Advancing Root Stats and Shade Shifts

This is one of the things that bugs me about BW. I really prefer path-independent systems—ones where the cost of stats, or the benefits, is not altered by the order in which you get them. But that’s not the BW way.

If it really bothered me I’d make one definite change and consider another:

  1. Either shade-shift all skills rooted in a state when the stat changes, or make all skills open at black even if the stat is gray or better. (Probably the latter. I favor minimal shade-shifting anyway.)

  2. If the root stat hits a threshold where a skill is now lower than it would be if you just opened it, raise it by 1. (That threshold is almost always up from an odd number to an even number, obviously.) And then don’t wipe out tests for advancement for the skill. It’ll take more to advance to a now-higher exponent, but you can still do it. For a more powerful stat-increase, you could make it so hitting the threshold increases all skills rooted in that stat go up by 1.

I haven’t played with either modification. I think #2 is a bigger problem than solution. #1 is probably fine.


From this, I think we’ll use the system of, when you open a new skill, it’s based on the number, but NOT the shade of the starting skill (since shade is such a huge deal). All skills open in black. However, as the root stat increases, the associated skills will always be, at minimum, 1/2 the root stat.

I think that will cause some weirdness. If you do that, it will always be better to try and advance a stat than a skill. As it stands, stat advancement tends to happen incidentally as you try to Learn skills through Beginner’s Luck. Tying existing skills to the root stat after opening is going to mean that you’ll always be better increasing a stat than a skill, and that certain stats are going to be significantly more powerful than they already are.

Don’t start Gray shaded, at least not in your first game. There’s a lot of game at black shade and the surcharge to shade shift when character burning is un-fun. Better to run with B4’s and B5’s in your stat pools than to be saddled with a G2 Perception.

If I spent a month practicing my hand-eye coordination with simple drills and nothing else, would you expect my penmanship and dart throwing kills to both increase commensurately? I would expect not. And so neither does the system.

But but but. If I spent a month lifting weights, you may well expect my Sword to hit a little harder when I swung it. Lo and behold, the system reinforces this.

It’s really quite beautiful.

In one session I open Axe at B2 after enough Beginner’s Luck tests, and then a few minutes later there’s an Agility test (rare, I know!) that’s enough to bump it to B6… and I spend the last necessary artha and shade-shift to G6. Now it’ll take a ton of artha and a very long time to get Axe to where it would have been if I hadn’t practiced it until later. That’s not at all what I would expect.


As such, I think opening all skills at black shade, no matter what the root stat is, and all skills have a minimum of the root from the stat. I mean, that won’t make advancing stats all that potent - after all, they’re stripped of the power to grey shade any skill, and they only increase the minimum skill to 1/2 their exponent.

That’s my thought, anyway.

So in this one very corner case the rules of the game get a bit fiddly and don’t model what would be expected. They’re rules and set up to be as simple as possible to cover 90% of the cases. If I were the GM I might be inclined to let your axe be G3. It would depend somewhat on the story though.

You are all being reported for heresy!

This straw man argument doesn’t become you. This isn’t even a corner case; it’s so impossibly rare that it has likely never happened in a real Burning Wheel game. And if it did really happen that way - literally within minutes of each other - I’d probably give it to you. Begrudgingly, though, because it’s totally avoidable. All you would have had to do was not use your axe until after that Agility test you needed. If you were that close to Advancing + Epiphany on Agility, I’d find it hard - nay, impossible - to believe that you didn’t have your mind bent on it, and if you’ve been playing long enough to be chasing that dragon, you’ve been playing long enough to make better decisions.

In sum, the game would not force that situation, the player would.

Oh, I absolutely agree that this is a rare problem, but it’s not a strawman. It’s an illustration by extremes. I think that avoiding a test in order to be better at a skill crosses the line from fun, BW system mastery into unfun. And where’s the line? I’m a test and a couple of artha short, so I’ll avoid using an axe at all for a few sessions. Or I’ve just gotten an epiphany, so I’m better off abandoning the use of swords and learning another weapon to take advantage of the gray shade?

