Earlier this week, I described some high points of my New York Comic Con experience as a D&D Dungeon Master and how I liked that.
But NYCC was only half of the reason why I got to the Big Apple that weekend. My friend Luke, designer of the Burning Wheel Fantasy roleplaying game and Free Market, was celebrating something akin to the 10th anniversary of the publication of his game on the weekend of 10/10/10 (like he did in 5/5/05). He had generously invited me to join the celebrations and I accepted.
Welcome to Fortress Astoria!
On Friday night, right after my Comic Con shift and armed with a Google map, I made my way to the New York subway to grab the Q express train to Queens to join Luke’s kickoff party. At first, I thought it would be in some sort of restaurant that Luke had reserved… but I was greeted by Luke in his apartment’s kitchen! It was already filled to the brim with Burning Heads and various hipster east coast game designers like Jared (Action Castle, Inspectres and Free Market) and Vince (Dogs in the Vineyard and Apocalypse World).
(Indie endorsement plug: Vincent is having a huge sale of his games in PDF form. You can buy all six of his games for 25$ or a limited time. I’d do it just for Dogs and Apocalypse if I was you)
I’ll spare Luke’s private life but I’ll say that his apartment (or Fortress Astoria as he likes to call it) was like a photo montage of my 30 odd years as a gamer. We’re both the same age and I saw toys, games, books and movies in that place that mirrored the ones I had possessed at various points in my life.
As I arrived, Luke said “ahh, here’s our celebrity guest” which made me all awkward, but I’m forced to admit I got to meet actual fans that gave me praise for my work as a blogger and gaming advocate. A few tried to get me riled up about D&D but I failed to take the bait, resorting to my Multi-Spectrum gamer argument: “You GM it, I’ll play it”.
One among those fans was Rafe, an active member of the Burning Wheel forums and author of Realm Guard, a Mouse Guard hack that follows the adventures of the Middle Earth Rangers of the Fourth Age (I only barely know enough of TLotR to know that this is after Frodo chucked the One ring in Mount Doom). Rafe and I had quite a few discussions on gaming with kids and he presented me with fascinating task resolution engines for kids from toddlerhood to Tweenagers for this new game he was designing. I’m looking forward to hear about that, especially now that my own projects are currently on ice while I focus on my health (losing weight) and my seminars (starting again next week).
A great party all in all and I was honoured to have been invited. I got back to my hotel in Midtown in one piece, happy.
Harvey Pewter and the Burning Frog
On Sunday morning, free of my volunteering duties at the Con, I took the train again to Queens, got lost a bit and found the site of the legendary Burning Con that had been going since the previous Friday afternoon. Games got set up on time and started while gamers ate cheese pastries and Greek lamb omelets for breakfast.
I hung in the back to let the official con goers join their games of choice, I was an unofficial guest who was running a game in the afternoon. I finally joined a Burning Wheel game of whose Game Master, a swell guy named Guy, had flown from Britain to attend the con. Guy’s game was set in the Frogwarts School of Magic, where Harvey Pewter, his friends and (junior) professor Falderal teamed up to find the whereabouts of Professor Mallowick, the Defense against the Dark Arts teacher somewhere in the secret dungeons of House Snakejaw.
Yeah, I found that funny too…
This game was a hilarious classic dungeon crawl. The game was enhanced by Guy’s low British-accented voice and his absolutely maddening MC Escher dungeon structure that, while giving the illusion that we had too many paths to explore, eventually lead to the same areas, but from vastly unexpected directions.
Best moment: I’m squaring off against the Draco Malfoy equivalent while his goon is trying to send Lucy LeSud (i.e. Hermione) down a well by cutting the cord she’s holding on to with a rusted shovel. As I realize that my opponent is way more competent at fisticuff than I am, I use my only spell named “Call of Iron”, point toward the Well and shout
It failed miserably… so I had to run around the cave like a Benny Hill skit to distract Malfoy while Randall was shredding the Professor Snape-equivalent into comatose hamburgers. We got out scotts free because we managed to pin the death of the assistant professor PC (he failed a Sorcery roll very badly, dying on the spot) on Snape.
