One bad session, now I am full of doubt about how to handle our setup.

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Hi, I am MCing tonight and I am nervous, because our last session din't went well and now I wonder how to handle things.


Here some context info:

- My group is mostly used to play Burning Wheel and some occasional storygames & retro clones.
- I am not alway the GM, we often rotate GM when we begin a new campaign.
- We played a first session with 2 players, then we added 2 others.
- This is our third try at a AW campaign.


So on our first session only two player were available, but the session was nice and we established a good setup to work on.

For the second session, two player joined up, but sadly at the last minute one of the first players could not make it. So we had 3 players.

We created the characters, and since it was our third try at AW, we thought it would be interesting to add the Limited Edition playbooks (it was maybe a error).

So we distributed the Hx, highlighted stats and I asked questions to the new players to insert their characters in the setup. Especially the Maestro D' since it playbook bring in a lot of interested NPC.

But I think that while wanting to create a believable setup we accidentally created a status-quo. And now I don't know how to handle this.

Here the PC:
  • Jag the Driver
  • Absinthe the Battlebabe
  • Cookie the Maestro D'
  • Specialist Max the Quarantine

Our setup turn mainly around a pleasure&entertainment providing hardhold, kind of New-Vegas/Carnival place where traveler stop by.
Here is our relationship map:

Here is our area map:

Love letters:
I wrote love letters to each of the PC to give them some starting situation to explore. But it din't work too well. The Maestro D' started up with having trouble with her booze provider & a member of her staff having racing bet debts and trouble with Gams (who control the car racing). The Quarantine started up with being hidden by Rental who was getting very nervous and by having visions about the hardhold. The Battlebabe was busy with wounds from the last session and having trouble with slavers.

The session:
Our first scene was about the Quarantine & Rental (the guy that was hiding him at his place) having trouble with gang members of the hardholder. The gang members tried to press the Quarantine with questions about his equipment, but he got nervous and opened fire on them.

The hardholder captured the Quarantine, after interrogation he agreed to let go the Quarantine if he accept to work for him and bring him more equipment from his stasis base. The battlebabe & the Maestro intervened to avoid that the second in command of hardholder beat the Quarantine while he was kept prisoner.

The hardholder hired the battlebabe to keep a eye on the Quarantine while he go searching for the equipment. The Maestro choose to remain in the hardhold to deal with her problems since she don't feel useful in the wasteland.

So the Quarantine & the Battlebabe went to the stasis facility, there the Quarantine released one of his squad member and she nearly went crazy due to psy harm but the Quarantine calmed her. There was some talk about not going back to the hardhold, but in the end the Quarantine followed the battlebabe advice and choose to go back to the hardhold.

The Maestro D tried to deal with her crew gambling debt, but it got kind of too complicated and this was not really involving.

I had so a hard time MCing, after the previous session I had the homefront prepared with 2 other fronts. But  I had too much info, too many named characters to deal with, each time I had to choose a MC move I felt overwhelmed and din't know what to choose.

There was also the status-quo issue, I din't know how to turn the many relations of the fronts/relationship map into involving & gripping problems.

Playing the scenes was awkward and felt artificial since the characters had no real "played" relation with each others. The Quarantine was so out of this world, we din't know how to interact with him.

I think my major fail was not asking enough question. Maybe because the Quarantine situation took me a little by surprise. Went they went to the stasis facility we had so much stuff to create on the spot, everything felt so sketchy and vague. There I think I should have taken a pause to ask A LOT of questions.

I felt like I failed to make the Maestro life interesting, she had problems to deal with, but none of them felt personal and gripping.

And I also messed up with the Quarantine many brain openings. I din't know what to do with his constant miss. I tried to give him visions with the squad member he had to shoot when he woke up from stasis (Specialist Tammy) to bring her back as a character, but I was improvising and it just felt confusing.

So in the end, MCing was not super pleasant and we were discouraged by our gaming even while we all really liked all of the player characters and the setup. :(

Maybe we played the scenes too fast so they din't seem "real". We also felt the absence of beliefs from BW. It was hard to make problems personal, interesting and gripping instead of being just annoying obstacles.

