Burning Wheel or Dungeon World

Note: This post has content disclaimers.

An astute reader of this blog will have seen my transition from Burning Wheel to Dungeon World. It is also possible that they would infer my love affair with Burning Wheel is over. But I assure you that it is not.

What follows is a modified response to an RPGGeek users question:

I have a question, since you seem well versed in both systems: what do you think now of Burning Wheel after having read and played Dungeon World (or for that matter any Apocalypse World hack)?

Picking the System to Run

If I had to pick the game, either Dungeon World or Burning Wheel I would ask one question: How many sessions will this game really last?

If I know there will be 20 sessions or more for a campaign, I would instantly pick Burning Wheel. If I knew there would be less than 5, I would pick Dungeon World.

For me, Dungeon World is an immediately accessible system in which I can get going fast. It has what I would consider a standard shelf life for campaign play - the advancements are traditional; though you can construct narratively rewarding advancements (i.e. Compendium Classes that offer character variation based on what happened in the fiction.)

Contrast this with Burning Wheel which has a pretty hefty initial investment. But I look and see such fantastic options for campaign play - advancing my character requires advancing my understanding of the rules. It rewards pushing yourself as a player and your character.

To use an analogy,

Dungeon World is Neil Gaiman’s “Graveyard Book”; I find it easy to read, extremely accessible, and altogether enjoyable. I would also have a hard time subsisting on only this.

Burning Wheel is John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” or Dante’s “Inferno”; I find those hard to read but in the reading not only does my reading skill improve, but my understanding of the literary world and references increase as well.

Diving Deeper

Dungeon World, for me, is so very easy to pick up and run with. The Move structure of “fiction -> mechanics -> fiction” is such an amazing refinement on what many of us have internalized.

At Origins last year I ran three distinctly different adventures off the cuff for three distinctly different groups. And each 4 hour session was spectacular for me and the other players.

I have found the loose rules structure extremely liberating in regards to the fiction; Letting the events at the table – both in the fiction and in the questions I ask the players – form much of the game.

Burning Wheel for me is very rewarding game to read and digest. It is a finely crafted system with numerous parts moving in harmony. It rewards both character and player for long-term engagement with the system.

The sweet spot for Burning Wheel is that it provides numerous mechanisms for focusing the game on things extremely close to the characters (Relationships, Beliefs, and Instincts to name a few). The scope of Burning Wheel can feel so much more intimate.

I haven’t run Burning Wheel since running Dungeon World, but that is not because I don’t want to. I have entered a cycle of minimal time for commitment. So Dungeon World’s quick startup time is a boon.

I would highly recommend, if you can find a copy, picking up the Adventure Burner. It is Burning Wheel Headquarters break down of the nuances of Burning Wheel and helps to convey how they think about games.

And while you are at it, I would consider getting a copy of Torchbearer. It is Burning Wheel Headquarter’s love letter to the earlier versions of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D 📖). It uses the Mouseguard and Burning Wheel engine for a dungeon crawl game.

I am a huge fan of Torchbearer’s conditions. Instead of the wounds of Burning Wheel, which rightly condition a player to say “Am I willing to fight for this?”, conditions are an easier pill for the player to swallow. But conditions are a potential death spiral just as injuries in Burning Wheel.

Another experiment I would strongly consider, though haven’t done myself, is to take the lessons you’ve internalized from Dungeon World and apply them to the hub of Burning Wheel (the first 70 or so pages).

Also make sure to check out my blog posts for and for comparing and contrasting.