I'm currently reading through Burning Wheel Gold and found a very odd quirk; the rules say that tests for advancing Skills or Stats cannot be converted to a different sort of test (for example, converting a Difficult test to a Routine test). The book is very insistent on this, but doesn't provide any reasoning for the rule and I can't personally see a reason for this rule. My Question is this: What is the purpose of not allowing tests for advancement to be converted to less difficult tests, and what would change if I removed this rule?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Luke Crane's games rarely tells you why a rule is the way it is. Consider exploring why through play. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Dec 25 '13 at 21:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have a limited amount of time, so finding out through play isn't necessarily practical. \$\endgroup\$ – user5834 Dec 26 '13 at 2:04

What is the purpose of not allowing tests for advancement to be converted to less difficult tests, and what would change if I removed this rule?

Burning Wheel's general design philosophy is built on tugging the protagonists between heroic action and realistic vulnerability.

The requirement for tough tests pushes players to either seek out difficult challenges OR push on while injured or otherwise at a high disadvantage - very heroic. The requirement for routine tests pushes players to seek out maximum advantage in dice vs. obstacle, or, to take advantage of teachers or practice.

Typically in play, a player will find a skill/stat getting used more for either very difficult situations or very routine situations. If it's the former, they now have to seek out or engineer situations where they are at an advantage to get the skill/stat to raise. If it's the latter, they need to throw themselves into difficult situations.

In both cases, it pushes players to think dramatically and never take a single approach to the game or the world.

Here's another part of the rules that ties into it that a lot of people miss early on: between FORKs, Linked Tests, Advantage Dice, and Help, a group of PCs working together can easily throw an extra +2D to +5D on many rolls (if their skills are high and they're Helping/FORKing, that can go even higher...)

Getting those Routine tests isn't as hard as you might think, but it does require working as a group (or, rallying up enough NPCs to help you out...) It forces the players to also draw upon other characters and interact socially more, as well.


Reminder: The three difficulties:

  • Routine - stuff you are unlikely to fail at
  • Difficult - stuff you may fail at.
  • Challenging - Stuff you only succeed at by using Artha.

Remember: Artha provided dice don't count when figuring difficulties.

Remember: Helpers get to log based upon the full Ob vs their skill.

Down-Conversion isn't needed

Downconversion is seldom needed if you're planning ahead, and using FoRKs and help.

EG: John has Navigation B4, Pilot B2, Astrogation B2, Observation B2 and his buddy Fritz has Navigation B2. John is facing an Ob5 navigation. John can:

  • choose to roll just the Navigation B4 plus some from persona, and mark the Challenging
  • Accept getting lost and roll the B4 alone, no artha. If he gets lucky, he might get some 6's and drop a fate to open, but he's pretty much ensured he's going to fail. He also marks Challenging.
  • Use 1 or 2 FoRKs, and Roll at Difficult
  • Use 1 FoRK and Fritz's help, and roll at difficult, but giving Fritz a Challenging.
  • Use 3 FoRKs plus Fritz's help, and roll at Routine (as he's got B8 vs Ob5), And getting Fritz a Challenging.

Up-Conversion is handled by meta-play

If you need a test that's harder, remember your traits, and point them out. If you have a die-trait that hinders you, when you remember to invoke it; you may get artha AND you will get to increase the difficulty by that many dice.

You can always point out an advantage to the GM. It need not always be YOUR advantage.

You can narrate how your character traits hurt you. This potentially gets you either an extra Ob+1 or takes away a die. It may also get you Artha, if you can do it well and embody the trait, or if it results in going into different directions.

If you need a test and your buddy has a hard core need to win it, and the Artha to do so, help his opponent. This can get you a potentially harder test (but might not, due to opposed rolls and experience.)

The Exception to the First Test Rule

Note that you can't convert tests, but if you can get an extended conflict form (Duel of Wits, Fight, Range and Cover) for the skill, and need only one more test to raise, you don't have to take the first test on that skill - you can instead wait for the one needed to happen. (In other words, until your opponent rolls high enough.) You may want to have buddies help him until you are either losing or have the test you need. It's risky... but it is a way to engineer those harder tests. Then, after you log it, FoRK in and get help, and make him rue the day...

It's OK to be Meta in BW

Some games say GM's should punish meta-gaming. BW isn't one of them. In fact, Luke expects players to crunch the numbers hard, as well as have good story.

➀ It's not required to state the consequences of failure, but it is part of the GM advice to do so often. And if you don't have an interesting failure, it's also part of the advice to "just say yes" - which obviates the need for the test.


The tests are intimately integrated into the player motivators of the system. If you can convert tests, then you don't need to try to succeed at anything – attempt three impossible things before breakfast and suddenly you've advanced the stat (assuming you survive). It's the same reason why lobbying for tests is forbidden – it undermines the motivation to make the hard choices necessary to get those exact tests.

As it is, the requirement to have exactly the right tests means that you can't try to game the system without doing the things that the system is designed to motivate. (The game actually does want you to game it – but only if you obey its uncompromising constraints.) Without doing the things the system is designed to motivate, the players will not be putting in what the game engine needs to run well – and therefore won't be getting out what the system is designed to deliver. Since the game is all about incentivising players to do the things that make the game run nicely, and the game has no rules that aren't about player incentives, changing even this one rule is reducing player incentive to generate the experience Burning Wheel advertises.

So you can if you want, but then you're voiding the warranty on a Swiss watch. You have to ask yourself: do I know how a Swiss watch works well enough that it will keep doing it when I change it? Do you want Burning Wheel to keep doing what it says on the label?

The system's internal interactions are pretty tangled, and actually not very obvious. Essentially, if you have to ask what a given houserule would do, you shouldn't add it. Only when you've played it enough that you don't have to ask whether it's a good idea does it become a good idea to modify the rules.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Couldn't a player just as easily attempt said impossible things, then difficult things, then routine things to advance? It seems like this doesn't prevent gaming the system, it only makes it a little more difficult. Power Gamers gonna Power Game. \$\endgroup\$ – user5834 Dec 25 '13 at 0:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @shatterspike1 And in doing so, they'd be doing what the game wants, yes. Power gamers gonna power game, but this makes them power game in a way that makes more story, not less. And it's hooked into the rest of the system in subtle, non-obvious ways, as I mentioned. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 25 '13 at 2:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @shatterspike1 … and Bankuei's answer totally says that better and more clearly than I can. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 25 '13 at 2:54

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