I just listened to the first two episodes of Sean Nittner’s and Judd Karlman’s actual play podcast about their Shoeless Peasant game. It’s the first time I’ve listened to other people play. I did this while making bread, making salad, cleaning up the kitchen, simple manual stuff to do with my hands. I don’t think I’d like to see it on video, but on a podcast, it works well. Hearing two people do nothing but play, practically no banter, very slow and deliberate, very much concerned about the rules and the dice, and forking and helping, beginner’s luck, scripting for the duel of wits and all the other details that used to turn me off, turns out to work really well.
I used to like a raucous table of six players or more, where people are exited, there’s shouting and groaning, cheering. Things go back and forth quickly. What a change in tempo to my usual games. Everything is slow and deliberate. The dice are cast and some words are spoken, the hosts talk about what they see is happening, decisions are made, scenes change, but dice rolling is used like an oracle to see which way a story goes, even for minor things: does the woman run when she sees the elvish runes? Does she cut her feet on a sharp edged stone when she runs? Everything is tested.
At the same time, the rules seem to push for poignant moments – the kind I love so much. In the duel of wits, the two hosts have to add some words to make their points, their dismissals, their feints, and it leads to some wonderful lines. The girl needs to be calmed and it leads to some wonderful lines. A decision needs to be made and it leads to some wonderful lines.
Now, you could say that nothing stops you from saying those lines in a different game. I remember our last session in the Humblewood campaign using D&D 5. Previously, we had kicked some mousling thieves from the upper market. When the cleric saw how desperately poor they were, he arranged for them to be taken into the temple he serves. So when we returned from a long fight in the bandit camp, our pockets full of coin, I made it a point to visit the temple, to inquire about the mouslings, and to donate most of my money for the time when they finished their school and left the temple. I felt the short exchange with the referee was moving. This is also something I like about role-playing games. And right now I think perhaps I can better appreciate how Burning Wheel might be better suited to produce maybe not the scenes themselves but the opportunities that we can use to create such scenes, such poignant scenes, moving scenes.