Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Is This How Burning Wheel Is Supposed To Go?

Note: Oh dear, somehow this has gotten linked to a Burning Wheel forum under the heading "

D&D With Porn Stars Plays BW...and it didn't go so well"

...which I find baffling. Other than the internet connection cutting out at the end, it went fine and was fun.

Unsurprisingly, the same thing happened when we played 4e--I said it was fun and I would like to play again and some kind of internet brain damage kicked in and people read it as "it wasn't fun and I won't play again". People are dumb as toast.

So we tried Burning Wheel*

*(What is that? An arty version of D&D that a guy wrote...Ok, anyway...)

(Harald) GM: So there's a village and the Duchess is sending you out because there are demons there and it's disrupting the trade route...

Zak (Sorceress): So wait, she's worried about it disrupting trade but not about like all these villagers?

GM: Well, you know she's a Duchess and so is above the hoi polloi and she doesn't really care but...

Cole (Elf): Does that trigger my elven Grief that she's so callous to the plight of these poor villagers?

GM: You could roll for Grief if...

Z: Well what if I like say to the Duchess like, hey, you gotta kinda y'know wink wink like you're really worried about these poor orphans because, these elves, they're sensitive...

GM: Well she has some Falsehood, so... (roll roll) Ok, you are convinced it's all about the orphans and their plight. Is there anything else you want to do before you go?

(Mandy) Dwarf: Yeah I need a grappling hook.

Z: Yeah, aaaand a grappling hook, and a net and a rope and...

C: And lard! I heard you humans have uses for this substance.

Z: Yeah we need lard.

GM: Well this would be a resources check...

Z: Well I got zero.

C: Me too.

M: Me too.

Z: Yeah and there's like 3 circles for debt and taxes and...

GM: Well you can try to get someone to lend you the money...

C: I have Oratory--Can I like make a speech in the public square urging the citizenry to fund our expedition?

Z: We can help if we have related skills, right? I have Rhetoric, I'll be like "make aaaaan...Ethical Appeal Argumentum Ad Demonium and...Oh and I have Falsehood, can I tell him to be like 'Oh this Sorceress' poor uncle was gnawed upon by demons...'

C: I can't lie or I'll become Sad.

Z: Fuck, Um, ok, I'll just lie and say my uncle was gnawed by demons and...

(roll roll)

C: Yeah, I see your crude falsehood and it makes me Sad.


C: Anyway I make a speech.

Z: Tell them our Stretch Goal is a ten-foot pole.

C: 2 successes.

GM: Ok, well you get a rope and a big barrel of lard.

Z: Excellent! Dwarf: strap this barrel to your back it will amuse me.

M: I can roll it.

Z: Fine, roll it, like an ape.

C: Friends! I will carry the lard!

Z: Ok, you carry the lard, let's go. It's two days East, right?

GM: So, elf, you sing the Song of Paths?

C: Yes but I am really bad at it.

(roll roll)

C: Yeah, I uh...

Z: There's a Song?

GM: You're lost. Dwarf, sorceress, you see the elf is missing and there is a trail of lard...

D: We pursue him.

Z: Hey, guy, just go this way, ok. It's... How many suns are in this world?

GM: One.

Z: And it rises in the East and sets in the West?

GM: Yes.

Z: Ok, so yeah, friend Elf, simply walk away from your shadow in the morning.

C: Yes, well, in the land of Elfheim it is a perpetual dusky rose colored sunset so...

Z: Right, totally, I'll write you a new song, uh, it's called "Walk This Way".

GM: Is the song Beautiful?

Z: Wait, if it's Beautiful the Dwarf will like try to eat it, right because of Dwarven Greed right? It's not Beautiful.

C: Well I am learning in the human world that sometimes things are not Beautiful but they are Useful.

Z: Yeah, "Walk This Way" the song of the Arrowsmiths. It's not beautiful, it's just y'know, if you're driving a truck and it comes on the radio it keeps you awake.

C: We have no trucks in the Elven lands, we all ride on magic deers that...

Z: Yeah, I mean carts I mean...Anyway follow us.

C: Of course! Lead the way!

GM: Ok you come to near the village but you are not there yet because the elf got lost so you have to camp. And you see this most beautiful white deer you have ever seen...

M: I have to roll on Greed...

(roll roll)

M: I chase after it.

GM: What do you want to do with it?

M: I guess I want to...I want to chase it away from the demons.

GM: So you don't want to possess it?

M: Possess it?

GM: It runs off into the forest.

M: I pursue.

Z: I just, like facepalm while making breakfast.

C: Shall I retrieve him?

Z: Uh...that it gonna like give you a panic attack, friend Elf?

C: I will pursue! On my long and striding legs!

Z: Fucking nuthouse.

C: You do not seek to pursue and frolic with the beasts of the wild?

Z: Uh, you think he's, like, frolicking with it?

C: Of course! It is a magnificent beast! Hold, soon I'll return.

Z: Crom.

GM: Ok, you get the dwarf back and enter the village...

and then there were some villagers and they were lying and that made the elf Sad again and they tried to lock him in a closet and then we talked to a guy and then his wife stabbed him and Mandy tried to Persuade her to get off and I tried to add my Rhetoric Skill to that like "Hey, really get off" and some Prometheus goo came out of her nose and everyone was Shocked and then there was a bear with no eyes and then the G+ connection got all screwed up because Harald was in a hotel.


Seth S. said...

Never played Burning Wheel so no clue.

Elven Grief sounds simultaneously hilarious and annoying though.

Topramesk said...

Lol, the deer part made me crack :D
About the elven Grief, note that if the attribute itself is not rolled when you witness tragic events. The obstacles given are there just to mark experience at the end of the session. SO, for example, if you lie, at the end of the session you mark experience for your Grief as if you had made an Ob1 test.

