Fighters having problems against the world!

Hi to all ! It’s my first time here on the forum, I hope I got all the rules right and not risk offending anyone .<3
As the title says I’m having a little problem with one of my players, playing a knight-like character , and I wanted to ask your advice on that, because I fear I had misjudged the situation and brought a bit of tension on the table .

In short, two party member got surprised by the kings guards while investigating in town , and were brought to a local commander for questioning .
This npc looked a bit important due to story reasons and I burned it as a some kind of ruling class in battlefield . So It was more focused on mental pool, commanding skills and had an high will exponent , mainly to reduce hesitation, to be effective in combat.

The social encounter was hard for this reason , since the 2 pc , although they were proficient in persuasion , found really difficult to beat an ob6 … and the knight seemed really upset and snapped against the situation and the rule system .

While venting he came out with some valid points, that still haunt me and I hope someone can help me better understand them :

The knight told me that he find his job at fighting really hard , this is because although he have all the stat and skill to be a terrific fighter , his effectiveness depends widely on a set of “conditions” above his direct control .

1 being outnumbered : since he is one of the few character actively competebt at fighting , he says that whenever he have to face more than 3 enemies together he can be simply beaten on a pulp by all of them , since he cannot protect against all of them without a heavy armor .

2 fail steel tests: this might be my mistake , but it referred to an old encounter against an undead .
In the steel chapter I saw that “seeing the living dead” was +3 ob , and the knight pointed out that a fighter with b8 on steel and b6 on will have to score 7 successes with 8/9dice to avoid being caught by surprise and auto fail the engage. Or being killed .
And to avoid that he have to run as hesitation action , then recover the lost weapons and then re charge .
(This may be silly but I run some little playtests and it happened that a whole frontline of soldiers run away against a single zombie)

3 stacking ob: this is what bother me the most, since I’m bad at math :○, he statdd that to overcome a +1ob statistically tou need 2 black dice . So +2 ob can cripple a seasoned fighter with a weapon skill of b7 . And anything above +2 ob can render every skills unusable .

4 supernatural powers : this may be just a perception issue , but a fighter , compared to a wizard or a priest can do much less in combat .

5 giant enemies : he somehow managed to recover the monster manual , and compared his char against some tough enemies. Stating that many have grey shaded wound tolerance that makes really difficult encounter.

6 faster enemies: having an umbalance of reflexes generates situation where a player can be atruck down without being able to do much .

7 differently from mages and priest , the wounds target directly the physical stat and can reduce them if they are taken badly , so having and keeping high stat is useful but you need to avoid combat to keep them

Now , I understand that not all the situations need to be faced in combat , but I feel bad that a knight is having such hard time playing his chosen skill set just for how the rules are written .
Am I too stuck around them and need to loose the grip or should I tone down the enemies ?

I came to a possible solution of giving the knight some allies but it seems a bit unfair.

Hi! This sounds like it is mainly about the groups expectations in some ways going against what the game is.

Just a couple of points regarding the things you brought up.

  • It should be hard to convince someone. Many other games let you get away with almost psychic powers of persuasion, BW does not. Will B6 is really high, and I guess that most people they try to convince doesn’t have that high Will?

  • It should be hard to fight three enemies at the same time. It’s correct that in BW you can’t just take on a large number of enemies because your Sword-exponent is high.

  • You’re not dead just because you hesitate. Sure the opponent will get to take a swing at you, but hopefully you won’t be too badly hurt when your hesitation is over.

  • Have you played with the sorcery rules and looked closely at what can happen? Sorcery is scary and very much not safe.

To conclude: BW paints a world where facing undead is incredibly scary, a peasent mob rushing an armorless knight is a serious threat and persuading people is not mind control-on-speed-dial. If you want heroic power-level the characters need some gray shaded skills/stats.


High Obs make failure very likely even with good skills. Which in a simple succeed/don’t system is bad. However, BW isn’t a simple succeed/don’t system, it is succeed-but/fail-but system.

The GM sets consequences of failure. Sometimes these are a simple fail, but the aim is to drive story not block it so they can be an added complication. For example:
Player: I want to kill the bandit
GM: Consequence of failure is that you kill him but bystanders think it is murder and start shouting for the watch.


