I’ve been in the mood to do some Burning Wheel – and finally get a hold of my friend Les after the holidays and set up a time to do some gaming online. We decide on doing a high fantasy game, set in a fantasy/Polynesian-ish setting.
A’lepoi, 27, a man who is a healer with the magical ability to glide atop water without a board. His family has always had various water-related magical abilities, but actually are relatively low on the caste system, for unknown reasons. (We worked this out based on the fact that healers with magic ought to have some kind of status, but he’s got a 0 Resources stat, and the lowest of Reputation scores, so it’s sort of a fun mystery we’ll find out as we play.)
A few hours after sunset, Royal warriors come to A’lepoi’s post by the sea – they tell him to gather his belongings for a trip – the King has orders for him. As he steps outside, a pair of temple acolytes confirm he has everything before burning the hut he stayed in while praying over the fire.
The task required demands a clean start, even unto destroying the place you begin from.
The Island of Temples is the source of much of the local islands’ abundance – at it’s center is the Great Temple, built around the Elder Tree, which blesses everyone with amazing fertile land. Three times A’lepoi is cleansed – by water, by purified sands, by smoke of fire, and holy words sung just so. Within the temple, he is brought past the first layer of curtains, another prayer, another layer of curtains, another prayer, another and another. Nearly to the center, he stands besides a handful of others – a noble, a warrior, a priestess and a seawoman. They are brought before The Tree and introduced, as they were called for a task.
No one else is allowed to hear the task, for the seeds of destiny are not lightly planted in the hearts of humans.
The great trunk splits open, revealing a withered old woman, made also of wood. Achingly she stands from the seat within, and A’lepoi is left awestruck by her mana. A voice of rough wood drawn across rough wood, of wind through branches, speaks. “I am at the end of days. My magic will sustain the land a day and a year more, but not beyond that. To the east a seedling of mine has kindled life. Seek her. Give her my necklace, and bring her back.” And before he can move again, the elder spirit has passed a necklace to the priestess, and returned to her chair.
A heaving sigh and a gentle breeze of her last breath, a withering of wood, and the trunk seals again, twisting itself as a tree left battered by too many storms.
A’lepoi brings himself to breath again and a single, brown leaf falls from the tree.
Our story begins with the death of a god.
The path out of the temple is silent, and every priest has their heads bowed. Outside, Ehehene, the priestess looks to the group of souls burdened with this task – “We do not speak of what has happened here.”
Some things are too sacred to repeat. Some are too dangerous. This? Both.
The group gathers a small distance away. Lady Ehehene looks to them – “Before we leave – there is a small matter. We are going on a quest of utter importance. But…” – she looks to A’lepoi – “…one of us stands here without rank. We should grant him a rank before setting off.” Although addressing the group as a whole, her plea is to the young Arapata, the second son of the King.
For A’lepoi it was always the question of his family… Everyone knows them as healers, as magically gifted. But as long as they’ve been around, they’ve never been granted rank. A rumor sits that perhaps they’ve given some great offense or committed a crime in the past, or perhaps are cursed in some way. No one knows, and that unease has always lingered.
Perhaps it was too much too soon – to risk changing something that has been the same way for generations. Or maybe it was just the fact they just witnessed the death of the lifegiver of their kingdom.
Or maybe it was for exactly the reasons that came from Lord Arapata’s mouth, “Although it would be helpful to grant him a rank should we be divided along the journey, if we are divided… the 5 of us, we would be in much greater trouble than what can be solved with hastily granted titles. And… if we hurry now, we might avoid troubles yet to come. Time is short.”
Even without rank, the young man would show his worth. Perhaps, though, this was a mistake nonetheless.
Hours later, they approach the Island of Southern Winds. A fierce night battle is seen, raiders and warriors battling just a distance up from the beach.
“Our allies. We should help. And gain glory.”, proclaimed the warrior, Inia, who readied his spear.
Kahani, the navigator, gave a sharp look. “If we fight, we are delayed. If we are injured, we are delayed even further.”
