In which Yuan-ti are robbed and multiple magicide is discussed.
The Yuan-ti have the last pieces of the cubes needed to open the door to the tomb. The Red Wizards of Thay were throwing Fireballs and such as a distraction while the team sneaked in.
After some discussion, the team decided to use their access to the Godroads, as there is a fell shrine in the Yuan-ti compound. They found themselves in a serpent cathedral in the middle of their fort.
They had several choices for exits out of the cathedral and they chose the hallway to the throne room. The guard was sleeping, as was the Yuan-ti leader. Stealth rolls were rolled and made.
Kuru the Hobbit thief, covered in mud spread on his face in Conan-and-company-invade-the-serpent-cult-orgy-style, mage-handed the cubes to his comrade, Jusko after looking closely for traps (I should have asked HOW he was looking for traps; I’ll ask more before hitting the dice next time). He also took the sleeping Yuan-ti leader’s gladius-style short sword, which turned out to be a flame-brand.
The team spread out across the room while Kuru used Mage Hand. Bugwump climbed up the wall above the door. When the yuan-ti knocked to tell their leader about the attack and no one answered, they were too scared to knock again. The team got out without any blood spilled – a flawless heist.
The Red Wizards met them afterwards and were shocked to find them entirely unharmed. None of the Red Wizards saw them go in. They were unnerved but low on spells.
During the week I wrote a dream for each character with questions. Some of the players responded in the comments, others responded verbally before the game. Bugwump had dreamed about his Arch-mage self, before his power had been taken away by the Lady of Pain. His Arch-mage self gave him advice but he couldn’t remember what it was.
As the Red Wizards flew away, I asked John if Arch-mage Bugwump would have told him to always kill rival wizards after they had been in a big battle and spent their spell slots – he agreed that was the kind of advice his old Arch-mage self would have given along with, “Never trust wizards.”
They discussed murdering the Red Wizards. After an Insight check, they think one might switch sides if offered but they are not sure. That one knows they are from Sigil.
Wrote a blog post about it, like to read it? Here it goes…
I used to just jot down ideas, knowing that when I covered an 8.5 by 11 piece of paper with names and ideas I usually had a good amount of game time. I’m enjoying tables lately.
Daydream about some cool places, some cool factions, some cool tensions and you can always roll a few if you don’t know what to do. Here’s what I might have in front of me before DMing such a thing:
Ancient Witch-Tree Coven
Ancient Standing Stones
Factions (roll twice if you want factions fighting – same result might be in-fighting)
Queen’s Elves, returning to lands they left long ago
Witch-Elves, sworn to fell trees, never left
Tieflings (with a keep and small castle town in Devil Gorge)
Gnomes, ply the river
Scattered human nomads, hither and yon
Something ancient has stirred
One faction’s forces is stalking the other from stealth
One faction’s forces is retreating desperately
Diplomacy among two factions is occurring
One faction is celebrating a holy day
Two factions are trading goods
Encounters do not have to be fights.
And here they are in layout. Sometimes things change from notebook to google doc to layout, which is neat.
Maybe I roll a few times to see what is going on before the game.
The Ancient Witch-Trees, Tieflings twice and a Holy Day.
Maybe a Tiefling assassin squad is waiting to ambush some Witch-elves but some of the Tieflings don’t want to attack them on their holy day, not wanting to upset the Witch-trees.
What are Witch-trees? No idea. I have an idea that their bark looks like bone… Creepy sentient trees…
I rolled the Witch-trees again but got the Satyrs and Gnomes and Factions Trading. Nah, just Satyrs and Gnomes trading on the river – pretty normal. Maybe they are gossiping about seeing some shady looking Tieflings moving toward the Witch-trees.
I’d grab some names for each faction type, maybe daydream about some NPC’s. Name the river. Daydream a bit about the Queen’s Elves and the Witch-Elves and the Tiefling Knight who runs the castle in Devil Gorge.
What do the humans who follow a nomadic path around the forest’s edge think of all this drama?
That is it. That is enough to start. If I need more I can roll and we haven’t even discussed linking the players to this mess.
That is a post for another day.
Make your own! Let me know how it goes at the table.
Fucking hell that is elegant. Nice work, as always, Rob.
What religion or temple did you all serve?
NOTE: Maybe an elf god owes Pelor a favor from some ancient myth or the tiefling is there because the Devil-God pledged several years of service from his finest children.
What was your character’s favorite festival at the temple?
What mythological story resonated most deeply with your character?
What holy/unholy relic did you all hide in the caves not far from the temple and why are you compelled to go back and get it now?
What wealthy class of folk did you use your cunning to fleece and who supported this scam?
What made you realize this way of life was unethical or what inspired you to set this way of life aside?
Who was the most dangerous person you ever conned?
You fleeced someone more powerful than you could have imaged and got something with too much heat on it. You all hid it in the depths of the city and agreed to not look at it again for a decade. Next week is the 10th anniversary. What was the item you all hid away?
How did you survive when particularly zealous group of paladins killed every criminal in the city?
What is different about being an adventurer that your character likes better than crime?
You all left a job undone and feel a duty to go back and finish it. Name the job.
