Floundering Around the Burning Wheel

Note: This post has content disclaimers.

Presently I’m running one Burning Wheel campaign and playing in another. I feel both of them are circumventing portions of the game.

First, we rarely do proper Artha awards. Instead of setting aside time at the end, we prefer to play until the last minute. By the time we wrap up the session the kids are tired or others need to get to our next obligation, we only do a very simple Artha awards sequence. Typically, we hand out 2 Fate and 1 Persona, then look for anything exemplary.

It’s not rules as written and it certainly feels awkward and shameful. Ultimately, I believe we do these shameful things because character’s beliefs are not tying into the game. This is a group failing.

In the case of Bloodstone, I . I didn’t work as closely with all of the players to make sure their beliefs tied into the game. We don’t have a laser-like focus. As such, there are some characters, namely Remy and Holden, who are typically more peripheral to the game. Granted, negotiating beliefs for 5 characters of differing experience and age is challenging to begin with.

In the case of the Butcher, Baker, and Candlestick Maker, we had a vision of how our characters were connected, but those characters were made in a knowledge vacuum. We certainly knew about the Crypt of the Slug Mother, but as players we didn’t know where the campaign was going.

These failings leave us in a somewhat jumbled mess, as some characters are floundering for their spot in the story.

One notable difference that I’m seeing between the two campaigns is the concept of complications.

I am perfectly content letting my players come up with many things…if they succeed on a test; Let them scavenge for anything, make Dark Secret-wise tests, attempt to console their companion…but I hope they know that a failed test will give me ammunition. Sort of like roll a 6 or less in Apocalypse World, I now get to make a Hard Move.

Contrast with the Butcher, Baker, and Candlestick Maker, where several test failures are met with “Nothing Happens.” And in a handful of cases, success could be distilled to “Nothing Happens.” Which sucks.

The key thing I’ve learned is, let the characters propose actions. If you don’t want to see it happen, make a high Obstacle. Let the players then figure out how to reach for it. If they succeed, give it to them. If they fail…make a Hard Move.

Personally, a test should change the state of the game, and I believe other game players would agree. Apocalypse World 📖 and it’s brilliant derivative Dungeon World 📖, hard-code this in the moves. In order to truly change the state of the game, you have to make a move – in Burning Wheel it would be make a test. Think about it…in Settlers of Catan the state of the game changes when the dice are thrown…some people get new resources, others might get robbed.

It has taken a bit for me to more readily see the possible complications of a test. It’s not that I wasn’t doing it before, its just now, I’m willing to throw things out there and let a player decide how hard they want to push for a success. Its a calculated negotiation between players that directly impacts their characters.

What I’ve found to be best for running my Burning Wheel game has been to review the agenda, principles, and moves of Dungeon World (Get the Basic Rules Portable Document Format (PDF) for $5).

In short, follow these guidelines, in order:

  • What the rules demand
  • What the adventure demands
  • What honesty demands – be open and honest
  • What the principles demand

Further, expanding on the Principles:

  • Draw maps, leave blanks
  • Address the characters, not the players
  • Embrace the fantastic
  • Make a move that follows
  • Never speak the name of your move
  • Give every monster life
  • Name every person
  • Ask questions and use the answers
  • Be a fan of the characters
  • Think dangerous
  • Begin and end with the fiction
  • Think offscreen, too

I’ve already illustrated the moves of and . It’s not that I didn’t do those things before, its simply that the above outline is sort of like a liturgical invocation; a chance to set aside other thoughts and consider what the players demand; An enjoyable time with friends.