What were the PCs beliefs?

Zak Sabbath said...

They were pregens with the scenario so their beliefs were all like "I will try hard to be like a character in a tale of epic fantasy"

Oakes Spalding said...

I bought Burning Wheel almost two years ago right after I reconnected to D&D after 30 years and a few months before I discovered the OSR. I heard it was THE THING. I leafed through it on a plane and promptly forgot about it.

I am now very sad.

Zak Sabbath said...

The browser crashed before we really got too far into combat or problem solving so I can't say I can fairly evaluate it as an adventure RPG, but as a comedy game it is pretty much impeccable.

Topramesk said...

Pregens are good because making a character takes up really a lot of time, but imho the game is much more enjoyable if you can have the players write their own beliefs/instincts.
The reason is that this way is much easier for everyone to actually care about them and therefore to bring them into play.
At BW demos I ran, I've noticed that pre-written beliefs often felt somewhat "artificial" and were easily forgotten, while self-written ones were never left out of the game.
Anyway, if you had fun, I'd say you're doing it right! :-)

Alex Schroeder said...

I wanted to like it so much… I ran a seven sessions mini-campaign myself; I ran a one-shot; I played in a six session mini-campaign… But it just never clicked. Too detailed in all the wrong places: character generation takes too long; fights are either one opposed roll or take too long; social conflict mechanics are a funny mini-game that replace actual in-game role-playing and thus replace something great with something less great.

lior said...

I played in the same 6 session mini-campaign as Alex and Harald. A lot of people seem to like Burning Wheel but for me it mostly got in the way of fun. Lifepaths are counterproductive (and ridiculously complex). In fights and duel of wits, scripting action sequences ahead of the actual action is dissociating for me and slows the game down to a grind. Resource and Relationship checks reduce the color of the game world and they are set way to hard, such that even mundane tasks fail frequently.

Besides all that, I had enormous problems with the beliefs. They are central to the game, but the instructions for choosing them are inadequate. During all the sessions I was unsure whether my beliefs are appropriate or whether I choose new ones and what beliefs would lead me to enjoy the game more.

I had planned on giving BW another try, this time GMing myself. Now that I read this report I lost my motivation. Too much of a hassle for too little gain.

Adam Dickstein said...

I am not a fan of Burning Wheel, yet love Mouse Guard, which was made by the same fellow and is essentially a simplified version that is very fun.

I had heard (at one point), that this Burning Wheel Lite system was going to be used to produce other games, mostly notably The Dark Crystal.

Sadly, that seems to be on hold unless anyone has heard otherwise.

anarchist said...

So, just like D&D then.

anarchist said...

I played Mouse Guard once. It seemed to have mechanics for everything other than actions a character might want to take.

AndreasDavour said...

Awesome. Now I really want to play Burning Wheel, and I even have it on this here shelf...

Cole said...

@ Topramesk - We had one belief and three instincts apiece:

Cerebirn the Elf

Belief: I have been a wanderer, student and soldier in my short life. It is time now to journey into the human lands and learn what I can from my younger brothers.


The roads are dangerous. Always keep my bow at hand

When waiting, practice Bowcraft.

When passing quietly by a door, sing the Air of Gates.

Brin the Sorceress

Belief: I will attain wealth and power by any means, arcane or mundane. But the surest way is to build a famous reputation as a powerful hero!

Instincts :

When danger looms, protect myself with Touch Not Sublime Flesh.

When darkness falls, cast Wyrd Light into my staff.

Never let them forget I am a noble.

Fureard the Dwarf

Belief: A fair price can never be won without haggling. To fail to haggle is to show a disrespect for the quality of the goods!

Instincts :

Never boast or brag about my great deeds.

Never give up.

Always be on the lookout for a dragon

Eric Walker said...

Do not use any system in BW when an aggreement between a good GM and reasonable players and thier good fun are not being sacrificed. Zak pretty much played it right. You say stuff, the characters do stuff. Eventually you/gm will be like "WTF?!" then you roll dice. Character creation is too long. Not overly so, but still to long

Cole said...

I can't help but wonder if the goofy tone that erupted is born less out of the game than out of an awkward match of pregens and canned starting scenario. It reads to me that the idea of the game seems to be BELIEFS in CONFLICT create DRAMA but in the absence of tense background circumstances or an immediate pressure cooker getting laid on you, the personality clashes risk becoming sitcommy.

I noted our beliefs/instincts above and our starting scenario was your basic forgotten-realmsy "uncaring/venal duchess sends three unattached aspiring heroes to go investigate trouble in the next village."

So immediately we have logistical challenges like "we need to outfit ourselves for the expedition" and "we need to get to the village."

And in this context the emotional stuff risks turning silly. Oh, none of us have any money - We have to raise the money. So we try to cooperate using our skills but Brin's skills are Rhetoric and Falsehood (and we want to use related skills in unison so we'll get more Resource successes) but lies mean Grief tests for Cerebirn. Now I can see there being situations where the Sorceresses' pragmatic attitude and the elf's heartbreak that we live in a world where we can't be sincere has some weight but when we're trying to buy monster catching gear it's hard not to get bathos.

And then we are trying to travel through the spooky forest to get to the village but none of us have any orienteering skill except for the Elf (who has the trait that he always gets lost even if he's given directions) and then it's comic and then the Dwarf runs off to chase a beautiful Elk and we're thinking "are we going to get lost again.

Maybe to make things work you need to make sure you never have the "getting there" parts and start in media res with pressure and paranoia - I understand the game suggests always push drama, always push conflict, sting the players' beliefs, etc. But maybe you need to frame the scenes much more aggressively and with much more of an editors hand than the fairly trad-RPG framework of the rules would seem to suggest.