What kind of entertainment did your troupe offer and what artistic skill did your character offer?
What story did you tell to give common folks strength against those in power that led you all to set entertaining aside and become adventurers?
While researching for your next piece you ran across something all too real. What was it and what treasures are said to be hidden there?
What is the name of the famous heroic at that made you all locally famous?
How did that act of heroism make is impossible to go back to your normal lives?
What did evil did you uncover during your hero work that needs to be dealt with immediately?
Where did the guild tradition in which young apprentice artisans go out into the world and accomplish a goal before settling down and becoming journeyman come from?
Who among you makes the fanciest work and who makes the most reliable?
What ancient piece of lore has the guild given you to guide you in your adventure?
What fell shadow is moving across the world that led you to seek seclusion in the monastery, far from the goings on of the world?
What does your character miss about the world?
What does your character love about the secluded life?
What news has come to the monastery that is causing you all to leave seclusion and venture out into the world?
What noble clan has welcomed you all within its lineage?
NOTE: But Judd, you say, we have a tiefling and a dwarf and a half-elf and a fire genasi…how can we all be in the same family?
Family is complicated. Make something up and let me know how it goes.
What mythic beast adorns your heraldry and how does it offer a philosophy to your clan?
Now that the crown is lost and succession is uncertain, what are you and your comrades preparing to do to safeguard your clan and the people you watch over?
What is the boundary that marks the lands of your births and civilization?
What do you miss from home? What about the “civilized” lands has surprised you?
NOTE: Yeah, you all get to create a civilization beyond the wall together. No need to do everything at once. Go slowly and learn about your home through play. Have fun.
What is threatening your home and inspired you all to pass the boundary and adventure among these people who call themselves civilized?
What did you study?
In what ways is your group of sages like a university in our world and in what ways is it entirely different?
Whose scholarly work does your character cherish above all others?
What did you all learn through your studies that caused you to set the quill aside and go out into the world?
What was the name of the ship that wrecked in this strange land?
What did you adore/hate about the captain who was lost at sea during the storm that wrecked your ship and landed you all here?
What was the ship carrying? What is it dangerous and why must you hide it before anyone nearby finds out what it is?
NOTE: Rob did most of the work on this one in his tweet above but I’ll include stuff here anyway.
What inspired each of you to serve under this army’s banner?
Describe the banner together.
Who among you knows that your commanding officer is now a vampire?
During the war you all hid something. Now that the war is over you have returned to find it. Why did you hide it? What is the name of the dangerous, fell place where you hid it?
What is the name of the city that made you all orphans and drove you together?
What did you all find together that led you to become adventurers and leave the city?
Who is the monster you’ve all agreed to return to the city and destroy now that you are all trained adventurers?
In Book 2: Starships of the Traveller Little Black Box, it talks a bit about getting education and training. Easy enough to Apocalypse it up a bit. Here’s a different way to say something similar, drawing inspiration from ( or ruthlessly pillaging, depending on your POV) Apocalypse World and Burned Over:
But, Judd, you ask, what about stats?
I like that we’re saying that the limits of the human body aren’t interesting to us. What you use to change the world is your training and in order to gain training you have to go out and interact with the world.
What about non-basic moves?
Non-basic moves are all tech. Maybe the True Sword, a networked blade with an embedded AI, gives you a move like the Gunlugger’s Not to be Fucked With, where you fight as a gang. Certain drugs give you access to psychic powers.
I’m listening to the podcast, Trying to be Kind, a show in which a group of young, brilliant academics read and critique Tabletop RPG Design in Theory and Practice at the Forge by William J. White.
It is a smart and scathing look at a book about a time in the hobby that I look back on fondly. It is a vivid reminder that when we are swimming in privilege to be aware of it and do better. The show’s title, the nervous laughter and the intense effort put forth to be constructive are all sobering examples of how far folks from marginalized communities feel like they have to go to tapdance around fragile, white, male egos.
I’m listening and I’m hoping that the show leads to (more critical readings of academic game design texts) a sequel tome in which these brilliant gamers get paid writing credits in a follow-up book, criticizing the book before it, taking a critical look at the Forge as a movement and looking to the future they envision us all creating for independent game design. Hearing smart folks discuss the game design community’s past and how we choose to remember is great; hearing them talk about the future and get paid doing it would be even cooler.
I’m shutting up, listening and not being defensive.
If you are a white dude who I know from that era, shush your face and have a listen. And everyone else should check the podcast out too. It is brilliant, funny and educational.
Thank you for joining us as we play Stars Without Number. When we played together last year we all wanted to get together again and play some more. Here we are. We’ve agreed to give it a shot for three episodes and see how we’re feeling.
This is our first session. Misha and Jay are playing Envoys, here to bring Sector Alas Theta back to the Terran Mandate after 300 years of isolation. Inspired by Star Trek: Discovery, we’ve decided that the Terran Mandate is a benevolent organization, with people who are doing their best in a bad situation. The Envoys will be briefed on what initial scans picked up and choose a planet to set their orbital platform HQ into orbit around.
Tonight their characters are getting to know each other as we explore Alas Theta’s factions and the sci-fi mysteries that drive them.
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.