I ran this last night at Chicago games day. Play notes coming soon!
We had six players: Tim and Shari, two of my players, playing Balthazar and Farbuck respectively, and four strangers, playing Lee Adamant, William Adamant, Lora Roswell, and Sal Thai.
No one, except myself and Tim had ever played Burning Empires before, and I was rusty, so I determined to stick with the basics. First I explained the dice mechanics, with Forks and Help, the scene structure, and suggested we’d get into the crunchier bits later.
I saw some strange lights going on in player heads when I explained the scene structure, that they are equal partners in framing scenes. I’ll get back to this in a minute.
My situation prep? Ask each player for a crisis that is facing the fleet, and that deals with their character specifically:
*The Vaylen are catching up (Farbuck)
*Combat fatigue amongst the pilots (Lee)
*Vaylen are infiltrating the fleet (Balthazar)
*Tom Aleph is preparing for a coup attempt (Roswell)
*We’re running out of supplies (Adamant)- especially booze! (Thai)
I was afraid that I was not pushing hard enough with my NPC scenes- a color scene of Tom Aleph making grandeoise speeches over the fleet’s wireless, and another one (leading up to a building scene) of Farbuck rounding an asteroid belt and coming face to face with Scar. But the players more than enough made up for it: they played their characters and beliefs with gusto, with the common starting point of the show serving as a strong foundation for everyone to get into character. I have dismissed the popularity of licensed properties before; I now completely understand the appeal, especially in a con-game, and will probably use this technique again.
Our interstitial scenes quickly segued into Duels of Wits: an interstitial with most of the characters on the bridge of the Galactic discussing the supply problem, and whether it should be a military or civilian scouting mission becomes a heated exchange between Thai and Roswell, with Thai only winning due to a well-played Incite maneuver, repeated dice from William, but we see Lee standing up and throwing dice in Roswell’s direction.
Soon after, Lee borders on insubordination when talking to his father, who angrily calls him into his office, and we have a duel of wits with great stakes: Bill wants Lee to show due deference as a junior officer, and Lee wants Bill to acknowledge his grief over the hulled Zack Adamant. The compromise result is Bill getting his nominal victory in the policy conflict being argued about (he does not issue a diplomatic transmission to the vaylen), but he later goes into his private chambers and grieves and smashes his model ships while sad bagpipe music plays.
Next we upgraded to the firefight mechanics- Lee and Farbuck in their Ember fighters with a flight against Scar and other Vaylen starfighters. (Lee showed up just in time- after all, he had not one, but two relevant instincts). The firefight goals were get away safely/capture Farbuck. I had a 6 to 2 disposition advantage, but they scripted well, blocked my initial Observe and thereby Direct Fire, and got in an Observe of their own, and managed to Flank and Direct Fire down my disposition. Well played by the colonials! Something odd that was noticed: neither of the pilots had Observation, Signals, Sensors, or Hunting. Lord Pilot Hammer, which I was using for the fighter jocks, doesn’t get any of those skills. (Anvil Pilots do, but of course, normally Hammer battles involve big ships, not fighters.) My solution was to let William Adamant use his Hammer Lord trait to bring in a spotter pilot with Sensors 4 as Farbuck’s wingman.
At one point, Roswell’s player mentioned he felt his character wasn’t effective enough; I boggled a bit at this, seeing as how Roswell is probably the most powerful social-fu character I stated (and the only one with a real 2iC), he had some bad luck in his Duel of Wits, but still got a decent compromise out of it, and was strongly setting the agenda for much of the adventure. He said he didn’t feel he was getting to do enough.
So I used one of my remaining interstitial scenes to set up a conversation between him and Helen Thai (one of my Vaylen figures of note), starting with vague pleasantries, followed by Helen increasingly talking about the joys of the way things were- how much would you give to go back to such and such resort, to see your lost family members. The player grins, seeing where this is going, and I activate my building scene- a circles roll to get some hulled marines, a close combat roll to get Roswell bodily held, and then a Surgery roll to hull the character. (The player manages to sneak in a subtle last minute recording of the procedure due to a rather generous interpretation of an instinct, since, hey, I’m hulling his character.) I don’t think I’d ever do this in an actual long-term game- far too abusive to take out a character with 3 rolls- that’s more like a Phase Intention- but it was an unexpected maneuver in the session that nailed how serious the Vaylen are, and how they are much, much more fearsome than Cylons.
After our maneuver was said and done, I talked about the third tier of meta conflicts- the Infection. We didn’t script a maneuver objective for either side- I felt it would be a little difficult to get into right off the bat, and handed out artha awards, including the rewards Roswell would have gotten. Lee got MVP, for featuring in each of the three conflict scenes, and Roswell got Workhorse for being the plot instigator.
I was concerned that the scene limits would chafe the players and they would be concerned about limitations on how often they got to roll dice, but it was quite the opposite; I had to push the players “okay, it’s time to roll dice now and do something.” Also, it was interesting to me that my regular players, Tim and Shari, mostly took a support role in the scenes, but both reported highly enjoying playing their characters and watching the rest of the game at work.
All in all, a successful session. A PDF of my collected notes will be coming soon!