Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Butcher, the Baker, and the Candlestick Maker

[caption id="attachment_972" align="alignnone" width="584" caption="Map for Butcher, Baker and the Candlestick Maker Campaign"]Map for Butcher, Baker and the Candlestick Maker Campaign[/caption]

This past Sunday, October 9, we sat down to start another Burning Wheel campaign.  This one will run on alternate weekends with the Bloodstone campaign.

Prior to the character creation session, Joe provided the initial constraint:  Jaron, Matt, and I were all going to play siblings in a large family (8 or so children).  And our grandfather was a powerful sorcerer, long since gone.  Our parents were simple farmers, mother died years ago and father disappeared around that time.

While we were waiting for everyone to assemble, I suggested that we needed more of a theme.  And I suggested, somewhat jokingly, that the characters should be a butcher, baker, and a candlestick maker. The idea took hold.

Jaron chose to play the candlestick maker, which in Burning Wheel is best done by the peddler.  I chose the butcher, leaving Matt with the baker.

World Burning

But, before we got too far along, we needed to burn up the world.  Using a modified version of Legends of Anglerre's campaign building, we drew up the map.  Using Matt Finch's most excellent Tome of Adventure Design we named our points of interest:

  • Crypt of the Slug Mother

  • Asylum of the Reawakened Prince

  • The Resurrection Altar

  • The Boiling Pools

  • The Spiraling Lake

  • Manse of the Loathsome Keeper

  • The Overgrown Halls

  • The Slumbering Libraries

Already an interesting tale was unfolding.  The map has an ocean, a wild forest home to a fallen empire of elves, a mountain region, and three countries: Atlya, Brothers of the Blind Fire, and the Cromonian Confederation.


Ruled by a regent until Crown Prince Claud Richardson comes of age.  We gave it the aspects of "magical refuge" and "kingdom on the verge of bankruptcy."  It has a magic index of +3 (i.e. abundant), resources +2 (i.e. major exports), and military action -2 (i.e. espionage).  Clearly with abundant resources and on the verge of bankruptcy, taxes are not being properly collected.

Brothers of the Blind Fire

A theocracy dedicated to Aliziac, the Fire that Blinds.  The theocracy's aspects are "sorcerers shall be fed to the flames" and "our fires once burned bright and shall once again."  It has magic +0 (i.e. rare gifted), resources +1 (i.e. rich), and military -2 (i.e. espionage).

The Cromonian Confederation

A confederation of states, it's aspects are "wizard's school" and "patriotic".  It has magic +3 (i.e. abundant), resources +0 (i.e. sustainable), and military -1 (i.e. defensive).

Character Burning

I set about to make my butcher.  Given the abundance of magic, and our families history in sorcery, I wanted to play a sorcerer.  So I burned up Margeret Whiteguard (Born Gifted (Village), Butcher, Lead to Peasant, Auger).

I was very hesitant to play a woman, in fact this is the first time in my gaming career that I've played a woman (at least one that wasn't changed to a woman due to a magic item).  Ultimately I was drawn to the idea of digging through the entrails of butchered chickens as she consults the portents.

As I worked through the character questionnaire, I began working out her backstory.  She had in fact given birth to a baby girl, but committed infanticide when Margaret consulted the portents and saw something unspeakable horror in the baby's future.  A few years later, she was pregnant again, and consulted the portents…only to have the exact same divination.  With the baby, she fled to her brother and forced him to take her baby girl. She returned to her home village and lived as an impoverished augur.

The other players burned up 5 lifepath characters, while I burned up a 3 lifepath character.  Margaret has a very limited skill list: Anatomy B2, Astrology B2, Butchery B2, Falsehood B2, Guts-wise B2, Omen-wise B2, Sorcery B4, and Ugly Truth B2 (10 initial skill points, 2 of which were general skills).  She spent most of her resources on spells (i.e. The Fear, Low Speech, and Phantasmagoria).

