Grading the Burning Wheel System

How do you feel about the Burning Wheel System?

  • I love it.

    Votes: 18 22.2%
  • It's pretty good.

    Votes: 12 14.8%
  • It's alright I guess.

    Votes: 6 7.4%
  • It's pretty bad.

    Votes: 11 13.6%
  • I hate it.

    Votes: 3 3.7%
  • I've never played it.

    Votes: 29 35.8%
  • I've never even heard of it.

    Votes: 2 2.5%


Have you played or run the Burning Wheel system? This includes games that use it as a base (from what I gather they often adjust things quite drastically) of Torchbearer, Mouse Guard, or Burning Empires?

One of system’s key features, besides using only d6s, is the inclusion of a character’s motivations, beliefs, goals, instinct, and other internal states as an explicit part of the resolution system. It also is designed to encourage both the GM and the players to co-create the story as it unfolds, and sometimes even co-create the world as you are adventuring through it.

Designed by Luke Crane, the original Burning Wheel has seen two revisions, Mouse Guard and Torchbearer have each had one revision, and Burning Empires (I think) has only a single edition.

As noted in the previous “Grade…” threads, “the D20 System is the undeniable favorite for tabletop RPGs today, but there are plenty of options out there for those who don't like D20 or might be looking for something different. The goal in these little surveys is to highlight the different systems and options available to tabletop fans...not bash on anyone's favorites.”

So! If you’ve played Burning Wheel or one of its offspring, I’d like to hear about your experiences. What do/did you like or dislike about it? If you haven’t played, was there something that dissuaded you from giving it a try?

And as before, just for fun I’ll take the responses to give the system a “grade.” :)

Grade: B-
Of those who voted, 98% have heard of it and nearly two thirds (61%) have played it.
Of those who have played it: 37% love it, 25% like it, 12% are lukewarm, 20% dislike it, and 6% hate it.

Previous entries:
Grading the Cypher System
Grading the Pathfinder 2E (D20) System
Grading the Savage Worlds System
Grading the Fate/Fate Core System
Grading the Modiphius 2d20 System
Grading the GURPS System
Grading the Powered by the Apocalypse System
Grading the D6 System
Grading the Hero System
Grading the Storyteller System
Grading the Megaversal/Palladium System
Grading the Basic Role-Playing System
Grading the SAGA System
Grading the Warhammer 40K RPG System
Grading the Rolemaster/Spacemaster System
Grading the Cortex Plus and Cortex Prime System
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I voted, but my sole play experience is a few sessions of Burning Empires. From what I know the rules there are slightly different all the others mentioned, and apparently not regarded as one of the better variants. So take with a grain of salt.
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aramis erak

Pretty Good.
I've run both Revised and Gold.
Both are excellent.

I like the char gen - but it's neither quick nor simple.
Duel of Wits can be a blast.
Fight has some minor issues... especially once you have uneven PCs vs enemies.

I love the option to let players define things via Circles and Lores.

Per Luke and Thor, The Torchbearer starts by hybridizing Mouse Guard with BX D&D. Thus, we get the following
BWC (BW Classic) → BWR (BW Revised)
BWR → Burning Empires
BWR → BWG (BW Gold)

MG and TB are significantly different mechanically from BWC/BWR/BWG/BE. Those elements of MG that are different include: <30 skills vs >70, character generation modality, Rewards are only two of the three Artha types. Mouse Guard Belief/Instinct/Goal are al direct equivalents to BW's Beliefs, but not to the full BITs.; BW Instincts have no direct correlation. Mouse Guard Traits are mechanically much simpler than BW traits. Disadvantages reward in different ways (MG, they give you extra actions in player phase; BW, they earn you artha at end of session). Skill range: MG skills run the same 0-9 as BW/BE, but lack the shade aspect; BW has three shades: black shade skills (the default) succeed on 4—6, Grey shade on 3—6, white on 2—6. A white 2 is about as good as a black 5-6...

Lumping MG and Torchbearer in with BW/BE does a disservice to both.
Yes, MG has some elements of BW in it - Circles, Resources - and similar skill ranges, but in practice, making the hop either direction means some unlearning.
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Burning Wheel is my favourite FRPG. Characters are richly detailed, and the play is compelling.

My recent play has been two-player, with GMing alternating between us depending whose PC is being challenged in a given scene:

One thing that I really enjoy about BW is that its resolution system - both the way obstacles are framed, and the way consequences are established - mean that the action can focus just as readily on small, intimate moments and events as on the sort of action-adventure stuff that is more typical in FRPGing. Cooking a meal, or repairing armour, can generate just as much intensity in play as fighting Orcs.

I've also GMed quite a bit of Torchbearer over the past little while: It is a bit less intense than Burning Wheel (as befits its homage to B/X); though the way my group approaches it is probably a bit less demanding than the default. (This reflects my general tendency towards sentimentality as a GM.) As the thread title says, it is an awesome system.


I deeply appreciate Torchbearer, which led me to become a third-party developer for it—in full disclosure. Having worked on various adventures, supplements, and expansions, I value the design choices that set this game apart.

I play a lot of other systems, but Torchbearer is a standout for me because it captures a lot of the old-school feel. But unlike many BX retro clones, it has a particular approach to fiction first and coupling narrative and mechanics. Specifically, players keep roleplaying until they hit an obstacle. They aren't rolling dice unless something interesting is about to happen. They never call for tests or directly identify which skill or move they are using, but all of their description leads up to a roll of the dice. The action isn't broken up by perception checks every other minute. The role of the GM is slightly adapted too, with Torchbearer GMs always reacting to the players' descriptions. So it can foster more immersive gameplay if everyone is on the same page.

Its design philosophy grounds every element of the character sheet into tight gameplay. Generally speaking, the game focuses on strategic depth and narrative cohesion over combat. More specifically, unlike hit point or injury systems, it holds a philosophical stance that to take a life is to risk a life (i.e. "death is on the line"). However, if you come to it with certain sacred cows (Tieflings, clerics, alignment) or 5e/Pathfinder assumptions (superhero power-fantasy character builds), you may bristle against the game's conceit.


I myself have only played Mouse Guard, and though it took a bit for us to wrap our heads around it (if we got it correctly, the resolution system is ‘backwards’ to the usual, with a single test at the start of the scene which you use to RP/unfold the remainder of the scene either to success or failure based on that test) once we got into it we really, really enjoyed it. Coupled with the above and the GM/Player turn concept, our games were rich with both world building and with character interactions and development. We played through three seasons and really liked what we wrought as a story that went well beyond the "plot" of what happened to the journeys the characters made. :)


Lumping MG and Torchbearer in with BW/BE does a disservice to both.
Yes, MG has some elements of BW in it - Circles, Resources - and similar skill ranges, but in practice, making the hop either direction means some unlearning.
I was wondering/afraid of that -- not having played BW (though have done a cursory read through) I wasn't sure exactly how divergent they might be, and thus not really comparable. On the other paw, separating out just MG or TB takes it away from grading a system, and Cortex Prime has so many ways it can be put together, so... :p

Fortunately, this is just for fun, so hopefully it doesn't muck things up too badly to lump these all together!

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