I think I'm starting to get it.

Reading BW and the commentary here, I’ve had this kind of suspicion that I was missing something… I still think I’m missing a few things, but I think I’m starting to grasp the core now.

I’m used to coming from games where you create a scenario, maybe some NPCs, and then drop the PCs into the middle of it. Either the PCs have to “beat the scenario” (think traditional D&D) or interact with the world and its moving parts.

And that’s exactly how you don’t run BW.

Instead, you think of it almost more like writing a novel. What does the protagonist do, and then what complications can we throw his or her way? NPCs exist solely to give the GM a way to challenge the characters’ BITs, and if your characters don’t have motivation, then something is wrong.

Yes! That! Make sure your PCs have actionable beliefs and then push on those beliefs. The story will follow based on how the players respond based on how you push their beliefs.

Those two methods are not necessarily in conflict. Its just when there is a pre-made scenario, tell the players the basic idea before they make characters, so they can be linked to the situation at hand:

Slavers are attacking up and down the coast.
There is a dungeon spewing up monsters in the forest outside of town.
A wizard’s tower is ripe for robbing.

When they make their characters, their BIT’s should be linked to this. While they are making characters, some of your notes on the scenario might change a bit.

Yeah, the idea of a world and moving parts can work, it’s just that the moving parts all aim the conflict at Beliefs.

Pick a general situation, let the players create characters with good Beliefs (One way to do it: http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/burning-wheel-beliefs-101/ ) then build all your NPCs with equally strong motivations which will challenge them. The players play their characters, you play your characters (with an eye towards aiming scenes and conflicts at the PC’s Beliefs) and away you go.

The thing that doesn’t work well with BW is having a preplanned idea of how the story should go whether linear or branching - just focus on the players’ BITS, and play your NPCs BITS and you can adapt to any situation.


Right, forgot that bit. Having an initial hook is key to making characters that work and a game that’s engaging. I’ve run a few games that didn’t have that hook and they both started out terribly, one game ultimately dying and the other taking off only after a situation emerged from the random flailing around.

So to follow Judd’s advice (which is quite good): decide where you’re going to start and roughly what direction you want things to initially go in, but don’t pre-plan where things are going to end up. It’s a scary thing to do when coming from more mainstream gaming, but you’ll end up with a game that everyone in invested in and belongs to everyone at the table.

How would you rescue a game that started out without a strong initial hook?

Classic techniques - To unite the party with someone to hate, give them a group/person to focus on & a cause to oppose. Then as they play to eliminate them, widen the plot, broaden the complexity of the opposition, play with the nuance of their motivation, reveal the hidden good intentions in the opponents agenda, and the selfish goals of their allies.

Create a compelling situation based on the fiction generated so far, and ask the players to write at least one Belief based on it.

In our case we had this fun but aimless low-rent Han Solo and ineffectual assassin thing going on with a very loose situation involving low-rent Han Solo’s dislike for the church. We kind of flailed around for a few sessions until another friend joined and brought the beginnings of a city-wide proletariat revolt (being funded by businessmen turned cultists of course). Once he joined and gave the game some direction, things took off. His character was built off of what had come already, but it focused all this random stuff into a single goal (even though his character was a chemist who really only wanted to make firebombs).

So pretty much what Etsu Riot said, we had a player join who wanted to be a revolutionary type, so I cooked up the beginnings of a revolt so that his lifepath choices would make sense which nicely became the big picture.

I’d sit down and have a conversation with the group.

“Hey, this game doesn’t have the focus it needs. I want to pick something that is looming, or potential to go into conflict, and skip ahead (x number of months, a few years) and put us right into the middle of that. I was thinking of (this struggle for the throne, the fall of this leader, when the dragon returns…) what about you guys? Is there anything here you want us to focus on?”

Knowing what the focus is, everyone rewrites their Beliefs and Instincts, adds appropriate amount of practice time, and situates their characters appropriate to the situation.

“If the King falls, I’m out of a job. I guess I tried to be a loyalist general for a year or so, until my troops deserted and we were just routed the one last time. I’ve been hiding under an assumed identity without much hope, until I hear about the Sword of Kingship… and I remember Lucian, the King’s Third Nephew off to study in the Island Kingdoms…”

“We reveled in our wealth, the glorious ascent of our Clan. And all was good. I’m sure my Greed jumps up 2 exponents in the intervening years. Now, the Dragon has returned, sent by our enemies who healed it, told it of our names. I’ll fight to stop it, but the question is if it’s out of Greed or to protect my people…”

Or simply: “The shit is going down, which shit going down is the story you want to see? The one your heroes will risk life and limb about?”


It’s like you’re reading from my playbook!

I assume you’re using the Annotated Bard 101 course guide.

It’s probably worth noting that a great GM running a standard D&D scenario and a great (or probably even just decent) GM running BW end up the same, because the major point of BW is that the adventure can’t run off the rails. There are no rails, really. Instead, the players have mechanics to tell you what part of the stuff going on in the game they think is interesting and want to pursue, and the GM has to lay down the tracks in that direction so the adventure train can keep chugging along.

I think my metaphor got overblown somehow.

It can also be very scary for new players to suddenly have all this power. They don’t need to come out of the gate making big world decisions. You can play a fairly traditional, GM-led campaign, and as players become more comfortable they can start having input subtly. They really care more about that kidnapped villager than you thought? Those are beliefs, and now you have a new direction to take things. They latch onto the idea of running that shop? Roll with it! BW enshrines flexibility based on what the characters want, i.e. what the players want, the way the big traditional games give paramount importance to the plot from the GM’s chair.