Underwhelmed by Burning Wheel

You know, I'm just not really that impressed by Beliefs or Instincts.  (People tend to clump them in with Traits in some sort of "OMGORZ GAME MECHANICS" trifecta, but really now, Traits are nothing new.)

(I predict that right now many readers, such as Daniel, will be yelling at their computer screens, or possibly throwing things at them.  If you aren't you might want to start.  It'll be cathartic.)

Beliefs are good, I guess.  They're a mega-Flag.  I like Flags, at least on a theoretical level.

Instincts are okay, but there's issues.  For one, the idea of Instincts-as-Action-Macro gives some a mechanical edge, ("When suprised, I draw my sword" gives the owner a number of free actions, which is quite advantageous in Fight!), but there's no hard and fast guideline for what's a legal instinct and what's not.

(Example- an instinct "I always hit him in the head," which would ignore the standard wound-targetting system.  More powerful than many of the instincts given as examples?  I don't think so.  Legal?   Certainly a legal die-trait, but I don't know if it's a legal Instinct)

But what it's really about, is what I'm looking for out of Burning Wheel, and that is Exploration of System.  BW's got a massive, massive ammount of System to Explore.  However, when you make characters and go from spending skill and trait points to picking Beliefs, you've jumped from Exploration of System to Exploration of Character, and for every character I've burned up this has been like suddenly shifting into reverse while going 60 down the freeway.  Unless I had some ideas already in mind, it all just stops and chargen shuts down.


One thought on “Underwhelmed by Burning Wheel

  1. Daniel says:

    Instincts are pretty simple, as far as what they can and can not be. An instinct can’t replace a die roll. In your first example, you’ve got a fellah drawing his sword before combat starts because that’s his instinct. That’s cool. However, always hitting someone in the head is replacing a die roll mechanic and that’s not acceptable. Your instinct can be, “I always strike for the head” such that unless otherwise stated, you’re always going to allocate one hit success to striking the head. Though I don’t see much point to that.

    BITs (and yes, that includes traits) are the most important parts of the game not only because they’re flags that inform play, but also because they’re the core of the reward system. They let the player tell the GM exactly what they’re going to be rewarded for and give both the player and the GM a means of repeatedly pounding the things that interest the player. If you don’t get that, you need to reread the Artha section. It took me a bit to fully understand their value, too.

    Let’s take a look at Yasenji’s BITs, for example. All you gave us starting off is that we were going to be galley slaves on a pirate ship. So I made BITs that reflect that and allow me to be rewarded for it:

    1 – Freedom is the highest ideal; I will escape this ship.

    2 – The slave-master kills good men; he will die by my hand.

    3 – My family needs me; I will not leave this ship empty handed.

    Now, I’ve told you what I want the game to be about. I also know that I’m going to get a Persona point when I do each of three things: Escape the ship, take something valuable back for my family, and kill the slave master. ‘Cause those are all things I want to do. In addition, you’re going to give me a Fate point every time I pursue one of my Beliefs in a way that creates further story for everyone. That’s like the whole game right there.

    1 – Always pocket things of value.
    2 – When a slave is threatened, always try to draw the attention to yourself.
    3 – Always keep your back to the exit.

    Only one of those is mechanical (3), but they all will product Artha when I use them to get myself into trouble. You’ll give me a Fate point every time one of them screws my character in some way. That’s creating story, and I’m getting rewarded for it! Woo hoo!

    The same goes for Traits, apart from their other mechanical significance. In fact, it’s the only significance of character traits. When they put your character into conflict, you get Fate points. When I choose to have my character get drunk off his ass at an inopportune time, or when he’s taking commands at the tip of a lash, you’re giving me Fate points.

    They’re not just flags, they’re a very important reward system for seeking out conflicts with your character. But wait, that’s not all. Let’s take a look at the character advancement system. That system says that no skills or stats can get higher than a 5 without requiring many, dangerous, failed rolls unless you spend Artha on them. Some abilities (those that require successful rolls to raise) can ONLY be raised if you spend Artha on them.

    In BW, exploration of character and exploration of system are the same thing. If you can’t manipulate the system, your charater’s going to suck. You can only manipulate the system by creating a character that’s rife with conflict, flawed, and flavorful.

    Bearing all that in mind, I can’t see why anyone would NOT rave about BITs.

    As far as your disconnect with looking at system and then looking at character (which I think is hyperbolic, at best), that’s why you’re supposed to have a character concept before you start picking lifepaths and applying numbers. Hell, I generally have a pretty good idea of what I want my Beliefs to be before I choose my first lifepath, as I did with Yasenji. The situation you presented and the general idea I had in my head informed those decisions about what I’d like him to be about.


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