[Blogging Wheel] Book 1, Sitting 1

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Okay, here’s how this is going to work: I’m going to start reading and putting in comments/reflections as I go. Behind a cut of course; I’m not some kind of animal! New stuff will gather at the bottom because I can’t stand reading liveblogging stuff where I read in reverse order. Not sure how much I’ll cover in one sitting.

I should note I’m not doing this because I think the book is impenetrable. It’s really just a cheaty way of me making sure I actually read through this thing, which I feel I should but would otherwise probably drift away for. And as I’ve said, I feel like I haven’t given the game a chance and that I should be digging it.

My goal is to cover the core rulebook and the Character Burner. If this still seems like a good idea I’ll go on to the Magic Burner.

(I should also note that the Burning Wheel books are available at http://burningwheel.org/ and there’s a pretty active forum and wiki there as well. Check it out. The core rulebook and Character Builder are only $25 bundled together. Quite reasonable!)

So without any further ado: Liveblogging Burning Wheel

First, I really like the format and design of the books. These are, what, 8″x5″. Main book is 300 pages which surprises me – doesn’t look that thick.

Title page: simple graphic with the 5 spoked wheel that is the icon of the game. This is the Revised Edition, by the way.

Credits/Indicia: I always read these. I’m a  freak that way.  Wow, it’s like a who’s who of indie gaming here in the thanks section. Hey, Pandemonium gets a shout out. Keen.

Table of Contents: Okay, this breaks down waay too fine for my liking. Sometimes several sections to a page.  This is a really minor nitpickbut it says somethign about how the mind of the developer works, I’d wager.

Section One: Hub of the Wheel- It Revolves on This. Pretty standard “this is an RPG” sort of thing. No inherent setting. No default ethics or laws but the system enforces making choices. This is what I’d heard about the game that really appealed to me so.

hmm, “Six sided dice are called ‘D6′”. Okay, I get this is necessary for somebody who hasn’t played rpgs before but I wonder what % of the BW reading/playing demographic that is? I’d guess pretty low.

Successes=4,5,6. Easy enough. I like this mechanic a lot in games, more than having to total something because basic math is my nemesis.

There’s an element of tone I don’t like here and is probably what put me off last time I read this and when I tried reading Mouse Guard. I really dislike the use of “imps” to denote sections/paragraphs written in a different tone/voice. The regular “voice” of the rules is fine but I find these jarring.

Target difficulty shifts based on “shades” – Black, White, Grey. OkayI’m presuming this is based on some level of mastery. Hopefully the reasons for the color labels will become apparent. I have faith.

This is going much slower than I’d wanted. Maybe a comment each section rather than as they occur to me…

Okay, end of section 1. I like the basic engine – brings me back to my old WEG Star Wars/DC Universe/Xena and Herc days. Seeming contradiction here – there’s a stated “philosophy of the system” that some things are too difficult for one person alone (anything requiring 4+ successes on 3 dice for example) but then certain tests explode when you roll a 6.

Elements of Character

Pet peeve: calling the mental stat “Perception.” I know plenty of really smart people who just are kind of oblivious in the noticing things around them department.

Lots of skills are good, but then I’m a Rolemaster junkie.

I don’t like it when games introduce a concept (like the skills or the attributes or whatnot) and just kind of talk about them generally but you have to look elsewhere to find specific mechaninal definitions of how they work. If you tell me here that Reflexes is factored from Speed, Perception and Agility, then tell me how it breaks down and how that factoring works. I don’t want to have to flip to different sections of the book trying to find where the actual rule is spelled out (I’ll call this my “Spirit of the Century” peeve).

Love Beliefs and Instincts and I shoehorn them into everything now. I used them to get a better grip on who my D&D character is, as a person. Very useful that.

Okay, section 2: The Spokes

Linked Tests – hey, these look familiar. Hope there’s more detail on these later- there could be some good meat here to spruce up skill challenges. Wow, that was a clumsy sentence. Metaphors screaming in pain!

