Two Burning wheels

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.

Storyboarding

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.

Story now

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.

Disclaimers

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.

Related readings

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.

Two Burning wheels

Oiled wheel

This is a set of house rules, specifications an interpretations for Burning wheel. Lots of inspiration from Ron Edward’s Sorcerer.

  1. Characters have to start in motion; an untenable position or strong goals. This is primary up to the players, though the game master can offer ideas, of course.
  2. Beliefs are more general: a principle or a long-term goal is sufficient. None of the ”next I will” stuff there. They might or might not be renamed in some way; belief might no longer be appropriate. But that is not the focus now. The beliefs should tie into the situation (defined by point 1 above) or the setting in general (take something horse-related in a mongol game, for instance).
  3. Artha for reaching goals is given for goals, as usual (they need not be encoded as beliefs), but also by checking each belief and seeing if there has been measurable progress or improvement related to it.
  4. The GM figures out any NPC that are relationships or implied by beliefs, as well as any others the situation demands, and maybe some representatives of affiliations. This need not be a full burn, but a basic idea of history and current motivations.
  5. The GM prepares a backstory after hearing who the player characters are and what they are about, or maybe ahead of time. This need not be elaborate or detailed, but it has to explain and give context for the motivations of the non-player characters.
  6. In task rolls, ”stakes” have the generic theory meaning, not the BW meaning: What is at stake is the intent of the task, and on failure it is not achieved, but the failure is not declared before rolling, at least in a systematic way. The game master does always choose the most obvious and non-surprising failures that follow from the situation and backstory preparation.
  7. When a player narrates what their character is doing, they get the forks that were quite clear in the narration, and no arguing for more. In particular, in a fast situation, you rarely get more than a single fork.

Motivation

The situation plus the issues of the characters would be enough to drive play until resolved (in which case: stop or create new ones). The sufficiently defined NPCs, backstory and motivations should be enough to make task failures quite obvious.

In my game mastering experience beliefs sometimes left to the wayside as play goes where it wills; these changes open up the game for that to happen.

Burning wheel is very slow in play due to discussing failure consequences ahead of time and gathering forks etc. Sometimes this is appropriate, sometimes not; these changes would speed up this part of play. Note that failure consequences can still be stated by the game master, and maybe should to heighten drama or to verify that the players are on the same page, but it is not obligatory for every roll of the dice.

Oiled wheel

New Burning wheel (mini-)campaign

  • Three or four players.
  • Fixed schedule: weekends, some reasonable time for Europeans (with family), once every two weeks. Zeroth session up to negotiation, but maybe on 27th or 28th February?
  • Let us aim for a short game of five to ten actual sessions, plus session zero and some reflection after we are done. If we want to continue after that, sure; the reflection can also be the next session zero.
  • Discord or similar for voice, Roll20 for character sheets etc. Preferably video during the zeroth session so that we become more of people to each other.

Ambitions

I would like to get at least one, but preferably two, of these in play:

  • A historical setting or some other game world with an interesting social environment taken seriously in play. Besides a historical time and place (maybe with period-appropriate supernatural), some options might be World of Near, my D&D soup world Mernua, or if someone is an expert, Glorantha or Tekumél.
  • Serious use of range and cover, mounts or sorcery.
  • Play takes places within a community of fairly modest size, like a village, mages’ covenant, monastery or a pirate ship.

Seeds

These are just examples; other stuff is very possible.