She is disturbed (Char), misunderstood (Char), has a prominent scar on her face (Char), is gifted (Dt), has the touch of the ages (Dt), and is a dreamer (Dt).  Every morning, she consults the portents (Instinct).  Through her premonitions, she has vowed to find the family member that is committing vile acts (Belief).

I'm still working on the remaining beliefs, but believe I have quite a bit to hang my hat on.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Family Role-Playing and Unexpected Events

[caption id="attachment_957" align="alignnone" width="584" caption="Le Spitler Friesen Frech Menu"]Le Spitler Friesen Frech Menu[/caption]

Last night was quite possibly the most surreal parenting night of my life; Tonight was likely the second most.


Yesterday, my youngest daughter kept badgering me for money for her Scholastic book order. And my step-daughter kept petitioning on her behalf.  Together, they were working to erode Dad's Deaf Wall of Apathy™.  At the same time, my middle daughter smelled blood in the water and pounced; She wanted to have friends over for a make-up birthday party.  Dad's Deaf Wall of Apathy™ was wearing dangerously thin.

So, in a flash of brilliance or fool-hardiness, I made them schedule an appointment with me.  The youngest was slated to petition for books at 7pm; The middlest would plead for her party at 7:15pm.

As the minutes slowly passed, the youngest repeatedly asked "Can I have money for the books?"

And I replied, "I can answer you now, or you can wait until our appointment.  If I answer you now…"

She'd hastily interrupt with an "Oh, I'll wait."

As the appointment drew closer, I decided that I would put on a tie (something I very rarely wear) and conduct the appointment in as professional manner as I could muster.  As I crept upstairs, I overheard the girls.  They too were getting dressed up for their appointment.  The game was on!

At 6:55pm, I instructed Jenny to call me at 7:05pm to interrupt my meeting.  Then I waited, and informed those waiting on appointments that I wasn't ready.

At 7pm, I let the girls begin to plead their case.  They were passionate, and explaining the case for each of the books.  With a bit of back and forth banter, I agreed and wrote the check.

At 7:15pm, the middle child approached.  And this was a bit more delicate of a situation.  I dismissed her retinue and we talked in earnest about her request.  I broke down the schedule, and we talked about what she was thinking.  We eventually agreed on a date.

And then all hell broke loose.  By this time, the girls were emboldened, and brought Jenny in to see, in their terms, "The Love Doctor."  At this point, the youngest opened a barrage of energetically delivered questions, the first one being "How's your love life?"

Jenny and I played along, as best we could, considering we were talking to with our 9 and 11 year old children.  My heart warmed when the youngest said "You should buy Jenny flowers, like roses or peonies."  Afterall, peonies are Jenny's favorite flower.  And here, my daughter had called out something important to her step-mother.

But the Love Doctor wasn't done, and my youngest went on to suggest that I should take Jenny out to a fancy restaurant.  And from their, the children all agreed that they would make us a fancy dinner the following night, and would be the wait staff for the family restaurant.

Eventually, the Love Doctor was sent off to take her bath, and we were given a reprieve.


With some help from Jenny, the girls prepared the food for this evenings dinner.  They were busy cutting potatoes, making hors d'Ĺ“uvre, preparing menus, and formulating their plan.

When I got home from work, they forbid me to enter the kitchen or dinning room, and went so far as to force me to wear ear plugs so I couldn't hear them planning a romantic candle light dinner for their parent and step-parent.

When the food was ready, they had us wait to be seated, and ushered us into the dining room.  The table was set, with silverware wrapped in napkins, candles, flowers, wine glasses, and even little bells for us to ring if we needed anything.

Jenny and I had a relatively quite dinner where we talked and caught up on our day.  All the while, the children were checking in to see if we needed more water, or were interested in seconds. The girls even offered and then made brownies for dessert.  They were also quite  gracious in helping us eat them.