There was a recent thread on social skills that got a little derailed, but I think it kinda touched on the point about B6 Will. So I wont touch on it too much, other than to say, “Yep, that sure is hard”.

  1. So this is an expectations thing I think. For the most part, yeah, you do end up getting pasted in 3 v 1, and Burning Wheel is a game where even 2-3 thugs backing up someone is enough to completely unbalance an encounter. To be fair, this is basically 5e’s Action Economy writ-large, and I think it’s good. If that’s an issue, there’s rules for having lesser fighters Help each other and so on. But it’s definitely a GM calibration change if you want lots of fighting.

  2. Yeah - the Undead are gonna be terrifying, but if you’re fighting undead, you will stop rolling Steel tests about them. But if you’re fighting an army, and suddenly the enemy (or worse, your own!) soldiers start to rise from their death repose and groan for brains, yeah, the whole platoon is running away. Even if you see an army of skeletons with rotting bits falling from them.

  3. Yeah, Obs are hard. Burning Wheel encourages leaning into failure. But also, never forget that Burning Wheel is often about building die pools. FoRKs, Help, Working Carefully, setting up advantage, all of these things are incredibly important. If you have B4 skill and you’re needing to convince a captain with B6 Will, and it’s at +1 Ob disadvantage, that’s not a “do it right now” thing. That’s a gather your resources, get help, and hope to hell thing.

  4. Well, sure, until the Wizard succumbs to The Sickness. Also, there’s a bunch of cool Fighting Arts on the forums to help a little. But yeah - Burning Wheel is a game where being supernatural 100% is more powerful than being normal. Genre choice.

  5. Each of the monsters from The Monster Burner is basically designed to be a campaign in and of themselves. The Creature Codex creatures can be pretty powerful as well, but, uh, they’re challenges to overcome, not fodder for kill. This game doesn’t have murder fodder.

  6. Yeah - action economy. Gut the slippery fish before he guts you! Being fast is really important, so is being strong, so is being tough, and so is being skilled. Not sure what to say, that’s just the game.

  7. Wound penalties apply across the board. Your Sorcery is reduced as much as your Sword skill.

But yeah - so, fundamentally I think it’s an expectations thing. Burning Wheel doesn’t have a sense of “one Fight Per Session”, it involves a lot more preparation to solve problems. And that’s entirely perception.

I feel weird that people raise a lot of issues like this with Burning Wheel all the time, and the answers are always “YEAH! Isn’t it grand!” or “Well FoRK more”, but… it’s because they are the answers. Burning Wheel is a game where the GM goes “The thieves guild seems to remember you from last time, and you see three thugs approaching, the knives at their belt look long” and you say “Hey, uh, what’s the Speed Ob to run the fuck away” and not “HAVE AT THEE”. And players, especially those coming from D&D definitely don’t always have those expectations.


fwiw, my Burning Warhammer game has been running nearly 2 years now with the explicit understanding that it would be a high-action game in which I’d be gunning for at least one conflict (Fight, Range & Cover or Duel of Wits) every single session. By my very rough count, we’re about 55 sessions in. So far we’ve hit the mark about 85% of our sessions. The vast majority of our conflicts are Fight, with a healthy dash of DoWs.

We haven’t had a single PC fatality in that time, though the players have used a healthy number of Persona Point Complications (I’d guess we’ve had somewhere in the neighborhood of 10). The characters in the first three arcs of the campaign were pretty martially adept (a mercenary captain, grey wizard, elf ranger and a witch hunter). For the current arc, we’ve shifted to a more street-level set of characters. Most of them have very little in the way of martial skills, but they still get in a lot of fist fights and knife fights. There have been more wounds than in the previous three arcs because these characters don’t have much armor, but so far the worst wound that we’ve seen has been a midi.

I think three of the characters are currently -1D due to healing wounds. They’ve been using the opportunity to get difficult and challenging tests they need for advancement.


First of all this is the perfect place to post if you did get the rules wrong, people here have helped me a lot with running the game (and especially torchbearer which I’ve just started running). <3

Secondly, I think expectation management is the key issue you’re having. The knight player is expecting a different kind of game to the one that’s being run, which happens. A bit of this is BW being a game that’s tough on players, but you can (and I encourage you to) modify the rules to suit the kind of game everyone at the table wants to play (and you want to run).