Lord Arapata again, choose the path of speed, “They have their own warriors. And if we fail to bring back the Seedling, everyone will starve. We cannot afford to stop.” The decision was made.
But not for A’lepoi.
“I will just take a quick look. To make sure their warriors are doing well enough.” and off he hops onto the waves, gliding across the water faster than a boat would carry him.
At the beach, the raiders have left their boats. He grabs an oar and quickly begins cracking the hulls and piercing the bottoms. Many of the raiders will not find their way home tomorrow. When the raiders realize his deeds, he grabs a fallen flag of the Southern Wind, and dashes across the water holding it aloft.
“The Southern Wind has more allies than the waves! And they will not rest!”
The island’s defenders, heartened by this supernatural feat and brave cry, redouble their efforts, and the raiders are driven away.
“I am a healer. My duty is in the saving of lives.” Great deeds from simple reasons.
A few hours later, a storm is nearly upon them. The water is choppy and danger looms. The options are few: rush back to the Southern Wind Island, drive forward and hope to reach the Land of Three Mountains before the storm strikes… or go to the closest available land – The Isle of Tall Stone. Three generations ago, there was war between the Temple and the Tall Stone, and neither have spoken since the barest of peace was made.
Some favor retreat. Inia swears his spear will create peace if there is none. Lord Arapeta decides on meeting the Tall Stone and suing for hospitality.
They land and are greeted. A tense and formal greeting ceremony is held… when A’lepoi sees, the raiders, too, have decided to come here to avoid the storm. The alarm is raised, warriors grab weapons and children are pushed into homes.
Rakapa, a young warrior of the Tall Stone exclaims, “Years ago the last time you came, you brought bloodshed to our shores. Let us see which side of it you stand today!” as he hands A’lepoi a spear with a grin and a nod.
A’lepoi grabs a flag of the village, ties it to the spear, along with the flag of the Southern Wind, and strides upon the water, leading the warband, screaming to the raiders – “Did I not say the allies were greater than the waves?!?” Their shock buys a few precious moments where the sling stones and javelins of the Tall Stone find mark and the raiders turn and flee, paddling as fast as possible…
Without striking a blow, two islands have been saved today. In time, though, some will say it was the water walker himself who summoned the storm to slay the raiders entirely.
Returning to the Isle of Tall Stone, they celebrate indoors as the winds and rain batter the land and ocean. Rakapa shares drink with his new friend and asks, “I never expected a healer to be the first to seek battle! Without a boat, striding the water no less! We have never heard of your family? They must be renowned, tell me of their deeds!”
A’lepoi quickly evades, “My family are healers. I, myself, rescue those at sea who are bitten by sharks, stung by jellyfish – for the Island of the Temple, I am a life guard. …and yours too!”
Rakapa, pauses. “Say that again?” and half the room goes silent. A’lepoi’s words hold more meaning than he realizes.
“I am a life guard… and yours too?”
“So you are!”
An elder stands up and offers a toast: “Whatever happened with the war before… That was a mistake. This summer we will visit!”
As the life magic of the Elder Tree begins to fade, the world will only know it is as the time when the Island of the Temple sent forth great heroes – mighty warriors, powerful kahuna, and diplomats and peacemakers… all from the few actions of a man without rank.
All of the above happened with 2 hours of gameplay. I took the initial idea Les gave me and did the math to get his character together in about 30 minutes the day before. After we worked out “high fantasy” I figured to start with the death of a god to kick it off.
Between deciding on a quest-style game and it being a one-on-one game, I figured having a party of NPCs would be useful for both character interaction and setting up conflicts. The videogame equivalent is The Walking Dead videogame, where the player is constantly put into choosing sides between various NPCs, most of whom will have a good reason to suggest one option over another.
Instead of doing the full social roll, I just have Les make a social roll as the “tie breaker” one way or another, sometimes giving an extra Advantage die if he has a very valid point, or if he says something in line with the NPC who is most influential on the topic.
Early in the game he was constantly failing the rolls by a single success. By the end, he made some uber successes, even as Beginner’s Luck rolls. Even still, this session was a testament to the value of “Conspicuous” as a skill.