Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Burning Wheel Review, Part 4: Trouble in Hochen

S'yeah, the series that focuses on Burning Wheel continues. I found out in the last review that Burning Wheel is designed for a very specific experience, one that really cannot (and should not) be tweaked. So this time I tried to play to the playstyle presented. I grabbed five people for Trouble in Hochen (another adventure from the Adventure Burner), and sat down to play. We had a knight, a sorcerer, a priest, an elf archer, and human trapper playing in this scenario.

The set-up is this: the town of Hochen is in the middle of a bad famine, they've abandoned the god Tolmud, and now there's a demon causing havoc! Everyone but the trapper was sent an official town letter asking for aid. They all traveled to the town, only to find that Marten, the mayor, was standing at the bridge telling them that nothing was wrong. Unfazed, they started to argue with Marten.

I stopped the game. "You all know you have a social combat mechanic for this, right? It's called the Duel of Wits". Everyone looked at me, rather excited. They chose the priest to be their primary talker, and I handed him a Duel of Wits sheet, and gave one to myself. The argument lasted for 6 volleys, ending with a splendid 8 damage Dismiss from the priest against Marten! Unfortunately Marten managed to knock off a few dice off the Duel of Wits pool on the players, and so a compromise was struck. The players were allowed to stay in the town and look around, but Marten wasn't going to admit to writing the letter that summoned them there. Not only that, but he wouldn't aid them in their search beyond giving them a place to stay for the night. The town showed signs of horrible mangling; claw marks were everywhere. The trapper noticed that these were bear claw marks, and no demon. After a meager meal and a lot more question-dodging, everyone went to sleep. They decided to take shifts because the townspeople looked a bit... unkind.

The trapper decided to go stay with his mother (both were natives of the town, although the trapper hadn't really been in the town for a few months), whom he hadn't seen in awhile. He found out that people had thought Tudom, the god of righteousness, had deserted the town. There were whispers that the people had fallen away in turn. Concerned, the trapper asked his mother to go stay with a friend until they could sort out whatever was going on.

The elf was up and keeping watch when he heard someone trip and curse outside. He looked outside to see most of the town heading for the central longhouse (this town's in the way up north, so hanging out in an open air market is beyond dumb). He alerted his companions, who snuck up on the house. The trapper joined them shortly thereafter because of the fore-mentioned tripping and cursing. The townspeople brought out an idol to the goddess of fertility, Tawaret, and started to pray to her and ask for her intercession. After a long while of chanting they started to talk about how the town was going to hell in a handbasket because of Marten's inability to lead. One man, the village blacksmith, said that they needed to sacrifice Marten, the "interlopers", and that bloody trapper to Tawaret to appease her and make her favor the town. The townspeople, in true cultish fashion, agreed.

That's when a giant grizzly bear busted through the side of the long house and began eating villagers. The knight immediately threw himself into combat, and the rest of the group moved to aid him.

This is where, once again, I screwed up. I thought: Fighting villagers is always boring. I'll let them fight the bear!

Fortunately, my players got the idea faster than I did. Fighting the bear was total insanity. They barely bruised the darn thing, the sorcerer got knocked around, and everyone in general was feeling pretty scared of the bear by the second volley of Fight! They ran. Amazingly, so did the bear.Which had black oil dripping from its orifices, BTW's (figured that might be an important detail) Almost like it was called off or something...

As they exited the building, the blacksmith confronted them and blamed them for causing even more trouble. He pulled out a blacksmith hammer and charged. The knight stepped in and knocked the blacksmith clear out. The sorcerer sensed that something really funky was going on magically around them, and she started to look around and see where the source was: Marten's lodge!

The rest of the party found a townsman lying on the ground, leg broken. Black oil was seeping into his leg and, despite the party's best efforts, the townsman died after a few moments. The priest stood up and gave a frankly beyond-epic speech, commanding the town to return to Tudom, that he had not abandoned them, that they had abandoned their god instead! More faith was required to make it through these hard times, and what could a fertility goddess do to help them, when their problem was wavering of heart? The townspeople looked on, shamed, but no one stepped forward.

Until they started hearing Marten screaming obsenities at them. He told them all to go away, that what they said couldn't possibly be true, he knew the truth. All of it! They noticed black oil was coming out of his eyes and nose as well, and the priest decided enough was enough. He exorcised Marten.

Now, here's where things get tense. I asked the priest to roll for a minor miracle (Obstacle 5), and he had 5 dice to roll. Now, granted, he could reroll 6's, since you can do that with Faith. He spent a Fate point, which allowed him to reroll 1 of the failures. He rolled 3 successes. He failed the check. I told him to receive a -3D wound penalty.

As the priest prayed over Marten, both of them began to scream in pain. The priest was sweating blood. The mayor? He was dissolving. With a final cry that left everyone's ears ringing Marten dissolved into a puddle of black goo. A crash was heard in Marten's house. Everyone ran in, to find a 3 foot-long black rod sitting on the floor. The sorceress reached to touch it (against the severely wounded priest's advice), to find that a part of the rod because black oil and ran under her fingernails. Immediately she found herself grappling with the will of rod. And while she did become infected, she finally found out what happened, as the rod revealed its properties to her.

The black rod was a necromantic item, that only a true death artist would be able to wield. This rod required a true master to make it, and (after a few questions of the townspeople), no one had ever known Marten to be a sorcerer of any kind. The black oil turned people into revenants within 3 days, assuming they were tough. The liquid needed to be drained out of everyone's body, and fast. The town doctor (the trapper's mother, ironically enough) was brought was in, and everyone was saved. The priest stayed to help the town get back on its feet, and within a few weeks things were much better.

So what're my impressions? First, Duel of Wits is AWESOME. Awesome awesome awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I'm probably going to keep modding up Star Wars to accommodate some of this stuff. Everyone was jazzed by the fact that talking was an actual part of the game now, and role-playing was required. Fight! rules were terrifying. Genuinely "holy crap everyone could have died" terrifying. People much preferred to talk because bloodshed was crippling, like in real life. Basically I found that Burning Wheel has a grittiness to it that makes actual role-playing more than a nice thing, but required for survival's sake! That far more suits the style of game I like running, as the damage tables that I drew up for 4th edition (which I'll eventually release), should attest.

Basically: this is the game I've always wanted to run. Period. Go Burning Wheel!

EDIT: Luke Crane, the creator of Burning Wheel, linked to this post via his Twitter! YEAH!!!!

FURTHER EDIT: I suppose I should try to act a little more dignified. I am a 23 year old man, after all. I mean, I guess the previous wasn't too bad, all things considered. I didn't squee. Anyway, I would like to thank Luke Crane for taking notice. Tis rather flattering. OK, I'm probably making too much of this. I'll shut up now.