  • Setting up a mages’ covenant: at least one sorcerer, maybe more, are trying to do exactly that. How does it work? We’ll see at least one, but probably more, of the following: politics, logistics and economy, dungeoneering if we go with a D&D world. Plus any interpersonal issues.
  • The village game: we’ll take a village, or a pirate ship, or some other close-knit community and follow the dramatic parts of their life. Maybe a moment of crisis, maybe some teenager growth stories or local adventures, certainly relationship drama.
  • Range and cover: whatever session and situation where martial conflict from afar is likely to play a major role. Musketeer-era France, maybe, since I have been reading up a bit on that? Or just the dungeon commando stuff via Burning thac0. But I want ranged combats in an open field, in a forest, in twisting streets or dungeon corridors, etc. Put R&C through its paces.
  • Fairy tale fantasy: We’ll take some fairy tales, choose characters from those and mix them together into a situation. Then we play to see the characters fight for what they believe in.
  • Or maybe someone has a character they would really like to play, preferably one they have played before but their story is not finished yet? Why not build the game around them.
New Burning wheel (mini-)campaign

Burning wheel skill house rules

I tend to use these when running the game, unless otherwise mentioned.

Swimming

It is a separate skill available to fishermen, sailor, marines, pirates and such. Rooted in speed.

Speak language

I use the rules in Burning wheel revised, more or less: Each language is a specific skill. Characters start with their native language equal to their perception.

Using languages

Language skills are not typically rolled when the character is simply trying to communicate. They might be tested to see if the character can communicate a particularly abstract concept or understand such.

Further, in some situations the character might want to use their greater language competence as an edge in a debate or similar situation. This might call for a versus language test, with the winner gaining a bonus die on the skill test. If the audience has limited language skills, they should also against the obstacle, and anyone going over theirs might instead get a penalty for using too fancy words.

Starting skills

All characters have an extra skill point per lifepath, but with very restricted applicability. These skill points can not increase a skill above the character’s perception. The points can only be used on:

  • Speak language for some language commonly spoken in the region by the members of the lifepath. For some languages in my campaign, see https://ropeblogi.wordpress.com/2019/06/02/languages-of-mernua/
  • A particular location -wise. The location has to be a concrete one (the village of Melford, not villages in general) and one that the character knew to know well during the lifepath. An large city is probably too big for a character to know well enough, but a particular quarter might be fine, or a particular ship, or the palace.
  • A particular person -wise. As above, a concrete, named person, not a general class of people. Some other concrete thing may be fine along the same lines.

Rationale

  1. Almost all human and fantasy non-human cultures are multilingual. This interests me and is not well-supported by Burning wheel.
  2. Having very particular and concrete wises gives the characters a edge at home and ties them to particular places and people. More grounded characters are good.
Burning wheel skill house rules

Velhojen torni

Ars magicassa pelin ajatus on, että velhot perustavat muutaman velhon piilotettuja tutkimuslaitoksia, joissa saavat olla rauhassa ulkomaailmalta ja tehdä omia asioitaan.

Lähdetään liikkeelle Ars magican ajatuksesta, mutta aloitetaan tornin perustamisesta – ehkä vallataan paikka joltakulta, ehkä perustetaan uusi keskelle erämaata, ehkä neuvotellaan kaupungista tilaa, ehkä tutustutaan hylättyyn voimakasta taikuutta säteilevään sijaintiin.

Pelissä on muutamia mahdollisia piirteitä, joihin pelaaminen voi keskittyä:

  1. Tukikohdan rakentelu, pohjapiirrokset, sisustus, tyrmät, velhojen kammiot.
  2. Ulkomaailman ja tornin väliset seikat: politiikka, juonittelu, taistelut, kaupankäynti.
  3. Tutkimuskeskuksen jokapäiväinen elämä ja velhojen suhteet, kun ne eivät ole kriisissä.
  4. Seikkailut, joko ulkomaailmassa tai kun ulkomaailma tunkee torniin.
  5. Velhojen (ja muiden asukkien) välinen draamailu ja kriisit.
  6. Maaginen tutkimus, loitsujen, hirviöiden ja taikaesineiden kehittäminen.

Piirteet tukevat toisiaan vaihtelevissa määrin ja ennen pelaamista porukan olisi syytä miettiä, mitä niistä haluavat painottaa.

Troupe-pelaaminen

Kiertävä pelinjohtaja ja muutama hahmo per pelaaja. Pelaajilla olisi yksi velhohahmo ja yksi toinen pätevä tai erikoinen hahmo eli kumppani. Kumppani voisi olla toisen velhon oppilas tai henkivartija, tornin kanssa hyvissä väleissä oleva kulkukauppias, joku metsästäjistä, vartiopäällikkö tai torniin asettunut pappi. Ehkä jopa kirjastonhoitaja.

