Burning Thieves

edited December 2008 in Actual Play
Setting Generation

Cross posted on the Burning Wheel Forums

So Colin, Morgan, Dan, Brian and I have been running a gritty game set in a town full of thieves and lorded over by a mysterious sorcerer king. The game is inspired by television shows like the Wire and Deadwood, with a good deal of Lies of Lock Lamorra and some Gangs of New York thrown in. It’s set in an ancient trading village located in a coastal desert. Think pre-Christian Spain with cults to the dead gods of death and shadow and you have a good idea.

First we burned up a situation. Colin, the GM threw out gritty and thieves guilds for a starter and we all started riffing. The city is known as Al Mede'an, its trading partner and and recently conquered nemesis Tunir lies miles away at the end of the White Road which has carried goods, or soldiers, between the two for ages. The city has grown up in layers as the ages moved forward, each building resting on countless eons of ancient ruins below, a honeycomb of dark and twisting passageways with the rich moving ever upward toward the light.

Al Mede'an is ruled from an immense ziggurat by a sorcerer king rumored to be of great power, though all we know of him is rumor and innuendo. The sorcerer king has been away for as long as we can remember, at least he was until his sudden return a few months ago. The day to day life of the city is run by the Guilds. There are thousands of “guilds,” guilds for merchants and smugglers, dung collectors and jewelers. There is a guild for the gladiators that entertain the nobility on festival days, fighting to the death to the honor of the sorcerer king. But those are not real guilds. The true guilds of Al Mede'an, the Guilds, are bands of thieves that have grown up during the sorcerer king’s absence.

The headsmen of the Guilds meet at a high wooden table in a tavern in the middle of Al Mede'an. Each has his own seat at the table, so to speak, and thus each leader has become known as a Seat, or collectively “the Seats.” The High Seat, the Scarlet Seat, lies empty save for the head of a crossbow bolt buried in the chair’s ornately carved back. That, and a dark stain of blood from which the chair draws its name. The seat has been empty since its previous owner was murdered during a power struggle that saw the city streets erupt in flames and bloody murder. Now, things have become calm. But each of the Seats eye the empty chair while watching his back should one of his colleagues try to seize an advantage.


  • edited December 2008

    The other Seats are the Valdrada's Seat held by a major crime family known as the Valdrada; the Cabal's Seat an upstart group of thieves who are direct rivals to the traditional Valdrada Family; the Shadow's Seat held by a small and strange group of occultist and sorcerers, rumored to all be blood relatives; and the Vacant Seat, usually held by a representative of the Sorcerer King.

    The PCs are local thugs made good in a neighborhood known as The Cracks after the way its covered streets have collapsed in on themselves leaving only small fissures for light to find its way to the poor denizens of the area. We are sworn brothers, the Bloody Roosters, who have avoided allying ourselves with the Seats because our neighborhood has little to offer, and because it lies directly between the Temple Downs, which is part of Valdrada territory and Spire Hill, which is controlled by the Cabal.

    The Bloody Roosters operate out of the Wanton's Roost Bawdy-House, a brothel owned by the duelist Malak Longblade, played by Morgan, who most know simply as The Longblade. Malak has brought on a little muscle in the form of his old friend Bakir Abd'avi, played by Dan, a military scout turned freebooter who has raided all the way to Tunir where he picked up the nickname Shriv, after a local bogeyman that Tunri mothers use to scare their children. Adar “Cricket” Tanzik Qatan, played by me, has been sworn brother to both of them since adolescence, when they lived on the streets, stealing what they could to stay alive. The fourth member of the Roosters is Kalid, played by Brian, an exiled noble of the Valdara family who runs a small smuggling operation out of the Cracks. This was Brian's first BW game and his character changed a bit over the first few sessions.

    Next up: Characters, BITs and how they turned setting into situation.
  • So the characters. We used four to five lifepath characters with one longer term belief and one shorter term belief to drive things. Each character had a third belief held in reserve to be created during play. My character is Adar “Cricket” Qitav, a pickpocket and hedge magician. For my long term belief I decided that Adar was searching for the fate of his mentor who had gone missing, possibly taken by the Sorcerer King’s witch hunters or killed by a local Guild capa that wanted control of his own sorceress. My short term belief revolved around getting revenge against Jareq, who I decided was a local bully boy that had slaughtered my parents before my eyes when I was eight.

    Name: Adar Tanzik Qitav. Alias: Cricket. Beliefs: 1. Jareq massacred my family. He will pay! 2. I will learn my mentor's fate. Instincts: 1. Leave nothing for the Hunters. 2. Always collect foci for my magics. 3. When surprised bind their sleeves. Relationship: Vreil Lhem (Mentor) Reputation: Witch’s apprentice. Corruption trait: Forked tongue.

    Morgan’s PC is Malak Longblade. He owns the Wanton’s Roost Bawdy-House and has become something of a celebrity in a play that has been making the rounds. Folks know him as one of its characters, The Longblade, a cold blooded and Desperate Killer, a Whoremonger and a Duelist. He picked up on the Jareq NPC in his first belief, elevating the bastard to VIP status and suddenly we had a nemesis in the works. His second belief shows what he thinks of the arts.

    Name: Malak Longblade. Alias: The Longblade. Beliefs: 1. I will get back my best girl from Jareq. 2. I will find that damned playwright and give him what he deserves. Instincts: 1. I always go for the Kill (set for great strike). 2. At the first sign of trouble I draw steel (unsheath a weapon). 3. I always keep myself clean. Reputation: Famous Name. Resource: The Wanton’s Roost Bawdy-House.