Al-Chatty el-DM gets a full dose of Burning Wheel
In the afternoon, many participants had left so I found myself without any players at my Mouse Guard Game. I wasn’t too disappointed as I expected this to happen and was also rather tired of my weekend.
Chance smiled upon me as a very nice GM named Alexander offered me a spot in an Tales of a Thousand Nights-inspired Burning Wheel game. The game was Phenomenal. It sold me heart and soul to the Burning Wheel system for sure, at least for story-heavy one shots (I’ll soon post a review of the Revised game which I bought and read on the train ride back home).
Here’s a short recap:
An imperial princess and her party made of her female Magi advisor, male slave (and forbidden love) and scheming female desert guide (that was me!) travel into the desert. There, they find and enter the sunken legendary Library of Worlds to uncover a cure for the Empress’ wasting disease. In it, the Guide leads the party to the Book of Knowledge where the Magi supposedly sets out to study for a remedy (she instead researched an immortality spell for her).
During that time, the Princess flaunted her forbidden love by freeing her body slave and (ugh) reading love poems to him before setting out to research a herbal remedy for her mother as a Plan B should the Magi fail.
With 30 days to burn, the Guide and the Slave set out to find the fabled Djinn of the Library. Being unable to read, she failed to understand that she had to part with something written from her inventory and give it to the script-covered librarian-guardian paper golems or risk getting cursed.
Thus, she got touched by one and contracted a curse that turning her into one of them in as many days as she’d lived years (i.e. 22) as her life story slowly engraved itself on her skin.
As she and the slave approached the Djinn’s demesne in an enchanted garden, the slave touches her growing mark and contracted the curse… but was violently “cured” as the Guide, in a flash, cut his fingertips with her hunting knife.
Slave player: Duuude, now you’re really scaring me now!
Me: Don’t you realize that this is the first time my character showed any sign that she cared about you?
GM: Now you are scaring Me! That’s something my wife would say!
The Djinn, while gracious, refused to grant any wishes unless the Guide found one of his unused names (Oh the irony of games where reading is a skill) within the next 22 days. While she initially wanted to become the true princess and be named heiress to the empire, at that point she mostly wanted to get rid of the librarians’ curse and live.
As they returned to their studious colleagues, the guide threw down the gauntlet at the princess and demanded that research for the cure stop so that she may get the required help to find a name from the djinn and wish herself cured.
(Breaking out of character)
This is where I got a face-full of Burning Wheel’s Duel of Wits. I got to go head to head vs a PC that had great social skills (mine had NONE) controlled by one of the most experimented BW players around. (In fact, he’s part of the Burning Wheel HQ, Luke’s inner sanctum of designers and GMs). I had no chance to win, but I could go for a compromise if I scored a few points before conceding defeat.
Have you ever had one of these few moments where you were so immersed in a game that Roleplaying comes out of your pores like you were born to do it? This was such an occasion. I went to town with all the In-character info I had gathered during the game, the sadness of the librarians collective mind, the forbidden love of the princess, my PC’s hate for the Magi and the Slave’s longing for freedom and fear of my character.
Hell, I managed to squeeze aid from the slave player (even though he kept repeating “I disagree with her goal, but she’s right” and even from the GM who said “I know it’s campy but she has really exploited the princesses’ belief”. Even though I was severely handicapped by my character’s lack of skills… I managed to wring a minor compromise.
Princess: We shall not help you find the Djinn’s name, but I will find a herbal remedy that will slow your curse.
Guide (Trading 16 days for 16 months): Fine, I shall remain in the library, teach myself to read with the help of the librarians and find one of the Djinn’s name myself!
Roll Credits on my PC’s story. (I think the empress got cured too, but my character didn’t care… for now)
I played my PC to the core. Most of her beliefs and instincts came into play. Hell it’s only later in the train, where I started reading the game manual for the first time, that I learned what a big deal it was for the GM to give me an “embodiment” award after the session.
My train ride home was 13 hours long. During that time, I read the new D&D Essentials DM kit, the basic Burning Wheel rules and the Character Generation rules. I will return to Burning Wheel in a later post as I have many thoughts on it, some stark raving positive and others quite less so.
Oh and I also got a box of Gamma World. Can’t wait to inflict that baby on my players!
All in all a great weekend in one of my favourite cities!