How to get deeds artha in a morally ambiguous setting

I got BWG in the mail today (woohoo) and am rereading the Hub and Spokes.

Here’s what it says about deeds artha in brief:

Deeds artha points are rare and are reserved solely for accomplishing goals larger than a character’s personal agenda. … Hitching yourself to a cause that transforms the setting - but doesn’t directly benefit you or your friends - is worth a deeds point. Also, helping another character accomplish goals that are anathema to your goals, Instincts, and Beliefs can earn a deeds point.

You get deeds artha from either epic selfless acts or by helping another character in contravention of your Beliefs and Instincts.

So is deeds artha simply less available in a game more about shades of gray, where who is righteous and who is a hypocrite is largely a matter of perspective and whose side you’re on? I’m thinking of a Dune campaign I’m aiming to run. I simply can’t figure out how anyone will earn deeds points in that setting. Persona points aplenty, sure, and fate points everywhere, but no deeds, unless that second situation arises a couple times.

I feel like I’m talking about this future Dune campaign all over the site. If that’s bad form, I apologize. It’s the framework within which I’m trying to learn Burning Wheel, so all my questions center around it.

People going above and beyond the call of duty while helping, so if a character dies to protect another, if it’s played well, is worthy of Deeds. Also, achieving personal goals in a grand or epic fashion grants Deeds. Basically if there’s any moment where every single person at your table just stops and says ‘Wow’ that’s generally a good sign a deeds point was earned.

That being said, use your own discretion, since it is a very powerful point to give out. In my group, we generally get 1 per Trait Vote cycle, if that.

Kynes getting the Fremen to focus their lives on terraforming Arrakis would be worthy of a Deeds point. If Paul had managed to stop the Jihad, that would have been Deeds-worthy.

Take this with a grain of salt as ive never had a BW game survive long enough to give out a deeds. In addition to the text of BWG (pg 65, which you quoted parts of) the AdBu (Pg 226) has some relevant commentary:

The Criteria for earning a deeds point is intentionally vague…[deeds] are handed out solely at the discretion of the GM.

The deeds point is bound up in the Big Picture of the game…

As the GM in Burning Wheel it’s important that you have a Big Picture element that you are excited about. You are as entitled to that as any other player at the table; it happens that theres are encoded in their characters BITs.

Heres a quote from Luke in a thread from a few years back:

I use the term “big picture” or “big thing” to describe the GM’s input into the overarching flavor of a game. A GM’s got to have something he’s very interested in in order to run Burning Wheel.

So, if the players step back off their own agendas and help move your Big Picture forward in interesting ways, thats Deeds worthy.

There have been many debates on Deeds. They seem to boil down to a few points. The acomplishment must be serving others. The player may be wanting to help them, but their goals are incidental. If the GM thinks that they are primarily motivated by personal gain then it is persona rather than Deeds. Also the notion of self sacrifice to acomplish these goals can be quite important. In another way they will often tie into the GM’s “big thing” of the game. Again this will be issues and conflicts beyond the players, they gain deeds by taking part in the resolution of the issues of the whole setting.

You might want to look at Burning Empires. In the course of each of the three phases of the game there are the possibility of 3 deeds points. In this case, this is over 18 sessions of play.

Thanks for the responses, everybody. In turn:

@Lbtddbtd: The “wow” factor is a good point, one I didn’t really get from the text, but it makes sense.

@Thor: Those are fantastic examples, thank you! The difficulty is that those sorts of situations are unlikely, since the campaign situation (at the moment, anyway; I keep revising my proposal) is one of war between Houses and heavy politics and intrigue. Everything seems selfish in an intrigue game, unless perhaps they’re intriguing for a higher cause than House and glory. Don’t know what that cause would be yet; I’ll think on it. All the overarching elements I’ve devised so far involve making the party question their own motives, not a revolutionary change in the pattern of the Known Universe. (Not that I am opposed to such! In fact, the mere possibility of something like that happening is why I want to convert from D&D to Burning Wheel in the first place.)

@brehaut: I never really thought of the Big Picture as being at odds with players’ BITs. Ideally they’d be in accord, I would think. But I think I see what you’re getting at. If I present a mystery, and they pursue the mystery to move the story forward even if it doesn’t yet directly engage their beliefs, it’s Deeds worthy. Is that right? Obviously it has to be the culmination of much effort, too.

@Justin in Oz: How does Burning Empires present those possibilities? (Only answer that if you want to, I’ll check the wiki when I have time to see if it has that information.)

I think you are on the right track here. Regarding all the BITs being in accord with the Big Picture, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. It’s important that the players have bought into the BP, but the characters are allowed to be more varied (and conflicted).

