(Realise this is quite a lot of questions for just one forum post, can split these up into separate posts if requested)
Was just thinking what questions I’d ask Luke if I had an hour of his time. I’ve been reading the books, lurking in forums, reading online articles and watching Youtube videos on and off for several years now (since about 2006). Also recently have played a few sessions of Burning Wheel, as well as pulling some stuff out of it for use in other games we’ve been playing (Mostly beliefs).
These questions are not criticisms, just things I’ve been curious about and a couple I just thought up now. In fact, I’m known as a kind of evangelical preacher of the great truth that is Burning Wheel amongst my friends that play RPGs.
Hubs & Spokes Questions
- Why not use a stat plus skill mechanic? (e.g. like in Shadowrun)[/b]
- That would be unnecessarily complicated. The mechanic as it works now reduces look up time, as well as time spent adding skills and stats together to work out dice pools.
- Stat + Skill would lead to big handfuls of dice.
- It would interfere with the advancement mechanics: which would get to record the test? Stat or skill?
- Because that’s the way it is, bud.
Because I’ve yet to see one that worked.
2. Why do disadvantages add to Ob, but advantages add a die? Why not just make advantages subtract from the Ob? Why is there a limit of 1 advantage die? Why make many social tests versus the target’s Will as an Ob rather than just use a versus test (e.g. When trying to lie to someone or persuade them)?
- It keeps things simple.
- Getting an extra dice feels like getting an advantage (there is a physical extra dice in your hand). The Ob being raised feels like a disadvantage.
That said, it seems to give disadvantages a bigger clout than advantages, as an added die is only 50% the strength (assuming black shaded stats/skills) of +1 Ob. On the other hand, it gives the game a feel of “when complications come up, they’ll make life difficult”. A “gritty” feel.
Luke’s answer:Because Burning Wheel is about living in a hard world in hard times with hard people. If you want to succeed, you have to commit all of your resources.
3. What was the design philosophy behind the 6 primary stats (Will, Perception, Power, Forte, Speed and Agility) used in Burning Wheel? Why not have Willpower and Social/Charisma (and even Magic) as separate stats? Why not have Perception and Knowledge/Intellect as separate stats? Why call it Perception instead of Intelligence?
- 6 stats keeps it simple while covering most of the stuff that needs to be covered in a fantasy RPG.
Six just made sense for the world. It’s not perfect, but six core stats gives the character a nice broad base of functionality and lets lots of skills grow organically from there. Three stat systems suck. Sorry Mouse Guard and Torchbearer! Given how frequently you test in BW, three core stats would advance too quickly. More than six core stats just becomes unwieldy.
4. Having Stats, Skills and Obs ranging between 1-10 makes them a little “grainy”. Going from 3 to 4 in a stat, for example, is a pretty big leap. Why not have Obs and Stats go from 1 to 20 (for example)?
- 1-10 is an intuitive scale.
- Having Stats of 13 and such would lead to massive handfuls of dice, especially with extra dice from things like FoRKs, helping and advantage.
- The shades (black, grey and white) allow for a wide range of power levels even with Stats being only 1-10
20 dice is both too big of a conceptual range and too many dice to corral in one hand.
[/u][/b]5. Why not have Steel tests made against variable Obs set by the GM like all other tests (though the advantages and disadvantages in the Steel chapter pretty much make them variable Ob tests, though tending to be quite high)?
- That’s what we found works best at the table.
- It stops fights being to the death most times, as usually opponents are knocked about by failing Steel tests rather than being incapacitated by their wounds (though the same could be done by just making Steel tests for wounds high Ob).
Luke’s answer:Two reasons: It gives BW a stealthy objective reality about what’s really scary. And we all think we are way more brave than we actually are. We all think we won’t shit our pants during that initial artillery bombardment, but most of us soil our undergarments. We all think we’d never surrender, but most of us surrender. Even Sir DeCoucy surrendered in the end.
6. In many martial arts, including Western martial arts, there is the idea that every attack incorporates a form of defence, and every defence contains a form of attack, but in the Fight rules Strike is only opposed by the defender if they script some sort of defensive action (Block, Block & Strike, Counterstrike). It’s as if anyone making any other kind of action (Strike, Great Strike, Disarm, Feint etc) would be making little attempt to defend themselves. Why’s that?
- It makes scripting choices more tense and exciting, as scripting a Strike at the right time (and likewise for other actions) can give a big advantage.
- Fight is not supposed to be an exact blow by blow simulation of real combat, but to simulate the chaos of battle.
