The Seven-Sided Die

First Burning Wheel AP report

Posted Wednesday May 06, 2009 at 12:36 AM

Sunday we sat down to play our first one-on-one session of Burning Wheel.

The first half or more of our time was spent refining Fimmtiu's character's Beliefs and getting all the details filled out on the character sheet. We used the excellent online character burner so that all the point allocations and stat calculations were fast, but we still had to write out aptitude numbers and figure out how to use the test and Artha-logging features that the sheet offers. It was still really slow going because we're still getting acquainted with the system, but we did finally get down to playing.

We only had a couple hours to play once we had sorted out Beliefs and taken care of all the set-up bookkeeping, but we got a lot out of those two hours and had a blast. I found that there were a few things I really liked about the system in-play:

And with that last point, I guess I really should get on with the actual play report, shouldn't I?

Character and world

The setting is a sovereign city-state, Tramontare, embedded within a larger province or country that is loosely modelled on late medieval Italy. The surrounding lands have a mutated version of the religion of the city, and the religion in general is at its height yet in major decline and corruption, so they're sort of doing a glacial "retreat" into the city and tensions are increasing. The city is run by the rich (a plutocracy), who get social standing by working up the ranks of the Church, much like 18th-century English nobles worked up through the military. Sorcery was rediscovered a century or so ago from the artefacts and writings of an older empire, but that more ritualistic, tradition-bound sorcery is meeting competition from a more science-y, investigative, natural-philosophy approach to sorcery. There is potential for conflict with the Church there too because they have their own traditional view of the proper relationship between nature and sorcery.

Our PC, Basilio, is a 49-year-old professor of this new "applied sorcery" at the University of Tramontare. He's an engineer and sorceror, a rival of Carmino the professor of traditional sorcery, and considered something of a nutbar. He's working on a Device in his private workshop that melds engineering and sorcery according to the principles of this new understanding. When it's finished it will be an engine that derives its energy from a dimensional breach, demonstrating the usefulness of this discipline and achieving renown and esteem for Basilio.

Basilio's Beliefs are:

The first and second have built-in goals and immediate actions, so we were off to a good start. The third is vague, but I figure that's OK so long as there are two explosive Beliefs already.

Basilio's Instincts are:

These should get our dear friend in a lot of trouble! The last is verging on a Belief, but we'll see how it works in play.

To round out the BITRs of the character, he has the Character Traits Batshit, Bitter, Humiliation, It Just Might Work!, and Extremely Respectful of One's Betters. He also has Driven as a Call-On for Sorcery, and of course the Relationship with his rival, Carmino Baldessare.

Actual play

As I said, we only had two hours of actual play after futzing around. That included a lot of looking things up and puzzling out how to apply the system, so we got two good scenes, including one Duel of Wits, into the first session.

The session opened with me asking what he wanted to accomplish.

"I want to break into Carmino's office tonight to find evidence of research into demonology that will convince the Archdean."

Woah! I didn't expect that right out of the gate. Maybe some mooching around for spare parts, researching the ancients' knowledge of "aetherism", maybe jumping right into some Engineering tests to deconstruct the broken aetheric harmonizer that Basilio manage to get from an archaeological site... Instead, bang! right into a tightly-framed scene with decent stakes. I was enjoying myself and the system already.

Scene 1: Breaking in

So, we break in. We roleplayed the set-up, with Basilio having the janitor/nightwatchman let him in because he "forgot something in the office". Right. So he shakes the janitor as his office door, grabs a lantern from inside, then heads off to Carmino's office. It's locked. He wants to disintegrate the bolt barring the door. We're using the Abstractions and Distillations system from the Magic Burner to represent this more natural-philosophy approach to sorcery, so he has Basilio combine the Earth noun with the Tax verb, Single Target, Instant duration, and Presence range. There was a lot of page flipping at this point, obviously. The great thing about the session was that we still enjoyed it despite wrestling with an unfamiliar system and taking a lot of time out looking things up.

