Back in the early days of my gaming career, I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D 📖) 2nd Edition. I had an extensive collection of books, and was frequently the Dungeon Master. One of the things that stuck with me early on was that we declared actions before rolling initiative.
This idea of declaring actions before executing the actions has led to absolutely sublime moments: the stone giant smoothy, the memorable Irv the Mole session, and convincing a gnome to join us with only the promise of adventure.
Burning Wheel implements three subsystems for declaring actions before determining resolution. The scripted systems of Duel of Wits, Fight, and Range & Cover. Each time we break out one of these systems, which has predominately been Duel of Wits, I must plan my steps to victory.
As I’m writing the script, I am also subconsciously constructing a narrative of the resolution. I’m hoping and almost expecting to get that lucky jab in against my opponent, without sustaining a wound, and victory will be mine. And in the planning there is also the specter of failure raising the tension level.
As each player reveals their script, I watch as my well laid plans are either brought to ruin or succeed against all odds. And thus the story I thought would come to pass does not, but is instead a story built by all participants.
And, if you are judicious about keeping the scripts, you may very well be able to reconstruct the conflict at a later date.
A Note on Player Engagement During Conflict
I’ve sat through plenty of conflict where the characters take turns as per their initiative order. When a player’s turn pops up, they act, then when it’s not their turn they wait to record damage and adjudicate forced movement. In short, a player is only active for a fraction of the total conflict.
Contrast this with a character involved in Fight. Everyone in the Fight scripts their actions. Then everyone reveals and resolves their actions. There is engagement during the entire Fight. That is to say, characters involved in Fight, experience less downtime than in Dungeons and Dragons: Third Edition (3E 📖)+.
Modeling the Chaos of Conflict
When I first looked into Burning Wheel, I found references and interested in its scripted conflict. I had long been engaged in the initiative system of 3E and Dungeons and Dragons: Fourth Edition (4E 📖), where conflict began with a single action and every action there after was a response.
Contrast this with Burning Wheel where conflict doesn’t begin at a single point, but is instead joined by all participants. In this chaos, there is an uncertainty, and inability to predict the conflicts outcome. The chain of events is more akin to a web of events.
There is tension as you look to your scripted sheet and realized you have an unavoidable strike coming your way, but know if you can survive you’ll deliver a great strike against an exposed opponent.
Wrapping It Up
Not being much of a poker player, I have to wonder how the scripted conflict of Fight relates to a hand of Texas Hold’em. Engaged in the conflict, you work to outwit your opponent, but a bad flop can have devastating effects.
- Luke Crane interviewed by Fear the Boot (Podcast interview @ feartheboot.com)