is that the pack has been devastated by an attack by the orcs who have been ravaging the forest all season; the dominants have been killed, and the pups have been captured, eventually to be broken and added to the orc legions. With the pack’s numbers depleted, the remaining wolves have allowed some outcasts to return in order to rebuild the pack again and, hopefully, retrieve the pups.

I had three players — Joe Beason, Tim Jensen , and Willow Palecek — who played, respectively: Thunder, a beloved uncle of the pack; Blood-of-Fire, a spirit-hunter returned home; and Greyfur, a nine(!) lifepath elder wolf and master hunter who is missing an eye. There was a fourth player signed up, but they were called away by a work emergency. I had five PCs ready, so there was a lone wolf who went unused and an orc legion defector that ended up being an NPC.

(Yes, I took Blood-of-Fire’s concept from the MonBu. Even his mom, Splay-Tooth, was in play. Hey, great artists steal.)

I had provided one belief for each PC and had the players write two more; one about the situation and one about another PC. Attention Paul Beakley: it did not take two hours! Granted, they’d all played BW before.

We played for about four hours with a mid-session break to do artha awards. I had started them each with one fate and one persona and wanted to 1) give them a chance to earn more and 2) showcase a bit of the BIT-artha cycle.

Overall, the session went well. I think this was probably the tightest, grabbiest scenario I’ve yet to produce for a BW one-shot. Everyone seemed to have a pretty clear idea of what was at stake and what they wanted to do next. Interestingly, what I thought would be the biggest conflict — Who gets to be dominant now? — was pretty much resolved with the first roll. We opted for a straight versus rather than a full-blown DoW, as neither Tim nor Willow (the players involved) wanted to start the session with a long conflict. I was a little worried about this afterwards, but as I debriefed with Joe, he mentioned that he wasn’t all that interested in that issue at all, so quick resolution of that question was a feature for him, not a bug. (Joe was all about rescuing the pups!)

So, for the most part, the session focused upon the quest to find and rescue the pups from the hands of the orcs. In the process, one of the other pregens was brought in: Worg, the defector from the orc horde (who the players renamed Rage-of-Moon, his true wolf pack name). This was nifty scene, as Joe had Thunder howl from a rise at the entire orc horde, calling for Rage-of-Moon to remember his wolf name and come return to the pack. He managed to hit Ob6, prompting Worg/Rage-of-Moon to break off right then and there and “come home”. There was also a great Enmity Clause when Willow tried to Circle up an elven hunter to help them (the pups were in a Black Metal cage, and wolves don’t have opposable thumbs). Turns out it was the elf that took Greyfur’s eye (and she his arm)! Old enemies who spat insults at each other and parted ways after an inconclusive melee (i.e., a tied Bloody Versus with light and superficial wounds).

They eventually managed to rescue the pups by infiltrating the horde as prisoners of Rage-of-Moon, intimidating an orc handler, and stunning most of the surrounding worgs with Blood-of-Fire howling the words of Grandfather (i.e., Primal Bark, which is a seriously badass skill).

The downside is that the players failed test a lot, which is kind of how things work a lot of the time in BW, and in some ways found that frustrating. Willow assured me that she felt all of the tests and Obs I called for were totally appropriate, but the simple act of failing the tests was frustrating for her. (She was also very tired, as she and Tim get up very early in order to make the drive down from Madison, and so was fading fast from about the mid-session break onward.) Still, I think that I got rules right and set good obstacles, and made sure that tests always moved the game forward.

I’d like the run the scenario again, in which case I would change a few things.

First off, I think the PCs could be tweaked a bit. Making a whole group of wolves is hard, even when including all of the Great Wolf settings, as there ends up being a lot of skill and trait overlap. I might swap some skill pints around, making sure I use General points for outside-the-box skills more often than I did, as well as perhaps specialize each wolf a bit more.

Next, having only three out of the five pregens in play narrowed the focus of the game quite a bit. I might re-think some of the relationships, as well as prioritize the PCs, e.g., “If there are only three players, offer them this subset of characters.”