My issue with the setup:
Since we have the Maestro, now a lot of the interesting stuff have to happen in the hardhold. But in the hardhold, most of the NPC have reasons to desire to keep the status-quo to do business and I have a hard time to menace the character in there. So I consider breaking all of this to remove the status quo, but if I do it too suddenly I fear it will feel too artificial or something, now I am kind of afraid to make moves. So no I wonder if I should bring on something radical like a big raid on the hardhold or sending occupation forces.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2011, 12:57:40 PM by Gwion »



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Re: One bad session, now I am full of doubt about how to handle our setup.
« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2011, 01:20:43 PM »
PC-NPC-PC triangles. I don't see any on your sheet. More NPCs and more looking at them through the cross hairs.

And just because there aren't Beliefs, doesn't mean the characters don't have them.

And yeah, more questions.

And also, take your time. Something seems artificial, take the time to refer to the player's by their character names, to characterize a scene, to barf forth, etc.

And look at you moves. Hard moves aren't always dramatic fuckery or a "fail" outcome. It just means that you, the MC, can do whatever makes sense to you at the time.

PS: with a map like that though, you're set.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2011, 05:59:10 PM by Nathan Orlando Wilson »



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Re: One bad session, now I am full of doubt about how to handle our setup.
« Reply #2 on: October 20, 2011, 02:17:15 PM »
I have some minor PC-NPC-PC triangles not show on the Rmap, but I agree I don't have enough.

One of my issues, I think, is that I have a hard time to bring the crosshairs in the hardhold, like as if we ended up with a too civilized setup.

Re: One bad session, now I am full of doubt about how to handle our setup.
« Reply #3 on: October 20, 2011, 02:28:02 PM »
Your fronts each represent a fundamental scarcity, right?  Each of those is some thing that there isn't enough of to go around.  Even in the hold, people will be vying for whatever is scarce.  Even good people need to eat.



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Re: One bad session, now I am full of doubt about how to handle our setup.
« Reply #4 on: October 20, 2011, 02:44:02 PM »
I feel like my fronts represent menaces too far away & not immediate enough.
I thought I had enough threats within the hardhold to go on while the outside menaces boil up, but now it don't seem so.

Maybe I should make some time pass in the fiction to start up the session with a new situation that bring something urgent to break the status-quo?

Re: One bad session, now I am full of doubt about how to handle our setup.
« Reply #5 on: October 20, 2011, 11:04:40 PM »
I agree, you have to find a way to break the status quo. I think having time pass is a good idea, but also consider breaking stuff or killing people. So perhaps take some of the named NPCs from the Maestro'D and have them cause trouble. One of them is already marked as a trouble-maker - have him/her follow her parts around and push that trouble to it's natural extreme.

A battlebabe is a trouble-magnet; who's got enough of a problem with Absinthe to bomb the holding, or at least dump something nasty in the water? Or, have the Driver's best NPC friend do something stupid because he/she is not that complicated and just follows his/her parts around - "hey Jag, you know that place we were scouting out a while back? I totally hit it! It had all these crates and stuff in it, and there were no guards or anything! Weird huh? I wonder why someone would leave perfectly good stuff untended? Oh, and I heard Joe's Girl's been kidnapped! Who would do that? Do you think they're gonna get her back?"

Also, there are simple things that cause interesting messes. Once when I was feeling like things were too cozy, I had a couple NPCs get totally drunk and piss in the water supply. The whole holding went nuts on them!

Ask questions, let each scene unfold, and follow the rules.

Re: One bad session, now I am full of doubt about how to handle our setup.
« Reply #6 on: October 20, 2011, 11:35:27 PM »
This game sounds like a clenched muscle situation to me: the Fronts and maps and ephemera seem somehow to hinder play.  It may help (or not) to conceive of it as a TV show, with every Move being one of those points in the scene where you can feel a characters' power shift from one to the other.

Do what Meg says: "Ask questions, let each scene unfold, and follow the rules."

Somewhere in there, the players will reveal that in which they are emotionally invested, and then you've got them.  Push not necessarily on the scarcities, but definitely on the scarcities that your players care about.  Put some NPCs in between them and the solution.

And then you make your post-apocalyptic HBO melodrama out of that.

Re: One bad session, now I am full of doubt about how to handle our setup.
« Reply #7 on: October 21, 2011, 03:53:51 AM »
The others said everything I would suggest already but one thing you said caught my attention

I had so a hard time MCing, after the previous session I had the homefront prepared with 2 other fronts. But  I had too much info, too many named characters to deal with, each time I had to choose a MC move I felt overwhelmed and din't know what to choose.

