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%

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
A couple things - the Mouse Guard are not common soldiers. They are more akin to Special Forces or Navy Seals, but with a much wider portfolio. The missions they take on involve them travelling throughout the mice's territories, confronting dangerous animals, mediating disputes., helping guide mice from place to place and safeguarding their fellow mice from the weasel threat.

Mouseguard Issue #1 said:
The mice struggle to live safely and prosper among all of the world's harsh conditions and predators. Thus the Mouse Guard was formed. After persevering against a weasel warlord in the winter war of 1149, the territories are no longer as troubled. True, the day to day dangers exist, but no longer are they Guard soldiers, instead they are escorts, pathfinders, weather watchers, scouts and body guards for the mice who live among the territories. Many skills are necessary for the guard to keep the borders safe. They must find new safeways and paths from village to village, lead shipments of goods from one town to another and, in case of attack, guard against all evil and harm to their territories".[2] They are not simply soldiers that fight off intruders; rather, they are guides for the common mice looking to journey without confrontation from one hidden mouse village to another. The Guard patrols borders, finds safeways and paths through dangerous territories and treacherous terrain, watches weather patterns, and keeps the mouse territories free of predators. They do so with fearless dedication so that they might not just exist, but truly live.


Starting characters are quite capable for the most part. Here's the patrol leader I played:

Here are the only advancements made over ~4 months of weekly play:
  • Health 4 to 5
  • Pathfinder 3 to 4
  • Orator 2 to 3
  • Persuader 3 to 4
Notice that I started with 5 Will and a 5 in Fighter in a game that only goes to 6.

What I found over the course of play was that advancement wasn't all that critical to success. Between invoking traits, help dice, tapping Nature, rerolling failures from persona/wises, exploding 6s when spending fate if you wanted to succeed at something it was damn near impossible to fail if you were willing to spend resources. I actually never failed a single Fighter over the course of the game. Towards the end I was actually getting frustrated with how hard it was to fail if you are playing the game well. Persona and Fate flow like water in Mouseguard.

Mouseguard was probably the most heroic feeling game I have ever played.

Burning Wheel is a bit of a different story, but still, most of the time when you really focus your resources the odds will generally be in your favor. You just have to suffer along the way.
 

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Wolfpack48

Adventurer
Sorry, it's sounding more like playing a system rather than an enjoyable adventure, more metagame than immersion. I guess I don't get it. Am I reading wrongly into it?
 
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Wolfpack48

Adventurer
I guess that's my issue then. I prefer systems to be relegated to the background, only called when needed. Well, I'll step out then.
 

pemerton

Legend
what I meant was "finding the right group" would be the challenge 😥 Although I guess I could go back to that 4 person group and see if any of them want to play again 🤔
In some ways, this is actually the point, imho, of the advancement system. You purposefully drive towards your BITs (or whatever they are called in MG); and you may even explicitly state, at the player level, that you are going for that. The GM will try to craft situations where you can lean into your BITS to get that sweet sweet artha.

That style of play I think is pretty anti-thetical to a lot of folks in RPGs, which is partly why Burning Wheel remains an "indie" game
Another thought or two prompted by these posts - hopefully I won't misinterpret too badly this time . . .

So first, both BW and TB2e are complex rules systems. I don't think there's any point pretending otherwise. The player has skills and attributes, plus buffs to these (Die and Call-on Traits in BW; Traits and Wises in TB2e), plus Fate and Persona to manage (and the occasional Deeds, too, in BW). Advancement requires tracking tests made, in multiple categories (success/fail for TB2e; routine, difficult or challenging for BW). There's also Helping and, in BW, FoRKs.

And that's all before we get to the scripting rules for extended conflicts. Or, in BW, the rules for spell casting, spell tax, etc.

The people I play with have also played Rolemaster, 3E D&D, 4e D&D and other crunchy RPGs. That helps.

A further factor is that the players have to mobilise this crunch. The game assumes that the players will bring their knowledge of the system to bear - that's part of how they express their agency. The players can't just put all the mechanical overhead onto the GM and expect play to work.

This probably puts a natural limit on the appeal of these systems. They are not really very "casual". (The mechanically casual version is Prince Valiant.)

Second, TB2e and even moreso BW demand that a player have a vision for their character not just in respect of background or "colour" (I'm a gruff Dwarven ex-soldier or I'm the pampered heir to the throne) but also in terms of protagonism: What does their character want? What will they do to get it? How are those things prompting them to act right now?

The players can't just open the next door the GM narrates, or even look around for the GM breadcrumbs or respond to the GM quest-giver. This is also not very "casual".

It's the interplay of these two vectors of non-casualness that make these games so intense!
 

pemerton

Legend
Sorry, it's sounding more like playing a system rather than an enjoyable adventure, more metagame than immersion.
The GM presents the situation; the player declares their PC's action; the GM establishes the obstacle (= DC, in D&D language), perhaps as a result of some back and forth between player and GM to get clear on what exactly the PC is doing; the dice are rolled; if the roll is a success, the player gets what they want; if the roll fails, the GM narrates the consequence (this last bit is a bit more systematised in TB2e than in BW).

That's really not any different from RQ/BRP (as @AbdulAlhazred noted upthread) or RM or even some fairly common approaches to D&D.
 

pemerton

Legend
Here are the only advancements made over ~4 months of weekly play:
  • Health 4 to 5
  • Pathfinder 3 to 4
  • Orator 2 to 3
  • Persuader 3 to 4
Notice that I started with 5 Will and a 5 in Fighter in a game that only goes to 6.
We have seen a faster rate of advancement than that in TB2e - eg the Outcast's Will has gone from 3 to 5; new skills get opened; etc. Though like you I think the Outcast is yet to fail a Fighter test, and so has been stuck at Fighter 4, his starting exponent.

In BW my characters don't advance as quickly as my friend's: he is very cunning - especially in spell casting, Duel of Wits and Fight! - at scripting for the tests he needs to advance. Whereas my cunning is modest at best!
 



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