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Sell Me on the Burning Wheel

Started by Yokiboy, December 11, 2004, 06:16:27 PM

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I've been close to ordering the Burning Wheel based on the high number of mentions it gets here at the Forge and at, however I have yet to succumb. Would someone please hype what's so good about it, why is it better than the other boat loads of fantasy games on the market, and since we're on the Forge, what's its creative agenda?



Eero Tuovinen

We don't do hype, but I'll tell you something about the game, based on reading it a couple of times. This is roughly the same stuff I have on my Finnish website about the same issue.

BW is character simulation (rules focus on modeling characters), like everything WW or AEG does, for example. It has character creation, fighting rules and ways to solve character tasks systematically. Pretty traditional overall, nothing too outrageous.

Where the game is rather unique is the designer commitment. It's just like all those fantasy heartbreakers in that it's made by a lone, slightly mad individual who thought that he could fix everything that was wrong in his favourite games. The thing is, this particular individual had some serious experience on different games, and talent enought to actually pull it off.

The results include a deterministic character creation system that uses Traveller-like lifepaths; a combat system where players declare multiple actions, simultaneously with each other, leading into a fine imitation of battle chaos; a character modelling system with enough leeway through traits to customize the game in some usually ignored ways. The rules in general are pretty logical, although you'll need to see them in use to realize that the trait system is actually unified and not only half a dozen exceptions. Pretty high handling time, complexity in par with, say, D&D.

Stylistically the game is diamondhard Tolkien. It's the most tolkien game ever (after perhaps that IGC game by Raven), if I'm allowed to use tolkien as adjective. The game is focused on character modeling, and subsequently there's a zillion pages of rules (or rather data lists used by rules) about human, dwarven, elven, orcish equipment, lifestyle, kewl powers and such. It's made to play in Middle-Earth in a hardcore simulationistic way, kinda like the original Middle-Earth roleplaying game, but feeling much more tolkien.

Just to give some understanding on what I mean about "character focused", half of the basic rules are in a separate book called Character Burner. It includes nothing but dozens over dozens of different lifepaths, from which you choose your character based on certain rules.

So that's pretty much it. BW is not the game for me in my current situation: it's a game where the GM has some serious background on a fantasy world, in which the characters live, love and die in a continuous epic. We've all played such a game sometime. But if I had the time, and some good friends for such slow, unhurried play, I could well imagine doing some down-to-earth play in Middle-Earth with BW rules, striving again for that feel of there. For dramatic play I'd pick HQ or some other nar game, but BW gives enormous support for locally realistic, committed sim.

Incidentally, BW is the kind of game you statistically want; after careful research here in Finland I've come to the conclusion that while Sorcerer is the right game for 1% of player population, and Dust Devils for 10%, BW is exactly what 85% want, whether it's right for them or not. It speaks to people who've played too much Runequest or Elric! or Rolemaster or sim D&D or whatever fantasy game, and want to switch games in the manner that people do, convinced that this next rulesy sim game does what they want. Whether BW is the game they needed remains to be seen. I'm not personally sure that it's even possible to make a right game for sim consumers, but if it is, BW might be that. In any case, Luke: print more of the bastard, I want to sell it to Finland!
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Thor Olavsrud

BW's creative agenda essentially supports Sim, although there is a cool, potentially narrativist chunk in the form of BITs (Beliefs, Traits and Instincts). And the combat mechanics (and soon the Duel of Wits social resolution mechanic that will be released in the forthcoming Revision) support Gamist priorities pretty well too.

The core thing for Luke when designing it, I think, was the concept of choices. Players get to make lots of very real choices when playing BW, and those choices have real consequences. This radiates throughout the entire game.

Combat is probably the most blatant example of that. Since you've read threads at you've probably got an idea of how it works, so I won't go into detail.

The forthcoming Duel of Wits is much the same. When you have a debate or a court case or any other situation in which the two sides each have an argument with which they are trying to convince others, someone at the table may call for a Duel of Wits. Everyone agrees up front to abide by the results of the Duel; that's choice one. The Duel consists of scripting your strategy for the argument (almost exactly like the combat mechanics). You still need to roleplay it out though, and this justifies the skills that you test during the Duel.