Straight up convincing someone to do something is tricky, so a failure can easily be that the npc asks for something in return / some compromise position. Also you can be very generous with advantage, they’re your friend +1D, you did something for them +1D, another npc wants the same thing and helps +1D. Another option is just saying yes if you think the npc would be convinced, and you could even set the Ob lower than their will (though there’s a strong argument you should do less roles with higher ob and more impact, rather than smaller easy rolls). The way I tend to do this is set the expectation that a character will be hard to convince, and then let the players try and gather advantages and allies, until they’re ready to give that high ob a go.

In BW being outnumbered can be a killer. For a game where the knight is able to take multiple opponents I would recommend either having them Fight a single opponent with the others offering helping dice (and then stepping up as their comrades are cut down), or emphasising the knight requires allies or heavy armour. Narratively you can also decide the outcome of a battle with a single Fight, your knight cuts down the enemy commander / the boss monster etc.

Remember it’s hesitation for actions equal to margin of failure, and actions are essentially heartbeats. So an undead advancing on you might make you stand and drawl when you spot it for a few seconds, but that might not be enough time for the undead to close. Mechanically you could have a failure mean ceding advantage but not losing actions. For an army they’re going to be surrounded by allies, with commanders with the command skill (stops hesitation), and have plenty of time while the undead advance. An ambush by undead would be devastating though (and maybe rightly so). Also as someone else mentioned, the more the pc gets used to undead the less steel tests (and lower ob) they should make. You can even say in a setting with lots of undead it’s not really all that shocking.

Yep absolutely, small clarification here, superficial wounds do stack +Ob, so it’s max +1Ob from that. Then fighting in mud or snow, you should also add that Ob to the opponent, which makes it more fair. It should also be simple to shrug off a superficial wound. In general I don’t tend to add Ob to tests in fight for this reason, unless you mean from positioning, in which case yes absolutely it is crippling, but that should just push you towards actions which don’t suffer the +Ob.

I find priests pretty useless in combat (the Obs for the stronger faith effects are too high to consistently hit). Wizards are very powerful, this is intentional, BW isn’t concerned with every pc being equally effective in combat. In fiction though you need to ask what does this mean for your world. Are wizards rare, and so a big deal, attracting lots of unwanted attention? Or are they fairly common and so the ungifted folk have found ways to deal with them / common enough that a pc wizard will face enemy wizards regularly.

As someone else said a lot of the monster burner creatures are like big bad enemies, something to face at the end of an arch, with sufficient prep by the pc’s. ‘Normal’ enemies should be more similar to a pc.

Yep 100%, Fight is very high risk. Again armour is hugely significant. Your knight should have reflexes 4 (or good armour), and 4 vs 5 is not so bad. Though a reflex 5 enemy shouldn’t be too common, and if the game has them cutting through plenty of enemies just make them reflex 3, with harder enemies 4, and maybe at the end of an arc someone with 5.

If you’re happy to run a game with easier opponents then feel free to run that. I think just talk to the knight player and then make some small modifications, if you want to still keep the BW feel then meet them half way. You can encourage them to get armour, also don’t under estimate forks, and yeah having a couple allies (to offer helping dice) is always handy.

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This 100%, failure should be a big deal with sorcery, sorcerers also need time and should be no.1 target in a battle. An unarmoured sorcerer goes down to an arrow as easy as anyone else.

just a little

I’ve also found this, as is said in the books BW is a system where PCs are easy to hurt but hard to kill (provided they keep the persona on them).

When my players realised this they suddenly became a lot less worried about getting into fights.

I ran a fairly high combat pirate campaign where I gave the PC’s a magic boat that would reduce healing times by an order of magnitude (month → week) etc. I did this because we wanted to do a more swashbuckly game, but with everyone having gunpowder, any sort of combat was super high risk. We had plenty of pc’s taking severe and even mortal wounds, but with persona on hand we only had one pc death mid campaign. The pc’s also immediately spent everything they had to hire the best ship’s doctor they could find


Somewhere in my pages, I have a draft for Panache, an emotional attribute that advances by being a swaggering pirate. It had a rule calld, “You can’t just shoot a man this fabulous!” which let you spend a fate point to add half your Panache exponent to the obstacle of sombody shooting at you – or a Persona to add the full exponent.


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