Chatty Plays, Part 2: Burning Wheel, Compromising Canucks

You can see part 1 here.

Dramatis Personae (distributed randomly, except the monster):

Brechtanz the destitute dwarven adventurer, played by Franky

Fidhean the exiled elven bard, played by Eric

Robard, the gambling debts-ridden human thief, played by Math

Ssisz, The roden (rat man) cultist, played by Mike

Mah Dhusa, Ophidian sister of the 2nd Scale, played by Yan

Settling into the Game

Following the advice given in the adventure, I gave a short explanation of the game, making a conscious effort to stick to the game’s fundamental rule: the beliefs and instincts and the test and the abilities/skills they are based on. I read the adventure’s sole descriptive text:

You’ve journeyed long through this crumbling, ancient citadel, down through ruined chambers into muck-filled tubes. You arrive, at last, in the wreckage of this collapsed temple. Laying on the shattered altar, in the chamber before you, is that which you seek: The sword!

I had the Roden character roll perception (i.e. an untrained skill) vs the hidden Ophidian’s Stealth skill, the guide never saw the Snake women, who chose to stay hidden for the time being.

Mike (In a low voice): I brought you here, anyone intends to pay me now?

Canadians & Compromises, 1st edition

I’m not quite sure what happened right after that but all the other players either ignored Mike or failed to hear him. Instead, Franky and Eric, 2 players who were at odds about the Sword’s final destination, started cooperating to take the sword back to the surface…

Franky: All right so we don’t see anything?  Fine, I pack the sword into my bedroll…

Eric: Here take mine!

Chatty: Wait Eric, are you really cool with the Dwarf taking the sword

Eric (Shrugs): We’ll work it out once outside.

Chatty (pauses): ooookay, and what about paying the roden?

Franky (dismissively): We’ll find a solution outside…

Math: Yeah, we’ll sell it as soon as we exit the dungeon, I need the money fast.

Mike: Me too!

Franky: Of course not, it belongs to my people…

Chatty (Mental air pump): Finally…

As players realized that they had beliefs that were at odds about the sword, they asked me if they could find facts from the sword that backed their claims.  I introduced “wise” checks, based on specific, applicable knowledge skills PCs had.  The elf had “ancient artifact” and the dwarf had “Stuff-wise”, both perfectly acceptable skills to establish facts about a rare item (I was generous and didn’t call for ” obscure facts”, making the checks impossible for them)

Chatty: Great work! However, these facts reinforce your personal belief that the sword is yours to take, but has no binding impact on others…

Franky: Wha?

Chatty: We have social mechanics for that type now…

But my attempt to get them arguing with dice was to be foiled and thus true, high quality roleplaying began.

As tensions rose, I was waiting for that fine point to be reached for me to ask if someone was willing to throw down the gauntlet.  I wanted to wait for that point where arguments started being repeated, but some of the stuff the players were saying was powerful, I didn’t want them to go to “waste” mechanically by being used outside of the game’s “duel of wits”, a form of social combat where PCs can argue and force a binding outcome.

Chatty: Okay guys, I can see that things are heating up, so do you care enough about who get the sword to formally argue for it here and now?

Sensing that the conflict could get serious and messy, my players decided to compromise there and there. The elf and the dwarf would bring back the sword to the elf’s father who forged it and then would be brought to the dwarves.  Payment would be figured later.


If they won’t act, introduce more incentives

The adventure had a section about overly compromising players.  One saying that you could come out and ask for more conflict, given the scenario’s nature.  At that point however, the players were immersed in their PCs and the situation.  They were having a good time. The energy level was quite high and we laughed a lot.  Eric ad-libbed songs for his bard and Math played the thief like his life depended on getting a piece of that sword.

That short 30 minutes spent with the game had already outlined just how good roleplayers my players were when engaged. I couldn’t break imerssion by requesting a meta-game driven shift in play.  So I went the other way

Chatty (Talking to the Roden and Thief): Hey guys, you do realize that these two are too poor to pay you anytime soon and that there’s no way to know for sure that the elves or dwarves will pay you for the return of the sword.  Oh and Mike, the Roden is the only one who knows the way back out for sure. Just thought you should know that.

