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I'm running a campaign for a group of friends who - while not new to roleplaying - are new to the idea of a generic resource points system. For context only (still system-agnostic advice), I'm talking about Burning Wheel, specifically during character creation.

Generally, I interpret the RPs system to list all the items your character always has with them - called 'props' in some systems. Things like a special obsidian dagger, or some such. Or a house.

However, as I'm finding out this opens the system to abuse. Imagine the following conversation:

Player: Can I have this really expensive shield?

Me: Well, yes, but it's really expensive. You sure?

Player: Oh, well, my character is a blacksmith - they probably found the metal in a scrap metal bin.

Me: Well, that should logically reduce the cost, and it's fully reasonable... but honestly, that just makes it stupidly cheap. NO: GM FIAT

However, this discourages players - they become frustrated with the fact that their resource pool no longer makes sense, especially in a game like Burning Wheel, where the system is entirely logic. In short, how do I encourage players to come up with creative stories for how they got their possessions, while not totally breaking the resources system, and not discouraging them from getting expensive stuff?

Should I be forcing this at all? Or should I accept the logical decrement in cost and leave it at that? Additionally, what do I do when players are very persistent in finding ways around the RP system?

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First thought - a blacksmith who takes a bunch of junkyard scrap is exceedingly unlikely to end up with a "really expensive shield". –  Allen Gould May 24 '13 at 18:52
If they're humans going after a Dwarven Shield (page 126), then I would not allow them to start with it without also buying a major reputation with the dwarves and some serious explaining as to how. Why would the dwarves give them such a gift? Honestly, if this is their goal, they should try to obtain it during play. –  okeefe May 24 '13 at 19:56
@SevenSidedDie Character creation - edited. –  Emracool May 25 '13 at 7:12
Aside, gear bought with rps during character creation are not "props" that they always have with them. They're actual physical gear that they have to keep track of, can lose, have stolen, be set on fire, and can break. Houses can burn, daggers can snap, clothes can be ruined. –  SevenSidedDie May 25 '13 at 20:39
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6 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

This answer is specific to .

Burning Wheel Gold, page 104

Basic, Naked Characters

Characters start the game naked and stupid. Literacy is earned through skills. Clothing is purchased with resource points.

Burning Wheel does not coddle the players. If they want something, they need to work at it. They'll fail along the way, but those failures will spur interesting and unexpected developments. Getting expensive things is hard!

They shouldn't have a creative story as to how they got their shield, unless in character burning they bought the shield with resource points or they acquired the Family Heirloom trait (page 325).

If they want to make a shield, they should get the raw materials (Resources, perhaps Mining), find an armorer (Circles) and convince them (Duel of Wits, Haggling, Resources) to use their workshop (unless they bought one with resource points), and test their Armorer skill (not Blacksmithing).

If they want to buy it, it looks like an Ob 3+ Resources test depending on how fancy it is; get some friends to help or find someone to give them a loan. Or they can go adventuring and use the resulting treasure as Cash on Hand (page 374) dice to buy the shield. If they fail the Resources test, you can invoke the Gift of Kindness (page 370). If they covet someone else's shield, they can go steal or fight for it.

In my first Burning Wheel game, my character started without shoes, and it sure as hell caused some problems.

If getting this shield is important, they should write a belief about it. You should challenge that belief against their other beliefs. How badly do they want it? Find out in play. This isn't GM fiat. This is using and engaging the rules of the game. Depending on what other games they've played, they might not be used to it.

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While this is a very interesting answer, I feel that it somewhat avoids the question about logical reduction of resource points. Still, I do see your point, and how it could be applied to RPs point buy - but I'm curious if you have any thoughts about that specifically? –  Emracool May 24 '13 at 14:17
@Knights RPs are earned by taking life paths. Being a blacksmith is a life path. You don't get a discount on metal items for being a blacksmith, since the RPs it gives you already reflect having a well-paying, high-resource background. Getting a discount would be double-dipping, and is contrary to the rules. You get RPs, you spend them, no discounts. –  SevenSidedDie May 24 '13 at 17:47
I wouldn't even give a discount for having just the shield with no armour. Buying stuff with RPs usually gives you "stuff that makes sense" according to your character concept (see the wide variation in what Arms gets you for the same RP cost). Shields are free with matching armour: so buy the armor at the cost listed, and just write down only the shield if it's against concept to wear body armour. –  SevenSidedDie May 24 '13 at 20:08
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Resources are usually a table-level system not meant to be modified by in-universe logic.

[Disclaimer: I'm unfamiliar with Burning Wheel's resource system, and am responding on a generic "how systems usually work" level as per the tag.]

Neither resource points, nor starting gold, nor the DFRPG "Resources" skill, should care about how much of a discount your character can get on the items (rule-based exceptions may apply, of course). They're a measure of the resources your character has, not a measure of the resources he spent.

Regardless of whether the awesome shield was a gift from your fairy godmother, scrounged off a garbage tip, made by hand, bought at a store, or inherited from a weird uncle, it's still an item of resource value X and should be treated that way on a mechanical level.

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Here's an answer about Burning Wheel in general - I don't have my book with me, so I can't comment about RPs at the moment - but this goes for the whole game:

Burning Wheel is meant to be played as written. Don't go trying to find ways around stuff in BW. This is stated explicitly in the game in a couple of places I can recall off the top of my head:

  • Let it Ride means 1 roll either succeeds or fails - no splitting tasks up into a bunch of rolls. The player says, "I ride to the base of the wall and then leap off of my horse and scramble over the top!" One roll and the attempt is either successful or fails. You can't say, "That roll means you've succeeded in riding up to the wall, now roll to jump!"

