Greetings and (I will have) questions about combat

Hi, my name is Jean Chandler, I am a somewhat old dude living in New Orleans, a historical fencing instructor, history researcher and game designer. Plus some other things which help keep the wolf from the door but aren’t nearly as fun. I first learned about Burning Wheel from my friend and fellow fencer and game designer Jake Norwood. I bought the books many years ago and loved them, (in particular I found the Character Burner a delightful read) but I have not actually played it yet.

Back in those days I also made a game, or more precisely an add-on to DnD which lets you make combat a bit more like fencing in historical Martial Arts. I had somewhat neglected that game (due to day job and some other obligations) for most of the last 7 or 8 years but it puttered along on it’s own momentum. Since Covid has interrupted some other aspects of life, I took a new interest in my old game and set to expanding it a bit. Many old itches have begun to be scratched.

One of the itches which I find most annoying is to be limited (solely) to the world of DnD. I am not a ‘system snob’ or anything and I myself prefer to tinker than use off the shelf systems, but I love game design for the heck of it and I enjoy reading lots of other people’s games. I also like trying to adapt my combat and now also magic system to other games.

Which is what brings me here, I would like to try, to explore adapting my combat system to Burning Wheel. Not necessarily in any official capacity, (please forgive me if it seems impossible, it may very well be but I just want to explore the idea). I like this game (Burning Wheel) and I want to learn more about it.

I was hoping some people here on the forum might be able to fill me in on a few things. To my embarrassment I have been a little out of the loop on RPG’s in general for a while and I don’t know all the other games available on here - are they related to Burning Wheel? I don’t fully understand BW combat system, though I get the basic idea. I’d love it if anyone wants to discuss it with me in some detail so I can get a better grasp of it. I’d have some naive questions and no doubt be sent packing to read FAQ’s and newby threads, but I’ll come back here a bit better equipped for a more productive discussion and (maybe) still try to close the loop.

I should also ad that I spoke to Thor from BW about 6 or 7 years ago on my own forum, not sure if he’s still with BW or not but if so, hello!

Thanks for reading my overlong intro and I hope everyone is doing well here during this very strange and liminal moment for my country and the world.



Welcome, Jean.

Mouseguard, Torchbearer and Burning Empires run on a similar engine to Burning Wheel but with some changes here and there to accomplish the goals of those games.

What questions did you have about BW combat?


Hi, J. I’m also a Historical Fencer in your region!

I’d be happy to help you wrap your head around the Burning Wheel!

Please post any questions. I also might be able to help you run test combats and such if you’re interested.


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Ah, and welcome to the forums!


Thanks Judd. Gnosego, where are you at? I run SDA NOLA in New Orleans.

I’ll have to ask you in advance to be patient with me, as I really don’t know the first thing about Burning Wheel combat other than that you write down your actions beforehand (not even sure if I’ve got that right).

So keeping in mind the caveat above, to start with I’d like to know the following:

  • How many things can you do in a turn of combat? Like in DnD you can basically do one main thing and a few other ‘smaller’ things.
  • Is there any concept of different distances or ranges? Like do longer weapons such as spears take priority?
  • Can weapons be used for defense?
  • Does armor work as damage reduction or just affect the dice somehow or what?

I apologize in advance if I’m working at the wrong level of abstraction here.



I’m in Mississippi, but I make a weekly pilgrimage to Baton Rouge to attend Nachreisen (formerly Ordo Procinctus HEMA).

  1. It depends on your Stats. There’s an average of your Perception, Agility, and Speed that determines how many actions you can take in a ‘round’ (‘Exchange’ is the Burning Wheel term).

  2. Yeah. Pretty much the first thing you do in a Fight! is ask, “Who has the longer weapon?” If the answer isn’t, “No one,” you make a Speed (gross body coordination and quickness) Test. Whoever wins puts their opponent at a penalty throughout the Exchange. Wielding a dagger against a spear-man who can keep you at bay sucks! Wielding a spear against someone who’s gotten through your guard with a dagger also sucks. The penalties to the person who loses are the same. But! The spear-man gets a bonus against the knife-fighter for the Test in the first place, and ties go to the longer weapon.

  3. Yeah. You use your Weapon Skill to take the Block and the Counter-Strike actions. You can also use your Speed Stat for the Avoid action; but Block gets you extra benefits if you do really well, and Counter-Strike lets you also make an attack.

  4. If you get hit in an armored location, you make a roll based on how protective your armor is. Some attacks are harder for armor to absorb than others–Maces have a better “VA” or Versus Armor than swords, for instance. If the Test succeeds, the hit is negated; we can pretend it never happened, mechanically (assuming your armor didn’t degrade).

