Burning Gold – The Resource Cycle

Burning Wheel is a game filled with grand concepts and impressive names for mechanics that sometimes obfuscate their importance to the game.  Where other games have alignments, BW has beliefs.  Where some games use class and race combinations for character creation, BW takes you on a journey through your character’s past with lifepaths.  And where some games use the gold piece, BW uses Resources.  It doesn’t have a coinage system, it has an economy. 

Like many of the moving parts of BW, the resource system doesn’t come into focus until one takes a step back and looks at it over the course of a long term game.  The core of the system uses the same mechanics as the rest of BWG: find what you want to buy (state intent), gather your funds (collect the die pool), establish value (set Ob), and see if you can afford it (roll).  But BWG is less about managing petty cash, whether that cash is measured in copper, silver, or stacks of gold, and more about managing assets.  Each character has a Resource stat, determined by how you spend your character’s starting resource points. If you outfit yourself like an adventurer, with all the gear you can carry on your person, your starting resource stat will be 1, or even 0, thereby making you live like an adventurer.  Most of my previous player’s resources were at 0 due to this and I ignorantly bumped them to 1, which I now believe was a mistake (more on that later).  But, if you buy land, reputations, and affiliations with organizations, the character will see a larger starting Resource stat.

As previously stated, I often bumped starting characters in my game to Resources 1, even if they were nowhere close to this.  I felt like with a 0 in resources, they would have been ridiculously hampered.  In all honesty, Resources was the least used mechanic in my previous Zemlya game.  I didn’t get it.  It seemed too hard for players to generate enough dice for even the simplest roll, and if they failed they lost what resources they had.

After reading through BWG and the Adventure Burner, I see how this is intentional by design.  Being poor in this game (Resources 2 or less) is brutal.  It is designed to drive the players to try and break the cycle of poverty that is implied by BWG’s setting, that of a Middle Ages Europe.  Players need to scheme and adventure to get the cash dice (one shot die bumps to Resources) to succeed at early Resource checks and earn the upward mobility needed to gain more funds from titles and affiliations.  It all strongly encourages (perhaps even forces) the players to work together to buy what they need.  Remember if a character gives a helping die to a check, they earn a test for that check as well.  With Resources increasing through tests, loaning cash to other players can help boost your Resources.  Like the man says, you have to spend money to make money.

Resources, like practice or the advancement mechanic is long term focused.  It advances through use, and as you make tests, subsequent tests become easier.  Making money is not the only component to this in-game economic system.  The second piece is the Maintenance Cycle.  If the Resource pool is the character’s personal economy, the Maintenance Cycle represents the natural periods of economic resolution in your game world.  It may seem like a complicated concept, but like most of BWG they have created an elegant mechanic for handling this. 

Maintenance Cycle works as follows.  At the start of the game the GM sets the time frame for the cycle.  Fast paced urban lifestyle has a cycle of about a month, whereas a more traditional medieval game would have a cycle set for six to twelve months.  This cycle represents when lifestyle maintenance comes to plague the characters.  When the Maintenance Cycle ends, the players must make Resource rolls to maintain their current lifestyle, basically paying for any amenities they have been enjoying for the last cycle.  The brilliance of this system is twofold.  It removes the penny pinching and accounting necessary to track lifestyle expenses inherent to most fantasy rpgs (which in my experience are usually ignored) while still making the lifestyle choices a vital part of the game. And, like most things in BWG, it drives story.  Has your character been living far beyond his Resource 3 means?  You better go raid a tomb or rob a baron to get some cash dice to make that looming maintenance check.  Roll poorly on said maintenance check?  Now he has to go out and adventure to gain new resources. 

As mentioned above, when you fail a Resources check you lose a die from the pool.  This Tax represents that your resources are hampered for the time being.  Recovering these dice requires getting a job.  Not an adventuring job either.  It needs something stable, something mundane.  And it takes a whole Maintenance Cycle.  At first blush this seemed brutal to me.  Pulling my characters out of the story for anywhere from a month to a year?  Why would I do that?  Again, it helped me to take a step back and view the game as a whole and with a long term view.

