Fight! for the Bookish

Hi all,

This is a bit longer than I thought it would be.
TLDR & high level is that I’m a new GM and am looking for wisdom on helping new players find their feet in the rich domain of the Burning Wheel. Especially bookish characters who could very easily die in a dangerous fight.

This is my first post on the forms. I love the the Burning Wheel and have finally had the opportunity to run a game with 5 (new) players.

We’re running through Trouble In Hochen right now. I’m fairly new to GMing and am learning lessons as we go. I’m enjoying the process but I have a problem that I’ve been chewing on. Namely, how do I challenge the wizard and priest when the group gets into unexpected fights that they’re unprepared for?

The Trapper, Dwarf, Knight can handle themselves in a fight, and the latter two are generally fairly bloodthirsty. I think that they’re actions are going to open up some interesting social dynamics in future sessions but so far, in the two sessions we’ve run, I feel that both the wizard and priest are feeling a bit left out.

I suspect the fix for this is to team the brains folk with the brawn & encourage them to Help.

More (optional) details below but generally the question is. What do y’all do to challenge your bookish characters in big, unexpected, Fight!s.

Last session three demon was encountered and successfully run off.

The priest is (rightly so) scared of conflict after an encounter with the cultests when he was outmaneuvered and smacked down by a woman wielding a rolling-pin. He spent the entire first encounter with the bear (which only lasted one exchange) hiding in the village longhouse and praying.

The wizard spent the entire exchange casting a spell and hoping the bear didn’t target her.

Generally, I feel that this behavior is appropriate for the characters that they are playing, but it’s a shame to get together for 3 hours only to cower in the shadows. I know Everyone Can Fight!, but it’s a hard sell when you just got smacked down by a few peasants, and now there’s a huge bear what just bowled through your armed & armored folk like they were made of paper.

Does anyone have any recommendations for helping these (fresh off the boat) two players feel more in-the-action? Next session they’re going to need to track down the bear and that’s going to give everyone a bit of time to prep. At the moment the bear is nursing a -2D wound (bleeding treated by pinesap) somewhere in the forest.

I’m planning to start the next session highlighting the priest’s potential for speeches and the wizard’s rhetorical ability and then presenting them with an outraged mob in the morning (~1/3 of the cultists, including the blacksmith, have been killed by the players in cold blood).
I’m curious how the players will approach the final confrontation with the demon. Maybe the Bookish folk will find their footing on their own. But just in case I’m giving mind to how to best encourage & challenge, hopefully with a bit of borrowed GM wisdom. I’ll be sure to pass along any player-focused suggestions from this thread.

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I might recommend not trying to convince them to engage in suicidal conflicts they’re not very good at. You might find it more productive to run an exchange of a fight, and then cut to something the others are doing. Everyone Can Fight doesn’t mean Everyone Should Try to Fight (Cheating) Zombie Bears.

The Sorcerer in Hochen can be quite powerful if she puts her mind to it – Phantasmagoria can be a game changer, for instance. And the Priest can give a more capable warrior some powerful buffs.

Fight can be slow going starting out, and five players can be a bit slow going consistently.


And welcome to the forums! It’s good to have you!

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Part of Fight for my most cautious players has been getting them to try to stop doing Avoid/Strike and find some other Fight actions (Push and Lock have been super effective). My players also felt more engaged when I pointed things out like: “If you can figure their speed, striking in the second action in a volley means they might not have a block there, and then you can spread your defense and attack around”. Basically - helping them engage with the idea that a lot of it is not weapon skills but instead scripting, the reason a peasant can beat you up is because they (likely) hit a strike without a block).

Also - run away from demon bears

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Thanks for the welcome!

I appreciate the advice. I’ve got the ol’ “don’t split the party” mantra in my head but that’s a good call, to get two things going that nicely challenge the players and then toggle back and forth.

The desire to get the bookish/social characters into the action is a more recent feeling. After getting a look at the bear very much emphasized to the party that that thing was probably going to kill them all. I emphasized that especially because a few of the players come from 5th ed DnD.

I still went easy on them. Opted to not ambush and I introduced the bear with only charges and pushes scripted. I see why that’s recommended because that thing easily toppled and scattered the party. The lucky crossbow shot did good work though.

As for Cheating bear, I feel like I was somewhat lenient letting the Bear test foraging to find some pine to stop the bleeding (as moose do, and I *think bears), or are you referring to the monster stats that thing has?

Yeah I could probably stand to give some more tips on timing and stuff.