Your level of abstraction is fine. I can go into more detail on any of those topics, if you’d like.


PS: 0. Correct, you do write down your actions before hand. And in secret. They are resolved simultaneously: If you scripted an attack for the some moment I scripted an attack, the result is the dreaded double. Hopefully I had armor that will save me. :sweat_smile:


Hi Gnosego,

Nice, say hi to Eric for me next to you go to practice.

  1. Can you give me some idea of the range of Actions per Exchange? As in, 1-4, or 5-8? Do your stats improve with experience?
  2. So the person with the longest weapon always goes first? How does the role become reversed, i.e. how does the shorter weapon gain the advantage? First success ?
  3. Could you give me an example of how this works in a combat Exchange, as in, what each player would write down in a single exchange? Do you say in advance “I will parry anything coming at me” or is it more specific like “I’ll parry anything coming from above” or “I will counterstrike against anything coming at my feet”?
  4. So you track armor on each part of the body? Each of your attacks target a specific part of the opponents body?
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Hi @CodexIntegrum!

Let me see if I can assist.

  1. How many actions?

In Burning Wheel, an average Human would get 4 Actions evenly split over an Exchange (a full "round of combat).

That number of actions could be as low as 1 or 2 (if you have very low stats or are wounded - injuries reducing your stats), and as high as 6 or 7. I’ve rarely seen anything outside of 3-6(ish) range (until injuries occur!).

Stats and skills improve with experience and practice.

  1. “Who goes first?”

The initial Engagment is a roll: I test my Speed vs. your Speed. If you have the longer weapon (e.g. a spear), you’ll get 1 - 2 dice bonus. If you win, you manage to keep me at range, and I have a penalty to hit you. However, if I win, I get inside your guard, and you’re the one with the penalties to hit me instead.

So, you’re not going first, so much as giving me penalties. Our actual scripts run simultaneously, and are matched up as we go through (think of it as an interaction matrix).

You affect those penalties by changing your weapon length (I’m inside your spear, so you kick me instead / you strike with the sword pommel).

You get control of the position by scripting a Beat (a contested roll), whereby you try to knock my weapon aside to allow you to reposition, or disarming me, or knocking me prone (or similar).

At the end of an Exchange, we Vie for Position, which is the same as above, but with the bonus dice going to whoever ended that Exchange in control.

  1. Example script for an Exchange

A quick aside: Each exchange is made up of 3 Volleys, and each Volley is made up of 3 Actions. Actions are split evenly across Volleys.

I’m armed with a dagger (against your spear) and I’ve got 4 actions. You’ve won positioning, so I’m at a serious disadvantage. I get 1 Action per Volley, and can choose in which Volley I take my 4th action. I consider my options and script…

I’m choosing my Actions, but not my target at this point. I’ll work out the target when we reveal our Actions and deal with the Action in question.

Volley 1 Action 1: Block
(I’m expecting you to attack, so I just want to use my dagger to turn aside your spear point)

Volley 2 Action 1: Beat
(I don’t like the penalties to attack you, so I hope to knock your spear point aside and dash inwards)

Volley 3 Action 1: Strike
(Time to slice you up with that dagger!)

Volley 3 Action 2: Strike
(Yeah! More of the same!)

Once we’ve both scripted, we match up our actions, and head to the dice.

I Block, you scripted Strike.
We both roll. Your margin of success will determine how hard you hit me (how much you succeeded by).
I get lucky, and manage to fully block your attack.

I Beat, you Block.
We both roll, and I manage to win, getting inside your guard! Now you’ve got the penalties

You Strike.
I’m doing nothing (no action scripted), so you get a free attack at me. Fortunately (for me), you’ve now got those penalties, and miss.

We both Strike.
We both get a free attack (as neither of us is defending).

I Strike!
you’ve got nothing scripted, so I get a free attack on you.

Does that make vague sense?

  1. Tracking armour

When you hit me, I offer up a target, and you can spend your Margin of Success to move the target location.

e.g. I offer up my (heavily armoured) torso. You move the shot to my arm, reducing the damage, but hoping to get through my light armour…


Hi, Jean Henri.

I’ll try. He doesn’t get out too much these days. :confused: I’ll shoot him a text, though!