Still want to try this one with custom characters created as a unit and a scenario tailored to their personal stressors, etc.

Zak Sabbath said...

Cliche as the beliefs were, I wouldn't say they in any way were an issue and I don't think writing our own would've resulted in a game that was substantially more or less enjoyable.

Zak Sabbath said...

Yeah, Dark Crystal seems about right. Sandals and headbands for sure.

Zak Sabbath said...

I dunno, I feel like no matter what the rolling and/or book-keeping for the emotions just got in the way of genuine roleplaying and it was counterproductive if that;s what the game wanted. Period. I mean, if you me and Mandy made up our own beliefs and instincts and the scenario had to do with them and we had agreed to play a game like that there'd have been tension and drama and conflict 5 minutes in as long as the mechanics had the good sense to stay out of our way.

pjamesstuart said...

I agree pretty much totally with the above. Small scale logistical problems with storygames are nothing but bullshit.

"Can I have a..."

If you are speaking to a fucking dutchess who wants you to take on a difficult job for you then yes. You can have any mundane item you want, and can carry, right now. Next question.

It's a horribly prickish thing to say you would have run a game differently so I apologise in advance. (also I have not played or DM'd Burning Wheel) It went wrong from the first question.

"Zak (Sorceress): So wait, she's worried about it disrupting trade but not about like all these villagers?"

THAT is where you go in. YES is is weird that the Dutchess is like that, lets do the conversation, lets see you interrogate her lets see you get into trouble. The player just handed you energy, go with it.

Instead we get the standard D&D thing with the adventure being somewhere else and you need to manipulate the players out of the room. Which half works in D&D but is crap in storygames. The story is wherever they are. If you want them in the village, smash cut, its three days later, as you approach the villiage, you see something incredible... If you want to start in a waiting room have then ask the players for the most fucking intense and cool reason they could have for being in a goddamn waiting room and make it part of the game.

Zak Sabbath said...

Well I don't know what you think "standard D&D" is but I've never seen it run any way but you let the players do what they want.

However, an underlying issue here (or in ANY game) would be: a village full of demons is more interesting than a conversation with a duchess about feelings. So I as a PC will pretty much do anything _not_ to act on my off-the-cuff question and its consequences because I want to see the demons ASAP.

Cole said...

oh I agree with you there; I'm just saying that if you're going to have the mechanics to begin with you probably get trouble if you give the mechanics "idle hands" time.

w/o the mechanics personality stuff comes up when something about the scenario just makes you respond that way. water filling a shape.

with the mechanics it's getting sprayed with a hose. which is a different thing if you're in buffalo bill's basement than if you're in the town square.

Zak Sabbath said...

Yeah, I am thinking at least for us it'd be better if the mechanics kicked in only once we were under stress. i.e. once we were actually in a place you might want to actually have an adventure interacting with actual adventure-worthy stuff.

But then, really, that's Call of Cthulhu. Which is an awesome game but I'm sure is not nearly whatever Burning Wheel is supposed to be enough for Burning Wheel fans.

Cole said...

Well from the perspective of Cerebirn the Elf, it's not the villagers' fault that the Duchess is some greedy plutocrat and they need help from getting eaten by demons and that's my responsibility. I think it's bad, but I have to make a choice according to what is actually important (dying villagers no one else is going to help). But the world is sad so grief test.

I don't see how it's supposed to be wrong that I prioritize "help the villagers" over "mouth off to the duchess. My beliefs or instincts don't say anything like "lives are cheap, making a point is eternal."

All this on top of what Zak said.

Cole said...

I may be misreading Grief (for example) but it seems more like a combination of a general instruction and a metric for XP scoring than something that has a manifest impact, which made it hard to know how to act out.

Shaun Hayworth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cole said...

Really for my part a lot of it was just how confusing the whole framework was. How do I make my beliefs inform my play? I'm not sure. How do I make my instincts inform my play? I'm not sure. How do I make my Grief inform my play? I'm not sure. Like, I want to work these threads into what I'm doing, because they're supposed to be at the heart of play, but they seem to have a way that they "work" and I'm not sure of that way and become confused.

Plus, if I'm confused I tend to express that with humor.

Cole said...

cool to not like things

yeah but it's more fun to like things, so i prefer to like things

Shaun Hayworth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zak Sabbath said...

There are a lot of links under that link, which is exemplary?

Shaun Hayworth said...

So, I'm not going to try and convince folks to like Burning Wheel, because it's cool to not like things. However, if it's a game you're actually interested in, my group livestreams our Google+ game, so if you're interested in how a typical session normally goes check it out at

Nagora said...

"Instead we get the standard D&D thing with the adventure being somewhere else and you need to manipulate the players out of the room."

"Instead we get the standard adventuring thing with the interesting stuff being somewhere else and the the players trying to manipulate the GM into letting them get there without having to listen to the bad fantasy novella he wrote before play." Although, this being an off-the-shelf scenario it's not actually the GM's fault.

There's a lot of stuff in there that's just a game system being a needy player and butting in when it's not its business, as far as I can see.

Funny though.

Unknown said...

Funny, I was just thinking Elven Grief sounds like a mixed drink... probably at a dwarf bar.

Shaun Hayworth said...

Well, I won't lie. I want everyone to like Burning Wheel, but I know that it's not everyone's game.

That being said, I saw a lot of stuff that really undermined the experience for you in this game. I've run this scenario multiple times with new players, and I've never had it devolve into comedy. Usually it's a lot of pain and murder and zombie-demon-bears tearing a famine-stricken village to hell.

