Is Burning Wheel worth it if players aren't into rules mastery?

My tabletop friends put love in character creation - they’ll likely love the BITs. And they’re so combat-oriented in D&D 5e, I won’t be surprised if we used Fight rules and similar early.

But some of us aren’t into reading the rules. I’m a bit of a problem player myself, so I’ll reciprocate their patience and kindness: I won’t force anyone to read the rules.

But Burning Wheel encourages rules mastery (Codex, p. 12).

Is BW worth it if my friends aren’t into rules-reading, but into their characters’ stories and roleplaying? And the GM mastered the rules and is willing to babysit?

Note: I’m planning to master the rules before I GM (BW is so far amazing for solo roleplay). And I’ll play two one-offs with them - The Sword, then something with their own characters. Using Spokes rules, not the Rim (i.e. not beyond p. 74 for Gold Revised). Uninterested friends can drop out or ask for another system.

Those one-offs should answer my question, but it’ll save me time if I know it’s hopeless.

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Not to me. Maybe to you. I was the GM who had to babysit, and it was pretty grueling for me. But, I’m also the guy who wants to know the rules and was not expecting people to just never pick up the book.

The game definitely encourages players learning and using the rules (explicitly, even on pages 552 and 24 of BWGR, for instance).

My recommendation is to give it a shot and see if players take the hook – I found Burning Wheel to be pretty intuitive and uniquely worth learning for its demands.

Full Disclosure: I also kind of think that refusing to learn the rules of a game you’re playing is rude.

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And welcome to the forums! It’s good to have you!

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I’m used to teaching these rules through GMing, and often assume no one will bother reading them in their downtime unless they’ve already done it.

I do set one firm boundary: special character rules such as Sorcery (or any form of magic), Die traits, and anything else above and beyond baseline is the players responsibility - I don’t let them test if they have to ask me how their personally-chosen special powers works.

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Players are expected to know and use the rules. There’s actually a chapter towards the end of the book about the roles of the GM and of the other players.

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That said, the rules also speak of starting small and introducing more rules when the players have got used to the one’s you’re using: so you could leave out the one about players and GMs having set roles and rules knowledge until the group was ready. ; )

Not actually being snarky: I think one quality that sets BW apart from some systems with crunch is that it shows how rules mastery enhances story rather than starting from a baseline that players must follow a complex set of rules perfectly even if it tanks story.

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Thanks for the welcome, Quincy!

The game definitely encourages players learning and using the rules (explicitly, even on pages 552 and 24 of BWGR, for instance).

This is Gold Revised, right? 552 is right but 24 is “Testing Your Abilities”.

Full Disclosure: I also kind of think that refusing to learn the rules of a game you’re playing is rude.

Ehehe… Actually, I wanna share a story.

I’m actually the worst offender of not knowing the rules of our default system (D&D 5e). I tried, but my life was a mess, so I’m grateful my friends helped me through.

When we tried another tabletop, I realized that not spending time on the system is a symptom of not liking the system. And BW encourages player investment for the rules. I don’t want to put any of them into a situation where they feel forced to spend time on a system they don’t want because the rest like it and they like the campaign. Hence me asking early.

My recommendation is to give it a shot and see if players take the hook – I found Burning Wheel to be pretty intuitive and uniquely worth learning for its demands.

But yep - I guess I’ll get my answer during the one-offs.

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Players are expected to know and use the rules. There’s actually a chapter towards the end of the book about the roles of the GM and of the other players.

Gold Revised, 552, seems to imply more that the players should know a rule exists and tell the team they’ll use the rule. But not exactly rules mastery (though that’ll save lots of time)? Considering their characters, my friends will easily play with the BITs and involve each other’s charas.

From what I’m gathering at 552 GR, I’ll have to get the players to at least know the existence of the rules we’re using (I like @DaveHiggins’ reminder) when we’re starting out - /let them know their options/. But it doesn’t necessitate they need to know exactly how those rules work. (Though that would speed things up.) Let them know that they can call for advantages, disadvantages, FoRKs, helping die, and beginner’s luck, but they might not know how many die to roll if they invoke them.

That’s my interpretation of the official BW so far. Let me know if I misunderstood anything!

I guess I’ll make them reference a flowchart like this. Make them know what “Ability” and “FoRKs” mean.

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I do set one firm boundary: special character rules such as Sorcery (or any form of magic), Die traits, and anything else above and beyond baseline is the players responsibility - I don’t let them test if they have to ask me how their personally-chosen special powers works.

This is a great idea! I’ll make them write separate notes for Die traits and anything I feel I wouldn’t be able to remember. Will encourage simple-to-use characters, maybe limit it to three lifepaths. Maybe ban magic PCs for a while.

