Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Burning Wheel Review Part 5 (Final Part): Romeo, Juliet, and the Raksha

 So far I've run three playtests, two of which were written about on this blog. Over spring break I decided I wanted to run another playtest, this time with characters made by the players (no pregens). I told them the setting was "Romeo and Juliet gone worse", and to build 4 life-path human characters. I got some grumbles about being a racist bastard, but they relented when I told them I was the GM and they had to deal with it. Go authoritarian GMing!

Anyway, at the last second two more people joined in (literally for Mrs. Schmitty, she walked in the door!), so we had to use pre-gens for those two. We all sat down together, tossed a few ideas around, and generated a setting and backstory.

Backstory: 10 years ago Ellen Guelph disappeared. All rumors pointed to Marcus Redgate, but no conclusive evidence could be found, and so the case remained a mystery. Apollo Guelph, the head of the Guelph household, was more than convinced, however, and declared war on the Redgates. Over the ten years leading up to this session the one-sided conflict became a full-scale cold war, and the city of Venicea suffered as a result.

Player Characters

Saravon Redgate (Schmitty)- The third son of Marcus and Francesca Redgate. Since he's not the heir (or even the second-in-line), Marcus is relatively free to do what he likes, so he's taken up sorcery and a beautiful young fiance by the name of Catherine.

Ezio Guelph (Raphael)-  The brother of Apollo, head of a vineyard. Ezio has given up on getting revenge on the Redgates, and has taken his nephew, Antonio, in and has started to tutor him to take over the vineyard someday.

Livia Guelph (Mrs. Schmitty)- A young sorceress who is related to the Redgates by marriage to Saravon's older brother, Donald. She believes the Redgates are evil to the core and would like nothing more than to embarrass him.

Aragon (Naomi): Aragon is the bastard child of Francesca Redgate. He's on good terms with Saravon. Aragon hunts in the woods out of Venicea. Hunts in the nearby woods, and is good with a bow.

Ezio woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of a crash. He ran outside to find two people running in his vineyard. As he watched, one of them tried to vault the wall and failed. The pursuer slashed her (judging from the scream) across the back, and both of them vaulted the wall and vanished. Ezio's nephew Antonio came running out of the house in a bathrobe, sword in hand, asking what was going on. After a few seconds of exchange Antonio runs out the vineyard, following the two mysterious figures. Ezio, correctly concluding that Antonio wouldn't be able to catch the two acrobatic trespassers in a bathrobe, shrugged and went back to bed.

Saravon Redgate woke up the next morning, to find his fiance Catherine in bed with him... suffering from a debilitating slash to her back. He woke her up, and she said they needed to talk. For the past month, she had been having an affair with Antonio Guelph. They were about to have another meeting last night at Antonio's room, when Saravon's father, Marcus, climbed in and started attacking them! The deep slash on Catherine's back was Marcus's work. She started crying, apologizing for her awful behavior, trying to explain that the affair meant nothing to her and that Saravon was the only one she could trust. Saravon simply told her that they would discuss it over breakfast, and got some bandages and alchemical agents to help her wound. He only found some sedatives, which would work in the short term, but she would need real healing sooner than later.

At about this point, Aragon snuck in  through the back door to see his mother, Francesca (since the rumor was that Marcus wasn't home). He spent a few minutes of chit-chat with Francesca, who asked him to kindly check the door leading to the roof. When he did, he found a trail of blood, and the door unlocked. He looked around the house, and poked his head into Saravon's room. The two of them had a short discussion about the whole "fiance in the bed" thing, and they agreed to discuss it more later.

Now my memory's fuzzy, because we danced around for a little while, but here's the gist of what happened in the middle.