Cole said...

the main thing that seemed to undermine it were trying to deal with logistical/pragmatic concerns - what's your advice to avoid the undermining aspects with unfamiliar players?

Jesse said...

The off-the-shelf scenario is pretty loose. There's no novella there. I've never run it, but I have read it in the last month, and I think the idea is "here is a group of characters, pick one and compose a couple of beliefs about why your character cares about this village, and now you're pretty much there at the village, what do you do?"

It's supposed to be a primer in writing character beliefs. There's advice about what to write, I think for each character. It's a test scenario to play before you and your group brainstorm your own unique campaign and characters.

Justin said...

Ya, the Mechanics of Burning Wheel kick in when under conflict, when your dude wants something, roll dice, needs to know something, roll dice, etc. As long as its relevant to the story, and failure (or success) pushes the game in a "dramatic" way. You roll dice.

Ya, it isn't that sort of game like Call of Cthulhu, which is fine...thats why I have Call of Cthulhu.

Burning Wheel (as a fan) is sort of my ideal game, it has a strong GM role, and supports/rewards player collaboration but NOT pass-the-stick drum circles. You roll dice, when it matters and the results have to push the game.

Then again, the rules are basically closer to how I run and use rules. I love as a GM, going "okay, thats your intent that is a skill check at this difficulty, failure will be this! (usually more excited and dramatic)."

Then advances works in a neat way, I dig the artha system quite a bit, and how its more low-fantasy, and no matter HOW powerful a person or monster is is...if it bleeds, you can kill it.

Anonymous said...

Is that how it goes... yes, basically. Burning Wheel-ish, DIY Burning Wheel if you will, is my go-to system. But like D&D, there's stuff I like and don't like, so I cram stuff from other games in there.

So comments on the post:

1. (As already pointed out) Grief isn't rolled for advancement, you just mark tests off when something happens. Same thing for Steel. When the players realize they can raise their Steel just by seeing ghosts and beheadings, they'll start going out of their way to expose their characters to the worst shit possible, which is awesome.
2. Starting BW characters are often dirt-poor, i.e. Resources 0. So no, you can't buy anything. You did exactly the right thing by finding somebody to help you or just taking somebody's stuff. Remember you can use Circles to find a friend with a ten foot pole or whatever.
3. If you think the village of demons is awesome, give the character a belief about the village of demons. That way you get Artha for it, and the GM knows to include more demons. That's how the whole thing works, basically. Do stuff for Beliefs -> Get Artha -> Use Artha to actually succeed at hard stuff -> Trying hard stuff advances stats. This is how you level up in Burning Wheel.

Comments about Burning Wheel in general:

1. Scripting was a drag for my group. We just stopped doing it, and then had more fun. It seems to work fine just going around, D&D style, declaring actions. (This fucks with the Reflexes stat, but you can either forget it or just remember "extra action every three rounds" or whatever.)
2. The Positioning rules in Fight can be confusing with multiple combatants. Nothing breaks if you ignore them, really. The book even says to wait to introduce them until the player asks, "Can't I hold them off with my spear?"
3. We failed at Duel of Wits. We just couldn't connect the game-ability ("Obfuscate") with whatever we wanted our characters to say. So we stopped using it, and had more fun. Versus tests worked fine, really. If the Ob was high, you just need to gather evidence or lean on his brother-in-law or whatever.
4. There can be a moment in Fight where strikes just bounce off a dude's armor and the players are like, well, what now? Get him in a headlock, throw him off a cliff, grab his sword, etc. Get creative. Think like the bad-ass hobo murderer you're playing.
5. Stuff we had a lot of fun with: Say Yes or Roll Dice, Rule of Interesting Failure, Advancement by rolling abilities, -Wises, freaking out failing Steel tests, Circles, Range & Cover, Garbled Transmission spell failure, characters who were previously clothiers or assistant pig-keepers or ganymedes or random weird medieval professions.

Shaun Hayworth said...

So, there are a couple of things that really help, and Patrick hit on some of them in his post.

This scenario, Trouble in Hochen, starts out with a pretty simple premise - a group of people get sent off to investigate some unpleasant rumors in a remote village. This should be told straight-up to the players before characters are handed out. Each character has two blank Beliefs, and some unnamed relationships. Those should be filled out before play even starts. The adventure text actually gives the GM some instruction on helping people make these - write one about another character, and one about the situation. Doing that should solidify your characters' motivations.

Then, like Patrick said, you start the adventure right when you show up in town. The first NPC I've ever had players encounter is the mayor of the town, who's clearly lying about how bad things are, and is a member of the resident cult besides. Now you've already got some stuff to deal with - how are you going to get information out of this guy.

BW assumes that you skip to the good parts, and if there aren't any interesting consequences for failure, you don't roll the dice. So, all the buying normal shit, you skip. It's not important. Skip to the demon-bear killing part.

Does that help at all? Make any more sense?

Zak Sabbath said...

Please read the comment below and answer it. That will help.

Shaun Hayworth said...

Ah, sorry. Yeah, this one, I think, is the session where the wizard burns a whole army of dudes with a rain of fire:

The one after is pretty confusing, since I run multiple scripted conflicts simultaneously, and screw up some rules. But the one I linked to here is pretty good, I think. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of context coming into it, since we started doing the streams on a whim.

buzz said...

"Is This How Burning Wheel Is Supposed To Go?"

Not really.

Shaun Hayworth said...

They got rid of positioning in the newest edition, and that streamlines Fight greatly.

Anonymous said...

I should mention I'm talking about Revised, which I got a few years ago. I didn't even know there was a Gold until I googled it because of your comment. Thanks, Shaun!

Topramesk said...