I remember Vincent talked about this on.. I think it was the Walking Eye Podcast Interview and what he said helped me personally a lot. He mentioned something along the lines of: if you think too hard about what is the most appropriate MC Move in a certain situation, you mess it up. These things come naturally if you have a feeling for the way of GMing AW or at least a general idea what the role of the MC is about.
It might be a stupid detail and what was said on a podcast is nothing that is "in the rules" but it eased my mind. Before that I felt the urge to have all the MC moves ready on my mind - spread out in a "If - then"-fashion so I would have the "right" reaction for every situation. After that and after our sessions so far I thought about what I did afterwards and had these tiny realizations like "Huh, so I did separate them", "I guess I was anouncing future badness when I did that."

And even though everyone else said it already: take your time. For about the first hour of play I tried to force myself to come up with things as spontanous and witty as possible but sometimes that just does not work. I just say "Give me a minute, you wouldn't want me to come up with anything too lame." And when you can't come up with anything: ask them for their ideas. Their ideas are as good as yours.

Hope that helped in some way or the other. ^^
a friend in need is a friend indeed



  • 18
Re: One bad session, now I am full of doubt about how to handle our setup.
« Reply #8 on: October 23, 2011, 03:11:21 PM »
Thanks all for the advice & comments. Our last session went well, but it left us with a lukewarm impression and still more doubts.

I let some time pass in the fiction and I wrote love letters to ask what the character have been doing, with what they were busy, whit whom they were passing time, etc. I din't make a big move toward the hardhold since I was unsure if it was a good thing to do right now since I first wanted us to get attached to the people we named.

Before the session we talked about taking our time to play the scenes and on this issue it went very well, our scenes felt more real and easy to roleplay. This is positive.

The session was mainly about 1) taking our time to know the characters, 2) creating more relation & triangles between the PC & the NPC and 3) Placing threats in the hardhold and putting characters in crosshairs.

But in the end we still had difficulty to emotionally care about the characters and their actions. Like if the problems & challenge they were facing where not really personal or about stuff we really want to care about. I don't know we were just left puzzled at end of the session about why rolling the dice was not really exciting.

I think that we are playing the game ok, naturally we still have to get better with applying the principles, but I think we are applying bits of all of them. I think we mainly have a setup problem.

As if we lacked a collective setup discussion where we could have found some buy-in for stuff that really interest us or to build more drive in the character beside a simple desire to survive.

I know that the setup constantly establish itself through asking lot of questions, but I find it harder to begin with nothing and then to discover the setup block by block while playing. It feel like the MC had to intuitively guess then probe the player for their character belief & drives while at the same time playing the game and try to engage things that matter. I think it can be interesting to discover what matter and drive the characters as you play, but I would like to at least start the game with a small base to build on and then to discover more stuff that matter later through the game principles.

Note that maybe it just our group, since we tried 3 time to get engaged by a AW campaign, and each time we messed up the setup to the point that we had to stop and restart anew. I wish the game provided more support to setup the game and to build a strong situation well charged with scarcity and strong drives for the characters to start with. That said I know we can do it by ourselves before choosing the playbooks, it just that it took us three setup and many sessions to understand that we had to do it and it kind of burned us a little.

I think our current setup is not well charged and don't facilitate us for different reasons, but we don't want to restart again. But still, I think we will play a other session where we try our best to apply the principles to see what will happen.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2011, 03:17:54 PM by Gwion »



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Re: One bad session, now I am full of doubt about how to handle our setup.
« Reply #9 on: October 24, 2011, 12:06:51 AM »
Hey Gwion,
You've put in the 'hard yards' in the first couple of sessions, and there is plenty of grist there. Keep going! I for one love the carnivale backdrop. The others have been giving strong and clear advice, and as to your desire for the rules to give you a more pregnant situation charged with conflict? Well, I've found the moves do that. Both players and MC moves. It is a mite disconcerting at first to discover through play the evolving mess through asking provocative questions, but it gets easier (and liberating) to play to see what happens...
Hopefully the players care about their characters, or parts of the situation enough to invest in their moves. Separating them and taking away their stuff, or exposing their stuff's downside is a good way for immediate tension without overt conflict. Jag needs to 'drive' right? What does he? see cruising the wastes? Announce future badness... He's alone 'What do you do?'.