To clarify: players are expected to learn and use the rules themselves. Having a GM “babysit” them will be sub-optimal and frustrating for all involved. Obviously there will be learning and ramp up time, and a knowledgeable GM helps. I’d also suggest getting a “wingman” among them who is also invested in the rules.

But if they’re not inclined to learn rules systems at all, they will likely not enjoy BW. That’s fine, there are plenty of other games out there.

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Yeah. “Burning Wheel is very much a game to be played and manipulated fo fun and profit.” Speaks to me of active mastery on the player’s part. That’s all.

That’s true, and pretty insightful. When I’m playing a system I don’t care for with my friends, I tend to learn the rules to help the other players know what’s up and to do stuff that I think will impress them. :thinking:

Anyway, let us know how it goes!

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No one is expected to master the rules straight away. I think it is fair to expect players to learn how the game works over time (I’m talking about The Spokes here; pages 24-74, which are available as a free download from our store).

How to roll and read the dice, intent and task, help, FoRKs, advancement, beliefs and instincts and traits, artha. I think it’s fair to ask players to learn that stuff over time. If they can get that stuff down, they can enjoy the game for a long time.

They don’t need to master the systems in the Rim to enjoy the game. BUT. If they want their character to fight a lot, they should learn the Fight system. If they want to play a sorcerer, they should learn the Sorcery system, etc. They should take ownership of the systems they want their characters to participate in.

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Hi all,
I agree with what has been said here and only have a few things to add from my own experience running and playing the game. BW does involve a level of cognitive sophistication above many other games in the genre. Unfortunately, there might be some people simply unable to grasp the game and what it is trying to accomplish. I think this brings a frustration for those who love the game, and those who just can’t grasp it. So, while intuitive, there is a fair amount of abstraction and extrapolation required, or just plain logic that moves from a general case, a description of obstacles, to a particular task and test.

I have had some experience with this in a game I’m currently running. A player had no interest in the rules or even trying to learn (in fact, a rejection of the rules), and it did negatively effect the game. On the other hand, the game is robust enough that you can use player incompetence (to a point) to drive story, and certainly for humor. However, in the long-run it is a substantial detriment. It is also (see Quincy above) rude and breaks the joint commitment implied in the game-to tell a dramatic story together.

  • G
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I ran my first game of BW this year for a group of people which none had read the rules. I told them how tests work, Artha, skills, and FoRKs as we burned their characters. When we got to Steel, I told them what it is. One of the players picked Sorcery, so I told him to take a read of the Sorcery chapter; he shouldn’t master the rules at once, but at least know what he was getting into.

During play, I told my group that if they wanted to do anything in a different way, they could ask me if it was possible. I specifically told them about doing things faster or cautiously, since those have greater impact on the game, and reminded them about instructions and tools. Other than that, most of the time we were fine just rolling skills and FoRKs, that was 70% of the game. When we faced something we didn’t know how it works, we stopped and read the book. Circles was a thing that came up, and there was a moment a NPC was injuried and we had to read exactly what that means and how to treat it, since they players wanted the NPC alive. Even I who had read the book couldn’t remember everything about wounds, so reading won’t make you not have to look up on the book, but it will inform you on what exists.

All and all, the game went well. We knew we were getting into a new system that would require stops to read, but once you get that most things work the same way (roll a bunch of d6s and count success), it’s actually much easier. We had only one Duel of Wits, and that required to actually understand what each action does and how to use them together. It was… not great, but not bad either. I as the GM picked all the bad options and my NPC was completely humiliated xD

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I’ve run BW with a player that always wrote shitty beliefs and never played a session striving to accomplish beliefs and it was always frustrating. After every session we three would sit around the table and go through the artha rewards and I could never justify a fate or persona for beliefs, instincts or traits. Only for Embodiment, Work Horse etc.
It was kinda of hard.
Thanks,
Sanj

I also generally agree with what people have been saying.

I’ve taught BW to people entirely through play, just going very slowly through the rules to begin with. Some people hate reading rules, but get very into the system once they get their foot in the door. Ideally they’d also be reading the rules, but it’s not necessary for everyone to have fun. I’d talk this through before you play, if everyone wants a more casual game that’s fine, but if you want to run something more hardcore you need to be up front with the players.

I also say if someone wants to use magic we need to discuss and they need to read up on it.

Good BITs are hard to write, so I tend to try and offer help with this aspect as much as possible. However, in my experience this is the best indicator of if someone’s suited to BW, if they’re not bothered about their BITs (and thus not getting any artha), the system isn’t for them. Though I’d say if someone is struggling reach out to them and try to give help them one on one.

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