Casual Gamers and BW

(As per Luke’s request in my Thread: Beliefs Problem I am going to provide more dynamics about my desire to use BW at an afterschool club)

First off, I have been working at an afterschool club that at attempts to enrich children’s lives instead of just be a day care. So I wanted to share my passion: RPGs. My boss likes this idea, having played RPGs herself when she was younger. So I don’t have to combat any admin resistance to the idea of games or RPGs. That is a plus for me (I used to be a teacher and RPGs were not well thought of)

My real barrier to playing RPGs (and in particular BW) with the kids at the club is the facts that 1) they are not at the club every day (we usually play every day) 2) they do not have to come to any of the programs, they can come to the program if they want and thus do not attend the program every day (usually because they could get on the computer which is more fun for them)

So I do not have regular attendance in two ways, and a lack of commitment in general. But I want to share with them the experience of RPGs (in general) and BW (in particular).

Now, with most other RPGs I can create Pre-Gens and it is no problem (I want to be a fighter: okay, here is Fighty McFighty, roll to kill that orc) As we all know, BW is a different beast, there are the beliefs. That is the heart of the game to me, and they are user driven, or they are pointless.

If I set down and play BW I could spend most of the time creating beliefs with new players (or possibly updating returning players). Which is not my idea of fun. I want to play the game, not just write belief statements.

And I know I could just as easily use another RPG to introduce them to the hobby, but I don’t want to. I am not interested in playing a game in which they simply slay things and get treasure, I want them to know that the power of Table Tops RPGs is the fact that YOU get to be the programmer of your quests, and not simply a drone to follow the gold coins to the prize.

To me that is the real power of RPGs (in general) and BW (in particular) they can deliver that experience.

Any suggestions?

I don’t think BW is the right game for this situation. It doesn’t handle drop-ins very well.

I’d suggest Mouse Guard or Basic D&D (Moldvay, 1981) are better fits.

I think Mouse Guard would be a great choice. You can use pre-gens (such as the mice from the book) and simply customize their one belief and one instinct. The mission should get casual groups focused quickly. And if you want something besides mice, you could explore hacks such as Realm Guard.

You mentioned not wanting to use other RPGs because of the “slay & loot” focus, but their are plenty of RPGs out there that go beyond that, and also play well in single sessions. You might consider such things as GxB <> or PsiRun <>. Are you familiar with the free game Lady Blackbird? <> it’s not only a great self contained adventure in and of itself with easy to pick up rules, but it can be used as a template for writing your own similar adventures. The Key system for experience has some similarities to BW’s beliefs, and lets players choose what they want to get rewarded for.

I have a game group, we’re about 6-8 folks. We’ve never all been at the table at the same time.
We’ve just wrapped up a 13 session 2 arc BW run that started being modelled after the Westmarch Campaign idea. The short extracted form:

  1. There was no regular time: every session was scheduled by the players on the fly.
  2. There was no regular party: each game had different players drawn from a pool of around 10-14 people.
  3. There was no regular plot: The players decided where to go and what to do. It was a sandbox game in the sense that’s now used to describe video games like Grand Theft Auto, minus the missions. There was no mysterious old man sending them on quests. No overarching plot, just an overarching environment.

You could do the setup and pre-gens. The beliefs become what you want to accomplish this session. In our case the dedicated players were there rain or shine, others could come and go at will.
I suspect you’ll end up with a core set of interested folks and that may be enough. Keep us updated, having grown up in the Devil & Dragons era, I’m interested in how it turns out.

I have to agree with Luke in this case. I run two game groups, one is Burning Wheel and one is a long-running Sunday night game where we switch games fairly often, but mostly play Basic D&D (and variants) and it’s very casual with players dropping in and out all the time. Oldschool D&D can be very rewarding and forgiving with these kind of groups. With Burning Wheel, it’s been my experience that you need really dedicated players who are proactive about reading the rulebook and are excited about the idea of a detailed, complex game.

More casual players have joined in when I’ve ran Burning Wheel before, but naturally wanted to sit back and play a supporting role and were overwhelmed by the system and style of gameplay. Sitting in the background just doesn’t work for Burning Wheel PCs, at least not in my experience.

Hi Damiller,

A few months back I ran a 1-hour BW pick up game. Mind you, this means dumping 99% of the system for the most bare bones, but you can do it if you really want to. (

I ended up dropping all BW stats as you know them and just giving folks a broad competency at something at 5, two things good at 4, and rolled 3 dice for everything else. Helping Dice, and Advantage still apply.

I asked a couple of directed questions that gave everyone 2 Beliefs, and awarded Fate or Persona accordingly.

There’s also no advancement tracking and the only rewards are either what you accomplish in the fiction or getting Artha.

Do you consider that to still be playing Burning Wheel at that point? I felt it applied because it was “take your Beliefs and fight for them!” in the most basic form.

