Tales of Draconis, Part 3

See parts 1 and 2 here and here.

Seminars, The Tricks of the Successful 4e DM, English

There’s a French expression I coined one day to describe how different my brother and I were.   It goes ‘Nous sommes comme le jour et la pluie” which translates less poetically into “We are like day and rain”.

This is exactly how the second seminar was compared to the first one.  In the French one, we sat around the seminar table and we spoke energetically and excitedly, launching volleys and ripostes like Latin people know how to do.

When the English one started, I had 7 participants (thanks for the Red-Bull @Gordon!),  all calm and poised , none of which had ever played 4e.

No one…

And my seminar was about DMing 4e.

Luckily, I happened to have a whole gaming group together (the aforementioned Gordon’s) , asking to be swayed to the new edition, provided I answered a few question and provided they managed to find a way to purchase the books.

Seriously, had I been richer, I’d have bought them a full set on the spot!  (Any sponsors reading this wants to make a donation? I’d put up a half-banner for a few months).

Anyway, I ended up describing the key differences between 3.5 and 4e.  I think I covered everything from classes (roles, balance) to Death Saves.  They seemed interested and they had good questions.  There were, however, some periods where silence stretched uncomfortably.  I was out of things to say, I didn’t want to repeat myself too much and no questions were forthcoming. Fortunately, questions always eventually came out.

All in all, I think it went well and I’m confident I convinced most participants to give the game a try.

I should probably send Wizards of the Coasts a bill.

How not to approach a Game Designer

After the Seminar,  I wandered into the gaming room and noticed Luke Crane (designer of Burning Wheel, Burning Empire and Mouseguard) sitting at a table with my friend Walkerp and a buddy of his named Christian.  I immediately walked to Luke and flubbed my diplomacy roll.

Chatty: Huh hi, I’m Phil and I’m a guest like you here… hum, I’m a blogger.

Luke (who’s seen it all, I’m sure):  Well hello Phil how are you?

Chatty: Good thanks.  Listen, I really liked reading Mouseguard, it’s the best RPG book I’ve read this year.

Luke: Why thank you!

Chatty: I’m really looking forward to trying it with my friends, although we’re more into corporate RPGs

(Why the hell did I say that?)

Luke (puzzled): What do you mean by “corporate RPGs”?

Chatty: Huh… I mean we play D&D.

Luke: There’s nothing wrong with that.

(I need to read “How to approach indie game designer for Dummies” again,  it’s not like I’m ashamed of playing 4e or something)

Chatty:  So, if you have 2 minutes, could I pick your brains about Mouseguard?

Luke: I’m actually playing with these two gentlemen right now.

(Epic fail!)

Chatty: Oh man, so sorry!

Luke: No worries, you can sit and watch if you want and ask me questions about Mouseguard later.

The guy was a total class act.

Burning Wheel Demo, Luke Crane GMing

I got to witness the last hour of a Burning Wheel scenario.  Having read Mouseguard cover to cover, I wanted to see how the common elements of both game played out… and I got to a good part of it.

The adventure was about 2 characters, a priest and a knight who were accused of committing gruesome murders. They had to show in court of their lord to stand trial.  The twist? They were guilty big time, they killed many villagers and a local lord who were worshiping a demonic idol!

The adventure was about pleading their case, regardless of the truth.

When I sat down, the knight was trying to obtain some humble but well tailored robes for the trial.  He obtained the help of his estranged father.  Luke asked the player to roll a certain number of d6 based on his Resource attribute and said that his father could lend his resources, represented as extra dice.  He needed a certain number of successes (rolling 4 or more) and he failed.

I was curious to see how that would turn out.

Luke: I’ll give you a choice, you either don’t get the robes you want, or you get them but it drains both your resources and your fathers for some time, making money scarce for days to come.

That is the magic of Burning Wheel.

Or so I thought before I witnessed the duel of wits.

When the characters entered court, Luke introduced the workhorse of his game’s engine, the Duel of Wits, a combat of words, oscillating between dice rolls and roleplaying like a pendulum (or like a Sine-wave as he explains it), taking players in and out of character  according to a strangely natural cycle.