  • Antonio admitted his affair to Ezio, who immediately began preparations to get his nephew out of town and into the country, with the possibility of Catherine joining him. 
  • Saravon used Mage Sense to see if Catherine was being magically controlled, and found a massively powerful enchantment on her. It was so powerful that he couldn't properly scan it, and realized he needed to test the enchantment later. He knew of no mage able to make this powerful of an enchantment.
  • Livia Guelph did a lot of the legwork in this part, gathering information on the Redgates for Ezio. She discovered that the Redgate house was up to something fishy in the criminal element, and that a lot of her former mage students had vanished after taking jobs from them. The ones who backed out had clammed up, and only after a few days of prying did she discover that there was a secret entrance to the Redgate residence in the sewers of the city.
  • Livia established contact with Saravon and Aragon, and convinced them to come with Catherine to Ezio's vineyard at night to see if Antonio had also been enchanted. 
  • When they got there, it became abundantly clear that Antonio was not enchanted. He was just young, dumb, and horny. They also learned that the enchantment placed on Catherine made her seek out Antonio to have sex with him whenever he was within a certain radius. 
That's when it began to rain like a monsoon, and Saravon was forced to shut his Mage Sense off. The rain was magical in nature, and so overpowering that Saravon couldn't afford to scan anymore. Someone knocked on Ezio's door, and he went to answer it.

He got the briefest glimpse before a vampiric Ellen Guelph punched clear acrost the room. Behind her came up Marcus Redgate, grinning broadly. He announced that the ten-year wait was over, and that the town would be "theirs" tonight. My players didn't want to use the extended Fight! rules, and elected for a Bloodied Versus against the vampyr. Aragon led the fight with his bow, and with a bit of aid from his friends chased the vampyr off. Marcus jeered at them, telling them that it was no use. The town was doomed. The rain that was falling would send everyone into a killing frenzy, and there was nothing they could do. Marcus openly proclaimed his part in the affair of Antonio and Catherine, proclaiming that it was just a bit more fun for him to inflict on the two families before they all died in a frenzy of angry townsfolk. Saravon (correctly) pointed out that Marcus had no spellcasting ability, so how did he get away with all of this?

Francesca Redgate walked into the room and announced her part in the tragedy.

She had been the one to turn Ellen Guelph into a vampyr, and had done the nuts-and-bolts work required to get the rain working.

Aragon stared, in shock, as his beloved mother began to tell him that all of them were being messed with for sheer amusement. This was a side project. Ezio's respones was to run up to Marcus and hit him in the face with a warhammer. I handed them the Fight! sheets and told them they weren't getting out of this one. They groaned, but decided to try it. Saravon pulled off the luckiest of lucky moves, and "critted" with the Shards spell, maiming Marcus right out the gate. Ezio very swiftly did the same to Francesca with his warhammer, and she surrendered. They begged that their lives be spared, that they didn't want to go back to hell. Ezio knocked off Marcus's head as his response. Everyone froze in horror.

Marcus's head had transformed into a tiger's head.So had Marcus's body.

Ezio stared at this a moment, and then killed Francesca. Her body also turned into a tiger's. Saravon recognized what they were now: Raksha, demon spirits from hell who played on the misfortune and inner turmoil of other sentient beings. They were the best at sewing discord. And, as they looked out the window at the rain, he realized they'd done their job admirably.

Everyone went under the Redgate residence (thanks to a few water-sealed barrels of Ezio's), and found miles upon miles of interconnected catacombs, filled with rotting corpses of tortured victims. At the very bottom of this heinous complex they found a statue to a god they did not recognize, nor did they want to. They destroyed the statue, and the rain stopped. But by then, Venicea was in shambles.

And with that, my last playtest is complete. My mind, assuming that it wasn't made up already (it was), is made up. Burning Wheel is exactly what I want in a game, down the scripting of actions ahead of time. The use of relationships was the finishing touch for me. All the NPC's listed in this blog post were made up by the players, along with what influence they would have on the story. If anything, I didn't use them all!

In short, Burning Wheel is an amazing game. I heartily recommend it to any and all people who want a good story in their RPGs.