Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I am currently pitching a Burning Wheel game for two of my buddies. Most of our group has succumbed to a busy schedule, so its pretty much down to the 3 of us. It's going to be a kind of fantasy Roman-empire meets zombie apocalypse game. This is an idea that everybody thought sounded cool.

One of the players owns the rules and likes BW a lot. The other likes a lot of the ideas behind the game, but is one of the mind set that rules should be somewhat transparent when playing a game.

For a game with the granularity of Burning Wheel, will one player not being extremely vested in the mechanics kill the game? Is there something I can do that will alleviate possible complications, like using Bloody Versus for most of the actions?

Any suggestions are appreciated.


I should note that I have played and ran Burning Wheel a handful of times before, and love it. I also not only have copies of all of the supplements, but I also have duplicates of the main rule book to let the player borrow. I should also mention that the player in question has played both about 5 sessions before as well as The Sword.

share|improve this question
Indie as a tag shouldn't apply to specific system questions. (see meta for discussion) – anon186 Aug 27 '10 at 19:38
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Two possible approaches: use the game as it recommends you use it. Start with only the information in "The Spokes" section: learn just enough to use 'versus tests', the Beliefs/Instincts mechanics, and the rewards system. Then, add bits as you need them, and as the existing players absorb things.

"Not being vested in the mechanics" is one way to look at it, but you can also look at it this way: the player may be OK with learning the game slowly, in play, over time, through "osmosis" and this approach is actually the one that BWHQ (the game designers) recommend. This approach gets people to internalize the mechanics as they play, and then move on to employ new bits to internalize. However, this approach comes with two huge costs: (a) it demands that the referee, at least, have an excellent command over the game as the referee now has the added burden of teaching the game, and facilitating the learning of the game, (b) and it demands that you play over a long period of time. BW is not a simple game: it's emergent properties are subtle and demand that you spend a long time thinking about how the game works to affect the progress of characters.

If you're not going to be playing for a long time, or don't have a great grip on the game itself, you may be best to avoid the game (or let the player who does own the rules and is keen on the game, act as the referee for a while).

You could start with Mouse Guard instead: it uses a lot of the Burning Wheel concepts, but in a generally simpler fashion. (ed: As Adam points out, MG is not "BW Lite", nor is it really intended to be, nor is it really intended to be a stepping stone to BW; however, I still think it's a generally simpler set of mechanics, and shares a lot of the basic mechanical fundamentals of BW, so I suggest it because it might give one player a lighter ramp to climb, and the other player a game that's similar to the one s/he professes to like a lot.)

If you do decide to proceed with Burning Wheel, then I highly recommend that you get copies of the Monster Burner and the Adventure Burner. MB shows you how to build opposition characters for your play, and the way that it goes about this gives you a lot of insight into how the game designers feels that the game should work. AB gives you a model for learning the game, and provides commentary upon that model, again, giving you insight into how the designers feel the game should work.

In particular, AB includes several adventures that are specifically chosen and illuminated, in a way that you can use to get a group off the ground with BW. The first adventure is at its core a one scene con scenario that could use just the spokes of the rules, but also give you concrete ways to add bits and pieces onto the basic fundamentals of the game.

share|improve this answer
I should note that I have played Burning Wheel a handful of times before, and love it. I also not only have copies of all of the supplements, but I also have duplicates of the main rule book to let the player borrow. I should also mention that the player in question has played both about 5 sessions before as well as The Sword. – Justin Hamilton Aug 27 '10 at 19:01
-1: The Mouse Guard advice is a seriously wrong bit. I've run all three games (BW, BE, and MG), and MG is VERY different. It's a great clinic for getting good beliefs, and for learning the value of a skill level, but it has lots of things it does quite differently, and is only slightly better than no prep at all for moving to BE or BWR. – aramis Jan 12 '11 at 0:13

Your setting sounds cool!

I have a sort of counter-example - we approached Burning Wheel full-bore, using the complete system in a six-player game, with varying levels of commitment, and it was a disaster. Obviously the game strongly suggests you not do that, and I'm just confirming that it is a good suggestion. Take it incrementally, start with bloody versus (even if you are a BW expert), and gradually ramp up session to session. A little investment goes a long way, but if that's not possible 100% across the board, if you take it one sub-system at a time you can learn as you go.

share|improve this answer

The player needs to be willing to cope with beliefs, instincts, and goals, intent-vs-task, spending and earning Artha, FoRK's, and character generation. They need to understand the relative value of skills: 2 is not much better than unskilled with average atts... and 4 is pretty decent when one uses a FoRK or two.

