Of course all RPG systems have many characteristics, and all of them are made to improve or impede some part or another of the experience. My question is not about what different features Burning Wheel has compared to other RPGs (there are so many), but what kind of experience is it most appropriate for.

What was the design intent of Luke Crane when making the system?

Here are a few different ways I imagine the design goals could be categorized:

  • Is it more action oriented, or better for slow burning plots?
  • Is the experience character oriented, narrative oriented or more mechanically oriented?
  • Does it focus more on mechanics, simulation or narrative?
  • Is it geared towards experienced players, or made to be approachable to all ages?
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    \$\begingroup\$ Normally this would be held as opinion-based or too broad, but a focus on Luke Crane's reasons would make it fact-based (regardless of whether Luke is right about what it's good for, we can firmly agree on what he's said he made it to do). And I know that there is a lot of documented designer statements about the purpose(s) for inventing Burning Wheel, so it's eminently answerable. I've made the required edit to eliminate opinions. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 19:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Aside from making sure this suitable for RPG.se though, if you still want to hear from a lot of people on what kind of play experiences they think BW is best suited for, you might want to cross-post the original version of this question to an RPG discussion forum where that kind of discussion can be had. It would probably be quite interesting. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 19:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie RE: (regardless of whether Luke is right about what it's good for, we can firmly agree on what he's said he made it to do). I hope an answer also addresses any potential disconnects! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 19:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Luke is frequently active on his forums: www.burningwheel.com/forum/forum.php If you aren't satisfied with the answers you find elsewhere, you can ask there, and he might answer in person. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeaWyrm
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 22:23

1 Answer 1


I will be quoting from the Burning Wheel Gold rulebook.


Fight for what your character believes. Everything else in the rules tells either how to craft that character's beliefs or how to fight for them. (Foreword by Jake Norwood)

At its core BW is a character oriented game. It is narrative first and rules second but the narrative revolves around the characters and their relationships. If the characters are just there to experience the story without being its source, that's not doing BW as intended.

Player skill

Burning Wheel's core mechanics, advancement and Artha rules demand more-than-usual attention from the player. Skill or stat advancement isn't an afterthought, but rather a crucial part of the game. The decision to solve a problem with cold steel or silken words isn't just one of better numerical values - it's a question of who you, the player, want your character to become. (Foreword by Jake Norwood)

Burning Wheel is demanding for players. This doesn't necessarily mean BW is for experienced players, it's for invested players. They are expected to know what their characters are capable of and what they want to accomplish. Experienced P&P players don't necessarily do better because BW does some things significantly differently than other games. A fresh player might cope better than an experienced D&D veteran who is accustomed to crunching numbers and skimming supplement books and playing tactical combat.

The GM may veto a character that he feels has been min-maxed. Simply chant these magic words: "I don't think he really fits in with the game or the other characters." (p. 106)


It is the philosophy of the system that some tasks are either too complex to accomplish without help or simply too difficult to accomplish at all. Sometimes, high obstacles will force players to be creative and think of another way around. (p. 15)

The game's basic rules cover combat and non-combat situations in equally detailed manner. The main part of the basic rules is the character advancement. The learning-by-doing of skills, the difficulties, the helping rules and the Artha system are tied together in a very tight knot at the games center.

Beliefs, Instincts and traits (BITs) are the primary conduit between the player, his character and the artha system. Setting out BITs for his character, a player states to the GM and the group what his goals in play are for this character. (p. 61)

All expert rules are there just to have more detailed resolution for certain situations. There are advanced rules for verbal disputes (Duel of Wits) tactical move and shoot archer battle and small group tactics system (Range and Cover) and an extremely detailed melee duel and brawl (Fight). They are very detailed and not meant to be used for every fight or argument.

Vincent's advice ["Roll dice or say 'yes'" by Vincent Baker of Dogs in the Vineyard] is perfect for Burning Wheel. Unless there is something at stake in the story you have created, don't bother with the dice. (p. 72)

Other rules are also only meant to be used only when the beliefs of the characters are at stake. Money and wealth is abstracted in a separate attribute. Travel and other stuff is glossed over unless it's important to the beliefs. Low stakes fights get resolved with a simple ability test.


The rules go equally well with slow political plots and fast action scenarios. However the focus on advancement as the main game engine demands the attention to stay with the same characters for some time to get the game really going.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a great and very, very solid answer. The only thing I'd add is that "narrative first and rules second" is often accomplished by looping the rules through the narrative — you're generally not supposed to avoid the rules, but invoking the rules is tied up in our statements about the fiction so that typically using the rules "by themselves" just doesn't work at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 7:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexP You are right. BW has several passages where it's being very particular about it's rules being there to be followed. I will rework that passage when I find some time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zalktis
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 12:45

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