BW Best Practices

Over on this thread, Paul said,

This got me thinking about the other best practices in BW. What are other key values/methods/techniques, whether subtle and inferred, or clearly stated, but worthy of repetition?

Always get to the meat of a Belief. That is, when creating the character, make sure the GM and player agree on what the Belief is about, and more importantly, what the character is willing to do about it! General no-action Beliefs aren’t the best; better to have one that tell, in that one sentence, what the character feels about whatever situation AND what they will do to fulfill or change it.

One of my old favorites: Say Yes more often than you feel comfortable doing.

A new favorite: pop your group’s Deeds cherry early and get that currency flowing through the game’s economy.

Allow non-wises to be used as wises, when it makes sense. Rule of Law, Heretical Doctrine, X History… these all make for great narrative sharing opportunities and player world-building during a game.

Along those same lines, GMs create skeletons; players flesh them in.

Plan the encounter/situation. Don’t plan the outcome.

Master your anger before your anger masters you.

Fight every urge you have to chase down players and push & corner them into conflict, instead openly and honestly offer up risks to them.

Three things: Intent & Task, Intent & Task, Intent & Task

20+ sessions into our campaign, I’m still caught out by not nailing them before the roll. Usually as a result of trying to rush things.

No secrets from the other players. Except when doing scripting PVP.

Seriously, it’s more fun watching the player try to figure out how to get his character to know your character’s secret so he can lever it than to never realize that you HAVE a secret.

The mechanics are simple; granularity and power are the GM’s tools to establish tone. You can roll Swords against Ob 3 to fend off one Orc or to fight your way through the entire horde and decapitate the Dread Overlord of the Black Legion. (I guess he’s just a side note in this story?) The dice and the Obs can set up the difference between hardscrabble street rats or hard-bitten veterans and heroes of mythological proportions.

Players should seek trouble, characters fight to get out of it.

That is, build your character’s Beliefs and Instincts to get into trouble, so you earn Artha on the way into a mess, and play hard and build your skills and traits to get back OUT of the mess.

GMs - every scene is secretly a powderkeg waiting to explode. Here’s the thing - in Burning Wheel, technically anything MIGHT be an interesting conflict - arguing over interpreting a religious text, haggling a boat ride, etc. but understand that in actuality, only SOME things are actually interesting to your group, for the focus of your game.

Ruthlessly cut out anything that doesn’t hit the focus your group and campaign are on. Otherwise, you end up with scenes that either have tests that you’re not going to come up with worthwhile or fitting results for, or you’re going to Say Yes but in the end it really doesn’t matter because it neither hits anyone’s Beliefs nor does it affect the Big Picture.


When in doubt, move things toward the conflict or whatever would be the most interesting.

I think I know what you are driving at, but just to be sure, can you clarify this a bit more, Kublai?