  • Advancement is meant to be played as written. You are forewarned and instructed to not give players access to rolls of the difficulties they want or need to advance - they get what they get.

This stance of "the game is meant to be played in the manner in which we present it here" permeates the work. Unless it is explicitly stated somewhere that "players should get to whine about RP costs until they are reduced", I would tell that player to get stuffed:

Player: Can I have this really expensive shield?

Me: Well, yes, but it's really expensive. You sure?

Player: Oh, well, my character is a blacksmith - they probably found the metal in a scrap metal bin.

Me: You think high-quality metal goes in a scrap bin? You can have it cheap, but it will have the qualities of a cheap shield.

Player: Ok, so I buy the metal. But I'll do the work myself, so it'll be cheap!

Me: Then you've lost the opportunity to do paying work, so it consumes more of your resources, and is therefore expensive! You can have a cheap shield for a cheap price or an expensive one for an expensive price. Pick. Now.

Your player is wasting everyone's time. Does he think that everyone is playing to see him haggle with you? Stand firm and move on.

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I vaguely recall that playing Burning Wheel strictly as written means that you can create infinite resources by cyclic lending, which may not be the best plan. –  Aesin May 24 '13 at 8:20
@Aesin Yep, you can try that. IIRC you can't make a loan that isn't connected to a test though, and as soon as anyone fails a Resource test using a loan, everyone takes losses. You can't go infinite with it—you just end up on the bad end of a Ponzi scheme if you try. –  SevenSidedDie May 24 '13 at 17:50
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Putting on my degree in history hat for a second*... I'm not sure it makes sense within the medieval-fantasy milieu for a blacksmith to have "scrap iron" laying around of high enough quality to make a really good shield. Steel was a pretty rare commodity prior to the Bessemer process, and a blacksmith would likely have used every last bit of whatever he had available for his paying customers. Most craftsmen lived a hand-to-mouth existence well into the 17th century. If this blacksmith was coming out of a town instead of a city, it's entirely possible that decent quality steel to make on a shield wasn't there, period. A smith in a region like that would be spending much of their time making cheap pots and cauldrons and the like, rarely if ever crafting something as work-intensive and needful of re-use as a sword or a piece of armor.

In game terms, that's what the players get the RPs up front for. If a character hoarded every last bit of usable steel he could find to create a shield, there's a good chance that the end result is that they don't own very much else at all. That's the way things are supposed to work.

*Well, my degree is in English literature but I do have a minor in history.

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My first thoughts exactly. There's no way you can make a decent frying pan from scrap iron, much less a shield. Steel shield? You'll need steel, not iron. –  Yianes the Sneak May 24 '13 at 15:54
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This may be a system-agnostic question, but Burning Wheel has a rather specific answer.

Don't give the player a discount.

In character creation

A character's access to the fruits of his or her labor is already reflected in the resource points that come with the lifepath.

The game already assumes players will buy stuff that it "makes sense" for their character to have, based on their background. It just doesn't enforce any penalties for not doing so, because the writers figured that this would be a needless constraint in any well-meaning group — either whatever you've bought makes sense, or someone in the group will be like, "What? Why do you have that thing? Seriously?"

In character creation, a smith's ability to craft things is already represented by having higher resource points than many other lower-class characters. Don't give the character a double-dip discount.

In play

Use your Resources stat to buy things (or check if you straight-up own one already, if that makes sense in context). Use your skills to find, make, and steal things. If you want to combine these actions, uses the built-in game mechanics: helping dice, FORKs, or linked tests.

In play, "I find some usable scrap and forge it into a shield" is a linked test (Scavenge → Armorer), not a Resources check. Make sure the character actually has the tools to do it, though (or sets about trying to get them, like in okeefe's answer).

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An expensive shield is reasonably doable... don't raise the resources test, just say yes to the expensive part, and then don't let them use linked tests/help to aid the resources test. (You're not allowed to FoRK on Resources.)

Or, perhaps, have them seek it using some other skill... and then the Resources to actually buy the thing. But make the search potentially painful. Heck, if their resources are high enough (say, double the base Ob), go ahead and just say yes on the purchase...

And, in the case of such expensive items, rather than simple failure or the Gift of Kindness, opt for "It was bought with clipped coins" or "That's electrum, not Gold!"... or "So, the guy who sold it to you wasn't the rightful owner..." Use the seeking of expensive objects as a means to add Drama! to your BW game.

Burning Wheel, in specific, endorses both metagaming by players and test seeking behavior... and relies upon the GM to make "if you fail..." statements which are painful.

In any case, stick with the base ob, or perhaps +1 ob. Note that fine quality shields do have bonuses, but those have to be paid for.

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I wouldn't use "Resources is double the Obstacle" as an excuse to say yes. Without artha, that's still a 50/50 chance. –  okeefe May 24 '13 at 9:09
This was about beginning-game RPs, not in-game Resource checks though. I agree with you about being able to tie in all kinds of interesting consequences to failures once the game has started. –  NotVonKaiser May 24 '13 at 16:05
The kind of thing being described si something better left to in-game. –  aramis May 24 '13 at 19:18
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