Thursday, September 18, 2014

Burning Wheel Super-Sized!

There has been some discussion about running Burning Wheel with a large group lately over on Google+.  My own GM, Brandon, has also expressed some anxiety at the idea of running BW with a group of 5 players.  Trying to keep track of all the beliefs that will be active in play, I can understand why he prefers 2-3 players in his BW game.  Well, we have 5 and I hope it works.  I've copied the advice of an obviously talented and experienced BW GM from Google+, +Dan Hall , who talks about making sure that the beliefs of each player in a large group compliment each other and work together to drive the narrative forward.  Here's his post:

Just to offer another point of view...I'm using a pre-written campaign and I have a regular group of 7-8 players, and so far, six sessions in, everyone keeps turning up and seem to be really enjoying Burning Wheel!!! None of us have played before. I have introduced Duel of Wits, Fight!, and Range and Cover and everyone is enjoying the game immensely.

I think it helps that we are playing The Darkening of Mirkwood campaign, which is written as a skeleton for major regional events and expects lots of player driven plots to occur in between those events. Also, because of that particular setting, there is lots of player buy in, so i think that is keep everything together somewhat.

As far as resolving the action, my players have been quick to take to the microsystems, but the Hub rules really seem to shine in a large group. I've had feedback that the resolution system is far more interesting than say pathfinder, because of Helping. Everyone around the table tends to get involved with each other's rolls and this makes it better for a large group than most trad games, where it's you and your roll and everyone else can only watch on. Honestly, I've been pleasantly surprised with how well the Hub handles a larger group, as I was really concerned before starting the campaign.

After about our forth session I realised that having disparate Beliefs was going to become a potential issue. I wrote some belief guidelines that we are now using and the players all seem to be on-board with the idea of keeping at least one Belief coherent with the group. I also encourage the players to talk about their Beliefs regularly, so that others can engage with similar or conflicting Beliefs.

Here's what I have written to help our large group coordinate Beliefs.


Beliefs drive your character and the game forward. Choose them carefully, but also change them any time you want. In fact, changing your Beliefs as the game goes on will be vital to progressing your character and the whole campaign. I will endeavour to run games that challenge your Beliefs; that's how Burning Wheel is supposed to work.

We will hold a formal "Question your Beliefs" session during the Fellowship Phase at the end of every game year, but feel free to change them whenever you want or whenever makes sense. If your Belief isn't seeing much action, it's probably a good time to change it.

Here's the general Beliefs guidelines for starting characters. It may be slightly different to what I've discussed previously with some of you. These new guidelines will work better for us, but if you already have Beliefs you are welcome to keep them if you wish.

Motivating Belief
What is my overarching driving purpose?
What elements of the setting am I interested in exploring?
What is my philosophy on life, and how do I live it every day?

Fellowship Belief
What ties me to The Fellowship?
What is my relationship to one, some, or all of the other characters?
What is my role within The Fellowship?

What is my short term goal (achievable within the next 1-3 sessions)?
What is my first active response to the current Situation?
If you don't know yet...leave this Belief blank until you find out more about The Situation. Write your Goal within the first hour of play if you can!

See Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits for more details and advice.

Aligning Beliefs
Your character’s Beliefs directly determine what sort of adventures you want to experience - for the GM’s job is to create narrative obstacles that get in the way of you fulfilling those Beliefs. From this, drama and story emerge. Hopefully, awesome fun times too.

This is the big picture of the Burning Wheel cycle. Beliefs + challenge = story.

You may notice how the game’s mechanics, particularly Artha and Advancement, support and propel the turning of this wheel. You get Artha by playing out your Beliefs. You spend Artha to advance your character. You advance your character so you can overcome bigger obstacles. And so the wheel turns...

So, it’s fairly clear, you need to challenge, drive forward with, and play out your Beliefs to improve your character over time. The GM is obliged to provide opportunities for you to do this. Beliefs are therefore much much more than queues that describe how we should roleplay our character; Beliefs literally drive the game forward.

The trick for us, in The Darkening of Mirkwood campaign, is that we have a very large cast of characters, and if everyone is to see some Artha each session then we need to make sure that most everyone’s  Beliefs are relevant each session.

So I ask you this: at the beginning of each session it is your job to look at your Beliefs and ask yourself “how do these Beliefs relate to the situation at hand?” “Why am I here?”, and “What am I going to do about it?”. If no answers come up, first consider slightly modifying a Belief to match the situation, or second, rewrite a Belief so that it becomes fully blown and relevant to what’s going on. Goal and Relationship Beliefs are ripe for this, so have a look at those first.

When changing your Beliefs, ask after other character’s Beliefs first, or announce it to the table so that others may work with (or against) you. Consider whether you can align with their Beliefs, creating a synergy. Or, consider whether your beliefs work at cross purposes with each other. Do not be afraid to do this! Doing so can lead to some great drama, and Burning Wheel handles this sort of thing really well (often with an inter party Duel of Wits).

Forge a pact. Make an oath. Promise revenge. Help a friend. Make your Beliefs conflicted. Don’t forget the Moldbreaker, Embodiment, and Goal rewards.

The other thing you should absolutely do is drive the game forward with your Beliefs. If there is something your character must do, then go and do it! Do it now! This is exactly what it means to drive the game forward with your Beliefs. We may end up resolving your Task with a single roll, or it may be the spark that motivates a whole session of play. The more other people’s Beliefs align with yours, the more chances are that this will indeed be the focus of a whole session.

In summary:

Challenge your Beliefs, but question where your Beliefs converge with others. Help, hinder, and mess with their story. Do this, and our campaign will most likely be awesome :)