The system creates natural breaks in the story by forcing some down time.  And while active time is at a premium in BWG, downtime is very important.  It allows players the time to heal from wounds, to practices abilities, and to recover resources.   BWG handles each of these situations with time based mechanics that are very different from more traditional d20 mechanics.  But they are vital to the system.  Enforcing downtime enables players to recover and improve, all so you can throw them back into the fires of challenged beliefs.  It also allows their antagonists the realistic time needed to recover and adapt behind the scenes.

So what does this mean for the Outlands?  Well first I means I want to start uses Resources as written.  If the players start with a Resources of 0, so be it.  It means that many of our knights will be poor mendicants that rely on the strength of their arms and wits to maintain their armor and lives.  It also means the group will have to pull tighter together right off the bat.  If most things the group wants is outside the purview of one character, it is time to gang up.

Also, I have been debating on what to set my Maintenance Cycle to.  I want the pace to be somewhat more intense than a half-year cycle, but slower than a monthly rotation.  So I am going to set it at a seasonal cycle, every three months Maintenance will show up.  My hope is that this will be long enough to allow substantial story to happen, but still short enough for the downtime actions not to take characters out of the story for a year.



New Burning Wheel Question

Burning up characters for BWG is a fairly involved process.  For those of you who don’t know how it works, Burning Wheel is a lifepath system.  Which is basically gamer jargon for picking snapshots of your characters background.  It is not a class system, but an organic development of periods of time in your character’s life before the start of the game.  For example, your character might have been born in a village, moved to a city as a street rat, became a second story man, and then was conscripted into the army.  Each of these stages is a lifepath.  Each lifepath gives the player building blocks to create their character in the form of skills, attributes, traits and even the resources you use to buy your character’s equipment.  In addition to all of the lifepaths, each player also need to create and select three beliefs, three instincts, and equipment.  There is really too much to do in one evening.

So as I stated before, I want to get the bulk of the conceptual design done before we come to the table.  My questions over the next couple of weeks are going to be a group discussion about their character concepts and beliefs.  If I can get the group to get these nailed down, we will have plenty of time to get through burning all of the characters that first evening.

So here is this week’s question for my group:

In an attempt to keep the momentum for the Outlands up and prepare for our start in January, I want to start a discussion about character concepts.  I say discussion, because I would like to see everyone over the course of the next two weeks talk about what they want to play.  It would be great to see ties between characters start to develop here.  Squires to Knights of Shining Intellects, thieves who are part of an Inquisitor of the Light of Law’s retinue.  

As you are thinking of what you want to play keep a couple things in mind. The game is going to be focused on the Free Cities to start, as well as the Knights of Shining Intellect and the Light of Law.  Look over those sections in the Gazetteer and try to narrow your concepts to fit within these frameworks.

As the player’s concepts come in I will compile them and post them here to share.  

Handsome Heads on Tentacles

Last Dark is finally finished, and I sit writing this post in a delicious melancholy that only Donaldson can deliver.  Seriously, if you have not read the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, you are missing out on great literature.  Not fiction, literature.  Anyway, back to blogging about games.

My 13th Age read through was a little rough.  I am writing my review, but due to the layout of the text, I am finding myself having to do another read through.  It is not poorly written or uninviting, but it is cryptic in the way information is delivered.  The second read through is going much smoother, now that I understand the terminology better, but still I need more time to process and prep.  But my 13th Age group is set up, and we have a place to play and the first game date set.  I am working on setting up my own Icons for the game, and setting it in my home brewed world of Ta’nar. 

