I notice that Torchbearer and Mouse Guard, which are both much more focused games, give the PCs far fewer beliefs and instincts (1 each, instead of 3). When PCs have three beliefs, in particular, it creates a very broad surface area for the GM to think about, which can be somewhat at odds with a very focused game (“Hey kids, delve this dungeon!”)
If you were going to make a really focused BW, somewhat more GM-led campaign… would you cut down the number of beliefs?
I like the idea. Though I think just introducing guidelines for writing three simple beliefs (like a little bit Burning THAC0 style with something like one philosophy, one central goal and one team oriented belief) can keep GM led campaigns more focused without forfeiting the robustness of character that three beliefs offer.
Some things might need to be amended in terms of earning artha if you cut down the number of beliefs as well.
On the flip-side, I wonder how introducing things like Oaths would go over in Torchbearer. Effectively you could have an extra, more long term goal going. Just a thought.
It’s tough. BW’s multi-tiered Beliefs allow for internal conflict—which is a hallmark of BW. I think it’s something unique about the game. We created TB/MG for characters with less depth.
If I was going to trim anything, I might restrict a player to one Instinct and leave the Beliefs.
However! Note that Beliefs 2 and 3 are optional! You’re only required to have one Belief. I’d much rather Beliefs 2 and 3 develop organically in play. Ideally, you write them as you’re playing, "Oh fuck! I really care about this: “Belief 2: ‘Fuck that guy! I’ll devote my life to tearing him down.’” Or similar.
I’ve seen the idea of starting out with just one belief as advice to players who aren’t sure what to put, but the idea of doing that deliberately with seasoned players is new to me. I will file that one away for sure.
I’m surprised that you’d reduce instincts over beliefs. I don’t find instincts attract a lot of my attention as GM, it’s externally focused beliefs that increase my mental workload. (Internal conflict is great, as you say.)
Note that MG characters effectively have two beliefs, in BW terms: their Belief and their Goal.
I imagine you could get a lot of “focus” by just defining what you should write beliefs about more rigidly. Let’s say everyone has to have a belief about the big group adventure goal, one belief about another PC, and one moral/ethical statement.
I always thought “beliefs” should be called “motivations”, and the different type of them be called “beliefs” (for ethical statments), and “goals” (for… goals). Thus, you should have at least a Goal to start the game, and it’s a good practice to have a Belief also, leaving the third Motivation to what fits better to your idea of the character.
But, whatever, it’s only an idea, the game would not change a bit in functionality.
(I’m Argentinian, so I may have invented some words or forms of words, and used wrognly the English Grammar; sorry!)
For a really focused game you should suggest to players that they tie their Beliefs into the big plan rather than latch onto new ideas. And if anything new hooks a Belief, immediately tie that thing back into the driving goal of the campaign. BW does GM-led just fine; you just have to treat the Beliefs as ways for players to decide which avenue they’re interested in pursuing rather than the tentacles of exploring plot in all directions.
I’ve done this way in all my games so far, and it works out really well. The GM’s happy because his ideas are being toyed with, the players are happy cause they can pursue those ideas however they wish, and if they want something new they assume I’ll work it back in somehow. Someday.
The number of Beliefs you need really depends on the scope of your game. Three Beliefs is really for a party of some size (3-4 characters at least), a big situation, and a personal goal. If any of those situations are different (solo game or two players), a simple 1-2 goal scenario, or no room to really explore something from your past, you an get by with fewer beliefs.