Mike: Right! Right!

Franky: You are a bastard Phil!

Chatty: I get that a lot, just don’t say that when my mom is around.

The Roden looked around the room and found a few snake scales. Hinting at the presence of Yan. I couldn’t oust Yan’s PC because of a rule called “let it Ride” which says that the result of a prior check can’t be reversed unless a situation clearly calls for it.  Yan’s earlier Stealth check held even though the Roden performed a search of the premises.

Yet, instead of plunging into a duel of wits, Eric dropped a game-defining bomb:

Eric: We’re in some sort of temple right? Could we look around to see if we find some sort of valuable piece of the past that we could remove and use to pay the Roden with?

Chatty: … yeshh?  Roll for it, Obscure knowledge for sure.

Others helped and they succeeded.  Then inspiration struck.

Chatty (making this up on the fly): The walls of the temple have been damaged by centuries of water trickling through the walls of the cavern-temple. You do find one relatively intact piece of finely-detailed ceramic mosaic.  It represents a pagan ceremony by the snake people of the Old Empire.  You need to roll excavation Obstacle 2 to get it out the wall without breaking it.  It’s worth enough to pay the Roden.

Yan (sotto vocce): Well played asshole!

Franky: I dislodge it, with the help of others

Yan (Hissing): Sacrilege!

Party: WTF?

Chatty: Out of the darkness comes an armoured Snake women, armed with bow and barbed arrows, sporting a head-full of serpents! Yan, is your bow notched?

Yan: Yes, I’m aiming at the Dwarf.

Party: Woot! We attack!

Chatty: (Facepalm)

Up next: The conclusion to this first contact with Burning Wheel.


  1. Hahaha, oh my. This will be interesting to follow. I think I can sympathize heavily with you. These sorts of games can be tricky to introduce to traditional gamers.

  2. I really don’t think the problem is our compromising nature. I think the problem with the scenario is the buy in of arguing for a sword, even coming to blows, just isn’t that appealing. It isn’t to me anyways

    I’ve ran two times a BW scenario that was rather simple: the group is part of a council made of human, elves and dwarfs all living together in a world’s last city. They all need each other to survive. Now come a magus saying a prophecy that the daughter of a elven council member will be the downfall of the council and the city. The group is tasked to determine if she should die or live. After that politics install themselves and the fun begins. It opens up countless possibilities (both times I’ve ran it, it ended drastically different) and doesn’t become so much one against one than another than another one. It feels like it’s the way the Sword will end though I might be getting ahead of myself. I’m curious to see how it ended.

    I understand that the PCs have beliefs that contradict each other but to me it feels a bit flat. I think that Luke Crane’s scenario Your Day In Court (the one I played in Draconis) is much better.

  3. Americans are more feisty by nature than us Canadians/Quebecers, and given that it’s a one shot and given’s Luke legendary way of riling people off with “oh come on, are YOU going to just Take that?” is also a key ingredient of the Sword’s huge con success.

    If the scenario didn’t end up as awesomely cool as ours did, I would tend to agree with you more. Opinions on the web are divided as the worth of the Sword as an introductory scenario… but it can be enjoyable in so many ways that I focused more on the fact that it allowed to simulate action with using just Versus tests and obstacle-based checks.

    Stay tuned!

  4. Are you living in the same province as I? lol

    People love to argue here a lot. They just don’t like to go out in the street but that’s another matter.

    Anywoo, I’d love to try it out to be proven wrong that the scenario looks flat. But yeah I don’t doubt that Luke help to drive this scenario forward!

  5. They love to argue, they hate conflict: Pas de Chicane dans ma cabane. Duel of Wits are ‘chicanes’ because they are balls to the floor, argumentative, emotional and are BINDING. I’m not saying this makes BW unplayable in Quebec, I’m just feeling that the buy in to get people to use the DoW mechanic is just a tad bit higher.

    However, your scenario touches deep human values “children, politics, risk, uncertainty and death” which, I agree whole heartedly, might be more conducive to lower the buy-in barrier than “Me want sword, you ugly, me win now!”


  6. I keep hearing that les Québeçois don’t like conflict but I don’t agree (see what I did there ;). In public, you may be right. In a more confine area, things aren’t the same I’m 100% sure. I’ve seen it time and time and time again.

    Plus, trust me, the two times I’ve run it, the DoW were not always just about deep humans values. FAR from it. Both groups had no qualms to manipulate or extort to get what they wanted. One even completely ignored the moral dilemna and went to grab power of the council backstabbing half of the group. That was superb >:D

  7. Let me just write my statement of argument and I’ll be right with you. Start rolling your body of evidence. 🙂

    Looking forward to playing your scenario then. 🙂

  8. I’m planning on running the “Sons of the Watch” scenario with my group as an introductory adventure. I like “The Sword”, but I think “Sons of the Watch” has some elements that make it work better as a introduction. It’s more adversarial, which means the group should get to see a bit more of the “crunchy” rules. More importantly, it takes you out of “the dungeon” and places you into a more urban setting with a defined social structure. I think that will set the tone very well for BW and help to contrast it with traditional games. Also, it’s set in Westeros, and we’re all big “Ice and Fire” fans, so that’s going to make it awesome.

  9. “Americans are more feisty by nature than us Canadians/Quebecers…”


    Chatty, you raise an interesting point there. It would be interesting to try BW in different countries and cultures, see how that affects gameplay.

  10. Yan: Yes, I’m aiming at the Dwarf.

    Party: Woot! We attack!

    Chatty: (Facepalm)

    HAHAHA! Awesome.

    One thing to remember is that The Sword is a con scenario; it works great with a group of strangers. With a group that’s played cooperatively together for years, it can go south, again, due to over-cooperation. The idea, however, is to play the character you’re given (for the demos) and play ‘im to the nines by going all in, especially with Beliefs. Beliefs hold the whole thing together and give BW its engine. Idling on them stalls the game. Thankfully that didn’t happen with you guys.

    So while it’s good you let the high spirits hold, Phil, I don’t think you’d have dashed that atmosphere by reminding them of their conflicting Beliefs a bit earlier on and urging them to go for what their characters want and to deal with the resulting conflicts, if for no other reason than to see a DoW or a Bloody Versus or what have you.

    That said… I have a feeling we’ll be seeing some of those in the next write-up! 😀

  11. I kind of knew that the moment I showed up I would be ganked… 😉

    With Phil presenting me with a proper incentive to go against the ophidian’s prefer strategy and the fact that I was curious about the fighting mechanic. I kind of charged in, in the most aggressive way possible, luring for sure the others in a fight. I was hoping that what I was playing was at least the equivalent of a D&D Elite…

    No so much as you’ll read… 😉

  12. LOL Yan. Nice. Here’s how I picture it all going down:

    With a good positioning roll, Yan keeps his distance from everyone and gets his shot off. Dwarf is badly wounded (a knocked and draw bow is like a damn cannon aimed at a cardboard box)… unless his armor roll was a good one. Yan then attempts to parley, saying his fingers slipped. 🙂

    Alternate outcome:

    Yan’s positioning roll to keep his distance sucks and others (the Elf almost certainly) close the distance… Yan fires as the Elf Strikes. If there are no instant casualties, within two volleys, Mu Dhusa dies under “duress” (where “duress” means getting stabbed, slashed and otherwise mangled).

    Meanwhile, if they’re smart, Robbard or Ssiez grabs the sword while the Elf and Dwarf tangle with the Ophidian. 😀

  13. I’ve been deeply embroiled in a Blogging Seminar (as a teacher) and I’ve neglected my blogger duties to finish this series up. I’ll give it a crack over the weekend and post the final part by Monday morning.