Ah, that gives me an idea… a 1v1 with the knight or dwarf vs. someone’s grandmother might be a fun way to highlight the importance of scripting…
Might also be overkill. I need to take another look at those beliefs, so if I can work it in somewhere

A little bit of both, honestly. But staunching its Midi Wound with tree sap and Foraging definitely feels like the kind of thing that could get dice thrown at you in certain circles.


Gotchya. Y’know, when I mentioned it to a friend who’s lifeblood system is ADnD 1st ed he mentioned that he woulda just straight up fudged it in the name of a cool story.
I’m off two minds on it… on one hand, the hunt for and final, desperate, confrontation of the bear at its rune-inscribed cave pulls me strongly. On the other, part of my love for BW comes from the fact that it’s full of gritty mechanics that don’t need fudging to create a wicked and wild ride.

I definitely did see the lack of Field Dressing and imagine the party following the trail of muck to find the lifeless corps of the bear laying in the rune-cave. I d’no, maybe that is the direction I’ll take it in.

Perhaps the Foraging test was a move of cowardice that was really just covering my ass from having my bear killed in exchange for what? Getting pushed around a little?

What are the players’ Beliefs?

(Also, Midi Wounds bleed to Severe, but they don’t bleed from there. So it goes Midi → Severe x Stop at Severe, not Midi → Severe → Traumatic → Mortal)

Ohh, right! Well there’s the way right there.

Knight — wants to proove himself to his harsh father by killing the demon, woo the sorceress, uphold his lord’s word
Dwarf — wants to help his uncle achieve a goal to create thinning machines by getting close to Brin’s nero uncle to learn the secrets of creating intelligence (this one could be broken down a bit)
Priest — avenge his cousin who was attacked by the demon (in the fiction I’m reading this as ‘cousin abbot was attacked by a different zombie while returning to his abby from court), help David’s ailing mother, be an instrument of Tudom’s will
Wizard — uncle told her to get an item from the demon (I’m not settled on what this is, but it will probably end up being in the cave), get back position & wealth in court, cast aside due to association with uncle who trained her (this could be tied down a bit)
Trapper — killing the demon will proove devotion to Tudom, won’t abandon mother my Bridget, the whole duchey will fall to evil (initial cultest encounter hit him hard, realized street the fact that it’s a bit premature to change the belief but he roleplayed it well)

Question on the Phantasmagoria — how in ‘tarnation should I be handling this? I’m convinced I botched the first cast of this when I asked for an intimidation roll when the wizard made a dead villager appear to be looking around. I guess I should’ve had those around make a Steel test? And yet it was in the midst of a fight and I don’t know that they’d really be posting that much attention…
Also, I believe I’ve read that the Sorcerer states their intent with the spell and if they succeed they get the intent… what I’d their intent is to make everyone run away and the task is to make a corpse give the middle finger? I could heap on a few Ob modifiers, but that seems… inelegant…

Yeah, what’s the best way to challenge and engage those Beliefs? If the players are running with the idea that the “Demon” is the bear (they’re wrong), then maybe having it staunch its bleeding with pine sap is a good way to challenge them – The cunning! The tenacity! If they’re not, then maybe the bear is a waste of time or an ambient threat that may return at a dramatic juncture – but out of focus. Dunno. I’m sure you’ve got some good ideas.

The Wizard successfully casts the spell. The people effected perceive the illusion, unless they penetrate the illusion with a successful Perception or Observation test. So, if they believe that it’s real, I reckon you just have them act like it’s real, no? Seeing a dead person haunting about seems like it might provoke a Steel test.

It also takes 56 actions in a fight to cast. (Or about a minute outside of a fight.) It’s something the player will likely want to use outside of fights.

The Task must be appropriate to the Intent. Does the Task (usage of the spell as described) credibly accomplish the Intent (causing people to flee)? Would people perceiving the illusion plausibly act as desired? If yes, it’s fine. If no, they’ll have to try something else. Maybe success means a Steel test for the witnesses – it does seem spooky – that’s fine, but let the player know before they roll dice. Assign penalties based on factors that make the Task more difficult. (Note that creating an illusion the size of a person is requires 6 total successes.) If you think the player’s actions are dysfunctionally out of tone, that sounds like a problem between you and them socially. Maybe throw dice at them?

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Hmm. Some good thoughts. Maybe (since it was a stressful, convoluted, and poorly lit situation) I could have rolled a DoF for each peasant and all the 1s could’ve represented the count of those who noticed.

Yeah, we’re definitely treating the bear as the demon problem that the characters have been dispatched to resolve. I’ve been referring to the bear as the “bear”, “demon bear” and “bear” interchangeably. There’s definitely also some interest in Brin’s uncle. I’m sure that there will be interest in Lord Stravit and his occult possessions when the time comes.

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