And to top off the evening, we played a short game of Mouse Guard.  But, to be honest, the autumnal exploits of the Spitler-Friesen-Frech family are far more memorable than a handful of mice delivering the mail.  In fact, I'm fairly certain, that my initial "conflict" with the youngest resulted in a cascade of complications that ultimately wove the tail of a wonderful story.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gamemastering by Brian Jamison - A Behind the Screen Look

[caption id="attachment_928" align="alignnone" width="920" caption="A look behind Brian James' gamemastering screen"]Behind the Screen of Gamemastering[/caption]

A few days ago, I was puttering around on RPG Geek, and I saw a front page forum conversation for Gamemastering.  Intrigued, I took a look, and immediately went to Gamemastering.info to download the free eBook Gamemastering by Brian Jamison.


Brian Jamison states that the reason for writing the book was that by 2003 the gaming community did not have a comprehensive book for Gamemasters.  He rose to the challenge, and over the course of several years, wrote Gamemastering…and is giving the eBook away for free, though he does encourage you to donate or pick up a physical copy.

Inside this massive 300 page book is a formula for starting, preparing for, and running a long-term campaign.

One-Time Preparations

The crux of the first four chapters is Brian pointing towards a better way to start a campaign:

Traditional WayBetter Way
GM chooses game systemGM chooses players
GM buys/writes adventureEveryone agrees on setting
Characters are rolled upGM chooses game system
Start playingCharacters are co-created
Adventure skeleton is written
Start playing

Brian Jamison strongly advocates for a sort of character questionnaire that the players work towards filling out. This involves filling out beliefs, goals, friends, foes, and defining your position regarding various vices and virtues.  It isn't too hard to see parallels to Luke Crane's Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard.

In the case of Diaspora: The Precious Few, we followed the Better Way, and had a fantastic time creating our setting and characters.  There was an interconnectedness to the characters that helped to naturally create the adventures.

In the case of Bloodstone, we are in the process of co-creating our characters. It may look as though I chose the adventure first, but my intent has been to use the Bloodstone series as a setting.  I fully intend to have the characters choosing the direction of the game.

As I've looked at other campaigns that have been memorable, they typically involve characters that were very interconnected, as well as a handful of memorable NPCs.

The general message of these first four chapters is take the time before hand to bring the characters together and place them in a dynamic environment full of relationships and cultures.  By spending time up front, the amount of time will pay dividends both in greatly reduced adventure preparation and in creating a verisimilitudinous world.

Prepping for the Game Session

Much like Apocalypse World and Dungeon World, Gamemastering advocates playing to find out what happens. Before a game session, Gamemastering recommends reviewing the goals, beliefs, friends, foes, and cultures to loosely flesh out what could happen in the game session.

Gamemastering lays out the case for avoiding dungeon crawls and three act adventures, instead advocating to focus on conquering obstacles (i.e. conflict).  Overcoming obstacles involves three steps: discover, challenge, and celebrate; each step of which Brian Jamison provides expert advice.  Use existing NPCs, match skills, everyone must have something to do, challenge multiple characters, pace the difficulty, and have at least two ways out.

In short, know your player and characters and how they connect with the world.  By reviewing this information, and chewing on it, conflict will naturally emerge.

Running the Game Session

Brian Jamison advocates for having using a GM screen.  In doing so, you create a natural division between you and the players.  The division is not for propagating the GM vs. player mentality, but helps to "set up a tiny but important psychological barrier between the players and the Gamemaste."  This division can instill a sense of mystery in the players.  They never know when they have "gone off the rails."

Three roles of the GM are highlighted: Judge, Actor, and Camera.  There is advice on seamlessly transitioning from one role to another.  In particular with regards to highlighting important elements of a scene.


Gamemastering is an opinionated grimoire loaded with ideas and advice.  Given the price tag, all I can say is please download this wonderful work and give it a read.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bloodstone Character Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits

Next Sunday we will begin the Bloodstone campaign.  Below are the 7 characters that have been created.  Two of them are relationships, fully fleshed out.  Not everyone has completed their characters.