  1. 3 would be pretty low. 4 is about what you’d expect from most people. 5 would be pretty good, and 6 would be impressive. It goes up to 10, but getting any higher than 5 really takes some doing in my experience, and it gets staggering the more you go from there. Starting out, you can expect a human to start with maybe a 3 in a Stat if they “dumped” it, and maybe a 6 in a Stat if they gunned for it in chargen. Reflexes (the number of actions you can script) is an average of three out of six Stats, rounded down. So, maybe you’ve gunned for three 5s in the Stats in question, in which case you might start with Reflexes 5. You most likely don’t have 6s in those (or any) three, so getting to Reflexes 6 in Chargen is unlikely, especially since the game discourages “Min-Maxing” (both mechanically and in terms of tone and meta-commentary). Advancing Stats is done through making enough Tests of requisite difficulty levels. The amount of Tests of a given difficulty needed goes up the higher the Stat is, and the bigger the dice pool (Burning Wheel uses a D6 dice-pool core mechanic), the easier the Test, making logging more difficult Tests… More difficult. Perception, one of the three Reflexes factors, is especially hard to Advance since it only advances on successful Tests and one level of difficulty needed to Advance Stats is “I don’t have enough dice to succeed” difficulty. (I know that sounds impossible, but there are fiddly bits I won’t go into without provocation that make it less impossible than it seems.) The point is that increasing Stats is hard; increasing Reflexes requires increasing three of them. Reflexes is one of the hardest parts of your sheet to improve, I find–Though, a higher Reflexes is also one of the best advantages you can have in a Fight! Stats can also be improved with Practice. If you have downtime (and sometimes even if you don’t), you can commit time to training a given Stat up in the background. It takes a long time in-game, but it is an option and an asset players can leverage, especially if they’re canny.

  2. No, we go at the same time. But, the person who has the Advantage–who is dictating the range of the fight throughout the Exchange–gets to impose penalties on their opponent. You get the Advantage by winning a Test at the start of the Exchange. The longer weapon has bonuses to that Test, but there’s still a chance that the shorter weapon can get in closer than where the longer weapon is comfortable. If you’re using a longsword, and I am able to close into Ringen (if you’ll allow the jargon) with my bare hands, things can get very bad for you. But, it’s easier for you to keep me in Zufechten or Krieg with your longsword than it is for me to put hands on you, so you get bonuses to that Test to set the range. The form the penalties take is extra difficulty to basically everything but defensive actions–The game uses a dice-pool mechanic where we count successes to determine effect; you need more successes to do stuff to me if I’ve out-engaged you. Certain actions allow you to seize the Advantage. The Beat action is specifically designed for it: Knock your opponent’s weapon aside and use the opportunity to reengage. Tackling or Locking your opponent also lets you take the Advantage at hands range, but you gotta succeed first (likely with more severe penalties!) making those kinds of maneuvers rather a gambit. We also Test to engage against between Exchanges (with the current holder of the Advantage getting a bonus), so there’s another opportunity for the Advantage to change hands.

  3. Sure. The actions are generally more abstract than that. You script a Block. Period. You script a Strike. You might add some color before hand, but that’s not necessarily part of the mechanics. (Players can generally try to get kind of a “Circumstance Bonus” if they can give a brief justification that the GM agrees with: “You said he was cutting down from on high, right? My Counter-Strike is a Zwerchau. Can I get an Advantage Die for using the right counter-strike?” Your mileage may vary.) There’s some more color and mechanical effect we can add to it once the dice give us more info to work with.

  4. You do track armor on each part of the body. The player receiving the attack gets to declare where they’re open–where they get hit. (All armor systems are a bit more reinforced on the chest, so that’s often a good choice.) The attacker may then spend an extra success or two from their attack roll (if they have any) to move the attack to a different part of the opponent’s body… Perhaps a less armored part, for instance. The attacker also spends successes to increase their damage, so forcing a change in target area has the emergent effect of reducing the damage of the incoming blow.


To add on to these two excellent replies, in regards to 4) we track armor by location in part because armor has a chance to deteriorate when it is hit; the quality of the armor affects how quickly it break downs. If one of your blows weakens your foe’s leg armor, it might make sense to keep directing attacks there and wear down their defenses so your attacks can get through without giving them a chance to negate the damage.


Hi Jean! It’s great to see you here. I ran a long Burning Wheel campaign set during the Thirteen Years’ War using your Codex Guide to the Medieval Baltic. It was great!


:flushed: I want this!

Hey Thor, great to see you too! I remember you posted a description of that campaign, it sounded epic. I think you really made the most of the book. I wish I had more time back then to hear more details about how it all went. My day job was running me ragged at the time. I’d love to hear more about it now (and any other historical campaigns you may have run), and I have an idea for another setting I’d like to do I wouldn’t mind running by you, maybe I should start another thread for that…


Josh says, “Hi.”