All conflicts in Burning Wheel/Mouseguard are built around a mechanic similar to the Duel of Wits. The fluff changes and some extra crunchy rules are added to combat but the basics are thus:

  • Players and GM each write an objective : “I want to convince the court that we made a bad judgment call and obtain clemency” vs ” Sway the court to sentence the characters for the crimes they committed”
  • Players and GM chose from a list of action what type of debating tactic they will chose over 3 rounds (one action per round)
  • Players and GM declare the first action, trash talking out of character, getting in the emotional stance of the debate  (My GMing radar identified this as really important).
  • Actions are compared on a chart and a result occurs, influencing the die rolls.
  • Each side roleplays their arguments, making points to batter the other side into oratory defeat.
  • Each side rolls dice based on skills used, content of arguments and the result of comparing the actions.  Adjudicated by the GM for good roleplaying.  Players get really excited (spurn by the GM who plays the role of an antagonistic Craps table dealer, another key ingredient to a successful session methinks).
  • The losing side loses disposition points (Conflict Hit Points) based on the margin of success of the dice rolls.
  • Once one’s side disposition reaches zero, the other side wins and the objective is achieved.
  • Depending how much disposition damage the winning side took, loser can force various compromises that the winners must accept.

I must admit that I felt that Burning Wheel had taken all the crunchy bits out of combat and put it somewhere you wouldn,t expect to see crunch.  I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t feel a little wrong at first.  But as wrong as it felt, my game design genes and GM instincts screamed that it would work at my table!

I can’t wait to play Mouseguard now.

How to approach Game Designers, Prise Deux

On Sunday, when I finally spoke about Mouseguard with Luke again, we sat down for a few minutes and discussed the basic elements that a GM needed to master to play Mouseguard.

The one thing that was likely to be forgotten was having PCs use traits against them to obtain ‘tokens’ called ‘checks’ that allowed them to use after an adventure to ‘heal’ from the various status effects or require the GM to play a scene to complete an unfinished player goal.

As we spoke, we both  realized that I got all the important fiddly bits of the game right.  I was ready to run it.

Thanks man.

I had invited Luke to some great Indian food for dinner the night before and I met Designer Rob Bohl (author of Misspent Youth) when we went out for beers after the games ended and I had had much fun.

The next day, after I played my morning S&W game, I heard that Luke and Rob were looking to find somewhere nice to lunch so I walked back to them and offered to bring them to a very cozy, very goof vegetarian restaurant called Lola Rosa.  We got to walk the street of Montreal on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon and I got Rob to try some Poutine, which he found okay (the cheese didn’t squeak, trust me it’s important).

During that time, we talked fans, books, food, languages, girls and games.  So much so that I felt like they were friends by the end of the day (or that we had acknowledged the potential for friendship).

I really can’t ask for anything more now can I?  This was definitively a Con highlight.


Up next: Mutant Future (as a player) and S&W, French version.


  1. Hey Chatty – I was one of the gaming group at your 4e DM’ing seminar. I have to say, none of us had really expected there not to be anyone that did play it there! But thanks for being willing to talk anyway and answer our various questions, since none of us had been entirely sure whether to go for it or not until that seminar. Glad to hear the French one was more exciting – we should’ve had our three French speakers drag us to that and translate.


  2. Hey Michelle, thanks for commenting.

    I’m happy it turned out like it did. I was just surprised. And it’s a good thing you didn’t drag your bilingual players, we would have broken their translation brains with our high speed Quebecois French.

    Thanks for showing up, I appreciate, I hope we can find a way for me to DM a session for all of you guys.

  3. While I did not get to meet Luke Crane, all of the guys in his booth at GenCon were really nice. They demo’d Burning Wheel for me and introduced me to ACTION CASTLE! Were they showing off that nifty little game at your con by any chance? It is basically playing an old text adventure out loud with your friends.
    .-= rmckee78´s last blog ..Fight On! Issue 1 =-.

  4. Hey, I was one of the players in the Burning Wheel game that you so rudely interrupted. 😉 It actually was not that bad at all. You came up at a slight lull between scenes, so you weren’t really interrupting anything. Had you came up during the first Duel of Wits (when my father was trying to convince me not to tell the truth at the trial), it would have been very obvious that were in the middle of the game. It was cool that you sat and watched for the rest of the session. I think that demonstrated pretty clearly that you were serious about learning the game.

