Recontextualizing my Relationship with Burning Wheel

Community Requires Governance and Accountability

Note: This post has content disclaimers.

When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.

update: Luke Crane has issued an update. I am not going to dissect the statement; that is for you to decide.

I have updated my dislcaimer to advise consideration before buying any Burning Wheel Headquarters products.

Luke Crane, the creator of Burning Wheel Gold (BWG 📖), . And I’m spending considerable time sifting through this.

I’ve contacted Kickstarter to review Luke’s position of privilege, the rules of creators, and review any conflict of interest. update: Luke Crane is the Vice President of Community at Kickstarter.

I requested that he cancel and refund my Torchbearer 2nd Edition Kickstarter pledge. He did.

I will not be contributing any additional money to Luke Crane nor any other Burning Wheel Headquarters (BWHQ 📖) effort.

I reached out to a few people who have been champions of Burning Wheel, just to check up on them. Let them know I see this and that it sucks.

update: I read about one person’s account of bringing an unrelated but serious concern to Luke. Their account provides further context.

All of that is the easy stuff.

update: And before I go any further, understand that I’m writing about Luke Crane’s behavior. Eric Lang, a friend of Luke’s, has written an open letter.

Contributors have come forth saying they were surprised by Adam being part of the The Perfect RPG. Those contributors included, but are not limited to: Sage LaTorra, Meguey Baker, Vincent Baker, and Jason Morningstar. There may be others, but those four have more secure positions relative to game publishing. They have also clarified that they have not received anything they consider harassment.

I am not writing about Adam’s behavior, which you can find described at this Reddit thread (Content Warning: Sexual assault, survivor stories, manipulative business practices). In the context of Luke Crane’s decision, in a way, I consider Adam’s participation as a radioactive token.

Luke setup a dinner party, invited some friends to each bring a dish. Meanwhile, Luke brought a chunk of uranium and tossed it on all of the dishes and people.

Reflecting on the Rules as Written

The next part is challenging; I love Burning Wheel Gold.

I’m a systems-oriented person. That game hits all the right notes for me: it’s reinforcing interactions; the transparency of the task, intent, and consequences system; the forward facing and meaningful nature of the Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits (BITs 📖).

But I’m recontextualizing that. Luke’s ongoing behavior regarding his launch, cancelling, and silence around The Perfect RPG casts new light on Burning Wheel Gold. update: The snarky voice in me says that Luke thought the silent subtitle of The Perfect RPG was is the games we played with our friends. I can read that phrase, that I conjured up, through a charitable or manipulative lens.

In slipping Adam Koebel onboard, Luke abused the trust of the other contributors. By the language of the Kickstarter, Luke invited Adam to participate. The optics are reprehensible. His silence is damning.

update: As of , the only quasi-public communication from Luke is his “for Backers-only” update to The Perfect RPG and a few interactions with people requesting Luke cancel and refund their Torchbearer pledges.

I add this because my hope is Luke is doing the hard-work of reaching out to the many people who’s trust he broke. However, Luke could issue a public apology in the following form: “To whom it may concern, I made a mistake. I am sorry. In the days ahead I’m working to understand the impact of my mistake. In the days ahead, I will be communicating further specifics about my apology. My plan is to communicate more details within 7 days from now.”

That kind of apology acknowledges there’s an immediate problem, explains that you are taking the time to understand the impact, and establishes a time-frame for next steps.

So I think of Burning Wheel Gold; how can I not read hints of sadism in Burning Wheel’s design?

In Burning Wheel Gold, you the player come to the Game Master (GM 📖) with your task and intent (e.g. What are you doing and why?) You become vulnerable in that moment. You must disclose and extend trust to the table.

Pair that trust extension with the system’s probabilities strongly favoring failure, and you’re opening yourself up to the GM. You give them permission to strike at the character’s intent and beliefs.

