Burning Commanders

At the moment I’m GMing a campaign about witch-hunting which is pretty fun, but I’ve been thinking about a campaign idea I’ve had for a while, and I Burning Wheel is a good system for it–with a bit of a mod.

I call the mod “Burning Commanders”. Essentially, the players are not members of a party working towards a common goal–they’re rival warlords, aiming to destroy each other.

Here are the highlights of the mod:
[li]My current model is for only black shade and human characters, but there’s no reason you can’t use other stocks and shades, it’s just my preference.
[/li][li]Players take turns building armies and attacking each other using what I call “Bloody tactics”. It’s a lot like bloody versus–both players divide their dice into offense and defense, defense successes take away from offensive successes. Each offensive success that gets through reduces the dice available for the defender by one. Repeat until a player want to retreat or is reduced to 0 dice (which results in routing).
[/li][li]Even if a player’s faction is wiped out, their character may still be alive to join another faction, become a subordinate of his or her conqueror, or a number of other possibilities.
[/li][li]Defeating other players results in gaining provinces, which is not only a victory towards annihilating your opponents, but it also increases your income, letting you build more units.
[/li][li]Each army has a “principle unit” chosen secretly right before a battle, and revealed once both sides have chosen. Principle units have types such as heavy cavalry and missile infantry that grant a +1D advantage against other types. Furthermore, each faction has unique units, each with unique traits. For example, Northmen berserkers are incapable of retreating, but reduce the number of dice the enemy have by 2.
[/li][li]After failing a retreat, a DoF is rolled for each character who was in the losing army. A 1 means they were defeated–2 to 6 means they survived but were captured. This can happen to players!
[/li][li]Every turn, if a player so chooses, he or she may draw a wildcard, a card from a tarot deck. Each suit does something different (coins give money, wands prevent you from earning money, cups result in domestic issues, swords give you free armies), and the major arcana are particularly unique.
[/li][li]A part of my setting is people called “weapon lords”. A weapon lord is someone so skilled with a weapon that they are considered the best with that weapon in the world. (Player characters can be weapon lords, but only if they have a weapon skill of 10.) These powerful allies grant a +2D bonus when leading your armies, but their favor must be earned for them to trust you.

Unit type Gets an advantage from Gives an advantage to Neither Fleeing advantage
Heavy infantry Heavy cavalry, light cavalry Missile cavalry, missile infantry Light infantry +0D
Light infantry Missile cavalry, missile infantry Heavy cavalry, light cavalry Heavy infantry +1D
Missile infantry Heavy cavalry, heavy infantry Light cavalry, light infantry Missile cavalry +1D
Heavy cavalry Missile cavalry, light infantry Heavy infantry, missile infantry Light cavalry +2D
Light cavalry Light infantry, missile infantry Missile cavalry, heavy infantry Heavy cavalry +3D
Missile cavalry Heavy cavalry, heavy infantry Light cavalry, light infantry Missile infantry +3D

And here are two sample factions.

The Steel Alliance – Crossbowmen, Paladins, Halberdiers, Crushers
Crossbowmen (missile infantry) – +1D against heavy units.
Paladins (heavy cavalry/pious*)
Halberdiers (heavy infantry/polearm**)
Crushers (heavy infantry) – +1D against heavy units.

The Northmen – Shieldmaidens, Berserkers, Nightmen, Jomsvikings
All Northmen units get a +1D advantage during the winter.
Shieldmaidens (heavy infantry/female***)
Berserkers (heavy infantry/death seeker****/fearless*****)
Nightmen (light infantry/assassin******)
Jomsvikings (heavy infantry) – +1D against other infantry.

*Pious units get two extra dice when reduced to 0, and can keep on fighting.
**Polearm units get +1D against cavalry.
***Female units give -1D to most units.
****Death seeker units cannot retreat or rout. If they are reduced to 0 die, they can’t run away!
*****Fearless units are immune to die reductions through traits like the Shieldmaiden’s female trait.
******Normally, you have to take a province’s field before you can take its castle, which is necessary to control a province and earn money from it. However, assassins can bypass this and attack the castle directly. Of course, this means that the defending player knows what’s coming, so it’s not necessarily better.

I’ve cooked up most of this in a short period of time, and it’s all untested, so any critique would be useful. Thoughts?

My initial impression is that this hack isn’t really in the “spirit” of BW. BW is all about individuals fighting for what they believe. The rules support this with lots of emphasis on personal conflict (Fight!, DoW) but no complex rules for wars or battles. This seems to be turning BW into a war game, which doesn’t seem to fit with the central message of BW.

That said, if you (and your players) are having fun, go for it! Whatever floats your gaming boat.

Also, maybe check out Burning Empires? There’s more emphasis there on high level politics and warfare.


I see what you mean, but the idea is that it can be about personal conflict between characters–but here characters can use armies as weapons.

And if a character wants to do things other than fight with armies, they are welcome to. There’s nothing to stop players from forgoing this system, sneaking into an enemy’s castle, and fighting him directly.

I know this is going into wargame territory, but I wanted a system that a) valued strategy and planning b) let the setting’s flavor be easily expressed and c) allowed for nation-level events to be caused by the players.

Also, a lot of events that occur in this part of the sessions would often be affected by events that occur in the normal roleplaying. For example, having a weapon lord on your side can make your armies much more effective, but you may have to seek him out and convince him to join your cause. Or, a civil dispute may happen, and a Duel of Wits may have to be won, or else part of your faction will secede. Or, a player may challenge another player to a duel–and failure to accept the challenge may result in a decrease in morale in your soldiers. Etc.

I might check out Burning Empires, but can its rules be used for medieval settings?

I think BE’s firefight isn’t really appropriate for medieval settings. I’m working on a battle scale conflict resolution mechanism right now too, as is Fuseboy. You might find our ideas interesting. There’s no reason what you have here won’t work, but it seems very specific to a certain setting, and it’s kind of divorced from other BW mechanics. I suggest you look at Duel of Wits Mouse Guard rather than BE for inspiration.