Kumppanin ja velhon pitäisi suuntautua erilaisiin tehtäviin ja näkyä pelifiktiossa harvoin yhdessä. Tämä antaa pelaajan keskittyä yhteen hahmoon kerrallaan ja estää tilanteet, joissa pelaajan pitäisi roolipelata keskustelua kahden hahmonsa välillä.

Lisäksi pelaajat voisivat pelata satunnaisia sivuhahmoja, kun heidän oma hahmonsa olisi muualla.

Osa pelin piirteistä toimisi melko hyvin pelinjohtamattomassa vapaahkossa pelaamisessa, toiset vaativat pelinjohtajan. Jonkinlainen alfa-PJ voisi myös olla perusteltu ratkaisu, erityisesti jos haluaa pitemmän tarinankaaren vaikkapa politiikan ympärille.

Sääntösäätöä

Pelissä olisi hyvä käyttää säännöstöä, joka kertoo millaista taikuutta velhot saavat aikaan. Lisäksi pitkäaikaisille tekemisille olisi kiva olla säännöt: tutkimus, linnoituksen rakentaminen, harjoittelu, muinaisten tekstien tulkinta ja opiskelu.

Oikeaan suuntaan osoittavat esimerkiksi Ars magica (tietenkin), Bliaron (jossain määrin, mutta yksinkertaisehkoihin sääntöihin on helppo tehdä lisäyksiä), Burning wheel (with Magic burner), sekä jotkut D&D-versiot, kuten Lamentations of the flame princess. World of darkness -peleistä uusi tai vanha Mage voisi myös toimia, mutta niihin tutustumisesta on jo kulunut aikaa.

Säännöstön valinta riippuu sitä, mitä pelin piirteitä haluaa korostaa.

Jos haluaa alkaa säätämään, niin säännöstöä voi muuttaa pelikertakohtaisesti – tänään mennään tutkimaan muinaisten raunioita, joten D&D esiin, ja ensi kerralla riidellään löydetyn vis-lähteen käytöstä, joten Palava pyörä käyttöön.

Toinen säätämistä aiheuttava vaihtoehto olisi käyttää eri säännöstöjä eri velhoille. D&D-velho ja Ars magica -velho taikovat melko eri tavoilla, joka kuvaisi varsin pätevästi myös heidän taikuusteorioidensa eroja. Jos peli keskittyisi enemmän vapaamuotoista pelaamista tukeviin piirteisiin, voisi tämä toimia sujuvammin, kuin jos vaikkapa seikkailemista olisi paljon.

Sosiaalinen jalanjälki

Peli ei olisi lyhyt, riippuen toki korostetuista piirteistä. Osa piirteistä toimii hyvin vajaalla tai vaihtuvalla peliporukalla. Osa toimii hyvin yksinäisenä hupina (vaikkapa kartanon pohjapiirroksen suunnittelu tai hahmonysväys Ars Magicassa tai modernissa D&D:ssä), osa ei lainkaan.

Nettipelissä voisi hyödyntää samanaikaisuutta, jotta pelaajat eivät tuskastuisi foorumipelaamisen hitauteen. Toisaalta pöytäpelissä voisi lopettaa pelin tilanteeseen, josta voi jatkaa, vaikka pelaajaotos olisi vaihtunut.

Joka tapauksessa olisi hyvä olla pieni kokoelma aktiivisia ja luotettavia pelaajia, joiden lisäksi sitten muita voisi lepatella mukaan ja poistua aikataulujen ja kiinnostuksen mukaan.

Kirjoittelin samasta ajatuksesta aiemmin Pelilaudalla: http://pelilauta.fi/index.php/topic,1560.0.html , http://pelilauta.fi/index.php/topic,1755.0.html

Velhojen torni