@Zak: basically, the fact that they weren't an issue is a big issue, because beliefs are supposed to be challenged. If during a game nothing that somehow touches a PC's beliefs happens, something is going wrong.

@Cole: BW is a big, crunchy, phat beast. If you try to have all of it in one go, you'll inevitably get really confused. You have to start slowly and introduce things step by step.
You already have lots of things going on: beliefs, grief, greed, songs, resources... man, slow down! :-)

My suggestion would be, go on with your adventure but try to focus just on beliefs & instincts for the next session. Forget about greed and grief for the minute.
Erase the old beliefs and have everyone write 3 (or at minimum 2) beliefs for their character.
About what they want to do NOW, their plan for the future and the general situation (they can also start by writing 1 and ad the others if they get inspired by something during the game).
Someone wants to hunt demons? Cool, belief. You want more money? Belief. Learn more about the shady duchess? Belief.

Then, just throw them things that stands in the way of their beliefs. Sometimes is very easy: demons are tough, it's easy to get killed (or worse) dealing with them. Sometimes it's a matter of choices (are you willing to lie to get those money? To steal? To kill?). Sometimes they mix together almost on their own (wait a minute, why this duchess is sending US to deal with those demons? And why she didn't give us the equipment we need if she really wants us to solve the problem?).
Then you play the consequences of the PCs' actions, go on to the next scene and so on.

Shaun Hayworth said...

No problem!

migellito said...

Honestly, when I read mouse guard/BW and I got to the part where you write up your beliefs and the focus of the game is for the gm to challenge those beliefs, I was out right there.

opossum101 said...

this is really something of a don't roleplay like a prick, learn your rules and eat your vegetables kind of situation. i RPed with guys that spent hours buying shovels in the village of hommlet or arguing if the wolf can get out of grease or not and it did not turn me off D&D in its many incarnations. this is situation of someone coming into game not wanting to like it.

Cole said...

learn your rules and eat your vegetables

the rules are densely written and i found them confusing.

(i still don't really understand how grief is supposed to work, except that it advances like a skill does and that when it reaches 10 you leave for the west)

i want to like things because it's more fun to like things than not to like things

i'm going back to the book and going to give this another shot

Cole said...

@ Chalceia - but what does Grief do when you experience the stimulus? I can't really tell from the text (as compared to Greed, which is fairly straightforward).

Is the idea that it's basically just something that advances in the background with a hard limit, and is basically a loose guide for your character's place in the world? (Plus it's "deeds point" use)

Alex Schroeder said...

I think the key is to think of it as emotional magic. So if your elf wants to sing the swordsong and be badass, it's best if he is filled with sadness -- but if he's too sad, he leaves. Same for dwarves: greed helps them do miracles, same for orcs: hate helps them do miracles. The better they get, the more awesome the character, but the closer you are to transcendence and leaving the game. This is much like the Solar System RPG or The Shadow of Yesterday handle it: You can advance your skill to the max, but when you actually do get to the max, your character may leave the game.

Countercheck said...

Yeah, Grief does a few different things. First, it's a tracker that indicates how many terrible things can happen before your elf gets taken out of play. It gives an impetus to try to prevent those terrible things, and creates a situation where elvish culture is disintegrating because all the ancient, powerful elves are fleeing.

You don't usually roll Grief unless you spend Artha, but when you do, you channel all your grief at the condition of the world into one perfect action.

Grief also serves as the base stat for a number of elvish Songs, which are the elvish magic.

My name is Countercheck, on the BW forum, for the record =P

Noclue said...

Topramesk is speaking wisdom. One Belief isn't enough. And don't start play until the GM has an idea how he can challenge the Beliefs and the player knows how to play towards them. For instance, why is the Elf's driving Belief to learn from humans? It doesn't really seem so important to him. More like a pleasant diversion then a Belief.

And if the games about dealing with the demons, it might be a good idea if everyone at least a Belief about he demons or the duchess or the village

Zak Sabbath said...

Looking here at my trackbacks, if you are "Countercheck" on the BW forum then your post is mistaken. "D&D With Porn Stars Plays Burning Wheel..." "...and it doesn't go so well" is by no means accurate.

We all had fun and we want to try it again.

I dunno what the standard for you is.

Zak Sabbath said...

To quote Opossum101, this is:

"criticism that both fails to interact in any meaningful way with its subject and also uses it as a moralistic denunciation against certain brand of entertainment. "

Noclue said...

If you're unsure how to play toward your Belief, they're inappropriate. The wording and content of the Belief matter far less than your ability to bring it into play.

Noclue said...

Cole, you get closer to fading into the west forever. But you also get more powerful, because you can use your Grief mechanically when appropriate (so, the cycle rewards you when you drive play towards your grief until it kills you).

Zak Sabbath said...

The point is: I cared about my PCs motivation about as much as I cared about any PC motivation and enjoyed playing it. Cole and Mandy pretty much were in the same boat.

Zak Sabbath said...

This is starting to read like some kind of hippiegamer "If your game didn't turn out exactly the way it was Designed To you must not understand Important Stuff We Understand"

Yeah, I get it, drama and story are supposed to occur here because PC beliefs are challenged and the story comes out of that. It's not actually in any way a difficult concept to grasp.

Alejandro said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the game, but the question was: "Is This How Burning Wheel Is Supposed To Go?" The short answer is: Not even close.

"It doesn't go well" because, base on the text, that was not BW at all. I can have fun watching a movie, but that movie is not BW. It's a movie. I don't know what you did, but you didn't play BW, IMO.

What about: "Well she has some Falsehood, so... (roll roll) Ok, you are convinced it's all about the orphans and their plight." WTF was that? When you played? When you role-played? You don't say: "I have Falsehood, so..." You lie to them. That's how BW is mean to be played: you tell a story, you, the player, develop fiction.

