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[Burning Wheel] Sacrifice

Started by Luke, June 01, 2004, 05:31:19 AM

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Wow. Wow, wow, wow.

We just finished our latest episode of our City on Fire campaign. I think the premise is actually starting to form, to become clear. Sacrifice. What are you willing to sacrifice for your beliefs?

Angsun has lost family and friends, she seeks to redeem the city's matriarchal rule. How far is she willing to go? Already she's aided and abetted the destruction of one her people's great landmarks, the Dome.

That's all detailed in this thread.

Jong Il is on a mission from his master. He is charged with ousting the demons who rule this city. He is the man on fire. He is prepared to sacrifice anything  -- his station, his honor, his dignity, his friends; he even sees the people of the city as lambs for his sacrifice.

Ging Lei wished to sacrifice the least. He only wanted to aid the rebels with refuge and supplies. He ended up sacrificing his business and livelihood. He's already lost it all in the game and had to rebuild from scratch.

Master Copernicus has yet to come to his real sacrifice. But already he has driven himself to destitution in order to further the schemes of the rebels.

Ssaem's sacrifice is also yet to come, but it's form is known. His identity and true nature are on the block. Also, he will have to confront the possibility of losing his master, Hessem.

Hessem's sacrifice is tragic -- his ideals. He's been sent to the city as a missionary full of faith and lessons. He is fighting hard to maintain his ideals in the face of a very grim struggle. But his tragedy pales in comparison to Ibusu's....

Ibusu's sacrifice came in the form of his own life. He gave it willingly for what he believed. His sacrifice is the topic of this post.

As of last session, the players had blown a hole in the ancient dome roof of the tyrannical government. They had also set up a confrontation between the foreign Navy and the elite enforcers of the Dome, the Hobgoblins. The ambush was due to happen the morning of the bombing.

Initially, everyone thought that this would be a scene for Rich/Jong Il alone. Jong Il, being their agent inside the Navy, was ordered by his commander onto the lead ship in the raid. He was told in no uncertain terms if this failed, it meant his neck.

However, out-of-game reality weighed in. Andy, Ibusu's player, was going to be out for the next four sessions. We were planning on wrapping it up in that time. He sincerely wanted closure for his character before he bailed.

He made a "snap" decision to be present for Jong Il's ambush/raid. He wanted to rush into the ambushed hobgoblins and be their saviour and thus sway them to his cause. (Rebellion against the Dome, rather than working for the Dome).

I knew this was the case before the game started. Andy and I discussed it on the phone during the week. (thus it wasn't really a snap decision).

So, at this point in the game, I stopped (we had just finished some tidying up from last week's session) and asked everyone what they wanted to do. I told them, that since this was Andy's last session, the spotlight really should be on him. Since he was going to the raid, I felt we should focus on that. No one disagreed, but we had some characters who were unlikely candidates for the raid -- namely the merchants, Ging Lei and Copernicus, plus an exhausted and terrified Angsun.

Andy/Ibusu had already convinced Hessem to accompany him up river and had already set out. Rich/Jong Il had already reported for duty at the Navy compound and was making ready.

So we had three players who might sit out, bored. I definitely did not want that. I offered characters better suited for "raiding" from our host of NPCs. At first, Pete playing Ging Lei the fixer/merchant accepted a Temple Guard (long story). Then he decided his character was actually needed up there, so he used his Resources and contact to hire barge men to get him, Copernicus and Angsun up river.

Sanj/Angsun was also going to pick up a stand-in character for the night's episode, but I think some things that Pete and I said let him know that this was going to be a big moment. So he finally decided to take Angsun along with Ging Lei.

So all characters make it up river to the site of the ambush. Rich/Jong Il attempted to inform his Naval superiors that there will be a counter-ambush. He fails his Falsehood/Persuasion/Navy-wise test. His commander pulls rank and they continue on. (Hessem/Danny had previously informed the hobgoblins that there was going to be a raid.)

The Hobgoblins are the keepers of gunpowder in our campaign. Rich/Jong Il tried to warn the captain (actually tried to order the ship's siege-crossbow crews himself) about the bomb-ship heading their way, but he failed his Command/Navy-wise test. His hulking frigate was hit and began to sink. He managed to rally his men and get them into escape boats and get to shore.

Meanwhile, Andy/Ibusu and Danny/Hessem had been watching the proceedings from a vantage point on shore. They had both rolled terribly on Stealth tests and were easily spotted by Hobgoblin patrols. They were surrounded and captured.

Pete/Ging Lie, Sanj/Angsun, and Dro/Copernicus were driven ashore by the explosion and were subsequently captured by the hobgoblin patrol.

Leading this patrol was Andy/Ibusu's old second and shaman (an NPC contact that he bought).

Rich/Jong Il and his men got tangled in a nasty exchange of fire with the part of the hobgoblin patrol. He lost most of his men and just decided to bag it all together. (His 6-success Stealth roll helped his decision.) Rich/Jong Il convinced his men to go AWOL from the Navy and he exited the scene.

The rest of the players were taken to the hobgoblin commander. We call them Patriarchs in our campaign.

Andy/Ibusu had been pushing for this confrontation since episode one. His character believed that the Patriarch was not suited to rule the clan. He believed he was leading them to ruin by serving under the demonic rulers of the city. His character's kicker, as it were, was that he had just abdicated his former command and was looking to join the rebellion to actively fight against his patriarch and the men he formerly commanded.

Thus, this was to be a big moment at the table and in the story arc. Building up for at least eight sessions.

