Advancement question

Advancement system is only thing I really don’t like about BW. I mean I can handle it but players not so much. We played about 20 game sessions and every time is troublesome, game slows down, somebody forget to write thing up etc. So the question to all of you BW experts. Would BW be ruined if I’d introduce Mouse Guard style of advancement with pass/fail distinction only? Characters would possibly advance quicker but it’s good thing as we often play short mini-campaigns. Artha could still change outcome of roll but after we mark it for advancement so fail rolls are still fail as advancement goes even if player uses Artha to boost it to success after afterward.
Is there anything I’m missing? I don’t want to mess with this delicate reward system before consulting BW community. And if this question was answered before in different topic I apologize.

It takes a bit to get used to, but eventually it is second nature. Maybe try a few ideas first to coax them along the path. This is the only one I remember…

Someone suggested poker chips or other tokens as rewards for tests [This works with Artha too, and encourages people to spend them]. When someone does a test, look at their dice and Ob and throw them the right chip for the skill/stat. They check their sheet and if needed for advancement, mark it down. Remember, one check per scene, per skill, so make them pile up in front of a PC as the scene progresses.

The advancement system is one of those things that is highly dependent on how much the players buy into it. It’s really a matter of getting into the right mindset. If the players go into the game thinking of test logging as just another detail to keep track of, then it really will become exactly that. But if they go into it thinking of tests as “the lasting manifestation of this one awesome experience that my character had and the effect that it had on him as a person”, then the system shouldn’t cause to much problems.

20 sessions and folks are still struggling?

Are people having trouble with the chart, or with remembering to mark it at all? Because if it’s the latter, a MG style thing won’t fix it - you still have to remember to mark success/fail along the way.


Guys, I don’t need tips about using BW rules regarding marking down test for advancement. I appreciate all comments but I would really like somebody answer my question. Would using MG advancement in BW ruined reward cycle and if there would be any unforeseen repercussions that would hurt our gaming experience?

@yeloson - they struggling cause we’re playing every now and then, mostly short camopaigns and than jump into new game systems to back for more BW six months later; and yes, it’s charts, no way they remember it. Just thinking maybe simple and intuitive pass/fail would solve it.

Pass/fail advancement of the MG variety will be slower than stock advancement when exponents go over 4. To advance to 6 in vanilla BW, you’d need 4 tests, versus 9 for MG-style.

You’d also need to tweak Resources to work more like MG. Not sure what you could do about Perception and Faith.

Beginner’s Luck would also be tricky. In vanilla it’s an important way to get stat tests.

Ok, if it’s just the charts then pass/fail can work.


  • You can mark down types of tests for them and just do advancement at the end of a session.

I’ve done this, I used MG-style advancement for our Burning Courtice game. As soon as I saw MG’s advancement I thought, “How brilliant!” So simple, how could I resist? (Especially since we were just coming otu of our first BW game, where several players found the rules somewhat baroque. I wanted to keep us playing BW, but I started hacking to make it simpler where I could. This was part of that.)

I will point out that it might change the feel of the game in ways you don’t expect, this is why I ultimately abandoned it.

In Mouse Guard, the PCs have an externally provided mission (“eliminate the badgers”). They’re desperate for checks, so they willingly court failure at - or even outright choose to fail - the mission, in order to get the checks they so badly need to pursue their own agendas. When they fail, they earn a tick for advancement, which is a balm against the sting of failure: watching their town flood or whatever.

In my BW games, at least, there’s no NPC-provided mission, the players are more usually self-appointed heroes who have chosen their own goals. Success is what they’re striving for. They deliberately court hard tasks because tackling difficulty is necessary for advancement, and they complicate the story to earn Artha to boost the odds of success later on.

When you insert MG advancement into BW, something weird happens: players start to want to fail at their own goals. They’re no longer risking failure as a calculated gamble, they’re pursuing failure as goal. This seemed, to me, to really undermine the sense of striving, because it encourages the setting of arbitrarily lame goals just so you can fail at them.

This can’t happen in Mouse Guard because a) the players aren’t setting their own goals in the GM’s turn, and b) the player’s turn is too precious to waste in this way. These safeguards don’t exist in my BW games.

Now, the game doesn’t instantly degenerate - everybody’s still trying to create an awesome story, it’s just that there’s this problematic incentive lurking in the wings, waiting to take an awesome moment and make it suck.

The New Hack

For the Turkey, 1922 game, I fixed this. I still had a simpler system, but it was clearly BW, not MG. I had abilities require (exponent-1) Mundane tests (Ob < Dice), and (exponent) Heroic tests (Ob >= Dice) to advance.

So, for example, if you have Sword B5, you need 4 Mundane tests (Dice > Ob), and 5 Heroic tests (Ob >= Dice). I didn’t treat stats any differently, and there weren’t any emotional attributes.

I liked this much, much better. It had the advantages of MG: everybody could remember every aspect of advancement without consulting any tables (BW requires two, with special versions for stats and several emotional attributes), but the incentives were correct for player-driven play.

When we started Grunweld, the players were expressing hack fatigue (and me too, come to think of it) and they said, “Let’s just play stock BW.” They all got copies of Gold and we were set.

The Current Hack

Even so, in the last few weeks I’ve come back to hacking advancement slightly: to eliminate one table, I rule that tests are Difficult when Ob >= Dice * 1.5, and Challenging when Ob > Dice (and Routine otherwise). The reason I haven’t tweaked the number of tests needed is that we’re using Google Docs character sheets that tell you how many tests you still need to advance. (We play on Skype.) So with this one small tweak, we’re back to table-free advancement that’s still essentially canon BW.

Thanks Michael. You said what I was thinking about the perverse incentives that MG advancement might introduce in a BW game. I like failure to have teeth in Burning Wheel.

Thank you so much for your feedback. Your playtests save me lot of trouble. And it all makes sense now when I think about it. It would change players’ mindset (“game design as mind control” anybody?) way to much to stay true to BW philosophy. I’ll stick to RAW and try mentioned above tricks with poker chips instead.

I can attest to the poker chip idea - and especially endorse it when it comes to Artha. We’ve been playing a few sessions now using small "stones (some sort of card game lifestones or such, I preferred the look to actual poker chips) of three different colors and it really does make Artha something “tangible”, and it makes spending artha on a roll and receiving artha somehow seem more important.

Also, a highly visible chart on the table for everyone to look at that details advancement is a great playing aid - it helps with quick calculations AND serves as a nice reminder.