Friday, 22 September 2017

Wrestling with Burning Wheel in Vanaheim

Osculan of Nemedia
I wanted to see if I could get an episodic Hyborian campaign going. I originally considered the Conan RPG from Mongoose Publishing, then Iron Heroes, but looking at both of these, I've come to the conclusion that they now contain too much unnecessary crunch. There's too much number crunching slowing the game down. Playing with my kids, they love complexity, but there is something about the level based advancement of Iron Heroes that now seems to irritate some deep part of my gaming soul. I can't quite put my finger on it.

The kids, they like RuneQuest. Having played it once, they seem to like its absence of levels and access to magic. The plot of the first Hyborian adventure is now well-advanced in my notebook. Given I tend to work on adventures on the train or just before I go to sleep, I like rule books that are small and compact and easy to carry around. While the trend within the industry is towards colourful, glossy, artpacked hardbacks, one of these plus a laptop can be difficult to lug around to meetings in London.

My plot is set in Vanaheim. I've sketched it out, plus some of the main NPCs. It already sounds very political, but thinking back to some of Howard's original tales, they feature quite a bit of skulduggery and infighting between factions. The adventure also contains an excellent initial motivation for the heroes to be at Starkad's Great Hall, at the head of the fjord called Starkadsgarth.

I launched a previous Hyborian campaign using a Vanir raid into Asgard, similar to that mentioned in The Frost Giant's Daughter and Legion of the Dead. It was inspired by both. The new scenario again starts in the north lands, however, it seems to be inspired more by Series 1 of Vikings and A Fistful of Dollars. I'll see where it takes me. My initial idea was to not keep it in Vanaheim, but that, I think, I'll leave in the hands of players. There is opportunity to both remain in Vanaheim, or to leave.

I'm also aware that Dragonmeet is coming up in a couple of months. Last year I ran some Deadlands Noir there. The question is whether I run another game. They always seem a bit short of GMs, to be honest.

But that still leaves us with the rules system.

I'm torn between three, namely RuneQuest 2 (Mongoose Publishing), Burning Wheel and an Apocalypse World hack. I'm still reading and digesting Apocalypse World, which I actually quite like. I did consider Savage Worlds, because it does a great job with pulp settings, particularly the Beasts & Barbarians supplement, but for this game don't want to be burdened by miniatures, cards and chips.

To make my mind up, ever a fan of character generation systems, I may just decide to generate the same player character in all three systems and come to a final decision. Apocalypse World, by its very nature, does not really require character generation in advance, so here we'll be focusing on RuneQuest and Burning Wheel. I will have a go at Burning Wheel first.

The first pre-gen is Osculan. I see him a devotee of Mitra, up from Nemedia, traveling in the northern wastes to spread the word. He is a missionary, seeking to bring the light of Mitra into the lives of the Nordheimers, with mixed success. He has come to Starkadsgarth to preach.

Osculan of Hanumar, itinerant Nemedian preacher

Life paths (4) - Village Born, Pilgrim, Student, Zealous Convert

Age: 32

Will B5, Perception B3, Power B4, Forte B4, Agility B3, Speed B3, Circles B3, Resources B0

Health 4, Mortal Wound 10, Reflexes 3, Steel 6

Skills: Religious Rumour-wise B3, Read B3, Religious Diatribe B5, Doctrine B5, Road-wise B5, Write B4, Astrology B3, Shrine-wise B3, Rule of Law B3, Anatomy B3, Inconspicuous B5, History B3, Rhetoric B3, Symbology B3, City-wise B3, Doctrine-wise B4, Ancient Languages B3, Cudgel B3, Foreign Languages (Nordheimr) B3

Traits: Collector, Infallible Religious Logic, Righteous, Firm, Demagogue, Booming Voice, Driven, Inspirational, Plain-Faced

Affiliation: Mitra cult in Vanaheim (+1D)

Relationship: Gefion, wife of Fjolnir (covert convert) -4 RPs

Equipment: Traveling Gear, Pack Horse, Clothes, Astrology Instruments (Toolkit)

Beliefs: I will spread the light of Mitra among these ignorant savages. The way of violence is not the only way - I will use my wits and charm to persuade others. The nobles of Vanaheim will be my path to financial security.

Instincts: Keep my cudgel within reach at all times. Go to ground when fighting starts. Always make sure my horse is looked after - I don't fancy walking out of here.

Osculan is from Nemedia. Village born, he went on a pilgrimage which initially inspired him to follow a religious path. He studied in the Nemedian city of Hanumar but significantly has not become a priest, instead leaving university to become a wandering zealot. He has no Faith, however, so is often beset by doubts. In the last few years he has wandered north, beyond the Hyborian kingdoms into the lands of the Cimmerians and the Aesir. He keeps a cudgel on his person, but relies on his wits, knowledge and debating skills to get him out of tight spots. He is aware that true power in Vanaheim lies with the thanes, and it will be their families he must spend most time working on. Gefion is the wife of Fjolnir, brother of the recently deceased Starkad. Fjolnir is one of the thanes jockeying for the position of high king of the Vanir in his brother's stead. Osculan sees an opportunity here to increase his influence, wealth and prestige in the far flung north. As a secret convert, Gefion could prove useful.

As you can see, character generation in BW is quite involved. The characters it produces, however, are unique and in-depth. They are very hard to optimise and there is no such thing as a perfect build. The designer's objective is to produce more well-rounded player characters. I can see Osculan as someone who is a stranger to Vanaheim, but he has objectives, a mission, that go beyond simply acquiring wealth. It does take time to build a character like this, and I'd equate it more to Traveler or Shadowrun in this respect. I'm not sure some groups will have the patience for it, to be honest.

Burning Wheel is designed to produce a very different gaming experience from, say, RuneQuest. RQ is a much older game, and its possible failings as a system lie within that age. It was spawned in the very early days of RPGs, when they were evolving from war games. It has some great, great concepts, but I'm starting to feel that it is a beast of its time.

1 comment:

  1. I've always heard that BW is quite fiddly to play, and I once tried to read the rulebook and it made zero sense to me, so it's interesting to see you talk about it as a less complicated option!