    Dan’s character, Bakir is a former freebooter with military training. He is very much set on robbing the Sorcerer King’s tribute caravan. His second belief about avoiding another guild war could prove interesting, since the city is poised on the brink of mayhem.

    Name: Bakir Abd'avi. Alias: Shriv. Beliefs: 1. I will rob the Tribute Caravan from Tunir. 2. Avoid another guild war at all costs. Instincts: 1. Always keep my crossbow at hand. 2. Always listen for rats. 3. Always note the Exits. Corruption trait: Speaks with rats
  • Okay, we’ve played several sessions now and things have really started heating up. I am going to try to catch up in this post. (One note: We retconned Adar’s back story a bit so that his parents were massacred during the recent Guild warfare, rather than 20 years ago.)

    The first session opened with Cricket finally working up the nerve to enter his mentor’s workshop and start looking around. Among the various sorcerous stuff (candles mounted on rat skulls, a scrawled circle of eldritch runes) he finds a head carved out of black stone. The head begins talking to him in his mentor’s voice, telling him that in order to help her I must find the ancient temple of the Cult of the Drowned Crow God somewhere beneath the city.

    Khalid, following his belief that we needed to recruit more men, circled up a gladiator, looking to fix a match and bolster our resources. Unfortunately, he tripped the enmity clause and angry words ensued. Offended, Khalid was now determined to poison to poison the gladiator for his insults and went to see an apothecary who is a contact from his Valdrada days that would help him in this endeavor.

    Shriv was pursuing his designs for robbing the Sorcerer King’s tribute caravan. He circled up an old friend from his days as a freebooter. Unfortunately, he too trips up on the enmity clause and finds himself in the Roost doing a face plant into a table, while hearing the words “So, I hear you’ve been looking for me.” Malak watches as his muscle is dragged out into the street for a bit of a working over, which only ends when Shriv uses his instinct “Always keep my crossbow at hand” to back the fellow down.

    At this point, we are sitting in the Roost, when we get a visit from an Jareq’s henchman, the scar faced Gadesh. This brute has long braided hair, two wicked sharp hatchets and a “Chelsea smile,” a scar from where someone (later it was determined that that someone was Cricket, and they have a particularly antagonistic relationship) widened his grin for him with a sharp blade. He walks into the Roost, points to Malak and says “Jareq wants to see you. Alone.” Gadesh implies that Jareq will kill Malak’s “best girl” Sybel if he does not comply.

    So Malak, Gadesh and a few of Jareq’s men make for the Temple Downs, with Cricket and Shriv shadowing them. When they get to the temple ruins that Jareq uses for a headquarters, Cricket stealth climbs to an upper floor and creeps inside, where overhears the altercation between Malak and Jareq. Jarak tells Malak that he realizes he’s done him wrong by stealing Sybel from him. He respects Malak and wants to make things right and hands Malak a small bag of coins. Malak tells him that things can’t be made right so easily. And we’re off on a Duel of Wits, with Jareq’s stakes that the payment makes him look good in Sybel’s eyes and the keeps up appearances for the Guilds. Jareq wins, but Malak gets another bag of coin as a concession. Sybel stares daggers at him as he leaves with the money, knowing that he thinks of her as a simple whore that can be bought and sold. Meanwhile, I sneak back upstairs and steal a ring from Jareq’s room on my way out.

    Some time passes. We are sitting in the Roost one night when who should appear but Jareq, with Gadesh and a few of his men. Gadesh buries an axe in the floorboards by way of announcement. Jareq sits and informs us that he has decided to become a partner in the Roost and we have six days to start paying his half of the take. He’ll also be taking the prettiest girl in the room for a “down payment.” Another duel of wits between Malak and Jaraq. Another loss for our side and another concession. Malak slices the prostitutes neck and tosses the body to Jareq saying “There’s your downpayment.”

    The next day, Malak, Cricket and Khalid devise an ambitious plan to frame Jareq for the murder of a Valdrada assassin. The plan involves finding and killing a Valdrada assassin before he makes a hit and planting Jareq’s ring on him, killing gadesh and covering his eyes with the assassin’s alchemical amber assassin coins. Then we sit back and watch the fur fly as the Valdrada go after Jareq for killing their man and Jareq goes after the Valdrada for hitting Gadesh. Too bad that Shriv was away for the day or he might have been there to point out how this could all lead to another guild war that he has vowed to stop at all costs.

    The first part of the plan involves Khalid circling up a Valdrada connection to get some information. The plan is fraught with danger, but Cricket decides it must succeed. So he retreats to his workshop to enchant a luck charm, beseeching the carven head for help. His mentor’s voice speaks again, chastising him for his lack of focus and demanding he put aside his jealousy and devote himself to her cause. This leads to a Duel of Wits test in which Cricket is able to convince the head that he will not be able to focus on her plight while his parents’ murderer walks the earth. Cricket attempts the enchantment with 2 helping dice from the head and fails. The enchantment will work, but it is tainted and requires blood, quite a bit of blood. Desperate, cricket finds one of the drunks that live in the alleyways of the Cracks and, doing his best not to kill him, stabs him with his knife. Blanching, he takes the blood he needs and carries the man, now severely wounded, to the nearest place of healing, vowing to never again sacrifice another for his magic (creating his third Belief).

    To be continued…
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