I’ve been delving into a lot of other games recently, after some false starts with Burning Wheel (I’ve had great games before, but the last few just failed to get going).
Looking over my notes a main point of tension had to do with the how of challenging beliefs. A couple of the players had differen expectations of my role as GM, based on what they heard about Burning Wheel and saw in Actual Plays.
So, here are my expectations and what had worked for me in the past.
The GM is the person who is presenting a Big Picture and Situation. After the situation is established and flesh out, characters’ concepts are hammered into place - the situations and Big Picture begin to take a more solid shape. Good so far…here is where the expectations clashed.
Then the players write beliefs to engage with the situation, and as the GM - I respond to the players actions. There isn’t any pre-decided conflict, obstacles or expected scenes. The player’s authority over the situation when play begins is limited to the actions a character can take and mechanisms of the game. Beliefs are to communicate what is interesting, and provide focus on what the players are intending to do in relation to the Big Picture and current Situation. There is give and take, we all feel like players and no one knows what is going to occur session to session. I, as GM, have a setting and npcs that move in response to the players driving after their beliefs.
Now here is what the two players expected. The beliefs predetermined the content of scenes and what conflicts would happen. That my job as GM was to string obstacles and conflicts based on solely their beliefs - irregardless of the events in the setting that we decided on.
Essentially, they wanted to resolve what was written down and anything outside that “not about their characters or not collaborative storytelling”. I’ve seen advice and actual play around the idea that the GMs role in Burning Wheel is to do solely that. How else would players engage Artha if the GM didn’t frame those scenes and conflicts? Anything outside the players belief and what they’ve written down is not “what the game is about”.
Example from a game
I will do what is necessary to secure the throne for Michelina
The expectation was I would hard-frame scenes solely around this conflict or I would make the outcomes always refer back to the beliefs - regardless of the content of the Big Picture, Situation and immediate circumstances. The player expected only to have scenes around those beliefs, and the situation would be presented to them.
When I brought in an overland travel obstacle, I was told “no one has beliefs about that, just skip it” despite the setting having reasons this sort of journey could be dangerous and how it could “mess up” plans by throwing a wrench in the works. It wasn’t the “story” was supposed to be and as GM I needed to make sure that beliefs were centered on every scene.
This felt like too much “play before play” or another way to put it, the only “story” that mattered was what was decided before play. This also doves tail into disagreements over Intent and Task, which makes sense given the differences in expectations - but that’s another topic.
Both ways are obviously functional, my way has worked for me and the other way clearly works for other people. I don’t think one way is more “correct”, even if my tone kinda screams “I don’t like this kind of play”.
I am curious what people’s experience is with GM authority in Burning Wheel? Do you prefer a more responsive and reactive role with players having to be proactive or a story guide to ensure players beliefs are challenged directly?
I’ll answer any questions as best I can too.