For me, the meat of the game is the BITs system. Through it, players tell the GM what they care about, what sorts of things they want to have happen in game, and what sorts of things the GM should award them Artha for. You can check out some more in-depth thought on it in the 3 BW Games in 5 Days thread.

Even character advancement is based on player choice. The GM has nothing to do with it. The way you use your character in play determines what advances and when.

Advancement of skills and stats in Burning Wheel relies on testing those skills or attributes in play (earning a test in BW parlance). If I want to advance my Haggling skill, I have to use it in-play (in game-important situations), against a combination of difficulties based on my current skill. For instance, if my Haggling skill is B4, that means I need to use my Haggling skill for four Routine difficulty tests and two Difficult difficulty tests or one Challenging difficulty tests.

Challenging tests are normally impossible. They require more successes than you have dice. But BW has a mechanic similar to Augments in HeroQuest, which allow you to add dice from related skills. You're using your Fields of Related Knowledge (FoRK) to increase your number of dice. Unfortunately, since you're rolling more dice, that Challenging test won't be a Challenging test anymore.

That means there will be times during the course of the game where you will choose to set yourself up for failure in an important test by not FoRKing in skills that could give you success. The player gets to decide when.

Personally, I disagree with Eero that BW has a high handling time. BW uses a consistent mechanic throughout the entire game (the few exceptions should be eliminated in the Revision). And the mechanic has strong logic behind it as well. Sure, the first few times you play it, you'll be referring to the book frequently. But once it clicks, you will rarely have to consult the book during play. I find BW much less complicated than D&D, though I must admit I have not played 3rd ed.


Thanks Eero and Thor, that was awesome! Gave me more details than most reviews I've seen.




I'd like to toss in two cents for future perusers of this thread -- BW may be the finest RPG for playing Tolkien yet, but it is not only for Tolkien.  All my personal BW play has been set in a bronze age, Egypt/Greek/Phoenician themed setting, and it worked just as well there.  And I know that Luke, the designer of the game, runs many of his campaigns with a distinct wuxia flavor to them.  BW is a fine tool that can be used to craft many lovely and highly personalized artifacts of play.

Kaare Berg

Quote from: rafialI'd like to toss in two cents for future perusers of this thread

cha - ching, here's mine:

Do not forget the Artha Mechaninc, where a Player gets to spend Artha points to gain an advantage in the form of ekstra dice and so forth. Not only does this encourage the player to play his characters BITS, it allows the Group to set the level (or tenor) of the game simply by regulating the amount of avaible Artha.
High Drama Fantasy (like my Miranna campaign) has high amounts of Artha in circulation and sees the optional complication rule used to great effect. Low Level Gutter Punk would see a lot less artha and no Complications.

Here in lies the strength of BW, IMO, in that it is so readily adaptable. At one point you're playing a Tolkien inspired game, the next one you are battling Seraphims and demons at the end of the the world.

Oh and then there is the Monster Burner. even if you do not play BW, the MonBu is invaluable. There is a construct a monster guide in it , 100 Questions, which not only talks you through the nuts and bolts of monster creation, but talks you through monster design philosophy.

This combination makes BW readily adaptable to any setting, even sci-fi ones.



The dice mechanics are so good that I roll right in front of my players so they see the results.

The character creation rocks with the players fleshing out the characters on the character sheet.

The combat is unique but works fantastically well, blending grit with heroism.

The books are well written and well laid out, making looking up rules easy.

It is well-supported with PDF character sheets, extra magic rules, character creation guide sheets, DM's screen panels, and much, much more on the site.

Track Luke down at a con, get into one of his games and see if it isn't contagious.

The best fantasy Dwarves, Elves and Orcs in fantasy RPG's, ever.

Its fun.


I feel the cash register calling my name... "Dammit, leave me be," I think to myself. "I already have more games than I could ever play in two lifetimes." But no, the voices don't stop, they keep calling me. "I must resist, I must... Please stop..."

Jake Norwood

"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant


Quote from: Jake NorwoodBuy it.



Zachary The First

This is a good thread.  I think I'll reccomend it to a few of my doubting Thomases.