Lady Gwen - Savannah

  • B1: I must ease the world's suffering by helping the victims of this horrible war.

  • Traits: Frustrated, Your Ladyship, Tonsured, Faithful (Dt), Mark of Privilege (Dt), Healthy (C-O)

Remy Leduc - Joe

  • B1: I will do what it takes to not get pillage by orcs

  • B2: If I don’t keep my identity on the downlow, I will be swarmed by fans

  • B3: I will help out my friends like Brandon; I’ll be a wingman and share what I have.

  • I1: Be chivalrous to the ladies.

  • I2: Enjoy myself, smell the roses

  • I3: Cuddle when I sleep

  • Traits: Scapegoat, Rable Rouser, Tidy Aspect, Mark of Privilege (Dt), Rapier Wit (Dt), Vigor of Youth (Dt), The Story (C-O), Aura of Innocence (C-O), Charismatic (C-O)

Brandon - Joe

  • B1: I can only trust Remy

  • B2: I need to make enough money for food.

  • B3: Prove I can still fight

  • I1: Always grab some loot!

  • I2: My sword is ready when I need it.

  • I3: If Remy is in trouble, get in the way.

  • Sad Eye, Mark of Privilege (Dt), Sworn Homage (Dt), Cold Blooded (Dt), Tongueless (Dt), Missing Eye (Dt)

Menas - Aidan

  • B1: I will open the halls of Ironheim by fighting Vaasa until my last breath

  • B2: I will show Matt I am not a coward

  • B3: I swear that I shall avenge King Viridin’s death and shall kill Felix

  • I1: Never show mercy to traitors

  • I2: Never turn down a mug of Nog

  • Traits: Humility in the face of my betters, Proud, Bearded, Chuffing, Muttering, Oddly Likeable, Dvergar (Dt), Accustomed to the Dark (Dt), Greed (Dt), Oathsworn (Dt), SHapped from Earth and Stone (Dt), Stout (Dt), Tough (Dt), Stoic (Dt), Sentorious Voice (Dt/C-O)

Holden Reynolds - Jaron

  • B1: Someone betrayed the College, I must find out who

  • B2: I don’t want to use destructive magic, but I’m starting to feel helpless without it.

  • B3: I don’t know who else survived from the College, if they are alive I must help them.

  • I1: Never pass up an opportunity for a good practical joke

  • I2: I will do anything to protect those I’m responsible for.

  • Traits: Base Humility, Inscrutable, Versatile (Dt), Misunderstood (Dt), Council of Mages (Dt), Stoic (Dt), Sixth Sense (Dt), Second Sight (Dt), Domineering Presence (Dt), Thick Skinned (Dt), Imperious Demeanor (Dt)

Dragan Cordell - Jaron

  • B1: I owe my headmaster Holden my life, I must protect him.

  • I1: I trust Holden implicitly

  • I2: I must speak up when I see an injustics.

  • I3: I have to get back up

  • Traits: Base Humility, Always in the Way, Shows No Fear, Trusting, Hazed (Dt), Mark of Privilege (Dt)

Unnamed Dwarf - Matt

  • Traits: Bearded, Complaining, Folksy Wisdom, Accustomed to the Dark (Dt), Greed (Dt), Oathsworn (Dt), SHapped from Earth and Stone (Dt), Stout (Dt), Tough (Dt), Adventurer (Dt), Deep Sense (Dt), Oathswearer (Dt), Virtuous (Dt)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bloodstone Character Questionnaire

Last night I downloaded the free e-Book Gamemastering by Brian Jamison from gamemastering.info. It is 300 pages of all kinds of awesome!  As I was reading it, I drew all kinds of inspiration for my Bloodstone game.  I also noted that Burning Wheel has procedures in place that mirror Brian's advice.