That spell is an Obstacle of 5, and his combined Will of B7 and Sorcery of B6 gives him 13 dice to roll to make it. Easy, right? He gets a single success, and we wonder what to do next. We figured out the spell tax test in the meantime (after some misunderstandings on my part), which he also failed, but his Forte was taxed down to 1 so he didn't fall unconscious. The way spell failures work in this magic system is to roll some dice to find out which facets vary and by how much, then consult a wheel of rings representing each facet: each step of variance is counted around the ring, indicating what facet actually ended up manifesting. The way he rolled, the "variations" ended up going right around and landing where they started, so the spell didn't actually vary at all. I narrated this unlikely event as Basilio losing control of the spell, but somehow ending up managing to channel the unleashed forces into what he wanted anyway.

Bolt disintegrated, he pushes open the door and scans the room. But wait, he failed the spell test, right? His intent was to break into the room, but failure means you don't get your intent. Well, I gave it to him anyway as the rules suggest, and added a future complication related to the failure. I introduced that right away as Basilio notices Carmino in the office, snoring softely, having fallen asleep while studying a large text. Basilio scans the room (a Perception test to find obvious incriminating evicence, which failed). He crept over to get a look at the book in the moonlight.

At this point we knew we had another test: Stealth versus Observation, with significant bonus dice to Basilio since Carmino was fast asleep. We weren't quite sure how to do this, tough, as neither professor had those skills. The Beginner's Luck rules state that you double the base Obstacle in such a case, but doubling it for both of them doesn't make any mathematical sense. (Again, much page-flipping here.) We decided that neither would suffer a penalty since they were equally unskilled and just got on with the test, but I'm still not sure what the right answer is, and I'm pretty sure I read something about Beginner's Luck and versus tests in my first ready-through of the system. I think we did it right, but I don't know how we would have done it if one had the right skill and the other didn't.

Basilio won with two successes. This meant that he had free run of the office under the Let it Ride rules, unless he tried to do something that had an Obstacle higher than 2, such as Stealthily playing the slide whistle or trying to take the book from under Carmino's head (at which point, under Let it Ride, he would have failed and woken Carmino). That was interesting because Fimmtiu had a good idea of what Basilio could and couldn't get away with. Not sure what implications this has, but I'll be looking at how Let it Ride affects player choices in future sessions. The one thing that I know it did was make the scene move more smoothly, as I didn't (wasn't allowed to, actually) ask for more fiddly tests as he moved around and searched the room.

So, the book turns out to be open to a page discussing the customs of summoning "pliant spirits" for favours, which modern Tramontareans know is the old empire's way of talking about demons. Evidence! This was garnered by an Ancient and Obscure History test FoRKed with Demonology and Summoning, where "FoRK" means "Fields of Related Knowledge", and gives +1D per related field to the dice pool.

He slid a few drawers open looking for more evidence. I didn't have anything planned, so I resorted to the Die of Fate. On a 1 (the DoF is a d6, like all Burning Wheel dice), there was something incriminating, on a 2-6 there wasn't anything more than the book. I rolled a 1, so there was a ceremonial sacrificial knife in the drawer. Another Ancient and Obscure History check (FoRKed with sorcery, Tramontare History, and something else that I forget) told him that it was an old-empire blood magic sacrificial knife, which is related to their demon-summoning practices. Furthermore the knife was most recently in the city museaum's collection before it was stolen six months ago and never recovered. Damning evidence!

Basilio got out while the getting was good, stowed the lantern back in his office, and cheerfully bade goodnight to the janitor.

Scene 2: Let's get the Archdean

Basilio returned home, got a couple hours of sleep (I forgot to get him to roll his Health check for the taxed Forte dice, but they ended up not being relevant in this scene), after which he went to find Archdean Rimedio near the University's temple during morning devotions. He snagged him coming out and convinced him (I just gave this one to him) to step aside a moment for a few words.

"Carmino is practicing demonology and must be investigated right this minute."

