Grognard Advice for First-Time BE GM

Those of you who have played Burning Empires before, help me learn from your mistakes.

Last night, we burned up the world. You can find it here:

So, as a first-time Burning Empires GM (though I’ve GMed Burning Wheel before), what are the most important things to remember in order to give the PCs hell? And what do I need to remember that I can’t easily do?


Hi Paul!

Have you read Paul B’s excellent essay?

I have now. Awesome stuff!


I do hope it helps, and I’m always looking for more ways to improve the document. Post up problems as they come up, and good luck with the game!


Paul’s guidelines are what our group used, and they got us in as smoothly as can be expected. Good luck!


PS - Paul (unending font of all things wonderful) also posted this cheat sheet which our boys use. It needs to go on the wiki methinks:

Basic Mechanics Cheat Sheet

All Skills
• Basic formula: skill exponent + FoRK a Wise + FoRK a non-Wise + help + Artha
• Fields of Related Knowledge must tie into narrative
• Mark your roll’s difficulty so you can advance your skill!
• GM may grant a single +1D advantage, and/or multiple +1Ob disadvantages
• Default independent Ob is 3
• In a versus test, players may agree to root stat tiebreaker roll

• Help can come from any other character (player, GM, NPC)
• Help comes from a single relevant Wise or non-Wise
• +1D to the test if exponent 1-4, +2D to the test if exponent 5+
• Granting help dice counts toward advancement as if the helper had made the roll.

Linked Tests
• Prior skill tests can grant +1D to a future roll.
• Failure of a linked test grants +1Ob to a future roll.

• Use the basic skill formula
• Most prominent character makes roll
• Non-Wise FoRK allowed only from the Maneuver’s skill list. Regular Wise FoRK also allowed
• Players who granted help dice may help with Infection

• Resources formula: Resources exponent + linked test + help + Artha
• Linked test only from relevant Wises
• May Bargain for –1 to Resources cost (p 368 )
• Characters who help are taxed along with the character making the roll
• Failure causes tax (p. 361). GM may grant Gift of Kindness
• Advantage dice: +1D if item is your Primary Export
• Obstacles: +1Ob if off-world or item is quarantined; various Ob increases per regulations (p 364, ignored if purchased through Black Market)
• Advance Resources only on a successful roll!

• Circles formula: Circles exponent + Reputations + Affiliations + linked tests + help + Artha
• Linked tests only from Resources, Finance, Administration, Estate Management, Bureaucracy, relevant Wises
• Help may come only from other characters’ base Circles
• Count Reputation only if using Circles in your home area. Count Affiliation only if using Circles to find someone with the same Affiliation
• Obstacle based on a table. See p 348.
• On 1 or more MoS, name character to gain +1D to find him again.
• On failure, GM may invoke Enmity Clause
• Infamous Reputation: +1Ob within that faction/group, or apply without penalty to opposed factions/groups.

Duel of Wits
• Use the basic skill formula
• Non-Wise FoRK may come only from the chosen action’s skill list, as well as the following list: Etiquette, Falsehood,
Ugly Truth, Seduction, Soothing Platitudes, Conspicuous, and Intimidation. Wise FoRKs are normal.
• Unless winner loses no disposition, loser gains a compromise

• Use the basic skill formula
• Non-Wise FoRK may come only from the chosen action’s skill list
• Help is limited to one 2iC or specialist, or any number of named characters. Units can also help one another in some cases.
• Unless winner loses no disposition, loser gains a compromise

Die of Fate (damage!)
• Roll a d6
• +1 to DoF if roll exceeded Ob by 1, +2 if roll is double the shot’s Ob, +3 if roll is triple the shot’s Ob.
• Compare total to weapon’s IMS

A technique I found useful was to create a matrix of characters versus scene types. I’d make the matrix at the start of each maneuver. For the PCs, it was simply a way to track who had what type of scene and any bullet comments on key events in that scene. But I really wanted the matrix for the NPCs. At the start of the maneuver I’d note down an idea for each of the NPCs for their color and building scenes, and identify a couple of potential conflict scenes. My goal was to make sure that the spectrum of NPC scenes related to at least one of each of the PCs’ beliefs. It got easier as we conducted more maneuvers, because by then the PCs were able to see which NPCs they could ally with and which NPCs were pursuing goals opposed to PC goals.

I could render all my cheat sheets as PDFs if that’d be helpful. I have:

Basic Mechanics (the one C-note just posted)
End of Maneuver
End of Phase

I think that’s all of them. I"ll need someone with stronger wiki-fu than me to get them in the right place.


That would be awesome. I’m all about the forms and downloads.

For our long-running BW game, I had a clear-sided plastic tote box with a handle that I used to keep all my books and paperwork of for the game. It’s been dormant since that game ended. Something tells me it’s coming back.


You know, this is a really great idea.

We went back and forth in our last BE game about how closely we should track the scene economy. Eventually we decided not to track it, or rather to put it on each player’s shoulders. This also allowed for a tiny bit of “surprise” when someone forgot that the GMFONs hadn’t had their conflict yet.

My instinct, however, was to keep all that stuff in the open. I don’t regret that we did it the other way, but our next BE game will surely have a full-blown matrix like you’ve suggested. I also really like that you make little notes about stuff that happened in each scene. Great description of this, Mel, thank you.


Thanks, Paul. I’m glad it may be useful. I’m looking forward to seeing those pdf cheatsheets, myself. For the matrix, one point that is probably intuitive but bears specifying, is that the ideas for NPC scenes are simply that–ideas. I had to be careful not to forcefeed a scene just because I thought it would be neat, but had been overtaken by events in the game…I’ll see if I can find an example from play of what I’m talking about.

Okay, I’m gonna try and post up my PDF renderings of my cheat sheets here. Someone with wiki knowledge please post them in the appropriate place.

Note these are run raw out of my Word document. There’s no legalese, no copyright notices, all rights © ™ ® Luke Crane et al. I can add a little footer to any/all of them if necessary.

This is where they’re stored.


p.s. I realized after writing it that my Maneuver cheat sheet is redundant with the Maneuver worksheet that Luke already created. I included it here for completeness’ sake, but we didn’t use it in our game – we used the official one.

There is a post by Thor someone on getting the players set for ultra-quick maneuvers. We’ve been using this and I think it really helps focus play.

If I wasn’t lazy I’d link to it.