I have a simpler metric: I award a Deeds point when the characters move the world rather than their world.

It’s not the only parameter I use, but it’s a good one to remember when thinking of scope.

EDIT: Here’s an example from my Burning THAC0 game:

The party recently stopped a ritual that was going to call back to life a dead god. It was an epic confrontation at the end of the world, and the party was strained in all directions. At the very end, they came together to save the world and stave off destruction for just a little more time.

That was a Deeds-worthy moment. They all had personal goals attached to that situation too, but that doesn’t stop it from being worth a Deeds point - they stopped a god from coming back! That’s big!

Now, if one of the players - or the whole party - went all the way to the end, and then instead of stopping the return, helped it along and pledged their allegiance to the dark god:

  1. It would be a Moldbreaker moment
  2. They would also earn a Deeds point

Why? Because what they just did is far larger than their own agenda. They again affected the entire setting, not just their slice of it. A dread god coming back to life is A Really Big Deal, and being the instrument that makes that happen earns a Deeds point.

That’s my interpretation. YMMV. Really, when it comes down to it, I award a Deeds point for stuff that makes me go “Damn, you did that? AWESOME!”

All I really use is this: You earn Fate for moving inexorably towards your fate (playing to your beliefs, your instincts and traits making things interesting, etc), you earn persona for growing as a person and deepening your persona (fulfilling goals, breaking the mold you are cast from, proving yourself as super important), and you earn deeds by accomplishing great deeds, usually altruistic in some fashion. If someone negotiates for or performs a service to advance their station in life, becoming a lord, or duke, or even king, and that’s more or less where that phrase ends, that’s a persona point. If someone cracks their largely absentee lord in the face and rallies her fellow villeins in the centre of town to declare to him they are now a free town, no longer sworn to him, and the town swears fealty to her making her a Lord/Lady by the political conventions of the land, then by merit of needing that much to describe it I call that a deeds.

It’s still a vague definition, wording the three like that first sentence gives them a solid place in my mind, letting me parse them better.

My answer to this question will stray from canon.

I frequently find myself in discussions about RPG design philosophy since I’ve been publishing them on and off for over 20 years and one of my favorite contrasts of BW (and many of the indie games) to D&D is the notion that players respond to what they are rewarded for. In D&D you get rewarded for killing monsters. In BW about half the reward system is Artha, which you get for things we’d really like to see you do as a player: play to your beliefs, play against your beliefs in a convincing way, embodiment roleplaying, make us laugh, use an obscure skill in a way no one would have thought of, save our ass, etc.

The biggest reward of all is the deeds point. Ergo, what we interpret from this is that in playing BW the way Luke intends it, the most important thing for characters to do is act in a heroic fashion, transforming the setting and helping others without helping yourself.

I think you are asking a very important question, but ultimately a question only you and your play group can answer. What is that pinnacle of behavior you are looking for from other players, the behavior you want most highly rewarded? Identify what the behavior is and tie that behavior to the deeds point (and throttle it appropriately to match the desired level of power creep).

Maybe you want to have the campaign stay morally ambiguous day-to-day but keep the canon definition as an incentive for characters to evolve to something better. In that case you’re playing gritty, “real” characters who at some point, presumably at a very dramatic moment, are going to rise above and do something grand and heroic, and it will be sweet because of the contrast.

On the other hand, if you think the heroism stuff is bunk and at the end of the day it’s just not what you and your players really want to do then I think it’s fair to have a discussion about what behavior you are looking for from each other as the behavior that will be most rewarded.


Damn, that +1 button is still missing. Good form Peter. I think that puts things much better than I ever have.

I like the point about switching sides at the end still being potentially Deeds-worthy, TheWhaleShark, simply because of the sheer scale of the thing.

@Tilde_See, I think I see the distinction you’re drawing. It’s mostly about motivation. If the player set out to become lord, that’s persona, but because he set out to liberate the town from its oppressor, it’s deeds. This is the crux of my dilemma, though. I still haven’t thought of much of a way that the members of a noble house would be selfless in the context of an intrigue-y campaign. Which leads me to:

@peteradkison, that’s a superb analysis. I’ll keep that in the back of my mind. If I’m right, and opportunities for selfless action either don’t arise or aren’t taken due to the nature of the setting, then I’ll have a heart to heart with my group and figure out what deserves a deeds point. I’m leaning towards giving a deeds point for actions that substantially alter the setting at this point, after reading everyone’s input. But the players might surprise me with their moral rectitude, in which case I’ll stick to the rules as written and intended.