The Tuesday night Numenera game is settling into a nice rhythm.  I gave the group a choice of heading back into the Steadfast for more civilized environs or delving deeper into the Beyond.  The choice was unanimously to head out into the Beyond.  They are headed towards the second of the back of the main book adventures, but I threw the first Glimmer: Vortex in their path.  They were immediately intrigued by the disappearing “submarine” (they sent one person ahead to scout, so I showed them the picture and had them describe it) that they came across in the woods.  Little do they know what they actually seek. 

At the start of the session, I explained my house rule and opened the floor to feedback.  After some discussion, the group decided that the house rule I wrote up was too complicated.  They liked parts of it, but no one could agree on what parts they liked.  But, I think it was a successful discussion in the fact that it was a reminder of good table etiquette.  The talk alone seemed to clear up most of the issues I was trying to solve through rulings. 

Handsome heads on tentacles refers to a beast in Numenera that my group discovered but will not get to fight till next week.  The village they are staying in is plagued by a Mesomeme.   Full of Ninth World bizarreness, it is a crab-like predator that keeps the heads of those it slays.  It then mounts these heads on tendrils that extend from its back, and uses the skull puppets to lure new victims to their deaths.  The group was sent to discover what happen to the Dreavish brothers, a duo of handsome men whose return the whole town pined over.  Lured to the end of the dock, the session ended with the Mesomeme rising out of the water.  The looks on the player’s faces was fantastic.

After I post this, I am working on the start of the last series of questions for the Outlands game.  My goal with this series is to get the players ready to make their characters.  I am hoping over the next two months to get concepts, beliefs and instincts nailed down.

Finally, in a strange development, I am running Dungeon Crawl Classics this week.  I ran a 0 level funnel game last week, while our SR GM was out of town.  It was such a big hit with the group, and with our GM being out of town again next week, and having to catch up on work this week, I am continuing the adventure this week and next.  My group loved the old school feel of DCC and did their best not to fall in love with any of their poor 0 level commoners.  They failed, but most of their beloved characters survived.  Sixteen peasants entered the dungeon, and 6 level one PC’s emerged.  Tonight we are going to play the People of the Pit.  I will be sure to let you know how it goes.

Numenera and House Rules

Our Numenera game officially started last night.   We had eight players at the table, with two more people planning to join.  So I failed miserably at not running another large game.  I just ran the first adventure out of the main book, the Beale of Boregal to get a feel for the rule and the world.  While not the greatest adventure Monte has written, I found at the end of the night, it captured the feeling of the Ninth World perfectly.  Everyone one of my players enjoyed it and were talking about how weird the world was.


I also felt that the rules were amazing.  I was able to easily handle the group size, and because I never needed to roll, I was able to focus on story and PC interaction.  It was freeing.  Numenera was such a great experience that I shelled out money for Monte Cook Games’ newest Kickstarter: The Strange.  Go check it out.  It uses the Cypher system and its setting is even more exciting than Numenera!

It also caused me to do something that I rarely do in games, which create a house-rule.  I tend to screw up rules or rule on the fly far more.   But last night I ‘fiated’ a ruling at the table to deal with wide gulf in play experience we have in the game, along with the large number of players.  On one end of the spectrum we have a number of excited, experienced players who shoot from the hip and just announce what their character is doing.  On the other end, we have a couple of new to gaming players who are naturally quieter and prefer to take a moment to think about the situations.  The first group is highly entertaining, the second is highly effective.

The idea popped into my head due to is how XP is delivered in the Cypher System.  The majority of it is given out by the GM due to his intrusion onto the story.  And when one player gets an XP in this manner, he or she is given a second one to hand out to a fellow player for any justifiable reason.  Players can bank XP for leveling or use it for a re-roll.  With the chaos of 8 people at the table, there was a lot of “I do this” “No you don’t, I stop him” or “I break it” “Wait I have lockpicking”.  Rather than have the players roll a speed check to see who gets their action first (a la Burning Wheel) or penalize the players who may be mulling an action over in their mind just because someone jumped the gun, I introduced Player Intrusion.

