Ah Burning Wheel – Part 2

Today, I am currently in the task resolution section of BWG.  The system breaks every roll down to: intent, task, and test.

Intent is the outcome the players want from the roll.  Intent needs to be a clear as possible, because the game system states that if the PC succeeds at his test, he gets his intent.  As the GM it is my responsibility to make sure that I and the PC understands their intent so that the resolution and outcome of the intent can be established.

Task is the mechanical necessities of the test, what needs to happen to make the intent a reality.  What stat or skill will be used in for this roll.  I believe this step includes figuring out if the intent is this even possible.  In my mind, this is also where, as the GM, I call for advantages, assign the task Ob and assign any disadvantages.

The Test is the player’s attempt to make his intent a reality.  They always have the chance to walk away before the dice hit the table, but once they roll they are committed to the test.

There are a variety of other rules in this chapter but what stands out is the need to take my time at the table.  For each test, ie: a situation that requires a die roll, intent & task must be established along with the type of test, obstacles must be set, modifiers can be applied to the die pool or the Ob, and that is just before the roll.  While a lot of this will become second nature, at the start of the game this system is radically different from looking at a DC and requiring a d20+bonus roll. 

I want my players, and myself, to get used to the BWG system.  While the basics of the system are simple and fast, there are some nuances that I would like to see people use.  This is going to require some slower pacing when it comes to task resolution.  I want to make sure over the first couple of sessions that people are really clicking with the system and understand every tool that is available to them.

On a side note: I will be putting up an Obsidian Portal site for the Outlands, after I upgrade my account and get the Gazetteer finished.  So if this setting interests you, you can follow along with the game as it develops.


Ah Burning Wheel – Part 1

So let me begin this series with a moment of creepy honesty.  I am a Burning Wheel fan boy.  No just a normal fan boy, but a tattoo-having might have scared Luke Crane by cornering him at Gencon with my rabid fandom crazy fan boy.  So you might want to keep that in mind as we go through this re-read series.  It has established itself as my favorite RPG system since my first read through, when I bought a copy of revised.  I am unashamed of my love of this game, and I hope that it comes through loud and clear in these posts.

So that being said, let’s dig into Burning Wheel.  My hope is that through this series of posts, I can collect my thoughts on Burning Wheel Gold (BWG) and distill the rules into a 2-4 page rules cheat sheet for my players.  I am 20 pages in to my dissection at this point, and just reading over the main mechanics of the system.

BWG’s core mechanic is simple.  It is a die pool system, where 4, 5, and 6’s are hits.  You are rolling against an absolute difficulty, which is the number of hits you need to succeed at the task.  Absolute difficulty means that a task, once its difficulty is established never changes.  A lock that is obstacle (Ob) 3 to unlock it, is always Ob 3.  Whether your lock picking skill is 1 or 10, you always need 3 success to overcome it.  Granted, the situation might change benefiting or hampering your character, but the root Ob is static.

Two things stand out to me after reading this section.  The first is the need to engrain in my head and the heads of my players to ask the Ob before they roll.  Ob’s are absolute, so they need to be established, as does the intent of the player/cost of failure, before dice hit the table.  Up until that point, the player has the ability to back away from the test and examine a different approach. 

The second thing that caught my attention is a rules change from Revised to BWG.  Perception tests are no longer open-ended.  Open-ended rolls are rolls where each 6 on the die generates a new die for the test.  It made perception tests very strange to adjudicate in previous games.  I will have to point that out to my players who played in my last game.

Well, I off to read more BWG and write up a bit more for the Outland’s Gazetteer.  

Outlands Update

One of the things I love about Burning Wheel is its unapologetic imbalance.  Men are not the equal of Dwarves and Elves stand alone among the races of the world.  This inequality is rooted in the same tropes of fiction that our gaming experiences are inspired by.  Frodo was not as potent as Strider, Legolas was superior to Borormir, and yet all but Gandalf fled before the Balrog.

My group wants to embrace this imbalance.  When asked about the experience level of the group, everyone responded with something different.  One player, who has played Burning Wheel before, wanted a more experienced character.  Whereas another wanted a lower lifepath character to see how the advancement system works.  It was yet another player who suggested the Fellowship of the Ring style group, with differing levels of competency.

So my solution to this varied response is to embrace it.  I am going to give the group at character creation a pool of life paths.  I think I am going to work it out to an average of 3.5 LP’s per player.  But, each player has to take no less than 2 and no more than 5 LP’s.  So if someone wants to play a young, wide-eye 2 LP character, he can.  This also provides the room in the pool for someone to take 5 LP’s and be the old mentor character.

It will be a RADICAL departure from the standard style of gaming we have at our tables.  DnD, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, even Fate all have systems based on characters that are roughly balanced against each other.  This game will require more effort from me, but also from my players.  People will have to realize that Burning Wheel is a slow burning game, but with time and effort, characters will advance and change.  With wildly different power scale between characters, players will have to accept that mechanically they may be out gunned and focus on beliefs, instincts and traits to help define their characters early on.

I have started my Burning Wheel re-read and player handout prep.  Expect more on this game today and tomorrow, as my schedule allows!

It is a Question of Experience

This week I want to start dialing the game planning back to focus on the player characters.  So here is the question: how experienced will their characters be to start?  In Burning Wheel the experiences of the character before the start of the game are represented by life paths.  The more life path choices a character has, the more powerful they are to start.

However this is balanced by the fact that it is harder for them to grow and ‘level up’.  The higher the exponent of a skill is (and more life paths equates to higher skill values) the harder it is to increase.

So do they want characters that are just starting off in their careers, those who are established, or who are approaching the twilight of their lives?  Did I mention that the more life paths you take, the older the character is?

So the tradeoff is that a younger character with less life paths will grow and mature faster than an older character with more life paths, mainly because they grew and matured before the game started.

What is your preference in a game?  Do you enjoy starting off with wide eyed, fresh characters, or more experienced ones?


Updates Abound

With Mage on hiatus, my remaining players and I decided to play the new Pathfinder Adventure Card Game.  While it is not Lords of Waterdeep, it was a blast to play.  It completely fills that spot of ‘what are we going to do on game night’ that I would normally fill with a one shot.  I have found that most of my players are not huge fans of ar one shot just to try a rules set, so this is a great option to have.  That and I get to get some play time in.  We enjoyed it so much that we are running out to grab the 5-6 player expansion today.

Tonight we will either be playing the Dresden Files game, or switching over to the new SR5 game.  It all depends on the DF GM.  He has had some major life upheavals, which have led to unfortunate but understandable cancelations, and the SR GM offered to start his game sooner so that we could get back into the groove of a regular game. Personally, the Dresden Files game has been great when we have met, and the SR looks fantastic, so I am great either way the decision falls.  As long as we get more gaming in!

The online game players, in my Ta’nar game, were informed that this game is wrapping up.  There will be a new playtest of the Pathfinder iteration of the world starting up at the end of this year.  I am debating putting it up on Obsidian Portal.  The main reason for this is that I can advertise the world there, and get some public feedback to some of the fluff pieces.  That is about the only feature that is making me lean towards the Portal as opposed to a Google group.

I continue to move forward in the design of the Burning Wheel game.  The feedback I have received from this week’s question is leaning heavily towards working ‘for the law’, specifically working for the Church/Inquisition.  This is a very interesting turn, as it separates the group from the need to start allied with a city state. During the war that will be raging at the start of the game they will be able to work behind the scenes for the Church’s benefit as opposed to any political power.

Speaking of the Burning Wheel game, I start my Burning Wheel re-read next week.  This re-read will be accompanied by a series of blog posts as I get my thoughts on the system out here, with the goal of getting the core mechanics ready for a player resource sheet.  I will also be making national traits so the city-states will be mechanically different types of humans.  Should be a lot of fun.

Looks like a number of my new Pathfinder books will be in this week or next, so more reviews will be forthcoming.

Finally, Ta’nar planning is coming along great.  I have finished 1 city map for the next game, and am working on the second.  Once I get both maps done, I will be putting them up here, again for review.  Also, as I will be using this blog to share my world with the world, what would you be most interested in: mechanics or fluff?


Outlands Update

Last week’s question my attempt get a read on the expectations of the group as it related to the low magic feel of the Outlands game.  It was about the overarching storyline and how the state of magic and the gods would or would not change.  The votes are in and it looks like everyone wants to keep this game firmly rooted as a low magic setting, which is fine by me!

This week’s question [the first in a line which will continue for a couple of week] is about where the player’s loyalties will lie as a party.  So this week’s question was a simple one.  “Are you for the law, or against it?”  Not an original question, it is one I stole from a podcast AP game I listened too, but still a telling one.  This can have a myriad of ways that this choice will play out.  For right now, we are looking at this from two standpoints.  The first is how do the player relate to the strict law of whatever land they are in, are they working with and in the law, or against it.  Secondly, are they maintaining or attacking the status quo of the Outlands.

Finally, I have attached the updated Outlands map.  I have provided a minimal amount of information at this point for the players, just names of places and kingdoms.  I have asked for feedback and what other information they would like to see added.

If you have any feedback on the map, let me know!

The Outlands


Updates & Thanks

Our Wednesday night game was canceled again.  So one of the players and I and my wife got together to play Lords of Waterdeep.  It is a fantastic game.  Had a lot of fun teaching it to my buddy and playing it.  I can understand why it is a hard sell.  Too much Dungeons and Dragons branding for the Eurogamer and too much eurogame for the DnD’ers.  Anyway, after the game my buddy stayed and we chatted the upcoming changes to my online game, of which he is a player.

I have been running my online alpha test of my world, Ta’nar, for two years as of tomorrow.  A lot has changed in those two years, including a shift in design focus from Hero to Pathfinder.  So when I was looking at the next story arc, and wanting to change the game over to Pathfinder, I ended up deciding to end this game.  I am going to wrap up the story in the next couple of months, and then launch the next playtest using Pathfinder.  Expect some blog posts on my autopsy of that game and the new game setup in November.

Anyway, we were chatting about what went well and what didn’t work for this play test and he brought up something.  It was a situation in the game where two of the characters could have potentially been rendered powerless.  What started there spun out into some first rate feedback on my GMing style and the play by post style.  It was fantastic.  In this specific instance, he explained how he as a player enjoys more difficult situations in his characters wheelhouse that allows him to shine or fail, opposed to easier situations in which his character is rendered powerless and has to figure out to deal with that.  It was something I would never have noticed had he not brought it to my attention. 

I believe you can’t improve your game beyond a certain point without people giving you quality feedback on both the good and bad parts of your game.  I always am asking for constructive criticism, and I have been blessed with players who always provided great feedback.  I have often said that everyone needs this specific player in their games, and last night he proved it again.

As I don’t want to list their names without their permission, Poras you know who you are!  Thanks for being a great sounding board and giving great feedback.