Do you really want to create an exciting fiction about personal drama and trial of belief? If you don't, why to bother playing this game then?

It seems that you did not understand the game. That is understandable. But now you are trying to be mean as a defense mechanism. That's so sad.

But I don't want to be mean. It's just an observation. BW is not "An arty version of D&D that a guy wrote..." In fact, has very little to do with D&D at all. It's another beast entirely. And it's an awesome game. But maybe just is not for you.

Zak Sabbath said...

OH NO!!!!!



Cole said...

@ Alejandro

Burning Wheel is a complex game with intricate rules. It is over 600 pages long. We were trying to work out how to play as we were playing. So when you see:

What about: "Well she has some Falsehood, so... (roll roll) Ok, you are convinced it's all about the orphans and their plight." WTF was that? When you played? When you role-played? You don't say: "I have Falsehood, so..." You lie to them. That's how BW is mean to be played: you tell a story, you, the player, develop fiction.

What is happening is we are looking at our character sheets and trying to figure out our abilities and we aren't quite sure how FoRKs work as our characters try to accomplish tasks and I'm there looking at the chapter on Grief, which is obviously important, noting the obstacles for someone lying to me vs. me lying, and a the same time I'm not sure how it works in play and whether it causes me Hesitation or compels any behavior like Fureard's Greed does and maybe extrapolating from that...

So we step back from the in game moment as we try to figure this out and help the figuring out by talking. It's not yet easy to develop fiction when the (again, fairly intricate) player-side rules are in the background yet for us. So I'm not surprised that we're not getting the Iliad here or even Hawk the Slayer.

And like I said above at least for me when I'm confused about something it's easy for me to express that with light humor.

@ Zak


I did get the impression we were maybe playing it a little wrong. But I mean, we were learning to play, you mess stuff up sometimes when we're learning. It's not like we didn't have fun or even that we only had "ironic fun."

Zak Sabbath said...

Inasmuch as I could tell, we had fun not unlike the fun we have every single time we play a game, except:

-some of that fun was due to the existence of hilarious sad elf setting assumptions,
-after informing people of the fun via internet, we were told it was badwrong

otherwise pretty much a normal wednesday on G+.

Cole said...

@ Countercheck

So a moment that involves one of the events/actions described under Tragedy : Advancing Grief only becomes significant when it's invested with Artha?

So for example if my elf casually lies, it's not worthy of Grief but if I as the player decide the moment/context makes the lie significant enough that I want to spend Artha to signify it, then I test grief.

Or if I see someone killed I don't necessarily roll grief but if I so choose I might want to spend artha to test grief because as a player I decide that's somehow really moving to me.

Both of these because I want to develop my grief stat so I can draw on it later (to boost my chance of success and/or imbue ostensibly non-tragic moments with the echoes of that grief?)

Cole said...

@ James

But does it have any impact in the moment on play (like the Dwarf's Greed does) or is it just something you voluntarily tap into for mechanical rewards until eventually you max out and break/depart?

Cole said...

Well I think the default assumption of the game is supposed to be that it is more tragic than comic (though not unwaveringly so, there are jokes and comically presented traits and such in the book) and I do not think it is unreasonable on its face to imagine a context in which the Sadness of an Elf is not inescapably comical.

Zak Sabbath said...

I think the sadness of the elf is inescapable tragic and inescapably comic. I think there is no possible way I (or you, or anyone I personally know) could be in a campaign and never see it as very funny.

Call of Cthulhu does not fall apart when you see it as funny instead of scary. Which you will, inevitably, once in a while. I hope (and assume) the same can be said of BW.

The responses we're getting here suggest that only people who refuse to see the sadelf as funny are playing in the desired mode. Which suggests an idea so narrow about what the desired mode is that I hope it;s not true.

I hope you can play this game as wrong as you can play D&D and still have fun.

Alejandro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alejandro said...

Yes, it's a very complex game. That's why you don't blame the game for the mistakes you make (if you make any). It's a very rewarding game, but take time to learn how to play it. And yes, Zak, when you play a new game you are always playing it wrong. I'm playing it wrong too. That's the way you learn how to play anything in the first place.

About the complexity... You don't have to use the 600 pages. I don't. Just use the first 74 pages. That's what the book says, anyway. Forget Grieft and Greed and Sorcery. Create, as a group, a compelling situation, and write Beliefs about that situation. If you, the player, don't care about the situation, if you don't care abour the characters, then the game can't work.

It's your mission, as a player, to tell an insteresting story about your character and your friends' characters. Interesting to you, and to your friends. It's not the GM job. It's everybody's job.

When a player wants her character to do something, she don't search his character sheet, looking for that right Skill. She just tells his friends, as it were a movie or a book, what her character is doing, and why. And her character does just that. But, if another player says her character wants to stop you, she try to do so, and then both roll dice and see what happens. And that's the only time you do.

If that players is the GM, then the NPC and the weather and whatever are her characters.

Don't bother too much with dice rolls. Dice are your resource to tell a compelling story. If some player says A but you want B, then you go to the mechanics. But if you also wants A, just say 'Yes' to the player and go on. You don't make tests to find food or to lie to people or to open doors. You make tests when you reach that point in the fiction when the story can go in two or more directions, and you want to see where the story goes.

But this is just me talking. I was not there. Maybe you just want humor in your games. And that's fine! If your game, after all. People here are just trying to help you get the best of the game, that's all. Good luck.

Zak Sabbath said...

I'm going to do you the favor of assuming this is a language barrier issue and you didn't mean to be as condescending as you sound.

Cole said...