Player Intrusion – Once a player declares his action, by a definitive action statement, the only way to prevent that action from completion is for a player to intrude.  To do this, the intruding player offers the acting player one of their XP, along with a reason for why the intruding player’s idea offers a better course of action or why it is better to wait for the group’s input.  If the acting player accepts the XP, he agrees to the new action or accepts to wait with the possibility of being unable to complete the stated action except by general consensus.  If they are committed to their initial action, the acting player must spend one of their XP to nullify the intrusion as if it were a GM intrusion, negating both points of XP. For speed of play sake, no more than on intrusion is allowed per roll.

This way, if two players are vying for an action, it forces one or both sides to consider how committed to the action they are.  And it gives the more reserved players an opportunity to pause the action to have time to think.

I am slightly anxious to see how this works in practice, but I hope that it is fast enough to not slow down play yet effective enough to deal with this issue.  Any thoughts or comments on the rule would be greatly appreciated.

Also, BWG reading has been put on hold as I continue to read up on Numenera, finish the Last Dark by Stephen Donaldson, and finish the 13th Age for review.

The Struggle

The Struggle

One of my design goals in creating the Outlands setting was to involve the players in every aspect of the world and plot creation.  While I have crafted the fluff, it was attached to the framework that the players built. Recently the group has moved out of the world creation portion of the preparation, with the gazetteer mailed out earlier this week for review, and we are about done with the plot creation section as well.  Next month my weekly emails will delve into character concepts and belief crafting.

For the last plot based question, I presented my players with a trio of options.  The question revolved around the initial situation that would start the game: would their characters be sent on a quest, fight in a struggle or be embodied in intrigue.  The response came back very strongly in favor of a struggle based storyline.   One of the players commented that a struggle felt most in line with the game they were crafting, and the other seemed to agree.  I feel that as we play through this initial arc, with Burning Wheel designed as it is, new arcs will present themselves though gameplay. 

A struggle story revolves around the character opposing the antagonist in a contest of force.  They are the only ones who can stop the antagonist from achieving his goal, whatever that maybe.  So looking through the Outlands notes, and keeping in mind the fact that most of the players want to play characters tied either to the Law of Truth or the Blade of the Shining Intellect, I set about crafting the story pitch.  It seemed that the Free Cities would be the best place to start this first adventure.  We have set the Blades up as the ranger-like protectors of the Free Cities, which make up the western edge of human civilization in the Outlands.  And the Law acts as an inquisition, seeking to protect the souls of Mankind from Chaos and the Cult of the Lost.  Beyond the Free Cities lies the domains of the Lizard-men, tribes Chaos worshiping beastmen, lost temples of the Syvari, and the hidden refuges of the Cult of the Lost.  If this was not enough, the nearest human kingdom, New Sardonia, has started a campaign of expansion.  The young heir, Galleffer, possessed of a boundless ambition has turned his eyes and military might of his kingdom west towards the Free Cities.

All of this gives players plenty of story options no matter which organization they ally with.  For the Knights we have protecting the Free Cities and exploring the wilderness, while the Inquisition can attack beastmen and search for whispers of the Cult.  However, the situation is more than just the setting elements.  Stirring all those ingredients and applying some heat here is the pitch I sent to my players:

At the western edge of the domains of men lie the Free Cities.  This alliance of independent city states survived the Dark Night on the fringe due to their own stubborn resilience and the vigilance of the Law of Truth and the Blade of Shining Intellect.  The greatest threat to the existence of the Free Cities now descends.  Armies align to assault them, and end their legacy of freedom.  But this threat comes not from the west, although the tribes of beastmen are restless and the Law hears rumors of their ancient foes moving once again through the Outlands.  In the east, in the heart of the rule of Man, the kingdom of New Sardonia has sent its armies to annex Baymeet, the eastern most Free City.  If the Gateway to the West falls, the rest of the Free Cities will be claimed in a matter of months.  In the city of Baymeet, the future will be decided, both yours and that of the Outlands.