Those were Fimmtiu/Basilio's stakes, which sounded like a perfect chance to get into a Duel of Wits to resolve whether the Archdean investigated Carmino or ignored the charges. He wanted to catch Carmino still in his office, with the evidence right there. The Archdean's stakes were:

"That's a far-fetched charge. You will drop this and not bother me about it again."

Considering that Basilio is the crazy guy down the hall to most of the faculty, he was putting what little reputation he had left on the line to bother the dean of deans like this.

Bodies of Argument were rolled, with Basilio at the advantage with a Will B7 and Rhetoric B3 against Rimedio's Will B4 and Oratory B5. Basilio netted a BoA of 8 to Rimedio's BoA of 5.

We scripted the Duel, which I won't repeat here for the sake of keeping this from being longer than it already is. I was concerned that the structured argument rules would make for a stilted and unnatural scene, but it actually worked really well. We made sure to present our actual points and rebuttals before dealing with the mechanics. We also made sure that our statements were relevant to whatever was just said, so it actually flowed like an argument, and we made sure to choose argument manoeuvers that made sense for what we were going to say. This was actually a pleasant side-effect of the system, in that I actually had to think strategically about not only what manoeuvers would be best, but what ones Rimedio would actually use given his mood and perspective. (I scripted a couple Avoids of the "I really don't have time for this..." sort, following that.)

Despite scripting according to what tacks I thought were sensible for the Archdean to take rather than according to what manoeuvers I thought would most likely get a win, the DoW was uncertain right up to the penultimate volley. (First volley of the third exchange, to be exact.) Basilio won with half his BoA depleted, so the consession was that Archdean Rimedio would go almost immediately—but first he had to personally give his regrets to "this fellow from the Reliquary that I was to have post-devotional breakfast with" and expects Basilio to accompany him on this diversion.

Session wrap up

And that's where we broke. We'd played only two scenes, but already the plot was unfolding in interesting ways. There were twists neither of us had anticipated, even in such a brief couple of scenes. There are implications for Basilio's failed rolls and DoW compromise that I'm already cooking up with glee.

Basilio earned (and spent) two Fate points for driving the game forward with his Beliefs. We only really hit "Carmino is trafficking in demons...", but that's not too surprising given the limited timeframe we had. I'm going to encourage Fimmtiu to push his Instincts and Traits more for more Artha next time, since that will give us even more story convolutions and give Basilio some more advancement momentum. Myself, I need to look at those more when I'm cooking up complications, for the same reasons.

Everything in the Burning Wheel is on fire, metaphorically. You burn characters and worlds, people tend to name their campaigns "Burning [noun]", and the rules talk about setting figurative fire to things. The metaphor is appropriate, I think, because it set alight our imaginations. I mean, really, how many game systems not only let you create a 49-year-old pacifist University professor, but also makes him interesting to play? Without mugging him in a dark alley?

Comments (28)


Wednesday May 06, 2009 at 08:30 AM

Instinct: Never take human life. Belief: People in positions of power are not to be trusted: I will show that X is in a position far above his abilities. (Or some other immediate goal.)

Saying that taking human life is a terrible thing is weak. Saying that "I will never take human life" is not quite as weak, and is a clear instinct. The instinct also has that weakish part that determines an exception. Exceptions come forward in play if they do. They should not be installed in beliefs.

The "imminent physical danger" also has two qualifiers, imminency and physical nature of the danger. I'd suggest leaving one of them out. Remember: The player can choose to go against an instinct or go along it and gain artha when following it brings nasty consequences. Broadening the instinct a bit gives more opportunities for making this call and hence more opportunities for gaining artha and getting in trouble.

It just might work! is a great characteristic trait.

Failed spell: I would have had it affect the door so that breaking it would be easy, but still make noise (unless the player comes up with something smart). Maybe I am too evil of a GM.

Unskilled versus: I'd go with speed against perception, too. Training to open the stealth skill, yay. In case of trained versus untrained, I'd have both roll and then double the successes the trained one got. I'm not sure this follows the rules exactly, so better confirm it at the BW forums.

