Hello! I just scored a copy of BWG, and I’ve been digesting it… This game looks awesome!! I was doubly stoked to find it has a thriving online community and support from Luke & co.
I would love to run this for some friends but it’s just overwhelmingly complex. While as GM I am willing to invest in learning it, my players aren’t so patient or invested. Is there a “lite” version of BW out there?
For example, the monsters look like Greek to me. Is there a fan-made template for clearer monster stats out there? The B/G/W designation before rankings is completely non-intuitive (though I realize that it refers to succeeding on a 4/3/2 respectively). Also, how does a GM discern how many and which type of monsters are an evenly matched challenge for their players?
Forgive any ignorance; most of my gaming experience is D&D and I’m just getting into BW. Thanks!
Don’t know if it will help, but theres a whole forum devoted to fan made monsters here.
B/G/W is a nod to Tolkien. Gandalf shade shifts from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White. But, you’re a long ways away from it mattering. No one is going to shade shift any time soon.
As for a lite version, nope. But, stick to the first 77 or so pages, the hub and spokes, until you’ve got some experience with BW. Wait until everyone is really really comfortable with the core game and then add the various systems from the rim gradually.
To emphasize: mechanically, BW is simple at its core. You roll Xd6, where X is your skill or attribute, maybe with some added from various sources. You compare to a target obstacle. If you roll high enough you succeed and get what you want. Beliefs, Instincts, advancement and Artha are all unfamiliar concepts very different from D&D, but they’re not that hard. (Hard to master, yes, but not all that hard to grasp at a basic level.)
Keep it at that low level of complexity until you’re comfortable there. Add in the detailed systems later, as noclue says. Once you have player buy-in and familiarity with the basics you can break out Duel of Wits and Fight. Until then, a simple roll will work fine. Sword, Ob 3, will slay the vile Orcs or drive off the bandits.
Monsters are usually a minority opposition in BW. Mostly you face other Men and Elves and Dwarves and Orcs. I’d also hold off on complicated monsters at least until you’ve gotten some regular man vs. man Fights under your belt. Once you have a feel for fair opposition in human terms you can compare monster stats—and it’s easier to directly compare your NPC humanoids against PCs. For the record, numbers matter hugely; 2v1 strongly favors the 2 even if they’re weaker unless the 1 is so heavily armored he can effectively ignore one and concentrate on the other, and even then it’s risky.
But yes, stick with the hub for now. Combat is a standard test, or a Versus test. You can even use Bloody Versus for something a little more detailed, but you don’t need it. Get Beliefs and Instincts down solidly and a game that’s running and Belief-driven and fun. It’s harder than it sounds, and I certainly flubbed it on my first attempt. If the basics aren’t running well adding complexity won’t improve things at all.
Thanks! Will stick to the basic as you suggest and add on the “rim” elements later. Yeah I browsed the monster forum after posting but nothing stood out as a good clear presentation. Might try my hand at creating a monster template.
Hmm. I did download the Commentary on creating and testing beliefs - that really drove home this isn’t my old DM’s role-playing game! I’d like to run a Burning Wheel Game based on the Witcher saga, so monsters would definitely be part of it. How challenging is it to run BW for an old-time DM who has never played BW before?
I’ve never GM’d but my GM claims it’s an incredibly simple game to run. In particular, there’s very little prior planning to do–no mapping, no pre-genned encounters, no pre-set plotline–because all of this is driven by the characters’ Beliefs and actions. It actually frees you up from worrying about encounter balance as well, as you seem to do in your initial post. There’s no need for encounters to be balanced. Put an obstacle in the path of the players, and let them find a way around it. Unlike with D&D, there’s no expectation that a sharp sword will be the answer to all problems.
