Whiff Factor in Burning Wheel

It’s been a long time since I’ve complained about something for no reason.  Time for a rant.

The Whiff Factor is too high in Burning Wheel.

Let’s say you’re running a game, and there’s a fight.  You’ve got an extended conflict-resolution system (say, most combat systems) in place, and lots of people are taking lots of actions.  When it’s your turn, something should happen, right?

In a lot of systems, something doesn’t always happen.  That’s what leads to boring fights with “I hit… I miss… I hit… I miss.”  Those “I miss” turns are boring- nothing changes.  The game-state is the same as it was before.  The “I hit” turns are better- you’re wearing down the opponent, but an exercise in attrition is still pretty boring.

The best fights I’ve run or played were those were the game-state was constantly changing.  D&D 4th is actually often surprisingly good for this with the tactical map- even if you’ve got turns of hit/miss/hit/miss, there are lots of monster and character types that like to move around for tactical opportinities.  Those fights are pretty interesting- where can you position yourself for maximum benefit?  The answer changes from turn to turn.  I ran an Exalted game with abstract positioning that due to the stunting of the players, moved from place to place during the fight, and had a real great wuxia-feel.  An often in Awesome Adventures (or Spirit of the Century), you’ll see an expenditure of Fate chips (and therefore a display of awesome.)

And, sometimes Burning Wheel is like this.  The Fight! rules have a lot of tension to them, trying to figure out what the enemy is going to do.  But then you get turns like Block/Block where nothing happens.  You can get entire exchanges where nothing happens.  And that is all the more likely due to armor.

When I ran the demo scenario the Gift at Oshcon in 2007, I ran into this.  The scenario features a Dwarven prince with decent armor, and an Elven prince with very rare mithral armor.  The whole scenario is pretty much about the dwarves wanting the mithral.

Our game featured a duel between the princes.  Such an epic fight cried out to use the Fight! rules, so use them we did.  What a mistake.  The way armor works is you roll a number of dice (and in this case, we were talking like 4-5), and if any come up 4 or higher, you deflect the attack entirely!  (Some attacks might need more successes.)  But your armor might degrade- which I’ve found to be a mitigator in less high-level fights.  But these were high-quality armors, which made them highly unlikely to degrade.  We called the fight as soon as one of the combatants (the Dwarf) got a good hit in, but the fight could have been still far-from over.

So yeah, I think the whiff-factor is huge, especially when things like armor come into play.  Kind of annoying, and drags out Fights!  Other than that, the scenario was pretty awesome (especially with Sara joining mid-session as crazy Auntie Oxen.)

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One thought on “Whiff Factor in Burning Wheel

  1. oberonthefool says:

    I am of the general opinion that the whiff factor is too high in almost every game I’ve ever played. In fact, I’d like to see it removed from the lexicon of game design entirely.

    DRYH is a great counterexample (except when I forget to make the stakes of a roll clear before the dice hit the table, d’oh!). There are others. But in general, a game with an even moderate whiff factor is a game I am unlikely to enjoy.

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