There are two ways of playing Burning wheel; one relies on consensus-based decision making and respecting the sanctity of the characters, whereas the other has more focus on challenging the core concepts of the characters and unpredictable, perhaps unwanted, story outcomes. For the usual disclaimers, please see a few paragraphs down.
The game is a means of shared story creation. Players each play a character and they typically have an idea for a storyline they want the character to go through, or at least some way they are going to evolve. The role of dice and uncertainty is to add twists and surprises along the way, but it is not their mandate to create a bad or undesired story. Techniques (or rules) that might support this include:
- Negotiation of dice rolling outcomes until everyone is happy with both the effects of failure and success. Telling the failure stakes ahead of time is paramount, as it allows the players to object to any undesired outcomes and suggest more fun ones.
- Players should typically be allowed to play the characters they want. Adjusting lifepaths and requirements might help with this.
- Beliefs are a sign of where the game should go next. They are typically taken very seriously.
- Persona complication optional rule is a good bet.
- If there is too much or too little adversity, the game master might remove or add some.
- The negotiation of dice rolls is a good safety tool.
The game is a means of creating a story none of us can control. Players each play a character and advocate for them. The purpose of play is to challenge the beliefs of the characters and see how things turn out, no matter where it goes and how well or poorly the characters do.
- Dice rolls are unlikely to be negotiated. Announcing failure outcomes might not be done in a systematic manner; maybe only if they are hard to foresee.
- Players might be forced to play something not quite what they wanted due to lifepaths or resources.
- Beliefs are a sign of what is to be challenged, what is uncertain about the fate of the characters. They might be taken more an indicators of what the game should be about, rather than an ironclad rule.
- The game events might derail the game from what was expected or planned for.
- The game might turn into a depressing tragedy or an easy triumph for some character, and this is okay. It might be a good reason to rewrite beliefs to take this into account.
- It is necessary to handle group safety by some other means, since nobody is in control about where the game is going. Safety tools or at least general attention and support.
These are not discrete modes where necessarily do one or the other. People might not have or know their preferences, and I have, for the sake of simplicity, blended together a few things that might not always be blended together. The idea here is more to illustrate that there are differences what some of them might be to act as a first step in discussing them.
I have preferences here. I tried to write both descriptions in a positive light, but to the extent I failed, please do better and I’ll be happy to link to it. Or write angry feedback in the comments.
Ron Edwards does not approve of storyboarding play. This is in context of Primetime adventures, but the same reading applies to Burning wheel, too: http://adeptplay.com/seminar-hearts-minds/discuss-primetime-chat . The other non-D&D things linked in the later theory review can also be relevant: https://ropeblogi.wordpress.com/2021/10/02/teoriakatsaus-28/
My aim with an earlier house rules text was what I have here named story now play: https://ropeblogi.wordpress.com/2021/08/03/oiled-wheel/
The term ”story now” comes from the alternative name of the narrativism creative agenda by Ron Edwards. No further knowledge of or belief in the theory is necessary. A better name is naturally welcome.