I recommend copying the artha reward summary or writing one yourself. The player should be aware of it, too, and remind you to give out artha.


Wednesday May 06, 2009 at 09:47 PM


That's great advice. I expect it will take some time to turn the theory on running BW that I've absorbed into practical BW-running skills. I'll point Fimmtiu here so he can consider those changes.

The wiki has a GM screen with a lot of information neatly summarised. I made sure that he had a copy of the page that summarises Artha and advancement, and we did keep referring to it.


Thursday May 07, 2009 at 06:43 AM

Yeah, it was an excellent first session; I'm just as surprised with how much content it felt like we fit into those two-odd hours.

Nothing good ever comes without downsides, though, and some of the inevitable weaknesses of the BW system were readily apparent:

1) Character creation takes a long time, especially the first time through. It's OK, since you're front-loading the work to get rapid-fire awesomeness later, but I expect it will make for scheduling difficulties in a larger group.

2) Because of how much content goes into each session, and how tightly the plots are coupled with the characters, I expect that having one or two players miss a scheduled session will be very likely to bone things.

3) The books are incredibly badly laid out -- particularly the Character Burner, which scatters relevant information all over the place. With the indices it's bearable, but still frustrating.

@Tommi: You're totally right -- I had the Instinct and Belief reversed there. Still getting the hang of it. Thanks!

Very much looking forward to a chance to use "It might just work!".


Thursday May 07, 2009 at 07:10 AM

I think you nailed the trade-off in (1), and I don't see any easy way around scheduling difficulties. Generating character concepts, including BITs, by email would work if everyone was already familiar with the system, so long as people were active and there was enough back-and-forth for feedback and group interaction to happen.

I think (2) depends on the context of the game. In a city game or similar, where the characters are intersecting due to Beliefs but physically independent, an absent player wouldn't be that much of a hindrance. In game that had more of a cohesive player-character party it would be more problematic.

On (3), yeah. I know why they have them separated out (since Mannish Traits and Orcish Traits aren't on the same list, it's easier to see what you can buy and what you can't) but the page flipping is crazy-making and made worse by some Character Traits not being listed anywhere at all. If the Traits in the Life Path block had a tiny superscript page number or even just Trait type, that would be better. I've taken to just consulting the Trait Index first, forget about looking where I assume it will be.

Very much looking forward to a chance to use “It might just work!”.

Then hit it! Push him toward a situation where he's coming up with a crazy plan that Just Might Work. I'll do what I can from the other side.

... Alas, I think the potential in all of Basilio's BITs would only come out in a longer-term campaign. There's only so many of them that we can hit in a given session without having more experience playing this system.


Thursday May 07, 2009 at 09:47 AM

The structure of the core book (72-page "high-level overview" followed by details on specific subjects) also contributes to the reference fragmentation, despite being a better way to initially get into the system.

And the procedure for learning new spells is not very well thought-out.

OK, enough nitpicking. Honestly, I'm not sure that I've ever looked at an RPG system and found so few things to complain about.


Thursday May 07, 2009 at 01:53 PM

2) Because of how much content goes into each session, and how tightly the plots are coupled with the characters, I expect that having one or two players miss a scheduled session will be very likely to bone things. 3) The books are incredibly badly laid out — particularly the Character Burner, which scatters relevant information all over the place. With the indices it’s bearable, but still frustrating.

I'm inclined to agree with both of these points.

Then again, the groups I've been playing in have usually only gamed when everyone could make it. I think that playing when someone is not present will work best when the party works as a single entity composed of several characters; most the same goals, even if there is some bickering. The so-called party hydra. Burning Wheel is not such a game. D&D can be and often is.


Thursday May 07, 2009 at 06:57 PM

Tommi: Our scheduling difficulties are enough that we only really have a four- or five-hour window every two weeks, and getting everyone into that window of time often enough to get anywhere in a campaign is tricky. Oh, how I'd love to be able to play whenever was convenient and have that be enough! I think BW is worth wrestling with the scheduling demons, though.

