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%

aramis erak

Legend
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);
BIGs Belief, Instinct, Goal ... but mechanically, all MG BIGS are ONLY equivalent to BW Beliefs.
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.
True, at least if your GM is clued in to the goals.
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
There's more to it than that. BW is one of the heaviest rulesets on the storygame side, but it's narrativist-gamist. It's highly mechanical - the rules are there to be used, and BW Rule Zero is "Don't be a «bleep»!"

Those differences also help keep it there.

Also, when asking Luke and Thor for help... the first question usually is about what spokes you used and if you changed any rules. They're quite happy to explain things you don't grok - most of the wording changes in BWG originate with posters saying, "What exactly does this passage mean?"

They'd be a bit of a problem in their customer service attitudes if they went bigtime.
 

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Starfox

Adventurer
For instance, in Torchbearer, one significant aspect of play for players is managing the multivariate and integrated (i) tactical now with (ii) the layered strategic feedback loops with (iii) the thematic underpinnings and relation trappings of your character (to struggle with and fight for what you believe and who you care about) with (iv) the advancement scheme and (v) the intricate currency gain/spend economy. Each gamestate is very sensitive to adjacent and beyond gamestates in Torchbearer and you have to consistently play well and manage an intricately layered, duress-filled decision-space and maintain the bandwidth necessary to consistently do so. Not having all of the feedback loops lined up and dealing with the complexities of confounding incentives and complex risk profiles is (a) where the skillfullness of the play emerges and (b) where the joy of the play comes from (presuming you dig that sort of "locked into the moment" duress and reward landscape). But this is also the primary reason why a lot of folks wouldn't dig Torchbearer, because it is both demanding in a way they're not familiar and they just don't want that kind of duress at the center of their leisure pursuits.
Yeah, this is precisely what I didn't appreciate in Mouse guard after I looked into the rules. The one session I played was all right, its the system that bothers me. If I wanted this kind of game, I'd go for an old boardgame or perhaps play the stock market.

But this is my personal preference - not an objective truth.

To each their own.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Getting to my personal feelings I am very much of the first two spokes of the Wheel (tests and versus tests), but in general I am not a fan of the scripting that comes along with Mouseguard conflicts or Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits / Combat. The double blind nature of it feels at odds with the unfolding conversation of play for me and the move to turn by turn play feels like it shifts away from making scene framing central to play. The good news for Burning Wheel at least is that the conflict rules are optional and the game works very well just utilizing tests and versus.
 

pemerton

Legend
Getting to my personal feelings I am very much of the first two spokes of the Wheel (tests and versus tests), but in general I am not a fan of the scripting that comes along with Mouseguard conflicts or Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits / Combat. The double blind nature of it feels at odds with the unfolding conversation of play for me and the move to turn by turn play feels like it shifts away from making scene framing central to play. The good news for Burning Wheel at least is that the conflict rules are optional and the game works very well just utilizing tests and versus.
I'm not going to try and change your mind, just talk about my own experiences.

Scripting, as a GM, should have regard to the NPCs/creatures Beliefs, Instincts and Traits (and, in TB2e, Nature). This means that the players can, if they have this knowledge, anticipate the GM's script in their own scripting. So the scripting process generates a type of engagement with and even immersion in the fiction: the players are making decisions as if the NPCs and their motivations and habits were real.

The players in turn, have reason - generated by other features of the game such as advancement, and artha awards - to express their own Beliefs, Instincts and Traits in their scripting. So their scripting involves inhabiting their character. And in PvP, each player is engaged in trying to understand and respond to the others' inhabitation.

So while it does move away from the conversation, I don't feel that it moves away from the key feature of the system, which is that playing the system, playing your character and playing the fiction are all one and the same thing.

I hope that makes sense, even if it doesn't alleviate your dissatisfaction with the actual play of the scripting systems!
 

Kannik

Hero
This has been an amusing one to see play out! This one has garnered a V-shaped distribution, with a good number of loves and goods, and a fair number of bads, with fewer in the middle ground. In many ways I'm not surprised, given that it is a system whose gameplay runs quite differently than the 'typical' (ie D&D-like) RPG. :)
 

It's been a while since I tried playing it (it was a Christmas gift long years back) but...

So in theory it's supposed to be a story generator that takes a fortune and uses it to guide story beats. But for example, I counted 11 different factors that can modify an individual fortune test, including at least 2 different sorts of metacurrency, and those modifications to the roll can happen in 3 different ways, none of which really added interesting choices or tactics to the play. The heart of the system is this elaborate conflict resolver that plays out like rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock only the choices aren't actually symmetrical. The "attack" option either directly trumps or at best ties every other option so there aren't a lot of tactical choices because there is pretty much always this one best thing to do (especially in terms of your character whose weapon strongly will favor doing that one thing). Further, the roshambo system itself is yet another piled on layer of randomness because all they do is modify the fortune test and they are laid blind so its not even a planning situation really. There is an almost completely hard baked in assumption that no more and no less than 3 mice are involved in any given challenge (each one laying one of the three actions that turn, while opponents lay all three at once) which means your tied to this bizarre unnecessary and unhelpful conflict resolution method regardless of the situation and have to kludge around it or ignore it.

When you are reading it, once you get your head around it, you're like, "This is going to be cool." but in practice it just isn't. It's boring most of the time and your moves feel a combination of both forced and random.

