Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Commentaries on The Burning Wheel

Beliefs and Instincts

The term “beliefs” is a misnomer; “goals” would be more accurate. Beliefs are specific actions you want your character to take. They are best expressed as qualified verb statements (e.g., “because X, I will Y”). Effectively written beliefs are motivated, urgent, and dramatic.

Instincts act like you would expect beliefs to. They cause your character to react to the world based on their values and experiences. They are best expressed as “if/then,” “always,” or “never” statements.

Character Burning

For a more holistic and less tedious experience, don’t plan out your lifepath selections. Experience your character’s life as they did, albeit in abridged fashion. Spend all skill and trait points from a lifepath only within that lifepath.

Game Prep

The GM writes a situation consisting of 1–3 sentences and the players write 1–3 beliefs based on that situation. The GM lists potential scenes to challenge those beliefs, burning NPCs only to the extent needed to accommodate those scenes. Any worldbuilding should be done within the confines of PC and NPC beliefs.

Playing the Game

The criteria for earning artha (BWG 71) serve as instructions for playing the game. Consult them if you are at a loss for what to do or to ensure you are playing optimally.

To generate maximum artha, play to lose! Write beliefs and instincts that are contradictory, delusional, or doomed to fail. Be absurdly proactive, to the point of regularly getting in over your head. Remember you get artha and advancement regardless of whether you succeed and cannot die if you have at least 1 persona.

Alternate Bibliography

  • George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire
  • J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion
  • Patrick Rothfuss, The Kingkiller Chronicle
  • David Lowery, The Green Knight
  • Altar of Oblivion, Barren Grounds
  • Atlantean Kodex, The Course of the Empire
  • Below, Upon a Pale Horse
  • Candlemass, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
  • Crypt Sermon, Out of the Garden
  • Dolven, Navigating the Labyrinth
  • DoomSword, Let Battle Commence
  • Funeral Circle, Funeral Circle
  • Gatekeeper, Prophecy and Judgement
  • Scald, Will of the Gods is Great Power
  • Smoulder, Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring
  • Solitude Aeternus, Through the Darkest Hour
  • Sorcerer, Anno 1503
  • Stone Magnum, From Time… To Eternity
  • Wheel, Wheel

Introducing the Game

  • Character-Driven: It’s a game about realistic, well-rounded, and imperfect characters. Once character creation is over, the story of the game becomes the characters fighting for their beliefs while the GM makes their lives complicated.
  • Roleplay-Heavy: It’s a game that encourages roleplaying not just theoretically, but mechanically. When a character does things that are interesting, compelling, or get them in trouble, their player is rewarded with points to spend and invest.
  • Crunchy: It’s a complex game where the minutia of daily life is just as important as action and conflict. There are 371 skills, which grow organically as you use them and can be learned over time.
  • Low-Fantasy: It’s a game where the fantasy dial can be turned up and down, but playing a humans-only, low-to-no magic game is always a solid, satisfying option. Think more Game of Thrones and less Dungeons & Dragons.
  • Collaborative: It’s a game that focuses on a few characters at a time and expects everyone to pay attention and provide input. There are no secrets in this game: Metagaming is required to get the most out of the story.

Off-Roading the Wheel

The first 74 pages of The Burning Wheel is one of the best generic roleplaying systems out there. A seasoned group can sit down with blank character sheets and immediately begin play, making up skills (assigning them reasonable exponents) and traits as they go, sprinkling in mechanics from the rim as needed. The game cannot truly break so long as BITs are being expressed and challenged.

Something to consider is that lifepaths become a freeform set of terms under this framework, which are used to emulate and flesh out a setting and define character circles.