One of my design goals in creating the Outlands setting was to involve the players in every aspect of the world and plot creation. While I have crafted the fluff, it was attached to the framework that the players built. Recently the group has moved out of the world creation portion of the preparation, with the gazetteer mailed out earlier this week for review, and we are about done with the plot creation section as well. Next month my weekly emails will delve into character concepts and belief crafting.
For the last plot based question, I presented my players with a trio of options. The question revolved around the initial situation that would start the game: would their characters be sent on a quest, fight in a struggle or be embodied in intrigue. The response came back very strongly in favor of a struggle based storyline. One of the players commented that a struggle felt most in line with the game they were crafting, and the other seemed to agree. I feel that as we play through this initial arc, with Burning Wheel designed as it is, new arcs will present themselves though gameplay.
A struggle story revolves around the character opposing the antagonist in a contest of force. They are the only ones who can stop the antagonist from achieving his goal, whatever that maybe. So looking through the Outlands notes, and keeping in mind the fact that most of the players want to play characters tied either to the Law of Truth or the Blade of the Shining Intellect, I set about crafting the story pitch. It seemed that the Free Cities would be the best place to start this first adventure. We have set the Blades up as the ranger-like protectors of the Free Cities, which make up the western edge of human civilization in the Outlands. And the Law acts as an inquisition, seeking to protect the souls of Mankind from Chaos and the Cult of the Lost. Beyond the Free Cities lies the domains of the Lizard-men, tribes Chaos worshiping beastmen, lost temples of the Syvari, and the hidden refuges of the Cult of the Lost. If this was not enough, the nearest human kingdom, New Sardonia, has started a campaign of expansion. The young heir, Galleffer, possessed of a boundless ambition has turned his eyes and military might of his kingdom west towards the Free Cities.
All of this gives players plenty of story options no matter which organization they ally with. For the Knights we have protecting the Free Cities and exploring the wilderness, while the Inquisition can attack beastmen and search for whispers of the Cult. However, the situation is more than just the setting elements. Stirring all those ingredients and applying some heat here is the pitch I sent to my players:
At the western edge of the domains of men lie the Free Cities. This alliance of independent city states survived the Dark Night on the fringe due to their own stubborn resilience and the vigilance of the Law of Truth and the Blade of Shining Intellect. The greatest threat to the existence of the Free Cities now descends. Armies align to assault them, and end their legacy of freedom. But this threat comes not from the west, although the tribes of beastmen are restless and the Law hears rumors of their ancient foes moving once again through the Outlands. In the east, in the heart of the rule of Man, the kingdom of New Sardonia has sent its armies to annex Baymeet, the eastern most Free City. If the Gateway to the West falls, the rest of the Free Cities will be claimed in a matter of months. In the city of Baymeet, the future will be decided, both yours and that of the Outlands.
I will start the game with the Siege of Baymeet in the eminent future. The plan is to give the players some breathing room to learn the game, and the thrust them into the crux of the first conflict. I can see a number of subsequent adventures spinning off but don’t want to plan too much into the future. If the group likes this idea, I will sketch out the city of Baymeet, and seek to add more story threads in the form of NPC’s, quests, and plots within the city. While the struggle will be the focus, I want to give them enough options that they will forge their own path through this sandbox.