Grokking Burning Wheel

It’s fascinating to me how Burning Wheel—a game that i could barely wrap my brain around the first 2 or 3 times i read it—is starting to click reasonably well. The writing style is still occasionally annoying, but not nearly as excessive as i remembered—I was obviously conflating the original and revised editions. It still could use a little clarity—I love some of the work done on Beliefs since it was published, frex.

Anyway, this is about those few things that still haven’t fallen into place for me, yet. I’m not sure if it’s me or the rules, and i’ll comment or edit this as I figure it out or get answers.

grief tests: so, whenever one of those things happens, roll grief? or treat it as if a grief test had been made, for purposes of advancement?
but if grief is never actually rolled–not *actually* tested–why does shade matter?
Is there a particular reason that the repetitive checks required by Fight!, Range&Cover, and Duel of Wits (and perhaps other detailed subsystems–haven’t read everything yet) don’t contradict the Let It Ride rule? That is, do you see the constant changes of the situation, due to the opponent(s) actions, as causing conditions to “legitimately and drastically change”? (So it’s not actually a contradiction.) Or is it simply that you consider these scenes/activities sufficiently interesting [to the players] to merit ignoring the spirit of Let It Ride? Or some 3rd possibility I didn’t think of? 
I’m just trying to get a feel for how the rules are intended to be played–how you wrote them–because, to me, the change from tracking your quarry across the wilderness to tracking them in the city is a much bigger change of circumstances than the fact that your opponent is now parrying instead of lunging, yet the former is explicitly cited as an example of when not to reroll, and the latter would explicitly involve a new roll. Or, even more significantly, if two opponents happened to script strike, strike vs block, block, we’d see the exact same situation repeated in rapid succession, but be rolling for it both times.
Or should i think of it that an entire use of Fight! (or the other special subsystems) is the detailed equivalent of a single test, and there just doesn’t happen to be equivalent systems for detailing/expanding wise or tracking or climbing or whatever tests in a similar way?
And i’m sure this wouldn’t be such an egregious issue, if i didn’t find combat boring as all heck, and things like research or cat-n-mouse games much more fun to roleplay out. So, yes, it’s our game ultimately, and if we want to modify Let It Ride to allow multiple tests with less significant changes of circumstances than you would employ, obviously we can. But I’m trying to get into your head and understand the *intended* interpretation of the rules, so that we can at least try it that way, before we go modifying things. 

 

Grief Tests

So, whenever one of those things happens, roll Grief? or treat it as if a Grief test had been made (but don’t actually roll anything), for purposes of advancement?

But if Grief is never actually rolled—not actually tested—why does shade matter? And if it is rolled for Grief tests, what do failures and successes mean?

Let It Ride

Is there a particular reason that the repetitive checks required by Fight!, Range&Cover, and Duel of Wits (and perhaps other detailed subsystems—haven’t read everything yet) don’t contradict the Let It Ride rule?

I can think of several possible explanations:

  1. The constant changes of the situation, due to the opponent(s) actions, means conditions “legitimately and drastically change”. So it’s not actually a contradiction.
  2. These scenes/activities are sufficiently interesting [to the players] to merit ignoring the spirit [and letter] of Let It Ride.
  3. An entire Fight!/DoW/R&C scene is, essentially, “one test”, just with a lot more detail in the results. So it doesn’t violate the Let It Ride rule, because it’s only “one test” that produces “one result”, even if it is a whole lot of rolling to get there.

I’m just trying to get a feel for how the rules are intended to be played. What’s written feels hugely inconsistent, but it may be just a playstyle issue. To me, the change from tracking your quarry across the wilderness to tracking them in the city is a much bigger change of circumstances than the fact that your opponent is now parrying instead of lunging, yet the former is explicitly cited as an example of when not to reroll, and the latter would explicitly involve a new roll. Or, even more significantly, if two opponents happened to script strike, strike vs block, block, we’d see the exact same situation repeated in rapid succession, but be rolling for it both times.

But it might not be about consistency—it might be about interest: There aren’t equivalent systems for detailing/expanding Wises or tracking or climbing or whatever tests in a similar way, because there’s less interest, in general, among RPers. In which case, since combat usually bores me to tears—and the more detail, the more boring—while I find things like research or cat-n-mouse games much more fun to play out, I should just use Bloody Versus for combat, and use the extended test rules all the time for things like tracking, and it’ll be just as much in the spirit of the rulesas Fight! is—and no more, or less, of a a contradiction.

So, yes, it’s our game ultimately, and if we want to modify Let It Ride to allow multiple tests with less significant changes of circumstances than you would employ, obviously we can. But I’m trying to get into Luke’s head and understand the intended interpretation of the rules, so that we can at least try it that way, before we go modifying things—and so that any modifications are in the right spirit. Because I would rather try playing the way the rules intend, than just warp the rules to be in the same playstyle as everything else i play. Part of the appeal is playing something that is different. 

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7 comments on “Grokking Burning Wheel

  1. woodelf says:

    Open Tests
    I see lots of descriptions of open tests, especially in info-gathering situations, that talk about an unsuccessful roll giving the player misleading info. Does this mean that the minimum obstacle to get correct info is kept hidden from the player? Or does it rely on the player know it was a failed test, but playing their character as if they think they know more than they do?

  2. woodelf says:

    Skill Questions
    Some skills show up in a lifepath, but are mentioned nowhere else: Digging, Bowman Training, Corporal Punishment Discipline Training, maybe a couple others that I’m forgetting. There’s also one instance of “Animal Husbandry”, but the skill description says that there is no such skill—only “dog husbandry”, “horse husbandry”, etc.
    Perhaps Tail-wise is intended to be roden-only? (Or, at least, only for stocks that have tails?)
    Is Ratiquette referring to literal, or metaphorical, rats?
    And, while I’m at it: “gaol” and “attiliator”? OK there isn’t really a modern word (as opposed to phrase) for the latter, but there’s something wrong with “jail” and “jailor” and so on? And yet the love of archaic terms apparently doesn’t include “chandler”—a comparatively-well-known term.

  3. woodelf says:

    I think I found the answers on Let It Ride: Yes, it’s partly what the author finds interesting, and DoW, etc., allow multiple rolls because they are seen as valuable enough/interesting enough situations to make an exception, breaking a single larger task down into multiple smaller tasks.
    Also, see http://www.burningwheel.org/forum/showthread.php?t=2832 (especially post #9) and http://www.burningwheel.org/forum/showthread.php?t=5826 and http://www.burningwheel.org/forum/showthread.php?t=1946 and http://www.burningwheel.org/forum/showthread.php?t=2015 (post #5) and http://www.burningwheel.org/forum/showthread.php?t=2097 (post #2).
    So, on the one hand, yes, it’s partly a matter of avoiding rerolls that are boring and/or just rerolls for the sake of re-rolling. But, on the other hand, it’s not completely consistent, or, at least, the author’s conceptions of “boring” and mine don’t perfectly match up. Also, we don’t agree on what constitutes a “meaningful change” in circumstances. But i still want to try it his way, rather than assume I won’t like it.

  4. woodelf says:

    Grief Answers
    My initial reading turns out to be correct: gray Grief just doesn’t make much difference mechanically. Because you basically never roll Grief: you definitely don’t for Grief tests, and while there might be some unusual instances when you do, I haven’t found them yet.
    On the other hand, it should make a significant difference in roleplaying.

    • Mactheterrible says:

      I’m very late to the game when it comes to Burning Wheel, but I’m interested in running a game and am trying to ‘eat up’ all the comments and discussion on the web that I can find.

      The Grief mechanic is a bit confusing to me, as well. I’m still trying to understand it. If an exponent 10 Grief leads to your character being forever lost to it, why would you even want to advance it at all? What’s the point? Am I forced to advance it, or does a successful test mean that you reduce it? Or do you have a choice?

      For the shades, however, it actually makes sense to me. The rules state that you can blow a Deeds point to add your Grief dice equivalent to a single test. These dice also count as open-ended. So, let’s say your Grief is G5. You’ve got to kill this guy and save the princess or whatever, so you pop a deeds point on your last attack and add 5 Gray, open-ended dice to your pool. That’s pretty powerful!

      • woodelf says:

        To clarify my above comment, based on various other discussions I’d read before that, and since, you don’t roll Grief. Or, at least, if there’s an instance when you do other than the spending of a Deeds point, I haven’t found it yet, in a year of playing the game.

        [And, on that point, there’s a slight ambiguity: it says you add the “Grief attribute dice” to the roll. In every other instance where you add some other dice to the roll, it is very clear that they take on the shade of the primary stat being tested. This is the only instance I can recall where it is ambiguous as to whether you are actually rolling those dice, or adding that many dice. So, it might be that, even then, the shade of your Grief doesn’t matter, because you’d use whatever shade of the thing you’re adding the Grief dice to. OTOH, this does sound like an exception in more ways than one, so I’d probably let those dice keep their shade, but without changing the shade of the rest of the dice in the roll. I’m just not sure that’s what the rules actually say.]

        Now, as for advancing your Grief: from a gamist standpoint, you *don’t* want to advance it. It’s a narrativist structure, giving your character a story arc. And it advances whether you want it to or not. Whenever one of those things on the list comes up (or, of course, something similar that seems appropriate), you count it as a test having been made, without rolling any dice. Enough of those things occur (in the right combination–just like when rolling the dice, you can’t subsitute a challenging test for a routine, or vice versa), and your Grief goes up. And, to reiterate, you don’t actually roll for Grief tests–you just check them off when the event occurs. So there’s no such thing as a “successful”–or “failed”–Grief test, so that question is moot.

        So, the reason you would *want* to advance it is because it makes for cool roleplaying and a tragic, doomed character. If you don’t want that, you probably want to play something other than an elf. The whole point of elves is their tragic nature–not their cool superpowers. Unlike in many other RPGs. Grief doesn’t make you more powerful.

        Does that get your head into the right place to understand it?

  5. Mactheterrible says:

    Yeah, that makes sense. I follow what you’re saying. Not having played any Burning Wheel yet, I am still attempting to understand its base mechanics in ‘theory,’ without the assistance of actually playing it. I hope to do that soon.

    Thanks for the insight. You’ve been playing Burning Wheel for a year-ish? How have you found the system and the campaign? You may have already blogged about this and I may have missed it, but I’d be interested to know.

    My gaming group and I have come to a “crossroads” with the typical D&D campaigns and all of its similar counterparts. We’re pretty solid role-players, but we’ve been indoctrinated by modern gaming and MMORPGs and the like to become, what I would judge as, obsessive concerning combat. We’re not a “kill and check for loot” party, but we’re closer to that than I’d like. So I’ve been in the process of exploring more independent systems that focus on story, theme, and role-playing over combat – without completely trumping combat entirely.

    The two that have most intrigued me are Burning Wheel and Wild Talents. We’ve just begun a Wild Talents game (the theme being a sort of Mass Effect/Space Sci-Fi mashup as opposed to the superhero theme the system presetns) and will play our next session in about a week. I’ve been crafting my Burning Wheel setting and hope to fire up a game of it in the next couple of months.

    Anyway, I appreciate your reply.

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