A strange cultist who everyone ignored until he accidentally summoned a lesser demon. A noblewoman, cast to the nunnery for birthing a bastard and now on the run from a coup. A rebellious participant in said coup, who found his true god within the Cult of the Dead Stars. Meet the Party is jumping systems again, this time generating a trio of unlikely heroes for Burning Wheel!
Burning Wheel uses a lifepath character generation system, which means that there’s a bit more to it than putting points into skills and stats. The lifepaths each come with specific traits and skills which they allow. While you can purchase others, they’re either pulling from a much smaller pool of points (skills) or they’re purchased at much steeper prices (traits). This makes it easier to create characters from a specific vision: if you want to create a warrior then it should be someone with military experience, for instance. The lifepaths also help create vivid character backstories that inform the characters’ beliefs. Since beliefs are what really drive each character’s story forward, this is important.
The background for these characters comes from a campaign I am preparing to run with a new group. The campaign will start in the House of the Dead Stars, an abbey on an isolated peninsula. The Cult of the Dead Stars is a fairly large heretical group which believes that the creator god of the Empire’s state religion has died, with the lesser Gods of the Dead Stars being the only ones that can answer prayers. In the time leading up to the start of the game, the Empire has been overthrown, throwing the world into chaos. This explains how these three characters end up at the abbey: a veteran cultist, a disgraced noblewoman on the run, and a revolutionary who sees the Gods of the Dead Stars as the reason that the Empire fell.
As a note, all numbers here are listed without their shade for simplicity; the shade for all relevant attributes is black. It’s also worth noting that these characters are all humans, with four lifepaths. Lifepath count is the proxy for starting power level in Burning Wheel, and four is right in the middle of the recommended starting range.
Ezra the Mad
Skills: Doctrine 1, Cult Doctrine 1, Inconspicuous 4, Conspicuous 3, Falsehood 2, Persuasion 4, Summoning 1, Sorcery 4, Pilgrimage-wise 1, Saint-wise 1
Spells: Wyrd Light, Magic Whistle
Affiliations: Cult of Dead Stars 2
Gear, Possessions, and Property: Clothes; Shoes; Traveling Gear; Personal Effects; Property, A Leaky Shack
Beliefs: The Cult will rise to power now that the empire has fallen. I am the only true summoner within these walls.
Instincts: All old scrolls are worth reading.
Traits: Road Weary, Mad, Gifted, Zealot
Lifepaths: Village Born, Peasant Pilgrim, Cultist, Mad Summoner
Lady Phoebe of Castagon
Skills: Write 2, Etiquette 2, Field Dressing 4, Doctrine 3, Persuasion 4, Research 2, Symbology 3, Riding 4, Read 2, Composition 4, Apothecary 3, Estate Management 2, Inconspicuous 3, History 3, Knives 3, Husband-wise 3, Court-wise 3
Reputations: Cuckolded the Duke, 2D
Relationships: Son, well-known bastard
Gear, Possessions, and Property: Arms, Run Of The Mill Quality; Armor, Reinforced Leather, Run Of The Mill Quality; Clothes; Traveling Gear; Shoes; Riding Mount Or Pack Animal; Finery; Property, A Villa Or Farm
Beliefs: I will destroy those who dishonored my name; The Empire must not only fall, it must be erased from history
Instincts: All negotiations should happen over a meal.
Traits: Restless, Nose for Trouble, Your Grace, Mark of Privilege, Tonsured
Lifepaths: Born Noble, Young Lady, Lady, Cloistered Nun
Skills: Streetwise 2, Foraging 2, Observation 2, Spear 1, Philosophy 2, Oratory 1, Inconspicuous 1, Stealthy 2, Orienteering 2, Knives 1, Bow 1, Doctrine 2, Arson 1, Slavery-wise 3
Relationships: A former lover, now an ealdorwoman
Gear, Possessions, and Property: Arms, Run Of The Mill Quality; Armor, Gambeson, Run Of The Mill Quality; Clothes; Shoes; Traveling Gear; Property, A Leaky Shack
Beliefs: The Gods of the Dead Stars helped me topple the Empire and must be repaid
Instincts: Keep a weapon close to hand, Always scout ahead when travelling in a group
Traits: Addicted, Faithful, Broken, Zealot
Lifepaths: Born Slave, Urchin, Scout, Insurrectionist
Who They Are
Ezra the Mad was a travelling pilgrim from a young age. As he grew he became active in the cult, without ever learning a trade. One day, Ezra, while poring over some old scrolls he found, accidentally summoned a troublesome fae into the abbey, and was then known as a summoner more than anything else. He found he possessed the gift of sorcery, but got further and further away from sanity as he studied more and more. Now, Ezra is both on the cusp of becoming a true sorcerer, and far away from ever returning to his right mind.
Lady Phoebe of Castagon married a duke and almost settled into the anonymity of a noblewoman’s life until she sired her lover’s child, scandalizing her entire family. She was cast into a nunnery, which is how she survived the collapse of the Empire instead of being beheaded like the rest of her family. She sought shelter with the Cult of the Dead Stars, seeking both to survive the insurrection as well as help to eradicate the stifling social hierarchy which destroyed her reputation.
Clay O’Coeur was born a slave, but escaped and grew up as a street urchin. He was conscripted into the army at a young age, as is often the punishment for vagrants in times of war. This too wouldn’t hold Clay, so he deserted, and joined a group of revolutionaries. There, not only did Clay succeed, but succeeded so well that the Empire fell. Clay believed his stroke of fortune was the work of a higher power, and left the revolutionaries to dedicate his life to serving the Cult of the Dead Stars, who Clay believes wanted the Empire gone as badly as he did.
How They Interact
These three characters have all been sent out on a mission to spread the good word, now that the state religion is in retreat and no longer hunting them or other heretics. Lady Phoebe has been chosen for her connections to what’s left of the nobility, and Clay has been chosen for his connections to the new revolutionary government. Ezra is the chosen representative for the cult itself; the rumor is that keeping him busy and maybe giving him a chance to learn about the outside world would be good both for him and anyone in the blast radius of his study. The three of them don’t know each other well, but are all receptive to carrying out missions outside the abbey.
All three of these characters have a strong belief around either the future of the cult, or the future of the empire. While it may not be completely clear what path this group will take, it isn’t hard to see that they will easily become invested in the future of the fractured nation that they’re going back to. A key element of running a Burning Wheel campaign is testing your characters’ beliefs: even if this group is out to help the cult and bury the empire now, it’s entirely likely that things may change in the future, depending on who they meet and what they do. And you can’t forget about personal pursuits either. Ezra would likely try to learn more spells, and Phoebe needs to pay the upkeep on her villa, modest though it may be! Beyond that, many of the skills the characters have are at the low end of their ratings. While this means they may advance fairly quickly, there’s likely to be some interesting failures and complications awaiting our heroes. Challenges both large and small present opportunities to create interesting stories in Burning Wheel.
Like what Meet the Party has to offer? Want to see ready-to-play characters for a system and/or setting of your choice? Let us know@HungryHalfling, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or here in the comments! And remember, Patreon supporters get first dibs!