Come up with place and a compelling problem and just let the players who can make it in a given session work at it from that angle or do a different problem. If things get left unfinished, and the players don’t make it next time, use it as inspiration for the next problem for the next group…

(“The King sent the Knights of the Southern Army, and they held the ground long enough for the supplies and much of the refugees to escape… but even they were scattered, and now it depends on you to hold the bridge before the enemy can reach the capital…”)


Mouse Guard might be a better choice, yeah.

Also, I would highly suggest playing “episodically”. Basically, with such an inconsistent player-base, you really don’t want adventures to continue from session to session. You want each game session to be it’s own little self-contained story, it’s own episode, if you will. Core BW doesn’t really allow for this to work very easily. Doing something like Burning THACO does. Doing something like Burning THACO with Mouse Guard would be even better, considering the players you’ll have in your group. You want something that’ll be easy to grasp, easy to just jump in and experience a good adventure with, and you want that adventure complete by the time the kids leave every day.

Good luck!

I appreciate the comments here are my thoughts as I read and digested them.

  1. I was running an Avatar the Last Airbender game (which can be found here: avatar rpg) Which has no mechanics, but is heavy on the “beliefs” aspect of what I like about BW. I did tell anyone who wanted to play they had to show up, and it took us about 2 hours to create characters. Anyone else who wanted to play in that game had to set in on an entire days session or not be allowed to play (which meant virtually no other players). I think I will do that for any BW game I run. (As a side not the kids playing loved it because they were completely in control of the story in the sense that they could pursue the objectives they wanted to, instead of sticking to my story, which prompted the desire to use BW with its Beliefs and Mechanics, as the Avatar game has no mechanics. That and I like to be the GM.)

  2. In theory I like Mouse Guard, but honestly the appealing thing to me about BW is that I don’t have to do “any” prep to play it. I show up and throw obstacles in the way of the players achieving their goals. MG requires the GM turn, and I just don’t want to do that. I am at either extreme as a GM: I want “no prep” or modules. I don’t want the inbetween of creating hooks that my players may want to follow.

  3. I like the idea of the Westmarch Campaign idea. I did run a week long cowboy campaign using very simple rules, and that was a hit, but damn those kids wore me out we played 2-3 hours every day for 5 days (wow!!!) The problem I had was coming up with obstacles to their goals and them not really having distinct goals. (Though now that I say that a couple of the kids want to go spelunking in the mines, but I did not do a good enough job of making the area really dangerous so they HAD to group up. The thing that really killed me was that they were all off on their own adventures. I had at one point 10 kids, and about 6 different things going on. Yuck!

I teach ESL to elementary school kids. I’ve done Happy Birthday, Robot! with them, and it was fun. Looking to pick up Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple to play full-on “campaigns” with them. I have to sneak my games in during class time though, so I don’t have enough flexibility to play an actual RPG with them. Too time-consuming.

I have never played Mouse Guard. Is it possible to hack the GM turn out, run it more Belief-centered like Burning Wheel? Thing is with BW, advancement is a pretty big focus of the game, but it takes too long to fully appreciate when your players are mostly drop-ins. Also, if your group is large, too many Beliefs can cause problems.

Dungeon World handles drop ins well and character creation is a breeze.

Mouse Guard really doesn’t require any prep, but that’s just me!

I replied only so Luke’s second post would show up.

Fair enough, stealing from John Harper and his SWN games, create a ‘jobs board’ to seed play; drop some ‘Adventure sites’ on a player map, then you can say you’ll need a belief about this Thing, to help focus the session. And if they’re drop in’s you could just go with 1 or 2 beliefs. In con games, I’ll pre-fill a belief or two, depending on the experience of the players at the table.
And certainly at 10 players a session, 1 belief each, is…a lot!

That could work very well. I love this idea!

In my current campaign, my group has a “rumors” page that we host on our wiki. My players and I just write random rumors for the city and surrounding area. Sometimes these rumors become actual story elements, and sometimes they are just flavor. I could see this working great for “Belief seeds”, like what MadJay was talking about. Invite the kids to write rumors too! Then at the start of every session, have them pick one rumor to investigate, and write Beliefs about it. Sounds like it’d be a lot of fun.

Luke is right. I usually spend like 10min preping Mouse Guard and could go without.

I have someone sitting in next friday. He sent me an email with a description of what he wanted to play and it wasn’t in line with the direction the story was headed in. I replied and told him that as a minor character he was going to have to play something inside the bounds of the primary characters. I gave him three choices of the type of character and the option to exit the story at the end of the session by either getting killed, disappearing or turning back and going home. Originally he wanted to be pursued by some authority and I didn’t want to have all of the consequences of that mix in with the other players stories.

I think if you want to have drop ins etc it can be done in BW if you give them the supporting cast types of roles you find in movies. You can’t let them create a whole new narrative and change the direction of the story. Give them a choice of A or B. I will post on how it goes.