So I'm asking the players to work through a questionnaire.  The player's need not fill this out, but should be prepared to discuss these things and we'll take notes concerning the questionnaire.




  • List your lifepaths.

  • For each of your lifepaths, tell me about a defining moment during that lifepath.

  • For each lifepath transition, tell me why/how you changed lifepaths.


  • Where were you when Vaasa attacked Damara, and declared war (13 years ago)?

  • Where were you when you heard that King Viridin had died (3 years ago)?

  • How is it that were you spared on the Night of the Long Knives (2 years ago)?

  • Tell me about someone whom you lost on the Night of the Long Knives?

  • Tell me about someone that thankfully survived the Night of the Long Knives?

  • What have you lost with the collapse of Damara?

  • Why did you flee to Valls?

  • Tell me about one of your foes…A feud? A person of authority? A superior? A rival/peer?  You need not spend starting resource points on this character.

Beliefs and Instincts

I would like each character to have a belief that relates to one of the other characters.  I would also like each character to have a goal-based belief.  Think in terms of your character's long-term goals, then determine what the first step towards achieving that goal will be…That first step should be codified into a belief.


One of the recommendations from Gamemastering is that I should write down all of the character skills.  This is to ensure that each character has a chance to shine.  There are a lot of skills in Burning Wheel, so help me understand what skills you want to use.  I'm planning on writing down all of your skills, so I have a frame of reference for working on adventures.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bloodstone Party Composition

The players are busy fleshing out their characters, but the group is beginning to form.  Thus far I'm working without character names, and will instead use player names.

Matt - Dwarf Miner

Matt has already played through the entire Bloodstone adventure series about 20 years ago.  As such, he expressed a desire to play a more secondary character.  Matt has opted to play a Dwarven delver turned adventure.  He served under Aidan's character during the early days of the war with Vaasa.

Tentatively, Matt's character was part of a unit who was cut off from the remainder of the dwarven host, and had to do his best to survive for a few years.  Interestingly he is a Graybeard and an Adventurer. He has the power to brand another Dwarf a coward! Yet he himself is an outcast.

Aidan - DwarF High Captain

Aidan is playing a dwarven high captain who has fought the long battle against Vaasa and lost.  He has retreated to Valls after his dwarven clan was decimated in the Battle of Goliad.  Aidan's character will likely be the toughest character in the group, decked out in Dwarven Mail.

Aidan's character has numerous ranks in command, strategy, and logistics, as well as field dressing and surgery.  He will always have something to do.

Savannah - Dr. Quinn Faith Healer

Savannah has yet to burn a character, but she said she wants to play a Cleric.  I figure the best route for her is to create a Religious Acolyte -> Young Lady -> Doctor.  She won't be able to handle herself in a fight, and will likely need a valiant knight to protect her.  This could be very interesting as Bloodstone, as written, pushes a romantic angle between the "paladin" of the group, and the NPC heir to the baronial throne.

Jaron - Sorcerer Headmaster

Jaron is tentatively playing the recently deposed headmaster of the School of Magic.  He will most assuredly be a powerful sorcerer, and likely will be capable of enchanting items.

It is likely that he will be making a retainer to work as a guardian; Though sorcerers are hard pressed to spend their precious resources on anything other than spells.

Joe - Deposed Court Advisor

Joe is likely going to play a deposed advisor to the court who now resorts to begging.  He will be a dangerous Duel of Wits adversary, but will almost certainly run screaming from every combat.

Joe is also tentatively thinking of creating a freebooter retainer to offer some physical protection.

Mike - ???

It looks like Mike is going to be an off-again on again player, so he's proposing an Elven ranger so his character can come and go as needed.

Other players?

It is possible we will have another player at the table.  At this point, I don't know who that would be.  But I'm leaving the options open.


With two players likely creating retainers, I believe we'll have a very interesting group composition, where some of the players may opt at certain points to "don the mantle of one of the retainers."