Luke’s answer:Martial philosophies are nice until you’re fighting for your life against someone who doesn’t fight like you do. Real fighting is complete chaos and terror (unless you’re a psychopath, then it’s simply chaos). I wanted to nuke the myth of heroic fighting and reduce all fights into a world of unknowns. It’s telling that this system is universally reviled. Most people who love the game won’t touch the fighting system. Oh well!
7. Are there any other subsystems you’ve used at your table but not put into the books? What other types of subsystems do you think would be cool but haven’t thought of a way to implement? Is there any subsystem in Burning Wheel that you don’t actually use that much in your games?
Luke’s answer:No. We play by the rules, books in hand.
8. Why do lifepaths have a set number of years? Why not just have formula to work out how many skill, trait, resource points etc you get from a lifepath per year, so characters can walk lifepaths for varying amounts of time? Not everyone is going to be an Armorer for exactly 10 years (or multiples of 10 if the lifepath is taken more than once). Also, why not introduce something like “life events”: things that happened to the character that had a big impact (e.g. serious illness, death of a loved one, addiction, winning the lottery, living through a revolution), in addition to lifepaths?
- It keeps things simple.
- Because that would be insanely complicated.
- Some lifepath skills cannot be learnt in a single year.
- Because that’s how it is, bud.
One variant idea on lifepaths is that each year you walk a particular lifepath opens up certain skills and traits as available to a character. Simple skills can be bought in the early years, with more complex, esoteric skills becoming available to a character only after walking a lifepath for a certain number of years. But this would be pretty bloody complicated.
Another idea would to make a short and long form of each lifepath. The short form is for characters who just dip in to a lifepath for a year or so, and wouldn’t give access to as broad a range of skills/traits. The longer form for those who work to learn the a much fuller range of skills associated with a lifepath.
Luke’s answer:Because math is hard and that system is too simplistic and gameable and it’d reduce everyone to a formula. Those individual lifepaths with their little quirks are exciting. It’s fun to stroll down those paths and discover things you never knew about your character.
9. What were the exact origins of Burning Wheel? Was it purely a Shadowrun hack? What was it like in the early days (pre-classic)?
-I’ve heard Luke say that it was an attempt to make a system which countered his GM “sins”, like railroading.
Luke’s answer:I wanted to create a game that reinforced the best of how we play at our table. I wanted a game that rewarded the stuff we liked and dropped the rest.
10. What kind of hacks or developments to the Burning Wheel system would you like to see in the future? What hacks or additions to the game from the Burning Wheel community do you particularly like?
- I get the idea that there is no plans in the immediate future to bring anything new out for Burning Wheel core rules (something like a Gold Adventure Burner for example).
Luke’s answer:I would like to see folks dive in deep into Burning Wheel Gold and really play the hell out of it.
11. What kind of settings besides the published settings (Jihad, Under a Serpent Sun, The Blossoms are Falling, Burning Empires, Mouse Guard, Torchbearer) has BWHQ played with these rules? Are there any other settings you’ve thought would be cool, but you never got round to fleshing out? Do you ever play one-shots or short campaigns using the Burning Wheel system (in other settings) without bothering to fully flesh out lifepaths and other details?
Luke’s answer:My house setting. We posted some lifepaths from it a few years ago. We’ve played a bunch of good games, there. And our Death of the Fire God campaign world was really fun. Mayuran’s Earthsea setting was great. We usually make up a setting for a campaign and play. I liked our Norman Sicily game a lot. But Rich and Thor were too delicate to live in that world of constant compromise and brutal combat!
I’ve long contested that your homebrew settings are better than anything I could ever give you. I’m only interested in settings if I really have something to say about the world and how it works. If you want reading material, there are a billion other setting books you can buy and flip through.
12. What other systems out there do you especially admire in terms of their system design (both recently released and “Old School”)? What do you like about them?
- Big fan of Moldvay D&D
- Has spoken about enjoying Shadowrun, Star Wars D6 and Pendragon, among others, back in the day.
I like RPGs.
A lot of RPGs a lot. Not like John Harper a lot. But maybe more than most.
WEG Star Wars
Paranoia 1st Ed
Shadow Run 1st Ed
With Great Power…
Dogs in the Vineyard
My Life with Master
I dunno. Stuff. I like well-designed games. Or I like poorly designed games that I can pull apart and tinker with. But mostly just well-designed games.
While I’m here, would heartily recommend this interview/conversation with Luke: