Help me describe BW to my Pathfinder RPG Group

Hi Guys,

I need some help selling Burning Wheel to my current regular Pathfinder group. I enjoy Pathfinder, but its very much a different game from BW and I would like to try something new with our group.

The problem is that Burning Wheel can seem somewhat intimidating at first for new players.

Does anyone have any resources or descriptions, cheat sheets, etc that they have used to introduce BW to their group?

Any help is greatly appreciated, help me spread the goodness that is BW!


Edit: I should add that my group will rely on me to teach them everything. We are all adults with jobs and families so time for games is in short supply outside of our scheduled game night.

For my Pathfinder group, as far as mechanics goes, I’m planning on selling the simplicity of the system by saying that, until you get into the subsystem (Fight!, R&C, DoW, etc) rules, everything is basically a skill check.

Maybe also point out that advancement and reward is generally tied around interesting situations, pushing the story ahead, or both. (ie, only test when it matters, advancement requires the odds to be stacked against the PCs, artha rewards usually happen for pushing the story forward or for good RP)

After that point, I’m planning on just getting everyone to let me run a session or three and see if they like it.

Hi Chuckles,

Thanks very much for the quick reply. I do like what you said that “everything is basically a skill check” I think this will help to keep them from worrying that the system is too complex for them while allowing us to focus on the roleplaying mechanics of beliefs, character life paths, etc.

Let me know if you have any additional tips. That goes for you lurkers too! :wink:

Run The Sword and Thelon’s Rift for them.
Don’t make characters, use the pregens. So they can learn the system without anything at stake.

How big is your group?

My usual advice here is to find a wingman - approach the player you think would be the most on-board with BW and get him or her excited about the game.

The biggest pitfall I would say to avoid is trying to play Pathfinder with BW.

Ah, the wingman is a vital detail! If you can find an ally on the other side of the screen, it’ll go a long way to smoothing over the wrinkles of the session.


I played “The Sword” about 5 or 6 times with rookies. It’s great for teaching the mechanics.

Thanks Guys, I will certainly take a look at “The Sword” for our introductory adventure.

Still attempting to create a sort of description about what makes Burning Wheel different and interesting. I realize much of what makes it great will not become apparent until they play, but the key is getting them to play right? So I am trying to come up with a list.

I hope this will help many Storyteller/Gamemasters in the future with convincing their group to try out Burning Wheel.

I am going to try to describe Burning Wheel with a list of features. This list is aimed at Pathfinder/DnD players, since MOST of the roleplayers I have encountered are familiar with those games. Please feel free to add any items to help me flesh out the list for new players, as I know I cannot do the game much justice. I am not attempting to capture all of the essence of burning wheel with a list, that would be like attempting to describe the ocean by pointing at a glass of water. I am just trying to give a glimpse of the game to my potential players.

  1. It has no classes, instead you use lifepaths to create your character, which provides your character with an inherent history and skill set that you can draw upon during play to help you out or provide you with some nice roleplaying opportunities. To advance, you simply decide how you want to train and progress your character during play.

  2. Every character has beliefs, which are 3 core things that motivate the character currently. These beliefs can change over time and make for excellent roleplaying opportunities. They are also used to generate Artha which are similar to action points.

  3. Characters have instincts, which are sort of built in reactions that characters have to situations. For example “I always keep an arrow ready when traveling outdoors away from the safety of a city” would be an example of an instinct.

  4. Most, (every?) character has social circles they can call upon for information, assistance, etc, these are usually from lifepaths. For example if a character was in the city watch during part of their life, they might draw upon that circle to get some information from one of the friendly watch in the area. Circles basically allow you to “request an NPC” in a way. They do not have to previously exist in the game for you to use the circle to aid you.

  5. There are no levels, you advance skills by practicing them, both in game, and out of game. Once you have used a skill enough, in enough challenging situations, your skill advances.

  6. The easy combat system “Bloody Versus”, is simple and is somewhat like a skill check in Pathfinder or DnD. There is a more advanced combat system called “Fight” that is available once we are comfortable with the other game mechanics. The Fight system is detailed, exciting, and brutal. The system contains rules for weapon reach, positioning advantage, and allows you to take specific actions during combat such as counterattacks, blocking, parrying, etc.

  7. There is an advanced system for social encounters as well, called a Duel of Wits. This is somewhat like a battle of wills and plays out like the advanced combat system for social situations.

  8. There is a cat and mouse style combat system for ranged combat and chases, called “Range and Cover”.

  9. Combat is brutal. Injuries are serious and take a very long time in game to heal. Healing magic is scarce and weak compared to some other roleplaying games. The brutal combat tends to encourage roleplaying, fighting only when your beliefs are challenged or you feel it is fully necessary. The fights are almost always serious affairs, adding tension with lives on the line.

What am I missing that you feel is key to what makes Burning Wheel unique and interesting?

I’ve had to pitch the system and explain some differences to my normally D&D-centric group recently too. One thing besides the things you mentioned I added, was how -Wises work, possibly as a way to interject facts into the setting as a player.

Tell them its a game system that plays not unlike Lord of the Rings, Tales of the Earth Sea or more recently Game of Thrones reads. Its a game system where you will NEVER roll a dice-- unless it matters and the consequences for failure feels real. Every time you roll the dice you are one step closer to leveling up.

Its not a simulator. There are no mechanics that do not somehow seek to progress (or affect) the story. Read the first few chapters up to character creation, make a character then play the game. Don’t worry about the sub-systems (circles, resources, steel, fight, etc etc) until you need them.