@ Zak

I'm not saying never see it as very funny I'm just saying not necessarily never see it as anything but funny.

Zak Sabbath said...


the vibe I'm getting is that at least some people reading our thoughts here do not grasp that distinction.

Cole said...

Yeah. Just trying to think out loud here.

Noclue said...

Cool. How did you manifest that? What did your sorceress do to attain power and build a heroic reputation?

Zak Sabbath said...

She bravely volunteered to go to a benighted village to slay demons in spite of a woeful lack of equipment and with no help other than two lower-class demihumans of dubious emotional stability.

Noclue said...

It has to be appropriate to the fiction. If your elf is bringing his grief into it, the natural question is why does this situation matter to your elf? Why is her grief fueling the fires? Why is this pushing her towards abandoning hope? If you can't really answer that, and roleplay it, Grief isn't a thing here.

Zak Sabbath said...


I just deleted your comment because you made ANOTHER personal attack in response to the above "if/then conditional" personal attack I myself made in response to your comment at 2:56 AM which was, itself, a personal attack. You don't get to comment here any more.

What exactly did you do wrong?

I asked "Is this how burning wheel is supposed to go?"
then posted a delightful actual play snippet

Then you translated it in your fucked mind as follows (from your own deleted comment):

"what you did with your post was not that you came out to tell us the way in which you play burning wheel but to pointedly ask people if burning wheel is like that all the time. or to translate: you asked does it suck? "

I didn't do that. No sucking was implied.

But you are defensive and bad, so...

Since you made that translation, you are too dumb to have words you wrote where other people can see them.

So until you realize the error of your ways, to the degree I can prevent other people from having access to your dumbness via moderating comments here, I will do it.

When and if you realize how dumb it was to assume the dumb thing you did and apologize, I may reconsider.

Shaun Hayworth said...

Hey, I'm really sorry if I came off as arrogant and/or condescending at any point. The original post made it seem like you guys had a crap experience, but I'm glad that wasn't the case. It sounds, from some of the comments, that y'all are open to toying with BW more, which is awesome.

@Zak - I think a lot of us BW fanboys tend to interact with everyone like we interact with eachother, which is to say, we tend to analyze the ever living fuck out of what happened during play. That comes across harshly sometimes, and I often forget that.

@Cole - I've probably been less helpful than I intended to be. I'd love to do better. Is there anything that came up during play (aside from Grief, I think that's been pretty well covered) that you had questions about, or seemed particularly odd or jarring?

For what it's worth, I'm in the same time zone as y'all, so if you're ever interested in playing a one-shot of BW, I'd be happy to run for you. Not that I think you won't figure it out, I just know it helps to have someone who knows the game around when you're learning.

Zak Sabbath said...

Shaun, you have been a prince and I look forward to checking out your Youtube AP as soon as I have time.

Nagora said...

I think BW is written with an intent which is shared by many of its fans. Not having bought into that intent is, I think, what's winding them up.

In that sense, I guess you could objectively say that you are having "the wrong kind of fun" in the way a fan of 1980's Doctor Who would say that you're not having the right kind of fun if you're laughing at the wobbly sets. That, or seeing the elf grief as comical (indeed, hilarious) is viewed by fans as having fun AT rather than WITH.

I can't imagine playing such a game in any way differently than you did, but then we play D&D and everything else that way too, with the exception of Pendragon which had an uncanny knack of making everyone come over all serious without being dull.

Zak Sabbath said...

our GM has played before but was GMing via laggy internet and through a few other technical obstacles

glad to hear vornheim helped

Zak Sabbath said...


Just because other people are _also_ defensive and dumb and bad in the same ways as you too doesn't mean you are any less dumb for being defensive and dumb and bad.

Also, technical note:
I can't send you an email, I don't have your address, it is not linked to your profile and don't know who you are, so this is the only way I can communicate with you.

opossum101 said...

sometimes maybe just maybe it is not people who are dumb (as in deaf in this case) but your message was not clear enough.

i can also see that my message might have not been clear. so i l'try once again: when i wrote that you didn't want to like the game i have not implied that you gathered to do an intentionally bad play-test but that at least an elf player has some misgivings about what type of elf he plays and that he is not sure that he even wants to play 'sad' elf. maybe you should have talked with him beforehand and established what are expectations of the game? sometimes you do not know that you already know.

Zak Sabbath said...

The underlying premises you have here are that:

-this game went poorly (it did not)

-that we wish it had not gone how it did (how boring would we have to be to wish that?) and that

-this post attempts to communicate a useful "message" about BW as a game rather than just being a record of some people having some fun presented for the edification of this blog's fine readers

I do not know the source of these inaccurate assumptions. There is, however, no doubt in my mind that making them (in the face of no information but the blog post above, which is there for anyone to see) is gruesome in its foolishness.

opossum101 said...

first: you character (z) is exasperated most of the time. also it is not your character but z (as in you) making comments and being... well, exasperated.

second: title is something that could have been seen as snarky. or cynical. or smart-ass. or whatever you like...

third: ...and not only defensive BW fans have misunderstood your post but also people who do not like BW obviously misunderstood your easily as you have answered to me you could have said to them: listen guys we had a blast and you are mistaken.

fourth: we are speaking about a game. lets not go into gruesome. it shakespearean in a very wrong way.


fifth: you are communicating something about BW. as seen by #3.

and that is about it bacuse i feel that this back-and-forth could go for some time. love your blog, keep up good work and all that. and give elf player (cole?) an orc next time.

Zak Sabbath said...

"Before getting upset about something someone said or did, always ask a question first. Otherwise, no matter how many dicks are in the room, you are one of them."

You are, quite simply, not allowed to make the assumptions you did without asking questions first.

You may have made them, but then you CHECK them by asking. This is a two-way circuit and I answer comments.

There is never any excuse for assuming stuff when you can ask. You have done wrong.

opossum101 said...

but so did the other guys. BW not-likers (hater is a strong word) and we are defensive. fans, bloggers and all others...

it did not really call for calling me an asshole. and after that you have obviously misunderstood my attempt at humor in the next post and again started calling names. i really do not mind but it is not conductive for a good argument (as in duel of wits).

but really enough of this. i am going to sleep finally. sorry for misunderstanding your post.

Zak Sabbath said...


"Just because other people are _also_ defensive and dumb and bad in the same ways as you too doesn't mean you are any less dumb for being defensive and dumb and bad."

I have defined 'asshole' above. You fit that definition. Anyone else who does what you do is _also_ an asshole.

If someone thought I didn't like BW but them thinking this did not lead them to say anyone was "roleplaying like a prick" or that I played this game not wanting to like it (stupid things to say) then they are, certainly, held to a much lower standard of behavior since their misconceptions are not leading them to attack other people on behalf of their dumb nerd prejudices.

"Asshole" may be a thing you do not want to be called. If so, the remedy is simple: apologize for jumping to conclusions and then acting on them in such a dumb way.

But until you do that, rest assured: you are exactly that internet fan nerd asshole everyone hates.

opossum101 said...

it is not stupid. wanting something and knowing that you want something is not the same. i really fail to see how you do not understand that? this is also the core concept, in a way, of emotional attributes in the BW.

as far as prick is a problem i suppose that it is language barrier.

and i apologized already. and yet you continued to insult me.

also you quoted something that i wrote somewhere else in some other situation earlier and now i see that? i did something earlier to piss you off?

Cole said...


Dude, no one forced me to play an elf. I picked the elf. As things played out, things shaded into the comic. Everybody had fun. Zak wasn't the GM here, either. Harald was.

I didn't have misgivings about anything. I was just a little unclear on how an aspect of a game functioned in practice.

Cole said...

Mostly it was Grief in practice that was a little hard to parse. Most of the other stuff was just standard so the obstacle is the number of 4's I that means what for a resources roll? stuff. Not stuff we couldn't figure out, just stuff we were figuring out while were playing. Thanks for weighing in. Will try to check out some of the videos this wkend.

Cole said...

@ Paul

Will have to check out that campaign thread. I ran a library-centric campaign a couple years back and it'll be cool to see someone else's take on that concept.

Noclue said...

Very cool! (does blogger have an iPad app? Posting is very difficult)

So, I have thoughts. Let me know if you'd rather I STFU. I like talking about this stuff too much.

Anyway, does she have the skill Conspicuos, because that's an awesome skill for drawing attention to oneself? If not, trying to open it might be worthwhile. Also, Circling up a minstrel to spread word of your deeds throughout the land can't hurt.

How was her Belief challenged in play?

Noclue said...

@Zak I'm glad you guys had fun. Countercheck meant well.

@cole: There's two things going on. One is when you want to use the power of your Grief and the other is when you experience tragedy in the world that makes you grieve. In the former, you would be spending Artha to get that benefit, but also that color.

Noclue said...

BTW, there's a good discussion of Grief in play on pages 159-160 if you have access to BWG.

Noclue said...

Sorry for the confusion with my name and nick.


Zak Sabbath said...

well the game got cut off so we never found out.

Noclue said...

That's too bad. I'm interested to learn if she cares about the village or she's just in it for the notoriety.

Zak Sabbath said...

I'm interested to see what happens when you use "Bind" to stick a demon bear to another demon bear.

Noclue said...

Ha! There's a roll you *do not* want to fail! =)

Countercheck said...

Hey guys, it's Countercheck, the guy who linked this to the BW forum. I just wanted to apologise for that... I misread the OP and thought you hadn't had fun, and over at BWHQ, people like reading AP threads. I was honestly just trying to help. So again, I'm sorry for misinterpreting what was going on, and I hope I didn't offend anyone too badly.

Zak Sabbath said...

I don't think "offend" is really the verb you want. More "incite any of my fellow BW fans to embarrass themselves in front of".

At any rate, no harm was done, and some good. If someone's a jackass it's probably better for everyone involved to know it.

Countercheck said...

I really did mean well - I posted an apology further down in the comment stream! Keyboard in mouth.

@Cole- Yeah, the emotional attributes are like Steel - you only actually roll them under specific circumstances, but you can gain tests for advancement without rolling them. It's a bit odd, but I've found it works well in play, especially since with some stats, like Steel, you tend to roll them repeatedly against the same obstacle, which makes them hard to advance.

I also seem technologically incompetent, and unable to log into anything that will leave my name here.


oliof said...

I feel like I, the GM of this session has to chime in.

Rules used were:

Simple tests (Resources, Steel, random other things), Open Ended rolls.
Fields of Related Knowledge
Versus tests (for conflict; not even bloody versus)

All these rules are contained in the first 74 pages.

A bit of Grief, Greed, Magic – but shortened a while. Yes, I made Cole roll for Grief and that was wrong, but that did not expend the game considerably because Cole is good at rolling dice and counting successes.

If you substract the time spent to explain to the players their options and the basic rules we used, actual application of those rules made up for maybe 15 minutes out of 90 that we played; the rest was trying to settle in and getting to grips with setting and rules.

You don't see these details in Zak's writeup because they were irrelevant to the experience; everyone had fun and there's interest to have a second session. In which I can scale down the explanatoring, and the players can scale up the messing stuff up. And with the barrel of lard, I'm sure it will run like a well greased clockwork.

Unknown said...

Can you explain what you mean by that?