Fimmtiu: How is the spell-learning procedure not well thought out?

MJ Harnish

Thursday May 07, 2009 at 08:03 PM

Awesome stuff. I too have had a couple of great initial sessions of BW although we're still struggling a bit with learning the more complex pieces of the rules (you can read about the details on my blog).

I just picked up the Magic Burner and I really like what I've read of it so far.


Thursday May 07, 2009 at 08:20 PM

Thanks for directing me to this session report and general overview of the game from a first-timer's perspective. It sounds like an amazing game to play. A friend of mine, who's in my regular gaming group, has been lugging the Burning Wheel book around with him to all the sessions of both group games we've been playing lately, and I think he may be interested in running a Burning Wheel campaign.

I'm definitely going to find out if he's interested, now, because I'm sure interested in playing it. Based on your description of how the Duel of Wits played out, I think I'd rather play than run it as a first-timer, but I really want to see how that works in practice.

Too bad you don't live near me, by the way. Judging by a lot of what you've said in comments at SOB, and how you described your Burning Wheel session here, I'd probably love having you in my gaming group.

By the way -- what preview plugin are you using for WordPress here?

apotheon’s last blog post: PPR: Whitechapel Gods


Thursday May 07, 2009 at 08:41 PM

If that sounded amazing, check out some of the AP reports on their forum. I particularly enjoyed the Si Juk campaign, which reminds me that I wanted to point Fimmtiu at that. (Fimmtiu, I read it in about 2-3 hours, which means at your reading speed you should be able to chew through it in an hour or so. It's well worth it.) This account of the first session with a newbie GM and player was entertaining, too. Skulduggery!

The plugin I'm using is Live Comment Preview. It uses hand-rolled browser-side javascript to do its previewing though, so it won't preview any formatting that's done server-side such as your Markdown plugin provides. I had to hack it a bit to get it to place right, too, since it by default had "clear: both" in its hardcoded style, which is just weird and doesn't work in a column style. Oh, and it's anyone's guess whether it works on WP 2.7, since it hasn't been updated since before then.

A friend of mine, who’s in my regular gaming group, has been lugging the Burning Wheel book around with him to all the sessions of both group games we’ve been playing lately

Ah yes, the traditional and subtle "I want to play this" signal. :) If he's game I'd love to read the play reports. Something about BW, probably the meaningful stakes that are involved, makes AP reports really interesting to read.

Judging by a lot of what you’ve said in comments at SOB, and how you described your Burning Wheel session here, I’d probably love having you in my gaming group.

Thanks. That's probably the best gamer compliment there is. I don't know about at-the-table play style compatibility, but we do seem to share the same philosophy of roleplaying. I'm sure we'd have an interesting game of it.


Thursday May 07, 2009 at 09:06 PM

MJ: I read those a week or so back. I like the idea of keeping the game episodic as a way to deal with scheduling. In my own game I'm hesitant to plan out any kind of plot or even episodes, though, since I think I'd find it hard bending my plans to hit PCs' BITRs hard enough. How have you found the interaction between plotting and BITs so far? It wasn't something you spoke to specifically in the posts.


Friday May 08, 2009 at 03:25 AM

@d7: When you're initially learning a new spell, you start out able to cast it at double the normal obstacle cost, and you have to use it N times before you can move onto the next phase of the process. Which naturally means that you're never going to want to actually use it, because it boils down to "you have to knock your fool ass out (and maybe take damage) N times at story-critical junctures". (Remember, the Tax test is Forte vs. obstacle cost.) You'll be forever remembered in the annals of your gaming group as "the Fainting Mage".

And the truly awesome part? If you fail the final test of the spell-learning process, you have to do it all over again. How cool is that?


Friday May 08, 2009 at 03:31 AM

For comparison: IIRC, the spell I used last session was Ob 6, and I managed to knock myself down to 1 Forte in the process. If I'd been rolling against Ob 12, according to the "Overtax section on page 211, I'd have eaten sixty points of physical damage on the Grayscale. Christ.

