After playing the game, it struck me how odd BE is. Not bad. Odd. I’ve been trying to collect my thoughts on how to properly metagame the game, and here they are:
Players like their characters to be cool, generally. Being cool usually means being effective, which in turn means succeeding at rolls a lot.
The Infection is won, in general, by whomever has the highest skill, assuming both sides are good at scripting and using lots of helping dice.
The way to get high skills is to attempt difficult things with long odds. This means failing. A lot.
Players like to win. Players like to win EVERYTHING, both the little stuff and the metagame.
Now, this presents a dillema. In order for the characters to feel cool and effective, they need to win a lot of rolls. But winning rolls means that you’ve diluted the difficulty of the rolls which means you won’t advance as quickly. Which means they’ll lose in the Infection mechanics. So Burning Empires forces every player to make a decision between having their character be 1337 but not contribute very much to winning the overall war, or having their characters fail consistantly, but win the war. Other people have pointed out the oddness of losing every single conflict but winning the manouver, but I’m not sure that they have pointed out that this is a deliberate choice that the players need to make: between winning the battles, and winning the war.
I see where you’re coming from. But! Funny thing about failure in Burning Empires. (Page 305 is my reference point here) Failure doesn’t mean the same thing a lot of people tend to take it for in roleplaying games. I like the concept that Failure is simply a different direction. And sometimes, a way more entertaining direction.
To quote: “Failure is not the end of the line, but it is a complication that pushes the story in another direction.”
Here’s an actual play example. Fires over Omac, Fazia Grizzly is trying to Circles up a fellow Kerrn to help him in arming his people. He fails, and gets a Kerrn that hates him for causing the death of his brother! It results in some interesting play, but is no means a “my character sucks” failure. In my Burning Wheel game, I’ve had people say “It would be awesome if he failed this roll!”. Never happened in any other game I’ve played.
I quick note on point 4. Players want to win, but they don’t always like it. If the players win all the time, they get bored and don’t like want to play anymore. And BE/BW is perfect for this, because (as others said) failing in these games can be just as awesome as success.
Just as Newtonian mechanics turn out to be merely a subset of general relativity, true only under certain conditions, “players want to win” is actually just one manifestation of the far more fundamental principle “players want to be cool.”
Oh, I totally agree. My BW character (an exiled chinese eunich living in japan) has the instinct “I will always claim more knowledge than I actually have” which gets him into lovely situations whenever he fails his beginner’s luck rolls. For strategy. And first aid (actually he passed the first aid one, despite the fact that the colour of the test was him and a buddist warrior monk arguing about whether they should improve the feng-shui of the room by raising the patient’s arms above his head, or whether they should pray to Budda and try to clense his soul). And any skill that comes up. Watching him explain away his failures is wonderful… especially since he has persuade 6 =)
And please note, I’m not criticising the system at all. I think it’s a very neat way to force players to choose between coolness NOW and coolness later. It’s very odd, though.
In our game it’s been useful to highlight to the players how awesome their failures are. It’s the best part of the stakes-setting technique of this game (my first practical, nontheoretical exposure to it), IMO. Failure is never “failure,” but a chance at even more awesome. And Artha. And skill advancement. Hell, in some cases I have players aiming at spectacular failures. Which, of course, licks their “success” bit in their brain, by succeeding at failing.