There’s no one true solution to the problem, but I hardly think mine is some godawful game-wrecker. In fact, fewer gray shade anythings suits me just fine. Your mileage may vary as your gaming tastes may vary.

I agree, definitely not a strawman. I noticed the problem straight away, as soon as I read the system.

I mean, isn’t grey-shade damage really potent stuff? If you grey-shade your Agi, doesn’t that mean you’re probably better off learning a new weapon entirely? I’d imagine it’s easier to get the tests than the artha. White shade, to change again? It just struck me as bizarre, that your brand new skills are automatically going to be better than your old skills, if you shift the shade. Hence why I made this post. And I admit, I’m flabbergasted that this isn’t considered a long standing, outright bug that needs fixing in a damned hurry.

I’m quite content with everything opening in Black shade exclusively, and all skills are at a minimum of 1/2 the exponent of the root. That way you can never be worse at something just because you’ve learned how to do it. (Really, read that sentence… isn’t that a ridiculous sentence?) To be modified at GM-and-group discretion, of course, but all rules are better with that exception :slight_smile:

Gray shade skills don’t give you gray damage.

You all are overthinking something that is an infrequent occurrence at best.

Now to play devil’s advocate: it’s quite hard to shade-shift, say, Agility. You rarely test it. Its main feature is really that it’s the root for so many skills. If you do manage to shade-shift it, the big benefit really should be getting gray-shade skills; it’s not very valuable for itself unlike, say, Speed.

Having played a lot of BW, there’s no clamor to fix the bug because it’s not a very big bug. In play it hasn’t caused disaster. There aren’t many shade-shifts, and the ones that happen are usually skills. I think I’ve had a player have an epiphany for Perception once, and that might be all. Getting gray-shade wises is nice, but nothing broke, and it didn’t do much to wreck existing wises.

This is a thing that bugs me, not a colossal problem. I have not playtested my fix and it might cause bigger problems than the tiny ones it solves.

Yeah, I really liked the whole shade shifting idea a lot better before I actually understood shade shift damage (I used to think it was similar to silver and werewolves. Same damage, better penetration)

Is there any reason it can’t be that way? Shade shift damage seems like a problem… shade shift just the right thing, and suddenly, boom, everything dies no matter what. That seems… odd to me. Unless I’m understanding that wrong.

Shade shifting damage is difficult. The simplest way is to be a sorcerer with a grey Will. Otherwise you need either a grey shaded magical weapon or a Trait like Hands of Stone. Grey shade damage is very powerful, but also very rare.

I have considered trying it out as a system hack for a heavy supernatural theme game, just to what breaks. In normal to supernatural getting your hsnds on a greyshade weapon puts you on even footing with the greyshade creatures alright as at least now you can hit them. Supernatural to normals however causes a problem as you weaken the creatures ability to do damage (currently a G1 is equal to a B17, a W1 is equal to a B34 or a G16) which is why grey shade will and sorcery is so difficult in play as even an incidental hit can cause instantaneous death in a normal being. If shades just mean what you can and can not affect that creatures G5 power doesn’t look so bad, especially if your armor doesn’t really matter or is nonexistent to begin with. (Now if we add or subtract a die or two when shade shifting up or down, then it matters again)

I do not know how this will work out yet, so my standard stock answer is that’s the way it’s in the rules. This could be a major break in a world with full on supernatural beings (reducing a deities lightning bolt to little more than that of a high powered wizards (W4 converts to a B8 under my hack rather than the awesome B37 equivalent it is today). I tend to let intent and task allow grey shades to not fry everyone in sight (if their intent is to get the characters attention rather than kill them, so be it). Just like in Hochen, the creatures intent isn’t always “Kill, Kill, Kill”

A better solution to supernatural things is to give them a trait that makes them really tough rather than crazy stats. Like how Spirit Nature makes spirits immune to weapons. Then there’s an obvious counter: make weapons that ignore it, like spirit weapons. Bam, you have the defense and the offense that breaks it, no ludicrous stats involved. Save the bloated PTGS for things the size of houses.

Please take discussions of hacks to the appropriate forum. Discussions about rules and interpretations are fine here, but should stick to the rules as written.