I think even in a monster-slaying game—maybe especially in a monster-slaying game—monsters are mostly not going to be dealt with in Fights. They’re going to be problems to solve, yes, but I’d keep those problems to simple tests so that not every problem is a combat problem. Yes, sometimes the monster will be brought down with Sword, but you’re going to need a lot of tests to find it, corner it, deal with the people and their mistrust of witchers, and so on. I’d still say early on, especially, most monsters aren’t going to have stats. They’re going to be obstacles. A drowner might be Ob 1, a pack of them Ob 2, a basilisk Ob 4, and so on and so forth. And maybe a lot of the work is coming up with tests that give you advantage or reduce the Ob.
BW isn’t hard to run, but it’s a fairly different set of skills from D&D. Low prep, but you absolutely must pay much more attention to characters than D&D requires. If you design encounters in advance you’re likely to lose sight of BITs, and then the game falls apart. A focus on combat will leave non-combat characters bored and honestly leaves a lot of the system out in the cold. You need a different mindset, and yes, I had some trouble adjusting in the beginning. BW is a different beast from D&D. Trying to play D&D with Beliefs and Instincts won’t give you a good game of BW.
Yeah, I’m take inspiration from the GUMSHOE system when it comes to hunting monsters. And I am going to focus strongly on the characters BITs. However, at some point we’re going to want a fight that’s not just a simple check and done. Not to emulate D&D, but to emulate the Witcher setting. I mean, I read the section about special combat rules and it seems pretty involved…how do you balance/create monsters with those in mind?
Look to bloody versus first. Bring out Fight when beliefs are on the line or the combat seems particularly momentous. People play entire campaigns using just the hub and spokes, so there’s no rush. Getting failure right is more important than ramping up the complexity.
There is a bit of an art to making things matter in BW. The player is going to have their intent, and that is going to dictate Task as well. But the GM gets to set failure conditions. That’s where the GM can shine a big spotlight on this Belief or that Belief and take the game in interesting places that ask interesting questions about the Characters and what they’re willing to risk. That’s why it’s okay if a fight ends on one roll. That one roll may say volumes.
Here’s an example. We’re deep in the sewers under the City if Nuln. We’ve just been driven off by a horde of Skaven ratmen leading a Rat ogre. Oldred, my character has just sacrificed himself to throw Sgt. Harald, Morgan’s PC, out if an expanding cloud of green poison gas, taking a mortal wound in the process that would have killed me except for my Persona Point. Unconscious, I fall into the stew and drift from sight. Our squad of NPC’s are rattled. Morgan wants to rally the men to go after Oldred, but he doesn’t have Persuasion, only Command. Does he command them into certain danger, or does he try to talk to them? That’s a Beginners Luck Persuasion roll. What does this choice say about Harald and the kind of leader he is? What does it mean if he fails?
Right. There’s an art to making failure that’s meaningful enough to hurt but doesn’t stymie the campaign. But more than that, there’s an art to making failures that keep the fiction where you want it. In a game of noble and brave knights failures should be different than a game of dangerous, dirty backstabbing where a knight is just a glorified cut-throat with a sword. Much of the atmosphere of the game you build is built on failure; you can’t pick what happens on success, your player does. Your power is all in the failures.
There’s also an art to learning how to coax good intents out of players, but that’s easier.
When you do want to use Fight, it should be when it’s a fight that really matters to BITs and something big is at stake. That’s rarely going to be just the target of a contract. Other people with their own motivations make much better BW motivations. Yes, people can include intelligent monsters, but that’s not how most monsters are in The Witcher. But if you do want a Fight, take your cue from human opposition. Run reasonable stats and give them attacks similar to weapons. I wouldn’t have them rely on either special powers or more unusual modes of winning like Locking their foes and dragging them off. You can add fancy abilities once you’re solid on the basics of the Fight mechanics.
And how do you balance monsters? Like you balance anything else. They run by the same rules, after all. Don’t give them ridiculous stats and they’ll end up looking like any other combatant, and you’ll get a feel for what’s overwhelming opposition, what’s a fair fight, and what should be a walk in the park.
I see, that makes sense. So the scene isn’t really about resolving a fight… it’s about testing what kind of leader Sgt. Harold is. So let’s say that Sgt. Harold gives the command to the NPCs to return to the sewers. They encounter Skaven opposition. Do you resolve the outcome of that conflict with one roll? Is it simply narrated without rolling (GM fiat)? Or do you break out Bloody Versus / Fight rules?
Depends. That’s the GM pacing mechanic. It may be time for Range and Cover as they exchange volleys through the caverns, or a pitched battle with fight. Or Bloody Versus. Or just a simple versus test to reach Oldred, failure leading to a roll of the die of fate to see which of the NPCs doesn’t make it out. Who does the Sgt’s command end up killing?
I would put it down to a single roll. You’re still trying to save Oldred, so the Skaven only matter insofar as they’re between you and Oldred. This points something out about BW, though–because there’s more than one way to do things, there doesn’t have to be one “right” way. Bloody Versus or maybe even Fight could have their place here. It’s all up to how big a deal you want to make things.
Also, I have two recommendations to help you with the system. One, run “The Sword”. It was originally part of the Adventure Burner, and it’s been updated for Gold edition. It lets you really see a lot of Burning Wheel at work. Two, take two hours to watch this video. It’s a GenCon game of The Sword run by Luke Crane himself. They do a great job of running you through the system. It’s like Geek and Sundry’s Tabletop, but with BW.
I’ll expand on what I said: deciding the scope of the intent and the cost of failure determines the level of focus your giving something.
Harold can roll Command with the intent being to have his men find and rescue Oldred. If he succeeds they do.
1a. If he fails, his men mutiny.
1b. If he fails, his men are ambushed in the sewers and suffer losses. They pull back without finding Oldred.
1c. If he fails, they’re set upon in the sewers by a horde. Now he must find a way to fight free. Use Sword to fight himself? Tactics to try to organize a retreat? Stealthy to sneak out alone?
All of these are equally legitimate. It depends on what suits your game.
But maybe this is important and you want to spend more time on it. Now it’s several rolls. Maybe Command to get his men to go in (failure means half leave and he’ll have to deal with the mutiny later), then Perception or Tracking to search (failure means wasted time and a risk of illness from the sewers and maybe more defections), Sword to fend off a skirmish (here’s a chance for Bloody Versus if you want, but I’d go with a straight test and make the cost of failure a minor wound), and so on. You could have a fight when he comes across Oldred and has to duel a skaven scavenger to save him—that could be important and cool enough for a Fight. You’re zooming in for more detail. Should you? It depends on how important Harold commanding his men through the sewers is in your game. If he has BITs about command, or sewers, or fearing the dark, or rescuing his friend, it may be important to see how hard he’ll push and how far he’ll go. But maybe not, and it’s just a waste of time. That’s part of BW GMing.
Maybe this isn’t about sewers and skaven. Maybe you want to get back to the real action, which is court intrigue. You can Say Yes. Harold orders or convinces his men to search, they find Oldred, and no dice are rolled. Don’t waste time on the unimportant, or worse, boring stuff. Get back to the drama.
And remember that Oldred spent Persona. He’s going to live, which probably means he needs to get found one way or another. So failure might be more about the survival of Harold’s men or how they view him and less about whether they can accomplish the task of finding Oldred at all. Hence my consequence of failure under 2 above not actually stopping Harold, just increasing the cost of doing what he wants.
Answer 1: The first 70 pages of the rules. That’s BW Light.
Answer 2: “Mouse Guard isn’t fucking Burning Wheel Light!” - Luke Crane.
“Yeah, Luke, Right…” - far too many players.
MG really isn’t BW Light, but BW’s lighter sibling. It shares a number of concepts, and can be used to get people writing good beliefs, understanding the value of various ratings, and has a streamlined universal conflict system. Just as Rugby isn’t “Gridiron Lite” (Gridiron is the name for Canadian & American football); share the same concepts and many of the same terms, but do play different.
To be simplistic about it, there’s a lot of funny looking boxes and cryptic stuff on the character sheet that could easily turn off my players. One who looked BW over in advance has said as much, others I probably won’t hear from till we meet up in person.