Character burning: The crunch

20 January, 2008 at 12:06 pm (Burning vikings, Burning Wheel) (, , , , )

This Wednesday I had the pleasure of actually getting the Burning Wheel campaign going. Sort of. BW is an excellent game, but it does have the problem of involved character generation, especially with only one copy of both core books (and one Monster Burner which was not used).

I am the GM. Players are Thalin, wgaztari and ksym. Thalin has played around one con game of BW and is somewhat familiar with the basic mechanics and knows what combat is about. wgaztari is new to roleplaying and has only played in Thalin’s Like umbrella. ksym has played some Warhammer fantasy roleplay (and is somewhat familiar with lifepaths), as well as the aforemention Mage game.

Thalin had a concept and started burning it, adjusting pretty well to the system, which was not surprising. ksym took to it pretty quickly, too, and at the end of the session told that the chargen was pretty inspiring. I agree. wgaztari had problems. BW is not the game for beginning roleplayers. He had similar problems in the Mage game, too, so it may be he does not enjoy building characters. Maybe it is due to the huge amount of choices one can make and inexperience at building character concepts and translating them to mechanics. Or maybe he just doesn’t see the relevance: The chargen choices don’t matter. Note to self: Ask about this later.

The session ended after midnight (University starts at 8.15 on Thursdays and I would rather not go there without at least four hours of sleep) and all the rules-stuff was dealt with. The actual meat of the game, beliefs and instincts, we did not have time for. Some ideas were thrown around, so it should be a breeze. BW has handy character burning worksheets. By “handy”, I mean absolutely invaluable. I am pretty happy at printing them. I can do chargen with pen and graph paper, but I doubt the others could have achieved the same.

The cool bits

Lifepaths are the way BW goes. The orcish lifepaths are available as a free sample (and I recommend reading them for pure inspiration; they positively radiate inspiration). Each life path gives skills, skill points, traits, trait point (or not), resources, years and sometimes stats, physical or mental. Pretty standard fare, but it does create character history with little extra effort. Also: The first skill and trait (if any) are always mandatory for each LP. This gives nice colour to characters.

The truly brilliant part are resource points. It is a pool of points that can be used to buy gear (equipment, stuff), property (house, workshop, cattle), affiliations (membership in a group), reputations and relationships. Usually there are a few extra points left after the expensive things are bought. Minor relationship is five points base, but can be modified: -2 for close family, -1 for extended family, -2 for romantic love, -2 for hatred or rivalry, -1 for a forbidden relationship. The minimum cost is 1. This means that almost every PC will have a minor relationship that is rivalry or forbidden, both of which are great story fuel, especially when combined with love or family relationships. Players get to create a number of NPCs that I must make relevant in play, which goes a long way towards building player investment.

Thalin’s char

The lifepaths for Thalin’s char, whose concept is “cheater”: Village born – village peddler – lead to outcast setting – itinerant performer – poisoner – conscript – pilgrim

Those do tell a story, sort of. The pilgrimage was just an excuse to get a few more skill points. The story explanation is a bit hazy as of yet, but it’ll clear up.

Stats: Will 5 (good), perception 4 (normal), power, forte, speed all 3 (poor), agility 6 (excellent). The character is quite likely to be very wounded if ever engaged in combat, melee or ranged.

Skills: Poisons is grey, or heroic, 5 (very good), cooking 5, inconspicuous, falsheood and herbalism 4 (professional), mending and sleight of hand 3 (trained), and big heap of skills 2 (nominally trained). Stealth is 1, which ought to be amusing, unless he wants to increase it.

Traits: Odd, off-kilter, hide before battle, collector, scheming (edge in social conflicts), chronologue (always knows the time of day, which means Thalin will keep track of time or impro it; less work for me), tidy aspect (the character is always tidy, no matter the circumstances), unlucky (arbitrary decisions are always wrong; can be bought off by having the character screw up at the moment of total victory, which removes the trait and gives artha [hero points]), plain-faced (call-on for inconspicuous).

Gear is not interesting, but notably includes a pet and no weaponry, not even knives. Relationships: Forbidden relationship with the giant, forbidden and hateful relationship with the village witch, his aunt.

Resources ability, which is actually used in game and derived from resource points used on affiliations, reputations and property, is zero. Nada. No money, no favours owned, no nothing. This’ll be fun.

ksym’s char

Concept: Warrior and the wife of a loser (ksym is male; I hope this turns out fine). LP: Son of a Gun (born at sea, in other words), sailor, marine, lead to village, village guard, village sergeant.

Stats: Good power and forte, others average. Steel attribute, used to resist pain, fear, surprise and shock, is notably 7, which is not bad at all.

Skills: Sword grey 6 (expert and heroic skill; ouch), command, bow and field dressing 4 (professional), intimidate 3 (practiced), seamanship 2 (nominally practiced), plus shield and armour training. Pretty focused combatant, all in all.

Traits: Sea legs (no sea sickness, call-on for speed on deck), sailor’s oath: I vow to drink to excess at every opportunity I get (this will be fun trait to poke at), bruiser, thug, cold-blooded (reduces hesitation; that is, makes steel tests easier).

Relationships are romantic family: husband (this may be liberal interpretation of “close family”, but let it be so) and hateful family: child. Fleshing these out ought to create some great story fuel. Also has a local reputation, the details of which were not written down. This must be done.

Oh, yeah: Resources 0.

wgaztari’s char

Concept: The son of the village king/leader/ruler/whatever title I will be using. LP: Village born – village guard – village sergeant – lead to soldier setting – bannerman – lead to village – captain of the guard (technically, guard captain is a city lifepath, but it was a good fit for the character and the lifepaths are not built for vikings, so I tweaked it a bit).

Stats: Good will and agility, others normal. Notable attribute is steel at 8. When combined with will 5 that gives hesitation 5, this character can actually succeed at steel tests, which is rare enough.

Skills, which may be revised significantly: Spear 6 (expert), command 4, conspicuous, brawling, sword and tactics 3, few at 2, plus shield and armour training.

Traits: Thug, honoured, exasperated, gloryhound. The last on is interesting, but requires some explanation. Generally, when a character fails a steel test, there are following options, of which player selects one: Run screaming, stand and drool, swoon, beg for mercy. The game has a bit of a gritty edge. Gloryhound adds another possible reaction: For glory! In melee, this means charging the opponent. In ranged, this implies a steel close, which basically means charging the opponent. In both cases, it has a significant chance of being suicidal. Cool trait.

Relationship: Rivalry with a brother (about the leadership of the village), 1D affiliation with the crew of the ship, 1D reputation as fearless. Resources 1, which means the character might, with good luck, actually be able to get a bread to eat.

Conclusion

All of them have good story potential. BW is good at that. I can barely wait for generation of the beliefs and instincts.

I’ll post the characters on BW wiki, once they are finished.

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