However, at this point we were about midway through the session and we have a player (Rich/Jong Il) sitting out. I invited him to my side to play the Patriarch's hawkish captain. He agreed, and we had everyone participating. (I tell him that the one trait he's got to worry about is Loyal and his Oratory, Command and Etiquette are all at B5. That's all he needed to play.)

What's at stake here is Ibusu's life and the fate of the hobgoblins. If Andy/Ibusu cannot convince them to leave the service of the Dome, then the character is doomed -- physically and morally. His entire thrust up to this point has been to this moment. So this is it for the character! If he can convince them, then his purpose is renewed.

We all knew we'd take this to the new Duel of Wits mechanics, but I wanted everyone to get into the mood and get the cases firmly stated so I allowed for a good hour of opening arguments.

Once we got our arguments firmly staked out, we got the duel of wits under way. Hobgoblin side: Ibusu has been disloyal, distrustful and dishonorable. He must submit to the will of his Patriarch. There is no other issue available for discussion. PC side: Ibusu is your most loyal servant because he dared to disobey -- to open the eyes of the hobgoblins to the truth of their situation. Also, they made a case for there being a bigger picture surrounding this -- it was about more than just one life.

(Best quote candidate: Patriarch, "What is a soul worth where you come from?" Dro/Copernicus, "A soul? About twenty gold pieces, that's it." We all broke character, howling laughing.)

We used a modified "mass" Duel of Wits variation. Each side got to make a point or rebuttal. Everyone that bolstered the point got to add helping dice. Each side could choose who would "do the talking" (which indicated who would roll the dice) after the points had been stated. Each side had a pool of dice that represent their body of argument. This body had to be reduced to zero dice to win the argument.

The fabulous phenomenon that developed was that of players begging other players to speak up and participate -- the helping dice were desperately needed. Dro can get quiet at the table, and Pete was begging him to please help. Subsequently, his interjections were pointed and his dice were crucial.

Even better, the players out-diced the Patriarch and his captain with their amazing load of social skills. We had two characters that could muster 8-9 dice with a primary skill and FoRKs -- that's without help, artha or traits. But they rolled abysmally and the Patriarch and his captain (me and Rich) dragged them down into the mud.

After about two hours, the debate ended in an explosive argument amidst finger-pointing and shouting. The dice? A tie. Both sides reduced to zero in two desperate gambles to knock the other out and retain some dignity. I also think both sides wanted to force a compromise -- which is what happens as a result of a tied duel.

Based on the way the arguments had been carried out, the compromises were agreed on as follows: Everyone can walk away and we agree to meet again as enemies. Ibusu can rejoin the clan, and everyone else can walk away. Or Ibusu can sacrifice his life in order to remove the stain of disloyalty from the Patriarch; the rest of the players can use this opportunity to renew discussions with the Hobgoblins about giving up their ways and coming to the rebel side.

Without Ibusu's ultimate sacrifice, the Patriarch would not even consider the player's utlimate goal -- that of them turning sides. (the Hobgoblins technically won by a hair, so they got to state the terms of the compromise. However, everyone agreed to these terms.)

Andy turned to the group and said, "There's no question as to what my decision is."

I then let everyone have their say -- I wanted each player to be able to state any objections to Andy/Ibusu's plan.

There was five minutes of discussion. No one objected.

Andy sent Ibusu to his fate with these words on his lips, "To die with honor is all I can hope for; it is my greatest reward."

Ibusu was executed with honor by his own Patriarch.

That's it. Session over.

Holy. Cow.

Ibusu was awarded a posthumous Deeds point.

Next week, with the issue of loyalty and dishonor off the table, Danny/Hessem and Sanj/Angsun want a second shot at the Patriarch. They want to convince him now that Ibusu was right and that his willingness to die proves it.

Also, Rich and I really flummoxed the players by sticking hard to our Loyal trait and forcing the entire discussion into one of parsing the bounds of loyalty. Rich played an amazing hawkish samurai type. I couldn't have held fast without him and was very glad to have him on my side of the screen.

Even so, the players did incredibly well working together to pick apart our arguments and continue to spin points in their favor. Danny's priest, Hessem, was impassioned and desperate. A lot of fun to watch! Persona point for him!

All in all, though the session was not traditionally exciting or action-packed, I felt it was  an incredibly gratifying session. (And I'm confident that my players agree with me on this one.)


PS Duel of Wits rule out soon, don't worry.


alas, the sharp steel of the Patriarch's sword...

Honestly, I couldn't have hoped for a better end for my dear Ibusu. Out-of-game scheduling conflicts aside, I truly believe that the function and worth of the character had come and gone with the bombing of the Dome behind him - unless, of course he could have pursuaded the Hobgoblins en masse to rally to the insurection, with Ibusu as defacto commander. Because the Patriarch embodies the structure of the HG's military culture and is addled by cavorting with demons, this was nary impossible, barring a coup d'etat - and even then, it would have been really diffucult to regain honor amongst the troops (if even possible at all).

That said, I think that this was the best the haunted Ibusu had to offer. His primary goals had failed (regaining command of his troops, and therefore regaining his honor), and his grief and shame had overcome his ability to command.

If Ibusu's willingness to die could help sway those Hobgoblins who had held him in contempt that their Patriarch has lost his way, than so be it. But primarily, for Ibusu, death with honor is indeed the greatest reward.

I'd like to spend my posthumous Deeds point on Ibusu's soul, cleansed in the River.