Its all about BITs (Belief, Instincts, Traits), rolling skills, and the artha cycle.


I really can’t get how people seem to have success with this. When I tried it with my old group they all hated that they’d not made their own characters, and everything was a drag. At the pregame-“lecture” I made points about:

  1. the ease of the binary skill-based dice-pool system, and how diffiulties and taking chances is the advancement-system

  2. how BITs put character into narrativism, while the gamist agenda’s banner is waved fiercly. It’s fundamentally a game!

  3. How the systems makes “idiot-PC #1’s nightly raids to richen his pockets” actually interesting for the rest of the players: Fail this, and the others will find you in the stocks next morning. Succed and you got the jewel and a +2 Ob. “tired” tomorrow.

  4. How the Beliefs make everyone know eachothers wants and wishes, and thus help everyone get what they want! (And be rewarded for it with metagame-recources.) And how traits are aspects of a character one want, not something one gets to gain more powers.

  5. oh, not the least: How instincts protects you from GM asshattery/misunderstandings! How you can actually have a character that always draws his sword at trouble, including the one important time your GM fails to hear, and you lose two characters!

  6. How ten goblins is a simple throw, not an hour-long waste of time.

  7. how the character-generation-system produces characters that feel part of the setting, not some lame A4-sheet with probability-adjustments and a silly name.

  8. how the system finally makes social characters viable, and how the social system is great for inter-character disagreements (and actually benefits both/everyone)

  9. “Wanna play? I’ve got these templates, I’m thinking a knight, a sorceror and a hunter - or do you want to builds characters? There’s these character builders online, otherwise I’ve got this book and … I think we’ll start with [situation]. Make one belief about …”

When I ran the sword, none enjoyed it and one said he’d had enough and wouldn’t play it at all. When asked, the main concern was that it was a proative system - and he didn’t like interparty disagreements. When I said that we could have played the same adventurers outside the cave, they said: Why didn’t we? Maybe we’d cared for the characters if we’ve made them ourself? I just thanked them, but a few talked more. One expressed an interest in BELIEFS and the BITs, as the motivations in their Exalted game really didn’t do anything. A second expressed interesst in the tactical aspects of the sub-systems and their uses, while the third (who said he really didn’t enjoy it) played a one-on-one with me, and enjoyed the session though distance, illness and moving ruined it for us.

I’d rather have people commit to a three-session stint, or a long saturday-session, were I’d make pizza.

I’m thinking the BW-HQers gets the glamour to throw in prospectees eyes at cons - and they know the system well enough to just go with the ideas that the table brings. (Don’t the books tell you to make characters and play after 77 pages?)

“Noone becomes a prophet in his homeland” – Henrik Wergeland

There is always Chris Chinn’s Description of Burning Wheel.

No need to emphasize how brutal BW’s combat is. For one thing, that can be off-putting to those used to kick-down-the-door-kill-the-monster gaming. For another, it really overstates how deadly combat is. It’s much, much rarer to die in BW than in D&D. It’s much more common for a Fight to end with a few relatively minor injuries.

Your list is good, but I think you need to sell the big differences up front, and I think they’re Beliefs, Let It Ride and Say Yes or Roll. The game is about what you want it to be about, which you express through what your characters care about. They and you have to care or the story won’t go anywhere and the game stagnates. (To be sure, you can have a more or less GM-centric game, depending on your tastes, but you need those BITs or you don’t have a game.) Every roll is important, and things that aren’t important aren’t rolled. And the importance means if you screw up one roll, you screw up that thing, period. Make sure they understand that in BW you fail a lot of rolls and that’s expected and fun.

In many ways, while Thelon’s Rift isn’t quite as much as a bare-bones demo of the game, it’s a better dungeon crawl type game for D&D-accustomed players.

I totally concur.
When I first talked about BWG to my players, I tried to explain them that there is no GM-devised story: the story totally depends on the characters and their chioces (and above all their failures).

Different strokes for different folks. If your players are used to party-based cooperative gaming, The Sword may not be ideal. Thelon’s Rift is hard, but that’s a far more cooperative scenario that’s more familiar to D&D players.

You might try walking them through an easy round of character creation. 3 LP humans only.

Pathfinder is Little Debbie. Burning Wheel is yer birthday cake.

For me, one of the selling points is that I don’t have to wait until I hit level 10 or whatever point your class/kit/path gives you cool abilities to be awesome. If I want to make an elite knight who’s the best jouster in the kingdom, I can–I don’t have to start as a squire if I don’t want to. I can play my character concept RIGHT NOW.

I’d go with the one-off adventure and let people know it’s a one off- a chance to see how the system works, to take risks. If they’re not into it, that’s fine, and if they do decide they like it, they’ll have some experience with the mechanics which will help them have an easier time building the kinds of characters they’d want to play. That said, you might want to ask them if they’d prefer an adventure working together OR working against each other.

I put together a BW 101 (from Revised, should be almost completely compatible for BWG) which you can download and print out for them to reference during play.


Thanks very much for all of the suggestions and comments.

Yeloson, thanks very much for the quick reference rules. I will be printing some copies of that for my group.

Edit: Is Artha really pronounced “Ar-tuh” ?

I started by running The Sword, and since then I’ve run The Gift and Trouble in Hochen for different groups. I’ve never had any trouble, and I’m not glamorous at all.