Given the way the Tax system is set up, I'm thinking that any rule that involves the words "double the obstacle cost" is inherently flawed.


Friday May 08, 2009 at 07:08 AM

Ah, I see what you mean. My answer to that, and pretty much everything that looks punishing in BW, is Artha. Nothing in BW is free (remember the shoes?) and most things are hard to get, so only the things that really matter to a character and that they work for are actually going to be achieved.

To get that new spell, despite the double-Ob and the make-it-or-lose-it final test, you have to go out of your way to earn Artha that you're going to use on those tests. Pile the Artha on when each Sorcery roll is made, get the Artha feedback loop flowing by making those rolls in pursuit of Beliefs, and keep it flowing so that you've got a pile for the next test. If you keep in mind that the Intent is what determines alignment with a Belief, and that any Task (such as a spell) that can plausibly be used to achieve the Intent can be used, you'll figure out how to work spellcasting into more conflicts.

Also, cast Patiently to get a +1D to the Tax roll and Carefully to get a +1D to the Sorcery roll, when you can. Deliberately engineer conflicts where you're casting for Something Important, but the fiction is such that you've got the time to work Patiently and Carefully. (New spells/facets you need for the Engine?) During Readings (which are skill tests, not casting tests) get FoRKs and helping dice in there. A doddering old mage can get help even from an rank apprentice.

Also remember that all those double Ob tests count for advancing Sorcery, and at full value too unlike the double Ob tests when using Beginner's Luck. By the time Practicals is done Sorcery will likely have advanced an exponent, making Second Reading easier. If you're generating and pouring enough Artha onto those tests, it might even shade-shift after doing Practicals for a few new spells. Forte will probably advance for new spells with highish base Obstacles, too. Oh, and Forte only tests against the base obstacle of the spell, not the double Ob penalty.

It's worth noting too that Abstracted spells, like the one Basilio cast (which was Ob 5 I think), are generally of a higher Ob than an equivalent standard spell would have, due to the extra flexibility of on-the-fly Abstractions. Fortunately, learning new Facets uses the Facet's Ob instead of a full spell's Ob, so those will tend to be easier to learn than standard spells.

Note too that First and Second Reading are both at the spell's standard Ob, not doubled, so they'd be easy to make with even Basilio's starting Will and Sorcery dice pool, especially if there's a Deeds point reserved for the test. Basilio also has the uncommon advantage of a Call-On for Sorcery up his sleeve.

Basically, saying "I want my sorceror to learn a new spell" is like pushing a big red button labelled Juice Me Up. And, whenever you see something in BW that looks like its Obstacle is set too high, the system is really just asking, "What are you willing to do for this?"


Friday May 08, 2009 at 08:29 AM

OK, if the Forte and Reading tests are against the non-doubled Ob, then the wacky zaniness is largely avoided. Never mind.


Friday May 08, 2009 at 08:40 AM

Thanks for the information and encouragement, d7.

I think I'll skip the Live Comment Preview plugin. It clearly violates my most important rule for picking new plugins to use: that they not increase the amount of mucking about in the spaghetti PHP that is WordPress' innards. Including a little mucking about isn't necessarily a deal-breaker, but it has to be no more mucking about in the innards than what it replaces.

apotheon’s last blog post: PPR: Whitechapel Gods

MJ Harnish

Friday May 08, 2009 at 08:37 PM

How have you found the interaction between plotting and BITs so far? It wasn’t something you spoke to specifically in the posts.

I've been kind of vague because my players read my blog and I want to keep them in the dark about certain elements. However, my plotting has been really minimal: I generally only come up with a few key scenes I want to use and then let the players actions and interests drive the rest.

