I appreciate the following componets of Burning Wheel:
- Scripted conflict resolution
- Helping & FoRKs
- Character burning
- Character advancement
For scripted conflict resolution (Duel of Wits, Range & Cover, and Fight!) there are more streamlined options (i.e. AD&D 2E we would declare actions, roll initiative, and see how things fell apart).
The difference is BW locks in three actions and resolves them. So when something unexpected/unplanned happens, there’s more in game segments that pass before any course correction is possible. Hence my gaming group’s love of RoboRally.
Helping & FoRKs
The chances in Burning Wheel of success without assistance are slim. The game encourages you to look around the table and solicit help. It also encourages you to provide help (and thus advance). It is clear that helping someone on a test binds your fate to the test as well (this is a logical thing that I apply to any help provider regardless of system; But BW is clear that this is expected).
In practice, there was a lot more negotiation at the table; Akin to the problem of Fate where players spend excessive game time attempting to leverage every aspect on the table. (Unlike Fate, in BW success is not guaranteed due to the probability curve).
I have found D&D 5E’s Aid Another rule to be a straightforward resolution. update: As I’ve run more 5E, I’m less excited about the Helping mechanic; In part because I’ve found success without help to favor the players. Adding help further exacerbates this. I find myself interested in adding complications, but the pass/fail mindset of D&D weighs against this. And as such, am hesitant to want my RPG experience to include the Helping & FoRKs negotiation (unless I am again playing with my cooperative board game loving group).
I love articulated rules for finding specific or general people. Burning Wheel’s Circle system works quite well for this. I don’t see a sub-system that mimics this.
Character Burning is a personal activity. I look at it as akin to building a Magic the Gathering deck. The various character stocks (Elf, Dwarf, Human, and Orc) have a very different feel. And same “level” characters are so very different in their capabilities.
The resulting characters inform the GM what kind of game the players are hoping to see; Its more detailed than I have a Thief with Perform skill. (I have an Auger with Butchering and Astrology).
Its all about incremental improvements. Eek out small advances that build over time. I enjoy looking ahead to character class features. In Burning Wheel, if I want to improve those features, I need to challenge them. In other games, advancement often doesn’t relate to skill usage. (D&D 5E, I can get better at Stealth even if my whole level was spent fighting).
The observation I’ve had about D&D 3E-5E is that many players at the table are focusing on what class features they might be getting at the next level. Interested in unlocking those features. And that happens, to some extent, regardless of what they are doing in game to get there.
In Burning Wheel, the players had some incentive to better guide the story. After all, if they want to advance a skill, they need to use it.
In each of the above cases, there are less baroque analogues that are quite adequate for most game play.
Scripted Combat: AD&D 2E combat that we used; Declare actions, roll initiative, resolve actions
Helping & FoRKs: D&D 5E Aid Another, Inspiration, Advantage
Circles: A Charisma check (though some guidelines or a table could help for any given game table)
Character Burning: D&D 5E Backgrounds, Whitehack’s Slots and Groups.
Burning Wheel requires a tremendous amount of concentration compared to other RPGs that I’ve played. If the table is prepared for that concentration commitment, then Burning Wheel shines. The game is tightly integrated with its constituent parts.
It is also a game that I have found resonates with people who enjoy the more involved board games (i.e. Advanced Civilization comes to mind). I also look to Burning Wheel and say “I’d never want to play just a session of it. This is a game that demands campaign play.”
So, when I survey the games that are in my personal library, Burning Wheel has become my white whale. Its not that I want to play Burning Wheel, but that Burning Wheel hints at the type of game I want to play.
A game where the players come with a powerful agenda for their characters. They have the tools to actualize that agenda. They dig deep to work together against long odds. There is a vast tapestry of NPCs that the characters have sought out; Some are friends, some enemies, and others waiting to turn. I want the game to have unpredictable moments, when a plan falls horribly apart and the characters must deal with a major set back.
But my reality is quite different. I struggle to get a regular game together (parenting, growing our personal business, and work are my priority). If my kids are with me, I’m not going to be running a game for my other friends. So my schedule is limited. This means concentration is an uncertainty, and thus Burning Wheel, while tempting, is a bad idea for me to run.