Outside of the conflict resolution system you still have this fiddly randomness which is written like the probabilities of success or failure don't matter as much as the elegance of the system. It's got one of those 'coin flip' systems where you are supposed to accumulate a certain number of successes out of a pool of coins, and they typically obfuscate away the actual chances of success (further obscured by the mountains of modifiers). The result is neither granularity of control nor any intuition about how hard any give test actually is. I suspect even the author would be stunned to see the tables of odds in the system.

It was just a mess. The system was actively getting in the way of creating a story or narrating a conflict. I kept feeling the need to ignore the system and make fiat rulings that went against the rules just for the sake of coherence.

One of the biggest clues I should have picked up on is that the examples of play aren't real examples of play, but scenes from the comics where the dice have been carefully chosen to match the story, which of course makes for a story and the expectation that the system will generate story, but using actual random fortunes doesn't really.

Beyond that, it's not really that clear that it's a setting that lends itself to RPG play. I suspect the setting is incoherent at a demographic level because there is a fundamental assumption that mouse society is basically the same as human society only the people are mice. But this doesn't really make sense outside of the narrow focus of the stories and well in an RPG you tend to have broader focus than that if you carry on a game for any length of time. You start asking questions like, "How long do mice live?", "How many siblings should a mouse have?", "Are non-mice basically animals or is everything basically sentient and capable of having a conversation?", "Just how does mouse society actually function?", "How many mice are their really?" Mice explicitly seem to have human sized families and live as long as humans, but at the same time they aren't top order predators and seem to die by the thousands. How does that work? It doesn't; don't think about it.

It's not really a spoiler that if you look at the mouse map you realize the mouse territories are centered around the upper peninsula of Michigan, which explains the epic treks required to get between mouse towns, but I don't think you are supposed to think too hard about why mouse society is structured this way or how many mice really should be in a medieval mouse empire of that size - "points of light" or not. I mean it's one of those settings that was never meant to be world building, so trying to do world building in it just doesn't work - and this comes from a guy who tries to game in the Star Wars universe.
I think the complaints about setting here are completely baseless. Most of those things are inviting world building details for a table or GM to come up with, and it's not hard to handwave stuff in a game where you're playing as mice people.
 


One comment earlier in the thread said that Burning Wheel needs a partial success rule; I very much agree with this. However, with FoRKing, help, artha, etc, you can usually get success by leveraging resources. In these kinds of games, each player is a mini-GM, and they have their own little pool of resources they can use to sculpt the situation their character is in. When viewed at like this, Burning Wheel is very much a story co-creator game, and less a "traditional" RPG.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
Man, how things have changed since Bunnies & Burrows had you meticulously tracking the the food point value of what you were eating and practicing the lapine martial arts. :)
Well, survival and resource management seems to be popular around here. Not by all, but by some. Like things usually turn out when a phenomenon (in this case RPGs) is mature. :)
 

Celebrim

Legend
I think the complaints about setting here are completely baseless. Most of those things are inviting world building details for a table or GM to come up with, and it's not hard to handwave stuff in a game where you're playing as mice people.

One of the things I like to do regardless of the fantastic conceits of the setting is take seriously what life in that setting would actually be like and how that society actually would work. I use that as a basis for generating imaginative play. I don't expect anything like perfect rigor. I just like the setting to be coherent enough that it doesn't fall apart the first time you take the setting seriously.

It is worth noting that there are aspects of the setting that appear to have been given this treatment. The ecology, geography, and geology of the setting is pretty rigorously the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with almost all the animals that appear being animals that could plausibly appear there. Even the fact that this is one of the few areas of the North American continent that has both iron and copper deposits on the surface in a smallish area plays a role in making a believable society for our fantasy mice. But I find it pretty impossible to reconcile the scale of the setting with the scale of the animal life in a pre-Industrial North America, and for me one of the biggest issues not addressed by the setting which would absolutely shape mouse life was the relationship of the mice not to megafauna like deer and wolves and stuff, but to the other mouse sized species that they would be living among. There are also issues like, "How big is the mice army?" given the scale we see in the books of the weasel war and the tables that suggest how many mice are required to wage war against megafauna.

The fact that I know the setting is the Upper Peninusla of Michigan lets me fill in all sorts of details in a way that is going to be rich and rewarding because reality is so much richer and more rewarding than anything you could dream up on your own. Even if I take liberties I'm still likely to end up with all sorts of ideas that I wouldn't have come up on my own.

Now sure, these complaints about the rigor of the setting are admittedly minor complaints. You can in fact handwave them away especially for the sort of one shots and mini-campaigns that the book seems aimed at where it would appear that spending say 16 sessions on the game would be a very long campaign. But one of the joys of having a good gameable setting is that play within it over a longer period reveals deep sociological, philosophical and moral questions about the setting and the more I thought about it the more I came to the conclusion that Mousegaurd could not really do that for me because the fundamental difference between humans and mice is that humans are top order predators. We are megafauna. Very few things except other top order predators can prey upon us, and that at their peril. Our lifespans or family order or human social structure depends deeply on that. And the trouble is that mice are not top order predators in this system as written. They are still mice. And so importing the human family structure and human social order and human lifespan on top of that creates for me a real challenge to imagine this world in a coherent fashion.

This is again a minor complaint compared to how janky I found the system and how ill-suited that sort of complexity felt to creating narrative driven play, but it is a real thing. I can't turn my brain off to the fact that much like the Harry Potter setting, the world building is incoherent as written. It's a much bigger problem than the for example the number of Clones created for the clone wars is canonically vastly less than you would need to not only fight a galactic scale war, but the canonical number of droids created for that war. That is comparatively easy to fix.
 

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