My use of BITs has been a bit more subtle so far because my players are still getting the hang of the system and how to push their own agendas. Hence the story has been introducing elements that are targeting their beliefs (e.g., Corvin's move to become a major player in the town fits right in to his belief about his brother, while Gator's belief about his arcane heritage has been pushing him to explore the north and was brought to the forefront during the scene in the village where they learned of the lost tower. Oh, and my prostitute love interest is going to beat on one our ranger's beliefs. In terms of plotting, only the "tower in the north" is part of my idea about introducing new elements in to the game.

I think I'm going to use Art magic from the Magic Burner for Gator instead of the regular BW rules because it will give him more flexibility (at the cost of some raw power) which fits the player's actual desires better.

MJ Harnish’s last blog post: “Talk to your players” in the age of the Blogosphere


Saturday May 09, 2009 at 03:04 PM

As a small correction to d7's comment, First Reading and Second Reading don't use Spell Weaver - it's just a Sorcery skill test, although you could get help (say from a mentor) or fork in an appropriate wise or academic skill.

And character burning gets much faster after the first couple times.


Saturday May 09, 2009 at 08:56 PM

Thanks for the clarification, stormsweeper. I correctly realised that Readings don't count as casting and therefore don't face the double-Ob penalty, but I didn't also realise that, not being a casting, it would be a straight Sorcery skill roll.

I expect character burning will go much quicker with experience, if only from a better understanding of the wide variety of character concepts that BW makes possible. If any game can make playing a simple farmhand interesting (apart from straight-up simulationist play), I think it's Burning Wheel.


Monday May 11, 2009 at 06:29 PM

Thanks so much for this post. I had never heard of Burning Wheel, but after this I've ordered the books and have been reading everything I've been able to get ahold of. This system sounds like it can make for some really epic character driven stories with a lot of player input. While you can do that in other systems, it really sounds like this system is built around that as its core ideal.


Sunday May 17, 2009 at 06:04 AM

Welcome, Mythin. I'm glad to have been the bringer of gifts! I stumbled onto Burning Wheel in much the same way when I was looking for an alternative to (A)D&D last November, and I did the same thing: read everything I could and got the books at the first opportunity. There's a lot of great AP reports out there, and the reviews at are worth reading.

One thing I've found with the system is that, how it's written, it doesn't lend itself well to being referenced during play. Having run two sessions, it occurred to me that I'm going to have to keep re-reading the book, playing, and re-reading the parts I was unsure of after each time I play. It's really not a read-once-and-play system, but I think mastering the system will be really rewarding.

I only mention it because I've found that, as an adult gamer, I don't tend to read my rulebooks for pleasure anymore. At best I read them through once, and sometimes I only skim before playing so I know where to find things during the game. Burning Wheel really needs to be absorbed over many readings. Fortunately I enjoy Luke's writing style.

I hope you have a chance to play it enough to get to that epic stuff. I'm looking forward to using the system enough to get there myself.

Mike Lucas

Tuesday May 26, 2009 at 10:46 PM

Awesome report d7! Thanks for writing it. Please keep it up and maybe post a link on the BW forums too.

For the spell failure, I think you did an awesome job narrating the failure and making the complication interesting. However, I would caution that you should normally keep the failure complication somehow related to what happened (in BW terms, to the "task") -- I don't think Carmino's presence in the office could have been caused by the spell or its failure, so that doesn't quite make sense to me. Let me know if you want more explanation. It's talked about a fair bit in this thread: starting on post #5.

I think you did the Beginner's Luck versus test right. Note that if your opponent has the skill and you don't, you count his successes as double.


Tuesday May 26, 2009 at 11:15 PM

Thanks for the kind words and the link! I did post a link on the BW forums, but there wasn't much of a response. Which is okay—I've gotten a lot of good feedback anyway, and I don't expect huge AP reports to be that compelling to regular forum readers.

I get what you mean about the task failure vs the intent failure. This did feel like reaching a bit, but I went for it anyway since I had nothing better. I figure that it's better to muddle along and see how it works than to miss a chance at learning what works and doesn't. I'm still getting a feel for what failure should look like, but the best advice I've latched onto since is to imagine both success and failure before calling for the roll or even setting the obstacle. I think working out clearer and more substantial Intents beforehand will make that more interesting/easier, too.