I will start the game with the Siege of Baymeet in the eminent future.  The plan is to give the players some breathing room to learn the game, and the thrust them into the crux of the first conflict.  I can see a number of subsequent adventures spinning off but don’t want to plan too much into the future.  If the group likes this idea, I will sketch out the city of Baymeet, and seek to add more story threads in the form of NPC’s, quests, and plots within the city.  While the struggle will be the focus, I want to give them enough options that they will forge their own path through this sandbox.

Ah Burning Wheel – Part 4 – Beliefs

“Fight for what you believe in” pretty much sums up the goal of BWG.  Whether it is with words, maneuvers, fighting, spells, or faith, the system gives players the tools to fight for what they feel their characters would dying for.  It also gives the players a way to voice what is important to their characters; though beliefs.  Each character has three (possibly four) driving beliefs that define who he is and what his goals are.

In past games, this has been one of the toughest aspects of BWG for players to grasp.  I will be honest, before this commentary, I don’t think I grasped how to explain it very well.  The commentary gave a couple of insights on how to make beliefs more accessible to players which I plan on implementing immediately.

The first was to break up big beliefs into shorter term ones or goals.   The grander and longer term the goal, the less likely it is to evolve or be rewarded for completion.   Instead “My Enemy shall suffer for all eternity” (which was a fantastic one that my wife’s used in the last game), perhaps start down that path with a more immediate belief tied to the situation.  As our first game started in court, she could have used “My Enemy shall be disgraced in front of the King at court.”  Shorter term beliefs allow them to run their course, evolve, be played against or be replaced more frequently, and the player gets rewarded when this happens.

The other piece of advice that really hit home for me was their definition of types of beliefs.  I think I might make this a little more mandatory at my table.  Seeing as most of my players are new to BWG, I think it will help them get more explosive beliefs right from the start.  One of their three beliefs must tie them to the situation at the start of the game, one must tie them to another party member, and the third is wide open.  Maybe a philosophical belief, maybe a goal that has no chance of being completed, it is wide open.  And with two solid beliefs under their belts, I feel like this third one will be easier for them to define.  When paired with two beliefs that have a lot of traction in the story, this last belief provides some great character development opportunities.  

Beliefs are at the heart of the BWG system.  Now that the setting is established, and with this week’s question about the initial situation, we are close to starting character creation.  My goal is to get everyone’s concepts and beliefs done before we sit down to burn up characters.  With all the work the players have put into the Outlands, I am excited to see their beliefs develop and cannot wait to challenge them..


Addendum:  While reading the commentary in Adventure Burner, they brought something up that contradicts my previous thoughts on setting obstacles.  It seems, that as the GM I should wait to set the obstacle till the player is committed.  They must test once the Ob is declared, meaning they have to decide to roll before knowing the difficulty.  Once the Ob is declared, they can maneuver FORK’s, helping dice and advantage dice, but they must roll.  This is how I plan to run tests in my game going forward.  I feel like it plays to the system better.  It forces the players to accept failure of actions before they know what their chances are, and puts them in the mindset to jokey for the best possible test for advancement.


Updates and Changes

The last few days have been a whirl of game prep.  My Tuesday night group has been going through a rough patch, with a lot of life changes happening for the majority of the group at the same time.  This includes, but is not limited to, the GM of the One Ring game being transferred to Denver temporarily and two of my four Mage players taking a new baby break.  We instituted some stopgap measures to buy some time for the group to settle back down into a familiar rhythm.  The One Ring game became an Edge of the Empire game, and my group played Pathfinder the Adventure Card Game. 