“A successful roll is sacrosanct and neither GM nor other players can change the fact that the act was successful.” This is one of those weird artifacts I see in indie games sometimes – the assumption that the GM (or other players) is going to disempower or deprotagonize the players. I just don’t get it. I must have either been lucky to have good GMs who would never try this stuff or Crane and others got burnt really badly (“SHOW ME ON THE DOLL WHERE GYGAX TOUCHED YOU!!”). I can’t think of a game that allows a GM to say “you failed” after you make a successful roll. Weird.

Here’s another one “The Let It Ride rule is designed to protect players from GMs who constanly call for rerolls until a test is failed.” Again, weird. Assuming anybody’s actually reading this, has that ever happened to you? If you’ve been in games that I’ve run, have I ever done this and not realized it? Be honest now. I won’t take away XPs.

Fields of Related Knowledge (FoRKs) –  like this a lot. You can bring your related skills to bear on a skill test. I can see potential for abuse here (if memory serves, Crane said he dislikes this and left it out of Mouse Guard but I could be wrong) but it makes sense, especially if you’re going to have a system with a ton of different skills.

My wife has just declared the concept of liveblogging reading an rpg to be “weird.” She is a wise woman.

Each mini-section ends with a one-page summary of the important bits in this section. Very helpful.  A smart GM would probably print out those pages alone and have them handy during play. It does feel slightly SRA Reading Kit though.

WordPress helpfully informs me there have been 3 views of this post so far. That has exceeded my expectations by 300%!

Advancing stuff – I like the “you advance individual skills by using them” method, and dig how challenging/difficult/routine effect skill increase differently. The mechanic for it feels a little clunky and like it would require a lot of book keeping but that may be just first blush and it may be smoother with familiarity.

Also there’s an example of a small section of the character sheet where you track these tests, which is cool. However flipping through I can’t find a full copy of the sheet in this book, which is not. I’m sure there’s one in the Character Burner but dude, that’s way on the other side of the room!

The system for learning new skills starts to hurt my brain, but I can see the logic in it. Again, familiarity will round off the edges.

Beliefs/Instincts/Traits-  This seems to be where the real heart of the game is: players setting up interesting beliefs and the GM putting them in situations where they get tested. That heart could well be transplanted into any other game it seems, though. What about BW makes that work so well?  Guess I’ll have to keep reading to find out.

And here we go – Artha. Hero points, fed by Beliefs and Instincts.

3 different “flavors” of Artha: Fate, Persona and Deeds. Each has a different mechanical effect and is increasingly more dificult to obtain (completing a large story arc gets you a Deeds point, Fame seems to flow like water). Really don’t like this. Seems like overcomplication. But what’s the alternative – have 1 type of point and just give out increasingly more of them? That kind of inflation devalues the emotional impact of earning the points, especially the Deeds. When you get one of those you know it means something. Still don’t like it but the alternatives don’t click with me either. You also can spend Artha on your Beliefs and Instincts to raise them to the point where you get extra dice in situations where they apply. The Circle of Life!

Some general advice on pacing and how to use conflicts/tests ends the chapter. Crane then advises to grab the Character Builder and make a character before reading further. Maybe I’ll do that next time. For now, my eyes are weary and I need sleep.

Overall I’m seeing a solid gaming engine but nothing that blows my doors off. Maybe because this game is 4 years old now and many others have built on it so that it doesn’t seem “innovative” anymore – I don’t want to come off like the snot nosed kids on rpg.net who read Watchmen today and say they don’t get what the big deal is. The interaction between the Beliefs/Instincts/Traits and Artha is quite cool. I’d love to see how it plays out over an extended campaign. I get the sense it’s not the sort of thing that you can see how well it works from just reading the book.

Anyway, to bed! More another night, posibly Thursday. We shall see,

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6 Responses to “[Blogging Wheel] Book 1, Sitting 1”

  1. Moth Says:

    I think the failure of a successful roll actually has a place in a game. Think of movies where the heroes come up with a plan to defeat the evil boss monster, implement it perfectly, and it has no effect. Up until it doesn’t work everyone, including the audience expects it to work, and when it doesn’t it sets up a great “Oh $h!t” moment.

    Making someone reroll until they fail is just stupid. If you need them to fail because you need to railroad the story a particular way then come up with a reason why they don’t get a chance to succeed. Divine intervention, some freak event, whatever.

    • Christopher Tatro Says:

      Replying via email, no idea if this will work. In your example I’d say the heroes actually failed their roll. Maybe they didn’t know the difficulty target or the number of successes they needed (not sure if the players are supposed to know that all the time or if the GM can hide that here, something to keep an eye on) and they think it’s working but it’s a failure with a complication. Han Solo punches the Hyperdrive and it fizzles as he yells “it’s not my fault!” is a failed piloting skill check to escape from Bespin.

      >—–Original Message—– >

  2. Moth Says:

    Replying by e-mail worked. 🙂

    In your example that is a failure and I agree that it should be one. I am thinking more along the lines of a targeted success that is a failure, so maybe it comes down the specific situation and doesn’t apply to the line in the rules about it being sacrosanct. I am thinking of, I don’t know, Pirates of the Caribbean. Let’s say you have a magical “Really sharp poking stick of piercing”, but you have to roll a 17 or higher on a D20 to run someone completely through. You are facing one of the Pirates out of the moonlight so he looks normal. You roll a 17 and successfully plunge your stick through the Pirate and it is sticking out the other side. Which has absolutely no effect on him and as he moves into the moonlight you understand why. The roll was a success, the intended consequences is a failure.

    It is too early (I have a bunch of work to get done today and have to leave early to take CB to swimming lessons) but I think you see the approach I am thinking of. Something that technically meets the stated intention of the action is a success, but is still a failure. So in your Han Solo example, if he was being restrained as he struggled to hit the button and said he tried to kick the button and rolled successfully the GM should say he succeeded, but then explains that it has no effect instead of saying he failed as some GM’s would.

    I think there are GMs out there who would take the easy way out and say a successful roll failed instead of coming up with a reason why the success didn’t work. Imagine you have built some elaborate gameplan, you have your team of adventurers, they are on a quest to locate an item, but you didn’t take into account some skill or item the party has and the essentially could locate the item in 5 seconds if they do a convoluted chain of events. A good GM would fix things on the fly (decoy item, adding in some extra magical protection to thwart things, etc…) if the party really needs to go through hoops to get there, a bad GM would just tell them that even though they succeeded on their convoluted events, it failed anyway, and I think that is what the rules are trying to prevent.

    • Christopher Tatro Says:

      Yeah it did. Cool.

      Okay, I see where you’re coming from now. I think there’s a difference between the GM saying a roll didn’t actually succeed because of already established factors the players didn’t know about (“You shoot the guy in the head but it turns out he’s a robot!”) and a GM just saying straight out “nuh uh. You failed that because it doesn’t work for the story I want to tell if you succeed.” The latter is just bad form and I’d be shocked if anybody I know ever tried pulling that kind of stuff.

      • Moth Says:

        Remember that there are newbies who have never GM’d in their life and need to be told the basics. 🙂

        Hell, look at the common sense things students miss all the time!

        • Theron Says:

          I agree, in general. However, in the specific case of Burning Wheel, it takes a mighty wide stretch of the imagination to envision beginners picking it up as a first RPG. The packaging and the relative obscurity (I can buy it off the shelf at precisely one game store in Houston) make it a tough sell to newbies.

          Overall, BW’s take on skills and “let it ride” seem to speak more of an agenda aimed at preventing GM abuse; an abuse I’ve never seen in first-hand in over thirty years of gaming.

          IMO, YMMV, etc.

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