(Now I'll go read that thread...)


Tuesday May 26, 2009 at 11:56 PM

Aha. I'd read that thread before, but I noticed something this time through that didn't mean anything to me then: I can grant the player's Intent even if a player fails the roll for the Task, but then it comes with an additional cost. I had remembered that principle as allowing me to introduce a "complication" instead of "cost", which is a subtle but significant difference.

So, Carmino being present is a valid complication of attempting to break into his office, but it's not an appropriate cost. A proper cost would have been something like having the spell leave behind an aura with Basilio's "sorcerous fingerprint" on the door. Now he has successfully broken into the office, but it comes at the cost of a significant chance of discovery even if he's not caught in the act. That would have been cool, and completely changed the direciton of the game.

To cement "cost" in my head instead of "complication", it helps to remind myself that Burning Wheel is a game of consequences and risks. Unanticipated costs to actions demand further choices about acceptable consequences and risks, while vague complications just, well, complicate the scene. Costs are much more focused on the player's decisions and the character's values.

Thanks so much for pointing that out!

Mike Lucas

Wednesday May 27, 2009 at 03:13 AM

Wow, thanks ... I don't think I ever quite got that stuff about the cost of the complication before ... not bad considering you've only played one session. I think BW is in your blood!


Wednesday May 27, 2009 at 04:11 AM

I've been reading about Burning Wheel for several months now, so I'm surprised it's not leaking out my ears. I've drunk deeply of the kool-aid. ;)

None of that substitutes for playing and getting this great feedback, though. I've absorbed the principles well, I think, but it's interesting to see how and which of my old habits and assumptions are still following me into the sessions.


Saturday May 30, 2009 at 03:40 PM

Sounds like you were meant to play BW! I've hardly seen anyone take to it so well, and that's meant as a compliment to you, not a strike against BW.

Do note the rules on bolstering your Forte with Will dice for Tax tests on abstractions. Those will save your bacon, and earn you some choice Forte tests, as well! In fact, between Casting Carefully and Patiently and bolstering Forte against Tax with Will, my abstraction-using player ensured that he got a Difficult or Challenging Sorcery and Forte test every single time he cast an abstraction. He chewed through his artha (which was fine by him, as he wanted to gray out his Sorcery), but he hit Forte B7 and Sorcery B7 incredibly fast, and drove the story in all sorts of interesting directions.

Hope to hear more of your APs!


Saturday May 30, 2009 at 09:17 PM

Thanks! I've been absorbing as much wisdom on playing BW as possible to prepare for these sessions. (Read as "months of drooling over AP reports and the BW forums before I could finally convince anyone to give it a try.") My hope is to impress my player(s) with the strengths of the system, so minimising my own mistakes is important to make it really shine!

I skimmed over the basic sorcery and the Magic Burner abstraction rules again, but I can't find anything about using Will dice to resist Tax, apart from the recurring Tax tests that come from sustaining an abstraction. Am I overlooking the page, or have you accidentally houseruled your game? If the latter, it's a good houserule for a world with less punishing magic that I'll keep in mind. ;)

We did overlook Carefully and Patiently, and those would have really been useful. Doing it "wrong" did help us get into the system quick by getting our hands dirty right away, though I would have preferred a smoother start. In hindsight I think we should have stuck with the basic sorcery rules for our first session. Abstractions are cool, but I think learning a variant system and the basic system at the same time was biting off more than we could chew. Abstractions really do suit the setting though...

More AP reports are on the way! I ran a burning session last weekend for a new three-player game that will have its first real session next weekend, so I should have something exciting to write about soon. So far there are some reservations about the up-front work to making characters, but they already see how front-loading that work could seriously pay off. I almost ran The Sword last weekend instead just so we could get to the good stuff right away, but they were so keen on the world burning that I didn't even get the chance to suggest it!