The problem: Popular consensus is that the BW ideal is 2 or 3 players. I'm GMing a game of Burning Wheel for 5, and advancement is slow.

Per hour of gameplay, each player is testing around 3/5ths less often than a player in a game of optimum size. Advancement of skills is slower, and some players are voicing dissent - the classic Burning Wheel "hard landing" beginning phase is only just now drawing to a close after six months of play. (I'm not complaining about their suffering, to be clear; they are...) They're having trouble earning enough routine tests for their lower skills, and earning enough tests in general.

We've just finished the first trait vote and are formalizing a house rule to solve some of these issues. For social context, I am more or less obligated to at least give these rules a try, because the existing paradigm is chafing the gaming sensibilities of some of the players. I want them to have fun, and for them, RAW BW is not fun (or, and this is a certainty, I'm not running it well).

The solution?: One player said that an alternative testing scheme came to him in a dream.

Imagine making skill checks in BW more like checks in NWOD:CoD. We decrease the success from 4-6 to 5-6. However, only 1 success is ever required. The current obstacle values are treated as dice pool penalties. Thus, if you have a dice pool of 7, but an Ob of 3, you only roll 4 dice to determine success.

Under this, any success is Routine. If you roll at least 5 (?) successes on a roll, it counts as Difficult, in addition to having some great flourish. If you fail normally, nothing happens, but if you opt to critically fail, we suffer the consequences, but it counts as Challenging, and this would be the only exception to any roll that normally you do not gain anything for failure.

Major advantages: no need to think of consequences for every roll; most rolls are just Routine, which matches better the common use of the word; Challenging tests are optional, but necessary to advance; no chart lookup for each roll; Ob penalties can be more ad-hoc rather than pegged to static descriptions.

The question: At first glance, does this new testing scheme pass muster? It seems like we'll be rolling a lot more often, and players will have more direct control over the difficulty of test they'll be earning. However, I am wondering about the effect of changing the characteristic parts of BW, namely, "you know the failure consequences before they happen", and "tests are rare and important".


1 Answer 1


How much downtime do you have, and how much are you training?

The rules for skill practice begin on Burning Wheel Gold Revised (BWGR) page 47, and the rules for formal instruction begin on BWGR page 50. Practice can get you a routine test in 1-3 months for a few hours a day, at least if you're not training to cast spells or go to war. Instruction will lock down your time but assuming it's successful (and routine tests are the easiest) you'll be able to get 3-5 of them in a month.

I hope you haven't got a campaign setting where your PCs have six months to become gods and prevent the catacylsm or something - in general Burning Wheel doesn't play well with both important time pressure and a PC desire to learn something.

If you're running a campaign where you can just say "three months pass", "six months pass", "the year goes by", you can pick up a handful of routine tests during every session break without even trying, or make an effort to get yourself some training and notch even more.

More Notes on the Flow of Time

Burning Wheel's successor games, Mouse Guard and Torchbearer, make some use of season-based play. The Guard themselves are dedicated employees of the crown, but will usually manage to advance a season every other session or so due to the bespoke time-advancement mechanics. Adventurers in Torchbearer gear up for expeditions to the forsaken ruins on their own timeline, and every time they come back to town and do all the things they need to do in a town phase of play, the season changes.

I can't say exactly which point of that freedom/rigor spectrum you find yourself on, but zooming in on a major accomplishment and zooming out to let the season turn is a pretty good setup for a situation where you get in enough play to knock out the equivalent of a modestly sized dungeon every session, however that mix of interactions and skill checks resolves itself.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ There's no direct time pressure, save for a war going on in the other parts of the empire whose result they are invested in (but these low level chuckleheads aren't ready to intervene); however, the pace of play has been very slow - we've pretty much gone day by day for a few weeks of time. The idea that you should go weeks or months per session is quite useful. \$\endgroup\$
    – order
    Commented May 22 at 3:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @order Thanks for that, I've added a bit on why it doesn't feel weird for me to make that suggestion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Glazius
    Commented May 22 at 4:45

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