I also would spend more time introducing the characters and their various components. I think since I knew this group was familiar with BW, I kind of blew through the intro so we could get paying. As a consequence, the PCs’ traits and instincts didn’t really come up all that often. I also don’t think everyone (myself included) was as up-to-speed on wolf-specific skills and traits as they should have been.

Lastly, I had wanted the issue of the orcs having largely devastated the forest, and thus consuming most of the available food, a bigger deal than it was. I think I might start the whole group with a default +1 Ob for being half-starved, and offer that as one problem they might feel compelled to address right off the bat.

Hopefully, should I make it to Forge Midwest this year, I’ll tweak this scenario and run it there once or twice. And then I can revise it once the Codex comes out…

In the attached picture, we can see Joe post-session, most likely writing angry fanfic about Splay-Tooth.

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The Warren at Chicago Gameday 43

This Saturday I played The Warren for the first time. Joe Beason was the GM and my fellow players included Tim Jensen, Dain Lybarger, Sam, John, and Laurie. My rabbit was Dogwood, a one-eared buck who was not only unfraid of humans, but invented rabbit parkour by bouncing off one of their young (a little girl named Hope).

I had a really good time with this game; Joe did a great job as GM, and all the players made wonderful contributions that resulted in so much bunny drama. I haven’t had a chance to play a lot of PbtA games, but this has probably been my favorite so far. The character sheet Joe used is so wonderfully designed — clean, simple layout, beautiful typography; two of my favorite things. A quick read-over of the moves and I felt like I really got what the game was about. Plus, reference was a breeze.

I also must mention the Innovate move, which is what gave birth to the rabbit parkour. It may be my favorite move in any PbtA game I’ve experienced. 100% genius.

Admittedly, there were some slow spots, but I think that was inevitable given six players who were, for the most part, all going off in different directions. I was enthralled nonetheless.

Also, in the process of playing, I made an effort to ry and implement some of the guidelines for good conversation that were in a TED talk I posted a week ago (https://plus.google.com/+MarkDelsing/posts/TpCC1375zct).


1. “Be present”. I made sure my phone was in my pocket, and I did not walk away from the table unless the whole group was taking a break. Normally, I might go grab a drink or snack, or hit the restroom as-needed. This time I resisted. If the game was happening, I was sitting at the table paying attention. I even tried really hard not to fiddle with my dice!

2. “It’s not about you.” Essentially, I tried to keep my mouth shut when it was not my turn. I have a tendency to do color commentary about events in which I am not involved — “Heh, that’s just like [movie reference]” — so I made sure to shut that shit down completely. I spoke when we were focused on Dogwood, and otherwise I just stayed at the ready to offer input if asked.

3. “Really listen.” Man, this is hard! It’s very easy to get distracted at Gameday, as you’re in a big room with a lot of other tables full of gamers. It’s tempting to drift off and pick up another GM’s orations or look to see how a friend is faring at another table. I did my best to be Zen and just focus on our table and our players. Thankfully, the frustration of shutting out the rest of the world is rewarded with deep investment in the game at hand. It’s amazing how much easier it is to contribute after 10-15 minutes of it not being your turn by having paid serious attention during that 10-15 minutes.

As a GM, you don’t have to worry about much of this, as you’re being engaged every moment of play, and you’re contributing a lot more than you are receiving. Ergo, this experiment cemented for me that being a “good conversationalist” is absolutely the key skill for being a “good player”.

Extra double bonus, I learned a lot by simply watching Joe work. He has this PbtA stuff nailed. I honestly think the game I ran later in the afternoon was improved by my having been in this event.

Also, totally sold on The Warren. I guess I’m a full-blown furry now.

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Registration for Chicago Gameday 43 is now open!

Chicago Gameday 43 is happening February 27, 2016. Our Warhorn site is now live and accepting player and GM registrations. We’re also looking for people to run events for us; there’s more info on how to submit on the Warhorn page.

Tell your friends!

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