Thanks for all your insights, everyone.

In my experience, fantasy RPG campaigns can lean slightly to the destructive and anti-social. Stories of destruction and ruin are common, rebuilding and renewing are less so.

Thus the criteria for the Deeds point are quite deliberately set to entice players to think beyond their own needs and to perhaps do more than topple sandcastles.

Good post. Just a comment. In D&D (classic. not the 3.5E or 4E drivel) you gain the majority of XP for securing TREASURE. 1 GP to 1 XP to be precise. I believe some of the early working figures were around 80% XP from treasure. You can imagine what kind of RP this promotes.

Yeah. I frequent


True enough, NkEnNy. Not only gold, but magic items also gave you XPs in old-school D&D.

But you got treasure by killing monsters, and often the treasure was better if you found the monster’s lair. Some D&D players I encountered with had this totally figured out, that the best use of game time was killing monsters in their lairs that way you could score the XPs for the kills, score more XPs for the loot while getting the most loot possible, and if the loot was magic, use it, if it was gold, buy magic. And a generous GM might let you get XPs again for a magic item you bought with the gold you’d already gotten XPs for.

In old school D&D roleplaying scenes bore an intrinsic opportunity cost. The time you spent roleplaying could have been spent looking for monsters in their lairs. Unless the roleplaying helped you find monsters or lairs, it was actually counter-rewarding in the eyes of some players. Obviously good GM’s could fix that but I’d rather play a game like BW where I feel that the rules are my ally.


Luke, you’ve given me an idea. Say the players and I were to devise the Ideals or Values of their noble House. Obviously the practical behavior of most people and organizations fail to really meet their ideals, but it would establish a selfless standard in the form of a legacy to live up to. They’d constantly be faced with the choice between the ideals of their forebears and the realpolitik of their intrigues. If they succeeded at living up to those ideals in crucial climactic moments, they would get a Deeds point.

It’s selfless, to a degree, and pretty reminiscent of the decline of House Atreides in Dune. Of course, if they chose to make their House like the Harkonnens, I’d be in the position of giving deeds points for atrocities, which I’m not comfortable with. Maybe not such a great idea after all.

Thanks for clarifying. I’ll try to come up with Deeds-worthy situations.

It sounds like you want to play Burning Empires. :wink:

I wouldn’t set up anything concrete. The idea behind the Deeds point is that its significance emerges in play. And only through this emergence can you create truly selfless acts under this scheme. Otherwise, it just becomes another reward for the players to ferret out.

I don’t know where you are in your campaign, but unless you’ve got a handful of sessions under your belt, I really wouldn’t worry about it.

Don’t tell me I bought the wrong game! Heh. Did I just describe a BE mechanic? Oops. I know nothing about Burning Empires; I only even found Burning Wheel by virtue of the Burning Sands: Jihad supplement being linked elsewhere.

Haven’t started the campaign yet; we’re playing The Sword and Trouble in Hochen this Sunday. I just like knowing a system backwards and forwards before I try to run it and teach people. Not doling out Deeds points any time soon; I just wanted to know how to work it.

You’re way ahead of yourself then, my friend. Reread the Duel of Wits and Fight chapters again! :wink:

At the risk of adding an unnecessary post, there’s one thing I feel like I should point out based on how you’ve been talking about your upcoming campaign, TiresiasBC, that I don’t think has really been discussed yet. Your contention is you’ve got this intrigue-filled campaign based on Dune (awesome, btw), full of moral ambiguity, and you don’t see how the actions of your players will change this significantly enough to earn a Deeds point.

I feel it necessary to split this particular hair: you are playing a Burning Wheel game based on Dune - you are not playing Dune. You may have giant deserts. You may have giant sandworms. You may have the spice and eyes that glow and all that other stuff. But, in all likelihood, after 6-8 sessions your game will not be recognizable as Dune anymore. It’ll still have that flavor, but it will be it’s own thing. Why? Because Burning Wheel is a practice in emergent storytelling. The GM doesn’t really have much of a plan beyond playing off the BITs on the character sheet, and so it is the players that drive the story forward, and I guarantee you that they’ll do so in ways that no one at the table will be able to predict. You watch: even during character burning, someone will write down a Belief that you never expected or burn up a relationship that’s out of left field and you’ll go “Man, I never thought of that. That’s cool.”

So, as Luke says, you’re way ahead of yourself. Relax. After 2 full sessions of play there’ll be some obvious Deeds-worthy stuff hanging on the horizon, and it’ll just work. If you’re still puzzled about it after a couple of sessions, post your AP’s and we’ll do our best to help you think of something. :slight_smile: