Just finished a six-session Burning Wheel game, which was pretty successful. None of us had played the game before, and we were all keen to try it out. I was excited to scratch that fantasy itch finally, and it's also a game I've been curious about for a while.
I talked about the game a little bit in this post, so I won't go over the details again. I'd like to talk a little bit about how the game worked out in terms of my GMing, and the development of a theme and a kind of premise through play.
The first lesson I learnt was about how to GM this kind of game. We were playing a very politics-heavy game, with lots of intrigue and scheming. There was a secret plot I'd planned, which the PCs would discover through play. In the first few sessions of the game, as GM I was much too concerned with getting the information out "right", rather than just responding to the characters' actions in a sensible fashion, and letting them drive the game. This led to dumb, blocking play from me, which really held up the first two sessions. Eventually I worked out what was making the game suck, and I remedied the problem. I started just prepping each NPC's plans for the session, and played them according to their motives, letting the PCs interfere with those plans as they wished. Once the PCs had uncovered enough of my secret plot, the game really ran itself. They had goals they wanted to accomplish, and as GM my only role was to judge the reaction of my NPCs to those actions, and to set difficulties for rolls.
The other thing I found interesting in the game was the development of thematic play that happend during the game. The players were a pretty broad mix of backgrounds, from a guy who is heavily into hippy story-games, to an old friend of mine who is more focused on tactical simulation and playing his character to win (whatever winning means for that character). I was a bit worried about how this combination of players would work out, in terms of conflicting play styles. I think this started out not working quite right. We had to look closely at some beliefs after the second session to target them more appropriately, but once we did this, things started to fire.
Our characters were three brothers who had made their fortune in piracy, and were trying now to go legit. We did a neat thing with the lifepaths, and made a little timeline of the characters, working out what each was doing during the others' lives. We found some neat coincidences, and worked from those to generate some interesting situations. One of the younger brothers went into the "desperate killer" lifepath just as the elder brother started the "merchant" lifepath. We decided it made sense for the younger brother to have been killing on his older brother's orders, to further the business. This set up great conflicts for the game.
The theme that emerged was all about family loyalty. The brothers were feircely devoted to each other, but also had motives driving them apart. The eldest was driven by profit and greed, and the youngest was enraged by what he'd had to do to help his elder brother succeed. The action in the game continually tested their familial bonds.
I wasn't expecting great character portrayals or highly emotional scenes from this game, but we actually had some pretty powerful material. The final scene was a great reversal of our starting position, with the youngest brother arguing for killing the mastermind of the plot against them, while the eldest argued for working with him. Their argument got personal fast, and all their repressed issues came to light. It wasn't Shakespeare, but it was a good scene, and I think it surprised all of us.
I'm really interested in playing with this group again, to explore this territory more.