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Say hi to Josh for me, hope he’s better last time I saw him (last Summer in Houston I think?) he was injured.

Ok back to questions on combat.

I have to say so far everything sounds quite sensible. I’m impressed that BW handles weapon defense, different ranges or the effects of reach, parries which are also counters, attacking around and (where possible) through armor, and different maneuvers.

A few more questions:

  1. I see those manuevers include things like “Beat”, “Counterstrike”, “Attack” and “Parry”. Are there any specific trained manueveurs which aren’t universal?

  2. How much are weapons differentiated? I gather they are rated for reach, anything else?

  3. What kind of variability is there? You use D10s? What are the target numbers for success or failure? Do those change or are they always the same?

  4. Are there any specific rules for grappling?

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Thor I started an “Historical Campaign” thread here:

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  1. Without a book in front of me, Block & Strike (defending and attacking in one action) requires Shield Training plus a shield, or Two-Fisted Fighting Training and 2 weapons. I think that’s it, though there might be a couple others.

  2. Melee weapons are rated on range (“Weapon Length”), base damage (“Power”), how easy it is to increase damage (“Add”, which is only different for Dagger-like weapons), ease of repeated striking (“Weapon Speed”), effectiveness vs armor (“Versus Armor”), handedness (1- or 2-hands), and how good it is (“Quality”, which is the first thing you determine). Ranged weapons work a bit differently, but we’ll ignore those for now.
    For instance, a Poor Quality Sword is Pow 3 / Add 2 / WS 2 / VA - / Long 1-Handed, while a Superior Long Sword is Pow 3 / Add 2 / WS 3 / VA 1 / Long 1-Handed. Both of these use the Sword skill, but the higher quality sword can strike more quickly and is better against armored foes.

  3. The base difficulty to hit (what we call Obstacle or “Ob”) is 1, meaning that to score a hit you must roll at least one 4, 5, or 6 on your pool of d6 dice. The size of the pool you roll is based on your skill rating with the weapon type you are using, plus any advantages you have. The difficulty will alter based on the action your opponent scripts and any penalties for being ranged by your foe (plus an additional penalty if your weapon is of Poor quality). Additionally, as others have noted, you can spend extra rolled successes (your Margin of Success, or “MoS”) to do things like move the hit location or increase damage.
    Damage isn’t done as different die sizes as in D&D or similar games. Instead it’s rated as a series of three numbers called IMS (for Incidental/Mark/Superb) that reflect how well you hit. Your Mark damage is the weapon’s Power plus your Power, Incidental is half that rounded up, and Superb damage is 1.5 times that rounded down. So with a 4 Power character and a Sword (3 Weapon Power) your IMS is 4/7/10. By default hit deals the low “Incidental” damage; extra successes on the Strike can be spent to move from Incidental to Mark damage, and from Mark to Superb.

As an example, let’s say we are fighting Long Sword (you) vs Dirk (me). We’re both wearing some leather armor but no helmets. We both have a rating of 4 in our respective weapon skills and 4 Power, and are fighting at your Range. Your IMS is 4/7/10, while mine is 3/5/7. Your Ob to hit me will be 1 (base 1 + 0 penalty) while mine will be 3 (base 1 + 2 penalty).

We both script and reveal Strikes against each other, and roll our skills. I offer my chest as your target, hoping to absorb the blow with the reinforced chest armor, while you offer your left leg so keep me away from your head. You get 2 successes, which is a hit with 1 MoS (2 successes minus 1 Ob = 1 MoS); because the Add of a Sword is 2 it costs 2 MoS to increase damage so you don’t have enough MoS upgrade the strength of your hit. You decide instead to spend your extra success to move the blow from my chest to my unarmored head, and score a B4 hit on me with no chance for me to ward it off. I get very lucky and manage 4 successes on my dice, also a hit with 1 MoS (4 success - 3 Ob). Because the Add of the Dirk is 1, I keep the hit on your left leg and spend the MoS to go from Incidental to Mark damage. I’m threatening a wound of B5, but your armor may ward it off!

  1. Grappling is handled with the Lock action, which must be done at Hands weapon length. It’s a natural followup to Charge/Tackle or Beat for that reason, and uses your character’s Power rather than a weapon skill. Locks reduce your opponents physical stats and offensive capabilities while applied, and reducing one of their stats to 0 incapacitates them.

Small addition, throw person requires martial arts/boxing instead of the standard brawling


Ah thanks, I was going to ask about throwing

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