    I too was a little thrown at first by the level of crunch. Just looking at the character sheet intimidated me a bit. But I’ve been in a very rules-light phase for a while. More generally, the idea of strategizing mechanically as players, picking out the best rhetoric maneuver, choosing stats and bonuses and then when that is all done, announcing your move and then following that with pure roleplaying seemed dubious to me.

    But wow, the results. In both Duel of Wits, which were the major action moments of the adventure, I felt I participated in some of the richest, most intense roleplaying I’ve done in a long time. And it wasn’t actorly, good-performance type roleplaying (though there was some good performing), but just really getting into the situation. It has to be noted that Luke is a great GM. He does an excellent job of using a few choice words to describe the scene so that it comes alive. His cadence of speech and the way he uses the NPCs to come at you is awesome as well. And obviously, he knows his own system really well.

    But I am still pretty convinced that it was the system itself that got us to that level of awesome. Christian felt the same way I did and we are both reading the books together and critiquing them over at Midnight’s Lair if anyone is interested.
    .-= walkerp´s last blog ..episode 5.5 – special Draconis episode 1 – an interview with the organizers =-.

  5. That was so funny to see your face when Luke told you we were playing 😉

    Burning Wheel is really awesome. I would’ve loved to get to spend more time to talk to Luke but we did manage to speak a little before the game while he was eating. Nice dude that designed a very neat game.

    It would be nice to talk to you a little more next time. We got briefly time at the end of the day around a beer but there was too much sound in the bar.

  6. I’ve flubbed my Diplomacy roll a number of times to people I respect. I’ve met Wil Wheaton on a number of occasions and I think I’ve managed not to make an ass out of myself but that was about the extent of it.

    Don’t worry it happens to the best of us. 🙂
    .-= Tyson J. Hayes´s last blog ..Character Considerations: Naming Your Character =-.

  7. Ok, I’ll be the one to admit it. I don’t understand what ““We are like day and rain” means.

    Day and night, or sun and rain would be opposites in English, but day and rain don’t quite compare to each other. They’re on different axes. It’s like saying “We’re like cheese and toys.”

    Is that the point? You’re so different that a comparison can’t even be made?
    .-= Colmarr´s last blog ..SSTL 32: Within Baphomet’s Halls =-.

  8. Oh man, I crashed at 6h30 last night and I never got to really answer stuff here.

    @rmc: No I did not hear about ACTION CASTLE but I did hear Luke and Rob talk about something cool Luke was working on. Suffice it to say that I’d totally play it.

    @Walkerp: I believe that Burning Wheel/Empire and Mouseguard can be great game when played with an average to good GM. I’m however convinced that it would become spectacular in the hands of a Great GM.

    I’m really looking forward to try Mouse Guard and I’m also getting more and more curious about Burning Empire.

    @sicnaxyz: Oh man, I wanted to die… I felt like I had committed a gamer capital sin. Anyhow, I’m apologize to both you and walkerp. Let’s play something next year, I’m sure there will be great games to chose from.

    @Tyson: It seems flubbing diplomacy rolls with designers is a trait of mine. I nearly gave James Wyatt a heart attack when I snuck up to him at Gen Con and congratulated him for all the Ennies 4e had won. Poor guy almost collapsed.

    @Colmar: Yes you got it right and in French ‘Night’ and ‘Rain’ rhyme… giving the expression a feeling of being both right and wrong at the same time.

  9. Waitaminute… did you say there were only two players for that Burning Wheel game, Chatty? *&@#^ !! I didn’t go to Draconis with a buddy of mine because we figured the last two spots for that game would be filled for sure. (We were late to trying to pre-register, so couldn’t and were told we’d have to sign up for the game when we got there. We figured it’d be filled, so we opted not to make the drive from Ottawa to Montreal on the slim chance they it wouldn’t be.)

    I really really want to slap myself now…

  10. Yes, his game wasn’t full. Sunday was a preety slow day and most of the participants chose to go and listen to Brian Sohmers talk about making Webcomics.

    So maybe I’ll see you in may at Can Games… if I can figure out how to get an invite.