In the rules as written, Luke encourages the GM to be clear about the consequences. However, Luke concedes in the game text that he often fails to layout the consequences ahead of time. update: Burning Wheel Codex (BWC đź“–) (p 116) In other words, he witholds information in how he will respond as a GM. And I realize that always stating consequences can be difficult, but practice this reflex. If you need a framework consider Rob Donoghue’s essay on Potential Risks

That behavior echoes my earlier assessment: Luke positions himself just above the rules, but off-handedly humble-braggingly acknowledges its a bad habit.

When you have trust, this creates beautiful narrative tension. My case in point being Judd Karlman and Sean Nittner’s “The Shoeless Peasant” actual play podcast. It’s evident that Sean and Judd have a strong degree of trust. There was a particular moment that I might have requested a script change, but that moment worked well and didn’t diminish Vena’s agency.

When you don’t have trust, it creates potential emotional danger. Reflect on the power dynamic and its obvious; I offer up my intentions, I enter an arrangement favoring failure, and the GM may strike with near impunity.

When I run, I try to state the general consequences of failure before anyone throws dice or even commits to action. Going forward, I’m going strive to clarify that consequences are negotiable; If a consequence sits poorly, I want there to be space for anyone to say “Try another way.” Instead of speaking just to Lines and Veils, I’m going to be bringing Brie Beau’s Script Change RPG Toolbox into play.

Closed Games and Lack of Governance

The next part I’m re-evaluating is closed games. Luke Crane “owns” the rules presentation of Burning Wheel Gold. With some caveats, I “own” the creative work I build on top of those rules presentations.

There’s an analogue to my using Apple hardware to assist in writing my blog post. Yet there’s a difference, I have far more influence over Role Playing Game (RPG 📖) than I do towards computers and operating systems.

So I ask myself, how willing am I to co-mingle with someone else’s walled garden?

I have a long running, personal, and nagging concern that it is a liability to not use a game with an open license.

No one’s yet coming to take the physical copies of games sitting on my shelf. I can run my Dungeons and Dragons: Basic/Expert (B/X 📖) Dungeons and Dragons (D&D 📖) just fine.

However, without an open license, any community around the game depends on the benevolence of the owner of that rules system. Any community that extends beyond a single game table of friends playing their version of the game. In other words, the community lacks governance around a critical and central component of their existence.

This is an ingredient for collapse.

Next Steps

At this point, Burning Wheel Gold may be a non-starter for many people. Which I understand. Me, I’m prepared to continue playing Burning Wheel Gold, but not without adjustments.

, I’m looking at the two games in which I’m currently participating: Campaign: New Vistas in the Thel Sector and Campaign: Burning Warhammer . Both games are released “All Rights Reserved”. One bit of baggage for each of those games is the strong and hard connection to each game’s creator.

I’m looking at Burning Wheel Gold and working through the baggage that is Luke Crane. Invoking the Let it Ride rule, he’s not getting anymore of my money. And for those who know the rules, there’s an implication that this could change. That’s intentional.

update: One immediate task is to bring to the Burning Wheel Gold group the current understanding of it’s creator. To give everyone an opportunity to consent or decline playing the game with that system. And if someone says “I’m not comfortable.” We’ll drop the game without question.
Likewise, I intend to run Burning Wheel Gold’s in the future, but I’m going to introduce the understood context to the group. It’s about modeling consent, accountability, and transparency.

I’ll be working on modifications to my blog to provide context; I haven’t quite determined the implementation but I’m going to be relying on my glossary to bring that context forward.

I’m also looking at other systems to test out; Ones that hits all of the notes I’m hoping to hear. A prime contender is Sand Dogs (SD 📖), which is an iteration of Soft Horizon. Brad Murray, creator of Sand Dogs and Diaspora, has shown me who he is: A loving, transparent, and accountable person.

But for now, I plan to keep playing in these closed source games; After all those games involve a group of people. I don’t see any problems with Stars without Number: Revised Edition (SWN 📖) but for our Burning Wheel Gold I’m going to ask that we have a discussion.