This week however, all of our stopgap measures ran their course, and it came to my attention that most of the group lamented the fact that we were not gaming a large group anymore.  They missed the social interaction that came with everyone being in the same group.  The fact that we were in two groups made sure that you bonded with your group, but saw very little of the other.  That coupled with the fact that the Edge group varied from 2 to 5 people on a week to week basis, making it difficult for the other GM to plan, caused me to reach out first to the Edge GM and then to the group as a whole. After talking with everyone, it became clear that for the health of the group something had to change. 

This week, instead of writing up blog posts I wrote emails and texts to my group, getting feedback from everyone.  We reached the decision that the best course was joining the groups back into one large group.  People could gather and get the social interaction that had been missing, and hopefully the game could continue despite the number of people that showed up.

If you have been following this blog for a while, you might remember the “never again” post I made here.  I knew even as I realized that this was best for the group, I needed a better game for a large group than 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons or I would risk burnout again.  I established some basic criteria for this new game.  It needed to be a simple game, so that if people missed sessions the mechanics were still easy to pick up and use.  It needed to be rules light so that adjudicating the game took far less time and effort than it did in DnD.  And finally, it need to be able to quickly bring players who missed up to speed mechanically: i.e. leveling. 

Briefly I considered Pathfinder, as I want to get back into my personal world of Ta’nar.  But as I looked at my criteria, Pathfinder violated all three rules.  I needed something simpler, although running a Ta’nar game would be easiest story wise.  I took a long look at my game shelf and narrowed it down to two games: Adventurer, Conqueror, King and Numenera.  Both are very rules light, with simple mechanics, and players could update their characters very quickly even if they missed a couple of weeks.  Most people did not care which game we played, but my wife came down firmly on the “I don’t enjoy ACKS” side of things.  She enjoyed the story of the last game I ran in ACKS, but she did not like the gritty feel of the game.  She said she did not enjoy the impotent feeling of level 1 characters, compared to other games, nor the dread of “who would die this week.”  Although many well-reasoned responses, discussions on the nature of OSR games and explanations on how only 3 people died in the last game lay within my reach, I wisely said nothing and chose to run Numenera.

Instead of prepping more Outlands, which doesn’t start till January, I re-read the rules of Numenera.  I prepped cheat sheets for character creation and for game play, which helped remind me of the rules.  And I read the first adventure in the back of the core book: The Beale of Boregal.  Wednesdays, as they are my one day without scheduled play by post posts, will probably turn into a recap of the previous night’s adventures and my thoughts on the game and on Numenera.  I am looking forward to playing this game, and although I must put my beloved Mage back on the shelf, I am excited to get to play Numenera sooner rather than later.

On the Burning Wheel front, I finished my reading of the Spokes, wrapping up the Artha chapter yesterday.  Artha might be my favorite part of the BWG system.  Handed out for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, they work like fate points or hero points in other systems, but also combine mechanical manipulation with a type of advancement.  The more artha you spend on a skill or stat, the closer you come to a shade shift, which increases the chance that each die in your pool comes up a hit.  It complements the advancement system quite well, also rewarding the players where they use the system.

The turning of the BWG mechanics revolves around (and I might be paraphrasing to the point of plagiarizing.  If I do, my apologized to Luke Crane) the interaction between a characters Beliefs, Instincts and Traits (BITs) as the players expression what he or she wants from the game, and the GM’s rewards of Artha in response to the use of those BITs to drive the story.

The BITs of the characters enable the GM to enjoy a unique level of narrative freedom in the story. The players tell you what is important to them and they want to have happen to them over the course of the story through their Beliefs, Instincts and Traits.  This lets you challenge them in those areas, and the story practically drives itself forward.  Although you might never know where the game will go, you never need to worry about it going somewhere.  And if momentum starts to fail, just light a fire under your players BITs.

In addition to reading through BWG, I am also going to be reading the Adventure Burner.  It contains a series of commentaries that the Authors wrote about the theory behind the rules as written.  I will continue to post my distilled thoughts from the Adventure Burner as well as NWG, in hopes that together I gain a deep insight into the system.