Fate Points for Burning Wheel

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Mechanic Name: Fate Point (Artha)

System: Burning Wheel Revised

Summary: Used after the dice are rolled to give a chance at improving a result, typically to change failure into success.


Burning Wheel Revised’s unofficial motto is “Fight for what you believe in!” This is codified in the system via a character’s Beliefs, Instincts and Traits (BITs). A character is rewarded Artha in the form of Fate, Persona and Deed points by playing to that character’s Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits (BITs 📖). Simply put, if you say your character believes “No rest for the wicked”, and play that out by chasing down the vile cardinal, your character will be rewarded with Fate points (and probably Persona and Deed points).

A player can spend his character’s Fate point to attempt to modify a skill or ability test that his character has just attempted; Allowing for the character to attempt to seize success from the jaws of (a known) failure.

Burning Wheel makes use of a dice pool (of d6s) where you total number of dice that are 4 or higher and compare that against the obstacle. If you have a number of successes against the obstacle, you succeed. Once you have rolled the dice, you have the option of spending a Fate point. Upon spending a Fate point, your dice are considered “open-ended”; Any sixes “explode” and can be re-rolled adding any additional successes to the total number of successes. If the test was already open-ended, then spending a Fate point allows you to re-roll one failed dice (that is not considered open-ended).

There is also a mechanism for tracking Fate expenditures and rewarding those uses. In essence, if you spend a lot of Artha on a skill or ability, you make gaining successes easier; You now count 3s towards success as well as 4,5, and 6 (this is called “Grey Shifting”). In addition, you are encouraged to say that you are spending Fate towards a particular Belief, Instinct, or Trait. This helps during the collective review of your character (i.e. Artha rewards and the Trait Vote).

Why I Like It

The Fate point, along with it’s siblings the Persona and Deed point, is tightly woven into the system. A character is rewarded with Fate points (along with Persona and Deed points); which in turn are used to fight for what the character believes in. The cycle of earning and spending Fate points ultimately leads to characters developing heroic capabilities (i.e. Grey Shifting). The long-term process of shifting a skill ensures that the character is known, both at the table, and in the campaign world, as being “a glib-tongued liar” or “bearer of the deadly axe”, after all your character spent all that Artha on Falsehood and Axe skill tests.

Beyond the Artha cycle of reward and usage, the decision to use a Fate point is multi-faceted. There are times when I’ve stared blankly at the results, cursing my luck…I had failed and there weren’t any sixes, so no chance of “exploding” those results. There are still other times where I’ve rolled 2 sixes and was 2 successes down. Do I spend a Fate point? The odds are pretty bad on me succeeding, but maybe luck would shine. And then there are moments in combat, when I’ve thrown five dice, and 4 sixes are showing. By spending a Fate point, I can possibly end this combat with a Superb strike.

And therein lies another nuance of the Fate point. It is devious in that you decide to spend it only after the dice are rolled and you see the results. If you fail, and there aren’t any sixes, you’ll have wished you’d spent a Persona point (or 3) to add extra dice to the initial roll. Fate is your most readily available last line of defense, but if ever the fickle finger of fate were evident it is in a Burning Wheel test.