Anything past that is pretty much gravy.

And Mouse Guard is a very different game despite the same core resolution system. While it will help with learning the value of stats, skills, and Artha, and with writing beliefs, it plays very differently.

share|improve this answer

"You could start with Mouse Guard instead: it uses a lot of the Burning Wheel concepts, but in a generally simpler fashion."

I would avoid this. They seem similar on the surface but Mouse Guard is definitely not a rules-light version of BW. They are very different machine, in the long run.

share|improve this answer
I agree - the type of game we are looking for is BW. If BW wouldn't work out we'd actually probably end up playing something different - no offense to Mouse Guard. – Justin Hamilton Aug 27 '10 at 19:30
Mouse Guard is fantastic and I think it does both it and Burning Wheel an injustice to treat it like BW-Lite. Burning Wheel can be a bit daunting but take it slow with the players and you'll be fine. If the GM is intensely vested and then slowly lets the players catch up, you'll be fine. – Adam Aug 27 '10 at 20:26
MG does serve as a wonderful clinic on beliefs, and shares the same relative values for skills and artha. And from there, it goes wildly different. – aramis Jan 12 '11 at 0:14

There are examples of whole campaigns on the Burning Wheel forum that never used the Fight or Duel of Wits subsystems and that handled conflict with Versus and Bloody Versus. So if the two of you into the mechanics won't feel the loss of those subsystems, I don't see why the three of you would have any problems playing without them.

share|improve this answer

I have some experience playing Burning Wheel with players who are not invested in engaging the rules, or who are actively opposed to engaging the rules directly. Frankly, it doesn't work.

Burning Wheel only really works when the players are actively using the player-facing mechanics to inject stuff into the fiction, using Wises, Circles, and loaded BITRs. The reward cycle similarly breaks down when players aren't interested in directly engaging the Artha system. Players who aren't interested in yanking on those parts of the system for game advantage aren't channeled into using them by the game, and can't be forced to by the GM.

Without those mechanics in play, Burning Wheel is just an unusually-heavy, traditional-feeling system.

share|improve this answer
My experiences mirror those of SevenSidedDie. – Judd Jan 6 '11 at 5:55

If you only have three people aroung the table, and one of them isn't interested in engaging the system, the other two of you will need to do that much more work to keep the game going. You'll probably all be happier with a system that all three of you can engage with.

(I tried a Burning Wheel game set in the Jihad setting -- Dune with the serial numbers filed off. Of six people at the table, one refused to engage the system, so she was feeble in combat and ineffective at things her character should have been competent or highly skilled at. That discrepancy pretty much torpedoed the game.)

share|improve this answer

As long as the player is willing to burn up a character and write up kick-ass beliefs, I'd be willing to give it a go and see how it went. System mastery really will make a difference, though, and they will see the other player having more success through use and understanding of the system.

share|improve this answer

Why this guy is playing games at all if he don't want to be engaged in rules? If you play Monopoly, Risk, poker, etc - you need to learn. That's just plain lazy. Is he from the past?

Just use rules as written. When this guy will see how much fun other two have he'll probably understand that today "rules matter".

share|improve this answer
He's the sort of person who prefers that rules be transparent and tends to play games that sort of facilitate that kind of play - like universal systems with a single type of roll for everything. BW is quite a different beast than such a system. – Justin Hamilton Sep 3 '10 at 16:01
Actually, BW is exactly that kind of system. The core dice mechanic is used for everything except armor rolls. And Burning Empires uses the same dice mechanic. So does Mouse Guard. The Fight!, Range and Cover, and Duel of Wits mechanics add to that, but the actual rolling is done using the one mechanic. – aramis Sep 18 '10 at 18:22
Yes, but there's much more in BW going on than the resolution mechanic. The moving parts are very much not transparent, though the basic resolution mechanic is very nearly so. – SevenSidedDie Oct 1 '10 at 20:37
Regarding this answer directly: this isn't really the sort of answer Stack Exchange sites are looking for. Focus on constructive rather than critical comments! We're here to be helpful. :) – SevenSidedDie Oct 1 '10 at 20:39

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.